Summary of “Escape From Reason” FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

IMG_20170722_102913Escape from Reason  is the second book of the first volume “A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture,” by Francis Schaeffer.  In this volume, Schaeffer goes into more detail in how man, by denying Absolute Truth, and becoming the measure of all things, has been swallowed up into the “river of despair” seen in its philosophy, music, art, general culture and the new theology.

Schaeffer argues that the Christian view of man not only gives man meaning, but it also has a rational justification which is grounded in being created in the image of God.

Hence, the need remains for believers to diligently understand the present “Thought-forms” in order to preach Christ effectively.  For, to “Escape from Reason” is the most tragic madness—for it (in many ways) keeps us on the road that leads to destruction.

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Summaries Now Available!

310D727a2fL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Now available in summary form is Politics for Christians.  This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.  Take up and read friends.

Chapter Summary #3: THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE (Pgs.91-117)

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In this chapter Beckwith tackles what the Bill of Rights says as to how state and religion are to relate, what their boundaries are and specifically the interpretation of the “establishment clause” and the “free-exercise clause”.  It’s here where the battle rages for all advocates.

The establishment clause from the First Amendment states that: “Congress may not employ legislative power to establish an official national religion”.  Thus, for example, Congress (not any other branch of government) can’t legally put into law that citizens become a Muslim and financially support its local place of worship.  The free-exercise clause asserts that the Constitution protects the religious liberty of citizens from any legislative act of Congress.  Thus, laws should be set-up to protect a citizen’s right to worship as they deem fit, without the interference of the State (or so it seems to me).

As a form of legal shorthand, Beckwith notes that the phrase “separation of church and state” is now employed to describe the religious clauses of the First Amendment.  However, ambiguity is an infamous problem with the phrases, “free-exercise”, “establishment”, and “religion”.  It’s this lack of clarity that causes so many interpretations, nevertheless, as the author notes:

The notion of “separation of church and state” exists as a largely unquestioned dogma in American political and legal discourse, even though the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution and a plain reading of the religion clauses is just as consistent with some forms of moderate separationism as it is with strong separationism. [pg.93]

 Beckwith goes on to explain the similarities and differences between moderate and strong separationists.  Both affirm that government religious liberty should be maximized for the public good and that neither government nor ecclesiastical powers should attempt to control the other’s sphere of duties.  Yet there are disagreements.

On the one hand, moderates don’t attempt to exclude religion from public life, thus supporting public funding programs of similarly situated religious and secular entities.  On the other hand, strong separationists forbid any aid to religion even when similarly situated secular entities are given aid.  These also exclude any political input from a religiously based worldview from its citizens (i.e., if the view is informed from a sacred book, it is de-facto unacceptable).

Beckwith asks if there’s any place where government and religious institutions can cooperate together (e.g., school vouchers for private religious schools).  Important to point out is that there’s no definition of religious or religion that can be pointed towards which both exposes the ambiguity that obtains in people’s minds and also hides the myth the state comes from a neutral, non-religious position.

Beckwith further reflects on the interaction between the Danbury Baptists and Jefferson in order to clue in on the “slogan’s” original intent [pgs.95-98] and explains that the letter, far from being in the US Constitution, was routine presidential correspondence that strong separationists hi-jacked (my view) and gave it the status of “holy writ”.  Unfortunately, the strong separationist movement of the time won the day on a false epistemological  view that religious principles are not based on reason or logic and thus have no place in the making of public policy [pgs.98-107].

Beckwith then contemplates the limits of religious freedom and the exercise thereof which at the end of the day anyone can relativize according to what I’ve seen.  According to Beckwith, the application of the establishment clause has not only been misapplied, it has also muddied the understanding of what the Separation between the Church and State mean.

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 2: LIBERAL DEMOCRACY AND THE CHRISTIAN CITIZEN (Pgs.59-89)

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Beckwith begins the chapter by explaining that Liberal Democracy (LD) has been absent from most of history and thus our Christian heritage.  Yet, Christians have largely embraced (LD) because it accentuates the liberty to worship, holds governments accountable, empowers people to form the mores of society, and because it seems consistent with the Christian worldview concerning its views of  persons and natural rights which are grounded on natural law (NL).

The term Liberal concerns the freedoms government is to guarantee and Democracy refers to the principle of self-governance and equality each citizen possess before the law.  Beckwith notes that self-governance deals with having a representative government which is ultimately accountable to the people.  Thus, for (LD) to work well a nation must be under the rule of law and have a developed civil society.  These laws are to be equally applied to every citizen and under all of this must obtain 1st principles that are unassailable by government or the masses thus guaranteeing the proper use of power to move a nation.

Accordingly, the duty of government is to protect certain freedoms while simultaneously having limited power by the law and individuals they protect.  For this to work and society to flourish, individuals must be civil.  This is where the problem with a relativistic society comes in.  Such a society kills objective truth, the result is that might makes right and the mob mentality wins the day because no “1st principles” exist above the people.  Sadly, we’re there today.

Beckwith continues and explains that by separation of powers each branch of government has jurisdictional authority to perform their duties unique to themselves.  This often affords a compromise of views held between differing parties and ultimately reduces the occasion for despotism or tyranny to arise.  Historically the Parties in the USA have been the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party.  Today, it’s the Democrats and Republicans holding opposing views on many issues precious to Christians (e.g., the state of the unborn, gay rights, public education policies, religion/state relations, etc.)

The Christian citizen is the subject of two cities (e.g., one of earth and one of heaven).  As resident aliens, Beckwith accentuates the fact that justice and doing good to others is based on people being created in the image of God and both Church and State can work together to achieve such ends.  Yet, the Church must beware of backing government programs which would halt evangelism.  Doing justice is part of God’s rebuke of the nations in the Old Testament and the Good Samaritan as a swift reprimand to the Church in the New Testament (Pgs.68-69).

Inevitably, to love neighbor will require that God’s truth interrupt the cultural moral climate and when this obtains, true tolerance is carried out and thus true civility will obtain.  For this to happen, it’s critical for Christians to know the laws of the land in order to use them for the advancement of the common good as Paul often did in the book of Acts with his Roman citizenship.

Beckwith accentuates how Paul understood that all authority comes from God (Rom.13) but it’s also limited.  Significant also is to fight the split view of knowledge within Western Society that says Science gives us objective facts binding on everyone and religion provides only private subjective values binding only on the community holding said values.  For when people have this view of knowledge it prevents the Christian worldview from even being considered for making public policy.

Beckwith holds that supporting non-Christian candidates can be done and sometimes it should be done, the grounds of which is competence to rule rather than religious persuasion.  A major mistake to avoid is to think that only a “religious” view (whatever that means) is not neutral.  The fact is that neutrality is impossible specifically because everyone has a worldview from which they try to make sense out of reality.  Thus, worldviews play a vital role in deciding the desirability of a candidate.  Moreover, one can champion democracy and natural law and be informed by their theological position for the good.

Summaries of POLITICS FOR CHRISTIANS: Statecraft as Soulcraft

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PERSONAL NOTE

This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.

 SERIES PREFACE (Pgs.9-27)

            This book is written for the busy student or parent in mind.  The goal of integration is both conceptual and personal.  The former blends its’ theological beliefs with one’s profession of faith into a coherent Christian worldview, where  the latter seeks to publically and privately live out the implications of what it means to be “Christ’s disciple”.  Moreland/Beckwith (series editors) argue that the reason integration is vital (among other things) is because the Bible is true in its teachings and our vocations and discipleship demand it.

One of the ways we love God is with our minds, thus to neglect it fosters a secular/sacred divide which works against the spiritual warfare in which believers are already engaged.  Our battle as Christians involves ideas that oppose Christ’s Lordship.  Grappling with epistemological ideas (i.e., ideas of what we know and how we know them) are part of that battle.

Moreland therefore emphasizes the need to bring back into culture Christian truth claims as part of the plausibility structure.  If they are not part of it, then our ideas won’t even be considered.  These are ideas, or set off ideas a person either is or is not willing to entertain as true.  To accomplish the aforesaid, Moreland explains that it is therefore necessary to employ the three integrative tasks.

First, is direct defense; here the goal is to show that the Christian worldview is rationally justified.  Second, is polemics; which involves criticizing rival worldviews to Christianity, and third, are theistic explanations; which are used to explain phenomenon in one’s profession.

The approach Moreland and Beckwith take of integration has its critics (Pgs.24-26), but one thing however is certain, for Christians not to engage in discipline (x) with their worldview, has actually aided in the secularization of our western culture.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Pgs.29-31)

Beckwith starts off by stating that to learn this “state craft” as “soul craft” one must take many years to hone these skills and contemplate these truths.  For me these years have become increasingly lessened because of my age (53).  Yet, there’s no time like the present to learn any subject and consider how it relates to my personal discipleship to Christ.  A grown man with grown children I thought it appropriate to gather as much knowledge as I possibly can from this source.  And thus I commend it to you for your careful scrutiny.

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).

Reflections From ROMANS 9: “GOD’S ELECTION IS NOT UNJUST BUT MERCIFUL”

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This chapter begins a new thought in Paul’s letter.  The first eight chapters dealt with what the gospel is, why it is the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike, and because in Adam all sinned, everyone is justly under God’s wrath and in need of divine mercy for salvation.  This salvation, redemption is a work of God that affects our word and deed.  And while this salvation is real, residues of rebellion remain in the believer’s heart such that until final glorification, a war is constantly being waged within.

Now, Paul turns his attention to the theme of Israel and her rejection of the gospel of God.  He first reveals his passion and longing to see his kinsmen according to the flesh saved and loving Christ, because after all it’s through them that this gospel came (Vv.1-5):

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Second, he points out however that God’s word has not failed concerning their rejection of Christ because the descendants of Israel actually come through Isaac not Abraham.  He explains this further in relation to the flesh vs. the promise motif.  That is, through Isaac’s seed the Messiah would come, never through Ishmael.  This word of promise is a major Scriptural theme pointing to God’s faithfulness to execute His word.  Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mt.5:18)  This means that God always keeps His promises.  And what He will and will not do is more certain than the heavens above or the earth below—which accentuate God’s constant faithfulness.  And as God told Abraham, so it has come to pass that through Sarah, not Hagar, Messiah would come.

Consider Rebekah’s twins Esau and Jacob which again reveal the motif of God’s certain promise which points to His sovereign will ruling over all rather than man’s finite choosing:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”        

             This passage clearly demonstrates God’s choosing or election of what He has decided to do through Jacob and Esau.  I noticed here something previously overlooked: could it mean that God hating Esau is equivalent to Him serving his younger brother or is that hate based on what Esau treasured which was a bowl of soup over against his birth-rite?  This needs further inquiry, but I’m leaning towards the latter option, not the former.  Nevertheless, Paul asks a question he anticipated would be raised:

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!”

 Third, often God is accused of being unjust in light of election but the apostle emphatically says that is never the case.  Thus he proceeds to recount Pharaoh’s hardened heart and concludes that God chooses who will receive mercy and who does not.  The reason:

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

             God had a purpose for Pharaoh’s rise to power and that was so that His power and Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  This means that the central reason for God’s purpose in his dealings with Israel and Egypt are ultimately about God’s power and person as Creator and Redeemer.  God is utterly God-centered in his dealings and an aspect throughout Scripture that’s too often unnoticed or discarded.  One reason for this is our human tendencies to make much of ourselves and very little of God:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

             I think this is the logical conclusion to ask such a question.  I can hear the philosopher (and rightly so), grappling with this issue for at stake is the justice of God.  So what does Paul think?  He poses the rhetorical question of the potters right to do whatever he pleases with the clay’s purpose.  He concludes that the potter has the right to choose the purpose for the clay vessel: either for honorable purposes or dishonorable purposes:

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”   

             Fourth, but God is not unjust, for through His wrath justly poured on evil doers He demonstrates His righteousness.  And all have come under this just condemnation.  Recall that Paul hearkens back to Job in principle and that righteous man’s utterly silenced before God’s inquiry: “Where were you when I…?”  The fact is we creatures are out of line to question God’s actions as if we had the moral upper hand on the Holy One.  This attitude while understandable shows our pride of not trusting in God’s word of promise, questioning His goodness and justice within the salvation history framework.

Paul goes on to explain however that vessels of wrath (those not chosen) are necessary in order for vessels of mercy to know God’s glory in salvation.  Consider the following:

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’  There they shall be called sons of the living God.”  27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

That’s what Paul seems to be arguing.  But then he concludes his thought with another question which goes back to Israel’s standing with God compared to the Gentiles—all of which are under condemnation (Chapters 1-3) and in need of redemption through Christ, the last Adam:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Israel misunderstood the purpose of the Law of Moses, turned it into something foreign to God’s purposes and thus perished.  That is, law-keeping is impossible because sinful hearts need to be renewed.  The Law’s purpose was only to shine the light on our sinful state so that we might look to the 2nd Adam, the Messiah whose purpose was to save us through His own blood and thus renew our dead hearts to God.  The Law was never a list of “do’s and don’ts” in order to be acceptable before the Holy One.

Fifth, this faith of which Paul speaks is Abraham’s who believed in God’s word of promise evidenced by how he lived.  Paul’s purpose for writing Romans (1:5) of the obedience of faith props itself up again here.  This faith is trust in God’s word of future fulfillment that He alone will and can accomplish.  Thus, when we talk about salvation through election, it’s never unjust, because all are under God’s just wrath and none possess the remedy for rescue.

The fact is that election is all about God’s mercy demonstrated toward vessels of wrath so that the glory of God may be seen and known by vessels of mercy. This is severely humbling and troubling.  It’s humbling because there’s no boasting except in God’s works, never ours.  And it’s troubling because of how many do despise this plain truth, thus dishonoring the Creator and Redeemer to their everlasting damnation.

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 7:1-13 “TO BE IN CHRIST ONE MUST BE DEAD TO THE LAW”

ROMANS

Paul now continues his argument from chapter 6 where he argued that we are enslaved to the one we obey whether it’s sin which produces death or grace which results in eternal life (6:22-23).  Here, he continues strumming the same note and uses the example of a woman bound by law to her husband while he’s alive.  Only after he dies is she freed to marry another without being an adulterous (Vv.1-3).  Then Paul makes the connection between the believers union with Christ:

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”   

Here’s what I gather from this text.  First, though the Law was a good husband, it could never produce life in us because of our sinful nature.  When Christ died on the cross, the believers in him also died to the Law so that they may be joined to another husband—to Christ who rose from the dead.  We have come to be His bride for the purpose of bearing fruit for God (i.e., sanctification).

The metaphor of husband and wife is penetrating.  The purpose of the 1st husband was to show us how sinful our sin is.  The purpose of the 2nd husband is to free us from death by vanquishing the grave.  Both husbands are good (Law and Christ) but only the latter husband can bring us life through His death.  Thus, to be in Christ is to be dead to the Law.  If one is not dead to the Law, they don’t belong to Christ.

This does not argue for antinomianism (being against the Law) nor for Libertarianism (we are free to sin) but for the actuality that new birth produces—new life which issues forth a life of continuous sanctification.  Paul buttresses his argument by recalling our state before and after new birth:

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Paul however anticipates an objection and continues:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.

This section is somewhat tricky.  Paul begins affirming that the Law is not sin, but rather is a light that exposes sin (e.g., covetousness) and thus clarifies what sin is (covetousness).  Secondly, sin is shown to be such when the commandment is given and the object recoils, flinches and resists that light.  Third, when this light of the Law exposes sin, it produces more sin in him, not less.

Now the last phrase, “apart from the Law sin is dead” is problematic.  First, It could mean that when the Law does not expose sin (because somehow the Law is hidden from us) it does not have the opportunity to replicate itself, nor be amplified through the object’s motivation.  Second, Paul does argue that both Jew and Gentile are all under sin (chapters 1-2) even if the Gentiles did not have the Law.  Now if Gentiles did not have the Law, were they then sinless?  Clearly not!  Third, according to Adam’s rebellion, all men were thrown into a sinful state before the Law came.  So were they then sinless?  Clearly not!

What I think Paul is referring to is (Vv.1-6) where he explains that being dead to the Law is to be in Christ.  Thus, believers are no longer enslaved to sin but to Christ because of new birth.  Paul continues his thought:

I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”     

             I’m not clear on how Paul can say that he was “once alive apart from the Law” since the absence of the Law does not eradicate the reality of sin from our first father Adam, it’s just not exposed.  Maybe he means that he thought all was well until the Laws’ light showed him otherwise and thus produced in him death?  Because of sin’s deceptive nature, perhaps instead of recoiling at the command Paul thought he could actually perform it without the motive tainted by sin (he was after all a devout Jew).

Paul concludes in a strange way lauding the Law and its characteristics of being holy, righteous and good.  He knows an objection is warranted to be raised and continues:

13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.”    

             Paul affirms that the cause of death is sin not the Law which is good.  The purpose for this is to show that sin is and is utterly sinful.  Moreover, it’s just not the cause of death by means of the commandment, but it’s also the effect of death.  Plainly put, the Law is neither the cause nor the effect of death—sin is; which the Law reveals to be real and deadly.  That is the purpose of the Law.            

            That’s why people suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness and that’s why God’s just wrath is on sinful rebels.  This section is amazingly profound and troublesome.  The extent that God went through to show rebels like me that wrath is just because of sin which has been exposed through God’s holy, righteous and good command is amazing.  Moreover, the need to embrace Christ alone as husband is clear in light of the Law’s purpose—to expose sin, not to cleanse it away.  Only Christ can cleanse from sin.

It’s troublesome because this truth is so backwards in the lives of many religious people who are trusting in their law-keeping.  Only death awaits those who trust in that.

LORD, thank you for the light of your word which brings us truth and life.  May I never  and leave this glorious treasure of the gospel, but may I and Your church proclaim it boldly, kindly, and relentlessly! (SDG)

Reflections From PROVERBS 12: “KNOWLEDGE, TRUTH & LIES—CONTRASTING THE RIGHTEOUS FROM THE WICKED”

proverbs

          The Scriptures reveal among other things that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of truth.  He cannot lie, is the grounds of all that is good and beautiful and despises that which opposes Him.  Solomon has several insights in this chapter that point to this Biblical theme:

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid.” (V.1)

 Here the object of what is loved or hated results in either the acquisition of knowledge or the lack thereof.  To acquire knowledge in Proverbs comes from, among other things, the fear of the LORD (1:4-7), the treasuring of His commandment (2:1-8), and the guarding of His instruction (4:5-13).  This knowledge instructs us in the way of righteousness always.  Thus, to hate this discipline/instruction will leave us foolish like a city without walls, a lamp without oil, and a sword that’s blunt.  The vulnerability that results is ominous because such attitudes cause a stupor of soul in those on the precipice of death.

Another Biblical theme which many in the 21st century deny is not that there’s such a thing as religious knowledge, but actual truth that’s objective.  This truth is grounded in the God of truth.  Consider here again the contrast between the righteous and the wicked:

17He who speaks truth tells what is right,
But a false witness, deceit.”

18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.

19 Truthful lips will be established forever,
But a lying tongue is only for a moment.
”   

First, we see that what is true has a moral quality of what is right.  Thus, to speak the truth is to demonstrate moral righteousness.  But a false witness (court room language) depicts what is morally wrong.  That is, he depicts what’s not true with the intent to deceive.  Thus, truth is equal to what is moral, and falsehood is equal to what’s immoral (V.17).

Second, words can either bring destruction or restoration.  The wise use their words to heal those around them, rather than to tear them apart.  The fool knows no such thing for when he opens up his mouth a reckless destruction follows; a maimed soul is left in his wake (V.18).

Third, those who speak the truth are not for a moment.  This quality of character shows the fruit of righteousness which has no end and thus this soul will never be forgotten.  Contrast the duration of a liar and its but for a moment, a vaporous instance.  The wicked will be forgotten and in their plight their silence will be eternal (V.19).

Thus, to champion knowledge and truth is righteousness displayed.  To squash or despise knowledge and to spin lies, results from the hands of the wicked.  Note that what grounds the good from the evil is the God of creation, not the creation itself. (SDG)