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August 3, 2015, 9:19 AM

Romans 4 Simplified


Its always an interesting state of mind I find myself in after preaching, week after week.  Most weeks I stand there, facing front while the song is being sung and I pray:  "God, forgive me for messing that all up... again."  Almost every week the flood of things I should have said come rushing in.  And then, on the rare occasion that things turn out well (in my own mind), there is a peace that comes. 

As I've walked through the first 4 chapters of Romans this Summer, its been a rarity to walk away from the sermon feeling confident that the message got out the way it should have.  I blame Paul.  

Really, its all his fault.  Romans is a tough, tough book to break down into bite-size pieces, more or less to have those bite-size pieces work as cohesive and presentable thoughts.  He starts by telling us we're doomed (which always makes for a "fun" sermon... unless you like the brimstone style).  There's good news after that in Jesus.  But even the good news comes with subplots, "however" statements, and interjections that are off topic.  This week's focus was on the exceptions or exclusions of justification.  Which in itself, sounds like something that will take hours to explain.  In an effort to simplify, we used the example of a picture from Alex Haley's office (author of Roots) of a turtle on a fence post.  If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post,  you know he had help getting there.  

We are the turtle in this illustration, and in Paul's explanation, we're on a fence post of divine proportions.  And we've done nothing to get ourselves up there.  Paul warns us all, then, that we cannot boast or be prideful about our place on the fence post.  I cant speak for everyone here, but I don't think I've ever had the problem of being overly proud of anything I've done to contribute to God's gift of salvation.  In fact, I'm constantly in awe of God's patience and extended willingness to love me despite me.  But pride and boasting were obviously a big problem in Rome, and needed some attention.  

So here's what I wish I had said about Romans 4:  If Abraham had nothing to boast about, then neither do we.  Abraham knew he was a turtle on a fence post, having been blessed by God and everything was owed to God in return.  Even Isaac.  Abraham was never found assuming he could earn more favor with God by obeying.  Abraham obeyed because he loved God, and that's what those that love God are supposed to do.  This was no reward based system of obedience (if I do this, then God will do that).   

And yet we either find ourselves on a fence post and too often assume it is because we've got things figured out better than anyone else; or because we've attended more services than anyone else; or we've memorized more verses than anyone else; etc... etc...  I grew up knowing that "Good Christians" obey the rules because we fear what would happen if we don't.  I was taught that we serve or give because we're storing up those treasures in heaven and jewels in our crowns.  That mansion just over the hilltop sounds really good, someday when we can trade in our crosses for a robe and a crown.  If I don't "do" enough here, I wont have anything yonder over the Crystal Sea. 

What Paul is saying, in its simplest form, is that Jesus makes us right with God.  Our response to that justification (being made right) is to do good.  To serve, give, love, forgive, work, etc... (all that stuff is what he sums up as "the law").  Our good work doesn't earn us bonus points, it is an outward expression of our deep love for what Christ has already done.  Which is place us squarely on the fence post of justification.  


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