second in a series published on Lent and Beyond.
Romans 1:16For 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For years Luther struggled with Romans 1:17. Because of his scholastic education he could only understand the righteousness of God as a negative thing Gods unrelenting ultimate standards and consequent displeasure with sin. It crushed him since he recognized that whatever he did, whatever monkery (as he put it) he pursued he was under condemnation. The harder he tried the worse it got. Luthers breakthrough (and ultimately our foundation as an Anglican church since it was Luthers writings that the Anglican Reformers read in that White Horse Inn so many centuries ago) was that Gods righteousness was also a positive thing an alien righteousness imputed to us by faith. In order to be righteous in front of a righteous God all that was need was simple trusting faith.
Ive always been curious as to why Paul might even consider being ashamed of the Gospel. Perhaps the next section will tell us why we might be ashamed for he is about to begin his exposition of that same gospel andit contains truths that, if we assent to, will cause many of us to be accused of believing shameful things. The irony, of course, is that the very things that Luther struggled with, the full weight of Gods displeasure with sin, are actually the foundations upon which the glorious gospel is built. For it is only when we see the total weakness of humanity that the power of God for salvation is seen to be what it is.
I think it is true to say that the person who does not understand justification by faith alone will always seek to diminish Gods law, whether in the form of the Torah or the wider precepts of God. If you understand that you are totally sinful but totally justified in Christ then the law is no longer an opponent, rather we embrace it since it speaks of the very God that we adore. But if one thinks that it is, somehow, works that in any way contribute to our salvation then the only option is to diminish the law. Now, we see that principle at work in bodies such as the Episcopal Church but we mustalso be wary of it in our own lives. The antidote, I suggest, is to constantly remind ourselves that the righteous will live by faith.
So, we turn to Pauls exposition of the gospel.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
It seems like such a strange place to begin to explain good news, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven… but it is the foundation of all that Paul will go on to explain. His trajectory is relentless, he is heading towards the grand statement of 3:23,
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
so that we might fully appreciate that
Romans 3:24 [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Its only when you get the correct diagnosis that you can take the correct medicine.
The picture Paul gives us is of a world in rebellion against God, suppressing the truth about Him. The discussions about natural theology are, in a sense, irrelevant since whatever truth it is about God that is revealed in Creation it will always be suppressed by our unrighteousness. And so, mankind begins the great exchange that it typical of every human:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory ofthe immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
We all, in our sinfulness, exchanged the truth about God for truths in our own image. The creature becomes our object of worship, not the Creator Himself. It is not just that we make idols but we ourselves becomes the idol. Those lusts of their hearts are basically self-centred. No wonder that we naturally plummet into narcissism and seek to be self-serving it is the most instinctive thing that humans do. My 2-year old daughter needs to be regularly reminded to say please and thank you but I have never had to prompt her to say My!, it just comes naturally to her.
So, friends, we should not be surprised that a church that has rejected the basic truths about the gospel – mankinds depravity, Gods wrath, and the wonderful escape to be found in the unique person and work of Christ should embrace such futile thinking. This is the path that unbelief has pursued throughout history. It should bring us to weeping, that much is true, but it also brings us a striking clarity; endorsement of these things is a clear mark of unbelief indeed, according to the Apostle, it is the first visible mark of unbelief.
But it is not the end of the story. Paul gives us the right response in the middle of the contemplation of such gross rejection of God and His ways. We are to turn back to God and reaffirm that He is the Creator. This is the same God, remember, who we saw yesterday promised the Gospel and brought it into being in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. More than that, He is remaking His creation with us at the centre of it!!! It is not a small thing for Paul to later state
Rom 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Note carefully, it is not that we join in with the Creations redemption but it is the Creation that yearns to join in with our revelation, our freedom that is surely coming when God makes all things new. The New Creation has already begun in us and we do not belong to this corruption that we see all around us, whether out on the streets or even in the halls of the General Convention.
Delegates at Convention, worship the Creator who is blessed forever!!! Stand for him. Do not be ashamed of the gospel and expect to groan as you see the corruption of the Creation working out all around you as men and women exchange the glory of the immortal God for images in their own making.
Friends, we should turn again to pray for our brothers and sisters that they might stand firm, not ashamed of the gospel but convinced that God is remaking His creation centred in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God the Creator forever! Amen!
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