Archive for the ‘Romans 4’ Tag

Devotion for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár

Image in the Public Domain

Faith and Works

MARCH 5, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Genesis 12:1-8

Psalm 105:4-11

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)


Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. 

Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways;

lead them again to embrace in faith

the truth of your Word and hold it fast;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.


God our Father, your Son welcomed

an outcast woman because of her faith. 

Give us faith like hers,

that we also may trust only in our Love for us

and may accept one another as we have been accepted by you;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18


O God, whose glory is always to have mercy,

be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways,

and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith

to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 34


I grew up with a stereotype of Second Temple Judaism.  I learned that the Judaism of Christ’s time was a legalistic faith with works-based righteousness.  I learned a lie.

As E. P. Sanders thoroughly documented in his seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Second Temple Judaism taught Covenantal Nomism.  Salvation came by the grace of being born Jewish.  The maintenance of that salvation was a matter of habitually keeping the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  The failure to do so resulted in dropping out of the covenant.  St. Paul’s objection to Second Temple Judaism was that it was not Christianity.  For the Apostle, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

The Law of Moses, which postdated Abraham, defined the lines one should not cross.  “Do this, not that,” was necessary guidance.  The application of timeless principles to culturally-specific circumstances was essential.

It remains so.  Unfortunately, many devout people fall into legalism by failing to recognize the difference between timeless principles and culturally-specific examples.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  He dictated, in Greek translated into English:

For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

–Romans 3:28, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The author of the Letter of James defined faith differently.  He understood faith as intellectual assent to a proposition.  Therefore, he reminded his audience that faith without works is dead (2:17) then wrote that Abraham’s works justified the patriarch (2:21f):

See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 2:24, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Despite the superficial discrepancy between Romans and James, no disagreement exists.  When people use the same word but define it differently, they may seem to disagree when they agree.

Or justification may not be a factor at all.

Consider a different translation, O reader.  David Bentley Hart, The New Testament:  A Translation (2017) is a literal version that, in the words of its Eastern Orthodox translator, “provokes Protestants.”  Hart renders Romans 3:28 as:

For we reckon a man as vindicated by faithfulness, apart from observances of the Law.

“Justified” becomes “vindicated,” and “works” become “observances.”  Then we turn to James 2:24:

You see that a human being is made righteous by works, and not by faith alone.

“Justified” becomes “made righteous.”

Justification is a legal term.  “Vindicated” and “made righteous” are not.  That is a crucial distinction.  I acknowledge the existence of the matter.  Nevertheless, the point about using the same word and understanding it differently holds in both interpretations.

The reading from John 4 has become the subject of much misinterpretation, too.  For nearly two millennia, a plethora of Christian exegetes have sullied the reputation of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Yet Jesus never judged her.  And his conversation with her was the longest one recorded in the canonical Gospels.

Jesus violated two major social standards in John 4.  He spoke at length with a Samaritan and a woman he had not previously met.  Jesus was not trying to be respectable.  He had faith in the Samaritan woman at the well, who reciprocated.

For reasons I cannot fathom, God seems to have faith in people.  My opinion of human nature is so low as to be subterranean.  Observing the irresponsible behavior of many people (especially government officials who block policies intended to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic) confirms my low opinion of human nature.  Yet God seems to have faith in people.

May we reciprocate.  And may our deeds and words be holy.





Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA



Devotion for Monday After the Second Sunday in Lent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Golden Calf

Above:  The Golden Calf

Image in the Public Domain

The Tangible Presence of God

MARCH 14, 2022


The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 33:1-6

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

Romans 4:1-12


Search for the LORD and the strength of the LORD;

continually seek the face of God.

–Psalm 105:4, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The reading from Exodus 33 follows on the heels of chapter 32, in which Israelites had created a golden bull (although the traditional term is golden calf) as a tangible sign of God’s presence while Moses was away on Mount Sinai/Horeb with God briefly.  God, we read, was most unhappy:

If I were to go in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you.

–Exodus 33:5b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Moses talks God down, fortunately for the Israelites.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  Hence the Pauline definition of faith was that, in the absence of proof for or against a proposition, one trusts that it is true and acts accordingly.  This contradicts the definition of faith in the Letter of James, whose author wrote that faith (for him merely intellectual) is insufficient for justification with God.  No, in the Letter of James justification comes via works.  Both writers agreed that works are essential for justification with God, but St. Paul understood works to be part and parcel of faith.  These are the kinds of nuances many people overlook in the Bible.

To have an active faith in God, who is invisible, is not to go through life without tangible signs of the divine presence.  Actually, tangible indicators of God’s presence surround us.  We have no need to manufacture any such indicator, for nature is replete with them.  We need merely to open our minds, attune them to spiritual matters, and observe.  The Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), Presbyterian minister, humanitarian, poet, and admirer of nature, summarized the point well:

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears,

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;

His hand the wonders wrought.


This is my Father’s world,

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

The full text of the poem begins on page 180 of this book.

The presence of God is tangible indeed.  In my darkest hours, my happiest moments, and the times between those two extremes I have encountered God via people and animals as well as directly, without mortals as vehicles of grace.  You, O reader, might understand well what I mean because of your experiences.  If you do not, are you willing to perceive the tangible presence of God?








Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Abrahamic Covenant

Image Source = Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York, NY:  Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1960), page 16

Trusting in God

FEBRUARY 22-24, 2024


The Collect:

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death

to be for us the means on life.

Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss

for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 15:1-6, 12-18 (Thursday)

Genesis 16:1-6 (Friday)

Genesis 16:7-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 22:23-31 (All Days)

Romans 3:21-31 (Thursday)

Romans 4:1-12 (Friday)

Mark 8:27-30 (Saturday)


My soul shall live for him;

my descendants shall serve him;

they shall be known as the LORD’s own for ever.

–Psalm 22:29, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Harboring doubts regarding extraordinary promises (as in Genesis 15) and not understanding who Jesus is despite spending much time in close quarters with him (as in Mark 8) are growth opportunities.  Information is the antidote to ignorance, but a lack of trust in God is a spiritual problem.  When one acts on it (as in Genesis 16, despite the glowing review of Abraham in Romans 4), one complicates matters horribly.

We are responsible to God and each other.  We also depend on God and each other.  We will not trust God all the time, for we are mere mortals.  We can, however, rely on divine grace and improve; we can trust God more often.  God expects us to improve, not be flawless.  When we fail to trust God then act out of fear and a misdirected sense of human agency, we harm others as well as ourselves, for what we do to others, we do to ourselves.  Mutuality works for the positive as well as the negative in our lives.

Recently someone asked me if I believe in God.  My answer surprised him, for I replied by asking him what he meant by “believe in.”  Biblical belief is trust in God, not the affirmation of divine existence.  So I continued my answer by stating that I affirm the existence of God all the time and trust God most of the time.  It was a precise and honest answer.

May we trust God more than we do.  May I trust God more than I do.










Devotion for the Eleventh and Twelfth Days of Lent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Obligations

MARCH 6 AND 7, 2023


The Collect:

O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism

you bring us to new birth to live as your children.

Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your

Spirit we may lift your life to all the world through

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:4-9 (11th Day)

Isaiah 65:17-25 (12th Day)

Psalm 128 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (11th Day)

Romans 4:6-13 (12th Day)


Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in the ways of the LORD!

–Psalm 128:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The story in Numbers 21:4-9 is a good place to start this post.  It sent me scurrying to commentaries.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) tell me of the Rabbinic discomfort with the sympathetic magic in the account.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah (2011), makes the connection between the bronze serpent and the incident concerning the snake in the court of the Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-10).  Friedman also refers to 2 Kings 18:4, in which King Hezekiah orders the destruction of the bronze serpent, to which some people had been burning incense.  Volume 2 (1953) of The Interpreter’s Bible says that the bronze serpent was an example of spiritual homeopathy or at least an example thereof, one which

rests on a sound basis in human experience


wounds heal wounds.

–page 243

The best, most helpful analysis, however, comes from Walther Eichrodt, as translated by J. A. Baker:

The terrifying power of God, who will turn his weapons of leprosy, serpent and plague (cf. Ex. 4.1-7, Num. 21:6ff; 11:33) even against his own people leaves men in no doubt that the covenant he has created is no safe bulwark, behind which they can make cunning use of the divine power to prosecute their own interests.  The covenant lays claim to the whole man and calls him to a surrender with no reservations.

Theology of the New Testament, Volume One (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1961), pages 44-45

Thus this post continues a line of thought present in its immediate predecessor in order of composition.  God calls the blessed people to function as blessings to others.  The faithful, redeemed people of God have a mandate to cooperate with God in reforming society for the common good and divine glory.  In the Bible righteousness and justice are the same thing.  Hence we read prophets’ condemnations of economic exploitation and judicial corruption as opposites of righteousness.  To live in the household of God is to have both privileges and duties.

One task for those with a slave mentality is to abandon it and to embrace freedom in God.  I know that eating the same thing repeatedly gets old rapidly, but at least the Israelites were not starving.  God does provide; gratitude is in order, even if manna is crystallized insect feces.  Often our mentalities stand between us and God, whose manna does come with the condition of servitude to the source.  What we receive from God might not be what we want or expect, but it is what we need.  May we accept it gratefully and accept the obligation to serve God and leave our world better than we found it.







Devotion for the Eighth Day of Easter: Second Sunday of Easter (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   8 comments

Above:  A Trail in the Woods

Image Source = Daniel Case

Exodus and Luke, Part I: The Path to Life Itself

APRIL 16, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 20:1-24

Psalm 93 (Morning)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening)

Luke 4:1-15


Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Dedication:


I Do Not Ask, O Lord:

O Jesus, I Have Promised:

Lord, Help Us Walk Your Servant Way:


Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray.”

–Exodus 20:17, TANAKH:  the Holy Scriptures


But Jesus answered him, “Scripture days:

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

–Luke 4:12, The New Jerusalem Bible


Do not try the LORD your God, as you did at Massah.

Be sure to keep the commandments, decrees, and laws that the LORD your God has enjoined upon you….

–Deuteronomy 6:16-17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


Much of the Hebrews Scriptures, written in Hebrew and translated in other languages many times, was originally oral tradition.  It was part of the oral tradition for a long time, so, when people began to write it down, they knew how the stories ended.  The pledge to obey God’s commandments in Exodus 20 is something one reads in context of the rest of the story.  The people will disobey, of course.  So the ending helps define the meaning of earlier parts of the story.

With this post the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod daily lectionary of 2006 I am following  leaves the the Letter to the Hebrews behind.  Now we find the Gospel of Luke paired with the Book of Exodus.  We pick up in Luke 4, after the Advent and Christmas material, the baptism of Jesus, and the arrest of St. John the Baptist.  So we begin with the temptation of Jesus–classic Lenten material in most lectionaries.  The common thread here between the two main readings is testing, so the choice of Luke 4:1-15 works well.

God can test the people’s loyalty–that is the divine right–so that a sense of fear–awe and respect, really–will be in the people, who will then not go astray.  But when people go astray, they put God to the test–try God.  And Jesus passes his test with flying colors; he obeys God.

I have commented on the Ten Commandments in other posts to which I have provided links.  There is far more to write about the Ten Commandments, of course.  Foster R. McCurley, Jr., in Exodus, a 1969 adult Christian education resource, offered this summary germane to this point:

These Ten Commandments were given  to Israel by Yahweh to guide her in her life of covenant.  They were the expression of the Lord’s will for the way the redeemed people should live.  But it happened that the very commandments which were given as a guide turned out to accuse the people of their sin against God and their breach of covenant responsibilities.  Thus, the law, including these commandments, convicted and accused Israel–just as it accuses us–and drives all sinners to the need for a savior.  In the Lutheran tradition this accusing element is the chief use of the Ten Commandments in the life of the Christian.

–Philadelphia, PA:  Lutheran Church Press, 1969, pages 94-95

This prompted me to recall St. Paul the Apostle’s passage in Romans 4:13-17, in which he wrote of Abraham, the Law, faith, and justification with God.  In particular I thought of this part:

…law can bring only retribution, and where there is no law there can be no breach of law.  The promise was made on the ground of faith in order that it might be a matter of sheer grace.

–Romans 4:15-16a, Revised English Bible

So the reality of law, and therefore of violation thereof, convicts us of our sinfulness.  Fortunately, we have a Savior–not a mere martyr or hero of whom to make flattering statements–but a Savior to follow.  How each of us ought to do that is different, for we come to God in varying circumstances, with different gifts and societal issues and barriers, and at a variety of times and places.  My path of discipleship as an educated white male in the State of Georgia in 2012 is not that of an illiterate female in a traditional and chauvinistic culture at this time or that of a highly educated male in previous times.  So, regardless of the particulars of what your path ought to be, O reader, I encourage you to follow it.  It is the path to life itself.  Meanwhile, I try to follow my path.  If we both succeed, we will arrive at the same destination.







Second Sunday in Lent, Year B   17 comments

Above:  Economic Inequality Made Manifest

Image Source = eenthappana

Justification, Love, and Justice

FEBRUARY 25, 2024


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him,

I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.

Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

God said to Abraham,

As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.

Psalm 22:22-30 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

22 Praise the LORD, you that fear him;

stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;

all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.

23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;

neither does he hide his face from them;

but when they cry to him he hears them.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly;

I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,

and those who seek the LORD shall praise him:

“May your heart love for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the LORD;

he rules over the nations.

28 To him alone who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;

all who go down to the dust fall before him.

29 My soul shall live for him;

my descendants shall serve him;

they shall be known as the LORD’s for ever.

30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn

the saving deeds that he has done.

Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Mark 8:31-38 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said,

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

The Collect:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A:

Romans 4:

Genesis 17:

Mark 8:

Faith in Romans vs. Faith in James:

O Lord,You Gave Your Servant John:


Last Sunday’s readings focused on baptism, a sacrament which is an outward sign of something God has done and is doing.  This Sunday we have another great word:  justification.  This is also something God has done and is doing.   Justification indicates having a right relationship with God; it is a legal term.  And, according to Paul, it comes through faith and grace.  The Letter of James, of course, speaks of justification by deeds, but that book uses “faith” to mean something different than in Romans.  For more details, follow the germane link I have provided.  The bottom line is this:  There is no contradiction between Romans and James on the issue of justification.

This justification, since the time of Jesus, owes much to the Atonement, which, I am convinced, was a process which began with the Incarnation (again, something God initiated) and ended with the death and resurrection of Jesus (something God did).  Our responses to God, then, are of the essence.  How will we respond to such a merciful and active deity?  This grace, which facilitates faith, is cheap but not free.  It was cheap neither to God the Father nor God the Son.  And it demands much of us.

The baptismal vows speak of loving our neighbors as ourselves and respecting the dignity of our fellow human beings. So, how will we treat our fellow human beings, and what will we consider acceptable treatment?  Will our neighbors have living wages, safe working conditions, and career opportunities which make the most of their talents an abilities?  Will they face discrimination?  What will the love of Christ and our neighbors impel us to do?

I could continue, but I trust that I have made my point clearly.  May we love our neighbors as ourselves, even if that entails taking up a cross and following Jesus.




Second Sunday in Lent, Year A   26 comments

Above:  Abraham (Russian Orthodox Icon)

Justification by the Righteousness of Faith

MARCH 5, 2023


Genesis 12:1-4a (New Revised Standard Version):

The Lord said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121 (New Revised Standard Version):

I lift up my eyes to the hills–

from where where my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time on and forevermore.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say?

Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written,

I have made you the father of many nations

)— in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him,

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.

Jesus answered him,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

Nicodemus said to him,

How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?

Jesus answered,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus said to him,

How can these things be?

Jesus answered him,

Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Collect:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


As I begin to write I think about Psalm 121 and what composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy made of it in his oratorio Elijah.  (I own a Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus recording of this work. )  Two sopranos and a mezzo-soprano (a trio of angels) sing, their voices blending and dancing around each other:

Lift thine eyes to the mountains whence thy help cometh.  Thy help cometh from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  He hath said, “Thy foot shall not be moved; thy Keeper will never slumber.”

Then the choir sings:

He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.  Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.

The music, which I have known for decades, is transcendent.  And it helps me remember a wonderful psalm, too.  Psalm 121 makes a wonderful companion piece to the reading from Romans, from which I take my central point:  Our justification with God begins with divine initiative.

Justification is the state of being right with God, especially at the final judgment.  This justification cannot flow from good deeds, as laudable as they are.  Instead, it comes through faith in God.  This faith extends beyond mere intellectual acceptance and verbal confession of certain theological propositions.  Faith makes orthodoxy (“right belief”) and orthopraxy (“right practice”) different sides of the same coin.  Faith is lived.  Our deeds are our professions.  You shall know a tree by its fruits.  Deeds reveal creeds.

O, and just one more thing.

One need not have had a dramatic conversion experience to be a Christian.  Not to boast, but I have led a relatively sedate life, abstaining from such practices such as using illegal drugs or robbing liquor stores.  So my personal story is not as interesting as some others you, O reader, might have heard.  I have never had a dramatic conversion experience, and do not feel “regenerated,” whatever that is supposed to mean.  Yet I know that I love God as revealed in Jesus and the rest of the Trinity, and have a deepening, lived faith in the God of Christianity.  I have been a Christian for a long time, but cannot state the day or time this process began.  And that is fine.  My spiritual reality does not satisfy certain individuals, and that is just the way things will have to be.  The most important question is where I stand with God, not them.  And I report that I stand on a path of spiritual pilgrimage, and in utter dependence on grace.  I stand relative to God largely because of divine initiative.

That is my testimony, for what it is worth.


Written on June 17, 2010