My church for its Bible Study is going through Romans: The Letter That Changed the World, with Mart De Haan and Jimmy DeYoung. I got to attend last night, but I won't be able to attend next week because I'll be in Indiana for my sister's wedding. But I'll still be blogging about next week's lesson, since I was able to watch it online, plus I can answer the questions in the booklet, in my own way. The only problem is that I won't be able to communicate to you what others in the group say, but at least I'll be writing something!
But let's proceed to last night's session! I have three items.
One question that I have often asked on this blog is whether Paul
understood the law of Moses to be for Israel alone, or for Gentiles as
well. I've written posts in which I've speculated about this issue
myself, and I've written posts in which I've gone through what biblical
scholarship has said about the topic. See here and here if you are interested in these posts.
does our curriculum handle this issue? Well, my impression is that it
regards the law of Moses as something that God gave to physical Israel
alone. Why, then, does Paul talk to Gentiles about how
the law points out people's sin, how the law condemns people because
they do not obey it, and how trying to be justified by the law is
futile? Does that not imply that the law is somehow relevant to
Gentiles, not just Israel? The answer that I got from the curriculum is
that Paul was not just criticizing the use of the Mosaic law to achieve salvation, but any law, including Roman law.
Over the past several weeks, the curriculum has said that the Romans
tried to appease the gods through their own efforts: through sacrifice,
through adherence to virtues (i.e., self-discipline), etc. But the
message of the Gospel is that we cannot climb our way to God through our
own efforts, for we are sinful, and so God has come down to us by
sending Jesus Christ to save us.
(UPDATE: I do remember someone implying on the DVD that Roman law was
not good enough, for it fell short of God's standards for people. Roman
law stressed outward compliance, but God desired for people to be
morally pure on the inside, not just the outside. The idea may be that,
even if Gentiles were not subject to the authority of the Mosaic law,
God still held them to certain standards. In my opinion, Romans 2:14
is, however, that, when our group went on to discuss how the law is a
mirror to us in that it points out our sin, we didn't look at Roman
virtues; rather, by "law", we meant the Ten Commandments, which are part
of the Torah that was supposedly given only to Israel. That brings me
to my next point.
2. When we talked about
how the law is a mirror that points out our sins to us, and how we all
fall short of the law, we mentioned the Ten Commandments, but we did not
really talk about which specific commandments we have violated. I seriously doubt that anyone in the group has killed anyone (though
people there may have hated others, and Jesus in the Sermon on the
Mount says that hate is murder, but I'm really hesitant to say that Paul
had the Sermon on the Mount in mind when he said that we disobey the
law). Rather, when we discussed our shortcomings, we focused more on
how we have failed to behave consistently in a Christ-like manner.
We may blow our stack with certain people rather than treating them
with respect and kindness, for example. But "Thou shalt not lose your
temper and blow your stack with people" is not one of the Ten
Commandments (though I do recall that, as a child, my Dad assigned us
kids to come up with our own commandments, and "Thou shalt not lose your
temper" was the very first one). So, by "law", the people in my group
seemed to mean more than the Ten Commandments.
Someone in the group later referred to Jesus' summary of the law in
Matthew 22:36-40, as Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18:
that we love God with every fiber of our being, and that we care for our
neighbor's needs the same way that we care for our own. The person
making this point said that this is a high standard that we can't
reach. Apparently, for my friend, we actually do fall short of the Mosaic law, for we do not love God with every fiber of our being or love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I wonder, though, if this standard was intended to be so high that we could not reach it.
In II Chronicles 15:15, we read that the Judahites during the reign of
King Asa swore with all of their heart and their whole desire to love
God within God's covenant. Apparently, they met the standard! II Kings
23:25 says that King Josiah turned to the LORD with all of his heart,
all of his soul, and all of his might.
Apparently, Josiah met
the standard! And these were imperfect human beings, just like we
were. I'm somewhat doubtful, therefore, that Deuteronomy 6:5 calls for
absolute perfection. There is some standard there, but I don't think that, within the Hebrew Bible, it's as high as the person in the Bible study group may think it is. What about Leviticus 19:18's command that we love our neighbor as ourselves? I'm not certain that it does
mean that we have to care for every other person's needs in the exact
same proportion as we care for our own needs. Of course we care for our
own needs first. When most people have a job, they're working
primarily to support themselves and their families. But I think that
the Mosaic Torah exhorted the Israelites to think of others besides
themselves: to help out the poor with gleanings, the corners of
the field, and tithes; to let the poor person who owes money to sleep
in his own cloak; to respect people's lives and properties; etc. I
still find that I fall short of even the Mosaic law's standard, though,
for I bear grudges (in violation of Leviticus 19:18) and I usually don't
rebuke my neighbor when I have a problem with him (contra Leviticus
3. Okay, my friend in the Bible
study group said that it's impossible for us to love God with every
fiber of our being and to care for our neighbors the same way that we
care for ourselves. That's why we need Christ as our Savior, the
evangelical message runs. So, once we accept Christ, do we no
longer have to love God with every fiber of our being and care for our
neighbors as we care for ourselves? Is the point of Paul's Gospel that
we're sinners and Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, so now we'll
go through the pearly gates after death rather than hell? I've thought about this as we've gone through our Romans curriculum.
Some in the group present salvation as a free gift that God has given
to us, which we cannot lose. Yet, they also maintain that God has
changed the hearts of those who receive Christ. In the DVD that we
watched, one of the people talking did not only refer to faith, but also
surrender to God. So there do seem to be elements of Lordship
Salvation, if you will, in our curriculum and in our group
discussions. And yet, there's also a recognition that, even when we are
Christians, we are far from being perfect. That makes me wonder how
good I have to be before I can have assurance that I am saved, something
that I have discussed on this blog before. Nowadays, though, I just
don't worry about it. If I have a theology, it's that God is love, and that I'm on a path of becoming more loving, even though I fall short.