Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Romans 1: Sin is Reason for Grace

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File:Warren Cup BM GR 1999.4-26.1 n2.jpgRom 1:16-32 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,  as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full(seen  of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

When we reject God, we are not rejecting Something that isn't true or isn't there, but we are rejecting Something we know intuitively is true and is there. In fact, Paul says that humans have no excuse for rejecting God: "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom 1:19-20). It's impossible to look at the wonders of nature and not be awed by its beauty. And this often triggers off the question: "How did it come about?" Or, more closely to the truth, "Who brought this beautiful creation into being, with its endless species of trees and plants, and countless varieties of living creatures in the air, on land and in the sea?" To insist that all this beauty is just a chance product of evolution requires us to suspend our rationality--much like insisting all works of art and music have no composers and artists. They just happen by chance.

To reject God in the face of this massive evidence of His creation is a moral choice rather than a scientific conclusion. For that reason Paul asserts that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (v.18). It is a moral decision arising from human sin (unrighteousness) to suppress what everyone knows intuitively is the truth--that there is a Creator behind the Creation, as anyone who is rational would insist there is an artist behind every work of art.

But suppression of the truth about God is a moral choice with moral consequences: the first is in the realm of sexuality. In rejecting God, we also reject the image of God within us. For God "created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them"  (Gen. 1:27). The rejection of our gender and gender roles is the first casualty of rejecting God. So, Paul declares: "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error" (Rom 1:26-27). Confusion in human sexuality is a direct rejection of God's image within us.

There is nothing new or modern about homosexuality--it is as ancient as idolatry. The idolatrous Greeks and Romans of antiquity were openly advocating and practising it. In the Greco-Roman society, homosexuality was pervasive and a socially accepted practice. It's a sign of Roman masculinity and power to be able to penetrate another male usually slaves and non-Romans who were considered inferior. These homosexual acts were unashamedly displayed on household utensils (see pictures shown here). Homosexuality was even exalted in the Greco-Roman literature.

But rejection of our God-given sexuality is only the first step of this moral decline from our rejection of God. Once we reject God's image in us, we behave in all manners contrary to that holy image. Paul lists the other moral and spiritual deviations resulting from distorting this divine image: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Rom 1:28-31). 

It is in this context of moral and spiritual corruption that we must read Paul's ringing declaration that the gospel (good news) is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (v.16). The Gospel is not given to make good people better or poor people richer--it is given to turn bad people good. The fact of sin is the first statement of the Gospel. If we don't think we are bad, read the Paul's list of moral distortions again above.

The gospel of Jesus is good news about God's grace. Grace is God's power for transformation. The Gospel is God's power to turn sinners into saints. But before a sinner can accept God's grace, he has to be convicted that he is a sinner--in other words, made sin-conscious. Only the sick needs a physician. If we ignore and refuse to mention sin, we have no Gospel to share. If in our preaching and teaching, we choose to focus on grace but avoid mentioning sin, then our grace has no meaning--for we are only preaching to saints, not sinners. A church that avoids mentioning sin is a church for insiders (saints). not the outsiders (sinners). And it cannot grow at the expense of Satan's kingdom, only at the expense of other churches.

The reason God gave the church the Gospel is so that we can preach the Good News of God's grace to sinners, not to saints. Of course, there are also sinners among regular churchgoers (better believe it!), but the focus of grace message is for the unchurched and unsaved. A missional church is one that makes no apology for make sinners sin-conscious in order that the diseased, the demonized, demoralized, and the dead may find healing and deliverance in the Gospel of grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice.

Father, thank You for the Gospel of Grace, for it is indeed good news to save sinners by turning them into saints. Amen.

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