Friday, January 30, 2015

The power of God in all of His mercy

“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?’

‘Or who has given a gift to him,
    to receive a gift in return?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”  Romans 11:33-36 (NRSV)

In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul writes about the disobedience of the Jews and the Gentiles.  The history of the Jewish nation includes many periods of time where the people were disobedient and did not put God first in their lives, yet God still used the Jewish society to bring the Christ into the world.  Paul writes that the disobedience of Jews and Gentiles still requires the same grace from God.
This passage of scripture is very important for all Christians today.  In a world that seeks knowledge and truth, we are caught up in the depths of our own knowledge and understanding.  Astrophysics is a branch of science that studies the physical laws of outer space. The theories of how the universe works have been developed over centuries of study and thought, and we are still learning and will continue to learn.  Yet God created all of our physical laws by commanding them into existence. In this same way, we can seek to understand why God allows the human race to behave as it does, but we will never fully comprehend it.  God has the power to speak light into existence, and He is somehow able to allow sin in the world and extend grace to all.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

God's promise of grace

“It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.”  Romans 9:6-8 (NRSV)

The theme of Paul’s ministry is the simple statement, “Christ for all.”  In this scripture passage,  Paul so painstakingly makes it clear to the Gentiles that the promised Messiah is not only for the Jews.
The Jews identified themselves as flesh descendants of Abraham, and they were proud that God had promised that the Messiah would come to the descendants of Abraham.  If, as the Jews believe, that the Messiah is only for the flesh descendants of Abraham, then Paul argues that the Messiah must be for the descendants of Ishmael and Esau as well, because they also are descendants of Abraham.
However, God sent the Messiah through the descendants of the child that He promised to Abraham, Isaac.  God also promised to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars—an almost incomprehensible number.  God reckoned Abraham righteous because of his faith—not because of his lineage.   Most importantly, God promised Abraham that He would always be with him.
All of these promises, found in the Old Testament, point to a lineage of faith, not a lineage of flesh.  Paul wants us to understand that all of these promises point to the fact that God loves all people, not just the Jews.  God loves us, in spite of the evil in each of us, and He longs to draw us close to Him.  God longed for us so much that He sent Christ (through Isaac, the son promised to Abraham) to die on the cross so that we would have the opportunity to be with Him forever.   All of these promises point to the grace of God.     

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Speaking and acting in grace

“because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9 (NRSV)

There is something about speaking and doing that solidifies the truth in our hearts.  Psalms 15:1-2 (NRSV) says:  “O Lord, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?  Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart.”  And Jesus says in John 17:8 (NRSV): “for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

Jesus came and spoke the words and performed the deeds that created the truth and saving grace that dwelt in the hearts of the disciples. 
Speaking the truth and performing deeds in love solidifies God’s grace in our hearts too.  It is important for us to speak and act our faith, even when our feelings urge us to do otherwise.  Modern American Christians are aware of the feeling aspect of our faith, and while feelings are important, it is the concrete facts that build up our foundation of faith.  The most important concrete fact is this:  God pours His grace into our lives to solidify our faith so that we may stand on His firm foundation and abide in Him.   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Recognizing grace through the law
"For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 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); 9 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."  Romans 10: 5-9 (ESV)

The apostle Paul is actually making a simple analogy here.  First Paul points out that the Jews, who look for righteousness through obedience to the law, have the law written on their hearts (see Romans 2:15).  Paul does not mean that we will be righteous because we obey the law.  Paul means that through obedience to the law, God's love for us becomes written on our hearts.  For example, when we consciously try to be honest in all of our interactions, we will grow to have honesty ingrained in our hearts.  We will not be honest just so that others will praise our honesty, we will be honest because we want to please God.

Next, Paul compares righteousness through the law with righteousness based on faith.  Paul says that righteousness based on faith is similar to righteousness based on law that is written on our hearts.  When we trust God for our righteousness, we do not have to ascend to heaven and bring Christ down to us, nor do we have to descend to hell and bring Christ up to us.  We do not have to do anything.  Christ is in our mouth (in what we do) and in our hearts (what we believe). 

God's law has paved the way for grace.  When we know in our hearts what is righteous, we can then recognize the grace that justifies our lives in the eyes of God.