|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: 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.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: Special by Works
Rom 4:9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?
For the Jews, circumcision for males was and still is a big issue. It was the mark of their Jewishness, it was what proclaimed to the individual male Jew his place among the chosen people. Circumcision had started from Abraham when God had called him to follow this rite and have all future males of his family follow it (Gen 17:10-14). Paul was to struggle with this belief in traditional Jews becoming Christians, when he wrote to the church at Galatia . Now, in Rome , he is aware that some of his readers will have a Jewish background and he therefore needs to deal with this issue.
In verse 6 he has just referred to “the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:” Now he asks, “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” (4:9) i.e. does forgiveness come to both Jew and non-Jew? The Jew would have thought that circumcision was still to be the mark of the child of God. Would that mean that Gentile believers ought to be circumcised – for that is what the New Testament shows that some of them thought (see Acts 15:1).
Paul continues, “We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before?” (4:9,10a) Well, says Paul, we need to look at the timing of the events in Paul's life. The episode in Abraham's life when his faith was rated as righteousness, was that before or after he was circumcised? He answers himself, “It was not after, but before!” (4:10b) Wow! He was already declared righteous some time before he was circumcised! Circumcision was thus NOT a means to becoming righteous; it was merely a mark of the relationship! “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (4:11a) Be quite clear on this: Abraham was declared righteous some time BEFORE he was circumcised, the circumcision was just a mark or seal of the relationship that already existed!
Wow, this opens justification up to the whole world, to anyone who has faith, not just Jews: “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” (4:11b) If his justification came before he was circumcised, that shows that justification is not dependant on circumcision and therefore is available as well for all those who haven't been circumcised, who aren't Jews. The whole world can be justified. It just needs faith, not some special rite.
But the Jews shouldn't feel put out because those who have faith are still justified: “And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (4:12). Yes, note the twofold element for a Jew to be justified. They will already be circumcised because that is the sign of their cultural Jewishness but if they truly want to be part of the people of God, the crucial element is faith. In fact, without faith no one is justified, no one is put right with God, Jew or Gentile!
This matter of circumcision is only a part of what Paul is going on to say about being justified, but it is a crucial part of it. It says two vital things about this whole matter of being justified, of being put right in God's sight. First of all it shouts at us that justification is simply a matter of faith. This cannot be overstated. God says this is how you will be declared righteous, simply by believing me when I tell you what my Son, Jesus Christ, did on your behalf. The moment you can say, “I believe it” you are justified and put right in God's sight and that is before you do anything else. You haven't had time to try to be good or express yourself in whatever way you think is righteous. No, you are declared righteous before you have a chance to DO ANYTHING! You are declared righteous because you believed God. That is all He wanted and everything else will flow out of that, and the Lord knows that. He knows that that is only the beginning for you, that once you come to that point of belief, everything else falls into place. But the starting point is that belief. He sees it and knows when it is genuine, and when it is, He declares you righteous from that very moment on. Activity or works are NOT criteria for judging whether a person is righteous; they follow but are not the crucial issue.
The second thing that flows out of all of this, which is very obvious, is that righteousness is nothing to do with cultural rites and is therefore available for any person from any colour or nationality. There is no boundary; ANYONE can believe in Jesus Christ and be declared righteous by God. They can be the lowest of the low, or even seen as the biggest sinner in the world, but when they come to a place of faith, of belief in Jesus as their Saviour from Sin, judgment and hell, then they are saved from all those things; they are declared righteous by God. No boundaries – anyone can come!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: Law or Promise
Rom 4:13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith .
Paul has just dealt with circumcision as a possible form of ‘works', something to be done which may make a Jew feel ‘justified' or approved by God, by their actions, but then, thinks Paul to himself, if you are going to think of works as conforming to requirements, as false causes for justification, the greatest example of that has got to be the Law. Again, a Jew might think that by keeping the rules of the Law that makes him righteous and right with God, not realising that there is still plenty of scope to be unrighteous in our thoughts.
So Paul thinks back to Abraham again, but this time to the original promise of blessing that Abraham had received: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Wow! The promise came to Abram (Gen 12:1-) that the world would be blessed through him and his future offspring, but to receive that offspring he had to respond positively in faith to God. As far as he was concerned his body was as good as dead when it came to having children – and the same was true of his wife – yet he responded to God's word to him with belief, and that was the thing that justified him and enabled the Lord to declare him righteous. The Law hadn't been given until over four hundred years later. He was declared righteous before the Law came. His faith-response hadn't been in respect of the Law but in respect of the Promise.
Now look, says Paul, you've got to think about these things, “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.” (4:14). Abraham was promised future generations who would be heirs or receivers of that promise of God that they would be blessed. However, if doers of the Law given centuries later were the receivers of the blessing, the original promise was meaningless, for it was given to those who simply believed God. More than that, it is worthless “because law brings wrath.” (4:15a), i.e. any earlier accreditation could be annulled if you rely on keeping the rules and then fail!
The promise of blessing given to Abram meant a good relationship with the Lord whereby He imparted this blessing, but all trying to keep rules does, is create a sense of guilt in the person who constantly fails, and anger in God who is displeased at their failure. The Law was meant to be a help to guide people into a good way of living but, because of the presence of Sin in each of us, just means that we yet have something else that highlights our sin. The fact is, says Paul, “where there is no law there is no transgression.” (4:15b) i.e. if there were no rules to be kept we wouldn't constantly be failing. As we just said, the Law simply highlights our propensity to get it wrong! Behind all this, don't forget, is the point that Paul is trying to make to Jews who might be relying on Law-keeping for their status before God: it doesn't work like that!
No, says Paul, this justification that comes via a promise is actually all-inclusive and covers Jews trying to keep the Law and Gentiles who don't have the Law: “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (4:16) Yes, that promise given to Abraham covers everyone who turns to God, those who simply by faith believe without knowing about the Law, AND those in Israel who are seeking to keep the Law and whose hearts are turned to the Lord.
Paul summarises it: “As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (4:17) The Lord had promised Abram that he would be father of many nations (see Gen 17:5) but was actually referring to him being a father to all who had faith in God. You may think (possibly implied in the direction of Jewish believers) that Gentiles are dead to God and there's no hope for them but Abraham's experience of God bringing life from his apparently dead body, makes the point: God can bring life where we think there is only death.
There is a challenge here for us today: never look at anyone and write them off as too hard. It doesn't matter how hard they appear, how evil they seem, how steeped in sin they seem; no one is impossible for God. There will be those who leave this planet to go to hell by their own choice, but they may be people who even appear good to us – ungodly but good. Goodness isn't the criteria; it is response to God. I have looked back in my life and I have two examples of men who appeared utterly hard and hopeless. Never in a million years were they going to come to God – but they did! We don't know why it is that some, however hard they appear, do turn and others who appear good, don't. It is a mystery – but it is so. You and I cannot look at any man or woman and say they'll never come to Christ. We just don't know! So keep your heart open to all people. You never know what might happen!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: Against all Hope
Rom 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be.”
We concluded the previous meditation considering the reference in verse 17 to “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” and the challenge came never to write off any person as for ever spiritually dead, for God comes and does what we consider impossible and brings life where we think it can never be. This is at the heart of Christian doctrine: God is a life bringer!
But we need to realise the impossibility that challenges faith sometimes. Paul continues, “Against all hope.” When you gaze on a dead body being lowered into a grave, there is no hope. When they have switched off the life-support machine, there is no hope. In the material, human world, there is going to be no last minute reprieve. It is finished. In an aging human body, male and female, there comes a time when child bearing is well and truly passed. There is no hope. This is what the situation was with Abraham. What made it worse was the fact that his wife had never borne a child. It wasn't just a case of a wish for another child in old age. The scriptural record is quite clear: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) And then God speaks. This is the bizarre thing: faith flies in the face of the absence of hope, in the face of the impossible. Humanly it's just not going to happen – and then God speaks and says it will!
It is at this point that we have a choice: to believe God or to focus on the impossibility and declare it cannot be so. And so then we read, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.” (4:18) It was utterly hopeless, but this amazingly frail believer did just that – he believed God. His knowledge of God was limited, he came from a pagan background, and he had every reason for not believing – but he believed!
He believed God and so “became the father of many nations.” This was spiritually true. Because he believed and continued to try having children, God enabled he and his wife to have a child in old age, Isaac, and from Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel and eventually into Israel, God's Son, Jesus, and through him, children of God from every nation on earth. It was exactly as prophesied: “just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be” (4:18) quoting Gen 15:5 – “He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." That had been God's promise and in the fullness of time that was what happened.
But Paul restates this again so that we will not forget it: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead.” (4:19) Faith does not ignore the facts; it faces them but believes God. It is the attitude that says, “Yes, I can see that there is absolutely no hope of life here – but God has said there will be, so I will believe Him!” Notice the phrase, “without weakening in his faith.” Faith holds on and actions follow. He might have said, “Oh, this is crazy, this is hopeless, I'm giving up this pointless activity!” but he didn't. Paul then reinforces that: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” (4:20) Unbelief is the opposite of faith and Abraham didn't allow unbelief to rise up and quench faith.
No, something else happened: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” (4:20) He believed and then God spoke again and again, confirming and strengthening his faith. God sees our heart inclination to believe and He comes and strengthens that resolve and speaks the word again and again into our hearts.
But it really started with Abraham's simple faith: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (4:21). It was then that God strengthened him, and encouraged him so that he and Sarah persevered and eventually gave or brought glory to God. Yes, He is the God who brings life where there is none!
The challenge of this passage is obviously, will we believe the Lord when He speaks. We believed Him when we came to salvation for we declared our trust in Jesus, but that was just the starting place. The Bible declares a number of times, “The righteous shall live by faith”. Now, yes, that does mean that life flows to the righteous when they exercise faith and come to Christ, but it also means that their ongoing lives will receive the life of God as they exercise faith. Faith is the channel, if you like, which allows the blessing and life of God to flow to us. It is that important!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: Fully Pursuaded
Rom 4:20,21 “ Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
We concluded the previous meditation mentioning these verses but now we need to focus on this question of Abraham being “fully persuaded”. There are indications in scripture that faith cannot be half-hearted, you have to be ‘fully persuaded'. In other words, there is no question of the “Well, I'll give it a try,” type of approach being acceptable.
Listen to how James explains it in respect of needing wisdom from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;” (Jas 1:5-7) Various people have written trying to legitimize ‘doubt' but the best one can say is that it might be a pathway towards belief. James is adamant, if you want something from God you need to believe without doubt, i.e. you need to be ‘fully persuaded' that this is for you, because otherwise God is not going to give it to you.
When the apostle Peter stepped out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, at that moment, he was convinced that he could walk on water at Jesus' calling – and he did – but the moment he doubted he started to sink (see Mt 14:28-32).
Without wanting to go into details, for Abraham to be ‘fully persuaded' meant that he and Sarah would have had to keep trying until she fell pregnant. If God has said He will do something, faith says I will keep on trying until He turns up and enables it to be. Being ‘fully persuaded' means you keep on at it until you get it, even if the thing you are waiting for is humanly impossible – as it was in Abraham and Sarah's case.
Perhaps this principle of being ‘fully persuaded' operates no more clearly than in the case of each of us coming to Christ and being born again. As we noted earlier, there is no point coming with a, “Well I might as well give it a try” mentality. Now the truth is that only God knows if our belief, at that point, is genuine, and that we have been ‘fully persuaded'. When we have heard the Gospel and have come under conviction, our ‘surrender' has to be genuine and only the Lord knows that. If He sees that it is, then He imparts His Holy Spirit and we are born again and a whole new life starts. If he sees that we are not genuinely ‘fully persuaded' then that will not happen.
For Abraham, God had spoken and Abraham had fully believed what He said, and just as we noted above, speaking about receiving our salvation, we find in respect of Abraham, “This is why it was credited to him as righteousness." (v.22) God declared him righteous because God saw that his belief was genuine. From that second on, he was righteous!
Now this is not mere ‘theology', mere ideas on the pages of the Bible. No, the Bible always wants these things to be applied in our lives, which is why Paul then goes on to say, “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.” (v.23,24). Yes, this was recorded about Abraham so that we would see it and realise with Paul, that if it applied to Abraham it also applies to us today. In the same way as Abraham was declared righteous by God for believing, so the same thing will apply in respect of us when we believe. Paul continues it, “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.” (v.24,25) Yes, our focus of belief is not that we will have a baby in old age but that Jesus died for our sins, and then validated it by being raised from the dead. Jesus' resurrection confirmed that he was who he said he was and had done what he said he had done.
So as these facts of history are presented to us, and we believe them and are ‘fully persuaded', so we are justified, we are put right with God in God's eyes. It's all about what God says is right. In the divine plan Jesus would fulfil justice so that all sins were punished. That punishment is taken either by the individual or by Jesus Christ. If we allow Jesus to take our sins and our punishment, then we are justified or put right as far as God is concerned. Abraham is the example of it, and so now we experience it.
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: Justified by Faith
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
If you listen around the Christian community and manage to catch people being honest, you will find that one of the biggest struggles Christians have is to believe that God really does love them and accept them like they are and that He is genuinely their loving Father and a friend. I can look back over many years of life as a Christian and when I stop and really think about it I have an amazing testimony. I can look back to the time when I was verging on being a lonely alcoholic in the backwaters of London , and how the Lord drew me to Himself, saved me, took me out of London , gave me a wife and eventually three children and a number of grandchildren. I look back and see how He guided me in terms of jobs (I am now in my fourth very clearly given God-job), I have been immensely blessed, I've had many fulfilling years as a church leader, I have travelled the globe teaching and have seen Him saying and doing amazing things in and through me. Yet, on a bad day I wonder whether He loves me, really! I would say that both my wife and I are strong and secure Christians, and yet I have recently heard her uttering a similar disquiet about struggling to believe that God is really her friend.
Now I say all this because I know that that is how many of us feel. As I have pondered this I conclude that what I have been expressing has been expressions of still being a damaged sinner. Yes, I am utterly saved and yes, I am utterly convinced about my salvation and reiterate that on a daily basis as I write these meditations. But one of the greatest revelations that I have had in recent years, is what a damaged person I have been – and the scars are still there! Now I am utterly convinced that this is the truth of all of us and the only reason we haven't seen it is that we daren't confess it because we think it makes us less than what we should be as God's children. No, it doesn't! It just makes us honest, and many of us fear that.
I need to say all that as we come to this incredibly simple but profound verse because it impinges on exactly this issue: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul starts it with a ‘Therefore' indicating it is a flow from what has gone before. He's just spent time speaking about Abraham and how he was made righteous simply by believing. He had also come to the point of transferring that thinking to us today and us believing Jesus and that being declared by God as the means to making us righteous in His sight. So his conclusion to all that has gone before is “we have been justified by faith.” This is a fact. When we believed, we were justified; we were made right in God's eyes. Jesus has taken our sin and guilt on the Cross and so the punishment that justice demands for us, has been taken by him.
Now the truth is that what he has done, he has done for every single human being that has ever existed or will ever exist. Because Jesus IS God, it is sufficient to cover every single sin that has ever been committed or ever will be committed BUT for that to have effect we have to receive it and we receive it by believing it and bowing before God and asking for it to apply and then letting Him have our lives to transform by His Spirit. At the point we bow and say, “I believe, please forgive me and cleanse me and take me,” we ARE justified. At that moment we have nothing left to be done to satisfy justice. The punishment has been paid for, every single thing I have thought, said or done, or will think, say or do that deserved to be punished. The slate is wiped clean and there is nothing left to upset a holy God. Suddenly, there is nothing that keeps me from Him or Him from me. That is the wonder of justification. Whereas God looked at me previously and saw a sinner, ploughing his own furrow happily sinning his heart out and offending every concept of justice that there is, now all that has been dealt with and He just sees a spotless child of God.
And because of all that, we have peace with God. God is no longer on our case! God is now simply our loving heavenly Father who plans and purposes good for us constantly. But you say, I blow it, I get it wrong, I fail. Yes, but now you aren't doing it purposefully, now it is inadvertent, now you wish you weren't getting it wrong, now you are more concerned with what your Father thinks, now you can come to Him and confess it and expect His help to cleanse you from it and to help you not repeat it – and if it takes a lifetime to work out these things, so be it! In fact so damaged, so polluted, so contaminated are you that it will take a lifetime! If we don't see it, it simply means we haven't been able to see ourselves clearly.
Does this mean we are cowering, constant, clueless failures? No, it just means we realise the truth that because I am a sinner this process is going on for the rest of my life. See Paul in chapter 7 speaking in the present tense all the time. See him speaking to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Do you think God loves you because you are cleansed and perfect? As far as your salvation is concerned and as far as He thinks about you, you ARE perfect, but both we and He know that in practical everyday-living terms we are far from perfect. But this is the wonder. This is how I am but I am at peace with Him because He's dealt with the punishment issue, so all it now leaves is how to change me into Jesus' likeness more and more. That's what sanctification is all about and that is a lifelong process. So here I am imperfect – but loved and at peace. I'm now no longer looking over my shoulder to see God's big hand coming to slap me. I am just talking to Him about how WE go about changing me and that is all about receiving His grace, His resources in the form of His Holy Spirit, to enable me to be the person He has designed me to be. How wonderful, how marvellous, is my Saviour's love for me! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 7
Meditation Title: 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, which 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 armour 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!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Life Flow
Rom 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us
Having started off with what we might call the fruits of justification – peace with God and access to His grace – this, says Paul, produces a rejoicing in us as we realise that we are entering into a personal relationship with God whereby we share in His Spirit and in His future. It also means that that rejoicing flows over into all areas and aspects of our lives and that includes the hard bit where we suffer as Christians. So, yes, His resources, His grace, are there available for us in every area of life and in every circumstance.
But actually, he goes on, we can rejoice in the difficult circumstances not only because of the power source we have within, but also because of the effect that such suffering will have upon us. He then embarks on a list of things that flow from one another.
Because we have this access to His grace, when suffering comes, His grace enables us to continue without wavering – that is what perseverance is. How often today do we watch people face a difficulty and then just give up? Young people, it seems, so often get married and then go through a difficult patch and give up on the marriage. Perseverance sees you through that time into better times without giving up. How often does a student find that the work was harder than they thought it was going to be and so give up the course? How many inventors or writers or composers would fail to succeed in their work if they gave up the moment they hit a dry patch. No, perseverance is a key to success. I wonder how many “How to Succeed” manuals cover perseverance. When the enemy comes and opposes us, it is perseverance that sees us through.
But perseverance is also an ingredient in itself that goes to form that thing that we call character. If you look up a dictionary definition of ‘character', you tend to find such things as, “pattern of behaviour or personality found in an individual, moral constitution, moral strength; reliability, self-discipline, fortitude, etc that produces a good reputation”. We also speak of ‘bad characters' in a play or story or film, meaning disreputable, unreliable, dubious, and so on. The act of having to struggle with life and to fight your way through difficult circumstances brings about a change of being within you. There comes a steadfastness and reliability. You learn to cope, you learn to press through and all these things bring about an inner strength that we call character. It isn't much spoken about in today's society because we prefer the easy, comfortable way, but such people give up easily. Not so Christians!
These things were exhibited in Paul himself when he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14). Note the language! It is the language of an overcomer who is not going to give up but who is going to make effort to get where he knows God wants him to be. Is that us? Do we too press on, strain forward in our calling, or do we look for the easy way, the way that requires little or no effort. Even in writing these notes every morning I have to press on, for the temptation is always there not to bother. There are the key words the enemy uses, “Oh, I wouldn't bother if I were you. It won't matter. Give up. Stop all this straining and struggling. Surely the Christian life shouldn't be like that.” Don't listen to him!
Now when this character forms in us, this steadfastness, we find something else becoming clearer and clearer within us – hope. Hope in the Scriptural sense is a sure confidence, an assurance of what is coming. Hope is about what is still in the future, the goal that God has called us to, to become more like Jesus, to accomplish some particular task perhaps, to achieve the vision that He has put on our heart. As we persevere, so we find this strong steadfastness becoming established in us, character, and as that forms we have this growing sense that what we are aiming for WILL be achieved. That is hope.
As this process continues, we find also a greater awareness of God's love within us, for we realise all of this is no accident, but a process that was initiated and empowered by God Himself and is one of the ways He is pouring His love into your life. As we wait for the vision to be fulfilled we realise that this love, His presence, is there sustaining us and encouraging us. In fact the whole process is part of His love and as we progress, as we develop, as we mature, we realise that all that is going on in us is a work of His love. How wonderful!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: An Amazing Sacrifice
Rom 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In the first five verses of this chapter Paul has been talking about the things that flow from our being justified by God, but to avoid and counter any thought that we might have, that either we deserve these things or can work for them on our own, he makes these statement to maintain a right balance.
That first sentence holds three significant points. First, Christ came “at just the right time ”. As this speaks about Christ's death on the Cross which was an historical event, the words, “just at the right time” must apply to that event. Writer and evangelist Michael Green in his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, states that a number of characteristics of that day made it a perfect time for the spread of the Gospel: the Roman peace spread across much of the world and so enabled the Gospel to spread so well, together with their road system, that almost encouraged travel; the universal Greek language enabling universal communication, and the spread of Judaism throughout the Middle East meant there was a religious based community through which to so often work. All of these things meant that this was possibly the best time in early history for Christ to come into Israel and for the Gospel then to be spread.
At that point in history the state of the Jewish nation was clearly at a spiritual low and dominated by their Roman overlords. They were helpless and religion had become sterile, traditional and powerless. Before we came to Christ we too were powerless. Finally, “Christ died for the ungodly”. The world at large then and today was ungodly. At best humanity seeks for a religion that it can control and which doesn't put too many demands on it. It doesn't go for a supreme God who claims to be Lord of all. Yes, these (including us) were the very people Christ came to die for.
Summarising that, we might say God decided when was the perfect time for Christ to come and where was the perfect place for him to come to the earth, and when he came he came to a humanity that was powerless to deal with its plight of sin, and ungodly, living self-centred lives. Nothing in that brings credit to us! There was nothing in that which says we either deserved or earned Christ's death on the Cross. It was an act of utter grace and mercy.
Almost as an aside it seems, Paul then reflects that it is a rare thing for anyone to die in someone else's place even though they might be righteous or good. Of course in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities that is exactly what does happen and in that he portrays Christ stepping in to our guilty shoes and delivering us by his death. But no, this is an exceptional thing that we are considering here, a good man, a perfect man stepping and giving his life for those who are powerless and ungodly and, as he goes on, sinners!
This, Paul goes on, is a clear demonstration of God's love. The Bible is full of references to God's love, but this surely has to be the ultimate expression of it. It is not only that He gave His own Son, but that He gave His own son to die for sinners! This is what is almost bizarre about all this. If we had been people struggling to be good, struggling to find God, struggling to break free from this self-centred, godless life of sin, then maybe, just maybe, it might have been understandable, that God came to deliver us into what we wanted and what He wanted, but it wasn't like that.
The truth is that before the Holy Spirit started His work of convicting us of the truth of our lives, we were quite happy to be self-centred and godless and who was to say that what we did was wrong. Everybody else was doing it, weren't they, so what's so wrong about it? No, until He started challenging us, we were quite happy with our lifestyle. We didn't know any better and thought this was all there was. We had tried on odd occasions to change ourselves, but that had turned out to be a self-centred and godless exercise. If we had changed it was minimal and we were still self-centred and godless and still got it wrong in so many ways. Yes, that's the truth of how we were, even if we preferred not to face that.
And it is for that sort of person that Christ came and died. It was that sort of person that God loved and sought to reach. Our self-centredness would much prefer only to encounter ‘nice' people, people like us. Our self-centredness reaches out to help other people but only as a means of boosting our own ego. It is only the love of God that looks at the totally self-centred and godless person who is living life all the wrong ways, and reaches out to them for no self-gratifying reason.
Well, you might say, the very definition of love involves reaching out to others with a desire for their good so isn't love itself intrinsically self-motivating? But if God IS love, why is He? That is the mystery. He could be an ogre, but everything the Bible reveals about Him is that He's love and everything He thinks, says or does is energised by love. Why? That is the mystery! If it was easy and self-gratifying we'd be doing it ourselves all the time – but we don't! It is only as we are energised by God (that's His grace) that we are like this. It is not natural to us but amazingly, it is to Him! Thank God!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: 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 now 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 now? 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!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 11
Meditation Title: A Rejoicing People
Rom 5:11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
When one hears about “world religions” we do not tend to hear about people rejoicing. Religion, for much of the time, seems to be made up of those who are focusing on performing rituals to appease their deity or deities. Even when the words appear to praise and extol the One God, the people in question appear to do little rejoicing over the wonder of their faith and appear to have little to rejoice over. Perhaps this is so obvious to us who are Christians that we ourselves have lost the wonder of it and any ‘rejoicing' is only a formal use of words rather than an exuberant expression of the heart.
This is one of the things that the crusading atheists of our age appear to miss again and again and one wonders if it is because we Christians are not sufficiently vocal over the wonder of what has happened to us. Before I became a Christian I was lonely, insecure, unsure of myself, used abusive language most of the time, was on the edge of becoming an alcoholic, and life just drifted on with little point than coping with the day. When I came to Christ I was utterly transformed. Now I know a number who became Christians when they were children and so do not have such testimonies, but I also know many who do have similar testimonies. It is the testimony of a wonderful transformation and it only happened when we encountered God's love and forgiveness after we had been told about Jesus.
Chastising Simon the Pharisee, Jesus concluded, “he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47) The man who had been delivered from demons in the land of the Gadarenes, “went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Lk 8:39) When Jesus healed two blind me, despite him telling them to tell no one, we find, “they went out and spread the news about him all over that region” (Mt 9:31) No one, not even Jesus could restrain their joy. Possibly the clearest case of this was the man who had been a cripple from birth who was healed by Peter and John who “went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8) The truth is that when God does something great for you, you can't hold it in, you rejoice. Again my favourite testimony in the Bible is the blind man healed in John, chapter 9, who was challenged about Jesus, but he wasn't bothered about Jesus' credentials: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (Jn 9:25)
The point should be very obvious – the more you are forgiven, the greater the rejoicing and thankfulness. Even as I write a young lady who has been appearing in the media has just been declared innocent of a crime she had been convicted of and given a long sentence. The new pictures in the press are of this young lady in tears of thankfulness. Perhaps some of us don't feel thankful or feel like rejoicing because we don't realise the enormity of our “crimes” and therefore hardly see the point of the Cross.
I spoke earlier of my own testimony and of the wonder of the transformation I experienced. Part of the wonder of the early days was, I am sure, because of the work of the Holy Spirit renewing me. At that time I am not sure that I was very much aware of the enormity of my crimes; I was more taken up with the wonder of what was happening to me. As the years have gone by, I realise more and more what I am really like, left to myself, and I thus realise more and more the wonder of God's love and of His grace as He deals with me.
Paul's language, if the translators have got it right, it a little strange at first sight – “we also rejoice in God….” In verses 2 and 3 Paul had said “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” i.e. rejoice because we have now this wonder in sharing in the wonder of God's very presence and because of that we can also rejoice in the face of adversity because He is actually with us in it and in us in it. Perhaps this part of verse 11 could be translated, “we rejoice because we are in God.” In the same way that Scripture speaks of us being “in Christ” so we are also “in God”. Because He is in us (literally) we are linked or united with Him or ‘in Him'. So our rejoicing here flows from the experience of being one with Him.
Praying for his future church, Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20,21). There it is! Jesus is speaking of our oneness with the Godhead. So now today we rejoice because we are one with the Godhead and it is out of the experience of that, that we rejoice or, if you like, because of it and that is what motivates us.
And, of course, all this is because of Jesus who has done all that was needed to bring about our reconciliation to God. Jesus' death opened the door for us to come to God and as the Holy Spirit convicted us, so we came and knelt at the Father's feet. As we bowed before His Lordship, we accepted the salvation He offered us and He forgave us, cleansed us and united us with Himself by means of His Spirit, and thus made us His sons and daughters. As we realise this and as we experience this, we rejoice. As we started out by saying, no where else in the world is there a body of men and women who have this same cause for rejoicing. We are indeed blessed!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 12
Meditation Title: Sin & Death
Rom 5:12-14 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
There is a tendency today to write off the Creation Story and the story of the Fall. Unfortunately for those people neither Jesus nor the apostles do this. Paul, in his theology, clearly refers back to the Fall. He has just spoken of Jesus dying for us and the fruit of reconciliation as the outworking of justification, but as he does this it is as if he feels he has to take a step backwards and explain more about the sin that created our need for Jesus to come and die for us. He is going, in verse 15, to pick up the thread which he starts in verse 12 and talk about the wonder of what Jesus has achieved and offset it or set it off in comparison to what he says in verse 12.
Verse 12 speaks of sin coming through one man and spreading to all the world, bringing death with it. In verse 15 on he's going to speak about how a sacrifice came through one man and spread life through the whole world, but he gets caught up with an aside (note the hyphen after “because all sinned”) in verses 13 and 14. So we have the lead in to the argument in verse 12 but then an aside in verses 13 and 14. So, we need to consider both parts here.
First of all the lead-in. We note first of all the link between sin and death. In Genesis we read, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:17) Eating of that particular tree would have been blatant disobedience and one of the definitions of sin is rebellion against God or disobedience in respect of God. Sinning, warned God, would result in death. Now of course the fact is that Adam and Eve did not immediately die the moment they took that fruit. Whether God meant that from that moment the rest of their lives would be downhill towards aging and death or it meant a spiritual death, a death to their relationship with God and with the life that flowed from Him, is not explained.
The fact is, says Paul, that death came to the whole human race because everyone does the same as Adam and Eve and prefer their way over God's way. Now we so take this for granted today that it no longer seems strange to us. We are so tainted by Sin – this predisposition to do our own thing and reject God – that it no longer seems strange. It almost needs revelation, I believe, to see what a power or influence Sin has over us. Atheists and materialistic humanists in general, would object to the concept of Sin but the truth is that we all comply with the definition of Sin and when we try to change, we find it impossible. Read Paul's argument in Chapter 7 to see that.
Again, the fact that the one thing about life that we can guarantee is that it will end, comes as no surprise to us. We expect it; it is natural. Whether we believe in spiritual death depends on whether we believe the Bible or not, but again the truth is that the majority feel that God is a million miles away and they have no sense of His presence in His world – they are dead to Him. So Paul has been arguing that Sin has been around since the Fall, but then it crosses his mind that there might be those who argue that sin only comes when we disobey God's specific commands – the Law.
Oh no, he says, for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. i.e. sin was there well before Moses but it just wasn't an issue in the same way because God understands ignorance and ignorance is not the same as disobedience. We've seen, he continues, the link between sin and death and death is clearly observable in the human race between Adam and Moses. Oh yes, sin was there all the time even though there were not specific rules to rebel against. The implication is that the ‘tendency' or as I referred to it earlier, ‘the predisposition', was there in each and every human being even if they didn't have specific rules to rebel against.
This is the truth, that sin is in us whether we are aware of it or not, and it doesn't depend on whether we know about God's laws in the Old Testament or His directions in the New. No, each and every one of us suffers from this tendency to do our own thing and ignore God. How many people live every day without a single thought about God? How many people if you mention God to them suddenly get antagonistic? Oh yes, we all have a problem; we are struck by a terminal illness. We need help!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Gift v Trespass
Rom 5:15-16 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
Sometimes there are words used in scripture that do not appear in our everyday language or if they do, they seem to have a different meaning. The word that may make us uneasy in this passage is the word, ‘trespass'. Today we speak of trespassers as those who stray, either inadvertently or purposely onto someone else's land. It thus means straying where you shouldn't be. So, when Paul uses the word translated ‘trespass' here, he is referring to Adam's act of straying from the place of obedience to the place of disobedience, or straying from the right to the wrong. Adam's ‘trespass' came from listening to his wife and then disobeying God. It was, put most simply, sin.
So Paul is comparing the gift of Jesus' death for our sins with the act of disobedience of Adam. The act of Adam enabled human beings to experience what it was like to disobey God. Once that had happened, that one-off act of disobedience turned into a disposition or tendency which his children inherited as did all future generations. It wasn't that each new human being had a new opportunity to exercise their free will totally objectively, they now had a disposition to do their own thing. We observe this today and say how like their father (or mother) the child is because of the ways that they have which otherwise we would say are purely psychological things. But these are inherited and so every one of us has inherited a tendency to be self-centred (not merely self-aware, which is different) which also includes the tendency to be godless.
The fact therefore is that the human race now takes dying for granted, although perhaps gives little thought to the spiritual death we referred to in the previous meditation. So death flowed in the human race as a result of Adam's sin, physical and spiritual. So Paul is trying to emphasise the wonder of what Christ has done and so takes the situation relating to Adam as the starting point for comparison: “if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" So we have the ‘trespass' and its effects on one side, and God's grace AND the outworking of Christ's work on the Cross on the other.
It's like he is saying, “Look, I know the effect of Adam's sin is enormous and has affected the whole human race, but actually God's grace and the work of Christ on the Cross is easily equal to dealing with that. It almost implies that if every single person in the human race, past, present and future, repented and turned to God, Christ's work on the Cross is ‘big enough' to deal with all their sin and guilt! Of course we know that it only applies when a person DOES turn and repent and so in the past there have been many who did not, and so did not avail themselves of Christ's work on the Cross and similarly in the present and future there are likely to be many who won't either – BUT if everybody did , then because Jesus is God's Son, he is ‘big enough' to carry their sin and take their punishment to the satisfaction of justice. That is what is being implied behind this.
The difference between the trespass and the gift, Paul goes on, is that the former brought condemnation and the latter brought justification. Adam's disobedience brought guilt and condemnation and death; Christ's obedience brought the way for justification and eternal life. Adam's disobedience was in respect of God's will declared beforehand to him, whereas Christ's obedience was in respect of the will of God declared before the foundation of the world.
The ‘will of God' in each case is not some arbitrary rules that God dreamt up, but simply how things work in God's design, in the way the world has been made by Him. So God knew that if Adam sinned it would result in physical and spiritual death – and warned him accordingly that that is what the natural outworking WOULD BE, in exactly the same way that if we do wrong, we know it and feel guilty. Adam knew it and his sin drove a wedge between he and God (which is why he hid when he heard God coming) and that separation from God meant a relational breakdown. It also meant that the life of God, received by daily intimate contact, would no longer be there so physical death would eventually follow. As far as Jesus was concerned, the Godhead knew before they made the world that justice would demand that all sins be punished and that someone would have to take the punishment. That would either be the individuals committing the sins, or someone ‘big enough' to take the punishment of each and every person – and the only one who was ‘big enough' was God Himself, or to be more precise, the Son of God.
This is what is behind and underlying all of Paul's argument here. The original sin was terrible in the way it infected the whole human race, but Jesus was big enough to act as the antidote for every member of the human race who came asking for it. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: Grace & Righteousness
Rom 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Let's recap the flow of argument here because in doing single verse meditations it's easy to lose the thread. The fruit of justification is peace with God and access to His grace which enables us to rejoice in both the good and bad of life (v.1-5). This is not of us but all of Jesus (v.6-8). Because his act of saving us was so great, how much more wonderful will be the life he gives us to live now (v.9-11). Sin and death had ruled over us but now salvation and life flow to us from the wonderful work of Jesus (v.12-16)
Again and again in these verses Paul is reiterating the same thing but in slightly different ways. In the previous verses he has been setting the acts of Adam and their consequences off against the acts of Jesus and their consequences. So here it comes again, but with a slightly different emphasis and an incredible conclusion.
“By the trespass of one man”, Adam, “death reigned.” We've already seen that several times. Adam's sin opened the way for the rest of mankind to sin and with sin comes death – spiritual and physical. That's how it had been until Christ came, but then his work brought two things with it and those two things enable us to live in a particular way.
Adam brought death but Jesus brought grace and righteousness. Those are the two things. See how Paul describes this first thing – “God's abundant provision of grace”. We've said a number of time in the past that grace here is God's provision or God's resources for us to live our lives as His sons and daughters and it comes in the form of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit within us. The resource is actually HIM; it is not some magical powder called grace. No, grace is the working of God Himself by His Spirit in and through us. THAT is grace. No wonder that it is described as an “abundant” provision for God is unlimited. So the first provision is a power source and a source of wisdom. Now wonder Paul was able to write, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) and “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) We'll come back to these verses in a moment but for now bathe in the wonder of the abundance of grace that will be sufficient for EVERY and ANY aspects of our lives. We can never say, I don't have enough grace. We do; it's just there waiting to be drawn upon, it's Him and He's just waiting for you to turn to Him to ask for it.
Now the second thing is God's “gift of righteousness”. That is what the religious world worries about, how to live rightly. Unfortunately it is so often in a self-centred way thinking about what I can achieve, what I can do, how I will be seen. When we come to God through Christ all that self-seeking is done away with, because when we are justified, God says, “Right, now you ARE righteous.” By believing in Jesus, we saw earlier in Romans, we are declared righteous. In God's eyes we are righteous, simply because we believe in His will – in Jesus! Jesus expresses the Father's will perfectly and as we believe in him, so we are incorporated into his body by the Holy Spirit and then, as the Spirit leads us, we will also be doing Jesus' will, the will of the Father, we will be living righteously.
The Spirit will do three things in us. First He will teach us what the Father's will is. As we read God's word, the Spirit will teach us the Father's heart and desires for us. Second, He will guide and lead us and give us wisdom to know what to do and how to do it, and that will be the Father's will. Third, He will empower us to bring about that which naturally we cannot bring about. It may be that he prompts us to speak or command words of healing and then He brings the healing. Whatever it is, He will lead us into the impossible circumstance, prompt us to speak God's will into it and then He will do it through us, often as we pray over a person or situation.
Now we reach the climax of this verse: “how much more will those … reign in life.” The end product of us receiving His grace and receiving His righteousness, is that we reign or rule in our lives. We are in control and everything is now under our feet and we're not “under the circumstances”. To really catch this, we need to look again at a few of those verses we quoted earlier: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) and “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19). It is thus not surprising that Paul could also write, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) We do need to see Scripture as a whole and remind ourselves that, “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)
So, as I stand confident in my righteousness, I turn to Him and allow Him to show me what He wants me to be doing, the things he has “prepared in advance ” for me to do. Then when I step out in obedience to do it, He will show me how and will then bring it about by His own power. THIS is reigning in life!
|Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 4-8|
Meditation No. 15
Meditation Title: Increased Grace
Rom 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more
If this chapter was an essay written by a pupil at school or college and I was the teacher marking it, I think I would probably write several times and especially alongside verses 18 and 19, “Repetition!” But for the sake of continuity, let's include them: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
So why does Paul do this? I suspect the answer might be that these ‘letters' would have been read out in different congregations and when you are purely listening to something you need to hear it several times to really take it in. Those verses sum up and repeat all that has gone before so we have little to add and will move on to verse 20.
Paul seems to have it in mind that some of his readers or listeners might be thinking, “Surely the death of one man that you have been talking about is not enough to cover the sins of everyone in the world?” He starts his answer to this by back-pedaling to the question of the Law. Sin, he has said previously, existed before the Law was given but when the Law came it made failure even more obvious, so if we have been in any doubt as to mankind's plight, watching Israel 's failures should have made it quite clear. |But merely because sin increased, God's grace could match it and was seen, if you like, to increase as well.
He then concludes the argument with the reason for that happening: “so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (v.21). He has said it before but it bears repeating: in the previous era sin kept on coming, while there was spiritual death, and from one generation to the next. Sin and spiritual death existed side by side in a person. Spiritual death continued until physical death and throughout that person's life they continued to sin. Hence the wording “sin reigned in death”. Sin was in control while there was spiritual death; mankind did not have the power to break free from Sin while they had no relationship with the Lord.
It is important to see the fact of sin ruling while there was spiritual death throughout a person's life because Paul then contrasts it with grace reigning through righteousness. In other words, once we have been justified and declared righteous, we live lives of grace, empowered, directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Grace rules in these righteous lives now. It is God's grace – His resources for us in the form of His Holy Spirit – that flows through our lives, maintaining righteous living and enabling righteous service. Whereas sin ruled before, grace now rules. Whereas we were previously spiritually dead to God, now we are alive to God (and Paul will go on to argue that in the next chapter.) and being alive to God we receive His life flow in and through us continually.
Now of course God is eternal, everlasting and so His life flowing in and through us is this eternal life that we so casually refer to, but all it is, is the very life of God Himself in us, bringing life to our spirit. It is for this reason that when the body eventually stops, and the heart and brain cease to work, our spirit will continue into eternity, still united with God's Holy Spirit. Although it is a length passage, we could do no better than to finish this part of these reflections with the first verses from Ephesians 2, which cover so much of what has been said in this chapter:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:1-8). There it is, fully explained. Wonderful isn't it!