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Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 10:16-21

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

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Last week’s post introduced Romans 10, the theme of which is obeying God by obeying Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur explains why Paul had to do this. Paul’s Roman audience were Jewish converts (emphases mine):

Paul has to deal with this in this epistle to the Romans because he can’t get by this hurdle. He’s presenting justification by grace through faith and somebody’s going to say, if this is really the truth, this new covenant, this new message is really the truth, this message which contradicts the old truth, if this is really it, then why doesn’t Israel believe it, because they’re the people who have always received the Word of God? And it was obvious that they were rejecting it. It was obvious the Jews had rejected Jesus Christ and had Him crucified. If this is the truth from God, how is it that the people of God have rejected it? How can it be? And so Paul, in order to defend his doctrine of justification by grace through faith, has to explain the unbelief of Israel. And that’s exactly what he’s doing in chapter 10.

In chapter 9 he showed how the unbelief of Israel was already fit into the plan of God, so it didn’t surprise God. It didn’t thwart God’s plan. He already had knew it. He already had planned it into the plan. And now in chapter 10 he describes how it is that they could be so ignorant and why they reject it.

Here are the verses from Romans 10 preceding today’s reading. These are in the Lectionary:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

This is why men and women of the cloth should be focussing on preaching the Bible rather the troubling issues of our day. When we are at peace with God — and not rebelling against Him and His Son — we are at peace with our fellow man and woman.

Returning to Paul’s audience, they had an imperfect faith. Therefore, he needed to explain certain doctrines to them and make it clear that God’s people — Israel — had always been rebellious, dating back to the time of Moses.

Paul says that both Jew and Gentile have been rebellious, reinforcing Israel’s rebellion by citing Isaiah 53:1 (verse 16).

Matthew Henry discusses this lack of obedience and the purpose of Scripture:

All the Jews have not, all the Gentiles have not; far the greater part of both remain in unbelief and disobedience. Observe, The gospel is given us not only to be known and believed, but to be obeyed. It is not a system of notions, but a rule of practice. This little success of the word was likewise foretold by the prophet (Isaiah 53:1): Who hath believed our report? Very few have, few to what one would think should have believed it, considering how faithful a report it is and how well worthy of all acceptation,–very few to the many that persist in unbelief. It is no strange thing, but it is a very sad and uncomfortable thing, for the ministers of Christ to bring the report of the gospel, and not to be believed in it. Under such a melancholy consideration it is good for us to go to God and make our complaint to him.

MacArthur discusses the word ‘obey’ in Greek:

The word to “obey” is hupakou. We get “acoustics” from it. It means “to hear,” and hupo means “under,” to hear under. To hear under means to get under somebody in submission like a servant, to line up under somebody. They have not heard it submissively with a heart of obedience. It is a rich word, beloved, by the way, and it implies that salvation has inherent in it obedience. It has inherent in it submission to Christ. And that’s obvious if you study Scripture. In all the messages of salvation there is a sense of obedience. In other words, it isn’t just believing. It is affirming that I will line up under and obey, that I will submit.

That’s a tough message, given today’s protests against submission throughout history.

If we are to submit at all, it must be to God first. We submit to Him by submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to say that faith comes from hearing the Gospels and solid preaching, for only through them do we build up our faith (verse 17). I refer you to my statement above about today’s clergy and their grave error in ignoring both.

Henry says:

The beginning, progress, and strength of faith, are by hearing. The word of God is therefore called the word of faith: it begets and nourishes faith. God gives faith, but it is by the word as the instrument. Hearing (that hearing which works faith) is by the word of God. It is not hearing the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but hearing the word of God, that will befriend faith, and hearing it as the word of God. See 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

Paul reminds the Romans that Scripture always said that Gentiles would be received into the fold as God’s people. Paul cites Psalm 19:4 as proof (verse 18):

Their voice[a] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,

MacArthur says the Psalm refers to natural revelation of God’s glory:

what David is saying in the Psalm is that the stars and all the celestial bodies proclaim to the whole earth that there is a God, right? That’s what we call in theology natural revelation. But all of the stellar bodies, all of the glory of space communicates that there is a God. And Paul borrows this verse and says this is a symbol and this is a foreshadowing of how the gospel will extend to all the earth, even as the testimony of the stars and the stellar bodies do. It’s a marvelous truth. The testimony of heaven, he says, is like a measuring line that marks out extent. And he uses the term, “their line is gone out,” like a guy who marked out the extremities of an area and says the testimony goes to the very limits of the perimeter. And here Paul says that their sound went into all the earth. Their words to the end of the world, same idea, only he says as the stars have touched the earth with natural revelation, the gospel touches the earth with special revelation.

Then Paul cites from the time of Moses as a way of saying that rebellious Israel never understood submission and obedience (verse 19). As a result, God punished His people through conflict with a Gentile — ‘foolish’ — nation. ‘Foolish’ in that context means that the Gentiles did not yet know about God. The citation comes from Deuteronomy 32:21:

They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

That conflict is a spiritual one, as MacArthur says:

what he is saying there is, you knew, Deuteronomy told you that, that the day would come when God would embrace a no people, that’s a Gentile people, a foolish nation, that’s a Gentile nation, and provoke you to what? A jealousy about His relationship to them. You knew that, that was in Deuteronomy 32:21. And if you read the thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy, verse 5 in that chapter marks the unbelief of Israel and verse 20 marks the judgment of God and verse 21 is this verse. I’m going to turn to another people, another nation, non-Jewish, Gentile and bless them and provoke you to jealousy.

That is what happened when Christ was ministering to the Jews of His day. Many rejected Him, so He sought another people, the Gentiles:

this prediction of Moses could find its fulfillment only in the conversion of the Gentiles through the gospel of Christ. They were the no people brought into intimate relationship with God. And the Jews should have remembered Deuteronomy 32, they should have repented, they should have seen the truth of the gospel as it went to the Gentiles. You see, Jesus made this so clear to them. He kept saying to them. Remember how in chapter 21 and 22 of Matthew He kept saying to them, “Look, I’m going to turn from you to this other people. You don’t want to come to the banquet? I’ll get some people who will come to the banquet. You don’t want to serve Me? I’ll find some people who do. You want to kill My servants and kill My Son? I’ll give out My vineyard to someone else who is worthy of it.” In Luke 14, “You don’t want to come to My great supper? You don’t want to eat this feast? Then I’ll go in the highways and byways and I’ll call the lame and the blind and the halt and all the rest of them in here.”

Henry gives us a practical application of the verse from Deuteronomy:

God often makes people’s sin their punishment. A man needs no greater plague than to be left to the impetuous rage of his own lusts.

How true!

Paul concludes his discussion of disobedience with Isaiah 65:1-2, wherein the prophet says he was prepared for people who would listen to him after he had to stop preaching to a rebellious Israel (verses 20, 21). Here are the verses:

65 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
    I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that was not called by[a] my name.
2 I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;

There are numerous references in the Bible to God’s judgement on mankind by removing the possibility of faith and leaving people to their own devices. See Matthew Henry’s comment above about God’s making our sin our punishment if we do not repent.

Henry says that Israel not only refused to submit to God, they also quarrelled with Him:

One word in the Hebrew, in Isaiah, is here well explained by two; not only disobedient to the call, not yielding to it, but gainsaying, and quarrelling with it, which is much worse. Many that will not accept of a good proposal will yet acknowledge that they have nothing to say against it: but the Jews who believed not rested not there, but contradicted and blasphemed. God’s patience with them was a very great aggravation of their disobedience, and rendered it the more exceedingly sinful; as their disobedience advanced the honour of God’s patience and rendered it the more exceedingly gracious. It is a wonder of mercy in God that his goodness is not overcome by man’s badness; and it is a wonder of wickedness in man that his badness is not overcome by God’s goodness.

When we are truly at peace with God, we are also at peace with humanity. That is the only way forward in this world.

Next time — Romans 11:2b-6

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 10:1-4

10 Brothers,[a] my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.[b]

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Last week’s post discussed Romans 9, wherein Paul explained why the Church opened to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This was difficult for Paul’s audience of Jewish converts in Rome to understand.

Romans 10 picks up where Romans 9 leaves off. Here are the concluding verses from that chapter (emphases mine):

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Powerful words.

Paul wanted desperately for his audience to understand that the way to salvation and belief in God is through Jesus Christ alone (verse 1).

Matthew Henry says that verse is a prayer of Paul’s:

It was not only his heart’s desire, but it was his prayer. There may be desires in the heart, and yet no prayer, unless those desires be presented to God. Wishing and woulding, if that be all, are not praying.

Paul says that the Jews have a ‘zeal’ for God, but not one that is based in ‘knowledge’, true understanding (verse 2).

There are many instances where Paul discussed his prior life as a Pharisee and how he was missing out on the truth of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur discusses several instances of these. Here is one from Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it and profited in the Jews’ religion above many, my equals and my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the tradition of my fathers.” He says I bear witness. I bear witness that they have a zeal for God. How do you know that? I had it. I was so zealous for God, I was so zealous for what I thought was the truth of God and the tradition, I was so zealous for that that I relentlessly persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. I did all I could to slaughter the Christians. I was zealous for God.

Henry explains the knowledge that the Jews missed out on:

Their zeal was not according to knowledge. It is true God gave them that law for which they were so zealous; but they might have known that, by the appearance of the promised Messiah, an end was put to it. He introduced a new religion and way of worship, to which the former must give place. He proved himself the Son of God, gave the most convincing evidence that could be of his being the Messiah; and yet they did not know and would not own him, but shut their eyes against the clear light, so that their zeal for the law was blind.

Because of this, they closed their hearts and minds to God’s righteousness and refused to submit to Him (verse 3), even though they thought they were through the law.

MacArthur characterises Romans 10 as follows:

In chapter 9, as I said, the reason they’re unsaved is the sovereignty of God. Concurrent with that in chapter 10 is their own unbelief. And the theme here is the ignorance of Israel, a willing, unbelieving ignorance.

Paul goes on to say that the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus, put an end to the law of the Old Covenant (verse 4). The law was there only to prepare God’s chosen people in the way of holiness for Christ, the Redeemer. Note that Christ preached to the Jews first. He instructed His apostles to preach to the Jews. See last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10:

10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,

10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus wanted His Father’s people to be the first to know that He came to redeem them.

Henry explains this in a way that we can also apply to ourselves:

Christdid what the law could not do (Romans 8:3), and secured the great end of it. The end of the law was to bring men to perfect obedience, and so to obtain justification. This is now become impossible, by reason of the power of sin and the corruption of nature; but Christ is the end of the law. The law is not destroyed, nor the intention of the lawgiver frustrated, but, full satisfaction being made by the death of Christ for our breach of the law, the end is attained, and we are put in another way of justification. Christ is thus the end of the law for righteousness, that is, for justification; but it is only to every one that believeth. Upon our believing, that is, our humble consent to the terms of the gospel, we become interested in Christ’s satisfaction, and so are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus.

Even so, the following was the disappointing result that Paul desperately wanted to remedy. MacArthur says:

Number one, Israel was ignorant of the person of God. Can you imagine how devastating that is to them to hear that? They were ignorant of the person of God. Two, they were ignorant of the provision of Christ. Three, they were ignorant of the place of faith, the role that faith played. Four, they were ignorant of the parameters of salvation, the extent of it, the wideness of it, the inclusiveness of it. Fifth, they were ignorant of the predictions of Scripture. They were ignorant of the person of God, the provision of Christ, the place of faith, the parameters of salvation, the predictions of Scripture. The whole chapter then comes together to say Israel is lost because Israel is in the ignorance of unbelief.

And I say to you again that no man is ever lost because God makes some decree somewhere utterly unconnected to how that man chooses. They come together. And how God does that is His problem. The present rejection of Israel is not simply and only because of sovereign election, as if God withheld His grace. In fact, He preached and preached and preached and called and called and called and they refused to believe. And so they are found in chapter 10 in unbelieving ignorance.

This theme continues next week, when Paul cites Isaiah preaching to his own people who rejected his prophecy.

Next time — Romans 10:16-21

The following three posts date from 2009, when I read verses that were not in the Lectionary and wrote about them rather than going through one book of the Bible at a time, as I do now.

These are about Romans 9, most of which is not in the three-year Lectionary:

Romans 9:6-13 – election, New Covenant

Paul introduces the New Covenant to the Jews. Our salvation depends not on our lineage (i.e. Abrahamic descent) and not all will be saved.  Our election to salvation depends not on our own works but on God’s choosing.

11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)  (Rom. 9:11)

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Romans 9:14-24 – election, New Covenant

This passage explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles through the New Covenant: ‘not only Jews but also Gentiles’.

Key verses:

24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?   (Romans 9:24)

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Romans 9:25-33faith, not works; New Covenant

This passage further explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles.

Key verses:

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Next time — Romans 10:1-4

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 7:7-14

The Law and Sin

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

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Last week’s post dealt with the presence of the law but with the added presence of the Spirit, giving us hope for redemption through Jesus Christ.

For the true depth of today’s verses and Paul’s spiritual journey, we need to turn to the King James Version (emphases mine):

7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

We read these verses and think that Paul was describing his past self, just after conversion. He was too holy later on to wrestle with lustful desires, surely.

Yet, John MacArthur says that this was Paul in the present and gives us examples from his other letters to support that assertion:

You show me a person with this kind of brokenness, you show me a person agonizing in the depths of his own soul because he can’t do everything written in the law of God, and I’ll show you a spiritual person.

And so, I believe, what you have here is Paul. That’s right, Paul. And you see the word “I” 46 times in this portion of Scripture, in Romans 7, if I remember correctly. Don’t count them now. Anyway, he says it a lot. And I think what you have – some people say, “Well, this was Paul before he was saved. This was Paul when he just got saved, and he was infantile, and he was still sort of carnal.” I think this is Paul at the very heights of his Christian perception. This is Paul at the level of maturity. And what he sees is that he does not live up to the holy law of God, though he desires it with all his heart. And he finds himself debilitated by that ugly reality that sin in its residual reality is still hanging on. And that is a profoundly sensitive realization.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9, he says the same thing in other terms. “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” You see that? He didn’t say, “I wasn’t fit to be an apostle. He said – what? – “I am not fit now to be an apostle. I am the least of all.”

In Ephesians 3:8, “Unto me,” he says, “who am less than the least.” Now he’s going down the drain further. He just used to be the least, now he’s less than the least. You see, the man, the more the man perceives himself as over against the holy law of God, though in our judgment relative to other men he is the supreme man, he in his own mind is less than the least of all saints.

I draw you to 1 Timothy 1:12. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, in that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” You say, “Well, sure that’s what he was – “ “But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” Then this, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I – ” what? – was chief “ – am chief. Nevertheless, for this cause I obtained mercy.”

Listen, I think that’s exactly what he’s saying in Romans 7. This is Paul far along in his apostleship, mature in the Lord, walking in the dynamic of spiritual life, having experienced the mighty power of God, and the wisdom of God, and the knowledge of God. And the more he knows, and the more he experiences, the more he hates the sin that he sees hanging on. And the terms that he uses in Romans 7 are so precise that I think we can’t miss this picture.

I am so grateful to John MacArthur for these insights.

Recall that Paul is writing to Jews living in Rome who became Christian. Those conversions probably started on or soon after the first Pentecost, when they would have gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Some would have witnessed the Holy Spirit descending on the blessed 70 disciples of Christ and heard Peter’s first sermon immediately afterwards. Those men took the Good News back to Rome with them.

Paul spent a lot of time talking about the law, because it is very important to the Jews. He wanted to share his own journey with his brethren so that they would fully understand the power of the Gospel story. There is more than law; there is now redemption, too.

Paul says that, had it not been for God’s commandments, he never would have known the evils of lust (verse 7). This seems odd, because Paul had been a Pharisee and instructed in his youth by one of the best teachers of the law, Gamaliel.

Matthew Henry said Paul knew the tenets of the law but not their spiritual application. Henry compares it to having a nut but not being able to get beyond the shell to the fruit inside:

He had the letter of the law, but he had not the spiritual meaning of it–the shell, but not the kernel. He had the law in his hand and in his head, but he had it not in his heart; the notion of it, but not the power of it. There are a great many who are spiritually dead in sin, that yet are alive in their own opinion of themselves, and it is their strangeness to the law that is the cause of the mistake.

Paul goes on to describe the tension he felt once he awakened to moral law. He knew that lust was wrong but, even though he was conscious of it, resistance nearly — nearly — became futile at times (verse 8). He was wrestling with sin.

Henry has this:

The corrupt nature would not have swelled and raged so much if it had not been for the restraints of the law; as the peccant humours in the body are raised, and more inflamed, by a purge that is not strong enough to carry them off.

Paul says that without the law, he would not have realised the abhorrent nature of sin, which became very real to him. Consequently, his old self died (verses 9, 10). The Spirit made him aware of his sins according to the law.

Henry explains:

Sin revived, and I died; that is, the Spirit, but the commandment, convinced me that I was in a state of sin, and in a state of death because of sin.” Of this excellent use is the law; it is a lamp and a light; it converts the soul, opens the eyes, prepares the way of the Lord in the desert, rends the rocks, levels the mountains, makes ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Paul says that he finally understood the deceptive nature of sin (verse 11), which goes back to Original Sin, as Henry reminds us:

Ever since Adam ate forbidden fruit, we have all been fond of forbidden paths; the diseased appetite is carried out most strongly towards that which is hurtful and prohibited.

Sin is deceptive, just as it was with Adam and Eve:

sin, that is, his won corrupt nature, took occasion thence to promise him impunity, and to say, as the serpent to our first parents, You shall not surely die. Thus it deceived and slew him.

Therefore, God’s moral law is good. Through the Spirit, the law reveals our sinful ways (verse 12).

Furthermore, Paul says he realised that the power of the law illuminated his perception that sin was evil (verse 13). Without the law, he would not have had that realisation. Therefore, Paul submitted himself to God’s law.

Henry offers this practical application of the law:

The way to prevent this mischief is to bow our souls to the commanding authority of the word and law of God, not striving against, but submitting to it.

Paul concludes by saying that God’s law is good. It is we who are slaves to sin by our very nature (verse 14).

MacArthur explains that the purpose of the law is to convict us of our sins, to show us that we are not only doing wrong but also offending God:

… when you come to verse 14, he is fighting sin and he will not let it kill him. He will not give in to it. And so I believe this is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled mature believer who loves with all of his heart the precious, beautiful, holy, majestic law of God, and finds himself wrapped in human flesh, and unable to fulfill the law of God the way his heart wants him to.

I also believe that in this section he continues his discussion of the law, and he is affirming, as we saw last time, to the Jew that there’s nothing wrong with the law. The law can’t save. We saw that. The law can’t sanctify. But it’s still good because it does what? It convicts of what? Sin. And that is true before you’re saved, and guess what? It’s true afterwards

You know, when you become a Christian and you read about sin in the Bible, are you less concerned about your sin because you’re now a Christian? No, you should be – what? – more concerned about it. And the law will always reveal it. When David said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin,” he was saying that the Word of God in the heart becomes the point of conviction. It isn’t just information. You understand that? We don’t go through life just needing information. We need conviction. And the law has that power.

So, while telling us that the law cannot save and the law cannot sanctify, he affirms that it is good, and holy, and just because it does convict of sin before you’re saved and brings you to Christ and after you’re saved so that you’ll understand God’s holy standard and long with all your heart to fulfill it. The problem is not the law. The problem is us.

I hope this helps to explain the role of the Ten Commandments in our lives and the Holy Spirit’s help in revealing to us the state of our souls.

Next time — Romans 9:6-33

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 7:4-6

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.[a]

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Last week’s post introduced Paul’s preface into a discussion of our situation of no longer being bound to the law but bound to Christ.

Paul used marriage as his example. When a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry. So it is with us in a spiritual sense. Before Christ, believers — Paul is speaking to former Jews here — were bound to Mosaic law. However, Christ’s death and resurrection freed us from the law. We are now bound to Him individually, forever. We are also bound to Him collectively through the Church, His holy bride.

Our purpose in being bound to Him and no longer to the law is that we may produce fruits of faith for God (verse 4).

Matthew Henry has an excellent analysis of this verse. He first draws our attention to having ‘died to the law’, referred to again in verse 6 (emphases mine):

He does not say, “The law is dead” (some think because he would avoid giving offence to those who were yet zealous for the law), but, which comes all to one, You are dead to the law. As the crucifying of the world to us, and of us to the world, amounts to one and the same thing, so doth the law dying, and our dying to it. We are delivered from the law (Romans 7:6), katergethemen–we are nulled as to the law; our obligation to it as a husband is cassated and made void.

Through His death and resurrection Christ delivered us from bondage to the law, which could not save us. It could only make us aware of our sins:

It is dead, it has lost its power; and this (Romans 7:4) by the body of Christ, that is, by the sufferings of Christ in his body, by his crucified body, which abrogated the law, answered the demands of it, made satisfaction for our violation of it, purchased for us a covenant of grace, in which righteousness and strength are laid up for us, such as were not, nor could be, by the law. We are dead to the law by our union with the mystical body of Christ. By being incorporated into Christ in our baptism professedly, in our believing powerfully and effectually, we are dead to the law, have no more to do with it than the dead servant, that is free from his master, hath to do with his master’s yoke.

Our spiritual marriage is with Christ, not the law. As marriage is expected to be fruitful, so our union with Christ should be bearing the fruits of our faith, made possible by heavenly grace:

The wife is compared to the fruitful vine, and children are called the fruit of the womb. Now the great end of our marriage to Christ is our fruitfulness in love, and grace, and every good work. This is fruit unto God, pleasing to God, according to his will, aiming at his glory. As our old marriage to sin produced fruit unto death, so our second marriage to Christ produces fruit unto God, fruits of righteousness. Good works are the children of the new nature, the products of our union with Christ, as the fruitfulness of the vine is the product of its union with the root. Whatever our professions and pretensions may be, there is no fruit brought forth to God till we are married to Christ; it is in Christ Jesus that we are created unto good works, Ephesians 2:10. The only fruit which turns to a good account is that which is brought forth in Christ. This distinguishes the good works of believers from the good works of hypocrites and self-justifiers that they are brought forth in marriage, done in union with Christ, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 3:17. This is, without controversy, one of the great mysteries of godliness. (2.) That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, Romans 7:6. Being married to a new husband, we must change our way.

Under the law alone, believers could only be aware of their sins and were helpless in committing them time and time again; the law could not save them (verse 5).

John MacArthur breaks this verse down as follows:

This verse is so loaded, now. Hang on, I’m going to give it to you fast. Four key thoughts, here they come: Flesh, sin, law, death. Circle them in your Bible in verse 5: Flesh, sin, law, death. They go together. They’re all the same kind of thing. They operate in the same sphere.

The flesh produces sin, which is excited by the law, which it results in death. That’s a pathetic quartet, frankly. They are terms that describe man’s fallenness, man’s unregenerate state. They are a sad description. Let me take them piece by piece. And this is a very important statement at the beginning of verse 5, very definitive. “For when we were in – ” underline the word “in” “ – when we were in the flesh.” “In the flesh,” what does he mean by that? Well, we were really deep in it. It was our sphere of being. We were in the flesh. We were deeply in the flesh, profoundly in the flesh, engulfed in the flesh.

What is the flesh? It’s used two ways in the Bible and you must distinguish them. First, it’s used physically. And when flesh is used physically in the Bible, it has no evil connotation. Did you get that? When it’s used physically, it has no evil connotation. For Jesus Christ is come in the what? Flesh. “For the Word – ” John 1:14 “ – was made flesh.” When it is used in the physical sense, it has no evil connotation. In fact, in 1 John 4:2 it says that anyone who doesn’t confess that Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.

But listen, when flesh is used in the ethical or moral sense it always has an evil connotation. Always. When it’s used in the ethical moral sense. You find that, for example, in chapter 8, flesh is used in verse 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 13, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh all through there. You find it in Galatians 5 at least four times. You find it in Ephesians chapter 2. And every time you find it used in an ethical moral sense, it has an evil connotation. And it is speaking of man’s unredeemed humanness. Very important. So “when we were in the flesh” is when we were unredeemed. When our being – our real personage – … living in us was engulfed in the flesh, was captive to the flesh.

Now may I suggest to you that that’s a past tense experience? I’m no longer in the flesh. That’s right. Neither are you if you’re a Christian. You say, “How do you know that?” I’d thought you’d ask. Look at 8:4. Verse 4 says we’re not to walk after the flesh. Then verse 5. “For they that are after the flesh – ” now there’s another phrase that’s just the same as “in the flesh.” The “in the flesh” and “after the flesh,” folks, are the same thing. “They mind the things of the flesh.” That’s their world, their sphere. “But they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be fleshly minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the fleshly mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

With Christ as our Redeemer, we are no longer dead to sin in the law. In our union with Christ, we do the right things to please Him and God the Father, as divine grace and the Holy Spirit enable us so to do (verse 6).

MacArthur explains that Paul is referring to the fruits of faith here, not the erroneous works-based salvation:

Because of Christ we bear fruit. May I remind you that this is not a command, this is a statement of fact? It could read, “in order that we bring forth fruit.” We do. There’s no such thing as a no-fruit Christian. Salvation has a product. Because of a transformed life, we bear fruit unto God. Now carry that back to the question at the beginning of chapter 6. When you preach a grace salvation, and you ask people to come to Christ by grace through faith, and they don’t have to do anything to earn it, and you’re under grace, and sin abounds grace much more abounds, does that lead to sin? No it doesn’t because chapter 6 says that if you’re truly transformed you produce holiness, and chapter 7 says if you’re truly married to Jesus Christ you will bring forth fruit unto God. Just the opposite is true.

The great theologian, [Charles] Hodge, wrote, “As far as we are concerned, redemption is in order to produce holiness. We are delivered from the law in order that we may be united to Christ. And we’re united to Christ in order that we may bring forth fruit unto God.” He goes on to say, “The only evidence of union with Christ is bringing forth fruit unto God. As deliverance from the penalty of the law is in order to produce holiness, it is vain to expect that deliverance except with a view to the end for which it is granted.”

In other words, if you’re saved, you’re going to produce fruit unto God. What is fruit? Well, we’ve studied this in the past. Two things: Attitude and action. What’s attitude fruit? Galatians 5:22-23. “The fruit of the Spirit is – ” what? “ – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith meekness, self-control.” That’s attitude.

What about action fruit? Hebrews chapter 13. “The fruit of your lips praise unto God.” Philippians chapter 4. The fruit of a loving heart, a gift sent to the apostle Paul. Philippians talks about the fruit of righteousness. Any righteous act, any act which glorifies God, is fruit. Any right attitude or right act is fruit. And when Christ transforms your life, and you are dead to the law, and you come alive to God, it is not just because of a past historical event, it is because of a present living Christ, with whom you are one, and in whom He produces fruit unto God. He is the vine and we are the – what? – branches. And the vine produces the fruit through the branches.

So the question of 6:1-2 is again answered. Salvation has a product, but the product isn’t abuse, and the product is licentiousness, and the product isn’t libertinism, and the product isn’t license, and the product isn’t sinfulness, thinking you’re going to get forgiven for everything you do because of some transaction that’s made. The product of true salvation is chapter 6, holiness; chapter 7, fruitfulness, and fruit unto God. That means fruit that glorifies God.

As I am writing this on Pentecost Sunday, here is a closing thought from MacArthur on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

This, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit We still serve the law In fact, we serve it better than we could before we were redeemed. Because we serve not the letter of the law but the spirit.  We no longer are slaves to a legal set of values and rules in order to gain favor with God, but we now serve God out of love because He’s granted us salvation We are free, free to serve God, not free to serve ourselves.  We did that before.  We aren’t legalists serving the letter, but in newness of spirit we serve Christ. 

So somebody asks the question.  If we’re free from the law as Christians, is the law binding on us?  The answer is no and yes.  It is not binding in the sense that our acceptance with God depends on it.  It is binding in the sense that our new life seeks to serve it.  You see, the law couldn’t save you because you couldn’t keep it.  Now that God saved you, the law can’t condemn you, and for the first time in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can keep it So we’re not under the law condemnation but we serve God’s law out of the depths of a committed heart.

Is the law important?  Oh yes.  Can we say with the psalmist, “O how I love Thy law?”  Oh yes.  Even though it can’t save us?  Yes.  Even though it would condemn us?  Yes.  Because Jesus Christ has born that condemnation and by planting within us the divine nature has enabled us to keep that very law And we don’t serve it externally, but out of newness of spirit.

So, we’re dead to the law in the sense that it could save us or condemn us.  But listen, people, we are more alive to the law now in terms of serving it to the glory of God than we’ve ever been

Paul has much more to say about the law and sin, to be continued next week.

Next time — Romans 7:7-14

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 7:1-3

Released from the Law

Or do you not know, brothers[a]—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.[b] Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

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Last week’s post discussed the last two verses of Romans 5; God’s law makes us aware of our wretched sinfulness, but, thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, believers have the promise of eternal life.

Most of the first Christians in Rome had been Jews, therefore, Paul wrote Romans in a Jewish context. The law was still very important to them. However, Paul wanted them to see that, outside of the moral law in the Ten Commandments, it was obsolete with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read numerous references to the law and how it must be obeyed. With the New Covenant that Christ initiated, however, we have the gift of grace and justification by faith through that grace.

Paul wanted his audience to understand that obeying the old Mosaic laws could not bring salvation. He began explaining that in Romans 6. John MacArthur recaps Paul’s thinking for us (emphases mine):

[Romans] 6:14. “For sin shall not have dominion over you.” And here is an absolutely shocking statement to a Jew who all his or her lifelong had been committed to the law. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Now a statement like that has to be defended. It just has to be defended. There’s no way that Paul can make that statement in 6:14 and then walk away from it and write the rest of this epistle. It’s going to leave such a massive block in their minds, he has to deal with what he just said. We are not under the law.

Now would you notice there are two basic statements in verse 14? “For sin shall not have dominion over you.” That’s the first statement. Now listen carefully. He explained the meaning of that statement in 6:15-23. That is an exposition of that statement. The second statement, “for you are not under the law, but under grace,” he explains in chapter 7. He makes those two statements, explains one, and then the other because he cannot leave them unexplained. For those who have such a high and sacred view of the law will be devastated by his statement and they will jettison all of his theology when he says “you are not under the law.” They have all their lifetime lived under the law. It’s all they’ve known. So he must explain it. And I believe he does it in chapter 7.

So now you understand the rationale for chapter 7. Against a background of such affirmation of God’s law, there must be some explanation about what it means to say we are not under the law. It seems that men have been under the law for a long time, how has that and why has that changed?

Now let me give you an overview before we go specifically into chapter 7. And I’m hurrying as rapidly as I can. Remember the context of all of this. The major theme of Romans is justification by faith. In other words, you’re saved not by keeping the law but by believing, right? Through grace. Now we have started with justification by faith in chapter 3. The first couple of chapters showed us how sinful we are. We hit 3:21 and we get into justification by faith, and it runs all the way to the end of chapter 8. Chapter 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, all justification by faith. That’s the theme of all of those. And then in 9 to 11, he applies it to Israel, and then in 12 to the end he shows how it works out in living. But the main theme is justification by faith.

Having presented the doctrine itself in chapters 3 and 4, he then is presenting the fruit of that doctrine. And the first one was chapter 5, and in chapter 5 we learned that the first fruit of justification was security. We have peace with God. That’s settled. Security.

The second fruit of which he speaks in chapter 6 is holiness. We have union with Christ in chapter 6, and now His holiness is imparted to us. So the fruit of justification: First security, second holiness. Now we come to chapter 7 and the third fruit is liberty. Liberty. We are free from the law. Marvelous. And we’re going to see even more fruit of justification. But the point that we’ve been trying to stress since we got into this thing in chapter 3 is that salvation has tremendous effect. You cannot claim to be a Christian without a demonstrable effect in your life. Salvation transforms people.

That’s the essence of what Paul is spending chapter after chapter to tell us. We have in chapter 5 peace with God. We have in chapter 6 union with Christ. We have in chapter 7 freedom from the law. All of that is the fruit of salvation. And that all really answers the rather silly question in 6:1, doesn’t it? “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” You see, that’s what the critic would say. Your doctrine of justification by faith through grace means that you can just sin all you want and every time you sin God has grace so your doctrine leads to unrighteous living.

In other words, the legalist says, “Boy, we keep people toeing the mark here. We’ve got all the rules. When you come along and say, ‘You’re not saved by the law. The law can’t save you. You can’t keep the law. You’re saved by grace through faith.’ You’re just turning people loose and they’re going to run amuck.” And so they accuse him of the doctrine that leads to sin. And he says quite the opposite. True salvation leads to holiness, right? That’s what we saw in chapter 6. It doesn’t lead to license. It leads to the very opposite of license. It leads to holiness, chapter 6. Chapter 7, it leads to freedom from the law.

Paul begins by saying that the law applies only to living persons (verse 1). Once we die, we are no longer bound to law.

In order to begin his explanation, he writes of marriage. A wife must remain with her husband as long as he lives, but, if he dies, she is no longer bound by law to him (verse 2).

If a wife is still married to her husband, who is alive, and lives with another man, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if her husband dies, she, as a widow, may remarry (verse 3).

Paul is saying that, under the Old Covenant, God’s people were married to the law. They had nothing else. Under the New Covenant, though, things changed. Now their bond — an eternal one — is with Jesus Christ.

We speak of the Church, of which we are a part, as Christ’s bride.

MacArthur explains:

Salvation is a complete change of relationship. You no longer have the first husband you had. You no longer are under the bondage of the law. You’re now married to Jesus Christ.

It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? We see it in Ephesians 5 where the church is seen as the bride and He is the bridegroom. We see it in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 where we are an espoused wife having a marriage consummated to Christ in glory in the future. So we are called to be married to another and it tells us who it is. “To Him who is raised from the dead.” Notice it says “is raised,” not “was raised”? Who is – in other words, it’s emphasizing His present life. We are not only identified in union with a dead Savior in the past, but we are one with a living Savior in the present. It’s a great truth.

There’s one good thought. I would just draw you back to 6:9 for a moment, I’ll tie this in. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies – what? – no more. Will Christ ever die again? Will He? Then will we ever lose our husband? Never. That’s a great word about the security of our salvation. That’s a great word about the security of our marriage bond with Christ. Our husband will never die. He will never die. And so we will ever be secure in Him.

And so, we died in Christ by the mysterious miracle of our union with Him, by grace through faith. And we rise to walk in newness of life. And again I say, folks – and this is the salient element of all of this teaching – salvation is a total transformation. We are given security, chapter 5. In us is produced holiness, chapter 6. And liberty from the law, chapter 7. We are free from a works righteousness, from trying to earn our salvation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the key.

As Eastertide is coming to a close with Pentecost next week, this is well worth contemplating.

More on this theme follows next week.

Next time — Romans 7:4-6

Bible and crossThe 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 5:20-21

20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Last week’s post discussed circumcision in Romans 4; Paul points out that it was not salvific in and of itself, although it served as a seal of the covenant that God made with the Jews.

In Romans 5, Paul tells us that faith through divine grace brings us peace with God, made possible by Christ’s one sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

He then goes on to say that, although through Adam’s Original Sin, we lived in perpetual darkness, but, that, with Christ, eternal life is open to us. Taking the chapter up at verse 15, we read (emphases mine):

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Why the Lectionary editors left today’s verses — the conclusion of Romans 5 — out of their readings for public worship mystifies me. They are beautiful.

In verse 20, Paul asks what the purpose of God’s law is. He answers by saying that it is to make us more aware of how disgusting and displeasing to God our sins are. That is what ‘the law came in to increase the trespass’ means. It does not mean that the law causes us to sin more but, thanks to God’s law, we recognise that we have done wrong in His eyes. Believers want to please God, even though we know we need His grace to do that. God provides us with infinite grace to enable us to do the right thing.

This means that, as powerful as sin is in leading us down the path of spiritual death, God’s grace is infinitely stronger, leading to the promise of eternal life thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 21).

Matthew Henry explains:

The greater the strength of the enemy, the greater the honour of the conqueror. This abounding of grace he illustrates, Romans 5:21. As the reign of a tyrant and oppressor is a foil to set off the succeeding reign of a just and gentle prince and to make it the more illustrious, so doth the reign of sin set off the reign of grace. Sin reigned unto death; it was a cruel bloody reign. But grace reigns to life, eternal life, and this through righteousness, righteousness imputed to us for justification, implanted in us for sanctification; and both by Jesus Christ our Lord, through the power and efficacy of Christ, the great prophet, priest, and king, of his church.

John MacArthur says:

And would you notice how the chapter ends? “By Jesus Christ our Lord.” Beloved, it’s all there, isn’t it, in Him. Would you note that that’s really the theme that’s woven through this whole chapter. Look at verse 1, and let me give you a quick 15-second tour. Verse 1, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 9, “Saved from wrath through Him.” Verse 10, “Reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Being reconciled be saved by His life.” Verse 11, “We have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 15, “By one man Jesus Christ.” Verse 17, “Shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Verse 21, “By Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now do you understand why the apostle said, “Neither is there salvation in any other name, for there’s none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

What’s the practical use of this? I’ll tell you what it is. I’m going to close with this. Listen, don’t turn off your mind now. Listen to this. Every one of us should bow before God in humiliating consciousness that we are vile sinners worthy of death. Every one of us should realize that apart from the work of Jesus Christ we would be doomed to eternity forever without God because God hates sin. But O my, where there was the reign of death, God came with His grace and overpowered that and death is overruled by life for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

May God continue to bless us with His grace.

May we never diminish what Christ did for us on the Cross.

May we always wish to live with Him forever.

Next time — Romans 7:1-3

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.

————————————————————————————–

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 ancient-futurenetThe 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 2:25-29

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded[a] as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically[b] uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code[c] and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s criticism of the hypocrisy of the Jews of his era. They preached the law but did not obey it themselves.

Romans 2:24 says:

24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Harsh words. We can also apply Paul’s criticisms to ourselves as Christians substituting ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics’ for ‘Gentiles’.

Paul ends with a few verses on circumcision, which, for Jewish males, is as important as baptism is for Christians. Paul points out that a Gentile, uncircumcised, who obeys natural law can be a better person in God’s eyes than a circumcised Jew who flouts the law of God.

Therefore, circumcision, Paul says, is worth something only if the circumcised man obeys God’s precepts; otherwise, it is worth nothing at all and becomes uncircumcision (verse 25).

At that time, some Gentiles worshipped in synagogues and obeyed some of the Mosaic laws, not necessarily circumcision (verse 26). These Gentiles rejected paganism and loved God. They are called ‘God-fearing’ in Scripture. Cornelius, the first Gentile to convert to Christianity thanks to Peter, was one of them.

Matthew Henry reminds us about Acts 10 (emphases mine):

The case of Cornelius will clear it. Though he was a Gentile, and uncircumcised, yet, being a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house (Acts 10:2), he was accepted, Acts 10:4. Doubtless, there were many such instances: and they were the uncircumcision, that kept the righteousness of the law; and of such he says, (1.) That they were accepted with God, as if they had been circumcised. Their uncircumcision was counted for circumcision. Circumcision was indeed to the Jews a commanded duty, but it was not to all the world a necessary condition of justification and salvation.

Paul says that uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law and worship in synagogues are better than Jews who received the law as their birthright, were circumcised yet disobey the law. Through their conduct, those Gentiles ‘condemn’ the Jews (verse 27).

Henry explains that many Jews of that era did not think they needed to obey God’s law. Having it was sufficient. They were wrong:

That their obedience was a great aggravation of the disobedience of the Jews, who had the letter of the law, Romans 2:27. Judge thee, that is, help to add to thy condemnation, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress. Observe, To carnal professors the law is but the letter; they read it as a bare writing, but are not ruled by it as a law. They did transgress, not only notwithstanding the letter and circumcision, but by it, that is, they thereby hardened themselves in sin. External privileges, if they do not do us good, do us hurt. The obedience of those that enjoy less means, and make a less profession, will help to condemn those that enjoy greater means, and make a greater profession, but do not live up to it.

Paul takes his argument further, saying that Jewishness depends not on outward signs, such as circumcision, but upon what is in one’s heart and displayed in one’s conduct (verse 28). If one is truly a Jew, then one is circumcised in the heart and ruled by the Spirit. Furthermore, such a Jew seeks God’s favour, not man’s (verse 29).

Displaying outward signs of Jewishness was not enough, Paul said. One had to have the law written on one’s heart and in one’s mind.

Henry offers this analysis:

(1.) It is not that which is outward in the flesh and in the letter. This is not to drive us off from the observance of external institutions (they are good in their place), but from trusting to them and resting in them as sufficient to bring us to heaven, taking up with a name to live, without being alive indeed. He is not a Jew, that is, shall not be accepted of God as the seed of believing Abraham, nor owned as having answered the intention of the law. To be Abraham’s children is to do the works of Abraham, John 8:39,40. (2.) It is that which is inward, of the heart, and in the spirit. It is the heart that God looks at, the circumcising of the heart that renders us acceptable to him. See Deuteronomy 30:6. This is the circumcision that is not made with hands, Colossians 2:11,12. Casting away the body of sin. So it is in the spirit, in our spirit as the subject, and wrought by God’s Spirit as the author of it. (3.) The praise thereof, though it be not of men, who judge according to outward appearance, yet it is of God, that is, God himself will own and accept and crown this sincerity; for he seeth not as man seeth. Fair pretences and a plausible profession may deceive men: but God cannot be so deceived; he sees through shows to realities. This is alike true of Christianity. He is not a Christian that is one outwardly, nor is that baptism which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian that is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.

John MacArthur has a similar perspective. Obeying God’s law is what counts:

the Jew thought, just because I’m circumcised, I’m okay. It’s a perfect parallel to baptism … And the Jew felt, because I have the mark of the covenant, I’m okay. And here Paul says, if you don’t keep it, it doesn’t mean anything

It was the sign of God’s promise. It was the sign of God’s blessing. It was the sign of God’s protection and care and love, but it didn’t mean a thing if he didn’t keep the law. That message is also repeated in the fifth chapter of Galatians. He says, “I testify to every man that is circumcised that he’s a debtor to keep the law.” If you’re circumcised, it doesn’t mean you’re free from the law. It just means you’re in the covenant and you’ve got to keep it all. You want to know the truth of it? And this is the most interesting thought, I don’t know if you ever thought of it, circumcision was a symbol of the fact that men were condemned, not that they were saved. Because if you were circumcised it said you were in the covenant and the covenant was that you had to keep the law. So it was a sign of your lostness, not your redemption. It was a constant reminder that you had to keep God’s law, you were in the covenant. You had to keep God’s law. And you couldn’t keep God’s law so you were lost. But to them, just being circumcised was their security.

In fact, the rabbis said. I’ll quote some of the rabbis. “No circumcised man will see hell.” Rabbi Joel Kut Rabin said, “Circumcision saves us from hell.” In the midrash, it says, “God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised would be sent to hell. Abraham sits before the gate of hell and never allows any circumcised Israelite to enter.” Now they believed they were saved by that. All that was was a constant reminder that they were responsible to the covenant. It was an outward sign of an inward responsibility. It was an outward sign of an inward obligation and duty before God.

In Jeremiah 6:9 it says, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall thoroughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine. Turn back thine hand. Like a grape, gather into the baskets. To whom shall I speak and give warning that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised and they cannot hearken.” Circumcised became then the concept of a spiritual reality, or the symbol of a spiritual reality. God wanted ears that were circumcised, that is, obedient to the covenant. Later on in chapter 9 he talks about circumcising the heart. God wanted an obedient ear to hear the truth of God and God wanted an obedient heart to respond to the truth of God.

Now look at verse 26. And he looks at the same issue from an opposite angle. “Therefore if the uncircumcision — that’s the Gentiles, the ones that aren’t circumcised — keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” In other words, a Gentile who keeps the law of God is going to be included in the covenant blessing even if he isn’t circumcised. And he’s only reinforcing verse 25, circumcision doesn’t mean anything. If you break the law, it isn’t going to help you. And if you keep the law, it isn’t necessary. The point being, circumcision is not necessary. Everything depends on whether you keep the law. Everything depends on obedience.

You go back to chapter 2, verse 6. God will render to every man according to his circumcision. Is that what it says? “According to (his what?) his deeds,” his works. So circumcision, mark this, has no inherent value. It has no efficacy. It has no power to redeem. It is only a symbol. And not a symbol that everything is okay, but a symbol that everything is not okay because it reminds me that I’m obligated to keep the whole law. There is no security in that symbol. There is only insecurity, because man can’t keep the law whether he’s circumcised or not. And in chapter 4 we’ll get into this in more detail when he shows how Abraham was righteous before he was ever circumcised, so that his circumcision had nothing to do with whether or not he was righteous.

Now a fatal shot in verse 27. And here is the last verse that deals with their security, the fatal shot. “And shall not uncircumcision — that’s the Gentile by nature, Gentiles by nature — if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter in circumcision dost transgress the law?” You know what that says? An obedient Gentile will be the judge of a disobedient, a disobedient Jew. Oh that is… They don’t want to hear that. The Gentile will not really assume the role of a judge. That’s not the idea here. God is the judge. But the Gentile will assume the role of a witness for the prosecution. Why? Listen to this. If a Jew comes into the court and says, “Hey, I mean, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.” All God has to say is, “You see this uncircumcised Gentile, he did what was right and he didn’t know what you knew, therefore he is living testimony of your guilt.” You see? It’s an interesting argument on Paul’s part.

The obedience of an uncircumcised Gentile is proof of the responsibility of a circumcised Jew. They held on to circumcision like people do to infant baptism

Baptism does not confer automatic salvation in and of itself. We must obey God’s precepts through the help of Jesus, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Romans 3:1-22a

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