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The Fulfillment of the Law November 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:17-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that He has not come to do away with the Old Testament; instead, He has come to:

  • obey it
  • explain its true interpretation.

Indeed, His followers will always be subject to the authority of the Old Testament. Those who are in the kingdom of heaven accept this truth; they rest on His finished work and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the authority of the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

First, let us beware of despising the Old Testament, for whatever reason. Let us never listen to those who tell us to throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.

I believe that many Christians refrain from studying the Old Testament for a variety of reasons, including:

  • the God of the Old Testament appears to be relatively forbidding compared to the God of the New Testament
  • since many believers are not ethnically Jewish, they have difficulty understanding the context of the Old Testament
  • along these lines, many of the Old Testament laws have been rendered obsolete by the finished work of Jesus.

Indeed, it is difficult to view the Old Testament and the New Testament as essential components of a unified text. Perhaps it would be good to ponder the following questions:

  • How does our belief that God is unchanging enable us to resolve the apparent incompatibilities between the Old and New Testaments?
  • How can we improve our understanding of the context of the Old Testament?
  • How can the Old Testament spur us to make progress in our relationship with God?

On this last point, I am grateful that I completed my recent strolls through Jeremiah and Lamentations; those experiences allowed me to deepen my relationship with God – the One who keeps His promises.

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Paul Speaks to the Crowd November 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:37-22:21.

Summary: In this passage, the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem allowed Paul to address those who clamored for his death. Paul then asserted the following points:

  • before his conversion experience, he displayed unparalleled zeal for the Mosaic law by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth – through His disciple, Ananias – divinely commissioned him as His witness
  • in particular, Jesus divinely commissioned him as His witness to the Gentiles.

Thoughts: In verses 37 and 38 of chapter 21, we see that the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem initially regarded Paul as an Egyptian rebel. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Paul offered to defend his cause, which all God’s servants must do. We must try to let people know our integrity, so that no discredit comes to the name of God because of us. But when the commander asked whether Paul was the Egyptian who had incited a rebellion, we see that however well Christ’s ministers behave, they cannot escape the slander of the world. We must note this so that we may accustom ourselves to reproaches and be prepared to be blamed.

One of the recurring themes in this book concerns the mistreatment of Paul by the governing authorities. In this case, perhaps the Roman commander assumed that since a large crowd clamored for Paul’s death, he had to be guilty of some crime. This spurred me to consider the following point: believers who were born and raised in First World countries – where one is innocent before proven guilty – may find it difficult to relate to Paul’s plight. This should also spur believers in First World countries to continue to pray that God would – in His timing – remove injustice from this world.

In verses 6-10 of chapter 22, Paul recounted his encounter with God the Son on the road to Damascus. This spurred me to consider the following points:

  • Christians have no doubts regarding the veracity of Paul’s conversion experience
  • Christians have many doubts regarding the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine encounters – especially those instances where the angel Moroni allegedly appeared to him
  • it is possible that many Jews view Paul’s conversion experience in the same way that Christians view Joseph Smith’s divine encounters.

Perhaps we, as Christians, would do well to consider why we accept Paul’s account of his conversion experience while we reject Joseph Smith’s accounts of the angel Moroni. What is the body of evidence that supports each account? Are these accounts analogous? Delving into these questions will increase our confidence in our faith and enable us to be better witnesses to Mormons.

In verses 17-21 of chapter 22, God overcame Paul’s reluctance to serve as His witness to the Gentiles. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

…for he began to deal with his ministry, showing that he did not leave the Jews of his own accord, as if he had deprived them of his services out of malice, but rather was drawn to the Gentiles against his expectation and intention. He had come to Jerusalem purposely to share with his own nation the grace that had been given to him. But the Lord cut off his hope of doing any good there and drove him away.

Perhaps Paul viewed the statement of Ananias in verse 15 of chapter 22 as a license from God to preach the Gospel message to the Jews (and the Gentiles). In any event, these verses hint at the depth of Paul’s love for his people and his earnest desire that they receive the free gift of salvation (which is described more fully in Romans 9-11). Paul must have agonized over the fact that his people consistently rejected his message of life and hope. It is probable that he offered frequent – and fervent – prayers to God that He would remove the stumbling blocks in their hearts. I wonder if the anguish in his heart concerning his people persisted even while God achieved great success through Him among the Gentiles.

Peter’s Vision July 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 10:9-23a.

Summary: In this passage, Peter had the following vision:

  • a large sheet that contained a panoply of unclean animals descended from heaven
  • a voice from heaven commanded him to kill and eat these animals
  • he demurred, citing his strict adherence to the Mosaic law
  • the voice asserted that God had nullified the distinction between clean and unclean animals.

After the vision occurred three times, Peter was left to ponder its significance. At that point, the messengers whom Cornelius had sent from Caesarea arrived and called for him. God alerted him to their presence and told him to go with them. He greeted them, and they conveyed their instructions from Cornelius.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter had great difficulty comprehending the significance of his vision. This stemmed in part from the fact that he had been raised to observe the Mosaic law – and the law specified a distinction between clean and unclean animals. I was spurred to consider any beliefs that I had acquired in my youth that I later discovered to be flawed. Perhaps the best example of this is that I grew up believing in the relative superiority of my race; I believed that those who belonged to my ethnicity were naturally more intelligent and hard-working than those who belonged to other ethnicities. As time has passed, I have acquired a greater sense of my ignorance in this regard – yet ridding myself of bigotry has been quite difficult. Perhaps it is natural for people to have difficulty renouncing incorrect beliefs that reinforce their self-esteem…

We also see that Peter continued to ponder the meaning of his vision after it occurred three times. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

But we must also note that Luke adds that Peter thought about the vision intently (after he came out of his trance, that is). It was a sign of his godly reverence that he did not carelessly allow the vision to escape him. Therefore, the Lord opened to him when he knocked. We are rightly chastened for our laziness by not making better progress in the Word of the Lord, for we are so cold and have so little desire to inquire.

At this point, I still find many sections of the Bible to be abstruse; examples include the lessons of Jesus in the Gospels, the prophetic visions in the Old Testament, and large sections of the Pentateuch. Thus, this passage encourages me in that Peter strove to understand truth from God. Of course, I am reminded that I should not be content with a mere intellectual understanding of truth from God. Just as God helped Peter understand his vision in order to bring the Gentiles to Himself, I must also see how God can help me understand His truth in order to be a blessing to others.

Favoritism Forbidden August 20, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 2:1-13.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers – who profess the Christian religion – to not give more respect to one person than to another for no good reason. To drive home this point, he cites the example of an ecclesiastical court where a dispute between a gold-fingered man and a man with filthy raiment is being settled. If they observe the gold-fingered man with special reverence – while expressing contempt for the man with filthy raiment – then they show partiality; their esteem has been perverted by worldly desires.

James then lovingly attracts the attention of his readers; he states that God has singled out those who are abject in the opinion of the present world, that they might:

  • have a high degree of faith
  • receive the glory that He has promised to those who love Him.

Yet his readers have dishonored those who are abject in the opinion of the present world, even though gold-fingered men have abused their power against them and have acted violently toward them. Moreover, gold-fingered men have dishonored the honorable name of God – whom they call on.

Now James asserts that if his readers accomplish perfectly the law of God – who is the King of kings – that is set down in the Word, then they are not blameworthy. In contrast, those who show partiality to others are blameworthy. To drive home this point, he cites the hypothetical example of someone who is exact in all points of the law – except for one point where he is willingly inexact; that person would still be blameworthy. In particular, God punishes both adultery and murder with death; anyone who commits only one of these two sins is still subject to His punishment.

James then exhorts his readers to ensure that their words and deeds demonstrate that they have come under the privileges of the Gospel message. James concludes by stating that those who show partiality to others – including expressing contempt for those who are abject in the opinion of the present world – are still under the covenant of works; in contrast, the mercy of God rejoices over the justice of God for those who have come under the privileges of the Gospel message.

Thoughts: In this passage, James exhorts his readers to honor those who lack material wealth. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

You who are poor, bless God; it is out of mercy that God should look on you. This comforts your poor state; rejected by the world, you are chosen by God. He who is happy in his own conscience should not be made miserable by other people’s judgment…Do not be discouraged though you are outwardly poor. The poor man is known to God by name.

After pondering this topic, I realized that most of my Christian friends belong to the upper middle class. This stems from the fact that I have attended several churches that mostly consist of white-collar workers. Thus, at church functions I mainly interact with information technology workers, medical professionals, or people who ply their trade in the corporate sector. I have only occasionally interacted with fellow believers who happen to be blue-collar workers, such as electricians and auto mechanics. I should also note that the average believer in my (First World) country is probably more wealthy than the average believer outside my country. Now I am not oblivious to the struggles of foreign believers, since I have heard a plethora of reports on this topic from missionaries on home assignment; yet I am certain that hearing these reports is no substitute for a first-hand experience of their struggles. Perhaps I need to heed the example of the believers who are featured in Radical, as they regularly travel to Third World countries to engage in acts of mercy.

In verse 13, James warns his readers that if they are not merciful to those who lack material wealth, then God will not be merciful to them. Manton offers some thoughts on this point:

I will show you what this mercy is. It is manifested…In contributing to needy people. It is not enough to say, “Keep warm.” (2:16)

Reading through this passage caused me to reflect on the social concerns ministry at my previous church, where I often helped serve meals to the homeless. I determined that serving meals to the homeless falls under the category of acts of mercy. In particular:

  • civil laws do not bind us to serve meals to the homeless (yet God does call us to show compassion to those who lack material wealth)
  • we pay for the food that we will prepare and serve
  • we pay for parking near the location of a particular soup kitchen
  • we donate our time and efforts, as this activity essentially occupies an entire afternoon and the early evening
  • we are not compensated – financially – for participating in this activity (yet we know that the homeless benefit from our actions, and God is pleased with us – assuming we have the correct motives).

Hopefully I can continue to participate in a similar ministry in the future.

Warning Against False Teachers of the Law July 25, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 1:3-11.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding Timothy why he had asked him to remain in Ephesus – he had furnished him with authority to resist false teachers who were polluting pure teaching. These false teachers are devoting themselves to:

  • trifles
  • arguments about genealogies that lead nowhere

which merely fuel arguments instead of helping to build up the church on the basis of faith. The church can be built up by focusing on the law, which essentially states that people should:

  • worship God
  • love each other

and these actions stem from faith and its fruits, including a clear conscience. Yet these false teachers have missed this target by focusing on vain trifles. They arrogantly claim to be teachers of the law, yet they do not understand it.

Now Paul anticipates that these false teachers will respond by asserting that he wants to bury the law, so he affirms the goodness of the law while showing that it supports his teaching. In particular, he attacks them by asserting that the law is an enemy to those who:

  • are obstinate and rebellious
  • are immoral
  • break any of the Ten Commandments
  • commit acts of violence
  • indulge in lust
  • are dishonest
  • focus on frivolous arguments instead of embracing the Gospel.

Paul concludes by stating that:

  • God demonstrates His glory in the Gospel
  • the myths that he has spoken against are at odds with the law and the Gospel.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul has given Timothy the task of combating the false teachers in Ephesus. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Today we see how the theologians of the Sorbonne babble about their ideas. But about what? About things that are not revealed to human beings and have never been clearly taught in the Bible. They place more confidence in purgatory than in the resurrection of the dead. If we do not accept, as gospel, their false notions about the prayers of the saints, they complain that religion itself is undermined. And what can we say about fictitious doctrines such as the endless mazes they have made concerning heaven and its hierarchies? This list goes on forever!

As I am not well-versed in the history of the Reformation, I was rather confused by Calvin’s harsh denunciation of “the theologians of the Sorbonne.” After some Googling I came across the following account of Calvin’s 1544 work that refuted several anti-Reformation articles that had been written by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne. Thus, I suspect that Calvin identified quite strongly with Paul as he carried out his leading role in the Reformation. Just as Paul sought to refute the false teachers in Ephesus who were focusing on trivial matters, Calvin sought to refute the French theologians who espoused the principles of Catholicism. I also suspect that Calvin’s life would be an appropriate subject for an epic film.

Here, Paul asserts that the false teachers in Ephesus have wandered away from the purpose of God’s law. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

The law can be summed up as saying that we should worship God with a pure heart and a good conscience, and that we should love each other. Anyone who moves away from this pollutes God’s law and perverts it to serve some other strange purpose.

On a personal note, I find that delving into God’s Word can be quite enriching from an intellectual standpoint. Since I am a history buff, I have enjoyed learning about ancient Near Eastern/Middle Eastern history from the Bible. I have also acquired many insights into God’s Word through my various strolls through Paul’s epistles. Yet this passage serves as a bracing reminder that as Christians, we should never let our study of the Bible devolve into a mere intellectual pursuit. Instead, our Bible studies should lead us closer to its Author; in the process we will find new strength to live out the law by obeying its two greatest commandments.

The Law and the Promise February 9, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 3:15-25.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that they obey the civil law by not altering a person’s last will and testament; how much more, then, should they not alter God’s “last will and testament” that He gave to Abraham and his descendants? Now this testament was freely given to Abraham – and it was made in his descendant, Jesus Christ. Also, God gave His law long after He had already given His promise to Abraham; thus, His law could not abolish His promise. If God’s blessings could have come by the law, then His promise would have been in vain; yet He freely gave His blessing to Abraham.

Now Paul asks the Galatians: if God’s blessings do not come by the law, then why did He give the law in the first place? In fact, He gave the law so that sins would increase and be revealed to mankind until the incarnation of Christ – the One who is referenced in God’s promise to Abraham. He reminds them that God’s law was ordained by angels – and by Moses, who was inferior to these angels (in contrast to the new covenant, which was ordained by Christ). Men offended God, and so they needed Moses to intercede with God on their behalf; now Christ has interceded with God on their behalf, and His intercession permanently reconciles them to God.

Paul then cites another objection to the Gospel – namely, that man’s failure (or success) in terms of observing God’s law causes Him to delay (or hasten) the fulfillment of His promise. This is false, as no law that God gave could, by men’s success in terms of observing it, hasten the fulfillment of His promise. Instead, the Old Testament asserts that men are subject to the curse of sin and eternal death – so that those who believe in Jesus Christ can receive God’s blessing that He originally gave to Abraham.

Paul states that before the incarnation of Christ, men could not free themselves from the terrors of the law, as they knew that they were subject to God’s eternal wrath. Yet God gave His law so that men might be:

  • humbled by the ensuing revelation of their sinfulness
  • come to Christ
  • be declared righteous by Him.

Paul concludes by asserting that after the incarnation of Christ, believers are not subject to God’s eternal wrath – and so the law cannot terrify them any more in that regard.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul discusses the role of Moses as a mediator between God and His people – who had offended Him. Luther offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

Moses’ intercession does no good here; he has done his job and has now vanished, with his veil. Here the wretched sinner, quite desperate and approaching death, encounters the offended God. There must be a mediator quite different from Moses to satisfy the law, take away its wrath, and reconcile to God the poor sinner who is guilty of eternal death.

Now we see in Deuteronomy 18:15 that Moses knew that Christ – at some point – would surpass him as a mediator. Thus, I wonder what thoughts occupied his mind as he delivered a plethora of commandments, regulations and ordinances to the people of Israel as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Perhaps Satan tempted him to interrupt his delivery of God’s law and inform the Israelites, “by the way, you won’t be able to follow this entire law perfectly, and so you will be cursed no matter how you strive to obey it. You have to look beyond this law to be right before God.” Did God only partially reveal His will to Moses regarding justification (which would have diminished the force of that hypothetical warning on his part)? Perhaps God prevented Moses from fully understanding this mystery of justification, as his exhaustive list of laws would illustrate the magnitude of His holiness to the Israelites (and show them their inability to emulate His holiness).

Verse 22 clearly states that all men are under the curse of the law and are subject to God’s wrath. Luther offers some insights on this point:

These verses clearly say that sin imprisons not only those who sin blatantly against the law or do not outwardly obey the law, but also those who are under the law and try their best to obey it. Whatever is without Christ and his promise, whether it be God’s law or human law, ceremonial or moral law, without any exception, is a prisoner of sin. The policies and laws of all nations, however good and necessary, and all ceremonies and religions too, if without faith in Christ, are and remain under sin, death, and eternal damnation.

Luther’s comments caused me to mull over the following thorny issue: how can we, as Christians, effectively communicate to an outwardly righteous non-believer (i.e. one who constantly shows kindness to others yet does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior) that they are “under sin, death, and eternal damnation”? Of course, numerous passages in Scripture affirm this truth, yet it is often difficult to persuade such non-believers of its reality, especially when they do not affirm the reality of Jesus Christ. One approach in this regard entails presenting them the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If they could be compelled to – at a minimum – mull over this body of evidence, this process could plant some seeds of faith in their hearts. Another approach in this regard entails believers examining their own lives and seeing how they can – both inwardly and outwardly – show kindness to others more often. In some ways, this latter approach can be more effective than the former in terms of evangelism.

The Glory of the New Covenant December 7, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that those who served in the context of the law (that was written on stone tablets) could only produce death for those who tried to obey it, even though the law was (transiently) glorious – preventing the Israelites from looking at the face of Moses while he served in that context; on the other hand, serving in the context of the Gospel is more glorious than serving in the context of the law – as the Gospel is more awesome than the law. Indeed, the law causes men to know that they are condemned, while the Gospel causes those who accept it to be righteous based on the requirements of the law. In fact, the glory of the law pales in comparison with that of the Gospel. Also, while the glory of the law was temporary, the glory of the Gospel is permanent.

Now Paul asserts that since his apostolic calling is righteous in God’s eyes, he is outspoken in proclaiming the Gospel. He contrasts his situation with that of Moses, who was divinely inspired to serve in the context of the law so that the Israelites could not understand its true meaning. In fact, the thoughts of the Israelites became callous – which is shown by the fact that as of the writing of this letter, they still fail to understand the meaning of the law when the Old Testament is read to them; in this regard, they can only be enlightened in Christ. Yet anyone who turns to Christ and accepts the Gospel can be enlightened in this way. This stems from the fact that Christ and the Holy Spirit are identical in terms of their essence and power – and the Holy Spirit frees those in whom He dwells (as God’s children). Paul concludes by noting that those who are free – by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – can see the glory of Christ as if they are looking at a mirror; moreover, they are being conformed to Christ’s likeness, and this flows from His work, as He is identical with the Holy Spirit as noted above.

Thoughts: Paul’s objective in this passage is to draw a contrast between his ministry in the context of the Gospel and that of Moses in the context of the law. Hodge offers some insights in his commentary on verse 13:

If Moses taught obscurely or in types, God intended that he should do so. If in point of fact the Jews misunderstood the nature of their own system, regarding as ultimate and permanent what was in fact preparatory and temporary, this was included in the divine purpose. It was evidently God’s plan to reveal the scheme of redemption gradually.

Hodge then notes that as long as people in the Old Testament trusted in God based on His partial revelation to them up to that point in time, they would be saved. If I were in the shoes of an Israelite in the Old Testament era, would I have put my faith in God and His partially revealed plan of redemption? Given the fact that many people continue to reject the fully revealed plan of redemption in Christ, there’s a good chance that I would have fallen short of salvation in the Old Testament. This highlights the awesome faith that those who are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” from Hebrews 11 displayed, even when dealing with adverse circumstances.

Verses 17 and 18 reinforce one of the key tenets of Christianity: the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life yields innumerable benefits. Hodge offers some relevant thoughts in his commentary on verse 17:

The Holy Spirit is recognized everywhere in the Bible as the source of all life, truth, power, holiness, blessedness and glory…By turning to Christ we become partakers of the Holy Spirit, that which is living and life-giving, because he and the Spirit are one…This freedom must be the freedom that results from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – that is, that which flows from the application to us of the redemption purchased by Christ.

Now this discussion reminded me of the important truths expounded by Paul in Romans 8, which is, in my opinion, one of the most awesome passages in all of Scripture. Clearly the Holy Spirit plays a critical role in the life of every believer, yet – based on my admittedly informal observations – one could peruse the lyrics of most contemporary Christian worship songs and not realize this fact. For some reason, it is relatively easy for Christians to praise and worship God the Father and God the Son – but not God the Spirit. In general, believers should strike a better balance in that regard – not only in writing worship songs, but in our overall Christian walk.

Struggling with Sin March 12, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 7:7-25.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses an inference that could be drawn from the preceding passage – that is, since we need to be released from our obligations to God’s moral law in order to bear fruit to Him, that law is inherently evil. Paul asserts that this is actually a faulty inference, and he proceeds to reveal the true nature of God’s moral law. To this end, he draws a distinction between God’s moral law and our sinful nature; in fact, the sinful nature actually uses the law as an instrument to effect its evil purposes. He explains this by appealing to personal experience; he knows God’s moral law and comprehends its inherent goodness, and he desires to obey it in order to be saved. Instead, all the law can do is to reveal the presence of his sinful nature to him; his sinful nature then bears fruit for death by causing him to disobey the commands in the law (e.g. “You shall not covet”). Thus, the real hindrance to Paul’s salvation is not so much God’s moral law but his indwelling “sin principle.” Again, Paul knows the law and desires to honor its obligations, but his indwelling “sin principle” causes him to do the exact opposite of what he wants to do. Thus, Paul, who knows God’s moral law, has two indwelling “principles” that are battling for control of his life; one approves of the law and desires to live up to its obligations, while the other disapproves of the law and desires to do the exact opposite of what the law commands. This is an intensely frustrating situation, since Paul is keenly aware of his inner conflict, and he realizes that his indwelling “sin principle” will not leave him in this life. Paul concludes by 1) giving thanks to God that Christ Jesus has already done what is required to free him from his indwelling “sin principle,” which will be fully achieved in the next life, and 2) noting that the law, while it is not inherently evil, cannot fulfill that task.

Thoughts: Christianity has witnessed a long-running theological debate over whether this passage refers to

  • those who are unsaved, or
  • those who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior and have received the Holy Spirit.

Great theologians such as Erasmus and Grotius would fall under the former camp, while great theologians such as Melanchthon and Beza would fall under the latter camp. Clearly there is no simple method for determining the correct interpretation of this passage. Hodge decidedly subscribes to the latter view, and he supports his position with several well-reasoned arguments, including appealing to the structure of Paul’s overall argument in Romans, citing analogous passages in Paul’s writings, and referencing the everyday struggles that all Christians experience.

If we accept Hodge’s explanation of the issue as stated in the previous paragraph, then it is apparent that Christians cannot find even the smallest shred of the basis of their salvation in God’s moral law. To this end, Hodge remarks of the Christian:

Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates are day by day reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their slavery, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself nor with the help of the law achieve his freedom from what he hates or fully accomplish what he desires and approves. Every evening sees his penitent confession of his degrading slavery, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for help from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty.

I must admit that I definitely identify with the sentiments that Hodge presents here. Even though I can tell that I have grown in my faith over the years, I still sin on a daily basis. Many of these sins consist of wicked and unprofitable thoughts, which show that I am still trapped by my inherent sinfulness. Honestly, I wish that I could achieve perfection for just one day, but I find that to be an utterly impossible endeavor due to my improper thoughts; thus, even isolating myself from others does not prevent me from sinning.

If we hold to the view that this passage refers to Christians, then verses 21-23 make it quite clear that all Christians have an “evil, wild beast” within them (to put it mildly). In his commentary on verse 23, Hodge notes:

Besides the inner being or the principle of divine life, there was not merely another law numerically, but another in kind, one that is of a different nature. This evil principle is called a law because of its permanency and its controlling power. It is not a transient act or changeable purpose but a law, something independent of the will which defies and controls it.

This “evil, wild beast” constantly desires to gain control of our lives; when I gave this some thought, I was quite horrified and disgusted in realizing that it also dwells within me. The fact that it is active and constantly planning its next evil move shows that we are up against an extremely formidable adversary in this case. For a reason that we cannot fathom at this time, God has chosen to allow this “evil, wild beast” to dwell in us until either 1) our physical death or 2) Jesus’ second coming, whichever comes first. This is intensely frustrating, which allows me to truly comprehend (and rejoice in) Paul’s statements in verses 24-25.

The Jews and the Law December 11, 2010

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 2:17-29.

Summary: In this passage, Paul explicitly addresses the Jews, and based on the principles outlined in the preceding passage, concludes that they will also be judged by God for the sins that they have committed. He begins by granting that the Jews have much to be proud of, especially their covenant relationship with God and their knowledge of His will (particularly via special revelation). He notes that since the Jews have the law, they are in a position to help others distinguish between truth and falsehood. Then, he turns the tables on the Jews by asserting that they actually commit the sins that they judge in the Gentiles, including stealing, adultery, and irreverence towards God. Moreover, the sins that the Jews themselves commit bring dishonor to God’s name. Next, he asserts that even though the Jews cling to circumcision as a means of guaranteeing their salvation in spite of their sins, circumcision actually has no intrinsic value. Instead, we see that to be one of the “people of God,” we need to have an internal moral principle that guides us to Him; the possession of this internal principle is demonstrated by living an obedient life. He concludes by asserting that in fact, God will only praise those who are Jews “inwardly”; that is, the Holy Spirit has set apart those with the aforementioned internal moral principle to be God’s people and to glorify Him.

Thoughts: Jews, especially those whom Paul was addressing in this letter, were boastful of their covenant relationship with God. In some sense, Paul reminds them in this passage that this covenant included a provision whereby the Jews were subject to punishment if they were to violate any of its terms. Verses 21-24, then, show that the Jews are actually guilty of violating the terms of this covenant; thus, they are subject to God’s judgment, despite all of the real privileges that they enjoy.

For the Jews, verses 25-27 are meant to hammer home the message that is presented in verses 1-16, namely that if anyone were able to obey the law, they would be able to “condemn” those who possess the law yet disobey it. Thus, the value of circumcision, at least as an external rite, is superseded by the nature of the Jews’ actions during their time on earth. It bears repeating that the Jews were not to be judged on the basis of their “ecclesiastical connections or background.” This remains an extremely difficult concept for Jews to accept, as can be seen in writings such as the Midrash Tillim.

Verse 29 shows that the Holy Spirit plays a critical role in a person being declared “righteous” in God’s sight. In fact, here we see that the Holy Spirit’s work produces a person who receives God’s praise. This remains another difficult concept for Jews to accept, as it is evident that Paul is assigning greater value to internal, unseen things as opposed to external, tangible things. To bolster this concept, in his commentary, Hodge cites Deuteronomy 30:6 as evidence that this notion of God circumcising the hearts of men even appears in the Old Testament.

God’s Righteous Judgment December 7, 2010

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 2:1-16.

Summary: In this passage, Paul shows (in a somewhat indirect manner) that the Jews are also deserving of death based on 1:32, since they, along with the Gentiles, commit the sins in 1:29-31. Charles Hodge does a superb job of summarizing the five key principles by which God will judge all men that are presented in this passage, so I will simply quote from his commentary:

1. The person who condemns in others what he does himself by that very act condemns himself.
2. God’s judgments are according to the real character of men.
3. The goodness of God, being designed to lead us to repentance, is no proof that he will not punish sin. The perversion of that goodness will increase our guilt and aggravate our condemnation.
4. God will judge every man according to his deeds, not according to his words or his ecclesiastical connections or background.
5. Men will be judged by what they individually know to be their duty. Therefore God is perfectly impartial.

Thoughts: Verse 4 serves as a strong warning to those who believe that 1) due to His bountiful kindness, God will not punish sin or 2) if the Second Coming was not a fable, it would have already occurred. A cursory reading of various Old Testament prophecies, coupled with a superficial knowledge of the history of Israel, should remind us that while it is not uncommon for God to be patient with sinners, He eventually punishes those who remain in their sins. In those cases, He (patiently) gave sinners sufficient opportunities to repent and throw themselves at His feet. Those who abuse God’s loving patience will eventually be judged, and this judgment will be extremely unpleasant.

If one were to read this passage in isolation, especially verse 6, it would appear that Paul is promoting the doctrine of “salvation by works” instead of the doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith.” Hodge addresses this issue as follows:

In answering this question, two things should be borne in mind. The first is that, notwithstanding the teaching of free justification and perfectly consistent with it, the apostle still teaches that the retributions of eternity are in accordance with our deeds…Secondly, it is, however, more pertinent to note that the apostle is not teaching here the method of justification but is laying down general principles about justice, according to which, irrespective of the Gospel, all men are to be judged.

In fact, Paul notes elsewhere in his teachings that people are rewarded or punished in the next life based on their deeds in this life; for example, see 2 Corinthians 5:10 and and Ephesians 6:8. Thus, salvation by grace through faith does not offer Christians a license to sin. James 2:14-26 furnishes further evidence of the strong link between faith and works. Based on this evidence, if someone professes to be saved while leading a life of sin, their salvation may not be genuine.

In his commentary on verses 9 and 10, Hodge notes that one can infer that Jews who do evil will be punished “more severely” than Gentiles who do evil due to their knowledge of the law, while Jews who do good will be “especially rewarded” compared to Gentiles who do good. This raises a question that I have struggled with for quite some time, namely, how can there be distinct degrees of punishment (or reward) in the next life? If an unbeliever were to be tossed into the lake of fire for eternity, I wonder how their suffering could be increased or decreased compared to that of other unbelievers; would certain regions of the lake of fire be hotter than other regions? Similarly, in heaven, could a rescued believer’s joy be increased or decreased based on their deeds during this life? Along these lines, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 possibly indicate that one can be saved in a less-than-victorious fashion. Unfortunately, Hodge does not address this issue, at least not in this section of his commentary.