42. Upholding Law

Meditations in Romans : 42:  Upholding the Law


Rom 3:29-31 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law


Romans is a steady flow of Paul’s thoughts, but nevertheless there are distinct junction points where that flow seems to move up a notch, and so as we come to the end of chapter 3 and get ready to move into chapter 4 we must recognise a change.  So far in the last chapter Paul has been creating a level playing field for Jew and Gentile. All are lost and need God’s salvation that comes through Jesus. In chapter 4 Paul starts using Abraham as an illustration of saving faith and will move on to open up the theme of justification by faith which he has only briefly mentioned so far. So we are going to draw this particular set of meditations to a close at this point which is fitting.

Because it is a continuous flow of thought we need to remind ourselves what has just gone: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (v.28).  That’s where his previous arguing had come to. But he wants to emphasise  something else now. So he asks this simple question: “Is God the God of the Jews only?” It is something you might think is so, if you casually read the Old Testament, for it is certainly the story about Israel (yet the truth is that they were to be a light to the rest of the world and that comes through literally dozens of times in the Old Testament.)  Oh no, comes Paul with a rhetorical question, “Is he not the God of the Gentiles too?” We may think this is a minor matter but in fact it is a crucial matter. God isn’t only concerned with the Jews; He is concerned with the whole world.

That had been Peter’s stumbling block that we read about in Acts 10 when the Lord gave him a vision about eating unclean animals in preparation for going to a Gentile family. When Jesus had said to the apostles, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) they must have thought he meant to the Jews all over the world. It had come as a real shock to Peter, and most of his fellow Jewish believers, that the Gospel included the Gentiles, the rest of the world! This is important in what is coming, for Paul is soon going to be using the illustration of Abraham and that could have made his Jewish readers think even more it is all about the Jews. But no, this is an inclusive Gospel. The fact that the Gentiles had not had the Law is neither here nor there, for “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law.”

Then he answers his own question: “Yes, of Gentiles too,”and then he adds, “since there is only one God.” There is not one God for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. No, the Lord is one and He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”Yes, the Jews, the circumcised are justified by faith, not by keeping the Law. We’ve seen a number of times how futile it is in relying upon your observance of the Law because we all fail to keep it perfectly. No, and this might have come as a shock to the Jewish readers, they are justified (accepted by God) by faith, just as the Gentiles are justified by faith. That is the devastating news that Paul is going to open up on in the coming chapters – justification by faith. Everything about our salvation is by faith. It is all about responding to what God has said about His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one against whom all our responses are measured. It’s how we respond to Jesus Christ that determines whether we are saved or not. That is the uncompromising message of the New Testament.

Paul then envisages his Jewish readers coming up with another question: Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” i.e. does faith render the Law meaningless? Does it mean that the Law is pointless? Then comes his answer: Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Faith upholds the Law?   Yes, later in the letter Paul will illustrate this. We have already seen in the preceding verses; it is Law that makes us realise that we are sinners in need of salvation and so, when we respond to the Gospel by faith, we are showing that the Law did its work and was effective in driving us into God’s arms. What Paul is saying is that by coming to God, by faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are supporting or upholding the role of the Law. Yes it was there as a means of providing guidance and direction for Israel, but as a means of measuring our righteousness it was a failure. It’s role, it turns out, is to show us our sinful tendency and our inability to keep the rules, and therefore our need of God’s help.  In the next set of meditations we will see how this justification by faith is worked out. For the time being, we conclude with the message that has come over loud and strong from these last two chapters: we NEED Jesus to save us because nothing else can!

41. Boasting

Meditations in Romans : 41:  No Room for Boasting

Rom 3:27,28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Pride is a pitfall for the religious. How easy it is to think you are pious and godly and THEY are worldly and ungodly. Now indeed ‘they’ may have the spirit of the world (see 1 Jn 2:15-17) and indeed they may be ungodly, then so were you once! This is especially insidious for those of us who found a relationship with the Lord when we were young. All we can remember is being a Christian and so we are, surely, superior?  No, I would never ask you to abandon your faith so as to see what it is like without it, but the person who becomes a Christian later in life has a much greater idea of what it means to without God, what we are like before we come to Christ. The person who knew the Lord from a young age has the privilege of a much less tainted life, but we are still the same, for without Christ we would still be a wreck and we are Christians not because of our works but because He drew us to Himself and Jesus died for us. The basics are still the same. It is also very easy, when we have known the Lord a number of years and, even more, when He has greatly changed us and used us, to forget what it was like without Christ and to forget that we didn’t do anything to earn this life we now have.

Oh no, Paul is absolutely right; there is no room for boasting. We have seen a number of times in these more recent meditations that when we try to keep the Law, when we try to follow the rules, we can never be sure that we are keeping them all or keeping them perfectly. No, trying to keep the law means doubt at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. We may be utterly deluded and think we are a good person but we’ve never looked at our lives, our words and our actions in detail and in the light of God’s perfection. We may excuse or justify ourselves but the truth remains the same: trying to keep the rules means doubts at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. There is no way that we can be a Christian by keeping the rules; that is a path doomed to failure and it is not what the Lord calls us to. So first of all, although that’s not actually what Paul is saying, we have no grounds to boast on the basis of our keeping the Law.

But actually he says something else: there are no grounds to boast because it is all of faith, and similarly to the Law, faith doesn’t leave us any grounds to boast. Why? Well what is faith? It is simply responding to what God has said. Faith comes from hearing the message from God (Rom 10:17). God tells us what He has done through His Son, Jesus and, when we simply respond to that, it is faith. But it isn’t a big thing on our part that gives us grounds to boast, because actually what happens is that we realise what a state we’re in (as we’ve been seeing in recent meditations) as the Holy Spirit convicts us of the truth about us – helpless and hopeless – and we come out of a state of desperation to a place of surrender to God.

We give up all our self-efforts and self-justifying and we confess we are sinners needing to be saved. We don’t actually bring anything of value to the table, just our miserable selves who need God to save them. That is the truth of what happens! We don’t come to the table to negotiate with God for we have nothing of value to put on the table. No, we come empty handed in need and seek God for His mercy and grace which comes through the finished work of Jesus. Have you ever thought, God doesn’t have to receive us? He could utterly reject us and sent us to eternal separation from Him.

The death of Jesus doesn’t force Him to accept us.  If there is anything that makes Him act, it is His character, it is His love. He always wants good for us and always looks to save us if we will only come, but when we come it is not with any great fanfare on our part. In fact to the contrary we come with a whimper, we come with humility and sometimes we come with tears. Conviction is not a happy thing; it is not something to boast about. We cannot triumph about ‘our conviction’ because it was simply the Holy Spirit showing us our need. We can’t boast about being in need; it’s not something you boast about, being a needy soul, is it?

So when we exercised faith and responded to God’s word about Jesus, we were simply taking the only way out as we saw it. We saw our need as the Holy Spirit showed us it (as we keep needing to remind ourselves) and so when God showed us a means of meeting that need, we grabbed at it as drowning man grabs at a straw. When a man foolishly goes to close to the edge of the sea wall and falls into the raging sea, and then someone throws him a lifebelt on the end of a rope and he’s pulled in, does he clamber out declaring, “Wow did you see the incredible way I grabbed hold of that lifebelt? Didn’t I do well?”  No, it is a very different story. He knows it was his foolishness that got him into a life threatening position to start with and he is just very grateful that someone provided the means to save him and then pull him out.

So, no, there is no room to boast about our faith. It is the way we are saved, not following the Law, but even then it’s 99% the work of God and the 1% that involves us is a ‘clutching’ at God’s lifebelt. Wow!

40. Justice

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Justice Demonstrated

Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Justice is a key issue at the heart of life. The word ‘just’ means ‘equitable, fair, right, and proper’. Justice is about achieving ends which are equitable, fair, right and proper. In our relativistic age there is a lot of talk about ‘understanding criminals’ or understanding why people are ‘driven’ to do bad things and we excuse them on the basis of their bad backgrounds, their bad education or their bad parents – until they do something to us! The modern trend is to do away with rights and wrongs – until they affect me personally. It is easy to theorise about such things until they hit home personally. Rape is academic until I am raped. Murder is academic until someone tries to kill me. Theft is academic until someone steals what is mine. When any one of those things happens to us, we suddenly want justice! Until then justice, too, can be an academic thing. It can be academic until we are offended against.

Now put yourself in God’s position. He has made a perfect world, given us every form of provision possible for a good life, encouraged us again and again, and all He gets is rejection and reviling, and He has to watch as we abuse one another, abuse His world, and abuse Him. It is very personal for God for He is there and sees it all.

Justice demands that what is wrong is put right. Justice demands that what is stolen is returned. Justice demands that the offender is corrected, even punished, and stopped repeating the offence, for until he does we are all under threat from him. Justice looks at our sins – our wrongs, our failures, our rejections of God, our abuses – and demands they are dealt with, that they be stopped, that they be punished. The easy answer from God’s point of view would be to instantly wipe out and remove all signs of the offender so they no longer offend or threaten people or His earth. How easy that would be to God. But He doesn’t do that because we are told that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love wants to help, to change, to improve, to bless, to remedy. God wants to act to change the person or situation.

But justice is there demanding action. Justice has always been there demanding action. Something needs to be done, someone needs to pay! There is payment in that every sin does bring upon the person some sort of negative consequence. When we fail to ‘work’ as we were designed to work, then there are repercussions, but those are just normal consequences, natural outworkings of doing foolish things. Justice still stands in the wings and looks for the wrong to be righted, for the offender to be punished. How to punish every sin without destroying the sinner who God wants to draw out of Sin?

The answer has been for an eternal being to come and stand in the place of execution and to take our punishment. Only an eternal being is ‘big enough’ to take any and every sin’s punishment, and it happened in time-space history on the Cross at Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus died for us. That was exactly what was happening, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ or a means of fulfilling the demands of justice. This was God who had come ‘to demonstrate his justice.’ This was God ensuring that the demands of justice were fulfilled.

Prior to that there had been the sacrificial system which “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The sinner was able to walk away unpunished. Yes, under the sacrificial system an animal died, and animal was seen to carry the punishment for the sinner, and that appeased the conscience of the sinner as they conformed to the law that God had laid down as a means of dealing with their sin. But that, we now understand, simply pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would be the eternal Son of God who would died in our place to carry the punishment for each and every individual sin we have ever committed.

This, Paul says of God, he did .. to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” Yes, now in history, he says, we have witnessed justice being administered as an eternal being has died in our place. He did it “so as to be just.” He made sure that justice was genuinely administered, and in so doing Hejustifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Yes, all those who will come in repentance on the basis of what they have been told about what Jesus did on the Cross for them, are forgiven and released from the sentence of death that hung over them. They have been ‘justified’ – made right in God’s sight – because their punishment has been taken, their sins have genuinely been deal with, and justice is satisfied. THAT is what this is all about. Receive it humbly and rejoice with thanksgiving for the wonder of what God has done for us.

39. Atonement

Meditations in Romans : 39:  Atonement

Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Some of us don’t like talk about ‘the blood’ or ‘the Cross’ but, fortunately or unfortunately, they are at the heart of the Gospel. In fact there are words in our verses above that bring great revelation to what the Gospel is all about – if we hadn’t caught Paul’s flow in the previous verses we’ve been considering in a number of mediations: we are lost, helpless and hopeless and we need God’s help. In the previous verse Paul has just spoken of the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t often use the word ‘redemption’ in modern life, unless we have been unfortunate enough to use the services of a pawnbroker. If we have then we put an article into pawn in exchange for a loan which will need paying back with interest at some time in the future. In the getting it back by a payment, we thus ‘redeem’ the article. So when Paul uses that phrase he is referring to the fact that Jesus’ death mean that our lives could be bought by his blood and reclaimed from the death cell (life on earth) where we awaited our eternal punishment for our sins.

There is in all of us, this deep down knowledge that wrongs deserve punishing, which is why we spend so much time trying to justify ourselves and make out why such punishment shouldn’t apply to us!  Yet our innate sense of justice declares that wrongs should be punished. In fact when we hear of the existence of a holy God, we fear even more (and make more efforts to deny Him).

Then Paul speaks of ‘atonement’ which, in its simplest form means ‘making up for’. But what can make up for the myriads of failures that we have in life? What can make up so that we do not have to bear the punishment due to us? His answer is ‘the blood’ of Jesus, which is simply shorthand for meaning his death on the Cross at Calvary, taking our place, taking our punishment. His death was a sacrifice, in the same pattern as the sacrifices brought into the Temple in Old Testament times. Hence Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36,  Rev 5:6,8,12). It is the picture of an animal dying in the place of the sinner, taking upon it their sin and guilt and death penalty.

It is perhaps only when we think on these things do we realise the awfulness of Sin. Much of the time we downplay Sin in our lives and think little of it, but the truth is that in God’s eyes, it is so important and provides such a division between Him and us that He was willing to pay the ultimate price of being separated from His very own Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Surely if there had been any other way possible God would have taken it? Surely if there any other way possible, Jesus would have taken it. Yet, there throughout the history of the world was this enormous mountain of sin, the sins of every human being throughout history, with justice crying out to be done. If justice cannot be seen to be done, then God can never speak to and correct a single human being, for all that is left is their utter judgment and so why bother to restrain sin? Why not let it just run and get worse and worse until we destroy ourselves?

But God is not a defeatist; He knew from the moment He planned to give us free will that we would first exercise it to reject Him. He knew from the outset that sin after sin would mount up and if nothing was done, it would cause the ultimate destruction of humanity. But, as we said, God is not a defeatist. He planned to call mankind back to Himself. Throughout the Old Testament He is there seeking to forge relationships with individuals and with the nation of Israel, so that they may be a light to the rest of the world, drawing the eyes of the world to God. But how could He do that with all the sins of the world still being there and being there as a barrier between us and God, as much for us as for Him?

We feel guilt-ridden and incapable of changing. He sees us constantly doing our own thing and ignoring Him. How was there a way to break into this cycle? It was to provide a means for this guilt to be dealt with, for somehow justice to be satisfied and the price paid for each and every sin that we feel bad about and the millions we don’t.  The only way, and we really can’t take it in even though we seek to explain it, was for the eternal Son of God to take it for us, for him to step into our place and take the punishment – and that was what was happening on the Cross.

How does it happen for us individually? It happens, as we saw in a previous meditation, when we respond to this news in faith. It is faith in his blood, faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross on our behalf, which opens the door to God’s heart and which brings salvation. It is an act of faith to say we believe God when He has said that this is the way to be saved, by simply believing that Jesus has done it for us.

As we act in faith and declare our belief by coming to God to receive the forgiveness that Jesus has earned for us, it enables Him in return to declare us forgiven and declare us adopted, so that He is then able to put His own Holy Spirit within us, so that a new experience can be ours for the rest of our years on this earth and into eternity. This new experience of life means we can live free from guilt, and free to have a relationship with God, whereby He guides and leads us. All of this is the outworking of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross when it is received by us. How wonderful!

38. God’s Rightness

Meditations in Romans : 38:  God’s Rightness

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The point that Paul has been making again and again in a variety of ways, is that however much we try to keep the rules, we fail to be righteous. We’ve seen his arguments and we’ve thought through some of the issues, and the conclusions are clear: we are helpless and hopeless and cannot make ourselves righteous. Now if God wasn’t a God of love He would just leave us like that and condemn us to this futile way of living, leaving us to our frustrations and our guilt – but He is and He doesn’t!

This is one of those passages that starts with a ‘But’. ‘But’ here means that is not the end of it, for God has stepped in and done what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t make ourselves righteous but God can and it is a righteousness… apart from the Law.” God’s righteousness does not depend upon us having to keep that Law, for we’ve already seen that that is a lost cause! We can’t do it, so He has to do it on some other basis.

So what is it? Hold on, we need to see where we find out about this first: “to which the Law and the Prophets testify”. When a writer speaks about ‘the Law and the Prophets’, that is simply a shorthand way of meaning all of the Old Testament. Yes, says Paul, this righteousness from God is something that has been hinted at throughout the Old Testament – as we’ll see as we go on through Romans. It isn’t something that God has just dreamt up; it has been in His heart and mind from before the foundation of the world. There are at least half a dozen references in the New Testament that testify to that (look up 1 Pet 1:20,  Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). It is only now’, says Paul that it has been fully revealed.

So how does this righteousness from God come to us? This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Instead of the Law, God places His Son, Jesus Christ, as the focus of our attention.  Are we to become Christians by copying Jesus? No, because again, on our own that would be absolutely impossible – even more impossible than keeping the Law! On our own could we heal the sick and raise the dead? Definitely not! No, the point of Jesus’ three years of ministry was not to give us something to imitate (although there is an element of that about it) but to reveal the Father’s love to us and to show us that he was God’s Son. And that is where the focus now comes, on us simply believing that which we have just said – that Jesus revealed God’s love for us and showed us that he was God’s Son.

But there is also a third thing that he did which is vital: he died on the Cross for our sins, so that we might be forgiven; that is the third element of belief. This is how this righteousness from God comes: it comes by us simply believing these three things: a) that Jesus revealed God’s love for us (He does love us!), b) that Jesus was and is God’s Son, and c) being God’s Son he was able to step in for us and take the punishment for our sins. When we come to a place of being able to say “I believe” and it is real, so real that it causes us to respond to it and surrender to God and ask for it to apply to our lives, then He declares us righteous. This is what the Gospel is all about.  An act of faith? Yes, of course, because the Bible tells us that faith is responding to what God has said. We hear it, we believe it, and we respond to it. That is faith.

Now is this purely for Jews or purely for Gentiles? Who is this for, Paul now considers. No, he says, it is for everyone. Everyone? Yes everyone, because, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Oh yes, we’ve seen it already,  every single one of us, Jew and Gentile are hopeless and helpless. All of us are in the same boat. We all need God to come and do what we cannot do on our own. Every one of us does wrong and every one of us fails to reach the standard of God’s perfection. There’s not one of us who could stand before God as an equal in holiness. No, we’re all doomed unless we receive the salvation that God offers through His Son.

Look at Paul’s final description of this salvation: are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We don’t have to work for it; it is something that comes freely from God. It is an act of His grace that He doesn’t demand we keep on struggling to be better and gives us a way out by simple belief. No, we have been redeemed, bought by the blood of Jesus, snatched from the jaws of death and hell and from Satan. Jesus has paid the price and we can do no more than believe it and live it! Jesus HAS done it. Receive it, live it!

37. Sin Conscious

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Conscious of Sin

Rom 3:19-20   Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The human race is a strange animal!  Seriously, when you look at us carefully, there are some things about us that we take so much for granted but which are actually quite strange. They are even more strange if you believed the atheist who says this world is just chance and there is no meaning or purpose behind it. There are two features of every human being that strike me as very strange in the light of that dogma.

The first is the tendency of most people to have a sense of failure or inadequacy. Oh yes, people cover it up and in fact they spend much of their life covering it up, but if you can catch them at a rare moment of honesty they will confess to you that they are not the great person that they would like the world to believe they are. No, they will confess their inadequacies and even their failures (but you will need to get them at a rare point of honesty). All of us have this particular awareness even though, as I’ve said, we go to great lengths to cover it up. Why should people who are, according to the atheist, random acts of chance, worry about such things, but worry we do!

The second strange tendency, which goes with the first one, is the concern to be seen to be good. We feel bad about ourselves deep down, and yet we want everyone to see us NOT as a failure. We want others to see us as successes. We want to be thought of as nice people, good people, people who get it right and do well. Of course those descriptions vary according to the social group we belong to but we know the standards that our particular group has and we want to live up to their standards so they will think well of us. You see it in any and every social grouping, but why should it be if we are just random chance creatures with no meaning or purpose. Everything within us challenges that assessment of us. We measure ourselves and our assessment is important!

Now the Jews of Jesus’ day and Paul’s day, were one such social grouping and within that cultural or social group was a sub-group who made the rest feel it was important to abide by a certain set of life-rules, the Law of Moses. They were the people that people refers to as under the Law.” The Law was the standard by which they assessed one another. If you were good, you kept the Law. For instance Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Lk 1:6); that was the assessment of people who knew them and later told Luke about them.  Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father was described as “a righteous man,” (Mt 1:19) which would have meant that he was a man who sought to keep God’s commandments; hence his action in wanting to quietly divorce Mary.

The not-so-nice people of that society didn’t bother about the Law. They were lawbreakers or sinners and were looked down upon by those who did adhere to the Law. Now if you lived in a society where this Law prevailed, where you were very much aware of it, even though others adjudged you righteous, you knew deep down that that meant righteous in most things, for there would always be a little something somewhere where you didn’t come up to the mark. Indeed with some it is difficult to know if you come up to the mark. For instance, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5)  Could you ever be sure that that was how you truly loved God? You kept the practical commandments you were aware of, but was that enough to ensure you could say that you loved God like this?

Suppose there were laws that you didn’t know about? Perhaps you weren’t keeping them? No, the truth was that you could never boast of being a perfect law-keeper, which is what Paul meant when he said, so that every mouth may be silenced.” Yes, you were never quite certain and so it was better to remain quiet. Yes, you knew that deep down, just like were considered at the beginning of this meditation, you had something that left you feeling inadequate and as such you would be “held accountable to God.” Oh yes, you could never stand before God with a totally clear conscience. You feared that future where you knew that one day you would have to stand before him and be answerable for your imperfection!

Thus Paul can conclude, Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Yes, if you are going to measure me by the Law I can never say I am totally perfect and therefore I can not say with a clear heart that I am righteous. All focusing on the rules has done, has been to make me more and more aware of the bits where I fall short.

This is it, isn’t it? Whatever set of rules we have to abide by, the Law of Moses or the laws of our little group in society, we fear failure, and we are constantly struggling to achieve approval of others who measure us by the rules, but deep down we know they will judge us because we are not perfect and will fail even their expectations of us! No, if you base life on keeping to a set of rules or even expectations upon you, know that you are doomed to a life of failure and the only way to cope is to pretend you’re not, while all the time knowing you are. What a deception!

36. All sinned

Meditations in Romans : 36:  All have sinned

Rom 3:9-17 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” Their feet are swift to shed blood;  ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

We commented in the previous meditation about the need to observe context to catch the meaning and now we need to think about context and the whole Bible. We are about to embark on a passage that reveals humanity in its worst light and in one sense that could be very depressing and so it is at times like this that we need to remind ourselves that we need to see any passage in the light of the whole of Scripture. Paul’s point here is to show the need that ALL mankind has of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, and therefore he focuses on the negatives aspects of human existence. Elsewhere he focuses on the glory of being a child of God and that is all very positive, but we can’t get to that until we have been through the negatives that bring us to our knees at the foot of the Cross. So let’s see what he says, with that awareness in the back of our minds.

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! This is Paul summing up and arriving at a conclusion at the end of the previous paragraphs about the Jews.  Oh no, when it comes down to it, the Jews are the same as the Gentiles; we all have the same needs: We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. So, the starting place is that there is no distinction, ALL of mankind, Jew and Gentile are in the same boat! To justify this Paul starts quoting Scripture: As it is written: All that follows are Old Testament quotations.

We need to understand, when we observe New Testament writers quoting the Old, that often they simply convey the sense, sometimes they take bits and put them together and sometimes they quote from the Greek version of the Old Testament which was slightly different from the Hebrew version in places.

Thus Paul seems to quote from Psa 14:3 which reads, “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Or possibly Psa 53:1 “They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good,” or possibly Eccles 7:20 “There is not a righteous man on earth” as he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one;  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Within his summary, note the universality of sin. In verse 9 he had declared that “ALL are under sin.”  Now in his summary see the words he uses: “no one….. not even one….. no one who understands,  no one who seeks God. All have turned away… no one who does good, not even one.” Oh yes, he is saying, don’t think you might be an exception. There are NO exceptions!

Then he turns from generalities to specifics of sin and goes on to cite the Old Testament speaking out what people say:  Psa 5:9 – “Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.” He writes, Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” Then Psa 140:3 “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.” He quotes the latter half of that verse exactly. He then cites Psa 10:7 “His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” He writes, “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” He then quotes Isa 59:7,8 “Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know.” He writes, Their feet are swift to shed blood;  ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” Finally he cites Psa 56:1 “There is no fear of God before his eyes,” as he writes, There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Yes, rather a negative collection of verses from the Old Testament but in so doing he shows us that this is no new doctrine but simply the teaching of the whole Bible. Throughout the whole Bible the teaching is the same, that without God we are sinners who are lost, helpless and hopeless! Have no illusion about being a nice person. Any niceness you have is the grace of God. Left to ourselves we are not nice, left to ourselves sin rises up and we can be thoroughly unpleasant. Left to ourselves we desperately need God’s help.

35. God Revealed

Meditations in Romans : 35:  God Revealed

Rom 3:5-8 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say–as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say–“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

The difficulty of meditating on a few verses is that it is so easy to forget the context, and especially what has just gone before. Paul has just said, What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” He is, of course, referring to the Jews, and then added, “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” i.e. God is revealed as righteous when He judges the unrighteous Jews. So now Paul envisages his Jewish readers in Rome answering, “Hold on, if our wrong doing only shows God’s righteousness more clearly, isn’t it unfair that He then judges us? If our actions make Him look better, isn’t it unfair that He then punishes us?” I know I’m arguing as a foolish human being, but that’s what you are and that’s what that sort of arguing is, Paul implies in a quick aside.

Of course He’s not being unfair. God is Judge and it is right that He judges all wrongdoing. Then he does a double take, as if hearing them continuing to think down that wrong path, Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” i.e. OK, I admit I might not be always a truth-teller but if that only goes to contrast God’s utter truthfulness and show how wonderful He is, why should I get smacked for being less than perfect? (That’s how we might say it!)

Look, Paul continues, you might as well say – as some people wrongly say we do say – that we should do wrong so that God’s grace is seen more clearly. That is probably what is behind verse 8, because when we properly preach grace, it can almost be mistaken for this wrong thinking. The worse the sinner is, when they come to Christ and are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, the greater the grace that is seen to operate. But that is not an argument to sin more. It simply says that God’s grace is big enough for whoever the repenting sinner is and for whatever they have done in the past. There is only one thing that proves a stumbling block to salvation: “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Mt 12:31,32). The word blasphemy used here refers to “speaking against.” Look, said Jesus, you can speak against me and that can be forgiven but if you speak against the moving of the Spirit as He seeks to move in you and bring conviction, it is obvious that you are rejecting Him and while you do that you can never come to repentance and receive forgiveness.

So the truth to be held on to is that God’s grace is sufficiently big to forgive whatever sin you have committed when you come to God in repentance. God’s ‘good intent’ towards you will never vary. It doesn’t matter how big or serious you consider your failure; if you come to Him in repentance then His forgiveness IS there for you. It’s not a question of what you feel, but of God’s declared truth: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and WILL forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). However behind all this there is a fundamental truth we need to hold on to: the other side of this coin is if you sin and don’t repent you will still be answerable to God and God does judge and discipline. It is right that God judges sin – all sin, yours and mine. Jesus has died on the Cross to bring us forgiveness but if we do not repent we cannot be forgiven. The Cross is only operative when we confess and repent. Remember that!

34. God be True

Meditations in Romans : 34 :  Let God be True

Rom 3:1-4 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

Paul has just been saying things that almost appear to undermine being Jewish but he has done it as a means of undermining self-confidence to show them their need of salvation is just the same as anyone else’s. But he doesn’t want them to be driven away. He doesn’t want them totally discouraged; he still wants them to listen to what he writes and so he temporarily steps back as he foresees them asking so what advantage then, is there from being a Jew? Indeed one might go on, what value is there in circumcision? Oh, it’s not pointless he tries to say – Much in every way. First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God – that is important! Oh yes, let’s not completely demolish being a Jew. They need salvation as much as anyone else but let’s recognise that they are in a privileged position having had all those years of relationship with the Lord! He doesn’t expand on it here for that is not his goal, but later on in the letter he does: Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ” (Rom 9:4,5) Oh yes, they have much to be thankful for, but that doesn’t make them any the less sinners who need to be saved by the blood of Christ.

But the moment we start thinking about their history it raises a problem for it is clear that at a number of times in their history many of them did not have faith and that creates a problem. God had promised to bless them and make them a special nation so that He could bless the rest of the world through them. Does the fact that they had been unfaithful now mean that God will be unfaithful to His original intention to bless the world?  No, certainly not!

Here it comes – even if everyone else lies, God won’t, He will always remain true and so (implied) if He has said He will bless the world, He will!  The lack of faithfulness of the Jews will not detract from that. The fact is that He still brought His Son, Jesus, into this world through that nation and brought the means of salvation about through this nation, through their sinfulness in fact. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, speaking about Jesus to the Jews said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) and preaching a few days later, again to Jews, “You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:13-15) Yes, they had the dubious privilege of being used by God to bring about His purposes of redemption.

To drive home this point about God never lying but being revealed at truthful, even through our sin, Paul adds a quotation from the Old Testament which in its fuller version reads, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psa 51:4) That had been David in confession mode, saying that even though he did wrong, God would be seen to be right. That would have happened when God held him accountable for his sin and stood as Judge, speaking against David’s sin and bringing corrective action against it. Yes, God’s righteousness is revealed whenever He has to confront our sinful behaviour. His words of judgment and His corrective action reveals that He is true to His nature and to His word and so He always remains righteous and always remains faithful to His declared will.

There is a danger, when either we do wrong or others around us do wrong, and everything feels bad, to think and feel that God will not remain true to the loving, forgiving character that He reveals to us, but the truth is that His character does not change one bit when we sin, however bad it is. Yes, He will hold us accountable, but He still remains a loving, caring God who wants the best for us and wants us to come to repentance and back into a relationship with Him. Some of us really need to hear this: He does NOT change when we blow it. He remains faithful and still works to draw us back to Himself. That IS His objective, and He will always remain true to it; that is why He sent Jesus. He wants you back!

33. A Real Jew?

Meditations in Romans : 33 :  A Real Jew?

Rom 2:28,29 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God

People sometimes say, “It’s what goes on inside you that matters,” and in this they are right – partly! It is as important as what goes on outwardly, both are important. Our behaviour is important but what drives our behaviour is equally important. Another thing you hear people say is, “Clothes maketh a man.” This is a bit different, but not much. This is suggesting that what you look like is all important. If you dress up and look good, you’ll feel good and be good. A small element of truth there but it can be deceptive. I believe there is no more deception than in public life. Here are great leaders applauded by the media, apparently achieving great things, but then you hear they are on their third marriage and you wonder. What is it about this person that they are unable to hold together a relationship? Or they do great things but you then hear that they children are all over the place because they feel unloved and ignored. No, you can be good on the outside but inside there is much missing!

We saw in the previous meditation Paul comparing Jew and Gentile, pointing out that the Jew may have the Law and circumcision but the Gentile may show they have more of a relationship with God by the way they live, than the Jew does. Paul draws this bit of the argument to a close by questioning what a real Jew is. Is it someone who belongs to the Jewish race, whose origins are in Israel?  Is this person a Jew?  Most people would say yes, but not Paul. You’re not a Jew because you have the outward marks of circumcision, he says, because that is merely something that has been done to you when you were very young. No, he continues, real circumcision, that marks out a man as a real Jew is that of the heart. When you heart has been cut and given to God that is real circumcision! Anything else is simply an external ritual which can be meaningless.

Moreover, says Paul, it is to be a heart circumcision that is brought about by the Holy Spirit, not something to do with the Law. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts and converts. A real relationship with the Lord comes about by a work of the Holy Spirit, not by a work of man. It is not by human endeavour (trying to keep the Law), but by the Holy Spirit drawing a person, convicting them and then coming in to them. It is all a Spirit thing, not a Law thing. Whereas the Jew so often looked to others for affirmation that he was a Jew, a real Jew, one whose heart has been worked upon by the Holy Spirit, gets his affirmation from God Himself. It is God affirming we are His children, by the work of His Holy Spirit, is all the praise we want, and brings all the confidence we need. We need nothing beyond that.

When we do something outwardly then, yes, people can praise us for our achievement, but when God has done an inner work in us, then we have nothing worthy of praise in us. We simply surrendered to Him and He did the rest.  As Paul said to the church at Corinth, God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 1:27-30). Similarly to the church in Ephesus he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8,9)

That in Romans was Paul to the Jews, but what about us who are Christians? The immediate parallel to the act of circumcision in a baby is probably the unscriptural act of ‘baptizing’ or ‘christening’ babies. If you were christened as a baby that doesn’t make you a Christian today!  The two sets of verses we’ve just looked at say it all. We have no room to boast because when we came to Him we were weak. It was only Him putting His Holy Spirit in us that made us what we are today. It wasn’t anything to do with our works or our achievements (or what was done to us when we were a baby), it is all to do with His grace which we simply receive by faith. It’s not what we do on the outside that is the all important thing – though it is important – it is the work that He has brought about in us that is the crucial thing, the thing that makes Christians.

Thus we come to the end of the chapter and it is worth just reminding ourselves where Paul has been going with this. He has been undermining any pride or arrogance or sense of self-ability that the Jews in Rome might have, as he prepares to tell them all about what God has done through Jesus. But he hasn’t finished yet, so we must continue on into the next chapter in our next mediation to see where he next takes this.