Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love & Wrath in Romans

Last night I experienced the movement of God. Typically I don’t start conversations off like that, but last night left an impression on me that I can’t forget and shouldn’t forget.

I try to meet weekly with a couple in our Hispanic ministry who are new believers. The wife’s sister, who goes to our church as well, attends frequently. Every week our bulletin has a list of Scriptures to read that is supposed to help get us through the Bible in a year, so I start each week asking everyone what they’ve read.

That can be hit or miss. Frequently no one has read anything. I try to encourage the husband to pick up his Bible and read, but thus far it has been largely fruitless. The wife had been reading in Genesis, and despite having trouble getting the names in order, she was able to talk about the birth of Jacob and Esau all the way to Judah and Tamar.

When we got to the sister, she said she had been reading in Numbers, but couldn’t quite remember how it begins. With a little help she was able to recall the events and share up to the spying out of the land.

Then she asked it.

The question was innocent enough, but it completely killed the planned study of the first six chapters of Exodus. The sister asked where we all come from. While the story of the Bible was going on, where was the rest of humanity? The question related to the Europeans and the natives in the Americas.

And then it transitioned to the big question.

What about those who were isolated from the knowledge of what God was doing with Israel? What about those who have never heard the gospel?

One person suggested that, due to their ignorance, they would be forgiven. Even though we had already talked about this some months ago, it hadn’t stuck and now I was back to square one trying to help three people come to a Biblical conclusion about the eternal fate of their ancestors.

We talked briefly about Noah and his family believing in God and teaching about Him to the next generations. As the people spread out they all had access to the same revelation, but people began to distort the truth and stop believing in the supreme God.

From here we transitioned to Melchizedec. This man was not part of the promise, but he still followed God according to what had been revealed from the time of Moses. I pointed out that by the time of Abraham, there were very few people who still followed this. By the time God began to add new revelation, all of humanity had given up the old teachings.

I said that it was possible that the earliest peoples to inhabit the Americas may have been monotheists, but by the time you have the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca, polytheism had displaced God.

Enter Romans 1 and following.

I asked everyone to open their Bible’s to Romans 1:17 and said I’d be doing a running commentary as we read. I explained that the gospel message reveals God’s righteousness to us, that is, Christ died for us to pay for our sins and make an offer of salvation to the whole world. That is what the gospel message does.

The next verse shows, however, that the world, nature and disaster, like the disaster in Japan, shows that mankind is under the wrath of God because we are wicked. We reject God and chose to cover up and corrupt what we know about Him.

Paul then goes on explaining that we knowingly suppress the truth that is obvious from nature and instead give the glory that belongs to the sovereign Creator of the universe to gods we create that look like us, like animals, birds, and reptiles.

The point then is not that those who haven’t heard are just poor and ignorant but really want to know God. Actually, we have become depraved and God let us. We deceive ourselves and start rolling down the hill into wickedness, and God surrenders us to our wickedness.

As we got into Romans 2, we showed that those who live cut off from the knowledge of God and the gospel are still condemned because they have the law written on their consciences. Their consciences convict them regarding the good and bad things that they do. In summary, Paul is saying that no one stands justified before God. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

My wife stopped me because I had practically begun preaching.

And then came the response.

The sister said, “Oh my gosh. This makes me so grateful that God saved me.”

She got it.

I was afraid the response would be, “How can God really love people if He is so full of wrath?”

They explained back to me that God is revealing His wrath through nature in order to point us to the gospel that brings us peace. The sister could put in plain words that she was deserving of wrath, and as a Christian, she was grateful for the love of God.

We talked about this for some time. The struggles that many people have with understanding God and disaster, like the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, were easily explained by them referencing Romans 1.

Even before I could take us to Romans 5 they understood:

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (10) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Romans 5:8-10, ESV

Before we got to verse 11, they were doing it: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

In my studies I have been moved to great emotion as I meditated on God’s love for me, a wrath-deserving sinner. But this was the first time I had seen someone else moved in a similar way just from studying the Bible within a group of believers.

We still have a long way to go, from learning the flow and structure of the Bible and doctrine to character transformation and practicing spiritual disciplines, but I am grateful for the opportunity to join with what God is doing in and around me. May He be glorified!

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