Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I'll be honest with you...I've been dreading this article for a while now. It's not that I don't like the eighth chapter of Romans, but for me personally, it is the most difficult chapter in the whole book. The beginning of the chapter isn't so bad, but the transition from relatively simple to complex occurs at verse 19. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to write an article on the relatively easy part of the chapter (vv. 1-18), and then I'll write a separate article for the remaining part of the chapter. (By the way, if you have any insight on the latter half of the chapter, shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.)
In verse one, the apostle says that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Many use this verse to teach the Once Saved, Always Saved position; that once we are in Christ, there is no way for us to ever be condemned, even though we may rebel againt Him. But that's not what the verse says. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. So long as we remain in Christ, we cannot be condemned, but when we step out of the light and away from Christ's fellowship, we DO stand condemned. The apostle clarifies in the second part of the verse. In order to be free from condemnation, we must walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh.
In verses 2-4, Paul says that we as Christians have been freed from the imperfect Mosaical law. It is described here as "the law of sin and death." Jesus lived as a man and nailed the Mosaical law (as well as spiritual death) to the cross. What a wonderful and blessed thought!
Now, some might argue that Paul is not talking about the Mosaical law but rather a general devotion to sin (fleshly living). I don't necessarily disagree, for at some point there appears to be a transition from the Mosaical law to general sinfulness. Perhaps the apostle is speaking generally of life prior to conversion. The Jews who lives according to an imperfect, physical law were fleshly, but so were the Gentiles who lived according to the sinful yearnings of the flesh. Or perhaps there is a transition in verse three, where it is said that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh. Or perhaps EVERYTHING other than Christianity is declared to be fleshly. Either way, there does appear to be a transition at some point here, for in the following passage, Paul addresses carnal living in contrast to spiritual living.
Before we move on, what does the phrase sinful flesh mean? Are the Calvinists right in saying that all humans are inherently sinful, and that we are totally depraved from the womb due to Adam's original sin in the Garden of Eden? No, and here's why: in the context of this statement, Paul is contrasting the Spirit and the flesh. In that sense, the flesh is sinful, for it is contrary to the Spirit. Walking according to the flesh is the same as being unholy and unrighteous. It's not that our literal flesh is inherently sinful, but in contrast to the Spirit, it represents sin.
Having clarified that, let's move on toverse six. Paul says, "For the be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." When we live according to the flesh, there are both physical and spiritual consequences, but when we do things God's way, we have life and peace. Obviously, spiritual living is much better than carnal living! But Paul goes on to say in the next verse, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." A person who is carnally minded is not in fellowship with God and cannot possibly be in fellowship with God. Of course, a carnal person can be influenced by the power of the gospel to become spiritual and thus be in fellowship with God, but that transformation must occur for the desireable result to be achieved.
Paul then turns his attention back to the Roman brethren. "But YOU are not in the flesh but in the Spirit" (vv. 9). As Christians, we are IN the Spirit. As a result, we are in fellowship with God and we are pleasing to Him. We have life and peace.
In the following few verses, the apostle tells us that the Spirit, Christ and the Father ALL dwell in us. This, in my opinion, is a crushing blow to the concept that the Holy Spirit alone dwells in us bodily, as if He literally lies within our physical, mortal bodies. The fact is, the Bible teaches that Christ dwells in us as well (vv. 9-10), as does the Father (vv. 11). What is the point? It is not that all three members of the Godhead literally inhabit us as we literally inhabit homes of brick and mortar, but that we have a relationship with each of them. Christ is in us in the sense that we live according to His commandments and not our fleshly desires. The same is true of the Holy Spirit and the Father.
Notice in verse 10 that our bodies are DEAD if Christ is in us. Then, in vnerse 11, the point is made that the same God who raised up Christ from the dead will also raise up our bodies (an obvious reference to the final resurrection). So what is the point? That spiritually speaking, we are being renewed (2 Cor. 4:16), but outwardly, our flesh is perishing. There will come a day, however, when this physical body will be raised up and changed (see 1 Corinthians 15).
It is this concept of resurrection, newness and glory that Paul continues to articulate in the middle-section of the chapter. We'll return to that concept tomorrow or Friday, Lord willing.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Romans 7 can be broken down into two sections. In the first section (vv. 1-12), Paul once again makes the point that the Law of Moses is no longer in effect and that we are ultimately bound to the law of Christ. The second section (vv. 13-25) addresses the inner struggle that men have when it comes to two laws. Let's begin in verse one and analyze the chapter...
In verse one, the apostle makes a basic point about law: "the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives." While he is ultimately talking about religious law, he uses the example of marital law to illustrate the point. A womanis bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, but when he dies, she is free to remarry because she has been released from the law of her husband (vv. 2). In other words, the bond of marriage is severed at the point of death. The point applies to religious law as well. When a certain religious law dies, you are no longer bound to it.
In verse 3, Paul takes this a step further. If a married woman leaves her husband and marries another man (while her first husband is still living), she is an adulteress. Why? Because she is still bound by the law to her first husband and has no right to this second man. But if her first husband dies and then she marries another man, she is NOT an adulteress for the original bond of marriage was severed when her husband died. And here's where Paul draws his conclusion...
If a person is submits to TWO religious laws (i.e. the law of Moses and the law of Christ), they are guilty of spiritual adultery. But if the first religious law is abolished (as a source of justification), then we are free to be spiritually joined to this newer law, the law of Christ. You see, there were many first-century Christians who were trying to follow both the Law of Moses and the law of Christ, but Paul's point is this: either the Mosaical law is dead and you should stop following it, or the Mosaical law is alive (i.e. still in effect) and you have no business following the law of Christ! Notice how Paul words it in verse four: "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God."
The latter part of verse four is interesting...that we should bear fruit to God. Paul is saying here that the sooner Christians stop wavering between the two religious laws, the sooner they will be able to bear fruit. Without this distraction, the early Christians would be in a position to do much more for the kingdom of God! It is this point that Paul builds upon in the following passage.
"When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death" (vv. 5). Paul ties being in the flesh to their former lives under the Mosaical law. He's not talking here about sinful living apart from ALL religious law. He's talking about the nature of the Old Testament law and what it so often produced in its adherents. Paul goes in in verse six to say, "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." The former statement is meant to be applied to the law of Christ, while the latter statement to the Law of Moses. One law is based in the Spirit while the other law in the letter. One law is new and the other old. For more on this contrast, read 2 Corinthians 3:5-8.
In verse seven, Paul seeks to clarify something. The Jewish-Christians reading this epistle might have gotten the impression that Paul was condeming the Mosaical law as something carnal and terrible, but that's not what the apostle mean. "Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" While the Law of Moses, due to its vast complexity and physical focus, aroused sinful passions within its adherents, the law in truth told them what was sinful. This may seem to be contradictory but it is not.
Where there is no law there is no sin (Rom. 4:15). Law, in a sense, creates sin. The Mosaical law was very detailed and complex, and so one might argue that it "created sin" to a greater degree. The Jews who were subject to the Mosaical law understood that there was an unbearable load on their shoulders (Ac. 15:10).
Let's look at this another way: a child who is overburdened with rules and parental expectations may do the best that he can to submit to his parents' system, but he will inevitably fail time and time again because the fact is, his parents have unreasonable expectations. The child will yearn for freedom and may even rebel against his parents, although certainly he will still make the effort to please his parents. Was God unreasonable in His issuing of the Law of Moses? No. Even God acknowledged that the old law was one of bondage (Gal. 5:1-2). But certainly this helps us to understand the inner struggle that these early Jews experienced daily.
And that is exactly what Paul says in the remainder of the chapter. Beginning in verse 10, the apostle details this inner struggle. It is important to understand that even though Paul speaks in the present tense, he is speaking generally of the Jews' former subjection to the Mosaical law. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate I do" (vv. 15). This was the Jews' struggle under the law! Again, it was an unbearable load on their shoulders!
But the Jews could rest assured that there was hope! "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." The Jews could be delivered from this unbearable yoke through Jesus Christ!
Why would anyone want to return to the Law of Moses with these things in mind? Yet religious people do it all the time when they want to bind certain aspects of it: instrumental music, tithing, Sabbath observance, etc. Let us rejoice in the freedom that we have in Christ!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Is baptism essential for salvation? Or is it just an outward sign of an inward grace?
This is a question that I have discussed on this blog before, but it has to be considered again here as we examine the sixth chapter of the book of Romans. And really, it is good that we consider this issue often, for our salvation may very well depend on the answer. If water baptism is essential for salvation, if it is FOR the remission of sins, then the majority of people in the denominational world are lost for they have NOT been baptized for the remission of sins. If baptism is NOT essential, then...well, then I am wrong and most religious people are right.
Of course, this is not about WHO is right...this is not a competition. Our main objective here is to determine what is right. So what does Romans 6 say about baptism? Let's begin by reading verses 1-7...
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For He who has died has been freed from sin."
In verses 1-2, Paul seems to be concluding the discussion from chapter five. He has made the point that we're all under sin, but that we can be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. The question now is: shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? The apostle stressed in chapters four and five that we're not saved by a system of meritorious works, but by the wonderful grace of God. We access this grace by faith in Jesus Christ, and it is through Christ that we are ultimately reconciled to God. Paul was afraid that his readers would swing from one extreme to the other extreme. In a system of meritorious works, there is a rigid set of rules and traditions that ultimately leads people to believe that they have earned their way to heaven. But in a system of grace only, people conclude that there are no rules, and that they can disregard the concept of holiness and consecration. Both extremes are equally dangerous.
In an effort to counter this false concept of grace only, Paul reminds the Roman brethren that they had died to sin and thus needed to be holy and righteous. How did they die to sin? At what point did they transition from a life of sin to a life of holiness? At the point of baptism!
According to Romans 6, we are baptized into the death of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and then raised up from the watery grave to walk in newness of life. There are several things that I want to emphasize here:
- Baptism is by immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. Paul describes baptism as a burial. When you bury something you do not sprinkle dirt on top of it. You completely immerse it. This is consistent with the meaning of the Greek term baptizo which means "to submerge." The Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians are wrong in their practice of sprinkling and pouring.
- When someone is buried, are they buried dead or alive? When you go to a graveside service after a funeral, is the person in the coffin alive or deceased? We know the answer to this question; it's obvious to us. THEY ARE DEAD! Likewise, we are baptized into the death of Christ and buried with Him in the baptismal grave. With this in mind, how can we logically argue that the person being baptized was spiritually alive prior to their baptism? Think about it. If a person is saved before baptism at the point of faith, then they are ALIVE when they are buried in baptism...hence, they are buried alive! This is the common practice throughout the denominational world, but it is clearly wrong. According to God's word, a person is spiritually dead when they are buried in baptism. Salvation does not come before baptism, but at the point of baptism, and that brings us to the third point...
- According to Romans 6:4, we are "raised from the dead" to "walk in newness of life." Again, Paul is talking about baptism. It is a grave. We go into the grace dead, but we are raised by the power of God to obtain newness of life. Is this newness of life obtained prior to the point of baptism or AT the point of baptism? The answer is clear.
- Finally, it is very important to connect the language of Romans 6:3-4 to what was said back in chapter five. In Rom. 5:9-10, the apostle says, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." We're justified by Jesus' blood which was shed at His death; we're reconciled to God by His death. Just a few verses later, in chapter six, Paul says that we're baptized into His death. Interesting. So at what point are we reconciled to God? We are reconciled to God when we are baptized into Jesus' death where His precious blood was shed.
Based on verses 3-4 alone, we have already established the necessity of baptism, but believe it or not, there is more to be said here in chapter six about this important condition of salvation. In verse six, for example, Paul says that when we are baptized the "body of sin is destroyed." If the body of sin is not destroyed until the point of baptism, then we are not saved prior to baptism.
Furthermore, Paul is clear that at the point of baptism, there is a transition. We transition from being slaves of sin to being "freed from sin" (vv. 7). It is this concept of spiritual slavery that Paul continues to expound upon throughout the rest of the chapter.
In verses 17-18, we are told, "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." The form of doctrine is clearly baptism. What Paul is talking about here is a pattern of teaching. This is not something that is arbitrary, but rather it is a very specific pattern to which we submit. It is obedience to this specific pattern of doctrine that ultimately brings about our deliverance from sin.
So here's the question: if a person is baptized as an outward sign of an inward grace, did they obey from the heart the form of doctrine outlined in chapter six of Romans, or did they obey from the heart a form of doctrine that originated with men? We can't have it both ways, folks. Either baptism is FOR the remission of sins or it is not! Either we are saved before the point of baptism or AT the point of baptism!
It is not the baptismal water that saves us, per se. The water is not holy, it does not have any inherent saving power. It is simply the divinely ordained medium by which we contact the blood of Christ. What ultimately saves us is our obedience to God's command. If God has not stated that baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace, then it is a human commandment that will not lead anyone to salvation. We must obey GOD'S command to be saved.
Friend, have you been baptized FOR the remission of sins? Have you obeyed from your heart this form of doctrine? Or are you yet in your sins? Please, let me know if I can help you in any way.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
So far in the book of Romans, Paul has established the fact that ALL have sinned and need salvation. This salvation is not derived from a meritorious system of human works, but from a system of faith and reliance upon the grace and mercy of God. Here in chaper five (as well as chapter six), Paul gets into the specifics of what we must do to be saved.
He has already made the point, using the example of Abraham, that we are justified by faith. In Romans 5:1, he says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Once a person is justified, they can finally have peace with God through Christ. Peace is such an important concept, and it is vital that we as God's people understand what it is. It does not mean that we are free from the problems of life, or that we will never, ever suffer again.
To have peace is to have peace of mind because we know that our sins have been lifted (Mt. 11:28-30). To have peace is to know that no matter what happens, we have a faithful Father in heaven who will guide us and be with us (Heb. 4:16). To have peace is to know that our life has meaning, that we are here to serve God and give Him the glory (Eph. 2:10). To have peace is to know that when this life on earth ends, there is an eternal reward awaiting us in heaven (Jn. 14:1-4). What wonderful thoughts...and all of these things are possible because we have accessed the grace of God by faith in Christ Jesus!
Paul goes in in Romans 5 to illustrate the power of faith. Faith allows us to endure trials, and trials allow us to mature spiritually. "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." When we face trials, we have two options: the easy way out which is to give up, and the more difficult way which is to stand firm and endure the trial. Faith is what gets us through, and the end-result is endurance, or patience. This, of course, leads to a stronger character, and this results in a deeper hope of heaven. Are you growing in this area?
The apostle then delves into a very moving explanation of the sacrifice of Jesus. He begins by saying, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." God didn't look down upon a people that deserved His Son. No, this was (and still is) an ungodly, sinful world. It might be easy to die for someone that deserves the sacrifice, to throw yourself in the line of fire to save a just person. But can you imagine taking a bullet for a criminal? Well, that's what Christ did. He died a tortuous death for an ungodly world!
What motivated such a sacrifice? Verse eight answers this question: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." This, of course, reminds us of the "golden text" of the Bible: John 3:16. As Christians, we accept this as factual. Yes, we know that Jesus' sacrifice was motivated by love. But do we truly understand it? Probably not. It's hard for us to fathom a being that "is love." God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). Even the most loving people that we know have times when their love falters. Not so with God.
"Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:9-10). We're justified by faith 5:1, but we're also justified by the blood of Christ (vv. 9). Jesus is the means by which we are justified and saved, but to access His saving power, we must meet the conditions stipulated in God's word. So far, we have seen the condition of faith. In chapters six and ten, we will see additional conditions stated.
It is critical that we understand the value of the blood of Christ as well as the death of Christ here in verses 9-10. Justification comes by Jesus' blood, and we're reconciled to God by the death of Jesus. We'll return to this point in the next article.
Beginning in verse 12, we find a very controversial discourse. Here, Adam and Christ are contrasted. We see the effects of Adam's sin as well as the effects of Christ's sacrifice. The Calvinists love this passage because, in their minds, it lends support to their doctrine of Total Depravity. They misuse this passage to teach the concept of original sin, that we are all born sinners because of what Adam did in the garden. The Catholics like this passage because if we're all born sinners, then infants ought to be baptized to wash away the stain of original sin.
But is Paul setting forth the doctrine of original sin in Romans 5? Are the Calvinists right in their interpretation of this text? No, they are wrong! Let me explain.
Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." The Calvinist will argue here that because of Adam's sin, "death spread to all men" and thus (according to the Calvinist) we're all spiritually dead at the point of birth...because of Adam. But is this death inherited at birth? Are we born as sinners? Notice what the text actually says. Death passed upon all men...why? Because "all sinned." And then in verse 14 we find further clarification: "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam." Death passed upon all men, not because of Adam's sin, but because all men followed Adam's example in committing their own sin. Adam paved the way. He introduced sin into the world. Suffering and death resulted. But it cannot be legitimately argued that we have all inherited Adam's original sin at the point of birth. The doctrine of Total Heriditary Depravity is false, and the Catholics are wrong in baptizing infants (NOTE: even if humans are born in sin, there is still no biblical authority for infant baptism).
Furthermore, if all men are literally born spiritually dead because of Adam's sin...if the Calvinists and the Catholics are right here...then we must also accept the idea that all men are literally righteous and without sin because of what Christ has done. Carefully consider verses 17-18: "For if by one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one man's righteous act the free gift came to ALL MEN, resulting in justification of life." Let's be consistent, folks. If we're going to say that all men are spiritually dead because of Adam's sin...in that we inherited his sin and the consequences thereof...then we must equally accept that Christ's act has trumped Adam's sin and that as a result all men are righteous and without sin. So if the Calvinists and the Catholics are right...well, it no longer matters anyways because the original sin was eliminated when Christ died.
Of course, we know that this is not right. Paul's point is simple: Adam introduced sin into the world and since then, all men have sinned...all became dead because of their own sin. But when Christ died, salvation was made available to all men. Now, because of Christ we can escape the spiritual death that has enslaved men since that infamous day in the garden of Eden.
Thanks be to God!
Friday, October 16, 2009
In the previous three chapters, Paul pointed out that "all have sinned," both Jew and Gentile alike. The Gentiles, who had been granted salvation, had no right to boast, but neither did the Jews, who had always been the chosen people of God, have a right to boast. All are equally guilty of sin and all equally need the salvation that is offered through Christ.
As the third chapter comes to a close, Paul turns his attention back to the Jews. He wants to get to the heart of the matter here at the end of chapter three and in chapter four. Using the example of Abraham, the apostle aims to disrupt the Jews' continued confidence in the law of Moses. After all, the Christians' confidence should not be founded in a legalistic view of a law that is no longer in effect!
Romans 4 is a largely misunderstood chapter. Many denominational people use this chapter to teach that we are saved by faith alone; that obedience has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation. It is argued that Paul is contrasting works (of obedience) and faith, but this is not correct. Instead, the apostle is rebuffing the idea that we can be saved by a system of meritorious works, and he specifically has in mind the Jewish-Christian's view of the Law of Moses.
Let's begin our discourse in the closing verses of chapter three.
In Romans 3:27, Paul says, "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith?" This is really the beginning of the discussion that carries on into the fourth chapter. By what law can a Christian boast? Again, is Paul contrasting works of obedience and personal faith? No. Let's continue. Romans 3:28 says, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." What is THE law that Paul speaks of here? He explains this in verses 29-30: "Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith?" It is clear that Paul is rebuffing the Jews' concept of the Law of Moses. God never intended the Law of Moses to be a system of meritorious works, but that is what the Jews turned it into, and that, I believe, is what Paul is addressing here in Romans 3-4.
Setting that aside, I'd like for us to simply understand that Paul is NOT speaking against works of obedience. Instead, he is speaking against meritorious works and the Pharisaical view of the Law of Moses. That cannot be denied, for he speaks of Jews and Gentiles, of circumcision and uncircumcision. These terms specifically relate to the Mosaical Law, not to obedience in general.
Okay, let's get to chapter four now.
Paul uses the example of Abraham to rebuff (word of the day, can you tell?) the Jews' unwavering dependance on the Mosaical law. He says in verses 1-2, "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." In other words, did Abraham (a man whom the Jews revered) have the same view that the 1st century Jews did? Did he boast as the Jews did? The answer is 'no.' Instead, Abraham was a man of faith. "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (vv. 3).
In verses 4-5, Paul makes a general point about law and faith. Again, let us be reminded that the word law here is not in reference to all law, but to meritorious law. A person who believes he can earn his way to heaven does not wholly depend on the grace of the Lord. He is self-righteous and proud. But the person who is motivated by faith and conviction will recognize the grace and mercy of God.
This is also Paul's point in verse six: "David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works," and then in verses 7-8 he quotes Psalm 32:1-2. The point here is NOT that God overlooks sin, but that a persons sins are wiped out (not imputed) when He is forgiven by God. Again, Paul is emphasizing the grace and mercy of God, that ultimately we are cleansed, not by any works of merit, but by the grace of the Lord.
Beginning in verse 10, Paul makes a very interesting point: "How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he re ceived the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also." Let's spend some time on this thought.
The Jews viewed Abraham as their father, their hero, and more than that, they so revered the command of circumcision that they continued to demand it even after the Mosaical law was nailed to the cross. These Jews were arrogant and self-righteous. But Paul cuts down all of their logic in these few verses.
Abraham was "right with God" before he was ever circumcised. How so? How can any Hebrew be justified without circumcision? The answer is that he was justified by faith! Do you realize that the covenant of circumcision wasn't instituted until Abraham was 99 years old? Does this mean that he was without hope up to that point? Of course not! He was a man of faith who obeyed God's every command. Interestingly enough, when God commanded circumcision in Genesis 17, Abraham didn't hesitate. He obeyed the command as soon as it was issued. Furthermore, there were severe consequences when a Jewish male disobeyed this command. Genesis 17:14 says, "And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant." Question: what if Abraham had refused to be circumcised? Would he have been justified or condemned in the sight of God? Obviously, he would have ceased to be a man of faith. Circumcision was required after it was instituted. It was a covenant God made with Abraham and his descendents, and it was a requirement, no doubt.
Some try to connect this passage to Colossians 2:11-12 where baptism is compared to circumcision. The argument goes like this: if Abraham was justified by faith prior to circumcision, then we are justified by faith prior to baptism. But in order for the analogy to be perfect, we need to apply it to those people who lived when water baptism was instituted. The obedient Jews who lived when water baptism was commanded for the remission of sins would be comparable to faithful Abraham who was 99 years old when circumcision was institututed. Romans 4 does not disprove the necessity of baptism. Instead, when you consider all of the information in context, it actually points to its necessity. But enough of that.
The overarching point in Romans 4 is this. The arrogant Jews who had a meritorious view of circumcision and the Mosaical law were not imitating their hero, Abraham. Abraham was a man of faith who trusted God's mercy. That was the example they needed to imitate.
Even though there is much more to the chapter, this is sufficient for today.
I hope it helps.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
As I mentioned in the first article of this series, there is a progression in the book of Romans, an evolving flow of spiritual reasoning. In the first chapter, Paul highlighted the sins of the Gentiles. They were wicked pagans who rejected the clear evidence of God and chose instead to worship idols and pursue such vices as homosexuality. In chapter two, Paul turned his attention to the sinful Jews. Lest they be haughty and self-righteous, the apostle reminded them that they were just a bunch of hypocrites. Now, here in chapter three, Paul joins these two ideas. But first, he finishes his discussion from the second chapter. Let's notice verses 1-8.
"What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God" (vv. 1-2). Even though the Gentiles and Jews were both guilty of sin, the Jews did have an advantage in the sense that they had received revealed law from God. While the Gentiles had to grope about and pursue a fundamental knowledge in God, the Jews had everything delivered to them on a silver platter.
But this raises a question: if it was such an advantage for the Jews to have the oracles of God, then why was there so much unbelief within the nation of Israel? Perhaps God had just wasted His time on Israel, or perhaps He didn't try hard enough, or perhaps there wasn't any real benefit in having revealed law. Paul answers, "Certainly not! Indeed let God be true but every man a liar" (vv. 4). In other words, God's righteousness must not be impugned. Everything God did was right! The unrighteousness and unbelief of Israel could not be blamed on God in any way.
And really, when you think about it, the unbelief of Israel permitted the death of Christ (for they killed their Messiah), and it allowed God to graft in the Gentiles (as we'll see later in chapter eleven). So the Jew, upon hearing these facts, argued, "Our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, so is God unjust who inflicts wrath?" (vv. 5). Once again, human reasoning exalts man and demotes the wisdom of the Lord and this is unacceptable. Paul replies, "Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?" (vv. 6). He then pointed out that this reasoning was dangerous, for it would ultimately lead to something called "reasoning from consequences." Notice verse eight: "And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come?'-as we are slanderously reported and as some report that we say." In other words, if the Jews' unbelief and unrighteousness worked in God's favor to bring about His plan of redemption, then how could the Jews be punished? And if this is true, then perhaps we should commit sin so as to exalt the justice and righteousness of God. This is very dangerous reasoning, and it would ultimately lead to mass infidelity.
Ultimately, Paul was not trying to make the Jews feel bad. He was just trying to bring them back down to earth. And this is the point that he begins to make in verse 9. The Jews are not better than the Gentiles for all are under sin (vv. 9). "There is none righteous, no, not one...there is none who doesgood, no, not one...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (vv. 10, 12, 23). And then the powerful conclusion in verse 24, "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
That's the point! It's not about slamming the Gentiles or bashing the Jews. It's about helping all of us to see that we have sinned and we need the grace of God. It's about destroying our pride and humbling all of us to the point that we not only seek salvation in Christ, but we are capable of cooperation as mutual members of the body of Christ.
"Where is boasting then?" Paul askes in verse 27. This is the question that Paul answers not only here at the end of chapter three, but in chapter four as well. We'll return to this question tomorrow, Lord willing.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
In Romans 1, Paul emphasized the sins of the Gentiles, and now in chapter two he focuses on the sins of the Jews. He begins in verse one: "Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." The apostle is trying to make the point here (and he completes this point later in chapter two, as well as in chapter three) that no man has the right to think that he is better than anyone else; we have no right to judge one another. Now, this is not to say that we cannot recognize the sins of others, or that we cannot somehow tell others that they are in error, but ultimately we have to humbly recognize that we cannot excuse our own sin in the process.
Specifically, Paul is dealing with hypocrisy. In verse three, the apostle adds, "And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?" The Gentiles thought highly of themselves because of their promotion to salvation, and likewise, the Jews thought highly of themselves because of their heritage, but there were too many cases of hypocritical judgment.
In verse four, Paul attributes our salvation to the goodness of God. It is God's goodness that leads us to repentance. That is, we recognize the gift of salvation which is offered through Jesus Christ and we are led to repent and be saved.
Beginning in verse five, Paul begins to discuss the final day of judgment. His main point is not the day of judgment itself, but the fact that God will judge without partiality. There is coming, according to verse five, a "day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." While our personal judgments can be incorrect and misguided, God's judgment is righteous, and there's coming a day when we will all be on the receiving end of that judgment. These hypocritical judges in chapter two were treasuring up for themselves "wrath in the day of wrath." That is, they were making it worse on themselves by continuing in their hypocrisy.
The key here is that God will "render to each one according to his deeds...for there is no partiality with God" (vv. 6, 11). The Gentiles and Jews would be judged according to the same standard, and while we don't have the Jewish-Gentile controversy today, we need to recognize this lesson just the same. It doesn't matter how much money a person has, or where they live, or what religion they're a part of...every one of us will be judged by the word of God (Jn. 12:48).
So far, chapter two has been fairly easy to dissect, but don't worry, the remaining part of the chapter will give us some trouble. In verses 12-16, Paul talks about the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross; those Gentiles who lived when the Law of Moses was in effect. We all know that the Mosaical law was for the Jews. So the question presents itself: to which law were the Gentiles bound? Were they, too, bound to the law of Moses? No, for the Mosaical covenant was not made with them, but with physical Israel (Deut. 5:1-3). Were the Gentiles automatically condemned because of their disobedience to the Law of Moses? No, for Romans 3:19 says, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped..." The Gentiles were not judged according to the Law of Moses, for it was not their law! Should we then conclude that the Gentiles were without law? Of course not, for "where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15). If the Gentiles were not bound to ANY law, then they would have been sinless, but Paul already refuted that notion in chapter one. So we MUST conclude that the Gentiles were bound to law. The question is, to which law were they bound?
Paul says in Romans 2:14-15 says, "for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having a law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." It appears to me that the Gentiles were bound to an unwritten law. As we noticed in Romans 1:20, any human being can examine the creation of God (i.e. the physical world) and see the Creator. It is inferred, I believe, that we can derive from this knowledge a basic sense of right and wrong, and a basic sense of worship and adoration of the Creator. When a Gentile without access to the Law of Moses, worshiped the God of heaven and followed the law written on their hearts (vv. 15), they were justified before God. Notice, later in the chapter, in verse 26: "Therefore, if an uncircumcisedman keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?" Even though the Gentiles didn't have the law, and even though they were uncircumcised (which was an abomination among the Jews), they could be one with God based on their faith.
Did God reveal Himself in a special way to the Gentiles, as He did to the Jews? Did they have a written law of which we are unaware? No, for Romans 3:1-2 says, "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of uncircumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God." The Jews' advantage was that they had a written law. To them were committed the oracles, or sayings of God.
Before we move on, there is something that I want to clarify. Even though I believe that the Gentiles of old could be saved apart from the Law of Moses, I do not believe that people today can be saved apart from the Law of Christ. There may be some sincere people out there in the world, but that doesn't mean they are saved. Acts 17:30 says, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." Every person today is accountable to the law of Christ. While the Mosaical law was limited to the Jews, the law of Christ is for all men (Jn. 14:6; Ac. 4:12; 1 Jn. 2:2), and therefore all are bound to it!
This is all very interesting, but ultimately, Paul, in Romans 2:12-16, is building up to a greater point. The Jews condemned the Gentiles and viewed them with disdain, but they were hypocrites! The Jews who knew God's will and approved of the things that were excellent and who were instructed out of the law (vv. 18) were condemning the Gentiles for things of which they themselves were guilty. Notice verses 21 for example: "You , therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?" This was a rhetorical question. Paul's point is that yes, there were Jews who were thieves who at the same time condemned the thievery of the Gentiles. The Jews were so self-righteous and so arrogant that they were blind to their own sins. They condemned the Gentiles as wicked adulterers and idolators, but they failed to recognize that they were just as guilty in many respects.
This problem often plagues churches today. While Christians ought to be different than the sinners of the world...while we ought to be more holy and more righteous...and while we ought to consistently practice what we preach...there are many Christians who are hypocrites. They go to church every Sunday and act pious, but they're living a double life. They mock the sinners all around them, but they themselves are committing the same sins and that without repentance! What a reproach we bring upon Christ and the church when we give into pretense and hypocrisy.
As Paul closes the chapter, he makes this point: some of the Gentiles, despite their uncircumcision were better than the hypcritical Jews, because at least they were circumcised inwardly (because of their faithfulness to God). It was better to be a sincere, God-fearing Gentile than a two-faced Jew. In all of this, Paul is trying to cut the Jews down to size...just as he cut the Gentiles down to size in chapter one.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Let's begin today by examining Romans 1.
In the first seven verses of this chapter, the apostle Paul introduces the letter, and his introduction here is very similar to some of the other introductions he wrote for his other epistles. He basically identifies himself in verse one as the author and reminds his audience that he is indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ. Then, in verses 2-4, the apostle reminds the brethren in Rome of the character and purpose of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord (vv. 3) and because He is both the Son of God and the Son of David, and because He was raised from the dead, He is the rightful Messiah of Israel (vv. 3-4). Through him we obtain grace, which of course, is a reference to salvation by grace which is found ONLY in Christ (vv. 5). Finally, in verse seven, Paul greets "all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." Certainly, those of us who are Christians are saints just the same; each one of us is beloved of God; we're special to Him.
Next, in verses 8-15, Paul describes the extent of his relationship with the Roman Christians, and he shares with them his desire to come and work with them in Rome. In verse eight, he says, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." This point is worthy of our consideration as there are several lessons for us in this one verse. First of all, we ought to be thankful for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. If our spiritual relationships are cold and formal, then something is wrong. We need to yearn for one another and prefer the company of brethren more than the company of sinners. Paul had heard of their faith, and it not only motivated him, but he was very eager to come and help them.
Beginning in verse 16, Paul moves past his introductory remarks and into the main part of the epistle. He says here, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." As we're going to see, the Christians at that time were divided when it came to the Jewish-Greek issue. There were Jews who boasted because of their physical heritage, and then there were Greeks, or Gentiles, who boasted because God had granted them repentance unto life. Paul reminds them here at the outset that the same gospel saves all of us.
This gospel, or faith (system of beliefs) leads to personal faith. As Paul says later in 10:17, "So then faith (personal faith) comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (the faith)."
In the rest of the chapter (vv. 18-32), Paul addresses the sins of the Gentiles in great detail. The basic point is this: that even though the Gentiles did not receive the Mosaic law (as the Jews did), God did manifest Himself to them in creation (the natural world); yet they rejected God by perverting His character and His nature and in the end, they became completely and thoroughly engulfed in their own passions and sinful desires. As we're going to see in chapters 2-3, Paul is emphasizing the sinfulness of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, that all equally needed salvation.
In Romans 1:20, Paul says, "For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." Any person can look at the physical world and not only learn that there is a Creator, but they can recognize certain attributes of God, namely His eternal power and Godhead, or divine nature. But the Gentiles in times past (I believe that Paul is decribing the time before Christ's blood was shed), "suppress[ed] the truth" by ignoring these attributes of God. Instead of worshiping God, they perverted the truth and developed a system of paganism and polytheism. The text says that they "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things." While this physical world is the product of God's design, it is wrong to worship the elements of creation. Instead, we need to worship the creator.
Paul goes on to say that when the Gentiles changed the nature of God, that God "also gave them up to uncleanness" (vv. 24). There is an interesting concept here. When we worship God as He truly is, and we seek to worship Him His way, we are going to be more pure and holy, but when we change who God is and we seek to worship Him our way, the result is the we embark on a journey that takes us deeper and deeper into sin and corruption.
Here in this text, Paul specifically mentioned homosexuality (vv. 26-27). Both homosexuality and lesbianism are "against nature" for reasons that ought to be obvious to us. While we ought to treat all people, including homosexuals, with love and kindness, we ought to recognize that the behavior is immoral and sinful.
As Paul closes the chapter, he lists a number of other sins for which the Gentiles were known. Because they did not retain God in their knowledge, He "gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (vv. 28). Not only did they know that these things (vv. 29-31) were sinful, but they celebrated their sinfulness and encouraged others to do the same (vv. 32). This just goes to show that even though sinful people often try to justify their lifestyles outwardly...inwardly, they know that they are wrong. In the end, they will face God's wrath.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
What I'd like to focus on is Felix's reaction to the truth. It first of all says that he was afraid. Why would he be afraid? This man was a governor and as such, he had no need to fear for his physical safety; Paul was not a threat to him in that sense. Perhaps Felix was arachnophobic and there happened to be a spider near him as Paul was preaching. No, that's silly, isn't it? So why was he afraid? Perhaps he was afraid because he felt the impact of Paul's preaching. The apostle was talking about the coming judgment, and for someone who is not right with God, that would be rather frightening. Hebrews 10:31 says that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and in Hebrews 12:29 we are told that "God is a consuming fire." To hear someone tell you that one day you will stand before the Almighty God in judgment might be scary if you're not prepared.
But there are two ways to handle this fear. Either we can respond by seeking to do God's will so that we might be prepared for the judgment to come, or we can try to push this fear and this new knowledge to the back of our minds and just move on with our lives. Felix obviously chose the latter route. According to the text, he told Paul, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you." Felix wasn't willing to act at that point, so he told Paul to leave. In other words, it was his intention to ignore the message for the time being. After all, he was a governor. He didn't have time for righteousness and moral living. Surely, he knew that if he embraced Christianity, many changes would have to be made in his life, and that wasn't convenient for him at the time.
Many people react to the gospel this way today. They can tell that the gospel message is true, and they know that they ought to embrace the truth and live faithfully as Christians, yet they refuse to do it because it's inconvenient for them at the time. Young people say things like, "I will become a Christian one day, but I want to sow my wild oats first," or someone might say, "I do intend on becoming a Christian at some point in the future, but now's not a good time."
Here's the problem with that logic: we are not guaranteed a more convenient time in the future. Sure, it sounds like good, sound reasoning, but James says "whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (Jas. 4:14). You could die in a car-wreck. You could have a heart-attack. You could get shot by an intruder in your home. Sure, we'd all like to think that these things won't happen to us, but any of it is possible. So when we put off or delay obedience to the gospel message, we're taking a huge risk.
But do you know that we are guaranteed something? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." You are not guaranteed tomorrow, but you are guaranteed right NOW!
So what will you do?
If you are not a Christian...if you're not who you need to be, why put it off? Perhaps you know that you need to make things right with God. Why not today? Don't be like Felix who delayed salvatation for a more convenient time. Do it now, while you have time because the fact is, nothing is more precious than your soul (Mt. 16:24-26). Sure, sin is fun for a season. All that drinking and partying may be fun now...but you need to consider your soul.
If there is anything I can do to help you in this regard, please let me know.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
But is this right?
This may appear to be a small matter to you, something not worth arguing over. What's the big deal, right? It's just a title. What's the harm in it? The harm in it, I believe, is that we're misusing a Bible term. Some people take the word baptism (which means immersion) and apply it to sprinkling and pouring. They're misusing a Bible term to support an unscriptural practice. Others misapply the term priest to a limited order of male officers in the Catholic church, when in reality the term priest is applied to all Christians according to God's word (1 Pet. 2:5). The same is true with the word pastor. It is a biblical term, but religious folks today often misuse it and we ought to use Bible terms in biblical ways. Isn't that what God would want us to do?
Okay, so what does the word pastor really mean in the Bible? Does God use this term in His word to refer to any man who preaches for a local congregation? The answer is "no." The term is not used to identify those who are preachers, but rather to identify those who oversee or shepherd the local church.
Let's begin in Ephesians 4:11. Oddly enough, this is the ONLY place that the word pastor is found in the New Testament. The Greek word here is poimen which means "a herdsmen, especially a shepherd." Poimen is used in other places in the New Testament, and it is always translated as shepherd except here in Ephesians 4:11. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (poimen) according to 1 Peter 2:25, and of course Jesus used this term in many of His parables.
So a pastor is a shepherd.
Also notice in Ephesians 4:11 that a distinction is made between evangelists, pastors and teachers. Many assume today that evangelists (preachers) are pastors, but Paul clearly indicates that they are distinct roles.
The fact that the word pastor is only used in Ephesians 4:11 gives us difficulty in applying it to any specific role in the local church. All we know, according to the text, is that a pastor is someone who pastors, or shepherds the local church. Is a preacher given this work? Is it the preacher's job, according to God's word, to oversee the church? Let's now go to Acts 20...
In Acts 20:17, Paul "sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church." When they came to him, he began to warm them of the trials that were going to come upon them. Then he reminds them of their duties as elders. Paul told them in verse 28, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood."
There are three terms here that are used interchangeably: elders, overseer and shepherd. The word elder is from the Greek word presbuteros. Thayer's says of this term, "among the Christians, those who presided over the assemblies (or churches) The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably." The word overseer is from the Greek word episkopos which, according to Thayer's means, "the superintendent, elder, or overseer of a Christian church." The word that I'd really like for you to notice here is shepherd which is the Greek word poimaino. Poimaino is obviously related to the Greek word poimen (pastor, Eph. 4:11). So, basically Paul is telling the elders or overseers that they are to shepherd, or pastor, the church of God. So who are the real pastors of the church? Not the preachers, but the elders.
But let us take this a step further. Who are the elders? According to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 the elders (referred to as bishops in 1 Tim. 3:1) are men who meet certain qualifications. Elders are to be married men who have faithful children. They are to have a certain kind of character and they are to be capable of recognizing and rebuking error. So let me ask you this question: can a young, unmarried man serve as an elder? What about a man who has no children? The answer to both questions is "no!" In order for a man to serve as an elder, he MUST meet these biblical qualifications and be appointed by the church to serve in such a capacity. Then and only then can he be rightly deemed an elder, bishop or pastor.
But let's take it a step further. Does the Bible authorize the "one-man pastor system?" In other words, is it scriptural for ONE man to serve as THE PASTOR of the church. Once again, the answer is "no." In every place where elders are mentioned, there is always a plurality of men who served as the elders of the church (Ac. 14:23; 20:17; Titus 1:5).
So let's recap.
- The words preacher and pastor are not interchangeable.
- The elders are the true pastors of the church.
- A man must meet certain qualifications to serve as an elder.
- There is no scriptural authority for the one-man pastor system.
Is it possible for a preacher to be a pastor? Sure, if he meets the qualifications and is appointed along with other man to pastor the church. But it is absolutely unscriptural to assume that the preacher is THE PASTOR of the church. Folks, let's use Bible terms the way God intended for them to be used.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Joseph was one of the sons of Jacob. In fact, he was Jacob's favorite son (Gen. 37:3). Joseph's brothers hated him and one day they decided to sell him as a slave to some Midianite traders (Gen. 37:27-28) who in turn sold him to an Egyptian officer named Potiphar (vv. 36). Joseph went from being the beloved son of a wealthy Hebrew to being a slave. But "the Lord was with Joseph and he was a succesful man..." (Gen. 39:2). He was so successful that Potiphar promoted Joseph over all of his possessions and made him "overseer of his house" (Gen. 39:4). Things were going well for Joseph until Potiphar's wife falsly accused him of trying to rape her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown in prison (Gen. 39:20) but once again we're told that "the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." Joseph was in prison for over two years (Gen. 41:1), but finally, Pharaoh called on Joseph to interpret two dreams that he had. Pharaoh knew that Joseph could interpret dreams because he had interpreted the dreams of the royal butler and baker while he was in prison. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and gave the Egyptian king some sound advice, he was promoted over all the Egyptian people. He was second-in-command only to Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:40).
Wow. What a story. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, wrongly accused by his master's wife and thrown into prison where he stayed for more than two years! But Joseph was lifted from the pit of despair and promoted to a high position in the land of Egypt. What a turn of events! Was this all the result of chance and blind luck? Not at all.
Years later when Joseph's brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph tested them and then finally unveiled himself to them. As you might imagine, they were shocked and, well...a little worried. After all, they had sold him as a slave and now he had the power and authority to have them executed. But Joseph said to them in Genesis 45:5, "But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life," and again in verse 8, "So now it was not you who sent me here, but God..." After Jacob, their father, died, Joseph's brothers again grew anxious. But Joseph again reassured them that they had no reason to worry. He told them in Genesis 50:20, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive."
What Joseph's brothers did was terrible, but we see in these passages that God was providentially working in Joseph's life all along...using the events of Joseph's life to ultimately bring about His will, the preservation of life.
God knew that a famine was coming and that if nothing was done, many lives would end. So to preserve life, he chose a God-fearing man named Joseph and used his brothers' envy to bring him to Egypt. Was it any coincidence that he was sold to Potiphar, whose immoral wife tried to seduce him and when he refused, falsely accused him? Was it any coincidence that Joseph was in prison at the same time that Pharaoh's butler and baker were there? Was it any coincidence that he had the opportunity to interpret their dreams? Of course, these were not coincidences. It was the providential hand of God!
It's also important to note that Joseph, despite the trials that he faced, endured and remained faithful to God. In Genesis 39:9, when Potiphar's wife tempted him, he said to her, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Then, when he met the butler and baker in prison and they told him about their dreams, he responded, "Do not interpretations belong to god? Tell them to me, please." When Joseph encountered severe hardship, he didn't question God or turn against the Almighty. He held fast to God's name!
This brings me to the final point of this article. Notice Psalm 105:17-19. As the psalmist overviews the history of Israel, he says in verse 17, "He sent a man before them--Joseph--who was sold as a slave...The word of the Lord tested him." Did you catch that? As we learned earlier, God is the one who sent Joseph to Egypt; God was working providentially in Joseph's life to bring him to this position of prominance that he might preserve life...but all the while he was testing Joseph.
Let me ask you this question: What if Joseph had failed the test? What if, for example, he had fornicated with Potiphar's wife? What if he had rejected the Lord? Even though God was using Him, would God have continued to use Joseph if he had failed the test?
Yes, we are to be as clay in the Potter's hand. Yes, God uses us and works providentially in our lives, but we need to recognize that we have free-will, and thus we need to yield to God. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:21, "Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Maker, prepared for every good work." Joseph was useful to the Lord. He endured the many tests and trials of his life. As a result, God used Joseph to preserve life; His providential plan was carried out through Joseph. But if Joseph had proven himself to be unuseable; if he had failed the test, God wouldn't have used him, but would have resorted to alternative means to carry out His divine objective.
Are you useful to the Maker as Joseph was?
God has plans to use you, but you must yield to Him in order for His plan to be carried out. When you face trials and when you suffer, instead of asking "Why me?" recognize that it may not be about you at all. Hold fast to God's name and endure the trials of life that Christ's light may shine in your life. Let us learn from the story of Joseph.