August 28, 2016
Ecc. 7, Mk. 9:1-29
Ecc. 8, 2 John, 3 John
The Second Letter of John covers the same ideas and the same issues found in First John. But it does so in a shorter and slightly different format. We could say that First John discusses the ideas, and Second John alludes to them. Therefore, a knowledge of First John will be helpful to understanding Second John. The comments on First John, from August 24-28, may prove helpful here.
The term, “elder,” (1) refers to the ordained clergy of the Church. Pastors are elders of local congregations. Bishops, have oversight of several congregations and elders. Apostles are a special order of elders commissioned by Christ to establish His Church and teach the faith He taught to them. Except for Paul, the Apostles were with Christ during His earthly ministry. The order of Apostles ended when the last Apostle, John, died around the year 100 A.D. John identifies himself as an elder, and seems to take for granted that the recipients of his letter know and receive his Apostolic leadership.
Many have speculated about where John wrote this letter, and the identity of its intended recipients. But all we can really know is that the elect lady of verse 1 is a church to which John wrote the letter. The elect sister of verse 13 is the church where John was when he wrote the letter.
John rejoices that the members of the church, whom he calls children of the elect lady (4), remain faithful to the truth. “Truth” is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith, especially the doctrines about the being and work of Christ. They are things that must be believed, and cannot be compromised, if one is to be a Christian. Truth also refers to living like a Christian in daily life, which John summarises in verses 5 and 6 as “love.” He is especially concerned that church members love one another (5). Christian love is compassion and unity as we walk with Christ together. It is also fellowship, a sense of being part of the family of God, with good will and good deeds and hospitality toward one another. Christian love begins with love for God, which is expressed by keeping His commandments (6). It is the exact opposite of lust, and of the current idea that all love begins with self-love.
John boldly asserts that a person who does not believe the truth and live in love, which he calls “the doctrine of Christ” in verse 9, “hath not God.” In other words, no matter how nice, or how sincere he may be, and no matter how good his ideas and beliefs sound, if his beliefs and practice do not coincide with the teaching of Christ as given by the Apostles, he is not a Christian, is not saved, and is not bound for Heaven.
John refers to the false teachers, who claim to preach Christ, but whose doctrine is different from that of the Apostles. Though their doctrine is very appealing and popular, it is heresy and lies, and John warns his people to stay away from it. In verse 10 he tells the Church to refuse to allow the false teachers into her fellowship, either as members or clergy. In John’s day, the false teachers travelled from town to town, making their livings by preaching their views. They attempted to get into the churches, where they spread their views, led the congregation into errors, and divided the congregation. John is telling the church not to let such people in, not to give them money, and not even to ask God’s blessings on them (10, 11).
This letter is, of necessity, very short, but John intends to visit the church soon (12). When he does, he will explain things more fully. Meanwhile, he sends greetings from the church he is currently visiting, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.”
“The elder,” (1) is the Apostle John (see 2 Jn. 1 and comments for August 28). Gaius is a member of one of the churches in John’s jursdiction. He is well known for his fidelity to the truth, both in his orthodox doctrine and in his love for the brethren (5,6, 12), especially his kindness to visiting Christians and clergy. It is probable that John himself stays with Gaius when making his Apostolic visitations to the church.
By contrast, Diotrephes (9) “receiveth us not.” Diotrephes apparently follows at least part of the doctrine of the false teachers. He believes they know more about Christ than John, the beloved Apostle knows, and he participates in the emotional manipulation and religious experiences the false teachers call worship. Therefore, he does not receive John.
Others in the church also follow the false teachers. John has written to the church (9) but received no reply. Verse 10 seems to indicate Diotrephes as the source of the congregation’s refusal to acknowledge John’s authority. This is a frightful sin. Our Lord said to the Apostles, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me” (Mt. 10:40). To reject the faithful ministry of a Godly Apostle, then, is to reject God Himself. How might that apply to the contemporary church and ministers?
John makes the sobering point that those who do evil, by not receiving Godly ministers, and by following false teachers, have “not seen God” (11). This is a direct refutation of the false teachers’ claims that they see God in visions and dreams, and that He appears to them and speaks to them, and gives special knowledge to them. John does not say what or who the false teachers have seen, but it is not God.
As in 2 John, there is much more to say, but John assures Gaius he is coming to him. They will settle the matter when they are together (14).
Ecc. 9, Mk. 9:30-50
Ecc. 10, Jude
The epistle of Jude addresses the same issues and problems identified in the letters of John and Peter. People claiming to follow Christ are dismissing the Apostles’ teaching in favour of an easier and more experience oriented religion. Their false doctrine has three major points.
First, they say, God never really became a man. To them, Jesus of Nazareth was a mere human man, who, at His baptism, was infused with the spirit of a God known as Christ. Christ left Jesus at the crucifixion. He returned to Heaven, where He lives with other Gods, especially the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Second, morality has no affect on your relationship with God. Instead of being offended by your wicked deeds, they believe God is completely indifferent to them. He doesn’t care what you do, “as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” He just wants to give you a way to enhance your personal peace, and find unity with Him.
Third, personal peace, and unity with God are achieved through religious experiences, not through faith. Such experiences can range from emotion-centered “worship” to speaking in tongues, healings, and prophetic utterances. Emotional/psychological manipulation is used to create and enhance these experiences, which are often supplemented with drugs and alcohol. Such “worship” may degenerate into drunken orgies. Having such experiences, they say, is the essence of being a “Christian.”
People holding these beliefs and practices have crept into the Church unawares (4), meaning the Christians have welcomed them into their fellowship without recognising the extent of error and heresy in their views. Jude recognises this, and urges the people to “ contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (3). The faith once delivered is from Christ, proclaimed through the Apostles, and delivered to the Church. It does not need to be updated or changed to suit the times and values of contemporary people. In fact, to change it is heresy and sin and wickedness. Therefore, cling to and contend for it alone.
Jude gives sobering examples of the results of changing or leaving the faith given by God. First is the people brought out of Egyptian slavery (5). Great numbers of them were destroyed, rather than retained in the nation of Israel. Why? Because they “believed not” (5). They did not believe what God said, nor did they obey His commandments. Therefore, God destroyed them.
Another is the fallen angels (6). Created good, and with blessings and opportunities far beyond those of people, they rebelled against God. They now dwell in chains and darkness until Judgement Day.
Sodom and Gomorrah are a third example. “[G]iving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh,” they are “set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Each of these examples show how wrong beliefs (doctrine) leads to wrong actions (practice). They also show how God feels about such errors. Spots on your feast of charity refers to rocks in the sea that are hidden by water but will wreck a ship and drown its people. Clouds without rain are clouds that look like they will give good rain to the earth, but bring only wind and darkness. Trees with withered (rotten) fruit cause sickness and death to those who eat of them. Foaming waves on the sea bring debris to the shore. Wandering stars are meteors falling into the blackness of darkness forever, appearing bright and glorious for a moment, but quickly burning away to nothing (12, 13). Verses 14-16 tell of God’s judgement falling upon those who follow the false teachers.
Jude reminds the people that the Apostles warned them that false teachers would come (17-19). He urges the Church to continue in the things of God (20-23). He closes with one of the most beautiful benedictions in all of Scripture (24, 25). He assures us that God is able to keep us from falling into the false teachings, and to preserve us in the true faith, “faultless” before the presence of His glory. This is accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ, who took our sins upon Himself, and paid for them on the cross. To this, the true God, “the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Ecc. 11, Mk. 10:1-31
Ecc. 12, Romans 1
Early Church historian, Eusibius, says the Church in Rome was founded by Peter and Paul. This may mean they were the founding ministers, the ones who started the Church. But it may simply mean they ministered in Rome or sent missionaries to it. We know Peter was in Rome by 65 A.D., and probably visited Rome several times before then. He was definitely there in 65 A.D., and from Rome he wrote the epistles of First and Second Peter (1 Pt. 5:13). But he was not in Rome in 58 A.D. when Paul wrote the Book of Romans. We can say this with confidence because Paul would have addressed Peter in the Book. Failure to do so would have been a terrible breech of etiquette. Actually, Paul would not even have written the book of Romans if Peter had been there, or if Peter had in some way assumed Apostolic oversight of the Roman Church. He would have left the instruction of the Roman Christians to Peter, rather than presume to impose himself into a congregation that already had Apostolic care. And why would the Romans have asked Paul to come to them if Peter were already there teaching them? There were too many other needs for the Apostles to duplicate their efforts in such ways. It must also be remembered that Paul was sent to the Gentiles, while Peter worked primarily with the Jews (Gal. 2:7. Rom. 1:5-6, 11:13, 15:15-16). This is important because Rome was a Gentile church.
At first the Roman Christians lived a fairly peaceful life. The Romans were not terribly concerned about a person's religion as long as he was a good citizen or subject. Many Romans would have gladly added Jesus to the many gods they already worshiped, and would have accepted the Christians. But Christians claimed there is only one God, and Christ is the only way to Him. This offended the Romans and caused a bias against the Church. In addition, many of the Jewish leaders vehemently detested the Christians, to the point of rioting in the streets when Paul preached in a city. This gave the Christians a bad name, and the Romans were willing to persecute the Christians in order to keep the peace. These two sources of opposition slowly simmered throughout the Empire, but the real persecution of the Church began when Rome burned in 64 A.D. Nero, astute politician that he was, blamed Christians for the fire, thus, starting an informal persecution of the Church that would soon grow into an imperial policy that encompassed the entire Roman Empire. As already noted, Peter was in Rome by 65 A.D. Why he went to Rome is unknown. Perhaps he was already there when Rome burned, and could not leave the Christians at a time when the authorities and public sentiment were united against them. Perhaps he went after the fire to support the Christians in their time of tribulation. Once in Rome it was impossible for Peter to escape the notice of the authorities, and in 65 A.D. he was taken into custody. Shortly thereafter, he was executed. The official persecution of Christians continued and Paul was martyred in Rome in the winter of 68-69.
Romans was written by the Apostle Paul about 58 A.D. Paul had just spent two years in Corinth, and was preparing to return to Jerusalem. He evidently had contact with Christians in Rome, and had probably been asked to come to Rome to teach as he had in Corinth. Paul tells the Romans he is eager to come to their city, and, though he has been unable so far, he intends to come in the future. It is probable that Paul intends to go directly to Rome after meeting with the other Apostles in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, he sends the Epistle to the Romans to them as a devotional textbook of Christian doctrine. All the basics of what Christians believe are in this book. This is why it is such a crucial book for us today.
Romans is especially concerned with Salvation and related doctrines. The book naturally divides itself into two parts. The first, found in chapters 1-11 deals with the means and the results of justification by faith. The second, found in chapters 12-16, deals with the Christian life. So the book presents what Christians believe and how Christians live, giving the fullest exposition of them found in the New Testament.
Because of the fulness of the exposition on Christian doctrine and Christian living, understanding Romans is crucial to understanding the Bible. It could even be said that to understand Romans is to understand the Bible. 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 (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."
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 (19-20) but they turn away from that knowledge and make their own gods instead of obeying Him (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.
Jeremiah 1, Mk. 10:32-52
Jer. 2:1-19, Rom. 2
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.
Paul 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" (1928 Book of Common 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.
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?
God owes us nothing. He would be perfectly justified in casting us all into hell; “the judgment of God is according to truth against them." The Greek word translated "judgment" is κριμα (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? 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.
The revelation of God, whether in nature, conscience, or the Bible, should lead people to faith and repentance (4, 5). Instead it simply hardens most people in their unbelief and rebellion. As Dr. 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 of Christ, 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 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 (12). They are trapped in a deadly cycle of sin and condemnation, and they can't get out. They need a Saviour.
Verse17 begins a new topic, which continues through Romans 3:8. The topic 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 don't keep it. Even Jews who have the Law have not kept it, just as people who have the Bible today have not kept 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, yet they live like they don’t have or know it. 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, Jews 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 Israel, not God (3:3-8).
Jews commit the same sins as the Gentiles (17-24). Remember that the Gentiles profess to be wise but are really fools because they know about God and know 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 (19), and instructors and teachers (20) of the Gentiles, yet they commit the very same sins (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. It may even 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 (24). Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, but through its sin it 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. How often 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.
In verses 25-29, 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 or understand them. You can outwardly conform to doctrines and ordinances yet still remain apart from God in your heart.
Jer. 2:20-37, Mk. 11
Jer. 3, Rom. 3
Verses 1-8 express a popular argument against the Biblical teaching that all people deserve to be under God’s wrath. I hear 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. Therefore, all the things the Bible calls "sins" are just the natural expression of the way God made us, 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 these verses 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 Bible. 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 in Rome had obviously been there for some time prior to this, for Paul knew many of the Roman Christians. From these and other churches, Christianity spread rapidly into Europe, so our culture has had its holy influence throughout the Christian era. It was the Gospel that conquered our pagan religions and brought civilsation to Europe. It was the Gospel that gave us a growing recognition of the God-given rights of all people, and it was the Gospel that gave us our values and our wisdom. Yet today we are throwing it away with both hands, and throughout our history we have never really lived up to the teachings and examples of the Christian faith. Imagine how much greater our history could have been if we had taken the Bible more seriously. Think of the wars, slavery, and hatred we could have avoided. Imagine the wealth and prosperity we would have if we had spent the last two-thousand years waging peace. 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 complete New Testament and 2,000 years of Christian influence. How quick we are to imagine that we would have followed God more closely if we had seen the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the sea, and the miracles of Christ. But are we really better than they? Are the Gentiles better than they? That's the real question Paul is asking. The Jews had the Law and the Prophets and their influence in their culture. They had the Temple and the sacrifices and the feasts. In short, they had the Bible, but they did not live by it. The tendency for the Gentile Christians, 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 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 they have? Who has chosen evil instead of good? Who is under the wrath of God and unable to do anything about it? Everyone! Jews and Gentiles are all under sin.
Verses 10-18 apply the teaching of the Old Testament to both Jews and Gentiles. For verses 10-12 see Psalm 14:1-3. For verse 13 see Ps. 5:9, Jer. 5:16, and Ps. 140:3. For verse 14 read Ps. 10:7. For verse 15 read Prov. 1:16, and for verses 16-18 read Is. 59:7-8 and Ps. 36:1. Paul presents these verses not only as Divine revelation, but also as self-evident truth. He is claiming that we all know this to be true because we see it in others and we see it in ourselves. Let anyone who can, deny what these verses teach. Let anyone who will, bring forth evidence to the contrary. Show us just one human being who does not fit this description like a glove, save for our Lord Jesus Christ. We can't do it.
Many wonder how the Old Testament applies to the New. Many think there are actually two faiths, one in the Old and another in the New Testament. In actuality, both Testaments teach one faith; the entire sinfulness and helplessness of all humanity, and the Divine Rescue by God through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Verses 19-20 draw the inevitable conclusion from these verses of Scripture, and from what we observe to be true in all people. First, all are guilty before God. All are under God's wrath. All are justly excluded from any claim on God. God owes them nothing. All are guilty of crimes and sedition against His Holy and Perfect Law, and all deserve whatever punishment He deems right to meet out. Second, doing the works of the Law cannot save us. Suppose we could live a perfect life from now until the day we stand before God, would that make up for our sins? No. What do we owe God? Perfect obedience. It's what we owe God. It's not an option. There's no grading curve. Anything short of perfect obedience, in heart and thought as well as in deed, is to miss the mark, the target, the goal. If you are walking through the woods and are charged by a bear, and you happen to have a rifle with you capable of stopping the bear, and you quickly aim and fire the gun, but you miss the bear, does it matter if you miss by a fraction of an inch or by a yard or a mile? No, a miss is a miss, and any sin, even one tiny little sin, causes us to miss the target of complete obedience. Anything short of absolute perfection in us is to fail in our duties to God and makes us unprofitable servants. Fail to pay your bank everything you owe and see how welcome you are in its richly appointed offices. Failure to pay God everything you owe makes you a debtor to Him. Does a bank deserve its full payment and the God of all Creation not?
Because all are sinners, as explained to us in the preceding chapters and verses of Romans, and because all are guilty as 3:19 tells us, "Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight." In other words, no person can earn his way to Heaven through his works, that is, by the way he keeps the law because nobody keeps the law perfectly. All transgress the law many times and many ways every day. So, by the Law we do not see how good we are. By the Law we see how far short of the goal we have fallen. As Romans 3:20 says, "by the law is the knowledge of sin."
So ends the first part of the Book of Romans. Every human being is condemned here. Those without the Bible are guilty of rejecting what knowledge of God and His will are available to them through conscience and creation. Those with the Bible are guilty of rejecting God because, though they have a fuller understanding of God and His will, they have not lived according to their knowledge, but have lived in opposition to it. All have sinned.
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). Beginning in 3:21, Romans turns to a second point, justification by faith, or the righteousness of God given by grace to unrighteous people. This point continues through Romans 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 Church and 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 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 the Great Righteous One, 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. 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).
In verses 22-24 we begin to see how God can be just, and, at the same time, justify sinners. 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. I have the freedom to jump over the moon; what I lack is the ability.
This also raises the issue of the difference between freedom and will. I am free to ride my horse in a steeple chase. 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 Dr. 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 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"
Jer. 4:1-18, Mk. 12:1-27
Jer. 4:19-31 Rom. 4
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 emphasises the fact 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 Heaven to him. It is 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, whose descendents would be as numerous as 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 simply believes God. This is somewhat different from believing in God. To believe in God is to believe He exists, or 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.
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 incline 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 it 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). 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.