Over the past few weeks we have begun to put some meat on the bones of Christian Theology 101 by beginning to answer the four questions that comprise its theological skeleton: 1) What is God like? 2.) What am I like? 3.) How does God relate to me? 4.) What is my purpose in life?
In our society today, “black and white” or fixed, unchanging standards are out; nuanced, flexible preferences or “shades of grey” are in. On the other hand, in our postings over the past few weeks, we have seen that God does not deal in compromises when He judges. He does not ever “reach across the aisle.” His laws are never moving targets. He deals only in unchanging absolutes.
So, when we investigated question #1, “What is God like?” and looked at a few of God’s many attributes, we saw that they were all absolutes. He is absolutely sovereign; He does exactly what He wants. He is absolute love, no matter what we may do, His unconditional love needle does not move. He is absolutely just, and Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished,” signified that He had just successfully met His Father’s absolute standards for all of Adam’s seed. God laid the sins of all mankind on this perfect Man to satisfy the demands of His perfect justice.
After exploring the last of those three characteristics last week, God’s absolute justice,I concluded with the following statement: “Can you imagine anyone refusing such a gospel?” Since in today’s world most do, that is a perfect segue into today’s posting to begin the exploration of point #2, “What am I like?”
How would you, alone in your own room with no one privy to your thoughts, deep in your heart of hearts, truly evaluate yourself on the scale of “good Christians?”
Until a short time ago my honest evaluation of my success in climbing the ladder of Christian maturity would have been that I was somewhere in the top 10%. Romans 12:3 tells me “not to think of (myself) more highly than (I) ought to think,” but obviously, at my age, after being a serious Christian, working as hard as I could for Jesus for almost 60 years, It would be pretty hard to do that, wouldn’t it? How could I not be top 10?
Relatively recently, God opened my eyes to a truth of which I was certainly aware intellectually but not experientially. Now, I sincerely believe that Question #2, “What am I like?” is the most difficult of the four theological points to see, understand and receive. That was, and constantly continues to be, true of me. I hope I can communicate the gravity of grasping and then walking in this truth.
When Paul summarizes succinctly in a few verses in Romans 3:9-20 what the whole Bible teaches about what man is like, I somehow unconsciously always read this passage as though it really didn’t apply to me—a serious Christian pursuing the Lord to the very best of my ability, trying my best to obey Him in all I do. In my mind, there is “us,” we Christians who are doing our best to follow Jesus, and “them,” everyone else. If I had thought about it, I would have said the verses are for “them,” but I never really even thought of the passage in a practical way at all, only as an arms-length, theological idea. “Of, course, we are all sinners.”
However, Paul begins the following section of Romans 3 speaking directly to me, because I correspond to the “Jew” in Paul’s narrative, today a “religious Christian,” while Paul’s “Greek “ corresponds to an “irreligious non-Christian” today. Paul says these verses apply equally to us both.
Vs. 9. What, then, does this mean? Are we Jews any better off? Not at all! For we have already accused everyone, both Jews and Greeks, of being under the power of sin.” (All of the following verses apply to everyone, both Christians and non-Christians. Christians still live in as yet unredeemed, sinful bodies. Keep in mind as you read this that Paul is speaking of you, whichever camp you are in!)
Vs. 10. As it is written, “Not even one person is righteous.” (Paul does not want be misunderstood. He is emphasizing “everyone.” And remember God’s absolutes. Almosts don’t count. Breaking only one law is the same as breaking them all in God’s economy. Does this not mean when I am angry at a brother and lust when I look at a woman that I am no more righteous than a murderer and adulterer? The Bible says it does – 1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:28; James 2:10. This means that every single person is still absolutely sinful. There can be no “shades of grey.”)
Vs. 11. “No one understands. No one searches for God.” (Left to my own devices, I don’t naturally understand this, or any of Theology 101, nor can anyone else. It is foolishness to my natural mind and I am not interested in my heart to even want to search out for myself and try to understand what God means by “sin.”)
Vs. 12. “All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person!” (I have no salvage value whatsoever, and I don’t even know it (I’m thinking top 10%!), and I naturally turn away from trusting God alone to be sufficient for me as my Daddy in every situation, particularly my lack of righteousness. As one friend of mine said recently, “ I have been a Christian for 30 years and I don’t think I have gotten any better!” She has been stuck on the ladder, diligently climbing away and suddenly realized she is still helplessly stuck at the bottom. She has probably realized, as did Paul in Romans 7, that all her efforts to be kind and good are for naught, and deep in her heart that kindness is designed to improve public opinion about her.
These are the first four verses of an eleven-verse section that describes the helpless, hopeless condition of mankind. That is what Genesis 6:5 is telling us: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually;” and Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” as well as Isaiah 64:6: “But we (Isaiah the prophet includes himself) are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
“But Andrews, that was before I became a Christian. Jesus has changed me now and I am getting better and better all the time.” Are you, or are you learning how to trust Daddy’s Spirit within you more and more, and you are simply learning to get out of His way?! Was not this Paul’s understanding when he wrote “I have been crucified with Christ (that’s out of His way!); it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
I want to share next week examples of how I, Robert Andrews, am not getting more and more righteous every day, but realizing more and more every day, with Paul, that I too am “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1 :12), and, shockingly, that has been a cause of great joy!