Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 13 April 2023:
Job 33:6, 7 — I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you.
As described in chapter 32, Elihu speaks after Job’s three friends have finished speaking. Elihu was angry at Job for “justifying himself rather than God;” he was also angry with Job’s friends because they could not refute Job. Interestingly, while Elihu is speaking, the Lord cuts in and settles the matter (chapter 38). Furthermore, in Job 42 the Bible says that God was angry with Job’s three friends but apparently not with Elihu. So, it would seem that Elihu, unlike the three friends, spoke the truth. However, Elihu’s words generally sound the same as theirs. So, how was Elihu’s approach to Job different than that of Job’s three friends? It appears to me that, while Job’s friends sought to find a hidden sin in Job’s life to explain his suffering, Elihu focuses on the Holiness and Sovereignty of God.
How could we possibly claim to understand the ways of God from our simple perspective? Will we reduce God to a simple disseminator of rewards and punishments based on our ideas of justice? Would we accuse God of injustice? Must God answer to us? God is not unjust and does no evil, but are we, mere mortals, in any position to question God or to judge His actions? Will brilliant men teach us something about God which God has not revealed? Can a man add to God’s word? Note that Elihu does not seek to find Job’s hidden sin but rather challenges him on the words he heard Job say, “I am in the right, and God has taken away my right; in spite of my right I am counted a liar; my wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.” Elihu could not explain Job’s pain (because Elihu is not God), but Elihu understood that God is God, Holy, Righteous, Loving, Merciful, Sovereign.
Job 33:14 – For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.
God speaks though people may not perceive it. God is spirit and speaks to us through the Spirit’s conviction as we read and apply His word, the Bible. God calls us to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh by remaining in His word and obeying His word. When you are walking with God, you will hear His voice through the Spirit’s counsel and conviction at the moment – what you do next is critical. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) The cause of silence is often spiritual deafness, but not always.
Romans 2:1 — Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
We all expect mercy from God but demand justice for others. We are quick to defend our rights and honor but expect God not to demand His. We are quick to proclaim, “That’s not fair!” However, we certainly don’t want God to judge us based upon rules of fairness. We are quick to claim “grace,” but we don’t live by grace and give grace freely to others. If we are truly living by grace, we are driven to humility, repentance, forgiveness, holiness, selflessness, surrender, and servitude (to God and others). “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 1:2) Those who claim grace as their excuse to continue in willful disobedience (which includes partial obedience) only fool themselves as they demonstrate the reality of their prideful self-centeredness (lack of genuine repentance). (Romans 2:8) And the church-goer is cautioned that more Bible knowledge does not make you anymore virtuous; only doing God’s will has value. (Romans 2:13) Information is not transformation. The modern grace movement within church culture today tends to disrespect the holiness of God and condones compromise. In fact, if you attend a popular church today, you will likely hear a lot about grace, but you may never hear the word repent. Even “sin” is a word rarely used in churches today. Grace, repentance, and obedience go together.
Romans 2:3 — Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
We are all sinners and, by faith, rely on the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ for salvation. We all have a debt that cannot be paid, but Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross. Only the One who had no debt of His own (from sin) could pay the debt of others. Only Jesus is worthy. Therefore, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” Since while you were still a sinner Christ died for you, how now will you threat those who are still sinning against you? Will you extend sacrificial grace? Will you ‘wash the feet’ of those who you know will betray you?
Romans 2:4 — “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
Yesterday we observed that Paul had committed his entire life (and gave his life) to the spreading of God’s “Good News,” a message he felt obligated to share with tremendous urgency to all that he could. Paul began to explain that the importance of this message (more important than life itself), the greatness of this message, and the urgency of this message, the reason why this “Good News” is so good, is because it is the answer to the greatest problem facing every living person. This is far more critical than a matter of life or death; it is a matter of ETERNAL life or death for all humanity! No greater issue has faced, or ever will face, mankind.
The issue: Before The One and Only Holy and Righteous God, every person will stand totally guilty, without excuse, of sins that demand the righteous wrath of God and the penalty of death, everlasting punishment — Hell. The more one truly understands the reality of what it means to deserve the total wrath of Almighty God, the more this situation should instill a sense of utter terror, the kind of terror that leaves you “undone.” Conversely, the greater the understanding of the problem, the more magnificent the solution, which turns unthinkable terror into unimaginable joy, thankfulness, freedom, and peace. Jesus Christ paid the penalty of sin and has accredited to us righteousness before God as well as total access to God.
The greater the appreciation of this “Good News,” the greater the love for God and love for others, the greater the sense of urgency to get the Good News to those who don’t have it. Hence, the reason Paul gave his all for the “Good News.” You would think that the messenger who gave up everything to bring this message of unsurpassed import, free of charge with no strings attached, would be more than well received. Of course we know that Paul and countless other martyrs throughout history were viciously persecuted for the message of mercy, grace, peace, and reconciliation. The problem for the messenger is that the audience has no terror but rather, for various reasons, lives in denial (not the river in Egypt). In various ways, forms, or fashions, these self-righteous, self-seeking people (both the religious and unreligious), attempt to have God dethroned (whether they admit it or not). Treason! To place themselves in authority over God and to justify their disobedience to the KING for the sake of their own passions, they have suppressed the truth of God and replaced the truth of God with lies intended to nullify His Lordship.
Paul’s audiences are quick to demand “justice” from others, quick to defend their own rights or stand up for themselves when they feel they have been slighted by others (even though their judgment is myopic and flawed); they somehow think that they can continually disobey and dishonor God, and God will simply do nothing (Romans 1:1-4). It makes no difference who Paul is addressing. The Jews who had been given special access to God, unimaginable blessings from God, divine revelation, and every detail of His Law disobeyed God anyway; or they followed the commands of God only to prop themselves up before men (place themselves on a throne), thereby disobeying the Great Commandment of love. They stared Jesus in the face, watched him perform miracles of mercy, and then crucified him. The Gentiles who could not obey their own consciences revealed that they were just like the Jews, simply without as much information. For everyone, the issue is with the heart — “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself… the work of the law is written on their hearts… a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God… God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:5, 15, 29, 16)
The inability of people to obey God’s Law or even their own consciences reveals that our hearts are rebellious and wicked. We don’t want God in reality to be God; we want to be the god of our lives. This was true for Adam and Eve (“when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5)), and it remains true today. We come up with all sorts of belief systems or excuses to justify (just-as-if-I’d never sinned) our rebellion or to convince ourselves that our defiance of God does not really matter so that we can continue to build our own kingdom on earth. Why such a violent response to the Good News throughout history until today? Because it threatens the kingship of man and exposes the truth of our great treason. It reveals the truth of ourselves, our secret heart. It strips us of our self-righteous garments exposing our nakedness.
The Good News demands repentance and surrender. The Good News reveals the LORDSHIP of the KING. Jesus began his proclamation of the Good News like this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2).” This message he intentionally presented first to the “religious.” How does the church today present the Gospel?
Romans 2:8 — For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Disobedience is selfishness, in direct contrast to the selflessness of love.
Romans 2:16 — God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
There are no secrets with God.
Romans 2:24 — The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
How terrible is it to give God a bad name due to bad behavior as an unfaithful Christian?
Romans 2:29 – But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Circumcision was intended to be a physical reminder of a spiritual reality of the relationship between God and His people. Circumcision didn’t cause or enable the relationship with God but rather symbolized it and testified to it. Nonetheless, God commanded circumcision in the Old Covenant and took obedience to the command quite seriously (see Exodus 4). Similarly, the sacrament of Baptism, which is also commanded by God, is a physical reminder and testimony of a spiritual reality in a believer’s life. I have never met anyone who forgot their Baptism; it a powerfully memorable event representing the new life we have in Christ. Baptism doesn’t save a person but symbolizes salvation by grace through faith and not by works. (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9, etc.)
The circumcision that ultimately mattered eternally was not the circumcision of the flesh but rather the circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, much like the baptism that ultimately matters is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit —
- Matthew 3:11 — I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
- John 3:5 — Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
- Titus 3:5 — He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit….
- Acts 10:47 — Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?
- Acts 11:15-16 — As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
Today’s verse describes the difference between those who go through the motions (religious activities and deeds) of faith and those who actually have faith, a genuine heart of love for God enabled by the Holy Spirit –
- Jeremiah 4:1-4 — Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire.
- Jeremiah 9:25 — Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh….
Jesus called those who outwardly pretended to have faith “hypocrites,” the Greek word for stage actor, and Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22, 23) Paul warned, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:2, 3) People judge outward actions, but God judges the heart –
- 1 Samuel 16:7 — But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
- Ezekiel 36:26 — And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- Matthew 22:37 — And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
- Hebrews 10:22 — Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
- Hosea 6:6 — For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
- Romans 5:5 — And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The Lord’s covenant of salvation has always been a covenant of the heart, and it is God Himself who enables within us a heart of faith and love. We can’t determine what is truly in someone’s heart, only God can. Nor can we know what God is doing in the lives of others. All we can do is live by faith, walk in faith, proclaim the Gospel in faith, and pray for others in faith.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 13 April 2023: Pray that God will convict the hearts of those who remain outside of a saving faith in Him, both those within the visible church and those outside the visible church.