Friday, November 10, 2017

Adam and Christ--Peace in a Troubled World


Bible Study for November 11, 2017
SS Teacher: Larry Evans

Note to Reader:  
Romans 5 is a pivotal chapter in the book of Romans.  It takes us a step beyond justification by faith by revealing the results of such a faith. Paul is adamant that neither good works nor sinful works be allowed to depreciate God’s gift to us. We must never try to add to nor take away from the gift.

Introduction

The German philosopher/theologian, Johann Herder, wrote
“We cannot know ourselves without a reference point outside ourselves.”
In many ways, this thought provides an important restatement for much of what we’ve learned so far in Romans. Our study this week is based on Romans 5.  Leading up to this chapter, Paul has brought us to an understanding of two very important points:

  1. God counts our faith as righteousness.
  2. God does not count our sins against us.

Both points defy human reasoning. Both thoughts are made possible by God offering Himself in the person of Jesus. Without seeing what the problem is we will have a hard time understanding the solution. To say that the problem is “sin” is an understatement, a cliché.  Without grasping what God originally had in mind for us and Him, without seeing what has happened to our relationship with Him (Gen. 3:9) and our relationship with ogthers (Gen. 4:9), we will have a hard time grasping the “wrath of God”.

Up to now, Romans 1-4, Paul has placed a lot of emphasis on our faith and trust in the God’s gift rather than on our efforts or accomplishments. That’s because a trust relationship was broken in Eden. Justification, or our being accounted as “righteous,” comes by God’s intervention and our trust in the provision that He has made.  This, of course, raised concerns about the relationship of the law to our own salvation. Paul points out that the law, simply stated, serves its purpose by revealing the problem. It is not intended to be the solution. Evil is not overcome by doing more good. The law is a diagnostic tool provided by God. The 10 Commandments, for example, begins with who God is and what He had done (see the preamble and Genesis 1 & 2) and then outlines where we have fallen short. The problem, we shall see, came initially because of Adam’s sin.  The consequences are seen in the reality of death even before the law was explicitly given.  The problem is not something we can solve but there is a response that can bring peace of heart and a hope that will be realized where there will be life where sin will be no more.

In chapter 5, Paul shifts the emphasis from faith to life, to the experiential results of having a faith relationship with Jesus.  Now that he has established how we are made right with God through a trust relationship what is the fruit of such an experience?

The Fruits of Justification by Faith
Romans 5:1-5

  • What are the fruits of justification?

1. Peace with God (v.1)
2. Access to God (v.2)
3. Joy (v.2)
4. Hope (5)

  • Are there by products associated with these fruits? See verses 3-5.

  • If these are the fruits of faith, what is it like to live without having been justified and having a trusting relationship with God?

  • How does the law complicate things?

  • How does the law help resolve the problem? 

  • Is there any tie-in with Adam and Eve’s sin and our sinful ways today? How are we similar? (What happened in Eden that is still prevalent today?

      • The tree became a symbol of independence from God.
      • Adam and Eve determined what was good by what was pleasing to them at the moment regardless of what God had told them leading them to choose a different source for wisdom. (Gen. 3:6).

No One Left Behind, Unless . . .
Romans 5:6-11

  • Who is an enemy of God? (Romans 5:10)
    • Note how the description progresses to that of being called an enemy:
      • “weak” (6a)
      • “ungodly” (6b)
      • “sinners” (8)
      • “enemies” (10)
      • [An enemy is not simply someone who falls a little short of being a trusted friend but someone who is opposed to what one is doing.  Is that what Hebrew 11 describes and what Revelation 13 prophecies

  • How bad do we have to be to lose out on eternal life? (Romans 5:8,10)
    • Sin is best understood when it is contrasted with God’s love!!

The Legacy of Adam or Christ’s? We Choose!
Romans 5:12-17

  • What possible hope do we have when we are so sinful? (Romans 5:5, 11)

  • What key word in verses 12-17 provide the basis of justification by faith?
    • The word “gift” is used 5 times in these six verses!
    • The righteousness that counts is not ours but Christ’s and it comes as a gift.

The Good News and the Bad News
Romans 5:17-21

  • The good news is that God’s grace unlocks what sin has held captive. (LRE)
  • The good news is that Christ died for every human being who has ever lived. The bad news is that not all receive or accept (17) God’s gracious gift. (G. Knight)

Conclusion

God is aware of our problem, of our weaknesses, and has made provision for our salvation. The anxiety of being at odds with God and with ourselves regarding our own inadequacy is replaced with a sense of “peace” even though we have not arrived to the point of being sinless.  How? Our trust is being placed in Jesus rather than in ourselves or in what we have done or will do.

Herder had it right:
“We cannot know ourselves without a reference point outside ourselves.”
 The good news is that we do not need end the paragraph with the realization that we are indeed sinful. No! Don’t stop there!  Because we have access to God through Jesus, because God Himself loves us too and has made available to us the gift of His righteousness.   Our acceptance of that gift brings peace and assurance. (Romans 5:1; 1 John 5:13). The “hope” that results is a certitude without wavering with assurance.

Friday, July 21, 2017

“Justification by Faith Alone”

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July 22, 2017
Sabbath School Study
Galatians 2:15-21

Presented by Larry R Evans

Introduction

”A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”  Galatians 2:16

A few years ago, I was on a flight from Seoul, Korea to Tokyo, Japan.  I had been in a conversation with my seatmate about my visit to her country and a few other places that I had visited.  She turned to me and asked, “What in the world do you do?” My answer surprised even me, “I travel around the world to bring hope.”  She then exclaimed, “I used to go to church but when no one could answer my questions, I quit going.”  She expected me to ask what the questions were but instead I began telling her stories about hope.  I told her about a young adult who was at the end of his rope with despair and contemplating suicide but when he heard about God’s love for him (in 4 simple points) and how He is in the business of restoring purpose and meaning to anyone’s life, he readily accepted my invitation to pray and commit his life to Jesus.  I also told about how my wife’s 13 years of visitation with the man who murdered our niece brought hope to this man causing him to leave the religion of Islam and seek to become a Christian.  Finally, in desperation because I did not ask what her questions were, she blurted out:

1.     Who wants to go to heaven and float around on a cloud?
2.     Why would anyone want to go to heaven and be with a God who torments sinners with unending fire in Hell?
3.     Why would any person want to go to church when hypocrites go there?

It was a fascinating discussion that ended not only with prayer 30,000 feet in the air but also a commitment on her part to go back to church.

Why do I tell this story when our subject is about “Justification by Faith Alone”?  I do so because the questions she raised and the subject for our study today is all about God and how we perceive His character and the plan he has for each of us.  Stay tuned.  I’ll unpack that with our study because I believe that how we understand God is ultimately the fundamental issue behind the passage that is being examined today.

Much of what Paul is saying in Galatians is about “law.”  As you may know, the word law can mean many things such as: the 10 commandments, the entire Old Testament and man-made religious laws.  Context is the best way to determine which law or laws are being referred to.  However, does it really make any difference if we are justified (or declared righteous) by “faith alone?”

So, with that introduction, there are a number of terms we need discuss as we go through the lesson:

1.     What is justification?
2.     What is righteousness? Whose righteousness are we talking about and can we achieve it?
3.     What is meant in our passage by “works of law” and “belief”?
4.     What is “faith” and what is meant by the “faith of Jesus?”

That’s a huge undertaking for the 20 minutes given for our study.  I would like to emphasize again, that our outcome should leave each of us with a greater appreciation of the character of God and the hope and assurance that comes from that appreciation.

Let’s begin by reading the entire passage:  Galatians 2:14-21.  Before we do, please note why the subject came up at all in the message left for us by the Apostle Paul?  Was it a theological debate or was it a social concern or both?  Is the way we respond to others who differ with us a reflection of our theological beliefs or are we making an ego defense statement?

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”  -- Galatians 2:14-21 (NKJV)

It becomes clear that Paul is addressing a “social” concern between the relationship of Jews and Gentiles. No doubt the social concern has theological implications.  Of all people, Peter betrayed his own theological understanding. How did he do that?  While he was with the Gentiles he ate with them.  But then, things changed when he was in the company of his fellow Jewish believers whose acceptance he desired. Behind this, however, was the belief that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised just has the Jews had been.  He then reverted to the idea that acceptance by God required “faith + circumcision.” This caused Paul to react!  He feared that the gospel would be weakened—not strengthened by such a formula. Paul saw the compromise so blatant that it would minimize Christ’s own sacrifice and even taint the understanding of who God is.

Although Peter was a leader of the church, he was acting like a hypocrite. He knew better, yet he was driven by fear of what James and the others would think. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap.” Paul knew that he had to confront Peter before his actions damaged the church. So, Paul publicly opposed Peter. Note, however, that Paul did not go to the other leaders, nor did he write letters to the churches telling them not to follow Peter’s example. Instead, he opposed Peter face to face. Sometimes sincere Christians, even Christian leaders, make mistakes. And it may take other sincere Christians to get them back on track. 

The culture of the day had more impact on his social behavior in this instance than his own gospel belief.   This seems to be “Lesson #1” – Beware: the power of our past can overshadow even what we have come to believe in our minds.

Instead of learning what the law was to teach “them”, the laws were interpreted as a way of convincing or persuading God to accept or favor them!  The advantage of knowing God (or “of” God) gave caused the Jews to have sense of superiority over the Gentiles whom they referred to as “sinners.” The truth is, God was already favorable towards them!  What was needed was a change of mind and heart.  This truth is born out even in the Old Testament when the 10 Commandments were given.

Often the 10 Commandments are read with little attention to their preamble. Before any commandment was given, God reminded his “saved” people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Ex. 20:1)  If already delivered/saved why was the law given?  Clearly, in the context of verse 1, they were given as guardrails to give direction and to keep them from falling back into the ways of Egypt!  The law was never a means of being saved.  I’ve never heard anyone who advocates that the 10 Commandment law is no longer binding include verse 1 with that thought yet they are inseparably linked.  God’s grace always precedes anything He asks of us.  Our obedience is not a matter of changing God’s mind.  Rather, our obedience is a response of gratitude for what He has already done.  We trust His wisdom and not that of our surrounding culture.  The Sabbath, for example, is not a means of earning favor with God or assuring us of a place in heaven.  The Sabbath is a reminder of what God has already done and serves as a call to place our trust in Him and not in Human wisdom or speculation. A reversal of that concept is a human tendency and it was this trap that led Peter to compromise the divine principle.

The terms used by Paul and bantered back and forth in Sabbath School classes can be confusing.  Let’s take a look at verses 15,16a where a number of key terms are used:

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, . . .”

1.     “justified” – [Dikaioo) to be regarded or declared just or innocent – declared righteous. In Romans 5:1 Paul says, “we have been justified through faith . . . “

2.     “the works of the law Implied is the assumption that the works of any law would serve as the basisforf justification.

3.     “by faith in Jesus Christ”There is but one way to be justified or to be found “righteous” and that is by accepting Jesus and allowing His righteousness to be yours.  As one commentator (Herman N. Ridderbos) wrote: “. . . justification come to man not from his works, not from something in himself, but from his relationship with Christ.”

George Knight reflects our earlier point regarding Exodus 20 and the preamble of the 10 Commandments: “In short, obedience does not lead to a saving relationship with Christ, but it doe flow out of it as Christ lives out His life in us (Galatians 2:20).  Justification, for Paul, always leads to ethical living.” (Gospel’s in Conflict, p. 40)

John Calvin, the great Reformer,  summarized Paul well when he wrote,
“Paul’s meaning therefore is: “We, who appear to excel others, — we, who, by means of the covenant, have always enjoyed the privilege of being nigh to God, (Deuteronomy 4:7,) have found no method of obtaining salvation, but by believing in Christ: why, then, should we prescribe another method to the Gentiles?”

Conclusion

So much more could and needs to be said but perhaps the heart’s desire of David found in Psalm 143 expresses the truth of Galatians 2:14-21 quite well:

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous. (vss 1,2)

I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. (v 6)

Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
Revive me, O Lord, for Your name's sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. (vss 9-11)

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Note Regarding Circumcision:

The rite of circumcision is introduced for the first time in Genesis 17 when Abram, who was 99 years old, was promised to be the “father of many nations.”  In verse 4-5 God says He would make Abram the “father of many nations.”  Abram would not make himself the “father” of many nations.

Associated with this promise is the statement by God that He “would give” the “whole land of Canaan” to Abram and his descendants.

It is in this context (the phrase “Then God said” in verse 9 makes this link explicit) that circumcision is given as “a sign” of what “God” would do.  It was given as an expression of God’s intent to bring salvation to the whole world without being dependent on procreation.  God, Himself would be the One giving them the land, the One making the promise to bring it about.  It would not come about through what man would do to create a lineage but rather through what God would do.

Circumcision, then, is a sign that the parent had accepted by faith their partnership with God.  They acknowledged that their future is a gift by God and thus their dependence rested upon what He would do for them.

Circumcision was always meant to be a sign of faith and not as a means of “works.”  The gift of God was distorted and turned it into the works of man and ultimately mischaracterized God and impeded His promises.