There are perhaps 5 great problems which as Christians we must grapple with at some point in our Christian life, if our faith is to be anything deeper than a vague superstition in spit of the facts and problems of ordinary life:
- The Problem of Evil
- The Problem of Suffering
- The Problem of the life cut short – the child
- The Problem of the unevangelised
- The Problem of eternal judgment
The epistle to the Romans touches on / gives great help on many of these problem areas of Christian faith:
The Problem of Evil
Shared some thoughts on this problem in Romans chapter 5 and chapter 8.
Briefly in chp 5 we considered the fact that God does not simply rescue us out of the mess of sin and of evil, but He moves us further than we have ever been before. Through the existence of evil and the Divine permission in allowing Satan to do his tempting work in Eden, Gods people in eternity will never ever be able again to believe the Satanic lie that God cannot be trusted, that God is holding something back, for His people will know eternally that their God is a god who holds nothing back! “For god commendeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) – nothing back.
As His people having been exposed to sin, Satan and Gods great Salvation, we have had at great expense to God, added into us something that was never present before in our character, at least not in the same way in which it was present in Adam: “hope” (Rom 5:4,5) in a God who not only tells us not to go into the fire of affliction, as He did at Eden, but who is with us in those fires of affliction as He was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. That “hope” we have in God, through our experiences of God in a fallen world leads to a “patience” not of putting up with but of bearing up under, a patient endurance and expectation of greater things form a great God. He has, in Christ, given us reason to trust Him beyond any natural reason we might have to trust Him as our Creator. God has through the problem of evil shown us His “love” (Rom 5:5,8) in a way He could only do, not simply as our Creator but now as our redeemer and that through Christ crucified. We are, as His people now free to exercise “faith” (Rom 5:1) in a way unimaginable to Adam. God gave His inspired and expired Word to Adam. God gave His incarnate Word for us. God spoke to Adam in the cool of the evening, under the trees of the Garden. God suffered for us in the heat of the noon day sun on the tree, having agonized and sweat as it were great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. God gave to Adam the breath of life and mad him in His own image. God in Christ, entered into Adams death, bore Adams curse and conquered Adams grave. Does God hold anything back?
Gen 3:5 “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
What would we say to it now?
Nonsense! Nonsense! Nonsense!
The Problem of Suffering
Shared thoughts already from Psalm 44, Psalm 107, Psalm 138, Psalm 140-143; 1 Peter & Job.
We saw that Paul touched a little on this in Romans chapter 5 and chapter 8.
Spoke on the theme of “From Good to Glorious” in Romans chapter 8, which we understand that some found helpful.
In Romans 8:20 we learned that suffering was not accidental nor meaningless. For the believer “all things work together for good..” (Rom 8:28), all has purpose. This is most clearly seen in the deliberate frustration of the fall (Rom 8:20), the organised futility that brought with it the realisation that our ultimate satisfaction and joy will not and cannot be found here (Gen 3:16ff) but with it the covering for Adams sin (Gen 3:21), the promise of a coming Saviour (Gen 3:15) and a curse upon Adams enemy, the serpent (Gen 3:14). All 4 aspects of the curse go hand in hand. There can be no laying hold in hope of Christs saving power in my life whilst holding on in satisfaction to the pleasures of a fallen world! Satisfaction in Christ is complementary to dissatisfaction with all that has failed and all that is fallen. God does not simply palliate or compensate our suffering with some reactive Glory, but orders our suffering to take us deliberately and intentionally to incomparable Glory (Rom 8:18).
The Problem of the life cut short – the child
Considered this in chapter 5 of Romans.
Only a salvation which is completely of Divine Grace would be capable of saving those who are unable to do anything for themselves and who are incapable of contributing anything to Gods salvation. In Christ this is precisely what we have! We have a grace all sufficient and sovereign, a grace which:
Allows us to rejoice in lifes darkest experiences (5:3)
A Grace that reaches where works could never reach (5:6,8,10), when we were at our lowest, “without strength” (5:6), whilst we were “yet sinners” (8:8) and whilst we were “enemies” (5:10). Only Gods sovereign Grace could reach us here!
A Grace that reigns unrestricted (5:21) with no, no go areas, which has access to every part of a fallen creation (5:20).
The Problem of the unevangelised
This problem we have already touched upon in our thoughts form Romans chapters 1 to 3 but here in chapters 9 and 10 we have a fuller and deeper answer.
The Problem of eternal judgment
3 Divisions in Romans chapter 10:
10:1-4 Prayer of Paul for Israel
10:5-12 Plan of the Salvation
10:14-21 Problem with the Gospel
The Prayer of Paul for Israel (10:1-4):
It is perhaps not so remarkable that in Romans 10:1-4 that Paul should pray, he was after all a trained clergyman, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a student of Gamaliel, it is not the fact that he prayed that is so fascinating but rather the content of the prayer here that literally shook the world!
Many today will reject the message of the gospel and come up with various reasons for so doing, but after they have convinced their own minds as to the improbability of the gospel message based on the proven facts of science concerning events millions of years before man was around, the absurdity of miracles which every thinking man knows is utterly impossible for God to do, and they obvious truth that all religious people are completely irrational and prejudiced and quite clearly believe what they believe for no reason at all!
Once we have convinced ourselves as to the unbelievability of the gospel we are left with this problem: that this man did believe it (10:1), and that to believe it required a total transformation in his thinking process!
We say that it is not the fact that a Pharisee prayed that is the remarkable thing in Romans 10:1-4 but the content of that prayer!
You will never read a prayer like this from a Pharisee:
Rom 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
That “they might be saved”! For the first part of his life Saul of Tarsus believed they were saved. He believed they were the only ones saved! He believed that they were the only ones God was interested in saving. This was the nation to whom God had given:
Rom 9:4-5 “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”
He wasn't brought up to say things like that!
His parents would have been horrified!
He didn't go to college to learn to talk like that!
Gamaliel would turn in his grave!
But, he just said it!
“That they might be saved”
So you don't believe the gospel?
I bet you believe in all sorts of strange things?
Evolution, spontaneous generation of life, UFO's, panspermia, ghosts?
Any way, you might not believe it but Paul did!
Something got to this Pharisee!
“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” (Php 3:5-7)
“they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge” (10:2)
Paul was that man! Now here is a change! Why?
Why does he have such a conviction?
Is it all just born out of arrogance?
No something happened to convince Paul that it was wrong!
Was this arrogance?
Were these people not sincere, committed and zealous in showing there repentance for their sins?
They may have been very zealous, committed and sincere but Luther realised that those stairs could not take him to heaven, only to the top of the church!
It is not arrogance to see and acknowledge the truth for what it is!
Acts 9 – Damascus road experience – here Saul discovered that the God he had taught and preached all of his life was a God he did not actually know!
“Who art thou Lord?”
It is hard to maintain present momentum in the energy of past experience!
We would rarely show as much laxity in temporal things as we do in spiritual matters!
If Christianity is only a past experience with no present reality it can claim no future hope.
We often see Christianity beginning with an explosion and then the energy dissipating into chronic inertia.
In Christ he had found an ongoing experience of God sufficient for his need.
In Christ Paul had found justification and a new relationship with God through Christ (10:3-4).
Only this could maintain the momentum of Pauls mission as far as it went (2 Tim 4; Phil 1:20ff)
A key word that links both sections “end” (10:4)
This word “telos” has a double meaning:
When it came to Pauls journey, his search after God, his longing for salvation, he had found his need met in Christ, his journey had come to an end.
The work of Christ at Calvary had brought a finish to any ideas that the law was a valid means by which a man might obtain righteousness and a relationship with God!
If the law had been sufficient for this purpose then the sacrifice of Gods Son was unnecessary and surplus to requirements!
More than this, not only was Christ the “finish” to the law as a means of obtaining righteousness but he was the 'fulfilment' of the law to this end.
The law was not simply a bad mistake which had to come to an end.
The law had a purpose: “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.”
We need to appreciate this point as we move into the next 2 sections of Romans 10, for Paul is going to draw from 10 OT passages, to show us that what God has done in Christ is indeed the culmination of His plans and purposes down through the ages!
Paul will draw from all of Gods dealings in creation, conscience and covenant to present to us:
the plan of salvation
and to answer for us:
the problem of the gospel
These 10 Old Testament quotations only fit in to Romans chapter 10 if they are connected to the subject of this chapter in some way – namely that Christ is the fulfilment as well as the finish to that OT system!
Part of our bible study teaching series of messages preached systematically through Paul's letter to the Romans. Free to download audio mp3 recordings of this sermon and other sermons are available at the end of this blog and on the website page.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie