August 25, 2014

Scripture and Comments, August 25-30

Monday

Morning - Ps. 40:1-16, 1 Sam. 18:1-9, Lk. 19:29-40
Evening - Ps. 37:1-24, Micah 4:1-8 Rom. 4:13-29

Commentary, Romans 4:13-29

Is human will bound or free?  Is absolute free will possible in a human being?  Are our decisions and choices affected by factors outside of ourselves?  Almost everyone agrees we are affected by factors outside of ourselves, such as friends, personal history, and family background.  There are also things within us that influence our choices.  Interests, personality, and genetics are obvious examples.  My family has always loved music. Is that genetic or is it just from being exposed to it?  We sometimes hear people say things like, "She got her musical talent from her mother."  "He got his sunny disposition from his grandmother."  "She got her musical talent from her grandfather." Is there any truth in those statements? Why are some people melancholy while others have "sunny" dispositions?  Why do some love history while others hate it?  Why do some people want to be artists while others want to be dentists, and others want to be race car drivers?  Is there something in our make up that moves us in these directions? 

What about sin?  Anyone who is not a sinner should stop reading this.  It will not help you.   If you are still reading, I gather that you understand that you have chosen sin at some point in your life. Allow me to make a point, emphasised in the Bible, everyone has chosen sin at many points in life.  No one is perfect.  And this brings up the question, why did you choose sin?  Why haven't you chosen to do good all of your life, 100% of the time?  Are there factors outside of you that influence you to choose sin?  If yes, what are some of these factors?  What about what we used to call, "peer pressure?" Are there factors inside of you that influence you to choose sin?  What are selfishness, greed, pride, and anger? Where do these things come from?  Are they things we learn or are they things we are born with?

This is very important.  If you say we are born with these things in our nature you are saying there is a tendency in us to choose sin, and that tendency is part of our natural make up.  If you say we are born with these tendencies you are saying there is some kind of limitation to our free will, because these things influence us to think and act in certain ways. 

What does it mean about us if we have an inborn tendency to sin?  It means we are by nature pre-disposed toward sin.  Our hearts are "inclined" toward sin, and we will naturally move in the direction we are inclined toward, just as water will always follow an incline.  It also means we are not righteous by nature, and never have been.  Some people believe we are morally neutral at conception, meaning, we are neither good nor evil.  We become good or evil (or to use more biblical language, righteous or sinners) when, at the age of discretion, we know right from wrong and willingly choose wrong.  But my question is; why do we choose wrong?  Could it be that we choose evil because we are born with a natural tendency to do so?  If so, we are not innocent at conception or at any time of life.  We are unrighteous from the very moment of conception.  Babies are not born innocent or neutral. Sin is a part of their make up from the very instant of conception (Psalm 51:5). It is very important that we understand this; we do not become sinners by committing sins, we commit sin because we are sinners.  Horses eat grass because they are horses.  They don't become horses by eating grass.  To put it another way; we are naturally self-centered rather than God-centered. Therefore, we naturally choose our own will over God's will. We can only choose what we want, and we want our own way. How did we become sinners by nature?  We inherited it from our parents, who inherited it from their parents, back through the generations to the very beginning.  We, having this inborn sinfulness in us, cannot pass on innocence to our children.  I cannot pass purple hair to my children because I don't have purple hair in my genetic make up.  I cannot pass innocence, or righteousness to them because I do not have that in my make up.  I can only pass what is in my nature, and my nature is sin.  The only way any of us can ever become righteous is to receive it as the free gift of God's grace through Jesus Christ.  We can never create it in ourselves or give it to another.

This is why we are all under God's wrath.  This is why we choose sin.  This is why we need a Saviour. If this were the only word from God we would live in absolute despair and fear.  We would know that our only future is a broken world and an eternity in hell.  But this is only Part I of the Gospel message. This is the "Bad News."  Part II is the "Good News," which is well stated in Rom. 4:24 -25.  Righteousness is imputed to us who believe through Christ, "who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification." 

Abraham had the same sinful inclinations we have.  Abraham was a unable to make himself right with God as we are.  The entire point of chapter 4 is that Abraham was justified by faith.  It was not his good works, not his obedience, and not his fidelity to the law that made him right with God.  It was faith.  Abraham believed God, and on the basis of that faith, God counted him as righteous (4:3).  Tonight's reading states this in the very first verse; the promise was not through the law, that is, given on the basis of Abraham earning it by keeping the law. It was given on the basis of faith.  Long before the law was given, long before circumcision, long before Abraham could have earned anything by good works, the promise was given to him, and Abraham received it by faith.  The obedience, the keeping the law, the worship of God, and all the other things we normally think of as characterising the people of God came after the promise was given by grace and received by faith.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps.41, 1 Sam. 20:1-23, Lk. 19:47-20:8
Evening - Ps. 37, 26, Micah 4:9-5:1, Rom.5

Commentary, Romans 5

Chapter 5 marks a turning point in the Book of Romans.  We could say the first four chapters have been about the means of our salvation, while chapter 5 begins to discuss the results of salvation.  If we want to talk about this in more theological terms we could say chapters 1-4 are about "justification," while chapter 5 begins to talk about "sanctification."   Anglican minister, E. H. Gifford, gave a good summary of the first four chapters, along with an introduction to chapter 5 in his commentary on Romans, published in London in 1886.  He wrote:

"St Paul has shown that neither Gentile nor Jew had attained to righteousness by works (i.18-iii.20): he has described 'the righteousness of God,' which is exhibited in Christ's atoning death and bestowed by God's grace as a free gift without works, and therefore without distinction of persons, upon all who by faith accept it (iii.21-30); and he has proved by the example of Abraham, and the testimony of David, that his doctrine of 'righteousness without works' is in harmony with scripture (iii. 31-iv. 25). He now sets forth the blessedness of the justified, consisting in present 'peace with God' and joyful 'hope of the glory of God,' both resting on the death and life of Him 'by whom we have now received the atonement' (vv. I-II), "(The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p.109). 

According to Gifford, Romans 5:1-11 describes the "Blessedness of the Justified."  W.H. Griffith-Thomas said it describes the "Security of the Justified."  Francis Schaeffer said it is about "The Results of Justification: Peace with God."  You will recall we have said that Romans 1:1-4:25 is about Justification, and 5:1-8:17 deals with sanctification.  Thus, we are agreeing with the commentaries that chapters 1-4 deal with how sinners become saints, and chapter 5 begins to tell of the blessings enjoyed by the saints.  We are not saying this arbitrarily.  We are simply following the natural flow of the Book of Romans, for in 5:1 Paul himself shows that he is beginning a new subject.  "Therefore" is the signal.  "Therefore" means a new subject is coming.  It also means the new subject is based upon, and inseparable from, the preceding subject.  Because the first subject is true, which is, justification by grace through faith, the second subject is also true, which is that we have peace with God.  Thus Paul says in Romans 5:1, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Verse 1.  The first result of justification is peace with God.  We must remind ourselves again that justification means to be legally declared not liable for punishment for our sins because Christ has suffered for them in our places.  We receive the "verdict" of "just" when we assent with our minds that Jesus died for us, believe in our hearts that His death is able to make us just, and trust Him in faith to justify us to the Father.  This act of faith goes by many names, but it always includes acknowledging that our sin makes us worthy of God's wrath (confession), trusting that the sacrifice of Christ can forgive those who seek it (faith), and turning away from sin to "live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of [His] holy name" (repentance).  Such people are declared to be justified apart from the law and works, and are the recipients of the results of justification, beginning with peace with God.

From our earlier studies in Romans we have seen that all people, by virtue of our sin, are under the wrath of God.  We are at war with God.  We are enemies of God.  That is the nature of sin.  But in Christ we have been forgiven of our treason and brought back into full privileges of citizenship in His Kingdom, just as if we had never sinned against Him at all.  The Peace we now enjoy is not simply a "cease-fire."  It is not just a pause in the hostilities.  This Peace is a state of active acceptance and fellowship between ourselves and God.  It does not simply mean we have ceased to make war on God and have received Him into our fellowship; it also means He has ceased to make war on us and has received us into His fellowship.  He is the righteous King.  We are the vile and guilty traitors who have despoiled His lands and broken His laws.  We are worthy of a traitor's death, but He has instead invited us into the castle and seated us on golden thrones, given us wealth and glory beyond imagination, and called us beloved, friends, and heirs.  He has made our peace with Him.

Our peace is "Through our Lord Jesus Christ."  His sacrifice on the cross makes our reconciliation possible.  It is not purchased by us through good works; our works have bought us only condemnation.

Verse 2 continues to tell us that our justification is through Christ.  It is by Him that we have access to the grace of God.  It is by grace that we stand before God in reconciliation, rather than fall before His wrath.  And it is in and through Christ that we rejoice in "the hope of the glory of God."  "Hope" is not a wish.  It is confidence in God combined with the assurance that we are forgiven and will join God in Heaven where unimaginable joy awaits us forever.  Our hope is based on the confidence that God, who has proved Himself faithful, good, loving, and reliable, will keep His promises.  His word is His bond and His word is peace to all who believe in Christ in Biblical faith.  "Whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life."

Verses 3-5 reveal that the difficulties of life strengthen, rather than weaken, our hope.  In a real Christian, trials do not cause us to loose our faith; they serve to strengthen our confidence in God.  This does not mean Christians will never sin, or doubt, or fear.  It means God will never let us fall completely away.  He will hold on to us.  He will keep us in His Kingdom.  He brought us into it by His power and His choice, and He will keep us in it by His power and His choice.  Therefore, our trials will ultimately build up our confidence in God.  I will expound these verses more fully in future sermons.  For now I simply want to say that our trials make us desire Heaven.  Only those who have seen the trials of life can begin to appreciate the wonders of Heaven, a place completely without sorrow or tribulation.  Adam and Eve did not appreciate the perfection of Eden, while it was theirs to enjoy, but I am sure they longed for it once it was gone forever.  Verse 5 tells us "hope maketh not ashamed."  It means that the hope we have in Christ is not in vain.  God will not disappoint us.  He is faithful.  He will keep His word, forever.  We will receive that eternal joy for which we now hope.  He sheds His love, not hate, abroad in our hearts.

Verses 6-11 show that the love of God secures our hope.  We could put it another way, saying our hope is founded on the love of God shown to us by dying for us while we were yet sinners.  He loved us because He is love.  He loved us without regard for our unlovableness.  He loved us in spite of our sin and rebellion.  If God loved us that much while we were yet in our sin and rebellion, He will certainly keep His promise of salvation to those who have turned to Him in faith.  Such love can be trusted to the very depths of infinity.

Verses 12-14.  Many people miss the point of these verses by focusing on the words, "not imputed" in verse 13.  Not imputed does not mean sinners were not counted as sinners prior to the giving of the Law.  Nor does it mean sinners did not know they were sinners until the Law was given.  That would contradict everything Paul has written about to this point in the Book of Romans.  We must remember that all people have access to the knowledge of God and His will.  It is revealed in nature and it is written on our consciences (Rom.1:18-20), so that we know God exists, we know something about His nature and will, and we know that certain things are right while others are wrong.  Romans 1:18-20 are foundational to understanding the Book of Romans and the entire Bible, and the doctrines taught in 1:18-20 culminate in the teaching of Romans 2:12, "For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law."  This theme is stated over and over again in Romans.  See Rom. 1:18, 2:1, 2:12, 3:9&10.  Paul is not negating this here.  He is strengthening it.  He is showing how it applies to people who lived before God's Law was given.  His point is that they were in the same situation as those who lived in the Old and New Testament eras, but did not have the Bible.  Everything Romans 1:18-20 says about people who did not have the written revelation of God in Scripture, is true of those who lived before Scripture was written,  The knowledge of God was still given in nature and in conscience. They had this knowledge, but rejected it.  Therefore, they were under God's wrath as fully as anyone else (Rom 1:18), without excuse (Rom. 2:1), and will perish in their sins (Rom. 2:12) unless God chooses to save them.  This is Paul's point in 5:12.  Sin entered the world by one man, Adam.  Because of sin came death, and death passed upon all, for all have sinned.  Thus, sin reigned from Adam to Moses.  Even those who lived before the Law was fully given through Moses were dead in sins and under the wrath and curse of God.  They were in the same spiritual state as those who live in the Gospel era but have not heard of Christ or have no access to the Bible.  They were without excuse and worthy of God's wrath.

To sin after the similitude of Adam's transgression (vs. 14) is to disobey a direct commandment, as Adam did.  Adam had a direct commandment from God not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  When he sinned it was a willful choice to disobey that commandment.  All others have sinned, even if they did not have a direct commandment to transgress like Adam.  Again we must return to the fact that the knowledge and will of God are revealed in nature and in conscience.  So, even though most people from Adam to Moses had no direct commandment to disobey, they disobeyed the revelation they had indirectly through nature and conscience.  Therefore, they are without excuse and justly condemned. This statement destroys the primary excuse people make for their sin.  "I can't be held responsible for sin because I didn't know it was sin because I didn't have the Bible."  Another version of this is, "I can't be held responsible for my sin because I didn't know about Jesus.  Since I did not know about Jesus I did not know I should repent and believe in Him and that I could be forgiven and saved by believing in Him.  Therefore I cannot be held accountable for not believing in Jesus." The point God is making in this verse is that even though such people did not have the full light of the Bible, they had enough light to know they were sinning, therefore, they are accountable for their sin and are without excuse.  I know I repeat this often, but it is critically important to understanding the great gift of God's grace.  The more we understand about sin, the more we see our need of a Saviour; the more we realise the grandeur and glory of our salvation; and the more we comprehend "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us" (1 Jn. 23:1).
               
Verse 14 calls Adam The figure of him that was to come.  "Figure" here means a symbol.  Adam was a symbol of Christ.  But Adam threw us all into sin, how can he be a symbol of Christ?  The answer is found in verses 15-21.

Verses 15-21 contain an idea repeated and restated several times, explaining how Adam is the figure of Christ.  The statement is that the sin of Adam, brought death to many, and the righteousness of Christ brought life to many.  This idea is stated in verse 15, again in verse16 and again in verse 17. But it is most clearly stated in verse 18, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

So how are Adam and Christ alike?  Both of their actions had eternal consequences for their followers.  They are alike in that the people who follow them are like them.  They are both "Fathers" of a family of people.  Adam is the father of sinners.  All his children are sinners who are under God's wrath.  Christ is the Father of saints.  All who believe in Him are under God's grace.

How is Adam the father of sinners?  Adam was created righteous, and fully free.  Adam and Eve are the only human beings, other than Christ, to ever have really free will.  They had both the freedom and the ability to choose God or choose sin.  The rest of us have such great limitations and influences on our wills that we cannot say we possess real "free will."  I often say we choose sin of our own free will, but I am using the words, "free will" in a very narrow sense that recognises the restrictions imposed upon our will by our limitations, influences, and our natural inclinations.  Thus, I would say we are free to choose righteousness, but we our wills are limited by a lack of the ability to choose it 100% of the time.  We are free to choose good, but we are influenced by many things to choose evil.  We are free to choose good but our wills are inclined toward sin, and our actions follow this inclination.  We call this "Original Sin."  Again, Original Sin refers to the origin of our sinful actions, or Actual Sin.  Why do we commit Actual sins?  Because we are naturally inclined toward them. How did we become inclined toward sin?  We inherited the inclination from Adam. So in Adam we all became sinners by nature.  Our wills became inclined toward sin.
 
In some places the Bible uses much stronger language than I have been using here. It tells us those who are not in Christ are of the devil, the slaves of sin, under the dominion of Satan, and enemies of God.  This is true of every one of us in our natural state. It is in our nature to go against God.  This is why every one of us needs to be fundamentally re-created to become Christians.  We need to have our natures, our wills, our emotions, our desires, our intellects, our entire beings re-formed.  We need to be completely re-oriented and turned from our sin to God.  To use the illustration of an inclination again, let us imagine a Roman aqueduct.  An aqueduct directs the flow of water.  Since water naturally wants to go downhill, an aqueduct is built to incline toward the point where the water is needed. If the direction of the water is to be changed, the whole aqueduct must be changed.  The inclination must be redirected.  It must, in essence, become a new aqueduct.  Our nature is like an aqueduct directing our actions toward sin.  Before we can fully begin to choose good and God, we must be rebuilt, so that the inclination of our beings directs us toward God.

This rebuilding is an essential part of the work of Christ.  Actually it is performed by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, so let us not become bogged down at this point.  I am trying to say that the work of Christ in our salvation includes two things.  First it accomplishes our redemption by paying the price for our sin.  Christ dressed Himself in our sins and died for them on the cross.  He dresses us in His righteousness so we are regarded by God as righteous, as though we have no sin.  Second He remakes us, rebuilds and redirects us in our inner being.  He begins to tear down our old nature, which is inclined toward sin, and rebuild us so that we are inclined toward God.

So in Adam all die because from him we have inherited our sinfulness.  Every person is conceived in sin and is by nature a rebel against God.  Adam is the father of sinners.  But in Christ we who believe are made righteous.  We have been forgiven of our sins and have been rebuilt into new creatures who now desire God and the things of righteousness.  We have been brought into the family of Christ.

Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 44, 1 Sam. 20:24-39, Lk. 20:9-26
Evening - Ps. 39, Micah 6:1-8, Rom. 6

Commentary, Romans 6

Chapter 16 teaches two essential parts of what it means to be justified by faith.  First, found in verses1-13, believers are dead to sin, and alive to Christ.  Second, verses 14-23 teach that we are under grace not law.

Dead to Sin: Alive to Christ, Rom. 6:1-13

            Verse 1, shall we continue in sin?  If Christ died for my sins, and my sins are forgiven, and if I can't earn my way into Heaven by doing good things, why should I try to stop sinning?  And if God's grace is shown by His forgiveness of our sins, why not sin in abundance in order to show the abundant grace of God?  These are questions often voiced by people who do not understand the Gospel, and, maybe, don't want to.  They are usually either debating gambits used to discourage Christians who try to talk to them about Christ, or they are simply the self-delusional excuses of people who want to believe they are going to Heaven but have no desire to know and love God or to live holy lives as part of the Family of Christ.  Paul's response to such foolish rebellion is, "God forbid." Let it not be.  Yet there is a need for those who do know and love God, and want to live holy lives in the family of God, to know the relationship between sin and continuing in Christ's salvation.  In other words, does it matter if a believer sins? Or, as Paul states the question, should we continue in sin that grace may abound?
            This question refers back to 5:20, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."  The reasoning goes; if grace abounds where sin abounds, should we sin more that grace may abound still more?   Paul's answer is essentially that we are the servants of whatever we devote ourselves to.  If we are devoted to sin we are servants, or slaves, of sin.  If we are devoted to Christ, we are servants of Christ.  The service of sin is death.  The service of Christ is life.
            Verse 2, we that are dead to sin.  Paul uses the word "dead" to describe the relationship of Christians toward their former lives.  He is saying they lived a life of sin in the "world" of sin.  In that life they were completely alienated from God.  But now they are dead to that life.  They have died, and passed out of that existence, just as a person who dies physically passes out of this worldly existence.  According to Paul, we are dead to sin and cannot live in its "world" any longer. 
            Verses 3-4 show that Christians died to sin when we were united to Christ in baptism. Verses 3-6 are some of the most quoted and least understood verses in Scripture.  They have been used to justify baptism by immersion, often being quoted during the ceremony.  They have also been used to justify baptism by sprinkling.  In reality the verses are not a commentary on the method of baptism but on the result of baptism.  Its point is that baptism, when coupled with true and biblical faith, unites us with Christ.  When we become united to Christ, we are united to His death and His resurrection, so that, spiritually, we died with Him and we were resurrected in Him.  His death becomes the means of our death to the "world" of sin.  His resurrection becomes the means of our resurrection to new life in the "world" of Christ.  His death becomes our death.  His resurrection becomes our resurrection.  His life becomes our life.  Those "baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death."  Thus, we are "buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
            Verse 5 uses a surprising term to refer to being buried with Christ.  It says we are "planted together in the likeness of His death."  The Greek actually uses a word that means to plant.  And it means to be united to in the sense of growing together. It is to become united with Christ in death in the sense that His death effected our death to sin.  That being so, we are also united to Him in His resurrection, which secures and effects our spiritual resurrection to a new kind of life in the realm of the Kingdom of God.
            Verses 6-7 use the image of death as the means of the end of slavery.  To be dead to sin is to be released from its service.  No matter how absolute the bonds of slavery may be during life, a master has no ability to control a slave who is dead.  Death, whatever else it may do, ends the tenure of bondage.  So, for us to be dead to sin is to be released from its bondage.  We were slaves to it.  Sin owned us and controlled us.  It directed our thoughts and actions, and sealed our destiny forever.  But in Christ we have died, and being dead, we are no longer its slaves.  "For he that is dead is freed from sin."
            Verses 8-14 shift the emphasis.  The previous verses have focused on death; united to Christ in death, death to sin, death as the release from bondage.    In verse 8 the emphasis changes to life.  "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (vs. 8).  "Death hath no more dominion over him" (vs. 9). "In that he liveth, he liveth unto God" (vs.10).   "Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (vs. 11).
            The Bible necessarily has much to say about dying to sin, and about the sacrifices that are required of us if we are going to follow Christ.  It has to say much about this because our natural tendency is to turn God into a life-enhancing commodity.  Instead of thinking about Christ as dying to give us new life as new and different kind of people, we reduce Him to dying to improve life as it currently is.  We live in a soul killing world of alienation, loneliness, stress, strife, and evil. But Jesus died to take us out of that world and into a world that breathes life into the soul, a world of beauty, and freedom, and peace, and fellowship and acceptance, and God.  And we would rather have Him fix up the old world a little and leave us there.  It is like we are being slowly tortured to death in a dungeon and Christ is offering healing and freedom and life, but instead of accepting freedom, we ask Him to paint the dungeon a more cheerful colour. Christ is offering to take us out of the dungeon, to free us from, the chains, the bars, the torture, the suffering, the darkness, the disease, and the vermin.  He is offering to take us to a palace of unimaginable beauty, a place of healing and health and joy and light.  He's not offering to fix up the dungeon.
            So when He calls us to die to sin, He is calling us to come out of the dungeon.  He is calling us to stop torturing ourselves with things we thought were fun but were really killing our souls.  He is telling us to put those things behind us as a dead man has put the world behind him.  But He is also inviting us to be born into a new world.  He is telling us that in the new world we will be new and different people.  He is telling us that, as bad as things were in the old world, they will be that good and better in the new one.   When He calls us to die to sin He is simply calling us to die to the things that prevent us from being alive to God (Schaeffer, Finished Work, p. 157).  When He calls us to come out of the old world, He is just inviting us to come into the new one.     

Under Grace, Not Law Romans 6:14-23

Verse 14.  I said earlier that Romans 6 contains some of the Bible's best known and least understood words.  Some of those words are found in verse 14, "Ye are not under the law, but under grace."  These words have been thought to teach that the people in the Old Testament era had to save themselves by keeping the law, while people in the New Testament era are saved by grace.  But, as we have already seen, the Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith from Genesis to Revelation.  There has never been, and never will be a sinner who can make up for his sins by keeping the law.  All have sinned, and the wages of sin is death, for everyone in every era, Old or New Testament.  These words have also been thought to teach that we are free to sin as much as we want, because we are under grace, not law.  But the whole intent of verse 15 is that we are not to sin for the very reason that we are not under law but under grace.  This leads us to a very important point of Bible understanding, namely, that our understanding of any verse or book of the Bible must always agree with the teaching of the Bible as a whole.  The Bible is not just a collection of unrelated sayings for us to appropriate and use as seems best or useful to us at a given moment.  The Bible is the Word of God and it conveys a message.  Every word in the Word is given to convey that message, and must be understood in light of that message.

Verse 14 begins with the striking statement, "sin shall not have dominion over you."  If you are truly in Christ through Biblical faith, sin no longer controls your destiny.  When you were under its dominion it sealed your fate.  It made you liable for the consequences of your own sin, and consigned your soul to hell forever.  But now you are free from its power.  You are free to have a different destiny.  In addition, it no longer rules your life.  Its power is broken.  This is done by the transformation of your heart by the Holy Spirit, who enables you to want to stop sinning.  He changes your desires, your hopes, your values, and your goals.  This is absolutely necessary to holy living.  We will never live holy lives if we don't want to, and, in our natural, fallen condition, we don't want to.  So God has to change us in our inner being to enable us to want to turn away from sin and embrace holiness.  This change is what enables us to believe in Christ, but it continues throughout life.  It is a process of growing in grace, growing in Christ, growing in faith. 

Since being a Christian is a process of growing, we should not be surprised that it takes time, or that we are not perfect now.  In John 3 Jesus spoke of becoming a Christian as being "born again."  If we combine Paul's image of dying to sin with Christ's image of being born again we get a clearer understanding of both.  We are dead to the life of sin, but born again into a new life of righteousness.  When we are born again we are infants.  Infants don't know much, and can't do much.  We need care and nourishment, and love, and guidance and teaching and discipline.  We need to grow in our spiritual life as we also had to grow in our physical life.  Thus, Peter wrote "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2), and Paul said "strong meat belongeth to them that are full of age" (Heb. 5:14).  So the Bible is showing us that there is growth and maturation in the Christian life.  We enter into it by being born again, and are, at first, newborn babes requiring the milk of the word.  But as we drink the milk of the word, meaning, as we "feed" on Christ through Scripture and the means of grace, we "grow thereby."  As we grow we move on to solid food, meaning a deeper understanding of Scripture and a more mature Christian life.  It is expected that we will continue to grow, moving on to strong meat and maturity in Christian understanding and living.  This growing process continues as long as we remain on this earth.  Only when we live in Heaven will we reach full maturity and be beyond the reach of temptation and sin.  Down here we are continually pressing toward that goal (Phil. 3:14).

We often refer to Christian growth and maturation as "sanctification."  Sanctification means to grow in Christ, or to become like Jesus.  It literally means to become holy, or, sanctified, and it is an essential part of being a Christian.  Christ did not simply die to keep us from going to hell.  He died to bring us out of a life of sin, and into a new life of holiness.  And He demands that we grow and mature in this new life.  One of the major obstacles to sanctification today is the popular idea that Christ is just another life enhancement product to give life meaning, or to protect us from trouble, or to make life fun.  This view dominates the contemporary Church, which is why so many churches major on entertainment rather than worship, and why they present Christianity as a series of emotional thrills rather than a life of holiness.  Contrary to the emotional, experience based faith that prevails today, the Bible tells us "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).  There is content and meaning in Christianity, and real faith is a response to that content.  Thus, Christ, after saying, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" asked Martha, "Believest thou this?" (Jn. 11:25&26).  Jesus was not talking about physical life, He spoke about the new life of righteousness in God, and He was saying that the new life is received by believing the message of the Gospel.  He did not ask if this made Martha feel good. He didn't ask her if she "felt the Spirit moving her."  He didn't ask her to join hands and sing "Majesty." He said, do you believe this message? Faith is believing the message of God.  Faith allows the message to transform our thoughts, and our lives.  The more we believe it, the more it transforms and matures us in our new life in the realm of Christ.  The more we feed our souls on the message, the more freedom we give it to transform our lives into holy, godly, sanctified lives.  The message feeds our souls with the spiritual food of Christ.  The more we drink its sincere milk and eat its strong meat, the more it works in our souls and produces godliness and spiritual maturity in us.
            Verses 18-23 return to the images of servants and slavery.  They tell us we were the slaves of sin, but are now the slaves of Christ.  Doesn't this mean we have an obligation to serve Christ?  We were created by Him for Him.  Our rightful place in life is to serve Christ, just as your pet's rightful place in life is to serve you.  But the service of Christ is different from the slavery to sin.  Where sin kills, Christ gives life.  Where sin abuses, Christ gives wholeness and wellness.  Where sin binds, Christ frees.  Where sin pays us with death, Christ gives life freely.  His service, as we say in Morning Prayer, "is perfect freedom."  Being servants of God, we have everlasting life.

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 49, 1 Sam. 22:6, Lk. 20:27-40
Evening - Ps. 50, Micah 6:9, Rom. 7:1-13

Commentary, Romans 7:1-13

Romans 7 continues to teach about the results of justification by faith.  In essence, those who are justified by faith are now restored to fellowship with God through the atoning work of Christ.  Our fellowship with God is not a static condition, however; it is a growing process in which we become closer to God in our hearts, and more Godly in our way of life.  Theologians often call this process, "sanctification," and that is the theme of chapters 6 and 7.  The point being made in tonight's reading is that we are under grace in sanctification just as much as we are under grace in justification.  In other words, we are not sanctified by our own efforts to keep God's law, we are sanctified by grace through faith.  This may seem like nothing more than a discussion about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, but it is really very important.  It means we don't earn sanctification any more than we earn justification.  Both are free gifts of God's grace received by faith.

In Romans 7:1-6 this point is shown using an illustration from marriage. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if he dies, she is free to marry another man.  The legal marital bond dies with the passing of the husband.  In this illustration, we are like the wife, and the law is like the husband.  The point is that in Christ the law has died and we have married a new husband, grace. Verse 4 tells us "grace" is really Christ.  Thus, through His atoning work, the law died and we became His bride. 

As His wife, we bring forth fruit unto God.  This is a very moving illustration in itself.  It refers to living with a passion for God.  Before we were married to Christ, our passions, called here, "motions," led us into things that displeased God.  Now, married to Christ, our passions lead us to do the things that please Him.  It is our passion, desire, and pleasure to please our Saviour.  Under law we might attempt to keep commandments out of slavish fear and compulsion, but under grace we keep the law out of love for God.  Under law we would attempt to earn and continue in God's good will by doing good things.  Under grace we have and continue in God's good will as His gift to us.  In grace we do His will and keep His commandments because we are in His good will, not to earn it.

Verses 7-13 remind us that our problem was not the law of God.  The law is not evil.  The illustration of the husband and wife is not meant to suggest that there was a problem with the law, only to show that we cannot be under law and grace at the same time.  We were the problem.  Our sin was the problem.  The law did us a great favour by revealing our sin to us. By the law came the knowledge of sin.

Verse 9 has often troubled people, especially those new to the study of Romans.  It does not mean Paul, or any of the rest of us, were at any time right with God (alive) apart from the grace of God in Christ.  It means there was a time when we thought ourselves to be alive without Him.  Either we thought we were alive because we kept the law well enough to justify ourselves to God, or, we thought we were alive because, without the law, we convinced ourselves we were not in sin and not under the wrath of God.  But with the knowledge of the law came knowledge of our sin, and the realisation that we were dead toward God.

Just the opposite of being evil, the law, called, "the commandment" in verse 10 "was ordained to life."  Read Psalm 19:7-13 and see the goodness of the law of God.  The law of God is the way of life and happiness and peace, if we keep it.  Virtually everyone agrees the world would be a far better place if everyone kept the Ten Commandments. It is the realisation that we have not kept the law that makes it appear as death to us.  The commandments slay us because they make us realise we have broken the Law of God.  The commandment itself is holy, just, and good ((Rom. 7:12).  But, as verse 13 shows, knowing the law reveals that sin is "exceeding sinful."

It is important to remind ourselves here of the means of grace.   They are the means by which God gives His grace to His people, thereby sanctifying them to Himself.  The Scriptures, the Church, the Sacraments, and prayer are examples of how God works sanctification in us, and no one should be surprised to find themselves out of fellowship with God if they are not making diligent use of the means of grace. 

Friday

Morning -Ps.51, 1 Sam. 23:7-18, Lk. 20:41-21:4
Evening - Ps.54, 57, Micah 7:1-9, Rom. 7:14

Commentary, Romans 7:14-25

It is very important to understand that every Christian struggles with temptation and sin every day.  The reason for this is that we are still works in progress.  Remember that we were inclined toward sin, and that God had to reconstruct us to incline us toward Godliness.  This reconstruction is the essence of sanctification, and it is a continuing process in the life of the Christian.  The point of our reading for tonight is to continue to show us that sanctification is a work of God in us, not the result of our own efforts to keep the moral teaching (law) of the Bible.  That's a good thing, because even now we are unable to live up to the demands of the law of God.  Even Paul faced temptation, and even he had to confess that his own growth in Godliness was the result of God reshaping his being.  It was not the result of anything he achieved for himself by keeping the law.

Paul does not teach that our bodies (flesh) are still under sin while our souls or minds (spirits) are not.  He teaches that our natures are not fully reconstructed or inclined toward Godliness, and will not be as long as we live in this world.  So our natures have divided desires.  We want to please God by keeping the law and doing what is right (7:22), and, at the same time, we also want to please ourselves by indulging our natural appetites and desires, even when they contradict the law of God (7:23).  These natural desires, along with the inclination to indulge them, are what Paul means by the word, "flesh" (7:18).  Thus he writes those rather confusing words in verses 15-19.  These verses simply mean he wants to do good, but often finds himself committing sin. The verses are the supporting arguments for the conclusion he draws in verse 21, "when I would do good, evil is present with me" (7:21). Our natural inclination to indulge ourselves cannot lead us into Godliness.  It can not lead us to keep the law of God; it can lead us to break it.  It will not lead us into sanctification; it will lead us back into sin.  It is this tendency that must be overcome if we are to live Godly lives, and only God can overcome it.  We are unable to reconstruct ourselves; this is why the entire process of sanctification, like justification, is a work done on us by God, not a work done in us by ourselves.

So, having made it clear that we are unable to make ourselves stop sinning and live for God, Paul asks, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"  If he can't make himself stop doing the things that lead the soul into spiritual death (sin), who can?  Can anybody?  The answer is given in verse 25.  It is Jesus Christ our Lord who delivers us.  He delivers us from the penalty of our sin (justification), and from the tendency to continue in sin (sanctification).

The Prayer Book rightly teaches this. "Wherefore, let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life heareafter may be pure and holy," we are exhorted in Morning and Evening Prayer. "From "all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord deliver us" we pray in the Litany. In these, and many other places, we are taught what Scripture teaches here and in other places, that it is God who accomplishes these things for us.  He is the sanctifier of the faithful.

Please allow a few words of practical application.  If the Apostle Paul wrestled with temptation and sin, we should expect to also.  Some think battling temptation and sin are signs that you are not a Christian, but it may actually be a sign that you are.  It may be a sign that you want to please God, and that you are becoming more aware and ashamed of your sin.  It may mean you are resisting sin, fighting against it, and attempting to control your desires and passions rather than indulge them in opposition to the law of God.  It may be a sign that God is sanctifying you, doing that work of reconstructing your nature and inclining you more toward good and Godliness.  Therefore, be not discouraged if you are fighting this battle.  Be discouraged if you are not.
                                                             
Also, do not think you can accomplish this on your own.  Paul couldn't, neither can you.  Therefore, in faith, trust God to sanctify you.  Trust Him to reconstruct you and enable you to live more and more for Him, and less and less for sin.  Seek this from Him.  Pray for it often.  Then, in faith, do it.


Saturday

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Sam. 28:3-19, Lk. 21:5-19
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, Micah 7:14, Rom. 8:1-17

Commentary, Romans 8:1-17

The first seven chapters of Romans were written to prove and support two important truths.  First, no human being is able to earn the favor of God.  Second, no human being is able to keep himself in God's favour.  These two truths summarise the greatest problem to ever face mankind.  Humanity's greatest problem is not political corruption, war, pollution, corporate greed, or social injustice.  Our greatest problem is that we are criminals against the just and righteous law of God, that we have no excuse for our crimes, and that we are, therefore justly condemned to suffer the penalty of our crimes forever.  Social problems are but the fruit that naturally grow from the vine of our disobedience.  Personal sins are but the specific crimes of those who have decided in their hearts to be criminals against God.  The law of God, rather than showing God how good we are, simply reveals to us how very far we have gone into our life of crime.  It proves to us that we are guilty of unlawful actions against God, and that the natural disposition, or, inclination, of our being, is to disobey God and to obey our own desires.  So the general inclination of our lives is away from God.  This does not mean we are as bad as we could be.  Nor does it mean we never do good things or have good intentions or good will toward God or other people.  It does mean we are prone to go against our good will and intentions and that we are prone to do so frequently, knowingly, and willfully.  And, even when we carry our out good intentions we find they are not as pure as we imagine them to be, and that we often do them on our own terms rather than God's.  The trouble with God is that He demands that we obey Him on His terms, and His terms are absolute perfection and holiness, for He Himself is absolute perfection and holiness.  Thus, if we are ever going to be restored to God's favour, it is going to be through something He does on our behalf, not through our own achievements.  That is where Christ enters the story.  He restores us to God's favour through His life, death, and resurrection.

But even after we come to God through Christ we soon realise that we are as incapable of keeping ourselves in His favour as we were of earning His favour in the first place.  The desire to obey our desires, rather than God's, remains within us.  Yes, we have been changed within.  Yes, we now have a desire to seek God, to live holy lives, and to forsake sin.  But we also find that the old desires of sin and self still live in us, and they are still very strong.  Many people are surprised by this. They thought becoming a Christian would end their old ways the very instant they believed.  But one of the major points of Romans, found chiefly in chapter seven, is that we still have to fight against sin.  The old conflict between doing what we know God wants and doing what we want is still in us.

I think it is helpful if we consider this conflict in this way.  When you were not a Christian, you fought against God.  You resisted His will.  You thought His commandments were barriers to your self-fulfillment and happiness.  You wanted your own way, not God's.  If you have become a Christian you have found you are still fighting, but the enemy has changed.  Now you are fighting against sin.  Now you are fighting against your own desires.  Now you are fighting to bring all of your life into His will.  This is one of the things that enables us know we are Christians.  The unbeliever, no matter how good or religious he appears to be, is fighting God for himself.  The believer is fighting himself for God.

This takes us right back where we stated a few minutes ago, to the realisation that we are unable to win the inner battle against our own sinful desires.  We try to resist sin.  We try to be more spiritually minded.  We try to live quiet, holy lives, to be the kind of person we ought to be at work and at home and at church.  But, like the disciples, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  We just don't seem to be able to win the battle.  The reason we seem to be unable is simple; we are unable.  This is the meaning of those complicated words in Romans 7:15-25, especially verse 19.  Just as we were unable to bring ourselves into God's favour by our works, we are also unable to keep ourselves in, or grow in His favour by our own efforts.  Just as God Himself had to make a way to bring us into His favour apart from our own abilities, He also has to make a way to keep us in His favour apart from our own abilities.  This brings us into the heart of Romans 8.

Verses 1-4.  The chapter begins with a restatement of the points we have just summarised. 1-3 restate justification by grace through faith.  "No condemnation" means those in Christ are no longer condemned to suffer the penalty for their sin.  This is because God did for us what we could not do by means of the law.  He freed us from the penalty of our sins (condemnation) by suffering for them Himself on the cross.  Through Him the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled.

The righteousness of the law has three parts.  First is the complete goodness of the law (Ps. 19:7).  Second is the requirement of perfect obedience.  Third is the demand that criminals be punished.  Christ fulfilled the law because He is first Good.  He is in His nature and being as good and holy as the law.  The law originates in Him and is itself a reflection of His Goodness. Second, He fulfilled the law through His perfect obedience to it.  He never deviated from it, though He was severely tempted.  He fulfilled its demand of perfect obedience.  Third, He satisfied the law's requirement that criminals be punished by suffering the penalty of sin for us.  So the law is perfectly fulfilled in Him.

In verse 4 the Bible introduces something that will be more fully developed in later verses, namely, the Holy Spirit and His effects in the life of the Christian.  How are we enabled to begin to do the will of God instead of sin?  The Holy Spirit enables us.  Those who are in Christ through Biblical faith have begun to live (walk) by the Spirit rather than their sinful desires (flesh).

Verse 5.  The flesh and the Spirit are the essence of the new battle we are fighting as Christians.  We have noted that before we became Christians we were fighting God, but now we are fighting ourselves.  Paul, referring to the part of us we are fighting uses the word "flesh."   He refers first to our physical bodies and the desires and lusts which are a part of having a body.  But he also includes our desire to please ourselves by indulging our bodily desires in ungodly ways.  This brings up the fact that there is a godly way to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  There is a godly way to enjoy food, drink, comfort, sex, and possessions.  Our problem is that we often make the enjoyment of these pleasures paramount in our lives, and go about their enjoyment in very ungodly ways, making the pleasures themselves more important to us than the will of God.  The battle going on within the Christian is the attempt to control our desires, so that we may enjoy them in a Godly fashion, which can only be done by restoring God to His rightful place as God of me, and God of you.  It is by the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to do this.  So, the Christian life is called here, walking by the Spirit.  This is very important, and I recommend you re-read this paragraph.

Verses 6- 8.  Romans amplifies this in the following verses.  In verses 6-7 it uses the word carnal, saying, "the carnal mind is enmity against God."  To place the enjoyment of physical pleasures above the will of God is to be carnally, fleshly, minded.  That, by definition, is to be at enmity against God.  This is very serious.  We often trivialise sin, but it is very serious and very deadly.  God does not wink at it.  God does not condone it in any way.  God says that it is enmity against Him.  God says it is death.

How can this be?  "Because the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."  The carnal mind leads us away from God to the indulgence of the flesh.  The carnal mind makes self and self pleasure the most important thing in the universe.  It may disguise itself in many forms, even making itself appear good and altruistic, but its real purpose is self pleasure.  It is impossible to serve self pleasure above all things, and still be subject to the law of God.  Self indulgence and obedience to God are opposing goals and purposes.  The mind cannot be carnal and Spiritual at the same time, any more than the body can be in space and not in space at the same time.  So, "they that are in the flesh [primarily directed toward fulfilling their own desires] cannot please God" (8: 8).

Verse 9.  "But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit."  Two things need to be stated about this verse.  First all Christians are in the Spirit, for, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) he is none of His."  Second, if the Spirit of God is in you, you are not "in the flesh but in the Spirit."  We could add a third lesson, to be inferred from the first two, that to be in the flesh means you are not in the Spirit.

All Christians are in the Spirit.  When does a person receive the Holy Spirit?  You receive the Holy Spirit when you believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour.  Receiving the Spirit, or, as it is sometimes called, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, happens the moment you receive Christ.  Receiving the Spirit and receiving Christ are so inseparable as to be virtually one and the same event.  We separate them academically to examine each, as we do in other subjects. But in the actual thing itself, in the real world, they are not separated. There is no second act of grace by which a person is given the Holy Spirit at some point after conversion.  Nor does the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit cause one to act in any manner other than reverent and holy obedience to God.  So the proof that you have the Holy Spirit is found in your desire and attempts to live a "godly, righteous and sober life" as defined by God in the Scriptures.

To be in the Spirit is to be not in the flesh.  This is the second point here. Paul is not talking about an out of body experience.  The Scripture does not teach us to seek such things.  Paul is talking about being under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit leading us to goodness, Godliness, and life.  Under the direction of the Spirit we are led into the kind of life that bears the fruit of the Spirit; love joy, peace, the ability to deal with problems and issues of life (patience), the ability to be gentle and deal kindly with others (meekness) and the ability to keep our desires and passion under control (temperance), as taught in Galatians 5:22-23.  To be under the direction of the Spirit is the opposite of being under the control of physical desires.

Paul does talk about the death of the body (8:10 & 11), but this has both a literal and figurative meaning.  Of course the body will die.  And, of course, Christ will raise it up, quicken it.  But this is said as an illustration of the point that in Christ, through the Spirit, the power of the body's physical desires, which often lead us into sin, is broken.  It is dead because we are not trapped in it now anymore than a soul is trapped in a dead physical body.  In many places Paul uses the imagery of death saying we are dead to sin, or dead to the power of the flesh.  Here he simply uses this same image in reverse, saying the flesh is dead to us, its power over us is broken and we now live in the Spirit.

Therefore, according to verse 12, we are not debtors to the flesh.  It has died and we owe it nothing.  Those who live for it, that is, those who remain under its control by refusing to allow themselves to be brought under the control of the Sprit through faith in Christ, will die with their flesh.  This death is the death of the soul, a spiritual condition of being eternally separated from God and all goodness (8:13).  Those who are Christ's by faith are those who are justified and now live by the Spirit.  They are the sons of God who receive not condemnation, but life with God in Heaven forever (8:14-17).


I wonder if we really grasp the meaning of verses 14-17.  We grow so accustomed to hearing them, I worry that we become inured to their full meaning.  We were in a state of being that was in total opposition to God.  We were guilty of rebellion against Him personally, and our natural inclination was away from all that is good and holy.  Yet God was unwilling to leave us in that condition, and He rescued us the only way such a rescue could possibly be accomplished, by bearing in Himself all the anger, hurt, frustration and cost of our sin, rather than requiring us to bear it ourselves.  He bore it all on the cross.  Now He has begun to rebuild us into people who can know and appreciate goodness, and life that is lived for something much higher and better than mere indulgence of our flesh.  We have been brought into His house and we are given His Heaven and Himself as our inheritance forever.   Remember that the reason God created the visible cosmos and the invisible things of Heaven, is to build a Kingdom for His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).  We were created to be a part of His Kingdom, and we exist for His glory (Eph. 1:12).  But we are not mere slaves or ornaments in His Kingdom.  By His grace, by the atoning work of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are joint-heirs of the Kingdom with Christ.  It is for us as it is for Him.  Perhaps this is just too much for us to grasp right now.  It overloads our circuits.  But one day we will see it.  One day we will understand it, because one day we will live it in the fullest sense.v

August 18, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, Week of August 18-23

Monday
                                       
Morning - Ps. 2, 3, 1 Sam. 16:1-13, Lk. 17:20
Evening - Ps.4, 8, Esther 5, Rom. 1:1-17

Commentary, Romans 1:1-7

Though our evening readings continue in Esther through Wednesday, the commentary is going to turn to Romans, where we will remain for the next four weeks. Written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth around the year 58 A.D., Romans contains the Bible's fullest exposition of the meaning of the life and death of Christ. It is so crucial to understanding the Bible that it may truly be said to understand Romans is to understand Scripture.  And the heart of Romans is found in chapter one verse seventeen, "the just shall live by faith."  This is the theme of Romans.  In academic language we might say it is the thesis statement, for the rest of the book is support for and application of this one, central truth.
      
In the first 16 verses, Paul explains why he has not yet come to Rome to preach and teach.  There has been correspondence between him and the Romans, and he even knows some of them by name.  They have probably invited him several times to come and help them understand the Bible, and establish the church in that city.  Romans is a promise to come to Rome very soon (1:15), and it is also a short summary of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture.  This is what the Church believes.  This is what the Church believes about God, about man, and about how the two are able to span the incredible gulf that currently separates them.  Romans refutes the generally held supposition that Man is able to span the gulf by doing things of which God approves, generally called, "good works."  It is not good works, Romans asserts, that spans the gulf.  The gulf is spanned not by Man, but by God, who, in His grace decrees, "the just shall live by faith."

Though our reading officially ends at Romans 1:17, I urge you to read on to the end of chapter one, for immediately after stating that the just shall live by faith, the Apostle begins to show why faith is the only possible way for any human being to be considered just in the eyes of God.  Paul assumes that no one is just by his own works.  This is crucially important.  It would have been silly for God to become a Man, and suffer a horrible death, and rise again and return to Heaven if there were some other way for us to be justified and reconciled to God.  In other words, why would Jesus bother to span the gulf in such a horrific way, if we could easily span it ourselves?  But, if we are unable to span it, and if not having it spanned consigns us to eternal separation from the source of Life and Joy and Peace, then God, if He is willing to save any of us from that separation, must span it for us.  He spanned it for us in Christ.

The cause of the great gulf, the great divide between us and God, is sin.  That is the point Paul makes in the rest of chapter one.  The wrath of God is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness."  The essence of ungodliness is that men know the truth, but suppress it in unrighteousness.  Much of what can be known of God is available for all to see (1:19-20) but they turn away from that knowledge and make their own gods instead of obeying Him (1:26).  This is important because it shows that it is people who turn away from God, not God who turns away from people.  And they do so knowing what they do is wrong and worthy of the wrath of God which the Bible calls "death" in verse 32.  Thus, God simply allows them to follow their own desires.

Tuesday
Morning - Ps. 5, 1 Sam. 16:14, Lk. 18:1-14
Evening - Ps. 16, 20, Esther 6, Rom. 2:1-16
Commentary, Romans 2:1-16
The point of this passage is that Gentiles are under the wrath of God, even though they do not have the law as the Jews have.  In contemporary lingo, we would say that even people who don't have the Bible to tell them about God and Christ, are under the wrath of God.  This passage tells us why.
Verse 1.  Paul continues to drive home the point that all are under the just condemnation of God.  He puts it in very personal terms here, "thou art inexcusable."  "Thou" refers to humanity in general, but also to every individual person.  All are inexcusable.  We are inexcusable even if we never had a Bible or never heard the Gospel.  Why? Because God is revealed in nature (Ps.19:1-2) and in conscience (Rom. 2:15) and we refused to honour Him.  We know the difference between right and wrong because it is written on our hearts and we choose to do wrong and neglect good. "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done" (Book of Prayer, p. 6). We often look at the deeds of others and say. "That's wrong."  In doing so we acknowledge a standard that is above our own ideas and desires, to which all people should conform.  We also acknowledge that all people do not conform to it, and in so doing we condemn ourselves, for we know we do not conform to it either.  We are guilty of many transgressions against it.
Question; what does God owe to those who transgress?  Do such people have a right to Heaven?  Does God owe them forgiveness?  Does God have any duty to save them?  Does God owe them Christ?  Does Christ owe them His death on the cross?  Would God be unjust if He just left us in our sin?  Would He be unjust if He decided not to save any of us?
Verse 2.  "[T]he judgment of God is according to truth against them."   The Greek word translated "judgment" here is krima from which we derive our word, "crime."  It means that when God condemns sinners as criminals against His righteous law and traitors against His rightful Sovereignty, His judgment is true.  It is "according to truth."  Read Psalm 19:9.
Verse 3 tells us that when we judge others, meaning to recognise their actions as sin and worthy of condemnation, we also judge ourselves. It asks the question, "thinkest thou... that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?   We are as guilty as everyone else, why should we escape condemnation?  Let's talk again of the way we are able to judge the actions of others, and recall that the ability to judge an action, say theft, or murder, as "wrong" implies the existence of an absolute standard of right and wrong.  Without an absolute standard we have no right or wrong.  We may have a "social contract" or we may have a common assent to what is "useful" or what we will "tolerate" and what we will not, but we can never have right and wrong.  Furthermore, any standards derived from a social contract or common assent of usefulness or tolerance (called by philosophers, utilitarianism) is purely arbitrary.  We are then forced to ask what gives anyone the right to force their social contract on me without my consent.  I am sure prisoners will say they do not consent to having our social contract forced upon them.  "What gives society the right to force its view of what is and isn't useful on me?" they will ask.  Again, if we just agree arbitrarily that murder is not useful, without some absolute standard by which to judge it, we must ask why our view of usefulness can be enforced upon others in our society or world.  What makes our arbitrary views superior to another's arbitrary views?  I am sure, that, by this rationale, some prisoners who are in jail for transgressing our arbitrary standards will not agree or consent to having them forced upon them.  Only an absolute standard that is above the whims and ideas of people can give a foundation for law and justice and society and peace.  When we look at the actions of another person and say they are wrong, we recognise the existence of that standard.  But, we also condemn ourselves because we have not kept the standard anymore than the people we judge.  We may not have committed the same transgressions, but that just means we have committed other transgressions.  We are not under the wrath of God for not committing the same transgressions others commit.  We are under the wrath of God for committing our own transgressions.
Verses 4-5.  The revelation of God, whether in nature, conscience, or Scripture, should lead people to faith and repentance.  Instead it simply hardens most people in their unbelief and rebellion.  As Francis Schaeffer wrote, "What God meant for their good - such things as the witness of creation and the witness of conscience - serves only to deepen these rebels in their rebellion" (Finished Work, p. 48).  They despise the riches of His goodness, the stay of execution, and His patience with their sin.  In the hardness of their heart against God, they store up wrath to be poured out upon them in the day of wrath, which is the day they stand before God to receive their just condemnation.
Verses 6-16 do not teach that we can stave off the wrath of God by turning away from sin and doing good.  They do teach that we do what our hearts tell us to do.  If our hearts are set against God, we do ungodly things.  If our hearts are set towards God, we do Godly things.  But the fearful truth is that everyone's heart is originally set against God.  We are all fallen into sin and wickedness.  We have all placed ourselves on the throne of God.  We are all by nature and by choice hardened in our rebellion and sin against God, and we can't get ourselves out of it. We need a Saviour.  I once found a dead sparrow in the horses' water trough.  I don't know how it got into the water.  Maybe it slipped in trying to get a drink.  Maybe it flew in, thinking it was a bird-bath.  But it couldn't get out.  It needed a saviour, but it didn't have one.  When I found it, it had drowned.  That is what God is telling us in these verses.  We have gotten ourselves into a dangerous situation and we can't get ourselves out.  We don't even want to without special help from God.  We can't get out of it by saying we didn't know about God, or we didn't have the Bible, or we didn't know right from wrong.  That won't excuse us because we did have some knowledge, and we rejected it.  People do not sin because they don't have the Bible to tell them not to.  They sin because they love it.  And those who sin without the Bible will not be condemned for not having the Bible.  They will be condemned for not doing the good they knew they should have done, and for doing the evil they knew they should not have done (vs. 12).  They are trapped in a deadly cycle of sin and condemnation, and they can't get out.  They need a Saviour.

Wednesday
Morning - Ps.9, 1 Sam. 17:1-11, Lk. 18:15-30
Evening - Ps.19, 23, Esther 7, Rom. 2:17

Commentary, Romans 2:17

We now come to another division in the Book of Romans.  This passage really should be in its own chapter.  It begins in 2:17 and continues through 3:8, and the subject is the wrath of God revealed against Jews who have the Scriptures but do not obey them.  Just having the Bible is not enough.  The possession of the full revelation of God in Scripture does nothing to justify any person before God.  The "doers" of the Law will be justified by the Law, but the problem is that, even those who have and know the Law right in front of them in the Bible, don't keep it. Even Jews, who have the Law but have not kept it, have this problem, just like people today, who have the Bible but do not keep it (Rom1:18). All the problems of sin and resisting the will of God described in 1:18-2:14 apply as much to them as to those without the Bible.  Romans talks about this in terms of Jews and Gentiles.  Gentiles are those without the Bible, and they are without excuse.  But the Jews have the Bible.  They have the revelation of God open and available to them.  Their problem is that they have not kept the Law.  Thus, they too are under God's wrath.  Or to put it in more contemporary language, they too, need a Saviour.  To ensure that we get the whole point of this passage, let us call it "the wrath of God revealed against religious people," which we can summarise by saying, religion is not enough.  Paul makes four points. First, they commit the same sins as the Gentiles who don't have the Bible (17-24).  Second, they keep the outward forms, but not the heart of the Law (25-29).  Third, they have the Scriptures but do not believe them (3:1-2).  Fourth, the fault lies with them, not God (3:3-8).

Verses 17-24.  They commit the same sins as the Gentiles.  Remember that the Gentiles profess to be wise but are really fools because they know something about God and His will, but ignore their knowledge and plunge into sin (Rom. 1:18-32).  The Jew's problem is that they have the Bible (2:18) and believe themselves to be guides, and leaders (2:19), and instructors and teachers (2:20) of the Gentiles, yet they commit the very same sins (2:22-24).

It is not difficult to apply this to our own time.  See how blessed some nations are with the knowledge of God.  Bibles and churches abound.  Western culture is founded upon self-evident truth that comes straight out of the Bible.  The culture, the laws, and the nations that share them are impossible without the Bible.  Yet those same nations are guilty of gross sin.  They have not lived according to the knowledge in Scripture.  They have turned away from it and indulged in sin as gross and terrible of the nations who never had the Bible.

The "Church" is no more innocent than the culture, for, rather than standing against the culture, the Church has often led the revolution against the Bible.  I think it may be true that there is more ungodliness in the Church than out of it because in the Church we pronounce God's blessings on our ungodliness.

Unfortunately, this is not just a Western problem.  The Bible is available throughout the world today, and many countries that are now pagan nations inhabit lands that were once leading centers of the Christian faith.

The result of this sin is that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (2:24).  Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, but through her sin she caused the Gentiles to conclude her God was no God, or at best, no different or better than the pagan idols.  Again it is easy to apply this to our own time.  Many people have concluded our God does not exist, not because of logic, but because they see no difference between us and them.  Our sin leads them to blaspheme God.  Our sin does not relieve them of their responsibility.  They are still responsible for their own sin.  Rather, our sin makes us equally guilty, and equally under God's wrath and in need of a Saviour.

Verses 25-29.  In these verses Paul accuses the Jews of keeping the outward forms of the Bible but not the heart of it (see also 2 Tim. 3:5).  You can circumcise, or baptize, a baby yet not be serious about following God.  You can go to church, be confirmed, receive Holy Communion, and do many good works, and yet retain yourself as your god, rather than honour God as your God.  You can say the prayers, and not mean them.  You can outwardly conform to doctrines and ordinances yet still remain apart from God in your heart.

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 10, 1, Sam 17:17-27, Lk. 18:31
Evening - Ps. 21:1-6, 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 Rome, 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, or 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 the previous 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. 

Friday

Morning - Ps. 22, 1 Sam. 17:28-40, Lk. 19:1-10
Evening - Ps. 25, Micah 2, Rom. 3:21

Commentary, Romans 3:21-31

The point of Romans 1:1-3:20 has been to show that all people are sinners and under the wrath of God  This is the very first thing we must understand if we are to grasp the primary message of Romans, "the just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). Tonight's reading turns to a second point, justification by faith, or the righteousness of God given by grace to unrighteous people.  This point is made in Romans 3:21-4:25.

Verse 21.  The Book of Romans has three foundational themes which are re-stated several times throughout the Book, and around which the entire Book is organised.  These themes are; the Righteousness of God, the Sinfulness of all People, and the Free Grace of God in Christ.  Much of the wrong thinking and wrong living on the part of those inside and outside of the Visible Church is cause by a tragic misunderstanding of three foundational truths; the Righteousness of God, the Sinfulness of all People, and the Free Grace of God in Christ.  Regarding humanity, the prevailing doctrine of both the "church" and the world proclaims the basic goodness of all people.  According to this view, man, being basically good, is perfectible individually and culturally, through education and political structures.  It is not man that is the problem; it is the oppressive structure of the political and cultural situation in which man finds himself that is the problem.  If we can change them we can perfect man and accomplish justice and world peace.  This view is the complete antithesis of Biblical teaching.  According to the Bible, the problems in culture and politics arise from problems within man himself.  In other words, man is not evil because he finds himself in an evil cultural situation.  Rather, the cultural situation is evil because it is created and run by evil people who know to do good, but choose to do wrong.  They "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom.1:18 & 19).  Therefore, the first step in changing culture is to change the people creating, running, and living in it.

We have spent some time looking at this problem of sin and the resulting barrier that exists between man and God, and between man and man because of it.  We have not spent much time looking at the subject of the Righteousness of God.  Part of that is because the Righteousness of God is so difficult to grasp and to put into words.  Part of it is because I know about human sin from personal experience, while the Righteousness of God is almost foreign to me, indeed, would be completely foreign to me apart from the Grace of God in Christ.  And yet, we can never really understand the reality and sickening wickedness of our sin until we begin to see something of the absolute, glorious, perfect righteousness of God. 

God is absolute perfection.  His Righteousness has no flaw (Jas.1:13, 17). What does it mean to be absolute perfection?  Isn't it absolute love? (1Jn.4:8, 16). Because God is absolute, complete, and perfect love, He cannot tolerate the presence of anything or anyone that in any way falls short of His love.  He cannot tolerate the presence of those who lack absolute love.  To lack love is to hate.  To sin is to hate one another.  To sin is to hate God.  People today talk about "hate crimes."  All crimes are hate crimes.  No one ever says, "I love you, therefore I am stealing your money, burning your house, and killing your dog."  Any time you break a commandment of God in thought, word, or deed, you are committing a hate crime against humanity and against God (Rom. 13:8-10).  And God in His Love cannot tolerate our hate.

Is God just?  Of course, He is perfect in justice.  What is justice but love in action?  In other words, because God is love, He is just.  And, because God is love He can not tolerate injustice or those who are unjust.  So, the love of God requires Him to hate hate.  Thus we see, maybe, a little glimpse of the Righteousness of God.

Righteousness without the law is manifested.  How wonderful.  The Righteousness of God is manifested, meaning, revealed, and given to unrighteous sinners without the law.  We need to understand that His Righteousness is known in His wrath against sinners, and by His absolutely just condemnation of all people because all are guilty before Him (Rom. 3:19).  The law of God, found in the Bible, is a manifestation of his Righteousness, for there He reveals everything we need to know about how to live according to His will, and the consequences of disobedience.  The law/Bible teaches us to do righteousness and to be righteous.  Though we have failed miserably, the standard is known to us in the law, thus, the Righteousness of God is seen in the law.  But how is the righteousness of God known without, or, apart from, the law?  Paul is saying something like this; since we are all sinners we are all under the condemnation, or, wrath, of God.  And we can never atone for our sins.  We can never make them right.  So, if we are ever going to be received back into fellowship with God, and escape His Righteous Wrath, it is going to have to be on the basis of something other than the requirements of the law.  It is going to have to be on the basis of something other than our efforts to be good enough.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer gives a good illustration of this, saying our guilt has created an infinite chasm between ourselves and God.  Any attempt by us to fill that chasm by doing good things is like throwing finite buckets of righteousness into the infinite chasm of our guilt.  The harder we try, the more we realise it is impossible to fill infinity with finitude.  So, if that chasm is going to be filled, it has to be filled by God Himself, and He has to do it without requiring us to meet the standard.  It has to be done apart from the law.  Fortunately, there is a way, and this way has been witnessed to by the prophets of the Old Testament and even by the Law itself.  "[B]oth the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us that there is a ‘righteousness of God without the law’" (Finished Work of Christ, p. 75).

How does the law of the Old Testament manifest "the righteousness of God without the law"?  The law shows three things.  First it shows the absolute unchanging standard we are required to meet.  Second, it shows the absolute failure of all people to meet the standard.  Third, it shows a Substitute that gives its life for sinners.  In the New Testament we realise Jesus is that substitute. He is the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world" (Jn. 1:29).

I am going to tell you a secret.  It is not confidential information.  It is meant to be shouted from the housetops and known by all people.  It is a secret because very few people know it.  What is it?  Salvation does not really make us just, at least not in this life. Rather than actually becoming just we are simply declared just  by God.

Verses 22-24. Now we begin to see how God can be just, and, at the same time, justify sinners. The word, “justification,” as used in the Bible, means to be declared righteous and worthy of Heaven. Justification is the opposite of being declared guilty and worthy of condemnation.  Because of the sacrifice of Christ, those who believe in Him through Biblical faith are declared just by God.  We have not suddenly become just.  We have not suddenly by our own power erased and undone our sins, or transformed ourselves from being inclined toward sin to being inclined entirely toward righteousness.  We have not suddenly and miraculously become keepers of the Law in absolute, 100% perfection.  Rather, apart from the Law and independently of it, we are declared righteous by God.

To understand this we must understand verses 21-24. Let me share Dr. William Hendriksen's commentary on these verses.

"apart from the law, a righteousness from God... comes to all who exercise faith ... for all have sinned ... being justified freely by His grace through the redemption [accomplished] in Christ Jesus; whom God designed to be... a wrath-removing sacrifice, [effective] through faith" (Romans, New Testament Commentary, pp. 126-128).

So, we are all sinners and without excuse.  We can never make ourselves be anything but sinners, and we can never make up for our sins or make things right between ourselves and God by means His law.  Thus, we are all under God's wrath and are condemned to suffer the penalty for our sins.  Do you understand this?  Do you grasp this, not only intellectually as truth, but also in your spirit as reality in your life?  Do you feel it deep in your soul that you are a sinner, guilty of terrible crimes against God, and that you truly and deeply deserve to be cast into hell for eternity?  If you don't understand and grasp this in your soul, you have missed one of the two central teachings of the Bible.  If you don't understand this you cannot understand what it means to be saved; and, indeed, you cannot be saved or forgiven of your sins. You cannot be a Christian because you will never flee to Jesus as your only hope and Saviour. You will always retain some hope of justifying yourself to God by something you have done or something you have become by yourself.  You will never understand that the only possible way of escaping the penalty for sin is for God to make a way to justify you without requiring you to measure up to the absolute, perfect standards of the law.  God has done this by offering Christ on the cross.  He took your sins.  He assumed your "debt."  He became responsible for the payment for your sins.  Your sins were placed in His account, and He paid for them. His righteousness is placed in your account, and you are declared just.  This "justification" is probably much deeper than we will ever be able to understand, but this is all we need to know about it for now.  In Heaven we will understand it better, but that will simply mean we understand this whole process better, not that we will see that justification was another and different process.  So, without the law, that is, apart from it and on a completely different basis, we are declared to be without guilt.

Verse 26 raises an important question.  People often ask how a God who is good can allow evil things to happen.  Well, what is the alternative?  The alternative is for God to make us simply pre-programmed automatons.  But God has not done that.  He has left us free to choose.  The freedom to choose God requires the freedom to reject Him, just as the freedom to choose good requires the freedom to choose evil.  Yes, there are great limits on our ability to choose, and we cannot ignore these limits.  Neither can we ignore the fact that we are always free and responsible for our choices.   It is also important to differentiate between freedom and ability.  We are always free to choose good.  That is not the same as saying we are always able to choose good.  We must remember that we are naturally inclined towards evil, and we tend to act on the basis of this inclination.  That's what makes it so difficult to do good sometimes.  It may be compared to jumping over the moon.  You have the freedom to jump over the moon; what you lack is the ability. 

This also raises the issue of the difference between freedom and will.  I am free to ride a horse in a steeple chase race.  Fortunately, I have no will do so.  Likewise, we are all free to choose good at all times, 100%.  What we lack is the will to choose it.

These are not the primary questions I want to raise at this point, however.  The point, or question, I want to raise follows naturally from the teaching that God will justify people apart from the law.  The question can be stated; how can God be good, yet not punish sinners?  How can God be just, yet still provide a way for sinners to be justified apart from meeting the standards of His law?  To not condemn us seems like He is just letting us off.  It seems like He is just dismissing the charges.  It seems like He is simply not enforcing the law.  To simply ignore the law and our sin would make Him exceedingly wicked.  Simply letting us off would be a tragic miscarriage of justice, and would make God Himself a sinner.  So how can God justify us, and still remain just?  That is the problem addressed in this verse.  One of the best explanations of this is found in Francis Schaeffer's book, The Finished Work of Christ pages 80 and 81, which I quote.

"How can God remain the absolutely just ruler of the universe, and yet justify me, an ungodly sinner?
     Note first of all that God must remain absolutely just, or we have no real basis for moral standards.  It is impossible to have moral standards without there being a moral absolute.  Without an absolute we are left with either hedonism or some sort of relative standard, such as, 'whatever is best for society.'  Words like right and wrong cease to have any real meaning.  There must be an absolute, and the Bible provides the only adequate answer to this need for a moral absolute: The moral absolute is the perfectly 'just' character of God Himself.
     That's why 3:26 is such a key verse.  Because Jesus has borne our guilt on the cross, God can remain 'just.'  The moral basis of our universe can be upheld.  Yet at the same time He can be the 'justifier' of all those who believe in and accept Christ's payment for their sin.
     Whether I have been among those with the Bible, or those without the Bible, I have been numbered among the ungodly.  Whether I've been a Jew or a Gentile, I've been under the wrath of God.  So how can God justify me?  As soon as God would justify me by overlooking my sin, He's no longer just.  And as soon as He is no longer just, we no longer live in a moral universe, everything collapses.  But there is a way in which God can deal with my sin and your sin, and yet remain just.  There is a way in which God, remaining just and therefore not deviating one iota from His holiness, not letting down the bars one tenth of one percent, can justify you and me.  He can do this because Jesus Christ, His Son, took the full punishment for our sin.
     God's love is seen, not in forgiving sin, for in a sense no sin can ever be forgiven or we would cease to live in a moral universe.  God's love is seen rather, in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price, to be the covering for all our sin.  God maintains His holiness.  He doesn't deviate from His total justice.  And yet, without abandoning His moral law, He can fully justify anyone who believes in Jesus and accepts His perfect sacrifice for sin.
     So who is eligible for this covering of sin?  Anyone?  Everyone?  Unlike many modern philosophers, God does not view us as just so many faceless masks.  He doesn't deal with us as if we were machines.  He treats us as individuals.  He deals with us on the level on which He created us-as moral and rational beings.  Therefore, even though Christ's death is a sufficient covering for all sins, there is a condition on who will receive this covering.  This covering of sin, this justification, applies only to 'everyone that believeth' (1:16), to 'all them that believe' (3:22), to 'him which believeth' (3:26).
     Which individuals does God justify?  He justifies those who through faith accept what Christ has done for them, those who are united to the work of Jesus Christ through the instrument of faith"

Verses 28- 30 bring us to the conclusion is that we are justified by faith, not by the law regardless of our background.  Jew and Gentile are saved by one way only, faith in Christ.  I quote Dr. Schaeffer again, p. 82. 

"Paul has brought it all together.  Why do we need salvation?  Because we're guilty.  Why do we need salvation?  Because we're under the wrath of God.  The man without the Bible, the Gentile, is under the wrath of God (1:18-2:16).  The man with the Bible, the Jew, is under the wrath of God (2:17-3:8).  Then Paul draws them all together declaring everyone to be under God's wrath (3:9-20).  Then he tells us this marvelous way of salvation that God has provided through the finished work of Jesus Christ (3:21-28).  Then he draws all mankind together again, declaring that God is the same God toward all people; and all people-Jews and Gentiles alike-must be justified in exactly the same way (3:29-30)."

Do you see the Good News in this?  Do you see that because of Christ we are relieved of the terrible burden of having to be good enough for God, all the while knowing we can never be good enough?  Do you see that in Christ your guilt is gone forever because He took your guilt upon Himself?  Do you see that Christ suffered the penalty of your sins for you, and that you are declared righteous because of Christ? Do you see that the gates of hell, once pulling you relentlessly toward them have now been shut, and you couldn't get in even if you wanted to?  Do you see that Christ has purchased Heaven and peace, and everlasting joy for you, and it is yours forever and forever, and all you have to do is receive it by faith?  This is justification by faith.  This is the meaning of Romans 1:17, "the just shall live by faith"

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 18:1-20, 1 Sam. 17:41-51, Lk. 19:11-28
Evening - Ps. 84, Micah 3:1-8, Rom. 4:1-12

Commentary, Romans 4:1-12

Verses 1-5.  Justification by faith is not new.  It is not something that came into existence with the New Testament.  Justification by faith has always been the way God saves sinners.  Paul proves this with two Old Testament examples, Abraham and David.  Again it must be emphasised that the Old and New Testaments comprise one faith and one way of being reconciled to God; justification by faith.  The Old Testament reveals the problem we created when we turned away from God.  The Old Testament law, especially the Ten Commandments, shows the absolute moral perfection of God.  It also reveals the standard of 100% righteousness He requires of us, and the absolute failure of all people to measure up to the standard.  Finally, the Old Testament reveals a way to be justified apart from measuring up to the standard.  It shows a substitute, a lamb without blemish, not guilty of sin, which bears our sins and dies for them in a ritual, intentional sacrifice.

The Old Testament often emphasised that the sacrifice of animals was not enough to cover human sins. Nor were the sacrifices something the people were doing for God.  God didn't need their animals or require them for Himself (Ps. 51:16).  The sacrifices were pictures of what God was doing for the people.  He was justifying them by allowing something else to pay for their sins with its life.  All of the animal sacrifices pictured the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  The blood of bulls and sheep could never really pay for the sins of people, but they could point to the one sufficient sacrifice that could atone for all sin, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ on the cross.  Thus, the Old Testament reveals that we are all, whether in the Old Testament era or the New Testament era justified by an act of God, which we receive by faith.

Abraham was justified by faith.  Many people mistakenly believe people in the Old Testament were justified by their works that is, keeping the Commandments and offering sacrifices, while people in the New Testament are justified by faith.  They call the Old Testament era the "Dispensation of Law" meaning God dealt with people on the basis of commandments and animal sacrifices.  They call the New Testament era the "Dispensation of Grace," meaning God deals with us by grace alone.  So these people create two religions; an Old Testament religion of justification by works through keeping the law, and a New Testament religion of justification by grace through faith in Christ.  This passage of Romans refutes that idea.  Romans 4 shows plainly that justification has always been by the grace of God, and received by faith, Old Testament and New Testament eras alike.

The point of verse two is that Abraham was not justified by works.  Works means keeping the Commandments and offering sacrifices.  If Abraham were justified by his own works he "hath whereof to glory."    If Abraham's works could justify him he is glorious in himself.  If he is good enough to earn his own justification, his own place in Heaven, his own place with God, then God owes these things to him.  They are a debt owed to Abraham by God (4:4).

But Abraham was not justified by works.  He was not justified by sacrificing animals, or circumcision, or in any way measuring up to the ceremonial or moral standards of the law of God.  In fact, before the sacrificial system was fully institutionalised through Moses, and long before circumcision was required of him, Abraham was justified because "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (4:4.  See also 4:22).

Some people mistakenly believe the only promise offered by God and believed by Abraham in this verse is the promise that Abraham would have a son and would become the father of a great nation and his descendents would be like the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (vss. 12-21).  But the promise to make Abraham a great nation includes the promise of the Saviour.  A major reason for calling Abraham and giving him descendents was to establish the people through whom the Redeemer would come into the world.  Abraham may not have understood this as well as we do from our vantage point of having the complete New Testament, but he understood it in some way, for Jesus said, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad." (Jn. 8:56).  So Abraham's faith was absolute faith in God to make him worthy of Heaven as a gift of God's grace.  Thus verse 5 tells us, "to him that worketh not," meaning does not trust his own good works to make him good enough for God, "but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."  This faith receives righteousness as the gift of God.

This raises the question, what is faith?  Faith is simply believing God.  This is somewhat different from believing in God.  To believe in God is to believe He exists, or it could be to believe in what He is and stands for, as one might believe in the goals and values of a person or civic organization.  To believe God is to trust Him to keep His promises.  It is to believe He is who He says He is, and will do what He says He will do.  It is to regard God as trustworthy.  But faith also means to believe God when He tells us about ourselves.  This is a difficult thing because we want to believe the best about ourselves.  We want to believe everything is fine between ourselves and God, and we will be fine and all go to Heaven.  We don't like to believe we are sinners under the wrath of God and in need of an act of God to rescue us from the fires of hell.  So, real faith includes believing God when He tells us about ourselves. .  I quote Dr. Schaeffer again.

     "A person can never find salvation until he knows that he is a sinner.  We're all sinners, but not all of us know we are sinners.  That's why, when a person expresses a desire to be saved, I never let a person say ' I accept Christ as Savior' until first of all he or she has said, 'I acknowledge that I deserve the wrath of God.'  I think that a lot of people put up their hands in evangelistic meetings and say they've accepted Christ as their Savior, but they haven't really because they don't realize that they are among the ungodly.  They don't see that they are deservedly damned.  If I don't see that I am deservedly damned, then I can never accept Christ as my Savior.  I may say the words, I may join the church, I may be baptized, but I am not saved, (Finished work of Christ., pp. 92-93).


Faith is not just to believe in something.  In The Sound of Music, Maria sings, "I have confidence in confidence itself."  Many people have faith in faith itself.  But that is not Biblical faith.  Many people have faith in their own versions of God and salvation.  But that is not Biblical faith, and that is not the faith that receives justification as the free gift of God.  Let us be very clear that the faith we call "saving faith," which truly receives the gift of justification, is defined by God in Scripture, not by us.  The problem many people have with the Bible is their own desire to pick and choose the parts they like, and discard the rest.  But if you choose to believe the Bible when it tells you of God's love, how can you not believe it when it tells you of God's wrath?  If you choose to believe the Bible when it tells of God saving sinners, how can you not believe it when it tells you how God saves, and on what conditions sinners will be saved?  Either the Bible is trustworthy in all that it says, or everything it says is suspect.  If the part about how God saves isn't true, how can we believe the part that tells us God does save, or even the part that tells about God in the first place?  And so faith believes God.  That is the very first thing we must know about faith.  This is the faith that receives justification by grace.