Archive for the 'Romans' Category

22
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (2)… dead to law

If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications.   We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world.  Death severs all relationships in this world. 

If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.

Dead to the Law

 Questions

  • Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
  • Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
  • Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
  • Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities  Cf. Gals 4:9).  In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,

 Rom 6:14 (ESV)
 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21).  Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule.  In Romans 7:1-6 he makes  essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
 
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died.  Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands).  Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ.  Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them.  They are not obligated to him any more.  Why?  They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights.  Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.

Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy.  We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post.  Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).

  • The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
 

Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power.  Law  (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand.  Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19).  Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.  

Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
  • The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways.  Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.

Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification.  The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works.  Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21).  Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).

However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible.  Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10).  Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10).  From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19).  We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people.  It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless.  Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7).  By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20).  The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15).  Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it.  This is, in fact, what happened in Christ.  As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)

Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011)
 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).

The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals.  However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification.  The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification.   The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’.  Such assertions are entirely mistaken.  Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian.  Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  Christ is sufficient for all things.

For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law.  He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here.  Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not.  There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it.  We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification.  The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions.  If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4).  We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous.  The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.

The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is.  Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify.  Paul is clear and emphatic on this.  Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification.  The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5).  It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it.  Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4).  All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.

Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers?  He sends us back to the law as our rule of life.  Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this?  Where does the NT teach this?  Paul says something quite different.

Rom 7:6 (ESV)
 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

And what does the Spirit do?  Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code?  Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is?  Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’?  Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’?   No he doesn’t.  Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience.  The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.

We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel.  The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus.  The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ.  He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26).  In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification.  It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me.  Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears.  It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.  Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20).  Under grace, we are taught by grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011)
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit.  The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives.  It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short.  Look at the person under law in Roms 7;  he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration.  The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self.  He focuses our attention on Christ.  He sets our mind and affections on things above.  He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

2Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We never need more than Christ.  In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18).  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3).  We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10).  What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ.  What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ.  It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth.  We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).

An imperfect illustration

Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty.  Do you obey them?  You see speeding cameras too.  You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it.  Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them.  The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.

But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them?  Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.

Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.

To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ.  Mark this well.  If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground.  These Colossian believers were in such danger.  They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance.  They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law.  They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness.  Paul is perplexed and appalled.  They have not grasped the significance of the cross.  Notice what he says

Col 2:8-23 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
 
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
 
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
 
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Do you see his point?  The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance.  We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31).  Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly.  It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience.  It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.

But all this belongs to the old age before Christ.  In Christ we died to this.  Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia.  At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced.  Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’.  We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).

We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God.  They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life.  They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it.  Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God.  We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6).  That is why Paul says,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven.  We must focus on Christ.  He is the source of our life.  He is our satisfaction.  He is our food and drink.  He is our vision.  He is our altar.  He is our High Priest.  He is our sacrifice.  He stirs and satisfies the heart.  As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight.  We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.

No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us.  We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity.  Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)

None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16).   However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey.  Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.

  • It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law.  This is exegetically indefensible.
  • It emasculates the law.   If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10).  To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it.  Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21)  We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission.   It is a covenant which cannot be altered.  We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
  • It means living culturally as a Jew.  If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all.  Law is a covenant agreement.  We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10).  We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant.  The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26).  Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
  • It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking.  The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
  • It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway.  We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc.  The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19).  Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).  

Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands.  Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies.  It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love.  This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart.  Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity.  Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation.  Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).

Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The cross means an end to law-keeping religion.  For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16).  The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify.  We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it.  Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

22
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (2)

Our previous post argued that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel’ (Roms 1:17) he means precisely that; in the gospel God reveals himself acting righteously, that is, acting consistently with all he is in himself (Roms 3:21-26).  Among the ways God reveals himself acting righteously is in declaring righteous those who are ungodly; he passes a verdict of righteous (justifies) on people who are unrighteous.  How he does so righteously remains to be explored, however, what ‘justifying the ungodly‘ (Roms 4:4) does underline is that the righteous standing of sinners is not one they deserve but one God gifts.  Thus Paul speaks of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Roms 5:17), in fact, lest there is any doubt he speaks of, ‘the free gift’ of righteousness (Roms 5:15,16,17), indeed ‘a free gift by grace’ (Roms 5:15,17; 3:24).  In this sense our righteousness is truly ‘of God’.  It finds its source, initiative, and quality or nature in God.  Paul writes,

Phil 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.

But how can a righteous God declare righteous the unrighteous?  How can he render a righteous verdict on lives that are unrighteous?  On the face of it, such an apparently false verdict does not glorify God’s righteousness but shames and disgraces it.  Where is God’s righteousness in imputing (reckoning or counting) righteous those who are ungodly?

Scripture tells us faith is imputed or reckoned as righteousness (Roms 4:4).  Does this mean that faith itself is the righteousness that God requires to declare us righteous?  No, for this would make righteousness ‘of man’ and not ‘of God.  Understood in this way faith becomes a form of works and the righteousness procured ‘my own’ (a righteousness which Paul repudiates) and not a righteous standing sourced in God. Besides faith itself does not deal with the problem of human unrighteousness; faith cannot cancel existing guilt and is not said to so do.  No, while faith is reckoned for righteousness it is not because faith is itself righteous. The reason faith counts as righteousness must be found elsewhere?

Is, as some say, the righteous life of Christ imputed to the believer as his righteousness?  Well, certainly Scripture does not say it is.  Scripture does not say that God takes the righteous life of Christ and reckons it to us as righteousness.  To be sure the righteous life of Christ gives value and worth to Christ’s death nevertheless the life of Christ it is not said to be imputed.  We must let Scripture speak and not our traditions. Again and again Scripture locates the basis of God’s justifying verdict in the death of Christ.  It is there and there only God finds a basis to declare the ungodly righteous.  The death of Jesus is God’s great initiative to establish a righteousness sourced in him and displaying his glory.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice, we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift‘.  Why?  How?  ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood’.  Here, is God’s righteousness in the gospel.  Here is solved and unveiled the justifying verdict of the unrighteous. Here God finds an adequate moral motive to ‘justify the ungodly‘.  In sinners there is none, in the blood of Christ there is.

Redemption was necessary.  Sin had created a debt that must be paid. It is an offence that must be addressed.  Left unpunished sin impugns God’s righteousness.  God’s glory is at stake where sin is unjudged. The debt of sin must be met. The price must be paid.  It could of course have been paid by God simply wiping out humanity.  But such a way of displaying his righteousness is not where the heart of God truly lies.  He wishes to righteously bless not curse, save not destroy.  Thus the glorious wisdom of the cross. Here God’s heart of love and grace is displayed in all his righteousness in salvation.  Here the debt of man is paid in full and in such a way that God is perfectly glorified in who he essentially is.  

How is this redemptive debt paid?  By faith? No.  By Christ’s life imputed? No. It is paid by the value of the blood of Christ.  Christ’s blood is the ransom price (Rev 5:9).  In the words of Romans again, ‘ and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood, to be received by faith.’

This language is alien to us unless we are familiar with the ceremonies of the OT law (intended as models of what would  be realized in Christ). To these we must turn if we are to understand the basis of our justification.

the mercy-seat

When Israel left Egypt they travelled through the desert living in tents.  God resided among them in his own tent (the tabernacle); it was his travelling palace and sanctuary.  In the innermost tent of this travelling palace was the ark of the covenant.  The ark was a box containing (among other things) the two tablets of the covenant, the law. Covering the box was a slab of pure gold called ‘the mercy-seat’ above which were cherubim (symbols of rule and authority). Although God could not be contained by heaven and earth, the ark was God’s designated throne in the world. From it he ruled Israel and in fact the nations. He ruled righteously, the tablets of law below the throne expressing what he required of man.  If they were flouted then God’s righteous anger would necessarily be aroused for he hates all unrighteousness.  It defies him and destroys all that is good and right.  His throne is dishonoured  and everything defiled by it.  Where sin erupts  under his rule (a defiance of all that God is) his glory (all that he is) must be upheld thus judgement and cleansing/purging must take place.  

And the reality, of course, is that Israel did sin and did arouse God’s anger.  Their sin both defied and defiled yet in grace God provided for sin.  Mercy was available from the very seat of his throne.  It was called, as we noted, ‘the mercy-seat’ or ‘covering’.  Its title hints at its function; although the seat of God’s throne from which he ruled it suggested that God’s rule in a sinful world, although righteous, would be merciful and would provide a covering for broken law.  But it could not be merciful per se.  The slab did not cover sin just by existing.  It functioned in mercy and became a covering for a broken law only when sprinkled with blood.  The blood of an animal sacrificed as a sin offering must be splattered on the mercy-seat and it was the value that God placed on the blood of the sacrifice that enabled him to forgive sins and cleanse from unrighteousness.

The blood meant the High Priest and people (both sinful) did not die, instead the judgement was borne by the sacrifice and God’s holy justice satisfied*.  The blood provided purification.  It cleansed. It made a sinful people clean before God (Lev 16:16, 30).  The blood of a slain goat apparently satisfied God’s moral nature enabling him to accept as righteous an unrighteous people; it (along with the scapegoat) made atonement (Lev 16:16). Blood enabled a throne that must otherwise, because of sin, be a throne of righteous judgement, become a throne of righteous mercy; God could justly justify.

The basic principle of the OT is that it is blood that atones and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebs 9:18-22).   However, these OT sacrifices were of mere dumb animals, in reality they had no atoning worth.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebs 10:4). These sacrifices were not pleasing (of moral value) to God (Hebs 9:8).  Their fragrance was merely sensory and not spiritual. Their value was symbolic and not substantial.  They had no intrinsic moral virtue that could deal with the problem of sin.  They but pointed forward to blood of a different value; the blood of Christ.  When Scripture speaks of the blood of animals it simply speaks of ‘blood’ but when it speaks of the blood of Christ it is always identified distinctly with him; it is ‘his blood’ (Roms 3:25), ‘the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16), ‘the blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27); ‘his own blood’ (Acts 20:28), ‘Jesus blood’ (Hebs 10:19), for it is ‘precious (valuable) blood’ (1 Pet 1:19)

It is the value of this blood, his blood, that enables righteous mercy.  Here was not the blood of an uncomprehending animal but the blood of a Son who voluntarily came to do the will of he who sent him. Animal sacrifices though chosen carefully by men were worthless, Christ’s body, fashioned by God for the express purpose of sacrifice, would be the sacrifice to fulfil and finish all sacrifice (Hebs 10:5).  Every aspect of his full and selfless obedience in life prepared him to be the perfect flawless sacrifice for sin. Every step in life was one of intentional consecrated obedience in the direction of the cross where he would be the sin-bearer.  The cross with all its awful implications of sin-bearing and divine judgement was willingly embraced because it was the will of God.  Here was immeasurable obedience.  Here was a righteous act of surpassing moral worth – the Holy One willing to be made sin and become a curse, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree, the one who had life in himself entering death and dismissing from his body, his spirit.  Here in this conscious and deliberate act of self-immolation, intended that God may act in and through it and be perfectly glorified in all that he is - his truth, wisdom, power, holy wrath, grace, love and righteousness – a ransom was found that redeemed.  The debt of sin was cancelled and indeed so great was the glory that this bloody selfless sacrifice bought to God, God was in turn indebted.  If Christ in an intentionally sin-bearing death (ordained by God and undertaken by his Son) brought such glory to God then God was in righteousness obligated to honour this intent.  He must show mercy for mercy is that for which this righteous blood cries.  Mercy is God’s only righteous response.  And, of course, he does, for the mercy which this blood demands is the same mercy that the throne upon which it lies splattered delights.   Blood, the blood of Christ, is the great basis of justification (Roms 5:9). Hear once more the words of Romans 3

Rom 3:25-26 (HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Here then, is the basis of the justifying righteousness of God, apart from law-keeping, though both law and prophets bore witness to it. It is as simple and plain as it is sublime.  The infinite value of Christ’s atoning blood is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness by faith.   When God sees Christ in death he sees a mercy-seat covered in blood, the blood of sacrifice for sin, blood that pays debt and cleanses and thus he can be righteous and declare righteous those who have faith in Jesus.  This is the righteousness ‘of God’; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Thus with Horatius Bonar we say

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God

’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

And with Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

 

 *  Controversy rages as to whether atonement simply expiates (removes sin) or also propitiates (removes wrath).  It appears to do both.  Wrath after all is simply the divine reaction to sin.  Thus, if the blood does not atone the High Priest and nation die. Death here, as always, is punishment, it is judicial wrath.  In fact, the institution of the Day of Atonement is a direct result of God’s wrath erupting in fiery judgement, a symbol of consuming wrath, because of disobedience (Lev 16:1).

Lev 10:1-7 (ESV)
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Fire consuming is a symbol of purifying judgement.

Exod 15:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, ​​​​​​​your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; ​​​​​​​you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. ​​​

Deut 4:23-24 (ESV2011)
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Lam 2:3 (ESV2011)
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

Thus the fire that consumes the sacrifice implies righteous wrath and judgement, propitiation.

Lev 6:8-13 (ESV)
​The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

Lev 6:24-30 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.

 

23
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (2)

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
I am not ashamed of the gospel… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…

A world that is right is what is needed.  Creation groans eager to birth a world right in every way,  a new world suffused with righteousness where righteousness is the plumb-line (Isa 28:17),  flows like the waves of the sea (Isa 48:18), ​​​​​​​and like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).   The yearning of the righteous is for a creation where the clouds rain down righteousness (Isa 45:8) and righteousness sprouts from the ground like a fruit (Isa 45:8), and where all the people are oaks of righteousness before the Lord (Isa 61:3).

But…  the reality is far from this.

Unrighteousness is the reigning paradigm.  Creation’s steward has despoiled it with unrighteousness and its fruits.  This anatomy of human unrighteousness Paul lays bare in Roms 1:18-3:20: absurd idolatry (1:18-22); unnatural sexuality (1:24-27); brutish behaviour (1: 28-31); permissive morality (1:32); and, perhaps worst of all, moral and religious hypocrisy, epitomised most clearly in the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people (2;1-29).

The Jewish nation believed themselves a cut above all other nations, and they were.  They were God’s chosen people.  They alone had been given God’s Law.  They were God’s chosen mouthpiece to the nations (2:17-20).  Yet Paul is unambiguous – they too have failed and failed abysmally (2:21,22).  The Law was of little value if they did not keep it; the unrighteousness of the supposedly righteous, is the greatest unrighteousness of all (2:23).

The conclusion is as inevitable as it is chilling; if  the most privileged nation on earth (Israel) was pervasively and incorrigibly unrighteous what hope had any other – every mouth is stopped and the whole world is guilty before God (3:20). Because of wilful unrighteousness, the wrath of God is announced from heaven and is inevitably coming (1:18, 2:5-11).  What humanity need fear is not its destructive self, nor even on-going tsunamis, earthquakes and famines awful though they may be, but the final, dreadful, terrifying cataclysmic judgement of a God whose patience has finally ended and who is determined to purge his creation of its moral filth, consigning the unrighteous to Gehenna, the eternal burnings.  Such righteous judgement is the only righteous way for a righteous God to act.

Or is it?  Is a vision of a righteous universe where all the people are ‘oaks of righteousness’ and ‘justice flows like rivers and righteousness like an ever-ending stream’ no more than a prophetic pipe dream?  Is it merely a Seer’s romantic fancy? Is God’s righteousness something we must inevitably fear for it means we must perish?  Thankfully, it is not.

The glory of the gospel is its declaration that God has found a way to be merciful in righteousness, a way to righteously declare the unrighteous, righteous,  a way to establish righteousness by saving not destroying.

The  previous post noted four points about this gospel righteousness implicit in Roms 1:17.  It is… eschatological righteousness … God’s righteousness… saving righteousness… and righteousness received by faith.  In Roms 3;21-26 Paul expands all four aspects.  In five key verses of compressed theology Paul explains the central elements of the saving righteousness of God.  Any attempt to understand what the Bible means by ‘righteousness of God’ must grapple with this text.  I shall comment on a number of its expressions hoping to unpack some of its meaning.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

But now…

Paul’s ‘But now‘ signals a contrast.  The contrast is not simply a change in his exposition but more particularly a change in eras -  a change in God’s working in history.  The previous era of Law which condemned by exposing human unrighteousness  has given way to a new era of gospel which saves by exhibiting God’s righteousness.  The eschatological age of salvation-righteousness predicted by the OT prophets has now arrived.  As J R W Stott writes,

The ‘Now seems to have a threefold reference – logical (the developing argument), chronological (the present time), and eschatological (the new age has arrived).

Israel believed that its salvation and that of the world lay in the Law of God (2:17-20); in law-keeping lay righteousness and life.  It was a profound mistake.  The Law, even before it had properly embedded, was exposed as inadequate to establish righteousness.  Even as the tablets of the covenant were being given by God to Moses on Sinai, they were being broken on the plains below as the people worshipped an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32).  This incident portended the future.  The Law would not keep the people from being just as depraved as the surrounding nations who had no such Law.  It was clear that the Law could not deliver righteousness or deliver from wrath, all it could do was expose sin.  As Paul writes,

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

If righteousness (and so life) was to be established then it would need to be from another source than humanity.  And so the prophetic voice, informed by the Lord, announced a righteousness sourced not in man but in God (3:21).  It anticipated a time when God himself would act in salvation and righteousness and establish both.  It spoke of the ‘good news’ of God’s coming saving righteousness, this saving righteousness Paul says has now arrived, or ‘been manifested‘.  (Of course, God’s saving righteousness always existed.  From Adam sinners were always justified by God’s righteousness received by faith, but now this righteousness is ‘revealed’, that is, the death of Christ has accomplished and exhibited it.  The gospel, once anticipated, has now been realised and fully revealed.)

righteousness of God apart from law (without law)…

We should reflect deeply on this expression.

  • Paul does not say the Law is one example of God’s righteousness and the Gospel is another.  For Paul, the Law never reveals God’s righteousness, what it reveals (if kept) is man’s righteousness.  It is only and always the gospel that reveals ‘righteousness of God’.  We create a non-Pauline paradigm and so confusion when we speak of the Law as revealing God’s righteousness.  I repeat, for Paul, only the gospel does this.
  • Paul does not say, ‘In the gospel righteousness is established not by you keeping the Law but by Jesus keeping the Law in your place and on your behalf’.  If this is what gospel righteousness is then here would have been the ideal and obvious place for Paul to have said so.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he insists on the opposite.  He states unequivocally, that the ‘righteousness of God’ has nothing to do with law-keeping.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Law.   It is righteousness ‘apart from law’ or ‘without law’, that is, it is righteousness different in premise and principle, and in fact belonging to a different period of redemptive history altogether.   This is a critical point to grasp for failure to appreciate this contributes to mistaken ideas in justification that plague much Evangelical thinking, particularly Reformed Evangelical thinking.  Gospel righteousness is not simply law-righteousness gained for me by another (IAO). It is not merely law-righteousness by another route, by the back door.   It is righteousness of a different kind, of a different epoch, and of a different source altogether.  This is precisely why Paul emphatically refers to this righteousness as... ‘righteousness of God apart from law’
  • The old era of Law put the emphasis on human responsibility; it looked for righteousness in man.  The righteousness of Law was predicated on ‘do this and live’.  It promised life for righteous living.  Yet, though this was its promise it was not its intent.  God did not give the Law hoping to establish righteousness through fallen human beings but to prove conclusively the futility of such a route to righteousness; he gave it to expose sin (3:20).  Only when all human attempts at righteousness have been exposed as the abysmal and abject failure they are, establishing beyond doubt humanity’s incorrigible unrighteousness and moral bankruptcy (Roms 3:9-20), does God reveal the glory and grace of his own saving righteousness.  Only when it is  established in history that humanity cannot be the architect of its own salvation will God’s salvation-righteousness be revealed.  God will have it crystal clear that if there is to be a saving righteousness then it will be and must be his and not man’s, and that the only ‘righteousness’ celebrated and boasted eternally will be God’s; boasting and glorying in any other is anathema (2:23, 3:27, 4:1,2; 1 Cor 1:28-30).  The gospel reveals God’s righteousness and in it he is glorified and no other.

Of course humanity refuses to learn the lesson of Israel and the Law.  It still seeks to establish its own righteousness.  But it does so against the damning evidence of history.  If Israel failed under Law all have failed (3:20).  Humanity post-cross is pronounced ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)  There is no hope in human righteousness; hope of averting God’s wrath (1:18) lies only in the gospel, in ‘righteousness of God’.

I would add one further comment here.  We should not confuse ‘God’s righteousness‘ and ‘Christ’s righteousness’.  When Romans speaks of ‘God’s righteousness‘ it means just that, ‘God’s‘ righteousness.  It does not mean the righteousness of Christ.  God’s saving righteousness of course intimately involves Christ as the text we are considering shows but we confuse Paul’s thought if we conflate Christ’s righteousness and God’s righteousness.  They are distinct and should be kept distinct.  That Paul means ‘God’s‘ righteousness is emphatic in the text.  Three times in five verses we read of  ‘God’s righteousness‘  (3: 21,22, 25. Cf. 1:17, 10:3; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21) and once of  ‘his righteousness’ , meaning God’s (3:26).

The text could hardly be more emphatic; in the gospel the eschatological age of salvation has dawned.  It is an age where God’s righteousness is the focus and no other (Cf 3:27).  When we have established that Paul’s focus is God’s righteousness, not man’s, not even Christ’s, we have established something profoundly important and we are thinking across the synapses of the gospel.

witnessed by the Law and prophets

I have already alluded to this expression above.  If there is discontinuity between the Law and the gospel (both different epochs based on different sources of righteousness) then there is also continuity.  The continuity lies in the predictive element of both the Law and the prophets (often a term that covers the whole of the OT).

How did the Law predict the gospel?  Principally and specifically, the gospel is predicted in the sacrificial system of the Law.   Thus the following verses speak of redemption, sacrifice and the mercy-seat as the means by which God’s righteousness is revealed and administered (22-25).  The prophets, as we have already seen, regularly anticipated the Age of Salvation when the righteousness of the Lord would be revealed (  E.g. Isa 46:13; 51:5,6,8).

And so, in 3:21 Paul begins to put in context the ‘righteousness of God‘.  In the verses which follow he unpacks the meaning of the expression.  We shall consider these verses in a further blog.  For now let me re-assert we have understood nothing of the rationale of the gospel if we have not grasped this fundamental truth – the gospel is nothing if it is not ‘righteousness of God’.

02
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (1)

Righteousness gets a bad press in life.  In fact, it is a word rarely used today (we may speak of justice, or right, but not righteousness).  If used or conceptualised it tends to suggest ideas of a moral uprightness devoid of love.  We connect it with assumed moral superiority; righteousness for us means self-righteousness.   Even in biblical times such impressions of righteousness were current.  That is why Paul says,

Rom 5:7-8 (ESV)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But righteousness is not a cold charity, it is all that is good and right.  Imagine a world where everyone does from the heart what is right in every situation.  Imagine fathers who always act just as a father should or husbands who always are proper husbands.  Think of leaders who are utterly responsible in their role as leaders.  Leaders who care passionately about true justice and the rights of those they lead.  Imagine all creation giving the Creator the glory and worship that are rightly his.

Righteousness is right-living flowing from hearts that love what is right and hate what is wrong.  It is behaviour (in motive, thought and action) totally consistent with what ought to be.   While righteousness requires a holy nature or heart it is probably better, at least in the strictest sense, not to speak of inherent or intrinsic righteousness.  Righteousness is always in reference to something.  In God, righteousness is all that is consistent with who he is in himself; in us, it is consistency with the demands of the created relationships  in which he has placed us.  I may be inherently holy (God is) but I am righteous if I do what is required of me (1 Jn 3:7).

And so, righteousness means a world where everyone is right and everyone receives his rights;  and so too, it is a vision of a world without guilt (for there is no wrong-doing) and without grief (for there is none and nothing to harm and none who deserve to be harmed).  Such a utopian world is the stuff of dreams. It is the kind of society that many labour to achieve but never do.  Men are always frustrated not simply by the unrighteousness of others but by the unrighteousness of their own lives. This is the anxiety of the human condition.  No matter how hard we try we cannot begin to come close to achieving the kind of personal righteousness far less societal righteousness that we know should exist.  We are stymied at every turn by endemic unrighteousness.  When we know what is right we so often simply don’t do it even at the most rudimentary and basic level.  The chaos and injustice of life is ample evidence of this even if we are unaware of our own hearts.  We cannot even achieve a modicum of personal or societal righteousness that may satisfy us as human beings and make for a fairer world, even less can we achieve the deep and radical righteousness of motive and action that would be heaven on earth and be pleasing to God.  There is none righteous, no not one.

Yet such a world will one day exist.  The Bible anticipates ‘a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells’, or, ‘where righteousness is at home’ (2 Pet 3:13).  Romans is the primary book in the Bible that tells us how this cosmic and radically righteous creation will be achieved.  It reveals the basic building blocks on which it is founded.  In fact, the establishing of righteousness is the ‘good news’ that constitutes the Christian gospel.

In Romans 1 Paul introduces this gospel.  He describes it like this.

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

  • the righteousness of God  is saving righteousness or gospel righteousness

The gospel is about ‘salvation (Roms 1:16) and it is in this context of ‘salvation’ that ‘righteousness of God” is revealed. God will of course be righteous in his final judgement on the wicked just as he has been righteous in all his judgements in history but this is not the righteousness referred to here.  Here it is saving righteousness, or gospel righteousness.  Of course, saving righteousness can only take place in the context of judging and overthrowing wickedness, nevertheless we should keep firmly in our minds the locus in which God’s righteousness is revealed in Romans, is saving (1:16).

We should note too it is gospel righteousness as opposed to legal righteousness, or law righteousness.  The Law of Sinai was a revelation of the righteousness that God required of man whereas the gospel is a revelation of righteousness that is all of God .  In Romans, law righteousness and gospel righteousness exist largely in contrast (Roms 3:21a) though the law does witness to gospel righteousness (Roms 3:21b).

  • the righteousness of God is eschatological righteousness

The OT regularly anticipated a day when the saving righteousness of God would be revealed.  The prophets of Israel saw the sin and suffering of Israel and envisaged a future when idolatry, unfaithfulness, injustice, unrighteousness, oppression and all the entail of these would be no more.  They spoke of it as the day of salvation and righteousness. Some time ago I  posted tracing God’s righteousness in Isaiah.  Below are a few examples.

Isaiah speak of a time when the Lord would say,

Isa 45:8 (ESV)
“Shower, O heavens, from above, ​​​​​​​and let the clouds rain down righteousness; ​​​​​​​let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; ​​​​​​​let the earth cause them both to sprout; ​​​​​​​I the Lord have created it.

Isa 46:12-13 (ESV)
“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, ​​​​​​​you who are far from righteousness: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, ​​​​​​​and my salvation will not delay; ​​​​​​​I will put salvation in Zion, ​​​​​​​for Israel my glory.”

God’s salvation righteousness while first to Israel is not, however, limited to Israel, it is for all peoples.

Isa 51:5 (ESV)
My righteousness draws near, ​​​​​​​my salvation has gone out, ​​​​​​​and my arms will judge the peoples; ​​​​​​​the coastlands hope for me, ​​​​​​​and for my arm they wait.

And so when Paul says the righteousness of God  is now revealed (1:17) or manifested (3:21);  he is saying this End-Time salvation long anticipated has now arrived.

  • the righteousness of God is exactly that, ‘righteousness of God’.

In each of the above Isaian references salvation and righteousness are accomplished by God.  He speaks of ‘my righteousness’ and ‘my salvation’.  This is critical to understanding the gospel.  The gospel is all about ‘righteousness of God’.  It is God’s righteousness in specific contrast to man’s righteousness.  The OT is the story of human unrighteousness in the fall and beyond.  From Adam’s sin the history of humanity has been desperate and despairing.  Humanity is incapable of righteousness. God proves this conclusively in the story of Israel.

Israel was chosen and privileged of God.  She was like a vine especially cultivated and cared for by God (Isa 5).  She is given God’s Law and promised life upon obedience (this do and live).  Such righteousness if achieved would be human righteousness, a righteousness of works, man’s righteousness.  However Israel did not keep the Law, indeed it was never God’s intention that she would.  God knew human righteousness was impossible.  The Law was really given not to effect human righteousness but to expose human unrighteousness; unrighteousness in fallen man in the most favourable of circumstances.  Israel failed utterly.  She proved to have a rebellious heart, and the Law which promised life and which Israel promised to obey only demonstrated this rebellion as it was repeatedly and pervasively flouted.  The law which promised life produced death.  Israel’s guilt, humanity tested under the most favourable conditions in a fallen world, served only to establish the guilt of the whole human race.  As Paul says in Roms 3

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Human righteousness by law had proved a complete failure.  If there was hope for the world it must lie outside of man and outside of the law; it must lie in God.  Humanity could not save itself, God must save it.  Humanity had no righteousness and could not make itself righteous, righteousness must be sourced in God.  In Isaiah 59 God says,

Isa 59:3-21 (ESV)
For your [Israel's] hands are defiled with blood ​​​​​​​and your fingers with iniquity; ​​​​​​​your lips have spoken lies; ​​​​​​​your tongue mutters wickedness. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​No one enters suit justly; ​​​​​​​no one goes to law honestly; ​​​​​​​they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, ​​​​​​​they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​They hatch adders’ eggs; ​​​​​​​they weave the spider’s web; ​​​​​​​he who eats their eggs dies, ​​​​​​​and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Their webs will not serve as clothing; ​​​​​​​men will not cover themselves with what they make. ​​​​​​​Their works are works of iniquity, ​​​​​​​and deeds of violence are in their hands. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Their feet run to evil, ​​​​​​​and they are swift to shed innocent blood; ​​​​​​​their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; ​​​​​​​desolation and destruction are in their highways. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​The way of peace they do not know, ​​​​​​​and there is no justice in their paths; ​​​​​​​they have made their roads crooked; ​​​​​​​no one who treads on them knows peace. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Therefore justice is far from us, ​​​​​​​and righteousness does not overtake us; ​​​​​​​we hope for light, and behold, darkness, ​​​​​​​and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​We grope for the wall like the blind; ​​​​​​​we grope like those who have no eyes; ​​​​​​​we stumble at noon as in the twilight, ​​​​​​​among those in full vigor we are like dead men. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​We all growl like bears; ​​​​​​​we moan and moan like doves; ​​​​​​​we hope for justice, but there is none; ​​​​​​​for salvation, but it is far from us. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​For our transgressions are multiplied before you, ​​​​​​​and our sins testify against us; ​​​​​​​for our transgressions are with us, ​​​​​​​and we know our iniquities: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​transgressing, and denying the Lord, ​​​​​​​and turning back from following our God, ​​​​​​​speaking oppression and revolt, ​​​​​​​conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Justice is turned back, ​​​​​​​and righteousness stands far away; ​​​​​​​for truth has stumbled in the public squares, ​​​​​​​and uprightness cannot enter. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Truth is lacking, ​​​​​​​and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him ​​​​​​​that there was no justice. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He saw that there was no man, ​​​​​​​and wondered that there was no one to intercede; ​​​​​​​then his own arm brought him salvation, ​​​​​​​and his righteousness upheld him. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He put on righteousness as a breastplate, ​​​​​​​and a helmet of salvation on his head; ​​​​​​​he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, ​​​​​​​and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, ​​​​​​​wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; ​​​​​​​to the coastlands he will render repayment. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, ​​​​​​​and his glory from the rising of the sun; ​​​​​​​for he will come like a rushing stream, ​​​​​​​which the wind of the Lord drives. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, ​​​​​​​to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. ​​​ “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

I have quoted the whole of this chapter for even a cursory reading reveals how heavily Paul draws from it in Roms 3-8.  The first paragraph establishes Israel’s unrighteousness.  Paul parallels it in thought and quotes it in terms in Roms 3:1-20.  There is no hope for Israel or humanity in personal righteousness.  Humanity has feet ‘swift to shed blood, innocent blood‘ (expressed most damningly in the blood of Messiah).  But precisely when ‘there is no man‘ and universal guilt is established (Roms 3:20) ‘then his own arm brought him salvation, ​​​​​​​and his righteousness upheld him. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He put on righteousness as a breastplate, ​​​​​​​and a helmet of salvation on his head’. In the moment when hope is lost God works salvation.  He establishes righteousness, but it is not righteousness sourced in man and on the principle of law through works but righteousness sourced in God and upon the principle of grace through faith (Roms 3:21-30).

A Redeemer shall come to Zion (Cf.  Zech 9:9; Roms 3:24) bringing redemption not only for Israel but to the nations, ‘they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, ​​​​​​​and his glory from the rising of the sun’ (Roms 3: 22, 29,30).  He shall come ‘like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives‘ (stream and wind are both images of God’s powerful and refreshing Spirit of God) and the Spirit of God will be upon them and mouths that once ‘spoke lies… wickedness… lying words… where truth stumbled’ now overflow with the word of the Lord (Cf John 7:37-39; Acts 2:17,18; Roms 5:5, 7:6, 8:1-30, 10:5-13).

Righteousness is established, but we must underline again, it is ‘righteousness of God’ (an expression, though not an idea, exclusive to Romans save for 2 Cor 5:21).  Notice, in 1:17 there is no definite article.  It is not ‘the righteousness of God’ but ‘righteousness of God’.  It is an abstract term deliberately contrasting righteousness which has its source and value in man with righteousness which has its source and value in God.  It is emphatically ‘God’s righteousness and not man’s.  In the gospel God in grace acts ‘right’ and is seen to act ‘right’ in righting all that is wrong.  The gospel will achieve righteousness in our standing before God, in a life given by God, and ultimately in a new heavens and earth where righteousness will reign.  But it will be all  ‘of God’.  In God’s salvation man shall never have anything to boast about, all will be to the glory of God (Roms 4:2; 1 Cor 1:29-31). In the gospel it is emphatically ‘God’s’ righteousness that is revealed and God that is revealed as righteous; that is, it is not simply righteousness ‘from’ God, though it is this gloriously, but it is righteousness ‘of’ God.  In the gospel God not only vindicates but is vindicated.  The glory of the gospel is that it glorifies God’s righteousness.  God is true when every man is a liar; any boasting can only be in God (Roms 1:17).

Rom 3:27 (ESV)
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law [principle] of faith.

For by grace we are saved through faith and that not of yourself it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast (Eph 2).

  • the righteousness of God is by faith

Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For our purposes at the moment there are only a few brief points to underline; God’s righteousness is embraced ‘by faith’.  Paul says it is ‘through faith for faith‘ or if you like gospel righteousness is received ‘on the principle of faith by people of faith‘.  Faith here we will see as Paul’s argument progresses is in explicit contrast to ‘works’ or attempts to be righteous by our own efforts.  Faith is simply the acknowledgement that it is all of God.

There are two corollaries:

  • God’s saving righteousness is universal in scope

Unlike law it does not particularize the covenant people as Israel and those who have Law, rather it is for ‘everyone who believes’ (1:16), ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’.

  • God’s saving righteousness starts with the individual

There is much emphasis today on the cosmic elements of salvation.  We are told that God intends to renew the whole of the Cosmos; he intends to create a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.    And this is gloriously true.  However, the only way into the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells is to be declared personally righteous by faith.  All too often this cosmic salvation is presented in a way that denigrates and even denies individual salvation.  The requirement of ‘faith’ gives the lie to this view.  Faith is emphatically individual.

Thus from Roms 1:17 we can deduce that ‘righteousness of God’ is God’s righteous activity as he intervenes in history to vindicate and save. The unpacking of this takes place throughout the letter.  In a future blog we will consider 3:21-26.

13
Dec
10

do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

and,

Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


17
Nov
10

imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (8)

We saw in the previous blog that both Methodists (C18) and Plymouth Brethren (C19) raised dissenting voices at IAO.  The initial teaching of J N Darby and W Kelly (that justification is located in the death and resurrection of Christ, not IAO) prevailed in Brethren theology well into the C20.  W E Vine (1873-1949), a Brethren Bible Scholar whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Brethren chiefly through his celebrated dictionary ‘Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words‘ published 1940, along with C F Hogg another Brethren commentator, writes,

Neither the incarnation of the Son of God, nor His keeping of the law in the days of His flesh availed, in whole or in part, for the redemption of men…. His redemptive work proper began and ended on the cross; …Hence it is nowhere said in the New Testament that Christ kept the law for us. Only His death is vicarious, or substitutionary. He is not said to have borne sin during any part of His life; it was at the cross that He became the sin-bearer  [C. F. Hogg , W. E. Vine , The Epistle of the Galatians, (London; GB: Pickering and Inglis, LTD.), 1959, p.186].

A contemporary of Hogg and Vine, Open Brethren writer John Ritchie (1853-1930) commenting on Romans writes,

The theological phrase, “The righteousness of Christ,” so much used, is not a scriptural term. The meaning usually read into it is, that the sinner having failed to keep the law, Christ has kept it for him, that His obedience is counted mans’ righteousness, and put on all that believe as a “robe.” But this would not be “righteousness apart from law” (Rom. 3:21). If God reckons the sinner to have kept the law because Christ kept the law for him, then righteousness surely comes by law, and the death of Christ was “in vain” (Gal. 2:21). In all this, justification by grace through redemption, has no place. The gospel is not that a sinner is made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s legal obedience on earth, and saved by His death, but rather that “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” [John Ritchie, Romans, (Charlotte, NC : The Serious Christian, 1987), p. 161].

More recently, William McDonald (1917-2007), former President of Emmaus Bible College, and Brethren writer, commenting on Romans 5:18 writes,

The righteousness of Christ mentioned in Romans 5: 18 does not mean His righteousness as a Man on earth or His perfect keeping of the law. These are never said to be imputed to us. If they were, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. The New American Standard Bible is on target when it translates: “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” The “one act of righteousness” was not the Savior’s life or His keeping of the law, but rather His substitutionary death on Calvary’s cross  [William MacDonald, Justification by Faith (Romans), (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1981), p. 62].

Clearly IAO has been resisted by mainstream representatives of Plymouth Brethren theology in the C20.

In the early C20 Brethren influence was quite wide in evangelicalism.  Many reformed churches (in the UK and USA and further afield) had collapsed under the weight of German theology with its Biblical criticism and liberalism.  Evangelical life was nourished in the (now considered) more fundamentalist enclaves influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism.  I am not for a moment saying there was no evangelical life outside of dispensational circles, clearly there was, however, these ‘fundamentalist’ strongholds of the gospel were a significant force in the evangelicalism of the first 50 years of C20. And they were, as I say, influenced by Brethren theology.

For example, in the States, William Newell, Congregational Church pastor, famed preacher, and Assistant Superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute (under R A Torrey) writes in his commentary on Romans,

Jesus’ “was always obedient to His Father, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that His life before the cross – His ‘active obedience’ … is not in any sense counted to us for righteousness.” (W. Newell Romans, Kregel (2004) Romans 5:19)

Arno C Gaebelein (1861-1945) a prominent and influential Methodist dispensationalist upon whom Wheaton College conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1922 writes,

“The term “Righteousness of God” is much misunderstood. Not a few think it is the righteousness of Christ (a term nowhere used in Scripture) which is attributed to the believing sinner. They teach that Christ fulfilled the law, lived a perfect life on earth and that this righteousness is given to the sinner. All this is unscriptural. Righteousness cannot be bestowed by the law in any sense of the word. If the holy life of the Son of God, lived on earth in perfect righteousness could have saved man and given him righteousness, there was no need for Him to die. “If righteousness came by the law then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). It is God’s righteousness which is now on the side of the believing sinner; the same righteousness which condemns the sinner, covers all who believe. And this righteousness is revealed in the Gospel. God’s righteousness has been fully met and maintained in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. By that wonderful work God is now enabled to save sinners and to save them righteously. The righteousness of God is therefore first of all revealed in the Gospel of Christ. Apart then from the law, righteousness of God is manifested, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ. And this righteousness now revealed was also witnessed to by the law and the prophets. The law of the different sacrifices, insufficient in themselves to take away sins, pointed to the great sacrifice, in which God would be fully glorified as well as His righteousness satisfied. There were many types and shadows. Now since the righteousness of God is fully made known in the Gospel we can trace God’s wonderful thoughts and purposes in the types and histories of the Old Testament.  (Isaiah 41:10; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 56:8).” http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/acg_49_romans.htm

The highly influential Scofield Reference Bible, to which Gaebelein had input, avers substantially the same. In Romans 3 Scofield comments,

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

[1] righteousness of God

The righteousness of God is neither an attribute of God, not the changed character of the believer, but Christ Himself, who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the law, and who is, but the act of God called imputation Lev 25:50 Jas 2:23, “made unto us . . righteousness” 1Cor 1:30.


23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;


Sin originated with Satan Isa 14:12-14, entered the world through Adam Rom 5:12, was, and is, universal, Christ alone excepted Rom 3:23 1Pet 2:22, incurs the penalties of spiritual and physical death Gen 2:17 3:19 Ezek 18:4,20 Rom 6:23 and has no remedy but in the sacrificial death of Christ Heb 9:26 Acts 4:12 availed of by faith Acts 13:38,39.

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

[1] Redemption


(1) agorazo, “to purchase in the market.” The underlying thought is of a slave-market. The subjects of redemption are “sold under sin” Rom 7:14 but are, moreover, under sentence of death Ezek 18:4, Jn 3:18,19 Rom 3:19 Gal 3:10, and the purchase price is the blood of the Redeemer who dies in their stead Gal 3:13 2Cor 5:21 Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45 1Tim 2:6 1Pet 1:18…

(3) lutroo, “to loose,” “to set free by paying a price” Jn 8:32 Gal 4:4,5,31 5:13 Rom 8:21. Redemption is by sacrifice and by power See Scofield Note: “Ex 14:30″ Christ paid the price, the Holy Spirit makes deliverance actual in experience Rom 8:2…

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

[2] propitiation

Lit. a propitiatory [sacrifice], through faith by his blood; Gr. hilasterion, “place of propitiation.” The word occurs, 1Jn 2:2 4:10 as the trans. of hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” “a propitiatory sacrifice.” Hilasterion is used by the Septuagint, and Heb 9:5 for “mercy-seat.” The mercy-seat was sprinkled with atoning blood in the day of atonement Lev 16:14 in token that the righteous sentence of the law had been (typically) carried out, So that what must else have been a judgment-seat could righteously be a mercy-seat Heb 9:11-15 4:14-16, a place of communion Ex 25:21,22.

In fulfilment of the type, Christ is Himself the hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” and the hilasterion, “the place of propitiation” –the mercy-seat sprinkled with His own blood–the token that in our stead He So honoured the law by enduring its righteous sentence that God, who ever foresaw the cross, is vindicated in having “passed over” sins from Adam to Moses Rom 5:13 and the sins of believers under the old covenant See Scofield Note: “Ex 29:33″ and just in justifying sinners under the covenant. There is no thought in propitiation of placating a vengeful God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy.

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

[3] righteousness

His righteousness” here is God’s consistency with His own law and holiness in freely justifying a sinner who believes in Christ; that is, one in whose behalf Christ has met every demand of the law Rom 10:4.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

[4] Justification

Justification, Summary: Justification and righteousness are inseparably united in Scripture by the fact that the same word (dikaios, “righteous”; dikaioo, “to justify”) is used for both. The believing sinner is justified because Christ, having borne his sins on the cross, has been “made unto him righteousness” 1Cor 1:30. Justification originates in grace Rom 3:24 Ti 3:4,5 is through the redemptive and propitiatory work of Christ, who has vindicated the law Rom 3:24,25 5:9 is by faith, not works Rom 3:28-30 4:5 5:1 Gal 2:16 3:8,24 and may be defined as the judicial act of God whereby He justly declares righteous one who believes on Jesus Christ. It is the Judge Himself Rom 8:31-34 who thus declares. The justified believer has been in court, only to learn that nothing is laid to his charge. Rom 8:1,33,34...

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

[5] Do we then

The sinner establishes the law in its right use and honour by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by it he is justly condemned. Christ, on the sinner’s behalf, establishes the law by enduring its penalty, death. Cf. Mt 5:17,18.

Imputation is the act of God whereby He accounts righteousness to the believer in Christ, who has borne the believer’s sins in vindication of the law” (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Study Bible, p. 1308).

It should be obvious from the above that for Scofield (both a Congregationalist and Presbyterian in his career) the demand of the law for a sinner (death) was met in Christ’s death.  In his death the law is vindicated and upheld.  There is no mention here of IAO. Again, it is worth underlining that the Scofield Bible notes were the source of much popular evangelical theology throughout the greater part of the C20.

Robert P. Lightner, Amyraldian Baptist and previous Professor of Systematic theology at Dallas Seminary  In 1970, commenting on IAO and the supposed vicariously atoning life sufferings of Christ, he wrote:

First, the view fails to take into account that before the fall, Adam did not have a sin nature. Instead, it assumes that to be rightly related to God, Adam and his posterity were required to render perfect obedience to the commands of God. . . .It is not too much to say that the whole concept of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience rests primarily upon the idea of the covenant of works. Since the supposed covenant promised eternal life for obedience and since Adam disobeyed and all his posterity in him, Christ, the Last Adam, came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to do. The fact that Adam came from the hands of the Creator, sinlessly perfect must not be overlooked. Thus the command of God to obey Him was not designed to produce eternal life in him or to relate him rightly to God. He already enjoyed a state of sinlessness and a proper relation to and right standing before his Creator. Contrary to the contention of covenant theologians, Scripture does not say that Adam would have inherited eternal life had he obeyed God. Human effort is never presented as a condition of salvation in Scripture for any dispensation; rather, the command of God to Adam was designed to demonstrate his submission to the authority of God.Second, the view amounts to a minimizing of the cross work of Christ. . . . Thus, according to this view, the death of Christ on the cross was not the sole basis upon which God provided redemption and everlasting life for man. If the life sufferings be viewed as substitutionary and vicarious, then the Savior’s passive obedience in the shedding of His blood on the cross must be viewed as less than the total or complete means by which God through His Son atoned for sin. The blood shed at Calvary would then constitute only part of the payment for sin.

Third, the most serious weakness of all is the stark fact that no Scripture assigns substitution to the life sufferings of Christ. On the contrary, Scripture abounds with evidence that through His substitutionary death on the cross, and through that alone, He took the sinner’s place and died in the sinner’s stead (Isa 53:6–7; Rom 3:18, 3:24–25 , 5:7–9 ; 2 Cor 5:14–21; 1 Peter 2:24). The defense of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience for His suffering in life is voluminous, but scriptural proof is conspicuous by its absence.8 Lightner, Robert P., “The Savior’s Suffering in Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 (1970) 33-34

In 1986, he made a similar argument specifically against the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer while critiquing Theonomy:

A basic premise in the theological structure of theonomy, along with covenant Reformed theology, is the belief that Christ’s active obedience to the Law during His life was as substitutionary as His passive obedience in death. . . . That Christ obeyed perfectly the Law and suffered greatly during His life is not denied or even disputed by dispensationalists. The crucial question, however, is, Why did He suffer in life? What was accomplished by His obedience to the Law? Scripture simply does not teach that the life sufferings of Christ were vicarious. Rather it stresses His death alone as a substitution for sin and sinners. To be sure, the Savior’s sinless life demonstrated that He was qualified to be the sinner’s Substitute, but He atoned for sin only on the cross, where He became a curse (Gal 3:13). Viewing Christ’s active obedience in His life as substitutionary is the natural result of believing that God promised Adam and his posterity eternal life if he would obey God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Since Adam did not obey God’s command or law, Christ, the last Adam came and did in His life what the first Adam failed to do—to earn righteousness for His own. In this view the death of Christ was not the only basis on which God made substitution for man’s sin. Theonomy and Reformed theology in general believe that through His active obedience the Savior carried His people beyond the point where Adam was before he fell to give them a claim to eternal life. Dispensationalists do not view the theological covenant of works as promising Adam and his posterity eternal life for obedience. God promised Adam death for disobedience, not eternal life for obedience. Furthermore did not Adam possess creaturely perfection as he came from the creative hand of God? Was not all that God made “very good” (Gen 1:31), including man? Theonomy teaches that the way of salvation before the Fall differed from the way of salvation after the Fall. That is a strange doctrine coming from those who falsely accuse dispensationalists of believing in more than one way of salvation. 9 Lightner, Robert P., “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143:571 (1986) 233-

Although a good number of dispensationalists did teach IAO, many were reluctant to do so and tended to emphasize simply the death of Christ.

Alva McClain, founder and first President of Grace Theological Seminary (Brethren by background) typically writes

Justification: “… deals with the guilt of sin. When a man sins, he is guilty and therefore deserves to be punished. In justification, God declares a man righteous, by virtue of the death of Christ on his behalf. … Thus justification is a declarative act of God. Justification does not make a man righteous. …. It means that God declares him to be righteous” (Alva McClain, Romans p. 140)

Thomas Constable, currently DTS Senior Professor of Bible Exposition observes,

“The obedience of Christ is a reference to His death as the ultimate act of obedience rather than to His life of obedience since it is His death that saves us.” (Notes on Romans 5:19 Pg 60)

Even George Eldon Ladd, who accepts IAO concedes in his NT Theology,

“Paul never states explicitly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament p.491)

Actually, I think it is fair to say that in the popular American fundamentalist/evangelicalism of the main part of C20, IAO, for most, was something unknown.  It was not part of the gospel as commonly preached.  The following  sermon, attributed online to Billy Graham but more probably that of Wil Pounds (since his name is injected), himself a Southerner,  a graduate of William Carey College and  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, prolific writer, preacher and missionary, seems fairly typical of American fundamentalist/evangelical  preaching even yet,

We have been saved by grace through faith. The apostle Paul emphatically states, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16).

Justification is a legal standing with God based upon Christ’s death and resurrection and our faith in Him. The word Paul uses (dikaioo), comes from Roman legal courts meaning to declare to be righteous, or to pronounce righteous. Therefore, justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God who is Judge. It is the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I died tonight and stood before the Lord God who is the Supreme Judge of the Universe. No doubt He would ask me, “Wil Pounds, why should I let you into my heaven? You are a guilty sinner. How do you plead?”

My response would be, “I plead guilty, Your Honor.”

My advocate, Jesus Christ, who is standing there beside me speaks up for me. He says, “Your Honor. It is true that Wil Pounds is a grievous sinner. He is guilty. However, Father, I died for him on the cross and rose from the dead. Wil Pounds has put his faith and trust in Me and all that I have done for Him on the Cross. He is a believer. I died for him, and he has accepted Me as his substitute.”

The Lord God turns to me and says, “Is that true?”

I will respond to Him, “Yes sir! That is the truth. I am claiming the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me of all my sins. I have put my faith in Jesus to save me for all eternity. This is what You have promised in Your Word. Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world (and this includes Wil Pounds), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”

The Lord God responds: “Acquitted! By order of this court I demand that you be set free. The price has been paid by My Son.”

Furthermore, I get to go home and live with the Judge!

Justification means that at the moment of salvation God sovereignly declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight. The believing sinner is declared to be righteous in His standing before God. From that moment on throughout life, through death, that sinner who has believed is now and forever right before God. God accepts him, and he stands acquitted of his sins.

A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16). (Find here.)

I submit that in the States it is only the ascendency in recent years of a more confessionally reformed evangelicalism that has once again raised the profile of IAO.

The UK story of C20 evangelicalism is somewhat different to the States.  Dispensationalism never gained the hold in the UK to the extent it did in the States.  However, like the States, in the first half of the C20 mainline reformed churches were deeply compromised by liberalism.  I am unsure just how widespread Brethren theological influence was, some say significantly so.  What is clear is that there were attempts by various writers to tone down the rhetoric of IAO.

H C G Moule, Anglican Bishop of Durham from 1901, convinced and influential evangelical, in his ‘Outlines of Christian Doctrines’ he writes,

A few words may come in here on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. This phrase, once widely accepted, and not least by such Anglicans as Andrewes and Beveridge (cent. xvii.), is now much disputed, and even repudiated. But it rests securely upon Rom iv. 6, with its context. There has been a tendency to over-refinement upon it; a too elaborate distinction between our Lord’s active keeping of the moral law and His awful suffering beneath the penalty of our sins; the one considered as supplying our defects, the other as meeting our violations. But this is not the essential view of the phrase; and we see this all the more as we remember (above, p. 83) the profound connexion between the obedience of our Lord’s life and the merit of His Passion. The essential of the phrase is just this, that the Son of God, as the supremely meritorious One, as infinitely satisfactory to law, is, before the law, and for the purposes of law, accepted, reckoned as the believing sinner’s substitute. The man, incorporated in Him, is counted, reputed, as involved in His whole merit, as the Lord was counted, reputed, as involved in the man’s sin. His merit is thus imputed, that is to say, set down, to the man.  H C G Moule  Outlines of Christian doctrine 1889  Pg 188

Moule seems anxious to step back apace from a bald IAO.  James Denney, Free Church minister and Professor of Systematics at the Free Church College from 1897  until his death in 1917 seems to feel the same.  He writes in his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation’,

But in proportion as men rose above the conception of sin and satisfaction, as mere things or abstract ideas, and had their faith and attention concentrated on the personal Saviour by whom they were reconciled to God, this position became intolerable. It left no significance for salvation to anything in Jesus except His death. It almost prompts us to ask again, as Athanasius did, why He did not die whenever He was born, and make the satisfaction in the most direct way.

The Christian soul felt instinctively that the life of Jesus must come into His work somehow as well as His death; wherever we see Jesus, in whatever attitude, however engaged, reconciling virtue goes out of Him. This was recognised when the life of Christ was dragged in, so to speak, side by side with His death, and, though it had not the significance of satisfaction for sin assigned to it, was nevertheless invested with another significance equally necessary to salvation. The life was the active obedience and the death the passive obedience, and though they were alike in respect that both were obedience, each fulfilled its separate and independent function.

Thus the Westminster Confession, in c. Xi. , repeatedly distinguishes in this way the “obedience and satisfaction” of Christ, or His ”obedience and death, ” the satisfaction or death being the ground on which we are cleared from sin, while the obedience constitutes a righteousness of Christ which is imputed to believers.

The utmost refinements or discriminations in this mode of thought were probably to be found in the Puritan theologians of America.

  • “Though the Redeemer obeyed in suffering and suffered in obeying, and His highest and most meritorious obedience was acted out in His voluntary suffering unto death, and in this greatest instance of His suffering the atonement which He made chiefly consisted; yet His obedience and suffering are two perfectly distinct things, and answered different ends, and must be considered so, and the distinction and difference carefully and with clearness kept up in the mind, in order to have a proper understanding of this very important subject. The sufferings of Christ, as such, made atonement for sin, as He suffered the penalty of the law or the curse of it, the evil threatened to transgression, and which is the desert of it, in the sinner’s stead, by which He opened the way for sinners being delivered from the curse, and laid the foundation for reconciliation between God and the transgressors, by His not imputing but pardoning their sins who believe in the Redeemer and approve of His character and conduct.  By the obedience of Christ, all the positive good, all those favours and blessings are united and obtained, which sinners need in order to enjoy complete and eternal redemption or everlasting life in the kingdom of God. ” *

More important, however, than any such refinements was the persistence of the idea that the whole work of Christ, His active and passive obedience, constituted in some sense a merit or merits, in virtue of which men could be reconciled to God. It is to God, in the first instance, that the life and death of Christ have value; and it is out of regard to  their value, jointly or separately in other words, it is propter Christum that God admits men to His peace, or that men are justified or reconciled to God. Theologians, from the greatest to the least, are at one here. (James Denney: The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation   Hodder and Stoughton : Cunningham Lectures 1917: Pg 94-96)

Denney holds to the importance of active and passive obedience (as do all believers) but refuses to insist on the refinements that advocates of IAO say is vital to evangelical orthodoxy.

A more recent British theologian like I Howard Marshall (an evangelical Methodist) seeks to put the dogma of Christ’s imputed righteousness in perspective when he says, the imputed

‘righteousness of Christ may be a fair inference . . . but it goes beyond what Paul actually says” (p. 312 n. 10).

Given this diversity within evangelical orthodoxy over many centuries it is hardly surprising that the same differences regarding what is meant by imputation exist today.  The views expressed on imputation by Federal Visionists, N T Wright, Robert Gundry and Mark Seifrid are hardly novel, they simply are in line with evangelicals throughout the centuries who have baulked at the classical expression of imputation in covenant theology.  They baulked because they doubted its biblical validity. It is the same today.  Michael Bird observes,

‘It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness . . . The notion is passe, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. (M Bird, Incorporated Righteousness).

Whatever may be said of how Federal Vision, Mark Seifrid, Robert Gundry or N T Wright understand other aspects of justification, on this aspect it seems crystal clear they are well within any reasonable definition of evangelical orthodoxy.  More importantly, they stand comfortably within biblical orthodoxy, that is, their view on imputed righteousness is not simply consonant with historical evangelical belief but with biblical teaching.

The litmus test for any belief must be Scripture.  It is Scripture that must test the veracity of IAO and any other theological construct.  In my view, the biblical case for IAO is less than compelling.

In summary, the case for IAO being integral to evangelical orthodoxy is found wanting.  I hope to demonstrate in future blogs that  the case for it being biblically cogent is weak.

07
Aug
10

flesh and spirit in romans,and beyond (7)

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Rom 8:9 (ESV)
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.

For Paul, Christian living is, purely and simply, life in the Spirit.

In previous blogs on this topic we noted that while, for Paul, ‘flesh’ is an anthropological term (describing humanity in its creaturely weakness) it is also and primarily an eschatological term (describing humanity not only as a created and weak but belonging to a creation that is fallen and passing). For Paul, ‘flesh’ describes humanity and life in the old world while ‘Spirit’ describes life in the new.  Christians are eschatological people.  That is, they are people of the future.  They  do not belong to the world that is present, polluted and passing but to the world that is prospective, perfect, and permanent.  They are the people of the World to Come.

If we fail to grasp this eschatological perspective in Paul we miss the heart of what it is to be a Christian. A Christian is not merely someone who has a faith in the true God.  He is not simply someone who follows Jesus rather than Buddha.  He (she) is not even simply someone who knows Jesus died to bear his sins and finds forgiveness in trusting him.   A Christian is an alien from another world.  He is a visitor from the future – a future world beyond this world created by the Spirit of God from the death of the old.

The age or world to come will be physical but it will bring physicality to a new reality that can be truly described as ‘spiritual’ for God’s presence will be present in power and glory by his Spirit it as never before.  Thus God’s people live in this old and passing world of flesh-people as people of the new and coming world, Spirit-people.  This eschatological perspective shapes and informs profoundly what it means to be a Christian, or better what it means to belong to the church, God’s community of the Spirit.

Gordon Fee in his encyclopaedic study of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Paul, ‘God’s Empowering Presence’ expresses the above well when he writes,

Probably the one feature that distances the NT church the most from its contemporary counterparts is its thoroughly eschatological perspective of all of life.  In contrast to most of us, eschatology – a unique understanding of the time of the End – conditioned the early believers’ existence in every way.  The first clue to this outlook came from Jesus’ own proclamation of the kingdom – as a present reality in his ministry, although still a future event.  But it was the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the promised (eschatological) Spirit that completely altered the primitive church’s perspective, both about Jesus and about themselves.  In place of the totally future eschatology of their Jewish roots, with its hope of a coming Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, the early church recognized that the future had already been set in motion.  The resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of the End, the turning of the ages.  However, the End had only begun; they still awaited the final event, the (now second) coming of their Messiah Jesus at which time they too would experience the resurrection/transformation of the body.  They lived “between the times”: already the future had begun, not yet had it been consummated.  From the NT perspective the whole of Christian existence – and theology – has this eschatological “tension” as its basic framework…

This is the perspective of Romans and indeed Scripture.  The gospel is the good news that through faith we are rescued and delivered from the old age of flesh, sin and death (subject to law and under wrath) and translated by grace through the death and resurrection of Christ into the new age of the Spirit and so of  life and righteousness.

If we are to think and talk about what it means to be a Christian we must speak a great deal of ‘life in the Spirit’ for this is what the Christian life in fact is.

In future blogs I hope to explore this further.

10
Jun
10

romans 7: dead to law (1)

I have written a few blogs previously related to ‘the law’ and to a related topic ‘flesh and spirit’.  These are somewhat of a background to a few intermittent blogs that I intend to write on Romans 7 (God willing).  At the moment, I want simply to flag up a couple of major blinders that require removed if we are to listen to Roms 7 on its own terms.

the blinkers of experience

The problem with Romans 7 is many Christians approach it in terms of their experience.  They look inside themselves and without looking too hard, see indwelling sin, feel the weight of it and the conflict in resisting it, then read the latter section of Roms 7 (vv13-25) and think ‘Ah, that’s what I am like.  Paul is describing me here.  He is clearly sketching the Christian life in this chapter.’  But that is a poor hermeneutic.  We do not interpret Scripture by our experience; we allow our experience to be interpreted by Scripture.  We must interpret Romans 7 by its own terms.  We must understand it in its context and not by our experience.  Scripture does deal with the believers response to indwelling sin but not in Roms 7.  If our experience is the controlling factor in our interpretation we are wearing dangerous blinkers.

the blinkers of tradition

A second related difficulty that many believers have with Romans 7 is that they approach it through a Reformed tradition.  Now, there is a great about the Reformed tradition(s) that is good and helpful.  However, the Reformers did not get everything right.  They were, after all, emerging from centuries of medieval Catholicism and so it is hardly to be expected that they would.  Thus the Reformers and Confessions based on Reformed teaching tend to understate the radical newness of the New Covenant.  They refer often to the believer’s obligations to the moral law (generally meaning the Decalogue), something Scripture does not.  Mainly they subscribe to the slogan, ‘the Law takes us to Christ for justification and Christ takes us to the Law for sanctification’.  Unfortunately, the second half of this slogan is wholly wrong and the first half is only partially right.

Sanctification has nothing to do with the law; it is entirely gospel based.  In the strictest sense, the Law was given to Israel and was given to them as a restraint until the coming of Christ.  Its exposure of sin created in some a longing for deliverance and in this sense prepared Jews for the arrival of their ‘Deliverer’.  However, since the Law (the Mosaic Covenant) was given only to Jews it did not lead gentiles to see the need of a Deliverer.  Paul never uses the Law to bring about conviction when preaching to gentiles, rather he points to God’s goodness in creation, conscience and the revelation of Christ in the gospel. In fact, for gentiles the Law had little relevance.  Its high-profile in some NT books is because Paul must explain its relevance to Jewish converts for whom naturally the Law had been hugely important framing as it did their whole history, religious and cultural experience.  They had to learn its place in salvation history was secondary.

The mistake of much classic Reformed thinking is that it also gives the Law too much significance.  Paul makes clear in Galatians that the Law was an interim measure ‘added because of transgressions’  (Gals 3:19) while in Romans the heart of the juxtapose is Adam and Christ with the Law again merely an addition ‘because of the trespass’ (5:20).  Jewish converts had to learn this (and found it hard) so too must many godly believers of a Reformed persuasion today.

Do not misunderstand me, the Law, properly understood teaches us much today.  I am not advocating some form of Manichaeism (who denied the importance of the OT).  But it must be properly understood within its salvation-history context and not given a role or significance never intended.  One main reason for giving it to Israel was to underline to them that salvation is all of grace apart from works.  This insight was vital to the Reformers as they combatted medieval Catholicism which was in many ways analogous to legalistic Jewish thinking at the time of Christ (actually very similar to the Mosaic Covenant, and still is).  The Reformers successfully demonstrated the very contrast between works and grace that the Law intentionally highlighted.

However, the Reformers did not go far enough.  They could not bring themselves to say ‘the Law’ had no authority in the life of the believer.  That may well have provoked spiritual, perhaps even civil anarchy.  It was ‘antinomian’.   Thus the law, for them, must remain as a ‘rule of life’ for believers.  In essence it was a lack of clarity (faith!) that the gospel had within it the wherewithal not only to justify but also to sanctify.  They did not grasp (or believe) that not the law but the gospel reveals the contours of the life of the Kingdom (a point I have tried to demonstrate here).   The gospel is all-sufficient for life and godliness .  Peter says unequivocally and without embarrassment:

2Pet 1:3 (ESV)
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

Mark Peter’s point well – through knowing Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness.  Godliness comes through knowing Christ not through the knowing the Law.  Paul says the same thing in Titus.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

I quote only two of a plethora of texts that make a similar point either implicitly or explicitly.  I’m afraid until my Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ cease to give to their confessions the allegiance and deference they ought to give only to Scripture they will continue to misinterpret Roms 7 and the role of the Law.  When tradition trumps revealed truth we are invincibly blinkered.

I suggest therefore any objective appraisal of Roms 7 can begin only when these two sets of blinkers are recognized and removed.

08
Jun
10

flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (5)

If you look at the preceeding blogs on this topic you will be better placed to grapple with the issues in this one.  The fundamental point made is that Christians ought to view themselves not as ‘in the flesh’ but as ‘in the Spirit’.  This is a biblical distinction between two realms or two worlds.  According to the Bible, the Christian belongs to the world or realm of the Spirit and not that of the flesh (Roms 8:1-16).  This, we should note, is not a distinction between a material world and a non-material world – a Gnostic and Greek distinction and not a biblical one.  The World to Come to which believers now belong will be a material world.  Jesus in resurrection had a material body.  It was composed of flesh and bones.  But it was a resurrection body, energized and enlivened by the Spirit, and not what the Bible calls a ‘natural’ body. In a fundamental way Christ’s resurrection put him beyond what the Bible calls ‘the days of his flesh’ (Hebs 5:7).  In his death, he died to life in the old world forever.  He now lives as the First of a new creation spiritually sustained (Roms 1:3,4).  He was put to death in the flesh but lives in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18).  In fact, the very forces in the flesh to which Christ subjected himself, he now rules (1 Pet 3:21, 22; Eph 1:21, 22; Col 2:10).

We too have died to life in the flesh, in him.  We are to consider ourselves as dead to all that belonged to that old world (removed from its claims, authorities and powers) and alive to God (1 Pet 4:6).   In the last blog we noted we are to consider ourselves, in Christ, dead to sin but alive to God. (Roms 6:1-14).  In Christ, and the resurrection life that is ours in him, the authorities and powers to which we were once subject in the flesh no longer have authority, in fact they become our servants.  Thus Paul can say, ‘All things are yours… and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:21,22).

freedom from the law

Most Christians (perhaps especially many in avowedly Reformed churches) grasp what Paul is saying in Roms 6.  They understand they are no longer slaves of sin (though they are often unclear as to why).  They find it much harder to accept the teaching of Roms 7.  For if Roms 6 teaches us that through our death in Christ we are freed from the rule of sin, then Roms 7 teaches us that for the same reason, our death in Christ, we are free from the rule of law.  The Law, that is the Mosaic Law, has no rights, no claim in any shape or form on the Christian.  A contention Paul bases on a premise stated in the opening verse of the chapter.

Rom 7:1 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

Paul takes it as axiomatic, as self-evident to any who understand the law, that it (Mosaic or indeed any other) has authority over a person only as long as he lives.  When we die the voice of law is silenced.  You cannot tell a dead man to love the Lord his God.  You cannot tell a corpse he must not commit adultery or steal or covet.  The very notion is nonsense.  The dead person is beyond the claims and rules of the law. And of course Paul’s point is simple; having died with/in Christ believers are in precisely this position.  The Law has no jurisdiction over them.  Let me put it bluntly, you cannot tell a Christian he must keep the Ten Commandments for he is no longer alive in the world where these are authoritative.

Now to many such a statement is horrifying, even heretical.  It seems antinomian.  It seems a licence to sin.  Well of course, antinomianism was precisely the charge brought against Paul’s gospel (Roms 3:7,8; 6:1).  The immediate instinct of the flesh is to look for rules.  And so some say, well while the law cannot justify us, nor perhaps has the power to sanctify us, nevertheless it remains an authority in the life of the believer as a ‘rule of life’.  We must live by its commands.  I have already addressed some of these issues in a previous blog and don’t intend to go over them here.  See the previous blog for its points are pertinent.

However, two points at least must be made.

Firstly,  it is not I who asserts the law has no commanding authority over the believer; it is Scripture.  Those who wish to impose the law in some way on believers must by-pass Romans and Galatians (and of course some try to do just this). They must relativize what the Scripture teaches as absolute, namely, that the believer has died to the law.  Romans 7 has been a battle ground for centuries.  Christians argue over what it teaches, especially who Paul refers to in the later part of the chapter.  However, it is clear that whoever Paul may be describing in the latter part of the chapter and whatever the details of the main body of the chapter teach, the opening section of the chapter is fairly plain and relatively uncontested.  Indeed it is a summary statement of Paul’s is teaching regarding the believer and the law and the rest of the chapter is simply an exposition of it.  If we can grasp the meaning of the opening section 7;1-6 then it is the key to interpreting the whole.

What is Paul’s opening statement?  We read:

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Paul’s point is plain.  Marriage is a contract (a covenant!) broken only by death.  In the death of the believer with Christ his contractual obligations to the law finished and so he is freed to enter a new marriage (covenant!) and submit to a new husband (authority!).  We cannot submit to the law and Christ.  We can be obligated to one or the other but not both.  Thus Christians (especially Jewish Christians) must understand that they were not obligated to the demands of the Mosaic Covenant; they were now married to Christ. We are ‘released’ from the law, not in part, but completely.  Nothing could be plainer.

Why are so many, especially reformed Christians, afraid of this?  Well, as I have said above, they are afraid it will lead to licence to sin.  It is ironic, for exactly the opposite is the case. And this brings us to the second point which is: only when we are free from the law and find life in Christ alone do we actually produce fruit for God. Christ is not only the basis of our righteousness (justification) and the strength for righteousness (sanctification) but he is also the measure of righteousness.  If we want to see what a godly life looks like we find it in the gospel of Christ – in all that is involved in his life, death and resurrection.

What we are in Christ is our rule of life.  Not the law.  This is precisely Paul’s point in Galatians 6.  In a book where Paul has been strenuously combatting all ideas of the Law having claims of any kind on believers he says:

Gal 6:14-16 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

What rule?  The rule of the law?  No, the rule of living as someone who is dead, who is crucified with Christ and is a new creation.  Weigh Paul’s words well.  Weigh well too the argument of the book in which they are found.  Is Paul antinomian?  Is the gospel of new creation antinomian?  Is it indifferent to sin?  Of course not.  Perish the thought.  It is only the gospel that can deal with sin and only the gospel that can produce holiness.  Thus again and again when exhorting to holy Christian living Paul’s reference point is not the Law but the grace of God in the gospel.  Paul lays it out clearly to Titus:

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

It is the gospel that trains in righteousness and not the Law.  I wrote an article some time ago that is really just a scout through the NT showing how text after text takes us to the gospel as our impetus and paradigm for holiness.  It can be found here.  The evidence to my mind is compelling, indeed incontrovertible.  Rarely do the writers of the epistles cite the Ten Commandments (only a part of the law I know, but the part many wish to insist is authoritative) in the context of holy living, and when they do, as an example and never as an authority in the life of the Christian.

does it matter?

Is this issue no more than a fight over words?  No it’s not.  It is important for it affects profoundly how we think of ourselves as Christians and so how we live as Christians. Below are some examples.

  • Living by a ‘rule’ mentality is sub-Christian.  We give children a list of rules not adults.  Adults have maturity and are act appropriately not because of imposed rules but because they have character, insight and wisdom.  This is precisely Paul’s point in Gals 3:23-4:6.  Christians who live with a ‘rule’ mentality are likely to remain immature in faith.
  • A ‘law’ mentality keeps a distance between us and God.  Those who think about living by the moral law have not fully grasped what it means to have God as Father.  ‘Law’ implies a Judge.  Judges make laws.  Kings make laws, not fathers.  Again this is Paul’s reasoning in Galatians 3:23-4:6.  A Father/Son relationship is not built upon laws to be obeyed but upon, ‘I delight to do your will’ and ‘all that the Father has given me to do will I not do’.  It is not a question of ‘laws’ or ‘law’ but doing the will of the Father.  It is a relationship based on reciprocated love not a legal obedience.  Language such as ‘living by the moral law or Ten Commandments’ undercuts this relationship.  It introduces fear where fear should be absent (1 Jn 4:18)
  • An example of the above is the often repeated claim that when we sin as Christians the law is God’s instrument to accuse us so that we flee back to Christ.  But is this true Christian reasoning?  When we sin, is God’s method to send in the law as a ‘heavy’ to bring us back into line?  Is he really standing ready to ‘accuse’ us when we fail?  The whole point of Roms 5-8 is to refute such thinking.  The argument of these chapters is that God does not ‘accuse us’.  He justifies us.  Who then accuses us (Roms 8).  It is true that when we sin the Spirit comes and prompts us and convicts us.  He may do so from the Word or apart from the Word.   But while he convicts he does not accuse.  There is something legal (the law) and even antagonistic (Satan) in accusation.  Fathers’ chide, discipline, teach, train etc but they do not accuse.  Again, ‘accusation’ is language and concept that puts us on sub-Christian ground.  Moreover yet again the assumption is that the law can do what the gospel cannot.  It is the gospel that convicts us of sin and not the Law.  Paul’s fundamental argument against sinning is not that sin for a believer is wrong because the law forbids it but incongruous because it is opposed to the gospel.  How can we who have died to sin live any longer therein? (Roms 6).
  • We may well ask too, in connection with the above point, are we really saying that the Law is more powerful than the gospel to create conviction of sin?  Are we saying that where the gospel has failed (to produce conviction and repentance) the law will succeed?  Is the shadow stronger than the reality?  Surely not.  If a ‘believer’ wilfully resists the gospel and acts rebelliously then the law is no help.  In Hebrews, the writer’s conclusion is that if they resist and reject the word of salvation in Christ then there is no further hope.  It is impossible to renew unto repentance those who reject the gospel (Hebs 6:6).
  • Law is a poor teacher in holiness because it tells us more about what we ought not to do than what we ought to do.  Further, it provides us with a standard but no example.  One more reason why the NT focus in holiness is Christ.  To quote but one example: ‘By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.’ (1 Jn 2:5,6).  I also doubt if the standard of righteousness the Law requires is as high as the life that the gospel displays.  Did the Law demand that we go the second mile?  Did the Law command us to love our enemies?   Did the Law command that we forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us?  Does the law demand that we lay down our lives for our brothers?

The fact is, the Law was given to man in the flesh (Roms 7:5: Gals 3:3).  It assumes unregeneracy (this do and you shall live).  It is not for those in the Spirit who relate to God on a completely different level than Law.  They belong to a realm or world where Law has no claim, no jurisdiction, no accusatory rights, no voice.  To grasp this is vital if we are to live with a proper gospel perspective on our relationship to God.  Paul says:

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
(the yoke he refers to is the law)

and again

Gal 5:13-14 (ESV)
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

and again

Gal 5:16 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

and again

Gal 6:14-16 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

This blog does not address all the issues of this topic.  By no means.  However, I hope what has been said helps to give us a clearer biblical focus.  Far too often thinking on this issue echoes confessions rather than Scripture.

22
Apr
10

flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (3)

We have been considering two alternative realities in Paul’s theology – the flesh and the Spirit.  For clarity’s sake we should emphasize again that these two realities – flesh and Spirit -  although involving principles and peoples are for Paul perhaps primarily , provinces or principalities.  They represent two realms, spheres, kingdoms, – two distinct cosmologies or creations.

With the First Coming of Christ, especially his resurrection and subsequent glorification, the long promised eschatological Age of the Spirit arrived (at least in embryonic form).  From Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Spirit as the crowning gift of the New Covenant, history was thereafter divided into two eras – the old era/age/world of ‘the flesh’ and the new era/age/world ‘of the Spirit’.  Humanity therefore is now  also divided into two; either we are ‘in Adam’  and belong to the old era and so are ‘in the flesh’ or we are ‘in Christ’ and belong to the new era and so are ‘in the Spirit’.

flesh

‘Flesh’ in the first instance is a word without moral connotations.  It is virtually a synonym for the first creation.  It was a creation described by God as ‘very good’.   Yet, although ‘very good’, it had inherent weaknesses.  It was for example (unlike new creation) a realm that sin and death were able (and permitted) to enter.  More significantly still, it was a creation in which God placed responsibility on man without empowering him to fulfil it.  Adam received a divine fiat – he must not eat the forbidden fruit and if he did he would die (Gen 2:15).  Herein lies creation’s essential weakness: its identity and destiny is tied to the obedience of  its human head, Adam; its well-being depends partly on man and not totally on God. Adam’s name means ‘frailty’ (Cf.  Mark 14:38;  Gals 4:13; ), signalling his weakness, and perhaps too, the precarious nature of creation itself.  At any rate, Adam disobeyed the divine fiat, failed in his responsibility, and sin gained a foothold.  The first creation was in trouble.

However, God was not wrong-footed. God’s plans did not depend or centre on the first creation but on the second.  It was not the ‘first man’, Adam, in whom God’s purposes were to be fulfilled, but the ‘second man’ , Christ (1 Cor 15:22, 45, 47; Roms 5:12-21); God’s final vision was a creation not of  ‘flesh’ but ‘Spirit’ (1 Cor 15: 42-49).  He planned to deliver humanity from the frailty, failure and futility of the first creation and bring him, by grace,  into the fullness, faultlessness and finality of the second and new creation.  In a word, the vulnerability of the first was but a prelude to the vigour of the second. He planned to do this to his own glory through Christ, his Son (Eph 1:3-9); as always with God, the last, truly would be the first (Matt 20:16), for, in yet another sense, he was first (Jn 1:15; Col 1:17).

We have already reflected a little on how God in Christ accomplished this – see here and here.  God’s Son, in Jesus, was born, in weakness, into the old creation, the realm of ‘flesh’ (Roms 1:3) that he might rescue his people from it and bring them, with him, through death and resurrection into the powerful realm of ‘the Spirit’ (Roms 1:4).

What ‘flesh’ is, is clear in Romans and beyond.  It is weak.  In Christ flesh in weakness  is revealed (Roms 1:3; 2 Cor 13:4; Hebs 4:15).  However, flesh is not only weak, in all other than Christ it is wicked and wanton.  In Romans the corrupt and ultimately hopeless nature of ‘flesh’ is unravelled.

flesh is culpable

In Roms 1:18-3:20 Paul sketches the utter failure of  humanity to meet its responsibilities.  He demonstrates that all humanity – gentile and Jew – have failed in their obligations and responsibilities and consequently are exposed to the wrath of God.  In Ch 1, he establishes that gentiles have failed in their responsibility and so are sinners for knowing God they did not glorify him as God but became idolaters (1:18-23). As a consequence they are both ungodly and unrighteous (1:18).   In ch 2, he establishes, rather more surprisingly, that Jews too are sinners (2:12-24).  I say ‘surprisingly’ for Jews, because of their special relationship with God, were inclined to consider themselves above the accusation of sin; gentiles were sinners, not Jews (Gals 2:15).  However, Paul’s conclusion is as ringing as it is remorseless. Citing the every OT Law in which Jews boasted and that symbolised their special favour with God he indicts them,

Rom 3:10-12 (ESV)
“None is righteous, no, not one;  ​​​​​​​​no one understands; no one seeks for God.  ​​​​​​​​All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

The Law, it appeared, did not absolve from sin it accused of sin and indeed aggravated sin (3:20; 7:7,8).  It exposed sin (3:20).  The conclusion is stark: if the Law in which they boasted , a symbol of Jewish superior moral knowledge and privilege, (2:17-20; 3:1-3) did not shield them from the accusation of sin, but in fact asserted it (3:9-19), then who could be declared just and good?  Who possibly could escape the wrath of God?  If the most privileged were sinners who then could be righteous?

Who had lived responsibly?  The answer was none.  If the best and most favoured were sinners then all were sinners.

Rom 3:9 (ESV)
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

And so Paul establishes the guilt of all.   Humanity has utterly and universally failed in its responsibility.  Before God all are culpable, all are sinners.

But why are all sinners?  Why are there no exceptions?  Why do none (except Christ) break the mould?

flesh is captive

Ch 5-8 develops the answer.   The answer is, however, already alluded to in the above text.  Paul says we all sin because all – Jew and Greek – are ‘under sin‘ (3:9).  Here a significant conceptual change takes place.  Until this point Paul has focussed on SINS.  Sin has been individual acts of unrighteousness.  Now sin as depicted as a power, an authority, and a controlling tyrant.  Sin is personified; it is no longer an act but an actor.  The focus in Ch 5-8 shifts from SINS to SIN.  We discover we commit SINS because we are controlled by SIN; we are ‘under [the rule of] sin‘ (Gals 3:22).   To be ‘in the flesh’ is to be enslaved to sin, conspiratorially so, but enslaved none the less (6:17).  Romans 7 expresses this unambiguously,

Rom 7:14 (ESV)
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

In fact, to be ‘in/of the flesh’ is to be ‘under’ other authorities too.  It is to be ‘under judgement‘  or wrath (3:19; Cf Eph 2:3); ‘under Law‘ if Jewish (3:19; Gal 3:23); ‘under a curse’ (Gals 3:10); and ‘under the basic principles of this world‘ (Gal 4:3).  And, although humanity  ‘in the flesh’  is not described in so many words as being ‘under Satan’ or ‘under the world’, other language expresses the same idea (Eph 2:1-2).

To be in the flesh is a dire condition.  It is not simply to be weak and guilty, but to be in the grip of destructive powers that one can neither control nor escape (Roms 7:5: 8:6).  Like Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, those in the flesh are in the grip of destructive powers which they nevertheless willingly serve.  The picture is both repulsive and pathetic.  Gollum is Adamic humanity.  To be  an heir of Adam is to be bequeathed condemnation and death (5:12-21).

flesh is contrary

If the foregoing is bad then it is in Romans 8 the real horror of ‘flesh’ is exposed.  The chapter is visceral in its exposé of ‘the flesh’.

Rom 8:6-13 (ESV)
For to set the mind on the flesh is death… For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God… For if you live according to the flesh you will die.

‘Flesh’ in its responsibility before God, is not simply weak, guilty, and enslaved, but also antagonistic and contentious; it is implacably hostile to God (Roms 5: 10; Gals 5:17; Col 1:21; 1 Jn 2:16; Gen 6:12).  There is nothing good in flesh (Roms 7:18).  Responsible man ‘in the flesh’ – if I may alliterate with abandon – is frail, failed, fallen, fettered, and an irremediable foe of God. Flesh, Adamic humanity, is ‘beyond salvage’ and with it the whole creation it represents; all is condemned and must die (1 Cor 15:21,22).

the end of flesh in the flesh of Jesus

And in Christ death is exactly what it received.  Humanity ‘in the flesh’ was humanity responsible to God.  It was humanity under obligation to obey and in this responsibility it singularly and spectacularly failed.  ‘Flesh’ became corrupt humanity in opposition to a good God, a rebel without a cause; it became moral filth (1 Pet 3:21).   In the moral landscape of a holy God the abomination that ‘flesh’ now is cannot be tolerated.  Flesh must be condemned and finished.  This happened on the cross.  When Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, he came that in his body of flesh sinful flesh may be condemned and finished.  In the flesh of Christ, flesh – rebellious Adam – received its due – death.  And thus Adamic humanity, humanity in flesh, came to an end.   In resurrection Christ was no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; death in the flesh gave place to life in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18).

Thus the Christian is not ‘in Adam’ or ‘in the flesh’.  He needs no ‘flesh’ righteousness (which is what IAO is all about) for he lives not in the world of ‘flesh’ but of the world of ‘Spirit’.

Rom 8:3-6 (ESV)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

In the cross, Jesus shed his blood for our sins and so we are justified (Roms 5:9).  However, our righteousness although involving acquittal (Roms 4: 7,8), is much more.  For not only did the cross bring to us forgiveness through Jesus’ blood it also through Jesus’ death brought to an end our life in the ‘flesh’.  ‘The only hope for humanity is if they die to the realm of flesh and live in a different realm.

In Christ this is exactly what has happened.  We are participants in his death and resurrection.  This means we share in his death to life ‘in the flesh’ and share in his resurrection life ‘in the Spirit’.  There are two senses in which the death of Jesus saves.  Firstly in shedding his blood Christ atones for our sins (Roms 3:21-26) and secondly in his death he brings flesh to an end.  Flesh’ cannot be redeemed, renovated, renewed, or ‘righteoused’, it can only be eradicated; flesh must be put to death, terminated. It has been for believers in Christ and will be for unbelievers in the eternal destruction of the Lake of fire (Gen 6:12,13, 1 Cor 5:5; Gals 6:8; Rev 20).  Our righteousness, as believers, before God is new creation righteousness, the righteous standing we have in a resurrected and reigning Christ who was ‘delivered for our offences and raised for our justification‘ (Roms 4:25). Moreover, it is new creation life, life in the Spirit (Roms 1:4, 2:28, 7:6, 8:1-16).

2Cor 5:14-15 (ESV)
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Rom 8:9-11 (ESV)
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Flesh and Spirit are not two friendly states, they are worlds at war.  They are antagonists, colliding creations. ‘Spirit’ and ‘flesh’ cannot become friends

Gal 5:17 (ESV)
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  (Cf  Gals 3:3; 4:29; 5:16; 6:8)

But we begin to get ahead of ourselves.  This blog is intended simply to sketch an anatomy of ‘the flesh’.  The implications of what it means to be dead to ‘flesh’ must wait for another blog as too must any discussion of life in the Spirit and its implications.

04
Apr
10

flesh and spirit in Romans, and beyond (2)

This is the second in a short series of blogs reflecting on the ‘flesh/Spirit’ contrast that controls Romans and beyond.  In a previous blog we observed that this contrast is not metaphysical, a God/Man divide nor anthropological, a Body/Soul divide but chronological and eschatological, a divide of two Realms and Eras.

The gospel is about transformation.  It involves the ethical transformation of sinners but it is so much more.  It at heart a radical transformation between two different worlds, two different realms, two realities.  It takes people who belong to the realm and reality of ‘the flesh’, and translates them into the realm and reality of ‘the Spirit’.  Indeed it is not simply transformation, but translation.  It is a change so fundamental and far-reaching that Paul is able to say of it, ‘…  the old things have passed away; look all things have become new.’

While this is a transformation that takes place in God’s people, it first takes place in Christ.  In his transformation, the transformation of God’s people and indeed creation itself is realised.   The history of Christ involves transformation.  It translates him by a means no less radical than death and resurrection from life in ‘flesh’ to life in ‘Spirit’.  Romans 1:3,4 and  records this transformation or translation.

Rom 1:1-4 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

However, Romans does not stand alone, other Scriptures also record this fundamental change of realm- reality in the history of Christ.

1Tim 3:16 (ESV)
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

2Cor 13:4 (ESV)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.

1Pet 3:18 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

The 1 Timothy passage probably notes this realm-divide in three vivid contrasts.

Humiliation                                                        Glorification

manifested in flesh                                                 vindicated in Spirit

seen by angels                                                       preached among the nations

believed on in the world                                           taken into glory

Scripture is consistent and clear, Christ ‘in the flesh’, metamorphs via death and resurrection to a new existential reality, ‘Christ in the Spirit’.  It is a transformation involving both continuity and discontinuity.  A previous blog considered what it meant for Christ to live ‘according to the flesh’: this blog explores what it means for Christ to live ‘according to the Spirit’.

Christ in the Spirit

If, as we noticed in a previous blog,  ‘flesh’ describes humanity in the weakness and impermanence (and in our case rebellion) of the old creation, then ‘Spirit’ describes humanity in the power and vitality of the new creation.  Christ is the bridge between these two worlds.  He became one with us in the realm of ‘flesh’ to the point ultimately of being identified with our sin in his ‘flesh’ on the cross that he may in his death end the old reality of ‘flesh’ (which due to sin had written over it the sentence of death) and in his resurrection birth a new realm, a realm of ‘ the Spirit’, so radical that elsewhere Scripture refers to it as ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5:17).  Indeed so, important is this new realm of existence that Paul says it is the one we should primarily have in mind when we think of who we are as Christians and who Christ is.

2Cor 5:14-17 (ESV)
… one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Jesus, while on earth, impressed this new relationship upon Mary Magdalene consequent to his resurrection.  She would have clung to him ‘after the flesh’ but he wishes her to now know him ‘after the Spirit’ .  The eschatological age of the Spirit, the End Time Salvation, which the OT regularly anticipated, arrived in fulness not in the earthly Christ but the heavenly one, the risen and reigning Christ, this Mary must realise and it is this Christ to whom she must now relate  (Jn 20. Read previous blog).   Of course, in one sense the Eschaton arrived with Christ ‘in the flesh’ for even then he was God’s Servant-Son endowed with and energized by the Spirit.  Yet, in resurrection, this Spirit-Sonship entered a new phase, a new dimension, for in resurrection he is ‘designated the Son of God with power by the Spirit of holiness‘ (Roms 1:3,4).  The emphasis is on the recognition, power and authority that becomes Christ’s in a new way in resurrection.

Christ in the Spirit is recognised for who he is.  He is vindicated (1 Tim 3:16).  While on earth Christ was never properly recognised and vindicated.  The voice of God was heard from heaven by a few.  His manner, message and miracles pointed to the unique glory of his person, yet he was crucified as an imposter, a misguided Messiah.  He was crowned with thorns in mock parody of his  rightful crown as King.  It is not ‘in flesh’ he is vindicated but ‘in Spirit’ in resurrection.  He is ‘designated [appointed] son of God in power by the Spirit of holinesss by his resurrection from the dead‘ (Roms 1:4). God exalted him when men did not.  God enthroned him when men refused.  God declared him righteous and worthy of life when men declared him a sinner and worthy only of death.  When he is raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit it is his vindication as righteous.  And his vindication, his being raised to glory, is proclaimed to all the nations (1 Tim 3:16).  The apostolic message to the nations was and is,

Acts 17:30-31 (ESV)
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Whether to gentile or Jew, the apostolic message is of a risen and reigning Christ – ‘this Jesus whom you crucified has become both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36).  Christ, in the Spirit, is established as God’s King.  He is exalted at the right hand of the God (Acts 2:33), the Majesty on high  (Hebs 1), given a name that is above every name (Phils 2), declared to be ‘Lord’ (Phils 2:9), and God’s anointed King-Son (Hebs 1; Ps 2), to whom every knee must bow (Phils 2:10) and whose enemies will become the footstool of his feet (Hebs 1:13).  For Christ, the new realm is one of reigning and ruling.  It is a realm where ‘all authority is given to him‘ (Matt 28).  Thus it is a realm of power, power which he wields on behalf of his people (Eph 1:19-22).

Christ in the Spirit lives in the sphere of life.  Of course, while alive on earth, he had ‘life in himself‘.  Yet he had a human body that could die.  It subjected himself to the limitations of ‘flesh’.  Resurrection materially changed all this.  He entered as mediator a new realm of ‘life’.  While he is still physical, with a human body (Lk 24:39), its composition is different (cf 1 Cor 15:39).  We can do no better than use the language of Scripture to describe this new life.  Hebrews tells us he now lives  in the ‘power of an indestructible life‘ (Hebs 7:16).  He is no longer able to die.  He died to sin once for all while in the flesh but now he lives to God and death has no hold on him; he will never die again (Roms 6:8-10).  The reasoning of Roms 6 is simple: Christ lives in a new realm where these old malevolent powers of sin and death have no power.  He is in heaven, no longer facing testings and temptations.  He no longer inhabits this polluted world but lives continuously in the presence of God  ‘holy, harmless and undefiled, separate from sinners, exalted above the heavens’ (Hebs 7:26).  Thus, he is not a priest in weakness, distracted by the difficulties of life in a fallen world, but a priest ever living making undistracted intercession (Hebs 7).  His is not a body of humiliation, weak and susceptible,  but a ‘body of glory‘ (Phils 3:21).  He exists no longer in weakness but power (2 Cor 13:14; Cf. 1 Cor 15:42).

Christ once lived in the old age with its powers and conquered and overthrew them.  He is now ‘perfected‘, and perfected ‘forever‘ (Hebs 7:28).  However, Christ’s victory in the old world and the consequence of it, life in the new world of the Spirit, was not for him alone.  It was for us.  He was the seed that must die to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24).  He became ‘flesh’ that he might deliver us, through the death of flesh, from the realm of ‘flesh’ and bring us with him into the realm of ‘Spirit’, to what Paul calls, the ‘glorious freedom of sons of God‘ (Roms 8:21).  He is, in resurrection, ‘the beginning, God’s firstborn from among the dead’ (Col 1:18).

Herman Ridderbos, in his, ‘Paul: an Outline of his Theology’, writes,

“As the Firstborn among the many … Christ not only occupies a
special place and dignity, but he also goes before them, he opens up the way for them,
he joins their future to his own. … In him the resurrection of the dead dawns, his
resurrection represents the commencement of the new world of God.”

To begin to grasp the implications of this is to begin to grasp the gospel; we begin to grasp the implications of this Easter Sunday. In the words of N T Wright,

“With Easter, God’s new creation is launched upon a surprised world, pointing ahead to the renewal, the redemption, the rebirth of the entire creation.”

In future blogs we will examine what it means for Christians to be no longer  in ‘the flesh’ but in ‘the Spirit’.

30
Mar
10

flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (1)

We cannot properly understand Romans until we learn  it describes two realms of existence.  In fact, the Christian gospel, which is of course the theme of Romans, has not been truly grasped until it is seen as the story of two distinct and deeply different worlds.

Different images are used in the Bible to describe this distinction: nature and grace; natural and spiritual; old man and new man; Adam and Christ; ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’; and especially, creation and new creation.  Romans does not use the more absolute and dramatic language of ‘new creation’ (Gals 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17) but does develop another way of saying pretty much the same; it speaks of  ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’.  This distinction is first mooted in the opening verses of the book.

Rom 1:1-4 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit
of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This text is clearly significant.  Paul signals, right at the outset of Romans, in this compressed summary of the gospel, that it centres on Christ and his two stages of humanity, flesh and Spirit.  By ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’, Paul is is not referring to Christ as he is essentially, that is, in his hypostatic union of humanity and deity, nor is he referring to Christ anthropologically, that is, psychosomatically, in his human composition as body and soul, rather he is referring to Christ redemptive-historically, that is, in his two spheres of existence as incarnate ‘Messianic-Son’, namely, his humiliation and exaltation; before resurrection, Christ is Son ‘according to the flesh‘ and upon resurrection, he is Son ‘according to the Spirit‘.

If we are to make any sense of the flesh/Spirit divide so important to Paul (and other NT writers) we must first consider it as Romans does, that is, Christologically, in terms of  Jesus.

Christ ‘in the flesh’

In doing so, however, a complication must be addressed.  For the distinction between old creation and new creation that applies to us does not apply in direct parallel with Christ. The parallel exists, but only with qualifications and contrast (rather like Roms 5:12-21).

  • Firstly, in one profoundly important sense, Christ was from incarnation ‘new creation’.  He was always, not ‘Adam’ but ‘Christ’ (Roms 5), not ‘the First Man’ but ‘the Second Man’ (1 Cor 15:47).
  • Secondly, although he came as the First of a New Creation he was also truly ‘ in the flesh’ (Jn 1:4; 6:51; Roms 8:3; 9:5; 2 Cor 5;16; Col 1:22; Hebs 2:14; 5:7; 10:20; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 4:2).  In a very real sense he was our ‘flesh and blood’.
  • Thirdly, he was not ‘flesh’ in precisely the way we are.

‘Flesh’ in Scripture can convey a number of ideas.  Two are especially important.  One conveys the idea simply of being part of the first creation even in its primal state.  Animal and human life is simply ‘flesh’ (Gen 2:21; 1 Cor 15:39).  In this sense it conveys the weakness and frailty of humanity, whether living in Eden or beyond Eden (Ps 78:39; Roms 6:19).  However, ‘flesh’ often conveys the idea of fallen and rebellious humanity, humanity in opposition to God and under the power of sin, Satan, and death.  Christ became ‘flesh’ in the first sense but not in the second sense (though, as we shall, see even here some qualifications must be made).

Thus, although Christ is from incarnation God’s new creation humanity, ‘The Second Man, the Lord from Heaven’, yet he entered truly into our first creation humanity.  Scripture establishes this in a number of ways.  He is,  ‘the seed of the woman‘ (Gen 3:15) who ‘takes hold of the seed of Abraham‘ (Hebs 4:16), and is ‘born of a woman‘ and ‘under the Law‘ (Gals 4:4).  Significantly, we discover in each text cited he embraces our humanity that he may save humanity.  He became ‘the seed of the woman‘ that he may ‘bruise the head of the serpent’, that is, that he may overthrow Satan (Gen 3:15).  He lays ‘hold of the seed of Abraham’ for the same reason.

Heb 2:14-17 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He must identify with us if he is to deliver us.  And so he was born of a woman and under the Law to ‘redeem those who were under the law and all their lives subject to bondage’ (Gals 4:4,5). Scripture therefore takes great care to affirm that he was really part of our humanity – his body would weary, his mind tire and be troubled, and his emotions be in turmoil.  He even subjected himself  in some ways to the powers and authorities that rule ‘flesh’ – he lived in a world where the power of Satan, sin, death, and Law were active all around.  In various ways these impinged on him  – in temptation, weariness, opposition,  suffering, submission as a Jew to the Law, and finally submission to sin and death in the sense that he became sin and entered death (Roms 6:9,10; 2 Cor 5:21).   Yet, he was himself ‘without sin‘ (Hebs 4;14) and ‘knew no sin‘ (2 Cor 5:21).  Romans 8 sums up the ambiguity of the mediator’s ‘flesh’ well

Rom 8:3 (ESV)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Cf Phil 2:7,8)

Notice again, his identification with us in ‘flesh’ is redemptive in aim.  Christ came in flesh, yet not sinful flesh, that in flesh, his crucified flesh, ”sin in the flesh’, may be condemned and die.  This is the profound mystery of the incarnation.  God’s Son, Israel’s  promised ‘seed of David’, the Mighty Warrior-King destined to destroy God’s and his people’s enemies came in flesh.  Yet the enemies he must destroy were far greater than Israel ever imagined; the greatest enemy was not outside the people, it was inside the people, it was the people itself.

‘Flesh’ itself, was the enemy that must be eliminated, the rebel that must be executed.  ‘Flesh’ must die for only in its death and the death of the old order of which it was an integral part was salvation possible.  And in Christ, that is precisely what happened.  He became real flesh, the only righteous flesh, that he may in death represent flesh, rebellious flesh, and so revoke flesh.  In his death the history of ‘flesh’ is finished.  But it is finished that a better humanity, a better life, and a better world may be born.  A world, humanity and life existing not in the weak realm of ‘flesh’ but in the powerful realm of ‘Spirit’.  Romans 1:3,4 is compressed further and echoed in the words of 2 Corinthians and of 1 Peter

2Cor 13:4 (ESV)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.

1Pet 3:18 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.

Death is the transition of Christ from humiliation to exaltation, from flesh to Spirit, from weakness to power.  The two biblical realms of existence, ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ find their bridge in Christ.  In flesh, incarnation, he came down to where we are in our weakness and death; in Spirit, resurrection and exaltation, he raises us to where he is in power and life.

And that is the subject of the next blog on this topic.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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