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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s comparison of Christ to a triumphal leader of a victory procession, where a fragrance of life or death, depending on whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, is present.

In today’s verses, Paul compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. He did this because Judaizers were infiltrating the Corinthian congregation, insisting that Mosaic Law be followed as well as Christian teachings. An example of this theological error would be to stipulate that Gentile males be circumcised, otherwise they could not be true Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

There were those in Corinth doing that.  Coming along and demanding that the people who were already redeemed in Christ, in order to validate their redemption and to assure their redemption, needed to keep the ceremonial Law of Moses.  These gentiles needed to be circumcised They needed to make sure they followed through on washings and ceremonies and sacrifices and et cetera They were demanding a return to old-covenant symbols which were now obsolete since the reality had come Going back and exalting the symbols is pointless.  It not only rejects the reality of the gospel but perverts the purpose and meaning of the symbol.  It never w[as] intended to minister grace.  It never w[as] intended to minister spiritual life, but only to be pictures of that which could and would do that.

So in dealing with this in Corinth, Paul writes in this section a concern that people understand the difference between the new covenant and the oldOr better stated, that people will understand the transition from the old covenant to the new It isn’t that the old covenant and new covenant are opposites.  It isn’t that they are opposed to each other.  It is that one gives way to the nextThe old covenant, in and of itself, was not complete It could not save It could not grant righteousness It had to pass away and be replaced by the newThe old covenant, however, did serve a purpose, a very good purpose.  And that purpose was fulfilled historically, and when the time came for that purpose to fade, it faded, and the new covenant came in its place

Paul discusses Moses’s receiving the law from God, which made his face blindingly brilliant, like the sun, even though that brilliance faded (verse 7).

When Moses was alone on the mountain, he had asked to see God’s glory. God granted his request, hence Moses’s brilliance in front of the Israelites when he returned to them. Because they could not look at him without being blinded, he put a veil over his face. Even then, his brilliance began to fade. By the time he removed the veil, he was back to normal.

MacArthur explains:

in verse 7, the Law came with glory The glory of God was on the face of Moses when he delivered the Law.  What he’s saying is, the Law is glorious; it is reflective of God.  You see, the Apostle Paul had been accused by the Judaizers and the circumcision party of being against the Law, speaking against the Law, denigrating the Law, depreciating the Law, ignoring the Law, discounting the Law, or lowering the Law.  He never did that He realized that the Law, the old covenant, came in glory.  It came with glory …

End of verse 7, he says, “–the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,” and then he throws this in, “fading as it was.”  The point is, the glory that was on Moses’ face was temporary After that encounter and that experience, it was gone; it faded.  In fact, it faded even as he was there, talking to the people.  And when he put the veil over his face, it would fade.

It was a “fading” glory

Paul calls the law of God ‘the ministry of death’ because no Jew was capable of obeying over 600 laws regulating every part of his or her life.

The law was there to convict God’s people of their sins. They were meant to take the law to heart and repent, which few did.

God had always intended for Jesus to redeem Jew and Gentile alike through His Son.

MacArthur tells us how redemption worked under the Old Covenant:

The old covenant could provide a basis of damnation, but not of salvation; a basis of condemnation, but not of justification; a basis of culpability, but not puritySomething had to be added.

You say, “Well, did the Jews know it was coming?  Were they ever told?”

Sure.  Jeremiah made it as clear – as crystal clear as it could be made Jeremiah 31:31, he says this, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke,” not like that one, “this is the covenant I’ll make with the house of Israel after those days.  I’ll put my Law within them and on their heart I’ll write it, and I’ll be their God, and they’ll be my people, and I’ll forgive their iniquity, and their sin I’ll remember no more.”  They should have known that the old covenant wasn’t the last

The ministry of Old Testament prophets – and we don’t have time to get into this the ministry of Old Testament prophets was to call the people to repent Over and over and over again, right on down to John the Baptist Repent, repent, repent, repent, repent.  That was the whole point You’re brought against the Law.  The Law reveals your sinYou’re called to repent.

See, what happened was, most of the Jews knew they couldn’t keep the moral Law, so they figured out a way to get saved “Oh, we can’t keep the moral Law, but what we do, what we will keep, we’ll keep the ceremonial Law, and the ceremonial Law will save us.”  So, they imposed the ceremonial Law on top of the moral Law as the savior, and that’s what it means that they worshiped according to the letter of the Law And that was damning.

But let’s take a true Jew who really believed What would he do?  He’d come to God repentant, pleading for grace and pleading for mercy He saw the ceremonial Law as symbolic of God’s provision for him somewhere down the future He knew God would provide.  He knew God would be gracious, and God would be merciful, because that’s the kind of God he was.  And he cast himself on God’s mercy and God’s grace, and he would be redeemed, based upon what Christ would do in his behalf.

But for most Jews, the vast majority apart from that true remnant, they disobeyed the Law, offered no genuine repentance, exercised no saving faith in God, depended not on God’s grace but on their own works, keeping the external ceremonial religion, and that was really a killer And along came the prophets and constantly called them to repentance, and called them to repentance, and called them to repentance.  That’s always the message It boggles my mind how that people can say today that we don’t have to preach repentance It’s always been the message.

Paul asks that if the Old Covenant — the law of God — came in glory, how much greater then is the ministry of the Spirit, the New Covenant (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

The term “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the new covenant He calls the new covenant the “ministry of the Spirit.”  The Law, written on stone, was a killer, but written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, is a life-giver and produces righteousness The Law, written on stone, condemns.  The Law, written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, saves.

Therefore, if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation — the Old Covenant — the ministry of righteousness of the New Covenant must far exceed it in glory (verse 9).

MacArthur tells us why that is true:

What does the new covenant bring?  Righteousness.  The new covenant changes God’s view of the sinner It changes his attitude.  He sees him clothed in the righteousness of Christ “Garmented with a robe of righteousness,” Isaiah calls it, covered with the righteousness of Christ, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, put to his account.

Paul goes further by saying that the glorious Old Covenant no longer has glory because the glory of the New Covenant has surpassed — eclipsed — it (verse 10).

Matthew Henry elaborates:

The law was the ministration of condemnation, for that condemned and cursed every one who continued not in all things written therein to do them; but the gospel is the ministration of righteousness: therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed. This shows us that the just shall live by his faith. This reveals the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the remission of sins and eternal life. The gospel therefore so much exceeds in glory that in a manner it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation, 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:10. As the shining of a burning lamp is lost, or not regarded, when the sun arises and goes forth in his strength; so there was no glory in the Old Testament, in comparison with that of the New.

In verse 11, Paul says that the New Covenant is permanent in all its glory. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has reconciled us to God.

Henry says:

Not only did the glory of Moses’s face go away, but the glory of Moses’s law is done away also; yea, the law of Moses itself is now abolished. That dispensation was only to continue for a time, and then to vanish away; whereas the gospel shall remain to the end of the world, and is always fresh and flourishing and remains glorious.

As for those who do not know God, an Anglican priest, the Revd Peter Mullen, wrote an inspired article for Conservative Woman, ‘God leaves His calling cards’, which concludes with this encouraging, simple instruction and prayer:

You seek God’s comfort and the certainty of this presence? Just ask him for it.

O God, take away all my faithlessness and fear, and give me imagination that I may know certainly that thou art ever near. Make me bold to look for thee, that I might ever find thee.

What a marvellous message on which to end.

May everyone reading this have a blessed week ahead.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 4:6-12

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

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Last week’s post focussed on Romans 3, including these important verses:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In Romans 4, Paul looks at the justification of Abraham, who was also circumcised — albeit some years later after God chose him to be the father of nations.

Paul’s objective was to convince the Jews that circumcision did not confer salvation or righteousness.

That means that Gentiles could also be justified via faith through grace.

Here are the first five verses of Romans 4:

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

St. Paul observes in this paragraph when and why Abraham was thus justified; for he has several things to remark upon that. It was before he was circumcised, and before the giving of the law; and there was a reason for both.

I. It was before he was circumcised, Romans 4:10. His faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was in uncircumcision. It was imputed, Genesis 15:6, and he was not circumcised till Genesis 17:1-27. Abraham is expressly said to be justified by faith fourteen years, some say twenty-five years, before he was circumcised. Now this the apostle takes notice of in answer to the question (Romans 4:9), Cometh this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? Abraham was pardoned and accepted in uncircumcision, a circumstance which, as it might silence the fears of the poor uncircumcised Gentiles, so it might lower the pride and conceitedness of the Jews, who gloried in their circumcision, as if they had the monopoly of all happiness.

John MacArthur has more:

Paul has told us how to be right with God and he said a man is right with God not by what he does but by what he believes, by believing in Jesus Christ and His perfect work. And now it is very important that Abraham be his illustration because this that he has just taught would be unacceptable to the Jewish mind. And so he selects Abraham to make his point.

Let me give you some reasons why. First, Abraham would show the eternal truth of righteousness by grace through faith since Abraham was an Old Testament character. In other words, by using Abraham, Paul is saying this is nothing new, this is something very old. Abraham even preceded Moses. Abraham even preceded the identity of the nation Israel. Abraham really belongs in the patriarchal period, the very primitive time. He appears early on in the book of Genesis. And if Paul can establish that a man in the book of Genesis was saved by grace through faith and not of works, then he has given to us a timeless truth and nothing new at all.

Secondly, he selects Abraham because Abraham is also the supreme example of faith. Nobody in the Old Testament exercised as much or more faith than Abraham. And the New Testament even tells us that Abraham — the book of Galatians tells us — is the father of all who believe. In a very real sense, all who come to God by faith are children of Abraham, who sort of set the standard for faith by believing God in a most incredible way.

Abraham obeyed God without question. He left his extended family to go to a new land. He believed that his wife Sarah would bear a son, even when she had been barren and long past child-bearing age. He was willing to sacrifice his only son for God, although God relented in that test of faith.

Here is a bit more about Abram/Abraham from MacArthur:

Abram was his name first. It means “exalted father.” God changed his name to Abraham which means “the father of many nations,” for He had given him that promise. And it was twofold. Physically from the loins of Abraham would come multitudes of people, millions of people. The Semitic world, Arab and Jew alike, descended from Abraham. Genesis 17, the first 8 verses, talk about how God said Abraham will produce generations of people. In fact, it is said that they would be as the sand of the sea, or the stars of the heavens. He was the father of many, but not only physically, spiritually as well; for he is the father of all those who are of faith. He is the pattern established, and all others who put their faith in God follow the pattern of their father, Abraham.

Galatians makes this abundantly clear. Paul, writing in chapter 3 verse 6, says: “Even as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham, and the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed, so then they who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

So, not only did Abraham in a sense produce physical seed, but as well set the standard for spiritual production. And so, as millions follow his directive of faith, they occupy a place uniquely identified in the Scripture as children of Abraham. And that is because he is the example of justification by faith. And Paul makes that point in Romans and as I noted, he makes it in Galatians because it is so very important.

The Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have liturgical prayers that mention Abraham as being ‘our father in faith’.

In verses 6 – 8, Paul mentions David in his discourse by citing Psalm 32:1-2. It is further proof that we are justified by faith, not works. None of our works can ever measure up to righteousness, because we are always imperfect, always prone to sin. We need God’s infinite grace at all times.

MacArthur provides the background to David’s life in the context of Psalm 32. David had committed adultery by the time he wrote it:

Now, basically you have in verse 7 a sinner characterized by iniquity and sin, you have in verse 8 a sinner characterized by sin, and in both cases the Lord forgives and does not hold that sin against the person. So, we know that that didn’t happen by works because both verses define the individual as a what? As a sinner. So how can you say a sinner is blessed? Well, you can only say that if he’s been forgiven, or if the Lord does not put his sin to his account, and that is exactly the case. And it doesn’t come by works, it comes by faith. You see, the truly blessed man is the one who is forgiven of his sin. And by the way, this is a quote from Psalm 32 verses 1 and 2. And believe me, at that juncture of David’s life, he knew guilt. He had been involved in an adultery. He had been involved in what amounts to murder. He had desecrated his throne and the sanctity of his own virtue. He was a vile wretched sinner. In Psalm 51, he went through such agony and such pain. He felt as if God had abandoned him. He was under the horrible experience of guilt. He says in Psalm 32 that his life juices dried up, and that’s what happens when guilt occurs. Saliva, one of the life juices, dries up. Anxiety creates pressure in the head that restricts the flow of the blood, another of the life juices. And the lymphatic system is affected and the nervous system is affected and he began to be old before his time and he began to ache in his joints and he began to be sick. Guilt does that.

And then in the midst of all of that he experienced the goodness of God. No wonder he said twice, “Blessed is the man.” “Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord forgives.” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.” That’s the truly blessed man. He knows forgiveness. And so David supports Paul’s point. And it’s helpful for us to know that Abraham was a pre-Mosaic figure, David was a Mosaic figure. Abraham predates the clear definition of the Mosaic covenant and so we see that God redeems people pre-Mosaic by faith. David shows us that God redeems people in the Mosaic era by faith. And the New Testament carries it into our own era. Always at all times redemption is a matter of faith resulting in imputed righteousness.

Paul then asks the Jews if imputed righteousness is only for the circumcised, then, how was Abraham included when he was not circumcised yet God found him to be righteous (verses 9, 10)?

Paul answers his question by saying that Abraham’s circumcision was the ‘seal’ of his righteousness before God. Furthermore, as he was righteous in God’s eyes before his circumcision, then, He would consider other uncircumcised men to also be righteous (verse 11).

Therefore, Abraham became not only the father of the circumcised, but also of the uncircumcised who walk in his same journey of obedience in faith through grace (verse 12).

Henry says that sacraments are the seals of the covenant that has been agreed between God and man, thanks to the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf:

The tenour of the covenants must first be settled before the seal can be annexed. Sealing supposes a previous bargain, which is confirmed and ratified by that ceremony. After Abraham’s justification by faith had continued several years only a grant by parole, for the confirmation of Abraham’s faith God was pleased to appoint a sealing ordinance, and Abraham received it; though it was a bloody ordinance, yet he submitted to it, and even received it as a special favour, the sign of circumcision, &c. Now we may hence observe, (1.) The nature of sacraments in general: they are signs and seals–signs to represent and instruct, seals to ratify and confirm. They are signs of absolute grace and favour; they are seals of the conditional promises; nay, they are mutual seals: God does in the sacraments seal to us to be to us a God, and we do therein seal to him to be to him a people. (2.) The nature of circumcision in particular: it was the initiating sacrament of the Old Testament; and it is here said to be, [1.] A sign–a sign of that original corruption which we are all born with, and which is cut off by spiritual circumcision,–a commemorating sign of God’s covenant with Abraham,–a distinguishing sign between Jews and Gentiles,–a sign of admission into the visible church,–a sign prefiguring baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, now under the gospel, when (the blood of Christ being shed) all bloody ordinances are abolished; it was an outward and sensible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signified thereby. [2.] A seal of the righteousness of the faith. In general, it was a seal of the covenant of grace, particularly of justification by faith–the covenant of grace, called the righteousness which is of faith (Romans 10:6), and it refers to an Old-Testament promise, Deuteronomy 30:12.

What does this mean in a Christian context? The grace God confers on us in the Sacraments enables us to live a holy life, which we are obliged to do in faith.

This is Henry’s caveat about the Jews of Paul’s day and ourselves as Christians:

See here who are the genuine children and lawful successors of those that were the church’s fathers: not those that sit in their chairs, and bear their names, but those that tread in their steps; this is the line of succession, which holds, notwithstanding interruptions. It seems, then, those were most loud and forward to call Abraham father that had least title to the honours and privileges of his children. Thus those have most reason to call Christ Father, not that bear his name in being Christians in profession, but that tread in his steps.

The sacraments and holy ordinances impart grace, although they are not salvific in and of themselves, as MacArthur explains:

Listen very carefully. Many people today are basing their salvation from eternal hellfire on some infant baptism, or some confirmation, or some adult baptism, or some communion involvement, or some religious rite and ceremony. There are many people who call themselves Christians in our society who even would call themselves evangelical, who actually believe that their children are secured eternally for the covenant by infant baptism. And many are hoping in their religious rites, and though they be not circumcision they be basically the same perspective. They parallel …

So, Paul is dealing with a bigger picture than at first we might understand. And he’s dealing with the issue that religious rites and ceremonies do not justify, and when saying that he talks to our time.

Ultimately:

We are saved by grace through what? Faith. These symbols are only symbols and signs. You say, “Well, can I get to heaven if I haven’t been baptized?” Yes. You say, “Then I don’t have to be baptized!” No. “Why?” Because baptism is an act of… You say it: obedience. And if you have confessed Jesus as Lord you will what? Obey Him, and it becomes the point of your testimonyAnd that’s what Paul is teaching us.

Obedience to God characterised Abraham’s life. Jesus was — and is — fully obedient to His Father.

Let us, therefore, obey Him, too.

Next time — Romans 5:20-21

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 3:1-22a

God’s Righteousness Upheld

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though (F)every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

No One Is Righteous

What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off?[b] No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning about circumcision being useless for those who had the religious procedure and then never obeyed God’s law.

Christians can substitute baptism for circumcision and heed Paul’s warning similarly.

Today’s post has a lot of messages. I decided to run Romans 3 in one post, because I had written about most of it many years ago before I began going through one book of the New Testament at a time. The older posts will appear below.

Paul picks up where he left off with the first two verses.

In verse 1, he asks what advantage does the Jew have if he is circumcised. He answers by saying that there is much in circumcision for the Jew, as they were given ‘the oracles of God’ (verse 2).

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

They were marks of God’s care, they were marks of God’s concern, they were marks of God’s love. They were aids to their deliverance from sin. They were instructions for the blessing of the Holy Spirit. God gave them all of these things and they just never really lived up to what they possessed. Great advantage, great privilege, great priority, great preeminence was given to the people of Israel but they wasted it. They had the privilege of proclaiming the true God. They had the privilege of revealing the Messiah. They had the privilege of blessing from God as they served faithfully. They had the privilege of a land. They had a privilege of an ultimate restoration and glory in the final kingdom. They had all of these privileges.

You can read at length about Romans 3:1-8 here. Ultimately, God’s promise of salvation is a constant. He will save those who believe in Him and follow His Word. Is God really being ‘unfair’ in judging our sins? St Paul firmly answers, ‘No’ (verse 6). God will judge us equally and do so on His terms, not our own. As for verses 7 and 8, how can we think that sin can produce goodness, especially if we cloak it in God’s name? One example would be of clergy who embrace all sorts of error in order to attract greater attendance at church. It is commonplace today for clergy to say, ‘Don’t worry about what the New Testament says. We’ve moved on. Go and enjoy yourselves.’

Then Paul comes right out and cites various passages from the Old Testament which say that no one is righteous in and of himself. We need God’s grace for our faith in and obedience to Him. Why? Because we are all inherently sinful, even if baptism removes Original Sin. I have a lengthy post about Romans 3:9-20 which explains our vulnerability and inclination to sin. Paul says that because we are all guilty of sin, we cannot use the Law in our defence (verse 20). Only God can use it in judgement, and it will be in our condemnation. However, what we can do is to use the Law to make us aware of sin and to pray for God’s divine grace to keep us from sinning. This is why we cannot merit Heaven through our own works. Salvation can come only through faith.

This brings us to verse 21 and the first part of verse 22, wherein Paul announces that the righteousness of God has been made manifest apart from the law through faith in Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur explains:

The doctrine of salvation in the Scripture is very clear. God saves us by grace through faith, not human effort. But part of God’s gracious work is to bring us to repentance and to bring us to confession and to bring us to submission to the lordship of Christ. Now why do people have such a hard time allowing that to be the gracious work of God in our hearts? Because I say that I believe the Bible teaches you have to repent of your sin doesn’t mean that I decide to repent of my sin all by myself and I sort of resolve that in my own heart. No, no, no, that is a gracious work of God as much as any other thing. Because I say you need to submit yourself to the lordship of Christ in salvation does not mean that I do that in my flesh. It means that God produces that in me through His gracious act of salvation. You see, justification is the initiating of the sanctifying process, or the purifying process, and it begins with turning from sin to God, Acts 20. Anything less is religious reformation. And you know what happens to people who religiously reform? They get swept and garnished and they’re still (What?) empty, and eight more come back and the end is worse than the beginning.

So, when you say salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that. But I believe in that gracious work there is a transforming of the nature of the individual.

Therefore, the conduct of such persons manifests itself to others. It is a transformation made possible not by our own actions but by God’s grace working through us:

If there’s no manifestation of a righteous pattern [in a person], then you know that the work didn’t get done because if he was redeemed he would have been presented holy and unblamable and unreprovable. And that is not only to be seen as a positional reality but is to be manifest as a practical truth as well …

So, sanctification, righteous manifestation, godly behavior, holy activity is the manifestation of genuine salvation.

God’s mercy and love for us is so great that He saves us regardless of our status in society. We do not need money, multiple university degrees or social standing. We do not have a caste system, as some other world faiths do.

For that, we should be eternally grateful to our Creator and to our Saviour.

Paul writes more about circumcision — in the context of the Old Testament — in Romans 4.

Next time — Romans 4:6-12

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 2:6-11

6 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

——————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the first five verses of Romans 2, wherein Paul addresses the Jews, the first people to know God. Paul tells them not to be self-righteous because they also are guilty of the same sins as Gentiles.

He continues his message about divine judgement — rewards for some, punishment for others — throughout the chapter.

John MacArthur sums the first 16 verses of this chapter as follows (emphases mine):

In these 16 verses, the apostle Paul gives us six principles for divine judgment, the six factors by which God judges men … Number one, God judges on the basis of knowledge. Secondly, on the basis of truth. Thirdly, on the basis of guilt. Fourthly, on the basis of deeds. Fifthly, on the basis of impartiality, and sixthly, on the basis of motives.

Now, keep in mind as we are looking at the second chapter of Romans that this chapter is not in isolation but is a part of a very large picture in which Paul presents the gospel of Jesus Christ. Back in chapter 1 verse 16, he brought up the gospel of Jesus Christ. And then beginning in verse 18, he starts to explain what it is. “Gospel” means good news, but before you can hear the good news, you have to hear the bad news. And so for chapter 1 and 2 and the first part of chapter 3, the news is all bad. Man is sinful, he is immoral. Even at his highest ethical point, he falls short of God’s standard, and he is under the stain and the condemnation of sin

We see the word ‘works’ in verse 6, however, this is not about the error of ‘salvation by works’, but how well we obey the Ten Commandments. Do we love God? Do we love our neighbour? Do we pray and worship God? Do we seek to know Him better? Do we treat those around us — from our parents, to our siblings, to our relatives, to those outside the home — kindly? Do we keep our minds on godly things or are they in the gutter? Do we read or watch things that cause us to sin (e.g. through lust or violence)? Are we honest with others? Are we envious of others? Do we argue? This is what Paul means by ‘works’: what our everyday conduct reflects about our inner lives.

Therefore, Paul says, God will judge us by our ‘works’ (verse 6): our conduct towards others and towards God.

Believers, particularly traditional pastors and bible scholars, speak of ‘sanctification’, another way of saying progressing through God’s grace in faith to righteousness. It is a lifelong journey. It is not easy, yet this is what God calls us to do. This is what Paul is talking about.

Paul says that God will reward the righteous. To the faithful souls who patiently — despite worldly irritations or setbacks — strive in sanctification, he will give them eternal life (verse 7).

On the other hand, God will punish severely those who disobey Him by contending with Him through sin (verse 8). Every sin is a contention — a quarrel — with God.

Matthew Henry says:

In general those that do evil, more particularly described to be such as are contentious and do not obey the truth. Contentious against God. Every wilful sin is a quarrel with God, it is striving with our Maker (Isaiah 45:9), the most desperate contention. The Spirit of God strives with sinners (Genesis 6:3), and impenitent sinners strive against the Spirit, rebel against the light (Job 24:13), hold fast deceit, strive to retain that sin which the Spirit strives to part them from. Contentious, and do not obey the truth. The truths of religion are not only to be known, but to be obeyed; they are directing, ruling, commanding; truths relating to practice. Disobedience to the truth is interpreted a striving against it. But obey unrighteousness–do what unrighteousness bids them do. Those that refuse to be the servants of truth will soon be the slaves of unrighteousness. [2.] The products or instances of these frowns: Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. These are the wages of sin. Indignation and wrath the causes–tribulation and anguish the necessary and unavoidable effects. And this upon the soul; souls are the vessels of that wrath, the subjects of that tribulation and anguish. Sin qualifies the soul for this wrath. The soul is that in or of man which is alone immediately capable of this indignation, and the impressions or effects of anguish therefrom. Hell is eternal tribulation and anguish, the product of wrath and indignation. This comes of contending with God, of setting briers and thorns before a consuming fire, Isaiah 27:4. Those that will not bow to his golden sceptre will certainly be broken by his iron rod. Thus will God render to every man according to his deeds.

Paul says that God will judge everyone, including the people to whom He first revealed Himself: the Jews.

Furthermore, because He made a holy covenant with the Jews, they will be the first to receive rewards or punishments. Why? Because, historically, He has had the longest relationship with them. He sent His Son to them in order to make the New Covenant: the ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

This is why God will punish the evil among them first, then the Gentiles (verse 9).

Similarly, He will reward the righteous among them first, then the Gentiles (verse 10).

Paul closes this set of verses by saying that God is an impartial judge (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Paul is speaking here only of judgement, not of salvation:

Now, as we approach verses 6 to 10 and then just close with just a thought about verse 11, I want you to understand one very important thing. Paul is not talking about salvation here, so get that out of your mind or you’ll be confused. He doesn’t talk about salvation until chapter 3 verse 21. He is simply dealing with one of the elements of judgment. He doesn’t say how the righteous people got righteous or he doesn’t say why the unrighteous people were unrighteous, he just says you can judge them by their works.

Also:

At the time of judgment in the future, when God sends the righteous into His eternal heaven and the unrighteous into an eternal hell, the ones who enter into eternal heaven will be those who have sought. You see it there? They have sought. They do seek for glory. That doesn’t say they deserved it. They just sought it. They had aspirations for what was heavenly and godly. They sought for glory and honor and incorruption. And they’ll receive the glory and the honor and the peace of eternal life for they are the ones that have worked good. And I submit to you that if there is no such good work visible in a life, then there is no genuine salvation. If this text says anything, it says that. And if it doesn’t say that, it doesn’t say anything. We will be rewarded, then, for our deeds because they are the proof of the righteousness within us. And in the third chapter, he’ll tell us how to get the righteousness of God within us, and this applies to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. God will give heavenly and eternal blessing to the Jew and the Gentile

Well, let’s jump the gun on Paul a little bit and go over to chapter 3 verse 21. The righteousness that God desires, the righteousness of God apart from the law, is manifest. In other words, it isn’t going to happen through your own self-effort of trying to keep some rules, even though they be the right rules. It is the righteousness of God that comes – verse 22 – by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that what? Believe. Verse 24 says we’re justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Now, that’s really all you need to know, beloved. The way and the only way to produce the righteous deeds is to possess the righteousness of Christ. And the only way to possess the righteousness of Christ is by faith in His redemptive work. Do you believe that He died God incarnate for your sin? Do you believe that He rose again for your justification? Do you believe that He ever lives to make intercession for you? Do you believe that He’ll come back to complete the redemptive plan? If you believe and you receive Christ, He gives you the capacity by the implantation of His own eternal life to produce righteous deeds. And when the day comes that judgment is to occur, God will see the record of a righteous life and know that such a life could only be the product of the indwelling presence of the living Christ and grant eternal life.

Paul has much more to say about judgement of Jew and Gentile alike. To be continued.

Next time — Romans 2:12-16

When we lived in the southern US for a year, my mother fell ill and spent a short time in hospital.  With the help of a couple of our neighbours, natives of the small town where we lived at the time, my father was able to find a housekeeper to fix us meals and keep the house in order. 

The lady’s name was Rachel and she was a treasure.  She always carried her Bible with her, as did many of the black ladies who worked in menial jobs.  This was in the days of segregation in the mid-1960s, so the women generally worked as housekeepers, although some still worked in the cotton fields.  There were no factory or office jobs open to them.  They lived in shacks on the outskirts of town.  Their employers would pick them up and drive them home each weekday. 

Rachel used to tell me stories from the Bible in the evenings.  She might read a passage then carry on telling the rest of the story in a delightful way.  I was only six years old at the time and was enthralled.  It was always a shame to have to go to bed afterward.  I could have listened to her for hours.

I recall that she told me to do well in school and to be sure to read a lot.  She said, ‘I thank the good Lord that I learned how to read.  To be able to read the Holy Bible is the greatest gift I can imagine.’  I don’t think she ever read anything else, even though my dad always offered her a newspaper or a news magazine.  ‘No, thank you,’ she would reply. ‘I’ve got my Bible.  That’s all I need.’

Rachel was an older wisp of a woman — slender, with hair done in a neat bun in the back.  She wore glasses and a nicely pressed cotton dress with modest black shoes.  She carried a small black handbag. She spoke gently but had firm ideas on leading a well-ordered life governed by faith.  For many years I connected her with the word ‘righteous’.  I still do. 

We didn’t know much about her other than that she came highly recommended.  I don’t know if she had ever been married, just that she didn’t have a husband, a boyfriend or children.  (Yes, of course, I had to ask, as kids do.)  She had no wrinkles and didn’t frown.  I recall being highly impressed by her gentle presence and poise. 

On the housekeeping front, she cooked us simple suppers and kept the house tidy.  She didn’t do things the way my mother did, but we couldn’t really find fault with her and she kept me company with the Bible stories in evenings when my dad was at hospital.     

When my mother returned home, Rachel was still with us on a daily basis.  My mother found Rachel’s housekeeping not quite up to par — she would tell my dad that the bedspread didn’t sit quite right and the mashed potato was unsatisfactory.   She didn’t tell Rachel, however.  My dad was a bit taken aback, because he had tried to do what he could to speed Mum’s recovery.  As far as I was concerned, Rachel could have stayed indefinitely.  I was enjoying my time with her, listening to her Bible stories. 

One afternoon after school, Mum was asleep and Rachel was telling me another story.  It was probably from Genesis, although I can’t quite recall.  Rachel believed it was important to tell the stories in order.  I used to ask, ‘Could you tell me the story of Jonah and the whale?’ and she would say, ‘Child, we haven’t got that far yet. Be patient and we’ll get there.’ 

So, Rachel was bringing Scripture to life for me yet again.  It was a quiet afternoon, with the autumn sun dappling in through the living room window.  I sat, curled up in a chair, listening intently, imagining I was back in Old Testament days as the story unfolded.  That moment could have gone on forever, as far as I was concerned.

Suddenly, there was a muffled noise from the bedroom followed by footsteps padding down the hall.  Then, my mum appeared in pyjamas and a dressing gown.  She didn’t look too happy.  Rachel paused to say hello. 

Mum looked at her and asked in a strained voice, ‘What are you doing?’ 

‘I was just telling Churchmouse a story,’ Rachel replied softly, her Bible open on her lap.

‘Please don’t.’  My mother had The Look, a particular expression of hers which required no explanation.

Then she asked Rachel to go into another room of the house. ‘I’d like to talk with you for a moment.’  So, Rachel closed her Bible, left it on the sofa and followed my mum. 

Who knows what Mum said?  It was behind closed doors and was the most silent conversation ever.  I thought they might have been looking at each other, because I couldn’t hear a word. 

A couple of minutes later the two of them emerged in silence.  My mother went into the kitchen and Rachel returned to the sofa.  But instead of sitting near me, where she had been minutes earlier, she picked up her Bible and moved to the opposite end.  She didn’t look at me.  In fact, she acted as if I were not even there.  I was bewildered.  Where was the rest of the story?  Why wasn’t Rachel talking to me?  Why was she ignoring me?  Why wasn’t my mum talking to me?  What was happening?

The silence was deafening.  I wasn’t paying attention to the time, but from that moment until my dad came home seemed an eternity.  It was probably only 10 or 15 minutes.  But even when he walked in the front door, he could sense something wasn’t right. ‘What’s the matter? Is everything okay?’ 

My mother walked out of the kitchen and said feebly, ‘You can take Rachel home now.’ 

In silence, Rachel closed her Bible, stood and picked up her handbag.  She smiled at me wanly from a distance and said, ‘Goodbye … Be good, you hear?’

And that was the last I ever saw of Rachel. 

Needless to say, later on a terse discussion ensued between my parents in the kitchen.  ‘What’s wrong with a Bible story?’ my dad asked.

‘We’re Catholic.  She’s a Protestant. Probably goes to some little church with no affiliation. It’s wrong to fill up Churchmouse’s mind with the King James Bible.’

My dad was irked.  ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t find a housekeeper who came with an imprimatur. But I tried to help.  You can barely walk.’

Mum turned away. ‘I’m feeling better.  I’ll take care of things. Don’t get anyone else.’ 

That was one of the few times I think Mum was wrong about Christianity.  She was a bit too wrapped up in her Catholicism at that moment and couldn’t see things clearly.  I felt so bad for my dad and even sorrier for Rachel.

Well, there was no way we were ever going to see that lovely lady again. Our town centre was white as could be. Blacks had to use the rear entrances for everything.  If Rachel went into town, she would have had to go to the back of the grocery store or druggist to buy anything. That’s if the merchants allowed it. She probably didn’t have a bank account, but if she did, she would have gone round to the back.  If the men in her neighbourhood wanted to go to the tavern for a beer and a bite to eat, they went to the Negro section, divided by the bar, visible only through a hatch.  At the cinema, blacks had their own entrance and sat in the balcony.

Mum didn’t dislike Rachel, but, as a Catholic, she did have reservations about the Protestant use of the Bible.  She gradually became a bit more relaxed about Protestants in the years that followed. Yet, it was only in 1970 when I found out that my parents even had a (Catholic) Bible. (By then, I already had two KJV copies of the New Testament, which were gifts.) Maybe the Rachel episode served as a turning point.  I never mentioned Rachel again, though.  I didn’t dare.

If Rachel is still alive, she’d be a centenarian.  If she has gone to her rest, I hope that her final hours on this mortal coil were peaceful. No doubt, she is among those sitting at God’s right hand.  

I mention this story not to get on my mother’s case but to illustrate the conflicts which arise when one person’s authority in matters of faith opposes another’s. In this case it was Rachel’s sola Scriptura versus Mum’s Magisterium. One can imagine each woman praying fervently for the other’s salvation.  Yet, the memory of this episode still lingers with me decades after it happened.

Tomorrow: R C Sproul explains sola Scriptura in light of Reformed theology

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