Last in a series of 3 for Lent & Beyond.
Our last of 3 readings on the last day of General Convention. Some helpful words from the Apostle Paul as we prepare to go home. Before I start, however, do notice that the Lectionary has seen fit to miss out 2 key verses, vv26-27. In order to be faithful well be reinstating them.
Romans 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know Gods decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
It would be comical if it werent so true. The rejection of God that Paul has already set out is affirmed by God Himself who hands people over to their debased minds. And what do these debased minds do? They reject what is natural in favour of that which is unnatural. For Paul, the prime example he can point to is homosexual behaviour. It is not my desire here to repeat arguments that you will all know well, but only to point out to you that there is a continuation here of the theme which Paul has already set out; rejection of the Creator in favour of the creation.
All of this is not only sinful behaviour itself but also a due penalty for sin. The punishment is the crime. And it is right that, at this point, we feel compassion for the very act that is so wrong also brings such pain and destruction to those that pursue it. But, of course, it is not just homosexual behaviour that Paul wishes to point to as the great example of rejection of God. He shows us that a whole host of sinful activity follows from this basic rejection. What compounds the problem is that they not only practice these things but endorse others who do so.
Of course, its not a million miles from what were seeing at General Convention, is it? And this is what Paul says is the mark of the Gentile unbeliever. The temptation, then, is to slip into pride. To play the part of the Pharisee and, as we return home, to say thank you Lord, that I am not like them…. That was certainly the problem of the Jews who were Pauls initial audience. This damning indictment of the Gentiles they saw around them in Rome must have led to a fair amount of pride, as is evidenced by what Paul writes next:
Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. 3 Do you suppose, O manyou who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourselfthat you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that Gods kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when Gods righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
To think that we are better than those whose sins are exposed by the scriptures is the biggest mistake we could make. As soon as we make behaviour the basis of our status then we condemn ourselves since there is not one of us who can escape the fact that we are all sinners. We cannot possibly presume to judge (by which I assume Paul means to possess an attitude of superiority it cannot be that judging is simply the pointing out of sin since that is exactly what Paul has done) since the judgement of God rightly falls on all those who do such things and we have all done things that mean we fall short. To judge in this way, then, is to presume upon Gods grace. We say aha! I am saved by grace, woe to those who dont trust Jesus and continue to sin! Gods grace is not meant to make us proud but exactly the opposite, it is meant to lead us to humble repentance. If we want to demand that God holds peoples sins against them then, as Jesus warned us, we will be measured by the same measure.
Of course, the Law is seen most clearly when it is transgressed, but the Law is itself no means to self-justification. Of course, if you want you can have a go at Law-keeping. I dont recommend it since its requirements (in whatever form you want to take them) are simply far too hard. No, there is nothing for us in the Law on this issue but a call to humility. And, from that humility, a return to dependence upon Christ.
Which is, I think, where we started on Monday. Dependence upon Christ. This is the heart of the gospel. This is the gospel, promised in the holy scriptures concerning Gods Son. It would be a big mistake for us to proclaim the gospel concerning the Son, desire to hold true to Gods holy standards in our proclamation, and then make the massive mistake of thinking we are justified by the latter, not the former.
So, what does this mean for us as we leave Convention, whether we were there in body or in spirit? It means that while we are clear on Gods standards we must be clearer still on the gospel concerning His Son. We must be humble. We must allow the sin we see all around us drive us to humility and repentance which means, of course, being driven to Christ. We have no excuse, all the more so since we have stood so firmly on these issues this past week. We have no excuse to be proud or self-righteous. And such a humility will foster the right response as we continue to have to interact with those that we disagree with. It will, I suspect, be one of our best ways of commending to them the very gospel which we have sought to defend.