August 24, 2011

Thursday after the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 10, 1, Sam 17:17-27, Lk. 18:31
Evening - Ps. 21:1-5, Ps. 24, Micah 1:1-7, Rom. 3:1-20

Commentary
Romans 3:1-20

Verses 1-8. The heart of this passage is verse 7. I hear so many people giving this argument today. In its modern version it takes this form, "God made me this way, so I must be O.K." They are saying God gave them the appetites of the flesh and the natural instinct of self preservation, and all these things you call "sins" are just the natural expression of this, so they must be O.K. and I must be O.K. and it must be a positive good to indulge them. There is just enough truth in this to make it sound good and right. God did give the natural appetites and self-preservation instincts to us. But this does not mean He gave us unbridled license to indulge them in any way that pleases us at the moment. To do so causes unfathomable harm to others and ourselves. Rather than indulgence, we are responsible for keeping our appetites and instincts under control, and the point of this verse is that the Jews haven't done this any better than the Gentiles. The Jews have the Law. They have the Bible. The word and will of God is made clearer and plainer to them than to any other nation at that time in history. At the time Paul wrote Romans, the Jews have had more than 2,000 years of instruction through the Law and the Prophets and the Scriptures. No other people had anything like this. And yet, what did they do with their opportunity? They wasted it. They threw it away. They had the Law and they lived as though they had never heard of it.

It does not take much imagination to apply this to the Church or to our culture today. The Gospel of Christ has been available to us for 2,000 years. Paul took the Gospel into Europe no later than 52 A.D. He wrote the Book of Romans in 58 A.D. and the church of Rome had obviously been there for some time prior to this, for Paul knew many of the Roman Christians. From these and other churches Christianity spread rapidly into Europe, so our culture has had its holy influence throughout the Christian era. It was the Gospel that conquered our pagan religions and brought civilsation to Europe. It was the Gospel that gave us a growing recognition of the God-given rights of all people, and it was the Gospel that gave us our values and our wisdom. Yet today we are throwing it away with both hands, and throughout our history we have never really lived up to the teachings and examples of the Christian faith. Imagine how much greater our history could have been if we had taken the Bible more seriously. Today we are running away from the Bible as fast as our sinful feet can carry us, and the further we get away from it the deeper we sink into the mud of moral, social, and political chaos.
Question, why do we choose sin? Why don't we always choose good. Why don't we choose God instead of sin?

Verse 9. What a penetrating question is found in the words, "are we better than they?" How smug we are to judge the Jews from our advantage of having the completed New Testament and 2,000 years of Christian influence. How quick we are to imagine that we would have followed God more closely if we had seen the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the sea, and the miracles of Christ. But are we really better than they? Are the Gentiles better than they? That's the real question Paul is asking. The Jews had the Law and the Prophets and their influence in their culture. They had the Temple and the sacrifices and the feasts. In short, they had the Bible, but they did not live by it. The tendency for the Gentile Romans, was to say they would have been immeasurably more faithful had they enjoyed the advantages of the Jews. Furthermore, aren't they better now, due to the fact that they believe in Christ while many Jews do not?

This is a natural response of people who believe they have somehow worked faith in themselves apart from the calling and quickening of their spirits by the Spirit of God. There is a tendency to look at unbelievers and think, "Well, I may be a sinner, but at least I'm smart enough and good enough to ask Jesus to forgive and save me. If you were as smart or good or holy as I, you would ask Him to save you too. But you're just a dumb ol' heathen, and you deserve what you get." How tragic, for the teaching of the Bible is; "by grace are ye save through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Who is under sin? Who is helpless and needy before God? Who has rejected the light of God they have? Who has chosen evil instead of good? Who is under the wrath of God and unable to do anything about it? Everyone! Jews and Gentiles are all under sin.

Verses 10-18 apply the teaching of the Old Testament to both Jews and Gentiles. For verses 10-12 see Psalm 14:1-3. For verse 13 see Ps. 5:9, Jer. 5:16, and Ps. 140:3. For verse 14 read Ps. 10:7. For verse 15 read Prov. 1:16, and for verses 16-18 read Is. 59:7-8 and Ps. 36:1. Paul presents these verses not only as Divine revelation, but also as self-evident truth. He is claiming that we all know this to be true because we see it in others and we see it in ourselves. Let anyone who can, deny what these verses teach. Let anyone who will, bring forth evidence to the contrary. Show us just one human being who does not fit this description like a glove, save for our Lord Jesus Christ. We can't do it.

Many wonder how the Old Testament applies to the New. Many think there are actually two faiths, one in the Old and another in the New Testament. In actuality, both Testaments teach one faith; the entire sinfulness and helplessness of all humanity, and the Divine Rescue by God through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Verses 19-20 draw the inevitable conclusion from these verses of Scripture, and from what we observe to be true in all people. First, all are guilty before God. All are under God's wrath. All are justly excluded from any claim on God. God owes them nothing. All are guilty of crimes and sedition against His Holy and Perfect Law, and all deserve whatever punishment He deems right to meet out. Second, doing the works of the Law cannot save us. Suppose we could live a perfect life from now until the day we stand before God, would that make up for our sins? No. What do we owe God? Perfect obedience. It's what we owe God. It's not an option. There's no grading curve. Anything short of perfect obedience, in heart and thought as well as in deed, is to miss the mark, the target, the goal. If you are walking through the woods and are charged by a bear, and you happen to have a rifle with you capable of stopping the bear, and you quickly aim and fire the gun, but you miss the bear, does it matter if you miss by a fraction of an inch or by a yard or a mile? No, a miss is a miss, and any sin, even one tiny little sin, causes us to miss the target of complete obedience. Anything short of absolute perfection in us is to fail in our duties to God and makes us unprofitable servants. Fail to pay your bank everything you owe and see how welcome you are in its richly appointed offices. Failure to pay God everything you owe makes you a debtor to Him. Does a bank deserve its full payment and the God of all Creation not?

Because all are sinners, as explained to us in the preceding chapters and verses of Romans, and because all are guilty as 3:19 tells us, "Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight." In other words, no person can earn his way to Heaven through his works, that is, by the way he keeps the law because nobody keeps the law perfectly. All transgress the law many times and many ways every day. So, by the Law we do not see how good we are. By the Law we see how far short of the goal we have fallen. As Romans 3:20 says, "by the law is the knowledge of sin."

So ends the first part of the Book of Romans. Every human being is condemned here. Those without the Bible are guilty of rejecting what knowledge of God and His will are available to them through conscience and creation. Those with the Bible are guilty of rejecting God because, though they have a fuller understanding of God and His will, they have not lived according to their knowledge, but have lived in opposition to it. All have sinned.

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