The Law, the Heart, and the Conscience (Stott)

 Romans 2:14-15 is a very important part of Scripture that talks about the requirement of God’s law and what it has to do with our hearts and consciences.  Here’s how Paul said it: “For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them…” (NET).  I appreciate John Stott’s comments on these verses:

How then are we to explain this paradoxical phenomenon, that although they do not have the law, they yet appear to know it? Paul’s answer is that they are a law for themselves, not in the popular—albeit mistaken—sense that they can frame their own laws, but in the sense that their own human being is their law. This is because God created them self-conscious moral persons, and they show by their behavior that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts (15a). So then, although they do not have the law in their hands, they do have its requirements in their hearts, because God has written them there. This surely cannot be a reference to God’s new-covenant promise to put his law in his people’s minds and write it on their hearts, as Barth, Charles Cranfield and other commentators have suggested, since the whole context is one of judgment, not salvation. Paul is referring not to regeneration but to creation, to the fact that ‘the work of the law’ (literally), its ‘requirements’ (NIV), its ‘effect’ (NEB, JBP), its ‘business’, has been written on the hearts of all human beings by their Maker. That God has written his law on our hearts by creation means that we have some knowledge of it; when he writes his law on our hearts in the new creation he also gives us a love for it and the power to obey it.

In addition, their consciences are bearing witness, especially by a negative, disapproving voice when they have done wrong, and so are their thoughts in a kind of interior dialogue, now accusing, now even defending them (15b), as if in a lawcourt in which the prosecution and the defence develop their respective cases. It seems that Paul is envisaging a debate in which three parties are involved: our hearts (on which the requirements of the law have been written), our consciences (prodding and reproving us), and our thoughts (usually accusing us, but sometimes even excusing us).

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 86–87.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Subjection to the Governing Authorities

 Romans 13 was one of those parts of Scripture that were formative for me in my later teenage years.  I had to think about it quite a bit since I served in the U.S. Army (Reserves).  And it’s still a text that I think about quite a bit since submitting to the civil government is part of God’s good and acceptable will for us (Rom 12:2). Speaking of being “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1 NIV), here are some reflections on that theme from various helpful commentaries.

Chrysostom (d. 407 AD) wrote this – and I appreciate how he said that a Christian’s submission to the governing authorities will “stop the mouths of those that malign us”:

For lest the believers should say, You are making us very cheap and despicable, when you put us, who are to enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, under subjection to rulers, he shows that it is not to rulers, but to God again that he makes them subject in doing this. For it is to Him, that he who subjects himself to authorities is obedient. Yet he does not say this—for instance that it is God to Whom a man who listens to authorities is obedient—but he uses the opposite case to awe them, and gives it a more precise form by saying, that he who listeneth not thereto is fighting with God, Who framed these laws.

…When then you show our common Master giving this in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection.

 John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans,  (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 512.

John Stott mentions cooperation rather than subversion:

That church and state have different roles, and that Christians have duties to both God and the state was clearly implied in Jesus’ enigmatic epigram, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ Now Paul enlarges on the state’s God-appointed role and on the role of Christian people in relation to it, although his emphasis is on personal citizenship rather than on any particular theory of church—state relations. What he writes is specially remarkable when we recall that at that time there were no Christian authorities (global, regional or local). On the contrary, they were Roman or Jewish, and were therefore largely unfriendly and even hostile to the church. Yet Paul regarded them as having been established by God, who required Christians to submit to them and cooperate with them.

…The state is a divine institution with divine authority. Christians are not anarchists or subversives.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 339–340.

Here’s F.F. Bruce, who also notes the role of conscience that Paul mentions in Rom. 13:5:

Christians of all people, then, ought to obey the laws, pay their taxes and respect the authorities—not because it will be the worse for them if they do not, but because this is one way of serving God.

The Christian has a higher motive for obeying the ruler than the unpleasantness of the consequences of disobedience; the Christian knows that such obedience is in accordance with God’s will, and by rendering it will preserve a good conscience in relation to God.

 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 237.

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

A Balanced View of The Christian (Stott)

 If you follow Jesus and want to learn more about yourself as a Christian one excellent place to turn is 1 Peter 2:1-17.  This is that great text where the Apostle calls God’s people living stones, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, etc.   It’s really a gold mine for understanding our identity as Christians.

John Stott has some great comments on these verses in The Radical Disciple.  In fact, chapter 6 of the book is a discussion of 1 Peter 2:1-17.  I like how Stott brings it all together at the end of the chapter:

My readers may well have been wondering why I have entitled this chapter with the one word ‘Balance’. The reason should now become clear. We have followed Peter in the six metaphors which go to make up the portrait he paints of the disciple. Here they are again:

• as newborn babies we are called to growth,

• as living stones to fellowship,

• as holy priests to worship,

• as God’s own people to witness,

• as aliens and strangers to holiness,

• as servants of God to citizenship.

This is a beautifully comprehensive and balanced portrait. These six duties seem to resolve themselves into three couplets, each of which contains a balance.

We are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship…worship and work…and pilgrimage and citizenship.

First, we are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship. Babies, although born into a family, have their own identity. Even twins are born one by one! But the primary function of the stones used in building is to be part of something else. They have surrendered their individuality to the building. Their significance is not in themselves but in the whole. So we need to emphasize both our individual and our corporate responsibilities.

Secondly, we are called to both worship and work. As a priesthood we worship God. As God’s own people we witness to the world. The church is a worshipping, witnessing community.

Thirdly, we are called to both pilgrimage and citizenship.

In each couplet we are called to balance, and not to emphasize either at the expense of the other. Thus we are both individual disciples and church members, both worshippers and witnesses, both pilgrims and citizens.

Nearly all our failures stem from the ease with which we forget our comprehensive identity as disciples. Our Heavenly Father is constantly saying to us what King George V kept saying to the Prince of Wales, ‘My dear child, you must always remember who you are, for if you remember your identity you would behave accordingly.’

 John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

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

Why I Am A Christian: Freedom (Stott)

Why I Am a Christian  “If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (John 8:36 & Gal. 5:1 NLT).  John Stott wrote well about this  freedom we have in Christ:

“The fifth reason why I am a Christian is that I have found Jesus Christ to be the key to freedom. …And freedom is a great Christian word.  Jesus Christ is portrayed in the New Testament as the world’s supreme liberator.  …Freedom is a good modern word for ‘salvation.’  To be saved by Jesus Christ is to be set free….”

I well remember, as a very new Christian, being shown this verse and being introduced to what are called ‘the three tenses of salvation’. They go like this:

Firstly, I have been saved (or freed) in the past from the penalty of sin by a crucified Saviour.
Secondly, I am being saved (or freed) in the present from the power of sin by a living Saviour.
Thirdly, I shall be saved (or freed) in the future from the presence of sin by a coming Savior.

It is a simple structure, which encapsulates what the Bible means by ‘salvation’; and it enables us, whenever the word occurs, to ask ourselves which tense of salvation is in mind: past, present or future. The fact that we have been saved frees us from guilt and from God’s judgment. The fact that we are being saved frees us from bondage to our own self-centeredness. And the fact that we shall be saved frees us from all fear about the future.

In the rest of this chapter (5) Stott explains the different biblical nuances of what “freedom in Christ” means.  It’s an edifying chapter – well worth reading!

 John Stott, Why I Am a Christian (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 87.

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

Spirit-Baptism, Second Blessing??

 Some people talk about a “second blessing” or a “baptism of the Spirit” that not all Christians receive.  This view is based on several places in Acts where some people were baptized and then later received the Holy Spirit.  For example, in Acts 19 a group of people from Ephesus were baptized into John’s baptism but had never heard about the Holy Spirit.  So they were baptized in the name of Jesus,  the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  I appreciate how John Stott comments on this story in Acts 19:

…They experienced a mini-Pentecost. Better, Pentecost caught up on them. Better still, they were caught up into it, as its promised blessings became theirs.  The norm of Christian experience, then, is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation. The laying-on of apostolic hands, however, together with tongue-speaking and prophesying, were special to Ephesus, as to Samaria, in order to demonstrate visibly and publicly that particular groups were incorporated into Christ by the Spirit; the New Testament does not universalize them. There are no Samaritans or disciples of John the Baptist left in the world today.

These instances in Acts take place during a very unique and unrepeatable period of redemptive history.  Michael Horton agrees with Stott:

In this foundation-laying era of the extraordinary ministry of the apostles (in Acts), we would expect extraordinary foundation-laying episodes that are not normative for our era of the ordinary ministry.

The book of Acts is less a blueprint than it is the announcement of the acts of Christ by his Spirit through the apostles, of whom there are no living successors.  There is no reason to assume that all of the marvelous signs of the Spirit’s outpouring in the apostolic era are normative today.  This is true especially when the norm for all Christians is spelled out so clearly in the Epistles, which teach that baptism into Christ is the Spirit’s baptism and that all those who are in Christ share in his anointing.

The above quotes are found here:

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 304–305.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 192-195.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002