Saturday, October 29, 2011

Luther and Justification

October 31 is Reformation Day commemorating the day in 1517  when Martin Luther tacked up his '95 Theses' on the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. In this document was strong denunciation of the sale of indulgences purported to release people from the penalties of sin. This activity was nothing more than a greedy guise for gain on the part of the corrupt church at that time. The love of money produces all sorts of evil even in ecclesiastical environments. 

Luther took a stand on the principle of justification by faith (Romans 1:17) alone. All the money, indulgences, works, adherence to the law or religious piety in the world could not provide salvation for even one soul. 

We are made whole by believing in God's finished work in Christ. Luther wrote:  
"Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God." (Commentary on Galatians)
Romans 7:4-6 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
There is such freedom as we walk in the newness of life God has provided. We live 'exceedingly abundant' as Ephesians 3:20 relates and we become a breath of fresh air to others when they see our excitement  and confidence in knowing the one true God.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Righteousness and Justification?

In working my way through the book of Romans, I am amazed at the depth of the wholeness given to us in this age of grace. Romans is the foundational book of the New Testament. Essentially it is the "bottom line" of believing. Ephesians springs off of this bedrock not the other way around. It represents the humility required to walk the  'walking worthy' in Ephesians 4 and the understanding how God has rescued us (quickened us)  as referred to in Ephesians 2:1-5.

There are some very key words repeated over and over again in Romans. Faith/believing occurs 59 times times. Sin appears 47 times.  Righteousness/righteous appears 43 times. Justify, justification, judicial sentence is used 22 times.

There is much discussion about justification and righteousness (Link to word study) as these words come from the same root in Greek. They are intertwined and in the religious world come loaded with weighty definitions. In regards to the Old Testament Hebrew, here's a quote from Canon R.B. Gladstone in his Synonyms of the Old Testament (quoted in Charles Welch's The Just and the Justifier):
"It is unfortunate that the English language should have grafted the Latin word justice, which is used in somewhat of a forensic sense, into a vocabulary which was already possessed of the good word righteousness, as it tends to create a distinction which has no existence in Scripture.... No distinction between the claims of justice and the claims of love is recognized in scripture.... We have no one word which can convey the idea of righteousness, and that of justification, as they are set forth  in Scripture.... We see the wisdom of God in selecting Hebrew as the means of communication with His creatures, because here the ideas of righteousness, justification, and acquittal all cluster round one verbal root, and are seen to be parts of the whole."
All these words form the inner and outer structure of Romans. In the outer structure the major theme is justification by believing and righteousness (Romans 1:1 -5:11, 9:1- 16:24). Jew, Gentile, Abraham and David are mentioned in these outer sections. The creamy caramel inner core of Romans is about the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ (5:12-8:39, 16:25-27) and the result of ‘Sin” (It means the root of sin as being alienated from God. It is used 41 times). ‘Sin’ is used 6 times in the outer sections.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Jesus Christ is the way out of the mess in this world. He is the 'Mess-iah'. Israel was aware that there would be a Messiah. They had a tough time holding on to that thought and then when he actually showed up, most didn't recognize him. The law had become their Messiah.  The gentiles were another story. They didn't have a law. They had no Messiah. They were literally nobodies to the Judeans. Yet they too were offered the gift of salvation. Both groups of people were given the opportunity for a new identity as sons of the living, powerful God! 
Romans 3:21- 26 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)

Everybody wants identity. This is a driving force behind why people join clubs, causes and careers. These become defining factors in their identities. Our identity with Christ is different. We actually become sons of God defined by His power and love. When we recognize our identity with Christ, our lives change. True humility flows from this recognition and that is what unites us (Ephesians 4:1-3). Our trust, strength, power is in God just as Christ's trust, strength and power was in God.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Between the 'Loosey Lefty ' and the 'Uptighty Righty'

 At the time when Romans chapter one was set down on parchment, the world had two parties: the Judeans and everybody else (right wingers and left wingers biblically). The Judeans were considered the chosen ones of God, the rest were the wild and wooly unbelieving pagans. It was law behavior verses no law behavior.

In the beginning there was Adam.  There was no one who could fit the bill better than Adam of being the chosen one. There was no one else around until Eve. When Eve arrived, along came the dual opportunity of someone to be chosen and someone not to be chosen.  God is not sexist so the choice was not between Adam and Eve, but between them and God's instructions. They chose.

You might say the poor pagans don't have a chance. It's not like God is walking with them in a garden. Wait a minute look around, don't they have a choice too?
Romans 1:20a But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power...... (The Message)  
There is an epistle growing in our front yard. It's a tree. Trees are incredible. The roots dig down deep to provide sustenance. The trunk shoots upward in an amazingly entirely different direction for life energy. The branches fan out so every leaf with its flat, upturned architecture gets an equal shot at the sun. The whole organism works together with intricate precision to do its thing. It wasn't by 'luck' that a tree became a tree (sorry Darwin) and yet God's word is even better than a tree. It's roots run very deep and it would take more than a lifetime to dig it out. It's trunk (Christ) is sturdy and holds us up stalwartly to get the best from God. It's leaves are equal-opportunity positionally! 'The basic reality of God IS plain!' It is simple. We choose to accept it. God has put the beautiful things of His creation right in front of our eyes. It's our choice to see them.

God is big on freewill choice. If He wasn't, how hard do you think it would be to make everyone in this world believe Him? Think about it! He's God! He had to go and give us all freewill choice! There is no determinantly chosen spiritual elite. God doesn't operate like that. Everybody had, has and will have a choice! The poor pagans are without excuse! We don't have to feel sorry for them.

Just as the pagans changed the truth of God's creation into strange twist and turns, ignoring the perfection with which it was designed, Israel went  to another extreme. They became experts eventually of pushing the letter of the law way beyond God's intention, landing in the ditch of judgmentalism. Both roads are miserable and are described in Romans chapters one and two.
Romans 2:4(Amplified Bible)Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God's will)?
The big point that is made is that God's goodness and love are readily observable in all that He created and not to be taken lightly. God is all good. The darkness of this world is from another source. It is our choice to accept or reject, real life or the ditch.

There are lots of versions, translations that foster denominations, non-denominations and undenominations. Regardless of this, there is still one body of Christ. A tree is a tree whether it is an oak, an elm or giant redwood. Basically, lightsynthesis (or photosynthesis) involves first God, then His Word, Christ, and the gift of holy spirit. All these sources of light operate effectively in our lives when we choose to center our lives appropriately.