What’s your excuse?

Ever since Adam stood before the Lord and blamed “the woman whom you gave to be with me” for his act of disobedience we have been prone to seek excuses for our behavior.  However, as Adam learned, God does not accept excuses.  In Romans 10:5-10 Paul cuts away all grounds for looking anywhere but to the crucified and risen Savior.  He contrast righteousness based on the law (efforts at earning one’s own righteousness) with the righteousness of faith, the righteousness that comes from God in Jesus Christ.

In verse 5 Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, “the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”  Paul is not suggesting that Old Testament believers were saved by their own obedience.  The passage he quotes is set in the context of God’s gracious covenant with its provisions for sacrifice and forgiveness.  Paul’s opponents, however, may have been quoting this passage as a basis for their insistence on the importance of keeping the Law.  While the Apostle will respond by quoting from and expanding on Deuteronomy 30, the reference to Leviticus 18:5 serves to make the point that the person who appeals to the law is under obligation to obey the whole law.  Partial obedience or a good effort is not enough.

In the face of that requirement, we are tempted to make excuses.  Don’t ask, “Who will ascend into heaven?”  Paul responds with a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12.  Israel could not appeal to lack of revelation as an excuse for disobedience.  In Paul’s day there were those who would excuse their lack of faith in Christ by denying the incarnation.  They believed that for contact to take place between God and man, you would somehow have to climb up to heaven–ignoring the fact that God has already bridged that distance by becoming man in the person of Christ.  Today a similar argument in our scientific world denies even the possibility of contact between heaven and earth.  Behind much modern theology is the notion that a barrier of unknowability separates earth from heaven, man from God.  Or there is at least an implicit request for additional revelation beyond the Word.

Don’t ask, “Who will descend into the deep?”  Paul changes “sea” to “the deep” or “the abyss,” a reference to the realm of the dead.  He is dealing with attacks on the resurrection of Christ, that most basic of beliefs.  The resurrection continues to be a point of attack–whether by denial, or by a neo-orthodox theology which talks about the importance of believing in the resurrection, but considers unimportant whether or not it took place in our real world.

The righteousness based on faith says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”  God’s revelation is present, and it demands your response.  God’s revelation tells you that Christ has come, has died, and has been raised.  His righteousness leaves no room for self-righteous efforts.  You are without excuse before God!

Positively, confess that Jesus is Lord.  Faith in Christ also involves submitting to his lordship.  Connected with the confession is belief in your heart that God raised him from the dead.  Herman Ridderbos remarks, “Faith is . . . a relationship to the person of Christ as he is known and comes to us in the gospel.  It is faith in that Christ who means for the believer what is announced of him in the gospel; who has come into the world, who has suffered, died, risen, and who lives in heaven.”

As you trust is in the Savior who rose, you are raised with him.  He is the firstfruits of your resurrection.  Christ’s lordship is the guarantee that nothing is strong enough to separate you from God’s love in Christ.  This is your personal confession but also a corporate one.  The church is a confessing community.

If your hope of salvation rest on who you are or what you do, no wonder you look around for excuses!  But Paul tears those excuses away one by one.  He points you to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(In preparation for the service on March 6, 2011)

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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