Gospel 8 – Judicial approval

Gospel 8 pardon

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul has put forward the case that each and every kind of person, of whatever status and class, is under the ruling authority of sin – such that they are missing the mark or stepping over the line. Scripture had divided humanity into groups – Jews and Gentiles – but each and every person in these two groups is in this condition of missing the mark or stepping over the line. Their behavior has earned a ‘wage’ such that everyone is in a state of condemnation from God rather than their behavior earning God’s judicial approval. Even God’s Law – which indicates what God’s preferred wishes are – is not able to deliver those who are under its jurisdiction from this condemnation.

Then, in this section – Romans 3 v 21 – 30, Paul presents the solution to this problem and presents to us the good news of deliverance from this condemnation. Having stated that everyone is condemned, Paul continues:

HOWEVER

  Precisely at this time

   Quite separately from the Law

     The judicial approval of God

       Is being made clear and open –

         Being given a good report and borne witness to

                 By the Law

                And by the prophets

INDEED,

  God’s judicial approval

     Is carried successfully across by persuasion

      Given by God,

  That leads to obedient trust

     In Jesus the promised Deliverer….

 

Judicial approval penetrating into

    Each and every kind of person who is confidently persuaded.

There is no distinction or separation between Jew and Gentile

(FOR

   Each and every kind of person

     Has missed, is missing and continues to miss the mark,

         falling behind the honor, renown and praise of God)

Being judicially approved

    By the free gift,

        Without payment,

  Carried successfully across by and

      Put into effect by the re-purchasing

         Within Jesus the Deliverer

            Whom God has, is and continues to put forward with the purpose

               Of being a propitiation or sin-offering

 Carrying across through

     Persuasion that leads to obedient trust

         In His blood.

This leads to an obvious display

Of His verdict

    Of thorough judicial approval

    And God’s forbearance

      (with regard to)

   Release from the consequences incurred by

       Sins that have been carried out previously

Leading to an obvious display

    Of His judicial approval in this present fitting moment

Leading to Him being just and righteous

    And judicially approving of

         The persuasion that leads to obedient trust in Jesus

SO THEN

   Where is the boasting about our achievements?

       It has, is and continues to be shut out.

   By means of what law or principle?

       The principle of laboring to accomplish something?

   No.

       But through the impetus that leads to

           Persuasion and entrustment

THEREFORE

   We are concluding that a person is being judicially approved

       Through persuasion and entrustment that leads to obedience

           Quite separately from

               The principle of laboring to accomplish something

               (Or: of trying to keep Covenant Law)

OR

   Is He the God of Jews only

       Is He not the God of Gentiles as well?

            Yes, He is the God of Gentiles as well.

IF

   This is indeed the case

 [THEN]

   God is the One who will judicially approve

        Those who are circumcised (Jews)

           By means of

                  Persuasion that leads to obedient trust

AND

      Even the foreskin (Gentiles)

           By means of

                 Persuasion that leads to obedient trust

The good news of the gospel – of deliverance from condemnation through continuing to be persuaded in one’s heart to the point of obedience concerning the sacrifice of Jesus the Deliverer – applies to both Jews and Gentiles. The previous division between Jews and Gentiles is eradicated in the gospel – as far as the gospel is concerned, there is neither Jew nor Gentile – people in both groups are delivered through the same means – through obedient faith in the sacrifice of the Messiah. Nevertheless, the previous division between Jew and Gentile foreshadows the division between those who are members of the Kingdom, and those who are outsiders – the division between wheat and chaff, sheep and goats or believers and unbelievers, and the coming Judgment of God is in effect a separation of humanity into these two groups. At the moment they co-exist – but this will not remain the case.

This portion of text is Paul’s grand statement concerning the good news of the promised Deliverer and it is typical of his method of writing – he makes a general statement and then he addresses details concerning the general statement that he has made – he anticipates objections, he anticipates misunderstandings, and he dissects his general statement into smaller sections to ‘reason it through’ with regards to establishing the truth of what he has already said in more detail. So what we have here is his general statement concerning the ‘gospel’ or good news, and the most of the rest of his letter to the Romans concerns the implications of what he says in this section.

This of course is a famous piece of text regarding ‘justification by faith’. But I have used an expanded version of the text, making reference to the original Greek text in order to bring out its full meaning – ‘judicial approval from God through persuasion to the point of obedience’. Elsewhere we are told that this faith resides in the ‘heart’. It does not reside in the head – it is not a set of beliefs in the mind, but persuasion and entrusting in the core of one’s being, at the ‘seat’ of a person’s thoughts, affections and will. A person becomes persuaded in the core of their being that what the Apostles and gospels say about the Messiah and His sacrifice is true to the facts and this in turn leads to behavior – to the person entrusting themselves to the Messiah such that they begin to turn away from that which is against God’s preferred wishes and turn to God in obedient service. In short their initial persuasion is evidenced by repentance. Faith or persuasion or belief without this accompanying behavior is ‘dead’ – lifeless and of no effect. So ‘faith’ is ‘persuasion at the core of one’s being that leads to obedience’.

We are told that this persuasion is a free gift – the result of the work of the Spirit of God. The person who is persuaded in this way is ‘born again’ – they are made alive, responsive and sensitive to spiritual realities. On being ‘born again’, the person is released from the consequences – the debts – of their sins, transgressions and failures that they have committed previously, up to that point. They are released from this debt by the means of the shedding of divine blood as a propitiatory sacrifice that serves to completely pay off their debt.

Here it is again: We are being judicially approved as a free gift, without payment, by the re-purchasing in the sphere of Jesus the Deliverer, whom God has, is and continues to put forward with the purpose of being a propitiation or sin-offering. The effectiveness of this is carrying across from heaven to us through persuasion, that in turn leads to obedient trust in His blood.

I want to introduce a matter of grammar – ‘God has, is, and continues to put forward Jesus the Messiah.’ This is usually translated by using the past tense, thus: ‘God has forward Jesus the Messiah’. But Paul does not use the past tense; instead he uses the Aorist tense. The what? Yes I know. But this becomes exceptionally important when we begin to consider the practical realities of the day-to-day Christian life. So what on earth is the Aorist tense? We do not have this tense in English. But it is a simple enough concept even if it looks a little clumsy linguistically. The Aorist tense is an ongoing tense – it basically says: this happened or began to happen in the past, it is still happening now in the present, and it will continue to happen for an unspecified time in the future. The Aorist tense describes a process – something that began in the past, is continuing now and will continue for sometime into the future. Thus: ‘God has, is, and will continue to put forward Jesus the Messiah.’ Like I said, it sounds slightly awkward when written down, but this is the meaning of the text and this Aorist tense becomes vitally important when we go on to consider the practical implications or ‘working out’ of the good news of Jesus in our lives. Here it is again in Paul’s summing up of the position of humanity as we are by nature: ‘Each and every kind of person has missed, is missing and will continue to miss the mark, falling behind the honor, renown and praise of God’. In my posts, when I come across the Aorist tense, you will see it written in this kind of style.

Finally, at the end of this section, most translations have Paul talking about ‘the circumcision’, by which he means Jews under the Abrahamic Covenant, and these are compared with ‘the uncircumcised’, or ‘uncircumcision’, by which he means Gentiles, or those outside of the Covenant. The actual word for ‘uncircumcised’ is ‘foreskin’. That is how Gentile outsiders were perceived – they are the foreskin that is cut away in circumcision. A much more potent image than that produced by the word ‘uncircumcised’ or ‘uncircumcision’.

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Gospel 7 –Jewish objections to the Gospel and the conclusion

Scales of justice, Old Bailey

In the early part of his letter to Romans, the Apostle Paul presents humanity’s position, as we are by nature, with regards to God’s Judicial approval and establishes that God will use different principles of Judgment for Gentiles or non-Jews in comparison to Jews. Nevertheless, God’s Judgment will be fair, balanced and in proportion to the behaviour that everyone has constructed. He has pointed out that Jews are no better than Gentiles when it comes to God’s Judgment and that outward appearances, such as listening to God’s Law or being circumcised as an outward sign of being under the Abrahamic Covenant, do not count for anything when it comes to Judgment – rather it is a softened heart and complete obedience to the Law coming from within that counts.

However, before he moves on to present the gospel – the good news – Paul anticipates four questions that Jews might raise in the light of what he has just said. So in Romans 3 v 1 – 8 he briefly mentions these in turn and gives his brief response to them.

 

QUESTION 1 (v 1, 2)

SO (in the light of what has just been said)

           Is there any abundance gained

               by being a Jew who is physically descended from Abraham?

          Is there any usefulness to being physically circumcised?

Yes, much abundance and usefulness in every way –

       Chiefly, Jews have been entrusted with God’s Word

      (Whereas other nations haven’t)

 

QUESTION 2 (v 3, 4)

BUT

     What if some Jews have been unfaithful and refused to believe?

            Will that cancel out God’s faithfulness and guarantee, bringing it to nothing?

    May that never happen!

            In addition, it emerges that God is true to facts that can’t be hidden

            But on the other hand, every human being falsifies and distorts (the facts)

            Exactly as it has been written:

                So that under the circumstances You (God)

                Are judicially approved in what You say

    And will conquer, overcome and prevail

    In Your separating out and Judgment

 

QUESTION 3 (v 5, 6)

IN ADDITION

IF

     My unrighteous behavior lines up

     To support God’s righteousness

THEN

     What will we say?

           Not that God is unfair or unjust to bring on settled anger –

                      – (I speak like a human being)

    May it never happen! (That God is unfair or unjust)

                     (If He is) How could it be fair and fitting that God

                    Will separate and Judge the world?

 

QUESTION 4 (v 7, 8)

IN ADDITION

IF

    In my state and condition of being false and distorting (the facts)

    God being true to facts is enhanced beyond the expected measure

          To God’s glory, honor, renown and splendor

THEN

    Why am I also separated and judged

          As stepping over the line and falling short of what God approves of?

   Why not say

          (As some slanderously accuse us of saying)

      ‘Lets manufacture, construct and act from malice within

           With the end result that intrinsically good things will come’

      ‘Let’s disobey God so that good comes out as the result’

   It is right and fair that they are condemned!

 

CONCLUSION

Scripture divides humanity into two. This is foreshadowed in the division between Jews – God’s chosen nation – and the rest of humanity – Gentiles. Having looked at the different principles of God’s fair and balanced Judgment with regards to these two groups (Romans 2 v 12 – 29), and having briefly addressed some anticipated questions in the light of what he has said, (Romans 3 v 1 – 8), Paul then reaches a conclusion (Romans 3 v 9 – 20) concerning the position of both Jews and Gentiles in relation to the judicial approval of God:

What then?

            Are we Jews superior?

                        Not at all.

Indeed

      I have already made the charge

          With regard to both Jews (Romans 2 v 21 – 24, 27)

          and Gentiles (Romans 1 v 24ff)

     All of them exist under the authority and power

          Of missing the mark and having no share or part

                  (Of the promised inheritance in the Kingdom)

          Exactly as it has been written:

                 ‘None exist in judicial approval, not even one

                 None put the facts together and understand

                 None intensely seek after God

                 Everyone, of every kind and status, has turned away

                             At the same time becoming good for nothing.

                 None manufacture, construct and perform what is useful and beneficial

                             Not so much as one

                 Their throat opens up a burial place

                 With their tongues as bait they lure people in deceitfully

                 The poison of hooded snakes is under the authority of their lips

                 Their mouth is full to capacity of bitter curses offered up to heaven

                 Their feet sharp and quick to pour out blood.

                 Their condition is that which is ruined and broken

                        One of hardship, trouble and misery

                 And they have not come to learn the way of peace of mind.

                In their eyes there is no frightful fear of God

(1 Kings 8 v 46; 2 Chronicles 6 v 36; Psalm 106 v 6)

IN ADDITION

          We know that inasmuch as the Law speaks

                 To those under the jurisdiction of the Law

          It speaks with the end result that

                 Every mouth be closed up and silenced

                 And the whole world is brought answerable to God

THEREFORE

        No human flesh will be judicially approved before God

              Through putting in work and effort in trying to fulfill the Law

INDEED

        On account of the Law

               There is knowledge, discernment and recognition

                    Of missing the mark and having no share or part

                            (Of the promised inheritance in the Kingdom)

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Grrrrrrrr!

angry

There seems to be a common sentiment among many Christians and even among many Christian leaders today – apparently, we Christians don’t need theology! Theology – the word about God. We don’t need it. Apparently. I have heard so many Christians express this sentiment over the last few years as they dismiss any moderately thoughtful conversations about God with a wave of the hand as their faces turn blank and they say something like ‘I don’t know about theology – I just know Who I have believed and that Jesus is in my heart’ And away they go – sleepwalking in the faith.

Worse still it is a sentiment that is increasingly being expressed by leaders – ‘You don’t need the word about God – just ask Jesus into your life!’ Can someone tell me where that kind of sentiment is expressed in the Bible? Is this what Jesus said in the gospels? Is it to be found in one of the New Testament letters? Does the Apostle Paul say ‘You don’t need to get tied up with the word about God – in theology – just trust Jesus and praise Him for the victory!’ Does such a sentiment express Apostolic teaching? If so, show me the passage of writing that says it. Most of what I can see in Apostolic writing is indeed theology.

‘We don’t need to make the effort or get ourselves tangled up in the word about God – in doctrine, in arguments about technical sounding words and ideas.’ That’s what many Christians say. I tell you that such thinking is laying an axe to the root of the gospel, and to Apostolic teaching and practice! It does a disservice to Christianity. I cannot think of any other serious discipline in which this kind of self-undermining sentiment is expressed. ‘Let’s build a steel bridge over that wide river – we don’t need to get tangled up in thinking about engineering, we just need to focus on how great it will be when it is finished!’ ‘Let’s become a doctor – but don’t get tangled up in all that talk and technical terminology about anatomy and biology and so on – just feel how great it feels to be confidently helping people!’ What a load of tosh!

I am not saying that every Christian has to be academically minded – but certainly, teaching Elders have to know, understand and present the word about God, they have to faithfully and carefully present it in a balanced way week by week so that those Christians who are not given to reading and study are nevertheless educated and instructed so that they grow and mature and are thus able to stand firm in the gospel and in godly behaviour. What did Jesus and the Apostles say? Diligently search the Scriptures! Many present day leaders will argue that this is exactly what they do – follow the Scriptures. But it is often superficial ‘sound-byte’ teaching coupled with repetitive and lilting ‘muzak’ style songs of praise and the mantra-like quoting of key verses of Scripture mixed with ‘busyness’ – where there are lots and lots of projects and activities, some meeting or activity or project every day of the week – activities that give the impression of living the Christian life but which may actually detract from the core business of the Christian life – being set apart in cleanliness.

I feel like shaking the dust off my shoes……

About thirty or so years ago I learned not to use ‘labels’ – terms used as shorthand to describe a particular orientation. I no longer described myself as an ‘Arminian’ or a ‘Calvinist’ or a ‘Pre-Millennialist’ or ‘Post-Millennialist’ or whatever. Although these labels were useful shorthand I found that when I used them, people ‘pigeon-holed’ me into a box that did not define me accurately. For similar reasons I also learned not to quote other Christian teachers. If I quoted, say, John Owen a few times then people began to suggest that in some way I was becoming falsely enraptured with him and his ideas. If I quoted Thomas Aquinas, then people assumed that in some way that I was a Roman Catholic or that I had Roman Catholic sympathies. If I quoted Jan van Ruysbroeck people would say ‘Who the heck is that?’ Within most fields of study, such as, say, a psychological essay – if I quote B. F. Skinner, people do not assume that I am therefore a Behaviourist – they simply realise that I am supporting what I am saying by quoting a recognised expert in that particular field of study. But this does not seem to happen in Christianity – so in the main, I have stopped making open references to those who constitute my Christian heritage and who have informed and shaped who I am as a Christian today. I may still quote what they have said but I do not refer to who it was who said it. None of this is because I am in any way ashamed of my orientation or my heritage – it’s just that these labels and names just seemed to get in people’s way, or people used them to presume to define my orientation in such a way that was incorrect.

I have now come to a similar conclusion with the ‘labels’ of ‘theology’ and ‘doctrine’. They seem to have such negative connotations with so many Christians. As soon as I mention these words I see faces go blank and people then begin to talk about Bible colleges and University studies, or they resort to talking about their spiritual experiences. I have come to see that I use the words ‘theology’ and ‘doctrine’ as being synonymous with ‘Scripture teaching’ with perhaps a slight emphasis on the ordering or systematic organisation of such teaching. So when Christians tell me directly or if they imply in one way or another that they ‘don’t do theology’ or that ‘theology is too hard and complex for them’ then what I hear, rightly or wrongly, is that they are not interested in getting a strong hold on Scripture teaching. For ‘outsiders’ that’s fine – I don’t expect ‘outsiders’ to be particularly interested in Scripture – and neither did the Apostles. When the Apostles spoke to Gentile ‘outsiders’ they did not refer to Scripture at all (Acts 17 v 22 – 31 for example). But I do expect Christians who have attained any degree of growth to be interested in Scripture teaching and indeed, I very much enjoy talking at this level with fellow Christians.

I embrace the position that ‘the pure Scriptures…are able to make [us] wise for salvation through persuasion leading to obedience in Jesus the Messiah. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (II Timothy 3 v 15 – 17), and I am happy to embrace the Scriptures as they have become defined through various Christian Councils – our usual Old and New Testaments. So I won’t go into that debate.

The word ‘theology’ is not to be found in Scripture – so no problem there – easy for me to stop using it. The word ‘doctrine’ however is indeed found in some translations such as the N.I.V.. The word that is translated ‘doctrine’ is ‘didaskalia’ and it means ‘applied teaching; Christian teaching as it especially extends to lifestyle applications’. Thus it is that the Apostle says: ‘Hold on tightly to applied teaching and persist in it’ (I Timothy 4 v 16). Of course, there is teaching and then there is teaching, so sometimes the Apostles use the expression that is usually translated as ‘sound applied teaching’ this means ‘teaching that is healthy, in good working order, working together as a whole’.

Searching and examining the Scriptures is considered to be a good thing: ‘Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Acts 18 v 24), and again: ‘Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, because they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed’ (Acts 17 v 11, 12). Thus it was that Paul ‘spoke bringing things to a conclusion…from the Scriptures’ (Acts 17 v 2), and again: ‘he stretched to the limit and utterly and effectively refuted his Jewish opponents in public, demonstrating from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah’ (Acts 18 v 28). Jesus did the same: ‘Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Luke 24 v 27), and Jesus sometimes said: ‘Doesn’t Scripture say…?’ (John 7 v 42). It is of course to Scripture that we appeal when it comes to teaching that is in good working order: ‘what does Scripture say?’ (Galatians 4 v 30), and ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’ (John 10 v 35).

The other side of this coin is that any failure on our part to properly understand and hold on to ‘applied teaching from Scripture that is healthy, in good working order and working together as a whole’, leads us into error: ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures’ (Matthew 22 v 29, Mark 12 v 24). Failure to properly understand, reason through, correctly balance and comprehend the applied teaching of Scripture means that we carry through such failures and errors across into our behaviour. We not only believe the wrong things, we also behave incorrectly as well. Praise God that we have the Spirit of God at the core of our being to open our eyes of perception and to illuminate us concerning knowledge and wisdom of spiritual realities – such things are foolishness to ‘outsiders’ – and we were once ‘outsiders’ ourselves, blind, deaf and insensitive to what is true to the facts concerning God and spirituality.

So this means that there is a strong onus on teaching Elders in particular to diligently search and think through the knowledge that is revealed in Scripture. Teaching Elders really do have to engage in understanding and comprehending the applied teaching from Scripture that is healthy, in good working order and working together as a whole, so that they are not only utterly effective in defending the gospel and Jesus as the Messiah, but also so that they effectively present such teaching to other Christians, in order that they may grow, develop and mature so that they are not blown off course by every wind of false teaching, and so that they may stand firm and persevere. And there is also an onus on mature Christians in particular to share such knowledge so that fellow Christians may be fortified and strengthened. Thus it is that I (and hopefully others) enjoy talking at this level with fellow Christians. Even so, thank goodness I am not formally appointed as a teacher!

Then of course there are different levels of applied teaching from Scripture. Initially there is the milk of the word, and if Christians grow and mature, then they are able to take in more solid food. Rightly or wrongly I sometimes I feel very strongly that some Christians seem to rest content with slops. Instead of vigorously pursuing Scripture teaching, they seem to want to stay in the nursery and as a result I often leave a meeting still feeling somewhat hungry. But my earnest desire for my fellow Christians is that they would carry on growing and that they would delight in sharing and exchanging their understanding, knowledge and insights concerning God and the gospel as they have perceived it revealed in the applied teaching from Scripture that is healthy, in good working order and working together as a whole. It’s good to share.

Of course, by saying that I am an advocate of comprehending applied teaching from Scripture that is healthy, in good working order and working together as a whole, I am indeed associating with a wide range of groups that may say the same – even though I do not actually agree with what they teach. But that’s OK. At least in such cases there is a common ground in Scripture and it is then up to me to counter any false teaching that I consider that they are presenting by stretching myself to the limit and utterly and effectively refuting such errors, such that I demonstrate healthy, holistic teaching from the Scriptures.

 

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Gospel 6 – Judgment – Jews and Gentiles – Jews

Gospel 6 Jews

The Apostle Paul had a legal frame of mind. Like a lawyer, he presents in his letter to the Romans, his case concerning the righteousness of God in the gospel. He tends to make a general statement and then gives reasons to support it, to then reach conclusions or to present the implications of what he has been saying. Sometimes he anticipates objections, and having stated the objection, he then proceeds to refute it in the same logical way. In this way he builds up his ‘case’. This is why the small linking words in Paul’s reasoning are important. We have to pay attention to them in order to follow his reasoning and that is why I have put many of them in capital letters.

Paul has been talking about God’s judicial approval and about the principles or rules that underpin God’s Judgment. God has divided humanity into two groups: God’s chosen people – the Jews/Israel – made up of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac; and then the rest – non-Jews or Gentiles. Although both Jews and Gentiles will be ‘paid’ in proportion to what they do – be it good or bad – God will judge these two groups using different principles. Paul stated this in Chapter 2 v 12:

As many as have missed the mark outside of, or apart from, God’s Law

                        Will also completely perish outside of, or apart from, God’s Law

AND

            As many as have missed the mark inside the realm of God’s Law

                        Will be judged and separated by means of God’s Law

Having looked at the Gentiles, the Apostle moves on to look at the Jews from Ch. 1 v.17 onwards. I will consider Paul’s initial statement concerning God’s judgment with regards to the Jews, which is presented in verses 17 – 29.

HOWEVER IF

            You call yourself a Jew by name

                        And rest and trust in the Law

                        And hold your head up high in God

                        And have come to learn and know the preferred wishes of God

                        And put these things to the test

                                    and approve them as being distinguished and superior –

                        Being taught from out of the Law

IN ADDITION

            Being persuaded that you yourself

                        Are a leader, guide and instructor of the blind –

                        Light to those in darkness

One who constructively corrects those who are unperceptive

A masterful teacher of children

            Who holds the shape of experiential knowledge

            And what is true to facts

                        In the Law

THEN

            The teaching that you give to others –

            Don’t you teach yourself?

                        In proclaiming ‘Do not steal’, do you steal?

           You say ‘Do not commit adultery’,

                        Do you commit adultery?

          You detest idols,

                       Do you rob temples?

          You, who hold your head up in the Law

                       Do you dishonor God

                       Through deliberately overstepping the line of the Law?

            Indeed, even as I write,

                        On account of you,

The character and reputation of God

Among the Gentiles

Is slow and sluggish in reputation and rumor

FOR INDEED

             Circumcision does good and is of benefit

IF

            You engage in the active process of carrying out the Law

HOWEVER IF

            You step over the line of the Law

(THEN)

            Your circumcision becomes foreskin

THEREFORE IF

            Those of the foreskin (Gentiles)

            Keep and observe the judicially approved things of the Law

(THEN)

            Won’t his foreskin be reckoned and counted towards circumcision?

AND

            Those who are naturally uncircumcised

                        Who accomplish and complete the Law

            Will judge that you

                        Who possess the written Law and circumcision

            Have stepped over the line of the Law

FOR (BECAUSE)

           It is not the person who is outwardly and visibly a Jew

           Nor the one who is outwardly circumcised in the flesh

BUT

            The one who is Jewish inside, in secret and

            Whose core being is circumcised in breath and character,

                        Not in writing

            Whose commendation and approval

                        Isn’t from human beings

                        But of God

The first part of this section is fairly straightforward. Many Jews tended to think of themselves as being superior teachers and instructors of foolish children when it came to the things of God. They walked around with their heads held up high because they possessed and regularly listened to God’s Law being read out, and they ought to teach others about God. But the Apostle, a Jew himself remember, asks whether they teach themselves, because they do not put into practice the things that they hear in God’s Law. Instead, Jews regularly step over the line that the Law sets out, so much so that God has a poor reputation amongst ‘outsiders’ – Gentiles.

So far so clear. But then Paul begins to talk about circumcision. Circumcision is the cutting off and removal of the foreskin from the male penis – so why on earth does Paul begin to talk about this? The practice of male circumcision in relation to Jewish spirituality began when God made His Covenant with Abraham. Circumcision is an outward sign of being a physical descendant of Abraham through Isaac and of being under the Abrahamic Covenant and subsequently, as the Covenant was elaborated at the time of Moses, under the jurisdiction of God’s Law. Its religious/spiritual significance relates to cleanliness and sensitivity to God. The Jews were a people set apart from the rest of the world, in purity for God, being sensitive and receptive to God’s preferred wishes.

So, if a Jew engaged with the Law and sought to practice it, then there were certain benefits. But if a Jew habitually stepped over the line of the Law, deliberately disregarding it, then any softness and sensitivity to God was lost as they became hard and tough again – and they displayed a form of obstinacy, resistance and insensitivity to God. Paul contrasts this state of affairs with ‘outsiders’ who are naturally resistant and insensitive to God yet who fulfill the purpose of the Law despite their natural hardness and insensitivity. This will be credited to them as cleanliness and softness with regard to God, and such people will stand in judgment of those Jews who possess circumcision but step over the line of the Law.

So the Apostle declares that outward circumcision, and outward appearances of possessing and hearing the Law, do not bring about God’s approval. The one who gains God’s commendation and approval has ‘Jewishness’ inside, such that their very core and center has its hardness, obstinacy, resistance and insensitivity to God removed – cut away – such that their cleanliness and sensitive obedience to God rises from the very core of their being.

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Gospel 5 Judgment – Jews and Gentiles 1 – Gentiles

gospel 5

God is angry with humanity for suppressing the truth about God, changing the image of God for lies and half-truths, and for refusing to honour God, preferring to serve and honour created things instead of the Creator Himself. In proportion to the degree that people do this, God has handed them over to follow and put into practice their own inner desires and passions. But none of us can judge or condemn other people as though we are in some way superior or exempt, because we all follow our own desires to some degree and therefore we have no excuse or defence when it comes to God’s judicial approval.

The behavior that we construct and carry out earns a wage. Unrighteousness and ungodliness earns a proportioned and fair condemnation and punishment. Good, righteous, godly behavior earns proportioned and fair honor, renown, glory, splendor and wholeness.

In previous posts, I looked at the narrative of God’s plan being worked out in the Old Testament, and saw that God chose and established a nation for himself out of all the nations of the earth. Despite being beyond the age of childbearing, God promised a son to Abraham. From this son, a great nation would emerge – a nation set apart for God, who also promised that from this nation – Israel – His chosen Deliverer would emerge, such that Israel would be a blessing to all nations. Thus the people of Israel, the Jews, were cultivated to receive the promised Deliverer. They were given prophets, and most especially, God’s Law – Mosaic or Covenant Law – to preserve them in godliness until the promised Deliverer emerged. They were promised possession of an area of land and an eternal kingdom.

Humanity was divided into two. There were ‘insiders’, members of the Kingdom – Jews – and then there were the rest, ‘outsiders’, non-Jews or Gentiles. Whilst the Jews were being cultivated and nurtured to receive the Deliverer, God allowed other nations to go their own way in relative ignorance. These other nations did not receive God’s Law or prophets. But now, under the gospel dispensation, everyone – Jew and Gentile – is called to repent: to have a change of mind and to turn around away from behaviour that displeases God, and turn towards God in purity.

Here in Romans, beginning in Chapter 2 v 9, we have seen the Apostle Paul begin to reflect this fundamental division of humanity. God will apportion out the wages earned by people’s behavior – good or bad – to Jewish people first, and also to Gentiles, because there is no partiality or favoritism with God (v.11) He then goes on to explain in more detail the principles that will underpin God’s Judgment with regards to these two different groups. From verse 12 to 16 he looks at the principles of God’s Judgment in relation to non-Jews or Gentiles. Gentiles are not now and never have been under any aspect of God’s Law in any way shape or form (unless they formally converted to Judaism as proselytes).

THEREFORE

As many as have missed the mark outside of, or apart from, God’s Law

                        Will also completely perish outside of, or apart from, God’s Law

AND

            As many as have missed the mark inside the realm of God’s Law

                        Will be judged and separated by means of God’s Law

FOR

            It is not those who listen to the Law who are judicially approved near God

BUT RATHER

            Those who carry out God’s Law who will be approved

THEREFORE

            When Gentiles, who do not have the Law

            Naturally carry out the Law

                        Even though they do not have the Law themselves

            Whoever they are,

                        They make fully clear that they carry out an action from within

                                    The Law written in the core of their being

                                    Their conscience bearing witness and

                                    The reasoning and thinking between one another also

                                                Accusing or making a compelling defence

                                                            On that day

                                                            When God will separate and judge

                                                            Everyone’s hidden inner secrets

                                                                        According to the good news

                                                                        Given to me by

                                                                        Jesus the Deliverer.

COMMENTS

There you are – If you are not a Jew under Covenant Law, then this is your position, these are the principles by which God will sift through and separate even our inner hidden secrets.

Despite Paul’s earlier list of ungodly and unrighteous behavior that reveal the end result of following one’s inner passions and desires, and despite the fact that it is clear that there is much that is wrong with humanity, it is also clear that people are not totally wicked or as bad as they could possibly be. We know that there are many good people in the world, even though they have not been placed under the written Law of God. The Apostle acknowledges this here by saying that when Gentiles naturally carry out the Law, even though they do not have the written Law themselves, then whoever they are – whatever their status, rank or nationality, they make fully clear and evident that they carry out such actions from within – the Law being written in the core of their being.

But what exactly does this mean? By referring to the ‘work of the law’, the Apostle means the design, purpose, or object of God’s revealed Law. Gentiles have never been under Covenant Law, which was written on stone, or in a book, but they had ‘the work’ – the sum and substance of it in the core of their being – in their thoughts and affections. Some commentators suggest that God’s Law was written on the heart of Adam in his first creation, in that Adam was created in the image of God. This image has deteriorated and faded as a result of his sin, but even among the Gentiles, there are some remains of this Law that are revealed and can be gleaned from the character of God as it is revealed in creation. This does not mean, by any means, that they had all the knowledge which the Law would impart, for then there would have been no need of a revelation, but rather that, as far as it went, they had a residue of this Law in their nature, and obtained knowledge of the character of this Law by the light of nature insofar as they had a knowledge of right and wrong, that coincided with the revealed preferred wishes of God. The Law does this ‘work’ in an intense degree, and it is also done in a lower degree by conscience and reason; but the work is the same in kind. Thus, a sense of right and wrong, which it is the Law’s work to produce fully, is in some measure, ‘written’ on the hearts of Gentiles who are separate from and not under written Covenant Law.

I want to make two particular observations. First, Covenant Law is regarded as a whole. Some Christians divide Covenant or Mosaic Law into two broad aspects – Ceremonial and Moral. Then they put forward the suggestion that Gentiles are not under the jurisdiction of Ceremonial Law, especially since they believe that the Deliverer has already come and in effect done away with the Ceremonial aspects of the Law, such as Temple sacrifice. They then look at what they categorize as the Moral Law, and suggest that all of humanity was placed under and still remains under the jurisdiction of the ‘Moral Law’. I completely reject this idea. I cannot find this kind of division of the Law or these resulting conclusions anywhere in Scripture. Covenant Law is not divided into two in this way – Covenant Law is one, it is a whole entity. Of course it at has moral and ceremonial aspects to it, in the same way that it has aspects related to our obligations to God and aspects related to our obligations to other people. But Covenant Law is a Unified Whole and bits of it, or aspects of it, cannot be dismissed whilst other aspects are retained. Covenant Law as a Unified Whole is certainly consistent with how Jews themselves understand Mosaic Law. Thus, a person is either under the jurisdiction of Covenant Law as a whole, with both its moral and ceremonial aspects; or a person is ‘outside’ of Covenant Law and therefore not under the jurisdiction of its ceremonial or moral commands.

Second, this does not mean that ‘outsiders’ are therefore completely lawless. Gentiles are not ‘lawless outlaws’ in the main. Some, perhaps many Gentiles, have a tendency to naturally carry out the spirit, tendency and character of Covenant Law even though they themselves do not have the written Covenant Law and are not under its jurisdiction. Gentiles, at all levels of society make fully clear that they carry out actions based on principles and inclinations within themselves that reveal that they have a residue of God’s image and the spirit and tendency of Covenant Law written in the core of their being. They have a form of innate moral sense. Their conscience also bears witness to this, as it accuses or excuses their behavior in the light of their inner principles and codes. These inner codes and principles are also revealed when they reason and think things out between themselves. Thus it is that Gentiles, who are outside the jurisdiction of Covenant Law as a whole, nevertheless construct civil and religious laws that, in a diminished way and to varying degrees, reflect something of the spirit and tone of Covenant Law.

 

 

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Gospel 4 – Judgment

gospel 4

Gospel – 4 – Judgment

The Apostle Paul has declared what God has announced to be judicially approved of – Namely that those who perform improper and unfitting behavior as a regular practice

                        Are weighed and balanced and found to be deserving of death

BUT

            Not only do people manufacture and construct this kind of behavior,

            They also identify with, agree with and are of one mind with

                        Those who actively and regularly practice such behaviors

So in Romans 2 v 1 – 11, he comes to a conclusion:

THEREFORE

            Everyone, whoever you are, is without excuse or defence

BECAUSE

            When you judge and separate out good from bad

                        At whatever point you judge another person

                                    You condemn yourself

BECAUSE

            You the judge actively perform it – you do the same things

HOWEVER

            We know that the judgment and separating out down from God

                        Upon those who do such things

                               Is true to the facts

IN ADDITION

Do you consider that when you judge and separate out good from bad

                        With regard to those who practice such things

                                    And (yet) construct and manufacture them yourself

That you will flee away from God’s judgment and separating?

OR

            Do you show scorn and disregard for

                        The wealth and abundance of His kindness, forbearance and patience –

            Ignorant that God’s kindness leads and inclines you to a change of mind?

IN ADDITION

            Coming down from your hardness,

                        And from your core that has no change of mind

            You are storing up and accumulating

                        A rising, settled anger for yourself

            In the day of rising, settled anger

                        And the unveiling and revealing

Of the results of God’s righteous, fair, judgment and separating out.

God will give to every individual

         A payment in return

         Exactly related to their actions

         That come out from and complete

         Their inner desires

INDEED

Down from steadfast endurance

In good actions coming out from inner desires to inquire and seek to resolve the matter (will come)

      Honor, renown, respect,

      Freedom from physical decay or perishing and

     Age-long life

HOWEVER

          Down from mercenary self-seeking and refusal to be persuaded with regard to

What is true to the facts –

     Being persuaded of injustice and unrighteousness – (will come)

            Settled swelling, passionate anger and wrath

            Hemmed in affliction

            Confined distress and

            Inner anguish

                        Based on every breath of humans

                        That work out, produce and accomplish

                        The malice within

BOTH

            Of Jewish people, first

AND ALSO

            Of Gentiles

HOWEVER

            (There will also be)

            Honor, renown, glory, splendor and wholeness

            To everyone working, laboring and accomplishing good

BOTH

            Of Jewish people, first

AND ALSO

            Of Gentiles

BECAUSE

           There is no partiality or favoritism with God

COMMENT

To the degree that people fail to acknowledge and honor God even though God is revealed in creation, and to the degree that people change the facts about God to images of created things – praising and serving created things instead of the Creator – God hands people over to follow their inner desires, passions and lusts. Thus we see injustice, greed, grudges, quarrels, gossiping, criticism, violence insolence and lack of compassion. This is how we see God’s anger being revealed from heaven. We see it every day in the news and in our day-to-day social encounters.

We may find it easy to look down on some people who act in these kinds of ways and we may frown on certain instances of such behavior. We may find ourselves being critical of the way that some people behave, and we may readily offer negative judgments about some people, expressing disapproval of the way that they speak and act.

Every time we make those sorts of criticisms, we condemn ourselves. This reflects a very important principle set out by Jesus himself: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Because in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (Matthew 7 v 1, 2). This is a very important and strong caution to us with regards to how we relate to other people. There is this principle of reciprocity in Scripture – There is a moving back and forth between two people who behave in the same way, corresponding; matching; complementary and equivalent. This principle can be seen again in what we know as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ (Luke 11 v 4).

This is a sobering principle. We look to God for forgiveness, kindness and mercy – we hope that God will be patient and forbearing with us in our weaknesses. We hope that God will hold back His Judgment, anger and wrath. But there is a reciprocal condition and principle with regard to these qualities of God that we hope for. In effect God says: If you are judgmental and critical of others – I will judge you in the same way. If you are not kind, merciful, forbearing and patient with those who offend you, then it is no use hoping for those qualities from me. I will forgive you in the same way that you forgive others. Just think about that for a moment and let it serve as a caution to the things that you say and do.

We find a similar principle here in Romans – None of us can take a superior position and judge others as though we are somehow excluded from such behavior or exempt from God’s anger. We all follow the same principle of behavior – inner desires, passions –lusts – rise up within us. We all have drives, impulses, instincts that at one time or another we follow, we allow them to be ‘worked out’ into speech and behavior. So when we judge others, we condemn ourselves because, to different degrees and in different ways, we all follow the same principle of giving way to and following our desires and passions that swell up within us. Whoever we are, whatever social strata we are in or role we perform, we are without excuse or defence. None of us can escape God’s Judgment – we cannot run away from it. God’s patience and forbearance with us is meant to incline us to change our minds when it comes to following our inner desires and passions, in the light of this future Judgment.

The Apostle compares and contrasts our human judging with that of God. God’s Judgment is true to the facts. Scripture tells us elsewhere that God does not judge by appearances but searches the very core of our being, such that hidden, secret things are brought into the light.

God’s Judgment is also fair and proportioned. People are building up a store based on the things that they do and say. By remaining insensitive to God, by becoming foolish in their thinking, and by following and ‘working out’ their inner passions and desires into their behavior, they are storing up God’s anger and passionate wrath. Why? Because what we do earns a ‘wage’. Ungodly, unrighteous behavior earns condemnation and punishment exactly in proportion to the behavior concerned. This condemnation and punishment will result in the person being ‘hemmed in’ and confined in a state of affliction, distress and inner anguish.

By contrast, good¸ righteous behavior earns a reward of praise and honor, and when a person diligently searches and inquires after the truth with regard to God and spiritual realities, they will earn freedom from decay – immortality – eternal life.

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Gospel 3 – Handed over to passions and desires – Romans 1 v 15 – 23

gospel 3

In Romans 1 the Apostle introduced his theme of the gospel – the good news of judicial approval from God, received by God given persuasion, that in turn leads to trusting obedience. Why do we need God’s judicial approval? Because even though God is not seen directly, humanity knows a lot about Him because He is revealed in the things that He has made. But unrighteousness at the very core of people’s nature means that they suppress what they know, such that they do not honour God and change the truth about God for images of created things – humans, animals, birds and so on. For this reason, God has handed people over to their faulty thinking and the undercurrents of passion and desire rising up from deep within them.

Thus we see God’s settled anger being revealed from heaven in the general behavior of humanity, particularly in unnatural sexual relationships, and in people dishonoring their own physical bodies. Three times Paul tells us that in proportion to the degree that people fail to test their knowledge of God or hold on to and recognize God as God, He has handed people over to their desires.

Paul says:

1 v 24 – 32

Exactly in proportion to the fact that

                        They did not examine and test in order

                        To hold on to and recognize God in their experiential knowledge

            God handed them over to

                        Their mind and reasoning not passing the test –

                                    To manufacture and construct

                                                That which is improper and unfitting

Having been filled to capacity

                With all kinds of

                                   Injustice, pain-ridden wickedness and

                                   The desire for more possessions

                                   An undercurrent of malice, full of

                                   Embittered grudges, murder, quarrels, deceitful treachery

                                   A malicious disposition

                                  Whispering sneaky gossip and criticism

                                  Slanderers, hating God,

                                  Violently insolent, proud, arrogant and disdainful

                                  Flaunting themselves in a boastful way

                                 Contriving and inventing evil from within

                                 Unwilling to be persuaded by parents

                                 Unwise because they fail to put the facts together

                                 Breaking agreements, unfeeling and without compassion.

They have known in experience

         What God has announced to be judicially approved of –

                        That whoever performs such things as a regular practice

                        Are weighed and balanced and found to be deserving of death

BUT

            Not only do they manufacture and construct these things

            They also identify with, agree with and are of one mind with

                        Those who actively and regularly practice them

Comment

The Apostle presents us with a dynamic model or pattern of human behavior – a pattern that we shall see more of as we go on into later chapters. We only have to look around us to see the kinds of qualities listed above being evidenced in the world today. We see them displayed at every level of society from royalty, to political leaders, to bankers, to bosses of companies – right down to the lowest levels – to workers and the unemployed. As we look at this list of behaviors we might think that it is a bit of an extreme caricature, but these are the end results, the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that are the end product if people continue to follow the undercurrents of their inner passions, desires and lusts in an unregulated way.

Although this list seems like a caricature, in reality, people do not display all of these attitudes and behaviors to an absolute degree. Rather, as the Apostle points out, God hands people over to their inner desires exactly in proportion to the degree that they do not examine and test their knowledge in order to hold on to and recognize God. The fact is that we only have to watch or listen to the news, or read a newspaper, to readily see people exhibiting some of these qualities – sometimes to an unacceptable degree.

When people see injustice, greed, corruption, violence, lack of compassion, arrogance and so on, they often complain: ‘Where is God?’ or ‘Why does God allow such and such a thing to happen?’ The Apostle tells us that what people are seeing is the anger of God being revealed from heaven. But many people these days want to portray God as all-loving, all-forgiving, all-merciful, but still ‘fair’, but of course, what we see around us does not fit in with such a view of God. As a result, many people then conclude that God does not exist – but the Apostle tells us that their thinking has become aimless, pointless and without understanding, their very core is darkened. They assert and affirm themselves to be wise and skilled but they have become dull, sluggish and turned to foolishness. They have changed the honor, renown and splendor of God into forms and images of God being a ‘big man in the sky’ or even of God being like some form of animal. People often agree together on some of these conclusions and say in effect ‘If God does not exist, well, let’s eat drink and be merry – this is not a rehearsal – let’s get what we can out of life.’ And so they begin to approve, to varying degrees, some of these qualities that the Apostle has listed.

 

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