Showing posts with label Romans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romans. Show all posts

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Surprising Vengeance of God
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
There is something very deep and dark within us that craves revenge and reaches for retribution. “Paybacks are hell,” we say, and it is often from that dark place that we love to hear, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” For we have often imagined that God is like us, and that wrath and vengeance mean the same for God as they do for us. So, we latch on to Romans 12:19 “with a vengeance” and pay little attention to the context, which is all about love:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:9-18)
This is how we are to be, and it sounds very much like what Jesus taught us and lived out to the fullest. So, when we come to verse 19, how can we understand it in the way we are accustomed to thinking of vengeance? We cannot. For Jesus is the perfect expression of God and the one in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, so we must expect that God lives what Jesus preached. We must understand it in a way that fully demonstrates love, for as the biblical witness teaches us, God is love (1 John 4:8, 10). To take the “vengeance” of the Lord in a way that is less than fully loving toward all would violate the very nature of God and the perfect revelation of God we have in Jesus Christ. It would also violate the surrounding context in Romans 12.

How do we understand this verse, then? What is the “wrath” and “vengeance” of which it speaks? The Greek word for “vengeance” is ekdesis and is about doing justice. David Bentley Hart’s translation has it as “The exacting of justice is mine.” But here again our dark thoughts interfere, for we usually think of justice as retribution. But that is not how it is with God. God is not vindictive, for that is not the nature of love, and so, not the nature of God, who is love. Search the majestic description of love we have in 1 Corinthians 13 and you find that there is not even the slightest whisper of anything retributive in it.

God is just, but the justice of God of is not at odds with the love of God. Rather, it expresses the love of God. Retributive forms of justice simply do not do that. So, the justice of God is not retributive but restorative. Though it may read as punishment, it is always for the sake of correction and reconciliation. It is always about restoration, putting everything right according to how God made everything to be from the beginning. And it is always a perfect expression of God’s love, even toward those who are objects of such correction.

How does the justice of God operate here, and what does it look like? We can see an example of it in the Romans 12:20-21, where Paul shows us how we ought to be towards those who hate or mistreat us. We should not expect that God behaves any differently from the way we ought to behave. Instead of taking revenge or rendering evil for evil, Paul says, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

How does God treat his enemies? When they are hungry, God feeds them. When they are thirsty, God gives them something to drink. Jesus said that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mark 5:45). This is how love responds.

God is always loving and good toward all, but those who have turned away from God may not perceive it as love and goodness being extended toward them. God offers them light — Christ is the true light who gives light to everyone (John 1:9) — but they may have become so used to the darkness that the light of God seems a torment to them. “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). And though it may feel like “burning coals” have been heaped upon their heads, neither the love nor light nor goodness of God are intended to be a torment to the wicked. Rather, earlier in Romans, Paul tells us that God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

When we turn and see that God loves us, that God is for us and not against us, then we understand the “burning coals” for what they are: light against the darkness and warmth against the cold, not intended as evil against us but to do us good. So, God does what Paul tells us to do: God overcomes evil with good, and this is how God repays evil and puts things right.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Whereupon All Sinned

Therefore, just as sin entered into the cosmos through one man, and death through sin, so also death pervaded all humanity, whereupon all sinned. (Romans 5:12 DBH)
Here is a very interesting rendering of this verse, particularly at the end, presented to us by David Bentley Hart in his recent translation of the New Testament. Other translations end it with “because all have sinned” (for example, NASB, NIV, NKJV, ESV, CSB, LEB). Hart’s version, “whereupon all sinned,” is substantially different from that. The difference is in whether Paul poses universal death as the result of universal sin (“because all sinned”) or whether he puts it the other way around, that universal sin is a consequence of universal death.

The Greek text at this point is εφ ω (eph ho), a preposition followed by a pronoun. It is found no more than six other times in the New Testament:
  • “Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him” (Matthew 26:50 NIV). We may put it as the Context Group Version does: “[Do] that for which [eph ho] you have come.”
  • “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein [eph ho] the sick of the palsy lay.” (Mark 2:4 KJV). The Greek text used in most modern versions does not have eph ho but uses a different word that is translated similarly.
  • “Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God” (Luke 5:25). The Context Group Version has, “and took up that whereon [eph ho] he lay.”
  • “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4 NIV). Both Robertson’s Word Pictures and Vincent’s Word Studies translate the phrase as “Not for that [eph ho] we would be unclothed.” Perhaps eph ho might work okay as “because” here, but that is not so clear. It would work as well, or better, to take it as meaning, “so that.”
  • “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which [eph ho] Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 NIV).
  • “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it” (Philippians 4:10 NIV). In this and in other versions, it is difficult to identity the eph ho in back of it, but Young’s Literal Translation locates it more clearly for us: “And I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye flourished again in caring for me, for which [eph ho] also ye were caring, and lacked opportunity.”
“For which,” “wherein,” “whereon,” “for that” — Hart’s rendering of eph ho as “whereupon” in Romans 5:12 seems quite in line. In his translation notes on this verse, Hart points out that, “Typically, as the pronoun [ho] is dative masculine, it would be referred back to the most immediate prior masculine noun, which in this case is θανατος (thanatos), ‘death,’ and would be taken to mean (correctly, I believe) that the consequence of death spreading to all human beings is that all became sinners.”

This reading, however, does interfere with a certain theological bent in the West, one influenced by the Latin version of the New Testament. In the Latin version, Hart’s reading, “whereupon all sinned,” would not be possible.
First, it retains the masculine gender of the pronoun (quo) but renders θανατος by the feminine noun mors, thus severing any connection that Paul might have intended between them; second, it uses the preposition in, which when paired with the ablative means “within.” Hence what became the standard reading of the verse in much of Western theology after the late third century: “in whom [i.e. Adam] all sinned.” This is the locus classicus of the Western Christian notion of original guilt — the idea that in some sense all human beings had sinned in Adam, and that therefore everyone is born already damnably guilty in the eyes of God — a logical and moral paradox that Eastern tradition was spared by its knowledge of Greek.
But we must also consider the context here. The idea that death came to all because all sinned seems to contradict the verses that immediately follow.
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. (Romans 5:13-14)
Sin was in the world before the time of Moses, when the Law was given. But notice: where there is no Law, sin is not charged against anyone. From the time of Adam to the time of Moses, then, sin was not charged against anyone. And yet, death still reigned upon all during that period. Everyone died, though not all sinned.

But how can this be if death came to all because all have sinned. The Western theory of “original sin” (more like, original guilt) is that all sinned in Adam and are therefore guilty of sin. Even if they have not actually committed any sin, they are nonetheless judged guilty. This is not what Paul says in Romans 5:12-14.

From both the context and how the words eph ho are normally used elsewhere in the New Testament, it appears that in Romans 5:12, Paul is not attributing the sin of all as the cause of the death of all but, quite the opposite, that it is the mortality that pervades humanity that causes all to sin.

The good news of the gospel is that through the Cross and Resurrection, Christ has delivered us from the power of death and, therefore, from the power of sin.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mary’s Yes Changes the Whole World,_Prado).jpg

The angel Gabriel came to the little village of Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young girl named Mary. He had a wondrous announcement for her: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?” It was not a question of doubt but of wonder, for Mary was a ponderer and thought deeply about things.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you,” Gabriel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary said Yes. She said Yes to the angel and his announcement, of course, but more than that, she said Yes to God the Father, who had sent the angel and shown her such favor. She said Yes to the Son, who would be conceived in her womb and to whom she would give birth. And she said Yes to the Holy Spirit, by whom this great miracle would happen.

Mary’s was a very powerful Yes , one that changes the whole world. For it is in her Yes — her faith-filled response to God’s Yes — that Christ received his humanity, so that God became flesh and dwelt among us. And it is by the humanity the Lord Jesus received from Mary that he has joined himself to us in our humanity — becoming not only one of us but one with us. It is through Mary’s Yes, then, that God has chosen us in Christ. That changes all of us and is what all creation is longing for.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 9:19-22)
Through her Yes to God, Mary became the pathway for the God who became Man and who rescues the world through the cross and the resurrection. Because of Mary’s Yes to giving birth to the Lord of heaven and earth in a lowly stable, the birth-pangs of all creation will be fulfilled.

Merry Christmas to all creation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

All Israel and the Fullness of the Nations
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-26)
Paul speaks of mystery, which is not a secret God is keeping from us but one he reveals to us in Jesus Christ. In Romans 9, Paul began addressing the question of what the coming of Jesus the Messiah now meant for the Jews who rejected him: Would they be forgotten? Had God’s promise to Israel failed?
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Romans 9:30-31)
The problem was that Israel, and the Jews of Paul’s own experience, tried to identify their place in God’s covenant promise on the basis of keeping the Law of Moses. But that was never God’s purpose for the Law. God’s way has always been about faith, and this was how, surprisingly for the Jews, the Gentiles took part in God’s promise — by faith.

Israel’s lack of faith, however, did not mean that God had given up on them. And in Romans 10, Paul declares his intense desire and prayer that Israel be saved, for the way of faith, which had always been available throughout the history of Israel, was still open for them now. God’s acceptance of the non-Jews on the basis of faith had not foreclosed Israel’s opportunity, even though they currently rejected Jesus as Messiah and King.

Paul quotes the words of Isaiah here: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2). Yet, though they were disobedient and obstinate, they were still God’s people nonetheless. “Did God reject his people?” Paul asks, then declares, “By no means!” (Romans 11:1). For one thing, God always had a remnant who remained faithful, as he did in the days of Elijah. “So too,” Paul says, “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (v. 5).

But again Paul asks concerning the non-remnant Jews who had been faithless, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!” Paul answers, “Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!” (Romans 11:11-12).

Israel’s faithlessness did not signal the end of Israel but had unexpectedly, from a human point of view, become an occasion for the Gentiles to come to faith in the Jewish Messiah. And if the present rejection by the Jews “brought reconciliation to the world,” Paul asks, “what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v. 15). At the same time Paul recognized the rejection of unbelieving Jews, he also acknowledged the surpassing glory that would result from their future acceptance of Messiah.

Paul was drawing on the Old Testament practice of offering the firstfruits to the Lord and how that blessed the rest of the harvest and made it holy. “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches” (v. 16). In other words, the remnant Paul mentioned earlier, the one chosen by grace, served as the firstfruits that made the rest of Israel holy. The fact that God had a remnant showed that God had not given up on the rest of Israel.

“If the root is holy, so are the branches.” Here Paul begins to shift the metaphor, but to the same effect. He is thinking of an olive tree, a classic symbol of Israel. The root is the faithful remnant of Israel, which for Paul represented those Jews who believed on Jesus the Messiah. They are right in line with what God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the beginning. The relationship of root and branch is such that the branch derives its life from the root not the other way around. Separate the branch from the root and the branch will soon wither and die.

There are two kinds of branches Paul sees on this olive tree. There are those that have grown naturally from the root — but there are also those that have been grafted into the root stock. In Romans 11:17-24, he talks about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles as that between natural branches and those that have been grafted in. In this metaphor, there are natural branches that have been broken off, which Paul understands as those Jews who rejected Messiah. But there are also branches that have been grafted in; these are non-Jews who have come to faith in Messiah. They are fully accepted into the “root” and now share in its life. But what of the branches that have been broken off, is that the end of them? No. “If they do not persist in unbelief,” Paul says, “they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).

And now here is where Paul reveals the mystery: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” The full number of the Gentiles and all Israel — these are strong words of inclusion, quite in line with Paul’s many other inclusive statements elsewhere (see What If All Means All). All of Israel will be saved. The fullness of the Gentiles will be saved, too — not apart from or in addition to, and certainly not instead of Israel, but as a true part of Israel, for they have been grafted into Israel. And now Paul sums up:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:28-32)
The mystery of the gospel is that disobedience does not get the last word. Mercy does. Israel’s disobedience became an occasion for God’s mercy on the Gentiles. In turn, God’s mercy on the Gentiles becomes an occasion of mercy on Israel. Again, there is an inclusiveness in this. God has allowed disobedience its alien work in everyone so that he may show his mercy on all. Let us, then, sing the doxology with which Paul closes this portion of his letter:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Christ In All Creation
Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
Christ is intimately involved with us in our very being — and always has been. He is, Paul says, “the firstborn over all creation.”
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
Everything that exists was created by Christ, through Christ and for Christ. All things are created in Christ, and in him all things hold together and continue to have being. At Mars Hill, Paul affirmed with the Greek poets that “we live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28). All of us are in God, in Christ our creator. We have ever been so and ever will be.

But the reciprocal is also true: All things are in Christ; Christ is in all things. “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). This is true not only of the Church but of all people and, indeed, of all creation. Christ is all in all, which is why everyone and everything matters.

Christ is in all creation. This, I have discovered, is difficult for some Christians to accept. For if Christ is in all creation, they reason, then that would mean that all creation is saved. I don’t fault the logic of that; in fact, I accept that conclusion. But they do not like the conclusion, however, and since they do not deny their own logic (they would be refuting themselves by doing so), they instead dismiss the premise and deny that Christ is in all creation.

The Scriptures are clear that Christ is the beginning of all things and that all things are in him. They are equally clear that Christ is also the final resolution of all things: All things in heaven and on earth being brought into unity under Christ, reconciled to God through Christ by the blood of the cross (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:19-20).

It is hard to think of how Christ could be so intimately related to all things, causing all things to be, even to the point of holding all things together in their continued existence, without himself actually being in them. Indeed, Paul says of the Christ by whom, through whom and for whom all things are created, in whom all things exist and by whom all things are reconciled to God — Paul says that this same Christ is in all things. A literal rendering of the Greek text in Colossians 3:11 identifies him as “the all and in all Christ.”

Christ is in all creation, but this does not mean that Christ is the creation. The Christian faith is not a pantheistic one. In his divinity, Christ is the creator of all things and permeates all things, but he is not the same as his creation. Every created thing has being and is a being, but Christ as creator is being itself, the source of being for everything that exists.

Yet, in the Incarnation, when God became a man, Christ became part of his own creation. In him, God joined himself to all humanity and partakes of human nature. And in him, we become “partakers of the divine nature,” as 2 Peter 1:4 teaches — though we do not become God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We remain ourselves just as God remains God’s own self.

In his humanity, Christ connected to all of creation, because all creation is itself connected. Through Christ, God is transforming all creation, beginning with us, to conform us to the image of the Son — and this affects all creation.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)
In the end, when all things have come to their fulfillment, we will see that God is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the unity of all things in Christ. It is the good news of the gospel, which includes you and me and all of creation. Our part is to yield to the transforming power of God’s love that is revealed in Christ and in the hell-shattering depth of his cross and resurrection.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How Much More Shall We Be Saved Through His Life!

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)
Christ died for all, therefore all died, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14. We had been God’s enemies, which is to say that we saw God as our enemy, not that God ever saw us as his. We had turned away from God but God never turned away from us. So, even while we viewed God with suspicion and distrust and went our own way, Christ died for us all.

Through his death, we were reconciled to God. This is the truth about all of us. For inasmuch as Christ died for us all, then whatever his death accomplished, it accomplished for us all. The battle has been waged, the power of sin and death have been broken and peace has been won. We have all been reconciled to God through Christ’s victory on the cross. Though not everyone has heard or believed this good news and embraced this peace, it is true nonetheless.

But notice what Paul says next: “How much more, having been reconciled [through the death of Christ], shall we be saved through his life!” Paul’s how much more is a rabbinic form of argument, qal va homer in Hebrew, a form that moves from the lesser to the greater. If it is true that we are reconciled to God through the death of Christ — as all of us are — then it is even more certain that we will be saved through his resurrection life.

Paul reinforces this just a few verses later: “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s sin in the Garden] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s death on the cross] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18). Paul draws it out even more in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” And so he goes on to say in Romans 6:8, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Paul was “convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” and that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 19). That being so, how much more shall we be saved by the life of the resurrected Christ.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Christ Life is Not Sin Management
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7:14-17)
Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Rome addresses a rift between Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers in Jesus. He shows that they are all in the same boat: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin is the brokenness of our relationship with God, and every sinful act reveals the brokenness of that relationship, not only with God, but with each other and even within our own selves. This was the problem for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Jews had the law of Moses and the Gentiles had the law of conscience, yet both suffered from the same problem, the problem of sin management. In Romans 7, Paul shows us how this played out. It is not a pretty picture, but an important one. But before he gets into it, Paul first tells us that we have “died to the law” through the body of Christ (that is, through his death on the cross) so that we may belong to Christ, whom God has raised from the dead (v. 4). Does this mean that the law itself was wrong or sinful? No, not at all. Rather, it was through the law that sin became apparent as the destructive thing it is (v. 7). But it also became an opening for sin to rise up and show its ugly, broken self. Paul then offers an example with the Tenth Commandment: “Do not covet.” It is a very good law, and we should be better people for it. But watch what happens:
But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:8-11)
Call it the “law of unintended consequences.” The law of God was not intended to be an occasion for sin, yet that is what it became because of the darkness of the human heart. Sin, the brokenness of our relationship with God, “seized the opportunity” — notice that Paul emphasizes this by saying it twice — and showed itself out in relationship with others. The problem was not the law of God but sin itself, our own brokenness. And now Paul begins to describe the desperate plight:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7:14-17)
Paul sees a terrible disjointedness at work: wanting to do what is good but not doing it; not wanting to do what is wrong but doing it anyway. Not because the law of God is bad but because of the bondage of our brokenness. Paul speaks of it as being sold into slavery, and it is a terrible bondage. There is no understanding it. Jesus prayed even for those who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Now notice carefully the conclusion he draws at this point, for he will say it again just a few verses later: “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” The brokenness has consumed him and is beyond his control. It is not merely a matter of volition, of choosing good rather than evil. It is, rather, an incomprehensible helplessness he expresses here.

Up to this point in Romans 7, I think, what Paul has had in mind is the Jew in relation to the law of Moses. Perhaps he was drawing from his observation of fellow Jews as well as from his own experience and recognizing the common experience. But now, I believe, he turns his mind to the Gentile, who did not have the law of Moses but had the law of conscience. So he continues further down the rabbit hole to show that the case is no better for them. It’s the same story all over, and Paul comes again to the same conclusion:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:18-20)
Neither Jew nor Gentile have the advantage over the other. They are both enslaved by their broken condition and neither law nor conscience are of any benefit in helping them manage it. There is a terrible disconnect between what God created us to be and what our turning away from God did to us.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 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. (Romans 7:21-25)
It is a wretched condition he has portrayed for us, one that desperately cries out for deliverance. But the good news of the gospel is that there is deliverance. God does not leave us in this terrible condition but delivers us through the Lord Jesus Christ. “Thanks be to God!” Paul is now ready to talk about this deliverance, which is the substance of Romans 8. But first he recaps the problem in a single sentence: “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.”

At this point, I would like to pause a moment. There are many Christians who have believed and taught that what Paul details in Romans 7 describes the Christian life. If that is so, then ours is truly a very sorry lot, a life of frustration and defeat that leaves us as prisoners and slaves. And it demonstrates the problem of sin management. Surely it is not for this sorry slavery that Paul gives thanks to God. Rather, his thanks and praise is for the deliverance we have in Christ.

So now, let’s proceed to the next verse, which is the beginning of Romans 8. The chapter divisions were not in Paul’s original letter but were added many centuries later. On one hand, I am sorry there is a chapter division here because people often tend to put a mental stop at the end of a chapter, and to stop at the end of Romans 7 would leave us hanging. Yet on the other hand, I am glad for the division here because there is a night and day difference between the life Paul describes in Romans 7 and the one he reveals in Romans 8. Romans 8 is the stunningly and unexpectedly gracious solution to the terrible problem detailed in Romans 7.

Let us, then, step over into Romans 8. Because this post is already longer than usual, we will look at only the first two verses for now, but that will be quite enough to make my point:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
There are a few important things we can observe here. First is the word, “therefore.” If refers us to what has been said previously. Here, it connects us to Paul’s answer to the question, “Who will deliver me from this body that is subject to death?” The answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

And now Paul begins to explain that answer: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Whatever the desperately dreadful experience was that Paul described in Romans 7, there is now absolutely no condemnation awaiting us. It was never any condemnation that came from God anyway but was the brokenness of our own turning away from God. When we turned from God, we turned from the source of light and life. All that was left for us then was darkness and death. But in Jesus Christ, we are delivered from that.

Paul takes it further. How is it that there is now no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus? “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” In Jesus Christ, we have received the life of the Spirit and are set free from both sin and death.

So now we are not only not condemned but, more than that, we are set free. Apart from Christ, there was imprisonment to the law and slavery to sin. But in and through Christ, we have become dead to the law and are made alive to God — set free to live by the Spirit of Christ.

The Christ life, then, is not a sin management program. Such programs are nothing but chains and checklists and are doomed to failure because they are based on our own ability — and apart from the life and power of God, we are completely helpless. But the stunning revelation that changes everything for us is that the Christ life is Christ himself living in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealing Abba Father to us, in us and through us.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Divine Justice and Eternal Conscious Torment

The view that hell is eternal conscious torment creates several problems in regard to divine justice. One is that, in the ECT version of hell, justice is never fully or finally accomplished. Another is that it relies on an understanding of justice that does not derive from the Bible but from medieval feudalism. A third problem is that the justice of God revealed through Christ is restorative but ECT is not.

Justice is Never Fully or Finally Done in ECT Hell
Proponents of Eternal Conscious Torment have often explained that since God is infinite in nature, then offenses against him, though they may happen in a brief moment in time, are infinite in nature and therefore must be punished infinitely, or eternally. But if they must be punished endlessly then there is never a point at which justice will ever be accomplished. It will be eternally incomplete, for there will always be more punishment to be endured.

God’s Justice is Not Feudal Justice
Of course, the idea that offenses against an infinite God require infinite or eternal punishment raises another problem. In the law God established in the Old Testament, punishment for an offense was based upon the offense itself and never upon the prestige of the person who was offended. Rich and poor were to be treated alike, regardless of the status of the offender or of the offended. There was no greater penalty for sinning against a rich man than there was for sinning against a poor man. To base punishment upon the status of the person who was offended, whether rich or poor, would not have been considered justice but injustice. The idea that punishment should be based on the status of the offended is a feudal idea, not a biblical one. So, too, the idea that offenses against an infinite God require infinite or eternal punishment is not a biblical one.

God’s Justice is Restorative, ECT is Not
A third problem is that the justice God has revealed in Jesus Christ is restorative, not retributive. But the Eternal Conscious Torment view of hell is the opposite: retributive, not restorative. Paul shows how God’s righteousness, which is the same thing as God’s justice, is addressed through Christ and his cross.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
Christ did not come so that retribution might be satisfied, nor was the cross God’s retribution upon him, or on us. But Christ came for the purpose of redemption, to deliver all from the power of sin, so that all might be justified — reckoned fit for fellowship with God and his people. In the cross, God refrained from punishment and retribution so that there might be restoration. That is the righteousness and justice of God.

God’s Purpose in Christ: Reconciliation
God’s purpose revealed in Christ is to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to himself through him (Colossians 1:20), “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10), so that God may be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

The ECT view, however, does not allow God’s purpose to ever be fulfilled, for the one who is being punished eternally is never finally reconciled to God and brought into unity with all things in heaven and on earth, and God will always be something less than all in all. But Paul affirms that in the end God will be “all in all.”

Eternal Conscious Torment, then, does not measure up to the justice of God but falls short in significant ways. The Annihilationist view also falls short because it supposes that, after an indeterminate season of suffering, the wicked will be utterly destroyed, and so never finally reconciled to God and restored to unity with creation.

The Restorationist view, which I believe is indicated by the Scriptures I have cited above (see Hell and the Restoration of All Things), seems to me the only view that adequately addresses God’s stated purpose. If God’s purpose is truly to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to himself through Christ, this does not mean that there is no hell or no judgment, or that there is no need for repentance and faith, but it suggests that the purpose of hell and judgment is not endless torment but to turn the soul back to God through faith in Christ.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vengeance, Jesus and the Gospel

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NKJV)
“Vengeance is mine, I shall repay.” Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35, concerning God’s attitude toward those who turned away from him. But how shall we understand those words and Paul’s use of them? Is God a vindictive deity who cannot be satisfied until he has exacted retribution on those who have offended him? As we consider that question, let’s pick up just a little bit earlier in Paul’s letter:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:14-18)
Now ask yourself, who does that sound like? It sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it. He not only taught us to forgive but in the Sermon on the Mount he preached,
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
It is important that we approach the treatment of those who persecute us in the way Jesus would approach them, and we should never suppose that God ever approaches them in a way that Jesus would not. For Jesus, we are told in Hebrews 1:3, is the “exact representation” of God, the “express image of his person” (NKJV). Jesus did only what he saw the Father doing and said only what he heard the Father saying. He taught the disciples concerning himself, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” and “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:9-10). If you want to know what the Father is like, look at Jesus. If you want to know what the Father does, look at Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, then, Jesus was not just telling us how we ought to be, he was telling us how God is. In other words, God practices what Jesus preached.

So now we come to Romans 12:19, where Paul says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Is this about a vindictive God who hates his enemies, curses those who curse him and repays them evil for evil or blow for blow? That would go against how Jesus says we should treat them, and what Paul said just a couple of verses earlier in Romans 12. It would also go against the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:8), and love is not vindictive.

How should we understand this, then, in view of Jesus and the gospel? I believe the key is Paul’s admonition, “but rather give place to wrath,” by which he means that we should leave it to the wrath of God. This is not the first time Paul has mentioned the wrath of God in this letter. He expounded on it quite a bit, right up front, in the first chapter. I wrote about this several months back in a post called, How the Wrath of God is Revealed. The upshot is that the wrath of God is not something God does to the wicked, but something to which he gives them over: He gives them over to their own sinful desires, shameful lusts, depraved minds — and natural consequences thereof.

However, God gives them over not as a retribution but as a correction, so that they might repent and turn to God. This is a recurring pattern in the New Testament (see He Gave Them Over, That They Might Return). God is love, so how he deals with evil will manifest love both for the perpetrator as well as for the victim. Retribution, or vindictive punishment, helps neither victim nor perpetrator. But a punishment that has correction as its purpose ultimately benefits both because it ultimately results in reconciliation. So God gives the wicked over to their own dark selves until, like the prodigal son when he was off in an alien country, far away from his father, they “come to their senses” and are reconciled to God and his people.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

That Death Reign No More

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:17-21)
The problem Jesus solved on the cross was not that God needed someone to punish for our sin and so have his honor satisfied before he could forgive us. The problem was that sin and death reigned over us. However, Jesus did not die on the cross because death was the punishment for our sin. He did not die to overcome a penalty, he died to overcome sin and death itself. He died to overcome the very one who had the power of death, which was not God but the devil:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Death is not a thing in itself but, rather, the absence of life, just as darkness is the absence of light. God is not the God of death, or of the dead. He is the God of life and of the living. What the devil did was draw humanity away from God and in doing so drew us away from life. Death is what happens when we are drawn away from life, and it leads to the bondage of fear. But Jesus came precisely to break the power of the devil, who holds the power of death, and indeed, to break the power of death itself, freeing us from bondage and fear.

In Romans 5, Paul draws a sharp contrast between what Adam did and what Christ did, and what each led to. When Adam turned away from God, he turned away from the source of life and so was left with death instead. His broken relationship with God soon led to broken human relationships, one with another. Through the unfaithfulness of Adam, everything became brokenness and death. But through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, even to the point of death on the cross, God’s grace abounds to life and right relationship with God for all trust him.

“The law was brought in,” Paul says, “so that the trespass might increase.” He is talking about the Law of Moses. The law could no more create unrighteousness that it could create righteousness. But the law reveals the terrible nature and extent of sin, the depths of the brokenness of our relationship with God and each other. As Paul said earlier, “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).

Likewise, when sin increased, it became an occasion for the even greater abundance of God’s grace to be revealed. For God was not willing that unfaithfulness and human brokenness should reign, producing death. His desire and design was that grace and favor would reign through restored relationship and covenant faithfulness, producing in us now the life of the age to come. So instead of being under the dominion of sin and death because of Adam, all who take hold of God’s abundant grace in Jesus the Messiah now have dominion in life.

That is the work of the cross. The expression of Roman wrath became the sign of God’s grace. It was where Lord Jesus broke the power of sin and death and manifested the overcoming power of God’s favor and faithfulness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Justice, Righteousness and the Faithfulness of God

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:20-26)
The Greek words behind “righteous,” “righteousness,” “justified,” “just” and “justifies” are all different forms of the same word — used eight times in this passage. They are legal terms that pertain to covenant relationship. The same is true for the Old Testament Hebrew words for righteousness and justice.

The justice and righteousness of God is not some abstract concept about the goodness of God — although God is thoroughly good in every way — but about the faithfulness of God to the covenant he has made.  It means that God has not scrapped the promise he made to Abraham, his plan for saving the world through Israel.

In the West, we are accustomed to thinking of justice as a matter of innocence or guilt in a criminal justice system. But what Paul has in mind here is covenant faithfulness, in which the justice of God is not about retribution but, rather, always works towards the restoration of covenant fellowship. Punishing sin simply does not solve the problem because it does not restore the broken relationship.

The Law of Moses was never God’s plan to save the world, for it could never create righteousness — it could only reveal unrighteousness. It was, as Paul said to the Jesus followers in Galatia, a “schoolmaster,” a “guardian,” a “custodian” (Galatians 5:24). Paidagogos is the Greek word he used, and it referred to a servant who took charge over his master’s children to keep them out of trouble until they came into their maturity. So the Law was not a solution but a stop-gap.

Even the Law itself, along with the Prophets, gave witness to a covenant faithfulness of God which was quite apart from the Law. This righteousness was revealed though the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah to all who have faith in him. Just as both Jews as well as Gentiles were shown to be sinners, because the Law could only reveal unfaithfulness and sin, so also both Jews as well as Gentiles are justified — counted as being in right relationship — as a matter of God’s grace and faithfulness through what Jesus did on the cross.

The word Paul uses to describe this is apolytrosis, “redemption.” It is a word the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) uses for what God did when he delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 6:6). In the Exodus, it meant freedom from bondage for Israel, but the “redemption” that is now available in Jesus the Messiah is freedom for both Jews and Gentiles together. God accomplished this redemption by presenting Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement and a place of mercy for all who trust in him.

Three times in this brief passage, Paul emphasizes that God did this as a matter of his justice, his righteousness — his covenant faithfulness. Israel, God’s covenant people, was supposed to be a testimony to the nations (Gentiles) about God’s mercy and faithfulness so that the nations might turn to the LORD. But Israel herself proved time and again to be unfaithful to God. In a former time, the Law kept this problem in check, somewhat, and God tolerated this state of affairs out of mercy until the coming of Messiah. Jesus is the “Righteous Jew” in whom the promise of God and the calling of Israel finds its fulfillment.

At the cross, Jesus dealt with the problem of Israel’s unfaithfulness and the sin of the world once and for all. Instead of merely containing or tolerating the problem, God has now shown his faithfulness to the covenant, and through the faithfulness of Messiah, even to the point of death on the cross, he declares all to be in covenant rightness who trust in the Lord Jesus, whether they be Jew or Gentile.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How the Wrath of God is Revealed

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (Romans 1:18)
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven,” Paul says. But what is the wrath of God, and how is it revealed? We often tend to think of divine wrath as environmental catastrophes: floods, families, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and the like. When one of those hits the news cycle, there is always some high profile religious figure rushing in to pronounce that it is the judgment of God on this or that. But Paul speaks about the wrath of God very differently.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:20-23)
First, he describes how there are things that may be known about God, how his eternal power and divine nature are evident from creation, how it is inherently known that we ought to honor God as our creator and give him thanks. He concludes that those who suppress the truth about God are without excuse, having traded wisdom for foolishness and turned to all sorts of idolatry, giving glory to the work of their own hands instead of to the God of all life.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)
And now, here is the wrath of God revealed: Therefore God gave them over. To what did God give them over? To their own sinful desires. To the idolatry that was in their hearts, the idolatry of their own sexuality, by which they worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator of everything. It was their own sexuality they wanted above all, so God gave them over to it. Anything we worship other than God debases us, curves us in upon ourselves and eventually brings us to nothing. The danger, if we persist in it, is that God will simply give us over to the self-degradation that is the natural consequence of every idolatry.

Paul speaks of sexual idolatry because he was addressing people who lived in a very sexually charged culture, very much like the world we find ourselves in today. The idolatry of modern culture is the self, expressed not only in materialism but also in the worship of sex. Money, sex and power are still the powerful motivators they have always been.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)
For the second time, Paul speaks the words of God’s wrath: God gave them over. Then he describes the “shameful lusts” God hands them over to. My point is not to debate the nature of the lusts Paul speaks against here — leave that for another day. But clearly, we are living in highly sexualized times and there are many shameful things related to it. My point is simply that, for those who turn away from God and insist on the idolatry of shameful lusts, God abandons them to their shame, degradation and emptiness.

The idolatry of sex, however, is by no means the only category Paul has in mind. Now he broadens his scope to an array of the consequences that can result from turning away from God:
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Paul repeats the terrible words for a third time: God gave them over. And what God gives them over to is a depraved mind. Then Paul lists the manifestations of that depravity, an awful inventory that defines the problems of the world today.

The wrath of God is not about floods or earthquakes or tsunamis. It is revealed when God leaves us to our own sinful desires, shameful lusts and depraved minds. “God gave them over,” Paul says, and those are the saddest words of all.

Next time, we will look at God's redemptive purpose in this.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Atoning Sacrifice

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25)
Quite simply, our English word, “atonement,” is the joining together of two words: “at onement.” It is essentially about reconciliation, restoring oneness where there has been estrangement. Theologically, there are two words that have been used to talk about the atonement we have with God through the blood of Jesus the Messiah. The first is propitiation, which is about appeasing and averting the wrath of God. The second is expiation, which is about removing the sin or offense.

The words used for “atonement” in the Bible are the Hebrew word kippur and the Greek hilaskomai (and its related forms). You might recognize kippur from the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement.” The Septuagint version of the Old Testament translates kippur as hilaskomai. Kippur generally has to do with covering, cleansing or the removal of sin (expiation), although there are a few instances of interpersonal relationships where it may have the sense of appeasement (propitiation). The sacrifices related to atonement are about expiation, purification, sanctification or dedication. The “mercy seat” in Leviticus 16:2 is the place of atonement. The Hebrew word there is kapporeth, from the word kippur. The Septuagint translates it as hilasterion, from the word hilaskomai.

Let us look now at how Paul speaks of the “sacrifice of atonement” in Romans 3:25. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement.” The Greek word translated by the NIV as “sacrifice of atonement” is hilastarion, the word used in the Septuagint for “mercy seat,” the place of atonement. There are a few English versions, including Young’s Literal Translation and the Lexham English Bible, that translate it that way in Romans 3:25.

Several English versions translate it — wrongly, I think — as “propitiation.” This make no sense, for this reason: It was God himself who offered Jesus as the atoning sacrifice. If it were propitiatory, seeking to avert the wrath of God, then we should have to suppose that God was trying to appease himself — as if he were at odds with himself and needed to be reconciled to himself. But the fact that it was God himself who offered the sacrifice of atonement indicates that God was already graciously and mercifully disposed toward us. It was because “God so loved the world,” not because God was so angry at the world, “that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).

This was not an act of retribution but an act of mercy. It was not an offering God made because he needed to be appeased but an offering he made because he already wanted to be gracious to us. God was not trying to gain God’s own good will toward sinful humanity but the cross was the manifestation of God’s good will toward sinful humanity. God was not reconciling himself to us, turning himself back toward us — for he had never turned away from us. Rather, in offering Jesus as the “sacrifice of atonement,” God was turning us back toward him, that we may be at one with him.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Relief of Living by the Spirit

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
In Romans 7:7-24, Paul describes the experience of a person trying to live apart from Christ and the Spirit. In verses 7-13, it is the man who is trying to live by the Law of Moses. In verses 14-24, it is the man trying to live by his conscience. Both sense condemnation, because they are trying to live by the “flesh,” that is, by their own resources. It ends with a cry of despair in verse 24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

But then the answer appears: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The Lord Jesus delivers us from the terrible experience of trying to live by the flesh, out of our own resources. Paul then goes on to make a startling declaration: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

In Romans 7, the man trying to live by the “flesh,” whether by Law or by conscience, knows despair. But in Romans 8, there is no condemnation and no despair for those who are in Christ. That is our new starting point, and Paul speaks about living by the Spirit rather than by the “flesh” (v. 4).

What a night and day difference! And Paul goes on to describe it — a whole new reality, made real by Christ through the Spirit of God — and there are several things to notice:
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11).
Even now, the Spirit of God is giving new life to us — he himself is living in us — and that changes us (how could it not?).
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
There is no fear of condemnation in this, for that would send us back into the bondage Paul described in Romans 7:7-24, from which Jesus has already rescued us. But the new reality is that the Spirit in us has made us sons and daughters of God, so that we call on God as our Abba, that is, our Father.
The divine Spirit “testifies with” our spirit. The Greek word is symmartureo and has to do with something happening together with something else: The Spirit of God in us testifies together with our spirit. What is the testimony it bears with us? That we are God’s children. Paul draws out the significance of this a bit further:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)
There are a few words here I especially want you to notice. One is “co-heirs.” The Greek word is synkleronomos, and it too has to do with something happening together with something else. As God’s children, we are heirs of God — heirs together with Christ. Next is the word that is translated, “share in his sufferings,” sympascho. It means to suffer together with Christ. The third word, translated as “share in his glory” is syndaxazo, and means to be glorified together with him. Paul adds, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

There is a real theme of “togetherness” developing here, and we see it again in verse 22, where creation is waiting for the mature children of God to be revealed and it is at last liberated from its bondage to corruption and decay:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The words to note here is the ones for “groaning” and “pains of childbirth,” which are systenazo and synodino. The first means to groan together and the second means to travail together, as in the pains of childbirth. This groaning and travailing together is about giving birth to something, waiting for it to be born.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
We are groaning together with creation, waiting for the full expression of what the Spirit of God has already begun in us. We have already received the firstfruits of it, the Spirit himself, who produces in us the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is already at work in us to bring them forth in our lives. The “baby” is growing within and we are groaning along with creation in labor pains.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
The word for “helps” here is synantilamanomai. It means that the Holy Spirit takes hold together with us. He does not take hold for us but with us — he is our partner in this all the way. However, the Spirit does intercede for us because, as Paul says, we do not know what we ought to pray. But notice that he does it through wordless groans. All creation groans together in labor pains, and we groan along with it — and the Spirit is groaning within us too. He is in the process of giving birth to something.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The climax of all this togetherness is this: For those who love god, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The operative word there is synergeo, “work together.” What things is Paul talking about? All the things he has already mentioned:
  • The Spirit of God testifying together with our spirit.
  • Being heirs together with Christ.
  • The things we suffer together with Christ.
  • Being glorified together with Christ.
  • All creation groaning together in the pangs of childbirth.
  • The Spirit of God taking hold together with us.
All these things are always working together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ (v. 29), which is the revelation of the mature children of God that all creation has been eagerly anticipating.

Paul began his response to the Romans 7 predicament with the deliverance we have in the Lord Jesus and the fact that there is now no condemnation for us in him. Now he comes around full circle in a most memorable passage:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
The reality of this — and the answer to the desperate situation in Romans 7:7-24 — is found in living by the Spirit, in the love of the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent and the Rebirth of Creation

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25 NIV)
The season of Advent is a season of waiting. There is a groaning, a travailing like childbirth. There is an eagerness, an expectancy, a joyful anticipation. And there is a patience, an endurance, a perseverance, for the hope of redemption that will not be denied.

King Jesus the Messiah came two thousand years ago and changed the world, fulfilling the promises God made to His people, establishing His kingdom. The long night had come to an end and a new light was dawning for Israel and the world. One day the King will come again and all shall see everything in completion. Meanwhile, we live between those times, and yet also as a part of them. For, in our temporal frame, we look back in celebration and we look ahead in expectation.

As in Advent, when we prepare our hearts to rejoice in the birth of Christ, so we also eagerly watch for His return. But we do not wait alone — creation itself longs for that day.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21-22 NIV)
Creation longs for its liberation from bondage and decay. This liberation is related to our own redemption in Christ, the full manifestation of our own freedom and glory as the children of God. Creation groans. We groan, too, inwardly and eagerly, as we await that fullness. It will surely come, for Jesus has promised, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 NIV).

Creation is waiting for that renewal, even as all who have come to faith in Christ have been made new. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV). In Christ, the renewal of creation has come and we are part of it.

Through Christ, we are part of the rebirth of creation itself. This rebirth began with the groaning of Mary and the birth of the Lord Jesus. It will be filled full when Christ comes again, and we shall know as we are known. Until then, we groan together with creation in patient longing.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Grafted Into the Chosen People

For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. (Romans 11:16-20)
Who are the chosen people? In the Old Testament, clearly, they are the children of Israel. So also in the New Testament. But where the Old Testament uses the word “chosen,” the New Testament uses the word “elect.”

Paul tells us quite a lot about God’s chosen people in Romans 11, where they are portrayed as an olive tree. He tells us that some of the branches were broken off and other branches were grafted in. The natural branches that were broken off represent ethnic Jews who rejected Israel’s Messiah — they were broken off because of unbelief. The wild branches that were grafted in, were grafted in through faith in Israel’s Messiah. These are the Gentiles — the pagans! — who believe on Jesus the Messiah. What, then, of the natural branches? Is that the end of the story for them? No! Paul says,
And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:23-25)
We should note that Paul is not referring to Jews and Gentiles as individuals but as peoples. Though individual Jews may die in unbelief, as do many Gentiles, what Paul has in mind is a wholesale turning of the Jewish people to Jesus as Messiah. In the meantime, God has allowed their turning away from Jesus to be an opportunity for the pagan nations to turn to Him. Even so, Paul’s expectation is that the branches that were broken off through unbelief will one day return, through faith in Jesus, and be grafted back in — “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26).
Concerning the election [i.e., being chosen] they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32)
The “election” is still for them, and so also the gospel — and the Messiah. But God has allowed their present disobedience so that the nations might come to the obedience of faith in Messiah and receive God’s mercy. In a similar way, God is using the mercy He has shown to the wild branches as an opportunity for the broken branches to return to the obedience of faith through Jesus. When they do, then God’s mercy will be on all — even as Paul spoke in verse 15: “For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

So, then, unbelieving Jews, though they be the natural branches, have been broken off from the olive tree (Israel) because of their unbelief. However, when they return to belief and receive Jesus the Messiah, they will be grafted back in. Believing Gentiles, on the other hand, though they be wild branches, are grafted into the olive tree, the chosen people, through faith. And because they are grafted into the olive tree, it can be truly said of them that they are now part of the olive tree, too — one with God’s chosen people.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alive to God, Dead to Sin

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:8-11)

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)
The death Jesus died on the cross has become my death, and the life Jesus lives by the resurrection has become my life (Romans 6:8-10). This life of Christ that is now in me is eternal life, the life of the age to come, and it has already begun in me. Even now, in this present age, I am alive to God and dead to sin. And that is how I should always reckon myself (v. 11).

Further, believe it or not, I am no longer a slave to sin but have been set free from it. And now, in Christ, I have become a slave to God, wholly His servant, and alive to Him.

To be clear, this was not my doing but God’s. The work is fully His. The fruit of that work in me is sanctification (holiness) and the result is eternal life, the life of the age to come. It is this very life that changes me, because it is the life of Christ Himself. It is the gift of God that I have in Christ, through faith in Him.

Now, also to be clear, when I speak about no longer being a slave to sin, I mean that sin no longer has any right or power or authority over me. For not only has the penalty of sin been paid but also the power of sin has been broken by the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. This does not mean that I am no longer able to sin, however, but it does means that I am now able to not sin.
And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:13-14)
Being dead to sin means that I am no longer bound to yield myself as an instrument of unrighteousness. I am now alive to God and can now yield myself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. Sin no longer has “dominion” (Greek, kyrieuo) over me. That is, sin is no longer “lord” (kyrios) over me. God has delivered me from the dominion of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of His Son (Colossians 1:13), and now Christ has dominion over me. Through Him I am now dead to sin and alive to God. And that changes everything.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short of the Glory

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Perhaps you have heard that one before. Many people have. It has been thundered from many pulpits and bellowed on a thousand street corners. Maybe you read it on a roadside billboard, or even on the side of a barn somewhere in rural America. Often the focus is on the bad news that “all have sinned,” and the problem that creates between us and God. Fair enough.

But there is also some good news hidden in that verse, and it is this: We were created to participate in the glory of God. Man was created in the image of God and according to His likeness.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
God’s plan from the beginning was for us to be like Him and to be His image in the world. In other words, we were created to bear the glory of God. Like the moon bears the glory of the sun and reflects it to the earth, we were meant to reflect His greatness and goodness to all creation.

The terrible news about sin is that by it we have “come short” of that glory. We have all “sinned.” The Greek word, hamartano, literally means to “miss the mark.” God created us to reflect His goodness, but we have done what is evil. God meant for us to show forth His righteousness, but we have done what is not right. Consequently, we have fallen far short of the glorious role He prepared for us.

But the good news is that in the Lord Jesus Christ that glory is being restored in us, as Christ lives His life through us, the Holy Spirit brings forth His fruit in us, and the Father conforms us to the image of His Son (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:23-23; Romans 8:29). Indeed, the mystery that has been revealed in the gospel is that Christ in us is the hope, or expectation, of glory (Colossians 1:27). And now, as Paul says, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Gospel That Judges Our Secrets

In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)
“Gospel” means “good news.” Not just any bit of news that happens to be good. In the Bible, the Greek word for “gospel,” euangelion, is most often used in a particular sense: the announcement that the kingdom of God — and its King, Jesus the Messiah — has come.

According to the gospel Paul preached, there is coming a day when God will “judge the secrets of men.” This is the same message Paul preached to the philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens, declaring that God has “appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31).

When God comes to judge, it means that He comes to set things right in the world. Whatever is out of joint will be brought back into proper alignment. Whatever is evil and cannot be put back right will be removed. And whatever is good and proper will be established forever.

This can be a very encouraging prospect — but also a very terrifying one. On one hand, there are a lot of things wrong in the world that we would love to see put right. But on the other hand, we realize deep down that we are part of what is wrong with the world. There is a story told about G. K. Chesterton that, in answer to the question, “What is wrong with the world?” he said quite simply: “I am.”

There is coming a day when God will judge the secrets of our hearts, yours and mine, and that is a sobering thought. We can fool others, and even ourselves, for a time, but we cannot fool God. “For man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

The gospel is supposed to be “good news,” but when the secrets of our hearts are finally revealed, will it truly be good news for us? For those who have entrusted themselves to the Lord Jesus, the answer is Yes!
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
And here is the secret that rescues us from the secrets of our own hearts: In Jesus the Messiah, God gives us a new heart, just as He promised His people in the Old Testament.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
This promise is not just for Israel but for all who receive the Lord Jesus. “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

On that day when King Jesus comes and judges the secrets of our hearts, He will find a new heart and a new spirit — the Holy Spirit — at work in us. That is why He came, to bring this about. And He will be satisfied with what He has done in us.