Saturday, 04 June 2011
"For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness."For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:3-4 (English Standard Version)
One thing I omitted to mention in my last post was that Paul the writer of this book to the Romans church is that he was one of the Jews that he was preaching against.
Having been a student under one of the foremost teachers, Gamaliel, he had studied in the equivalent of Harvard in the Jewish world. Moreover, he was certainly well-known among the Jewish leaders of that time because he was one of the many dedicated persecutors of the early Christians. In fact before he was saved, he was walking along the road from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission to "bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem".
On this road however, he was struck blind by a bright light, and he was saved thereafter. Of the subject of the Jews being zealous to God yet being misdirected—these words are, in fact, talking to his own people. These people that he had grown up with, his parents who are desperately searching for what they had done wrong in bringing Paul up. Furthermore, he is preaching to these people that he, at one point in the past, took joy with in killing the Christians—it is with this unimaginable difficulty for him to say these words which go against the very doctrine he was brought up in.
After saying of the unbelieving Jews that their belief was not in zeal for knowledge--in the next verses, he talks of the two things of which the unbelieving Jews were guilty of:
Ignorance of God’s righteousness and the arrogance of their own righteousness. Through the rejection of the righteousness of God, the unbelieving Jews had constructed their own righteousness that they may measure themselves against some sort of system. The Jewish unbelievers were doing this in a way of providing their own method of salvation—the strict observance of the Law. In this, they were rejecting the righteousness of God and in the place, putting their own inferior substitute. Forgetting the perfection that the Law demands--ignores the transcendence of God and the fallen human condition.
Removing justice apart from God is taking away God’s essential nature—taking away the very holiness away from God would render him a powerless God. Perhaps some of what God would do is reprehensible to us, perhaps some of it is difficult to stomach— but how that would change the Christ that we preach would indicate what type of Christ we have accepted within us. If there is a God that does not inflict suffering on a wretched creature that has turned away from Goodness himself, takes away the Evilness of Evil. This destroys the binary opposition of good and evil, then—is God really good, and is the sin really evil?
I am reminded of the song by As Cities Burn, "Clouds". Arguing against the subjectivity of the modern world, there are only two verses within this song, overlaid by voices from interviews of reactions of people who are asked, "What does God mean to you?". One of the verses goes;
"Is your God really God? Is my God really God? I think our God isn't really God if he fits inside of our heads."
In verse 4, Paul shows the folly of believing in this: Christ.
Our Gospel today is like the Pharisees sometimes—using earthly measures to determine how “saved” we are. What a faulty definition of being saved is when some among us have said that to be saved, they would have to speak with the gifts of the Spirit. Even more, some of us have said that we need to conform to a small spectrum of antiquity--or we have to conform to a minimalism that our possessions to the poor to be saved. These are all signs of being saved, but they are not in and off themselves something that saves someone. These are not glorifying to the Lord unless, verily, both hands that we are doing these mighty works of faith are glorifying God first.
The Gospel is not contained within any picket fences or environmental action. Saving the animals, saving the trees, saving the bloodshed or saving the babies even--these are not the Gospel, I would argue. No man is saved through being a pacifist, no man is saved through being reformed, no man is saved through doing anything of his own accord, but the Gospel is contained within Christ, and continually in Christ and Christ forever.
Ananias and Sapphira gave a large part of their possessions to the disciples, but because their hearts were not fully set on God’s righteousness they were struck dead. There was nothing wrong with their sacrifice, but in an attempt to show human righteousness before the disciple of Jesus they said that they were giving all of the funds from the sale of their house to the disciple. You see, even a partial trust in our own righteousness is not acceptable to God but only a full acceptance of God’s righteous over our filthy menstrual rags is acceptable.
I am hoping that daily I would be refreshed and saying with Paul that I can disclaim a dependence upon my own righteousness: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" Philippians 3:8 (English Standard Version)
Is my God really God? What is your righteousness, is it all surrendered all to Jesus? How has works-based faith invaded Christianity both of history and in our lives personally? Is it easy to say that we must give up our righteousness to God, and much harder to do within the world around us that is so against true Christianity?