Life and Death (Romans 6:10)

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Romans 6:10

This verse is stuck in my mind. I keep wanting to read further along, but come back to this verse and stare at it.

Christ died to sin once for all. Fundamental truth. The price for my sin in a nutshell.

Christ also lives to God. The very next verse begins with the words Even so … in like manner. Christ died to sin, in like manner I am to die to sin. Christ lives to God, in like manner I am to live to God. The life spoken of here is not mere existence, but a vital, thriving kind of life. It is a life, as Christ put it, more abundant.

The matter of life and death boils down to this: I must die to sin in order that I might live to God.

Promised Difficulties (Romans 5:3-5)

And not only this, but let us also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

 Every believer is promised difficulties.

I am going to leave that sentence by itself on the line above because I need to meditate on that truth and really apprehend it. Paul suggests an alternative to the sulking and moping to which we are predisposed: exultation. The Greek and the English rendering actually line up rather well on this term. To exult is to leap for joy; to be so suffused with excitement that one cannot contain it and must give some external expression to that joy. The Greek term, according to the concordance, means much the same thing. Paul suggests that we exult in our tribulations. Why?

Because tribulation can, if we enlist it, begin a process. Tribulation can engender perseverance which can forge a good character which gives us hope in the midst of difficult times. And the hope spoken of in The Bible is not the same as when we say “I hope ______.” Hope, as spoken of in The Bible, is an expectation of something. I understand it as something akin to a pregnant woman saying that she hopes she has a baby. The normal process of things will result in a baby. She is reasonably certain that she will get what she hopes for. If what I hope for is Christlike character and a hope that will not disappoint me, then tribulation is the prescription.

Another reason to exult in our tribulations is that it is the Christlike thing to do. Scripture tells us that Jesus determined to go to the cross for the joy set before Him. He was taking the long view. He saw past the tribulation of the crucifixion and on into the ages ahead wherein His suffering would bring myriads into right relationship with His Father. He saw an eternity of fellowship with those He redeemed. He saw joy and He hoped (surely expected) that joy would follow on the heels of His suffering. I need to take this same view. Certainly, the tribulation is not pleasant — no discipline seems pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:11) — but the results of enduring are well worth it.

Let me take the long view; the view of my Savior and those who walked close with Him and see my light and momentary afflictions as achieving an eternal glory.

Constantly Full (Romans 4:19-21)

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

Romans 4:19-21

 God often brings me back around to the concept of faith. I confess, I struggle with it. The longer and more keenly I gaze at faith and what it is and how it works, the more I understand that I do not understand. The fourth chapter of Romans is one I think I could read a million times and still not really understand all its implications.

Chapter four of Romans is about Abraham and how his righteousness came on the basis of his faith and how his faith preceded the covenant of circumcision and all the bits and bobs of The Law. Abraham was accounted righteous before he had done anything more or less than to take God at His Word.

And that, at its foundation, is what faith is. Taking God at His Word. This morning’s verses are that concept in summary. Abraham looked at his own geriatric body and Sarah’s only marginally less geriatric body and knew that human agency could not give them a child. He also knew that God could. He was fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. I, too, am looking for God to birth new life in me. I am looking for His Son to be born in me. The language is imprecise and muddles the reality, but what every believer is, according to scripture, looking for is for the Son of God to be formed in us. I can think of dozens of metaphors to try to illustrate the idea and each and every one falls woefully short of the whole of what God has revealed of it … and my understanding is still so very short of the whole.

The Greek word used for fully assured is a form of πληροφορέω (plērophoreō), which itself comes from two words that individually mean “full” and “to bear constantly.” The idea I come away with is that Abraham’s mind was constantly filled with the conviction that God could make good on His promise. Is the same true of me?

Knowledge of Sin (Romans 3:20)

… because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law [comes] the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:20

There is a pitfall to which I am prone, viz. thinking that I must keep the Law. Sadly, I am not alone in this proclivity.

Paul sets the record straight in the third chapter of Romans. He states that no flesh will be justified … by the works of the Law. In short, I cannot be made right with God on the basis of the Law. But, if the purpose of the Law is not to save, what is it? Paul answers.

The purpose of the Law is to bring me the knowledge of sin. I would not have known I was driving too fast unless there were a speed limit. I would not have known lying was wrong unless God’s Law told me so — we all know how expedient lying can be when asked a question such as “Does this make me look fat?” and American politics seems predicated on lies.

At bottom, both God’s Law and human law serve a very similar function: they tell me what is right and good. They do not empower me to obey them — When was the last time a speed limit gave me any sort of inducement to obey it aside from the threat of punishment in the form of a fine? — and they cannot make me any more or less right with the lawgivers. Laws are standards. Nothing more. Nothing less. God’s Laws are the standards of perfection. If I do not measure up to that standard, I am little surprised.

This morning, let me be reminded that The Law, good and perfect and right as it is, cannot save me and I cannot keep it. I will fail. Miserably. Just as I fail to consistently obey speed limits. In just such a manner will I fail to abide by God’s Law. Let me make recourse to the grace of God and throw myself on His mercy. There I will not be disappointed.

Wrath Revealed (Romans 1:18-19)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Romans 1:18-19

As I begin this Good Friday, I was struck by what this day actually is. As I read this morning, the words the wrath of God is revealed hit home: That is what the crucifixion is. Good Friday — the best Friday in an eternity of Fridays for sinners like me — is a commemoration of the day that God’s wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men was revealed and writ large in black skies and the red of my Savior’s blood poured out on a hill. I realize that Paul was potentially writing about something else entirely and I admit freely that what I see on the page might be more Reader Response theory than Formalist theory of reading the text.

Let me remember that this day is a commemoration of the day God wrote His wrath on the back of His Son so that He did not have to write it on me. Let me be mindful of the cost of my unrighteousness and ungodliness. In those moments when any sin seems a little thing, let me turn my eyes to the hill where my Savior bled and died and count the cost of those “little” sins.

I am persuaded that part of the reason God revealed His wrath is so that I could fully appreciate the extent of His mercy.

Faith Proclaimed (Romans 1:8)

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.

Romans 1:8

This morning, the message I hear God speaking to me is brief: Is my faith such as is spoken of anywhere?

This is not to ask whether or not I have faith. Everyone has faith in something. This is not even to ask whether or not I have placed my faith in Christ. This is the challenge that my faith should be such as causes others to see it and talk about it. Is my faith such?

My faith should change me. And it has. Those who knew me as a youth would be familiar with the rages that were common then. Do those people know that it is through faith in God and by His power that I am now a far more self-controlled man? There are sins which God is excising from my life as I write these words. Are there people who know of those sins? Do they know that it is by faith in God that I am and will be set free from those?

My faith, if it changes me, should make changes that spark conversation. The faith of the Roman believers was spoken of. Is mine?

Great Learning (Acts 26:24)

While [Paul] was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! [Your] great learning is driving you mad.”

Acts 26:24

There are some, perhaps many, today who think that being learned and being a believer are antithetical to one another; that it is impossible to be a rational, educated person and to still trust in Christ for salvation. I am comforted by the fact that Festus notes Paul’s great learning and gives an opinion that might not be popular.

First, Festus notes Paul’s great learning. There are, as noted above, those who think education and faith hostile to one another. Quite the contrary, there are numerous examples of persons whose academic pursuits and even professional pursuits were informed, enriched, and given deeper meaning by their faith. William Ramsey wrote of having decided to determine whether or not Luke’s account in the book of Acts could be trusted from a purely historical and archaeological perspective. If it cannot be trusted on those grounds, then it makes precious little sense to trust it on any other. He found that archaeology vindicated Luke’s assertions of times and places and went on to assert that Luke is the most accurate and trustworthy of historians. Isaac Newton’s passion was eschatology — the study of the End Times prophecies in scripture — but this passion did not preclude him observing and recording some basic laws of physics. Indeed, it may have enriched and informed it, though there is no certainty that this was so. The examples continue and the point is that great learning need not be antithetical to faith. Great learning can, to the contrary, be a complement to faith; can deepen one’s understanding of God’s truths and enrich one’s view of the poetry of the scriptures.

Second, however, Festus asserts that Paul’s great learning is driving him mad. The implication is that learning, without something to temper it, leads to madness. A cursory glance at modern academia bears out Festus’ claim. Colleges and universities are rife with minds that have been stuffed full of learning but never applied it. The assertion that great learning is driving you mad would not be popular in academia or any other place in which learning is prized. Yet it can be so. The phenomenon of “analysis paralysis” is, I think, symptomatic of this state of having too much learning and not knowing how to apply it.

My application for today is that learning can be a marvelous complement and enrichment to my faith — I have often considered what implications quantum theory has on the idea of an eternal God observing from outside — but learning decoupled from any sort of anchor can drive one mad. In its proper place, learning is good and right and profitable. Given too much (or too little) scope, it may lead to insanity.