God will repay

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8, NIV)

The larger context of this passage is that God’s response to good and evil ignores the distinction between Jew and Gentile, but we should not let the distinction that Paul feels he has to make a case for obscure from our vision the claims about God that Paul feels no need to defend because everyone agrees, namely that God punishes those who do evil and rewards those who persist in doing good.

This is so fundamental to biblical religion that we render the Bible incomprehensible if we suppress this fundamental claim about God.

The old Methodist teaching took this for granted. And it equally took for granted that we are no able to do the persistent good that Paul writes about. We might do good here or there, but we cannot form a life grounded in persistent goodness out of our own resources. And we cannot erase the crippling stain of sin by our own good deeds. We cannot, in other words, deserve the reward.

This old Methodist message has many detractors in United Methodism, but what I have find even more perplexing is the resistance to the fundamental biblical claim about God rewards those who do good and punishes those who do evil.


Getting off the Roman road

I missed this post last year when Howard Snyder wrote it, but found it thanks to this little number about ways we distort the gospel.

In the older post, Snyder takes aim at the over-importance we often place on Romans.

“All roads lead to Romans”? Not really. The Bible is a complex landscape with many roads, paths, trails, byways, and a few tunnels. We don’t know the Bible until we understand this. The more we do, the more we will see that all roads in the Bible lead to Jesus Christ, and the road he walked. Prioritizing Romans runs the danger of prioritizing Paul over Jesus; the epistles over the gospels; dogmatics over the very person of Jesus Christ and of the church as his body.

The post also includes an illuminating discussion of John Wesley’s canon within the canon.

Did Luke forget to read Romans 3? #LukeActs2014

I know these are not the verses that most people would focus on in the opening of Luke 1, but the description of John the Baptist’s parents caught my eye today while reading it.*

During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. (Luke 1:5-6, CEB)

They were both righteous and blameless before God. Really?

I wonder if this was a a temporary state or ongoing. Was it like David, who the Old Testament describes in one place as blameless before God, except for that matter with Uriah and Bathsheba. Or were Zechariah and Elizabeth truly righteous and blameless?

If so, someone call Romans 3 and break the news.

No, really.

Luke is saying these people — who obviously did not know Christ — were blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments. That word is “all.”

Here’s what John Wesley writes in his Notes on the New Testament: “Walking in all the moral commandments, and ceremonial ordinances, blameless – How admirable a character! May our behaviour be thus unblamable, and our obedience thus sincere and universal!”

How do we square these things with traditional teaching based on Romans that no one under the law can be righteous because the law cannot save? Do Zechariah and Elizabeth stand as a threat to traditional readings of Romans?

Or can we accommodate them by noting Zechariah’s disbelief and assume other sins on the part of the couple that Luke fails to notice or mention?

Or would a Wesleyan say they were outwardly observant but did not have inner heart religion? Wesley said of himself that he was blameless in his Christian observance for many years but that all that time he had no more religion than a stone. Would Wesley tell us that Zechariah and Elizabeth had the same stony hearts as young John Wesley?

As I began this post, I suspect these kinds of doctrinal speculations are not the point of this reading exercise. And yet, my mind is gripped by these questions.

*This is one of a series of posts responding to Bishop Ken Carter’s call for us to spend 2014 reading Luke-Acts together.

Reading Romans 10:8b-13

A reading for the First Sunday in Lent: Romans 10:8b-13

What does it mean to believe in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead?

This is an important question because it is rather easy for people to “confess with their lips” that Jesus is Lord. I know Paul says otherwise in 1 Corinthians 12:3. He writes there that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. But I’ve heard too many people lie and seen too many people claim to serve Jesus as Lord but show no signs of it. Lips alone I do not trust.

So I am pondering what it means to believe something in my heart.

Is it different than believing it in my head? Yes, right? The heart is the engine of our life blood. It is what carries life to every cell in our body. It is at the center of our very being. To believe in your heart is to have a faith the penetrates the center of your life.

Indeed, to believe in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead is to build your life itself on the truth of that statement. The resurrection of Jesus is the oxygen that sustains your cells. Everything you are and do hinges on that claim being true.

When the apostles declared the resurrection, they often declared the resurrection itself was a sign that God had chosen Jesus as judge of all life and that through him could be found forgiveness of sin. To believe in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead is to believe that one day we will stand before him. It is to believe that in him, we find the cure for what ails us. It is to believe he will destroy death.

John Wesley preached that we could not believe such things as an act of our own will. We cannot tell our heart what to believe any more than we can tell our heart who to love. We can only accept the faith worked in us by the grace of God.

And so, we are invited to rely on the means of grace and to pray earnestly for such a heart faith, so that we might confess with our lips, believe in our hearts, and be saved by the grace of God.

Romans 12 discipleship

Present your bodies as a holy sacrifice to God.
Do not follow the crowd, but meditate on the will of God and let that shape your life.

Do not think highly of yourself.
Appreciate the gifts and graces God gives each of his children.

Love, really love.
Hate evil.
Hold tight to good.
Love each other.
Give honor to each other.
Serve the Lord with zeal.
Rejoice, for you have hope.
Be patient in suffering.
Pray without ceasing.
Support the saints.
Welcome strangers.

Bless those who persecute you.
Rejoice when others rejoice.
Weep when others weep.
Live in harmony.
Do not look down your nose at anyone.
Hang out with the outcasts and the riff-raff.
Do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Do what is noble.
Live at peace with all – as much as you are able.
Do not seek vengeance.
Feed the hungry.
Give water to the thirsty.
Do not give in to evil.
Repay evil with good.