“You’re Welcome” by Pastor Andy Braams

Many of you will know the name CS Lewis. Lewis was a scholar and great apologist for the church in the 20th Century. He wrote many famous books which have challenged adults (e.g. Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, etc.) and inspired people of all ages (The Chronicles of Narnia series).

But Lewis was also a poet – and a masterful one. One such poem is called “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer.” The poem reads as follows:

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Ultimately, this prayer is about humility. It is about the need to understand that nothing we do, nothing we think, nothing we are really matters – at least not as we think it matters. Everything about us is a credit to God. We should remember that. We must remember that.

Paul knew that. The Romans did not. As I said a few years ago when we were studying Mark’s account of the gospel, the Romans were much like us. They were doers. They learned in order to do – something, anything. Americans, especially, are the same way some twenty centuries later. And so, we often think that what we do must please God somehow. It is as if we expect God to honor us for our work. It is as if we expect God to say, “Thank you,” so we have the ability to say back to Him, “You’re welcome.”

But we have no such right. None of us do now. And no one did then. And that is the main thrust of Paul’s argument so far in Romans. But lest anyone think otherwise, Paul makes this idea clear again as he transitions to the importance of faith.

The final paragraph of Romans 3 is not near as great as the preceding paragraph, but the ideas in this paragraph (known as verses 27-31) build on the previous verses and prepare us for the next piece of Paul’s argument about faith.

And faith is the key. Because faith is the equalizer.

Paul begins verse 27 with another not so hypothetical question. He is still having this “conversation” with a non-existent person and asks about the place of boasting after revealing that God is the one who redeemed mankind and stands as both the just and the justifier. Those who boast have already justified themselves or, at least, what they have done.

We see this everywhere – from athletes to entertainers to politicians. “Look at me! Look what I have done! Look at my accomplishments! Aren’t you glad to know me or at least, know who I am?”

The problem with boasting is that it turns others away. Even if the person is right and “deserves” the accolades, excessive boasting turns most people away. And those who remain loyal often want something from the person.

That is the issue in Romans 3.27-31. The Jews were boastful – and I would contend most Christians are no different. The Jew boasted in three things, and while we might have different labels today, I think we boast in much the same way. Let me share these three areas of boasting and then I will tie us into these areas as well. First, the Jews boasted in:

The Law (Romans 3.27-28)

We have seen this truth over and over again thus far in this letter. The Jews thought that they had a leg up, indeed, they thought that they were favored because God gave them the law. Yes, the Jews were God’s chosen people, but their salvation was by faith as Paul stated clearly in verse 22 (and v. 24, “grace” – see Ephesians 2.8). Specifically, that faith was in Jesus (v. 22) because of His sacrifice (vv. 24-25).

The boasting that the Jews did was not only that they had been given the Law, but that they kept the Law. But Paul has refuted their understanding of faithfulness and law-keeping from Romans 1.18-3.20, concluding that, as it relates to sin, they are like the Gentiles, because “all” have sinned (Romans 3.23).

So, it is not the law which saves – at least, not a law of works. It is the principle of faith. And because the “law of faith” is what matters, Jew and Gentile are on equal footing.

I would argue that most Christians are not much different than the Jew. But hold that thought because I have two more areas to cover first. Second, the Jews boasted in:

Their Nationality (Romans 3.29-30)

The Jews were an exclusive group of people. They were God’s chosen people. That is quite an honor. But as I have said before, and as Paul will write later in this letter (particularly Chapter 15), the Jews were to be a light to the Gentiles. The OT makes this clear. But the Jews did not honor that calling.

Now, one thing that separated the Jews from other nations, particularly the Romans (and Greeks for that matter), was their belief in one God. One of the most well-known verses to the ancient Israelite, Hebrew, Jew, etc. was from Deuteronomy (6.4) which begins, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

The Lord OUR God. The Lord is ONE. Two big statements that if we are not careful could be considered a contradiction. But they are not contradictory, because OUR does not mean that the Israelites possess God; rather, they acknowledge this God – the One true God, as theirs. But, and here is Paul’s point in these two verses, if their God is the one true God, then that God must be the God of all people. Therefore, if this God that they worship is real, and if He has only given the law to one group of people, then either He does not want others to be saved OR He has another plan in mind.

Now the Jew was not opposed to someone claiming their God (YHWH) as God, but to do so, meant that an outsider (i.e. a Gentile) had to embrace their laws and their rituals, of which one of the most important was the ritual of circumcision. But Paul said that God does have another plan – a plan that did not focus on circumcision; rather, the focus was, and is, based upon faith.

Again, I think Paul’s words have application for us, but let me cover the third aspect of the boasting by the Jews. The third area of their boasting was tied to:

The Old Covenant (Romans 3.31)

Verse 31 is a transitional verse to where Paul wants to take the argument. The Jewish people had a lot of pride. They had a heritage that stemmed back the great founders of their nation – Abraham, Isaac, and their namesake, Jacob (whom the Lord renamed Israel, Genesis 35.10). And God made a covenant with Abraham which was important to the Israelites, and later Jews, regarding not only their origins, but their divine calling by God as His people.

But the other covenant that was so dear to them was the Mosaic Covenant, which is what Paul has called the Law throughout this letter. It is this holding of the law, this covenant, that gave assurance to the Jews. But it is this same covenant that Jesus replaces when, at the Lord’s Supper, He speaks of a “new” covenant (Luke 22.20). Thus, the Mosaic Covenant, the Law, is the Old Covenant. The New Covenant, from Jesus, is based upon faith.

And this is Paul’s point as He begins to talk about Abraham in Romans 4. Abraham was justified by faith, not works, because Abraham’s faith was what was important BEFORE the God gave the law (about 400 years before). So, justification has always been by faith, not works.

And because Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5.17), our faith in Christ is actually a testament to the validity of the Law. We are no longer bound to the Law itself, but by faith in Christ, and obedience to Christ, we effectively uphold the Law – which pointed to Christ in the first place. (I will have more to say about this in Wednesday’s daily video this week).

So, we have seen the three areas of boasting for the Jew – the law, their nationality, and the covenant (which is the law, but goes deeper). Now it is time to briefly show that we, as Christians, and particularly those who are Christian and live in America, often do the same.

First, we often justify ourselves by what we do. In fact, for most people, when someone asks what you do, the answer is not “I worship God,” or, “I go to church.” No, we answer based upon our career or vocation (or we qualify that by stating what we want/plan to do if we don’t think our present position matches up). But as it concerns our faith, many Christians believe that it is by grace through faith that we are saved, but then work to make sure they don’t lose some benefit with God. The Reformers used the terms by faith alone (sola fide) and by grace alone (sola gratia) to show that nothing more is necessary, and more importantly, nothing more is possible for salvation. But that doesn’t mean that in our world of earning favor from people, or earning paychecks from companies, etc. that we don’t try to earn salvation from God. But it is not possible. Furthermore, trying to earn salvation is not only impossible, it cheapens the work of Jesus.

Second, we must ask about our nationality. God recognized nations and empires. God called nations by name. He calls empires and emperors or kings by name in various prophecies of the OT. So, He knows America. But like the Jew of yesteryear, I think many Americans have a false sense of security – or, at least had a false sense. Many called this a Christian nation. Many say that our founders were Christian. Well, yes, our law and nation were established on Judeo-Christian ethics, but it is hard to pin down the faith of many of our Fathers. In fact, some were outright Deists and thus did not hold to an orthodox view of God, and therefore, of faith in Christ. The issue we have faced is that many people are Christian Americans with the focus on America. But God is focused on His Kingdom, not a country. And He wants people who put Him first, not as a descriptor. Thus, we must be American Christians, with Christians being the noun, or whatever nationality one claims serving as the adjective.

Third, we have a document that is near to us as Americans. As I have said numerous times, our Founding Fathers, despite their faults, were trying to answer questions that had never fully been asked. And one of the answers, the US Constitution, has stood the test of time for 132 years. But like the Old Covenant, our focus cannot be on a set of laws meant to govern our actions; we must look to the One who has given us a course of action. The US Constitution is still important (in my opinion), but it is not pre-eminent. The pre-eminent document for me is the written Word (the Bible) because only the Bible points to the truth of the living Word (Jesus).

CONCLUSION

At the beginning of this post, I shared CS Lewis poem. Lewis was a brilliant man, but he humbly considered himself nothing as compared to God. In fact, it is Lewis that gave us the great quote about humility. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

Lewis was brilliant. Others knew it. He had to know it as well. But his brilliance did not allow him to have an inflated view of himself. He knew that it was God who mattered, and that without God, he would be nothing.

Paul was similar. Paul does talk about boasting in a positive sense in 2 Corinthians (see 10.13-18). In 2 Corinthians 10.17, he wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Why? Because we can commend ourselves, but that matters not. Only the Lord’s commendation truly matters.

Our boasting in our own work, even when serving God, actually moves us away from God (James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.6. If boasting causes others to dislike us, how much more does our boasting turn away God? We cannot do anything to earn His grace or pleasure except live by faith (Romans 1.17) in response to His gospel. Our boasting causes challenges in relationships. We are to love God and love others, but pride and boasting get in the way of both.

So, it is not our place to do stuff hoping we get to say to God, “You’re welcome” as if we might boast about what we have done for God. Instead, with humility, in recognition of what He has already done for us, He wants to hear from us is “You are welcome” as in, “you are welcome to do in, and to, and with, and through me, what you want to do for your Kingdom and your glory.”

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for this week is:

JOURNEY:   RREVERE

When we focus on who God is and what He has done, we have less opportunity to boast in ourselves. As John the baptizer said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3.30).

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  This week, take time to move from thinking, “You’re welcome,” to God to saying, “Thank you, God.” When we focus on thanking God for giving us our abilities – both big and small – we lose the tendency to make ourselves out to be more than we are. So, this week, as you live, whatever that means this week – working at a job, in the home, on a garden, etc. or whatever it is you do, say, “Thank you.”

“Satisfied? Satisfied!” by Pastor Andy Braams

A demand for justice has been present throughout history. One of the earliest preserved writings in mankind’s history is known as Hammurabi’s Code. Dated to 1754 BC, about 300 years before Moses started writing what we know as Genesis-Deuteronomy, this code contained 282 rules regarding how to conduct financial transactions, including fines and punishments for breaking the code.

Many centuries later (around 620 BC) a man named Draco, devised a set of laws and their respective punishment for Athens. Draco was commissioned to write down what had been the oral law in order to bring an aspect of fairness to the justice system. Before it was written, any oral law could be manipulated or changed to suit the aristocracy. Once Draco finished writing this “constitution,” anyone who could read (or knew someone who could) was on more equal ground.

We all have similar issues with justice. Maybe it is/was a parent, a sibling, a boss, etc. Someone makes rules and changes either the rule or the punishment to suit his/her needs. And we don’t know how we should please them. In fact, we don’t know if we can please them. Thus, having a law, and knowing the prescribed punishment can be very helpful.

The same is true with God. Paul has made it very clear in the verse preceding today’s passage (and the preceding section, back to 1.18) that we can do nothing on our own to earn God’s favor. So, the question we must ask, is the same question that Martin Luther asked 500 years ago, “How can I stand before a holy God?”

Romans 3.21-26 answers that question. That is why I mentioned in my Friday video preview that many Bible scholars believe this passage is the greatest paragraph (passage) in the Bible, which would make it the greatest paragraph written in the history of the world. Think about that!

Why is that true? Because these six verses explain how justice is truly possible for anyone, but that everyone must make a choice on how they will receive that justice. The truth about salvation is that…

Salvation isn’t what you do; it is about what God did.

So, how can sinners such as you and I stand before a holy God? Let me share the truth of that previous statement about what God did in three parts. I will break down each of these ideas down further in the daily videos this week and next (due to next Sunday being Hub Sunday).

Jesus Made Righteousness a Possibility for Everyone (Romans 3.21-22)

Verse 21 begins with “But now.” One pastor has called these words two of the most hopeful words in the Bible. I am partial to “But God” from our study of Ephesians (2.4) in the past, and what we will see in a couple of months in Romans 5.8. (The two verses referenced here are not the only places “But God” is referenced in the Bible. It is found 23 times in the NT alone.)

“But now” is a transition in the text and so it can certainly be interpreted as Paul shifting gears. He has spent the last 64 verses showing us that we are all sinful people. “But now,” Paul is about to (finally) provide the solution, and that leads to a greater meaning of the phrase, “But now.”

The previous 64 verses represent the previous history of the world, at least back to the time of Moses when the Law was given. Whatever all of the people of history thought about the Law, one thing was true – it could not save them. It could only point out their deficiencies. “But now” Jesus has come. “But now” Jesus has died. “But now” we can be found righteous before God because of what Jesus did if we put our faith in Him. “But now” is the time to make the decision about the gospel, “for it (the gospel) is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1.16).

And even if the God’s gospel was only recent made fully manifest through Jesus, the idea is nothing new. God foretold this truth through both the Law and the Prophets. That is, the Old Testament is filled with evidence that God would make a way through a coming Messiah – and that way would be opened for everyone – if only they believe. For, as Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one come to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).  People may not have known that truth before, “but now” they could fully realize it. So, because of “But now” we have the first part of the answer in how we can stand before a holy God. Jesus made a way because He is the Way.

God Offers Redemption to Everyone (Romans 3.23-24)

We can also stand before a holy God because of redemption. He has redeemed us. What does redemption mean? Well, it means to buy back. But in 1st Century Rome it has a more specific meaning.

At the time, many (maybe even most) of the people in Rome lived in some form of slavery. I have mentioned many times that not all slaves from yesteryear faced the types of conditions most modern people equate with slavery. Of course, some did. But the idea of redemption was really a term that had to do with freeing people who lived as slaves – that is, those who were in some type of bondage. When someone redeemed someone, it was to free that slave from that bondage. We might consider this idea similar to paying a ransom. God paid this fee, this ransom, to free the people who were in bondage. It was, and is, His gift to His Creation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Why was this needed?

Because as the preceding verse tells us, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (v. 23). Adam experienced the glory of God while Eden. But from that point, the sin present in each of us keeps us separated from the glory of God. The Law could not undo that. Our work cannot undo that. Even God could not undo it and remain true to Himself (as we will see in the next part of this post). But He could make a way through the gift of grace. In fact, He has made that way. Remember, “But now” the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. That is, “But now” the gift is available. So, God has done His part through providing a gift through His grace; our part is to receive that gift by faith in Jesus.

God Has Provided a Means of Justice to Anyone (Romans 3.25-26)

Notice the difference in the last word of this point compared to the previous two points. Jesus made righteousness possible to everyone. God offers redemption to everyone. But because not everyone will receive that gift, not “everyone” will be justified. However, anyone can be – through faith in Christ.

Verses 25 and 26 are complex and deserve a deeper dive. I will cover them further in videos next week (after Hub Sunday). For now, let me just say that the argument is ultimately about how ruthless God is.

One particular word in verse 25 is part of the challenge. The Greek word is used in different way and can mean expiation or propitiation. The ideas are similar, but propitiation goes further. Expiation is to remove the sin. That was the purpose of the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Each time an animal was sacrificed for a person that person’s sin was removed from them – temporarily. Propitiation, on the other hand, is to satisfy the wrath of God. This means that not only has the sin been removed, but the justice that God demands has been fulfilled. The idea of propitiation is a better understanding in this context.

What Jesus did was not only to remove the sin from us. Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself so that we would not have to face that wrath. Many Christians (and non-believers as well) struggle with this because it means that God cruelly sacrificed His Son. But that is missing something key. First, Jesus laid down His life willingly (John 10.18) which some will say only applies to humans, but the premise remains. Second, Jesus is God. Thus, God did not just make some sort of child sacrifice…He sacrificed Himself for the good of mankind. That is a huge difference.

Yes, Jesus death was brutal. It had to be. He wasn’t dying for His sin, He was dying for our sins. He took every sin from every person from all time upon Himself. That was the price that had to be paid. God demands justice for all. The people could not live according the level of justice required. So, God has provided the means of justice for anyone, but it must be received. Thus, not everyone will be justified by the blood of Jesus. Those who do not receive the gift of God’s grace must pay for their own sins and will do so eternally separated from God in the place known as hell.

The plan before Jesus arrived may not have been clear to everyone. “But now” God has showed His wisdom to satisfy His need for justice by also being the justifier of all who believe in what He has done.

Thus, the justice God demanded has been satisfied. The question is do we accept it?

CONCLUSION

Earlier I mentioned Hammurabi and Draco. Some say that Hammurabi’s Code was mostly fair, although some dispute that claim. But Draco, well, the punishment did not always fit the crime – at least not what humans thought should be the standard. The punishment was very real. In fact, the punishment was so severe, it was suggested the laws were written in blood, not ink. Nearly any criminal offense received the death penalty. For instance, stealing even one apple or a cabbage is thought to have resulted in the death penalty (no copies of the code still exist, so what is known is through what others have written). These laws were so harsh they only lasted about 25 years, but the legacy of their harshness remains. Today, when a law is considered too strict, or a punishment too harsh, we refer to these laws as draconian (or draconian measures).

Some will say that God’s standard is draconian in nature. Perhaps that is true because as we will see later this year, the wages of sin is death. “But now” God has made a way. God has given a gift. God has redeemed us from being slaves to sin – if only we place our faith in Christ. Not in ourselves. Not in our works. Not in our money. Not in anything except Christ.

JOURNEY

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

God’s standard of judgment is Jesus (Romans 2.16). And Jesus modeled love. So, I do not believe God’s laws are draconian. Or, at least, they do not need to be. Jesus made a way. The answer to Luther’s question: How can I stand before a holy God?

One word – Jesus.

Could Jesus’ death really have satisfied God? Yes. I am satisfied that Jesus satisfied everything that God needed to be satisfied.

NEXT STEP(S)

LIVE.  As I stated above, salvation isn’t what you do; it is about what God did.

If you believe in the truth of what Jesus did; you have been justified. You have been made righteous and cannot not only stand before a holy God, you can live your life in thanksgiving to a holy God. Remember, as Romans 1.17 said, the righteous will live by faith. If your faith is in Jesus, then you are righteous before God. If you are righteous before God, are you living like it? If not, why not? Why not make this moment your “But now” moment. “But now” I will live for Jesus because He died for me.

“Defining Good” by Pastor Andy

A couple of weeks ago, a former Nazi prison guard was convicted of 5,230 counts of murder. This type of case is not new. We have seen similar cases over the past several years, and we will see a few more, but not many. Why? Well, it has been 75 years since WW2 ended and the number of living war criminals who have yet to be prosecuted is small. (1)

Do you think he should have been convicted? I mean he was only charged with 5,230 of the deaths of the estimated 65,000 deaths at Stutthof. And he was only 17. Did he have a choice? As I have said before, when I was 17, I had blond hair and blue eyes. My heritage is German. If I had been born in Germany 1920 instead of in America in 1970, Bruno D. could have been Andy B.

For the record, I think Bruno D did deserve his conviction. He was indicted because he fully supported the “insidious and cruel killing” at the camp. So, despite his age, he was fully complicit. But the reality is that all of us are complicit in some type of sin. Every one of us. We may look down on some sins more than others, but none of us are innocent, particularly before God.

Our passage today makes that point abundantly clear. Romans 3.9-20 concludes a long section of Romans which began at 1.18. We have seen the sins of Gentiles. We have seen the sins of the Jews. And now, Paul provides details of just how corrupt the human race really is. (He has not yet mentioned the solution, but that is coming – with a first mention next week.)

Because of our sinful nature, we need a judge who is above it all. Yes, Bruno D. deserves to be convicted. Andy B. has not done anything similar, so you might let me slide. But compared to a holy and righteous God (cf. Rom 1.17), I have nothing of myself on which to stand. None of us do.

Many of us may claim to talk the talk, but only Jesus can walk the walk.

Andy, is it really that bad? Well, rather than me giving you my opinion, let’s see what God had to say through His messenger Paul.

To begin, let me remind you that this section of Scripture follows immediately after the Jew has tried to suggest that God has not been faithful to His promise (Romans 3.3, 5, 7). The Jew has argued that sinning actually helps God to look good to others, but as I said last week, God does not need help to look good, God is good.

So, before we review how Paul continued his response to this Jew, let us take a moment to define good.

When you think of good, what comes to mind? I think that most people would think of examples over an actual definition. For instance, we might think something like, “She is a good girl.” Or, “this meal is good.” If we try to define it, many would think of it as “not bad.” Because good is descriptive, we know it is an adjective, but what does it really mean? Here is how dictionary.com defined it. Good can be:

      • Satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree. – So good is satisfactory. Well, ok. But let’s go further.
      • Of high quality, excellent. – Ok, now we are getting closer. High quality sounds better. But how about…
      • Morally excellent; virtuous, righteous, pious? (2)

In Romans 3.9, Paul uses the word righteous. In verse 12, he uses good. So, this last definition is the right one for us. It links the two together. Let us agree that this is our definition. Having defined what good is, or can be, now let us turn to the text to see what Paul said to Rome, and in extension to us.

So, what does Paul say?

None is righteous. No not one. (v. 10)

That is, none are good. No one is morally excellent virtuous, or pious.

No one understands. No one seeks God. (v. 11)

Ouch. Maybe you thought you did. But Paul says nope. Not even Paul himself! And I agree. The reality is that if we truly understood who God is and what He has done for us, we would seek Him continually. We would worship Him constantly. What about worry?  We never would because we would be completely focused on the things of God, etc. So, if I am having a conversation with Paul, I might have been prepared to argue initially, but having thought about it, I am ready to agree.

But Paul is just getting started. Why? Because too many people think they are good (remember our working definition). So, let’s continue with Paul’s thoughts.

People turn aside. (v. 12)

People turn from God. Not only do they not choose God, they turn from Him. They choose themselves. They choose their stuff. They choose whatever they think will bring them worth, but instead, they become worthless (v. 12).

Ok, Paul we get it. Uh, no you don’t. Not yet.

Their throats are open graves. Their tongues deceive. Their mouths curse and create bitterness. (vv. 13-14)

The idea of an open grave could have two meanings. It could mean that it is ready to take in a dead body or it could mean that a body is lying in the grave already dead. Considering Paul is comparing an open grave to a throat, I believe he means the second idea. How does the metaphor work?

Have you ever smelled a body that has been dead for a while? Imagine that body undergoing decay in an open grave. The stench would be horrifying. Now, consider someone who is constantly vulgar, who has nothing good to say about anyone, or something similar. I believe that is the comparison Paul is making.

Then, Paul links the tongue and mouth itself. So, not only do people talk badly about others (ever done that?), but they also lie, they create strife, they cause others to be bitter – in part because they are bitter themselves. Jesus says this clearly when talking to the religious leaders of the day. Yes, those religious leaders who thought that they were good (remember our definition). Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12.34). James also writes about the fickle nature of the tongue in James 3.

For Paul, he equates the speech of many to the deadly poison of a snake. In other words, not good. And yet, Paul is not done. He has covered our speech, but now he turns to our actions. And you guessed it, he doesn’t give us credit for being good there either.

Their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery are in their paths. Peace is unknown to them. (vv. 15-17)

In other words, the people Paul is describing are destructive. They destroy people with their mouths, and when that isn’t enough, they turn to action. Let me remind you that Paul is writing to 1st Century Rome, not 21st Century America. But we see the same thing today. Why? Because no one is righteous, no not one (v. 10).

Paul is simply describing human nature. Sure, most people can be reasonable much of the time. Until they are wronged. Until they do not get their way. But remember, the definition of “good” is not being morally excellent most of the time, or when it is convenient. Being good is being morally excellent. Period. Exclamation point.

And only God is that kind of excellent – always.

And that fact should lead us into a deep reverence for God. But it doesn’t. Why? Because, as Paul has already said, “all have turned away.” We simply do not follow God perfectly. And because of that, for all of us (although certainly some more than others)…

People do not fear God. (v. 18)

You probably know that fear here is meant as reverence, meaning we are to be in awe of God. But Paul has stated at the beginning of this long section, all the way back in Romans 1 that people suppress the truth (1.18), do not honor God (v. 21), nor thank Him (v. 21). People do not fear God.

Paul’s point is made clear in the final two verses of this passage and section. We all try to justify ourselves – by what we think, by what we do, by where we live, by who we know, etc. But Paul again lumps all of humanity together to say that “no flesh will be justified” by the “works of the law” before God (Romans 3.19).

Why?

Because God is good. God is morally excellent. You and I are not. And no matter what we try to do, we cannot be. As Paul wrote, it is through our knowledge of what is right and wrong, that we ultimately discover what our true sin is (Romans 3.20).

CONCLUSION

I began this message talking about a man who at 93 years of age was convicted for doing something that was deemed “not good.” It took 75 years for that conviction to happen. But it did. But has justice been served? He led most of his life knowing what he did, whether or not he considered them atrocities. Maybe he lived with regret. Maybe he was even fearful that he would one day be discovered. But is this man’s conviction now really justice?

Regardless of your thoughts on whether or not justice as, or even can be served in that case, the fact is that the case against Bruno D (and others) show us that one day all of us have a court date in front of us. It may be a few years or even a few decades, but we will face our time before the Judge in the proper time. And that Judge not only knows what “good” is, He epitomizes every aspect of goodness.

That judge has not been fully introduced in Romans yet. Paul did mention His name in the first sentence of His letter and again in Romans 1.8. But the time has come, as we will see next week, for Paul to share the answer to our problem of not being righteous. Thus, our JOURNEY letter for this week is:

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

We are not good. We are not righteous. We never can be. We can talk all we want about our desire to be good and faithful to God, but it is only through Jesus that we have that chance. As I said above, many of us may claim to talk the talk, but only Jesus can walk the walk.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN.  Romans 3.12-17 may not incorporate every type of sin, but these verses are representative of our behavior over time when we give in to our personal desires. Take time to reflect on each of the verses in order to determine where you may be most vulnerable – neglecting God, with your mouth, in your actions, etc. so that you can ask Jesus to help you overcome these traps because of your righteousness in Him (if, and only if, you are a Christian). Otherwise, confess this sin to Him and give your life to Him in order to become a Christian.

1)  https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/23/europe/nazi-guard-germany-conviction-intl/index.html

2)  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/good?s=t

“Who’s Judging Who?” by Pastor Andy Braams

Many of you probably saw the movie Forrest Gump. Essentially, the movie shows the life of one man whose actions weave in and out through the course of history in the 50s through the 90s. One of the other major characters is Lt. Dan, who was Gump’s CO in Vietnam. Lt. Dan lost his legs in the war, but he and Forrest connect a few more times including when Forrest is trying to start a shrimping business. Shortly after Dan arrives, a major storm hits them while in the gulf. Dan challenges God (quite the opposite of Jonah) and the scene sets us up well for our topic today. The clip does have one bit of language in it. Here’s the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjcK-LGgtLA

Can you relate? Maybe the events in your life are not quite as dramatic, but we all question God? We may question His will. We may question His goodness. We may question His faithfulness. Again, Lt. Dan went further than that, but the basic premise is the same.

Ultimately, we ask God questions because we don’t trust Him. We question His motives, His purposes, His will. Why? Because for most all of us, life is about me. Not them, not us. ME. And, if God doesn’t conform to my will, well, then He needs to answer for it. Or, at least, we think He does. But, of course, such an attitude is our misunderstanding. We may even know that, but it doesn’t stop us from asking, and sometimes even, challenging God (even if we do so with less vigor than Lt. Dan.)

We are not the first to have such questions. We can see the questions during the time the Israelites roamed in the wilderness. We can see it in their disobedience during the time of the judges, the kings, and the prophets. We can see it in Jesus’ day. And we see the same idea in Paul’s day as well. As we move deeper into Romans today (beginning Chapter 3), we will see some of these questions (even if perceived by Paul), and if you have been tracking with this series so far, we can understand a little bit of the reason why.

But even if we can only understand the reason in part, it should be clear by now that God is impartial in His judgment. We have seen that already in a few places (e.g. Romans 2.11, 16), and we will see it more clearly today, and in the weeks to come. Thus, as our series title suggests, And Justice for All is not just a part of an American ideal, it is fully realized in the wisdom of God.

We do not need to prove God faithful. We need to prove ourselves faithful to God.

If the Jewish people were chosen by God, why did He punish them? Does He do the same today to Christians? Let’s see what Paul has to say.

Romans 3.1-8 is somewhat straightforward in some ways, and rather complex in others. One concept that is before us in the text, is a study in contrasts. Both sides of the contrasts are mostly listed, but a couple need to be inferred. You can find a couple more which are implied, but just notice the following contrasts:

      • Value in Circumcision vs. No Value in Circumcision (the latter is implied) (v. 1).
      • Being Faithful vs. Faithlessness (v. 3).
      • Being Unrighteous vs. Being Righteous (vv. 5-6).

The problem is that the Jews thought they were faithful and righteousness, especially compared to the Gentiles, in part because, as Jews, they were circumcised. But Paul refuted that notion in Romans 2.25. Circumcision matters, but only if you keep the Law.

But even if they did keep the Law, their faithfulness and unrighteousness compared to God was the real issue for them.

And it is the real issue for us as well.

We compare ourselves to others. We want justice for others. But, like the Jews would discover, true justice is equally administered to everyone.

As I mentioned last week, Paul’s words at the end of Romans 2 would have been rather offensive to the Jew. So, Paul considered some of the objections that they might have. Again, Paul is still having this “discussion” with an unnamed Jew (through a diatribe).

The Advantage

Based upon Paul’s previous words, this Jew “asks” if being a Jew has any real advantage. And let’s face it, after studying Romans 2, our expectation is that Paul would answer NO. Remember, God is impartial, so “Of course, no benefit exists.”

But Paul answered “Yes.” And he did so emphatically. Notice the words beginning verse 2. “Much in every way.” He then lists only one because he wants to focus on only one thing here (you can find a longer list in Romans 9.4-5).

Why?

Because the Bible came through the Jews. That isn’t what the words say, but it is what the text says. The words are that “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3.2). Now, not all of those oracles (or revelations) have been preserved, but the Old Testament certainly contains more than a few.

So, Paul is saying that God chose the Jewish people to show Himself and to speak to humanity through that group of people. So, YES!, being a Jew has its advantages, but it does not guarantee salvation.

Let me put this in today’s context.

I have heard some people in the past say that they like the idea of Christianity, but they want to live their lives first. Well, first, Christianity isn’t an idea to be liked, it is a life to embrace. But that’s the issue. And I know because for a good amount of time, I was one of those people. I remember driving to work one day and seeing a bumper sticker which said something like, “In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned.” I thought, YEAH! That’s cool. But then I thought, that is pretty arrogant. Because if I am reading that bumper sticker without someone in it, then I have either just wrecked or am about to. And what if I die in that wreck? Before I repent.

Being a Jew had its advantages. So does being a Christian. It is not something to wait for, it is worth complete devotion. And, yes, some will enter into eternity with God having made a last-minute decision, but I get a chance to know Him more personally, thank Him, and serve Him now. That is worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely devoted (Paul will say more about that to us in next week’s text), but I can move in that direction.

So, yes, the Jew has an advantage because if God was going to reveal Himself through His Word (and He did), then He had to do so through some group of people – and He chose the Jews (ancient Israelites).

The Promise

So, God chose the Jews. More specifically, however, God made a covenant with the Jews. And a covenant can be conditional; in fact, it often was. A covenant involved two parties entering into an agreement with one party generally being superior. (A couple of the daily videos this week go a little deeper into this issue.)

As a part of the covenant promises are made. Now, we all like promises that are favorable, but not all are good. For instance, “If you fail this test, you will fail the class” would be a promise that does not have a good result (although the alternative might be positive). Additionally, some promises have known conditions attached, but any promise that is made has a condition to it. For instance, a parent might say, “If you eat your dinner, you can have ice cream.” That is a promise with a known condition. It is a basic if-then statement. But a parent might promise something without a known condition, but some condition still exists. For instance, how many people promised an extravagant vacation this year, but COVID cancelled those plans. Again, the condition was not known, but it still existed.

The problem is that even when the condition is known, we tend to only remember the benefit. That is particularly true when the promises are two-fold: If you do this, then something good will happen; if not, then something bad will happen.

Such was the case for Israel. The people of Israel stood on two mountains and made a promise to God as He made a promise to them. The promise was: If you keep my commandments, you will be blessed. If not, you will be cursed. Two promises based upon the actions of the Israelites. You can guess which one they remembered.

Thus, in Romans 3.3-4, the Jews wonder where God’s promise is. Why are they still a people in suffering? Why are they still in exile? Well, they did not and have not kept His commandments (i.e. the Law), and so they are experiencing the curse part of the promise.

To change their fate, they needed to repent the way David did in Psalm 51, which Paul quotes here (v. 4). David was punished for His sin (the child died, and he had massive family issues as a father), but God was still faithful to David. The same possibility existed for the Jewish people if, like David, they would repent. That was God’s promise. And He was faithful to that promise. The people needed to be faithful to theirs as well. And that same is true for us today. We must repent when we have failed to be faithful to God, so that He can forgive us, even if that forgiveness includes correction. And that leads us to…

The Punishment

Again, the Jews were not keeping their end of the bargain, so they were being punished. But their thought process was that if God was holy, why would He punish them. Rick said something similar in one of his daily devotions this week. People ask him how he can arrest someone if he is a Christian?

A part of Rick’s answer is bound to his duty; but all of God’s answer is bound to His character.

But the Jews took it a step further. Notice verse 5 and verse 7. The Jew is effectively saying, “If my sin shows God to be holy, then He should thank me for sinning, not punish me. How can people know God is holy if they don’t have someone like me, and my sins, to show the difference? So, if that is true, why should He judge me for my sin…I am making Him look good.”

That is called false reasoning. Ultimately, it shows that God can benefit from our actions (especially our negative ones) rather than us benefiting from God’s actions. The truth is that God does not judge people because He wants to judge them (as some believe) or to make Himself appear more holy (as the Jew was saying). God judges people – and MUST punish them – Jew, Christian, everyone, because He IS a good God. It isn’t about what make Him look good, it is BECAUSE HE IS GOOD.

Paul addresses the fallacy of their argument here, but he comes back to it in Romans 6 (as we shall see later) to say that if we are really in Christ, then our goal should not be to show God’s glory by our sin (so that He can extend grace), but to become like Him (because of the grace He has shown).

CONCLUSION

At one point in Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan asks Gump, “Have you found Jesus yet?” Forrest answered: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him.”

The line is funny, but it has a sad premise, at least for that part of the movie. More importantly the line is revealing – and very true. Many people think that being a Christian is a title only. And for some, it is a title that has benefits (prosperity gospel preachers promote this). But they want the benefits of the life without looking for Jesus. Well, it certainly has benefits, but not the way many would want, and most of those benefits will wait for the other side of eternity. But having the love of the Father, and having an opportunity to know and serve Jesus through the power of the Spirit is certainly a benefit in the life we live now.

But with the benefit comes a responsibility. With the promise of God regarding our salvation to come, we must respond in our salvation now. The Jews thought it was enough to be the chosen people of God. Many Christians believe the same is true today. But as Paul has repeatedly said already in Romans, having the Law and a knowledge of God is not enough. We must turn that knowledge into obedient action.

What was true for the Jew then is true for the Christian today. The discipline the Jew faced will be faced by the Christian as well. As the writer of Hebrews remind us, “God disciplines the one He loves.”

Therefore, …

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is OOBEY.

We do not need to prove God faithful. We need to prove ourselves faithful to God.

That is done through obedience. It is done in faith. But as James told us, faith without works is dead (James 2.26). God’s holiness will be satisfied as He desires. That is true for anyone regardless of the time, their faith, or even their lack of faith. But for those who believe in the saving work of Jesus, that holiness has already been satisfied. So, when we do not obey, or we are not faithful, we repent (like David) and seek God’s forgiveness.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  What is God asking you to do? A few weeks ago, I encouraged you to do just one thing you know God has been asking you to do. Have you done it? Or at least started it? If not, why not? This is your task He has given you. It is your opportunity to show yourself faithful. Take the opportunity today to do it – to begin it. And as you show yourself faithful, allow God to remind you of His faithfulness as well.

“No Foolin’,” by Pastor Andy Braams

A little more than 50 years ago (1968), Jeannie Riley released a song that was number one on the country and pop singles charts, spawned a movie (a decade later), and eventually a TV show (in 1981).

The song is about the hypocrisy of the PTA. Many of you may remember the song, but take a few moments to listen the words.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoD3lOCyz1A

Haven’t we all been there? Been hypocrites, I mean. I know I have. We all justify our own actions. We all think we are better that someone else, or perhaps many others. And therefore, we hold ourselves a little higher – not to a higher standard, but to a higher place – out of pride.

But the Bible is clear about pride. It is one of the six things God hates (Proverbs 6.17) and comes before the fall (Proverbs 16.18, 1 Corinthians 10.12). We teach others what is right and wrong, but do not live by the same standards we teach. That is certainly a part of what it means to sin.

Paul addresses that very issue in our topic today in the latter part of Romans 2.

It is also why we are not good judges. We are partial to ourselves (and some others), but true justice for all people should be based on a unified standard.

We all make mistakes, but when we choose to live in disobedience to God, we not only hurt ourselves, we also keep others from knowing God, and bringing glory to Him, as He desires.

If we are incapable of living up to our own teaching, how can we possibly live up to Jesus command to make disciples? (Answered in JOURNEY, be real and authentic)

First, we must understand that not being able to fully live according to what we teach does not excuse us from the need to teach.

In Romans 2.17-29, Paul chastises the Jew who teaches the Law. Paul does not chastise because of the teaching, but because the teacher believes that something else is more important. We will get to that something in a few moments. Look at verses 17-20. In these verses Paul shares several reasons the Jew should boast in God and, as a part of that, teach others.

      • The person is a Jew.
      • The person relies on the law. (The word rely could make this statement good or bad, but the Law itself was not meant to be bad (Romans 7.10 – it promised life), so we are treating this word as a positive in this case).
      • The person could know God’s will.
      • The person could approve (test) God’s will (cf. Romans 12.2).
      • The person learns from the law.

Because of this, the person has responsibilities. We see these in verses 19-20.

      • The person is to help others (guide the blind – those ignorant of the Law, i.e. Gentiles).
      • The person is to be a light to those in darkness.
      • The person is to instruct the foolish.
      • The person is to teach those who are children (particularly in the faith).

So, the person has the Law and is to teach the Law. But even as they teach others, they are not following the teachings!

If we go back to Romans 2.12-13 – they have the Law, they have heard the Law, but they are not keeping (doing) the Law. Thus, when they (the Jew) are judged, it will be according to the Law.

In particular, Paul mentions a few commandments that are being broken – stealing, committing adultery, and robbing the temple (which is stealing in one sense, but likely relates to idolatry here).

What is the result? God is blasphemed by the very people who should be learning from this person.

Again, none of us is perfect. But like this Jew, anyone who knows anything about the Bible has a responsibility to teach. You are obligated by Jesus. I may be more obligated in one way because I have been especially called and have a degree, but all of us are teaching in some way each day. That is, people are watching. And how we live says as much as what we believe as anything.

So, do our lives bring glory to God? Or do we cause others to not believe? Our words are important, but so are our actions.

The second thing we must know is that the crux of this passage relates to circumcision. Yes, the teaching is important. But Paul wants to ensure the Jew knows what they must do. This argument has been clear throughout the chapter. Romans 2.6, 13, and 16 are specifically geared to this idea.

But the Jew thought that circumcision was the safeguard. I am circumcised so I am fine. Baptists have a similar idea. I walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and was baptized, so I am going to heaven.

For Baptists, the idea is “once saved, always saved.”

For the Jew, the idea was “once circumcised, always circumcised.”

Paul says, “Not so fast!”

At the end of this chapter, Paul makes it very clear that being circumcised IS important for the Jew (v. 25), but only if you keep the Law. Otherwise, Paul says, the uncircumcised Gentile is actually better off if they are keeping whatever they might know of the Law (or even if they do not know it, see Romans 2.13-16).

Such a statement would have been tremendously offensive to the Jew. However, it was not enough to show someone you are a Jew based upon a mark of your skin. The true nature of someone chosen by God was to show them the effect God has had upon your heart. That is, the true mark of a follower of God is not about the outward expression, as important as that is, it is about the inward change.

What was true of circumcision for the Jew is true of baptism for the people who call themselves Christians today. It is not about whether or not you were dunked (or even sprinkled); it is about following Christ. Yes, baptism is important. We are to follow the example of Christ (Matthew 3). We are to fulfill the commission of Christ (Matthew 28.19). Baptism is important. But it is obedience to Christ, actually heeding His call to “Follow Me,” that truly matters.

When we choose to follow Jesus, some people will praise us, and some will criticize us. That’s a reality. But the thoughts of others should not be what concerns us here, which Paul makes quite clear in the last verse of chapter 2. Read Romans 2.29.

By the 1st Century, the word Jew was synonymous with any person who was a part of God’s chosen people because of the covenant God made through Moses (i.e. the Law of Moses, or simply the Law). But originally “Jew” was a nickname of the tribe of Judah (particularly before the Babylonian Exile). And the word Judah means “praised.”

Thus, the Jewish people were “praising” themselves simply because they were Jews. They expected others to do the same. But man can only praise what they see on the outside. God will praise according to what is on the inside. Romans 2.29 suggest that many Jews were satisfied. But the last sentence shows that the praise for simply being a Jew because of circumcision does not mean that God is praising them.

Circumcision and baptism are outward expressions that can be seen by anyone, but God judges the secret things of man (Romans 2.16), those things that are on the inside. As I have been saying for months, this does not mean that good intentions are enough. Why? Because God does not only look inside, He also sees the fruit of the outside. Thus, we must be intentional to do what we know to do.

In other words, if I were to summarize this, I would say:

You need to be choosing what you are doing. And you need to be doing what you are choosing. And it should all be for the glory of God.

At the beginning of this post, I had you listen to the words from the song Harper Valley PTA. The PTA was concerned with the upkeep of an image rather than a change in lives. If they had been concerned with changing lives, they would have looked within their own ranks first – as is evidenced by the final verse of the song. Their concern was ultimately about title and status (that is, prestige) rather than helping others.

Sure, their words to the mother may have covered some concepts they thought were important. But was the goal of the PTA for their benefit (and exertion of power)? Was their goal to make other people feel worse, or to help live better?

The reality is that much of the judgment in our world today is to put others down. We may be able to fool others and even ourselves into thinking we are good. But we cannot fool God.

So, as we seek justice, let us ensure that we are first seeking God. Let us make sure we are following God. Certainly, we will not do this perfectly, but if we think that our salvation is secure without any effort to learn, follow, and teach others what He has asked (commanded) us to do, then I am not sure that we are any better than the Jews of yesteryear.

And if that’s the case, we are only foolin’ ourselves.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is OOBEY.

I have said many times, and I will surely say it many more times, as God allows: We do not work for salvation. Paul is not arguing for a works-based salvation, and neither am I. But we must work because of salvation. That is, if we are truly saved by grace, through faith, our work for the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Spirit, will show itself to be real and authentic – even if it is not perfect.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  You need to be choosing what you are doing. And you need to be doing what you are choosing. And it should all be for the glory of God.

We learn, we live, we love, and we lead – all because of the grace of God. So let us live for the glory of God.

“A Vision for Tomorrow” by Pastor Andy Braams

On the last Sunday of each month, we typically take a break from our current series to talk about what we might do as a church, and as a people to truly make this church a hub for ministry. The building, so to speak, is the hub, and we are the spokes that go out, as the church, to live to bring glory to God.

And although the effects of church have changed greatly over the past four months, the essence of the church has never changed. And yet, even discounting COVID, many have left the church, left this church, for a variety of reasons.

And, truth be told, a part of the reason is me. And a part of the reason is us.

Perhaps if we had been more faithful they had not gone out from us. Of those whose names remain on the roll – how is it with us? And what are we doing? Some have moved away into other states or counties. The have been gone – some of them – for years; their names remain upon our rolls as members – to swell the numbers thereof. In reality they are not members. As to the life they are living, God knows. Some of us yet residing here want ourselves members. But we never, or scarcely ever, attend the services of the church. We manifest no interest in its welfare. We take no part in its work. The Sunday school, the prayer meeting, have no existence in our lives. We are strangers to self-denial and sacrifice. And some, a few, are toiling on, as best we can, perhaps; our prayers cold and almost lifeless; yet God in infinite mercy, we trust hears and our answers. Our works imperfect and inefficient, yet the loving Father in infinite mercy as before accepts and blesses to the account of His beloved Son…. (1)

Those words were written about this church in October 1900. They are still true today. But this church overcame the challenges then, and I believe we can overcome the challenges now. How did they do it? I am sure a part of the reason has to do with love.

But before I get to our primary text in Colossians 3, I want to move well ahead in Romans – to chapter 14. We will get to Romans 14 soon enough (next summer?), but while the issues Paul wrote about were different, the premise of his argument is the same. And the premise of that argument weighs heavy on the church today.

Christians within the same church were arguing over what they could eat and when they should worship. Paul says the strong Christian should exercise their freedom knowing they can eat anything and can worship any day of the week. But the weaker Christian feels bound to tradition and thus will not eat meat and must worship on a particular day.

The stakes for the church in Rome were immense. In today’s terms, we would likely be talking about the possibility of a church split. Now, when doctrine is involved, it is necessary to hold the line and if that creates a divide in the church because some do not believe according the to the teachings of the Bible, well, that is an issue that must be addressed.

And frankly, the weaker Christians in Rome (in this case, mostly the Jews) had a point. God said to keep the Sabbath and restricted His people from eating certain types of food. That information was in their “Bible” – they did not have the NT yet, and perhaps only one or two of the Gospels had been written, and they would likely not have had any way to know all of the teachings of Jesus.

So, Paul wrote that the stronger Christians, those who exercised freedom in their faith on what they ate (meat) and when the worshipped (any and every day), should not cause a fellow believer to stumble. Read Romans 14.14-16.

Don’t take verse 16 out of context. Some things are evil. Eating certain types of food is not. But if we feel free to eat something and doing so may cause another to have doubts about faith (in general, or in specifics), then we should refrain. And it is precisely our freedom that allows us to refrain.

Notice verse 20. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”

Let me update that to our world in July of 2020: “Do not, for the sake of wearing a mask, destroy the work of God.”

If you saw my Friday preview video, I touched on this, so I will not spend much time here. But let’s face it, in our world today we will argue about anything, and much of what we argue over relates in some way to our freedoms. But we have a false understanding of freedom. Or, at least, most do not have a biblical understanding of freedom.

As Paul wrote in Romans 14.1, these are matters of opinion. All of the individuals involved were living faithfully to the Lord (as they saw it, and Paul did not rebuke them for that thought here). They were dedicated to the Lord, and nothing Paul mentioned here was breaking any commands. It was opinion.

Thus, to be free biblically, is not to feel you must exercise your beliefs, if it causes hurt to another. In fact, to take it further, Paul says to show true freedom is to not exercise your beliefs if it causes someone else to stumble in their faith.

In other words, rather than exercising your beliefs (i.e. what you believe are your rights), exercise love.

And that brings us to our text for today in Colossians 3.12-16. I am not going to exposit the full text, but I want to highlight what we can do. However, let me share that this chapter begins with the command to seek what is above (that is, in the heavenly realms) and to focus our minds on living with a kingdom mindset, rather than an earthly one.

To do that, Paul lists five sins that should be put to death and six others that should be set aside, some of which might be pertinent for our discussion today. But I want to focus on the positives beginning in verse 12.

As God’s chosen people, who are holy and dearly loved, we are to:

Have compassionate hearts. This begins towards those in the church. The word compassion means to share in the suffering. Suffering can take many forms, but for now just think of the mental suffering people are experiencing due to uncertainty and doubt. We need to set aside our “rights” to help those who are suffering more than we are.

Have kindness. I have shared many times before that the words kind and nice are different. Nice is passive. We can do nothing and be considered nice. Kindness requires action. We must choose to be kind.

Have humility. As it relates to expressing our Christian freedom, here is the hammer. The greatest passage in the Bible about humility is Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus could have demanded His rights as the perfect Son of God, but in His humility, He took time to care for us. We are to have humility as well, loving and caring for others.

Have meekness. I like the definition of controlled power. If meekness is controlled power, then we have the power to do what we want, but we can choose not to exercise that power if holding back will benefit others. That is to live in true freedom.

Have patience. Well, our patience is being tested during this season. But it is showing us that we are not in control – God is. We may not know when this challenge will end (can we be sure it will?), but God is still out in front of this. Maintaining a larger perspective (Colossians 3.1-2) will help us be patient ourselves and can allow us to show patience to others.

Bear with one another. This command is not about others bearing with you, it is about you bearing with others. Yes, that should go both ways. But we cannot control if people will bear burdens with us. And again, this relates to freedom. We have the opportunity to bear or not to bear – regardless of what others choose. But do we do so?

Forgive each other. Uh hum. Church? Do you want to be free? Forgive! When we don’t forgive, we are the ones who are trapped. A lot of times other people do not even know they have offended us – and yet we hold a grudge. That is imprisonment. Forgive and be free.

Put on love.

That is really the essence isn’t it? To love someone is to receive them or to accept them. To do that requires not only us to exercise freedom, but to allow others to do the same. Again, Paul is not talking about sin. Sin should be confronted, but many of the matters we make a big deal about (like whether or not to wear masks) are not sinful. And some that are inherently sinful (racism) get little attention in many churches.

Ultimately, Paul says we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. That word rule has the idea of an umpire making a call in baseball. That is, a pitch is a ball or a strike. A runner is safe or out. Etc. The idea of being in the middle does not exist. The same is true here – Christ either rules or He doesn’t. We are to make the choice to allow Him to rule.

CONCLUSION

So, is the peace of Christ ruling in your heart?

Now, having Christ’s peace does not mean everything is perfect. It does not mean that we do not struggle in life, with people, etc. It does not mean we will always get along. But, if we are to love others, then we focus on forgiveness, and patience, and meekness, and kindness, etc. We need to have conversations with people to try to understand their perspective (bearing one another’s burdens) rather than just thinking we are always right (i.e. we need humility).

So, on this Hub Sunday, what can we do?

Well, if you have watched my videos over the past few months, I have suggested that we need to do, or maybe that is be, M.O.R.E. Let me use that idea as it relates to Colossians 3.

We need to be:

MOTIVATED. We need to be motivated to love our neighbors within and without the church.

OBSERVANT. We need to be observant of the needs around us in order to know who has burdens, what burdens they have, and how we can help bear them.

RESPONSIVE. When we know what others need, we need to lovingly respond. Perhaps the response can be made by one person, perhaps it takes the entire church, or a combination of the churches.

ENGAGED. This last word is the difference maker. We can have proper motivation. We can see what is going on around us. We can make plans to respond, or even begin to respond. But if we are not engaged, then what does it matter? Being engaged is the difference between having good intentions and being intentional.

Church, if we are going to be a church that brings glory to God, then we must be intentional. We must do, and be, more.

Let me end with a reminder. Early this year, before COVID, I asked us all to consider the following question: Who’s Your One?

Who is that one person for whom you will pray, for whom you will love, for whom you want them to either know Christ or to have that person return to faithfully following Him?

As I mentioned then, I am not asking you to even talk to them – yet, at least not about that. If God wants you to do so, by all means, do so. But based upon today’s message, I am simply asking you to do a little bit M.O.R.E. and love them.

A day will be coming, and reasonably soon, that we will have a conversation with them and that we will invite them to church. But for now, it is simply a matter of being motivated, being observant, being responsive, and beginning to be engaged – all for the purpose of love.

Because to truly love is to be free. And as we love others, we can help them to be free as well.

So, who is God calling you to love – and specifically, to love freely? That is, Who’s your one?

As you consider your one, let me read the remainder of the paragraph from RM Rhodes wrote. May this paragraph be an encouragement for all of us to do the work God has for us to do.

Some of us whose names remain, with tottering limbs and stooping forms are nearing the western horizon of life, looking forward with some degree of anxiety, without the sense of fear or dread, to release from life’s toils and cares and burdens. Earth has lost its charms. Its pleasures, its pursuits, its ambitions have all passed away. Waiting – patiently waiting – the summons, “Child, come home.” Not only has earth lost its charms; but the grave has lost its dread. In the bosom of mother earth there is sweet repose for the weary body. In the arms of the loving Father there is heaven for the tried spirit. In the coming of the blessed Christ there is reunion of the body and soul glorious, incorruptible and immortal. (2)

(1) Elder R. M. Rhodes (two-time leader of the church – excerpt from History of the Baptist Church of Fairfax, probably written in October 1900. Copied verbatim, including punctuation.

(2) This part was the remainder of the paragraph.

“No Excuse” by Pastor Andy Braams

We’ve all heard, and maybe said, “Because I told you so.” It is not a very good reason, but, we all know what it means. It means we were told something to do and it did not get done. Maybe it was a parent or family member. Maybe it was a boss. Really it could be anybody talking to most anyone else.

At this moment you can probably think of at least one time you heard those words directed at you. You might also think of times when you have said those words to others. The reality is that what awaited on the other side of those words was not going to be pleasant. But, in a sense, in many (most?) cases, the issue was ours. We were told to do something and it was not done. Whether the task was fair or not is another matter as is whether the punishment was just.

But we can all relate because we have all been told to do something and we did not get done what we were told to do. Why? Because we are independently minded. We don’t like to take direction from others. We know what we are to do, but we choose not to because, ultimately, we are sinful people – not just towards God, but towards others.

The desire for self-autonomy is nothing new. It started in the Garden of Eden and it continues to this day. And in between Paul wrote a lot about it, including to the Romans. But knowing to do something and not doing it has consequences as Adam and Eve found out. And that knowledge has been passed down to every generation since.

The consequences of our inaction may be different depending upon the persons and the circumstances involved. But related to God, the consequences of our sin demand justice. And God’s holiness demands justice – and thus, we have the series title, “And Justice for All.”

Proposition: But even as God administers justice impartially, He does not do so equally.

Question: Is that possible? Can justice be impartial and yet evaluated by different considerations? Please understand, the overall standard is the same. This idea may not make sense now, I hope to clarify the matter using Paul’s words in the remainder of this post.

Romans 2 is about judgment. It begins (vv. 1-11, last week’s post) with Paul showing God’s righteousness allows God to judge in ways that man never could. God is objective in His use of truth and in His execution of justice against all people. In today’s passage (vv. 12-16), Paul shows that both Jew and Gentile are judged by one standard, but part of the initial comparison is different. Then, in the final part of the chapter (which we will review in two weeks), Paul challenges the assumption of the Jews regarding their understanding of salvation.

We can think of last week’s message and this week’s message as a two-way mirror, with verse 11 being the actual mirror. Romans 2.11 says that God shows no partiality (in His judgment). Verses 1-10 are primarily written to the Jew who thinks that their knowledge of the Law is sufficient. Verses 12-16 is written about the Gentile who was not given the Law and thus is judged apart from the Law. Thus, verse 11 is the actual mirror with one side reflecting back the Law and the other reflecting back something else (which I will get to in a moment).

Now, it is important to note that when I say “Law” I am not talking about the law of man. I am talking about the laws of God, and specifically in this context, Paul means the Law of Moses. That is, Paul is referring to the 613 laws God gave to Moses for the people of Israel. So, two points we must understand about this.

      1. God gave the laws to the people of Israel.
      2. God did not give those laws to anyone else (i.e. the Gentiles).

The implications of those two points are as follows:

      1. Implication for the Israelites

The Israelites were given the Law. They were to know the Law. And they were to live by the Law.

As per Paul (e.g. Romans 2.12), James (James 2.10), and Jesus (Matthew 5.17-18), breaking one of the given laws was equal to breaking every law. Again, this truth covered all 613 laws known as the Law of Moses. But let’s break it down to just The Big 10 – that is, the Ten Commandments (which are part of the 613, in fact, they summarize them in a way).

So, let’s say that someone commits adultery, even if by only lusting after someone (see Jesus words in Matthew 5.27-28), that one sins can lead to a multitude of others. In committing adultery (Commandment 7, Exodus 20.14):

      • they have likely dishonored their parents (Commandment 5, Exodus 20.12),
      • obviously coveted (Commandment 10, Exodus 20.17),
      • which could have stolen the spouse from another (or at least someone’s virtue, stealing being Commandment 8, Exodus 20.15),
      • may have lied about it (Commandment 9, Exodus 20.16),
      • and caused someone to become bitterly angry and commit murder (maybe not in the literal sense – Commandment 6, Exodus 20.13, but in the figurative sense as Jesus said in Matthew 5.21-22),
      • and in doing any (or all) of these made him/herself a god above God, thus breaking Commandment 1, Exodus 20.3.

Thus, in the act of committing adultery, the person has broken commandments 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. That is 6 of the 10, and we could easily extend this example to make the person guilty of all ten.

The problem, as we shall see more clearly in a couple of weeks is that the Israelites thought the Law gave them privileged status. As God’s Chosen People (in part because God chose to give them the Law), they thought that provided some degree of certainty towards salvation. Thus, Paul had to write that it was not enough to simply hear the Law (Romans 2.13), the righteous must do the Law (see also James 1.22-25), and to be truly saved, the Law must be kept perfectly. Thus, hearing the Law (which would have been common) was not an advantage towards salvation as many Jews thought.

On the other side of the mirror, we have the implication for the Gentiles.

      1. Implication for the Gentiles

Only the nation of Israel was given the Law. Now, the Law was not for the Israelites/Jews to keep to themselves necessarily, but people cannot be held accountable for that which they do not know. Thus, how could the Gentiles, a people “far off” from God (Ephesians 2.13), be held accountable for something they did not know.

Because the Jews had the Law, they believed the only way for a Gentile to receive salvation was to bear the yoke of the Law (cf. Acts 15.10). So, Paul says that those who are “without the law” are judged “without the law” as well (Romans 2.12).

Paul does not mean that the Law does not count or is unimportant. It also does not mean that all Gentiles were wildly heathens like some Jews thought (of course, some Gentiles were). We must remember Paul’s background as a Pharisee (Phil 2.5) who trained under the great Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22.3). Paul knew the Law and knew it to be important. But God revealed something more to Paul about Gentiles. Although the Gentiles were “without the Law” they were not without law. That distinction is important. And Romans 2.14-15 makes this point clear.

In this case, “when” means “whenever.” So, whenever a Gentile does something that the Law commands, they are showing that it is not about receiving the written Law that Moses gave to the Israelites, but rather it is the work of the law that is written on their hearts.  (1)

What’s the point?

Well, before I give the point, I shared an example of breaking one law by a Jew. So, let me share an example from a Gentile. If a Gentile is tempted to steal and does not do so, why would he not do it? It is not because he has the law, but because the works of the law are evident. We know inherently that it is wrong to take from someone else. But the Law goes further than what to do and what not to do. The Law – the Law of Moses – includes God. That is the difference.

A Gentile might honor his or her parents (Commandment 5, see verse above), never have murdered (Commandment 6) or committed adultery (Commandment 7). In the example I just shared, the person did not break Commandment 8, although at some point, s/he has likely lied (Commandment 9), but usually s/he tells the truth. And maybe some coveting (Commandment 10) is a part of this person’s nature, but s/he exhibits self-control which mitigates the effects of the sin.

However, the Gentile (in this example) would not know the specifics of God’s commands about God. The Gentile was not delivered from Egypt (Exodus 20.1-2) so s/he does not know to worship the one true God (Commandment 1, Exodus 20.3), might have many graven images (Commandment 2, Exodus 20.4), may use God’s name inappropriately (Commandment 3, Exodus 20.7) and would not have any reason to know about the Sabbath (Commandment 4, Exodus 20.8-11).

But let me restate what I said a moment ago: The Gentile would not know the specifics of God’s commands about God. That is true. But that does not mean that they cannot know God. Nor does it mean that they should not know God. Paul has already made this truth abundantly clear in Romans 1.18-23. Many Gentiles were guilty of suppressing the truth about God (v. 18), not honoring or thanking God who had clearly showed Himself to them (vv. 19-21), and actually worshipping idols instead of worshipping God (vv. 22-23). Thus, Gentiles may not have the Law, but they do not have any excuse for not knowing of God, which should lead to truly knowing God.

Having shared that example, now we are ready to look at Paul’s point. The point is this:

All of us know what we are to do. In doing what we are to do, we are not necessarily fulfilling the Law – how can we fulfill what we do not know exists – but it is being done anyway. Thus, something above the Law must be true. That is, people may not be under the Law of Moses, but they still operate by the principles of that law because we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26-27). In other words, we are all without excuse.

In verse 15, Paul mentions the conscience. We have to be careful when we think about the affects of the conscience. I have more to say about this than time allows today, but I will share more about our conscience in Monday’s YouTube video. For now, I will say that the conscience is not a good judge – sometimes it accuses us and sometimes excuses us – even on the same matter. Thus, our conscience cannot be a good judge at all.

      1. The Implication for All of Us

So, we have seen that Law is important in judgment toward the Jew. We have shown that Gentiles are not judged by the Law, but have the effects of God’s law within them. Thus, both are held accountable by God. The exact manner for measuring righteousness may be different depending upon what we know (i.e. do we know the Law), but the ultimate standard for that measurement is not in what we know or even what we do; rather, that standard is Who we know. Here, we have the answer to our question at the beginning. God may have differing expectations of us based upon our knowledge of His Law, but we all become equal at the foot of the cross.

Notice verse 16 says that God judges by one standard – by Jesus Christ. And the judgment is made not only by what others see in us, but in what we desire to keep secret. That is why I have said throughout this series (and in times past) that we are not able to make adequate judgments. We will never know the whole story about others and we will never admit the full story about ourselves. But God, who sees what is done in secret (see Matthew 6. 4, 6, 18), will judge according to the only Person who was not only perfect in hearing, but also in doing (Romans 2.13; 3.26; 5.19; Hebrews 4.15; see also Matthew 5.17-18 and John 19.30).

CONCLUSION

This truth is so personal for Paul, so ingrained within him that he calls it “my gospel.” He desires to preach it. How can he do it unless he believes it. And if he believes it, how can he not do it? Again, Paul knew the importance of the Law. But he also knew of a greater importance – the work of Jesus on the cross to cover what we could never do on our own?

What about you?

Have you made the gospel your own? Or are you still trying to earn your way into heaven because of some special insight or something you think you have done? Or perhaps you believe anything religious is petty and immaterial? If that is you, check your heart and see why you do what you do.

Most people consider the greatest of life’s questions to be: What am I doing here? Well, I don’t have your answer for you. But God does. And the gospel that Paul made His own, I have made my own. I know God knows me. And I want to know Him better. And God offers us all the same opportunity, not based upon who we are, but as Romans 2.16 tells us, by Jesus. He judges us by one standard – the standard of Jesus. And if you do not know Him, nothing else matters.

But if you do, you can soon discover the real answer to your question about your purpose in life. So, if you are thinking about it, even a little, do not just be a hearer, do something. Send a comment. Send an email. Send a text. Do something – now, before you get distracted with something else.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

It really could be O, for OBEY because we are to be doers, not just hearers. But none of us can OBEY perfectly. But Jesus did. And thus, once again, the letter is J and the word is Jesus. Remember, He is the standard. Nothing else matters. We will be judged – even our secrets – by Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  Be doers of the Law and not hearers only (James 1.22). Choose one thing, just one, that you know you are to do and do it this week. Maybe it is something you should be doing regularly, then start this week. Maybe it is just something you are to do and be done. Then do it and be done with it. We all have something we know we could or should be doing. So this week, choose that one thing (at least) and do it.

(1) This comment is similar to Jeremiah 31.33, but it is not the same. That verse says God will write the “law” on hearts. This verse says the “work of the law” is written there. The difference is subtle in wording, but important in principle. The “work of the law” primarily relates to the commandments related to one another whereas “the Law” relates to all commandments (including those that pertain to our relationship with God).

“We’re All In The Same Boat” by Pastor Andy Braams

Take a moment to think about someone whom you know well. What are some things that you really like about that person? Without writing down their name, write down a few of these good characteristics. Now, what is one thing about this person that drives you crazy? That is, what is something, or maybe a couple of things that you cannot stand that this person does? Write this thought (or these thoughts) down as well.

Now, think about the few items you wrote down. Why did you choose the positive items? Why do the negative items bother you? Many times the positives we see in others are what we wish were more true of ourselves. And the negatives…well, oftentimes what we find most troublesome in others are the very items with which we struggle ourselves.

But when we struggle to accept others for their quirks and idiosyncrasies we are not accepting how God made them. But when we condemn them for the actions we do not like, we are truly condemning ourselves.

The danger of today’s message is that some may have interpreted what I have already said to mean that we are not to judge. I am not saying that – at least not as most people think. We are to make judgments, but we are not to condemn. In fact, we could not live life without making judgments, but we must learn to live life without condemning, because, as I have already mentioned a few times in this series, we can never have all of the facts.

But God does. And thus, He is able to be just in His judgments. And that is why this series is entitled, “And Justice for All.” In fact, a clear example of that premise is found in the verses we will review this week.

The truth is, from God’s perspective, we get what we deserve. And the flip side of that is that most of us do not get what we think we deserve.

So, if we are going to get what we deserve, then why doesn’t God give us our wages right away? Well, Paul provides an answer for us in our text today. So, let’s look at Romans 2.1-11.

The Sinner in All of Us (Romans 2.1-5)

We have to think back a few weeks to reset our position in Romans, so let me take just a moment to do so. Paul has introduced himself to the church at Rome through this letter. He desires to travel to Rome so that He can proclaim the gospel which He reveals to them is the power of salvation to all who believe – the Jew first and then the Gentile. He includes both groups because the church of Rome is made up of both Jewish and Gentiles who have placed their faith in Jesus. That faith leads to righteousness and that righteousness enables faithful living. But those who choose idolatry and a host of other sins will receive the wrath of God.

As we turn to Romans 2, Paul now says that those who judge have no excuse. Paul is using the form of communication known as a diatribe to “argue” with someone who is not really there. It is difficult to know if this person is Jewish (my belief) or Gentile, or if it is the church in general, but regardless, Paul refers to this “man” (v. 1 and v. 3) who is judging others.

In Romans 1.18-32, Paul starts by identifying sins that the Gentile was more likely to commit in that day (vv. 20-27) before turning to more general sins that we call commit (vv. 29-31). Now, in Romans 2, he is saying that none of us are innocent. Read 2.1-3.

But not only are we guilty of sin, we become blind to our sins. Read 2.5.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Romans 1.18-3.20 is about Paul making the argument that all of us are guilty of sin. Again, in the first few verses of today’s passage, Paul makes this abundantly clear by stating that this man (which could effectively be us):

      • Practice(s) the very same things (v. 1)
      • Practice(s) such things (v. 2)
      • Do(es) them yourself (v. 3, the “them” referring to the things we judge others for doing

But doing such things is only part of the problem. If that was the entire problem, then Paul could skip much of this section. The real problem is that not only are we all sinners, but we are also, in a sense, all Pharisees.

The Pharisee in All of Us (Romans 2.5)

Now, before we misunderstand the idea of judgment in general, let me be clear that in this very passage Paul makes a statement about the need for judging. Read verse 2. Notice the word rightly. Paul agrees with those who know that God’s judgment is right. The Greek is actually much more clear. Instead of saying God judges rightly, it says, “the judgment of God is according to truth.” That statement itself is one of judgment. Paul declares that some things are truthful and some are not. That is a form of judgment. So, judgment itself is not condemned.

The problem then is that we do not judge according to truth. We judge according to preferences and partiality. We saw an example of this in the sports world this week. Blacks have been protesting for justice against racism, and yet an African American football player made an anti-semitic statement (which he says was misunderstood and has since apologized). Even if the quote was intentional, it does not mean that black lives do not matter. Nor does it mean that all people, regardless of color, use hate speech. But it does reveal that we all have biases and are partial. I may agree that equality is important, but I cannot say that I am entirely impartial – towards all whites, blacks, or any color.

But God is. And that is why He can judge rightly.

As one commentary said, “The Pharisee is always present in each one of us” (Leenhardt). Even when we try to help people, we do not start with the premise that we as well as they are sinners needing God’s forgiveness; we simply try to improve their moral conduct. Paul’s point is that we are all involved in a solidarity of sin that embraces the whole human race. He is concerned with the gospel as God’s way for the whole person and for the whole of mankind (not with self-justification or minor moral improvements). (1)

That is, we judge based upon not only what we know, but what we think about what we know. And the starting point for our thinking is that other people need to be improved – more than we do. We want morality from others more than we want salvation for others. We want salvation for ourselves, and are thankful for God’s grace to grant it, but God’s grace is not enough for others – we must fix them, but balk at their attempts to fix us.

And that is the Pharisee that exists in us all.

But a hope exists. And that hope is found in Jesus.

The Possibility for All of Us (Romans 2.6-11)

The last verses of this sub-section help us understand that Jews (and Gentiles) fall short of God’s righteousness. Verse 6 says that God will reward those who do good works. I will talk more about this in the daily videos this week, but Paul does not mean we can earn salvation by our works. It says we are paid according to our works. And as Romans 6 makes clear, the wages of sin is death. And, even our best works mean nothing because we are sinful people. Let me remove the plural. Your (singular) best work and my best work are insufficient to receive the payment we desire.

Any and all of us could earn eternal life with God if we did good works AND kept the law perfectly. But we don’t. And thus, we deserve the judgment of God – a judgment according to truth. So, what is our hope and our purpose? Our hope is Jesus and our purpose is to serve Him – by faith (1.17), because of the salvation God has made available (1.16), which Paul desires to proclaim (1.15). That is, if we profess Jesus as Savior, we should serve Him as Lord.

Our service to God is not only for God; it also serves as a witness to others. As one commentator said, “profession without practice does not please God. Nor does it convince those who observe the lifestyles of religious people.” (2)

We are to keep the law through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we ultimately have the eternal life Paul mentions in v. 7. In contrast, those without the Spirit (that is, those who are not born-again), will receive the payment due them – and that is eternal separation from God.

I mentioned earlier that I believed that this portion of the letter was addressed primarily to the Jew. A part of my rationale is verses 9 and 10. But first, let me remind you that in Romans 1.20-27, the Jew would have been happy to hear the exhortation of Paul to the Gentile. The Jewish “judge” would have read (or listened) to the letter and been expressing agreement by saying, “Amen. Amen. Amen.”  But then the tables are turned in the final verses. Likewise, in the passage today, the Jew might have felt superior as one of God’s chosen, but in Romans 2.9-10, Paul uses the same language he used about salvation in 1.16 – the Jew first, then the Gentile, to talk about those who receive wrath and those who receive honor. That is, the Jew had the first opportunity for salvation, but an equal opportunity exists for the Gentile. And the Jew will receive punishment first (because they are to know the things of God), before the Gentile.

God’s righteousness and his wrath are real. His righteousness will be realized by all who choose to live by faith. God’s wrath will be realize by all who choose to live in rebellion.

Jew or Gentile, it does not matter. We all sin.

Jew or Gentile, it does not matter. The blood of Jesus will cover that sin.

Jew or Gentile, it does not matter.  “For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2.11).

CONCLUSION

In my proposition for this message, I said, “The truth is, we get what we deserve. And the flip side of that is that most of us do not get what we think we deserve.”

Is that true? I believe so. Let me explain.

According to this passage, we do get what we deserve.

      • If we choose to live in opposition to God, then we deserve the wrath of God. And because God judges according to truth, we receive the wrath we deserve.
      • If we choose to live in obedience to God (by faith), then we get what we deserve, which is His righteousness because of the blood of Jesus.

But the second part of my statement was this: Most of us do not get what we think we deserve. Again, I think that is true.

      • If we live in defiance of God, or do not believe in the one true God, then we think that when we die, everything will be fine. But that is not the truth. What we think will happen is not what really happens.
      • If we live by faith in God, we know what will happen (life eternal with God), but it is not what we think should happen. To live by faith in God means that we have repented of our sins which requires some realization that we know we deserve to be punished for that sin. Thus, we think we deserve punishment, but that is not what happens because of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

And that leads me to answer the question I posed above. Why does God wait to give us what we deserve? The answer is found in Romans 2.4. God is kind and patience with us so that we might repent of what we are doing in order to turn to Him. If we do, we avoid His wrath and receive His righteousness. So, it is for our benefit that He waits. It is because of His love that He waits.

But we must understand that God’s holiness must be satisfied. The wrath of God will be fully realized. That is, his wrath will be paid in full. For those who do not believe in the atoning work of Jesus, they will receive the bill when their life on earth is through. For those who have embraced the gospel – the power of God for salvation to all who believe – the bill has already been paid by the blood of Jesus.

And that is why,…

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

Just because we may be saved, does not mean that we do not have work to do. Again, I will cover more of this in a video this week, but that is what Paul is saying in verses 6-10 of this passage (and particularly verse 7). Jesus did not save us just to save us. His call is to, “Follow Me,” which means we still have work to be done. That is why the idea of JOURNEY is so appropriate. When we choose Jesus, we choose a different path. We choose a different journey. And that path requires us to follow Jesus in order to reach the end faithfully.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE.  Again, this message is not telling us not to judge; it is a call not to condemn. Loving others does require us to care for others. Caring will require helping others, and sometimes that help means we must help them overcome some problem in their life. But before we do that, we must first make sure we are right with God – checking the plank in our own eye before pulling the speck from the eye of another (Matthew 7.1-5).

Think about that person you thought of at the beginning of the message. Does their issue(s) require you to help them get right with God or is it just about not annoying you? If they need to get right with God, will you help them? If so, what do you need to do to get right with God first so you can see clearly to help another?

(1) Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 107). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

(2) Pate, C. Marvin. (2013). Romans (p. 47), Teach the Text Commentary Series (Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, General Editors). Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Publishing.

“(Un)-Manifest Destiny” by Pastor Andy Braams

In the early 19th Century, America had a vast new track of land to explore. After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the area known as the United States doubled in size. Lewis and Clark famously explored the region, and soon thereafter, the people began migrating west. But the idea of “Manifest Destiny” was not just about extending the ideas of America westward, it was about creating a better society throughout all of the Americas – that is North and South America. As one historian wrote, the idea “generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” (1)

That is, many, but not all, wanted the United States to expand her “Christian” influence throughout the western hemisphere.

On a far lesser scale, the truth is that as individuals, we all want something similar. We may not be the ones to take a message or belief beyond a particular area or group of people, but if we believe enough in something, we hope that the idea will spread elsewhere. This is certainly true of Christianity, but it is also true about a good recipe, a book, television program, a sports team, etc. We think that what we like should be liked and desired by others.

But we do not all subscribe to the same ideas. And some of the ideas that are made manifest can be harmful. We are witnessing that truth right now in our country today. Ideas that were made manifest are being challenged, and literally overthrown. Some of that may be healthy. Some of it is not. But the key is from where do the ideologies originate?

In Romans 1.18-32, Paul speaks to a culture whose influence covered much of the known world at the time. But particularly in Rome, what was made manifest was in direct defiance of God, the one who made Himself manifest for the good of man.

We see that God’s wrath was made manifest as well. But His wrath is not like our wrath. God’s righteousness and wrath are perfectly intertwined as are His love and justice. And thus, our series, And Justice for All, is not only a true statement of God, but a necessary one as well.

If we are not careful, we think of God’s justice and wrath as necessary for some (particularly others) and not for ourselves. That truth is evident in our passage today as we shall see.

So, what does Paul say about this wrath? When will God make it known? And what are we to do in the meantime? Well, this passage will provides plenty of answers to those questions and more.

Righteousness vs Wrath?

As we begin to look at this passage, we cannot overlook the word “for” in verse 18. In fact, this verse is the third consecutive verse that begins with the word “for.” Is that significant? Yes, Paul is making a very logical argument which we will fail to see if we do not track backwards.

In verse 16, Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, which he said he was eager to preach in verse 15. In verse 17, Paul wrote that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, or we might say makes God’s righteousness manifest (there’s that word), and allows us to live by faith. Then in verse 18, Paul ties that idea together with the wrath of God being revealed (made manifest).

Some may argue that moving from God’s righteousness in verse 17 to God’s wrath in verse 18 would be better served with the word “but” to help show the contrast between righteousness and wrath. However, for God, no contrast exists. We may “lose our temper” and want “our wrath” to be felt, but anything we do pales in an analogy to God. And although it is easiest to understand God in human terms, we must not limit God to our human understandings.

But regardless of what we may be able to fully understand or not, God has revealed Himself. That is, God has shown Himself, and He wants us to make Him, and particularly His glory, manifest in all of the world.

But this passage shows that people will reject Him, and thus they will reject us, even as they rejected Paul. But our responsibility is to make God manifest, which begins with not being ashamed of His gospel, and His power, and His salvation, which leads to righteousness in us or wrath against us. And thus, we have the word “for” tying these verses together so strongly.

Without Excuse

Verse 18 mentions that God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness. God is not ok with some types of evil and sin; He opposes all of it equally. All evil, and all sin, deserve His wrath. That is why this series is called “And Justice for All.” We will all receive justice based upon our merits. And our merits all require God’s wrath to be fully experienced by each one of us individually. However, because of God’s mercy, Jesus has taken that wrath upon Himself for those who believe. Thus, although we ALL merit God’s wrath, the salvation made possible by the power of God and made manifest by the gospel, delivers those who are found righteous to God, because of Jesus, and live their lives by faith, accordingly.

But for those who do not respond to God’s gift of salvation, God’s wrath is what is manifest. In fact, what does salvation mean? It means something exists from which we must be saved. That something is the wrath of God. And God, in His righteousness must respond to the depravity of mankind. And so, He has, by His love. He responded with the offer through the cross, and He responds with the reality of His wrath for those who reject that offer.

But you might ask, “what about people who have not heard?” Verses 19 and 20 make it evident that God has made Himself known. Again, He has made Himself manifest to everyone. You cannot look at the mountains or walk through a forest or sail on the ocean or look across the fields and miss that something or someone made that true. (Philosophers back to at least Plato agreed on this.) That is what Paul is saying here. Paul is NOT saying that this basic knowledge is enough for salvation. Salvation requires faith in Jesus, as Paul will make clearly much later in his argument. But some basic knowledge of God is possible for everyone. As verse 20 says, everyone is without excuse.

The Tables Are Turned

The problem is that people may know, but they do not recognize. As verse 25 intimates, people possess the truth of God, but they would rather believe a lie. People know of God, but do not want to know Him. People do not give glory to God, and so their sins compound. That is the truth for all of us. The truth is that many people do not want to acknowledge God – we might say that want Him to “unreveal” (or un-manifest Himself) and control their own destiny. We can find ourselves thanking God, and praise Him, or we will find ourselves drifting further from Him. Inevitably, we must make a choice – righteousness over wrath or wrath over righteousness. Paul shows this clearly beginning in verse 21.

Notice the wording and the progression in verses 21-27.

In verses 21-23, what they knew, they rejected and thus became futile in their thinking. They believe they know best, but instead they become fools. They had the opportunity to “honor” and “give thanks” to God (v. 21), but instead “exchanged” that opportunity to “honor” man, birds, animals, and creeping things. I believe Paul is intentional in this order. People will not worship God, so they worship the prize creation (man), and/or if they can’t or won’t worship man, they will worship birds (which at least can fly), then animals (a step below man), and then the lowest of creatures (those that crawl on the ground). What an exchange is made! Yes, they consider themselves wise, but have shown themselves to be fools.

In verse 25, Paul summarizes these thoughts by saying rather than worship the Creator, they have chosen to worship the creature. Paul is so appalled by this, he has to stop for a moment of praise in the midst of writing about this to praise God. He then concludes with an affirmative “Amen.”

Then, in verses 26-27, Paul writes a third exchange takes place – they exchange natural relations for unnatural relations. This part entailed some very disturbing research for me this week. I will not share much here, but homosexuality was very prevalent in ancient Rome. In fact, 14 of the first 15 emperors practiced homosexuality. We might better state that they were bisexual – engaging in sexual activity with both males and females, but nonetheless, the practice of homosexuality was very pervasive.

Many will argue today that the word natural means, “against the norm,” and put that meaning into the context of the society. Thus, they argue, that since our society is beginning to be open to different understandings of relationships and even gender-identity, that these types of relationships should no longer be considered unnatural. But Paul was addressing a society that was (likely) more engaged in this type of behavior (and worse) than we are. And he called it unnatural. It is not unnatural because of what man thinks, it is unnatural because of God’s design. We can even see this in the anatomical features of a male and female.

Now, before I turn to the last couple of verses, I need to answer a question I posed earlier. When does God’s wrath take place? Well, according to Paul, it already was taking place, and therefore it still is. The wording about God’s wrath says “is revealed” which means it is in the present tense. But you might be thinking: “Andy, I don’t see it. I see people getting away with it” (with it being false worship, sexual immorality, etc.).

And my answer is, “Yes.” But notice a phrase Paul uses in verse 24, 26, and 28. The phrase is “God gave them up.” Certainly, the full wrath of God will come at a later point in time – the end of time as we know it. But the text says, “God gave them up” so He is active in the decision to do so. That does not mean that God forces others to do take part in sinning. It does mean that He is allowing sin to have its full influence – a destiny manifested apart from God in the present, and fully realize in the future. God has simply given them over to the “lusts of their hearts” (v. 24). In other words, God is allowing people to find their pleasure in their sin. But that pleasure is perceived pleasure. Sin has, and always brings, consequences. So, for now, God has given them over the natural consequences of these various sins, but one day, the fullness of the consequences will be realized.

The Tables Are Turned, Part 2

In the previous section, the tables were turned on the sinners. They exchanged God for some other idol – an image, a lie, or unnatural sex. So, God turned the table on the guilty by handing them over to their sins.

And as you sit here, the likelihood is that you may think that God’s wrath is deserved on all of the people who are guilty of such heinous acts of sin. But Paul is not done, and he shows that you and I are deserving of that wrath as well. See, as we read the text through verse 27, we may do so as a proud Jew would have done so. Jews were not to worship idols. They were not to tell lies, so why should they believe one. And homosexuality was a forbidden practice among the Jews. Thus, it was the Greeks (the Gentiles) who were guilty of such sin. In reading the first set of verses, the proud Jew would have looked with contempt on the Gentile who was making a mockery of God by committing such sins. Similarly, in the present, Christians look with disdain on how others can be so vile in their actions towards God.

But the passage is not done. The same wrath mentioned in verse 18 is also proper for those who commit the sins in verse 29-31. Paul breaks these sins into three different groups and some ideas within each group overlap a lot. But let me just point out a few. Do you envy others? Do you cause strife? Are you ever deceitful? Do you gossip? Are you boastful or full of pride (haughty)? (Before you answer that last one, remember what I just said about how Christians often look down on others!) Surely, many others are listed, and we might think of some of these as more sinful than others. But what is interesting is this list of 21 sins are social in nature – they are not sexual, and most are not against God. That is, these 21 sins are against other people. But Paul equates them all as vices which are sinful and thus, our relationship with God is broken – and we therefore deserve God’s wrath! Let me get specific. Do you show contempt to the actions around our country right now? Do you believe that you are better than “they” (whomever “they” are)? Well, you have at least backed up to the line, if not crossed that line of selfish pride. Remember, Jesus said to love others as you love yourself. How can you love the others – the “they” – that you currently think of with contempt? If you can’t love them, regardless of the sin, then according to this passage you are deserving of the same wrath God has made manifest.

CONCLUSION

Verse 28 has a word play within it. First, God gave them up to a debased mind. In other words, the people guilty of such sins tested the worth of God and rejected Him, so God gives them other to a mind that has failed the test.

Effectively, we can look back to verse 17 and see that if we choose to live by faith, then we please God. That is, we pass the test. But if we choose another path, we are foolish and faithless, which often leads to being heartless and ruthless (verse 31), and God will simply give us over to indulge ourselves with sin for now.

Ultimately, this entire passage is about two things – do we honor God and thank Him (v. 21)?

      • Those who do, will long to live by faith and experience the righteousness of God.
      • Those who do not will seek to honor something or someone else and experience the wrath of God.

Either way, God will be made manifest. He has already made Himself known. But will we choose to truly know Him? Because we cannot overlook that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). And that is why we need a savior. And that is why,…

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

In Chapter 1, Paul shows his desires and his longing. He thanks God (v. 8) and desires to go to Rome (v. 10) because he longs to share the gospel there (v. 15). In other words, because of Jesus, Paul thanks God and wants to honor Him (v. 21). He desires to live a life of faith (v. 17) because the power of God – the gospel – has saved him (v. 16).

How do you respond? What are your desires? You may be thankful that you are not like some of the people described in today’s passage. But are you thankful you are not like them or are you thankful that God rescued you from becoming like them? If your thanksgivings are only because you are different, then you are still guilty of the pride and arrogance and slander and gossip, etc. found at the end of Chapter 1. But if you are thankful to God, then what are you doing to honor Him because He has lifted you out of the depths of sin through the blood of Jesus?

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE.  Show God you love Him. Share His message with others. Yes, verses 24, 26, and 28, say that God gave them up, but it does not mean that He is not ready to redeem them. Perhaps, all that needs to happen is for you to share your faith, your story, your hope. Maybe, just maybe, that is all that is needed to help them turn from experiencing wrath to living in righteousness.

1)  Merk, Frederick (1963). Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History. Harvard University Press. ISBN978-0-674-54805-3.

“The Key” by Pastor Andy Braams

Have you ever audited a course? I did. My first seminary course was to audit a theology course at MBTS. People may audit for different reasons, but for me, I felt like I might be called to go to seminary (this was actually before I received my call to ministry), but I needed to make sure. So, I decided to audit a course that was made available at the church where we attended. If it wasn’t for me, then all I was out was a little bit of time, and about 1/3 the money it would have cost me to actually take the class. The problem is that eventually I had to retake the course. I had to invest more time and more money to do much of what I had already done.

Perhaps, you have used that approach with some decision in your life. You dipped your toes in the water so to speak, and then made the decision. Really, the approach is not a bad one, and it is certainly prevalent in our society today.

The problem is that many people treat the Christian life this way. Let me audit it. If it works, then I will stay with it. If not, well, I haven’t lost much. I can just walk away. But, in reality, Christianity is all or nothing. We are either born again, or we are not. We are either a child of God or we are not. And, if we are a child of God, then we must realize the issue is not a game…it is serious.

In today’s passage, Paul makes this truth evident – both about himself and about those who claim to have a faith in God.

And as we consider our theme for this series – And Justice for All – we must realize that true justice only comes from God, and auditing will not accomplish what we might hope can happen.  God has designed this life for full credit or no credit. An audit option does not exist.

The truth of the gospel is that the credit has already been earned, it is just up to us to claim it. God has already done the work. He has made full credit available, as only He could do. But we have a choice in how we respond to the credit he offers.

What does Paul believe about this gospel? Can we do more than simply audit the Christian faith? Should we do more? Let’s look at this week’s passage to find out.

Today’s text contains two verses from Romans 1 which are quite well known. Most scholars believe that these two verses are the theme for Romans. That is, these two verses represent the key to understanding Romans. And what does a key do? It unlocks something. In fact, one commentator attempts to show this by revealing how these two verses outline the rest of the letter.

      • The Gospel being the power to save is first for the Jew can be found in chapters 9-11.
      • The need to live by faith is found in chapters 12-15.
      • And the ability to live a righteous life, and indeed to find the salvation to do so, is the essence of chapters 1-11.

Thus, the only chapter not included in this simple outline is chapter 16 in which Paul address the members of the church – both Jew and Gentile – to encourage them in their faith, which is the essence of the letter (see 1.11-12).

But even as these verses are the key, that does not mean they are completely straightforward. On the surface, they appear to be, but verse 17, in particular, is quite interesting, and has perplexed theologians for centuries. I will cover verse 16 and 17 briefly today and elaborate on the challenges of verse 17 in my videos this coming week.

For today, I want to focus on the bigger picture of these two verses.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

First, Paul says, he is not ashamed of the gospel. In the previous sentence, he has indicated that one of the reasons he longs to come to Rome is to preach the gospel (see last week’s message). In one sense this notion should be evident because Paul had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel in Philippi, he had stood up to a riot because of it in Ephesus, he was chased from Thessalonica to Athens because of it, etc.

But people are ashamed of the gospel. Jesus says as much in Mark 8, when he said that He, Jesus, would be ashamed of them if they were ashamed of Him (see vv. 34-38). Paul also writes about not being ashamed to Timothy (2 Timothy 1.8,12). In both senses, the idea is that the shame comes from the fear of suffering and persecution.

Last week in India, a 7th grade boy, Samaru Madkami, was killed by a group of Hindu radicals. The report is that his throat was cut, his head was crushed with a rock, and then they cut his body into pieces. Why? He and his father, Unga, became Christians about three years ago. Since that time, young Samaru desired to be a pastor and was always sharing the Bible with children in the village. (1)

In other words, the boy was brutally murdered because of the gospel. Why would he risk his life? Why would Paul risk his life? Why should we risk such hostility for the sake of the gospel? Paul gives us the answer…

The Gospel Is the Power of God

It (the gospel) is the power of God for salvation. DL Moody once compared the gospel to a lion. All the preacher has to do is open the cage and get out of the way. To understand the gospel is to unleash the power of God in our lives.

That is the key for us. I will discuss salvation further in my Monday video this week, but before we are saved, everything is locked. The gospel is the key that unlocks all that God has for us. Now, God is still powerful whether or not we are saved. And God is still saving others by that power whether we choose to believe or not.

But the power of God that is mentioned here is the same power that has delivered salvation since the dawn of man. (Rick will cover some of that in his video this week.) It is not the power of the Roman empire that saves, it is the power of God. It was the power of God that fueled Jesus’ ministry. It was the power of God that brought Jesus back from the dead. It was the power of God that saved people in Paul’s day. It is the same power of God that makes salvation possible today.

Yes, the power of God is the key that unlocks the door to every other key. And knowing God’s power, Paul says with pride, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” So, how are we living? Are we living in boldness because of that power or are we living in fear? If we believe in the one true God, we have that same power residing within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to Timothy from a Roman prison at the end of his life, “fan into flame the gift of God…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1.6-7).

The Righteousness of God

With the power of God unlocked by the receipt of the gospel, we receive another key – the righteousness of God. This righteousness, amazingly, is for the Jew and the Gentile. It was made manifest first to the Jews (we see that throughout the OT), but it was always meant for the Gentile too (as we will see in Romans 15).

Notice the word revealed. The righteousness of God is revealed. How? By the gospel which saves due to the power of God. So, once we have the key (i.e. the gospel), then we can have salvation, which, in turn, reveals the righteousness of God. (2)

Personally, I believe Paul means that God’s righteousness becomes evident to us and becomes evident within us. Both forms of this evidence are due to God. We cannot become righteous on our own and, in fact, we would not even know what true righteousness is without the gospel being made known to us. I will speak more to this issue in Tuesday’s video.

A Matter of Faith

Finally, through the power of God the mystery of His righteousness is revealed which then allows God to begin to transform our lives as well. (3) As we are transformed (Rom 8.29), we learn to live according to the righteousness that He is instilling within us. We learn to live by faith that this world, and even our own insignificant self, is not all that there is. As someone has said, apart from one very minor exception, everything that exists is not you.

And yet, God sent His Son to die for each one of those minute exceptions. And, once we take the key that unlocks that truth, all of the rest of the locks begin to open as well – including the ability to live by faith within the righteousness of God.

CONCLUSION

In John 14.6, Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me. In other words, Jesus is the key. We cannot pick the lock, break the lock, cut the lock, blast the lock, etc. Only one key exists – and that key is the gospel of Jesus – that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised on the third day – for you and me.

How do you live your life? Are you ignoring what God has made possible? Are you attempting to audit a for-credit life? Or have you committed to living for the One who offers full credit based upon what He has already done?

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is OOBEY.

The righteous shall live by faith. So let us, in faith, live right – in obedience to the God that made our salvation possible by His power, and His love.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE.  Unashamed – in God’s power, with God’s righteousness, the life of faith He has called you to live.

As a congregation, we took time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the power, the righteousness, and the faith that is evident in the life of Jesus.

(1) https://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-teen-cut-into-pieces-by-radicals-in-india-3-years-after-conversion.html (Accessed June 11, 2020, 5:00 pm).

(2) Paul’s use of this phrase has puzzled theologians for years. I will explain some of the debate in a video on the church’s page this week. Search for Fairfax Baptist Church Missouri on YouTube.

(3) Again, Paul’s terminology “from faith for faith” and the way he quotes from Habakkuk 2.4 have caused a great deal of interpretative debate. I will explain some of this debate in a video this week as well.