Monday, August 08, 2005

The Law Upon Our Hearts

I’ve paused for a period of reflection in my walk through Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’d like to make it sound like this was my idea, like I devoted the past week and more to reflecting on what it means for the “law to be written on our hearts.”

But that would be false. I have spent the better part of two weeks struggling against God.

Not that I recognized it that way, but that’s what I was doing. I sought release and escape in my own pursuits. Under grace, I avoided any sense of responsibility or accountability for my walk, my prayer life, reading His word, honoring my commitments, or even in the things I find to distract me from the sometime loneliness and ever present ache for home.

Are the things I speak of the kind of things that would hurt or harm my family, or bring discredit to my unit or my soldiers? Not at all. In the world’s eyes, they might at best be considered sins of omission, things I might have done, no wrongs committed. But God wants us to see ourselves and our behaviors through His eyes, not the world’s.

And as I am His child and called and purchased at a very great price, I am chastened and ask humbly for His forgiveness in the name of His Son Jesus.

I stand at perhaps the most momentous crossroads of my life, when all of the chaff that was the petty concerns of the former times will be blown away. The seed, the meal, the leaven of His provision will remain. I know what it means to say that I see through the glass but darkly. There is the glimmer of His Spirit, His purposes, but to say more, to see more now, would be to guess, and perhaps to hope.

So I read today the second half of Romans Chapter 2 (verses 17-29), and God reveals more of His intent when He has written the law upon our hearts.
The Jews Guilty as the Gentiles

17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. 21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. (Romans 2:17-24)
Paul speaks here powerfully of the obligation of believers to not deceive themselves. We will all of us sin and transgress, and cannot hope to redeem ourselves by merely obedience to God’s commands. Paul acknowledges that his Roman brothers and sisters are indeed “a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness.” Paul’s instruction here is not about some failing in effort, neither a condemnation of what the Romans taught, but rather the state of their hearts.

Did Paul know of specific sins and transgressions within the Roman church? Perhaps. But he need not have, but surely recognized that the great redeeming work of salvation through the Son of God meant that the law would be written upon our hearts as believers in Him. God’s mercy radiates from the plan He had from the beginning to allow any that seek Him, to find Him. Paul warns the Romans that they risk following the example of their spiritual forefathers, the children of Israel, when by their pride they shamed their very faith, in following the letter of the law but surely not its spirit.
5 Now therefore, what have I here,” says the LORD,
“ That My people are taken away for nothing?
Those who rule over them
Make them wail,” says the LORD,
“ And My name is blasphemed continually every day.

6 Therefore My people shall know My name;
Therefore they shall know in that day
That I am He who speaks:
‘ Behold, it is I.’” (Isaiah 52:5-6)
God convicts us, we “blaspheme” through our behaviors and the many petty ways in which we ignore or trifle with His direction. We, the followers of Jesus, have been filled with His Holy Spirit, and have ready at hand the very source for the finishing of our faith, within us.
38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)
There is no surer trap for any of us than the sin of pride, and the blinders that can place upon our ability to rightly perceive and assess ourselves, our behavior, and most importantly, our motivations. Why do we do what we do? God warned His children not to focus so exclusively on their gifts and sacrificial obediences on the altar.
6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6).
Jesus emphasized this point, and followed it with what should be our take-away:
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)
There was at the time of Christ and the Early Church no stronger symbol of Jewish obedience to their faith and God than circumcision. From the time God commanded Abraham as a perpetual sign of covenant between God and His people (Genesis 17:1-11), the Jewish believers had been ensuring that every “male child in your generations” would be circumcised. This applied to those outsiders brought into the community of covenant.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. (Genesis 17:6-7)
In Genesis, God also speaks of giving to the children of Israel the lands in which they were once wanderers and strangers. God fulfilled this in a dramatic way with the conversion of Rome and the Roman Emperors, bur perhaps not in the manner the world would expect. And with what would be the conversion of much of the modern (western) world awaiting, God made clear through Paul’s ministry that what He had prepared would be “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10)

Paul therefore reasons with the Romans, who perhaps hold obedience to the law above all else, above the work of the Spirit upon the believer.
Circumcision of No Avail

25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)
This is the triumph and inheritance we have in our faith, that Jesus by His atoning sacrifice has allowed us to be inheritors and heirs with Him of His Father’s mercies and blessings. God had provided the better and more excellent way.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
We compromise our inheritance by vainly trying to set up and follow some rulebook for faith. We all of us can be beset by our shame. None of us are perfect. We can misunderstand His words that speak to new creation and putting sin far from us, and think that, when we sin (not if), that somehow we do not believe “strongly enough.” This leads to despair! That is the same for us, like these Romans, who might retain the old ruler of the law, both to measure the extent of our faith and to rap our own knuckles when we inevitably fall short of the grace of God.

Our own failings and spiritual impurities make us tremble and doubt the promises made that our sins have been (and will be) forgiven once for all through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That, and our very human natures resist. Are we really prepared to fully die to self and yield fully to His cleansing presence? How many of us want to “give it all,” but then hold back that area, that part, that crutch, that comfort, that is our “old way” of soothing hurt or making pain go away? So many of our “quiet” and secret sins are after, part of that life that struggles along trying to find happiness and peace.

This leads us to set formulas. We say to ourselves, “At least I give this. I do all this. At least I don’t do that – invariably connected with some comparison to a brother or neighbor and the mote in their eye. But God says, not works of your hands! Not your vain sacrifices and obediences in matter of gifts and tithes. Thos can be important, but the unmitigated Grace of God is His gift through the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus.
Purpose of the Mystery

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; (Ephesians 3:8-9)
Through His prophets, God foretold of the time in which He would break down the barriers between the people of the Law (His People, the children of Israel) and the gentiles (everybody else).
God Redeems Jerusalem

1 Awake, awake!
Put on your strength, O Zion;
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Shall no longer come to you.
2 Shake yourself from the dust, arise;
Sit down, O Jerusalem!
Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion!

3 For thus says the LORD:
“ You have sold yourselves for nothing,
And you shall be redeemed without money.” (Isaiah 52:1-3)
Through Isaiah, God rebuked the Israelites that they had “sold themselves for nothing,” yet would “be redeemed without money.” God promised His children a day when the “uncircumcised and unclean” would no longer come to them. The Israelites might well have hoped that this meant the end of long capitivity, or the end of war with their neighbors, but God was foretelling a time when circumcision and non-circumcision but be of no meaning. A time fulfilled with Jesus, when circumcision (obedience) would be “of the heart, in the Spirit,” and triumphantly, “from God.”

It is not in us, it is in Him. As contemporary Christian artists Casting Crowns declare in their song, Who Am I:
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
It is not because of who we are, any sense of position, or class, or stature. It is not because of what we do for God, some way in which we’ve earned His love and mercy.

It is entirely because of what He did with the sacrifice of His son, and His essential character of love and mercy.


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8:09 PM  

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