Monthly Archives: April 2015

Romans 1:18-23 – “Revealing” Suppression

Romans 1:18–23 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

 

 

In verse 17, Paul declared that God’s righteousness was revealed.

  • We saw that the idea was that God’s divine activity – promise fulfillment, covenant faithfulness, status giving, etc. – was unveiled in history through the indicatives of Jesus Christ.
  • And by faith it is possible to be connected to and participate in this activity – to participate in the Gospel.

 

And, importantly, the faith that first secures the outcome is God’s faithfulness to mankind.

  • Man’s faith doesn’t save him, but connects him to the work that flows from God’s faithfulness as unveiled and revealed in the Gospel.

 

In verse 18, Paul changes gears.

  • For the next couple of chapters, Paul explains that God’s divine activity of “saving righteousness” (Tom Schreiner) unveils another activity of God…
  • God’s wrath – his “judging righteousness” (Tom Schreiner).

 

Why?

  • “Wrath is the inevitable result, or consequence, of human sin in a moral universe” – DPL.

 

N.T. Wright goes so far as to say:

  • The Gospel itself is “the unveiling of God’s justice [wrath] and salvation”.

 

Therefore, both God’s “saving righteousness” and His “judging righteousness” are revealed as He acts to redeem creation and inaugurate His kingdom.

  • Or to put another way…

“The revelation of God’s saving righteousness exposes the full wickedness of human sin and the depth of God’s wrath against it [His judging righteousness]” – Tom Schreiner.

 

This is why, as we said last week, that God’s wrath can be seen as part of “the establishment of the divine rule of holiness” – TDNT.

  • God is acting to put the world to rights (N.T. Wright), and his wrath is part of the process.

 

 

Having seen last week exactly what God’s wrath is, we can now contend with verses 18-23.

 

 

Revealing:

Paul not only tells us that God’s wrath is revealed, but…

  • He also reveals against whom is God’s wrath revealed.

 

Paul says that the object of God’s wrath is…

  • all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (vs. 18).
  • This “men” is everybody without exception.
  • Paul “lays out a charge against the human race in general” – N.T. Wright.
  • “Paul first indicts the Gentiles (1:18–32) and then the Jews (2:1–3:8)” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Paul then makes a huge contrast over against the “revealing” of God.

  • Whereas God has revealed His righteousness.
  • And God has revealed His wrath.
  • Men, because of their unrighteousness, “suppress the truth” (vs. 18).
  • God reveals and men suppress!

 

That this revealing/suppression contrast occurs on a grand scale is evident in the ministry of Jesus.

  • Jesus’ ministry was a revealing of the breaking in of the Kingdom of God.
  • Both His teaching and miracles were done at the authority of the Father for this purpose.
  • In the course of this revealing, thousands met Jesus, were taught by Jesus, were fed by Jesus and were healed by Jesus.

 

And yet – in spite of this revealing – by the end of John 6 we see merely a handful standing by Him.

  • John 6:60–66 (ESV) — 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

 

 

Suppression:

So what does Paul mean when he says men suppress the truth?

 

To suppress is simply to stifle, restrain or hold down the things they know to be true about God.

  • It is a willful act for which men are fully responsible.
  • And because of it, Paul says men are “without excuse” (vs. 20).

 

BTW – It is important to point out – in context – that Paul is saying something else in verse 20.

  • Even if you – Gentiles – didn’t have the law like your Jewish brothers and sisters…
  • You are still “without excuse” (vs. 20).

 

Logically, then, to suppress something “that thing” has to be present.

  • Men, in their unrighteousness, aren’t suppressing “nothing”.
  • They are suppressing the revealed truth of God.

 

Paul makes it fairly plain.

  • There is a truth that “can be known about God” (vs. 19).
  • This truth is “plain to them” (vs. 19).
  • And, in fact, it is plain to them because God Himself has “shown it to them” (vs. 19).
  • God is a God who reveals.

 

He starts by explaining exactly what they know that God has plainly shown them.

  • The stuff he is talking about, what God has shown them, is “in the things that have been made” (vs. 20).

 

Paul is operating under a presupposition that many today would object to.

  • Creation requires a Creator.
  • We are here yet we aren’t responsible for being here.
  • For him, this is a brute fact.

 

He describes what creation plainly shows about God.

  • his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (vs. 20).
  • This is the truth men are suppressing.

 

What is this truth?

  • Robert Jewett says simply that “eternal power” and “divine nature” are a Greek and Jewish way of referring to “the true status of God” – His status as the preeminent one.

“The truth that people have unrighteously suppressed and rejected is that the one true God should be honored and worshiped and esteemed as God” – Tom Schreiner.

 

So, as with Genesis 3, men – in their unrighteousness – knowingly disregard the creature/Creator distinction.

  • Men usurp God’s rightful place – something that is “plain to them” – and install idols or themselves in His place.
  • They “refuse to give God his proper sovereignty in one’s life” – Tom Schreiner.
  • This is what Paul means when he says men are unrighteous (Tom Schreiner).

 

He even reiterates his “plain to them” (vs. 19) language…

  • He says God’s preeminence has “been clearly perceived” (vs. 20).
  • For how long? – “since the creation of the world” (vs. 20).

 

Again, his point here is not to make an argument for God.

  • He is telling us why all men are without excuse”.
  • Why “all people, without exception, are under the dominion of sin” – Schreiner.
  • And ultimately, in context, why they therefore are under God’s wrath.

 

He then goes on to explain what happens when one suppresses the truth of God.

  • They don’t “honor him as God” (vs. 21).
  • They don’t “give thanks to him” (vs. 21).

 

In fact they do quite the opposite.

  • They become “futile in their thinking” (vs. 21)
  • Their “foolish hearts become darkened” (vs. 21)
  • Instead of wise “they became fools” (vs. 22)
  • Implied in Paul’s words is that men honor and give thanks to themselves.

 

Douglas Moo puts it this way:

“It is in the ‘reasonings’ of people that this futility has taken place, showing that, whatever their initial knowledge of God might be, their natural capacity to reason accurately about God is quickly and permanently harmed” – Douglas Moo.

 

Finally, they become idolaters – exchanging the “glory of the immortal God for images” (vs. 23)

  • Man, birds, animals, creeping things.
  • The things of Genesis 1 – creatures.

 

They spurn the “glory of the immortal God” (vs. 23) for something other.

  • They deny God His rightful place, His preeminence.

 

And, coming back to where Paul started in verse 18 – where God’s wrath is revealed…

He is saying that the futility, foolishness and darkened hearts show that “the wrath of God is already manifest” in men – Robert Jewett.

  • These things are evidence of it.

 

Robert Jewett expands on this idea:

“In their competition for honor, they claim a status due only to God and end up in shameful distortion. The present preaching of the gospel ‘reveals’ this hidden reality” – Robert Jewett.

 

Tom Schreiner says this:

“God’s eschatological wrath is also being disclosed in the present age…The coming of the gospel reveals that the moral deterioration of human society is a result of God’s judgment” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Conclusion:

Something very important should be repeated.

  • We are not unrighteousness because we break God’s law…
  • For Paul, unrighteousness is our “rejection of God as God, a failure to give Him honor and glory” – Tom Schreiner.
  • “Failing to glorify God is the root sin” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Therefore something very important should be obvious.

  • We all are unrighteous and “suppress the truth” (vs. 18) – deny God His preeminence.
  • As Paul will conclude in 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

 

Therefore, without God’s revealed righteousness (1:17), we are in trouble.

  • Only God’s righteousness – His faithfulness, His divine activity – responded to in faith can bring us to a place where we honor God as God.
  • Only this Gospel can remove us from God’s wrath – the law can’t do this!

 

Moo puts it this way:

“At the very center of every person, where the knowledge of God, if it is to have any positive effects, must be embraced, there has settled a darkness—a darkness that only the light of the gospel can penetrate” – Douglas Moo.

 

And we will conclude with N.T. Wright:

“Human beings were made to know, worship, love and serve the creator God. That always was and always will be the way to healthy and fruitful human living. It demands, of course, a certain kind of humility: a willingness to let God be God, to celebrate and honour him as such, and acknowledge his power in and over the world” – N.T. Wright.

 

Romans 1:18 – Wrath of God

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

 

The remainder of Romans 1 deals with how God’s wrath is revealed against the unrighteousness of man.

  • “Verse 18 changes the tone of [Paul’s] argument, for Paul shifts from speaking of the revelation of God’s saving righteousness to the revelation of God’s wrath” – Schreiner.

 

This means, right away, we have a huge matzo ball hanging out there.

  • What is the wrath of God?
  • We need to know before we can dig into the remaining verses.

 

 

1) THE STAKES:

What are the stakes?

  • Before we grapple with the wrath of God, I want us to consider the stakes.
  • Factions of modern, western Christianity (especially) have huge problems with both how God’s wrath is revealed (something Paul is about to get into in detail) and even wrath’s existence (they simply redefine it altogether).

 

 

Intellectual Honesty Moment – Atonement:

There does exist debate, usually based on textual and linguistic grounds, on the relationship between Christ and God’s wrath on the Cross.

  • The debate centers on the Greek word “hilasterion” and its cognates.

 

The Greek word most famously appears in the following:

  • Romans 3:25 (ESV) — 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
  • 1 John 4:10 (ESV) — 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

 

“Biblical scholars debate whether the Greek terms deriving from hilaskomai should be translated as propitiation or expiation” – PDTT.

  • What’s the difference?

 

Propitiation – Denotes “the turning away of divine wrath” – PDTT.

  • “Christ’s death appeased divine wrath called forth by sin” – DPL.
  • “If those who receive the righteousness of God through faith in Christ are saved from the wrath of God, it must be because Christ has appeased that wrath through his death for them” – DPL.
  • This is the idea that Christ bore the wrath of God in our stead while on the cross, thereby paying the penalty for our sins.

 

Expiation – This is “the belief that sin is canceled out by being covered over” – PDTT.

  • On this view, “Christ did not die to satisfy God’s wrath as the precondition for reconciliation. Rather, Christ’s atoning death itself accomplished reconciliation: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18)’” – DPL.
  • Expiation sees the cross as “God’s own gracious initiative in love toward the ungodly as well as God’s judgment against sin” – DPL.
    • Not as an outpouring of God’s wrath upon Jesus.

 

 

Way Beyond That:

But many modern scholars/pastors go way beyond this exegetical debate.

 

The logic usually goes as follows:

  • Jesus is God.
  • In Jesus we come to truly know who God is and who God is not.
  • Therefore, if it can’t be said about the Jesus of the Gospels, it can’t be said about God.

 

Tony Jones, author of “Did God Kill Jesus” plays this out…

  • “If Jesus tells us anything about God, it’s that God is love—not wrath or anger or vengeance, but pure love” – Tony Jones.

 

Adam Ericksen, in agreement with Jones, sums up Jones’ view:

“On the cross, Jesus reveals that God has nothing to do with wrath. A wrathful god is a mere projection of our own wrath. The true God is the God who leads us to forgive and to love our enemies as we love ourselves” – Adam Ericksen.

 

 

Needed Correction:

As just demonstrated, the wrath of God has been toned down or dismissed all together.

  • The reason, says Douglas Moo, is likely that, “the idea that God would inflict wrath on people has been rejected as incompatible with an enlightened understanding of the deity” – Douglas Moo.
  • In other words, we should be too smart and too enlightened to embrace the antiquated notion of a wrathful god.

 

We need to cast off any baggage that makes the wrath of God seem something foreign to God.

  • We need to stop treating “the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God…as the Victorians treated sex. It is there, but it must never be alluded to because it is in an undefined way shameful” – R.P.C. Hanson.

 

 

2) GOD’S WRATH:

So what is God’s wrath?

  • Why is it so important?

 

 

Wrath Defined:

John Murray spells it out well:

“Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness. The reality of God’s wrath in this specific character is shown by the fact that it is ‘revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’” – John Murray.

  • Wrath is the “punitive righteousness of God by which He maintains His moral order, which demands justice and retribution for injustice” – HIBD.
  • Wrath is “The free, subjective and holy response of God to sin and to the evil and wickedness exhibited by creatures in opposition to God” – PDTT.

 

We must understand that God’s love and His wrath are not mutually exclusive.

  • In fact, “God’s wrath must be understood in relation to his love. Wrath is not a permanent attribute of God. For whereas love and holiness are part of his essential nature, wrath is contingent upon human sin: if there were no sin there would be no wrath” – AYBD.

 

And more than that:

  • “Divine wrath is never divorced from God’s essential righteousness” – TDNT.
  • Something we will see next week when we dig into Paul’s text.

 

What of the intention of God’s wrath?

“The aim of divine wrath is the establishment of the divine rule of holiness” – TDNT.

 

So, like God’s righteousness, wrath is a divine activity.

  • In seeking to establish the age to come – a divine rule of holiness – God acts righteously, as in the case of the Gospel, or God acts in wrath.

 

And, like God’s righteousness, His wrath has a past, present and future expression.

“Paul speaks of wrath as a present reality under which people outside Christ stand, and often, following the OT prophets, predicts the outpouring of God’s wrath on the future day of judgment” – Douglas Moo.

 

For example, Paul’s words in Romans 1 speak of the present unveiling of God’s wrath.

  • But Revelation 6 speaks of a future advent of God’s wrath.
  • Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

 

God’s Wrath is Necessary:

Shockingly, God’s wrath is also necessary.

“God’s wrath is necessary to the biblical conception of God: ‘As long as God is God, He cannot behold with indifference that His creation is destroyed and His holy will trodden underfoot. Therefore He meets sin with His mighty and annihilating reaction’” – Douglas Moo (quoting Nygren).

 

There are at least 4 reasons why God’s wrath might be necessary.

 

Reason 1:

“The whole burden of human life after the fall is in itself an expression of divine wrath (cf. Gen. 3; 4; 6–8; 11). As Job 14:1ff. vividly puts it (cf. Ps. 90:7), all human life stands under the constant operation of the wrath of God” – TDNT.

  • In other words, the Bible teaches that the wrath of God is the default experience of God by the fallen world.
  • This is not to say that God’s grace and love are not manifested in many ways to a fallen world.
  • But that without action by God to mitigate His wrath, His wrath is the norm.

 

The Gospel of John puts it so clearly:

  • John 3:36 (ESV) — 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  • It doesn’t come upon “him” but “remains on him”.

 

Reason 2:

The NT is clear that God’s wrath is a current and real divine activity of God.

  • It was not replaced or displaced by God’s love.

 

Some NT examples:

  • Romans 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Romans 5:9 (ESV) — 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (ESV) — 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Reason 3:

Jesus has been appointed to be an instrument of wrath to the unrighteous.

  • This is Jesus’ part in inaugurating the “divine role of holiness” or the age to come.
  • Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

 

Reason 4:

Tim Keller argues that God without wrath is a less loving God.

“If you get rid of a God who has wrath and Hell, you’ve got a god who loves us in general, but that’s not as loving as the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, who loves us with a costlylove” – Tim Keller.

  • In other words, if you dilute & diminish God’s wrath, you dilute & diminish His love.
  • Both must be fiercely advocated.
  • They are examples of G.K. Chesterton called “furious opposites”.

 

In fact, as Keller says, the more fierce God’s wrath is, the more incredible is Jesus’ love for us.

  • The thing that shields us from the fierceness of God’s wrath – and it is fierce –
  • Is the equally fierce costliness of God’s love – His brutal death on the cross.

 

Christ doesn’t replace God’s ho-hum OT wrath with a “groovy kind of love”.

  • It is better than that.
  • His fierce love provides salvation from His fierce wrath.

 

 

3) WRATH – A CASE STUDY FROM JOSHUA 7:

In the beginning of Joshua 7 we learn that Achan disobeyed God by stealing from Jericho after its destruction.

  • As a result of this, all of Israel was found guilty of “breaking faith”.
  • Verse 10 says, “Israel has sinned” and “they have transgressed my covenant”.
  • As a result, Israel was “devoted for destruction” by God – just as Jericho was.
  • The Israelite army was defeated at the battle of Ai.

 

The solution to their being devoted to destruction was to “destroy the devoted things from among you”.

  • The principal for this is found in Leviticus 16.
  • There we found the principal of the sacrificial goat and the separation goat.
  • The separation goat was symbolically sent outside the sacred area of Israel’s camp into the wilderness.
  • And for Achan, this separation principal would cost him his life.

 

Importantly, this separation and condemnation of Achan are expressions of God’s wrath.

 

 

Separation Ordered:

Joshua 7:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’ ”

 

The time has come to deal with Achan’s sin and Israel’s guilt.

  • The reason for this is clear – “You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things form among you” (vs. 13).
  • “When Achan sinned, the blessing of God stopped for the people corporately; when judgment was applied, blessing returned and victory followed” – James Boice.

 

BTW – This edict by Yahweh is consistent with His words to Joshua in Joshua 1.

  • There He made it clear that their inheritance of the Promised Land was conditional.
  • Joshua 1:7 (ESV) — 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

 

The solution to the problem is severe – an expression of God’s wrath.

  • Like Jericho and its inhabitants, Achan will be devoted to destruction.
  • Because he has transgressed the covenant” and “done an outrageous thing” he “shall be burned with fire” (vs. 15).
  • “He in effect had become a Canaanite by his actions” – David Howard.

 

The stark contrast between Rahab the Canaanite and Achan the Israelite is significant.

  • Rahab, by her confession, had been ushered into the elect of Israel.
  • Achan, by his covenant sin, had been devoted to destruction as a Canaanite.
  • What lessons can be learned from this contrast?

 

We need to take notice of two things in these verses about God’s wrath.

 

(1) It Can Be Patient

  • Yahweh does not immediately do what He has a right to do – devote all the Israelites to destruction.
  • (A) In fact, He identifies the problem for Joshua.
    • Act of covenant faithfulness and grace?
  • (B) And He also identifies the solution to the problem.
    • The separation and destruction of the responsible party.

 

In other words, by identifying these two things God provides opportunity for restoration.

  • “Behind such unwelcome disclosure shines the clear desire of God to restore his people to his favour” – Dale Davis.

 

(2) It Is Not Flippant

  • God expressing His wrath is not like a man throwing a rage-filled, angry tantrum.
  • It flows from His holiness.
  • It flows from His moral law.
  • It flows from His covenant faithfulness.

 

 

Confession Made:

Joshua 7:19–21 (ESV) — 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

 

Remarkably, Achan confesses all he has done.

  • This confession of his transgression praises and glorifies God – according to Joshua.
  • The fact that Achan confessed makes what happens next all the more startling.

 

 

Wrath Expressed:

Joshua 7:22–26 (ESV) — 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

 

Are you serious?

  • They “took Achan”, the treasure ANDhis sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep” (vs. 24).
  • And then “burned them with fire and stoned the with stones” (vs. 25)

 

In spite of Achan’s confession, God orders his death.

  • But as strange as this may seem, God also orders the death of his entire family.
  • This almost seems blood thirsty and over reaching.
  • This was the destruction of Achan and his entire family line.
  • He and his family would not longer be part of God’s call to Israel to be fruitful and multiply.

 

What are we to make of this?

  • We can say at least two things.

 

(1) We know that God spoke over and over of the consequences of covenant sin.

  • Deuteronomy 17:2–5 (ESV) — 2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.

 

(2) We know that Israel was a theocracy.

  • Meaning, among other things, that God was the judicial system, the Supreme Court.
  • Justice was meted out through Him.
  • His holiness was the standard of innocence.
  • If He condemned He was justified to do so.

 

But we are still left emotionally traumatized.

  • Especially with the death sentence on his children.

 

Was it that his children, perhaps knowing about the hidden treasure, were also seen as responsible for the profaning of Israel’s camp?

  • That seems a stretch.
  • We just don’t know.
    • Some argue that they weren’t killed.
  • The bottom line is that our modern sensibilities will not find satisfactory resolution to this question.

 

Note of Hope – There is an interesting note on the Valley of Achor (trouble).

  • We can’t forget that God is in the transformation business.
  • A business that involves not only His wrath but also His grace.
  • Hosea 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

 

 

Conclusion – Our Need for Christ:

Here are some final words from Jonathan Edwards.

“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood” – Jonathan Edwards.

 

 

Romans 1:16-17 – Righteousness of God

Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

 

 

Significant Verses:

Concerning these verses, N.T. Wright says…

  • They are “a short summary of some of the most important truths ever heard by human ears.”
  • Douglas Moo calls them “theologically dense”.

 

And because of their importance Tom Schreiner points out…

  • “Virtually all scholars acknowledge that these verses are decisive for the interpretation of Romans.”
  • We will see why soon enough.

 

 

The Text:

So with these two verses, Paul begins to segue into the meat of his letter.

  • He does so with an acknowledgement of the awesome power of the Gospel – “the power of God” (vs. 16).
  • Something he has seen first hand.

 

Acts bears witness to this fact.

  • Acts 13:42–43 (ESV) — 42 As they went out [the synagogue at Antioch], the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
  • Acts 16:14–15 (ESV) — 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  • Acts 17:2–4 (ESV) — 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

 

N.T. Wright sums up the power Paul is talking about.

“Paul has discovered, through years of actually doing it, that when you announce Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord of the world something happens: the new world which was born when Jesus died and rose again comes to fresh life in the hearts, minds and lifestyles of the listeners, or at least some of them. This isn’t magic, though it must sometimes have felt like that. It is God’s power at work, through the faithful announcement of his son” – N.T. Wright.

  • “The proclamation of the gospel is so powerful that it effects salvation in those who believe” – Tom Schreiner.

 

BTW – When Paul speaks of salvation he is referring to the fulfillment of the “the saving promises made to Israel in the OT” – Tom Schreiner.

  • Fulfillment taking place in Christ!

 

Paul goes on to say that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (vs. 16).

  • The reason – “it is the power of God for salvation” (vs. 16).

 

We need to consider that “ashamed” here is not primarily the psychological experience of shame.

  • It is that Paul is “prepared to confess the gospel publicly and bear witness to its saving power” – Tom Schreiner.
  • He is faithful to speak it without thought for himself.

 

This meshes with Wright’s speculation as to why Paul would find it necessary to say that he is “not ashamed by the gospel” (vs. 16)?

Paul may have had in mind a passage like Psalm 119:46: ‘I will speak of your decrees before kings, and I shall not be ashamed.’ That was what he intended to do. ‘At the name of Jesus,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘every knee shall bow’ (Philippians 2:10). That included Caesar” – N.T. Wright.

 

And remarkably this power that saves extends to Jew and Greek alike – “everyone who believes” (vs. 16).

  • T. Wright points out…
  • “One of the most explosive things about Paul’s gospel, rooted as it was in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, is that it broke through the barrier between Jew and Greek and declared that the saving love and power of the one God was available equally to all. That is central to this little passage, and it remains central throughout the letter” – N.T. Wright.

 

Then Paul, in one profound sentence, reveals a powerful connection that flows out of the Gospel.

The Gospel unites “the righteousness of God” with the believer through faith.

  • This is the “important truth” Wright spoke of.
  • This is the bit that Schreiner says is so “decisive” for understanding Romans.

 

Paul spells it out like this – something we have to unpack.

  • He says that, in the Gospel, “the righteousness of God” is “revealed from faith for faith” (vs. 17).
  • And then claims that the OT, through Habakkuk, has said as much.
  • Habakkuk 2:4 – “the righteous shall live by faith” (vs. 17).

 

 

Diving Deep:

What exactly does Paul mean in verse 17?

  • It is no wonder that Peter said…
  • 2 Peter 3:16b (ESV) — 16b There are some things in them that are hard to understand…

 

In order to understand Paul we need to understand at least a couple of things.

  • What does Paul mean when he speaks of “the righteousness of God” is revealed (vs. 17).
  • What does Paul mean when he says “from faith to faith” (vs. 17).

 

 

Righteousness of God:

What is the righteousness of God?

  • Guess what…“Defining the righteousness of God is crucial and intensely controversial” – Tom Schreiner.
  • But just about all agree that, “God is the one who has revealed his righteousness—the righteousness in question is his” – Tom Schreiner.
  • It is not ours – it is alien to us.

 

In answering the question we will oversimplify two main views.

  • I am including N.T. Wright’s view as a subset of the second view.

 

(1) Divine Gift or Forensic View

  • Forensic refers to something admissible in a court of law – in this case God’s law court.
  • On this view, “the ‘righteousness of God’ refers to the believer’s status before God” in His law court – Tom Schreiner.
  • This status consists of God’s righteousness, which has been given to us.

 

In other words, God as judge can legally declare that we are not guilty but are righteous.

  • The righteousness we have – our new status – is not our own; it is alien to us.
  • It is a free gift from God – the “righteousness of God” given (imputed) to believers.
  • This is justification – the most common view among evangelicals.

 

With respect to our text…

  • “On this view, Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals ‘the righteous status that is from God’” – Douglas Moo.

 

Importantly, this view holds that the “righteousness of Godis just “a matter of judicial standing, or status, and not of internal renewal or moral transformation” – Douglas Moo.

  • In other words, it is very narrow and reductionist.
  • Which leads us to the second view.

 

BTW – The forensic view came into it’s own with Luther and the reformation – why?

 

 

(2) Divine Activity View

  • “God’s righteousness is revealed in history as a divine activity in which God vindicates his people” – Tom Schreiner.
  • This activity is in the “the dynamic sense of ‘establishing right’” – Douglas Moo.

 

This view accepts that the individual has a new status, but says that is not enough – Schreiner.

  • It says that God’s righteousness is the active transforming of all His creation.

 

In other words, God is actively “righteousing” creation.

  • God is inaugurating a new reality – D.A. Carson.
    • A Kingdom of God reality.
  • This is why the Gospel has power to transform.

God’s righteousness then, is all of God’s saving work and activity – calling, regeneration, promise fulfilling, covenant faithfulness, status giving, etc.

 

N.T. Wright might help us here.

  • He calls the righteousness of God “God’s covenant justice”.
  • And frames it around God’s covenant faithfulness – a divine activity.

 

Wright says…

“God’s covenant with Abraham was always intended as the means by which the creator God would rescue the whole world from evil, corruption and death. God intends to keep to this purpose and this promise, so that he can bring his restorative justice to the whole world. That is, in the end, what ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘God’s justice’ means. I have translated the word as ‘God’s covenant justice’ here in order to hold all these ideas together. As it’s one of the central themes in the letter, it’s vital that we get it straight” – N.T. Wright.

 

He then applies this idea to our text.

“When the gospel of Jesus is announced, then, Paul declares that through it we can see at last how God’s ‘justice’, his ‘covenant faithfulness’, or in older language his ‘righteousness’, have been unveiled. This is how God has put the world to rights, declares the gospel message about Jesus, and this is how God will put you to rights as well!” – N.T. Wright.

 

Summing up this view with respect to our text…

  • Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals the saving, transforming activity of God through the fulfillment of His OT promises in Christ.
  • Something far more than just the giving of a new status.

 

This makes even more sense given the parallel in verse 18.

  • Paul says, “the wrath of God is revealed…
  • The wrath of God is clearly not a gift, but a divine activity of God involving judgment, etc.
  • Likewise, God’s righteousness is a divine activity breaking into the world and setting it right.

 

 

Which One:

The forensic view, as we said, seems overly reductionist.

  • It constrains the “righteousness of God” to be only that which revolves around humans and their individual salvation.
  • It confines it to the concept of justification.
  • And it doesn’t appear to account for the OT’s use of God’s righteousness.

 

The transformative view seems to better accommodate the entire scope of the “righteousness of God“.

  • Douglas Moo puts it like this…

The transformative view, i.e., “God’s saving activity—receives strongest support [from the OT]. When ‘righteousness’ is attributed to God, it has this meaning more than any other; and it is God’s ‘righteousness’ in this sense—a saving, vindicating intervention of God—that the prophets say will characterize the eschatological deliverance of God’s people” – Doug Moo.

  • He goes on to say, “we would expect this notion of saving activity to be included when he announces the revelation of ‘the righteousness of God’” – Doug Moo.

 

And yet, Moo and Schreiner, at the end of the day, say both.

“Could we not take ‘righteousness of God’ here to include both God’s activity of ‘making right’—saving, vindicating—and the status of those who are so made right, in a relational sense that bridges the divine and the human?” – Douglas Moo.

  • Answer – Yes!

 

So what is the relationship of the “righteousness of God” to faith/faithfulness?

 

 

Revealed From Faith For Faith (vs. 17):

The Greek in verse 17 is “ek pisteos eis pistis”.

  • It literally means “out of” or “from” faith “into” or “unto” faith.

 

There is a lot of debate over the meaning of this text.

  • This is why there are some interesting differences between translations.
  • The NET says “revealed in the gospel from faith to faith”.
  • The NIV says “is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.
  • The NLT says “is accomplished from start to finish by faith”.

 

Both Schreiner and Moo discount most attempts to understand this text.

  • Some examples of what they see as failed attempts are…
  • “From the faith of the OT to the faith of the NT; from the faith of the law to the faith of the gospel; from the faith of the preachers to the faith of the hearers; from the faith of the present to the faith of the future; from the faith of words we hear now to the faith that we will possess what the words promise; from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings; from the faithfulness of Christ to the faith of human beings; from smaller to greater faith; from faith as the ground to faith as the goal” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Because of all the diversity Schreiner advises caution.

  • “The radical diversity of interpretations in a phrase containing ambiguity should give us pause” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Schreiner and Moo opt for what they see as the simplest interpretation.

  • “The [phrase] is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and ‘nothing but faith’ [as opposed to works] can put us into right relationship with God” – Douglas Moo.
  • The phrase simply declares that “the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel by means of human faith” – Schreiner.

 

This “simpler” view, then, emphasizes human faith.

  • The NIV picks up on this view.
  • Romans 1:17 (NIV) — 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith [whose faith? – our faith] from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

 

However, there was one view sandwiched within Schreiner’s list that is advocated by N.T. Wright.

  • The view – that the phrase means “from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings”.
  • This view emphasizes God’s faithfulness and the necessity that we be part of it.

 

The following question highlights the value of this view.

When one is dependent upon the righteousness of God to be put right – both His divine activity and His giving status – upon whose faith do we count on to consummate the whole deal – God’s or ours?

 

BTW – This reminds me of Jesus’s statement in John 2 to unbelievers.

  • He said He did not entrust Himself to them.
  • If you are not the part of God’s faithfulness expressed in Christ you are doomed.

 

N.T. Wright spell is out for us.

  • Paul is telling us “to have faith in [God’s] faithfulness” – God’s divine activity.
  • Something God Himself advocated throughout the OT every time He reminded Israel that He brought them out of Egypt.

 

For Wright, the phrase plays out like this.

  • The “from faith” is God’s “faithfulness [revealed] in Jesus to the promises he made long ago” – N.T. Wright.
  • The “to faith” is the faith and trust we have in God and His divine activity – His righteousness; His faithfulness; His Son.

 

The two go together like this:

“God has been faithful to his purposes and promises; if you want to benefit from this, you must have an answering faithfulness, that ‘believing obedience’ he spoke of in verse 5” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul’s use of Habakkuk, Wright suggests, bears this out.

  • “Habakkuk…was faced with a great catastrophe coming on Israel and had to learn to hold on and trust God, to have faith in his faithfulness” – N.T. Wright.

 

D.A. Carson’s view of Habakkuk seems to back up Wright’s take:

“Paul sees the call of the Lord upon the prophet to ‘live’ by the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of the Babylonian invasion as a pattern of the Lord’s saving work (or type) that has come to fulfillment in the gospel, which imparts faith in the face of the eschatological wrath of God, which is already present in the world” – D.A. Carson.

 

Carson fleshes this out further.

“The ‘faithfulness’ of which Habakkuk writes is the faithfulness of the Lord to fulfill the promise of salvation given in the ‘vision’ [vision from Habakkuk 2:2]” – D.A. Carson.

  • Carson even translates the Habakkuk text…
  • “But the righteous one shall live by the faithfulness of the vision/Yahweh” – D.A. Carson.

 

Carson sums it up like this:

  • The believer “participates in the Gospel” by faith – Carson.

 

In other words, we participate in God’s faithfulness (His activity) by our faith!

  • The focus, then, is on God’s faith/faithfulness!
  • Carson and Wright don’t agree on much, but they seem to agree on this.

 

 

Conclusion:

Paul, setting up the rest of Romans, has thus far declared in his letter…

 

Jesus is the Son of God.

  • This means that the standing before God of both Jew and Gentile depend on being joined to God’s Son.
  • And, to what God is doing in history through His Son.
  • For only in Him do we find the ultimate expression of both Israel’s faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Israel.

 

Moreover, it has always been (see OT) that God’s divine activity – His righteousness…

  • Consists of both God’s faithfulness and promise keeping.
  • And that we can count on the promises of God through Christ because of God’s faithfulness.
    • A faithfulness we are joined to/participate in by our faith.
  • So that those who receive the revealed righteousness of God – His divine activity – by faith are given a free gift of alien righteousness – a righteousness that is not ours.
  • So in God’s law court they are justified; they are found not guilty – an act that is itself evidence of God’s faithfulness.
  • So the Gospel is primarily about God and His faithfulness – not about us, ours and going to heaven.