REPRIEVE AND PARDON
OUR DESIRE TO TRANSGRESS
The desire of created beings to transgress God's divine will has always brought trouble.
After presenting his introductory remarks to the five main parts of the gospel (1:1-17), Paul next gives a declaration of God's first purpose in raising Jesus from the dead - to judge the world which was under the wrath of God (1:18-3:20). This passage is a complete picture of the condition of the condemned. Paul's purpose is to plow up the ground of the depraved human heart. He has put his hand to the plow of inspiration and fixed his eye on a definite object. It is very necessary for us to know what Paul's object is.
WE ARE ALL DEPRAVED
This object is stated in Romans 3:9, which explains why Paul speaks as he does. He wants to prove that both the Jew and the Gentile are depraved. First he asks a question: "Are we [Jews] better than they [Gentiles]?" Then he proceeds to answer his own question:
No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin (3:9).
Paul's object in this section is to show that all men are under the rule of sin; all are serfs and slaves of sin and depravity.
Section I, then, pictures the supreme court of the universe. It could be thought of as God's authority - both governmental and judicial - over a rebellious humanity. Already God's kingdom is fully realized in heaven, but our oft-repeated prayer is: "Thy kingdom come…in earth, as it is in heaven." This is a courageous and brave prayer, and it will be answered. Some day the power of Christ will eliminate every hindrance in God's government - moral, spiritual, and physical. Ultimately and visibly God will rule over angels and men.
A DESCRIPTION OF GOD'S GOVERNMENT
Chapters 1 through 3 of Romans describe the elements of God's government.1. There is a divine Governor and Ruler who is the present judge of a sinful and disobedient people.
Christ is the divine Governor of the universe. Isaiah prophesied that the government would be upon His shoulder (Isa. 9:6, 7). As a divine Ruler, He has infinite attributes; in fact some of His attributes are stated as being His essential nature. For instance, we read in John's first epistle: "God is light" (I John 1:5) and "God is love" (4:8, 16); that is, God's divine will is holiness (light) and love. The epistle to the Romans states:The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (1:18).We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practice such things (2:2).In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ (2:16).All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (3:23).
The desire of created beings to transgress God's divine will has always brought trouble. Before man ever came on the scene, the angels who "kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). Here Jude reveals God as a God of order and judgment as well as a God of love. Likewise, God gave Adam and Eve their proper habitation and told them their privileges and obligations. But they too left their proper state and came under the judgment of sin and death.
ORDER IN GOD'S KINGDOM2. God's kingdom has order. He governs by laws.The work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience [inner law] bearing witness (2:15).Having in the law [the outer law] the form of knowledge and of the truth (2:20).Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God (3:19).
All government has laws and commands. Laws are meant not merely for man's prohibition but also for his safety and well-being. God gave commandment to Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This command helped the first pair to be truly moral beings. It was meant to insure them full access to the garden of paradise and the tree of life. A holy God can do no less.
I remember in my college there were some fellow students who hardly knew rules existed because they were in such accord with them. On the other hand, others complained about the rules of the school. Only when we are irritated or led into some disposition contrary to rules do they become troublesome.
A PENALTY FOR BROKEN LAWS3. God has made a penalty for broken laws.Knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death (1:32).Reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? (2:3).Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek (2:9).
Since God is the Governor of the universe and man has broken God's laws, a need arises for penalty and punishment. Penalty for broken laws can be more easily understood by thinking of a basketball game played by some youngsters. They set boundaries on the floor, and they also have rules of behavior. Once in a while a player will run out of bounds or push the other players around just to get his own way. Confusion increases until the other players call out, "You've broken the rules!" or "That's not the way to play!" The players themselves begin to realize that rules are not enough. They must find some way of imposing penalties so that the rules will be respected.
Penalty for broken law is infinitely more necessary in the government of God. What was God to do to make His creatures realize that breaking His laws was a serious offense? He placed a penalty upon the whole human race: first of all, the inexorable experience of physical death, a present state of spiritual death, and also a final possibility of eternal death, eternal separation from God. Without God's statement of His penalty, there would be no such things as a moral universe with any kind of moral order.
ENFORCING THE PENALTY FOR BROKEN LAW4. God enforces the penalty for broken law.After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works (2:5, 6).
Penalty must be not only stated but enforced. The above-stated punishments - physical, spiritual, and eternal death - are God's method of enforcement. In the first place, God in His justice declares and passes the sentence of physical death. The actuality of death is evident to all men. Moreover, as long as men are yet physically alive, the Holy Spirit presses home to each sinner's conscience that while he remains in his sins, he is in the dangerous condition of spiritual death. He is dead while he lives, or, as the Apostle Paul says of the unregenerate person, "dead through your trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).
The day will come when Christ will announce the final penalty - the horrors of the second death - which is eternal separation from God. John the apostle announces this fact in Revelation 21:8: "The fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death."
We have an up-to-date testimony of God's enforcement of the law of physical death every time a funeral service is conducted. Even though the music may be sweet and the surroundings beautiful, the fact of physical death as the divine penalty for sin cannot help but sober the minds of those gathered for the service.
Spiritual death is also a reality. Though he be an agnostic, a skeptic, or an atheist, every man knows that such things are death, turbulence, sickness, disorder, insanity are ominous and often inescapable. Though a man is dead in his trespasses and sins, he still realizes that the message of the gospel touches issues he cannot thoroughly eliminate from his mind. These issues are stubborn and symptoms of a moral and spiritual disorder.
WE ARE GIVEN A TIME OF REPRIEVE!5. God is giving a time of reprieve (postponed penalty) for the guilty (the unpardoned).
Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (2:4).
The present condition of the sinner in its legal aspect is like the condition of Starkweather, the notorious murderer. Until the final execution in 1958, Starkweather lived on in his cell only on the basis of several reprieves - that is, on the basis of delays of punishment of actual execution. Death was inevitable, however. No judge on earth nor any human justification could release him.
It is the very same with fallen man. God in mercy is giving the guilty a time of delayed sentence. In a recent article, "The Missing Note in Present-day Preaching," L. R. Shelton says:
Fllen man is not on trial, not on probation, but under a reprieve. He is already tried, already condemned, and already sentence to death by the supreme Judge of the universe, in the condemned cell behind the prison bars of sin. He is already held captive by Satan, a prisoner of hell, and with no possibility of appeal nor grounds for appeal. Because he is already found guilty, the sentence has already been passed. Therefore unless mercy intervenes, the only thing to look forward to is death and judgment."
God, therefore, has put all mankind under a state of reprieve, a postponed penalty. In the forbearance and love of God, the execution of the death penalty is delayed and not immediately enforced. John's Gospel states: "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18, A.V.). The condemnation has already been passed: the execution is pending.
JESUS IS THE SAVIOR, AND ALSO LORD OF THE SINNER
The Gospels present the fact that Jesus is to be not only the Savior of the sinner but also his Lord.
When a condemned man is headed for his execution and his days are numbered, death is all around and life continues only in the hope of mercy. The world's pleasures become a matter of indifference. Because he is a condemned man, his mind turns from the optional to the critical, to matters of life and death. Every rumor or suggestion that mercy might be found becomes more important to him than anything else the world could offer him.
When the sinner realizes that God's law has been violated, that the divine government has declared him guilty, and that he is in the condition of reprieve, then such a one must understand that he is cast on the mercy of God alone.
WE CANNOT MEET GOD ON OUR OWN MERITS
If such a man tries to meet God on the basis of his own merits and works (on the basis of the law), he must finally find that his mouth has been stopped and he stands before God in abject moral and spiritual guilt."By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (3:20).
What then is an awakened sinner's attitude towards the offer of pardon in Christ Jesus? All flippancy is gone. All coldness and indifference appears brazen and disgusting. Such a man does not bargain with God or "just put in a vote for Jesus."
How does a sinner who recognizes he is guilty receive his pardon? The rest of the epistle to the Romans explain the issues clearly. It will be sufficient to say here that the conditions of pardon are twofold. First, a sinner must turn absolutely and unconditionally from all sin. His intention to turn from his own way or self-gratification must be complete. He must decide that he will never offend his holy Creator intentionally from this moment on.
Second, if this is his intention, he must also be ready to come under the supervision of Jesus Christ, the One who obtained his pardon by His death. For the rest of his life, the pardoned one will no longer be in a condition of reprieve (delayed sentence) but of probation (released with pardon). To fulfill his probationary period, he must continue in the same attitude and the same spirit he had when he obtained the pardon. Christ is to be in charge of the days of his probation
DISTINCTION MADE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The Holy Spirit draws very sharp distinctions. In Romans 8, the chapter where the highest blessing of grace is revealed, Paul gives this warning to those in Christ:"Brethren…if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (8:12-14).
The Gospels present the fact that Jesus is to be not only the Savior of the sinner but also his Lord. Men cannot be saved without submitting to the One who obtained their pardon. But when two things are settled - repentance from sin and submission to Christ - the receiving of the pardon is a very spontaneous act of faith. The convicted sinner does not need to try to believe; in the soil of repentance his faith grows naturally. To all those who thus understand that they have been kept alive only on the basis of a reprieve, the gospel message is truly good news - the news that Jesus offers full and free pardon.
Men's reprieve, therefore, is a period of time given him by God to find out that justification before God is not by law, but Christ is the propitiation for his sins. The whole purpose of God's reprieve to a sinner is to give him an opportunity to discover God's love and mercy as God's way of justification and peace.
What then can the law do and what can it not do? The law can condemn sins - it cannot forgive them. The law can require freedom - it cannot grant freedom. The law can demand spirituality - it cannot produce it. The fact that Jesus can forgive and give freedom and produce spirituality in men who feel their need indicates the great importance of presenting the law of God in its full force. The law makes men know that condemnation awaits them, that sinful bondages bind them, and that they have no spiritual life. All this makes necessary the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.
WHAT THE LAW CAN DO AND CAN NOT DO
To a man who has broken the Ten Commandments, the law has no grace nor forgiveness to offer, but it is "the ministration of death." The more a man faces the law as a transgressor, the more necessary it is that someone or some power apart from or outside of the law brings that deliverance for which the heart cries. John the Apostle heralds out the message: "The law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
The crowning function of the law is to make men turn to the Lord Jesus. The law is become "our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). The honorable function of the law is to make men heartily feel and consciously acknowledge their need of Christ. When the law does such a blessed work as this, how can we so foolishly neglect it?
For mercy's sake God gives probation to all pardoned ones who believe in His blood.God set forth (Jesus Christ) to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance (reprieve) of God (3:25).
REPRIEVE AND PROBATION, AND GOD'S JUDGMENT
After a sinner receives pardon for his sins and welcomes Christ as his Savior, his relationship to God is founded on an entirely new basis. He has passed from the condition of reprieve to the condition of probation - from the certainty of death to the fresh possibilities of life and glory in Christ, his new Lord and Savior.
Reprieve and probation, therefore, are not the same. Reprieve is the condition of an unpardoned man awaiting his execution. Probation follows a pardon. A sinner lives in this world only on the basis of a reprieve, but a saint lives on the basis of a probation.
The desperateness of man's sinful revolt against God's government must dawn not on the sinner and the world only but also on the believer in the church. If believers are to be soul-winners, they must see each man who rejects Christ and refuses to turn away form his own way is like a man sitting in his cell awaiting the execution of the sentence. There is no probation in that, for he is condemned already "because he hath not believe on the name of the only begotten Son of God."
These then are the strong elements by which God judges the world in order to bring them to seek His love and mercy. God, the divine Governor and Ruler, is the present judge of a sinful and disobedient people. He governs by laws, for which there is a penalty when broken. This penalty is enforced. To the unpardoned sinner, God gives a period of delayed sentence. To the pardoned who believe in Christ's blood, He gives probation for His mercy's sake.
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