14. A Guilt-Free People

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

14. A Guilt-Free People

Rom 3:23-25   all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

A tighter focus: In this third Part we are going to move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to considering just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God’s eyes as declared in the New Testament, AND is some practical ways. Yes, we have observed that there is a God-difference, that Christians are first and foremost believers in Jesus Christ, that they have had a supernatural experience or encounter with God that Jesus called being ‘born again’, and this followed their conviction by the Spirit and repentance. We also noted in passing, so to speak, the basic need to be saved and meaning of becoming a faith people, but now we are going to move on to see the things that happen to the believer as part of and following this experience of being born again. I want to approach it by recognising the needs that we have as we come to God and what He does to meet those needs. The contents of this third Part will be as follows:

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

We start with the guilt that we have and how He removes that, expanding on the things we considered in Study no.11, ‘Repentance and Conviction’.

A Basic Problem: There is a problem that is at the heart of human experience. It is the problem of guilt. Wikipedia comes up with a good definition: “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.”  Now we may try and deny that – and modern thinking desperately tries to do away with standards in order to do that – but the truth is that deep down each of us feels that somehow we are falling short of some standard or other, and yes we may go to great efforts to cover that up but it is still there.

Cover-up Jobs: Oh how varied are the means people use to cover up this sense of guilt, a guilt that is sometimes very shallow, the guilt of not living up to one’s own expectations or even those of our parents, or it may be a deeper guilt where we know our behaviour towards another, or even against society, in the past was less than glorious! We try to cover up these feelings by appearing nice, trying to be good, trying to be respectable, aiming for achievement, fame, status, things that make us look good in the eyes of others.

Why? But why do we have these feelings. Well, the apostle Paul wrote that it was because we got it wrong (sinned) and fell short of the incredible potential that each of us have when we are in harmony with God (falling short of God’s glory). I have watched various Christians struggling with their lives, struggling to achieve and I have found myself saying, “Don’t you realize that God desires more success for you than you desire for yourself?”  Sometimes that success may be to simply make ends meet and create a great home for a family, sometimes it is to make millions to bless the world with jobs and so much more (consider Bill Gates), sometimes it is success that has nothing to do with money. I suggest Mother Teresa was a staggeringly ‘successful’ person, but that requires us to readjust our thinking about what success means.

The Answer- Justification: OK, we’ve faced the fact that so many of us in the human race struggle with guilt so now I am going to make a possibly surprising suggestion: Christians are possibly one of the only groups in the world who are not guilt laden – or at least should not be.  Now how am I able to say that? It is what I briefly referred to earlier, the doctrine of ‘justification’. If I say I was justified in taking a particular course of action it means I was actually right to take it. If I appear in a court case accused of murder and I plead a case of self-defence and am found ‘not guilty’ we might say I was justified in the eyes of the Law for accidentally killing someone while defending myself.

The use of the word ‘justified’ means I am found not-guilty, or innocent. Now the problem we have been facing when we come to such verses as our starter verse – “all have sinned,” is that I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner – and we all are – because I have fallen short in my life because I did not get God’s help, i.e. I was self-centred and godless. It appears to leave us in a hopeless state where we will be condemned by God, and with no hope of change or escape. But that is where we come to the wonder of the plan of God for salvation, ‘the Gospel’: I am guilty and I do deserve the punishment that justice demands BUT Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died on the Cross in my place and when I accept that truth, the Bible tells me I am justified, I am put right in God’s eyes and in the eyes of justice because the punishment has been taken for my Sin.

As the apostle Paul wrote, This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3:22) and then he explains, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) and applies that to us,  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25) When we believe (and remember we’ve seen previously faith means belief in action, i.e. we respond to what we hear) that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead to prove that this was right and acceptable to God, we are justified.

In God’s eyes it is faith that He uses to measure our righteousness. He declares us righteous (right before Him) when He sees this faith in us – this belief accompanied by action, belief in Jesus. As it was in the case of Abraham in the Old Testament period, so it is with us today. That, and only that, is why I and all of us who know we are Christians, born again of His Spirit, can say we are not burdened by guilt.

Freed! This is the wonder for the true believer, we know our propensity to get it wrong but we seek with God’s help not to; we know we are less than perfect and yet we know that the basis of our relationship with God relies upon what Jesus has achieved on the Cross, him taking my punishment and satisfying justice, leaving me to simply believe that and receive all that He has to give me as we live out this new life of relationship. I am thus freed from guilt and free to live in the wonder of this relationship with God whereby He provides for me through His Spirit.

Dealing with Failure: For the believer living in relationship with God, brought about by the work of Christ on the Cross and now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are, in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching, to consider that we “have died to sin,” (Rom 6:2) and so we are to, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Nevertheless, although our objective is never to sin, there will be times when we trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong.

The apostle John recognized that when he wrote, ”I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) and he had just written, if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (1 Jn 1:9) To summarize: we should not sin, but if on the occasion we do, we are to confess it to God, repent of it, and Jesus’ work on the cross applies again to us. We do not need to go on feeling guilty, but just get on living positively for Christ. This is what all true believers are called to. Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the first of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different: I am justified (put right) in God’s eyes by what Jesus has done for me. I don’t have to struggle to get right with God, just believe that Jesus has made it possible, and receive it and live it! Hallelujah!

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62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “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.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

41. The Divine Process

Meditations in Romans : 41:  The Divine Process

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is THE most compact description of God’s work of salvation found anywhere in the Bible. To put it in context, Paul has been bringing reassurance to the Christians in Rome and having just said that God works for the good in our lives, he now steps back and takes a panoramic view of  God’s work.

It starts with the word, ‘foreknew’. Before God created anything He KNEW what would happen if He did this or that. God KNEW what would happen if He gave us free will. God KNEW what would happen with sin entering the world. God KNEW how He could then work to draw men and women back to Him. God KNEW who would respond to Him.   On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,” (Acts 2:23) speaking of God’s preplanned purposes, and then a little later he preached, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer,” (Acts 3:18) reminding us that God had spoken of this plan many times through the Old Testament prophets. Later in prayer they prayed about the religious leaders, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28). Again and again they realised that all that had taken place, happened with God’s foreknowledge; He had planned it before the foundation of the world. (Check out Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2)

But having known what would happen – the Fall – God planned or “predestined” the way for sin to be dealt with. The key would be the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son, how people responded to him. As we already said, He saw into the future and knew who would respond to His Son. This wasn’t a case of Him making us respond but of simply knowing who would respond. Knowing who would respond and writing their names in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev 17:8) is what the Bible means by predestination. You were predestined to become a child of God in that God looked into the future, knew everything that would happen and saw you responding. It was fixed only in as far as God saw what would happen and thus because it did happen we can say retrospectively that you were predestined.

But there is more because it says, predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” indicating the purpose of what God was going to do in you. Jesus was the blueprint of a perfect man and God’s work throughout our time on earth is to conform us gradually to that blueprint. Jesus would be revealed through his death and resurrection as God’s Son, and in this he would be, if you like, the firstborn of God’s big family that would be created throughout the period of church history, until Jesus comes back again. It will never be perfectly done, this process of change, until we meet Him face to face, but big steps will be taken.

That was the plan but it had to be brought into being in time-space history and so “those he predestined, he also called.” To bring about redemption required the work of the Holy Spirit to call us and convict us.   In the same way that God used a burning bush to attract and call Moses (Ex 3), so the Holy Spirit used circumstances to attract us. Almost invariably it was some form of crisis and somehow, either directly or using another person, we were presented with the Gospel, we repented and came to Christ.

At that point we were justified. At the point of our conversion, at the point of being born again, God justified us: “those he called, he also justified.” The old Sunday School adage of “just as if I’d” never sinned, holds true. He wiped away our guilt and sin and forgave us and adopted us as children of God. At that moment we were declared free of guilt and shame, our old sin and our old lives. At that moment we were declared clean, forgiven and sons of God.

But it doesn’t finish there: “those he justified, he also glorified.” We have already said that at that moment He adopted us and He did it in a very practical way: He put His own Holy Spirit within us. At that moment we were glorified in that suddenly the world was able to see that a new child of God existed, another container of the Spirit of God, and from that moment on we would be glorified as children of God as we lived out the Christ life and were transformed into his image and character, and as the Holy Spirit led us into the works of Christ. One day when we pass into God’s presence, we will be changed in a split second into the glorious image of a redeemed heavenly child of God.

God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.  Note it is all the work of God. This is what He does as He seeks to draw men and women back to Himself. Our part is simply to respond and then we find we are part of the story that was established even before the Lord Himself said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! Wow! Amazing! Incredible! Wonderful!

10. Ongoing Salvation

Meditations in Romans : 10:  Ongoing Salvation

Rom 5:9,10   Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Note again the order of what Paul has been saying in this chapter. First of all he spoke of what I have called the fruit of justification – peace with God and access to His grace (v.1-2) which enables us to rejoice in who we are and even in trying circumstances (v.2,3) which build perseverance, character and hope in us (v.4,5). But then, just to make sure we don’t get carried away with any ideas of self-effort or pride, he reminds us that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when God loved us and sent Jesus to die for us (v.6-8)

Now he seeks to reassure us about the ongoing nature of our salvation. The starting point was our justification when we came to Christ. At that moment we were born again and changed, and it was all because of Christ’s blood, because of what he had achieved on the Cross. We do need to come back to that basic truth again and again, that we are what we are because of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It is entirely because of what HE has done that we are justified.

So look, says Paul, if at the moment of conversion we have been justified by what HE has done, doesn’t that mean even more that we will be saved from God’s wrath that is due to sinners, as we go on in this new Christian life? The whole point of Him justifying us is so that we no longer have to come under God’s judgment because our sin and its guilt have been dealt with. Justice has been appeased and no longer cries out for the things we have done or will do, to be judged, because Jesus has completely dealt with all that. The future, as God’s children, is judgment free!

Then to make the point even more forcibly, it’s as if he goes on, look, stop and think about this a bit more. We saw just now (and agreed) that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when Christ died for us.  In other words we were still clearly his enemies when he died for us. We had nothing to commend us, nothing beyond HIS love to warrant him doing what he did. So if he died for us when we were still his enemies, how much more will he think and feel about us now that we have been reconciled to him and brought into relationship with him and made His sons?

Christ’s death was the thing that enabled us to be reconciled to God – and that has now happened. Because his love for us was so obvious by his going to the Cross for us, how much more must he feel now we have been made part of his family, children of God? If it was good before we came to know him, how much more wonderful must it be not that we have come to know him. Remember, we didn’t contribute to any of that; it was all the free gift of God. We didn’t earn it then and we can’t earn His blessing now.

This is a very simple and straight forward argument and it is simply Paul reassuring us about our future. Some of the Jews in Rome might have been wondering about God’s feelings towards them and, indeed, some of us might wonder similarly thinking, “Oh my goodness, what have I done? What is God going to demand of me know? Have I just opened the door to receive God’s ongoing corrective anger?”

No, the truth is that when we were justified, God dealt with all of His anger against sin, because our sin and guilt had been transferred to Jesus so there was nothing left for Him to be angry about. And if He loved us while He was making that provision, how much more will He express His love towards us now that all that sin and guilt have been taken away and we’ve been made His sons.

Imagine a modern prodigal son type of picture. A son goes away and ends up in the mud of the pigsty, a total mess. In this story the loving Father comes along and says, “Do you want me to help you?” The Son replies, “Yes,” and so the Father hauls him out of the pigsty, hoses him down and then takes him to a spa clinic where he is further washed and cleansed and treated with oils. Now that is the equivalent of our being justified.  Do you think the son in this story is worrying about what is yet to come? Maybe, in our thinking at least, he worries that he is going to get a thorough telling off for having got himself in such a predicament and be put through harsh training to ensure he never goes back to the pigsty. But if he wondered that, he is ignoring the wonder of what his Father has just done. If the Father has so graciously saved him, washed and cleansed him, he’s not going to beat up on him now. No, every sign in what has happened says his Father is just very glad his son has been able to be rescued and the future can now be spent in just entering into being a proper son again and enjoying all the benefits of being part of this family. This is what Paul is saying in these verses. Rejoice, for God has saved us for good days ahead! Hallelujah!

7. Grace our Resource

Meditations in Romans : 7:  Grace our Resource

Rom 5:1-3  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.

To summarise these verses before we look in detail at them, having been justified by God who has taken our faith as the currency of righteousness, that justification has brought about a number of things. The first thing, which we considered in the previous meditation, is that we now have peace with God. The second thing is that because we have been justified by God and brought into a new relationship with Him, which continues by faith, that has given us access to His grace which he provides for us. Now being recipients of His grace means two further things. First it gives us the sense of eternity and we come to realise, probably for the first time, that we are going to be recipients of the glory of God as well. But more than that, this grace is a resource that means we take the hard elements of being a Christian, the opposition and sufferings that come our way, and still rejoice in who we are. Now each of those things is very significant so let’s take them one by one.

Peace we’ve already considered. Now let’s think about “this grace in which we now stand.” Note the words, this grace.” This must, in the context, first mean the whole general state of grace, of being a redeemed and justified believer. A state of grace here simply means a state of being forgiven, cleansed and having had our sin and guilt dealt with by God as a free gift. When Paul says we stand in this grace it always sends me back to his words to the Ephesians: Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14). I imagine the Christian life that we have inherited as a plot of land – the truths of the Gospel – and the enemy seeks to push us off this or deceive us off or scare us off this plot of land, but we have to hold on to these truths. This plot of land is also the state of grace that I referred to – we are there by the free gift of God and we must resist Satan’s urges for us to try to earn God’s love.

So there we are. Our faith has brought us to God and He has given us this ‘plot of land’ called our salvation, or this state of grace, but it is also a place of resource for us because the moment we were justified He also imparted His own Holy Spirit into our lives and so He Himself is the power and wisdom resource who dwells within us. His very presence within me, will enable me to overcome and will grant me the wisdom and direction that I need.

Now being in the state of grace means that suddenly everything about God becomes real. Previously He had been at a distance but now He is as close as it is possible to be. Later in this book Paul is going to write, “those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) What does it mean for us to be glorified? It means that because we are now children of God (1 Jn 3:1, Jn 1:12) we have been given the same glory as God although in such limited measure that it is not see as a bright light – but His own Holy Spirit DOES live within us (1 Cor 3:16) and we are actually God-people (as hard as that is to believe sometimes). TODAY we hold the glory of God (2 Cor 4:7). We are ‘earthen vessels’ but we contain His glory – thus we are glorified – as being seen to be His children and by His presence within us. But because we have His eternal life within us, we too are now eternal beings and so we will go to heaven to be with Him in eternity and that is also part of this concept of being glorified.

But because we live with His presence within to empower us, and because we have an eternal future, it does mean that we can laugh at misfortunes, especially those that come in the form of people stirred against us by the enemy. If we are violently persecuted the worst that can happen to us is that we die and go to be with Jesus. This is not to say that being a martyr is either easy or to be desired, but it does mean that God’s grace will be sufficient to see us through it. It is easy to write these things when not suffering for the Gospel but the truth is that some of the most vibrant Christians in the world at the moment, are those suffering persecution, because they are also experiencing in a deeper way than the rest of us, the grace of God, the presence of God upholding them.

But maybe, if we are not suffering persecution at the moment, we should also consider grace as His resource to see us through whatever other difficulty we face in life, for there are always a great variety of them. This place we live today, this ‘plot of land’, this state of grace, is indeed a place of God’s provision.

When Moses sent the spies into the Promised land, they came back and reported: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” (Num 13:27,28) Subsequently they focused on the negatives and forgot the positives. Today some Christians say, “It’s all very well to talk about God’s grace but you don’t know the things I have to put up with in my life.” That’s true but realise that the ‘milk and honey’ of God’s grace are there to give you strength to deal with the ‘giants’. Focus on the facts of your salvations, the truths of the Gospel – and live according to them – including the truth about the Holy Spirit who is the source of grace within you. Turn to Him, lean on Him, receive from Him and the ‘giants’ will soon shrink in size and be manageable – with His grace!

1. Abraham the Believer

Meditations in Romans : 1 :  Abraham the Believer

Rom 4:1-3   What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

When we came to the end of the previous series of meditations in Romans 1-3, we noted that at chapter 4 Paul steps up a notch in his thinking. Up until then he had been creating a level playing field for Jew and Gentile in respect of us all being sinners. Near the end of chapter 3 he had declared, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law,” (Rom 3:28) as part of his assertion that there was no room for boasting about achievement when it came to salvation. To prove his point and expand on this assertion he is now going to use the example of Abraham, and he is the focal point of chapters 4 & 5.

Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation. Jacob bore the name Israel but fatherhood really went back to Abraham, so he was a significant man to quote. Thus Paul asks the question: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” (4:1) The ‘matter’ that Paul referred to? It was whether you can earn salvation by doing good things, by good works. After all, Paul argues, “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God.” (4:2) If he was a really good example of a do-gooder he might have something to boast about, but the Lord knows the reality of our lives, so perhaps not!

So how do we know the truth? We look in the Bible: “What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (4:3 quoting Gen 15:6)  Let’s look at that original verse to see it more clearly: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” That’s a funny way to put it. It means that God accepted his belief as part of his ‘righteousness account’ but not only part of it; it filled it. Belief was the currency that made Abraham a rich man – rich in righteousness. When a man has lots of money we call him rich. We don’t worry exactly how much he’s got; it’s just got enough to warrant being called rich. By believing God Abraham has sufficient righteousness to be declared a righteous man.

Now Paul is a teacher and he knows that we have to hear it again and again and from different angles so, to use modern jargon, he going to ‘unpack’ this whole thing about Abraham being righteous. He starts by talking generally about earning things or being given things: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” (4:4) i.e. if you work you have earned your wages, they are not a gift. Now apply that to what I said earlier, he implies, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (4;5) Trusting God, or believing what God says, becomes the currency of righteousness. If you trust God to justify you, or put you right in his sight, God takes that trust as an act or attitude of righteousness.  That expression of faith is what God considers righteousness to be.  In the past we might have considered that righteousness was only seen as an act, as something done, but God looks beyond that to the heart and mind and looks for belief or faith (a heart responding to God.)

Paul knows his Old Testament and so uses David to support what he is saying: “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” (4:6) Look, he is saying, David said the same thing: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (4:7,8 quoting from Psalm 32)  In verse 5 Paul had spoken of the man who trusts God to put him right with Him (i.e. to justify him). David spoke about the one who had done wrong but who had been forgiven and justified and that without the person having to do lots of things to make up for it.

In the New Testament the matter of forgiveness is simple and straight forward: “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) This may be so familiar to us that we have lost the significance of it; this is forgiveness that follows heart change even before there is a chance for the repentant sinner to DO anything.  The “doing” to atone for the sin has already been dealt with by Christ on the Cross. All we have to do is BELIEVE that Christ has done it because God has said it, yet this is the stumbling point for many people, for they cannot believe that it can be that easy; they feel THEY have to do something to make up for their sin. No ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ or ‘trusting God for what He says’ is the currency that earns the declaration, “You are justified, you are put right with God in His eyes.” How simple it is, how wonderful it is! Yet how hard it is for the proud person who wants to put themselves right.

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!