Notes On Romans (17)

“Wrestling With Romans”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

O the Sweet, Sweet Gospel (Chapter 3 Verses 21-31)

The ‘buts’ of the Bible bring a great sense of relief to the soul. Paul in Ephesians draws a picture of the blackness of sin’s nature (Ephesians 2.1-3). Then in the following verse interjects with one of the ‘buts’ (v4), but, God who is rich in mercy etc. Here Paul does the same again, having shown us the truth about ourselves, now he says, but, “now the righteousness of God without the law has been manifested” (v21). First the disease, then the cure, the remedy. God has made a way. Here is the astonishing thing about it. It is “without the law”. Who would ever have dreamed of it? Ask them? How do you get to heaven? How do you please God? How do you become a Christian? Well, I’m doing my best.  I’m trying. Is it not true, the harder you try, the more effort you put into it, the worse it gets,the more you fail. You cannot because you just are not good enough. With Paul’s description of our sinful nature do you think that keeping rules, being good, will reverse all that? Never! No, there is another way, which God has exposed through the witness of his servants the prophets, and has been doing so for some time now (Romans 1.17). And you connect with it how, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (v22).

     All have sinned (v23), Paul has gone to great lengths to make this clear, both Jew and Gentile. Well, if you want to be right with God, in God’s way (v22), it is not by doing the law, or good deeds, or even your very best. It is by faith, trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Not doing the law. Have you got it? Simply faith! No one, from Adam to this day was ever made righteous any other way, it was always through, for, on, the basis of faith, apart from the law. So going back to Paul’s question (vv1-2), yes there is a great advantage in having the very words of God, because therein lies this great revelation (Romans 1.17), clearly demonstrating, testifying to the righteousness that is grabbed by faith (v21). This is simple gospel, pure gospel, the good news Paul started with (1.1), the good news Jesus himself preached (Mark 1.15), repent, in other words a sincere, heart changing apology to God for sin, without any thought of returning to it. Believe, that is throwing oneself upon Jesus Christ with a complete and utter confidence in his mercy. You can do it confidently because it is from God (v22), confidence that he will accept you, declare you righteous, reconcile you to him, by faith. Rejoice Christian friend today, in the inestimable goodness of God in Jesus Christ to you, sin is gone, condemnation has been lifted (Romans 8.1), you are free, free to worship and enjoy God (Romans 12.1), and that forever.

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)

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Notes On Mark’s Gospel (102)

“On Your Mark”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

Religious Unbelief (Chapter 11 Verses 27-33)

The confrontation comes now, and no doubt would have gathered a few folk, all these ecclesiastical gentlemen quizzing Jesus about his work (v27-28). Not having their stamp of approval, their theological credentials is the issue. But their method of approach, of criticism does not ever seem to vary, or progress much, it is always the same and they are always getting left with egg on their faces. But unbelief never does progress, does it? But of course they wanted him to stop doing what he was doing. They did not really want Jesus’ credentials. In fact they really knew the basis upon which Jesus performed his ministry, his authority was from God, his Father. In his answer (vv29-30), Jesus rather than evade their question puts John the Baptist in his own place, whose ministerial authority was exactly the same as his. He has immediately snared them because they already know on whose authority John ministered, and had themselves acknowledged it. And they cannot answer without damaging themselves or acknowledging the divine authority of Jesus actions. ‘Answer me’, Jesus demands with amazing authority. Under all this Sanhedrin authority most men would be cowed, not Jesus.

They actually start thinking. Amazing! Wow even! (v31-32). Hopelessly caught they answer equally hopelessly, ‘cannot tell’, will not tell (v33a). A pitiful and disgraceful answer. These were the theological brains of Israel, these were the men entrusted with the word of God. These men were supposed to know, it was their job to know. And having confronted Jesus in order to silence him and end his ministry, having been counter-questioned they dare to stand there and say they do not know! They prove themselves to be what they are, religious cowards. The same men who knew John was from God, yet stood back and watched Herod imprison and murder the Baptist. In fact they were glad to be shut of him. Spirit-filled preaching about repentance and faith is the last thing unbelieving religion wants to hear. And of course the nice Herod had built them a nice Temple, and it was more important for political reasons that they please and keep on the right side of him, men-pleasers (Luke 6.26). They stand defeated before Jesus and the people they were supposed to lead to God. Jesus continues with some scathing parables. Us? We are staying with Jesus, all the way, no matter what the cost, that is the fruitful way, the only way (John 15.1-15).

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1996)

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Notes On Romans (16)

“Wrestling With Romans”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

Catalogue of Crime (Chapter 3 Verses 9-20)

The Apostle has demonstrated the guilt of the Jews and the Gentiles separately. Now he throws everyone together (v9f). He heaps the testimony of Scripture, one upon another, to prove the very fact. What a catalogue it is! All are under sin’s guilt, standing before the tribunal of divine justice, condemned? The Bible says (v10), that not one single person has a righteousness that will meet the demands of God’s holy law (Psalms 14 & 53). There are none who understand, their minds have been darkened and they have become enemies of God (Ephesians 1.18). There are none who seek God (v11b), who respect and revere him, none who desire to be taught and instructed by his word, they trample upon his commandments, and have no time for prayer. They refuse to seek him in repentance, with confidence in his great mercy, and to ask for his Holy Spirit’s help in supporting and empowering them for life. All this and more, is what it means not to seek God, and that through Jesus Christ his Son, the only Mediator between God and men (1Timothy 2.5). The emphasis upon all lets no-one escape Paul’s net of sin (v12), along with the entirety of their beings, their organs of speech (vv13-14), and their feet (v15), which leave behind them a trail of wretchedness, disaster and misery (v16).

     It is little wonder there is so little peace in the world (v17), simply because there is no fear of God (v18), and it all springs from the same fountain of unbelief. The truth is people have exchanged the truth (Romans 1.21-23) for Satan’s lie (Genesis 3.4; John 8.44). O how folk need to hear the message of peace, that brings peace with God (Romans 5.1), and keeps us in the peace of God (Philippians 4.7). The latter cannot be enjoyed till we know the former, the unbelief must go. God himself must be acknowledged, as our Creator, our Sovereign, and our Redeemer. We must realise what a grievous sin unbelief is, pure libel against that Sovereign Ruler. It is slanderous, decreeing God not to be worthy of our trust (1John 5.10). Yes, that is the full implication of unbelief, we are calling God a liar. We are attributing to a pure, holy God of love and grace, the very character of Satan, a liar (John 8.44). It’s that gross. Well, how do I deal with my unbelief you say? Get to know God, through his word (Romans 10.17), place yourself frequently in the path of the Holy Spirit’s breath, under a good, solid, sound pulpit ministry where the Bible is taught and the good news is proclaimed, and pray, O pray most fervently and frequently. Cry, Lord I believe, help my awful, sinful unbelief (Mark 9.24), until, you know him who is altogether lovely.

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)

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Notes On Mark’s Gospel (101)

“On Your Mark”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

The Fruit of Forgiveness (Chapter 11 Verses 20-26)

The Lord now personalises it with “I say unto ‘you” (v24). He, Jesus, actually says it, believe, as you go on praying that you already have it, and it will be done. It is the same assurance of the previous verse (v23). How we need to be constantly reminded of this teaching. We so often begin to think in our hearts what is the use of praying? Well turn to Hebrews (Hebrews 11), and see there what faith worked in many people’s lives, justification, deliverance, fruitfulness, perseverance, victory over enemies, courage and strength, even resurrection from the dead. And what is prayer but faith in action? Well has God somehow diminished? Has his power waned? Have his promises been abrogated? Has this one been scored through? Am I to extract it from my Bible? Just because you have heard some exaggerated and even false claims today by some wild enthusiasts does not mean that they are all false. God still works in mighty power in answer to believing prayer. There is more worked in this world by prayer than you or I would ever dream of or think possible. The Jews thought God was no longer able to save, to deliver them (Isaiah 59:1), but the prophet answered them, no, that is not the problem, God’s power is the same, his arm is not shortened that it cannot save. The problem? Your iniquities (Isaiah 59:2), that is why he does not hear you.

But there are things that block our prayers (v25 & perhaps v26). We must not delude ourselves into thinking that we are believing, that we are issuing the prayer of faith whilst we secretly hold something against someone. You know how God forgives your sins? By removing them as far away from you as possible (Psalm 103.11-13), by blotting them out and remembering them no more (Jeremiah 31.34)? Well, that is how you are to forgive those who have wronged you, that is, if you want God to forgive you and answer your prayers. Take note of the anything and anyone. That is Christian or otherwise. It does not mean that we are not to say anything, we are taught by Jesus how to deal with what we deem to be sin (Matthew 18.15f), but before we follow that advice we need be sure we have a clean and forgiving heart, whatever the attitude of the other party. The withering tree of Judaism knew no such fruitfulness, and just as Jesus cursed that tree from the roots that day, so too the Christ-rejecting, obdurate Israel stands under the same curse (Isaiah 63.7; 64.12). The miracle of the withering tree is a revelation of God’s dreadful, deadly and irrevocable, divine judgment. That judgment had not yet come (John 3.17), but as sure as apples is apples, Jesus says it is coming (John 5.27; Matthew 3.10; Acts 17.30-31).

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1996)

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Notes On Romans (15)

“Wrestling With Romans”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

The Whole Truth & Nothing but the Truth (Chapter 3 vv 1-8)

The human argument comes back saying (vv5-8), if the glorious righteousness of God displayed in the gospel (1.17) shines more brightly because of our sin? Well, is not God unjust in punishing sin which does this wonderful service? If for instance I tell blatant lies (v7), and that causes God’s truthfulness to shine the more, well, why am I condemned, I ought to be applauded? Well, you might as well say (v8), as some are already slanderously doing, claiming that Paul teaches, “Let us do evil, that good may come.”Of course that was simply just that, slanderous, and Paul’s answer is both short and swift, whose damnation is just (v8b). The things Christians say about other Christians! They do it sometimes, even hiding behind the Bible (1Corinthians 6.1-8), and pulpits too. If it were brought into the secular realm they would be in court for libel. A friend told me some years ago of a case where an author purposed to say something denigrating about a Christian leader whose theology he disagreed with, the leader on hearing of it, threatened to take the publishers to court, unless it was withdrawn. It was never published, because it simply was not true. Does not that take us back a page (2.17-24), if we do not live by a commitment to the truth where does that put our profession of faith?

     The claim to be a Christian, is a claim to follow the Lord Jesus, it means to walk as he walked (1John 2.6). We only prove the genuineness of our faith by our commitment to him, in the fires of practical daily living and conversation. Any claim to faith that goes around slandering fellow Christians, however much you disagree with them, is a pseudo faith. A person may defend the Bible, their creed, their Church all they want, but if they cannot trust God sufficiently to speak the truth, and do it in love, then that faith must be questionable. Shall we turn the law of God in to occasion for licence (Exodus 20.16)? Perhaps these people did not consider Paul to be their neighbour (v8)? In this chapter (vv4; 6; 31), in the Authorised Version, we have the phrase God forbid, the expression is fairly common to Paul, but in the original Greek, literally translated it reads may it not be, or in contemporary English, never! I say it simply because God’s name is not mentioned in the original.  The new rendering of that version of the Bible has made the necessary corrections to this error. The Authorised Version is a good translation, I happen to think it is still the best we have. I use it, I love it, I thoroughly recommend it to any serious Bible student, but I will not be blind to its, or anyone else’s imperfections, be he friend or foe, or for that matter the errors of any translation. It is only in the original manuscripts that we have perfection. God’s name is very precious, it is holy and he takes a very dim view of its misuse (Exodus 20.7), because his name reflects his character, his nature. Well, so too does truth, nothing is deemed more precious by God than truth, and there is nothing more adverse to his nature than that which is false, lies. It behooves us in all matters as Christian people to be honest.

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)

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Notes On Mark’s Gospel (100)

“On Your Mark”

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

Living Faith (Chapter 11 Verses 20-26)

Meanwhile back at the fig tree (v20). Within twenty-four hours the tree had dried up, withered, dead. The implication of Peter’s words is how, how is this possible (v21b)? Simple, the answer was in Peter’s own statement, it was cursed, cut off by the Lord. The tree is a picture of the Temple worship, of Judaism, and what the Jews had turned it into. There was no vibrant faith in the living God, no love for him. They were blinded by their unbelief, they had departed from God a long, long time ago, and all that was left was a Temple full of cheats and robbers (vv15-17), their religion which should have borne an abundance of fruit (Galatians 5.20ff), had withered, died, through lack of faith (Romans 11.22). The Lord had come to them yet again, in their own Temple, the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah and they rejected him in their unbelief (John 1.11; 5.40; Matthew 21.33-46). The tree got what it deserved, so would the Jews. The lesson is, we must have faith, and we must go on in faith (John 15.1-17), not doing, not with a show of religious leaves, but with a deep-rooted faith, trust, reliance upon God. That, and that alone is the work of God (John 6.29).

The certainty of this fact is pressed upon the disciples “verily I say unto you” (v23). Because to accomplish the impossible (v23b; Matthew 17.20), to be the fruit-bearing disciples of Jesus, they must be deeply embedded in God through faith (Psalm 1.1-3). A faith that is the fruit of grace (1Corinthians 13.2; Matthew 7.22), that unites to Jesus. A God-given faith, produced, created by God the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2.5-8). How did Gideon accomplish the impossible with only three hundred men (Judges 7.7)? How following Pentecost did these disciples penetrate Judaism, and Asia Minor with the gospel of Christ? How has God’s gospel Church spread throughout the world and still doing so? By a living faith! A faith which believes in a miracle-working God. The supernatural always slumbers when faith lies sleeping, or dead. By faith in the God whom we believe is able and willing to interfere in the lives of many yet. You see at the end of the day, what you believe, and its degree, is so very important, because the measure of fruit will always be according to the measure of your faith (Matthew 9.29). The disciple only uses God’s power when he does the seemingly impossible. The necessity of faith Jesus lays on his disciples here is very, very strong. Doubtless, believing, he says, and it will be done. The inward joy which faith brings to us can overcome all fear, terror, sorrow and anxiety.

(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1996)

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