Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

How can God have mercy on us sinful wretches? The story of David and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and most of all God (2 Sam 11-12), tells us of how God’s mercy extends further than we could have imagined.  This was adultery and murder — not something God could just “wink” at. In fact, God cannot wink at any sin. However, in the Mosaic system God had set up a system of sacrifice that allowed for the forgiveness of various sins. Thus, people would bring a sacrificial animal for this purpose. But what is most interesting and important for us in this story is that not every kind of sin was forgivable in the Mosaic system. Adultery and premeditated murder, in this case, had no sacrifice for sin.

In 1 Sam 12, Nathan the prophet comes along and tells David the parable about a certain man and his beloved little lamb. And then he explains how this lamb was stolen from his master and killed by an evil neighbor. Upon hearing all this, David pronounces judgment: “That man deserves to die.”

“You are the man,” says Nathan. The prophet then declares everything God had done for David and yet how David had despised the word of the LORD and done what is evil in his sight. And when David hears this, he confesses. “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan replies, “God has taken away your sin, you are not going to die.” What? How could he say that? There would still be consequences for David. But he had received forgiveness. How could this be?

As mentioned before, in the Mosaic system, there was no sacrifice for adultery, no sacrifice for murder. In short, there was no way of dealing with this extent of pollution. There was really no way for David to be forgiven, nothing that would allow him to be right before. Within the Mosaic system, David was a dead man. The King of Israel, the people of God, stood condemned — accountable to die. And yet God declares that he is forgiven. What is this? This was clearly a ‘new mercy’, a new kind of forgiveness. In Psalm 51, we read there was no “desire for sacrifice.” And indeed, for there was no sacrifice to bring.

God was going above and beyond what had been demonstrated before. This was not a mercy that was shown to Eli and his house, or to Saul and his house. This was something new — and amazing. And thus David could say, “Blessed is the man whom the LORD does not impute iniquity” (Ps. 32.2) and Paul :

…just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Rom. 4:6-8).

God was slowly revealing himself and the great extent of his love for us. Here is a mercy greater than which could never be conceived! Such was God’s love for David (and all the elect) that he would see to it that there would be a way of forgiveness. And at the proper time, God sent his only begotten Son to become the lamb who would be slain for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Oh how great is the love and mercy of God.  And yet we see how God slowly reveals himself overtime, through redemptive history. This is the God we worship — one who reveals himself in stories like this.

— (This was adapted from a lecture by Joshua Van Ee in Historical Books, Spring 2011)

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So I’ve been thinking about how the gospel of grace strikes the mind of fallen man as so foreign that it often will sound absurd and foolish.  Even as a Christian, to my own mind, it sometimes sounds absurd and crazy. It is utterly anti-intuitive to our natural selves. One might object and say “this emphasis on the foolishness of the gospel is itself foolishness.” And I would counter with the words of Paul: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1.18).

And yet in Romans 6 we see that God recognizes this weakness of ours and condescends to meet us in our need by inspiring the Apostle Paul to pen these words that are aimed at this very objection — thus to alleviate the potential confusion and vindicate the message from all derision. Calvin comments on this issue:

Throughout this chapter the Apostle proves, that they who imagine that gratuitous righteousness is given us by him, apart from newness of life, shamefully rend Christ asunder: nay, he goes further, and refers to this objection, — that there seems in this case to be an opportunity for the display of grace, if men continued fixed in sin. We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones. Let us, however, go on in our course; nor let Christ be suppressed, because he is to many a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling; for as he is for ruin to the ungodly, so he is to the godly for a resurrection. We ought, at the same time, ever to obviate unreasonable questions, lest the Christian faith should appear to contain anything absurd.
– Calvin’s Commentary on Romans

It seems to me that Paul offers us an example not only of boldly placarding and proclaiming Christ before the eyes and ears of fallen sinners, but also of anticipating and forestalling the certain objections that will arise.  I think we see here a principle of cognition and condescension to both the confusion (of honest folk) and the derision (of dishonest and unbelieving folk) that will inevitably confront the announcement of this greatest news in the world.

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The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

I’ve been continuing my readings through Romans, and got to chapter 7 today.  And I was struck by a few verses in particular. I’ve always found this passage (as well as much else of Romans) somewhat hard to grasp (and that’s putting it lightly).  But here, as perhaps everywhere else, Paul is really trying to make a point.  Imagine that.  He’s actually trying to say something, uh… important… like blow our mind-kind of important. He’s mounting an argument (like elsewhere throughout this mighty book of the Bible) and we’re entirely missing out on the amazing joy of understanding it if and when we don’t see it.

Christ tells us to “ask, seek, knock”.  What’s more, many of us don’t even believe that this amazing joy in the Gospel and knowledge of Christ is there to begin with. Or, if it is, that it’s not very great a deal… certainly not greater than the sin being preferred.  Our only hope is to ask the Holy Spirit to break these chains of sin and these bonds of blindness.

Now, Paul is saying more here than I can comprehend. So I’ll just touch on what struck me.

“But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. (Rom 7.8-10)

I don’t know, but that last phrase really stands out.  

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. What does that mean? How do we read that?  Does that even make sense to us? Can we make any sense of it whatsoever?  I know it’s hard for me… Even now, the clarity I had half-an-hour ago is slipping so I need to finish up this post.

But what I think Paul is saying is that there is this thing called the law (i.e. commandment[s]).  And he tells us that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (vs.12).  And yet it brought him death.  Even thought it “promised life” (“if you do this you shall live”) it “proved to be death to me.”

And so here we have it: I thought I was supposed to do good stuff… Aren’t we supposed to attempt to be as good as we can?  Aren’t we supposed to strive for morality? And aren’t we to be good in order to go to heaven? I mean, don’t good people go to heaven.

And here’s the solid answer: All attempts to gain life and righteousness and eternity through law keeping, or morality, or any other kind of good work will only bring death.  Why? Because people are sinners, and the law is perfect. The law is good, and my good works aren’t.  Even though they might seem good, they’re not good enough, because the law is perfect.  And I’m not.  This is why all men are lost and helpless.  We are all hopeless to improve ourselves and become good enough. We cannot save ourselves.  End of story.

Ok.  But the main point I wanted to touch upon regards us believers who already know and believe all this and yet still really get hung up on the law quite badly. Those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their savior, who have trusted him for their salvation, still seem perennially susceptible to return back to “law-keeping” as a way of “maintaining” their salvation.  Paul tells us right here that the “very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. It already promised life to him once, and it didn’t work!  It brought him death!  How is it that we will go back again and again to the law (i.e. commandments) thinking they still promises life to us, and that if we only obey it (keep the law now in our Christian life), only then will we indeed have life.  The fact is, we wont obey and we can’t save ourselves — Ever, either before believing or after.

Now, if we’d never sinned yet, and wanted to know what we had to do to inherit eternal life, than of course, we’d be on the right track. For example, we have the account of a lawyer coming to Jesus  with that question.

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10.25r-28)

Do this and you will live. The problem is, we can’t do that.  When Christ’s disciples were starting to get a grasp of this terrible truth they asked “Who then can be saved” (Matt 19.25).  Christ responded;

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19.26)

Paul has already told us in Romans 3,

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (vs. 19-20)

So I ask, why do we continually go back to the law? In another letter Paul tells us that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2nd Cor 3.6). So why do want to return the letter in an attempt to save ourselves/justify ourselves/make ourselves good enough or acceptable.  What foolishness!  Really, what lawlessness!  For our sinful attempts will always fall flat, and we’ll ever and again be proved law-breakers and utter failures.

So how is it then that, even as Christians, we are drawn back to the law?  Why are we attracted to the thought of “I can do it” with the expectation being “then I shall live”?

The answer is found in creation: God made us that way.

God created us “wired for Law” as Michael Horton puts us.  And contrarily, as Martin Luther said, the gospel comes from “outside of” ourselves.  So the law comes natural to us – according to our nature.  The gospel comes to us unnaturally — against our nature.  The law makes sense.  We get the law.  The gospel doesn’t make sense (even sometimes to us Christians who have heard it so many times).  The gospel always comes across as foolish to human minds. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Cor 1.25).  And why does it seem foolish? Because it says “Stop trying to save yourselves, and believe and trust in Christ alone to save you.” By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

And now to tie all this back in with Romans 7.  Not only are we to stop trying to save ourselves through the law, but Paul now powerfully tells us that we have died to the law.  Died to the law. Ok again.  What at all does he mean by this?  Please someone tell me.  How can I possibly understand this?  Died to the law?  That doesn’t even make sense.

Let me tell you, dear fellow Christians; in as much as we don’t understand what Paul is saying here, I believe we won’t grasp the power and joy that are ours in the Gospel.  What mighty doctrines lie before our eyes and yet we see them not.  What wellsprings of hope and gladness in God’s sure salvation of our souls, yet we esteem them not.  What a mighty fount from which to be strengthened by God’s grace, and yet we look the other way.  What I bedrock to be grounded confidently in Christ’s finished work of redemption on our behalf, if only we’d looked unto the savior.

Thy works, not mine, O Christ, speak gladness to this heart;
They tell me all is done; they bid my fear depart.
– (Horatius Bonar)

For indeed, “It is finished” As our great God and Savior Jesus Christ has declared.

So how does this Romans passage help us see that? Well, we have “died to the law.”

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7.4-6)

So, the law brought about death in us… (and likewise any attempts to bring about life through following the law are hopeless).  But now we are told we have “died to the law”.  So we can’t even try to save ourselves by it if we wanted to!  We’re dead… We’re really and totally dead to it.  The law has no more jurisdiction over us.  It can’t save us anymore… Any chance of being saved by works of the law is over.   Game over! Wait, who won? Let’s see… And here’s the best news of all.  In this whole exchange we find many things going on, but the greatest of these things is this:  WE’VE ALREADY BEEN SAVED!  Passed tense!   That’s why we’re released from the law.  That’s why it no longer has jurisdiction over us. That’s why it can’t save us anymore, Christ already has.  That’s why it’s utter folly to look to it in order to save our selves.   We’ve already been saved — and that by and in Jesus Christ and his work of redemption. And how did this happen? Paul says, “you also have died to the law through the body of Christ.  So when Christ died on the cross, it happened.  “Why?”, you might ask.  Is it so that we can now go on and live selfish, lawless lives?  No, quite the contrary. Paul says,  “[S]o that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

Fruit for God. So that’s the whole point; that we might actually do good works.  Since before, in our attempts to save ourselves by good works, they all proved futile and useless because they would never be good enough. But now that Christ has done his great work of redemption (which is good enough) we are free from condemnation (fits nicely into chapter 8 which I look forward to now) to do good works that we never could have done before.

So, in conclusion.  We were under law at one time… We couldn’t save ourselves then.  Being indeed slaves to sin, we were bound to sin, the law and death.  But now, in the perfect and finished work of Christ we’ve died to the law and sin and death — which means we’ve become alive to Christ and have eternal life.  This means it’s still impossible to save ourselves through law.  But now we don’t have to… We don’t and shouldn’t even be worried about it… The fact that we are, and do worry about it, shows that we don’t entirely believe the gospel nor trust God who has given us his precious promises in Jesus Christ.

The letter kills!  Why don’t we get that?  That’s why it’s such good news that we’ve died to the letter of the law.  For now there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Oh how that ought always to speak gladness to our hearts.

And since we have died to the law, let us never, ever, attempt to return to that which Christ has set us free, as if we could attain righteousness before him by our own efforts of godliness.  May we never despise his perfect work for us, playing in down, overlooking it, minimizing it, accepting it only half-hardheartedly — all-the-while thinking our own efforts are more interesting, important or, if nothing else, the determining factor in our salvation. If we feel or believe that we must wait until our sanctification is complete before we can glory in the cross of Christ, we are engaging in flat-out idolatry and unbelief.  Rather we are called to “glory in Christ Jesus and and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3.3) 

“[N]ow we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” In Christ we have been made alive in the Spirit and we will live different, sanctified, and fruit-bearing lives.  That’s a fact… And it’s because of Christ’s work, not our own.

We’ve died to the law, guys.  And that’s great news.  Now we get to live before God, alive in Christ Jesus.

Now having believed Him who has made the promises, let us not grow weak in the faith.  Though our bodies be as good as dead, let us glorify God in them, and rejoice in the hope of eternal life.  For as Spurgeon said, it is “all of grace.” Lest any man should boast, may to God alone be all the glory now and forever more. Amen.

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I’ve been thinking a bit lately about justification as well as other doctrines which I believe are at the heart of the Christian faith and gospel.  One of these is the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ unto the believer.  This is where Christ’s perfect righteousness, shown in his perfect obedience to God the Father during his life on earth, is given (gifted) to those who believe in him.  All of Christs good works, get credited to the sinner, who hasn’t done any good works, but merely looks to Christ alone in faith.

“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Rom 4.5)

Now let me ask you. Do you find this idea and easy one?  Is it something you would just pass by and say “Yeah, I’ve heard that along time ago.  It’s no big deal”?  Or do you find that you’ve overlooked this concept, and that upon further investigation find it a bit out of the ordinary?  Extravagant maybe?  Amazing grace, maybe?

So let me ask you.

If the Son of God, who is beyond all things glorious and beautiful, who’s life alone is worth more to God then all the galaxies combined, who’s one drop of blood was enough to pay for the sins of the whole world, who’s works of righteousness deserve glorious rewards of riches in heaven along with eternal life; if he offered to you, with outstretched hand, all the merit of his righteousness (though you have done nothing for it, and in fact have done everything to deserve the opposite); if he offered it to you, all of this, would you take it?  Would you accept it?

Or would you wait until you had offered up enough good works of your own – your own obedience?

Well Let me tell you right now, if you attempt to work towards righteousness yourself, your efforts will prove futile though you live to be a thousand years old.  Your righteousness will never work. It will always fail.  You may try and try again.  But it will be useless.  Why?  Because you’re a sinner.  I’m a sinner.  We’re all sinners.  And what’s that got to do with anything, one may ask?  It means we’ve been infected with a disease which makes all our efforts contaminated and faulty.  What’s more, most of the time we don’t even want to do good things, let alone doing them for the right reasons. And it’s a fatal disease, with 100 percent mortality rate,  which we’ve all been infected with from birth.  So basically, (I know it sounds fatalistic) but we’re doomed.  We’re hopeless and helpless.  All going to die!

But this is where Christ’s work comes in.  In the same way that Adam’s disobedience (when he ate the forbidden fruit in garden of Eden) infected all his children with with sin and thereby brought death to them all, Christ’s OBEDIENCE has been imputed to all his children by grace and thereby brings life to them all!

“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.” (Rom 5.17)

“The free gift of righteousness.”  WOW!  That is just huge!

“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. (Rom 5.18-19)

So let me ask you again?  If Christ were to offer to you his obedience (with all it’s worth) free of charge — all of grace — and all you would have to do is accept the gift — would you do it?  Would you open and outstretch your hands to receive this precious gift? Or would you deny him this generosity.  Would you believe the Son of God, when he says he has “given up his life as a ransom for many,” rr would you turn away in unbelief, thinking there may be another way.  Would you recognize God’s righteous declaration that you are a sinner deserving eternal death in hell and that your only hope for salvation is in the righteousness of another — namely Jesus Christ, or would you scorn this free offer of salvation. Let me put it to you as seriously and yet as lovingly and yet as truthfully as I can… Your life depends on it.

The Word of Christ tells us,

“[T]o the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom 4.5)

Paul later tells us,

“It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4.24b-25)

But now to you who have believed in Christ, who have trusted in him alone for your righteousness and salvation, let me tell you take heart.  For just as surely as in your physical birth you inherited your sin nature (which I’m sure you are somewhat familiar) with all it’s debts which bring about death, so too in your spiritual birth (upon believing in Christ) you have now inherited the righteousness of Christ with all it’s merits which lead to eternal life.

This is the gospel!  And this is the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, 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.

“Let us rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” and in this way glorify Him who has done these things for us, and who alone deserves praise forevermore. Amen.

open hands

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