Sunday, May 18, 2014

Applying Romans 3

This Romans 3 passage has come up repeatedly in discussion and debate with a friend of mine; if I understand his perspective, he sees it as proof that we can’t really do well enough to please God, that everything we do is tainted by sin. I see it, taken in its context, as a description of how all apart from God are under sin and cause Him grief and alienate us from Him, the Jew and the Gentile together. The description here doesn’t seem to me to be intended to describe the abiding believer, but how the unbeliever is shut up into sin and alienated from God until he comes to Christ; there are many Bible verses that seem to indicate that our believing changes us through the grace of God in Jesus Christ so that we are now able to please Him and obey Him and the taintedness of sin is no longer an issue in the things we do in His strength.

Romans 3:10-18             it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
 “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

We now have righteousness imputed to us as believers in Christ, even described later in that same chapter:

Romans 3:21-26                       But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.               

2 Corinthians 5:21                 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Philippians 3:8-10                   More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

So that portion has been provided for every believer.

Then “there is none who understands” is changed:

1 John  5:20                           “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

Regarding whether anyone seeks God, you know that people in fact do, only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them;

Acts 17:24-28                        “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Hebrews 11:6                         “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Though as sinners we turned aside, God has brought us back, and reconciled us to Him through Jesus Christ:

1 Peter 2:25                            For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

He also causes believers to do His will:

Hebrews 13:20-21                  “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Of course we don’t do any of this that God desires of us and created us to do, while we are dead to Christ or by our own strength, but only by the power of His Spirit working in us. So it’s essentially Him seeking us; imputing His righteousness to us; giving us understanding; enabling us to do His will.

And as I understand it, all of that is only active while we abide in Him (John 15); when we don’t, our ways default back for that period of time as if we were unbelievers…acting unrighteously or self-righteously; not seeming to understand or seek His ways; turning aside and becoming useless, not doing good; disregarding and disobeying what we have come to know and believe; and we grieve Him (Ephesians 4:17-32).

Here’s another verse that relates to quenching/grieving the Holy Spirit; just in case it is helpful:  

1 Thess. 5:19-24a                    “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”

If all the aspects of Romans 3:10-18 have countering passages for the believer elsewhere in the Bible, how can the passage be still true of us, as we abide in Him? There is no mention of sanctification in that chapter, so I don't think Paul was speaking of it in those terms; there are 8 versions of the word "just" or "justify." Romans 3:5-6 speak of God's wrath and condemnation, which applies only to the unbeliever (there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8:1); Romans 3:9 talks about being under sin. 

When we don't abide in Him, I think we default to being like the unbeliever as Romans 3:10-18 describe, when we're trying to do things in our own strength; but since we forever have His positional righteousness, even when we live like that, we are not under His wrath and condemnation but under His grace even though we grieve Him (I don't know what that looks like; I know His grace never breaks through to condemnation and wrath for the believer, but it's almost like we give it stretch marks; it clearly inflicts pain on Him). 

Romans 3:20 talks about how by the works of the law no one will be justified in His sight. We know that the believer is justified because of Christ. So when we do works, abiding in Him, it is not with any hope of furthering justification or any change in righteousness or status in God's sight. We are free to obey without it seeming to God that we think we can earn His favor since we know we already have it. We are free to obey simply to show our love for Him. 

Romans 3:21 talks about the righteousness of God through faith. I hold that our positional righteousness is perfect; because it is Jesus' perfect righteousness imputed to us, not dumbed down or defiled or changed in any way. That whole chapter is not about how we are worthless sinners, which we are, saved by grace; it is about how the need for Christ applies both to the Jew and the Gentile because apart from Christ, we all are not seeking, not righteous, not understanding, not doing good.

In response to Christ’s work, out of love for Him, it seems that every believer would want to live for Him, trying to please Him in all respects in our obedience to His truth:

Ephesians 5:6-10              Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

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