Posts for August 2010
5 Posts found

Romans 7.7-15 – The law, sin and salvation.
Posted: 24 August 2010 in Romans

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

Although the terminology may not have been current in his day, Paul is here talking about our fallen nature. At least in part, the Mosaic law was given so that we could become aware of our corrupt nature. To some extent the same is true of the Sermon on the Mount. Without exception, every single one of us falls far short of the standard which God sets before us. Therefore, if we are sufficiently self aware, self righteousness ought to be impossible. The same self awareness ought to make us sensible of our utter dependence upon God’s mercy, and upon the salvation offered in Christ. As Paul says a bit further on:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The reason that, even today, we still feel tempted to effect our own salvation can probably be put down to the same pride which brought about the fall in the first place. (The motive for atheism can sometimes be the desire to assert an illusory self sufficiency, and also desire to insist upon a complete independence of anything beyond ourselves.)

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Luke 7.28-30 – Repentance
Posted: 23 August 2010 in Luke

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

That the materially and spiritually poor tend to be open to God, in a way that the secure and self-righteous are not, is a motif which recurs throughout the New Testament. In terms of human psychology, it is not hard to understand why that should be so.

There are two kinds of false security which can separate us from God. One kind of false security is characterised by self righteousness. Here people feel sure that they have led morally impeccable lives. They have read the Bible regularly, attended church every Sunday, and have worked for the welfare of others. That such a lifestyle is laudable is not to be disputed, but it counts for nothing if it leads to the kind of self righteousness which separates us from God, and from any sense that we actually need God in our lives. After all, somebody with the above lifestyle might tell themselves that a just God will have no option, but to grant them entry into the heavenly realms come judgment day. They can have no further need of that God until the time comes for him to grant them their just rewards.

The other kind of false security is characterised by its contemptuous dismissal of anything beyond the material realm. Here people will have had great success in their career, they have two (expensive) cars in their garage, a large house, holidays in the world’s most exotic locations, and more than enough set aside for them to be sure a comfortable retirement. With so much material security, and the accompanying sense of being in control of their own destiny, what need have they of God and the Spirit which bloweth (them) where it will?

Finally, of course, there is the so called “Prosperity Gospel” which manages to combine both of the other two kinds of false security.

The poor, on the other hand, have no such illusions. They certainly have no reason to feel materially secure, and they are also unlikely to be esteemed as pillars of society. For them the news that they are nevertheless loved and by God is really good news, and placing their trust in God provides them with the only security available to them. This leads in the well known paradox that it is those without material wealth, and who are despised by society, who are the most blessed by God.

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Romans 4.13-16 & 6.1-4 – Salvation and works
Posted: 21 August 2010 in Romans

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.”

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

In the first of the two passages above, Paul is setting forth a well known principle of Christian theology – namely that salvation is by faith through grace. Ever since the fall, all men, without exception, have been guilty of routinely disobeying God’s commandments. Therefore, if works of the Law were the means of salvation, all men would stand condemned, and, furthermore, God’s purposes in bringing his elect to salvation would be frustrated. So salvation instead comes through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

However, whenever that principle is enunciated, the objection is soon heard that it amounts to antinomianism – the heresy that says we can do as we like, disobey God, and lead a generally immoral life, because after all, the elect are going to be saved anyway.

The reason that objection doesn’t hold water lies in the nature of saving faith. Any genuine bestowal of grace works a change in the heart, and brings about a real desire to work for God’s praise and glory. This desire is not now a self obsessed attempt to work our own salvation through works, but it is, instead, the result of the Holy Spirit working in us to turn our stubborn heart towards God.

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Luke 17.7-10 – Salvation through grace, not works
Posted: 20 August 2010 in Luke

But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

The thrust of these verses from Luke is obviously that, since we are under an obligation to obey all of God’s commandments, and to live as he would have us live, God can never be put in our debt, and salvation cannot, therefore, be through works. Even if we did manage to live a perfect life, we would still have done no more than fulfill our prior obligations to God. Since we are fallen creatures, we do not, in practice, manage to do even that. Any idea that we can place God in our debt must be put from our minds. The reality of the situation is that we are permanently (and sinfully) in God’s debt, and we never live as he would have us live.

The thought which must particularly be put from our minds is that salvation can be achieved through works. If salvation is to come to us at all, it must come as an unmerited gift from God, and as a free act of his love. He can in no sense be thought of as fulfilling an obligation to us.

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Isaiah 45.7 & Luke 4.24-27
The implications of divine sovereignty
Posted: 19 August 2010 in Isaiah, Luke

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

“And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.”

Isaiah 45.7 is one of the few places in the Bible where the logical consequences of monotheism are spoken out loud; namely that an omnipotent God must ultimately be responsible for the existence of both good and evil. Furthermore, the passage from Luke makes it clear that God will only intervene to prevent evil, or alleviate it consequences, when it suits his wider purposes to do so.

It is easy to see why the above can make Christians feel uncomfortable, but it is simply a matter of historical fact that God has allowed some horrendous evils to exist in furtherance of his eternal purposes. Again, we are his creatures, and he is the Creator, so this in no way implies that we are in a position to sit in judgment upon the God who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1.11).

It is, instead, for us to bow before the God who is Lord of all things.

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