Friday, October 27, 2006
Where is my zeal? What do I know?
Romans 10:1-4 NASU
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:1-4 has opened up a new avenue of thought for me. In this passage, Paul notes that the Jews have a “zeal” for God, but it is a zeal that is not accompanied with “knowledge” (epignosis—knowledge or recognition). He goes on to say that the main problem for them is that their zeal leads them to attempt to produce a righteousness within themselves that will appease God; that is, they are “seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Now usually it is here that I missed the argument.
Paul isn’t saying that they were lost because they tried to keep the Law, he is saying that they were trying to substitute their OWN righteousness (one that Paul himself claims to have achieved in Philippians 3:5-6) in the place of God’s dikaiosune. In other words, they were making themselves just and thus expected that God would therefore accept them due to their own righteousness or justice.
We hear this all the time—“He was a good man, so now he is in a better place.” But the apostle Paul says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” That is, Christ puts an end to self-achieved righteousness.
The problem isn’t Law, for it is “holy, just, and good” as Paul notes in Romans 6 and 7. The problem is this unholy tendency to justify ourselves before a holy God. Adam did it, Job did it, the Pharisees and Sadducees did it, we all do it.
How does it usually manifest itself in me? In this manner—I get upset when things in life don’t go my way because I “deserve better.” That is self-righteousness talk. We deserve hell. We deserve any misery God chooses to place on us, but the good news is that in his incomparable mercy, God has chosen to give us not our OWN righteousness (which is, as Isaiah says, “filthy rags”), but rather, the righteousness that is the end, the righteousness of God in Christ. This righteousness is attained only by faith in Christ’s faithfulness to accomplish all that God has for us.
Paul’s problem with his own people is that they are zealous to prove themselves, not zealous for God to prove himself. Lord, how like them I am! Christ is the end, it is his honor and righteousness for which I should be zealous. Forgive us, oh Lord, for our pitiful attempts to make ourselves righteous, and grant through the life and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we should be found righteous through him.
Now back to the issue of “knowledge” in these verses. The word rendered knowledge is epignosis, which carries the meaning of knowledge or recognition. Thayers renders it something like “precise knowledge.”
Isn’t it interesting here that the Jews are described as having a zeal for God that lacks “knowledge”? Notice that it doesn’t say it lacks “faith.” Yet in this same passage Paul adds that Christ is the end of the Law with regards to righteousness to “every one who believes.” In other words, knowledge requires faith/faithfulness.
The Jews described here are faithful to pursuing their own righteousness in an apparent zeal for the things of God, but the best they accomplish is a passion without knowledge, a righteousness that pales in comparison to God’s own righteousness.
In fact, in the verses following Romans 10:4, Paul goes on to compare the two kinds of righteousness mentioned in the first four verses. Righteousness that is known by “faith” results in salvation. Why? It is dependent upon an intimate and precise knowledge of the author of that righteousness; namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Knowledge in this sense can have an intimacy to it, a precision that is almost scary. Like a married couple who finishes each other’s sentences or can communicate an almost physical intimacy by just a glance, so is the intimacy that is called for with Christ. This knowledge is based on faith. Unlike my physical spouse, Christ is not in this room for me to touch, to hold, but by faith (a means of knowing something) I can grasp him, I can hold him, even better, I can be held by him.
God show me how to live faithfully in this knowledge of you, in your righteousness, and forgive me for trying so often to make myself righteous in your sight instead of relying on your faithfulness to me. How slow I am to understand sometimes! How foolish! Now it is clear why Paul “counts all things as manure,” these things cannot make him righteous, they cannot affect his relationship with God at all! Christ is the end of the Law with regards to righteousness, he is true righteousness. Lord, help me to cultivate that relationship with you. Thank you for accepting even me in your grace and mercy.
Like Adam and Eve, we only have one rule to obey—believe in Jesus and confess him. Can we do that, or like our ancestors, will we choose the wrong tree?
Thanks for reading!
Friday, October 20, 2006
A lesson in faith
Lk 17:5-10 NASU
5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.
7 "Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? 8 "But will he not say to him, ' Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? 9 "He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"
In the passage above the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Notice that they did not ask him to strengthen their faith. They wanted more of what Jesus had already given them.
Jesus responds to this request in a rather unusual way. He tells his disciples that they need simply to do what they have been asked by God to do!
How does that increase faith?
Look at Romans 10:17. Paul says that faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes from the word of Christ. The word "hearing" has a similar root to the word for "obey." It isn't the "hearing" alone that matters, it is the response to what is heard that has an effect (see James 1:22-25). When we learn God's character by hearing and heeding his voice, we increase areas for us to practice (and thereby increase) our faith.
Jesus says in Luke 17 that faith the size of a mustard seed could plant trees in the sea and move mountains! It doesn't take a lot of faith to accomplish something--it simply takes applying faith in the proper character--the character of God!
We are called to strenghten feeble knees and weak arms, but we should increase our faith by learning what God is doing and by faith walking into it. Faith is a gift that says in our heart "God wants to do this--I'll do it with him!"
Our faith needs increasing by learning from God what his character is like and what he wants to accomplish through us. Then we need to do it. When we do it, we will find our faith increased.
Trees will be uprooted and mountains moved.
Will we let God do it in us?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Will you serve God for nothing?
9 Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 " Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 " But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face."
15 "Though He slay me ,
I will hope in Him.
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
Oswald Chambers--"Faith by its very nature must be tried, and the real trial fo faith is not that we find it difficult to trust God, but that God's character has to be cleared in our minds. Faith in its actual working out has to go through spells of unsyllabled isolation. . . . Faith in the Bible is faith in God against everything that contradicts him--I will remain true to God's character whatever he may do. 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust him' is the most sublime of faith in all of Scripture."
Will a man serve God for nothing?
This tantalizing question is asked by Satan in the book of Job. A great contest has begun, a contest to see the limits of Job's trust in the character and faithfulness of God. In order to win the contest, Jobe would have to suffer the loss of many things, even the loss of whatever sense of God's approval he may have had.
What a test!
How would you do?
Will we serve God without expecting anything in return?
Will we love those around you (even those who don't "deserve" it or who mistreat you)? Will we pray for others, encourage them, live for them, without expectation that they will repay us?
At one point in his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to love on those folks who could not possibly pay them back. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus reminds us that we should love those who even despise us, to love them without expectation of love in return. In fact, we are told that doing so is in some sense like God!
The recent news of the slayings of young Amish girls has startled our country. What you may not hear in the midst of all the "horrible" news is the fact that one of the families who lost a daughter have reached out to the parents of the killer. That's right, they have asked them to come to the funeral, to receive love from the community, to receive forgiveness and acceptance. This Amish family is willing to forgive the horrible injustice done to them.
During the latest violent protests of Muslims against the Pope and his statements regarding Islam, a group of Muslims killed a nun. Shot her in the back. Her response as she bled to death? "Forgive them, forgive them."
Will we relate to others with the same spirit? Are we willing to receive nothing for our efforts? No acclaim, no recogition, not even a "thank you"?
Will we be hidden for God or do we want the limelight too much?
Dear God, you alone have the words of life. Teach us to cease our selfish ambitions and to lose ourselves in loving you and loving others. Not a reciprocating kind of love, but an unconditional, no-holds-barred love that remains faithful even when the evidence for faith has ceased. Teach us to love as you loved. Thank you.
For God so loved the world that he gave . . .
Thanks for reading!