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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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William

Peace with God

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by R C Sproul

 

It has been said that the greatest commentary ever written on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is his letter to the Romans, which was composed some eight to ten years after Galatians. Certainly this is an appropriate description of the book of Romans, for many of the themes Paul takes up in Galatians — the purpose of the Law, the doctrine of justification, and Christian liberty — are also dealt with in Romans, often in a more comprehensive manner. So that we might more accurately interpret the book of Galatians we will be taking a short break from the letter to look at some of the main themes of Paul’s epistle to the Romans using Highlights from Romans, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

 

Our studies in Galatians have dealt at length with justification by faith alone, the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness, and the atonement, so we will not spend much time on the development of these topics in Romans 1–4. After establishing the universal sinfulness of mankind (1:18–3:20), Paul discusses the righteousness from God available to us on account of the work of Jesus (3:21–31). Then, like he does in Galatians 3, the apostle looks to Abraham as the example par excellence of the one who gains a right standing in our Creator’s eyes through trusting His promises, which promises are kept in Christ (chap. 4).

 

Justification brings with it the benefit of “peace with God,” and Paul looks at this peace in Romans 5:1–11. In our day, peace with God is not valued, largely because few people in our culture believe that the Almighty would ever not be at peace with them. What has been lost is the idea that all sinners are at enmity with God, a teaching that is found throughout Scripture (Gen. 3:22–24; Ps. 11:5; Col. 1:21). Whether it is felt or not, all people outside of Christ are at war with their Creator, but we who have been made to know our estrangement and have found reconciliation through trusting in Jesus know the joy that comes from being at peace with God through His Son.

 

Peace with God is not a truce that is broken at the slightest provocation. Our sin grieves the Lord (Eph. 4:30), but He will never again take up the sword of His eternal wrath against those with whom He is at peace (Ezek. 37:26).

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    • The Peace That Could Not Hold

      It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. After the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (100 years ago Sunday on November 11, 1918), it would be known as the Great War. No one would have thought to call it World War I, because they could not fathom the even greater horrors to come just a few decades later in World War II. The peace of 1918 would not hold. Americans pay far closer attention to World War II, even though the country suffered more than 117,000 military deaths in two brief and bloody years from 1917 to 1918. Indeed, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that ended 100 years ago Sunday was by far the deadliest battle in American history, surpassing both the Battle of the Bulge and also the Normandy Invasion in World War II. Neither America, nor any other antagonists that suffered even greater losses, would ever be the same after this terrible and utterly avoidable conflict. Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history for the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, has written an excellent book on the religious dimensions to this “holy war.” And we corresponded on the occasion of this somber anniversary to consider how the war shaped global Christianity, religious fervor, Christian theology, peace movements, and more. You can also listen to my earlier interview with Jenkins, “How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.” Did peace in Europe shape Western or even global Christianity in any lasting ways?  Well, if not the peace, the war absolutely did have such an impact, and particularly the events of 1918. The war destroyed ancient centers of Christianity in the Middle East, especially among the Armenians and Assyrians. At the same time, the suspension of missionary enterprises shifted the balance in Africa and Asia to native forms of faith. That movement was massively enhanced in 1918 by the influenza epidemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million worldwide. That event showed the utter inability of Western missionaries and medics, and drove many ordinary people to seek help from healing churches, and from individual prophets and charismatic leaders. The great age of the African Independent Churches dates from this time. As to the West, I can hardly begin! Contrary to myth, the war did not destroy the faith of ordinary people, but it did drive thought and writing by theologians, above all by Karl Barth. Barth published the first edition of his commentary on Romans in 1919, but it was the second edition, published in 1922, that according to one Catholic observer, “burst like a bombshell on the playground of the European theologians.” The book was a frontal attack on the liberal conventions that had shaped mainstream theology since the Enlightenment. And that does not begin to talk about the great Catholic thinkers like Henri de Lubac, whose war experiences shaped their lives, and we see their lasting influence transforming the church in the Vatican Council of the 1960s. Dare I say that the Christian world we know today is the product of 1918? How did Christian pastors help their congregations cope with the aftermath of the deadliest conflict the world had ever known? Did their reactions vary between victor and vanquished, or even within countries on the same side? Your question about the diversity of responses is spot-on, but I would focus on one absolutely common theme that we might not think of so centrally today. Obviously priests and pastors had to help returning veterans, especially in a time of social and economic chaos, and open revolution in some countries. But what they had in common was that they all concentrated on the work of commemoration, which occupied so much effort over the next decade or so. That meant designing and building monuments of various kinds—monuments that are richly informative of popular religious interpretations of the war, with all their angels and knights. It also meant commemorative services and rituals, ensuring that the dead would always be remembered. That enterprise shaped for instance the scriptural readings used, and also the hymns. Those activities became a major part of what churches did for many years, and they helped bind ordinary believers to state churches where they existed. Often, too, the pastors and priests themselves had seen front-line services, many of them as chaplains. That whole work of remembrance is a big reason why we don’t see mass secularization after 1918, contrary to popular myth.  You single out the Germans as being particularly zealous in claiming God’s favor on their war effort. 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As he said as early as 1918, God had not abandoned his people, rather our Volk had abandoned him, as sinister elites “treacherously desecrated the altar of the fatherland.” Although he did not single out Jews for blame, other Rightists would soon do so: The Jews stabbed Germany in the back! The famous Lutheran theologian Reinhold Seeberg composed an epitaph for a war monument that is at once a perfect example of Latin at its most precise and concise, and a chilling manifesto for the generation of 1940. Seeberg addressed the graduates of the University of Berlin killed in the war as Invictis Victi Victuri—to the unconquered, from the conquered, who will themselves conquer. And here is a bizarre note: Seeberg’s most famous theological pupil and disciple was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the legendary anti-Nazi martyr. Could the Second World War have been prevented by a different plan for peace in 1918? When people ask this question, the normal answer is to regret the harsh terms inflicted on Germany. For many reasons, I would disagree. What went wrong in 1918 is that the Allies permitted the German forces to end the war in a way that allowed them to pretend that this was an agreed peace, rather than an outright surrender by armed forces on the verge of total collapse. It also meant that Germany avoided actual combat on its territory, which would have brought home the lesson that they were really defeated and crushed, like in 1945. That allowed German leaders to cook up the “stab in the back” mythology, the whole lie about betrayal. Much of America’s self-identity stems from the Second World War. But how did peace leave America a different nation from the one that entered the war on the Allied side in 1917? Did that self-identity carry any particular religion overtones? 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