Jacob - Part 2
If you've been following the blog, you know that I've been continuing to dialogue with a LDS I met at their Easter pageant this year. Click here for our previous exchange.
Thankfully, Jacob has expressed a desire to stay focused on one subject and continue our discussion of the gospel. Below is my latest email to him reviewing what we discussed at the temple the night we met. I've left out our more personal discussion for obvious reasons. So please don't get the impression that my email began here =)
Lets start on where you left off when we met. That is a great idea!
Cool. As I recall, we discussed the tract I was handing out. The tract is basically talking about how I believe sinful men can have a right relationship with God.
I began by introducing my belief that we are born sinful. Psalm 51:5 says that we are conceived in sin: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me."
The reason we are born in sin is because we bear the guilt of Adam's sin. Romans 5:12 says: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned"
Not only are we born as sinful creatures, bearing the guilt of Adam's transgression, but we also commit our own sins. In fact, we sin on a regular basis.
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains his argument of how sinful men can have a right relationship with God.
In Romans 1:18-32, the Apostle Paul began his argument: "18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."
Verse 18 says that the wrath of God is presently being poured out against all the wickedness of men who actively suppress God's truth. This suppression of God's truth is also being done in unrighteousness, meaning that they are sinful in their suppression of it.
Verse 19 brings out the fact that God has revealed Himself to all people. Indeed, God has made it evident to them.
What exactly has God revealed to men about Himself? Verse 20 answers that question: God's invisible attributes, His eternal power, His divine nature. These things are "clearly seen" through all of creation. This means that there are no true atheists =) ... for God has truly revealed Himself to them through creation. But Paul ends this verse with an amazing statement: "...so that they are without excuse." Men have no excuse before God. Why do men not have an excuse? Because God has clearly revealed Himself to all men.
Now to make it a bit more personal: you and I have no excuse before the living God. We stand before Him with a clearly revealed knowledge of who He is.
Verse 21 tells us that even though men know who God is they still do not honor God or give Him the thanks He deserves! Men are described as futile in their thinking, as having foolish hearts, and as darkened.
Verse 22 - men claim to be wise ... but became fools.
Verse 23 - men exchange the clearly revealed knowledge of God for idols.
Verse 24 - Because of the wickedness of men, God gave us over to the wicked desires of our hearts.
Verse 25 - Men have exchanged the truth of God that He has given to us for a lie, and worshipped other created things, rather than the Creator-God.
Verse 26-31 - Paul describes mankind's sinfulness.
Finally in verse 32, the Apostle again reminds us that men know the truth of God. He continues by saying that those who commit the sins mentioned in verses 26-31 deserve death. Even knowing all this, they still perform these sins and approve of those who perform them.
Paul continues in Romans chapter 2. Verses 5-12 read: "5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;"
Because of man's stubborn and unrepentant heart, man stores up wrath for himself on the day of Judgment. For God will give to each personal according to his deeds - this is not good news for the sinner. The one who has no excuse before God should tremble at these words! Those who obey God's Law inheret eternal life. But those who do not obey God's Law inherit wrath and indignation.
Paul makes an important statement in verse 12: "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law..." Everyone who does not have the written Law of God (the Scriptures) will perish. So even the Gentiles (non-Jews) who do not have the Law have no excuse before God, and will therefore perish. Now the rest of verse 12: "...and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law" Even if you have the Law of God, you still have no excuse before Him.
Verses 14-16 read: "14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus."
Paul's argument is becoming ever stronger. Not only are men found without excuse before God because He has revealed Himself to all men ... but even non-Jews who do not have the written Law, instinctively do the things of the Law because they have the Law written in their hearts. Verse 16 brings out the importance of His entire argument up to this point: there is a day coming when God will judge the secrets of men.
Continuing through Paul's argument in the book of Romans, the Apostle uses a series of Old Testament passages describing the sinfulness of man. Romans 3:9-18: "...for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." 13 "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; 14 "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; 15 "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." 18 "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.""
This passage is clearly more bad news. Jews and Greeks ... everyone ... are all under sin. Now, carefully consider the meaning of each of these Old Testament passages that Paul has strung together. No one is righteous. No one seeks after God. All have turned aside. No one does good. All deceive. They curse with bitterness. They are quick to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths. They have not known the path of peace. They do not fear God.
Again, one might ask: "But who is it that Paul is addressing?" The answer is found back in verse 9: Jews and Greeks (Gentiles, or non-Jews) ... everyone. Paul is addressing everyone.
Verses 19-20: "19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."
We know that everyone is under the Law: Jews and non-Jews. And everyone has the Law applied to them so that every mouth may be closed and become accountable to God. Not only are men without excuse but men are now accountable to God for their sin. Paul's next statement in verse 20 is shockingly important: no one is justified in the sight of God by works of the Law! The term "justified" is a legal term that carries with it the concept of the Jewish law-court. If the accused is declared "not guilty" by the judge, he is considered to be "justified" in the eyes of the court. In the same way, God is our judge, and we stand as the accused in His court. We stand as guilty sinners, deserving of wrath and judgment. And we cannot be justified, or declared "not guilty," based on the works of the Law. What are the works of the Law? Up to this point it has reference to good works in a general sense and to the Jewish Old Covenant Law. Therefore, we as sinful people cannot be justified, or declared "not guilty," in God's sight based on anything we do.
How then does one become justified before God?
Romans 3:21-28 reads: "21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
This is truly an amazing passage of Scripture! The Apostle begins by saying that the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law. This righteousness comes through faith for all who believe in Christ. Sinners are justified as a gift by God's grace. I should point out that a gift given by grace cannot be earned by good works. How is this gift given by grace? Because of the redemption provided by Christ ... who was a propitiation for sinners. The term "propitiation" means to "satisfy the wrath of God." So then Christ's redemption on the cross turned aside the wrath of God against His people. In verse 26 we see that God is just and is the Justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. This again means that those who have faith in Christ are declared "not guilty" by God. Because sinful men can only be justified in God's sight because of the graciousness of God in sending His Son to save all who would believe in Christ, no one can boast before God. Paul concludes by saying: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
Paul wrote elsewhere in Ephesians 2:8-9, "8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
The Apostle wrote to the Christians at Ephesus that they have been saved from sin by grace through faith. They were not saved because of anything in them. This salvation from sin is God's gift, not given because of good works they had done. Therefore, they cannot boast.
Back to Romans...
Continuing on with Paul's argument in Romans, in chapter 4:1-8 we read: "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 "BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.""
Paul asks what Abraham discovered about the subject of sinners being justified before God. Constrasting the hypothetical statement of verse 2, verse 3 informs us that Abraham had righteousness credited to him because He believed God. In verse 4, we see that when one works, what he earns is not credited as a favor but as what is owed to him. Using that analogy, Paul then says in verse 5 that those who do not trust in their works to be justified in God's sight, but believe in Christ, their faith is credited as righteousness. Then in verse 6 Paul says that those who have righteousness credited to them apart from works are blessed. The word for "credit" here can also be translated as "impute," which is a legal term meaning to "consider," "count" or "reckon." So when one has faith in Christ and is justified in God's sight he has righteousness credited to Him. Who's righteousness is credited to the justified believer? I believe it is the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21), but more specifically the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). The reason it is important that an alien/foreign righteousness is credited to the believer is because the Christian stands before God not based on what he has done but based on what Christ has done on his behalf. When the Father looks on the justified sinner, He sees that he is covered by the righteousness of another - that of Jesus Christ. Not only does the justified person receive the righteousness of Christ, but his own sin is not counted against him. In fact, in verse 8 the word for "account" is the same word used earlier that is translated as "credited." It is the word for "impute." Rather, the sinner's sin is borne by Christ (1 Peter 2:24).
I think it was at this point that you asked me that night: "But if you're saying that we are justified by faith and not by works at all, ... what about faith? Isn't faith a work?" Excellent question. Faith is certainly something that we do. But I believe that inherently all people lack the ability to have faith in God. Consider a text we've already looked at, Romans 3:11, "11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;" What does it mean that no one understands? Does Paul mean that no human being understands any knowledge? I don't believe that's what he means =). I think Paul is referring to spiritual understanding - people do not have spiritual understanding specifically with reference to seeking God. But what does it mean that no one seeks for God? I will say right off the bat that yes, I do believe some seek after God. But why? Why does anyone seek after God? I believe people seek after God because God has granted them the ability to seek after Him. If God has to grant people the ability to seek after Himself, this obviously means that I believe people do not inherently have the ability to seek after God. And this is what I believe Paul means when he says that none seek after God. No one seeks after God apart from God granting the ability. Philippians 1:29 says, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi that it was granted to them to believe in Christ. If something must be granted to you, it is not inherently yours. Sinners do not have the inherent ability to believe in Christ. It must be granted to them. Therefore, since faith must be granted to sinners, it is not something the believer can boast in - since the only reason he has faith is because God has given it to Him.
One more thought on justification and how it "fits" into the gospel ... Romans 4:16, "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, ..."
The reason sinners are justified through faith in Christ is because it is in complete accordance with the grace of God. Salvation is a gift, including the gift of faith. Therefore all of salvation is in the complete control of God. Salvation is by grace alone, and comes through faith alone because of what Christ alone has done.
Now we've reached where we left off =), Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"
The Apostle reminds all Christians that they have peace with God because they have been justified by faith. "Have been justified" in the Greek (the language the New Testament was written in) is a past tense action. This means that one is justified at a point in time ... when he has faith. Also, notice that the one who has been justified by faith has peace with God. The one justified by faith has peace. And this is a lasting peace. The justified person now has a right relationship with God.
This, in a nutshell, is the good news of the gospel of Christ. Sinners are saved not by anything they do. Sinners are saved from sin and the punishment of sin by grace through faith because Christ.
I know that this email is a mouthful and that you probably have a number of questions, thoughts and comments =). Hope to hear from you soon.