Romans 3:21 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. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God. There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me. One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature. I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung. Instead God has provided reality. Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal. That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ. There is not a ladder, only a track. Repeat laps as needed.
John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. [NRSV]
That kind of complete love is one of the biggest challenges our faith calls us to recognize. We struggle because we know our own well-kept secrets. The wonder of the love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is that He knows all our secrets too and He still finds us lovable. Accepting and acting in accordance with Jesus and His complete love is where hope triumphs over the secrets that have kept us from being “love”able.
Romans 5:5 ..and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [NRSV]
Jesus is the appointed, reliable judge of the presence of life or the serious results of lack of it. His intent in that judgment is to encourage life and growth even if it requires some dramatic pruning.
Abiding is the challenge Jesus is asking us to accept in the truth of verse 6. Abiding with Jesus is the choice that does more than just preserve life as it was. [Preserve means to keep something in its original form or keep it in good condition]. Abiding – accepting and acting with – Jesus is the choice that will protect [Protect means to keep away from harm or danger] our life in Him. We are not alone because He is WITH us.
2 Thessalonians 2
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
[NCV] 9 The Man of Evil will come by the power of Satan. He will have great power, and he will do many different false miracles, signs, and wonders.
[MSG] 15-17 So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.
This chapter is heavy with emphasis on the power of sin to create instability in all of creation and humanity in particular. The work of “the man of evil” isn’t much of a secret for us anymore. Our challenge is capturing this truth: God is still at work in the midst of the instability.
That made me think of this illustration.
The Illustration reminds me of a camera tripod. The tripod has those three legs that reach out beyond the solid center post to provide the stability necessary to support the weight that central post holds.
That Godly tripod supports the full weight of truth: the camera of God’s word. We are His photographers. That’s the combination that makes it possible for us to “take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high,” stabilized and able to capture Paul’s vision for our lives: “May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.
This idea came up Sunday morning in our adult class: the challenge for Christians is to find the perfect balance between grace and judgment in our lives and in our behavior toward others.
When it comes to the choice between grace and judgment, we’re broken. We swing to the grace side grateful for the recognition of God at work in ourselves and others and then the next moment we’re slammed into that “other” less desirable side – judging ourselves sometimes, but mostly others, harshly. We long to find that balance. We long to be like Jesus, triumphant in both his grace and his judgment but instead we get caught in that pendulum of frustration at our own brokenness. That led me to ponder what it takes to be like Jesus and what “triumphant” really looks like. I don’t have a Scripture text today but…
This is what triumphant looks like
Jesus was triumphant over death on a cross! He is the only way we’ll ever begin to understand the perfect balance between grace and judgement. Our responses will look different seeing them through THAT triumphant Jesus; the one who became a gift hidden in brokenness for us.
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God
I noticed and interesting thing after I’d finished my list of word ideas to pursue in these next few weeks. The first word of each combination was capitalized but the second was not. It was only a function of digital grammar but it made me think about those combinations differently. The capitalized word became an attribute of God to be practiced and for sure the lower case one the challenge of practicing them. If I looked at them that way, how were they related? Where is it written?
Zephaniah 3:17 For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will give you victory. He will rejoice over you with great gladness; he will love you and not accuse you.” Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song. Living Bible [TLB]
It’s a fact! “He will love you and not accuse you.” YOU are the object of God’s Affection! Ponder what walking in that Affection might mean.
It’s the definition of that next word that’s the challenge of our daily life. God looked at the male and female he’d created and because they were the completed image of himself, they were by definition Perfect [with a capital P], weren’t they? Our definition of perfection has taken a turn for the worse and lost it’s capital “P.” Rather than being focused on practicing the Affection of God and who he’s created us to be our focus has become skewed by the complication our own ideas of perfection. God is determined to simplify our lives and change our ideas too. Here’s where it’s written.
Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. [NIV]
Our possessions and offerings are different now but they’re still what confuse our perfection. It’s much harder to give the simplest of things – ourself. He knows firsthand our possessions and our wealth are not the answer to our perfection because He personally experienced everything we struggle with. The substitution of Jesus Christ “for the sin of [our] soul” has made the capital “P” part of the picture again for us. It takes time and it’s not easy but it’s simple: Perfection will come with the practice of walking daily in his Affection for you.
“He [God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Mark 9 The Red Thread
16 “What are you arguing with them about?
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”…“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
29… This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Here are the characters of the story:
• Religious leaders hassling the disciples for being ineffective
• The frustrated disciples because they’re ineffective
• A devoted father unable to get help for his son
• A frustrated Jesus
It seems studying a red letter version of Mark requires going through the book more slowly to experience how the little parts tucked in along with the big deal parts are tied together with that same red thread of Jesus’s words.
Chapter 9 seems to be about recognizing the challenge that faith is greater than what you currently comprehend. That certainly happened to Peter, James and John on the mountain with Jesus. That challenge continues with the words of the devoted father, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” and even the disciples own frustrated words “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Faith wasn’t the issue. It was an issue of maintenance that frustrated Jesus enough to confront them with this truth. It’s prayer that maintains the connection of faith to the power of God…”only by prayer.”
* 2 “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
* 5 “How many loaves do you have?”
* 12…“Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”
* “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
* 17…“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
* 20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
* 21…“Do you still not understand?”
* 23… “Do you see anything?”
* 26…“Don’t even go into the village.”
It seems like all Jesus has been doing is miraculous signs and yet the Pharisees still want him to prove himself with a sign they recognize. I wonder about recognizing signs. Did the crowd of 4000 realize what had actually happened to provide them food? Probably not. I’m guessing as that basket passed by they we’re just grateful that they’d been able to sit close enough so there was still food in it for them. It all seemed completely normal.
Barclay: “The whole tendency of the age in which Jesus lived was to look for God in the abnormal… They wished to see some shattering event blazing across the horizon, defying the laws of nature and astonishing men…”
The crowd, his own disciples, the Pharisees and even those Jesus healed all understood the greater miracles. The challenge for Jesus was to open their ears and eyes to recognize the greater purpose that God was revealing himself to them across the spectrum of life’s needs. That’s still his challenge and purpose. “Do you see anything?”
NIV Romans 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
NLT Romans 9:21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?
These two versions of the same verse from Romans 9 reminded me of a game our grandson used to play with us. He liked Pokémon trading cards and he would go through the images one by one asking us to decide if it was pretty or ugly. This verse make me feel the same way that I felt about those cards. I didn’t understand why my grandson wanted us to decide. I didn’t want to look at the same cards over and over. I didn’t even like those cards but I loved the little boy so I did it.
I do know when I read these two verses I decided the NIV words about the clay pot “for special purposes and some for common use” was the “pretty” version and the NLT’s “for decoration and another to throw garbage into ” was the “ugly.” The theme of Romans 9 as a whole seems to be God does what he wants, when he wants and with whom he wants. It’s much easier to say I believe that than to understand it.
At lot of faith is based on understanding and I think maybe that’s what makes this chapter so important. It’s the challenge that God can use words to demand a human response like pretty or ugly. Roman’s 9:21 forces me to “feel” and respond. I don’t understand it but I love the one who says look again and decide… so I do it.
The observance of Advent and Christmas has served it’s purpose. The darkness of night was lit up with the special lights we hung. We heard the annual music of bells being rung outside many stores. Those once-a-year cookies were both the taste and the aroma of the season.
It’s complete, but it’s not over.
Everything around us in that season was designed [by God] to reawaken our physical senses. Once again we’ve been stimulated by the external celebration to see for ourselves whether the fullness of these words from Mark 12:30 can become real in us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The season is complete, but it’s not over.
These words from I Timothy 3:16 are our challenge now to carry on: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
We’ve moved beyond the external stimulation of this Christmas season and that long-ago story of God’s intervention to restore “our” broken world. Now it’s become personal; can Jesus, the Christ, restore “my” broken world?
It’s not over, it’s just beginning.