8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul’s use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L “Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was “weakened” through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of “power” or “principle” at work in the believer’s life, as in Rom. 8:2: “The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death” (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God’s righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of “law” (small “l”) — including threats and punishment — to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God’s opus alienum, His “strange work.” As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.
Thus God works under contrary signs — law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working “behind our backs” as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God’s universal rightness kingdom.
Today the Pakistanis — indeed the whole world — is asking, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world — Godworld — is coming into being through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God’s eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.
The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and “losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.” The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the “issues” and dragging in Scripture to support this or that “cause” is something else altogether. Don’t create “issues.” We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else — even the world’s greatest tragedies — are to be judged in the light of Him.