by Al Maxey
Issue #831 -- October 15, 2021
Happy is he who writes from the love of imparting
certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale;
the one who writes always to the unknown friend.
Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882]
Special Introductory Preface:
Every now and then I like to step away from the keyboard and present a special guest article from one of the readers. I don't do this often, but there are times when it is nice to take a brief break from my writing ministry. Also, it's good for you, the readers, to have an opportunity to ponder the thoughts of one of your fellow Reflections readers. In this week's issue I believe you will be especially blessed once again by the tremendous insights of a very dear friend and brother-in-Christ who has been a great supporter of my Reflections ministry for quite some time. I said "once again" because this man has written five previous reflective articles for me: Reflections #495 -- July 27, 2011, and Reflections #648 -- February 20, 2015, and Reflections #688 -- January 29, 2016, and Reflections #752 -- July 19, 2018, and Reflections #800 -- June 29, 2020. Dr. Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D. is a professor of Rangeland Management at the University of Nevada-Reno, and he has served for well over 40 years as a Bible class teacher, a song leader, a deacon, and a part-time evangelist. This dear brother is also the author of the powerful book "A Call to Unity: A Critical Review of Patternism and the Command-Example-Inference-Silence Hermeneutic," a fabulous work for which I was given the honor and privilege of writing the endorsement printed on the back cover. Barry further honored me by writing the Foreword for my third book: "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." In his following article, Barry discusses, among other things, two topics very dear to my heart: "Available Light" and "the faith OF Christ Jesus," and he does a fabulous job on both. For more info on each, see my articles "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light" (Reflections #158 - November 15, 2004) and "Approaching God With Freedom: A Reflective Examination of Ephesians 3:12" (Reflections #525 - March 12, 2012). -- Al Maxey
Paul's letter to the Romans has often been ignored among Restoration Movement churches. The number of times I can remember studying Romans in a Bible class is less than I can count on one hand. Perhaps you have experienced this as well. Romans is a scary letter for many. The Apostle Peter even noted some of Paul's writings as being difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:14-16), but the Lord invites us: "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). God invites us to struggle, to wrestle with Him just like Jacob (Genesis 32:24-32). We struggle to prevail against death and all that life brings us, but it is God we must ultimately struggle with, for He holds our destiny, He holds our being in His hands, and we are nothing without God.
As a veteran university professor who has participated in many teaching and writing activities, I am comfortable in expressing my opinion that the Roman letter reads as if it has been refined and crafted over hundreds or even thousands of presentations. I am convinced that the text in Romans is exactly the language Paul used time and time again as he taught the Gospel. By the time he penned Romans, Paul knew precisely what he wanted to say, and he crafted a masterpiece. In fact, the most important passage in all of scripture is found in Romans 3:21-26, for it tells us not only "why" the Gospel exists, but "why" everything exists. When you begin to understand this fundamental concept, everything, even the most difficult bits of scripture in both old and new canons, begins to make sense, and even to come alive. It is also clear that Paul wrote to Christians that had only a portion of the Gospel and needed help to fully understand what they had in their possession. This is why he declares, "So, for my part, I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome" (Romans 1:15). Paul then introduces the grand theme of the Roman letter, "For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:17). Join me as we take a look at the full measure of the Gospel, and like our Roman brothers and sisters, perhaps for the first time.
As a prelude we need to ask, "What was Adam's sin?" Was it the act of eating the forbidden fruit? Was it disobedience, defying the commandment of the Lord? Or was it something more basic, more elemental, more vital? The answer lies in scripture. The Lord said, "…if you eat from it, you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Adam must have been informed about death by the Lord Himself. Knowing about death, Adam ultimately did not believe in the truth of the consequences or the reality of what the Lord had said. Adam disbelieved the Lord, making the Lord out to be a liar. This was Adam's (and Eve's) sin. They ultimately did not believe they would die: that God was just making it all up, or He would not actually carry out the consequences He had marked out. Satan encouraged this disbelief: "You surely will not die!" (Genesis 3:4), implying that God was fickle, erratic, and unstable, thus they should put no faith in what He said. Adam, Eve, and Satan suppressed the truth of what God had declared. This was their sin. We must also understand what the Lord meant by the phrase "you will surely die." Humans are not immortal beings. Only God possesses immortality (1 Timothy 6:16). Some have taught that although a man has a beginning, he possesses an immortal soul that continues in perpetuity. Nothing could be further from scriptural truth. Genesis 2:7 says, "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Brothers and sisters, we do not possess a soul, we are a soul. We are living beings. We have no inherent immortality, only God possesses such, yet He will confer immortality upon His children when He glorifies us at Jesus' return. This is the grand hope of the Gospel. So as a practical matter, when we die, without the intervention of God, we are just dead. We are helpless to control anything either side of birth and death. Where would your "soul" (your being) be without God? Think of it this way, where were you, your basic essence, your being, before you were born? You and all you will ever be existed in the mind of God. He fashioned you from His wit and desire (Psalm 139:16). He is the Creator, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Unless the Creator conjures your birth and resurrects you from death, you are absolutely powerless to control either, "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Without God, we absolutely cease to exist, either side of our birth and death.
With the understanding of sin and death in place, we can now see Paul move from his awe-inspiring opening declaration about the righteousness of God revealed, to His wrath that flows from it (Romans 1:18). His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness and those that suppress the truth. By suppressing God's truth, we make Him out to be a liar, even erratic and unstable with His commands and associated consequences. Adam and Eve disbelieved the truth of what God had said, they suppressed it, and so did Satan. Mankind suppresses the truth it knows exists, and even though God may not have said some things directly, those things are evident through the physical creation.
As to right and wrong, God's invisible, righteous attributes are there for all to see: in a mother's love for her child, respect and care for the vulnerable, mercy and respect for life, any life. Also, the deeds of the flesh are evident (Galatians 5:19): no mature person must be reminded that murder and other perversions are wrong, we know this innately. God has also set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Not only can we see the invisible attributes of God, He has made us so we cannot fully or permanently satisfy our desire or our curiosity without Him, so that we might grope for Him and find Him (Acts 17:27).
Paul explains that Gentiles cannot play the "I didn't know" card, for the suppressing of evident truth is inexcusable. Going further, many have actually exchanged the truth for a lie (e.g., idolatry, atheism, legalism, Gnosticism). They did not or do not believe any of the light accorded to them, even offering approval and encouragement to others who do the same. The Ten Commandments weren't something that just fell out of the sky on Mt. Sinai. Its moral imperatives were something that had always existed. They revealed the righteousness of God: worship the Creator, give Him pre-eminence; honor the Sabbath, a day of rest for God and for mankind, the natural order; honor parents, they birthed us and they will become old and need us one day; respect life and property; honor and character are important attributes of God; greed or unrestrained desire for other's station in life will destroy our character. These truths exist in all people as natural law, placed in the heart of all by God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, and countless others understood these things long before they were written in stone or recorded on a scroll.
In Romans 2:13 Paul goes on to say that God is not partial, erratic, or fickle in His judgements, for through His righteousness they remain unchallenged. Those who have sinned (disbelieved) without the Law of Moses and those that have sinned under the Law of Moses are both judged on the amount of light they have been given. More importantly, Paul says that those who believe, and who do not suppress the truth, as evidenced by their behavior, will be justified. Now comes one of the passages that is often ignored or passed over (Romans 2:14-16). Paul tells us in no uncertain terms, and in the present tense (meaning it was still active and occurring in his time), that when people who do not have this written law, yet who instinctively by nature do what the Law of Moses requires, they are a law unto themselves. In other words, they are judged on the amount or type of light they have been given. The evidence for the belief written in their hearts is their behavior that flows from that belief. Paul says that their belief or unbelief (proven by their behavior) will accuse or defend them in the Day of Judgement. In other words, people throughout the world that have not had opportunity to hear the Gospel have no excuse for their unbelief, and God will righteously judge them based on their belief even though they had no knowledge of the Gospel or the Law of Moses (see Matthew 25:31-46). In Romans 2:26 Paul says, "So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?" Consider the application of this passage with respect to Cornelius, Apollos, the Magi, the disciples of John that Paul met in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10), and the "other sheep" Jesus claimed as His possession (John 10:16) among the Gentile nations. Consider the indigenous peoples of Australia, southeast Asia, China, Africa, and the Americas, and think of what that might mean today. Romans 10:10-21 confirms this as well.
Paul continues in chapter three of Romans by addressing the belief of those adhering to the Law of Moses. There was contention between Jew and Gentile Christians, for each were tending to see themselves as superior to the other. He stresses that both are condemned before God: Gentiles condemned by their own conscience and the light they were given, and Jews by the Law of Moses. Paul contends that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin: "There is none righteous, not even one…there is no fear of God before their eyes" (vs. 10-18). By "no fear," Paul means that once again they have made God out to be a liar. They have no fear because they believe God is a liar, that He cannot be trusted because of fickleness. Paul concisely shows that both Gentile and Jew have no righteousness of their own. Then, the text crescendos to its peak (vs. 21-26, NASB), and Paul writes the most amazing piece of prose ever written by man: "But now apart from law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; since they all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus."
Paul explains that the Creator of the Universe is the source of the righteousness that mankind needs for their justification, and that everything, all of creation, of all time, before time, and after time, and the propitiation of Jesus, everything happened for the purpose of demonstrating the righteousness of God! He is the one, He is the only, and He is just and the justifier of all who have the faith of Jesus.
Let us unpack a couple of things in this passage: 1) Obedience cannot justify you, 2) Faith can justify you. But whose faith? Verse 20, just preceding the great passage, says this: "…because by the works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through law comes the knowledge of sin." Paul's words here are backed up by Galatians 2:16, "…since by the works of law no flesh will be justified." This leads directly to Paul's grand statement in 3:21, "But now, apart from law…". Since works cannot justify, something had to take the place of obedience. That something is the righteousness of God. Paul reiterates this position in verse 28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." In order to clarify, so that the Jews could not say, "but we have the Law of Moses," Paul makes it clear that everyone gets the same deal, everyone is treated alike. Everyone is justified by faith, both Gentiles and Jews. Even though they had been given the Law of Moses, their obedience counted for nothing in justification for sin because they could not keep law perfectly, just as we cannot keep commands perfectly. Law makes us aware of sin, and our behavior compared to its requirements leaves us wanting. Given this fact, we must be justified by some other means, and that means, according to the Apostle Paul, is faith. But, what faith ... or, more correctly, whose faith?!
Verse 22 (KJV) reads, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference…". The righteousness of God and the justification of mankind is unmistakably made known by the faith of Jesus Christ. Here, Jesus trusting His Father, believed in His own resurrection. He believed the Father just as Abraham believed the Father regarding the sacrifice of his son Isaac. The act of justification for mankind is not conditional upon our individual faith, but accomplished by God through the faith of His Son. Our personal faith had nothing to do with it. Justification was accomplished apart from law, and apart from our ability to obey law or to work our way out of sin. Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 2:16 (KJV), "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
Now, we must understand that many modern translations render the Greek statement "pistis Christou" as "faith in Jesus" rather than "faith of Jesus." Some scholars feel both are grammatically correct, and that it is up to the translator to determine from context which translation is appropriate. Other scholars strongly disagree. A number of older translations, including King James, Tyndale, Wycliff, Young's Literal Translation, and Darby, all translate the phrase "pistis Christou" as "faith of Jesus." In other words, Jesus' faith accomplished what the Law of Moses could not. His faith demonstrated the righteousness of God. We can truly say that we are saved by His blood, by His sacrifice, by His propitiation. But these were acts of faith; not obedience to the Law of Moses, but the obedience of faith. Neither the Law of Moses nor any law of conscience from God ever demanded that anyone sacrifice their life for another. Jesus was not commanded to sacrifice Himself, there was no law involved, only an obedience of faith (John 10:18). But apart from law, Christ's faith revealed the righteousness of God and His eternal love for His people (Galatians 2:20). It was Jesus' faith that gave Him confidence to die, believing that the Father would resurrect Him from death. Jesus trusted the Father to lay all of the sin of mankind on Himself. He trusted that the Father would do what had been promised, and in His faith, His believing, Jesus revealed the righteousness of God to all of mankind and to the principalities and powers in spiritual places. It was Jesus' faith, His belief that the Father would do what He said He would do, that accomplished justification. Through His faith, the Father rewarded Him by justifying His bride, the church. You see, if Jesus had not believed in His Father's words, He would have made the Father out to be a liar, suppressing the truth just like Adam.
In Romans 10, Paul explains two kinds of righteousness. 1) Righteousness of law (vs. 5), for Moses writes that "the man who practices the righteousness which is out of law shall live by that righteousness," and 2) one out of faith (vs. 9-10), "…that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." Paul tells us that self-righteous Jews sought to establish their own righteousness and refused to submit themselves to the righteousness of God. They established their own righteousness through obedience to law. If you obey, then God owes you something (Romans 4:4), but we deserve nothing except to die. However, God has given us His righteousness through the faith of Jesus. It is a gift we do not deserve, and it was completed without our input or obedience. Understanding this, it gives new meaning and purpose to Paul's declaration in Romans 1:16-17, "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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: But the righteous man shall live by faith." Jesus, the righteous man, lived by faith.
The latter part of verse 17 can be confusing: "…from faith to faith." But with the understanding of the faith of Jesus as the revelation of the righteousness of God, there is now an objective reference point for that righteousness. The faith of Jesus objectively revealed the Father's righteousness. As He was being tortured, the faith of Jesus pointed to the righteousness of God; as He hung on the cross, His faith pointed to the righteousness of God; as He cried out in agony, His faith objectively pointed to the righteousness of God. Jesus believed the promises of the Father. The revelation of the righteousness of God is not subjectively dependent upon the faith of the believer: our faith in Jesus. The righteousness of God was revealed out of Jesus' faith to our faith, from faith to faith, objective to subjective. Jesus' faith is not influenced by our belief in Him. His faith existed without us being present. It was God's doing. Our faith in Jesus emanates from our viewpoint. We witness the faith of Jesus through the Gospel, and we believe. We analyze the object, in this case the faith of Jesus, and make a determination about it subjectively. You can now make your own reflection regarding the appropriate translation of "pistis Christou."
It is my hope that you can now read the Scriptures with this new perspective, and that many verses in Romans and throughout the New Testament will become clearer or have new meaning when viewed as depicting Jesus' faith instead of our faith. Take 2 Thessalonians 2:10 for example, "...and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." If we believe and love the truth of our dependence on the righteousness of God, salvation comes. We can obey commands while hating every one of them and their progenitor. Just ask any formerly abused child. Obedience is flawed and law cannot justify. Obedience is evidence of belief, not the other way round. Most importantly, this new perspective shows how utterly insignificant and helpless we are as human beings. We must depend completely on the righteousness of God. Our birth, our temperament, our personality, our DNA code, where we were born, who we were born of, the time in history, and the events we experience are all extant because of the righteousness of God. Our ultimate fate after death is a product of the righteousness of God. His grace and mercy are evidence of that righteousness. Jesus' faith was witnessed by His obedience, but it was His belief and faith that put Him on the cross and in the tomb, not in response to a command, for there was no command to do so. Jesus was never commanded to die. It was Abraham's belief that was credited to him as righteousness, not his obedience, rather it was his obedience that served as evidence of his faith (Romans 4:3). Abraham was actually prevented from obeying the command to kill his son. It was Jesus' faith that made justification for us by revealing the righteousness of God. It is our belief, our faith that makes us children of God. We believe that Jesus revealed the righteousness of God, and we believe that the Father will bestow immortality upon us after the resurrection. It all depends upon the righteousness of God revealed by the faith of Jesus. So then "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 9:13). As to assurance of salvation: Do you believe and love what God has revealed? Do you have faith like Jesus? A faith that gives evidence of its own existence and quality? A belief revealed by obedience? Do you in all things desire to submit yourself to the righteousness of God? Do you understand that you have no righteousness of your own, that your obedience is counted as "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6)?
Do you understand you are helpless without God? Then listen to Paul: "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:50-53). This is the righteousness of God. This is the end of the Gospel, the full measure. The wonderful beauty of it all is that as long as we exist in the mind of our blessed, powerful, and righteous Creator, we have nothing to fear. And we do exist in His mind, because of His righteousness and for no other reason. At times, we witness beauty, awe, and perfection through music, or a song, or a book, or a play, or a film, and we become emotional. The birth of a child, a crystal miracle, or the affection of indescribable love between two elderly spouses might bring anyone to tears. However, these are only reflections of the righteousness of God. Imagine what it will be like to see JESUS THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jeremiah 23:6) as He is. Assurance? Lay your faith on the righteousness of God, just as Jesus did, and may God give you the peace that passes all understanding!
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Al, I am currently translating the New Testament book of Hebrews from the Greek, and I am more and more convinced that there is absolutely no way this is the work of Paul the apostle. Paul is much easier than this to translate (LOL).
I feel your pain, brother!! The Greek of the book of Hebrews is very polished, almost Classical in nature. Having personally translated the entire New Testament documents from the Greek (as part of my undergraduate and graduate studies, and personal study beyond those years), I can attest to the fact that the Greek of Paul's known epistles and the Greek of Hebrews are very much different from one another. The likelihood that Paul produced Hebrews, just based on stylistic concerns alone, is slim. There are many other reasons, however, that are even more convincing against the authorship of Paul (see my article referenced below). Although no scholar can say for certain who the author of this book was, and there are many theories, I tend to agree with Martin Luther (1483-1546), who believed the author to be Apollos. Dr. F. D. Marsh concluded, "Apollos, the learned Alexandrian Jew, mighty in the Scriptures, companion of St. Paul, is the sort of man who might have written this epistle." That's about as conclusive as we can get. Origen (185-254 A.D.), although he personally favored Clement of Rome as the author, got it right when he admitted, "But as to who it was that really wrote the epistle, God only knows!" For a more in-depth analysis of this matter, I refer you to my study "The Authorship of Hebrews: In-depth Investigation into Identity" (Reflections #128 - May 30, 2004). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Alabama:
Al, thank you for your tireless work through your web site and emails. I don't always agree with you, but I do enjoy your work!!! I am wondering if the following is just an "odd brother" issue (me being the "odd brother"): When I read your articles they go across the whole screen of my computer, and it seems to be causing me eye fatigue. What I mean is, the column is too wide to follow along easily. I am 65 years old, so it could be my eyes, but I was just wondering if anyone else has ever mentioned this to you. On another note, I am retiring from preaching at the end of this year (due to health problems with my wife requiring me to devote more time to her care). Anyway, I say that to say: I will now have more time to read your writings! Thank you for your service to the country, but more than that: thank you for your service to the King and His Kingdom!
My Reflections articles are written in html code, and are then uploaded to my web site (through my ISP) in that format. This allows them to be viewed on any computer or device. How they appear on these various devices, though, is determined by the device being used and the settings on these devices. In other words, I can't control or change how they appear to the reader on their particular device. The reader, however, can usually make settings changes that will alter their view of these articles. If one is not familiar with how to do this, then they will probably need to get with a "tech guy" who can walk them through the process of changing settings on their device to make these studies easier to read (i.e., more compatible with their personal reading needs). I have had a number of readers tell me that they just print my articles, as they too have trouble reading from a computer screen. Readers can also copy-and-paste these articles into a Word (or some other program, like Publisher) document, which will then give them editing control over font size, sentence spacing, page and column and/or paragraph arrangement, and the like. Some of the newer computers even have a "read text" capability, and by simply clicking on that feature one can sit back and have the computer read the article to you. This can be quite helpful for those who are having vision difficulties. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just read your last Reflections article on "Behemoth and Leviathan: Biblical Monsters - Myth or Reality?" (Reflections #830). As a guy who struggled mightily with losing both his parents in an accident at age 10, I can relate to Job's anger. And anger it was! Maybe not at first, as Job tried to work through some of what was happening to him, but at some point his anger spills over, and he begins to "mouth off" at God. I remember that anger. And it's a difficult thing being mad at the Creator of all things because you don't feel He is treating you with the fairness you expected as a believer. For a long time, I have believed the book of Job is not so much about this man struggling through the harshness of life, but rather about how arrogance can mess up dependence, and how identity derived from one's own accomplishments can distort the reality of God's provision. I can also relate closely to the "dressing down" that God gave Job. I've seen that lightning bolt. Not many of my Church of Christ friends can appreciate the level of involvement that God displayed over a year's time, but He's still in charge and is willing to let one know. Job repented. I repented. My opinion has long been that Job 41 was, as you indicated, perhaps an example of a wild beast much stronger than Job that God could control at will. It might also be one of those situations where God used the example in an equal and yet separate way to identify Satan and his power over a human being. Apparently, demons and their control over men's minds and actions was/is real. Jesus cast out a few. Yes, I think God saw a man of faith (Job) whose identity was in his own good deeds, and so God set out to "fix" Job. And He did. And, along the way, He fixed me too.
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