Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Romans

Two Problems; One Solution

“Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!” (Job 31:35)

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

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This morning my devotional reading juxtaposed two men, both in deep woe, but for profoundly different reasons. My Old Testament reading concluded in Job 31, which is Job’s last gasp of complaint over what appears to him to be the injustice of his sufferings. My New Testament reading included Romans 7 and 8, where we find Paul crying out in despair over his struggle with sin.

Both men are tormented and distraught; both are crying out in anguish. Job goes through a litany of seven areas of sin, showing how thoroughly he has probed his heart for any evidence of sin as he tries to find a reason that makes sense of why God would let him suffer as he does (Job 31:35-37). Paul, on the other hand, is in anguish because everywhere he turns in review of his ways he finds nothing but sin. He sees sin everywhere in himself. He is looking for someone who can save him from God’s just judgment and the power of sin.

Job sees no sin anywhere in his life, yet he suffers. Paul sees sin everywhere in his life, yet he is powerless to deal with it. Both are beyond distraught.

The answer in both cases is: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a).

Job repeatedly longed for someone to stand between him and God as a mediator (Job 11:33; 16:19-21; 19:25-26). Paul knows Jesus to be just that one, a perfect Mediator, who at the cost of His own life paid our sin penalty (Romans 8:3), whether we are able to discern those sins or not (Psa. 19:12-13). Jesus causes us to gladly cry, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1). Plus, Jesus sends His very own Spirit to reside within us (8:9), to deeply and personally make real our connection and fellowship with God (8:15-17), and to produce through us all that He requires of us (8:2-4)!

In Jesus we find the one and only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6), in whom we may rest as life and its hardships do not make sense. In Jesus we find the one and only sin sacrifice, in which we may rest when our sins overwhelm us. In Jesus we receive His Spirit, in whom we may rest, trusting His empowering to free us from the power of sin.

Truly we cry, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Embracing Every Friend

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son …” (Romans 8:29a)

Several great principles emerge from this, speaking volumes into the details of my life:

  • The only goal that matters ultimately is Christlikeness. (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24)
  • When Christlikeness is my ultimate goal I move with God, in the sweep of His power and with the confidence of eventually arriving at His designed end. (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2)
  • If Christlikeness is my ultimate goal, then even the deepest hole and darkest night can become my friend. (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-17)

The Question to End all Questioning

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?”

(Job 41:11a)

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

(Romans 11:35)

This question is the show-stopper, the debate-ender. This question is designed to silence the objector; to leave him bowed in worship at the feet of God.

God asked this question of Job to silence him, to expose the folly of his rants, to reduce him to worship. Job’s sufferings were epic. He knew nothing of the reasons—afforded to the reader in chapters 1-3—for his pain. He had it right early on when he simply replied, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). When his wife objected, Job asked, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (v.10b). Indeed, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v.10c).

But as Job’s pain persisted his struggles provoked him to question God. His friends’ counsel prodded him further down this fatal path. After his friends’ three rounds of counsel, God finally broke his silence and began questioning the questioner. The New International Version lists 70 questions which God put to Job from chapters 38 to 41. In the midst of all those questions God dropped the show-stopper: “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?”

Paul, good Bible student that he was, took up this divine question at the end of eleven chapters of the most intricate theological reasoning ever penned. He had spent the last three of those chapters exploring the mysteries of the electing love of the sovereign God. But the apostle had hit the wall, the wall beyond which no human inquiry can pass, no human eyes can peer, no human mind can penetrate. Having done his best to answer those who would object to God’s sovereign, electing love, Paul fell silent, threw his hands in the air in a worshipful sign of surrender before the sovereign Lord whose ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33-36). The only thing left after this question was to pronounce the benediction (v.36).

As Paul asks another audience on another occasion: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

The end of all theological discussion, all philosophical exploration, all existential ranting is found in this simple query:

  • Who came first, the Creator or the creature?
  • Who is Giver and who is receiver?
  • Who owes whom?

The wall beyond which we cannot press is God’s sovereign position as Creator and Sustainer of all things. The question leaves us where God intended us to be when He created us, where all His merciful and gracious provisions were design to lead us from the beginning—in worship.

All our questions answered? Goodness, no! All our greatest longings now connected to the only One who can satisfy them? Absolutely.

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“At the center of ‘sin’ is that proud, perpendicular pronoun ‘I’! There it is, unbent and unbowed, the assertion of self in rebellion and revolt against a holy God.” — David L. Larsen (“The Transformation of a Terrorist,” p.33, The Voice From the Cross)

Ah, but there is good news!

  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19)
  • We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6)
  • But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Generational Degeneration

“God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts … God gave them over to degrading passions … God gave them over to a depraved mind.” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28)

“There arose another generation after then who did know know the Lord.” (Judges 2:10)

That which is unthinkable to one generation is to the next generation a secret fantasy.

What is a secret fantasy to one generation is to the next generation a whispered rumor.

What is a whispered rumor to one generation is to the next generation an open scandal.

What is an open scandal to one generation is to the next generation a matter of equal rights.

What is a matter of equal rights to one generation is to the next generation normal.

What is normal to one generation is to the next generation boring.

What is boring to one generation is largely abandoned in favor of something that was once unthinkable even to the most open minded a generation before.

Only our vigilance as those who make up this generation is a protection against the slow fade.

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