Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sermon on Romans 10: Innocence and Victory

Today I am giving the sermon at Sar Shalom. Here is what I plan to say. The Holy Spirit will always change parts as I preach, but it's my responsibility to have a sound draft.

This is a sermon about innocence and victory. As we study Romans 10 please realize that two Greek words are normally not translated well. The word dikaiosune, usually translated "righteousness", actually means "innocence". The word soteria, usually translated "salvation", actually means "victory".

Our focal verse will eventually be Romans 10:10, but first we need to build up several background concepts.

To begin our study of Romans 10 we must consider three pieces of context for the chapter.

First, the covenant God made with the Israelites included the use of animal sacrifices to bring atonement after unintentional sins. In other words, as an overall structure the covenant assumes that people will sin but then will also receive atonement, and such people who sin and receive atonement count as successfully participating in the covenant. However, by the time Paul wrote Romans the Second Temple was destroyed and atonement through animal sacrifices had ended. Now faith in Yeshua is the only source of "ritual" atonement that brings someone who has sinned back to innocence before God.

Second, Paul wrote earlier in Romans that people (including Paul himself) who do know Yeshua will sometimes act sinfully even if they desire to act properly. There is an external influence acting on us that keeps the commandments out of our hearts even if they are as close as our mouths. This influence is what Judaism calls the evil inclination and what Christianity calls the sin nature.

Third, Paul wrote earlier in Romans that condemnation falls on everyone who lives under that evil inclination even if they are trying their best to obey God's commandments and even if they promptly receive atonement for their sins. This condemnation is not because people sin (when they are overpowered by the evil inclination their sinning is not their fault) but because everyone, eventually and in some ways, gives themselves up to the evil inclination and allows it to affect their thoughts and degenerate their conscience. As Oswald Chambers paraphrases,
"The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man's sin, but that the nature of sin, namely, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race through one man... The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing, but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, 'I am my own god.' This nature may exhibit itself in proper morality or in improper immorality, but it always has a common basis--my claim to my right to myself. When our Lord faced either people with all the forces of evil in them, or people who were clean-living, moral, and upright, He paid no attention to the moral degradation of one, nor any attention to the moral attainment of the other."
These three pieces of context come together when Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:11-14, a passage that uses the phrases "this commandment" and "the word" to refer to God's entire covenant with Israel:
For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?" But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.
When read in isolation, this text says that it is quite possible, and indeed expected by God, for the Jewish people to fully and perfectly obey all of God's commandments to them. This hardly seems the passage Paul would pick to explain why Yeshua is necessary for innocence.

However, Paul has in mind those three elements of context. We know this because innocence was foremost on Paul's mind. Paul even begins Romans 10:6 by saying that when Deuteronomy 30:11-14 speaks of "this commandment" and "the word" the root issue is innocence (obtained through faith in Yeshua).

Paul knows that, apart from Yeshua, the situation is doomed. To keep the covenant would now require living completely without sin because innocence no longer can be regained through atonement provided by animal sacrifices.

Paul also has explained how the evil inclination ruins our "hearts". Scriptural language uses the "heart" to describe where people make decisions. Because of the evil inclination, having God's commandments well known (near and in our mouths) does not result in our decision-makers naturally choosing obedience.

Finally, even if we could live completely without sin and could successfully resist the evil inclination in every decision we make, we would still face condemnation because there would be ways we gave into the evil inclination. Even if we kept its influence from our actions, our thoughts and consciences would be corrupted by it because it is stronger than we are.

So Deuteronomy 30:11-14 paints an unrealistically optimistic picture. It is not enough that God's commandments are near if the evil inclination keeps them from abiding in our hearts. It is not enough to have God's commandments abide in our hearts if there is no source of atonement when we make unintentional mistakes. And it is not enough to have innocence in action when we still are corrupted by an evil inclination that is stronger than us.

The solution to these problems is found in Yeshua. We must identify with Yeshua in three ways. Identifying with Yeshua's sacrifice allows our repentance to bring us atonement, so we can regain innocence after sinning. Identifying with Yeshua's heart allows us the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts, so we can escape our slavery to the evil inclination and begin to naturally live in full harmony with God's ways. Identifying with Yeshua's resurrection life allows our lives to be empowered by the Holy Spirit so we can experience complete victory over the evil inclination, and avoid all of its corrupting influence on our thoughts and conscience.

To Paul, this is what really counts as innocence ("righteousness"): receiving atonement, having the Holy Spirit abide in our decision-maker, and living in total victory over the evil inclination.

Note four things Paul contrasts with innocence in Romans 10.

First, Paul contrasts with innocence being "hot" for God. The Greek word zelos we might translate as "zeal" or "being on fire" in this context. In America people say as a compliment, "He is on fire for God!" However, zeal is not much of a virtue. Paul does value it in himself in Philippians 3:6, but more often the word is translated as "envy" or "jealousy" and it appears often when Paul lists vices. If we have innocence through identification with Yeshua then the Holy Spirit can prompt us to occasionally act with appropriate zeal (as when Yeshua acted "hotly" in John 2:17), but otherwise zelos only produces strife. Usually we should not be "hot" but "be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer" (First Peter 4:7).

Second, Paul contrasts with innocence trying to create innocence by our own efforts. Such an effort is doomed. Our own efforts cannot provide atonement when we make mistakes, nor bring the Holy Spirit into our heart, nor provide victory over the evil inclination. As with zeal, personal efforts can be beneficial (Paul elsewhere encourages us to work out our victory in fear and trembling, Philippians 2:12) but only after we have innocence through identification with Yeshua.

Third, Paul contrasts with innocence shame. Paul appears to mistranslate Isaiah 28:16, saying "be ashamed" instead of "make haste". This legitimate stretch of the possible uses of the Hebrew word root choosh is commentary not from Paul but from the Septuagint. What the Septuagint seems to be saying is that if we wait for God to build the foundation then it will be sturdy and secure; on the other hand, if we try to create our own foundation our efforts will not suffice and our attempt will eventually cause the shameful collapse of what is built on that weak foundation. As with zeal and personal effort, we should try to build on a foundation (Luke 6:48-49), but the foundation must be innocence through identification with Yeshua.

Fourth, Paul contrasts with innocence rebellion. Paul quotes from Isaiah 65:1-5, in which God calls it rebellion when we "walk in a way that is not good, after our own thoughts." As before, we do have our own thoughts, but these should build on the foundation of innocence God gives us through our identification with Yeshua. Paul had warned us earlier that vain thoughts/discussions can darken the heart (Romans 1:21).

Finally, Paul contrasts with innocence victory over the evil inclination. Yes, Paul contrasts innocence and victory in Romans 10:10.
For with the heart, one believes unto innocence; and with the mouth attestation is made unto victory.
Having innocence is a heart issue, while living in victory over the evil inclination is a spoken issue. Consider carefully what this means, and then recall how we have seen it in our lives.

The innocence we can gain through identification with Yeshua, empowered by God's Spirit, is an amazing gift. But this innocence loses its potency if we do not talk about it. Temptations grow stronger if we never speak about what God has done for us. (The Greek word is homologeō, literally "same word", meaning to attest to, profess, or confess a truth.) Part of identifying with Yeshua's resurrection life is speaking to others about his resurrection life and its affect on us.

To keep our innocence potent we need to talk to people about how identifying with Yeshua helps us obey God and experience his resurrection life. We need to pray for each other. We need to hold each other accountable. We need to pray for God to fill us more with the Holy Spirit. We need to tell people about what innocence is and how it is made available by identifying with Yeshua.

We probably all can think of times when we spoke less about Yeshua and in that times also struggled more against temptations.

Our discussion of Romans 10 points out characteristics of speech that helps make innocence fruitful as victory over the evil inclination:
  • We must speak confessions of repentance when we need atonement.
  • We must welcome to the Holy Spirit to abide in our heart
  • We must speak words that reckon our old nature dead and our new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit
  • We must speak about how we are identifying with Yeshua's sacrifice, heart, and resurrection life
  • We must speak in a "sound mind" rather than "hotly"
  • We must speak reminders that our own efforts and thoughts must build on the foundation of innocence given by God through our identification with Yeshua
Please note that there are plenty examples of worthwhile and godly speech and discussion that are very different from this kind of speech that makes innocence fruitful as victory over the evil inclination. This sermon is one example! A lot of the speech involved in prayer, praise, edification, and discipleship is different categories of speech. As we enter our time of congregational discussion let us keep the discussion focused on the speech that makes innocence fruitful as victory over the evil inclination.

Before our congregational discussion begins we should pray for people in our congregation who need to better use their mouths to attest to the Good News, and thus better experience the total victory over the evil inclination that God desires. May God guide and guard us as we praise him for putting innocence in our hearts, and as we try to speak so that innocence is fruitful as complete victory over the evil inclination.

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