Friday, July 30, 2010

Commentary: Elusive Righteousness

Elusive Righteousness


The Word elusive means: difficult to find, catch, or achieve; difficult to remember or recall; to elude capture, perception, comprehension, or memory; difficult to define or describe; be difficult to detect or grasp by the mind.  We use this word to describe something that may seem within the grasp, but yet we can never reach it.  It could be used for that promotion or raise you never get.  In some organizations a certain landmark amount of members has never been reached.  It can be used for a fugitive or criminal that is hard to catch.  It can also be used for a certain animal that is hard to hunt or fish.


There is a metaphor used in an old Spanish love song that I think illustrates this point well.  To tell the lover his or her love will always be unrequited, the singer makes this statement,


"The sea and the sky look equally blue

and in the distance they seem to meet and unite,

better remember that the sky is always sky

that never, never will the sea reach it…


The point is obvious, "As the sky is elusive to the sea, so am I to you."


God's ways are higher than ours.  God says through Isaiah "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).  We are the sea and He is the sky.  We will never reach God.  That is why God sent His Son to reach us.  So anything from God is unattainable for us, unless it is through Jesus.  That is why Paul says that, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The word justified means to be made righteous.  This means that man is made righteous by faith and not by attempting to obey the law in his own strength.  Paul is saying that your effort to obey the law on your own will be futile and therefore you will never be righteous.  Righteousness will be elusive in your strength.  The more you try the harder it gets to reach it. 


But, Paul makes it clear that being justified by faith does not make the law void, on the contrary it exalts the law (Romans 3:31).  Then He uses Abraham as an example of how justification by faith works.  Paul says of Abraham,


Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.


Abraham was no exception in regards to how to become righteous.  It was not in his strength, but by faith.  He believed God's Word and this believing the Word was counted to Him as righteousness.  Ellen White says that Righteousness is obedience to the law (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367).  This means that when Abraham believed God's word it was counted unto Him as obedience to the law.  It was faith that made Abraham a doer of the Law.  And, so it is with us. 

Raul Diaz

Friday, July 23, 2010

Commentary: Is God insane?

Is God insane?

A man with cancer is undergoing chemotherapy.  There seems to be progress for the tumor seems to be decreasing.    But, before the tumor disappears he finds out that his oncologist has put an order to end the patient's therapy.  Puzzled and bewildered, he asks himself, "Why would his doctor do that?  Was he missing something?  Was this regular protocol?  Had things worsen and he did not know?  If this was the case how long did he have to live?

The patient asked to speak to the doctor.  The patient was given an appointment.  At the appointment the patient asked for an explanation of, "why the therapy was stopped?"  The patient could not believe what the Doctor said, "You do not need more chemotherapy because I declared your cancer in remission.  As far as I am concerned you have no more tumors, I declare you, 'healed.'"  The patient's face turned from curiosity to disbelief to anger.   As the Doctor finished talking you could hear the patient yell out, "Are you insane?  This begs the question, "would you rather be declared healed or actually be?"

The popular interpretation of justification by faith is that we are declared righteous, not made.  How does God really work this, something is true because He declares it or He declares it because it is true?  Does God declare something without being true?  Unlike our Doctor from the story above, God is not insane.  God does not declare things unless they already are.    One example of this is in Genesis 1.  At almost every stage of Creation (almost each day) God saw that what He did was good.  At the end, in Genesis 1:31, He declared it again,

            Genesis 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

This concept of only declaring could be in part from the definition of righteous.  According to our lesson,

What is this idea of "justifying," as found in the text? The Greek word dikaioo, translated justify, may mean "make righteous," "declare righteous" or "consider righteous." The word is built on the same root as dikaiosune, "righteousness," and the word dikaioma, "righteous requirement." Hence, there is a close connection between "justification" and "righteousness," a connection that doesn't always come through in various translations. We are justified when we are "declared righteous" by God.

Before this justification, a person is unrighteous, and thus unacceptable to God; after justification, he or she is regarded as righteous, and thus acceptable to Him.

You will notice that the author of the lesson chose "declare righteous" instead of "make righteous."  The question again is, would you rather be declared righteous or made righteous?  Especially, since God is fully capable of making us righteous.    Ellen White makes reference to this issue in the following quote,

"Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son."—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367.

Being that God can make us righteous we can interpret this week's memory text as, "Therefore we conclude that a man is made righteous by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The question is will we let Him?

Raul Diaz

Friday, July 16, 2010

Commentary: The Gospel is the Cure

The Gospel is the Cure


At the writing of this commentary my cousin, Justin Graves (not real name), died.  He was young; in his mid-thirties.  He died simply because his body stopped working.  His body deteriorated to the point where it could no longer function. 


It was not a bullet wound, a car accident, substance abuse, etc.  It was not consequences of choices he made.  Justin was born with a rare congenital disease - Behr's Syndrome - that dystrophies the muscles, crippling anyone that has it.  Justin's only fault regarding that disease was to be conceived out of parents that carried the recessive genes of the disease.  Justin's fault was to live.  Can Justin be held responsible for being born with the disease?  Evidently, no.  Still, he bore a condition that if left untreated could, and did harm him.  There is yet no cure for this rare syndrome.


But, what if there was a cure?  What if the person with a cure walked into Justin's room and gave it to him free?  What if Justin declines to take it and eventually dies?  Could Justin be held responsible for his untimely death?  Yes, he can be held responsible.  For now his death is not due to the disease, but for declining the cure. 


As Justin was born with his disease we are all born with Sin (Justin included).  As the psalmist said, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalms 51:5).  Paul expresses the same point in Romans 3: 10 – 12,


Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

Romans 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.


 Which is why Paul concludes in verse 23 (Almost repeating the psalmist), "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  As Justin could not be held responsible for his disease, neither can we be held responsible for being born in Sin.  We did not choose to be born this way.  But, if there was a cure for Sin, given to us freely and we reject it, then we are held responsible for rejecting the cure. 


Is there a cure for Sin?  That is the greatest news ever to come into this world.  Yes, there is a cure for Sin, and that cure is Jesus Christ.  Paul gives us a glimpse of what this means in Romans 3: 24 – 26,


Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

Romans 3:26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


The cure will not do us any good unless we take it.  By faith we take Jesus and He cures us of the Sin disease.  We must continually take it, as if it was a prescription, for it to be effective.  It is a lifelong treatment.  But, we will be glad we did it in the life to come.

Raul Diaz

Friday, July 02, 2010

Commentary: Gods will

God's will


Paul had intentioned to visit Rome on his way to Spain where he hoped to preach the Gospel and establish a church there.  We read about this Romans 15:20-27 (King James Version)


 20Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:

 21But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.

 22For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.

 23But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;

 24Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.

 25But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.

 26For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.

 27It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.


Paul made plans, but in the end the Lord changed them.  Man proposes, but God disposes.  As we read in Acts 28:16 God led Paul to Rome in a different fashion.  Let us read,


"But when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him" (Acts 28:16, NKJV).


What does this text tell us about how Paul finally got to Rome? What lesson can we draw from this for ourselves about the unexpected and unwanted things that so often come our way?  Life can take some very strange turns and often God is behind it. How often our plans, even the ones formulated in the best of intentions, don't come out as we anticipated and hoped for. The apostle Paul did, indeed, get to Rome, but it wasn't as he had expected. 


When Paul reached Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey with his offering for the poor, which he collected from the congregations of Europe and Asia Minor, unexpected events awaited him. He was arrested and fettered. After being held prisoner for two years at Caesarea, he appealed to Caesar. Some three years after his arrest, he arrived in Rome, and (we can assume) not in the manner that he intended to when he first wrote to the Roman church years before about his intention to visit them.


We know that Paul "strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation" (Romans 15:20).    But, God saw fit that Paul did build a foundation in Rome.  As mentioned above, Paul did reach Rome but not in the way he thought. 

Paul's work also took a different turn.  Paul humbly accepted his fate.  He called himself a prisoner of Christ*.  Two Ellen White quotes show how Paul's work was more effective now than before. 


"While apparently cut off from active labor, Paul exerted a wider and more lasting influence than if he had been free to travel among the churches as in former years. As a prisoner of the Lord, he had a firmer hold upon the affections of his brethren; and his words, written by one under bonds for the sake of Christ, commanded greater attention and respect than they did when he was personally with them."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 454.

"Not by Paul's sermon[s], but by his bonds, was the attention of the court attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he broke from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declared: 'Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.' Philippians 1:14."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 464.

Seemingly, Paul made it to Rome in God's timing and way.  As we read from Ellen White's quotes, God's way was more effective than in the way Paul first planned it.  Are we as willing as Paul to do God's will in His timing and way?



Raul Diaz