Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Second Stage of the Detour - Overview of Romans 1-5

Over the past few weeks, certain circumstances have caused me to truly recognize just how weak my own strength is, how feeble my own understanding is, and how desperately necessary it is for me to have a solid knowledge of the gospel – which is the power of God for salvation.

As I’ve shared, God is dealing with Lori right now in a pretty major way. He is humbling me and is making me to see just how truly needy I am. It would seem that, in His mercy, He is re-creating and refining me. To think that the High King of heaven and earth would care enough to take the time to make little old me more like Him is beyond amazing. But, that is what the Father does for His children. He doesn’t leave us in our sin. He doesn’t leave us to toy with things that aren’t good for us. He does whatever is necessary to make us holy and humble.

While traveling through this current wilderness the one thing that has been made abundantly clear to me is just how much I need Jesus. Sure, I’ve known that for 20 years but it is really hitting home with me right now. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from Me you can do NOTHING!” Let that word resonate for a minute – NOTHING! Yet Paul encourages us with the fact that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What a contrast! Apart from Him – nothing. Through Him - all things!

My moral strength is not enough to enable me to earn my way to God - I can’t be good enough for “there is no one good, no not one.” My mental strength is not enough to enable me to think my way to God – I can’t be smart enough for “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” My physical strength is too weak, even on its best days, to reach heaven and holiness.

Recognizing these things, by the mercy of God, I find myself echoing the words of Solomon in prayerful meditation. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.”

I am seeing that I can do nothing of any eternal worth on my own and am seeing my need to do all things through Christ. "Apart from Me you can do nothing. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." It is in the gospel that being "in Christ" and doing "through Christ" is realized. In light of that my mind has turned to the book of gospel rich Romans – specifically Romans 6-8. Through Paul’s words I am learning to lean more on Christ and His finished work rather than on my own labors and understandings. Bearing my own yoke wears me out. In taking up His yoke I find rest for my weary soul. (Mt 11:28-30)

Taking a quick survey through Paul’s great letter to the Roman Christians I am struck at the logical nature and purposeful flow of this epistle. After a brief greeting to his fellow believers Paul in chapter 1 verse 16 begins the doctrinal portion of the book with these words:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16)

Paul unashamedly acknowledges that the gospel is what is needed by all. It is the power of God for salvation. He proclaims that truth right off the bat, for it is of first importance, and then he goes on to spend the remainder of the book fleshing out this glorious, powerful gospel for us - what it is and what it does.
Allow me to give an incredibly quick overview of the first 5 chapters in order to set the stage for what is so near and dear to my heart at the moment.

In Romans 1 Paul declares that clearly there is a God. He speaks of the general revelation of God as it is seen in creation and how that creative revelation is sufficient to leave us all “without excuse” regarding the fact that He exists. Creation bespeaks a Creator, it points to the reality of God and yet it also leaves us (because of our sinful state) under the "wrath of God." I thought it interesting that Romans 1 points out that in the special revelation of the gospel "the righteousness of God is revealed" but that in creation (apart from the gospel) "the wrath of God is revealed." It is the gospel alone that sets us free therefore, it is gospel power that all men so desperately need.

By nature we all “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and left to ourselves we will always “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.” Natural revelation leaves us knowing that there is a God but still stuck practicing the things as are “worthy of death.” It leaves us with enough knowledge to justly damn us but without power to get free of that justice. Without the special revelation of the gospel, we are in a mess!

In Romans 2 Paul declares that this clearly revealed God who will judge us for our sins is an impartial judge who must deal with sin. Continuing with the closing thoughts of chapter one he writes: “therefore you are without excuse, every man of you…and we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” It then goes on to point us to the character of our Creator God. It speaks of “His kindness, forbearance and patience.” And how those attributes should lead us to repentance. Apart from the Spirit's regenerating application of the gospel to our hearts and minds though, they don't. Our sinful, stubborn hearts continue to store up wrath for the righteous Day of Judgment. Left to ourselves, we are still in a mess, for God will “render to every man according to his deeds” and as Isaiah reminds us even our most righteous deeds are but filthy rags fit only for the fire.

Paul testifies that “There is no partiality with God.” We have all failed the test of perfection and He will not and can not grade on a curve. He will not wink at our sin and grant us a “get out of jail free pass.” No, this Judge cannot be bought or bribed. He is the holy and impartial God who “will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” This is the God before whom we must stand. Clothed in our own skin, trapped in our own sin, we will never be able to stand.

In Romans 3 Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us a bit more about ourselves. He declares us to be sinners and shows us that God is right and fair to judge us. So often I hear people speaking as though God's calling us on the carpet for our transgressions is unfair. No, my friends – God’s condemnation of our sin IS what is FAIR. And might I suggest that we don’t want God to treat us fairly – we want Him to treat us in mercy. As the Puritans have said "anything this side of hell is pure grace."

Hear from Romans 3 that which is the true assessment of ALL people:

“Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one….By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified…. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3, selected verses)

Romans 3 doesn't candy coat a thing but candidly sheds light on the reality of our natural condition. We are sinners - all of us. The hole we've dug is deep and we are dead in sin at the bottom of it. We cannot help ourselves. Being dead we don't even realize that we need help. However, a light begins to shine upon this hopeless backdrop and it is the light of Christ.

Yes we have sinned – all of us – and we can do NOTHING to fix the problem. But God has done what we could not. He has done EVERYTHING to fix the problem. The sinless Christ came and gave Himself “as a propitiation” for our sins. Christ came as the atoning sacrifice on our behalf! God didn’t wink at sin He bore it Himself. God didn’t grant us a “get out of jail free pass” He went there in our place.

Again I turn to the prophet Isaiah “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried…. He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening of our well-being fell upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
See the words of Isaiah 53 unfold in Romans 3 - “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Through the active and passive obedience of Christ, this impartial and holy Judge is both just (in the fact that sin is punished) and the justifier (in that He Himself bore the punishment for all those who would believe). See how the picture is changing. See how the power of the gospel is being unveiled with each stroke of Paul’s pen.

In Romans 4, he reminds us that this powerful gospel is not a new thing. It was alive and well in the Old Testament. It was the same gospel by which Abraham was saved. “For what does the Scripture say? And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul speaks of this same truth in Galatians 3 when he writes “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness…. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham…” Romans 4 shows us the continuity of all of Scripture. The Bible is one unified book. It is the story of God’s glorious redemption of His people from the dawn of time through the consummation of the ages.

Romans 4 shows us the trustworthiness of this Bible that proclaims these precious promises. Christ – "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" - was prophesied from the very first book (Genesis 3:15) and He continues to be prophetically portrayed throughout the Old Testament and gloriously revealed throughout the New! We may be “fully assured that what He has promised He was able also to perform.” (Rom 4:21). The chapter ends with a clear description of Christ’s work – “He was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”

Then we come to Romans 5 which begins with a glorious “therefore” – “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, because of that which Romans 4 has just declared - that Christ was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification -we don't have to face the judgment due to God's enemies. No, we can have peace with God. We are in a mess – Christ has cleaned it up.

Don't take my word for it, hear our God's Word on it:
“For while we were still helpless at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

The book of Romans is giving me a fresh view of this powerful gospel that has saved me from my sin. Over the next few days/weeks I’ll be sharing some of the gospel anchors that are holding me firm, steadying me, and giving me such strong comfort in the midst of sin’s battle. Particularly the anchors my soul has found in chapters 6-8. How I pray that you also will find hope, fortification, and comfort in these truths.

May we not be “ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” May we instead, find a humble boldness to hold forth this glorious gospel to the lost (as it was held forth to us) and may we see the necessity of meditating daily on it as the redeemed.

Being renewed daily by the gospel's power,


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your encouraging words found here Lori...although I do not know your burden, I pray for you!