Monday, December 17, 2007

Paul's Doctrine (Part 3)

Some positions require a nuanced explanation. In a recent Presidential debate, the moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed that “global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity.”

One of the candidates refused. “I’m not doing hand shows today, no hand shows.” The moderator tried to force a yes or no answer to the question but the candidate refused. He made it clear that he would be happy to answer the question if he could take a minute to give a full explanation.

Sometimes a topic is important enough, that a simple answer isn’t accurate enough to be helpful. That’s the kind of topic Paul has tackled here. In that vein, and like the politician, Paul must embark on several clarifying arguments as he explains the gospel.

If we summarize his teaching so far, we could do so as…

1) Being rescued depends on God’s power and generous mercy.

2) No-one deserves His generous mercy because everyone has sinned, and sin is rooted in denying His power and generous mercy.

Paul has taught this gospel before. I think he knows the misunderstandings and accusations people commonly make about it. As the text will later show, one misunderstanding of the gospel Paul taught is a wrong conclusion drawn from the last two points.

“If everyone has rejected God and turned to sin, and no-one deserves to be saved, but God saves people anyway, then it doesn’t really matter how I act, or whether I sin or not. I might as well ‘sin big’ and show God’s grace even more.”

Chapter 2:1-16 is Paul’s answer to this common misunderstanding. He explains that God will judge every person, every action, and every intent.

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works (Romans 2:5-6)

It’s worth noting that the mind bent away from God, can take the greatest “good news” imaginable and turn it into license to sin. Paul notes this in verse 4.

You surely don't think much of God's wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don't you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him? (Contemporary English Version)

But the main point is that Gods generous mercy should not make us forget that sin and righteousness still matter.

Romans 2:1-16 If you judge anyone, you basically condemn yourself by agreeing that judgment should be given and should be based on works. (Which I just pointed out condemns everyone.) In contrast, God’s judgment is based on the attitude and faith of the person, not just the deeds. Don’t think that pointing at others that have done worse things, will get you off. Don’t imagine that God is too merciful to punish anyone, so you can go ahead and sin. Doing that, will just making your judgment worse because He will surely judge. He will judge on the bases of faith, and deeds, not on some arbitrary or inequitable scale. He will punish those whose deeds are selfish and disobedient. He will reward those whose faith and deeds are right. Knowing what’s right or coming from the right background is not important; having the right faith and the right deeds matters. In fact, there are people who have never heard all of God’s truth, but they still have the right attitude and many of the right deeds, they prove that the essential truths are evident in creation. They prove that His truth is evident unless it is deliberately suppressed. They will be judged by the standards of the gospel I am preaching. (God will apply His power and mercy to anyone that has the faith He is looking for.)

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