Thursday, October 27, 2011

Romans 3:1-8 – Righteousness in Judgment

Righteousness comes from God; this is the consistent theme of Romans. We've seen our case studies of people who in their own mind are ok, but Paul has declared they are heading for the destruction of God's wrath.

First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Then we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god".

Next we had the self-righteous hypocrites, standing on personal righteousness, while hardening their hearts against God's grace and mercy.

Last week we studied the religious posers; these are legalistic rule makers, who think they can checklist their way into God's favor. The flaw in their plan however is the weakness of the flesh, and an unchanged heart.

The apostle Paul's approach to planting churches was to begin in the synagogue when possible. "To the Jew first" was his commitment, this is what Jesus told them, and that is what they did. He was, after all, a Jew himself; and his heartbeat was to see his Hebrew brethren trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

But as you read the book of Acts, and the letters Paul wrote he was always frustrated at the hardness of heart he found in many Jews. So in each city they would have some Jewish converts, and then they would have some hardened opposition to the gospel. When it reached that point Paul would turn to the Gentiles, where the gospel has less resistance. And there is a lesson for us in Paul's methodology; sometimes we expend so much energy on the people we want to see saved, but we cannot be the Holy Spirit, nor can we believe for other people. There comes a time when we have to step back and see where God is working, submit our will to His and join in the work that God is already doing. This week we will look at hardened hearts, and a hardened resistance to the righteousness of God. Here Paul will answer the objections of the defense lawyers, people who say God has no right to judge.

1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.

"What advantage then has the Jew?" In other words, "If all you say is true, Paul, then what difference does it make that we are Jews; if we stand condemned with the rest of the world?"

Paul answers this objection without negating the truth of what he had just established in chapter two. He says, "Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God". Paul essentially says, "Even though the Hebrew birth and the Hebrew Bible do not save you, they certainly have revealed salvation to you". The Jew had the privilege of holding in his hands and hiding in his heart the revealed promises concerning Jesus Christ!

The entire Old Testament was about the coming of Israel's Messiah! Over three hundred Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Micah 5:2 told them where He would be born (fulfilled in Matt. 2:1-5). 700 years before Jesus walked into Jerusalem the prophet Isaiah recorded how the Messiah would be born (Isaiah 7), what He would be called (Isaiah 9), and detailed how He would die (Isaiah 53). In Psalm 22 one can read the description of the crucifixion of Jesus. It tells of the piercing of His hands and feet, the gambling for His clothes, and even records the very words that Jesus would say on the cross. This one Psalm contains 33 direct prophecies that were fulfilled at Christ's death; even though it was written a thousand years before Christ's birth. Isaiah said that the Messiah would be crucified between two thieves (Isaiah 53:9-12). Zechariah said that He would be betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). Yet the very advantage that the Jew had (the oracles of God) was the very thing that condemned him; because he did not believe in the Messiah when He came. John records in his gospel, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11 NKJV). Objection #1 - overruled. The Jew is indeed privileged, but privilege cannot replace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:

" That You may be justified in Your words,

And may overcome when You [are] judge[d]." (Psalm 51:4)

{Psalm 51

1 Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,

And my sin is always before me.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight—

That You may be found just when You speak,

And blameless when You judge. }

"For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?"
The objector is essentially saying here, "O.k., we admit that we have received God's Word about the Messiah; but not all of us have believed it. So, will the unbelief of some cancel out the faithfulness of God?" Paul answers, "Certainly not!" God faithfulness to Israel is without question, but he has always kept His promises with a those who are willing to repent and live by faith. God keeps His promises in spite of humanities failure.

To illustrate this truth Paul quotes from King David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:4,
"Against You, You only, I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge."

Truth is truth whether it is believed or not. Man's failure does not equal God's unfaithfulness. Objection #2 - overruled, "Let God be true, but every man a liar".

5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) 6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?

"But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?"

In other words, because God made these moral demands knowing humanity would fail, does that make His wrath unjustified? After all we were doomed to failure from the beginning.
The apostle Paul again answers, "Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?"

As Paul will explain later on in his epistle, the giving of the Law did not suddenly make mankind guilty of wrong. God didn't arbitrarily paint a target somewhere other than where we had already shot the arrow and then call it a miss. The target has always been present. God's totally righteous character is - and always has been - the standard. The Law simply illuminates and magnifies the target, leaving mankind with even less an excuse for missing it. In Adam, Satan showed that man was corruptible; but in Jesus, God demonstrated that man is redeemable.

The Lord did not give the law to humanity in order to justify His wrath. On the contrary, He established clear lines between right and wrong as a means of grace, to confront us with our offenses. The giving of the Law was a first step in His plan to redeem us. Objection #3 - overruled, the Law was meant by God to guide us to grace; not keep us from it.

7 For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.

The Jew continues objecting to Paul's reasoning to the point of using twisted logic. He says, "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged a sinner? And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come?'"

Remember the jealousy of Joseph's brothers, how they plotted to kill him, then they sold him into slavery. He ends up in Jail completely forgotten except by God. God raises him up, makes him a ruler in Egypt then brings his family back to him, so he can save them from the famine. When his brothers realize Joseph is alive and in charge, they think Joseph will use his authority for revenge against them (as they deserved), but Joseph has a different answer. "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Genesis 50:20) God can use the acts of evil men to accomplish His purpose, but the hearts of those men are still evil, and will be judged when they stand before God.

I have actually heard this argument first hand from skeptics who say "if God is really sovereign, and will accomplish His purpose, then how can sinners be guilty"?

Critics of the apostle Paul were accusing him of spreading just such a doctrine. They misconstrued the gospel of grace by saying, "This man Paul says, 'It doesn't matter what you do because God's grace will cover all your sin.'" While this statement is essentially true (God's grace does cover all of our sins) it does not take into account the indwelling Spirit of God that impels us to "walk in newness of life". Paul will address this twisted logic and perversion of grace later on in chapter 6 where he says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? CERTAINLY NOT! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" Objection #4 - overruled, sin does not glorify God or magnify grace at all, rather is it God's response to sin that is marvelous.

In Romans 2:17-29 the apostle Paul revealed that a Hebrew birth and a Hebrew Bible do not equal a righteous standing before God; and in Romans 3:1-8 he anticipates and overrules any objections they might put forth. In every case: the heathen, the hypocrite, and the Hebrew have all rejected God's revelation and God's instruction. Instead of the Creator they worship creation, instead of the Lord they submit to the Law. All fall short of God's glory; all are guilty before God; and as a result, all will be justly judged and condemned. God's righteousness is revealed in the faith of the redeemed, and in His judgment of the rebellious.

Questions to consider:

Why do you think Paul was so committed to reaching the Jewish people with the gospel?

How can growing up in a "Christian environment" be detrimental to someone experiencing genuine salvation?

What are some common objections people have with the phrase, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23)?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Romans 2:17-29 - Religious Posers


First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Then we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god".

Next we had the self-righteous hypocrites, standing on personal righteousness, while hardening their hearts against God's grace and mercy.

Each of these groups is rushing headlong into a future of God's wrath. This week they are joined by religious posers, who pretend to show the way to God by force of religious practice, instead of repentance.

Religion, for many people, is all pain and no gain. The religious will try to attain a level of goodness that would be acceptable to God. This is the most common religious idea, that God will balance the scales, and we just have to do more good than bad. But God has said "My Spirit shall not strive (or abide) with man forever, for he is indeed flesh" (Genesis 6:3). Since the fall of mankind spirit and flesh have been in conflict. Without the spiritual rebirth of salvation, the flesh has no chance of pleasing God.

Being a Christian, however, is not just being religious. Being a Christian is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A true believer in Christ recognizes that no amount of religious effort will bring him any closer to God. He recognizes that the best efforts in the flesh, even his righteousness are "as filthy rags" before a most holy God. In fact, he wouldn't trust the best 5 minutes of his life to gain him entrance into heaven! Only God's grace can do that. God's grace provides salvation that cannot be earned, favor that is not deserved, and kindness that cannot be repaid.

It is the religious person that is probably the hardest to reach with the gospel. While there is no one too bad for Jesus Christ to save, there are millions WHO THINK they are too good to need saving. The religious man thinks that his possession of religious truths and his practice of religious tasks make Him righteous before God. However, the apostle Paul points out in this passage that while both are privileges neither pays the price for man's sin.

17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.

The Jew had two advantages when it came to the truth: 1) a Hebrew birth, and 2) a Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). From childhood the Jew was taught in Synagogue of: his special heritage, to revere and keep the Sabbath, his need of a sacrifice for sin, and the fact that he was to live separated from the world. This special access to God's truth was an incredible advantage in a world where most men were pagans steeped in superstition and idolatry.

This special access to truth often led to pride and deep scorn and resentment over the spiritual ignorance of others. The Jew often looked with disgust at his Gentile neighbors; even calling them dogs because of their spiritual ignorance.

It is an awesome privilege to be raised with such access to spiritual truth. To have been born into a family where the things of God are common knowledge and where the Bible is a well-read book. It reminds me of Jesus' statement, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48 NKJV). We'll talk more about this later.

21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

In verses 21 through 24 Paul begins to cross examine the Jew in order to point out the condemnation that accompanies a mere "head-knowledge" divorced from a life of obedience to God. A religious experience which is "all talk" and "no walk" will not pass the test on the Day of God's Judgment.

This is especially true when the one who teaches has not applied that which is being taught. It is the height of spiritual insincerity to teach others without learning the lesson for yourself. Paul pointedly tells the privileged Jew, "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself" (Romans 2:21 NKJV)? Spiritual insincerity often leads to spiritual insensitivity. How many times have we heard of preachers and teachers who thunder away at sin from the pulpit only to have their personal failures find them out. Paul points out in these verses that ethnically, morally, and spiritually the Jew was guilty of the very behaviors they were scolding others for. They were preaching the high and holy standard of the law while they themselves were violating it.

Remember when Abraham lied to Pharaoh about Sarah being his wife while they were in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20)? Led to believe that Sarah was Abraham's sister, the Pharaoh took her into his harem. All of a sudden, Pharaoh and his household were the recipients of all kinds of plagues from God; and it was revealed that Sarah was actually Abraham's wife. Imagine Abraham's shame when a pagan Pharaoh scolded him for telling a lie when he supposedly served the God of truth. Nothing will turn strangers away from truth like the misbehavior of a professing believer. One hypocrite makes a hundred unbelievers. When David sinned against the Lord with Bathsheba, Nathan said, "By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14 NKJV).

So then, while access to religious truths increases one's accountability it does not make one more acceptable to God. It doesn't really impress unbelievers either, because they can easily detect a person that says one thing but does another. As Paul just reminded the hypocrite is verse 13, "for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (NKJV).

25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?

Paul writes in verse 25, "For circumcision is indeed profitable IF YOU KEEP THE LAW; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become un-circumcision" (Romans 2:25 NKJV). In other words, a rite or religious task is meaningless UNLESS it is an outward expression of an inward experience. No outward ceremonial act can have any value if it is not related in some way to a dynamic, personal, scriptural experience. Remember circumcision was supposed to be a sign of the covenant to follow God your whole life.

Well then, here's the problem for the Jew (and for all of us really), for circumcision to be of any practical value, the Jew must keep the law of God – something humanly impossible. To break the law at any point is to render the ritual null and void. For if we keep the law sometimes, and break the law at others are we not still law breakers? No one in prison today has broken every law, yet we hold each person responsible for every law. If men do this imagine the stricter judgment of a God who sees everything.

To further make his point, Paul turns the tables on the Jew and explains, "Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his un-circumcision be counted as circumcision?
And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law" (Romans 2:26-27 NKJV)?

OUCH! Paul essentially says that a man devoid of rituals may be more righteous than a man devoted to them, and a man devoted to rituals may be more responsible in the sight of God than a man devoid of them. You see the value of a religious task is limited by the condition of a person's heart. A mere ceremony does not make a person right with God.

Paul's point can be illustrated by looking at the Hebrew Bar mitzvah ceremony. When a Jewish boy reaches his thirteenth birthday, he is believed to have attained the age of responsibility and religious duty. But performing this religious ceremony does not make a man out of a boy. There is far more to manhood than that. Being baptized with water or circumcised in the flesh does not make a person right with God. These religious tasks were designed to be outward expressions of an inward reality.

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

Paul was not presenting a new idea here. The truth that mere religious tasks did not make a man a Jew was as old as the law and the prophets. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 10:16, "Therefore circumcise the foreskin OF YOUR HEART, and be stiff-necked no longer" (NKJV). In Ezekiel 44:9, the prophet wrote, "Thus says the Lord GOD: 'No foreigner, uncircumcised IN HEART or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel'". (NKJV)

God always judges a man by his heart – a lesson that even godly Samuel had to learn. When he was sent by God to Jesse's house to anoint the next King of Israel he was very impressed with Eliab; the tall and handsome eldest son. But we read in 1 Samuel 16:7, "the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, BUT THE LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART'" (NKJV). It was not until David walked into the room (whom Saul and Goliath later mocked as a "mere youth") that God said to Samuel, "Arise, anoint him, for this is the one" (1 Sam. 16:12 NKJV). The kingly qualities of David were inward, not outward.

So, then, Paul indicts the Hebrew by taking him to task on his religious tasks. External tasks are no substitute for internal trust. Religious ceremony does not equal real Christianity.

While Paul's purpose in this passage was pointed to the Jew, we should be prompted to examine ourselves in light of the following privileges that we enjoy as believers. Jesus shared these same ideas with the Pharisees, but I would apply them to any form of religious legalism; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. Each religious tradition contains posers who pretend to be closer to God by virtue of their religious works. But this is impossible, since righteousness comes from God.

Things to consider:

1. Do you call yourself a Christian because you've repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ's finished work on the cross for your salvation; or do you say that you're a Christian because you were: born in a "Christian nation", raised in a Christian home, attend a Christian church and live a "moral" life?

2. The fact that we have access to our own copy of God's inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word is an awesome privilege! How can we demonstrate that is true?

3. How does our life reflect the idea that our standing with God, is determined by Christ's righteousness and now our own?

4. How can we avoid the trap of religious imperialism, believing we hold a position of privilege above other recipients of God's grace?

5. How does staying humble and trusting only in the righteousness of Christ help fulfill the great commission?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Romans 2 - Judgment for the Self-Righteous

Romans 2:1-16

As we study Romans keep in mind the theme is that righteousness comes from God. In these early chapters we are seeing different examples of people who failed to understand that concept.

First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Last week we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god", decide for yourself what is good and evil. These sinners God has given over to their own wicked desires, to destroy themselves with corrupt behavior. This is called the wrath of abandonment.

The other forms of wrath we listed last week:

  1. Eternal wrath – separation from God and the torment of Hell
  2. Apocalyptic wrath – the judgments poured out against mankind in the day of the Lord
  3. Cataclysmic wrath – like Noah's flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  4. Consequential wrath – natural results of sin (the law of sowing and reaping)
  5. Wrath of abandonment – when God withdraws from the rebellious soul

This week Paul turns his attention to the self righteous. These are Hypocrites who judge others not for how they might offend God, but for how others offend their own standard of right and wrong. These are "respectable sinners" who are seen as good people within their own circle of like-minded companions. Even though they look good on the outside they are judged because of the sin they harbor in their hearts.

1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.

The Hypocrite feels that other men's sins are worse than his own. He compares himself with the alcoholic, the drug addict, the hooker, the homosexual, the murderer and the child molester; then prides himself in his church membership, "morality", and respectability. The comparison is, of course, very flattering to him. This common mistake is exposed by a very simple truth; he is judging himself by the wrong standard.

When God grades man He does not use a curve; with Mother Theresa at the top of the scale and Hitler at the bottom. If that were the case, most of us would land comfortably in the middle of the pack or perhaps maybe even a little ahead. In fact, if you were to take a survey among your friends, you would probably uncover this "bell curve" belief in their conversation. "Well, I may not be perfect, but I'm no child molester!" "I may not be Billy Graham, but I'm better than Jeffry Dahmer!" The truth of the matter is that men will not be judged by the standards they choose; they will be judged by God's. His holy standard is the law; as explained and amplified by the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus not only explained the law in His teaching, but He also amplified it with His famous words, "but I say unto you." Following are a few examples:

Matthew 5:21-22 (NKJV)

21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire".

Matthew 5:27-28 (NKJV)
27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart".

Matthew 5:33-35 (NKJV)
33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King".

Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV)
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."

[To the self-righteous who say "I have not killed" God says "what about the anger in your heart?". To the self-righteous who says "I have not committed adultery" God says "what about the lust in your heart?". We judge the oath-breaker, God will judge the oath-taker. We try to love our neighbor, but who has loved their enemy? Jesus did; He loved us while we were still enemies of God.]

If people are going to measure themselves by somebody else, then they must measure themselves alongside Christ; when they do that, all grounds for hypocrisy and smugness will be swept away. Jesus was the only One on planet earth who completely fulfilled God's law with a perfectly sinless life. He is the standard; from which we fall dismally short.

We are experts at self justification. David had to hear about his own sin with Bathsheba, by Nathan's story about a sheep, before he repented. (2 Sam. 12:5-6).

At that moment, Nathan exposed the king's hypocrisy by declaring, "Thou, art the man!"

Paul says to the Hypocrite, "for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" Romans 2:1 NKJV).

The word "hypocrite" comes from a word that means "to act a part as if on stage". The Hypocrite is an actor. He puts on a show for the benefit of others, but he cannot fool God; as Paul declares, "But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things" (Romans 2:2 NKJV).

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

Everyone who commits a crime thinks they will get away with it, but Paul says "Really….You think you can actually behave this way and escape God's notice"?

In another Scriptural example of hypocrisy we remember the older brother in the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:29-30). He was so angry that his repentant younger brother had been received back fully forgiven into his family that he refused to have any part in the celebration that followed. When the father came out to urge him to join them, the older brother made a speech that was oozing with self-righteousness. He said, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him" (Luke 15:29-30 NKJV).

Notice the "I", "me", and "my" in that speech. Notice also how he refused to be identified as the prodigal's brother – "this son of yours". Notice also how he had the far country in his own deceitful, hypocritical heart all the time. He wanted to "make merry" too! He wanted to sow his wild oats as well! The only difference between the two boys was that the younger brother had more courage and was no hypocrite. The younger son was guilty of the sins of the flesh, but the older brother was guilty of pride, stubbornness, bitterness, and hypocrisy – the sins of the spirit. He was just as much a rebel against his father as the younger brother, and much harder to win.

Another story, told by the Lord Himself, exposes man's hypocrisy with unmistakable clarity. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells us of two men – a tax collector and a Pharisee – going down to pray. The tax collector, conscience of his deep depravation, beat his chest and cried out to God in desperation. But the Pharisee, proceeded to tell God what an exemplary man he was. He said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess" (Luke 18:11-12 NKJV). And what did Jesus say about this smug and prideful Pharisee? He said that only the tax collector's prayer was heard by God that day, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14 NKJV).

4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

Sometimes we mistake God's delay for a "hall pass" to continue in sin. In reality God's "forbearance and longsuffering" is our opportunity to repent!

Because God doesn't exact immediate judgment, we imagine that He never will. What's even worse is that we persuade ourselves that God has nothing to avenge; so that when wars and famines and personal tragedies do come we throw up our hands and say "why me Lord"?

5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds":

I've talked to some who challenge the New Testament view of judgment and Hell saying they Old Testament did have the same ideas.

"For You render to each one according to his work." (Psalm 62:12)

"And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:12)

Now compare this to Revelation 20.

"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hell delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works." (Rev. 20:12-13)

The hypocrite faces certain judgment. "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath ". This refusal to repent, is the fire under the pressure-cooker of God's wrath getting hotter and hotter until it one day explodes in final judgment; when we are judged for our works who's righteousness do you want to stand on; Christ's or your own?

7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Taken out of context it looks like this passage teaches that salvation is by works; that salvation can be earned by patiently doing good. But such an interpretation is foreign to the entirety of Scripture. So, we must remember that this passage deals with God's basis of judgment. In the Bible judgment is according to our works; SALVATION IS BY FAITH. Remember Chapter 1 taught that the righteousness of God is revealed when those who are justified by faith, live by faith. Good works are the evidence of faith; not the source of salvation. I have to think believing Jew's like always being mentioned firs t as recipients of salvation; but verse 9 says that will also be first in line for "tribulation and anguish", for all those who refuse to repent.

11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law

Those who have the law have much more light than those without it. The possession of an open Bible on your lap increases your opportunity to know God's will. But light is light regardless of how dim or bright it might happen to be.
If a person were lost in a dark forest at night, the least glimmer of light would attract him; and if he desired deliverance from the darkness, he would move toward that light. However, if he had some guilt to hide, he would not respond to the light, except to hide or run from it, regardless of its dimness or brightness. Judgment awaits all who reject the light; but for those who have had a greater advantage, there is even a greater guilt.

13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

The law which the Gentiles had was not in code but in conscience. Remember we discussed in chapter 1 that having a moral conscience is a part of being created in the "Image of God". God's general laws have been written into the innate consciousness of the soul. Conscience is God's watchdog in the soul; but it can be silenced and even seared. In fact, it is quite possible to obtain the approval of conscience on a wrong act. Conscience must be educated and monitored by the Word of God. The more conscience is ignored, the more it is desensitized and eventually silenced in one's life.

16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

The secrets of men! What a fearful day that will be when God begins to call to light the hidden works of darkness! It is this fear that originally lead me to salvation in my youth.

The problem with self-righteousness is that true righteousness comes from God and thus is only valid for His purpose not our own. The same is true for conviction; God uses it to bring us to redemption, not to make one man feel superior to another. Hypocrites do not escape because God sees what is in our hearts!

Questions for discussion:

1. What group of people did Jesus rebuke more than any other during His time on earth; and why?

2. How are we so often like the Pharisees in Jesus day?

3. Is there hope for the "Hypocrite"? What should a person, who is relying on his own righteousness, do to get right with God and avoid the coming wrath?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Romans 1:24-32 - The Wrath of Abandonment

Given up then given over

Last week we began our study of the wrath of God. Romans 1:18-23 shows us the wrath of God is revealed against those who ignore God, and suppress the truth; people who replace the knowledge of God with redefined truth, redefined justice, and redefined morality; people who claim to be wise, but have made themselves fools, idolizing things rather than God.

God's wrath takes 5 different forms in the Bible:

  1. Eternal wrath – separation from God and the torment of Hell
  2. Apocalyptic wrath – the judgments poured out against mankind in the day of the Lord
  3. Cataclysmic wrath – like Noah's flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  4. Consequential wrath – natural results of sin (the law of sowing and reaping)
  5. Wrath of abandonment – when God withdraws from the rebellious soul

Mankind's complete rejection of God can trigger a response where God allows us to see what it's like to be your own god, and make your own rules, which began with His "giving over" humankind to their sin. Theologians call this "judicial abandonment", which some have described in one of two ways. This "giving over" of man to his own sin is not a passive act like giving up. God did not get exasperated with mans continual inclination to sin and throw up His hands and say, "Fine! You want it, you got it!" No, this "judicial abandonment" was an intentional active decision that was meant to accomplish a specific purpose.

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Because of mans' ungodliness and unrighteousness they desire unholy things that are perversions of what God originally designed as good. Jesus said, "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For OUT OF THE HEART proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:18-19 NKJV).

If the natural man "follows his heart" it will lead to moral corruption every time. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (NKJV).

James writes, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:14-15 NKJV).

Like fish drawn to the bait at the end of the fishing line, man is drawn to sin by his lustful heart; but inside the bait awaits the hook. When we finally get what we want, we don't want what we get. Striving to satisfy our hunger we end up on Satan's stringer. That which promises pleasure produces pain.

Allowing your sexuality to define and control you is a form of idolatry.

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

We live in a world where:

  • As of 2003, there were 1.3 million pornographic websites; 260 million pages (N2H2, 2003).
  • The total porn industry revenue for 2006: $13.3 billion in the United States; $97 billion worldwide (Internet Filter Review).
  • Adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction: 10%; 28% of those are women (Internet Filter Review).
  • More than 70% of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month (comScore Media Metrix).
  • More than 20,000 images of child pornography posted online every week (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 10/8/03).
  • Approximately 20% of all Internet pornography involves children (National Center for Mission & Exploited Children).

America is essentially Sodom & Gomorrah with internet access!
I've read articles where homosexuals try to redefine morality and marriage. They say "you don't understand homosexuality was different in Bible times, it is only condemned because it was associated with idolatry", but Paul is showing us that giving sexual attraction this kind of power in your life is idolatry. Likewise when AIDs reached the mainstream media some preachers declared it to be a judgment of God against homosexuals, but Paul is telling us the whole culture of sexual sin exists because God has "given then up" to uncleanness and vile passions, so that their own immorality is a judgment against them.

As a result: the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies are at an all-time high, sexual abuse and rape is ever increasing, marriages are falling apart, and our neighborhoods are littered with child molesters. To say that the unbridled sensual desires of mans' heart has not enslaved him would be to ignore reality.

Paul writes in verse 25, that we have "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator". The second Commandment forbids the making, the worshiping of idols (Exodus 20). Everything you give control and power to in your life becomes an object of worship.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;

See the progression after they reject the truth they are given up to uncleanness, then given up to vile passions, then given over to a debased mind; through sexual idolatry man becomes mentally perverted.

The word "debased" means "not passing the test" (unsound). It was often used to describe useless, worthless metals, discarded because they contained too much impurity.

Again, God "gave them over" is simply righteous retribution on God's part as He allows men to pursue, to its fearful end, the path they have chosen. It's as if God said, "Your wish has been granted."

Just as moral perversion produces wholesale sins of sex, mental perversion gives rise to all kinds of wickedness. The apostle Paul concludes chapter one with a categorized list of consequences.

29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;

    1. Debased (worthless) human character.

Again, there is none righteous, no, not one. Mans' condition has flawed mans' character. He is by nature: unrighteous, sexually immoral, wicked, covetous, and malicious (deliberately harmful); full of: envy, murder, strife, deceit, and evil mindedness. True character is not assessed in public; rather, it is what you are when no one is looking.

    2. Debased (worthless) human conduct.

Men are guilty of fornication and murder. They defy authority (parental and otherwise) and treat contractual obligations with contempt (where are the loopholes?).

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. With 2.3 million prisoners behind bars, America, leads the world in incarcerations (New York Times, 2008). These statistics should demonstrate that man's problem is not: physical, social, or financial. Mans' problem is spiritual. He is totally depraved! The answer for the world is NOT to "Americanize" different cultures but to EVANGELIZE them. People in third world countries might appreciate some soap, food and clothing, but what they really need is a Savior!

    3. Debased (worthless) human conversations.

"they are whisperers, backbiters, …and boasters." We slice and dice with our speech. We twist the truth so much that they make us put our hand on a Bible and swear that we will "tell the truth and nothing but the truth; so help us God" before giving our testimony in a court of law! We curse God's Name. We curse Jesus' Name. James writes that, "5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (James 3:5-6 NKJV).

    4. Debased (worthless) human concepts.

"inventors of evil things…"

While not all of man's inventions promote evil, certainly some demonstrate both mans' moral and mental perversion. Some inventions are innocent (like the "Sham-wow"); while others are simply insidious.

Insidious inventions include: abortion (killing babies for conveniences sake), the atomic bomb, napalm, etc. The Roman cross was an evil and horribly cruel way to take someone's life. What man sat down and figured out that if you stretched a person out in that particular position and nailed their limbs to a rugged piece of wood that not only would it be excruciating (a word invented to describe crucifixion) but eventually the victim would die by suffocation (a horrible way to go). Ironically, Jesus humbly submitted to death by this cruel invention. Paul writes in Philippians 2:8, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (NKJV). One of mans' cruel concepts crucified the Christ.

    5. Debased human relationships.

By nature mankind is: "untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful", is there any wonder that we live in a world filled with broken relationships?

32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Finally a debased standard of righteousness.

Not only do we violate God's righteous law, but we encourage others to do the same and then applaud their actions. Misery loves company; the louder the crowd, the quieter the conscience. This truth is seen in the proliferation of the "homosexual rights" movement. If they can convince society that same sex and transgender relationships are acceptable then their guilty conscience is eased. Just because something is "legal" does not make it right. Mankind will not ultimately be judged by the Supreme Court of his own making; they will stand before the Sovereign Maker and they will be without excuse. How does God really feel about people who serve their own corrupt nature?

1 Corinthians 6

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I love verse 11, "such were some of you"; God doesn't deny or ignore the corruption of human nature, he redeems it! We are changed from the inside out; the goal of Christianity is not morality. The goal is true worship reflecting the nature and character of God. Morality is a bonus, the outward working of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Questions for discussion:

1. God is sovereign; and everything He does has purpose. What do you think God's purpose was for "giving man over"?

2. After reading Paul's description of mans' depravity in verses 28-32, what does man deserve?

3. What are some of the natural consequences that God allows of mans' sin?