Romans – An Application of Chapter 1, Verses 2-4, Part 2

Doctrine 2: The gospel promises are Divine, and not of human invention    (verse 2)

1) The message of God’s grace comes to us through men, chosen of God

The Christian faith and message came to the world at a time in human history that was replete with human philosophy and man-made religion. Prior to this, the truth of God was contained exclusively within the Jewish community. To the world this was a cult of religious zealots, intent on separation from all who were not of their fold. They despised the Gentile world and did not hesitate to make it known to them. The Christian faith on the other hand, though an offshoot of Judaism so to speak, was quite the opposite. It sought and succeeded in turning the world upside down in the proclamation of its message. This turned the world away from a relative indifference to the Jewish religion, to one of active animosity and hostility toward its evolution into the Christian religion. Since that time, the world has been dominated by the Christian message, which has succeeded in influencing entire cultures toward its cosmology.

The Christian message however, in spite of its overall success throughout the world, has never ceased to find itself under attack by its critics. Before the Reformation in Europe the organized church exercised political dominance over every society it occupied. Therefore, the message, right or wrong was kept intact. Although the Reformation did not change all of Europe away from Roman Catholic control, it was still successful to a certain extent in altering the influence it once had. As a result, an entirely new world view emerged in the seventeenth century that made liberty of thought its grand doctrine. The Enlightenment as it was called, was based on humanism and scientific discovery. Since the time of its arrival in the west, the Christian message has been under constant attack by the humanists and scientists. And this attack developed not from outside, but from within the four walls of the church.

The strategy of the critics was simply this, to tear the Christian message to pieces by attributing it to nature and human invention. The humanists have done this by insisting that the Christian faith and message is one that leads to the deification of man, rather than the reverence of God. The scientists have done this by insisting that the Christian faith and message is nothing but a myth, and not scientifically verifiable. The sad thing about this is that many who have assumed the office of the Christian ministry over the last two or three hundred years have imbibed in this insidious thinking. The way it has won men in the church over to its side is this. In order to remain relevant within the academic world, a Christian minister must become a humanist or a scientist. So in many communions they have reinvented the Christian faith and message, in the hope of making it more palatable to the critics and the world.

One of these ways has been to rob the Christian message of its power, by calling into question the veracity of the Scriptures. It’s done this by suggesting the Bible is full of errors brought about by the fallibility of human authors, transcribers and translators. If the Bible is the product of fallible men, how can anyone take a dogmatic stance on any one of its teachings? Perhaps the most fundamental teaching of Scripture next to the doctrines of God and salvation, is that of the creation recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis. Empirical science denies the six-day creation account, and turns it into a tale of natural evolution. This idea in turn, calls even the existence of God into question. If the creation account isn’t to be literally taken, how can the message of the gospel have any relevance at all?

The apostle Paul was not concerned with any of these questions or the problems that they posed. He was familiar with Aristotle and his cosmological philosophy. In fact, Paul deliberately separated himself from Greek sophistry in the proclamation of the gospel (I Cor. 1:18-25). Paul called the gospel of Jesus Christ “the wisdom of God” (verse 24). The apostle Paul pitted the message of the cross against all Greek philosophy, which is based on humanism. Nature is “the wisdom of this world” (verse 20). As such, it begins with and ends with man. This is not so with the “the wisdom of God.” The message of the gospel is wisdom because it is of Divine origin. Paul took this as his axiom. The reason Paul did not dispute with the philosophers according to their way of thinking, is because he recognized the failure of empirical proofs to arrive at knowledge.

Paul had been a zealous Jew of the Pharisee sect. He was a meticulous keeper of the Jewish moral and ritual law. Yet apart from God these were nothing but natural religion to him. It did not bring him any closer to God than those who were outside of the Jewish fold, which he despised. From a natural perspective, the Mosaic law was no better or worse than Greek philosophy, even though it was instituted by God. What was lacking in it was the gospel of God’s righteousness in the cross. The justice of God against sin was vindicated at the cross where Jesus died. The righteousness of God is a gift of grace to all who believe in it. With this as God’s wisdom, the power of God attends it (verse 18). This is what Paul previously lacked. The righteousness of God applied to him with power.

There is no power in human philosophy. It tickles the mind with an interesting array of syllogistic reasoning. But because it looks to self and the world, it never reaches to heaven where God dwells. In fact, the message of the gospel is from God, sent from heaven to the world (John 3:16). Since it originates with God, its object is the same, and brings all who are able to hear it in faith to Him. The fact that men are chosen of God to convey His wisdom is of no consequence regarding its infallibility. Since God created man in His own image, just as the Scriptures show us, he is designed to do the work God assigns to him. The mind of man was created to think God’s thoughts after Him. The Son of God who descended from heaven is called the Logos, which is the logic or wisdom of God. The fact that men are able to reason at all stems from this, they have natural light to do so from God, by virtue of their creation (John 1:3,4).

But sin has corrupted the image of God in man. It has not obliterated it completely, but has distorted its ability to reason rightly. And man, even from his creation, was in need of revelation from God in order to perform his duty to the Creator (Gen. 2:16,17). So God gave man his duty and purpose in life by way of His revealed will (Gen. 1:26-29). The entrance of sin into mankind has separated his thoughts from the Creator. He is uninterested in believing and worshiping Him. So man turns into himself and the world that surrounds him. He thinks as the humanist philosophers that the natural world has some sort of intrinsic power in it. That it is governed by certain unchanging laws that lend it to scientific discovery. The problem with science is it relies on the fallible senses of a fallible scientist. And scientific discovery is never settled once a new discovery comes along to upset it.

The truth of God is different from natural science. It is intimately connected to an eternal Deity, one that never changes (Mal.3:6). The coming of the Logos was the answer to Greek philosophy. Plato argued there was a connecting link between the unknown Being and this natural world he called the logos or revelation. However, to Plato the unregenerate Pagan, the concept of eternal Being was an impersonal principle, much like the God of Islam. The Christian message introduces the world to the true and living God through His Son Jesus Christ who “has declared Him.” (John 1:18). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). That perfect revelation or link between God and men is Jesus Christ, the Logos.

But why is it that God chooses fallible men to convey the infallible message of grace? It is simply this. Men are the objects of God’s saving grace. Grace is not a matter of empirical science. It is not some sensory experience such as mystics’ claim. Grace is a concept. A philosophical one if you please, but a concept nevertheless. It is reasonable when it is given by God in the gospel. The concept of grace in the gospel is simply this. Jesus Christ died and rose again according to the gospel. Believe on the Lord and be saved. This is God’s grace. It is unmerited favor toward a hell bound sinner. It is giving the gift of forgiveness of sin, and of positive righteousness. It’s not something to be experienced in the sense of a hot flash, or some epiphany. It is something to know and believe unto salvation.

The power of God is in regenerating dead sinners unto spiritual life. It results in a transformed mind and world view. This is what happened to the apostle Paul. Paul was made a preacher of this message that converted him. Who better to peach the message of grace than someone who is the object of it? That is the wisdom of God too. As already said, the humanist and scientist do not have any good news to convey. In fact, to them, life is totally meaningless. Their philosophy is live for today, for tomorrow we die. There is no purpose to life but personal pleasure. The religious liberal who reduces the Bible to merely human words has no faith or salvation to preach. They might as well look to science to interpret the Bible for they have nothing else to convey.

God chooses saved sinners like Paul to preach and teach His message of salvation to a lost world. Paul had such confidence in the Divine origin of the message that he brought it to both the Jews and the philosophers of his day (Acts 17:16-21). Notice these two phrases, “he reasoned” (verse 17) and “new doctrine” (verse 19). What was this doctrine of which Paul reasoned? It concerned “Jesus and the resurrection.” (Verse 18). The message of the gospel is the doctrine of grace regarding the Person of Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection. It is an eminently rational message that God gives his servants to preach. It does not confound the mind by introducing ridiculous fables and superstitions. It employs the mind which God gave man, one made in His image. It fills the mind with Divine propositions of truth about God as the Creator, and His Son the Redeemer.

Paul brought the message of the cross to the Greek philosophers, in order to inform them their “unknown God” is now made known in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:22-31). Paul made the futility of human philosophy known by declaring the nature of the Divine Being. “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (verses 24-26). The wisest men on earth can never attain to a knowledge of God without a divinely sent messenger. Why is this? This is because the Divine nature is above that of man’s created nature. It is impossible for man to ascend beyond himself and his world.

So when humanists and scientists attack the word of God with all of their mind craft, remember this. God is above man, and He is a holy, omnipotent, omniscient, immutable and eternal Spirit. God cannot be proved or disproved by empirical science. The image of God upon man is the Divine stamp of His ownership. Wisdom must reason from revelational truth that God is, and He is the giver of salvation to those who believe His message (Heb. 11:6). This is the message of the Savior “He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). God left the world to their ignorance in human philosophy before the cross, “but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30,31). This is a Divine message from a fallible messenger with both blessing and warning attached to it.

2 ) It is God’s power that makes His message work, not the activities of men

The apostle Paul ascribed the power of his message to God, rather than in his ability to persuade men (I Cor. 1:18, 2:4,5). Without doubt, there is a natural ability that some men possess to sway a crowd. This has been seen all too often in history. Quite often, these are notorious men who have evil designs. They know how to ply men to do their will by tapping into their psyche. There is no doubt that Paul would have been trained in the art of oratory as a Pharisee. Oratorical skill however, has nothing to do with any legitimate result from preaching. This has been all too often the case in naturally gifted men who assume the role of a Christian preacher. They end up being the source of false results when it comes to converting men to Christ. This is because the natural power of persuasion is superficial at best, and relies on thinking that is lacking true information rather than having a full complement of it.

Many in the church will deride doctrine, claiming it is nothing but rational exercise and therefore, less than saving knowledge. It is common in our day to say that the message of the gospel is the experiencing of a Person, rather than of knowing a system of truth. Certainly, it is possible someone might know the gospel as a set of propositions and still not become saved by it. But the difference between being saved and not, is not in whether someone experiences a Person or not as they say, but in the power of God in applying the message to the hearer. If this is something that one can refer to as experiential, that’s all right. But the power of God in the message of the gospel is in regenerating those elected to salvation. Jesus called this work of the Spirit mysterious (John 3:8). No one knows when they are born again, only that they have become so after the fact. So it is really a stretch to call regeneration an experience.

Nevertheless, regeneration is the work of God’s power. An interesting thing about this is related by the apostle Paul in Romans. “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:16,17). Apparently, those who hear the gospel and don’t believe are lacking one thing. It is faith in the word. And where does the hearing of faith in the word come from, but by the word of God. This sounds almost paradoxical at first. But here is what Paul is saying. Saving faith is belief in the message of God’s word. The ability to believe is another thing completely. It comes from God’s will or command. It is a gift of grace to hear and receive the gospel by faith (Eph. 2:8,9). This is the decree of God as opposed to the revealed will in the message. The revealed will is God’s command. ‘Hearing by the word of God” is the decree of God to apply the message with power to the hearer.

There is no magic in the Bible or its message. God attends His word with power to do as He pleases with it. Some people ascribe power to the words themselves, as though the Bible were a book of incantations. No, the words of the Bible are ordinary propositions. And as such, they can be understood on a natural level. However, the words of God are propositional revelation. As such, they convey spiritual concepts and doctrines. This cannot be received by men on the basis of nature alone (I Cor. 2:14). It requires the regenerating influence of God’s Spirit in the soul of a man to believe it. And lest anyone misunderstands this assertion, belief in the gospel is the reception of it. People try to add certain mystical elements to what faith is supposed to contain, such as some sort of undefined quality of trust and heartfelt assurance. What they are really talking about in saying this is some sort of validating experience or feeling.

Saving faith itself is not divorced from trust or assurance, but it is not a feeling or an experience. Saving faith is rather a world view. This is what is obtained in the regenerating power of God. In a natural state, a man can hear the word and process it to some extent. However, it does not change his world view in any significant way. That is not to say that some unregenerate persons are not Theists, at least in a philosophical sense. Certainly there are some people who hold to a Theistic view of life as opposed to others who do not, and yet, are still not saved. But when God applies His regenerating power to the message of the gospel in a man, his whole view of life changes to a completely new and different perspective from that of the natural man. He becomes a spiritual man and receives “the mind of Christ” or the inclination to accept, rely on and reverence God according to His word (I Cor. 2:15,16).

But this leaves us to ask the question, what about those who seem to embrace the Christian faith, but either, do little toward its advancement in their life, or eventually leave it? Unregenerate Christian Theists is what Scripture calls hypocrites (Matt. 6:2,5,16). A hypocrite isn’t a believer, but is simply religious from natural motivations. Hypocrites are legal religionists like the Pharisees that Jesus derided in the gospels. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee at one time, and therefore, by implication a hypocrite. He lacked the power of God in his life. This is why Paul hated and persecuted the Christians. It was because he had no part or fellowship with them in Christ. In Paul’s day, at least there was a separation among the Jews into either followers of Moses and, or, followers of Christ. The unfortunate thing today is that hypocrites fill Christian churches. Their fruit however, is still detectable by the spiritually discerning observer (Job. 15:34, 36:13; Ps. 26:4; Is. 33:14; Matt. 23:13-29).

Hypocrites lack the power of God in their life, so they rely upon their own strength and resources in all things. Because of their presence in the church, it is little surprise that there is many who call themselves Christians, but never rely on Scripture in their thoughts. For this they turn to science, psychology and politics. This means that hypocrites are not actually Theists in the true Christian sense of the word. They are actually practical Atheists. This means they are nominal in their profession of faith, but live as though there were no God. “Yet they say, “The LORD does not see, Nor does the God of Jacob understand.” (Ps. 94:7). Apart from this one verse, it would be easy to view the Psalm as referring only to those outside the church (verses 1-6). However, the Psalmist talks about those who are within as well, for those outside know nothing about the God of Scripture. Those that are false in churches call upon His name as a matter of formality rather than of faith.

The religious formalist usually relies on some form of ritualism as a means to obtaining a standing with God. And it may not be completely divorced from some sort of confessional affiliation either. To those who know nothing about the power of God in their lives, a confessional position is part of their formality. It is an occasion to boast of their identity in what they convey to the world. But the use of sacraments and other outward means appointed to the church by God become nothing but a matter of works and human exercise to such people. There is a text that highlights this point in Scripture which is commonly misunderstood. It is found in the sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus teaches His disciples the contrast between true and false religion. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:21-23).

It is obvious by these words from the Scripture that there are people who formally associate with Christian churches who nevertheless, don’t have any saving relationship with Christ. This passage is often understood to be talking about some sort of validating mystical experience that is absent in the persons which are highlighted. Mystics are always concerned with having a direct personal encounter with God, apart from the ordinary means of reading His word. This assertion is based on the notion that knowing Christ is a feeling oriented encounter with Him that goes beyond all ordinary means appointed by God. So it is believed that the Lord’s complaint with these persons is that they have not actually sought Him in this supra experiential sort of way. We propose this is a misunderstanding of the text.

The meaning of this passage should be evident from what is not said. Jesus speaks in this text of the “will of My Father” as the one standard by which true faith is established. What is the will of the Father, it is simply this? It is the righteousness of faith in God apart from works (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16,17). The people to whom Jesus was speaking, had boasted to Him using a list of good works which they had done. They looked not to the power of God to save, but to their own power in saving themselves. What may confuse the popular interpretation is the reference they make to miraculous deeds done in the name of the Lord. But we submit, is this not the claim that many make, who do not even believe the gospel based on an accurate presentation? Whether anyone does or claims to have some sort of miraculous power, or does anything in the name of the Lord, this does not commend them to God.

Only belief in the propositions of the gospel, according to the regenerating power of God’s Spirit, is what justifies a sinner. Paul states this in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. “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.” (Verse 16). Paul connects the word of God to the power of God in this verse, showing He will only apply His power to the truth. So it is established here that the inventions and efforts of men to save or to build the kingdom of God are always and utterly deficient. This goes for any kind of program not recommended by Scripture, as well as any sort of man-made method or ritual. Even the sacraments ordained of God in Scripture have no intrinsic power in themselves to save. God acts completely apart from any means in salvation other than the propagation of the truth of the gospel.

 

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