Tim Gallant Explains the Judgment on Israel in Romans

jesus-paulIn Romans, Paul says that Israel is under judgment, not because of some general failure to live up to the demands of an impossibly perfect law, but because they stumbled over the Messiah, the holy stumbling stone (Rom 9:32-33).

This insight is not new to Paul. Indeed, Jesus Himself identifies Himself as the occasion for Israel’s fall (cf Rom 11:11-12), as well. “If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father” (John 15:24). It is their rejection of Christ which is their decisive sin, which is why Jesus goes on to say that the Spirit’s role will be to convict “the world” (kosmos) concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).

And this role in convicting “the world” of sin, does not, as it turns out, revolve around some sort of Puritanesque “pounding the law home in order to drive the sinner to Christ.” Rather, Jesus says, the Spirit bears witness “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). Their great sin is unbelief (cf Heb 3:19).

And likewise, “concerning righteousness, because I go to My Father” (John 16:10); i.e. having been vindicated by My resurrection, I will ascend to rule at His right hand as His Messiah.

None of this, of course, is to pretend that first century Jews were remarkably holy and perfect until Christ came along. But in terms of the law, given to guide them under the old creation, many of them could indeed say that they were “blameless” (as Paul says regarding himself in Philippians 3, and as Luke says regarding Zechariah and Elizabeth in 1:6 of his Gospel).

Read the rest! = Jesus and Paul on the Fall of the Blameless.

Did the Jews of Jesus’ day think that they were without sin?

woman-caught-in-adulteryOne issue that commonly comes up in reading the Gospels or Paul’s epistles is the allegation that the conservative Jews in Jesus’ day believed that they were righteous enough to earn standing with God. I don’t find any evidence for such a claim in the text of Scripture. I think one might possibly fit Jesus’ telling the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector into such a situation, but that parable does not by any means demand such a situation.

There is real counter-evidence. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount:

 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

Notice that Jesus, in public teaching, does not argue that Jewish believers are evil. Rather, he argues from the agreed-upon premise that they are all evil to the conclusion that they can trust that God loves them.

Does this sound like a people who trust in their own goodness to be right with God?

Likewise, when Jesus defends the woman caught in adultery, he again expects his hearers to admit to their own sinfulness. In this case, he is actually talking directly to the Pharisees:

 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:7-11 ESV).

That is a strange strategy to use with people who are confident in their own righteousness. And yet it worked. (By the way, some scholars doubt this story was original to John’s Gospel. Even so, it constitutes extremely early testimony to what Jewish people thought of themselves.

This is yet more reason to be skeptical of interpreters of Romans 2 who think that “well-doing” (v. 6), “everyone who does good,” “doers of the law” (v. 12), “do what the law requires” (v. 14), “obey the law” (v. 25), etc, refer hypothetically to perfect or sinless obedience. The assumption that the Jews thought such sinless obedience was possible, and the way to salvation, while also admitting that they were evil and allowing that they were too sinful to condemn a woman caught in adultery is problematic at best. We would need to see evidence of some kind of theology that rationalized such admissions of unworthiness.

But I don’t see anyone really trying to be consistent in their interpretation on this point. They just feel free to interpret Paul as if we all know his opponents were self-righteous people who thought they could and were supposed to merit God’s favor.

Cross-posted at 2k+

Liberated from those passions, saved by His life

Just noticed something else about Romans 6:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions… (Romans 1:26a)

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6:12).

I say something else because I have noticed before that Romans 6 makes another reference to the downward spiral Paul describes in Romans 1.18ff:

… just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Romans 6:19b ESV).

So the spiral is now broken. At one time God gave sin dominion over us, but now we are freed from that tyrant. From now on sin only rules as a usurper and outlaw. So it is our calling to rise up against him in the name of the Lord who bought us.

I suspect this helps explain Paul’s meaning earlier in Romans 5:

 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life(Romans 5:9-10 ESV).

Romans 1.18 does not just show sin as a reason why we are enemies of God. It also shows sin as a spreading force that overtakes the whole creation. Thus, God’s name gets blasphemed and his righteousness is impugned. This also provokes God to action.

Now that God has provided forgiveness for us, would it be no problem to his justice and righteousness for sin to still spread and grow and dominate the planet? I think the answer has to be no. God needs to provide for forgiveness and for a future of sanctification for the human race.

Thus, we are “saved by his life”

 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life(Romans 6:4 ESV).

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:10-13 ESV).

It is the resurrected life of Jesus, communicated to believers by the Holy Spirit, who is the power that will bring sanctification to sanctification to replace the cycle of lawlessness to lawlessness.

Romans 5 & 6 Again: From the Cosmic To The Personal

Awhile back I wrote that we need to dismantle the mental wall we have constructed between Romans 5 and Romans 6, because…

There is not a change in subject matter between Romans 5 and 6.

Here’s another pointer to that basic truth:

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:17-21 ESV).

Thus ends Romans 5. Now look at the ending of Romans 6:

 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23 ESV)

Do you see how Paul is almost quoting what he said earlier. The free gift is mentioned, and righteousness/sanctification is the way to eternal life.

There is a shift between Romans 5 and 6, but it isn’t change in subject matter. Rather it is a narrowing of focus from the worldwide salvation to how you and I work it out in our personal lives. Paul moves from the cosmic scope of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Great Commission, to assigning us the task of working on bringing our hands and feet and voices into submission to the risen Lord.

 

Jeff Meyers on How Jesus Saved the World, Part 1

005meyersWe are too used to reading the Gospels’ stories of Jesus’ arrest, trial, condemnation, and death from a devotional perspective and so we miss a lot of what’s going on. We actually have a difficult time trying to figure out the meaning of the details of the story. Of course, we will defend the historicity of the details of the story against unbelieving academics and liberal churchman. But why these details? Why any details at all?

John has already wonderfully summarized things in chapters 1 and 3. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” and “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” But what does God’s provision of a lamb for the sins of the world have to do with this long story of what happens to Jesus the night before he dies? What does God loving the world have to do with the machinations and conspiracies of Judas, the High Priests, Pilate, and the Jewish crowds? A great deal, truly, but we will have to learn to read the Passion accounts a bit differently.

You see, here in the narrative of Jesus’ arrest and trial and condemnation we have a somewhat surprising perspective.  It does not contradict or compete with the other apostolic explanations of Jesus’ death; rather, it complements and enriches them. Remember, the meaning of the death of Jesus is far richer than we are often used to acknowledging. When we look at the details of the text—what events and characters and words John has carefully chosen to weave together from the story of Jesus’ last few days—we can get a pretty good idea of what he is trying to communicate. This is not fiction, but history. Nevertheless, narrating history is never simply a matter of reproducing what has happened. Out of a million and more little details one must pick and choose just what to record

John could have written something very simple and matter of fact, something like this: “Jesus went out from the upper room and was met by Judas who betrayed him into the hands of the Jewish authorities, and they in turn convinced Pilate to crucify him.” That sentence could replace the entire story from 18:1—19:16. It is just the facts, Ma’am—the Dragnet method of doing history, according to Sgt. Friday.

Or John could have written a huge fat book on the last few days of Jesus’ life. You know that there was much, much more that he could have recorded but didn’t—volumes that Jesus said, that the disciples said, that others said. John himself will say that the world itself could not contain the books that might be written if every detail were recorded (21:25).What happened in the trials of Annas and Caiaphas? We’re not told. Surely John knew more than he tells us.

So what does John want us to see and learn here? Think about the defining themes of this portion of the passion story as told by John.

He is very careful to tell us how Jesus ended up on the cross. He is very careful to rub our noses in the contributions of all the various parties in Jerusalem—Jewish and Roman, religious and political. And in the end everyone was unified—Jesus must die.

What John shows us is how all the parties and factions, each group and community, and every individual in them, all came together to kill Jesus: Judas and his band of soldiers and bodyguards, the family of the High Priest (Annas and Caiaphas), Peter and the disciples, the Roman soldiers, Pilate and the Imperial Government of Rome, the Jews (18:38; 19:12). Is that surprising? Shocking? The death of Jesus has to do with the coming together, the unification of all these otherwise disparate, rival social units and individuals—Judas and Peter, the High Priest and Pilate, Israel and the Jews. People that would otherwise hate one another are all unified in their hatred of Jesus. And although Peter and the disciples don’t actively pursue Jesus’ death like the others, their betrayal and cowardice exhibit a shocking unity with the Satanic mob.

Notice how an astonishing unity is achieved by the end of the narrative (19:16). Everyone is together. They are united. They are one. They confess Caesar as king; they are unified together in his kingdom. Isn’t this what Jesus prayed for in the upper room? Unity? Oneness?

This is unity indeed, but not the kind of unity that Jesus prays for in John 17

What we see in the Passion story is a clash of two kingdoms, two ways of organizing and maintaining order in human society.  It is Lent, a time in which we focus on self-examination and repentance, and so it is good for us to consider the counterfeit unity of Satan’s kingdom—a unity in which we are all too easily caught up.

Read the rest: Trinity House » How Jesus Saved the World, Part 1.

See also: Part 2

My presentations for the 2013 annual conference at Tri-City Covenant Church

tcca_logo_25I was graciously invited by Tri-City Covenant Church in New Hampshire to speak at their annual conference. It was an honor to do so!

I forgot to turn on the mic for my Sunday sermon, unfortunately. I did the same for lecture 2, but there was a backup mic.

Here they are:

February 23, 2013 “All Things Work Together for Good” – Winter Conference with Mark Horne
Session 1 – Session 1 Session 2 – Session 2 Session 3 – Session 3 Session 4 – Session 4

Also, for Sunday school on February 24, here is the audio of power point presentations that I went through rather quickly.

It might help to go here and watch them.

Below is are the notes I used for my Sunday sermon:

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD

Please turn with me to Isaiah 45, verses 21-25. The fundamental need of the human race is for salvation–deliverance from evil, in the forgiveness of sins, and the liberation from the bondage of sin and death. We need a savior, a rescuer from sin. In the our passage this morning the prophet Isaiah tells all the nations that their many gods and many lords are not saviors–that they cannot deliver them from death or rescue them from their misdeeds. The LORD alone, as the one true God, is a savior, a deliverer, a rescuer. And God is a savior, according to this passage, especially because of two attributes which He alone possesses. Now I will be preaching on one of these attributes, so I will tell you what the other one is right now: Strength. God alone is a savior because he alone is capable of saving us from our sins, delivering us from death, and rescuing us from the curse. But there is another attribute which God alone possesses of all the so-called gods, which makes Him alone the savior.

Hear the Word of the LORD:

Declare and set forth your case;Indeed, let them consult together.

Who has announced this from of old?

Who has long since declared it?

Is it not I, the LORD?

And there is no other God besides Me,

A righteous God and a savior;

There is none except Me.

Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth;

For I am God and there is no other

I have sworn by Myself

The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

They will say of Me, “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.”

Men will come to Him,

And all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame

In the LORD all the offspring of Israel

Will be justified, and will glory.

Let us pray:

[pray]

Never pray for justice! Only pray for mercy. The last thing you want is justice.Never pray for God to judge you! That would be disastrous. Plead with Him to be merciful to you.

Here’s another saying that, whether it is articulated so crudely or not, undergird the exhortations I just repeated:

God’s righteousness is of no comfort to us. We must rely on God’s mercy, not His righteousness.

These are pretty common statements in circles popularizing Reformed theology. And they make a good deal of sense. After all, there is no man or woman who does not sin, and if God was to deal with us as we deserve according to our sins, we would all be condemned by God’s judgment. That is true. That is Biblical.

Nevertheless, it is not biblical to tell Christians to “never pray for justice.” In fact, it is totally unbliblical. Christians are supposed to pray for justice. Indeed we are given public prayers in the Bible so that, when we read or sing them, we have to pray for justice from God. I’m referring, to the Psalter:

Psalm 7.8

The LORD judges the peoples; Judge me, O LORD according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.

Psalm 10.17-18

O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear To judge the orphan and the oppressed, that man who is of the earth may cause terror no more.

Psalm 26.1-3

A Psalm of David. Judge me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity; And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart. For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your faithfulness.

Psalm 35.24

Judge me, O LORD my God, according to my righteousness.

Psalm 43.1

Judge me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation.

Psalm 96.10-13

Say among the nations: “The LORD reigns; Indeed the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the LORD fro He is coming;

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness,

And the peoples in faithfulness [emphasis added].

I could go on and on from the Psalms alone, but I’ll stop there with that last passage. Notice that not only is God’s judgment something the whole world rejoices in, but that judgment of God is tied to His righteousness.

He will judge the world in righteousness,And the peoples in faithfulness..

Before I go any farther, let me stress to you, that the relatively odd practice we have here of singing paraphrases of the Psalms, and reciting often from translations of the Psalms, is a wonderful safeguard of our faith from unbiblical error. You see, if all Evangelicals in America had been raised praying these public prayer-hymns, then these slogans that are tossed around so easily would never make it off the ground. Everyone would know that we are supposed to pray for justice: to beg God to judge us in righteousness, and to plead with Him to do it sooner rather than later. If we had all been brought up singing these paraphrased hymns, or, better, chanting more accurate translations, we would all know what we are supposed to pray for because we would have been doing it corporately all our lives.

Why? Why should we dare ask God to judge us in righteousness? Because, as our passage from Isaiah states rather starkly, God’s righteousness is not something which prevents us from being saved, but something that gives us our only hope of salvation.

There is no other God besides Me,A righteous God and a savior;

There is none except Me.

Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth;

For I am God and there is no other

I have sworn by Myself

The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

They will say of Me, “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.”

Here in our passage, all the nations are called to abandon their many gods and many lords because these gods and lords cannot save.

Why not? Why can’t they save their worshipers?

Well, for one thing, they simply aren’t strong enough to save their people. Since these gods are, at most, mere creatures who are being given false honors, as Romans 1.23 tells us, they are not powerful enough to rescue their people. They are not capable of delivering anyone. Only in the LORD is strength: so He alone can save all the ends of the earth.

But there is another reason why these false gods cannot save. They not only lack the strength; they lack the moral character. Even if they had the power to save their worshipers, they wouldn’t do it, no matter what promises they made. They are not trustworthy. They are not faithful. They are not righteous. Only in the LORD is righteousnes; so He alone can be trusted to save all the ends of the earth.

Now I need to dissuade anyone from making a mistake here in considering the righteousness of God mentioned in Isaiah 45.24. Because we all know that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, we might be tempted to assume that God’s righteousness here is mentioned in the context of salvation because it is the righteousness that is imputed to us.

Contextually, whatever else might be said for or against that idea, this passage will not support that interpretation. Think about it: “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.” Is strength imputed to us? No. The point of mentioning the LORD’s strength is that He is powerful enough to save His people. The issue in this passage is not what is imputed to God’s people, but God’s qualities which entail that He is trustworthy as a savior. God is a savior because he is strong–capable of saving His people. God is a savior because he is righteous–willing to save hie people.

God’s righteousness assures us that He is our savior. His righteousness does not jeopardize our salvation, but guarantees it. He does not save us depite His righteousness but because of His righteousness.

Again, we see this also in the Psalms. Remember the nature of Hebrew poetry as is found both in the Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah. Hebrew poetry translates well because it does not depend on rhyming but on stating a thought and then usually presenting a closely related thought which elaborates and/or reiterates the same thing.

Psalm 36.10

O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know Thee;

And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 103.17

The lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,

And His righteousness to children’s children.

Now, notice how these passages show God’s righteousness and His lovingkindness, not to be contradictory, but mutually complementary. God’s grace and His righteousness are different aspects of the same thing. In being gracious to His people, in showing “lovingkindness” to them, God is being righteous in regard to them.

In fact, because God’s righteousness manifests itself in acts of salvation, they are almost treated as synonymous.

Psalm 36.5

Your lovingkindness, O LORD extends to the heavens

Your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;

Your judgments are a great deep.

O LORD, You preserve man and beast….

See, according to Psalm 36, to talk of God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, or righteousness, entails talk of His judgments in history which manifest his character as gracious, faithful and righteous.

Psalm 88.11-12

Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,

Your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?

And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

Again we have the same theme. To talk of God’s lovingkindness, or faithfulness, or righteousness is to speak of the “wonders” that He has performed for His people.

This is all tied together in this morning’s call to worship, Psalm 98.1-3:

O sing to the LORD a new song,

For He has done wonderful things,

His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.

The LORD has made known His salvation;

He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations

He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;

All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, and righteousness are manifested through His saving deeds. Verse 2 explicitly tells us that in making “known His salvation” God has “revealed his righteousness.” Salvation does not happen despite God’s righteousness. On the contrary, Salvation is a revelation of God’s righteous character.

And Isaiah in the context surrounding our passage this morning has exactly the same concern for salvation and the revealing of God’s righteousness as we find in these Psalms:

Isaiah 45.8

Drip down, O heavens, from above,

And let the clouds pour down righteousness;

Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit,

And righteousness spring up with it.

I the LORD have created it.

Righteousness and salvation are virtually synonyms in this passage.

Isaiah 46.12-13

Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded,

Who are far from righteousness.

I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off;

And My salvation will not delay.

And I will grant salvation in Zion,

My glory for Israel.

Saving Israel, giving Israel glory, is a manifestation of God’s righteousness. So if God’s salvation is near then God’s righteousness is near–in other words, it is about to be revealed.

Isaiah 51.6b

But My salvation shall be forever,

And My righteousness shall not wane.

Isaiah 51.8b

But My righteousness shall be forever,

And My salvation to all generations.

Isaiah 56.1

Thus says the LORD,

Preserve justice, and do righteousness,

For My salvation is about to come

And My righteousness to be revealed.

I could quote more, but I think I’ve said enough to make the general point: God’s righteousness is the reason for our salvation. We will be confident that God is the savior of the world, not despite our assurance that He is righteous, but because or our certainty that God is righteous. We are being saved because of God’s righteousness, not despite God’s righteous.

And you all know this has to be true.

I know you do because, more than once, I have read John 1.9 in the confession and absolution. Remember that verse? If we confess our sins, even though God is faithful and righteous, He will forgive us our sins anyway and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That’s not what it says, is it?

No,

“If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Sometimes I hear Christians talk as if, God would be no less righteous even if He never bothered to forgive anyone. That makes a certain amount of sense, because none of us deserves to be forgiven. And there are people who God has not forgiven and will not forgive who will end up in everlasting torment which they will justly deserve. And those people will have no grounds for complaining that God is unrighteous or unjust. They will deserve their punishment and God will be righteous in so punishing them.

But the problem comes when we make the grace of God seem like some sort of accidental feature of His personality–as if God’s basic nature is vengeance and mercy is some sort of surface phenomenon which is nice for those who are forgiven, but not as much part of God’s personality as justice. The Bible guards against that conception. It says that God’s salvation is just as much a revelation of His righteousness as His punitive justice.

In fact, if we believe that God plans to spread salvation to the vast majority of the human race for the vast majority of history, that too reflects on God’s righteous character. God is the savior of the world because only in Him are righteousness and strength.

Now, perhaps I can give you some ways of understanding more precisely how and why God’s righteousness does not contradict His graciousness and willingness to forgive sinners, but rather upholds it. You may have noticed in some of the Psalm passages I read, that not only were lovingkindness and righteousness related to one another, but faithfulness as well. Therein lies part of the key. In 1 Samuel 26.23, David says that “the LORD will repay each man for His righteousness and faithfulness.” Solomon speaks of David’s “faithfulness and righteousness” in 1 Kings 3.6. Now, those words are mutually interpretive. For a man or woman in God’s covenant, they are not expected to be without sin, but simply to be faithful in keeping covenant with God by continuing to repent, confess their sins, and seek forgiveness, trusting in God alone. God’s covenant, after all, isn’t made for unfallen angels but for sinful men. We are expected to sin. That’s part of the covenantal arrangement.

In Luke 1.6, for example, we are told of Zacharias and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

Now this, is said of sinners. In fact, Zacharias sins in the very same chapter. Nevertheless, they are described as having a righteous standing in God’s sight and being blameless in keeping all God’s laws. How can that be? Because God’s Law was made for sinners to show them how to live by faith. God’s Law told them to repent and be reconciled to God and each other, after they sinned; and to trust God to forgive them and ultimately to save them.

But if God’s covenant expects those who are considered righteous and faithful to sin, then the same covenant has to also expect God to forgive, if He is to be righteous and faithful. And that’s exactly what Scripture declares:

Psalm 143.1 & 2

A psalm of David.

Hear my prayer, O LORD,

Give ear to my supplication!

Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!

And do not enter into judgment with Your servant,

For in Your sight no man living is righteous.

Now here, we have a much more orthodox-sounding statement in the second verse. Even though in other Psalm, David pleads to be judged according to His righteousness, here he asks God not to enter into judgment against him. Here David uses the term righteousness to mean “sinlessness,” and admits that he is far from sinless.

Yet even here, David does not hesitate to remind the Lord of His own divine righteousness and faithfulness. That righteousness assures David that his sins will be forgiven.

God has revealed His character in His Word. He has told us that He is righteous and He is told us what that means, that he is faithful, loving, and willing to save. Furthermore, He has revealed that righteousness in what He did through Jesus Christ.

What are we to do with that? What does it mean to believe God is righteous, with all the implications that I have mentioned?

In Exodus 33 & 34 we have a real important moment in God’s covenantal dealings with humankind. Moses on Mount Sinai asks God to show him His glory. God answers Moses’ request by hiding him in the cleft of a rock and showing him the back of God’s glory. And with that visual revelation comes a verbal revelation as well, Exodus 34.6-7:

The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands of generations, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by now means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

That is a declaration of God’s fundamental character. It is mentioned again and again in the Scriptures. It is even used by John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, to describe Jesus.

But with that revelation of God’s character, we have a revelation of how we should respond. Look at verse 9: Moses said

If now I have found grace in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate; and do You pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.

So you see what has happened here? As soon as the words are out of God’s mouth that He is gracious and forgiving, Moses is asking Him to prove it.

We all know, from cop shows at least, the Miranda rights: You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.

God operates under similar rules. He expects us to use what He says “against Him.” When He reveals to us His character we are supposed to base our prayers and our very lives on His revelation.

God wants you to know that He can be trusted to save you. That His grace and mercy are revelations of His very being. He has forgiven and will continue to forgive you because of Who He is. Our God is a righteous God, therefore He is a savior. We can remind Him of His revelation of Himself when we pray to Him, just like Moses did. If we trust His Word, we will remind Him of His righteous character, and we will have hope in Him because He is righteous.

Now, I would like to end on that note, but as God’s messenger, I do need to also issue a warning, lest God’s righteousness be misunderstood. Isaiah, in addition to declaring God a righteous savior, also declares the nations under condemnation for rejecting that savior. God’s wrath is not incompatible with His righteousness, with His love. In fact, His love explains His wrath. Remember the warning attached to the Second Commandment?

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me.

God’s wrath is His jealousy. Hell is his burning jealousy. Song of Solomon 8.6:

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; [or Hell]It’s flashes are flashes of fire,

The very flame of the LORD.

Proverbs 27.4

Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood,But who can stand before jealousy?

God is righteous. God is loving. God pursues sinners. God offers forgiveness. But He will not be patient and longsuffering forever. And the very reason Hell is hot, is because such a great love has been spurned.

But, it’s not my purpose here to dwell on God wrath, but on his righteousness. His covenant faithfulness. His love. God is a righteous God and a savior. So we can trust Him. We should fix our hope on Him because of Who He is. We should continue in covenant with Him, because He is faithful and righteous to keep covenant with us.

And as we humbly work out our salvation in fear and trembling, perhaps we should consider the implications of God’s righteousness in our own sanctification. We want, if we are Christians, to be more like God. Even though we continue to be sinners, we want the Spirit to make us more righteous, and the Spirit does.

But what does it mean to be righteous? To be righteous like God is?

It means lots of things. It means to not steal, to not commit adultery. It means to keep the commandments of God. It means not to covet. And et cetera.

But in that package, let us not forget that it means to show lovingkindness to sinners, just like God does. It means to forgive. It means to keep covenant even when people hurt us.

May God grant this to us all.

Habakkuk, Romans, and The Coming Worldwide Triumph of the Gospel

apostle paulHabakkuk begins with the prophet asking God how he can allow evil to grow unchecked in Judah and not do anything about it.

God replies that he is bringing in foreign invaders to judge the Israelites. The Chaldeans will take them away into exile.

But, since Habakkuk is sure the Chaldeans are wicked too, he asks how this can satisfy God’s righeousness.

God’s answer involves more than one element. But the one I want to point out, because it is too often missed, is postmillennialism.

(The term is based on a thousand year period mentioned in the beginning of Revelation 20. Some insist it is a future age that occurs through a group of miracles. It occurs after the return of Jesus but before the Last Judgment. But many take it as the era of Gospel preaching that we are in now, but which will grow into a worldwide conversion to the Gospel.)

Habbakuk, I believe, vindicates God on the basis that postmillennialism is true. God will convert the world.

Basically, God says that he will bring about glorious results through the Chaldeans and the exile–results that will means the eventual salvation of both Israelites and the Gentiles:

Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV).

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Paul has to defend the Gospel and God’s character because it means that God used Israel’s sin to bring about the salvation of the world. But the fact that the world is indeed going to be saved is part of his argument that God is justified in his working. (Note, this salvation will be manifest in the eventual conversion of the planet’s population; I’m not saying that past and current unbelievers were saved.)

Paul begins his argument in Romans (1.16-17) with a quotation from Habakkuk. He does this because, like Habakkuk, Paul is arguing that God’s righteousness has been demonstrated. The argument in Romans and Habakkuk work closely together. In Romans we find it repeated: God proves himself righteous in bringing salvation to the world–meaning that this is the age in which the planet (and all other human colonies in space if any) will be converted to Christ.

     For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Romans 3:28-30 ESV).

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” (Romans 4:13-17b ESV).

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:15-19 ESV).

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:28-33 ESV)

Romans doesn’t use the word “all” and “all men” by accident. The promise to Abraham was that, through him, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12.3). Paul emphasizes this promise, saying that Abraham was appointed the heir to the whole “cosmos” (literally; Romans 4.13) and was made a father of “many nations” (4.17). The “all men” in Romans 5 is not a slip. It doesn’t represent universalism but it does positively teach postmillennialism and use that promised outcome as the demonstration of God’s righteousness. The “much more” in Romans 5 means there will be far more saved in the new age than who were condemned in the former age [Edit: see first comment; I probably overreached here]. And all this is built into the climactic end of Paul’s argument, that God will have mercy on all.

Jeff Meyer’s on God’s presence in Worship

005meyersPCA pastor Jeff Meyers, in his book The Lord’s Service, captures this point well:

“Even if we cannot define it precisely, God is nonetheless present in a heightened special sense when His people gather as the church on the Lord’s Day. For one thing, He is present there “for us.” This is a place and time where he gathers His people around the Word and Sacraments…The bread and wine are singular signs designed to assure us of His special, gracious presence with us.”

If we believe this, it should radically change our view of Sunday worship. We do not come to worship primarily to “do” something for God, but to enter his presence and receive something from him!

via From the offices of NCPC: What’s So Unique about Sunday Worship?.

Dying To Self: Adam’s Challenge In Eden to Become the King He Was

jesus-paulIn basic Evangelical Christian teaching, “sanctification” is a process in which a believer, by the working of God’s Spirit, is able more and more to put off sin and live in more complete obedience to God. That way of summarizing the teaching can be misleading since perception is not always the same as reality. After all, one part of the process might involve discovering hidden sin, which means one might, at times in ones life, be sanctified by (apparently) becoming more sinful, not less. Furthermore (or perhaps the same issue), new stages in life can bring new and more powerful temptations which one might initially fail to resist.

But another problem with “sanctification” as understood as the basic process and calling in the Christian life, is that Evangelical teaching cannot, on this definition, allow that Jesus, from the time he was born to the time he died, went through sanctification.

Here is the issue:

  1. The Bible teaches that Jesus was changed in his life.
  2. The Bible holds Jesus’ changes as a model, empowerment, and hope for believers to change in their lives.
  3. The Bible’s calling to believers to change as Jesus changed certainly seems to partly cover the ground that is commonly defined as “sanctification.”

To see an example of how Jesus underwent this process see here, and perhaps more under my old wisdom category in general. Aside from Luke 2.40, 52, the author of Hebrews seems to emphasize this point repeatedly:

    For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
        putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:5-11 ESV)

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”; [from Psalm 2]
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:5-10 ESV)

So Jesus undergoes a process that, in the letter to the Hebrews, the readers are supposed to undergo as well. And it is a path to the world being put under their feet. It involves both one’s death at the end of life, but it also entails the willingness to “die” all through life. Don’t let the word “priest” make you forget that this is also all about being a king as well. Psalm 2 is about ruling the nation, and Melchizedek was both a priest and king. Following Jesus, in order to rule you have to die.

Die to what?

    If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:1-15 ESV)

This is why we more or less forget how what Christ went through to be raised, or divorce it from our own experiences. Jesus didn’t struggle with sin in exactly the same way we do because he never succumbed to it in thought, word, or deed. Thus, we tend to think that all his life and suffering was entirely a matter of some other arrangement. Perhaps God wanted him to act out a bit of drama before he died and was raised so that he could teach us how to act. Or perhaps it was important that the Sermon on the Mount be written.

But that won’t do justice to Scripture. What we need to ask ourselves is, why might a righteous and sinless human need to “die” in order to “live”? What does he need to learn through suffering that enables him to rule wisely?

Here I’m going to offer to suggestions:

1. Men and women have to die to their own enjoyments because they are called to bring about a better future.

God made us to enjoy he gifts and he gives many of them to us freely. We rarely spend time thinking about the air we breathe because it is just given to us without cost or any effort needed on our part. Adam and Eve were put in a garden with free food. But while enjoying gifts is good, is there not also another good, perhaps even a better good, that God wants us to enjoy?

I think so. As creative partners, God wants us to learn to make things better than they already were.

But think about what this requires. It means you have to take a step beyond the blessing God originally gave you. You have to stop consuming God’s free gifts (as much) and devote time and energy to pursuits you hope will bear better fruit in the future. You have to “die” to your old self and “live” in a new way.

The book of Proverbs is filled with warnings about not being stuck in the first stage. It is one of sins temptations to stop there. Solomon calls such people “sluggards.”

2. Men and women have to die to their own enjoyments because they are called to bring about enjoyments for others.

God made us to enjoy gifts, but he made us to love others and consider their enjoyments. But this is a new way of living before God. Rather than simply receiving things you like, you have to learn to give them to another. You have to find enjoyment in the beloved’s enjoyment rather than only in your own direct enjoyment.

This, again, I submit, is a second stage. It requires a movement from an “old way of life” to a new one. It requires a “death to self” and a “living for” the beloved.

“More Than Conquerors”

As people who struggle with sin in our very being, this is all challenging, but I don’t think the challenges are completely unlike the challenges that Adam faced before he Fell. He needed to die to self in a couple of ways in order to resist the serpent’s temptation. But he chose not to do so. While Satan tempted Eve (who never directly heard God prohibit the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), he remained silent. He ate food that was a delight to the eyes. The result was slavery to sin and the struggle that we believers still face even with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

But if Adam had died to self he would have been raised to a new life as a king. Only people who can think of the future and of others are fit to be real leaders. And thus Paul says that, in the midst of persecution, we are “more than conquerors.”

    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39 ESV).

Paul is not saying that we simply endure these trials. After all Jesus was not raised to the right hand of God despite the cross and the grave but through the cross and the grave. And Paul’s choice of the word “conqueror,” is not random. Romans is about dominion and rule. Paul has already clarified the relationship between tribulation and our elevation by God:

    Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5 ESV).

[Cross-posted at Christendom Underground]

Resurrection to Living: Is Paul Theologizing from Hosea 6.2?

bibleCome, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him (Hosea 6:1-2 ESV).

In the context of Hosea, I think this passage is not a positive one. People are speaking of easy repentance and quick salvation that is not genuine.

But even so, I have to wonder if there is not a true theology that Paul could learn from. Once we’re dead, God can raise us to new obedience–not just biological life but living before God.

Thus:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4-11 ESV).