Sunday, December 31, 2006

Romans 5:9-11

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

V9-10 – Justified by His blood, we shall be saved from God’s wrath. It is finished! Many Christians think that justification enables salvation, or makes it possible for a person to be saved. But that’s not Biblical teaching. The Bible repeatedly says that justification is certain to bring salvation. There’s no mere possibility about it. If you’re justified, you’re certain to be saved from the wrath of God. How is that possible? We are justified by the blood of Christ, which has already been shed. It has already accomplished its purpose. Consider the implications to your theology that we are justified by the blood of Christ. For whom was the blood of Christ shed? All or all who believe? If for all, then why are not all justified? Did the blood of Christ fail? No. The blood of Christ was shed only for those who believe. And this means that believers are certain to be saved from the wrath of God. Hold your thoughts on the atonement for a moment. Salvation is future. But it’s secure. It’s certain for all who are justified by the blood of Christ. We are justified now and glorified later, but it’s certain.

God was our enemy (we toward Him in rebellion, and He toward us in wrath) before our justification, but the moment the blood of Christ was shed for our justification, God reconciled us to Himself, and we experience this reconciliation in time through the channel of faith. And having been reconciled, we will be saved! What God begins, God will finish. He will completely accomplish all of His purposes in perfection. If you had no other verses in the Bible to prove the doctrine of the eternal security of believers, the perseverance of the saints, you would need to go to no other verses than Romans 5:9-10, where Paul makes it absolutely clear that once God has laid His hands on you, that once God has united you to Christ and justified you by grace through faith, that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate you from His love. If while enemies, God reconciled us to Himself, how much more will He save us from the wrath to come? In v9-10, in all those actions we are being acted upon. God the Father is acting, justifying, reconciling, saving; God saves His people from Himself (His wrath) by the blood of His Son, by enacting His wrath, which was reserved for His people (and all), in its totality on His Son. Did He do this for all people or just His people? If for all, why is anyone condemned? How does this make you feel? We’ll break down the atonement when we do our Calvinism / Arminianism study.

How does the phrase, “How much more,” function in this passage? The hard thing has already been accomplished; how much more will the easy thing be done! If Christ died (the hard thing), He will certainly save (the easy thing).

V11 – Rejoice in God through Christ, for we have received reconciliation! Boast in the Lord! He has accomplished salvation in us. He has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and it has nothing to do with us. We’ve either received it through the channel of faith, or we haven’t. We know that we receive these incredible blessings of justification, peace, hope, sanctification, reconciliation, and salvation from wrath through faith. That’s why we believers pray that He would reconcile non-believers by granting them faith and repentance.

In v2 we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. In v3 we rejoice in our sufferings and tribulations, because they refine our faith by developing perseverance and godly character; they help us hope more fully in that coming glory of God. And now in v11, we rejoice in God Himself, in Who He is, in His holy and perfect character, in His majesty. That’s what Christians do: Receive Him, reconciled, justified, through faith. May God grant us the peace and certain hope in the truth of our secure and certain eternal salvation in Him; and more importantly, may God grant us joy in Him, in Who He is, and in His glory.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Romans 5:7-8

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God demonstrates His love for us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Paul, in v7, illustrates his argument from v6. He shows that it may seem reasonable to give your life to save someone who might in some way be worthy of salvation. It might be noble to sacrifice your own being so that someone of greater potential could go on. Most daddies would be willing to sacrifice their lives for their wives or children, and that’s because our wives and children seem deserving to us. From our perspective, they haven’t done anything to deserve death. A soldier is willing to die for his country, because he sees his nation as being worthy in some way. Nevertheless, the death of a daddy for his family is relatively rare. A bit less rare for a soldier, but the point is the same. Paul says that this love, this willingness to die, is not like the love of God, not like the willingness of Christ to die on our behalf. We cannot even compare that kind of love with the love that God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. Why is the love of God so different, so much more?

God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is not what philosophers call the love of complacency. In other words, God doesn’t look at us and say, “Oh, how lovely. How wonderful. Oh, I just couldn’t go on without those human beings. They are just so excellent, so fine. There’s something in them that compels My love for them.” That’s the love of complacency. That’s the love that attracts men to women. We delight in something in someone else that attracts us to them. That’s not the love of God. The love of God is what philosophers would call love of spontaneity. It dwells up from within Him. It’s not conditioned on something in us. In fact, if it were conditioned on something in us, we wouldn’t have received it in the first place; because we’re unlovely, we’re ungodly. God’s love for us in Christ is not based upon something in us or about us. It’s based wholly and solely on something in Him and about Him. Why He loves us is something that we will spend an eternity never understanding completely. And Paul is saying, “That’s the kind of love that God has for us. It’s not like any other kind of love.”

Paul explains that Christ did not die for the deserving in God’s eyes; He died for the undeserving. He did not die for the righteous or the worthy; rather, He died for the wretched, the unrighteous. Because it’s rare that a human would lay down his life for a righteous and noble and deserving person, how amazing is it that God would give His Son for those who deserve death. We all know, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But some folks wrestle with the Bible’s authority. So perhaps a better chorus would be, “Jesus loves me this I know, for He died for me, an unworthy sinner.” That’s how we know God loves us.

Paul is not saying that Jesus died merely to show us that God loved us. Jesus’ death is far more significant than being merely the greatest example of God’s love. Christ died, as we’ve already seen, to atone for our sins, to propitiate God’s wrath, to cover our sins, to remove our guilt, to justify us, and make us accepted before God. But as a consequence of those things, we see God’s love for us. Likewise, the cross doesn’t make God the Father love His people. It is the consequence of God’s love for His people. What does it mean to say that Christ died for you?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Romans 5:5-6

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

V5 – Hope does not disappoint. God has poured out His love in our hearts by giving us the Holy Spirit. Again, the hope is sure and settled. It does not disappoint. How do we know? We have the Spirit. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit confirms our hope of glory. God has poured out His saving love into our hearts by giving us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit tells us that God has undeniable, undeserved, and intense saving love for us. Since we have been justified through faith by the saving works of Christ, we know (our hope is certain) that God’s saving love for us will not disappoint. The Holy Spirit’s presence confirms it.

Watch the spiraling nature of hope in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” How does hope work in the Christian life? It starts with the God of hope. He fills believers with joy and peace. In other words, our joy and peace rise with our belief that the God of hope is for us in Christ. Joy and peace are sustained by hope. But then the verse says that God fills us with joy and peace “so that you may overflow with hope.” So here we have more hope coming from the fruit of hope. Hope brings about our joy and peace. And our joy and peace bring about more and more hope. The first hope is a means to the last hope.

Notice also the parallel to Romans 5:5 in Ephesians 3:16-19: “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Pray with all your heart the prayers of Paul. Like the one in Ephesians 1:18-19, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.” When the eyes of our hearts are opened to the greatness of God’s love, the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who was given to us.

Notice finally the faith-hope-love trinity mentioned here. Paul loves to talk about faith, hope, and love, and he does it right here. V1-2: our faith; v2-5: our hope; v5-8: God’s love. Not our love for Him, but His love for us. Our justification means that God’s saving love is applied to us through faith.

V6 – At just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Paul confirms the unfailing love of God by declaring that Christ died for the ungodly in their powerlessness. He died for people who did not deserve it and who were unable to earn it or contribute anything to it. The Gospel declares God’s love, not for the godly, powerful, lovable folks, but for the unlovable, the weak, the powerless, the ungodly. Paul is bringing up an argument here. He says, “You want to see the love of God? Look at those for whom Christ died.” That’s the love of God. Then Paul illustrates his argument in v7-8, and we'll look at that after a Christmas blogging break…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Romans 5:2-4

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

V2-4 – Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; rejoice in suffering which produces perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope. Another implication of justification, besides peace, is hope for the glory of God, in which believers get to share. The Israelites wanted Canaan; Moses wanted to see God’s glory. Do we just want to be in heaven, maybe sneak in by the skin of our teeth, or do we want to see God’s glory in the face of Christ? Who is the first person you want to see in heaven? It better be Christ. Yearning for God’s glory, we share in it. And it will be revealed like never before. God will glorify Himself by restoring creation into an eternal perfection, without the possibility of corruption, and we will share in it. Do you hope for the glory of God? Satan wants God’s people to think that God is not worth living for. But in the end God’s glory is going to be revealed. And everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ will know that God was worth living for, and that living for His glory is beyond question. Paul is saying, “If you’re justified, you will be there; God is worth living for.”

Paul says, “Rejoice in the glory of God to come and also in the sufferings you currently endure.” It’s easy to see why we rejoice about what’s coming, especially given that we are so confident in it. But it’s not easy to rejoice in suffering. Suffering is hard, especially ongoing suffering with no end in sight. Paul doesn’t say that we rejoice in spite of our sufferings; he says that we rejoice on account of our sufferings. How is it that you can rejoice in suffering and tribulation? The only way that you can rejoice in any and every tribulation is to know that in every tribulation you are seeing not God against you, but God for you. For the unbeliever, he may well feel that the trials and tribulations of life are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The traumas and difficulties of life may cause him to say, “This universe makes no sense. I loved that woman, and God took her away from me by cancer. I loved that job, and I was wrongfully taken from it. I loved my child. I devoted myself to my child, and God took my child away from me.” But Paul says trials and tribulations are not that way for believers. Why? Nothing in the universe is against God. If God is for you, who can be against you? And even in the universe which is warped by sin, God in His fatherly wisdom is ordering all things for your good. That’s why we are able to rejoice in present suffering. Nothing capable of our demise in this entire universe is against us.

Through grace, evil has lost the initiative in a believer’s life and can no longer lord it over him or her. Evil becomes an instrument in God’s hands of furthering His purposes in the believer’s life. It may be chastening, fatherly discipline. It is for perseverance and character. It is not for destruction. It is not for God’s amusement. He does not take suffering lightly. He desires to sanctify His people, to build them up for some great battle ahead or to glorify Himself. He will allow or cause suffering so that His people will persevere and grow in character. There will be a benefit, most likely in some way that they would never ever fathom. But in all of it, God has the design of the believer’s good. Rejoice in suffering; it leads to perseverance, which produces character, which produces a sure and settled hope. This is sanctification.

The idea is that when you put metal through a fiery testing and it comes out on the other side persevering and enduring, what you call that metal is “proven” or “authentic” or “genuine.” That’s the sense here. When you go through tribulation, and your faith is tested, and it perseveres, what you get is a wonderful sense of authenticity. You feel that your faith is real. It has been tested. It has stood the test with perseverance. And it is therefore real, authentic, proven, genuine. It persevered and developed character.

Have you ever said in the midst of suffering, amidst a trial or tribulation, “Thank you God for breaking me so that I could see again that Your love is better than any love that can exist in this world. Thank you Father, for showing me again that You care so much for me that You will wean me away from the affections of the world to trust in and love You only.”? Hebrews 5:8 says of Jesus, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” The same is true for us. God’s purpose in whatever trials we face is to teach us obedience and refine us into the image of Christ. Because of God’s purpose in our trials and tribulations and sufferings, we rejoice in them. He’s sanctifying us; He’s making us like Christ. What could be better?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Romans 5:1-2

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

V1 – Justification by faith = Peace with God. Paul, to this point, has shown that all people are sinners, that none are righteous, and that justification before God the Father is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Those who believe Christ’s perfect life, His atoning, propitiatory sacrificial death, and His glorious bodily resurrection save them have received the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, credited to their account, through the channel of faith. Paul’s audience is silenced; their arguments against his gospel have proven fruitless; they accept what he says, that justification before God is by faith alone in Christ, not by any righteousness within one’s self, nor by any other way. Now Paul can move on to the consequences of the truth of justification by faith. In chapters 5 through 8 Paul works through successive implications of our being justified by faith. In chapter 5 he says that if we are justified, then we are free from the wrath of God. In chapter 6 he says that if we are justified, we are free from the dominion of sin. In chapter 7 he says that if we are justified, we are free from the domination and condemnation of the law. In chapter 8 he says that if we’re justified, we are free from the curse of death.

Paul begins with, “Therefore.” Remember the end of chapter 4 said that Christ died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Because of this, since we are justified by faith in Christ, we have peace with God. What an amazing statement! Christ was raised for our justification, and since we have been justified, we are at peace with God. Peace, meaning not tranquility, but the end of hostility between two parties. It’s not a subjective change in feelings; it’s an objective change in the way these two parties relate. In this case, it’s God and believing individuals. No longer are there guilt and condemnation and wrath. We were guilty, deserving condemnation, by nature children of wrath. Now there’s peace and justification. We have peace with God through Christ, and it’s permanent. If you’ve been justified, you’re going to be glorified. It’s as good as done. What great assurance this is for the believer! What a waste of time this seems to be for the unbeliever who has suppressed the truth of their standing before God, thinking they are righteous in and of themselves.

V2 – We stand in grace through faith in Christ. Paul adds that we stand in grace, because we are justified by faith. What is this grace? It’s communion with God; it’s a new relationship with Him; instead of enemies, we are friends; instead of kept from His presence, we are welcomed into the Holy of Holies.

Grace is a sphere and reign of God’s infinite power working for us and not against us. And a few verses later in Romans 6:14 Paul puts it this way, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Grace is the power that masters us in Christ, working to free us from the dominion of sin and bring us to eternal life. We stand in this grace, and we stand by this grace. Romans 14:4 says of every Christian: “To his own master he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” This is the sovereign sway of grace. If you’re under this grace, you cannot fall! Rejoice!

From Romans 4:16-17, we saw that grace is the guarantee of our inheritance. Recall these words: “The promise [justification and our inheritance of the world is] comes by faith, so that it may be by grace, and may be guaranteed . . .” Recall the faith-grace certainty connection. God’s grace guarantees our future inheritance. Why? It’s the power of the grace of “God, Who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” God’s grace fulfilled the promise; the dead-raising, creating-out-of-nothing power of the grace of God worked for Abraham and not against him. That is the grace we have, according to Romans 5:2.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Romans 4:23-25

The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

V23-24 — Abraham is an example for us all to know that justification is by faith. Now Paul moves on to answer B, the question: “What does the experience of Abraham have to do with me?” Think about it: What does Abraham’s experience, really unlike anything we’ve ever gone through, have to do with us? At this point, the Jews thought, “But we didn’t go through the circumstances that Abraham went through. God didn’t work with us like that. So how does his experience with God relate to mine?” And Paul’s answer may surprise us. He says, “The story of Abraham’s justification by faith was written for us.” This is not the only time Paul says something like that. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul says that the events and circumstances surrounding the Exodus happened to serve a purpose greater than themselves. What went on over the 40 year wanderings were for us, not merely for them. Considering that makes me feel small. The Exodus and its circumstances were to serve as warnings for us, not merely to teach and purify the Israelite people! Consider this statement: God’s eternal purpose to enter into an everlasting covenant of grace, of special blessing, with a man named Abram, whom God chose based on nothing in him, was recorded for us, so that we might see the glory of God in the fulfillment of His eternal purposes. Abraham’s justification by faith was to serve as an example for those who would come after him that we might know the glory of God in justification by faith. Does that make sense? Abraham wasn’t blessed just for him. He was blessed for us. The Exodus wasn’t just for those people. It was for all of God’s people. And I would argue that every event in all of history occurred not just randomly, not just by the natural course of the time-space continuum, but by design, for the unchanging eternal purpose of God in glorifying Himself, His Son as Savior, and—consider this—even us as recipients and sharers of His glory.

Now I just said that Abraham’s situation was not really much like ours. But in a way, it is. We have the same faith in God and we believe in His power and His promise just as Abraham did. Our faith is not in faith. We are not saved, because we have faith in our faith. If our faith is in our faith, then our faith is not faith. We have faith in God, in His power to resurrect the dead, and His promise to resurrect the dead. We have faith in Jesus Christ, that His work really did accomplish our redemption; and we have faith in the Holy Spirit, Who quickens us to life in the re-birth. It’s not faith that saves us; it’s God. But it’s by faith that God transfers His salvation, His saving grace, to us.

V25 — Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. Finally, Paul moves on to answer C, the question: “Where specifically should my faith focus?” Here the Jews say, “Okay Paul, now I know what faith is, and I know why Abraham’s story is relevant to me, but what ought to be the focus of my faith? Where specifically, Paul, do you want me to look?” And Paul says, “Look to the cross and see the empty tomb.” Faith looks to the promise of God fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. We don’t say, “It’s because I believe that I’m saved” or “It’s what I believe that saves me.” We say with Job, “My Redeemer lives. I know Whom I believe.” Or rather, “I am known by Him” (Galatians 4:9).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Romans 4:17-22

As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations" [Genesis 17:5]. He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be" [Genesis 15:5]. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."

V17 — God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Paul first emphasizes God’s power to give life to the dead. I see two potential meanings here: Perhaps he’s alluding to the way that God opened the womb of Sarah, this woman who was barren and way past the days of child bearing. God opened that womb, which was a grave, and He brought forth life from Sarah. Then again, perhaps Paul is talking about the grace of God, which by the power of the Holy Spirit, quickens the spiritually dead to new life. Perhaps Paul is talking about the rebirth.

Then Paul emphasizes God’s power to call things that are not as though they were. Again, I see two potential meanings: This perhaps points to that multitude of descendants that Abraham would have. Abraham, a childless man, had a name that meant “great or exalted father.” And God, in mercy, granted him that which did not exist, a multitude of sons, when He came to him in a covenant relationship in Ur of the Chaldees. Then again, maybe Paul means that God calls His people righteous, though they are not. Those whom God calls to spiritual life, He justifies. Remember the golden chain of salvation: Those He foreknew, He predestined. Those He predestined, He called. Those He called, He justified. Those He justified, He glorified. He calls us righteous, though we aren’t.

So, God gave life to the dead when He opened up the womb of Sarah and when He quickened us to spiritual life, when He gave us eyes to see and ears to hear though we were blind and deaf. And He called things that are not as though they were when He gave multitudes of descendants (yet to exist) to Abraham and when He declared us righteous though we were not. Deadness must come to life and non-existence must exist. That is what grace does. Man cannot do this. Man cannot raise the dead. And man cannot create something out of nothing. But God can, and God does in order to guarantee the promises for His people. That is the meaning of grace. Grace not only gives us better than we deserve; grace gives us what we cannot produce: spiritual life, the sight of glory, the hearing of divine truth, the tasting of spiritual sweetness. It all comes into being by the grace of God. That is why the promise is certain. God’s almighty grace guarantees the promise: it brings spiritual life out of death and enables us to believe and keep on believing; and it overrides our demerit in the act of justification. The promise, just as Romans 9:16 says, is not finally dependent on our fickle will, but on God’s sovereign grace. It doesn’t depend on man’s desire or effort, on man who wills or runs, but on God Who shows mercy.

V18-22 — In hope, Abraham believed against all hope. He did not waver, but was strengthened in faith. He glorified God persuaded that He had power. The Jews in Paul’s audience finally give in to what Paul has said—justification is by faith alone. But now, what’s the next thing on their minds? Logically, if they think justification is by obedience and it’s not, and they finally concur that justification is by faith, then they’ll want to know what faith is. So picture them asking Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” They realized now, finally, that it wasn’t in them. So how was it possible? Remember what Jesus said: “With man this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.” So Paul, in the rest of chapter 4, answers the question, “What must I do to be saved?” by answering 3 other questions; let’s call them A, B, and C. Here he begins by answering A, the question: “What is saving faith?”

He is talking about Abraham’s faith in the moments leading up to his planned sacrifice of Isaac. Many people think Abraham believed that God would provide a substitute in order to fulfill His promise, but Hebrews 11:19, in which Abraham represents a “type” of Christ, explains that Abraham did not expect a substitute. He was fully trusting in God to resurrect Isaac from the dead if necessary in order to fulfill His promise. That was the faith of Abraham. He persistently believed God’s Word despite all the evidence to the contrary. So Paul is telling us what faith is by giving us the example of Abraham. Faith is trust in God and His promises despite our circumstances and evidence to the contrary—in hope against hope. Do those two little phrases not go in the opposite direction: in hope against hope? Really, they don’t contradict one another. Abraham, in his thoughts, contemplated his human condition and saw no hope. Although there was no reason for him to hope at the human level, still he hoped in God, he believed in God and in His promise. So in hope against all hope, he believed. There was no human reason for him to expect a son or to be the father of many nations. He was almost 100 years old. He was childless by his wife, who was long past childbearing years. There was no reason for him to think that God’s promise would be fulfilled. But against hope in hope he still believed. And this is saving faith, according to Paul.

And we are in the same position. We have no hope of forgiveness from our sin, given the Holiness of God. We have no hope of being counted as righteous in His sight. Yet through faith, in hope against all hope, we are justified. We believe, like Abraham, that God will resurrect from the dead in order to fulfill His promise to us. And He did. Christ lives! Do you doubt this? 4000 years ago God spoke to a man who had no children, and who would not have children until he approached 100, and He said, “One day your spiritual descendants will be numberless.” Today, more than two billion people claim to worship the God of Abraham. Two billion people claim Abraham as their spiritual Father. What a confirmation that God can be taken at His Word! God is faithful. He fulfills what He promises. And we don’t doubt it. And we glorify God by not doubting, which is what Abraham did. By persevering in faith, we glorify God.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Romans 4:15-16

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

V15 — Law brings wrath; there is no transgression where there is no law. Paul again says that the law cannot save us; it can only condemn us. Our hope cannot be in our obedience to the law, because no one has obeyed the law in its entirety, with the exception of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The law demonstrates that man has violated God’s standards, and it brings wrath. And it’s very interesting to see how a person’s attitude changes when that reality of the law is brought to light. When the law is on someone’s side, they like to speak about the rule of law and appeal to it. But when the judgment goes against them, it’s funny how insignificant the rule of law is to them. They’ll deny its importance. People will give lip service to God’s standards, but apart from grace, nobody likes the law. Apart from grace, all people know that the law condemns; it brings wrath. Before we are saved, the law is our enemy. Afterwards, it is the Living and Active Word of God.

Why does Paul say that “there is no sin where there is no law”? Remember, he’s dealing with Jews who appeal to the law as their justification. He’s reminding them the law’s purpose was never to justify. The purpose was to reveal sin more clearly. Where there is law, there is law-breaking. The law, apart from grace, actually exaggerates that tendency in mankind’s fallen sinful nature to go against God. So what about where there is no law? There was no law prior to Moses and the Exodus. Were the people before that time still sinners? Of course. Romans 5:12-14 helps us see what Paul is saying. And we’ll study it in detail when we get there. It has to do with the imputation of Adam’s sin to our account. Paul’s point is that, while all kinds of sinful attitudes and actions might have gone unnoticed, because there was no specific commandment that was violated, as we saw in Romans 1, the folks without the law still knew what was right. Paul says that the Gentiles who do not have the law are a law unto themselves. Sin was dormant sin before the law was given, and there may have been some vague uneasiness about it; but then the law came, and every vague or questionable act was a specific violation of an explicit commandment.

V16 — The promise is by faith, so that it may be by grace for all who are Abraham’s children. Paul was always addressing hypothetical questions. He knew his audience. He knew what their objections would be. And in v16-17 he answers an objection that is not revealed in the text, but it was certainly there. Paul’s Jewish Christian audience would have asked, “Why is justification by faith alone if God wants us to live a life filled with righteousness and obedience to His law?” Paul gives 3 more answers to this great question, in addition to the many times he’s answered it already in Romans. People just didn’t get it. How could it be? What was God’s purpose? Why, Paul? Why is justification by faith?

First, justification is by faith, because the law brings wrath. The law can’t justify. Second, justification is by faith, because faith corresponds to grace, while works correspond to compensation. Third, justification is by faith, because faith opens the door to the Gentiles. The first 2 reasons have been discussed earlier. Regarding faith corresponding to grace, grace is the guarantee; the only way that our eternal future can be guaranteed is if it rests on God’s grace. Grace is the free and undeserved work of God to bring His people to glory. Grace is the mighty, omnipotent purpose of God to make sure we get our inheritance. But this third one is pretty neat. In order for God to be faithful to His promise to Abraham, justification (and salvation) had to be by grace through faith. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Now if Abraham is going to be the father of many nations, then the way of that salvation can’t be the Mosaic law, because only Israel keeps the Mosaic law. Only Israel has circumcision as the command of Moses. Only Israel has the ceremonial code, the dietary laws, and the various other laws. So if God is going to give the nations to Abraham as his spiritual inheritance, then it’s got to be through some other means that the Mosaic law; and Paul says, “It’s by faith.” The pagan Mark Twain said, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, your dog would go in, and you would go out.” Justification is by faith, because it accentuates divine grace. We’re saved by God’s favor, by His mercy, by His gift. We can’t earn or merit or deserve that.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Romans 4:13-14

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.

V13 — Those who receive the righteousness of Christ by faith will inherit the world. What an amazing thing to consider! The covenant promise of God was not for Abraham alone; it wasn’t for his physical descendants alone; it wasn’t only for folks before the time of Christ; it was for all who received the righteousness of Christ by faith; the covenant promise of God is for all believers, all who have faith in God’s promise. And what’s the promise? They will inherit the world. That’s not what God said to Abraham in Genesis. How does Paul make “All nations of the world will be blessed” into “heir of the world”? Perhaps Paul extrapolates this statement as further evidence that we can’t earn it. You don’t earn an inheritance; you’re born into it (or in this case, re-born into it). It’s a gift. Nothing you did brought you into the position of inheriting the world. What could anyone do to become heir of the world? Rather, believers are justified, considered righteous, and adopted as children of God and are therefore co-heirs with Christ of all creation!

V14 — If righteousness comes by law, then faith has no value and the promise is worthless. In v13-14, Paul points out to the Jewish Christians who thought Abraham was righteous by his own works of obedience that the justification Abraham received came some 400 years before Moses announced God’s divinely revealed law from Mt. Sinai. So, long before Moses gave God’s summary of His moral code to the people of God, God had declared Abraham to be just, which makes it very clear that obedience to God’s law is not the conduit or channel through which Abraham was declared accepted by God. Faith is.

Paul says that God displays His love by imputing Christ’s righteousness to us through faith, rather than by the law. Some people might say that the exclusive truth of Christianity, that Christ is the only way, makes God out to be selfish with His love. They might say, “Since the Christian God saves only those who have faith in Christ, His saving love is conditional!” They want to think that God loves everybody so much that He will save all people without condition. They don’t realize that God’s righteousness requires justice. They also don't realize that God provides the condition that He requires: faith. God doesn’t owe sinners anything, except eternal damnation. Paul takes this claim that God is selfish with His saving love if righteousness is by faith and refutes it with 2 statements: (1) faith would have no value; (2) the promise would be worthless.

  1. How would faith have no value? If righteousness comes by obedience to the law, then whoever is a good person will be called righteous. Then salvation is by a person’s goodness or obedience, so God saves only those who obey Him. Because they obey Him, He saves them. In other words, they save themselves; they earn their salvation; they condition God’s love by their obedience. Thus faith has no place in the equation of salvation. Furthermore, as we have seen, the law can’t bring righteousness; it only brings wrath.
  2. How would the promise be worthless? Remember Paul just spent 63 verses (about 2 whole chapters) explaining that all men are sinful and no one is righteous. So if righteousness comes by obedience to the law, and no one has obeyed the law, then no one inherits the world. Thus the promise would be worthless. It’d be like promising ten billion dollars to me if I win the next NASCAR race. Impossible.
Paul is saying that if salvation is based on a person’s goodness or obedience, then people save themselves, and God just waits, hoping they will obey, so He can pronounce His blessing on them. This is not the way it works. God doesn’t just anxiously await our decisions to see whether or not we will be obedient. He loved us first. He knew those who are His before creation; they hear His voice when He calls, because He opens their ears; and He justifies them through the channel of faith, not by their obedience.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Romans 4:9-12

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

V9-10 — The blessing of God for all kinds of men. Paul again is dealing with those folks coming from Jewish heritage that thought things were different regarding God’s favor toward Jews and Gentiles. He returns to the point he made in chapter 2, that salvation, that justification, that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, that the non-imputation of one’s sins to their account, all of these glorious truths, are for the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised, for the Gentile and the Jew. And Paul proves this again from the Old Testament. He asks his audience a question: When was Abraham justified: before or after his circumcision? Since Abraham was justified some 14 years (29 years by Jewish counting) before he was circumcised, it was not his circumcision that accounted for his righteousness. Abraham was declared righteous while he was a Gentile! Paul’s point is to emphasize that justification is for all who believe, for all who have faith. Nothing that we do, whether ceremonial or moral, contributes to that justification, because the ground or basis of that justification is not something in us, and it’s not something that we do, and it’s not even our faith; it’s grounded in what Christ did. And therefore, circumcision or other outward rituals contribute nothing to that justification. Salvation is based on nothing in the person. There’s nothing in a person that conditioned God to save them. Our faith did not cause God to save us. We have faith, because He saved us! We need to know that assuring truth of His justification by grace through faith. It’s absolutely essential for assurance of salvation.

V11-12 — Circumcision as a sign of faith. There are many churches that teach that a person must be baptized with water in order to be saved. Paul’s words here negate that assertion. Acts 15:1-2 “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” First, note that the Jews had learned that to refuse circumcision was to reject the covenant community and refuse the promises that God had made. Genesis 17:14 “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” In other words, “he who refuses to be cut is cut off.” Now here in Romans, Paul is saying circumcision doesn’t matter for salvation. Elsewhere Paul recommends Gentile converts to Christianity not to be circumcised, and that those who would force them to be circumcised are, in fact, themselves rejecting the covenant. And the Jewish Christians and Jewish hearers of Paul’s words as he first says them were likely scratching their heads in confusion, disbelief, or flat out anger with his apparent contradiction of the Scriptures. Can you hear them saying, “Hold on Paul! You’re saying, ‘In the Old Testament, to refuse the sign of circumcision is to refuse God and His promises. In the New Testament, to demand that Gentiles be circumcised is to refuse God and His covenant promises. How does that mesh?”

Paul says that circumcision is a sign and a seal. It is an outward sign of an inward reality. It’s a seal, which doesn’t bring about the inward reality, but confirms it. As a sign, circumcision was to remind Abraham of God’s love for him, and as a seal, circumcision was to confirm to Abraham that God had credited him as a righteous man based not on his deeds. That was important, as Abraham continued sinning after he was declared righteous. Is the same true for us regarding baptism? What is the connection between baptism and circumcision? This is a very deep theological topic that to this day causes division and disunity, and we’re not going to break the surface of it here, but I am curious to know what you think. If baptism is the same as circumcision, then why not baptize infants, just as covenant children were circumcised? Is baptism part of the “obedience of faith” that Paul desires to bring about in his ministry? When is a person saved? Most of us would say, “The moment we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.” Others might say, “The moment we confess Christ as Savior.” Would any of you say, “The moment we rise from the waters of baptism”?

An act like baptism, or any other act of obedience to God, does not give us right standing with God. But the acts of obedience are signs and seals that our faith is real and that Christ is our perfect righteousness. When our lives begin conforming to the revealed will of God, this is a sign of faith. Our lifestyles even become signs and seals that our faith is real and that we have the righteousness of God revealed in Christ.

Justification by faith—getting right with God, being acquitted in His court, having our sins forgiven, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and our sins imputed to Him, (not becoming righteous, but being counted as righteous while we are still sinners), and all this by faith alone—that is what the first 7 or 8 chapters of Romans are mostly about. For Paul, it was the heart of the gospel message. The book of Romans is the most systematic and extensive of Paul’s efforts to put his message in writing. And it is all structured around the great truth of justification by faith.

So we see from Romans 4, so far, that Paul returns to the Old Testament to make four key points regarding justification by faith. First, it excludes boasting before God in our right standing with Him. The eliminated boasting should enhance our joy, as there is nothing we must contribute. Remember, “Blessed is the man…” What joy it is that our sins are not credited to our account on God’s ledger! Second, it includes the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us apart from works, regardless of what we do. Again, what a joyfully amazing thing to consider that we have the righteousness of Christ credited to our account! Third, Paul makes clear that works or acts of obedience, like circumcision or baptism, have their proper and essential place in the believer’s life as signs and seals, but not as the grounds of justification. First is justification, then sanctification. Fourth and finally, the truth of justification by faith opens the way to all people groups to be included in the covenant family, which was thought to be only for Jews. And this family of believers, having Abraham as their father (Galatians 3:7), will one day inherit the Kingdom!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Romans 4:4-8

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him' [Psalm 32:1-2].

V4-5 — Imputation. What an amazing statement that “God justifies the wicked”! God declares the ungodly to be righteous! How do we respond to understanding that? Do we understand what imputation means? Paul helps us with these verses. It’s an accounting term, like debit and credit. Justification and imputation work together to accomplish salvation. In justification we are declared not guilty though we are guilty, righteous though we are not righteous. And imputation is how God justifies. He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us through faith, so that He can righteously declare us righteous. He “credits” to our “account” the righteousness of Christ. He cancels the immeasurable debt we owe, but not only that. He also gives us His requirement to enter His presence, the priceless righteousness of Christ. What an amazingly gracious gift! Verse 4 explains the way people would expect this transaction to be accomplished. Paul addresses the hypothetical question: “What must we do to take advantage of this transaction?” Paul says, “Nothing, because if you could do something to gain God’s grace, then God would owe you His grace. It would no longer be a gift. And this is contrary to salvation by grace, for grace would not be grace; it would be like a wage, an obligation, paid out as compensation.” God owes us nothing. Since salvation is a gift and not an obligation, we receive it through faith, not by works.

V6-8 — Blessed is the man. Paul again goes to the Old Testament Scriptures to show that David held this position of justification by faith, salvation by grace. David says, “Blessed are they whose sins have been covered and forgiven. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” “Blessed”=deeply secure, not deserving; due to God’s divine benediction, your lawless deeds are covered and forgiven and not imputed. God does not credit your sins to your account. This is an example of non-imputation. Both are essential for salvation. So God imputes Christ’s righteous to the believer’s account, and He does not impute the sins of the believer to the believer’s account. And Paul proves this right here, using only the Old Testament. Paul does not see justification as only the imputation of righteousness or only the forgiveness of sin. It’s both! And the blessedness of both conditions is by faith, apart from works. This doctrine for the mind is designed to produce joy in the heart. Be secure that you are justified!

Notice that David says the blessed man is the man whose works the Lord does not consider. The blessed man is deeply secure that God accepts him not on the basis of what he has done, but on the basis of what Christ has done. David does not stand before God and say, “Lord, I’m trying to be a good person.” David says, “The man who is really blessed is the man whose sins God doesn’t count against him.” Understanding imputation and non-imputation are important, as we will discuss imputation more when we come to Romans 5:12. I’ll make a statement regarding that passage for you to ponder until we get there: “The sin of Adam was imputed to all mankind, as every person was ‘in Adam.’ Adam was our representative, and when he sinned, the entire human race was counted as sinners.” Just as the righteousness of Christ was imputed to me through faith, so the sin of Adam was imputed to me through my humanity; I descended from Adam.

Monday, December 11, 2006

God's Glory in the Skies

I've taken great pleasure in a number of sunrises and sunsets that I've taken in over the past two weeks. I am humbled at the magnificence and subtle differences noticed in them. I am ashamed that I do not notice them more often. I read recently that God does not get bored with the seemingly monotonous task of arousing each day. He loves His creation, and it displays His glory. Each day is splendor to Him and, as for a child, repitition is a good thing - far from boring monotony.

Psalm 19:1-6

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies above proclaim His handiwork. Day to day they pour out speech, and night to night they reveal knowledge... Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

To fail to notice the masterpieces God works each day is sinful. Do we think the skies appear as they do by chance? Has He not worked each day anew? Is He not faithful like no other? Dare we take a single breath for granted? Dare we think of His works as less than majestic? Will you answer affirmatively the question found in Job 37:18: "Can you join Him in spreading out the skies"? Far be it from me. I praise Him for the splendor of the skies - a common grace to all inhabitants of the earth - and I praise Him for the new heart and transformed mind - a grace to His elect for His glory (Romans 9:10-24). I'll continue with the Psalmist (Psalm 19:7-14):

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern His errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep Your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Romans 4:1-3

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness"[Genesis 15:6].

V1 — Proof that the gospel is rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul has repeatedly gone out of his way to establish this fact. (See Romans 1:2 and 3:21 and now 4.) Why? His audience was primarily Jewish Christians, and they had grown up learning the law from rabbis who taught justification by works. Paul just finished teaching justification by faith in chapter 3. When people are set in their ways, it’s hard to get them to accept change. That’s why Paul hammers on the truths he teaches as being rooted in the Old Testament. He first uses the example of Abraham, and then he uses David, perhaps 2 of the 3 greatest heroes of Judaism, to make his point. So Paul asks, “What does Abraham’s situation say about this?”

It’s very important to understand the context, the culture, the audience, and Paul’s purpose when reading chapter 4. Many Jewish Christians, being new in their faith in Christ, and certainly all Jews, would have struggled with justification by faith; they looked at Abraham as being righteous on his own. So Paul strived to take them to the traditional proof texts of the Jewish rabbis in order to show them that his teaching was true. Paul knew that his contemporaries would have appealed to Abraham to prove that salvation was by works, by one’s own righteousness, at least to some degree by one’s own merit. But Paul appeals to Abraham to show that, in fact, the Old Testament Scriptures teach the opposite. Salvation is by grace and received by faith. There is continuity here, as all people ever to be saved are saved by grace through faith, regardless of when or where they lived.

V2-3 — If salvation has anything to do with you, then boasting is possible. The Jews of Paul’s day taught that Abraham was chosen by God because of his righteousness. They taught that since he was the most righteous man of his day, God chose him to be the father of Israel. Furthermore, they also taught that Abraham was without sin, that he did not need to repent, and that he had kept God’s law perfectly throughout his life. Here are examples:

In the prayer of Manasseh, which was written a couple of centuries before the time of Christ, we read: “Therefore, You, O Lord, the God of the righteous have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you. But you have appointed repentance for me, a sinner.” There’s the suggestion that some people out there that don’t need to repent, that some haven’t sinned other than Christ.

From the book of Jubilees, a Jewish work written before the time of Christ, we read: “Abraham was perfect in his deeds with the Lord and well pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.” I wonder if the author of that read Genesis 12-17. The Abraham in Genesis 12-17 was a man who fell into sin and displeased the Lord and wounded his own people and had to be restored in his feeble faith. Yet this is what the Jewish rabbis taught.

Even in commenting on Genesis 15:6, which is quoted in Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited (or imputed, as we’ll see) to him as righteousness,” the rabbis said: “Our father, Abraham, became the heir of this and the world to come simply by the merit of faith. His faith was a work whereby he earned the right to the inheritance of this world and the world to come.”

This is what the Jews thought. And so Paul countered this by suggesting that Abraham, then, would have had a reason to boast before God. But the Jews couldn’t imagine boasting before God! Paul knew that they wouldn’t dare boast before God, so he closed the argument with “but not before God.” That helped make the point that the Jews already knew but did not admit: It’s not in us! If it was in us, then we’d have something about which to boast. The Jews hadn’t taken their beliefs to the logical conclusion. They just accepted what they had been taught without going deeper, without carrying it out. And that is dangerous to do for us today as well. If you say that God is saving you because of something in you, that’s wrong. Do you think God looked out and saw that you were good or saw something good in you that wasn’t in others, and that’s why He saved you? That’s wrong. If that were right, you could boast before Him. Paul makes that clear right here. There is no boasting before God.

To clarify, faith is the means of receiving righteousness. Faith is not righteousness, nor is it the cause of righteousness. Through the channel of faith, by faith, Christ’s righteousness is credited or imputed to us. Here’s a poor analogy: We would not say that the wire in our wall is the cable TV signal, nor would we say that the wire caused or merited or earned or deserved the cable TV signal. The wire is absolutely essential for our television to receive a cable signal. But in and of itself, the wire is not the signal. The wire is the conduit or channel by which we receive the cable TV signal. Faith is not righteousness / justification, nor does it cause or merit righteousness / justification. It’s absolutely essential for righteousness / justification. It’s the conduit or channel through which God accomplishes His justification and His salvation. God justifies us and credits Christ’s righteousness to us through faith. This question still remains: Why do some have faith and not others? Is it something in them? If so, how can they not boast?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Romans 3:29-31

Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

There is One God of all, Who justifies all kinds of men by the same faith in Christ. Paul uses the words, “we maintain.” This truth is not just something that Paul values; it’s a truth that Christians embrace. Justification is by grace through faith apart from works. And amazingly, it’s for all people. It’s not just for the Jews, those to whom God gave His law. And that is offensive to them. That’s why Paul spends so much time explaining these Jew / Gentile issues. He wants more than anything for his own countrymen to understand what their God has done. And they needed to understand that…

…God doesn’t depend on what we do. He depends upon His work and His work in His Son. On God’s end, salvation is provided by grace. But it’s not just on God’s end. Our salvation is provided by grace. On our end, our faith, whereby we receive the grace of God in the gospel, is a gift of God. He gifts us with faith. So salvation is by grace at both ends: on God’s end and our end. We don’t do things in order to condition God’s acceptance of us, and the one thing that God requires of us—faith—He gives. It goes right back to the prayer of Augustine. He said to God, “Command what You will and grant what You command.” In other words, “Lord, command me to do anything You want. And make me willing and able and certain to do it.”

The law is not nullified, but upheld by this faith. Paul probably got this objection frequently: that the doctrine of justification by faith was nullifying the law. Justification by faith rightly understood, as Paul says, doesn’t lead you to neglect the law or negate or hate the law. In fact it will lead you to love the law of God. But on the other hand justification by faith doesn’t lead you to believe that you can do anything that you want. Paul raises and then briefly answers this question saying that God’s free justification does not mean that works or obedience or love do not have a place in the Christian life. Paul wants us to hold two truths simultaneously in our understanding. We must understand first that there is absolutely no contribution whatsoever on our part to our justification. There is no work that we do or obedience that we do or love that we show or anything in us that determines whether or not God will justify us. There’s not even anything that God does in us that conditions our justification. Justification is done on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. Paul wants us to understand that on the one hand; on the other hand he wants us to understand that obedience and works and love that flows from a renewed heart, those things are a necessary part of the Christian life.

God in His mercy accepts you not because of something in you, but because of something in His Son and something that His Son did. And so when He accepts you, He looks at His Son, not at you. Do works flow from the work of God in you? Of course they do. But that doesn't make them meritorious. We'll look more at this in chapter four, beginning next week.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Romans 3:27-28

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

No one can boast; we are justified by faith. Prior to v.27, in v.21-26, Paul told us the grounds or basis on which we are saved. Here Paul focuses us on that way by which we receive our justification. He focuses us on faith, the instrument of justification. Those two things are different. There’s the basis on which we are justified, the work of Christ, and there’s the way in which we receive that justification, faith. The doctrine of justification by faith excludes boasting, because it is not based on us or our works. It’s based on the work of Christ, and it’s a gift of grace received by faith. Paul first set forth the basics of the doctrine of justification, the doctrine of salvation by God’s free justification based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ received through faith alone. And now much of Paul’s remaining theological section of Romans is based upon the implications of the doctrine of justification for our lives.

Paul is saying in these verses that when we understand salvation, justification, and the grounds on which God accepts a person, when we understand the way that we receive the blessings of justification, there is no room left for pride, no room left for boasting. Would you say this: “There was something I did, something I believed, that set me apart from others, that made me special, that made God bring me into His Kingdom and not others. In the final analysis, something in me accounted for my eternal life. I improved the grace given me by contributing my faith, whereas others failed to do so. I believed and thereby fulfilled God’s plan, whereas others did not believe and failed to receive the benefits of God’s gracious offer, and that is why I was accepted by God”? Paul wants us to understand that our standing with God has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything in us. Faith corresponds to grace. Work corresponds to debt. Therefore faith excludes boasting, and work supports boasting. If you are the beneficiary of grace in all that you are and have, you cannot boast in yourself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” When all is gift, boasting is excluded. We’ll see more of this in Romans 4.

Paul says in v.28: “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” This seems to contradict James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” How do we reconcile these statements? Charles Spurgeon said, “There’s no need to reconcile friends.” Paul is clearly talking about how a man is accepted by God. He is dealing with the issue of how it can be that unrighteous people can be accepted by a righteous God. He is specifically dealing with the issue of the way that we are justified, declared righteous, pardoned, and accepted. James, however, is talking about something else. James is writing in the context of dealing with hypocrisy in the church. There are some people who claim to believe, claim to be Christians, but their lives do not bear the fruit of their profession. How do you tell the difference between somebody who claims to be a Christian but isn’t, and someone who claims to be a Christian and is? How do you know whether a person really believes? What demonstrates their Christianity? James answer is clear. “Faith brings forth the fruit of holiness.” So faith and obedience, holiness, says James, demonstrates a person to be a believer. See four notes on this issue:

(1) Paul is dealing with how one is made right before God. James is dealing with the sin of hypocrisy (see James 2:14). (2) James does not ask the question, “Can faith alone really save a person?” That’s not what James is talking about. He’s not asking if real faith by itself saves a person. James is asking another question: “Can claimed faith demonstrate a person to really be a Christian?” (3) James is clearly concerned about what he calls dead faith. There were no deeds from those claiming to have faith. There was no workmanship for which we were created in grace as Paul says in Ephesians 2. And so we know from Ephesians and elsewhere that Paul is clearly concerned about people who make a profession but show no marks of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. (4) Both James and Paul use Abraham to make their point: James goes to the story of Abraham in order to prove that faith without fruit, without deeds, without obedience, without love, is not real faith. But notice that he gives us a clue. He quotes from Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Then he says that Abraham was justified when he offered up Isaac. Then he draws his conclusion. “So you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Now that’s the clue to show that he’s not contradicting Paul. When did God say to Abraham that he was justified by faith? Before Isaac was born. When did Abraham offer Isaac up? Years and years and years later. Therefore, James knows that his audience, being good Jewish Christians, knows that God’s declaration of Abraham as righteous came seven chapters before Abraham offered up Isaac. James is giving a clue that he is not talking about God’s acceptance of Abraham; he’s talking about Abraham’s demonstration that he does belong to God. Over and over James gives clues to help his audience understand that he is not attempting to contradict what Paul said. In fact, Paul, in the last verse of Romans 3, acknowledges that faith and obedience go hand in hand in the Christian life. But Paul also knows that our obedience has nothing to do with God’s justification, and he wants us to hold those two truths right together. There’s no need to reconcile friends. Does God call us to obedience as Christians? Absolutely. Does our obedience have anything to do whatsoever with God’s acceptance of us? Absolutely not. And if you get that wrong, you get everything wrong.

Conditionality inserted into any relationship severs the capacity for intimacy in that relationship. If you are obeying because you are afraid of the rejection of God, then you are obeying out of an ungodly fear. If you are a believer, then God has accepted you in His Son, and your obedience is not rendered in order to get Him to like you, love you, and save you. It’s rendered out of gratitude for the salvation that is already yours. Look quickly in Exodus 20:2-3. The Ten Commandments are going to be given. Is this another way of salvation that Moses is suggesting? No. “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… You shall have no other gods before Me.” See what God says. He does not say “Here are the Ten Commandments. If you will obey them, or try really hard to obey them, then I will bring you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” That is not what God says. God says, “I have brought you out of the land of Egypt. I have brought you out of the house of slavery. I have redeemed you. Now obey.” Redeemed! Now obey. That’s the order. Not obey in order to be redeemed. Do you get that? Paul is emphasizing when he says justification is by faith alone that we are redeemed for obedience, not redeemed by obedience. And that makes all the difference in the world. My obedience is not in order to earn the saving love of God. He already loves me more than I can ever know. My obedience flows from that love which I have received. That is the greatest news ever told.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Romans 3:25-26

God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement [Or as the one who would turn aside His wrath, taking away sin], through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

God punished Christ to demonstrate His justice, having, in forbearance, delayed or held back His wrath for this particular moment. God is just and the One Who justifies believers. Paul says something that should astonish us. God’s mercy towards us in Christ’s subsitutionary, atoning, propitiatory sacrifice, is rooted in God’s justice in Christ’s subsitutionary, atoning, propitiatory sacrifice. Apart from the gospel, Paul says, the validity of the Old Testament sacrificial system is called into question. It would have been immoral and unrighteous for God to institute a system establishing atonement and reconciliation based on the sacrifice of animals, because Scripture says it is and always was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. They were neither able to nor designed to forgive sins. So the Old Testament, as Hebrews declares, was always pointing to the sacrifice that actually could and actually would take away sins, the sacrifice of Christ. And that teaches us that Christ’s cross-work flows both backwards and forward in time. It is Christ’s cross-work that provides the covering for the sins of all those who were under God’s covenant of grace in the Old Testament. And that’s why it was just for God to be merciful to them, even though at that time in history no real sacrifice for sin had been provided. And so also it flows forward to us. We live 2000 years after His crucifixion, after His atoning work, and yet His benefits continue to flow forward.

Justification shows us how God’s mercy is grounded in justice and righteousness. Justification doesn’t compromise His justice or His mercy; it exalts both. Any presentation of the gospel that denies either God’s justice or His mercy is not the gospel. Both of those components must be present in a true presentation of the gospel. That’s the glory of the gospel; it doesn’t compromise the character of God. That’s what makes God both just and the One Who justifies. And who does He justify? The believer is justified, the one who has faith. All those things we talked about—justification, redemption, propitiation, atonement, and substitution—all those things are transferred through the channel of faith.

It’s important to understand that justification has to do with God, not the guilty party. It’s not in the hands of the guilty party to be made just or not. It’s in the hands of the judge. God is the judge, the One Who justifies. And if He justifies someone in His High and Supreme Court, He cannot righteously require a penalty from that person who has been made just. Remember Roman 8:29-30: Those who are justified are also glorified. There’s no turning back. And this gives great assurance of salvation to the believer.

God’s righteousness and justice was at stake in justification. God would have been unrighteous if He passed over sin without saving us in a way that demonstrates His infinite passion for His glory—which is His righteousness. But what we see is that: (1) God’s glory is upheld; (2) His wrath is propitiated; (3) the ransom is paid; (4) His righteousness is demonstrated. Praise Him!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Romans 3:25

God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement [Or as the One who would turn aside His wrath, taking away sin], through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished...

We'll look at verse 25 today and tomorrow.

God presented Christ as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for propitiation. Paul is saying that our justification, our being legally declared righteous, is based on Christ having born our sin in our place and having turned aside and satisfied the wrath of God. It is final and permanent. Once a person is justified, that person cannot be punished. Paul points us to the work of Christ on the cross; God’s free forgiveness of us is right and just, because He did not slide our sins under the carpet. He paid for them by the blood of His own Son. The picture is not of a merciful Jesus trying to turn away the wrath of a mean, vindictive, narrow-minded, mean-spirited deity. No, it’s God Who displays publicly His Son as a propitiation through His blood. The Father is the author of justification, redemption, and propitiation. The Father’s love is upon His people, and the cross is the means of accomplishing the purposes of His love. Jesus is not on the cross trying to get God the Father involved in salvation. He’s on the cross because the Father has been involved in salvation from before creation. What do think of that?

Jesus was a substitionary, atoning, propitiatory sacrifice. We don’t use words like “justification,” “redemption,” “propitiation,” “atonement,” or “substitionary” very much. And it’s a shame, because all of these words are very important. Understanding their Scriptural meaning correctly is critical for having a consistent theology. We’ve already discussed “justification.” It means to declare righteous what is not.

“Redemption” speaks of purchasing back something that was in bondage, a prisoner of war or a slave. Redemption is like a ransom. Redeem means to set-free or release at a price. “Propitiation” means a “wrath-removing;” it speaks of turning away a deserved wrath. It means to pacify or appease or satisfy. “Atonement” (often considered as “at-one-ment”) means to extinguish guilt, to make amends for wrongdoing so that oneness and unity is accomplished or restored. It is reconciliation; and we can’t reconcile ourselves to God. We can’t atone for our own sins. We have nothing of atoning value to offer God that would reconcile us to Him. But Christ did. He had the blood of a perfect, sinless life.

See Hebrews 9:12-15,22,25-28; 10:4. “[Christ] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of [animals] sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant…Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness… Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him… It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

When we speak of a “substitutionary” atonement, we mean that Christ reconciled those for whom He died to the Father. Christ substituted Himself for them. Will this not be honored by God? 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” All of these words bring freedom in the Christian life. Do you have guilt? Here’s justification. Are you bound to addictions? Here’s redemption. Do you fear the wrath of God? Here’s propitiation. All of these are freely offered, and I suggest applied, in the gospel, because Christ is a substitutionary atoning sacrifice.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Romans 3:24

...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We are justified freely by grace through the redemption of Christ. Justification is absolutely free. Justification means the pronouncing or declaring of a person to be righteous. It’s a judicial term. And we contribute nothing to this declaration of God that we are justified. Now justification is an act, not an ongoing process. It’s a judicial act, and it’s not our act. God justifies. We don’t justify ourselves. In justification, God declares us righteous, and once done, it's done! He forgives us of our sin and spares us the penalty of that sin.

Remember the analogy of the pardon that we discussed awhile back. The pardon is freely offered and must be accepted by the guilty party. That’s true. But regarding the righteousness of the state, in this case, God, the punishment for the sin was already carried out in the Person of Jesus Christ; thus God will not and cannot righteously demand that punishment from the guilty party. Do you understand the critical implications of this, especially considering the substitionary atonement of Christ? If Christ paid the punishment price of someone’s sins, then God would be unrighteous, unjust, to also punish the sinner for those sins that were punished in Christ. Do you see? Justification is about what God does, not you.

Finally notice that justification, though free, is in fact, very costly. Justification is free for us, but it’s costly to God. Paul says that it is a gift by grace, but it is purchased for us through the redemption in Jesus. Christ has paid a purchase price for us. He bought us from God for God—from God’s wrath for God’s mercy. He paid by His life with His blood, bearing the penalty of sin, a purchase price. Will this price not buy what it was intended to purchase? As Paul would say, “God forbid!” Jesus has effectively accomplished exactly what He intended. So what was His purpose? Was it to merely offer salvation to all of mankind, and thereby require mankind to be the ultimate determiner of salvation? Was it actually save the elect? I, and Scripture I believe, suggest that Christ has fulfilled His purpose, to redeem those the Father gave Him. And it wasn’t everybody. How does what I’ve said make you feel? Did Christ fail in His efforts to purchase all of mankind? Or did He succeed in redeeming all those the Father gave Him? Do you see where this understanding, in order for us to be consistent in our doctrinal theology, is so critical? This is why the Calvinism / Arminianism debate is so important. It doesn’t determine whether or not you’re saved. Rather, it forces us to examine our theological consistency. We'll continue with this train of thought tomorrow.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Romans 3:22-23

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

V.22—We obtain God’s righteousness by grace through faith in Christ. It’s for all who believe, as there is no difference, no distinction, among the people of the world. Paul makes this clear over and over. Everyone is guilty; everyone needs to be justified before God. And everyone who believes, everyone who receives the righteousness of God by grace through faith, is justified before God. That’s it. Memorize it; never forget it; love it and cherish it. We need to always be reminded of this glorious truth and rejoice with praise and thanksgiving. We obtain God’s required righteousness through faith in Christ.

V.23—All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Paul says that we’ve missed the mark; we have broken God’s law. We fail to obey its positive commands, and we absolutely transgress its prohibitions: both omission and commission. Sin is falling short of God’s glory. It’s failing to exalt all of His character all of the time. Sin is idolatry and immorality, exchanging His glory for an image. And we’re all guilty. Now “missing the mark” might not sound too bad. It’s like, “Oh, I almost made it.” But as we know, “almost” only counts in horseshoes, darts, and hand-grenades. And when Paul says we’ve missed the mark, he’s not at all saying that we were almost there, so close. He’s really saying that we’ve missed the whole dartboard. We threw the horseshoe, and it landed in the ocean. The hand-grenade went off in our own hand. We have missed the whole point for which God made us. He made us to experience companionship with Him, to share His glory. And we failed to receive that glory, failed to glorify Him, and failed to reflect His glory. We missed the whole point of life. That’s what Paul is saying. Apart from Christ the verdict of God against every individual is going to be: “You missed the point.” It’s not that we got 43 percent of it, or 93 percent of it, or even 99.9 percent of it. We missed the whole point. And as frightening as that verdict is, Paul has such good news in the midst of it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Romans 3:21

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

We change subjects within Paul’s letter now, as we look at verses 21-31 of chapter 3 and forward. Remember, Paul spent the past 63 verses, from Romans 1:18-3:20, talking about the bad news, the sinfulness of mankind. Now, for the first time since verse 17 of chapter 1, Paul returns to the topic he introduced in his thesis: a righteousness from God revealed in the gospel.

But now, a righteousness from God has been made known in the gospel, apart from the law, as attested in the Old Testament. Paul jumps back to what he said in his thesis statement: chapter 1 v.17. He had to diverge for a moment to explain why the gospel matters at all, and remember that his conclusion was that God will justly and righteously unleash his wrath on sinners; since everyone is a sinner, we need the gospel. Understanding our need for the gospel, for salvation, Paul assures us that we can have faith in the gospel, not only because it is the power of God for salvation, but also because in it, a righteousness from God is made known. And remember, it is God’s righteousness that has us in trouble. God cannot simply overlook sin. He can’t just say, “It’s okay, I forgive you.” Sin is not okay. God must punish it. In His original covenant with Adam and Eve, He promised that the sinner will die. And what amazed Paul about the gospel is that God has made a way to save people without compromising His justice. He punished His Son to ensure His justice. And Paul is assured that he is saved, because God would be unrighteous to punish him for his sins, if He has laid those sins on Christ. God cannot demand that Paul be given the death penalty if Christ has already received the death penalty in Paul’s name. This is a righteousness from God displayed in the gospel. And Paul is amazed that God can righteously acquit the guilty. It’s called grace. And it’s amazing.

What is grace? It’s more than “unmerited favor.” It’s not only that we didn’t deserve favor. It’s that we deserved eternal damnation. So God’s grace is more than, “God forgives us.” God’s grace is His favor freely bestowed on those who deserve His condemnation at the cost of His Son. G.R.A.C.E. = God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense

The words “But now” declare the change that took place when we went from “under wrath” to “under grace.” We were not “in Christ,” but now we are. We were lost but now are found. The words “But now” also are used by Paul, I think, to remind us of the work of God in history.
Before Christ, everything was B.C., and now, after Christ, everything is A.D., the Year of Our Lord… Paul makes a temporal distinction between what God had been doing in preparation for the fullness of time in the days of the old covenant, and the fulfillment of those old covenant promises and prophesies and types as represented by Christ and the new covenant. The old covenant was then…But now we have the new covenant. It is finished.

Second, Paul says that God’s righteousness has been revealed “apart from the law,” apart from our works of the law, apart from our doing anything, apart from our obedience. Paul is saying that God’s righteousness is displayed in us in such a way that nothing we do contributes to it. There is absolutely nothing we bring to this display of God’s righteousness. It is an alien righteousness, provided by God, and received by the channel of faith. It is not something in us or from us.

Third and finally in this verse, Paul is telling us that he is not giving us a new teaching, but that this truth of the gospel and justification by faith is demonstrated in the Old Testament itself. The Old Testament clearly witnesses to it and testifies of the truth of the gospel and justification by faith. In fact, in Romans 4, the place that Paul will go to show the proof of the gospel from Scripture is from Genesis and the story of Abraham. You know, often times we ask this question, “Salvation is by grace through faith in the New Testament, but was it the same way in the Old Testament?” Paul would have never asked that question. He might have asked, “Salvation is by grace through faith in the Scriptures (the Old Testament), but is it still that way since the Messiah has completed His work (in the New Testament)?” Paul knew that the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone was both old covenant and new covenant reality. In the old covenant, people had to look forward to the coming promised Messiah; in the new covenant, people have the completed glory of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Romans 3:19-20

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The Law silences mankind before God. V.19-20 are Paul’s final words in this great assault on mankind, and remember, Paul is saying all of this not to be mean, but out of love. He desires that everyone would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, but until guilt is admitted and need of a Savior is acknowledged, none are in a position to partake of the benefits that the gospel offers. So Paul relentlessly and without remorse pounds home this truth that all are guilty and stand in need of grace. These 2 verses can be hard to understand, because Paul uses the word “law” in many different ways. From the context of v.10-18, we know that he is not just talking about the Ten Commandments and the Leviticus stuff, but the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. Furthermore, he is talking specifically to the Jews here, those “under the law.” Paul asserts that because the law silences the Jews’ mouth to defend themselves, that means that every mouth is silenced. The implication from this and from what we saw in chapter two is this: The Jews felt justified before God because they had the law—not that they followed the law, but that the fact that God had given them the law gave them reason in their minds to be able to stand before God. The irony is that this law that the Jews had boasted in because it was given to them was indeed the very thing God uses to shut their mouths in his presence.

If the Jews were held silent, having possessed the law, Paul says then “every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” After the Jews’ mouths are closed before God, there is utter silence in His presence. No one says a word before God’s Judge’s bench. There will be no plea bargaining, no excuses, no reasons. The Gentiles have nothing to say, because in spite of overwhelming evidence, they persistently suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. The Jews, who were as a nation brought into covenant with Him were given the law, but that law condemns their sinfulness at every turn.

Paul is explaining one purpose of the law. He has already said that the Jews misunderstood its purpose (it was not intended to justify), so now he’s telling them what one purpose of the law actually is: To silence mankind before God, to show mankind the heinousness of sin and its debilitating effects on the totality of man’s being. More than that—the Jews were guilty of applying the law to the Gentile converts to Judaism without applying it to themselves, so Paul corrected them and made sure that they remembered to apply to themselves as well. We must do the same. We can’t use the law just to condemn the sin in others. It condemns us as well. It silences others before God, and it silences us as well.

The Law holds the whole world accountable to God. That word “accountable” is powerful. It literally means, “under penalty.” The word of God, the Old Testament, having silenced the Jews therefore compels the entire world to be silent, having nothing to say in their defense before a holy God who sits on His throne of Judgment. He pronounces all guilty of sin and liable to the horrible temporal consequences of sin in this life and the fires of eternal torment in the life to come.

Paul wanted to show that the Holy Scriptures actually accomplish their purpose. Isaiah 55:11 “My Word that goes out from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” One purpose of the Word of God is to show that all of mankind is accountable to God for their sin, to silence mankind before the judgment of God. The purpose of the Word was never to make man righteous, never to justify him. Jeremiah 23:29 “Is not My Word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” Do we believe that? Hebrews 4:12 “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” The Word is powerful unto judgment. Do we consider the Word like that? Paul knows that as we read the Scriptures, we must understand our own sin.

Romans 1:20 showed us that we know God through creation. Romans 2:15 showed us that we know the law as it is written on our consciences, our hearts. And now in Romans 3:19, we are shown that we know these things also because of the nation of Israel. If the Jews, who had the blessings of God to succeed, failed, then we certainly have too. So Paul says that the proper understanding for someone in the sphere of the law, who has heard the law and been presented the law, who knows the judgments of the law, is to recognize his or her sinfulness and need of grace, because all are accountable.

We are not made righteous by the Law; rather, the Law shows us our sin. Paul in Romans 2:13 said that the doers of the law will be justified. So is he contradicting himself here? No. He is saying that there are no doers of the law. If there were, that would be one thing, but there are none. So no one is justified by the law. Paul doesn’t have a problem with obedience. He has a problem with people who think they are obedient, but they’re not. Why does the Law only bring out our sinfulness and make it more obvious? Why does it have no power to bring out, or give, righteousness? We find the answer in Romans 8:3: “What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” The Law is not defective in itself, but it is weak because of the flesh, because of our unregenerate condition. That’s why nobody is going to get right with God by works of the Law. The Law without the Spirit is called “letter,” and it kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). By itself the Law brings out sin, not faith, and when it does, it is death-giving, not life-giving (Romans 7:9-10). So it can’t justify us. It can only condemn us, unless Christ bears our condemnation and releases the Spirit into our lives (Romans 8:3-9).

Paul concludes with something that would have been very shocking to his Jewish friends. At the very end of verse 20 he says, “For through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Now that would have greatly irritated a pious Jew. A pious Jew would have said, “What do you mean that through the Scripture comes knowledge of sin? Through the Scripture comes the knowledge of the great and holy and awesome God.” Well, Paul is saying this provocatively. Paul isn’t trying to tell everything that the law is and does in this passage. But he is telling this. Think about it. The law itself in our fallen condition, as we are already sinners, shows us our need of grace. Far from putting us right with God, the law shows that we are wrong with God; we need to be put right with God, but that we can’t put ourselves right. Therefore the law itself functions to reveal to us our sin, to convince us of our sin, and to show us that we need an escape from sin which we can’t provide.

We can see from Romans 7:7-8 what Paul is saying: “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 [Here is what Romans 3:20b means—the Law brings about the knowledge of sin]; 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.” That is, sin lies unrecognized. When the Law meets an unregenerate heart, a person without the Holy Spirit and without faith, the effect is that it reveals the rebellion in our hearts; it makes our rebellion against God and his Law known; it brings it out. Sin rises up in the presence of the Law and shows itself with vivid colors. John Piper offers this analogy: It’s like a teenager who goes to the mailbox to get the mail. He brings it in and puts it on the table. He flips through it and sees nothing for him, and so he starts to walk away. No bad desires at all here, right? But then he notices at the top of one of the postcards the words, “For parents only!” And suddenly there is a desire to read the card. Are those words on the card sin? No. But through those words come the knowledge of sin. Suddenly what was lying dormant in the heart is shown to really be there—the desire to read what one ought not to read.

Paul’s question to us is this: “What stands you before God? What makes you secure before the God of the universe?” And his answer is, “The righteousness of God. That’s what stands.” But, you see, that brings another crisis. The response is: “Well, I’m not the righteousness of God. My life condemns me if that’s the standard. Where do I get this?” And Paul says, “Well, that’s where I wanted you to be in the first place.

Because until you understand that you need the righteousness of God, before you stand before the awesome and Holy God, you’re not ready to hear the good news that I’ve wanted to tell you.” But we have to wait until next time to see the great turning point, which comes in v.21-22. And for the rest of this book, Paul is going to tell us just how glorious that good news is. But it will make no sense to us, until we first acknowledge our need of that good news. Until we’re honest with ourselves, and we run from our deeds, good and bad, to the one place where we can find the righteousness of God, and that’s in Jesus Christ as is offered in the gospel.