Friday, July 29, 2016

Justly Justified

Should the 10 Commandments be posted in public places or on public buildings?  There’s a controversial subject.  Some think that they have no business in these public places and some think that the fall of humankinds rests on where they are posted.

For commands that God gave to humankind, people have all manner of opinions about where to put them but don’t seem to be asking God about what he said about where we should post these.  We need only but visit the first part of the Shema. 

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The Law has purpose.  It is among the many gifts that God gave his people.  He gave them an identity, a sign in the flesh, a land promised to them from centuries before, a blessing and a charge, and through them the Messiah as well.  God also gave his people the law.  

Paul goes so far as to say that the law was entrusted to his people.  It is more than a gift to his people.  It is a trust.  We should not just dismiss the law.

But God’s own people didn’t follow the law very well.  They were unfaithful in many ways.  Paul notes that through his own people’s unfaithfulness, we know God’s faithfulness even more.  You might think that the unfaithfulness of God’s own people would detract from God’s faithfulness.

Not so.  It sets the faithfulness of God in stark contrast to the sinful nature of man.

Paul notes that some would and surely have argued, “If my shortcomings and transgressions make God’s righteousness and glory stand in such stark contrast and people can see his glory even more; why should I be held accountable for my sin.  It seems like I am doing a public service here.”

“Let’s do some more evil so that God will make some good come out of it.”

Paul tells us that such human arguments are terrible thinking.  Think back to Joseph’s 10 older brothers when Joseph told them what you intended for evil, God intended for good.  What if they would have said, “That’s cool.  Let’s go do more evil.”

Paul said that this sort of thinking is out there and needs to be condemned.  It is stinkin’ thinkin’.

We are all under sin’s condemnation—at least at this point in Paul’s build up to God’s grace.  Neither Jew nor Gentile measure up.

Paul reflects upon thoughts that we believe are rooted in Psalm 36.  No person is righteous—not a single person!  The words that we know best are all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The world takes these words and says let’s just all have a big pity party.  Let’s just wallow in how hopeless everything is and do whatever we want because it really doesn’t matter anyway.

Paul’s letter takes us somewhere else but first let’s bring this matter of the law into perspective.  This law given by God to his own chosen people, entrusted to them, could never get his people to right standing with him.

So what’s the point?

Everyone has fallen short.  Everyone has missed the mark.  Everyone stands condemned.  So what is the point of the law?

Through the law we become conscious of sin.  We are aware of our transgression.  We know that we have fallen short of God’s glory.

Wow!  We can now join the world’s pity party.

No.  Now it’s time for Paul to lead his readers to God’s grace—for there is right standing with God that comes from God but apart from the law.  Compliance with the law could never bring about right standing with God but the law set the stage for the acceptance of the greatest gift that the world has ever known.

And Paul takes us from the total depravity of humankind as John Calvin would later describe it to atonement, redemption, justification, and grace as he concludes this chapter. 

It was as if at this point in the letter, Tertius, Paul’s scribe, stopped writing and said to Paul, “Enough with the hopeless state of affairs among men.  Do you have any good news?”

In this constructive conversation, Paul would reply:  “You want good news?  You want good news?  See if you can handle the good news!”

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past,  for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
What’s our part in all of this?
To know that we have fallen short of God’s glory and there was nothing that we could do about it, but God—by the blood of his one and only Son—God made us right with him.
God was just.  He dispensed justice.  We were guilty.  Court was held on us—on humankind—after all these centuries and we were found and pronounced guilty. 
The sentence was death.  The sentence was carried out.  The sentence was executed.  Justice was done.
But God’s sentence was carried out upon his own flesh.  Jesus—the only man who ever lived a life without sin—was executed for our sin.  He took our place.  Justice was done.
Because of this, we may freely receive God’s grace.  We are made right with him, and because we receive this gift freely by faith; we have nothing to brag about.
God did it all.
Make sure that we get this part.  We could never make ourselves right with God.  It just was not going to happen.  Try as we may, we could never fully comply with God’s law.  There was and is something missing in us.
What’s missing is not a personality trait.  It is not self discipline.  It is not something that a Law of Moses Boot Camp would ever fix.
What is missing from us is a connection with God.  Compliance with rules and regulations could not connect us.
The rules could show us that we kept missing the mark.  The law was a good consultant and could point out our shortcomings, but only the free gift of God could reconcile us and restore the relationship for which we were made.
Sin is detestable.  Sin must be judged. Sin was judged and justice was done.  On the cross, Jesus said:  “It is finished.”
I like to ask people challenging questions.  I’m not sure if that is my gift or some sort of penance, but in either case; I often ask Christians who are firm in their faith the following question.
Are you a sinner saved by grace?
Many will say that they are.  I challenge them to claim their identity as a child of God.  You are exactly who God made you to be.
Your story, well it surely includes being a sinner saved by grace; but your identity is a child of God.  Through faith alone, we have received a gift that we never deserved but which God’s heart has longed to give us since the foundation of the earth.
We are his kids, his children, his loved ones.
Sin is part of our story.  All have fallen short of God’s glory.
The law is part of our story, not in the way it was in Paul’s time, but we know that this law that was entrusted to God’s Chosen People is fulfilled in our knowing our shortcomings and desiring the free gift of grace.
But our identity has been restored to what it was always meant to be.  We are children of our loving heavenly Father.  Through faith, we have received this gift of redemption and favor and reconciliation and grace.  Atonement for our sins has been made.
We are justified by a just God.  He didn’t skip any steps and bypass his own law.  We paid nothing but we are right with holy God.
The law is important but faith is essential.
The law shows us where we failed to comply but faith brings us to accepting the free gift.
The law was entrusted to a special people until a way to right standing with God was given to all people by faith.
Back to my initial provocation—should we post the 10 commandments in public buildings or not?
If that’s your cause, then go for it.  I would rather see monuments to faith in God by people seeing their own transgressions and turning to God.
I would rather see a nation that seeks God’s kingdom and his righteousness before any secular cause.
I would rather see what the writer of Hebrews called the evidence of things not seen.  I will leave it to you to decide if that is a dichotomy, an oxymoron, or another one of Tom’s paradoxes.
I would rather see faith than monuments or engraved words.
Paul will talk more about faith in the chapters to come.  I ask that we understand where the world knows it falls short and holds a pity party; we see that we too fall short but have all been given a measure of faith to receive God’s free gift of grace to us.
We have received forgiveness that we did not deserve.
We live in the favor that God has longed to pour out upon us.  Now he can and he does for he has justly dealt with sin and has justified us.
It is time for us to live, fully live, in our right standing with God and bring glory to his name.

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