Friday, October 27, 2017

Justification by Faith

Justification by Faith

Imagine with me: a man was suffering with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Things seemed to progress as testing showed his tumor had decreased in size. Before the tumor had definitively disappeared, his oncologist ended his chemo treatments. Puzzled and bewildered, the man asked himself several questions, "Did I miss something?" "Why would my doctor do such a thing?" "Is this regular protocol?" "Did things get worse all of a sudden?" "If this is the case, how long do I have to live?"
Confused, the man asked to speak to his doctor for an explanation as to why he stopped the treatments. The man could not believe the doctor's response, "You do not require any more chemotherapy because I have declared your cancer (to be) in remission.  As far as I am concerned you have no more tumors. I declare you, 'healed.'"  As the doctor completed his explanation, the man, who was initially curious, turned disbelieving and then progressively angry. He yelled, "Are you insane? If the tumors aren't gone, how can you declare me anything?" I daresay, most of us would have a similar response. This scenario begs the question, would you rather be declared healed or would you prefer to actually be healed?
The popular interpretation of justification by faith is that we are declared righteous, not made righteous. How does God really work this -- is the thing really true because He declares it so, or does He declare it because it is true? Does God declare something without it being true? Unlike our Doctor from the story above, God is not insane. God does not declare things unless they already are. One example of this is in Genesis 1 (for another example cf father Abraham). At almost every stage of Creation God saw that what He did was good. At the end, in Genesis 1:31, He declared it again,
            God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
This concept of only declaring could be in part from the definition of righteous. According to a previous Sabbath School lesson, 
What is this idea of "justifying," as found in the text? The Greek word dikaioo, translated justify, may mean "make righteous," "declare righteous" or "consider righteous." The word is built on the same root as dikaiosune, "righteousness," and the word dikaioma, "righteous requirement." Hence, there is a close connection between "justification" and "righteousness," a connection that doesn't always come through in various translations. We are justified when we are "declared righteous" by God.
Before this justification, a person is unrighteous, and thus unacceptable to God; after justification, he or she is regarded as righteous, and thus acceptable to Him.
You will notice that the author(s) of the lesson chose "declare righteous" instead of "make righteous."  The question again is, would you rather be declared righteous or made righteous? (Which is more accurate?) Especially, since God is fully capable of making us righteous. Ellen White makes reference to this issue in the following quote,
"Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son."—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367. 
"...Everything was lost by sin; man forfeited his title to every blessing. It is only by divine grace, through the infinite sacrifice of Christ that we could be reinstated in the favor of God, and be permitted to enjoy His gifts. We are not our own. Christ has bought us with His precious blood, and we belong to Him."
RH Dec. 14, 1886 par. 8.
Being that God is able to make us righteous we can interpret the text from Romans chapter 3 as, "Therefore we conclude that a man is made righteous by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The question is will we let Him?
~Raul Diaz

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Gospel is the Cure

The Gospel is the Cure
At the writing of this commentary my cousin, Justin Graves (not real name), died.  He was young; in his mid-thirties. He died because his body stopped working.  His body deteriorated to the point where it could no longer function. 
It was not a bullet wound, a car accident, substance abuse, etc.  It was not consequences of choices he made.  Justin was born with a rare congenital disease - Behr's Syndrome - that dystrophies the muscles, crippling anyone that has it.  Justin's only fault regarding that condition was to be conceived out of parents that carried the recessive genes of the disease.  Justin's fault was to live.  Can Justin be held responsible for being born with the syndrome?  Evidently, no.  Still, he bore a condition that if left untreated could, and did harm him.  There is yet no cure for this rare syndrome.
But, what if there was a cure?  What if the person with a treatment walked into Justin's room and gave it to him free?  What if Justin declines to take it and eventually dies?  Could Justin be held responsible for his untimely death?  Yes, he can be held accountable.  For now, his death is not due to the disease, but for declining the cure. 
As Justin was born with this disease, we are all born with Sin (Justin included).  As the psalmist said, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalms 51:5).  Paul expresses the same point in Romans 3: 10 – 12,
Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Romans 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
 Which is why Paul concludes in verse 23 - almost repeating the psalmist - "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  As Justin could not be held responsible for his disease, neither can we be held accountable for being born in Sin.  We did not choose to be born this way.  But, if there was a cure for Sin, given to us freely and we reject it, then we are held responsible for refusing the cure. 
Is there a cure for Sin?  That is the greatest news ever to come into this world.  Yes, there is a cure for Sin, and that cure is Jesus Christ.  Paul gives us a glimpse of what this means in Romans 3: 24 – 26,
Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Romans 3:26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
The cure will not do us any good unless we take it.  By faith we take Jesus, and He cures us of the Sin disease.  We must continually take Him as if it was a prescription, for it to be effective.  It is a lifelong treatment.  But, we will be glad we did it in the life to come.

Friday, October 6, 2017

God's will

God's will

Paul had intentioned to visit Rome on his way to Spain where he hoped to preach the Gospel and establish a church there.  We read about this Romans 15:20-27 (King James Version)

20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your
25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.

Paul made plans, but in the end, the Lord changed them.  Man proposes, but God disposes.  As we read in Acts 28:16 God led Paul to Rome in a different fashion.  Let us read,

 "But when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him" (Acts 28:16, NKJV).

 What does this text tell us about how Paul finally got to Rome? What lesson can we draw from this for ourselves about the unexpected and unwanted things that so often come our way?  Life can take some bizarre turns and usually God is behind it. How often our plans, even the ones formulated in the best of intentions, don't come out as we anticipated and hoped. The apostle Paul did, indeed, get to Rome, but it wasn't as he had expected. 

When Paul reached Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey with his offering for the poor, which he collected from the congregations of Europe and Asia Minor, unexpected events awaited him. He was arrested and fettered. After being held a prisoner for two years at Caesarea, he appealed to Caesar. Some three years after his arrest, he arrived in Rome, and (we can assume) not in the manner that he intended to when he first wrote to the Roman church years before about his intention to visit them.

We know that Paul "strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation" (Romans 15:20).    But, God saw fit that Paul did build a foundation in Rome.  As mentioned above, Paul did reach Rome but not in the way he thought.  The Romans paid for Paul's trip. 

Paul's work also took a different turn.  Paul humbly accepted his fate.  He called himself a prisoner of Christ (Ephesians 3:1).  Following are two Ellen White quotes that show how Paul's work was more effective now than before. 

 "While apparently cut off from active labor, Paul exerted a wider and more lasting influence than if he had been free to travel among the churches as in former years. As a prisoner of the Lord, he had a firmer hold upon the affections of his brethren; and his words, written by one under bonds for the sake of Christ, commanded greater attention and respect than they did when he was personally with them."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 454.

"Not by Paul's sermon[s], but by his bonds, was the attention of the court attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he broke from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declared: 'Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.' Philippians 1:14."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 464.

Seemingly, Paul made it to Rome in God's timing and way.  As we read from Ellen White's quotes, God's way was more effective than in the way Paul first planned it.  Are we as willing as Paul to do God's will in His timing and way?
Raul Diaz