Only One God

“After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasise faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfil the law.”
Romans 3:29-31 NLT

Paul makes another profound statement in this chapter in Romans. “There is only one God”. Paul wrote this when he was thinking of the conflict between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church. But in today’s world, it has of even greater importance. In recent years we have had to observe the bizarre spectacle of “multi faith” services. Where Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and others have come together for a joint worship service. I have a relative who sincerely believes that all religions worship the same God, only in different ways. He reckons that God has different compartments in Heaven, each for one of the worldly religions. I don’t know how he has come to that conclusion but that is what he believes. Many years ago the controversial comic Dave Allen used to end his TV programmes with the parting phrase, “May your god go with you”. The world is very confused about God. 

But in all the religious fog that infects our world, a fog introduced by the devil and the effects of sin, we Christians have the truth. Jesus said, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus. Those in the world will reject such an unequivocal statement. They will question how we really know that. The clue comes in the next part of Paul’s message, where he said, “He makes people right with himself only by faith”. It’s all about our faith. And through that faith we know that only Jesus has the words of eternal life. Only Jesus can make us righteous in God’s sight.

Paul asked the question of his readers, “Well then, if we emphasise faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law”? His answer echoed what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved”. The Law was given by God through Moses, for the express purpose of teaching and guiding the Israelites, and in the process exposing their sin. God sent His sinless Son to fully keep the Law so that we could, through faith, keep the intentions of the Law too. Because of their sin, mankind is incapable of keeping the Law and appearing righteous by their own efforts. But through faith in Jesus, we can. What a wonderful God we have!

Dear Father God. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for the words of eternal life. We worship You, and only You, today. Amen.

The Law

“Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”
Romans 3:19-20 NLT

Paul’s references to the Law in these two verses seems to be in error, if taken on their own. The Law included far more than Paul would seem to indicate. But in the context of this chapter in Romans, a different picture emerges. The Law was given by God to the Israelite nation, and it had several purposes, ranging from how they should worship God through to rules for daily living. And in the process, it provided the Israelites with a “yardstick”. Something which they could use to determine their spiritual states, and, worse, show them how far short they were of keeping the Law in the way God intended. 

Jesus pointed out the problems associated with trying to obey the Law. In His “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law. Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose“. And then in Matthew 5:19-20, He said, “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven“. And that’s the issue. To achieve the standard of righteousness required of God can never be attained. Regarding following the letter of the Law, the Pharisees – don’t forget Paul himself was one of them – were faultless. But they failed to follow the Law in the way that God intended. Jesus provided some illustrations in the remaining verses in Matthew 5. For example, His teaching about adultery, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus pointed out that behind the letter of the Law was a whole raft of heart attitudes, together forming the spirit of the Law.

Paul suggested to his readers that just going through a box-ticking exercise will not make them right with God. Christians can also fall into the same trap, even though they don’t follow the Jewish Law. Imagine trying to list all the things that we think we must do, to conform to a modern equivalent of the Law. Things such as following the laws of the land in which we live. Going to church on a Sunday, and the prayer meeting on a Wednesday. Having a daily “Quiet Time” with prayer and Bible reading. Taking our turns on the toilet-cleaning rota. Paying our tithe each month. And so on. Before we know it, we have developed our own version of a Law, which we think will stand us in good stead before God. None of these things are wrong in themselves. But they become pointless if they replace the relationship and respect we should have with, and for, our Heavenly Father.

So, pilgrims, what is your approach to the Christian life? In asking myself that question, I am conscious of a need to reach out to my Heavenly Father, because only He is my Source. Only He has the love and grace I need to live this life in the way He requires. and I will never achieve that my ticking a few boxes.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence in my life, and the lives of my brothers and sisters who are journeying their way through the Scriptures with me. I pray a blessing on them all, Lord, and a transforming touch of Your presence, to make a difference in their daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Obeying God’s Law

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭12‬-‭13‬ ‭NLT

Reading these early verses in Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, we might be thinking that there seems to be a problem between Jews and Gentiles. Paul spends a lot of time dealing with them separately, as he is doing in these verses today. What was going on? A little bit of extrapolation from the political and religious situation in those days of life in Rome perhaps indicate that the Jews were trying to separate themselves from the Gentiles in their churches. Perhaps they were trying to reinstate their historical standing before God and resist the introduction of Gentile believers. But whatever was going on, Paul brings them down to earth with a bump. He was in fact saying that the Jewish believers were no better than the Gentile believers. And he sets out in these early chapters the reasons why.

In these verses today, Paul was pointing out that sin is sin, whether committed by a Jew or a Gentile. Without God’s saving grace, the result is the same. But is it a bit unfair to say that God will judge those who had never heard His law just as harshly as those who have heard it? We’re back to the conscience factor. Regardless of the Law, God has wired us all with a conscience. So intuitively we know, when it comes to our behaviour, what is right and what is wrong. But the reality is that regardless of whether or not we have a set of rules and regulations, a law, to follow, sin will be judged one day. 

We pilgrims have a God-given responsibility to communicate, both to ourselves and to others, that sitting in a church pew on a Sunday won’t necessarily make us either a Christian or righteous before God. In that very same pew, we will hear much about God, about His law, about His attributes like love, grace and righteousness, but in return we must always be aware that we must act upon what we hear. So, if we hear about God’s love, we must be aware that we have a responsibility to show that same love to others. In 1 John 4:10-11, we read, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other“. And in 1 John 2:4-5 we read, “If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him”. If we hear about God’s love but don’t show love to those around us, then we are doing exactly what Paul warned the Roman Christians about – they listened to God’s Word but they didn’t obey it. And the same warning rattles down the centuries to our spiritual inboxes today. Just to consign it to our spiritual spam folders just won’t do. As Paul wrote, “It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” James wrote in his epistle, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:22-25). What we must do can’t be clearer than that.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your patience and grace. Without it we would be lost. We worship You today. Amen.