Romans 3

This review is provided by Katie, an active Mormon

I liked Eric’s format of summary, reflection and comment, and LDS application…so I’m gonna steal it.  🙂  The only difference is I’ll put LDS application ahead of personal reflection and comment, so I can close with my own thoughts, questions, and personal wrestling with this chapter.

Quick note: this is the first time I’ve read Romans in years.  Unlike many of the frequent commenters on this blog, I have limited understanding of the Bible.  I’m dealing with the text as best I understand it based solely on my own reading of it.

Summary

vs. 1-8. Paul continues his argument from chapter 2 that circumcision of the heart and spirit matters most to God, and not necessarily the physical act itself.  He reiterates that, while the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God, many of them did not have faith – and yet despite that, God proved faithful.  He points out that our unrighteousness more clearly demonstrates God’s righteousness by supplying a sharp contrast; yet he argues that we are NOT justified to sin because of this.  Instead, our condemnation is deserved.

vs. 9-19. Paul declares that no one is righteous, quoting Psalms.  He argues that no one is made righteous by observing the Law, because no one truly observes the Law – rather, the Law is the tool by which we are made aware of our failings.

vs. 21-27. Paul explains how we may be made righteous.  It is not by obedience to the Law, but by the free grace of Jesus.  As a result, none of us have any reason to boast; none of us is better than another – not Jew, not Gentile – for God justifies humanity through faith as opposed to personal merit.

LDS application. This chapter addresses the grace / works debate we Mormons and evangelicals often find ourselves in the middle of.  I think it’s interesting to note that, while we might disagree on the specific application of Paul’s words, paradigmatically, we have several things in common.   Specifically, we both believe that…

  1. Everyone sins.
  2. Even one violation of the law is enough to estrange us from God forever – in other words, we all inherently deserve eternal separation from our Heavenly Father as a result of sin.
  3. Jesus Christ is our only way “out.”

The question then becomes how Christ is our way out; or in other words, how can we access the cleansing power of God in order to be found blameless at His judgment seat?

In this chapter, Paul says that justification comes by faith, apart from observing the law.

My experience is that most Mormons accept what Paul has to say about being justified by faith, with this caveat:  that faith is an “action word” — so if you’re not obedient and righteous, you don’t have true faith.

Reflection and comment. My struggle with this passage of scripture goes well beyond faith vs. works, which I think is an argument of semantics.   Fundamentally, both Mormons and evangelicals agree that we need faith in Christ in order to be saved.  We agree that we can’t save ourselves through personal righteousness.  What’s more, we agree that a crucial part of a godly life is obedience.

The order in which it all gets sorted out seems irrelevant to me.  Personally, I know people who have come to genuine, vibrant faith in Christ by living His commandments before they believed; I know others who believed before they obeyed.   My experience is that God works with us where we are and takes us as we come: He knows which approach will be most effective for us, and as long as we end up with both our hearts and lives engaged in Him, I don’t know that it matters much which comes first.

What I struggle with is the assumption at the bottom of the whole construct — that human beings automatically deserve death for being, well, human.  As katyjane said in the discussion on Romans 2, it is difficult to reconcile the idea of a good, loving, personal god with a God who condemns people to hell for circumstances beyond their control…and both the Mormon and evangelical position is that the nature of mortality is such that we cannot control the fact that we’ll sin.

I agree with that, by the way: I don’t think it’s possible for human beings to avoid sin — even if we choose a loose definition of “sin,” such as acting against one’s own ideals (let alone God’s).  But if that’s the case, then what kind of God do we have if He’d make us this way, then condemn us for being as He made us?

Because I struggle so deeply with this issue, I have a hard time with much of Paul’s message in Romans — at least what we’ve covered so far.

Having said all that, I would be remiss if I didn’t close with more positive thoughts.  After all, I’m still wrestling with this stuff.  And while I don’t know if I buy that God made us to be flawed and then damns us eternally for it, I do believe there is a dark, broken, ugly underbelly in humanity — something that needs to be fixed.  And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can honestly say that I have experienced profound transformation in my life by turning myself over to Jesus and asking Him to heal my brokenness and fill me with His love.

What’s more, I acknowledge He did it, not me; it was nothing I “earned” or “qualified for” by observing the law, but something He did for me out of pure grace.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know what it all means.  But I thank Him for doing it all the same.

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142 thoughts on “Romans 3

  1. “the Law is the tool by which we are made aware of our failings.”

    Amen to that, even for Gentiles (v. 19-20). It’s certainly not a mere matter of being reminded that were not circumcized into ethnic Judaism, and it cetainly isn’t a mere matter of having or not having distinctive Jewish “badges”. It’s about the whole world being fundamentally shown to be sinners.

  2. I should note that with Mormons I have spoken to throughout the years, the argument has sometimes been that we can’t be justified by the Law… because we aren’t outwardly circumcised as Jews. That being justified by faith apart from works of the Law somehow means Gentiles can be justified by faith and strenuous obedience to a higher law, the Celestial Law.

    But I think this misses the point. The “works” apart from which believers in Jesus are justified go far beyond mere badges like circumcision, kosher laws, etc. This is made clear to me by the broadness of 3:9-20, and the kind of ungodly sin-failure alluded to in 4:4-8 (which had nothing to do with a failure of David to keep distinctively Jewish badges).

    So that’s why I was pretty excited to see Katie’s explanation of 9-[20].

    On another note I’d like to add that 3:25-26 show that the cross is among other things a fulfillment and vindication of God’s righteousness. That God justified ungodly people by faith presented a huge problem (cf. Proverbs 17:15, 24:24). It makes God seem unjust. But for Paul the propitiation at the cross solves that problem. Without the cross, God would not be righteous in forgiving people like us. With the cross, he is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    On a related note, the Mormon Church’s traditional notion of penal substitutionary atonement (which liberal Mormons admit the Church has promoted) is absolutely something worth keeping. Liberal Mormons I think are wrong for jettisoning it.

    Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me (Romans 4:5, contra the JST),

    Aaron

  3. Katie — Well said. And I appreciate your testimony.

    Among the things you said:

    … I don’t know if I buy that God made us to be flawed and then damns us eternally for it …

    I’m not particularly sure that Paul has said anything about eternal damnation. He has talked about death, and he has talked about perishing. And in chapter 2, he talks about affliction and distress (and similar words, depending on which translation you use) that will come to those who sin. But he doesn’t explicitly mention eternal punishment. (In fact, in all his letters, Paul doesn’t use the word “hell” at all, at least in the KJV, and even when he’s talking about condemnation or damnation he’s usually using a word that means simply “judgment.”) What that means I’m not sure, but perhaps (and I don’t really know) we’re reading a bit more into Paul than is there. Perhaps.

    Katie said:

    My experience is that most Mormons accept what Paul has to say about being justified by faith, with this caveat: that faith is an “action word”

    Actually, Tim said much the same thing in his post on Romans 1:

    Sometimes to help myself from getting confused by the word “faith,” I substitute it with “active trust.” In this instance, the verse would read “the obedience that comes from active trust”.

    I think a distinction that needs to be made is one of attitude. Are we relying on ourselves, or are we relying on the Savior? Outwardly, two people can be doing the same thing. But it’s far different to say “I’m doing this so the Savior will save me” than it is to say “I’m doing this because the Savior has given me the desire, will and ability to do this.” I don’t see the first as being the type of faith that Paul is talking about.

  4. God does not damn us to hell. We damn ourselves to hell. Christ did not come to condemn us, we are already condemned.

    Paul writes in Romans 3:10 and up to 3:21 that”…no one seeks for God. …No one does good, not even one. No one will be justified in the sight of the law (by what they do), since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

    When people go to Hell, it is their own doing…when they are saved by God, it is His doing.

    That’s the Lutheran party line 😀

  5. Katie, I really liked your review. Clearly, you have a good understanding of Romans 3, although you may not be a scholar. I appreciate that you made it simple—some people want to make the gospel needlessly complicated.

    It’s also obvious to me that you have a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father.

    I have also struggled with the idea of hell, although I’m not Mormon. For a time I leaned more toward the extinction view, even feeling it was the biblical view.
    What has steered me back toward the traditional view of hell is the many testimonies of reputable Christians who have gone to hell and back, many of whom were escorted by Jesus himself who was weeping as much as they were.
    I also remember that one such testimony had a lot to do with inspiring me to become a believer in the first place.

  6. Pingback: Grappling with God’s Love, Justice, Omnipotence, Foreknowledge, and Hell « I Love Mormons

  7. Nice write-up, Katie.

    “He argues that no one is made righteous by observing the Law, because no one truly observes the Law”

    I’m not seeing this clearly in v 9-19. Do you think Paul clearly makes this argument, or is this just how you interpret his intent? For instance, it’d be much clearer to me if Paul raised the hypothetical of someone who actually managed to truly observe the Law, and then told us what he thought of that person’s righteousness/justification.

    “What I struggle with is the assumption at the bottom of the whole construct — that human beings automatically deserve death for being, well, human.”

    I raised this before with Tim, but I want to point out again that I think there is reason to question the meaning of the word “death.” Suppose we just say that “death” is a state without God: then it’s not like anything is actually taken away from us because of our inevitable, unavoidable sins; rather, we are just back to where we started. Another aspect of this is to say, “We do not deserve to be with God”—being with him is not some inalienable right that he takes away from us.

  8. Katie said:

    “He argues that no one is made righteous by observing the Law, because no one truly observes the Law”

    To which BrianJ responded:

    I’m not seeing this clearly in v 9-19. Do you think Paul clearly makes this argument, or is this just how you interpret his intent?

    To me it seems quite clear that’s exactly what Paul is saying. Paul asks rhetorically in 3:9 whether Jews are better off for having known the law, responds negatively, then supports that by appealing to the authority of the Psalms, quoting various verses that say no one is righteous. So he’s talking about people who have the Psalms as scriptures. I don’t see it as a leap at all to say that he’s talking about people who in some degree try to obey the Law.

    BrianJ also said:

    I think there is reason to question the meaning of the word “death.” Suppose we just say that “death” is a state without God …

    In this section, such an interpretation seems reasonable to me. Whether it’s correct or not, I don’t know.

  9. That being justified by faith apart from works of the Law somehow means Gentiles can be justified by faith and strenuous obedience to a higher law, the Celestial Law.

    Aaron, I agree that this is a gross misreading of the text…and it makes my heart hurt for Mormons who believe this way. I can speak from experience that it’s a pretty miserable way to live.

    Eric and Brian, interesting thoughts on death. What follows are somewhat disjointed thoughts on the topic; I hope you can piece together what I’m trying to say. I’m still fuzzy on my articulation of the problem, though conversations like this help clarify and illuminate the issues for me…

    I can get behind the idea that death means separation from God. In fact, as I recall, that’s exactly what we taught as missionaries. 🙂 Technically, then, mortal existence is a form of spiritual death. This is much easier for me to swallow than concepts of hell that are essentially eternal torture. Of course, though it’s a friendlier construct, it’s not without its problems.

    This goes beyond our discussion of Romans 3, but one area where I get hung up is this: so many people argue that in order to be justified by grace, you have to believe the “right” version of the gospel. And yet…I think people can be completely sincere and full of integrity while coming to wrong conclusions about God. I mean, I know I’m sincere, but I have no doubt that 90%+ of the things I believe about God are wrong (I’m just not sure which parts). What kind of God is that, who makes Himself incomprehensible to His creations, and then separates Himself from us eternally for getting the details wrong?

    I don’t know that this what Paul is saying here, BTW, but lots of people do say it. I know for a fact that there are evangelicals who would say I’m not saved for staying LDS, and Mormons who would say I’m TK-bound because I do not believe that the church is God’s One True Organization. I wonder what I’m supposed to do with claims like that. Just ignore them? Go on believing what I believe? Both camps often make arguments from scripture…so am I supposed to disregard the scripture? It gets pretty complicated.

    Anyway, this isn’t brilliantly articulated, but I really do struggle with the idea of a God who says we automatically deserve death — even if we have a kinder definition of death — for being human.

  10. Eric: “I don’t see it as a leap at all to say that he’s talking about people who in some degree try to obey the Law.”

    I agree that it’s not a huge leap to read Paul that way, but I’m wondering if it’s the only way to read him; i.e., it’s not a leap, but is it still a little hop? As I said before, any gap between your (and Katie’s) conclusion and Paul’s words would be filled had Paul “raised the hypothetical of someone who actually managed to truly observe the Law, and then told us what he thought of that person’s righteousness/justification.”

    The reason I care is that it changes the nature of the Law (according to Paul).

    a) The Law is perfect/complete and would lead to justification, except that it is impossible for us to follow it.

    b) The Law itself is limited; even perfect adherence to it would still leave one lacking.

    And since Paul introduces the Law in part to introduce the need for a Savior, I think whether he means ‘a’ or ‘b’ affects how we view the Savior’s role.

    Katie: You do a far better job articulating your thoughts than you give yourself credit.

    “I really do struggle with the idea of a God who says we automatically deserve death — even if we have a kinder definition of death — for being human.”

    I was trying above to question the word “deserve.” Let me try again. What if we rephrase that to say, “God says we do not automatically deserve to be with him.” Would you have a problem with that? Or do you think we do automatically deserve to be with him?

  11. I think one thing that could help explain this is that Jesus did live/obey the Law perfectly. It can be done. But Jesus is the only one who has ever done and the only one who ever will. So it is possible, but none of us do it.

    Katie said
    “I really do struggle with the idea of a God who says we automatically deserve death — even if we have a kinder definition of death — for being human.”

    I have a question. What does God owe us? Do we deserve life? Is it really something we can expect from God; to continue giving us life despite the fact that we can’t follow even one rule while in direct communion with Him (don’t eat from the tree)?

    Before you had children did you know that they were going to disobey you at some point? Did you know there would be failure and pain in their lives? Did you know that they will become teenagers and then reject you and tell you that they never want anything to do with you? The answer is probably “yes” but you thought that you could help them overcome and resolve any of those issues.

    If God has a solution that will be available to anyone who wants it, I feel like the moral dilema is solved.

  12. what Paul has to say about being justified by faith, with this caveat: that faith is an “action word” — so if you’re not obedient and righteous, you don’t have true faith.

    Love it. Can’t disagree.

    The order in which it all gets sorted out seems irrelevant to me. Personally, I know people who have come to genuine, vibrant faith in Christ by living His commandments before they believed; I know others who believed before they obeyed.

    The problem as I see it, is that people who are merely obeying the Law think that they’re in control. They all too quickly become Pharisees and don’t think twice about it because everything on the outside looks okay. Despite their obedience they are still without hope because Jesus is our only hope.

    What’s more, I acknowledge He did it, not me; it was nothing I “earned” or “qualified for” by observing the law, but something He did for me out of pure grace.

    LOVE IT.

  13. “God says we do not automatically deserve to be with him.” Would you have a problem with that? Or do you think we do automatically deserve to be with him?

    Brian, I don’t know that we “deserve” anything. At least I would never be so presumptuous to say that I deserve to be with God. At the same time, I think that unless God accepts everyone who genuinely desires Him — even if they have important, critical details wrong about Him and screw up and so on — then I’m not sure how loving He is.

    In fact, I might take that a step further and say that unless God accepts everyone who genuinely seeks after truth, then I’m not sure how loving He is.

    The reason I say that is because most of the people I know — even atheists — believe what they believe out of a place of sincerity and integrity. I get that not everyone is like this. There are people out there who don’t give a flying fig. But with people who are honest and sincere in their beliefs (or lack thereof)…who try to live in accordance with their principles and values…it doesn’t seem (yes, I’ll say it) fair for God to keep Himself separate from them, even if their theology is wrong.

    I mean, I might not “deserve” to be with God, but something’s squirrely if, at the end of the day, I get to heaven because I was lucky enough to be right in my genuine, heartfelt beliefs…while someone else was unlucky enough to be wrong in his.

    Because we’ve already established it ain’t my good behavior that’s getting me in. 😉

  14. Tim:

    What does God owe us?

    I don’t know what He owes us; perhaps nothing. Or perhaps everything. I mean, what do I owe my daughter? I brought her into the world. She didn’t ask to be created. As a result, I feel as though I owe her a stable home and a loving environment and as healthy an outlook on life as I can give her.

    I also owe her the opportunity to find her own way.

    Before you had children did you know that they were going to disobey you at some point? Did you know there would be failure and pain in their lives? Did you know that they will become teenagers and then reject you and tell you that they never want anything to do with you?

    Of course. But I also believe that life is inherently worth it. So I brought her into the world anyway.

    I will never, ever reject her though — not even when she gets to that nasty teenage phase and turns away from me and does all kinds of crazy stuff that I’d really rather she not.

    And yet, based on some of the things people have told me about God, I might be led to believe that He behaves exactly the opposite.

    If God has a solution that will be available to anyone who wants it, I feel like the moral dilema is solved.

    I agree, but again, where I run into trouble is this: what exactly is involved in this solution available to everyone?

    Because if it’s Christianity, or a certain “brand” of Christianity, I don’t know if that makes sense. While I believe it, I don’t know that Christianity is inherently obvious to everyone. I know sincere people who have rejected it. These aren’t people who are dishonest or hateful in their rejection; they are genuine. They might be wrong — but then again I might be wrong — and if they’re damned I might as well be. That’s honestly how I feel.

  15. The problem as I see it, is that people who are merely obeying the Law think that they’re in control. They all too quickly become Pharisees and don’t think twice about it because everything on the outside looks okay.

    Agreed, this is the biggest potential problem with this approach.

    The biggest potential problem on the other side is you get people who are lazy in their obedience because, hey, they’re already saved.

    Both attitudes represent a disconnect somewhere in their relationship with God.

  16. While I believe it, I don’t know that Christianity is inherently obvious to everyone. I know sincere people who have rejected it. These aren’t people who are dishonest or hateful in their rejection; they are genuine.

    This is getting far beyond anything that Romans talks about, but the LDS understanding solves this issue to some extent by recognizing opportunities in the afterlife. Not a lot has been revealed about hades/paradise/spirit prison, but my understanding is that those who are sincerely seeking the truth will find it. Ultimately, God is both loving and just.

  17. Katie: I’m completely on board with your October 18, 2010 at 12:58 am comment. I think we see the word “deserve” the same way.

    Now it’s just a question of how God chooses the requirements to be with him. And I agree that ‘special theological knowledge’ would be a weaselly requirement (for exactly the reason you say).

    But it should come as no surprise that I think that way, seeing that LDS doctrine insists that everyone will at some point prior to final judgment have an opportunity to receive that ‘special theological knowledge.’

    Oh wait—you said “squirrelly,” not “weaselly.” I guess we just disagree on the animal metaphor.

    Tim: Your analogy of having kids despite knowing they will rebel reminded me of a famous speech by Sidney Poitier’s character to his father in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”:

    You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life? What do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me.

    Let me tell you something: I owe you nothing. If you carried that bag a million miles you did what you
    were supposed to do because you brought me
    into this world and from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me….

  18. Isn’t the point of Romans 2-3 though that we are in no place to judge, and that God does that? That even if we are following the law, we really can’t judge other people’s righteousness?

    Given that everyone lives in different circumstances and brings different backgrounds to the table, it might not even be fair to apply the same law to everybody, or the same rules, or the same levels of belief. And as God knows us all personally, He’s got it covered.

    And pretty much what we have to do is live out our lives as best as we can, and try to draw as close to God however we can. And Jesus took care of all of the ways we mess up–it was a miracle!–and how awesome is that?

    It wouldn’t be just to judge everyone according to the same law. Not really. It works in humanity… but messes up sometimes.

    For example, a lot of schools have no-tolerance policies. For weapons, for drugs, for whatever. But then you have kids who didn’t realize that their dad left his gun in their trunk… and they get expelled. You have the girl who gets jumped by three other girls and the teacher who walks in only sees a fight… and all are suspended, even the girl who was trying to avoid a broken nose.

    God is able to look at us on a case-by-case basis, knowing all the details, all the understanding, all of the misunderstanding, all of the ways we mess up and why. He can judge us fairly, and while we have a responsibility to introduce people to Jesus and to faith and to the beauty of life in relationship with God, we don’t have the responsibility to judge people’s righteousness. Thank God!

  19. Thanks, Brian and Eric. That makes sense. And ultimately that’s what I believe: that God will turn away no one who genuinely desires truth, even if they don’t have all the facts straight.

    have you ever known someone who was sincerely wrong?

    Of course I’ve known people who are sincerely wrong. In fact, I have no doubt that I am sincerely wrong. I’m not sure exactly *what* I’m wrong about, or else I’d change my mind, but there’s got to be lots.

    Why do you ask?

  20. I’m not sure exactly *what* I’m wrong about, or else I’d change my mind, but there’s got to be lots.

    Ditto for me.

  21. well I’m sure I’m probably wrong about some things as well. What I was trying to point out was that sincerity isn’t everything.

    I think God’s looking for people to be open to their own misgivings, aware that they’re way at looking at things might be corrupt and willing to weigh those things against scripture. A sincere Muslim who rejects Jesus because Jesus doesn’t line up well with the Qu’ran is going to meet death.

    I’m aware that the Bible doesn’t answer ALL questions. But it does answer for us how to restore our relationship with God. To LDS I question, does it say anything about false prophets? Does the Bible think that false prophets can be sincerely followed or do they get in our way of being in relationship with God? Can a Christian follow Mohamed?

    What about true prophets? Can we reject true prophets without affecting our relationship with God? Can we reject true scripture delivered by prophets? Might that rejection change what we feel is important or necessary in finding peace with God?

    Ideas have consequences. As far as I can tell Jesus isn’t just about giving us fire insurance. He restores and renews our minds. He changes our very thoughts to be in line with his. Just as we can expect obedience through faith, we can expect our ideas about God to sharpen and gain confidence.

  22. And that is why, after 2000+ years, Christians around the world are very much in agreement on just about everything.

  23. As many disagreements as we have with one another it’s not all that hard to get all Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to agree on some very basic things.

  24. Romans 1:1- 3:20 described my dark pit, where I was buried under multiple layers of sin. I really did think that I was beyond hope.

    But, guys, that one sentence in the KJV (Romans 3:21-26) was the message describing my rescue operation. I drew a big heart around it in my Bible! So many emotions wash over me when I come to that word, “But”, in verse 21.

    The Chile miners had a rescue pod. Here in this text, Paul vividly details my rescue pod with these terms: righteousness, faith, justified, grace, redemption, propitiation, blood, remission, forbearance, just, justifier, etc.

    This is the most hopeful message to ever be broadcasted among sinful humanity.

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  26. As much as I sincerely and truly believe that the LDS Church was and is organised and led by God, I also believe that there are many people with whom God works to bring His children closer to Him. In LDS vernacular, we speak about inspired men and women. In recent years, we’ve heard General Conference addresses that talked about the founders of the Protestant Reformation being inspired. I believe that the men and women who have helped people draw closer to God were inspired to do so, even if they weren’t totally correct. I believe this includes not only the Christian reformers, but even men like Mohammed, who definitely brought positive change to the Arab world.

    I am not a scriptorian, and I have not studied the life of Paul extensively, but what I read of his message to the Romans is that Jesus is the best path, but, ultimately, God knows that not everyone is going to find that path, which is why we will be judged according to the law we had.

  27. but even men like Mohammed, who definitely brought positive change to the Arab world.

    I think a lot of people both inside and outside the Arab world would debate that pretty furiously.

  28. What I was trying to point out was that sincerity isn’t everything. … A sincere Muslim who rejects Jesus because Jesus doesn’t line up well with the Qu’ran is going to meet death.

    And this is where I think that a God who would do this — who would take someone who is sincere and striving, but wrong about the details — and separate Himself from her eternally, is no kind of loving god at all.

    I mean, I can’t imagine doing something like that to my child. It goes against everything I know about love.

  29. And this is where I think that a God who would do this — who would take someone who is sincere and striving, but wrong about the details — and separate Himself from her eternally, is no kind of loving god at all.

    I mean, I can’t imagine doing something like that to my child. It goes against everything I know about love.

    This, this, a thousand times this.

  30. Is Jesus a mere detail?

    I think I might differ with you in how sincere every seeker might be.

    Alex said:
    I have not studied the life of Paul extensively, but what I read of his message to the Romans is that Jesus is the best path,

    You should read him as saying that Jesus is the only path.

  31. Unless you want to maintain that the person who sincerely strives but gets it wrong is not in fact actually sincere. But then I have a major problem with that. Because it is an arrogant load of crap.

  32. I think I might differ with you in how sincere every seeker might be.

    And this is where you jump off the boat, and into the lake of crapola.

    It’s one thing to say everyone else is wrong about God. It’s another thing to say that everyone else who is wrong about God knows it, and they are being dishonest.

  33. I think I might differ with you in how sincere every seeker might be.

    All I know is that, personally, I am excessively and almost obsessively sincere about these sorts of questions…and I still come up with answers that many people believe are “wrong” (and which I freely acknowledge may well be wrong, though I do my best to believe things that I genuinely think have the greatest likelihood of being true, based on my admittedly limited understanding).

    I don’t doubt that there are others like me, just as sincere, who have reached different conclusions. I say that because I’ve met them personally.

    And I just hope — really, really hope — that even where I am wrong, God will see past it and let me be with Him anyway.

    My belief is that He will.

    But maybe that’s one of those things I’m wrong about… 😉

  34. It’s another thing to say that everyone else who is wrong about God knows it, and they are being dishonest.

    I’m not saying that.

    I do think that every one has a nagging instinct that “this is not the way life is meant to be lived” and the only thing that removes that nag is Jesus. How and why people ignore that calling of the Holy Spirit is a long list and with varying degrees.

  35. I have to admit that Paul spoke the truth about me. In all my sincere seeking growing up in S.E. Idaho, I was full of a lot of sinful crapola.

    Thousands of times over, we have all been insincere.

  36. I do think that every one has a nagging instinct that “this is not the way life is meant to be lived” and the only thing that removes that nag is Jesus. How and why people ignore that calling of the Holy Spirit is a long list and with varying degrees.

    Right. You are inventing a thought that you claim other people have, because your religion teaches that it should be there. And because your religion is obviously true to you.

    That’s like, institutional narcissistic personality disorder.

  37. ‘Is Jesus a mere detail?’

    No, but in a world where his supposed followers, myself included, represent him so poorly and so many forces prevent others from even considering faith in Him; I cannot consider that everyone who does not recognize Christ before death is cast out.

    That, and I’ve seen the Lord work through too many unbelievers to consider that their lives will be lived in vain.

  38. “Inventing a thought”

    That thought surely has existed for millennia. It is the big Idea.

    Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds me somewhat of that nag.

  39. Katie, and just to add one more thought concerning this inclusive chapter, Romans 3:23, is a big reality check for everyone living in my hometown, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

    It sets up the truth that everyone is equal – in the same boat. This brings assurance to those who think that they are too much the sinners, too much outside the “righteous” camp, etc.

    There is a lot of comparison that takes place in people’s agitated conversations.

    But this one verse sets the record straight for the whole community.

    Yes. “1. Everyone sins.” There is only one hero that should be placed on the pedastal in our communities.

    That hero is the Man – Jesus Christ.

  40. ‘It sets up the truth that everyone is equal – in the same boat’

    Todd, forgive me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you a calvinist?

  41. John, a logically consistent Calvinist would say I am not consistent.

    But, of course, my contention would be how is the Bible completely consistent with any human theological construct?

  42. My belief, actually, is that Jesus doesn’t take away the nag — not fully — not even for believers. It’s there to continually remind us that we need God.

    Totally not trying to pimp my own posts, but I just blogged about this very thing here. I framed it in the context of women’s happiness, but my guess is that it’s applicable for everyone.

  43. Just because you and Paul have decided that you have a Jesus-shaped hole in your heart doesn’t mean you can insist that everyone in the world has one and if they say they don’t they’re deluded or lying.

  44. I think the problem is that Evangelical and Mormon Christians don’t recognize that there are all kinds of things that make people as happy or happier than belief in their brand of Christianity.

    And I think Paul, C.S. Lewis and others use the argument that all men have the “law in their hearts” far overstate the uniformity of human conscience.

    Could Paul be wrong in this? (does your interpretation of the Bible allow for Paul to make these sorts of errors in emphasis or observation?)

  45. Could Paul be wrong in this? (does your interpretation of the Bible allow for Paul to make these sorts of errors in emphasis or observation?)

    I think this is extremely important, and a good way to parse the question.

    Paul, Tim and Todd have no actual evidence that people the world over and all through history have an ache in their heart for Jesus that they’re lying about. They believe it because (at least for Tim and todd) Paul said so. And how does Paul know? How does Paul know the secret thoughts of every human being in space and time? Did God tell him? Or is he just generalizing from his own experiences, and assuming that all or most people in the world think, feel and react basically like he does. It’s not a stretch, since that’s something that lots of people do, even with perfectly good intentions.

    Well, what if Paul is wrong? Can Paul have been wrong in an epistle? What if he could? Does that render the whole Bible useless? How much would that undermine his conclusion?

    One of the points I tried to make in my post on Romans 4 was that I think that even if Paul is wrong, the basic conclusion he comes to (i.e., that all people are guilty of transgressing God’s law, that nobody is capable of perfect righteousness, that we are all therefore condemned, and that thus we all need to have faith that Jesus can save us) is solid even if the one premise is flawed.

    To my knowledge, Mormon understanding of scripture can accomodate that with no trouble. The scriptures are human creations with human weakness written in–they are a human record of divine inspiration/revelation and the recording process is an imperfect one. So Mormonism accomodates bias and error by prophets and feels comfortable hanging onto the baby.

    Liberal Christianity even more so–they are much more willing to let go of specific arguments assertions in the scriptures but insist that the Big Idea still works even without the problem spots.

    What about the rest of you–what if Paul is wrong?

  46. maybe it would have been better for me to say that only Jesus satisfies the nag.

    Kullervo, Just because we learned it from Paul, does not mean it’s not true. I’m allowed to say that spiritual knowledge is true. I can’t poll every person on earth and devise some test to weed out everyone who is truly being honest with me or themselves. “The condition of every human heart” is information that the Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to teach us about. I find it consistent with the human condition I see around me. I may not have come up with it on my own, it may not be discernible by logic or science, but it’s still knowledge.

    Jared,
    How are you going to determine what is just an overstatement by Paul and what is right on? Can we disregard that love, joy, peace and patience are fruits of the Spirit by the same measure that we think that “the wages of sin is death” is an overstatement? Do you stand in authority over Paul? (for that matter, do you stand in authority over Elder Packer?) Jesus did most of the talking about Hell. If those words are too strong for us can we just assume that Jesus is over emphasizing a point?

  47. Liberal Christianity even more so–they are much more willing to let go of specific arguments assertions in the scriptures but insist that the Big Idea still works even without the problem spots.

    The problem of sin is part of the Big Idea. You can’t toss out that every person in some way is rejecting God and still think the Gospel is coherent.

    At a bare minimum to be a “Christian” of any semblance of the word you have to believe that the Bible is accurate in all of it’s spiritual teachings.

    Well, what if Paul is wrong? Can Paul have been wrong in an epistle?

    On what basis should I assume that Paul is wrong about this? “Because Kullervo doesn’t like it”?

  48. Tim,

    I don’t stand in authority over anyone, my question is, on this point, does Paul, and why.

    What being a Mormon makes me understand is that inspired men can be wrong in their arguments at times and still be relaying reliable spiritual information.

    I can’t see any reason to apply a different standard to Paul than to Packer or Joseph Smith. If he says something that is not supported by spiritual experience or scientific knowledge I think that it needs to be questioned whether what he says is “the word of God”.

    The reason we can trust Paul is not because he is Paul, but because what he says is verifiable by experience and corroborated by other spiritual sources, No?

  49. Jared said
    I think the problem is that Evangelical and Mormon Christians don’t recognize that there are all kinds of things that make people as happy or happier than belief in their brand of Christianity.

    I absolutely recognize that there are plenty of things that make people happier than my brand of Christianity. I reject “personal happiness” as the right measurement for worshiping the One True God.

  50. I think Paul’s point that pagans and other non-Christians know that they are wrong and are justifiably condemned on that basis is clearly wrong.

    I think he may have a point that there is a universal sensitivity to right and wrong and that most all people have some sort of conscience or morality, it does not follow that this is conclusive evidence in everybody’s heart that the God of the bible is the one and true way to justification, or that everybody understands that they are sinners and need it.

    I don’t think this invalidates all of Paul’s argument but it makes me think that we can’t take all of his words to be “gospel”

  51. Tim said: I reject “personal happiness” as the right measurement for worshiping the One True God.

    Ok, fair enough, but if one is very happy and has a clear conscience rejecting Jesus, this hurts Pauls argument, even if it doesn’t disprove Christianity in the least.

  52. At a bare minimum to be a “Christian” of any semblance of the word you have to believe that the Bible is accurate in all of it’s spiritual teachings.

    Martin Luther was not a Christian?

  53. I think Paul’s point that pagans and other non-Christians know that they are wrong and are justifiably condemned on that basis is clearly wrong.

    I think he may have a point that there is a universal sensitivity to right and wrong and that most all people have some sort of conscience or morality, it does not follow that this is conclusive evidence in everybody’s heart that the God of the bible is the one and true way to justification, or that everybody understands that they are sinners and need it.

    I don’t think this invalidates all of Paul’s argument but it makes me think that we can’t take all of his words to be “gospel”

    This is what I was saying over on Romans 4. Even if Paul is wrong about non-Judeo-Christians being willful about it, I think it’s safe to say that they are still condemned by God’s law, because (1) they don’t obey the God’s law, (2) they don’t even live up to their own ethical standards, and (3) even if they did know God’s law, they would nevertheless fail to live up to it, just like everyone else.

  54. Tim: The problem of sin is part of the Big Idea. You can’t toss out that every person in some way is rejecting God and still think the Gospel is coherent.

    Kullervo: This is what I was saying over on Romans 4. Even if Paul is wrong about non-Judeo-Christians being willful about it, I think it’s safe to say that they are still condemned by God’s law, because (1) they don’t obey the God’s law, (2) they don’t even live up to their own ethical standards, and (3) even if they did know God’s law, they would nevertheless fail to live up to it, just like everyone else.

    Right, you can keep problem of sin and maintain coherence in the gospel narrative without insisting that people are insincere or dishonest if they don’t come up with Christianity as the solution.

  55. On what basis should I assume that Paul is wrong about this? “Because Kullervo doesn’t like it”?

    If nothing else, for the sake of argument.

    That aside, Paul makes a statement about the mental and spiritual experiences of all of humanity which contradicts what all of humanity reports about its own mental and spiritual experiences, and is supported by no evidence but Paul’s claimed spiritual authority. If human history is any kindof guide, that’s a really good reason to doubt that what Paul says is true.

    And while I do think that spiritual experience and spiritual knowledge is valid and relevant, I also think that your spiritual knowledge about me gets trumped by my spiritual knowledge about myself, at the very least because with all spiritual knowledge you have to acknowledge a hefty room for error (again, if history is any guide, not acknowledging room for error in your spiritual knowledge is a good recipe for just, making bigger and bigger errors).

    That’s a hefty helping of special pleading. You are assuming that your spiritual knowledge about other people is more valid than other peoples’ spiritual knowledge about themselves, without there being any particular reason to think that yours is more valid. It just happens to be yours.

  56. it does not follow that this is conclusive evidence in everybody’s heart that the God of the bible is the one and true way to justification, or that everybody understands that they are sinners and need it.

    I think you guys are trying to force Paul to say things he’s not saying. He’s not saying that everyone knows the Bible is the word of God and intentionally rejects it. He’s saying, just as Kullervo did above, that everyone sins AND everyone rejects God in someway AND everyone knows they’ve sinned and rejected God.

    Jared said:

    I don’t stand in authority over anyone, my question is, on this point, does Paul, and why.

    . . . I can’t see any reason to apply a different standard to Paul than to Packer or Joseph Smith. If he says something that is not supported by spiritual experience or scientific knowledge I think that it needs to be questioned whether what he says is “the word of God”.

    Paul has authority as an apostle. When he states that he’s an apostle, he asserts that what he says has authority.

    As a Mormon are you free to reject canon? On your own authority?

  57. He’s saying, just as Kullervo did above, that everyone sins AND everyone rejects God in someway AND everyone knows they’ve sinned and rejected God.

    That is not at all what I said.

    As a Mormon are you free to reject canon? On your own authority?

    As a human being, you are.

  58. Jared was making his argument “as a Mormon”. In the part I snipped he said “What being a Mormon makes me understand is that inspired men can be wrong in their arguments at times and still be relaying reliable spiritual information.”

    Katie said

    Right, you can keep problem of sin and maintain coherence in the gospel narrative without insisting that people are insincere or dishonest if they don’t come up with Christianity as the solution.

    Can you show me where Paul says “anyone who rejects Jehovah is insincere and dishonest”

    There are plenty of other reasons to not come up with Christianity other than insincerity and dishonesty. I’m more than willing to concede that. I don’t expect a African Bushman to discern the sacrificial atonement of Jesus out of nothing. He needs someone to tell him about Jesus. His ignorance makes just as much sense as his insincerity. All Paul is saying is that the African Bushman has sinned even against his own law and rejected God. Because of the Bushman’s own knowledge of his sin and rejection of God he stands condemned.

    As far as how the Bushman goes about resolving those things with God, I’ll leave God to be the judge of. But the one thing that is certain in that judgment is that Jesus is the only solution for the Pygmy, the Mormon, the Buddhist or for me.

  59. As a Mormon are you free to reject canon? On your own authority?

    As a Mormon you are free to believe what is confirmed by the spirit and you are never required to believe anything that is not true.

    And for a Mormon, you can think Paul was wrong, or misinformed, or incomplete on certain points without rejecting canon.

    Mormons don’t believe that things are inerrant simply because they are in the canon.

    I think to believe otherwise is really un-Biblical.

  60. Romans 1:
    18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

    This is where I think Paul is wrong. Depending on what you mean by godlessness, God has not really made it plain to them. This cannot be a reason that men are without excuse.

    I think you can be honestly godless without self-delusion.

  61. Can you show me where Paul says “anyone who rejects Jehovah is insincere and dishonest”

    Yes. Romans 1:18-23.

    18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
    19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
    20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
    21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
    22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
    23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

    v. 18-20: the God of Judeo-Christianity is known to everyone in the world, because He is evident in creation and has been since it was created. Nobody has an excuse, because God is plain for all to see.

    v. 21: Despite the Judeo-Christian God being obvious to everyone, people have rejected him and believed other things.

    Paul says nobody in the world has an excuse to not believe in the Judeo-Christian God, because he is and always has been plainly evident–even his invisible qualities. In other words, everyone knows better. That means everyone who does not believe in the Judeo-Christian God does so knowingly, deliberately, and rebelliously.

    Since the Judeo-Christian God is plainly evident to everyone, nobody sincerely concludes otherwise. Only people who have darkened, foolish hearts.

    That means that people who claim to sincerely believe in other things are either (1) too stupid to see how evident the Judeo-Christian God is, or (2) lying. Or insane. Or brainwashed.

    But the point is, nobody sincerely seeks and finds anything other than Jesus, because to find anything other than Jesus you would have to be ignoring the plain evidence of the Judeo-Christian God all around you.

  62. One pagan had Jesus standing right smack dab in front of him.

    Jesus says to him, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

    And then the pagan says, “What is truth?”

    Hmmm . . . was that a sincere question?

  63. Todd Wood, I do not understand the point of that story. I get it on a surface level, but I for one think the pagan had a valid question.

    Also, is that a Bible verse? Because if one is not of the truth, what are they? Of the lies?

    (And for once I’m not being snarky. I’m asking for reals. Sincerely, if you will.)

  64. John 18.

    I don’t think the “truth seeker” was sincere, he authorized the killing of the man whom he confesses, “I find in him fault at all.”

    What a sick mess, we humans are.

  65. Recognizing that an apparently simple rhetoric is loaded with difficult premises?

    That’s pretty much the deinition of real sincerity.

  66. I don’t think the “truth seeker” was sincere, he authorized the killing of the man whom he confesses, “I find in him fault at all.”

    What does that even have to do with it?

  67. Under the NT story, Pilate allowed the execution even though he found no violation of Roman law, however, the Pharisees found violation of their law since it was not obvious to them that Jesus was the Messiah and he was claiming to be such.

    Even Paul was guilty of this sort of mistake.

    I think the story itself says a lot about how difficult it is to determine that Jesus is the Christ . . . even if you are completely versed in the scriptures . . . let alone determine that you need a Christ if you never cracked the bible.

  68. Maybe it’s because I went to law school for too long, but the first thing I learned was to dig deeper. And if I had the chance to ask Jesus questions in person, asking about the nature of Truth would be at the top of my list.

  69. I think the story itself says a lot about how difficult it is to determine that Jesus is the Christ . . . even if you are completely versed in the scriptures . . . let alone determine that you need a Christ if you never cracked the bible.

    I think the story illustrates how wickedness can keep people from seeing the Messiah, even when he’s standing right there in front of them.

  70. Well, God could make himself a lot clearer, so you can’t blame all mistakes on “wickedness”.

    It seems like some sort of obscurity is part of his M.O.

  71. “the righteousness of God without the law is manifested”

    It is so plain, made so clear. And look at the millennium of witness.

    Jared, we really are without excuse. It is clear. So clear.

    ______

    On another note, when I listen to the apostles in the I-15 Corrider year after year, I became more skeptical and more critical.

    But with the apostle Paul, it is altogether different. I can identify with the believers in Thessalonica when Paul writes, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”

  72. Yeah I’m taking Jared’s side on this one. If the Bible and God and Jesus were easy to understand, seminary classes and Bible studies would be irrelevant.

  73. Saying how clear it is over and over again while refusing to deal with the complexities that are honestly there does not actually make you sound like you know what you are talking about.

    It makes you sound bamboozled.

  74. On another note, when I listen to the apostles in the I-15 Corrider year after year, I became more skeptical and more critical.

    But isn’t it interesting that I know literally hundreds of people who have the exact opposite reaction — the more they listen to the apostles in the I-15 Corridor year after year, the more believing and trusting they become.

    Those who have ears to hear and all… 😉

    I think we should all just admit it: understanding and discerning the Divine is far from simple and clear for us mere mortals. What’s more, it appears God did it this way on purpose…or else He’s just super inefficient.

  75. (Hit submit too soon)

    I’m not sure why He made it so complicated, but I trust He had a good reason. I also trust He’ll show plenty of mercy to those of us (read: ALL of us) who get to the other side and realize how much we truly didn’t understand.

  76. On another note, when I listen to the apostles in the I-15 Corrider year after year, I became more skeptical and more critical.

    But with the apostle Paul, it is altogether different.

    Of course it is different. But it’s different because you treat them differently.

    You treat the Mormon apostles like you would treat anyone else making questionably authoritative statements, and subject them to scrutiny.

    But in contrast, you have made an a priori determination that Paul’s writing is the inerrant Word of God, and so you read it as such.

    That hardly puts you in a position to be able to objectively evaluate the substantive or qualitiative differences between the two.

  77. What’s more, it appears God did it this way on purpose…or else He’s just super inefficient.

    I’m not sure why He made it so complicated, but I trust He had a good reason. I also trust He’ll show plenty of mercy to those of us (read: ALL of us) who get to the other side and realize how much we truly didn’t understand.

    Or maybe it’s just that God isn’t anything like we assume he is?

  78. As a Mormon are you free to reject canon? On your own authority?

    This is a fascinating question. I think most Mormons would say no.

    I think the real answer is that each of us is responsible for the level of light and knowledge we’ve received (there I go pulling out Mormon terminology), and that ultimately we are free to reject whatever we genuinely believe to be uninspired.

    Another way of asking this question is: would God really ask us to go against conscience?

  79. Whitney, God is so good and so great to present Himself and His Gospel so clear to the hearts of children. Look at Jesus with the little children on His lap. Truth shines brilliantly through the heart of little ones. We get so prideful in making the case for all of our individual nuances and spins on Truth.

    And also, God is so good and so great in allowing His Redeemed to explore Himself and His Gospel throughout eternity. It is that infinitely deep – the mystery so remarkable. The leading American Bible scholars can’t even come close to dissecting or explaining away the beauty, the mystery, and the joyful poetry of God and His salvation work.

  80. Well. I think we’ve covered at least two stories where God, in fact, DID request that someone go against their conscience and kill someone.

  81. Or maybe it’s just that God isn’t anything like we assume he is?

    While I genuinely believe that God is the way I assume He is, otherwise I’d obviously make other assumptions, I acknowledge the possibility that I could be wrong. 🙂

  82. Well. I think we’ve covered at least two stories where God, in fact, DID request that someone go against their conscience and kill someone.

    Ha. Good point. And then there’s that. 🙂

  83. If the Bible and God and Jesus were easy to understand, seminary classes and Bible studies would be irrelevant.

    Simply enough for any five year old to understand and complex enough for any one to spend her life exploring its depths.

  84. You know, Todd, I’ll just say this. Do I think children can understand the presence of God? Yes. Do I think any human can understand the nature of God in full? No.

    Some things can be clear, but they can also be terribly nuanced. That’s not my pride speaking, that’s my genuine experience in my spiritual path. Additionally, when I was five I hadn’t had to deal with 99% of the crap that I’ve been through 23 years later. The resulting questions are not about pride, that’s life taking its toll and raising legitimate issues.

    And frankly, I find it prideful on your part that you think you can speak in bumper sticker and random quasi slam poetry and wonder why the point isn’t getting across without pushback from the rest of us.

  85. Todd,

    I like what you are saying,

    It is that infinitely deep – the mystery so remarkable. The leading American Bible scholars can’t even come close to dissecting or explaining away the beauty, the mystery, and the joyful poetry of God and His salvation work.

    But the fact that it is a mystery shows us that it is not plain and not clear. It inspires many questions.

    Ultimately it may not be explainable, and all of Paul’s words are flawed to some extent. (as he seems to admit in 1st Corinthians and elsewhere)

  86. …And just as mysteriously, the italics disappear.

    Do you guys think that, for just a moment, Italics Herself was in our midst?

    I’ve always wanted to experience a group theophany.

  87. Whitney, life is full of crap. I have felt my fair share from others in the past 40 years. And I have heaped my fair share upon others. I am not proud of it. The mess of Romans 1-3 is real, and it is awful.

    I constantly struggle with pride, so I apologize if I come across too quick or too smug in this latest string of little blog posting soundbites.

    It is legitimate to give a push back to my comments. Good grief, I can’t even get my grammar and spelling perfect, let alone my heart attitude.

    But it is not legitimate or excusable for one during their whole life course to push back and reject Paul’s opening bad news about world humanity in Romans 1:1-3:20. From Baptists to Mormons, from Democrats to Republicans, from Americans to Arabians, we are all desparate sinners in need of gospel grace. We are all a half mile down in the pit of our crap. We all need pulled out and into the love and light of the righteousness of God.

    The book of Romans sincerely communicates that.

  88. But it is not legitimate or excusable for one during their whole life course to push back and reject Paul’s opening bad news about world humanity in Romans 1:1-3:20.

    Yes it is.

  89. “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

    Well, if you’re totally literal like I am, Jesus said that and the pagan answered… thus having heard him. So I guess pagans can be of the truth. 🙂

  90. I think Paul’s description of the plainness of the reality of the law and God may contradict Jesus’ parable of the sower.

    Some seeds that fall on the wayside . . Matthew 13:19

    Paul seems to imply that stoniness (rebellion, Matthew 13:20–21.) or thorniness (being choked by cares of the world, Matthew 13:22) are the only reasons the word would not take hold.

    Some people just don’t understand what is being told to them.

  91. Todd/Whitney/et al: fwiw, I’m not totally swayed by Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3 that we are horribly awful crap-filled hellish disgusting spiders. (Actually, I’m not completely convinced that that is his argument, but since that’s how it’s being interpreted here….) I think that possibly Paul was exaggerating for effect; if not, then he’s just mistaken.

    I also don’t think it’s a big deal either way in terms of his reason for making that point. Paul wants to illustrate how essential Christ is to everyone—Jew, Greek, etc.—so even if some people (I’m speaking very hypothetically here) at the very best will only fall a bit short of God, they still need someone to help them bridge the gap. You need Christ. I need Christ. We all need Christ—but that doesn’t necessitate that we’re all despicable.

  92. I also don’t think it’s a big deal either way in terms of his reason for making that point. Paul wants to illustrate how essential Christ is to everyone—Jew, Greek, etc.—so even if some people (I’m speaking very hypothetically here) at the very best will only fall a bit short of God, they still need someone to help them bridge the gap. You need Christ. I need Christ. We all need Christ—but that doesn’t necessitate that we’re all despicable.

    Again, I agree. I think in making his point, Paul says some unfortunate things that are not true and probably do more harm than good. But fortunately for Paul, they are not absolutely necessary in making his point.

    “Pretty good, but still not good enough” gets you just as damned as “horribly awful crap-filled hellish disgusting spider.”

  93. ““Pretty good, but still not good enough” gets you just as damned as “horribly awful crap-filled hellish disgusting spider.””

    And depending on how we define “damned” I’d agree with that. If your ultimate goal is to be a millionaire, then having $999,999 isn’t going to make you any more an millionaire than only having $1—either way, you failed to reach your goal.

  94. I actually think Paul uses the “depravity” point simply to break down the pride of the religious. That he implies that good works will be rewarded earlier seems to indicate that he does not hold the same position as The Old Adam and others of that strain of thought.

    His point is main point, everyone needs Christ a lot, not just the ungodly and the wicked, does not depend on everyone being bad at their core.

    Being weak human beings who do what they want in spite of the rules is enough.

    The Book of Mormon makes this point as well:

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/hel/12

    Helaman 12:

    4 O how afoolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
    5 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to bboast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
    6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should brule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at cnaught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
    7 O how great is the anothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are bless than the dust of the earth.
    8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.

  95. So let’s say some of our neighbors have only $100 in their righteous merit account (they’ve been pretty wicked all their lives). And some neighbors could be possibly at the value of $999,999 in their goodness (a lot of hard work throughout the years). And that there are people all in between when it comes to their righteous merit value.

    It sounds like those “awful crap-filled hellish disgusting spiders” have a whole lot work to do when it comes to catching up to those guys with bank accounts at $999,999.

    Would this scenario reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ? And if did, would it be fair that an “awful crap-filled hellish disgusting spider” could be justified in an instant on no account of his own and be eternally with the Father forever.

    _____

    Also, have you guys ever heard the gospel illustration of an archer setting up his target, and then he practices shooting at the mark with his bow and arrow? He shoots toward that target, and he continually falls short because of his sinful nature.

    I would like to tweak that illustration. It is not where the archer and other archers are shooting at the target, where we can all oohh and ahhh one another at how close we personally get at hitting the mark of the righteousness of God. No, we are all completely turned in the other direction in our depravity. And with aggressiveness in our depravity, some are shooting a little further than others. But we all start off shooting in the wrong direction. If we use a financial illustration, we are all bankrupt – abject poverty. And with aggressiveness in our depravity, some are digging deeper and faster than others.

    ___

    Last of all, if you guys believe that Paul was either into hyperbole or just got it wrong on the sin description of humanity, does that mean you just will take it as more hyperbole in chapter 5 and onward . . .

  96. 2 parables come to mind:

    ‘The workers in the field’ and ‘The Pharisee and the Publican’.

    Those are pretty clear that God will have mercy on whom He’ll have mercy. And that He has a soft heart for those who know their great need of Savior on account of their bankruptcy when it comes to their obedience to the law of God.

  97. Todd,

    I understand what you are saying, but I don’t get universal total depravity from the text, I think that is a distortion.

    Paul says the doers of the law will be justified by the law. This implies people are capable of doing the law, at least in part.

    The LDS view on the subject, is that no matter how much we do that is good, we are always repaid by God, and we will remain unprofitable servants. And no matter how much good we do, we are still prone to wickedness and quick to do evil. We are indebted to God for our lives, and can’t even pay him back for that. And we are not even as good as the dust of the earth because we do not always obey what God says, as the dust does. We have no reason to boast because we should be serving God with our whole souls.

    See Mosiah 2: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/mosiah/2/21#19

    I don’t think that Paul is saying we are totally incapable of doing the right thing (or if he is, he is overstating things.)

    The LDS concept, taught by King Benjamin, i believe is consistent with Paul but does not lead to the doctrine to total depravity.

  98. Todd asked, “would it be fair…?”

    I don’t care if it’s fair. If God shows more of his grace to someone else than he shows to me, then I’m 1) happy for the other guy and 2) grateful for whatever grace I received.

    “Would this scenario reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

    No. And it wasn’t meant to. I used the millionaire example to illustrate falling short of a goal, not to illustrate Christ’s gospel.

    And now it’s time to eat so I’ll have to get to your other questions later….

  99. Since when is Protestant Christianity about fairness?

    It seems to me that if you believe in total depravity, anything but universal salvation is unfair.

  100. Jared and Brian, would each of you present to me a gospel illustration to help me understand your view of Christ, grace, and man’s inherent goodness in relation to his sin?

  101. Jared and Brian, would each of you present to me a gospel illustration to help me understand your view of Christ, grace, and man’s inherent goodness in relation to his sin?

    Uh, you’re basically insisting that they define their religious beliefs in terms of your religion. The question of “man’s inherent goodness in relation to his sin” is pretty much one that only Calvinists (and such) are extremely concerned about.

  102. You say that everyone sins, I have to disagree and 1 John does as well. 1 John tells us he that is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remains in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. I do not sin. Sin is transgression of the law, where no law is, there is no transgression.

  103. Todd, What isn’t fair isn’t just. Right?

    Is it fair for one totally depraved person to be saved and sent to heaven and another totally depraved person to be damned and sent to hell? What is a fair basis for determining these outcomes?

    I think the Restored Gospel makes more sense: We are born into the fallen state of natural men, enemies to God, but we have the ability to choose the right or the wrong because we are created in His image. God conquers death and hell for all through Jesus Christ. We are punished for our own sins, if we don’t repent which will be just according to the severity of our sin. We have free will to choose good over bad and this life is a test to learn and grow in making those choices so that we can know joy. Every person who ever lives will have a full and fair opportunity to take advantage of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God is ready with open arms to give us everything he has through Jesus Christ through his grace but we will only receive as much as we are willing to and accept. The whole system depends on the Atonement of Jesus Christ since without it, all of us would die and remain in our weak and fallen state.

    Using your archery analogy. There is no reason to boast about how close we are to the mark, because God gave us the arrows and the ability to shoot, and we get whatever points we deserve for hitting the mark that we do. Righteousness is its own spiritual reward, and sin is its own spiritual punishment. But these rewards are nothing compared to what God is willing to give us if we give up our lives. Sacrifice of ourselves and our pride allows us to accept the grace of God. The spirit of God will eventually make archers out anyone who yields to it.

  104. In terms of the financial analogy, you forget something important–a person who has $100 in their righteous merit account might only need $101. And the person with $999,999 might need $1,000,000. Which means that both of them need the same amount of saving… assuming that you get saved by degrees. To analogize that to something else–people save up for retirement. But the amount that I want to have in order to feel like I can retire comfortably is probably different from you–I base it on my standard of living, and you on yours. Likewise, God doesn’t judge us based on the sum total of ‘righteous merit dollars’, but on our potential, our needs, and our situation.

    I would argue, though, that Christ’s sacrifice replaces all of our efforts completely. He didn’t suffer the sum total of all sins… he suffered an infinite suffering, and replaces all of our feeble attempts at whatever with his.

    And maybe the whole ‘judge not’ thing doesn’t only apply to sin, but to grace as well. Frankly, I hope all are saved, even if some of us are more sinful than the others. Even if we needed different quantities of grace and mercy–we all need it. And where I might be more righteous than others in some ways, there are certainly ways that others are more righteous than I am… so how can you even measure, anyway?

  105. Well, we are all in the same boat. There are none that are righteousess. Not a one.

    God calls and chooses whom He will.

    He is a real God. And He acts like one.

  106. Jared and KatyJane, thanks for the interaction. But I will be back for more Romans study. This ancient gospel treatise is a feast.

    And to theoldadam: Praise God for the perfect Adam of Romans 5! Similar and yet so dissimilar to the first Adam.

  107. “Praise God for the perfect Adam of Romans 5! Similar and yet so dissimilar to the first Adam.”

    Amen! Without Him, we would surely be lost.

  108. As promised, I’m back to answer Todd’s questions. I like what Jared says; I will just add a little to it.

    “ever heard the gospel illustration of an archer setting up his target…? …we are all completely turned in the other direction in our depravity.”

    I haven’t heard the analogy and I reject the depravity presupposition. So the analogy doesn’t work for me.

    “if you guys believe that Paul was either into hyperbole or just got it wrong on the sin description of humanity, does that mean you just will take it as more hyperbole in chapter 5 and onward . . .?”

    I’m interested in two things in this (and all) scripture study:

    1) What was the author trying to say,

    2) What do I make of it.

    Going with #1, I don’t really care whether Paul was right, wrong, overly dramatic, or whatever. I just want to know what point he was trying to make—just as in my conversations on this blog, I want to know what others are trying to say even if I’m pretty certain I will disagree with them.

    As for #2, that’s where I determine how what someone said fits into my life (including my relationship with God). And once again I don’t really care whether Paul is right or wrong per se, because it isn’t about my relationship with Paul, it’s about my relationship with God.

  109. Todd asked: “Jared and Brian, would each of you present to me a gospel illustration to help me understand your view of Christ, grace, and man’s inherent goodness in relation to his sin?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “gospel illustration.”

    Just as I reject inherent depravity, I also reject inherent goodness. Mankind is neither inherently good nor bad—or at least I don’t think that matters. The inherent characteristic that I think does matter is that we can choose good or evil.

  110. katyjane: “In terms of the financial analogy, you forget something important….”

    I’m not sure if that was directed at me, but my response below assumes it was.

    First, I agree with the point you made as you ran with the analogy.

    Second, I want to reiterate that my analogy was in no way meant to illustrate anything about final judgment etc. It was strictly meant to highlight that failure to reach a goal is failure whether one was “almost there” or “not even close.” Failure is failure. Thus, in my analogy, there are no different retirement goals/needs: there is only the goal to have $1M. I could have picked any goal—like the goal of eating 85 hotdogs in one minute, or whatever.

  111. Frankly, I hope all are saved, even if some of us are more sinful than the others.

    I totally agree with this.

    I’m interested in two things in this (and all) scripture study:

    1) What was the author trying to say,

    2) What do I make of it.

    I really like this approach and may steal it. 🙂

  112. Frankly, I hope all are saved, even if some of us are more sinful than the others.

    Me too. Peter seems to agree with you as well.

    He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

  113. I’m interested in two things in this (and all) scripture study:

    1) What was the author trying to say,

    2) What do I make of it.

    I think there’s probably a lot to unpack out of #2, depending on your views on God and scripture. I think if you believe all scripture is “God-breathed,” not matter what that means, part of the understanding process is “what is God trying to say to me?” And maybe what God is trying to say to me and to someone else, or everyone collectively, they all could conceivably be different things.

    And thenyou get into “how do I understand this?” “Do I believe this message to be true, and in what sense?” “How do I apply this in my life?” “How does this relate to other scriptures or other principles or values I hold?”

    I’m sure you meant to roll all of that up into “what do I make of it,” but I think it’s worth talking about all that can go into that. And I think that the question of whether you consider all of these to be different questions or the same question says a lot about your relationship with the text, and how you believe God mediates to you through the text.

  114. Kullervo: you’re absolutely right about all that’s packed up in “What do I make of it.” I don’t know that here is the best place to get into all the questions you ask, but they are very good questions (and I’m not opposed to getting into that here, I just don’t want to divert the thread). I just wanted to answer Todd’s question by pointing at that at no point am I really all that concerned about whether Paul is right or wrong.

  115. I just wanted to answer Todd’s question by pointing at that at no point am I really all that concerned about whether Paul is right or wrong.

    Well, “What do I make of it” sort of covers that. You are interested in it, just not in a direct way, i.e. it’s not a threshold question for you the way it is for me.

  116. Good point. I think the reason I am able to not care is that I have enjoyed good results from the scriptures, including those from Paul (and pseudo-Paul). So I have a certain level of trust that they are worth while. You, on the other hand, don’t have that same experience or trust, so it makes sense that the first question you should ask is one of correct/incorrect.

  117. Even if I did have good results from Paul’s scriptures in the past, that wouldn’t necessarily be enough to create the kind of presumption of worth you’re talking about. I think there’s a theological presumption there, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. A believing Mormon has at least a threshold presumption that what is written in canonical scriptures (or maybe even a rebuttable presumption that everything said by a prophet or apostle) is true.

  118. ” A believing Mormon has at least a threshold presumption that what is written in canonical scriptures (or maybe even a rebuttable presumption that everything said by a prophet or apostle) is true.”

    I think this is essentially accurate, and different than Evangelical understanding. It seems, based on Tim’s comment above, that Evangelicals simply postulate the truth and reliability of Paul’s comments.

    Mormon’s see (or should see) Paul’s teachings like they see Joseph Smith’s teachings, i.e. they are coming from a man who has seen visions from God and called of him by prophecy so we should take them seriously. However we should test the truth of the words against fact and the spirit to determine how we should rely on the teachings.

    In this way LDS can disregard some of Joseph Smith’s teachings as well as Paul’s or any other prophet’s without denying their calling or general reliability. The discussion should expand, at least partly, beyond simply interpreting the words of scripture, but estimating their relative reliability.

  119. Beautiful post, Katie.

    I haven’t read all 140 comments, so forgive me if I’m covering ground that’s already been covered, but I just wanted to respond to a point Katie brought up in the OP. Katie said:

    [I]t is difficult to reconcile the idea of a good, loving, personal god with a God who condemns people to hell for circumstances beyond their control…and both the Mormon and evangelical position is that the nature of mortality is such that we cannot control the fact that we’ll sin.

    I agree with that, by the way: I don’t think it’s possible for human beings to avoid sin — even if we choose a loose definition of “sin,” such as acting against one’s own ideals (let alone God’s). But if that’s the case, then what kind of God do we have if He’d make us this way, then condemn us for being as He made us?

    This is the way I look at it. There are three themes that I see in Christianity over and over again:

    (1) The innocent suffer through no fault of their own, but because of the actions of the guilty.
    (2) Parents have stewardship for their children. When the parents screw up, their sins are visited on the children either directly or indirectly.
    (3) God has provided a way to fix (1) and (2) through the work of the Holy Spirit and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

    (1) happens again and again in the Bible. It happened when the firstborn sons of the Egyptians were slaughtered by YHWH so that Pharoah would let the Hebrews go. It happened in Numbers 33 with the massacre of the the Midianite male children. In Jeremiah 26:15, Jeremiah basically warns the people of Judah that if they put him to death, all of the surrounding towns will suffer for it. And God did it Himself when He came to earth and suffered to make atonement for humanity’s sins. People are a lot more likely to accept punishment for their sins if they’re the only ones effected by their punishment. Pour it out on people who don’t deserve it and they might actually repent.

    (2) is a related idea and can be seen in some of the same examples. God lets people be responsible for what happens to their children. If you drink while you’re pregnant, your baby can be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome through no fault of its own; if you leave household cleaner where your kids can get it, they can drink it and get sick or die. It would be nice if God would hit the reset button and shield others from the consequences of our actions, but he doesn’t. He gave a responsibility to our first parents, and they blew it. (Then again, I suppose this can be an area where Mormons and evangelicals go their separate ways since Mormons don’t really see Adam and Eve’s actions as “blowing it”).

    So I agree that it isn’t fair that we can suffer and be punished for our sins when it’s inevitable that we’re going to sin, through no fault of our own. But I don’t know what the alternative would be. God makes a garden with a tree in it for each and every soul, and doesn’t let them have any children to continue their sinful legacy with?

    In some sense, I don’t think it’s our fault that we sin; it’s Adam and Eve’s. Then again, we can’t say we would have chosen any differently had we been them. The game of blaming others was one of the first effects of the Fall. I’d rather just own up to everything I’ve done wrong and do my best from here on out.

    And that’s why (3) is so great. God provides a way to escape from the consequences of (1) and (2).

  120. Studying Romans 3 today led me here. I appreciate your thoughts. I enjoyed how you pointed out our similarities with Evangelical Christians. We do have that caveat, though like you said, I too feel it’s all semantics. And like you, Ive had a REAL struggle with God eternally punishing us for being who He made us to be. As a parent I can’t think of one thing my kids could do that would banish them from my house permantently. But, again like you, I have felt the redeeming power of Jesus in my life and I’m willing to let some unknowns exist, trusting that in time all will be revealed. Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts.

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