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Theology

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!

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Life Theology

What does it mean to be a true Jew? (Part 1)

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (Romans 2:25-26)

In this section, Paul gets to the epicenter of Jewish law-keeping.  He begins with “For,” showing that what he is going to say is connected to what he has just said in the preceding verses.  Paul just finished writing that the Jews’ lack of honoring God in obeying the law they claim leads to justification causes the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of God.  Now he says, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.”  In Galatians 5:3, Paul writes, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”  A Jew who boasts in the fact that he is circumcised and hence a part of God’s covenant people because of that circumcision, must keep the entire law, without sin, in order to be justified before God.  Paul tells the reader, “Circumcision is the thing for you, if you can be a perfect law-keeper.  But once you make one mistake, circumcision might as well be uncircumcision.”

In light of 3:1-2, where Paul says that being circumcised has some benefit, Paul must be saying here that circumcision alone is not enough to shield anyone from God’s wrath.  In other words, circumcision is not enough to give someone a right relationship with God.

If a Jew reads this passage, they will be utterly disgusted because the word “uncircumcised” means “having the foreskin” or in a broader sense, simply “Gentile.”  Paul practically calls Jews who do not keep the entire law “Gentiles” and that obviously would greatly offend any first century Jew who did not follow Christ.

Paul’s logic goes like this in verse 26: “So, if a man who is uncircumcised [that is, a Gentile] keeps the precepts of the law [is obedient to God’s commandments], will not his uncircumcision [his status as a non-covenant Gentile] be regarded as circumcision [a covenant-member of God’s people]?”  Doug Moo, in his commentary on Romans, argues (as he did in 2:6-11) that Paul is setting forth the requirements of salvation apart from the gospel, that is, perfect obedience and total disobedience.  Moo (p. 171) writes, “We…conclude that Paul is again here citing God’s standard of judgment apart from the gospel as a means of erasing the distinction at this point between Jew and Gentile. Paul is not pointing the way to salvation but is showing Jews that their position, despite their covenant privileges, is essentially no different from that of Gentiles: disobedience brings condemnation; obedience brings salvation.”

Moo’s argument is compelling and he may be right.  But it is hard for me to get over the fact that Paul does not seem to be speaking in hypothetical terms or in alternate universe scenarios (that is, a universe apart from the gospel).  Paul is laying the groundwork, as it appears to me, for what it means to be a true Jew and what it means to be a true Gentile.  As we shall see in verses 28-29, a true Jew (namely, a born-again person) is one who has had his heart transformed by the Spirit; a true Gentile is one who is left untransformed.

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Life Theology

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.”

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

The reason God gave people up in the lusts of their hearts is due to the fact that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (v. 23).  God has simply given people what they really wanted.  And as we have seen above, this is the wrath they will experience.  It will not be true joy and happiness.  It will not be satisfying and fulfilling.  It will not be all they dreamed of.  In fact, these dark exchanges will ruin their lives and cause them to be miserable.  God “gave them up” (Gk. paradidōmi) is active and aorist in its tense, meaning it happened at one time.  It also shows that God has done something, not simply “allowed” it to happen.  This does not mean that God compels or causes people to sin—that would be contradictory to God’s nature and being (cf. James 1:13).

The human element in all of this is that these people have already chosen to rebel against God.  They have given themselves up.  On the other side of the coin, God, in his sovereignty, is still over all and controls the ebbs and flows of the world.  Remember that our verb “gave them up” is active, not passive.  God has not caused anyone to sin, but he reigns over them in his righteousness with his good, wise, and holy reasons.

What has God given people up to?  Paul says to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” and “the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”  The first thing—“in the lusts of their hearts to impurity”—obviously carries with it heavy sexual connotations.  But the greater thing to note is that Paul says that lust starts in the heart.  Lust is not merely a physical problem, and “lust” is not only a sexual sin.  Lusting means craving something that is forbidden.  Even if we have not sinned sexually in our lives, we have still “lusted” after something (praise of man, companionship, success, money, etc.).  The first thing Paul has in mind, however, is probably sexual immorality of any kind, because that is what he mentions first in vv. 26-27.  The external actions of infidelity, homosexuality, pornography, sensuality, etc. are all symptoms of a greater disease: lust in the heart.

To stop fornicating or committing homosexual acts would not do anyone any good.  The problem goes deeper than just our actions.  Paul tells his reader that God has given people over, not to their physical desires, but to the lust that exists in their heart.  Their hearts have longed for what they cannot and should not have; therefore God gives them over to impurity.

The word “impurity” is the Greek word akatharsia which means “uncleanness in a moral sense.”  God has given people up to the lusts of their hearts to be morally unclean.  This word is used 10 times in the New Testament, nine times in Paul.  Every time Paul uses the word it is coupled with (and placed directly next to) sexual immorality (see Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7).  There is no doubt that Paul has sexual immorality in mind when he speaks of moral impurity in Romans 1.  Later in verse 24 confirms this because our “bodies” are what are dishonored when we sin sexually (1 Cor. 6:18).

The second thing—“the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves”—is probably a fuller description of the first phrase (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 112).  In other words, this phrase describes what impurity really is.  It is the “dishonoring” of your body among yourself.  “The expression, among themselves, is not without its force; for it significantly expresses how deep and indelible are the marks of infamy imprinted on our bodies” (Calvin).

God’s desire is for our sanctification, especially in the area of sexuality (see 1 Thess. 4:3-4). Instead of being delivered over to impurity, God wants us to surrender to him and be pure sexually, and in all areas of life. It is no wonder that some 2,000 years after Paul wrote this letter our world is plagued by devastating sexual sin. People have what they desired, and it is ruining lives, families, cultures, and whole countries.  God have mercy.

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Life Theology

Three Questions about God’s Wrath

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18).

Three important questions need to be answered:

1. Who is it revealed against? Paul writes that God reveals his wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.  He is revealing his wrath against those who are not believers—those who do not believe the gospel.  In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9, Paul says that “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict [Christians], and to grant relief to you [Christians] who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul writes, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  In our verse, of course, God is revealing his wrath against those who “suppress the truth.”  Those who belong to Satan, not God, who are perishing, not living, are those who are the recipients of God’s manifested wrath in the world.

2. How is it revealed? Paul does not give us much as for how God’s wrath is revealed.  But from the immediate context, we do have some clues.  The word revealed in Greek is in the present tense.  And I believe it is more than just a cognitive disclosure to the mind.  Just like the same word in verse 17, it has some historical reality to it, letting us know that something is physically being manifested in the world.  Verses 24-28 in chapter 1 tell us that God has given people to the lusts of their hearts to commit impurities (v. 24), to the dishonoring of their bodies (v. 24), to dishonorable passions (v. 26), and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (v. 28).  All of these things show us two paradoxical, yet non-contradictory facts: 1) God is sovereign over man’s sin, yet 2) people are to blame, not God.  Though God, in his sovereign wisdom and insight, causes people to be given over to depravity, he is never to blame.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.

In Romans 1, God’s wrath is something that is real, not just cognitive, something historical and not just futuristic.  It is something that is being manifested in the daily life of unregenerate people.  We can say that God’s wrath is revealed as a constant, ongoing reality in and through a sinful, unhappy, wasted life that is lived for the pleasing of self and not God.

At this point it might be helpful to say something to those who would think that a God who is full of wrath is either an archaic, mystical God, or simply no God at all.  First of all, think of this question.  If you were holy, perfect, and righteous, had never committed sin, and were completely and utterly pure, would you get angry at things that were not perfect, holy, and pure?  I’m willing to bet you would.  So God, in his perfection and righteousness, gets angry at all that is not righteous.  Paul David Tripp has said, “You wouldn’t want to worship a God who didn’t get angry.”  Some people would not argue with God getting angry at rape, murder, theft, or other “awful” vices.  But when it comes to them personally, whether it is abortion, domestic violence, drunkenness, gluttony, impatience, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or any number of other sins, they would say, “It’s my life.  A God who gets angry at me is no God at all.”  But turn the table.  What if one of those awful things happened to you or someone you loved.  Wouldn’t you want God to get angry at that sin?

The other problem is so-called Christians who don’t believe the God of the Bible gets angry.  The problem above is one thing.  This is altogether another.  To say that the God of the Bible is not an angry God is simply nonsense.  From Genesis to Revelation we see God hating sin, punishing unrepentant people, and destroying those who will not turn to him.  Moo (p. 100) points out that “the OT regularly pictures God as responding to sin with wrath” (see Ex. 4:14; 15:7; 32:10-12; Num. 11:1; Jer. 21:3-7).  He also notes that Paul stresses “the working and effects of God’s wrath.  Paul speaks of wrath as a present reality under which people outside Christ stand” (see Rom. 3:5; 4:15; 9:22; Eph. 2:3).

3. When is it revealed? The tense and mood of the verb “revealed” tell us when God’s wrath will be manifested.  The verb shows us that God’s wrath is continually being revealed. It is a present tense verb in the indicative mood (the exact same as verse 17).  Moo said that it is difficult to give the same form of the same verb a present reference in one and a futuristic reference in another (p. 100).  Paul does teach a lot about future, cosmic events that will bring God’s wrath once and for all at the end of history (e.g. Rom. 2:5, 5:9; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10).  However, in this verse, it is an actual, present reality for people who are not believers.  They are feeling God’s wrath now in an unhappy, wasted life—even if they don’t see it that way.  And at the same time, as we know from other Pauline Scripture, they are also storing up wrath for themselves on Judgment Day (see the passages above).

These people upon whom God’s wrath is resting are experiencing this because they (literally) “hold in the truth in unrighteousness” (that is, to “suppress” [ESV]).  God’s “truth” is not something that simply needs to be acknowledged or memorized.  It is something that needs to be believed as true and obeyed.  When someone suppresses a truth they are not giving themselves over to it in order to be developed and shaped by it.  They are not living by that truth and thus make a mockery of God and all that he is and stands for.  Finally, what is causing this suppression?  Their very own unrighteousness.  They are blind and dead, in the darkness of sin, and have no excuse (see 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:4-6; Eph. 2:1-5; cf. John 3:19).  Their inability to make themselves believe the truth does not alleviate their guilt.  It only increases it.  It shows how totally depraved man is.