Sunday, May 17, 2009

Romans One Part Two

The general theme of Romans is succinctly stated in the maxim: “The just shall live by faith.” Paul’s cogent argument that we are “without excuse” is powerfully built in the last half of Romans One. I shall try to demonstrate his persuasive points in these next few paragraphs.

First Paul establishes that “men are without excuse” by depicting the downward spiral of sin. First he tells us that “their thinking became futile.” It is futile thinking which marks the beginning of the trek away from God. How many ways are there for modern man to engage in “futile thinking”? I wonder about our movement into the worship of nature and its mythical balance. Today we are more worried about our carbon production than we are about being judged by an angry God. The former is largely imagined while the latter is a coming reality. We are engaged in futile thinking when we imagine ourselves as saviors of the earth--it is we ourselves who are in desperate need of a Savior.

If “futile thinking” is the first mark of the sinful man, the second mark is “darkened hearts”. I see a connection here. Futile thinking would frequently lead to darkened hearts. People become captured by their vain imaginings and those imaginings bring about a heart which is darkened. I look at the wonders of creation, having gazed at the beauties of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. They make me see the Creator, but those with darkened hearts and vain imaginings only see accident and happenstance. I cannot look at a tree without wondering about the one who created it, but those who vainly imagine darken their own hearts. Paul tells us that they are “without excuse” because the Creator is plainly seen, “being understood from what is made”. They think they are wise, yet they are but fools, worshipping created things rather than the Creator.

Sexual impurity is the next result. Fools who pretend they are responsible to no one begin to act toward one another without righteousness. The loss of any righteous stance leads the sinner to sexual impurity, and Paul lists the worst outcomes of sexual impurity: women lust toward other women, and men lust toward other men. Such behavior comes from those who “do not retain their knowledge of God”. (Please scroll down to see Marriage Compact, written several years ago).

Those who leave their knowledge of God so willfully spiral yet further into sin and disobedience by developing “depraved minds”. The rest of the chapter lists the marks of the depraved mind:
“29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” I count 21 ways that depravity is counted here.

I can quite imagine the righteous man, indeed it is my tendency too, to read this list and become incensed at the wickedness of mankind, thinking foolishly that it is “those others” who engage in sin. The next verse especially seems to make me want to establish myself as different, better than ‘those sinners’.
32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

I find myself wondering about how other people have gone so far wrong, and in my suppositions I fall into Paul’s trap. Paul’s trap comes in the next verse, which is the first verse of the second chapter. When Bible scholars chopped the text up into chapters and verses they correctly saw verse one of chapter two as beginning a new thought; but it is also the summation of what Paul has been building. It is put there as a cold bucket of water to be tossed over the righteous head and awaken him to his dire need. I find myself a bit shocked in reading it, even after all these years of being a Christian, because it does point at my utter depravity.

1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

I, then, am guilty of the same things, the sexual sins, the list of 21 sins, the wickedness of futile thinking and darkened hearts. I think of Jimmy Carter who famously spoke of the lust in his heart, and I think of Bill Clinton who never quite acknowledged the lust of his zipper. Together they are both condemned. Moreover I am condemned right along with them. Jesus makes this explicit in his Sermon on the Mount, but Paul makes us see the three fingers pointing back at ourselves when we point our accusatory fingers and say “j’accuse”. The gospel has been magnificently explained as one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. I need to forever remember my own beggar status when I speak to others about unrighteous lifestyles. I definitely should not approve of such lifestyles, but if I lose sight of my utter wretchedness I risk losing not only my testimony, but also my very proper perspective. I am a sinner who is made righteous, and called to live by faith.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Romans One part one

Key verses:

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

In Romans Paul starts out immediately letting me know that God includes more than His people, the Jews, in his grand designs. The key verses of the book are found in Romans 1:16 & 17.

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Paul tries to succinctly state the broad theme of Romans by letting us know first that the very Power of God is illumined when the merest man partakes in belief. It is only faith which brings us imputed righteousness. My belief in God is the only thing that pleases Him; I receive that which was done on the cross with His Son, and that alone is what pleases God.

Hebrews tells us this also: But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6). Paul is restating this in Romans, or perhaps it was first, for if my memory serves Romans is the earlier book.

Now Paul begins to craft his arguments that all men are in the same fix: lost without Christ. His first argument is almost a trap to the righteous Jew, or to the righteous Christian. He begins with stating clearly that righteousness comes by faith but then moving to a great list of sins that are favored by those with a “depraved mind”.

Paul brilliantly marshals his arguments by plainly telling us that all men are without excuse:
19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

In other words the natural mind is capable of and responsible for discerning the Creator through His creation. We should be able to look at a tree or a tall mountain and see the Creator behind them.

But men’s willfulness always corrupts them; though we do see God’s handiwork, and even His presence everywhere we have so darkened our understanding that we are incapable of seeing the Light of the World.

21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Idolatry is a chief manifestation of the wickedness of men- I wonder if we have really changed all that much this last several years. In the Old Testament the Israelites sacrificed their children to Molech by casting them into the fire; these times woman are counseled to sacrifice their unborn to the god of convenience. In former ancient times men worshipped the sun and feared it; today we have the religion of global warming that still fears angering the sun.

In our next passage to look at, Paul brilliantly captures the supposed righteous man by listing many more of the awful sins of the depraved mind. Stay tuned.