Law Or Grace: You Choose!

I have to admit I am enjoying my study of the Epistle to the Romans. The process is revitalizing my faith, while helping me to trust God’s process. As we move toward the midterm elections we hear so many fear mongers. Daniel 2:21 reminds us that God “changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” I trust God and His plan, which is ultimately the message of Romans chapter 4.

In chapters 2 and 3, the Apostle Paul told us that all have sinned. There is no distinction made between those who were a part of the chosen people and those who were not. All of us have hamartia, missed the mark. However, in chapter 3 Paul explains God’s plan for dealing with this problem, the death of His Son on the cross. In chapter 4 of Romans, Paul now explains the avenue through which one can participate in this blessing. That avenue is faith.

Chapter 4 begins with “what then shall we say?” In other words, I have just argued that all have sinned, but all can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. To solidify his argument he answers the question, what about Abraham? What can we learn about the relationship between God and human kind from Abraham? In verse 3 it says, “Abraham believe God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” I think this is the key verse in chapter 4, but what does it mean?

Wuest states, “It will therefore follow, that it was not the act of believing which was reckoned to him as a righteous act, or on account of which perfect righteousness was laid to his charge, but that the fact of his trusting God to perform His promise introduced him into the blessing promised.” Abraham’s trust that God would perform what he promised is the exemplar of human kind’s relationship with God. If we trust that God’s sacrifice does what He said it does, then we are counted as righteous.

I am a business guy. I like numbers and efficiency. I like managing people. So, when I see a word like accounted I am interested in the meaning. The Greek word is logizomai, and it refers to “putting something down to one’s account.” Wuest describes what is meant here, “God put into Abraham’s account, placed on deposit for him, credited to him, righteousness. The actual payment had not been made, the actual bestowing of righteousness had not been consummated, and for the reason that our Lord had not yet paid the penalty of man’s sin.” Because of faith Abraham possessed righteousness in his account, but it became realized after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I like this. King David rejoiced in this truth, “Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity” (Psalm 32:1,2). When we trust God that He will accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, we are forgiven, no wonder we experience the gushing of living water. As Jesus stated in John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Through salvation we now experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives giving us a new life filled with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc., which is the fruit of the Spirit.

Contrast that with the hatred we see around us in the world. Try posting something online that is contrarian with what is acceptable to the masses, and you will receive the full force of the world system. I think this illustrates Paul’s juxtaposition of the law and faith. All through these first four chapters Paul has been contrasting two experiences. One that is associated with the law, that brings about wrath. When we break the law, we are punished. The law is unbending, you either obey the law or you will receive probation, fine, or jail time. In the case of God’s law, it involves eternal punishment. However, Paul contrasts that with grace. “Therefore, it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed” (Romans 4:16). In other words, whether you are Jew or Gentile the offer is to all, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

I am finishing up a book that discusses the relationship of the Church with Social Justice. Ronald Nash was the author. He was a philosophy professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. He was a proponent of religious particularism. This was a new phrase to me, but one I believe. Nash taught that “one had to possess explicit belief in Jesus Christ in order to obtain salvation.” Using this as our definition of religious particularism I think we can safely assume that Paul was of the same belief.

Nash was also an opponent of Liberation Theology, which has been and will be a subject for this blog, and Socialism. He used three claims to describe Liberation Theology. 1. Christians out to become politically active on behalf of the poor and oppressed. 2. The major cause of poverty and oppression in the world is capitalism. 3. Christians should attack capitalism and see it replaced by socialism. My opinion after spending time with Nash in his book that he would agree with the first claim, but not the last two. I too would agree with his assessment. As stated I will address this further at another time.

However, I bring this up at this point because I see so many people who are believers that spend so much time in the political realm that they have forgotten Paul’s message. God’s “righteousness shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24). To not share this message and only focus on oppression is missing a huge part of the gospel. As I have said before, there is no gospel without social concern, and there is no gospel without salvation.

And that is my thought for the day!

Israel and God’s Plan: Romans Chapter 2

Today we continue to mourn the mass shooting that occurred on Saturday. As I sit in my office thinking about what to write about, I am appalled at the level of hate in our country. The latest example being the deaths at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. I wish this were the only time that Jewish people were attacked, but it is not. Throughout history we see a people attacked and hated. The Egyptians turned them into slaves, the Germans, specifically Adolph Hitler, attempted to exterminate them, and their country is surrounded by people who want to destroy them. They are God’s chosen people and have a special place in God’s economy.

In chapter 2 of Romans we learned that the Jew is no different than the gentile, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” However, Paul wants us to know that the Jew does have an advantage, one that is critically important. Although the Jew cannot say they are not in need of a savior, they can hold onto certain amenities. Paul describes this as involving the possession of the scriptures. God had entrusted to the Jews His word, the description of how God interacts with humankind and specifically how He intended to send a savior.

God has chosen to act in history through a given group of people. The first was Abraham who demonstrated to people the importance of faith. Then there was King David, not a perfect man, but a man who was after God’s own heart. Don’t forget the major and minor prophets, which leads up to the Apostles, and the New Testament. All of which declare the mighty acts of God. The Jews were the custodian of all of God’s plan.

Paul then expounds on the argument, if this is such an important relationship, and the Jews failed, then where is God’s faithfulness in this relationship? If Jews are sinners just like everyone else, and they sinned, what is so special about a relationship with God, and can He be trusted? The question here is not God’s faithfulness, but the weakness of humanity. As Paul later states, “there is none righteousness, no not one,” and “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” All this does is confirm what God is telling us, even though we have this problem, we can find the solution in God’s plan.

The heart of chapter three is the gospel message. Because none of us seek God, we have all turned aside, we all have tongues that practice deceit, and have mouths full of cursing, we have no right to stand before God and say that he cannot judge us. The law, the rules that God has established from the beginning tell us we are guilty. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).

However, remember the oracles of God? The scripture that the custodians laid out for us says, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For, there is no difference” (Romans 3:21 and 22). Paul ends this chapter by using several interesting words, justified, grace, redemption, propitiation, and righteousness. Words that should fill our hearts with joy.

In our modern language the word justified is usually used to validate some action we have taken. In this case Paul is describing an act that is taken by God regarding an individual who has faith in Jesus Christ. As Unger states in his dictionary, “Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him.” This is accomplished by an act of grace. Grace is the motivation for God’s gift of His Son. Later Paul will tell us that God gave His Son while we were yet sinners. In other words, we weren’t seeking God, He chose to seek us, and redeem us from slavery to sin. This is truly grace.

This grace has led to what Paul calls redemption. The Greek word used here means to buy from the slave market, which gives a graphic sense of what sin does to us. Jesus paid the price for this sin resulting in the adopting us into the family of God.

The next word is not one we use much today, propitiation. This word is very interesting, and I think it would be best to allow Kenneth Wuest to explain. “Cannon Westcott says, the scripture conception of this word is not that of appeasing one who is angry with a personal feeling against an offender, but of altering that character of that which, from without, occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship.” With faith as the avenue, God’s grace as the motivation, and Jesus Christ’s death as the vehicle, we are moved from one position with God to another. One of disconnect to one of fellowship.

Because of all of this we are declared righteous, just if we had never sinned. Is there any wonder why the one who only comes to kill, steal, and destroy continually tries to hurt the Jew? I am so sorry there is hate in the world. I am so sorry that racism and anger is all around us. But I know the only way to deal with this is to find the Jesus that Paul is describing here. My prayer is that people can see the solution that God offers.

Chapter two of Romans has a very interesting verse. Verse 24 states, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.” That verse is directed at the Jews, but I think it could be addressed to us today. May that not be true about us, and the church.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Consequence of Judgment

The number one reason I am studying the Epistle to the Romans is to better prepare myself for the next few years and the life after. Our politics have become a war, as has our culture. I see people screaming at each other, judging one another for their various opinions. People on the left think they have some moral high ground to force people to accept their opinion as sacred. People on the right are doing the same thing. However, as we see in chapter two of Romans none of us have the right to judge someone else.

A Pastor friend of mine told me that he views the first two chapters of Romans as “how we got in this mess.” I tend to agree with him. Chapter One discusses the fact that human kind in the person of Adam rejected God but continues to reject God through our various acts of sin. But, and this is a huge but, God who is rich in mercy has, through His Son Jesus Christ, given us an opportunity to participate in the needed righteousness of God. Now chapter two does a great job of explaining that none of us have the right to judge someone else. We all have the same problem, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Chapter two begins, “Therefore, you are inexcusable, Oh man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things.” All the Bible commentaries I consulted on this chapter all say this is dealing with Jews. Paul is trying to convince them that they need the same salvation that the gentiles do. In fact, Paul tells them they are inexcusable, or without defense, if they think they can condemn someone else thinking they are not guilty.

I have read this chapter several times of the last few days, and the message to the reader is very clear. Because the goodness of God leads to repentance, we should not take this goodness for granted. Let me explain. Jesus told us a parable about the man who owed millions of dollars to someone else. The man could not pay, and went to the other person and said, I cannot pay my debt. Please forgive what I owe. The person that was owed the money graciously forgave the amount owed. However, the person who was forgiven subsequently went to someone who owed him a dollar. He told the person who owed him the dollar to pay him, or he would put him in prison. The person who owed the dollar begged the man to forgive him, but the man would not.

A short time later the person who had forgiven the man the millions of dollars heard about what the man did to the person who owed him a dollar. Subsequently the person whom the man owed the millions of dollars changed his mind and told the man he would go to prison until every dollar was paid back. Jesus ended this parable with “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). I know this story is about forgiveness, but I really think judgment and forgiveness are closely linked. If I understand the enormity of what I have been forgiven for, the less likely I will be to judge another for what they have done.

Paul’s illustration found in verses 6-10 of chapter two in Romans is very interesting. What He is doing is illustrating a very important truth about “the general system of God in governing the world,” the punishment of the wicked and rewarding the righteous. This is a broad point used to illustrate cause and effect. If we do one thing, it results in negative results. If I do something else, it will result in something good.

As I go over this in my mind, I have concluded that if I am truly going to be a Christian and Ambassador to this dying world, I need to behave a certain way. This behavior is initiated through a clear understanding of the heinousness of my sin, a sense of the depth of God’s forgiveness, and the recognition that I have no right to judge another for their actions because chances are I am doing the very same thing to some extent. Let me apply it to a situation.

Let’s say I get in an argument with a friend. I am a capitalist and he is a socialist. I think he is trying to destroy the United States, he thinks I am greedy trying to exploit people, so I can get wealthier. I am judging him, he is judging me. He is judging me because he thinks I am immoral, and I am judging him that he is trying to destroy our freedom. Neither is completely true, and two friends judging each other does not create a workable compromise. Remember whenever we point one finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at ourselves.

Although I think the purpose of chapter two in Romans is to tell the Jewish people in Rome that they are sinners just like the gentiles, I also think we in the church today could apply this to ourselves. Especially those of us who have been in the church for a long period of time. Maybe we have forgotten where we came from.

I recently had the opportunity to give my testimony to a group of men in a small village outside of Ust-Komenagrosk in Kazakhstan. They were men who were living in a home where they were learning how to overcome alcohol and drug addiction via the power of God. I had the opportunity to remember where I was at one point in my life. But I was also able to tell them of my failures since becoming a Christian. You see, although I have walked with the Lord for 44 years, I am still a work in progress. I judge, which I need to stop, I hate, which I confess and ask forgiveness, and I seek, to be close to God.

Judgment is a negative cause that leads to a negative effect. Forgiveness and love is a positive cause that leads to a positive effect. One leads to dysfunctional activity, while the other leads to vitality.

Returning to my example above, there will always be people that we disagree with, and we need those folks to keep us balanced. Therefore, rather than judging them and writing them off, listen to them and just maybe learn something.

And that is my thought for the day!

Whatever Became of Sin?

I am so excited about this study I am doing. The Epistle to the Romans is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is rich with foundational doctrine as well as practical guidance on how to live as a follower of Jesus. Chapter one is filled with valuable detail needed to understand our role as Ambassadors.

I ended my previous blog discussing how Saul was separated to the gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ, and became Paul. He saw himself as an ambassador for Christ. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 5:20 he describes us all as ambassadors for Christ. The question in my mind at this point is what does it mean to be an ambassador? Especially to the world we have been called to serve? As I pondered this question, I did a quick Google search on what would be the worst place to serve as an American Ambassador. The search did not prove to be fruitful, but it did mention the Iran Crisis between 1979 and 1981.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be an Ambassador to Iran during the crisis? Fifty-two American diplomats were held for a total of 444 days. The trauma faced by these individuals must have been horrific. However, as we read about Christian persecution all around the globe, we recognize being an Ambassador to this fallen world is very dangerous. For those of us in the United States we often complain about persecution, but really getting mobbed on Social Media is not as serious as those who are being murdered for their faith.

However, being an Ambassador is something we should think and pray about unceasingly. Ed Stetzer’s amazing book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, reminds us that in all we do, non-digitally and digitally, “remember the mission.” In the Epistle to the Romans Paul describes both the mission and the mission field where we do battle.

The battle field is one marked by the rejection of God, and the subsequent effect of sin. Paul describes this in the last part of chapter one of Romans. Starting in verse 18 Paul describes our mission field as one resulting from people that know of the King via creation, and by His law manifested in them, but not honoring Him as the King, “they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Our mission field is one where all of the participants are fallen individuals who, Hamartia, miss the mark. As Paul describes later in Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We see this reality all around us. We see war, racism, hatred, sexual immorality, and many more things. We see our political leaders do evil things and call it good. Our mission field is very confusing.

Paul describes why this has occurred. Human kind has taken “the glory of the incorruptible God” and changed it into an image made “like a man, birds, and four-footed creeping things.” We laugh today and tell ourselves that we aren’t like that, but we all know our idols are much more sophisticated. Television makes an incredible idol. It is shiny and gives us hours of pleasure, and we call it “my precious.” How about politics? It makes a great idol taking the place of God.

The degradation of human kind does not end there. The rejection of God has only led our society down a slippery slope. In verse 24 Paul describes how God gave human kind up to uncleanness. Wuest describes this “since men chose to give up God and worship the creature, God could do nothing but to give men into control of the sinful things they preferred to God.”

These things are described very clearly at the end of chapter one starting in verse 26,” For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.

Likewise, also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;

Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,

Backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.”

I do apologize for the long quote above, but I wanted to make sure that I did not leave anything off of the list. Remember the fact that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. My guess is that all of us have done something on this list. The mission field we have been called to is one that is filled with broken and fallen people. These are the ones to whom we must bring the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul gives us several tools for us to use as Ambassadors.

The first tool is the gospel. It is not our good news, but the good news of God. The history of human kind is one of hope and tragedy. The garden was created as a home for Adam and Eve. But, Adam ate of the apple creating a human effect. The effect was that all human beings are born with the propensity to sin. To choose to do bad, and this we do. This becomes the cause of another effect, separation from God resulting in the eventual residence in hell. God is a just God, and sin must be atoned for. But God took it upon Himself to deal with this problem by sending His Son Jesus to die for those sins. Thus, we do not have to die for our sins, because Jesus already did. How do we know that Jesus was the solution?

Because God has “declared” Jesus as the Son of God, “with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Because Jesus rose from the dead we can now participate in the good news.

The second tool involves us declaring how to participate in this miracle. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” According to Wuest the first part of this verse is discussing how God’s righteousness “is bestowed on people by God.” Through a right relationship with God, which occurs through faith in Jesus Christ, “Thus, the righteousness which the gospel offers the sinner is God’s own righteousness in which he will stand in right relation to Him forever.” The medium for this to occur is through faith. As Paul states, “the just shall live by faith.”

The final question I am pondering this morning is, how do we help people to see what Paul eloquently describes in this first chapter? Especially in a post-Christian culture fueled by anti-evangelical ethos? I don’t think the how has changed. In fact, with our culture being antagonistic it could actually result in a positive outcome. If we are driven to our knees, and more reliance on the Spirit of God to accomplish the mission, the outcome will be greater peace in our work.

I don’t think love is all we need. However, I do think Agape is what we need to express to those around us. The sin condition is real, an no amount of SNL comedy can change that. If we don’t act as Ambassadors, then who will?

And that is my thought for the day!

Romans and Servant Leadership

I want to invite you join me on a journey. It is a journey of discovery. I have just returned from Kazakhstan, where I enjoyed a wonderful time working with students and business leaders, where we explored the world of Servant Leadership. I also had the opportunity to give my testimony to a group of men who have struggled with alcohol and drug dependency. The church that runs the home uses Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life as their study material. It was an incredible experience.

I guess I am in a bit of a crisis point in my life. I am now retired, I have started a business, and feel the need to re-gauge my life in relation to my walk with God. It reminds me of when Billy Graham had his moment of crisis. It was shortly after Charles Templeton rejected the word of God. Even as I write those words it sends a chill down my spine, to reject the word of God. Billy Graham could have done the same thing, but he wrestled with God’s word, concluded it is true. The rest, so they say, is history. It also reminds me of another crisis point found in the Gospel of John chapter 6. Jesus had just made an outrageous statement. He said that “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me.” This led to a poignant statement “from that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”

All movies and TV shows set up a moment of tension just before the climatic event. Bull wins his case, Commissioner Reagan solves a problem, or Mike Baxter makes his point. In John we see this tense moment result in a decision. Jesus asks the twelve “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter, answering for the twelve states, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

All around me there are so many different voices, all clamoring for acceptance. Many so-called Christians have chosen right winged politics, and other have chosen left wing politics, each creating some new kind of gospel. I want to reconnect with the true Gospel and see where that leads me as a business person. So, to do this I will be exploring the book of Romans. I think if there is one book that will help me re-connect it is this one.

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, the epistle to the Romans is “the constitution of Christianity.” The letter was written while Paul was in Corinth, probably around 56 A.D. The subjects that Paul addresses include the “universal sinfulness of humankind, and the subsequent solution found by faith in Jesus Christ, while ending with the encouragement to “Christian Living.” In the case of this blog I intend to apply this to my life both in the community and in business. I have to say I am very excited about this. Let’s get started. Oh, and by the way, I will be using the New King James Bible. The authorized version, just a joke.

The book of Romans begins with a greeting. “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” This is not the complete first sentence, but this section is rich with meaning.

Romans according to Unger, “from the time of Irenaenus (140-202 A.D) onward the Epistle was universally recognized as Pauline and canonical.” Simply put these are the words of Paul to the early Roman Church. Paul then describes himself as a “bondservant of Jesus Christ.” According to Kenneth Wuest, the Greek word here is doulos, “the most abject, servile term used by the Greeks to denote a slave.”

As I read the description of what and why Paul is using this phrase, and the particular tense structure in Greek, I am amazed at the humility of Paul. Paul was a great man, but he did not use that greatness to advance himself, but the person of Jesus Christ. The whole idea of being a servant is to do what the Lord wants you to do. Paul is recognizing that our lives are not our own, and if we are to find fulfillment it must be found first and foremost in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I accept that. If I am to be a servant leader it must start with my relationship with Jesus.

The next phase is also rich with meaning, “called to be an apostle.” After developing the structure of the Greek associated with this phrase Wuest states, “Paul was a called apostle in the sense that God summoned him to that position and placed him in it.” As I reflect on the subsequent reasoning around this term, I am amazed at how God took a man who was antagonistic to “the way,” killing the followers of Jesus, and made him an ambassador of Jesus Christ to the world. He was “separated to the gospel of God.”

This separation was quite dramatic. We first see Paul at the stoning of Stephen, where the clothing of the men who threw stones at the martyr were laid at his feet, thus signifying his approval of the outcome. After this point in time, Acts chapter 8 tells us that Saul, who later becomes Paul, made havoc of the Church. However, while on the Damascus road Paul is literally knocked on his behind. It is at this point he is separated unto the gospel. He is called to his purpose as both a servant and apostle.

I think all of us who believe want to be like Paul. We want to find our purpose and faithfully execute what God has called us to do. As I read the first verse of Romans chapter one, I am amazed at the richness and hope associated with the words. Saul was a cruel man, but he was given a new name, Paul, called to serve a dying world. He was not attached to any government other than the government of God. In fact, the government of humankind ended up chopping his head off.

I am excited about this study. If no one else reads it, I am fine with that. This is my moment alone with God’s word. My moment of reconnection that will help me prepare for my future life and translation to the next world (just a little morbid). Yet, maybe someone else will be encouraged to re-connect.

And that is my thought for the day!