Archive for May, 2016

The Spirit-filled Life (Part 2)

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Romans 8:5–11 (NLT)

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life* because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

The freedom from sin accomplished by the saving work of Jesus Christ results in a new way of living.  Paul contrasts those who live according to the sinful nature with those who live according to the Spirit.

Those who live a life dominated by the sinful nature (flesh) means essentially everyone apart from Christ.  Paul has already spelled this out, but here he rehashes what he already said.  Those who are controlled by the sinful nature live a life that leads to death.  Their whole orientation is hostile to God.

There is no such thing as being indifferent to God.  You are either oriented toward God, or you are hostile toward God.  So letting the Spirit control one’s life leads to eternal life and peace.  The peace to which Paul refers is first and foremost peace with God, as if we were at war with God.  So Paul said in v. 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been made right by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” For that reason, “those who are under the control of the sinful nature can never please God.”  (v. 8:8)

In contrast, those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are not controlled by their sinful nature.  Instead, we are controlled by the Spirit.  (v. 9)  The Holy Spirit directs the lives of believers.  This doesn’t mean that we do not sin.  We are still sinners saved by grace.  However, it does mean that the orientation of the believers life is now toward God, when it previously was toward sin and death.  That is what the word repentance implies, a turning away from sin and toward God, a reorientation of life from what the sinful nature desires to what God desires and wills for us instead.  We turn from death toward life in Jesus Christ.

This reorientation of the will is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is part of what it means to say we have new life in Christ.  We are regenerated.  And because we are regenerated, we have the Spirit of Christ as a sign and seal of that regeneration.

Some folks have gotten the idea that we do not have the Holy Spirit in us after baptism, that it awaits some second event that will make us super saints.  But Paul disabuses that notion.  He says (parenthetically), “And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.”  (v. 9)  So in the United Methodist Church, after you are baptized, the pastor lays hands on you and prays for the Holy Spirit to “work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  There is an understanding that this life of following Christ is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.  So Paul says that this same Spirit consistently opposes sin and death in our lives.

Paul is aware that not all the blessings of the Kingdom of God have been realized.  We still are subject to death until Christ returns.  (v. 10)  But the Spirit is the agent of eternal life.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the first sign that we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.  And the presence of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the Spirit will resurrect us from the dead, “just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

In some mysterious way, we are already living eternal life since the day of our salvation.  Since that day, the sanctifying grace of God has been at work in our lives transforming us into the image of Christ.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us reason to think that the life of glory has already begun in our lives.  Although we still live in this body of clay, in our spirits we have already begun to break away from this present age into the Kingdom of God.  So Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”  For wherever the King is, there is the Kingdom.”

The sinful nature is dead in us as a result of the work of Jesus Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit.  But Martin Luther said something to the effect that the old man who is drowned in baptism, but the old man is a good swimmer.

Lord, help me to live each day into my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The Spirit Filled Life (Pt. 1)

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Romans 8:1–11 (NLT) So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power* of the life-giving Spirit has freed you* from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.* So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

 

Romans 8:1 is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible.  I think because there is so much negativity in modern expressions of faith, this verse comes as a breath of fresh air.  It expresses the freeing truth of God’s grace:  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  In Ch. 8, Paul goes on to express the assurance of salvation that comes through the Spirit-filled life.

Why are those who are in Christ Jesus not condemned?  Because the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  (v. 2)  The Holy Spirit is the One who frees us from the bondage of the law of sin that leads to death.

The Law of Moses could not save, as Paul points out in ch. 7.  The Law could only point out our sin and show us how sinful we are really.   If it were possible for us to be saved through obedience to the Law, then we should all still be Jews and following the Law.  There would have been no need for God to send Jesus Christ in a body like the bodies that we sinners have.

The fact that the Son of God came as a human being is significant.  It expresses how the mission of God (missio dei) works.  God sent his Son in the flesh.  There is a sending:  God sent the Son of God.   And there is a form of ministry:  in the flesh.   (John 1:14)  So our ministry should reflect God’s ministry.  We are sent to the people to whom we minister.  And we should minister with them, among them, as one of them.  And the Son of God gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  (Rom. 8:3)  So also in our ministry, there must be a dying to self.  Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Taking up one’s cross implies a dying to self – sacrificial living.

Paul’s explains how the atonement works in vv. 3, 4.  First, he says that through Christ’s sacrificial death, God ended sin’s control over us (v. 3)  Secondly, he says that God “did this so that the requirements of the law would be fully satisfied for us.”  (v. 4)  Paul’s explanation here suggests a theory of the atonement.  He introduces the concept of satisfaction in these verses.

How does satisfaction work?  In this case, he may be suggesting that by setting us free from the law of sin and death, Christ enables us to please God, and so fulfill the true intention of the law:  to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Jesus said that the entire Law and the Prophets (that is, the entire OT) is encapsulated in these two verses.

As a result of Christ’s saving work, we “no longer follow our sinful nature, but instead follow the Spirit.”  (v. 4)  The final part of v. 4 introduces the subject of the Spirit-filled life, which will continue through Rom. 8:1-30.

 

 

Freed From the Power of Sin

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Romans 6:15–23 (NLT) Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Under the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses was the governing power.  Now, believers are set free from the Law.  We are no longer under the Law, but that does not mean that we are lawless.  And in fact that is what the Jews accused Paul and Christians of being.  If we are not under the Law of Moses, they reasoned, then we must me lawless, as the Gentiles were deemed to be lawless, and therefore, sinners.

The key word in this passage is righteousness (dikaiosune).  (Rom. 6:16) Vine defines righteousness as “the character or quality of being right or just”.  The English word righteousness was formerly “rightwiseness,” which clearly expresses the meaning.  Righteousness is one of God’s communicable attributes (Rom. 3:5), that means that God is able to communicate, to give God’s own righteousness to humanity.  And righteousness is only available through God, and in fact, righteousness cannot be gotten in any other way, except by grace through faith.  For the Scriptures say, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”  (Isa. 64:6)

In this passage, Paul is using righteousness in a judicial sense, referring to the activity of God to set people in a right relationship with himself, or to the righteous standing that believers enjoy as a result of Chrsit’s work (Rom. 1:17; 3:21, 22).  This is essentially the same as in the Old Testament (Hebrew tsedeq or tsedaqah, meaning righteousness), meaning the right behavior that God requires from God’s people.  In this case, obedience to the Law.

The second key word in this passage is the flesh (sarx) (v. 19).  The flesh refers to human nature, and especially to the sin nature, that is, the inclination to sin that characterizes all humanity apart from Christ.  Paul uses the illustration of slavery to show that humanity is enslaved to sin.  He defines sin as both impurity and lawlessness.  But now we are no longer slaves to sin, instead, we are slaves to righteousness (v. 18).

Apart from Christ, the person who is a slave to sin cannot choose any other direction except to sin.  How can we ask people who are slaves to sin to behave in any other way except sinfully?  They have no choice.  We cannot expect sinners to behave in any other way.  If we expect alcoholics and drug addicts or prostitutes or “name your favorite sin here” to meet our standards of behavior before they come to Christ (or rather, before they come to our church), then we are placing an impossible barrier to the Gospel before them.

I wish that the church that I serve would be filled with sinners.  We hope that our churches are welcoming to sinners, to strangers, to those who are on the margins of our society.  But the fact is most churches are only welcoming to those who are like the ones who are already filling the pews.  This creates a barrier to the Gospel.  And this barrier is itself sin.  If Christ himself showed up in my church dressed as a beggar, how would he be received?  Would we offer the best seat in the house?  Or would we turn him away and throw him out?  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is instructive.  (Luke 16:19-31)  We are all the same before the throne of God with nothing about which to boast.  We come to the throne of grace as sinners saved by grace alone.

But sin always has a cost and a penalty.  The eternal consequences of sin are death (Rom. 5:12-21; 6:16-23).  Wages are something that you earn.  In other words, sinners are working for a penalty that they have earned:  death.  And Paul is remembering perhaps God’s warning to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “If you eat of the fruit of this tree you will die.”  This death is not primarily physical death, but death in a spiritual sense means eternal separation from God.  But thank God, there is a remedy for sin, and it came through Jesus Christ.  And eternal life is not something that you can earn, but is the free gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (v. 23)

John Wesley believed that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the greatest outpouring of God’s grace upon the earth.  In Christ, the power of the sin nature was broken.  So Christ cancelled the debt of our sin and guilt before God.  He took the penalty for our sin, so that we would not have to pay the price (redemption).  For Wesley, this is the work of divine grace that turns us away from sin and draws us toward God, that pardons and renews us through the free gift of faith in Jesus Christ, that moves and enables us to seek and receive the benefits of new life in Christ.

Yet, while the power of sin is broken in our lives, we are still sinners in a fallen world.  Our sanctification, that is, our being remade into the image of Christ, is a lifelong journey that is only accomplished by walking in the Spirit day by day (Rom. 8).  Our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ signifies the power that makes the life of faith and holiness possible.

Lord, help me to live each day in the light of my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in your righteousness, and to live as I should, not to bring shame upon your name, but to glorify you through holy words and actions.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

 

The Reign of Grace and Life

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Romans 5:12–21 (NRSV) 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Throughout ch. 5 to 8, Paul compares and contrasts this “present evil age” and a “glorious age to come.”  He uses these contrasting realms to conceptualize our experience of salvation.  The old realm is ruled by death (5:12-21), sin (ch. 6), and the law (ch. 7), and the sin nature (ch. 8).  In contrast, the new realm is characterized by life (ch. 5), righteous living (ch. 6), grace (ch. 6), and the Holy Spirit (ch. 8).

Paul goes back to the the account of Creation and the fall in Genesis (Gen. 1-3)  and the meaning of the first parents as prototypes of humanity and keys to the moral failure known as the Fall.  Paul is not comparing Adam with Christ, but describing the results of their actions.  Paul contrasts Adam’s act of disobedience with Christ’s act of obedience which led to reconciliation.

Why does Paul focus on Adam?  He is not unaware of Eve’s contribution to the Fall, but he focuses on Adam, the first man, in order to focus on the universal aspects of what he is saying.  Adam is the Hebrew word for man, or human.  All references to Adam in this passage have a generic meaning that embraces all of humanity, both male and female.  Adam, the first man, contrasts with Jesus Christ, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)

In the beginning, God created everything and pronounced it good.  Humanity is the crowning creation of God, in that, God created humanity in God’s own image.  But sin entered the world through one man, Adam (Rom. 5:12).  The act of sin in humanity broke the relationship that existed between God and humanity.

Before the fall, Adam’s state and standing was the same.  Adam had unconfirmed holiness, and his standing before God was the same.  After the fall into sin, Adam’s state and standing were also the same.  He was a confirmed sinner.  And so are we to this day, unless we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In fact, through this one original sin, all have sinned.  Through his sin, Adam became the father of all sinners.  One way to understand this is that Adam stood as the representative of all of humanity before God, and in his fall, so we have all fallen into sin.  Whatever the explanation for how this happened, the fact remains that every human being born is born with a sin nature, that is a predisposition to sin.

Adam was created with the potential to live a holy life, humans now are born with the inevitable destiny of sin.  It is impossible to not sin, so Paul says, (Rom. 7:21–24 NLT)  “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”  So the Psalmist declares, “There is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Ps. 14:3; Rom. 3:10)

Through Adam’s sin, death came to all humanity.  (Rom. 5:18) So Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  (Rom. 6:23)   Death spoken of here is not just the physical death that all humans experience, but the spiritual death, the death of the soul.  Sinners are those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  (Eph. 2:1)  Death is universal because sin is universal.  (Rom. 5:18)

But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s grace.  Through Adam’s sin death entered the world, but through God’s grace and forgiveness life entered the world through Jesus Christ.  (Rom. 5:15)  Both Adam and Jesus Christ committed a single act whose influence extends to all people.  Adam represents all humanity.  God offers all humanity a free gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  But we must receive the gift of righteousness in order to be represented by Christ.  “For all who receive ti will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.”  (v. 17)

Christ’s one act of righteousness refers to his death upon the cross, which he died once for all sinners.  It is a righteous act, because Christ chose to die in obedience to the Father’s will (John 10:18).  And as a result, new life in Christ is available to everyone through Christ.  (v. 20)  Paul isn’t teaching that everyone will be saved.  But that the atoning work of Christ is available to everyone.  The offer of salvation is to whoever will believe (John 3:16).

So what was the purpose of God’s Law (the Mosaic Law)?  Paul says that the Law was given to show people how sinful they truly were.  (v. 20)  So in the old realm, sin reigned over all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles from Adam until today.  But now, God’s grace has done a new thing.  And the law of grace now rules.  And so through Christ, God’s grace offers us right standing with God (justification), “and results in eternal life through Jesus Christ.”  (v. 21)

Lord, I thank you that sin and death no longer rule over the world.  I thank you that you have delivered me from the power of sin and death through the death of your Son, our Lord, upon the cross.  Help me to to live into my baptism, to live into my higher calling day by day, in and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

 

 

Forgiven!

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Romans 5:1–11 (NLT)  Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace* with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

There is no more beautiful word in the Bible than this one word, “Forgiven.”  To the paralytic, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.”  And to prove that he had authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:24), he said to this same man, “Get up!  Take up your mat and go home!”  Paul also understood the power of God’s grace which through faith in Jesus Christ leads to forgiveness of sins.

In ch. 5, Paul lays out the significance of reconciliation with God.  In vv. 1-5, he spells out the new perspective on life that comes to the believer through justification by faith.  We experience an inner peace and joy, and hope even in the face of difficult situations.  In vv. 6-11, Paul describes the new relationship that believers have with God through the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Forgiveness results from nothing less than God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.

The first result of justification by grace through faith is peace with God.  (v. 1)   Or another way to say it is:  justification results in peace with God.  When we think of our relationship with God before salvation, Paul is saying that we did not have peace with God.  He is not speaking about a feeling of peace or peacefulness, but rather the condition of hostility that existed between humanity and God as a result of sin.  When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, and believe that he died for our sins, then we are justified in the sight of God.  And as a result we have peace with God.  Peace with God is the end of hostility between God and sinful human beings.

Our new faith relationship with Jesus Christ results in a new right relationship with God.  We have peace with God.  We have been brought into a place of undeserved privilege.  And as a result, “we confidently look forward to sharing in God’s glory.”  (vv. 1, 2)  Peace with God is not something that Christians receive in the future, but is a present blessing which we receive the moment we first believe.  God offers us a new relationship and a new nature on the basis of our faith in his Son.  So in 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come.”  We have a new life in Christ.  This is called regeneration.

In the work of justification, our standing with God has changed.  As a result, we are standing in a place of security.  One of the great blessings of salvation in Christ is this sense of security.

After his dramatic conversion, Martin Luther often struggled with doubt and with his tormenting physical ailments that discouraged him.  Whenever he was faced with these episodes of doubt and discouragement, he would find a secluded palce to pray.  He would address the devil with these words, “Satan, leave me!  I am baptized!”

Like Luther, I struggle with doubt and discouragement.  Anyone who has spent any time in the ministry will also do so.  Critics will always point out our flaws and question who we claim to be.  Even more threatening are the doubts and questions that we pose to ourselves.  We should not discount the work of the devil as the accuser.  He is still at work accusing us about our relationship with God, even as he did from the beginning.

In moments of doubt, we need to remind ourselves of where we stand.  By faith we have trusted God for our salvation, and as a result we have new standing with God.  “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

Lord, I’m standing behind the rock of my salvation, Jesus Christ.  And I stand in his righteousness, not my own, through faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord, who died for my sins and not only mine, but the sin of the whole world.  So I join Martin Luther in saying, “Get behind me Satan!  I am baptized!”  I am washed in the blood of the Lamb.  And I am a joint-heir with Jesus, looking forward joyfully and confidently to sharing with him in his Kingdom.  Amen.

 

 

God’s Good News

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Romans 1:16–17 (NLT)

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.  17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Paul opens his letter to the church at Rome with the typical greetings expected in a 1st century letter.  But he moves quickly to the theme of the letter:  how the Gospel, the Good News, is in fact “Good News” for all.  The Good News about Jesus Christ reveals not only the righteousness of God, which previously was revealed by other means, but also provides the way for making God’s righteousness a reality in one’s life by grce through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

The word translated “Good News” or “Gospel” (euangelion) is the same word from which we get our English word evangelism, and its root evangel.  Evangel is the English equivalent of euangelion.     In the New Testament (NT), it denotes the “good tidings” of the Kingdom of God and salvation through Jesus Christ, to be received by faith on the basis of his atoning work upon the cross, his resurrection and ascension.  The first appearance of the Word in the NT is in Mark 1:14, where “Good News” is used to summarize the preaching of Jesus.  Paul uses the term in two ways, historically and doctrinally.  Historically, Paul means the basic facts of the death, burial, resurrection of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). And doctrinally, Paul refers to the interpretation of these facts (e.g. Rom. 2:16; etc.).

In the context of the 1st Century, the Good News about Jesus Christ appeared to be foolishness, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles.  The Jews had been waiting for a powerful Messiah (Christ) to appear who would kick their Roman oppressors out and re-establish the Kingdom of David.  Instead, Paul preached a message about a Suffering Savior who reconciled humanity to God through his death upon the cross.  This is the scandal of the cross.

How could the Romans possible switch their allegiance from the Roman Emperor who claimed divine status to a carpenter turned rabbi who was condemned and executed by a Roman governor?  To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” was the same as declaring rebellion against the Roman Emperor, who demanded people to swear allegiance by saying, “Caesar is Lord.”  It was risky business.

Yet Paul proclaims, “I am not ashamed of the Good News about Jesus Christ!”  (v. 16)  He is convinced that the Good News about Jesus Christ can hold its own in the court of public opinion against both Jewish and pagan philosophers.

Paul is not ashamed when skeptics reject the Good News.  There will always be those who point out what they see as logical fallacies in the Christian faith.  That is why we need people like William Lane Craig (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig) and J. P. Moreland (http://www.jpmoreland.com/).  I had the privilege of taking apologetics from Dr. Moreland.  I still frequently refer to his book, Scaling the Secular Wall.  These Christian philosophers have continued to fight the good fight of the faith arguing that Christianity is both reasonable and possible in the modern world.

This is the field of apologetics.  The purpose of apologetics is to demonstrate that the Christian faith is reasonable, and defend it against its detractors.  But thankfully, you don’t have to be a PhD. to have faith in Christ.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul demonstrates his awareness of and answers to objections raised against the Christian faith by both Jews and Gentiles.  He stands his ground and claims that in the Good News about Jesus Christ is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

I have seen criminals, animists, Muslims, atheists, neo-pagans, drug addicts, alcoholics, and all manner of sinners come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I have seen people set free from their sins and heard them proclaim, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”  And I myself am one of them.  Like Paul I have come to know the “Good News” about Jesus Christ, that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  And neither am I ashamed of the Good News.  Jesus has been my Lord for my whole life.

Ultimately, it is not how well we know the arguments for the reasonableness of the Christian faith.  Rather, it is our faith relationship, our love relationship, with Christ that defines the Christian life.  The Gospel is Good News, not because it is reasonable, even though it can be demonstrated that our faith is reasonable.  No.  The Gospel is Good News, because it is the power of God through which God’s righteousness is revealed.  And through this Good News we have eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing else.  (v. 17)

The question Paul answers in Romans is, “How can a sinner ever enter into a right relationship with a holy God?  The answer is “the righteous will live by faith.”  And this is the theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Lord, I am a sinner.  But I thank you that I am a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord.  And so I am not ashamed to proclaim, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”  against all powers and principalities in this world that would profess a different god as Lord, whether earthly powers or heavenly powers.  Help me to live each day by grace through faith.  Help me to walk in faith through your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

God’s Justifying Grace

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Romans 3:21–31 (NRSV) Righteousness through Faith

21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Doctors begin by diagnosing the problem.  So Paul begins his explanation of justification by faith with the diagnosis:  “No one is righteous, not even one.”  (Rom. 3:10), quoting from Ps. 14:1-3.  And he concludes, “For everyone has sinned, we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  (Rom. 3:23)   Paul has spent the better part of ch. 1-3 defining the problem of sin in detail.  He has also identified several ineffective ways in which humanity has tried to gain a right standing with God.   His conclusion is that while everyone has a natural inclination to sin – a sin nature.  Not everyone has the same consciousness of sin.  The Law only succeeds in making us conscious of sin, but by itself the Law cannot save us.  So what is to be done about our sin?  How can we be made right with God?

It is in this passage (Rom. 3:21-31) that Paul declares that all are justified freely by God’s grace (3:24).  Grace is God’s unmerited, undeserved favor.  The grace that is offered to us as a promise, becomes a reality when we respond in faith.  We cannot earn God’s grace through good works.  It is accomplished by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  “Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.  He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”  (Rom. 3:24)

Here Paul is expressing what we call God’s justifying grace.  John Wesley saw God’s work of grace in salvation in three ways:  prevenient grace (the grace that comes before salvation), justifying grace (the grace that brings us to a right relationship with God), and sanctifying grace (the grace that restores in us the image of a holy God).

Justification is the work of God the Holy Spirit that God accomplishes in us by grace through faith at the moment of conversion.  Robert Lyon defines justification in this way, “The act of God in bringing sinners into a new covenant relationship with himself through the forgiveness of sins.  Along with…”regeneration” and reconciliation,” it relates to a basic aspect of conversion.” (Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1988)

When I teach about justification in my confirmation classes, I use a simple definition.  Justification is “just as if I have never sinned.”  In other words, in the work of justification, God removes from us the guilt of our sin.  Salvation is based on the justifying work of Christ upon the cross.  He took the punishment for our sins upon the cross, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world for all time.  He paid the debt once for all.

To be justified is to be made right with God.  In the process of salvation this means that we are freed from both the guilt and the punishment that we deserved as a result of our sins.  And in addition we receive new life in Christ (regeneration).

Wesley pointed out that this forgiveness was only possible as a result of Christ’s death on the cross.  Christ’s atoning work is the climax of God’s love for humanity.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16 NLT)

Justification is a relative change, that is, it is a change in our relationship with God.  Before we are saved, we are at odds with God over sin.  But now repentant sinners, as a result of Christ’s saving work, are considered by God as free from guilt and punishment for past sins.