Reflecting the Light

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? ( I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” (Romans 3:1-8 ESV)

I live in a rural part of central Oklahoma. When it gets dark I love to go outside and marvel at the beauty of the stars. I love to gaze into the heavens. Under the right conditions, I am able to see the beauty of the Milky Way galaxy. When my kids were young, we bought a telescope so I could show them the beauty of the stars and the glory of God’s creation. Now, I get to do the same with my grandkids. I’ve mentioned before that my five year-old grandson loves LEGO Star Wars. So, we talk about those stories as I point out the constellations and the planets. One of the things he’s learning is that stars are a source of light but planets and moons simply reflect a star’s light.

When I go out on a clear night, the darker it is the brighter the stars appear. When there is a lot of ambient light, like the city lights, the large marquee from the local casino or even our own yard light, then the stars do not seem as bright. Their star light is not really dimmed, but my ability to see their light is certainly impacted and reduced by the other, man-made lights. In a spiritual sense, you and I are to be like the moons or planets. We were created by God to reflect His glory onto those around us. But when there are man-made lights that interfere, like our own pride, self-centered interests, or even outright indifference towards God, then we do not properly reflect God’s light onto the lives of those around us.

In last week’s lesson, we determined that Jewish circumcision and Christian practices and rituals (we specifically highlighted baptism, but communion and several other rituals and practices are certainly included) cannot provide salvation or safety from God’s judgment. Our relationship with God is not based on completing specific religious rituals or following a prescribed set of moral ethics or obscure and outdated rules, it is a relationship and must be based in mutual love, adoration and trust and those external “signs” of our relationship with God are intended to point others towards Him. Like the moon and the planets, our lives and these external signs of our relationship with God do not replace our relationship with God, but point others towards it.

So, Paul begins to address questions that he anticipates will arise from the Jews in the Roman church. Most scholars agree that these questions are not actual questions that Paul received from the Jews in Rome, but are questions that Paul anticipates his readers would ask after hearing his previous arguments. First, if circumcision is of no value then what advantage or blessing comes from being among God’s covenant people? There are a LOT of advantages, though Paul only mentions this one advantage – The Word of God. Specifically, the Word of God (or oracles – literally it would be translated the “utterances of God” and that’s why I reference The Word or Holy Scriptures) was entrusted to the Jews and that is HUGE!

God blessed the Jewish people with His covenant promise, presence, blessings and His Word but that all came with incredible responsibility. As Jesus put it, “Nobody lights a lamp and then covers it with a basket. No, he places the lamp on its lamp stand so that it can give light to everyone in the house.” (See Matthew 5:15) That was God’s intent with giving the “oracles” to the Jews and also His intent in giving the Living Word of God to us. Remember my reference last week to Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, and the challenge from his Uncle Ben? With great power comes great responsibility. The same goes for us…

Obviously, not everyone takes their responsibilities seriously. Instead of seeing this privilege and blessing as a means to glorify God and extend His kingdom, we often view it selfishly, sinfully. I think many of us tend to view our salvation as a gift from God that we can redefine and use for our own benefit, dreams, goals and purposes. “Dear God, thanks for saving me and giving me eternal life. Now, how much money can I make, how many rules can I break and how much fun can I have without making God too mad or risk losing my salvation. Oh yeah, the preacher said that “once saved, always saved.” So, I’m good! Man, let’s PARTY!” Jesus actually spoke to this tendency of ours when He addressed the issue of His impending crucifixion and its impact on His followers: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV) Lets’ see, deny self and take up our cross each day and follow Him. Hmmm… That sounds a lot like Uncle Ben’s advice to Peter Parker, great power brings great responsibility.

What we’ve often done is redefine our “cross” as any source of discomfort or inconvenience in our Christian lives. That is NOT what He meant! You are not bearing your cross when your church or the local government requires you to wear a mask to worship. You are not bearing your cross when you have to miss the beginning of a football game or your favorite TV show because the worship service went longer than you anticipated. You are not bearing your cross when the air conditioning at the church is broken and the sanctuary is warm. If you think it is, then I suggest you listen to Jesus’ response to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27 ESV) The cross is not an inconvenience, it is a death sentence. Jesus said we must be willing to deny ourselves, our needs/wants/fears, and to embrace the privilege of dying or at the very least, putting our lives on the line for His sake and His cause – The Good News of His Kingdom, His sovereign reign in the lives of men and women.

So, what if some Christians (or Jews) are unfaithful? Does that nullify God’s promises? Does that make the Gospel a lie and the Word of God unreliable? Does that mean we should just throw out everything Jesus said, did and taught? Absolutely not! Just because some fail to live up to God’s standards and expectations and Jesus’ teachings does not mean that He has spoken lies. No, but it does mean that God has spoken the truth about sin and that our lies have been exposed. It does confirm that some say, “Lord, Lord” when they have not subjected themselves to His authority and His Word (see Matt. 7:21-23). What we must do is reconnect discipleship with salvation and stop proclaiming “cheap” grace. I believe that many of the issues we are seeing in the church today are the result of our failure to truly disciple people who profess faith in Christ. They embraced an “easy believism” in many instances and real faith never took root and grew.

Real Christian faith is more than just a belief in the one, true God. It is even more than just a belief in Jesus as God’s Son and that He is the sacrifice for sin and Savior of the world. Real faith absolutely includes those things, but real faith is to believe those things so deeply that it motivates you to love God supremely and to obey and follow Jesus willingly and without hesitation. Jesus calls this a “new birth,” which is where the idea of being “born again” comes from (see John 3:5-8). That’s the part of faith that has been lost in so much of our modern Christian belief system and worldview. We have equated “belief” with just an acknowledgement of an intellectual agreement with those ideas but faith engages the mind, heart, will and emotions. It involves our thoughts, our desires, our commitment and our feelings and drives us to think, desire, choose and act in ways that are consistent with God’s mind/thoughts, heart/desires, will/commitment and emotions/feelings.

However, most Christians never make the connection between “faith = obedience” and “disbelief/lack of faith = disobedience”. We generally see disobedience as simply a choice we make and it certainly includes that. But to disobey God is to declare God to be a liar and your act of disobedience as absolute truth. Why? Because you always act in your own best interests. Even when you do something you don’t particularly like or enjoy, is personally painful or even destructive you still believe it is the best thing or best choice for you, at the time. You may have to stop and think about that for a few minutes. Let that idea sink in and think through some of the painful and even sinful choices you’ve made. In essence, when you make a choice or act in a way that is contrary to God’s will or His commandments and principles then you have declared that God is a liar, in that instance, and you know the truth about what is really needed and is best in and for your own life.

So, our culture has taken Paul’s statement (“Let God be true though every one were a liar..”) and reversed it to say: “Let every man be and define his own truth in this life and let God be a liar!” If that idea, the thought that WE could declare God to be a liar just to justify our own sin, doesn’t grieve you as a Christian then I need to ask you to stop and assess your relationship with God. Paul goes on to quote Psalm 51, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged…”

Psalm 51 is King David’s lament and confession over his sin with Bathsheba. In it he states: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4 ESV) David had been justifying his own words, decisions and choices and, in the process, calling God a liar. David had decided that his own desires, his lusts for a woman who was the wife of another, were more important and greater than the commands of God and that was the “truth” he desired for his life. David acted on those desires and then lied, conspired and killed to cover up his blatant and egregious disobedience. He worked hard to make God out to be a liar so he could justify his actions in his own mind and to his people. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David and to declare God’s just and blameless judgment.

How could David’s sin be only against God when David was guilty of killing Uriah and then taking the woman as his own wife? Because David’s choices and actions were more than that, they were a declaration against God, His Word and against His character. Uriah was more than David’s soldier, he was God’s creation. David was suddenly confronted by the truth of his choices and the holiness of God. Please pay close attention here, sin is ultimately a declaration that God’s truth is a lie and His power is not absolute and sovereign. We want to act as if sin is “no big deal,” but sin IS a big deal. Especially in the life of a Christian. Why? Because, as a believer, you are that lamp that Jesus references in Matthew 5:15, that I cited above. You have a purpose and it is to “cast light on all who are in the house” and not be covered up by a basket (of disobedience).

Now Paul’s argument gets really interesting. He anticipates a rebuttal that makes the logical jump that if my sin shows how great and good God is then God should be happy about that, not upset. He shouldn’t judge me for my sin if it proves how good and great He is. Sounds just like us, doesn’t it? Sorry Dad, but I wrecked your car. You were wanting to buy a new one anyway, right? So, don’t be mad. I’m just giving you an opportunity to get that new car you were wanting (said with a big, hopeful smile on your face). What? NO! That’s not how this works. Of course I’m upset. What were you thinking? Paul puts it this way: What? NO! God forbid. Well, if my sin makes God look good then He shouldn’t judge me for it, should He? We can’t justify our sin by declaring how good it makes God look or how righteous it makes Him appear.

God’s purpose in bringing us to salvation, which results in loving obedience and humble contrition when we fail, is a much better display of God’s tender mercy, boundless grace and overwhelming love than our bold display of sin. Is God able to redeem our sin and bring good out of our bad decisions? Thank goodness, yes! But that’s no reason to continue in our sin or declare God’s judgment unjust. On the contrary, His forgiveness of our sin and His empowerment to change our beliefs, our thoughts, our character and our actions is a glorious display of who He is and is also a call to humble obedience. For far too long, our culture has seen too many undisciplined Christians revel in their failures and flaunt God’s forgiveness and it certainly hasn’t resulted in folks marveling at God’s glory and character. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. It has caused our culture to question God’s existence and doubt His goodness. It has caused them to question whether the church is the true expression of God’s glory, as scripture declares (2 Cor. 3:18).

Instead, we need to believe God’s Word when it calls us to live as salt in a tasteless culture and to be light in a dark world. We need to live by faith and act in bold obedience in such a way that it openly declares the truth of God’s Word and the power of His grace. We need to walk in humble contrition when we fail and openly confess our sin while declaring God’s goodness and righteousness. When we live in disobedience we call into question the truth of God, the power of His Word and the transforming grace of His forgiveness but when we live in obedience we declare His glory and demonstrate His love.

Let me end by making a very bold statement. God will be glorified, the question is whether you and I will be declaring His glory or denying His truth. We all have goals, hopes and dreams for our lives. Unfortunately, they are often developed without considering God’s glory and His purpose for our lives. Is it wrong to desire good things, a comfortable life or blessings for our children? Well, that depends. Do you want to stand before God and say to Him, “look what I did” or would you rather stand before God and hear Him say, “well done, my child, well done.” What’s the difference? Purpose. Do you exist for your own purpose or for God’s? Are you pursuing your own desires, or His? God made you and saved you to be salt and light, that’s purposeful. So, show the world His Word is true, His purpose is good and His judgment is just. Walk by faith in obedience and be light in a dark world.

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