Christianity 201

January 7, 2022

Romans 12 as a List

Years ago I sat in a youth rally where a popular national speaker had been flown in to share his personal story and a challenge to the high school and college age students.

At one point he said, “Some say that Christianity is a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But Christianity is a list of ‘dos’ and if you do the ‘dos’ you don’t have time to do the don’ts.”

Okay. I think there might have been applause at that point. Here was Christian living in a nutshell: Stay busy and you won’t sin.

But yesterday in my reading I came across such a list of ‘dos.’ Romans 12 starts out with the familiar words,

NIV.Rom.12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then in verses 3-8, there is a short teaching on spiritual gifts, the ones mentioned being prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement,  giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

He then shares an ethic of Christian living. It’s interesting that this falls right after listing spiritual gifts, just as in I Corinthians, chapter 12 (and chapter 14) deal with spiritual gifts, but the “love chapter” presents the model ethics and character of the Christ-follower.

To be fair, the special speaker of my youth might have mentioned that there are indeed some ‘don’ts’ in the Bible, and frankly, it would have also been great if he had mentioned some of the ‘dos’ instead of moving on to the next punchline.

Even in Romans 12 we have:

  • [Do not] be lacking in zeal
  • Do not curse
  • Do not be proud
  • Do not be conceited
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge
  • Do not be overcome by evil

but in the interest of “doing the ‘do‘s'” here is the text of the prescriptive phrases in this part of Romans 12. I’ve capitalized each one, and I’ve left the verse numbers in, but left the ellipses out to make it more readable

9b Cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
11b  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope,
[Be] patient in affliction,
[Be] faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
14a Bless those who persecute you
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice
Mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Be willing to associate with people of low position.
17Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19b Leave room for God’s wrath
21 Overcome evil with good.

There are 18 “dos” in the section and only 7 “don’ts.” When you read the list, you can see how doing these things involves a life of sacrifice, and probably a good place to repeat the opening instruction from verse 1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

That spirit of sacrificial living is going to be necessary to what he next says. In the first 7 verses of chapter 13, he talks about being submissive to governmental authorities. Not easy in his day. Not always easy in ours.

I’d encourage you read chapters 13-15, and to make it easy, here’s a single link to all 3 chapters. The minutes you spend reading them is more time you won’t have to “do the ‘don’ts.'”

February 23, 2021

A Seriously Miscalculated Swap

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Once again, we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. (For many of you, our blog would be called My Afternoon Snack!) I hope you’ll click the header which follows and read this on his blog. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here to encourage you to encourage Peter there.

A Bad Deal

We made a bad deal. A poor trade. A seriously miscalculated swap. That’s what I’m taking away from one of the most depressing passages in all the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32.

Yesterday, I concluded my Romans 1 reading on a high — the good news of the power of God for salvation. A righteousness independent of our best efforts at trying to be righteous. Available for all who believe. Revealed “from faith for faith.” But there’s no need for such good news if there isn’t the reality of bad news. Cue the end of Romans 1, and Romans 2, and the first part of Romans 3. Heavy sigh.

In past years, it has been the repeated phrase, “God gave them up,” which caught my attention in this reading. It’s the response of God toward those who choose self-determination over God exaltation, He allows them to be more self-determined. For those who resolve to lean on their own understanding, who trust in their own wisdom above their Creator’s, God says, in effect, Go at it. Heavy sigh, again.

But this morning it’s another repeated word that catches my attention.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

All creation points to the Creator. All that’s been made, a testament to the invisible attributes of the Maker. Every person a walking indicator of His eternal power. All of nature pointing to His divine nature. Everything declared to be good in the beginning a conduit towards knowing His glory in the present (Rom. 1:19-20).

But the propensity of fallen men and women is to exchange the glory for goods. To disdain invisible attributes for more tangible aspirations. To not see creation as a means towards knowing about the Creator, but as an end in and of itself. As something worthy of worship. Choosing not to distinguish man from birds from animals or creeping things. All the same. All idol worthy. Exchanging the riches of a supernatural reality “for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (MSG).

It’s equated to exchanging the truth about God for a lie. That, instead of “In the beginning, God,” we think we should rewrite the story, “In the beginning, molecules and matter.” Instead of God creating men and women in His own image, men and women imagined into being God for their own purposes. Rather than living in the here and now with a view towards a there and then, there is no there and then so do what you gotta do to be happy here and now. And the exchange goes on . . . and on . . . and on. Lies supplanting truth, thus mankind becoming increasingly out of sync with reality, as God gives us over to our own “wisdom.”

What a bad deal. Exchanging immortal glory for immaterial gain. Exchanging a revealed reality for a narrative of our own making.

Bad news. But that’s what makes the good news so good!

. . . but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved . . .

(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

But God. How I love those two words.

We refused His glory shown through creation, but God shows us His great love through His crucified Son.

We traded in His truth for our lies, but God offers to redeem our lives by His amazing grace.

Yeah, we made a bad deal. But praise God for a better deliverance!

February 20, 2021

Sin and “Wet Paint” Signs and Your Neighbor’s BMW

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Some people can’t walk by a sign which says, “Wet Paint” without touching their finger to the paint to see if it’s true. This is well-documented. Some readers here may be able to provide their own anecdotal evidence of this. It does appear to give credence to our sinful nature, and even if you’re not a child of the 1960s, it also evidences our rebellious nature.

Romans 7:11 made me think of this.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (NIV)

It’s a rather odd verse if you haven’t noted it previously. A basic commentary might give you something like is found at BibleRef.com:

Paul repeats an idea he introduced in verse 8 of this chapter. He was talking about his response to learning of God’s command not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). The very existence of this command from God created an opportunity that sin pounced on. Suddenly, Paul was both aware of his own covetousness, and driven by a desire to covet!

Now he writes again about how sin seized the opportunity created by God’s commands in the law. This time, though, he describes sin as deceiving him or leading him astray. Sin lied to Paul, as it lies to all of us. How does sin lead us astray? It convinces us that acting on our own desires is better in some way than obeying God. As the serpent did with Eve in the garden, sin says to us, “God is not good” or “You will not surely die.”

The truth, though, is that God is good, and that sin always leads to death. Paul writes here that sin’s deception killed him, metaphorically speaking, describing his spiritual death and separation from God. Sin does the same to all of us, and the law makes us aware of our sinfulness.

Let’s pause and look at the context; first the NASB:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (7-13)

Next, The Message:

Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.

Finally, J.B. Phillips:

But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my covetous desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no chance to function technically as “sin”. As long, then, as I was without the Law I was, spiritually speaking, alive. But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I “died”. The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin an opportunity, and without my realising what was happening, it “killed” me.

(Italics added in all three versions.)

Warren Weirsbe writes,

…Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given. I was standing in Lincoln Park in Chicago, looking at the newly painted benches, and I noticed a sign on each bench: Do Not Touch. As I watched, I saw numbers of people deliberately reach out and touch the wet paint! Why? Because the sign told them not to! Instruct a child not to go near the water, and that is the very thing he will do. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

Believers who try to live by rules and regulations discover that their legalistic system only arouses more sin and creates more problems. The churches in Galatia were very legalistic, and they experienced all kinds of trouble. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Their legalism did not make them more spiritual; it made them more sinful. Why? Because the law arouses sin in our nature…

At Apologetics Index, David Kowalski writes,

…Paul does not blame the Mosaic Law for this provocation even though it is the occasion for the provocation. There was never anything wrong with saying what was wrong. Declaration of standards merely revealed what we already were — rebellious sinners by nature. Rebels chafe against restrictions and their rebellious hearts make them all the more inclined to do something they are forbidden to do — even if it is God Himself who prohibits the conduct in question.

At Spiritual Gold, Richard Strauss puts this in practical terms:

Paul chooses one of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his point–the last one, “You shall not covet.” To covet is to want something intensely that somebody else has, to long for it. The law says that we are not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his animals, or anything else that is his (Exodus 20:17). That would include his BMW, his boat, his camper, his cottage on the beach, or anything else he might have.

Let’s talk about his BMW. That’s reputed to be a very nice automobile, which costs considerably more than the average car. And I can’t afford one. So I look at my neighbor’s and I think, “It sure would be nice to have a car like that. Boy, I’d like to have that car. I’d give almost anything to be able to have one.” I could think that, and maybe even feel a little uneasy about it, but it isn’t until I read God’s law that I realize it is sin. The BMW itself is not sin, but my attitude is sin. To want that thing so intensely is to elevate me and my wishes to a supreme place, and that is the height of egotism and pride. Furthermore, it places my love for myself, my comfort and my pleasure, above my love for God, and that’s idolatry…

Go back to Paul’s experience. He thought he was doing fine. He may have wanted a few things, but he didn’t think that was any big deal. Until he read God’s law: “You shall not covet.” And then all of a sudden he realized how many things he wanted, and that exposed how sinful he was, how far short he fell of God’s holy standard…

…Isn’t that interesting? Paul here pictures sin not as something we do, but as something that itself acts. When Paul uses the word “sin” like this–a singular noun–he is often referring to our sinful human nature. And it does something. What does it do? It seizes the opportunity afforded it by the commandment not to covet, and produces in us all kinds of coveting. Everywhere Paul turns, he sees something he wants. See that word “opportunity.” It’s a military word that refers to a base of operations, a springboard for offensive action. Our sinful human nature is pictured as a powerful enemy who takes God’s holy law and uses it as a military base from which it launches powerful and devastating attacks on us that stir us up to sin…

I wouldn’t put much stock in Mark Twain’s theology, but he did have a good deal of insight into human nature. He insisted that one feature of the human make-up is plain mulishness. If a mule thinks he knows what you want him to do, he’ll do the very opposite. And Twain admitted that he was the same way, along with most others. “The point of it all is that until the command not to do an evil thing comes we may not feel much urge to do it, but when we hear the command our native mulishness takes over. But the fault is not in the command. It is in the mulishness, in the sinner.”

Of all the links here, I would encourage you to delve into this last commentary to  consider this passage further; again, just click here.

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

March 21, 2017

The One Where God Halts the Self-Defense Plea of Sinners

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we are paying a return visit to John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. His pieces are much longer than we normally use here, so you’re seeing about the first 60%, but need to click through to reach the conclusion. (And see the verse I chose — and John chose — for today’s header.) Click the title below or the link at the end to begin. Also, be aware this is part of a much longer arc of articles working through the book of Romans. Consider using the link below to navigate to commentary on other sections.

Every Mouth Stopped

Judgment is certain.  God’s warning to mankind:  Don’t show up to the trial of your life armed with nothing but a folder of good deeds.   

Twinkies in the Courtroom

In 1979 an ex-San Francisco police officer assassinated the San Francisco mayor. Attorneys for the defense argued that around the time of the murder, their client had begun consuming large amounts of sugary food and drink.  This, they said, had triggered deep mood swings in the defendant which in turn substantially contributed to the homicide.  It was the first ever courtroom defense based on junk food abuse, and it worked.  The jury reduced the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter.  Following those days, the term “Twinkie Defense” became part of the unofficial legal lexicon, describing any improbable defense strategy.

The Bible assures us there will be a Day of Judgment, when God will directly judge every individual.  Most people have no plan for that Day.  Those who do are piecing together a “Twinkie Defense.”  They intend to tell God that although they’ve done many evil things, they’re not completely to blame because forces beyond their control compelled them to sin.

They hope to redirect God’s attention to a portfolio of their nicer, more decent deeds, ranging from Goodwill donations to handing change to the homeless man standing at the highway exit ramp.

Aside from the New Testament faith, every world religion trains, encourages, and indoctrinates its followers to prepare a “Twinkie Defense” for the great day of reckoning—to amplify good works so they can hopefully outweigh the bad.    Human beings have an almost unprecedented trust in this strategy.  We believe God will credit our works of shaky goodness to the highest possible extent, not only meriting a reduced sentence, but full acquittal.

We are actually hoping God will be more gullible than that San Francisco jury.

As dubious as this plan sounds, it is pervasive.  Ask anyone.  Begin with grandparents, especially those who are not committed Christians.  Say to them, “Statistically speaking, you’re going to meet God before I do.   For my peace of mind, please tell me, what is your plan?”

Ask friends and other relatives, too.  Listen closely to identify a Twinkie Defense strategy commonly emerging.  Most importantly, check with yourself to see whether you are unconsciously trusting in that same plan.

A Dose of Reality

The cold hard reality of Scripture warns us no human being stands a chance of acquittal before God based on his or her personal righteousness.  We must look for righteousness outside of ourselves.

The previous sections of Romans have led up to this closing thought, this slam dunk, in 3:9-20.  At this point, if any reader still trusts in his native righteousness, Paul will seek to overwhelm that trust before he moves forward into the rest of the gospel.

He begins by pointing out that every human is a sinner, virtually from head to toe.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? 

Paul leads with this question, because lurking in the subconscious of his Jewish countrymen is still the supposition that a particular group of people is nobler born than the rest of mankind.

No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;

An Apostolic Insult?

“None” is a scandalous assertion, and one that always elicits protest.  For that reason, Paul once again unfurls the rap sheet of typical sinners, so that we can come face to face with our own character and symptoms.

11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.

The apostle begins with the braincase, pointing out that sin is firstly evidenced in the  muddled understanding of the mind.  Sinners not only find the knowledge of God impenetrable, but they are in a maze of confusion about the obligations of morality, the meaning of life, and the importance of eternity.  Their thought processes as to profound matters have been warped to the point of non-understanding.

Nor are they interested in seeking answers.  Sinners find the exercise of pursuing God an insufferable bore, especially when compared to other, far more stimulating pastimes.  The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Man’s sensitivity to trivia, and his insensitivity to matters of major importance, reveal he has a strange disorder.”  Strange indeed, that we can name five brands of beer, but not five commandments.  We can cite detailed stats from players on our favorite athletic teams, but can’t find the book of Colossians.

Paul goes to write,

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
    not even one.”

Whether we turn aside because we’re distracted by the tinsel of the world, or drunk on its intoxication, our inability to walk a straight line says something about our sinful condition.  As God estimates the global value of this scene, with the entire history of our race, His “math” sums us all up a flat, worthless zero.  In the sight of God, every work and deed and accomplishment piled up, resembles a landfill.  These calculations are fair, for when no one does good—zero—then the grand total of all such individuals must also be zero.

Moving Right On Down…

But Paul isn’t done with the sinner’s profile.  He moves from the brain to the mouth:

13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

Human beings sin not just in deed, but in verbal communication.  Here the Scriptures resort to thick metaphor in order to portray the garish variety of evil we transmit with our words.    “An open grave” refers to a place of exposed death, depicting the way a sinner’s words spread spiritual uncleanness.  “The venom of asps” corresponds to the poison of a snake, and well describes sinful words as being analogous to snakebite.

The sinner’s mouth is also full of curses, that is, expressions of ill-will, and bitterness, anger that has been allowed to simmer, sometimes for years. Simply stand next to a sinful human being and it will not be long before all of this—death, lies, poison, mean talk, and anger—creep out.

Your Worst Life Now

Following this sketch, Paul then illustrates in brief, the way, the habit of life, exemplified by a sinful person:

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Humanity is swift to violence, as any study of history will show (or any local police blotter), but even when violence is not present, the path of a sinner is one of ruination.  Wherever he goes, ruin occurs, whether it is to himself and his health, or his marriage, or employment.   In addition, humans continually taunt themselves into misery, always fancying if they could only get this or that, life would be better.  But when they finally obtain the thing long pursued, their pleasure only lasts fleeting moments before misery begins to reemerge.

Paul adds that they do not know peace, which explains why, wherever sinners go, drama breaks out.  If none is present, they seek it, or deliberately stir it.  Peace to them is unfulfilling.  As a final observation, and probably worst of all, their way of life does not incorporate any true fear of God.  The sinner feels emboldened to develop ever darker, more destructive strains of sin.  In that fearless vacuum, any imaginable evil could occur…

you’re more than half-way done, continue reading at source

 

September 16, 2014

Why Not Sin?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:11

 

The title of today’s devotional certainly got our attention when we first saw it, so we decided to retain it here. This is from a source that’s new to us, The Christward Collective is the blog of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. To read this at source, and then look around at other aspects of the website and blog, click the title below.

Why Not Sin?

As a Christian, why not sin? We could give a myriad of answers to that question. However, the best answer is supplied by Paul in Romans 6. Paul could have talked about the misery that sin brings, the pain that it inflicts upon others, the consequences which flow from it, or the penalty that Christ had to pay for it. But that is not where he first turns. He wants Christians to understand that we cannot easily entertain sin, because of our identity.

In Romans 5, Paul focuses on justification. In Romans 6, he points out that our sanctification cannot be separated from our justification. Those who have been forgiven their sins in Christ are to live in light of having been forgiven. Paul addresses this by pointing out that we are in union with Christ. Look at the language in Romans 6:3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Verse 4, “We were buried therefore with Him.” Verse five, “For if we have been united with him.” Verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 8, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” As Christians, we have been united with Christ. We are one with Him. In fact, that is what makes us Christians. Paul would have us to understand that our union with Christ marks every aspect of our salvation. That is, by faith we have been united with Christ for our justification, sanctification, and glorification. These cannot be separated anymore than Christ can be separated. Christ cannot be ripped asunder; therefore, we cannot rip sanctification from justification. This has great ramifications.

We have nothing apart from Christ. We have no justification, peace, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness, holiness, Heavenly Father, or indwelling Spirit apart from Christ. Every part and parcel of our salvation is ours, because we are in Christ. As Anthony Lane put it, “Until we are united with Christ what he has achieved for us helps us no more than an electricity main supply that passes our house but is not connected to it.” Union with Christ is our identity.

This leads Paul to ask the question that he does in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. Ephesians 2 tells us, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Now as a Christian, Paul declares that we are not dead in sin, we are dead to sin. This is what Paul wants Christians to understand above all else in response to the question of why we should not continue in sin: you have died to sin, dear Christian. It has happened. That is our identity in Christ. That is who we are.

When we became a believer by grace through faith in union with Christ, we died to sin. It is not a progression that Paul has in mind, though it is true that we are to die to sin every day. It is also not a future reality that he is looking to, though it is true that we will know freedom from sin more in heaven than we have ever experienced on this earth. Rather, what Paul is pointing out in Romans 6 is that it is a historic reality for the Christian. We have died to sin. It has already occurred in our past by virtue of our being united with Christ. John Murray aptly explained this by suggesting that when we came to saving faith in Christ there was “a definitive breach with sin.”

Look at how desirous Paul is for us to understand this in just the first 14 verses of Romans 6. Verse 2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Verse 3, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Verse 4, ” buried with him by baptism into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead.” Verse 5, “united with him in a death like his.” Verse 6, “crucified, brought to nothing.” Verse 8, “died with Christ.” Verse 9, “being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him.” Verse 10, “For the death he died.” Verse 11, “consider yourselves dead to sin.”

Death is everywhere in these 14 verses. Even the most uninformed reader can see that Paul is making a single point. He is declaring with passion, “Don’t you understand, when you were united with Christ by grace through faith, you were united with Him in His death?” Christ died. And by our union with Him, we died with Him. He died, so we died. That old life of mine, that unregenerate man that I was, that man trapped in sin, steeped in sin, dominated and controlled by sin, is dead. And so it is for you, if you are in Christ. Sin’s power and authority has already been broken in your life.

Sin is no longer our king. It is no longer our sovereign. We need not follow its dictates. It cannot command us. We have been set free to serve a new Lord, a better Lord. Sin no longer sits upon the throne of our hearts, grace does in the person of King Jesus. That is the principle reason we are not to sin. Our identity has been changed. Giving ourselves over to sin is harkening back to an old lord, an impostor, a realm to which we no longer belong. Sin that grace may abound? By no means!

November 13, 2012

To Whom Did Paul Say, “For What I Want to Do I Do not Do”?

While we recognize that Romans 7 is New Testament, we often over-Christianize it and miss out on the Old Testament world that shaped the times of the apostles. Scott Lencke at the blog The Prodigal Thought works through this thought, you’re encouraged to read this at source where it appeared (sans soundtrack) as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

Everyone know The Police song, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da? If not, you can have a listen and watch here.

Now Romans 7 is difficult enough just on its own terms. But add in the distraction of Sting belting out one of his great hits, well, it’s simply all over (especially after watching the video!).

Why Romans 7 and The Police?

Romans 7 is that chapter where Paul uses the word do so many times. Yes, that chapter! I count 20 times in vs15-20! There we find the famed words,

‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Actually, did you know Romans 7 causes difficulty? Not because of The Police, but rather because people have been debating for a very long time whether Paul is describing the normal life of a Christian or non-Christian.

The popular belief today, at least amongst evangelicals, is that Paul is describing a Christian. For starters, it is argued, if Paul says, ‘For in my inner being I delight in God’s law,’ this cannot be reality for an unregenerate, depraved human. Not only that, but what I think happens even more is that we look at our own lives, evaluate our daily living, and concur that vs15 and vs19 speak very truly about us – ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Now, while some might loathe the idea of utilizing our experience to understand Scripture, I wouldn’t say it’s completely terrible. I’m an advocate of something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral that recognizes we have more than Scripture alone in helping us understand God’s revelation. Rather this perspective takes a more holistic approach, identifying a) Scripture, b) tradition (there is such things as good tradition), c) reason (not ‘objective rationalism’) and d) experience as important in grasping the revelation of God.

So, my point is that understanding Scripture is not completely devoid of our human experience and encounter with God and his truth.

Thus, having said that, those 2 well-known verses (Rom 7:15, 19) might parallel something going on in our own lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was given to describe our situation. You see, this banter about whether Paul is describing the Christian or non-Christian life, I think it might just bring us on an adventure of missing the point. Well, I would concede it’s part of the point. But I don’t believe it’s the greater point of Paul in what is our ch.7 (you know Paul didn’t have chapter and verse divides in his letter).

What I think happens is that we gloss over a vital statement. And I suppose we miss the larger context of the letter and the sweeping thought of chapters 6-8. So maybe we start there.

What in the world is going on in Rome? For this letter was written to a particular church in Rome.

Paul is writing to a church that is extremely divided. Why?

Some 6 to 8 years before Paul wrote to the church, the emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the area of Italy (see Acts 18:1-2). Thus, the church became strongly Gentile. But the successor to Claudius, emperor Nero, allowed the Jews to make their way back into this area of the Roman empire. So we have a church situation that has become mainly Gentile over a number of years, which means you have a strong group of people mainly disconnected from the Abrahamic faith of Israel. Mix in a strong group of Jews desiring to see their great heritage fall to the wayside and you’ve got a bit of a challenge.

So here is a man with wisdom and pastoral compassion trying to help both Jews and Gentiles. You can sense it right throughout the letter.

But what about the difficulty of Romans 7? How does this fit into the Roman context?

Well, we could work through chs.6 and 8, but let’s come back to that. This is where 7:1 becomes all-important.

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

Who is Paul speaking to?

Jews! Those who know the law.

Yes, Paul does tell us early on in the letter that even those who do not have the Jewish Torah have a law for themselves (see Rom 2:14-15). But, looking at this statement in 7:1, I think it quite clear Paul is speaking to those who know Yahweh’s Torah, as summed up in the Law of Moses.

When you realize that Paul is mainly speaking to Jews, in this little interlude between chapters 6 and 8, I believe it opens up the passage quite a lot.

It’s not so much about whether Paul is describing a Christian or non-Christian, though we can talk about that, and I will. Rather it’s primarily about one who is trying to live under the law.

And so I do believe we can ascribe to a Jew, a good Jew in the context of the first century, these words of Paul: For in my inner being I delight in God’s law (7:22).

Paul’s not really caught up in our debates about prevenient or irresistible grace. He is describing a good Jew like himself based right in the tension of the first century as things were strongly evolving into the light of the new covenant in Christ. For someone who delights in the law but tries to live under the reign of the law, that person is going to find herself or himself in quite a pickle. Such a Jew might end up arguing with themselves, like Gollum and Smeagol, as seen here. Such a major internal war!

This is why the preceding words of chapter 6 become extremely important. Especially statements like these: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:14).

The one joined to Christ has been freed from the reign of both sin and law. Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. But living under the reign of grace, as seen and expressed in the faithfulness of Jesus, releases one to ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (Rom 7:6). And Paul reminds us of the delivery that takes place in Jesus Christ (7:24-25). Not only that, but ‘through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (8:2).

‘Ok, then. But what about 7:25, part b,’ one may ask?! It says: So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Yes, a good Jew will want to be a slave (or obedient) to the torah-law. But that person living in light of their sinful nature, the flesh, will become a slave to the law of sin. It’s reality for Paul, for any Jew. Again, Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. This is why Paul could give his list of achievements for being best Jew of the century, but at the same time list his persecution of Christians (see Phil 3:4-6). Living under the reign and lordship of the law is ludicrous, even making one proud of their accomplishments that are contrary to the will of God (and for Paul, that was watching Christians be murdered!). A proper Jew needs releasing from such a view, being drown in the reign of the grace of God in the faithfulness of Jesus.

Now, there is no doubt we could think about the application of chapter 7 for us, Gentiles, some 2000 years later. Though let me remark that I don’t think it completely possible to think like a Jew, even more a Jew from some 2000 years ago like Paul. Still, we can consider the ease of making our own law (not in a Rom. 2 sense, but from an extreme moralistic framework). And, thus, we try and live an overly controlled life under this law, which really ends up wrecking our own hearts and lives, as well as others’. We have to grapple with the practicalities of living under the reign of law rather than the reign of grace.

But Paul is talking about those who know the law, the Mosaic torah. In this extremely divided Roman church, he is taking time to address his brothers and sisters in the fleshly heritage.

And, so, in a sense, Paul is creating a before and after situation. Jews would have once been driven by their commitment to the precious rule of the law (or maybe they still were). But now it was time to live under the reign of grace, under the new way of the Spirit, under the rule of Christ Jesus. That was the glories of which Paul was proclaiming.

This is what Romans 7 is all about, tucked into the middle of a letter to the church in Rome, tucked in between two very telling chapters, that being chapters 6 and 8. I think if we remember this, it will help us continue to understand what God has done for us and in us through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And it will release us to live more and more under the reign of grace, the Jew first and also the Gentile.

~Scott Lencke