God’s Promises to Man and the World

PAUL ON LAW, GRACE, LOVE AND THE PROMISES

“Christ is the completion (telos) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Ro. 10:4). “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Ro. 7:12). “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Ro. 2:13). “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law” (Ro. 3:31).

Our selection of Romans 10:4 and 7:12 are the axis on which faith without works turns.  It is not an oversight but a deliberate attempt to exempt oneself from being accountable for one’s deeds and salvation.  The law holds the whole world accountable (Ro. 3:19).  The question is what about those that are not under the Jewish law like the Gentiles, does faith exempt them?  Paul’s answer was “God will give to each person for what he has done” (Ro. 2:6).  What the law was to a Jew, conscience was to a Gentile (Ro. 2:15).  The God that gave the law also gave man the ability to do things right by faith that the Law and the Prophets endorsed.  “But now the righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because of his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus” (Ro. 3:21-26).

Romans 10:4 has to be explained in relationship of Romans 3:28-31. “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.  Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.  Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.” The word “end” in the Greek does not depict the intended meaning many ascribe to the Apostle Paul.  The Greek “telos” also means final, fulfilled, perfected, goal or anything that reaches its conclusion.  Christ has not ended the Law but fulfilled its conditions.  We do not become righteous because we merely believe, but because we follow Christ and obey His Words or Commands.  The word “telos” means that the Law is complete in it self and needs no revision or addition.  To Paul, “you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Ro. 2:20).

Paul based his argument of righteousness on faith alone and not on Moses’ statement.  “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law, ‘The man who does these things shall live by them.’  But the righteousness that is by faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming, that if we confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Everyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Ro. 10:5-11).  It is a remarkable argument and it is anchored in faith alone, only it is not what Moses had in mind.  There is no reference to Christ or to faith but to the obeying and doing of the Law (Deut. 32).  “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.  See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” 

Yes, we do need faith to accept the Son of God as our Savior.  There is no other way to understand the miracle of the incarnation and the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.  At the same time, there is no better way than obeying and keeping God’ Law from losing or not inheriting our Promises.   They guide and protect us as much as they guided and protected Israel.  And like Israel, we too can foreclose on our Promises.  First, what happened to Israel will happen to the Gentiles. “But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.  You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”  Here was and still is Paul’s warning to those that think they are no longer bound by God’s rules.  “Again I ask, did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their fall (by disobeying the Law), salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.  But if their disobedience means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their obedience to God bring!  I am talking to you Gentiles.  For, I am the apostle to the Gentiles.  I have confidence in my ministry in the hope that I may awaken my people and save some of them.  Their rejection has lead to the reconciliation in the world, how much more will their acceptance grant them life from the dead?” Israel was a holy olive tree. “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you Gentiles, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not take your place for granted.  Consider this, you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” “Their branches were broken off because of unbelief, but you are in there by faith.  Do not let this get into your pride, but be apprehensive.  God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you” (Ro. 11:11-21).

What are we to make of Ephesians 2:8-10? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can take credit.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  First of all, why and when were we saved?  The why is because man cannot save himself.  He has fallen too far from God and too deep into sin.  God in His infinite mercy stooped in grace through Christ to rescue man from annihilation.  Grace is not a pardon but a second chance to obey God and carry out his will on earth and prepare for eternity.  Grace is a permit to serve God and man in this life.  It allows us to claim God’s Promises.  At the end of our earthly journey, grace becomes our realized reward for having been faithful servants.  As to when God saved us, it did not begin at the cross but before the foundations of this world were laid (Eph. 1:4).  The cross and the resurrection were only the proof of God’s merciful intentions.   We are God’s workmanship, recreated in Christ to do good works in this life.  God prepared our jobs in advance.  He will hold us accountable for what we have done (Ro. 2:6; Isa. 62:12).  Grace in itself implies being gracious and generous with deeds and services.  The fruits of the Spirit were deeds of grace and they lifted the believer above the laws of circumcision and rituals required by tradition to enter the kingdom (Gal. 5:22-24; 6:12-16).  During Paul’s time the Ten Commandments were no longer an issue (Gal. 5:13-15).  The traditions of the fathers were the problem and stood in the way of redemption for Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 1:14).

Paul’s example was “Abraham, who believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Ro. 4:3).  It is a reference to Genesis 15:6.  The Lord came to Abram in a vision and promised that he would father a son in his old age.  That was not exactly how it turned out.  He did believe but with a little help from Sarai.  She had him father a child with Hagar her maid and called him Ismael.  God sent two more messengers and told Abram that his son was still on the way.  It did put tension on Abram’s patience.  At long last, Isaac made his debut.  At the end, Abram became Abraham and he did trust God and was not disappointed (Isa. 28:16).   He was ready and willing to sacrifice Isaac and God did reward him for his unwavering faith.  In addition, he left his home and country and traveled as well as lived among strangers.  He became know for his loyalty to God and he did it before the Law of Moses led his offspring.  He knew by nature to distinguish good form evil (Gen. 3:22; Ro. 2:15).  To James, he was a man that backed his faith with deeds.  The deed of all deeds was to give Isaac back to God at a time when human sacrifices to the gods were common (Ja. 2:22-24).  By then, Abraham was convinced that God himself would supply a sacrificial lamb (Gen. 22:8).

All that we know about Abraham and his faith in the God of Miracles comes from his offspring.  It took at least four hundred years before his descendants were in a position to claim the Promises God had made to Abraham.  During that time, Abraham’s children had not grown in faith but had lost what they had.  They needed a law to bring them back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And they were not allowed to marry sisters, cousins, or father children outside marriage.  The descendants of Abraham needed moral guidance to protect their faith and by protecting their faith they could claim the Promises that enhanced their lives.  As long as they lived within the Law, they enjoyed some of the Promises.  When they began to amend and replace God’s decrees, they lost the Promises.  Paul of course wrote to Gentiles that had no law, except their conscience.  All they had was “faith in doing what is right” (Ro. 1:17; Hab. 2:4); but to keep sin from robbing us of the Promises Christ is preparing for us, the law can keep us vigilant.  The law does not save us, but it definitely makes us conscious of sin (Ro. 3:20).  Paul of all people lived with sin nagging constantly at his conscience (Ro. 7:7-25).  He never took his salvation for granted (Phil. 2:12; I Cor. 9:24-27).  He urged, “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain” (II Cor. 6:1).  How did Paul satisfy grace? “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Ro. 14:8-10).  For Paul, law and love go hand in hand.  One cannot function without the other.  Love does not allow us to break any commandment.

Love for Paul was the embodiment of grace.  For us, love (agape) is like the icing on a cake.  The icing itself is mercy and forgiveness.  Grace cannot be understood without some demonstration and love is capable of showing what grace is.  “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’” (Ro. 5:8).  Christ in person was the incarnate love of God for us.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or toil or persecution or famine or poverty or peril or death.  As it is written’ ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:35-39).

Paul, thus far was at his best.  In Romans chapters 9-15, we have a different Paul.  It is almost as if some time had elapsed and he had some serious thought and apprehension regarding man’s willingness to reciprocate to the love of God in Christ.  His own people, the Jews, stopped loving God by breaking the laws and stepped outside of grace.  God had not changed neither did grace.  It is man that has left God’s jurisdiction.  Paul did not want his Gentile converts take God’s love for granted like his people did.  Their love had to be genuine (Ro. 12:9) because love obligates us to each other and completes the demands of the law (Ro. 13:8-9).  Even making another person feel uneasy by what we eat is a violation of love (Ro. 14:15).  Love needs to be followed (I Cor. 14:1) and it must guide us in everything we do (I Cor. 16:14).  A loveless life is a cursed life (I Cor. 16:22).  Paul’s classic chapter on love is a blueprint of what is expected of a law -abiding person (I Cor. 13).  Agape love is tough, very masculine and male. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:25-28).   It is that lack of self-love that is the missing ingredient that is needed to make us better and the world we live in.  Love is not something one shows; it is how one lives and what one does that makes us better.