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The Christadelphian | September 2010

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Papal visit
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “My strength is made perfect in weakness” | Jonathan Cope
  • The Bible 4 Life 2 – The King James Version | Mark Sheppard
  • The sons of Korah 7 – Their role within the nation | Jonathan Cope
  • Righteousness and law | Geoff Henstock
  • “Great in the sight of the Lord” | Dudley Fifield
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 9 – A rebellious house (part 1) | Andrew E. Walker
  • “A rose shall bloom …” | Andy Walton & Mike Page
  • “Ho, every one that thirsteth …” | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • “I am too busy” | Sally Wright
  • Signs of the times Russia extends her influence
  • Israel and their land Peace talks – again
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Righteousness and law

Sometimes we are a little blasé about the power of the Gospel. Because it is such a constant in our life we can take it for granted and forget how powerful it really is. Every so often, however, we see a man or woman come with open heart to the Gospel for the first time and it is then that we are reminded of its awesome power to change lives for the better. Indeed, as Paul puts it, we see its power to save: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth … For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16,17). Paul is careful to state from where that power comes. The power of the Gospel is God’s power. God is the saviour, the only saviour; His word is the instrument by which He instructs men and women in salvation. And men and women without exception may be saved, not just those of a special class or race.

The righteousness of God

Romans 1:17 says the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God. What does Paul mean by that phrase? At one level it could simply be describing the character of God as righteous. But there is another sense in which Paul uses the phrase. In chapter 3 he uses it to describe the system or means by which sinners may be accounted righteous: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). Sinful men and women may be accounted righteous by faith in the atonement wrought by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the scheme devised by God whereby men might be saved. In one of his books, Brother L.G. Sargent wrote: “Acts of deliverance are described as the ‘righteousness’ (‘righteous acts’) of God – acts which make known His character as righteous”. [1] The righteousness seen in the Gospel and manifested in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is a righteousness which is of God, because God is righteous, yet it is available to all who believe in that work.

“The just shall live by faith”

Romans 1:17 says this righteousness is “revealed from faith to faith”. This is another curious phrase. It is evident that there is a building process – faith being built on faith. Literally we could read the Greek as ‘out of faith towards faith’ – our faith in the salvation offered through Christ results in that faith being manifested in a faithful life. The Revised Version translates the phrase as “by faith unto faith”, while Weymouth paraphrases it, “depending on faith and tending to produce faith”. Brother Dennis Gillett offers a pithy paraphrase of the statement: “the Lord’s faith in his own provoking their faith in him”, [2] thus building on the fact that the Lord’s care for us did not cease when he was crucified. We are perhaps reminded of the man in Mark 9:24 who, when asking the Lord to heal his child, said: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”.

Paul moves on in verse 17 to quote the prophet Habakkuk: “the just shall live by faith”. In other words, our faith in the atoning work of Christ must be manifested in the way in which we live. Only when this is so can it be truly said that the power of the Gospel is at work in us. In Romans Paul draws attention to the fact that many had failed to grasp the significance of this principle. In chapters 2 and 3 he compares Jews and Gentiles and makes the point that all men, regardless of their race, are sinners in need of salvation. In chapter 4 he presents the example of faithful Abraham as a model for the life of faith that the just manifest through their belief in the righteousness of God. Although Abraham was the father of the Israelites, many Jews failed to follow his example of faith. Sadly, many of them substituted for the life of faith a life of barren legalism.

Faith expressed in action

God gave Israel a law through Moses. The purpose of that law was to guide the conduct of Israel as a nation as well as the conduct of individual Israelites. Paul makes the point that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the Law of Moses: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). So what was the problem? It was the attitude adopted by men and women towards that law. “The object of the law was perverted into the means of salvation”. [3] Too many of them saw the law as an end in itself, rather than a stimulus to a life of faithful obedience. In recognising their error in elevating works above faith, we must not make the opposite error of imagining that how we behave is irrelevant. Paul recognised that there is a need to adhere to God’s ways if we are to be saved. In Romans 6:1,2 he posed this challenge to the Roman brethren: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid”. The existence of sin indicates that there are actions or attitudes which are unacceptable to God.

In Ephesians Paul is very clear about the fact that salvation is not something we earn, but rather a gracious gift from God extended to those who have faith in Jesus Christ: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Having made this clear and bold statement, so devastating to the philosophy of the legalist who sought to earn salvation by works, Paul immediately went on to emphasise the place of works in our life: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (verse 10).

Remember the catchphrase Paul used in Romans 1? “From faith to faith”, or as Weymouth put it, “depending on faith and tending to produce faith”. This is consistent with Paul’s advice in Philippians. Having considered the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in his obedience unto death, Paul reminded the believers in Philippi that their faith in Christ’s sacrifice had to be reflected in action: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:12,13).

Paul said in Romans that the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” – God’s power not our own, but nonetheless a power we must demonstrate in our daily life. The challenge for the saint is to live a life which manifests the character of God, a life in which faith is expressed in action without those actions becoming ends in themselves.

Avoiding legalism

Legalism is a reflection of human nature. We are innately comfortable with rule-based systems, and there are circumstances in which this approach is vitally important. Traffic management, for instance, would be chaotic were it not based on relatively strict adherence to rules and regulations. Children who lack the maturity to make complex decisions benefit from rules which help them avoid pitfalls that they could not be expected to anticipate. As they mature, however, they need to substitute blind adherence to rules with principle-based decision making.

Legalism is defined as the “exaltation of law or formula” (OED). The problem, therefore, is not law as such but an inappropriate emphasis being placed upon law. Paul wanted the brethren in Rome to avoid the mistake that so many had made in Israel, and in Romans 10 he drew attention both to the mistake they made and what we can do to avoid repeating it. He opens the chapter with a heartfelt lament about the error of so many Jews: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).

Zeal is a wonderful thing. We all do well to be zealous. But misplaced zeal can blind us to the reality of our position before God. For the legalistic Jew the problem was not a lack of knowledge. There was no lack of information – they knew every jot and tittle of the law. In spite of their punctilious attention to minute legal details, however, they were ignorant of the means by which God saves – the righteousness of God. They were too focused on their own righteousness to recognise the righteousness of God. They even turned against it when it was manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The legalist seeks to earn salvation by what he does through his own efforts. The correct response to God, however, is linked to a humble reliance upon the word of God – that Gospel which has the power to save. In verses 6-10 Paul makes the point that we do not need to perform spectacular works to become recipients of the grace of God. All we need to do is accept God’s word and allow it to influence our way of life: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Verses 8 and 10 refer to the heart and the mouth. From the terms in verse 9 which match these concepts we can discern that what matters is that the word of God is allowed to take possession of our heart. We must develop a passionate attachment to that word and allow it to take control of our feelings. And having allowed it to take complete possession of our affections, we must confess our faith in the righteousness of God and proclaim it to all who would hear. When this is the situation in which we find ourselves, we may take comfort from verse 11: “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”

God working in us

How can we develop this vibrant, life-changing faith? How can we make it prosper and thrive? It will never be developed or nurtured by works generated by our own efforts and ambitions, no matter how impressive they may be. Yes, it will be manifested in works, but those works will be the works of God, for it is God that is working in us. Our own works can fuel our ego, but they can never nourish or sustain our faith. There is only one way in which faith can be generated: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (verse 17). If faith comes by hearing the word of God, what does this suggest about the Bible? It suggests that we neglect it at our peril. In Christ’s obedience to the death on the cross everything has been done to save us. Through belief in that sacrifice we experience the power of the Gospel – God’s power – to save.

Having been so blessed, let us resolve to continue to allow the power of the Gospel to energise us by regular and reverential attention to God’s word. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

Geoff Henstock

[1] Brother L.G. Sargent, A Sound Mind, page 183.

[2] Brother Dennis Gillett, He Healeth all thy Diseases, page 33.

[3] Brother John Carter, Delight in God’s Law, page 69 (see also Brother John Carter, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, page 29; Brother L.G. Sargent, A Sound Mind, pages 28-29; Brother W.F. Barling, Law and Grace, page 185).


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