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TRAITS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH: The Christian & the Deity (Part 6)

Faith, love and hope are like love and marriage: they go together.

It is easy to see how hope springs from love and faith. Hope is desire plus expectation. Love creates the desire and faith (or trust) gives the expectation. That is, I desire God because I love Him; I expect to receive God’s blessings because I believe and trust His promises.

Colossians 1:5 speaks, though, of “…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel….” In other words, not only do faith and love generate hope, they also spring from it. Hope strengthens both faith and love.

The same is true for the relationship between faith and love. Without faith, it is not only impossible to please God, it is also impossible for God to be pleasing to us. How can you love God if you do not believe in and trust Him? This is more than believing there is a god. Love demands that we trust God because we believe Him to be trustworthy.

It is conceivable that one could believe there is a god without loving him. The Pagans had that sort of belief in their gods. Though these gods were capricious and unlovable in character, people believed they were there. They did not love them, but they feared them and sought to placate the gods by sacrifice.

Some Christians today have almost the same attitude toward God that the devout Pagan had toward his gods: God is to be placated by our obedience and service offered in the ritual of worship. They do not love God in the sense of having a passionate desire to be with Him and like Him. They do not have faith in Him in the sense of trusting Him. They have no hope of ever becoming like Him in character, except by their own efforts, and they do not know from day to day if they have pleased God enough for them to be with Him in eternity. They fear Him but do not love Him.

A very different view emerges from the Scripture, however, when we read it for what it says.

Romans 5:1-11 provides a picture of how the entire Godhead works together with our faith, hope and love to provide the Christian with peace, joy, endurance, character, and assurance.

The fifth chapter is one of the transition points in the book of Romans. It climaxes the discussion of justification and redemption by grace through faith. This discussion, introduced in 1:16, develops in earnest beginning in 3:21. The intervening section (1:17 – 3:20) draws an inescapable conclusion:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his [i.e., God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Paul looked first at the godlessness of the Pagan world and said that God gave them over to sexual impurity, to shameful lusts (homosexuality), depravity of mind with the result, “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (1:29).

Chapter 2:1 – 3:20 turns to God’s judgment on the Jewish nation and their equal depravity, which took the form of judging others and congratulating themselves on the fact we are of the Circumcision. You could almost look at this as Paul’s commentary on Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. It was not the self-congratulatory prayer, but the prayer for mercy to a sinner, that God heard.

Then, beginning in 3:21, Paul begins to develop the theme of the salvation of both Jew and Gentile by God’s mercy and grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He said,

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. – (3:22-25a)

Paul draws support for his argument, then, from Genesis 15 and Psalm 32. In Genesis 15:6, the Scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” In Psalm 32:1-2 David said,

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Paul makes the point that Abraham was justified by believing God, trusting God’s promise that He would give him a son. This was before the law came, even before he received and obeyed the nascent law in the form of circumcision. The blessedness of credited righteousness was not for the circumcised only, but also for the uncircumcised, who follow the faith of Abraham. This section concludes by saying,

Without weakening in his faith [Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:19-25)

This brings us to Romans 5:1-11. The entire Godhead is active in our salvation by grace through faith – and the consequent hope and love that we have in Christ. That is, the New Testament church is unique because of the activity of Deity within its members leading them to greater faith, truer love, and deeper hope. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all active in this entire relationship, which is rooted in faith, hope, and love.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Note the following things this passage teaches us about our faith, hope and love:

  1. We have been justified by faith. This is a present perfect tense, which means we have been justified – and we still are justified – by faith.
  2. In this justification by faith, there is peace with God through Jesus.
  3. Through Jesus, we have access to God’s grace by faith.
  4. We stand in our relationship to God by faith.
  5. In faith, peace with God, and grace we rejoice in our hope of sharing God’s glory.
  6. This joy is still ours, even when we suffer. This is because suffering produces endurance, character, and hope.
  7. Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured his love into our hearts. This is by the Holy Spirit, whom God has given us.
  8. Christ died for us, not because we are righteous, but when we were still in sin and enemies of God. This demonstrates God’s love for us.
  9. Now that we are justified by Christ’s blood through faith, we shall much more be saved from God’s wrath through Him. This is the wrath revealed as God gave the Gentiles up to their own sinful devices (Romans 1:18ff). The Holy Spirit, given to us by God, pours God’s love into our hearts and delivers us from the wrath by changing us into God’s likeness.
  10. In this relationship with the Deity, we rejoice through Christ, who has reconciled us to God.

Then in chapter six, the misunderstanding some would have of God’s abundant grace is anticipated: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer is a resounding, “By no means.” The rest of the book, in one way or another focuses on the abundant living out of God’s grace within us.

What does all of this mean?

The uniqueness of the New Testament church, seen in their faith, love and hope, is not their own doing. They are unique because of what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do for and in them.

There is no room for boasting. “Look at us! We are the ones! Let us mediate God to you!” There is no cause to consider ourselves better than others. The difference between the church and the world is the work of God, not of the church. The church has nothing of which to boast – except in the cross of Christ, the gospel by which God has called us to Himself. If we find greater peace in this world of sorrows than others do, it is because God gives us this peace. If we have deeper relationships of love for one another, it is because God poured His love into our hearts. If we can face the future with optimism, it is because of the hope of the glory of God we have through trusting His promises.

The uniqueness of the church lies in its relationship to God. If the world cannot see that the church is unique, we should ask about our relationship to God that exists through faith, hope and love.

– (5) Getting There from Here

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