The Aurora, Colorado shootings and sin

In the early hours of 7/20/2012, a single man executed a carefully designed plot and killed 17 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The death toll will certainly rise higher in days to come. I have intentionally omitted this mans name because he deserves shame, not fame. If only the news media would do the same!

People are totally mystified about one question: Why? What mystifies me is that this is still a question. Have we not seen enough wars, enough torture, enough human slavery, enough terrorism and enough mass murder to believe in sin in the human heart? Have we all forgotten the one (unnamed) man who murdered 69 teens in Norway just one year ago (7/22/2011)? It happens over and over; so, how can we not look for real answers instead of dwelling on pretended mysteries?

Okay, so millions do not want to hear what God says. They want to put pictures on Facebook, post their opinions, watch the latest videos, play the latest games or have sex with their latest partner. God has given them the ability to make such choices, and our distracted generations have firmly seized that opportunity. Since they do not want to address the serious issues of life, we should not be surprised when they have no clue about how evil occurs through human agents or how it exists within their own hearts.

In asking why, the public never looks beyond their own insensitivity to God. The biblical Book of Romans describes the situation like this:

28Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know Gods righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 3:2832)

But just as God has described the cause of the shootings in detail, he has also provided a solution for human sin and its horrible consequences:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

On the basis of Christs death for our sins, God offers complete amnesty to all who have ignored him in their rebellion and ignorance. But all amnesties have conditions. The condition for Gods amnesty is this:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Sin caused the killings in Aurora. Human sin. Only God can fix what is wrong with humanity. I urge you to accept Gods amnesty by committing your life to Jesus Christ. Give him your allegiance so that you can be part of the solution to human sin rather than part of the problem.

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:13-14, An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound — so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress, and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited. (Smile)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Paul’s day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word torah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that one could be Abraham’s child only by taking on oneself the yoke of torah.[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: “The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise” (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abraham’s time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters such as the miracles of Jesus. (Smile)

In a way, Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase “not through the law” near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came “through the righteousness of faith” (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: “If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for God’s promise would be removed.”[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — “faith is null and the promise is void” (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) faith is empty and the promise is nullified (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NETs translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) faith is null and the promise is void (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. “Null and . . . void” has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLTs “not necessary and . . . pointless” uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains what the law does:produces wrath — as opposed to what it cannot do:secure the inheritance.[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12-14 and 7:7-13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Paul’s point when he says, “Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.”[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause “where there is no law there is no transgression” (4:15) does not mean “where there is no law there is no sin.” On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, “Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.”[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.

Exposition of Romans 3:21-22, Christ made righteousness possible; we believe.

Mount Everest is a cruel place. Hundreds come every year to try their luck against the savage winds, the 29,030 foot altitude, and low temperatures. But worst of all is the death zone, those levels above 23,000 feet where the body cannot adjust. Once you enter the death zone, your body begins to shut down, and the time remaining is unknown, yet the summit juts a mile above you. So, you must keep moving in spite of exhaustion, pain, or adversity.

One survivor put it this way: “The only way to describe it is an utter exhaustion. You really don’t care if you die or if you just sit down and don’t go any further.”[1] If you sit down, you must get up — or die. No one can take you to safety.

The Bible explains that every one of us start out life in a spiritual death-zone, and time is running out. We all fall there and cannot get up. What then?

(NET) Romans 3:21-22

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, [verse break]

After his long presentation of humanitys universal guilt before God (1:18-3:20), Paul now returns to his theme from 1:17 — the unveiling of a righteousness from God that is entirely by faith.

In order to explain this passage, we will repeat something stated in previous posts. The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosune [righteousness] theou [of God], where the final noun is in the genitive case. Since the Greek genitive is a descriptive or limiting case as to kind[2], we are roughly speaking here of a God-kind-of-righteousness. In context, that righteousness contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Jews, who were trying to get to heaven by keeping the law.

But how exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Douglas Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, righteousness of God is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the righteousness of God.

However, Paul has advanced his argument beyond what he said in 1:17 by adding the phrases “apart from the law” and “which is attested by the law and the prophets” (3:21). He has just demonstrated that no one will be justified by works of the law (3:20), and yet God demands righteousness of his people.

Before we leave 3:21, we will consider some important facts about how Paul presents his statements. First, note carefully the use of the phrase “but now.” Moo correctly says: “‘But now’ God has intervened to inaugurate a new era, and all who respond in faith — not only after the cross, but, as Rom. 4 will show, before it also — will be transferred into it from the old era.”[4] We got our first big clue about this new era in 1:4, where we learned that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead” (NET).

Theologian Herman Ridderbos speaks about these two eras when commenting on 2 Cor. 5:17, “The old things stand for the unredeemed world in its distress and sin [Rom. 1:18-3:20], the new things for the time of salvation and the re-creation that have dawned with Christ’s resurrection.”[5]

The second thing to observe about how Paul presents his facts in 3:21 is his use of the Greek perfect tense, translated “the righteousness of God . . . has been disclosed.” After saying that the choice of the perfect tense is often deliberate, Wallace approvingly quotes M. Zerwick when he says, “The perfect tense is used for indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.”[6] The present state of affairs is that the righteousness of God stands in plain sight as a result of the past action of Christ in dying and rising from the dead.

As we enter 3:22, we encounter an interesting debate, although the outcome is not theologically significant no matter which view is right. On the one hand, we have the traditional translation of 3:22a given by the ESV: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” With that we compare the alternative translation of 3:22a presented by NET: “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

The key question is whether,in the italicized phrase alone, Jesus is the object of faith (ESV’s translation faith in Jesus Christ) or Jesus is the one whose subjective faithfulness is meant (NET’s translation the faithfulness of Jesus Christ). Note very carefully that both translations end with the necessity of our own faith in securing God’s righteousness (for all who believe), and the decision on the disputed matter does not alter the necessity of our faith in Jesus for salvation.

I join grammarian Daniel Wallace, who, after a long analysis, says, ‘Although the issue is not to be resolved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of [the NET Bible’s translation]”.[7] Many thoughtful authorities fall on each side.

In the final analysis, our salvation depends on Christ’s obedient death followed by his resurrection to become the Son-of God-in-power. When we put our faith in him, we obtain righteous standing before God.

In the zone

Jesus has been to the spiritual death-zone. He died there and rose again so that he might lift us up and take us to safety — as many of us as are willing to trust in his help.

1. How long did you spend in the spiritual death-zone, apart from Christ? What did it take for you to take his help and get out?

2. Who do you know who is still in the spiritual death-zone? What can you do to get them the only help -- Jesus Christ?

“Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (Heb. 2:14, NLT).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Everest: The Death Zone. Nova. PBS. 02-24-1998.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76-77.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 74.

[4] Moo, Romans, 221.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 45.

[6] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 573, citing M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 96.

[7] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 116.