God’s Wrath/Anger Against Wickedness (Morris)

Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans Here’s a helpful commentary by Leon Morris on Paul’s discussion of God’s anger or wrath being revealed against man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18):

It is, of course, true that God is love. But it is not true that this rules out any realistic view of God’s wrath.  …Wrath is perhaps not an ideal term, for with us it so easily comes to denote an emotion characterized by loss of self-control and a violent concern for selfish interests. But these are not necessary constituents of wrath, and both are absent from the “righteous indignation” which gives us the best human analogy. In any case “wrath” is the word the Bible uses, and we need the strongest of reasons for abandoning it. It is a term that expresses the settled and active opposition of God’s holy nature to everything that is evil. Until some better suggestion is made we do well to stick to the biblical term to convey the biblical idea. What we should not do is to abandon the idea that the wrath is personal. This leads to the position that God does not care about sin, or at least does not care enough to act. It is impossible to reconcile such a morally neutral position with the scriptural teaching about God. The Bible in general and Paul in particular see God as personally active in opposing sin.

 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 76.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Idolatry and Ingratitude (Luther)

 Luther’s lectures on Romans were given during the years 1515-1516 at the University of Wittenberg.  During this time, Luther himself was still learning and reforming, so his later lectures and writings are more developed than what you find in his work on Romans.  However, in much of his discussion on Romans he’s on the right track, so to speak.  Here’s a very insightful commentary on the themes of ingratitude and idolatry from Romans 1:21-23.

…People even today come to commit spiritual idolatry of a more subtle kind, and it is quite frequent: they worship God not as he is but as they imagine and desire him to be.

Ingratitude, namely, and the love of vanity (i.e., the sense of self-importance and of self-righteousness or, as one says, of “good intentions”) delude people terribly, so that they become incorrigible, unable to believe anything else but that they behave splendidly and are pleasing to God. Thus, they make themselves a gracious God, though this does not correspond to reality. And so they worship the product of their own imagination more truly than the true God himself, who they believe resembles this product of their fancy.

Here now “they change him into the likeness of their own imagination” (Rom. 1:23), which exists only in their corruptible minds that know only carnal desires. See, then, how great an evil ingratitude is: it produces a love of vanity, and this results in blindness, and blindness in idolatry, and idolatry brings about a whole whirlpool of vices.

Gratitude, however, keeps the love for God and thus holds the heart directed toward him. Because it is thereby also illumined, it worships, once it is illumined, only the true God, and to this worship there soon attaches itself the whole chorus of virtues.

Luther’s insight here on the text and the human tendency is quite profound.  Unthankfulness and idolatry are related, and Luther very well explains Paul’s teaching on that fact.  This is perhaps one reason why the Apostle emphasizes thankfulness in the Christian life (Eph 5:4, 5:20; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7, 3:17, 4:2, etc.).  So we “give thanks” in all circumstances, because it is God’s will for us in Christ (1 Thes. 5:18)!  The Heidelberg Catechism’s structure also picks up on this biblical truth: though guilty we are saved by grace, and our response is gratitude.

The above quotes are found on page 26 of Luther’s Lectures on Romans.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

For the Establishment of True Religion (Calvin)

 I realize many evangelicals do not like the term “religion” and even use it primarily in a negative way.  However, we have to remember that the word is found in Scripture (e.g. James 1:26).  Granted, we do have to define it properly, but we shouldn’t by default think of “religion” as a bad thing.  For example, John Calvin called his now famous work the Institutes of the Christian Religion.  In his work on the history of Reformed doctrine,  Richard Muller spends some time discussing “religion” and its use/definition among Reformers and Reformed scholastics.  Here’s his section on Calvin and the term “religion”:

This systematic approach to religion as the pattern of knowledge and worship directly related to faith and foundational to the elaboration of theology is profoundly evident in the successive editions of Calvin’s Institutes. In 1536 Calvin identified his work as an “institute” or instruction “of the Christian religion embracing almost the whole sum of piety and whatever it is necessary to know in the doctrine of salvation.” What is more, Calvin’s expansion of the Institutes, in which five chapters on the knowledge of God were added or developed as a kind of prologue, only serves to underscore in those introductory sections the primary emphasis on religion, piety and instruction in them.

Calvin’s 1539 expansion of this portion of the Institutes has a series of significant antecedents, not the least of which is Zwingli’s linking of the discussion of religion to the problem of the “knowledge of God” and the “knowledge of man.” Like Zwingli, moreover, Calvin rests much of his discussion on Cicero’s De Natura Deorum. Given the universal recognition, implanted in all human beings, that there is a God, Calvin argues, it would be sheer folly to claim that religion is a human invention: it is certainly true that wicked and “clever” persons have invented many superstitions designed to keep human beings in subjection, but it is equally clear that they would never have been able to do so had there not been a fundamental conviction of the existence of God and the need to worship him already present in all human beings. Given, moreover, the depth of human sinfulness and the extent of idolatry and superstition wrought by sin, Scripture is needed for the establishment of a right knowledge of God—and, by extension, for the establishment of true religion.

Although Calvin does not spell out the etymology and definition of “religion” in the detail one finds in Zwingli, the conception is quite similar: true religion must ultimately be grounded in the word of God and it is set apart from the false religions of idolatry and superstition. Nowhere is it assumed, moreover, that “religion” indicates a human phenomenon: even in its false forms, it presumes the fundamental sensus divinitatis and is grounded in the objective reality of the God who must be worshiped. This sensibility will carry over into Reformed orthodoxy.

(This quote is found on page 167 of PRRD, Volume 1)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christ’s Blood and the Christian Conscience (Ash)

 One absolutely wonderful part of being a Christian is having a clear conscience before God and others.  It all has to do with what Jesus did for me: he lived a perfect life for me, died on the cross for me, and was raised from the dead for me.  Because of this, by faith I receive his righteousness and my sins are washed away: I am justified by God.  Therefore I have peace with God and there is no condemnation in my future (Rom. 5:1, 8:1).  Over and over I look to Christ to remember and rejoice in the fact that these things are true – this helps my conscience remain free and clear.  Christopher Ash comments well on this:

Learning to do this [look to Christ and his cleansing blood] is important for Christian stability.  If I am not sure about what Christ has done for me, I will always be dissatisfied how I relate to God, dogged by uncertainty and insecurity.  When someone (a peddler in the spirituality marketplace) offers me a new technique that will cure my spiritual depression, I will be the first to sign up.  If someone tells me about a church on the other side of the world where this cure is being experienced, I will save up and fly out there to get the cure, the ‘new thing that God is doing,’ all because I will not believe what God says.  Instead of wasting my money, I need to think about the new and living way Jesus has opened up for me into the immediate presence of God.  When my heart is filled with the wonder of this truth, I will be oblivious to the attraction of second-rate substitutes.

So the death of Christ not only deals with the objective truth of our guilt before God, but also addresses our subjective awareness of that guilt.  It changes not only the way we are before God, our actual status, but also our perception and our inward thoughts about ourselves. By faith we say to ourselves, ‘God says I have been made perfect in and by the obedience of Jesus Christ.  And I believe that what God says is true.  I have been made perfect.  I am cleansed at the deepest level of human personhood.  Not only my actions and words, but my memories are cleansed too.  So that when conscience drags up in my memory something of which I am ashamed, faith says to conscience that this thing, this sin, this impurity, this greed, this omission, this cowardice, whatever it may be, has been made clean by the blood of Christ.  All of it.”

I take it that this is what John means in 1 John 1:9 when he says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, p.146-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (CPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Suffering and One Foot In Front of the Other

 For those of you who know what it means to go through a very hard trial, you probably understand sayings like this: “One day at a time,” and “I’m just putting one foot in front of the other.”  Trials and suffering are the mud and muck of life that slow you down, trip you up, and clog up your daily activities.  Everything slows down and you just have to focus on taking one more step ahead.

Maybe you could set a state record for hospital visits in one month; maybe you have a pounding headache from trying to sort out medical bills, or maybe you’re praying that God would keep your husband’s suffering down (if it’s His will).  Perhaps you’re dreading the next IV or worrying that your recent blood test will have bad results.  Sometimes you’re simply praying for a few hours of sleep and relief.  It’s just one day at a time!  I like how Tim Keller speaks of walking with God through trials:

“Walking with God through suffering means treating God as God and as there, as present.  Walking is something non-dramatic, rhythmic – it consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time.  God did not tell Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to ‘somersault before me’ or even ‘run before me’ because no one can keep such behavior up day in and day out.  There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving.  They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits, and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months, and I am going to be a new man or new woman.’ That is not what a walk is.  A walk is day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of the church.  It is rhythmic, on and on and on.  To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.

…Walking with God through suffering means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, your sorrow, your fears.  There can be, as we shall see, times in which you receive a surprising, in explicable ‘peace that passes understanding.’  There will be days in which some new insight comes to you like a ray of light in a dark room.  There will certainly be progress – that is part of the metaphor of walking – but in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself.  ‘The path of the righteous is like the [earliest] morning sun, shining ever brighter till the light of full day’ (Prov. 4:18).

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 236-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Grace: More Than Unmerited Favor!

 Since I read this around ten years ago, I’ve really been helped and even comforted by Meredith Kline’s explanation of saving grace.  He noted that “in the biblical proclamation of the gospel, grace is the antithesis of the works principle.”  Later he wrote,

“The distinctive meaning of [saving] grace in its biblical-theological usage is a divine response of favor and blessing in the face of human violation of obligation.  Gospel grace takes account of man in his responsibility under the demands of the covenant and specifically as a covenant breaker….  Accordingly, the grace of Christ comes to expression in his active and passive obedience, together constituting a vicarious satisfaction for the obligations and liabilities of his people, who through failure and transgression are debtors before the covenant Lord, the Judge of all the earth.  Gospel grace emerges in a forensic framework as a response of mercy to demerit.

In other words, because we transgressed the law, we rightly deserve its curses and punishments.  But God shows grace and mercy in sending Christ to save us – to both obey the law and suffer the curse in our place.  We deserve death, by grace alone he gives life!

Theologically it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the idea of demerit is an essential element in the definition of grace.  In its proper theological sense as the opposite of law-works, grace is more than unmerited favor.  That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit.  …It is a granting of blessing, as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath.  It bestows the good offered in the covenant’s blessing sanctions rather than the evil of the threatened curse even though man has done evil rather than good in terms of the covenant stipulations.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, pages 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Unconditional Election and Ineffable Grace (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII Augustine clearly taught unconditional election; it did not originate with Calvin.  They both rejected the teaching of conditional election, that God elects people because he foresaw faith in them.  Furthermore, both Calvin and Augustine found unconditional election in Scripture.  Here are Augustine’s comments on John 15:16 (You did not choose Me but I chose you – NASB):

Ineffable grace! For what were we before Christ had chosen us, but wicked, and lost? We did not believe in Him, so as to be chosen by Him: for had He chosen us believing, He would have chosen us choosing.

This passage refutes the vain opinion of those who say that we were chosen before the foundation of the world because God foreknew that we should be good, not that He Himself would make us good.

For had He chosen us because He foreknew that we should be good, He would have foreknown also that we should first choose Him, for without choosing Him we cannot be good; unless indeed he can be called good who hath not chosen good.

What then hath He chosen in them who are not good? Thou canst not say, ‘I am chosen because I believed’; for hadst thou believed in Him, thou hadst chosen Him. Nor canst thou say, ‘Before I believed I did good works, and therefore was chosen.’ For what good work is there before faith?

What is there for us to say then, but that we were wicked, and were chosen, [so] that by the grace of the chosen we might become good?

This quote can be found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7, tractate LXXXVI.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI