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Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged." But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? - as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (ESV)




There Goes the Curve

Friday of Lent 1

14 March 2014

I went to college at a small liberal arts school, in which I had a bad reputation. Although I am not sure it was entirely justified. I distinctly remember sitting down in a lecture hall on the first day of an academic term waiting for the professor to arrive, just minding my own business, when a classmate strolled into the hall, stopped just inside the entryway near which I was sitting and looking directly at me said "Well, there goes the curve!" His comment, met with a chorus of concurring groans, meant that my presence in the class would make it harder to earn a high grade on the bell curve system of grading student performance. My bad reputation had preceded me. I was considered a good student; a "curve buster," whether I was or not.


God has a reputation too. It is his glory. God is considered to be righteous and holy by us. That doesn't make Him so. God is holy in Himself. So why do we pray that God's name be holy (Mt 6:9) in the Lord's Prayer? It seems like a waste of prayer time. We are not making God holy by praying, but declaring Him to be so as an act of worship. When we pray we are asking Him to help us keep His name holy among us, through faithfully hearing and supporting the preaching of the divine Word. This is what Paul means when he quotes Psalm 51:4, "Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, 'That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.'" We do not justify God, in the sense that He is not made holy by us, but rather we consider Him or account Him to be what He is in Himself. So when the Bible talks about justifying us sinners it is an acquittal or a reckoning. Our heavenly Father accounts us to be something we are not on our own, righteous in His sight for the sake of Christ (Rm 3:20-21). Only God is considered to be what He is already. We are considered by God to be what we can only be in Christ.


We all have a bad reputation until God reputes us to be righteous for Christ's sake. What a marvel: the God who bespeaks us righteous "justifies the ungodly" (Rm 4:5)! Jesus Christ pulls us all up into Him that we might be seen to be at the head of the class. There goes the curve again! 



Augustine of Hippo


"The Apostle Paul could not mean to contradict himself by saying, 'The doers of the law will be justified' (Rm 2:13), as if their justification came through their works, and not through grace; since he declares that a man is justified freely by His grace without the works of the law (Rm 3:24, 28), intending by the term 'freely' nothing else than that works do not precede justification. For in another passage he expressly says, 'If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.' (Rm 11:6). But the statement that 'the doers of the law will be justified' (Rm 2:13) must be so understood, as that we may know that they are not otherwise doers of the law, unless they be justified, so that justification does not subsequently accrue to them as doers of the law, but justification precedes them as doers of the law. For what else does the phrase 'being justified' signify than being made righteous - by Him, of course, who justifies the ungodly man that he might become a godly one instead?


"If we were to express a certain fact by saying, 'The men will be liberated,' the phrase would of course be understood as asserting that the liberation would accrue to those who were men already; but if we were to say, The men will be created, we should certainly not be understood as asserting that the creation would happen to those who were already in existence, but that they became men by the creation itself. If in like manner it would be said that the doers of the law will be honored, we should only interpret the statement correctly if we supposed that the honor was to accrue to those who were already doers of the law. But when the claim is, 'The doers of the law shall be justified,' what else does it mean than that the just shall be justified? For of course the doers of the law are just persons. Thus it amounts to the same thing as if it were said, The doers of the law shall be created - not those who were so already, but that they may become such - in order that the Jews who were hearers of the law might hereby understand that they wanted the grace of the one who justifies, in order to be able to become its doers also. Or else the term 'They shall be justified' is used in the sense of, they shall be deemed, or reckoned as just, as it is predicated of a certain man in the Gospel, 'But he, desiring to justify himself' (Lk 10:29); meaning that he wished to be considered and accounted just."


"In like manner, we attach one meaning to the statement, 'God sanctifies His saints,' and another to the words, 'Sanctified (Hallowed) be Thy name' (Mt 6:9); for in the former case we suppose the words to mean that He makes those to be saints who were not saints before, and in the latter, that the prayer would have that which is always holy in itself be also regarded as holy by men, - in a word, be feared with a hallowed awe." 


Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.45



Lord Christ, You are our righteousness before God. Send Your Spirit to us that we might trust what you have declared us to be in You. Keep us from doubt and unbelief that we might not believe the accusations of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Rather let us rest quietly only in Your saying-so. Amen.


For all those who have served in the military that they might be honored and revered not just on one day, but shown respect among us always


For all those struggling with homelessness, that they might be properly cared for by their families and communities and that aid agencies would have the resources to respond to their needs


For Robert Kuhn, that the Lord Jesus would give him the peace that surpasses human understanding

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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