“This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”1
“It is the most remarkable production of the most remarkable man. It is his heart. It contains his theology, theoretical and practical, for which he lived and died. It gives the clearest and fullest exposition of the doctrines of sin and grace and the best possible solution of the universal dominion of sin and death in the universal redemption by the second Adam.”2
Indeed, the Book of Romans is one of the most profound books in existence; it is certainly one of the most valued parts of the Holy Scriptures. It has been appropriately termed the Cathedral of the Christian faith. Its profound theology and impressive style were reason enough for it to be assigned the first place among the Pauline epistles.
When Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Rome, that congregation must have already been in existence for a number of years, for Paul writes that he had desired to visit them “these many years” (15:23). To him this church was strong enough to help him carry out further missionary activities. They are not called recent converts; they are not treated as having been improperly instructed, but seem to have been an organized and well-grounded congregation (15:14, “filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another”). The epistle deals with no major error in the church; nor does it have to deal with organizational principles. It was a church that was universally famous (1:8), and not merely because it was in Rome.
The Roman church was a group that had a large Jewish element, but was also filled with Gentile converts from paganism, both free as well as slaves. How the church in Rome was started is unclear. The Roman Catholic view is that Peter founded it; another view is that Roman Christians from Pentecost in Jerusalem made their way there. But it may simply be that several Christian families or groups from Pauline churches in the East settled in Rome and grew together. According to the end of the book, there were several congregations meeting in the city. At the outbreak of Neronian persecutions, Tacitus says that the Christians in Rome were “an immense multitude.”
Based on the material from Acts and the Corinthian epistles, the Book of Romans clearly indicates that it was written from Corinth on Paul’s third missionary journey. Paul had never visited Rome; but after fulfilling his mission of mercy to Jerusalem, he hoped to go to Rome en route to Spain (Rom. 15:23-25). At any rate, the date of the book is probably 60 A.D.
The chronological order of the Pauline epistles is about as follows: First and Second Thessalonians, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, First Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy. Romans is placed first among Paul’s letters in the New Testament not only because it is his longest work, but because it also furnishes a massive and basic theological frame-work for the whole collection of the apostle’s writings.
The theme of the book centers on the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16,17). Paul is deeply concerned that his readers understand how a sinner may be received as righteous by a righteous God; and how a justified sinner should live daily to the glory of God.
Most commentators have said that verses sixteen and seventeen of chapter one are a concise summary of the content of the epistle. But C. K. Barrett goes a step further to say that it is not wrong to see in them a summary of Paul’s theology as a whole.3 Perhaps we can be very precise here. Perhaps in the text of Habakkuk 2:4 as it is used in Romans (and elsewhere), we have a pithy expression of the essence of the doctrine of the Word of God—”the just shall live by faith.” We will have to explain what all this means shortly.
The book falls neatly into an introduction (1:1-17), a doctrinal section on justification (1:18—5:11), a doctrinal section on sanctification (5:12—8:39), a parenthetical section on Israel (9:1—11:36), a practical application section (12:1—15:13); and then a conclusion (15:14—16:27). A simple outline of this structure looks like this:
I. Introduction: The Revelation of Righteousness (1:1-17)
A. The Salutation (1:1-7)
B. Personal Items (1:8-13)
C. The Theme (1:14-17)
II. Justification, or the Imputation of Righteousness (1:18—5:11)
A. Condemnation, or the Universal Need of Righteousness (1:18—3:20)
B. Manifestation, or the Universal Provision of Righteousness (3:21-26)
C. Harmonization, or Justification and the Purpose of the Law (3:27-31)
D. Illustration, or Justification and the Old Testament (4:1-25)
E. Exultation, or the Certainty of Salvation (5:1-11)
III. Life in Christ, or Union With and Ultimate Conformation to the Righteous One (5:12—8:39)
A. The Reign of Sin and the Reign of Grace (5:12-21)
B. The New Relationship in Life (6:1-14)
C. The New Principle in Life (6:15-23)
D. The New Freedom in Life (7:1-25)
E. The New Power in Life (8:1-17)
F. The New Hope in Life (8:18-39)
IV. Vindication, or God’s Righteousness in His Relationship with Israel (9:l—11:36)
A. The Consideration of Israel’s Rejection (9:l-29)
B. The Explanation of Israel’s Rejection (9:30—10:21)
C. The Consolation of Israel’s Rejection (11:1-36)
V. Application, or God’s Righteousness at Work (12:1—15:13)
A. Application in the Assembly (12:1-21)
B. Application in the State (13:1-14)
C. Application in Doubtful Things (14:1—15:13)
VI. Conclusion, or Purpose, Plans, and Praise in Connection with the Dissemination of Righteousness (15:14—16:27)
Romans has often been described as an exposition of the Old Testament in view of the Gospel of Christ; this is certainly an accurate description in view of the pattern that emerges. The Gospel of Christ tells how sinful people can find access into the heavenlies through sacrificial atonement. It is clear that this also was the focus of Israel’s sacrificial system. It is little wonder that the book draws upon the pattern of those ancient sacrifices.
There were three main types or groups of sacrifices in ancient Israel’s worship: those that made Expiation or atonement (Sin Offering [Lev. 4], Trespass Offering [Lev. 5], and Whole Burnt Offering [Lev. 1] as well as the great Day of Atonement [Lev. 16]), those that were for Celebration (Peace Offering [Lev. 3] as well as other variations, such as Passover [Exod. 12]), and those that were for Dedication (Meal Offering [Lev. 2] as well offering the first fruit, first born, paying vows, and making other types of dedicatory ritual). But essentially there was the forgiveness and acceptance by God through atoning sacrifices, the celebration of being at peace with God in the fellowship or peace offering, and the dedication to worship and serve God through the dedication or meal offering.
The Book of Romans employs this basic theological pattern of Atonement by God, Peace with God, and Dedication to God, as it weaves a theological argument from the beginning of God’s work until the end. The following overview will show how the argument of the book unfolds:
1. In chapter 1 after giving the introduction and purpose of the book, Paul surveys natural revelation via creation, noting that the creation rejected the Creator for the satisfaction of baser instincts. This section is an exposition on the early part of Genesis.
2. In chapter 2 Paul announces the judgment of God according to truth, explaining that the judgment is by law and that circumcision alone avails nothing. This section is a theological explanation of the law code.
3. The point is that all have sinned—there is none righteous (chapter 3). No one is justified by works. But instead, the righteousness of God comes through CHRIST’S ATONING SACRIFICE, the propitiation in His blood. Here then is the fulfillment of the expiatory sacrifices.
4. But the sacrifice by itself was a ritual; there had to be faith operating or it was of no value. So righteousness was reckoned for faith (3:28—4:25).
5. Once there is justification by faith in the atoning blood, there then follows the celebration of being at peace with God in a new life (chapter 5). This chapter picks up on the idea of Israel’s PEACE OFFERING, announcing that because the atonement has been made, we have peace with God.
6. We are so identified by faith with the sacrifice that we are actually dead in Him—as with Israel’s ritual, the sacrifice that is slain is a substitute for the sinner. And so we are actually dead to sin (chapter 6). Just as a believing Israelite knew that blood of the animal should have been his or her blood that was spilt, that body on the ground his or her dead body, we also reckon the same, that because Christ is our substitute he died in our place. Since we actually died in Christ, we now live in him, and become servants of righteousness.
7. But we are still sinful human creatures; we struggle constantly with sin (7:1-25). Israel repeated her sacrifices, but we do not. Instead, we find emancipation from the law through God’s provision, a provision which is better than repeating the sacrifice again and again.
8. That better provision made for us is the glorious Holy Spirit who leads us into righteousness and bears witness that we are the children of God (chapter 8). If we are in Christ, we are dead to sin; but in the spiritual realities of life it is the Spirit who is alive, delivering us from sin and bondage, through suffering to glory.
9-11. If all this fulfillment in Christ is so much better than the old covenant, what then do we make of the old covenant? In chapters 9, 10, and 11 Paul stops to recall the privileges Israel enjoyed, but how through disobedience she missed the fulfillment of the promises and the Lord turned to the Gentiles for the present time. But Paul affirms that there is a glorious future for the covenant promises.
12. Now, in view of the fact that we have been grafted into the program, and have peace with God through faith in the atoning blood of Christ, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This brings forward Israel’s DEDICATION OFFERING (see also Lev. 2, Ps. 40, and Deut. 26).
The rest of the book (chapters 12-16) lays out the application of our new covenant relationship through Christ—it is the law of love. Chapter 12 discusses the application in the assembly through the spiritual gifts offered in love; chapter 13 broadens the application to submission in love; chapter 14 applies the law of love in doubtful things, focusing on having the mind of Christ.
So the argument of the book builds upon the age-old revelation through the ritual of Israel that provided the sinner with access to God. But now Christ has come and he is the end4_ftn4 of the Law (Rom. 10:4). In other words, the righteousness that the Law required and that the sacrifices pledged has now become a reality “in Christ,” that is, it is available through faith in his atoning blood and worked out in life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Commentaries on the English Text. There are several works that would provide helpful material for the study of the book in the English. Among these I would list: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series; H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools (a preacher’s reference work); William R. Newell, Romans, Verse by Verse (for good exposition); and James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (a beautiful treatment of the book).
Commentaries on the Greek Text. The following are helpful tools: James Denney, “St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament (a theological treatment); E. H. Griffith, “The Epistle to the Romans,” in The Speaker’s Commentary (a classic for tracing the argument); F. Godet, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 2 volumes (clear; traces Paul’s thought; offers expository help); Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (theological study); Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8 in the Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary Series (good for the critical problems and technical matters); John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans in The New International Commentary Series; and certainly John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, 1947 Eerdmans reprint of the 1540 edition; C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC New Series (Edinburgh, 1975, 1979); and William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh, 1902).
These works, plus many more that could have been listed, can be acquired through book stores, or, if out of print, found through the internet (such as www.abebooks.com). It would be most helpful—although certainly not necessary—to have at least one good commentary on the book, one that you can work with (i.e., if you do not know Greek you will not get everything out of a commentary based on the Greek).
Very importantly, however, Bible students should read through the Book of Romans several times in different English translations. Use a couple that you are not used to, in addition to your favorite translation. These will get you thinking when you see different wording in the text.
1 Martin Luther, “Preface to the Epistle to the Romans” (1522), in Works of Martin Luther (1932), Vol. VI, p. 447.
2 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (1910), Vol. I, p. 766.
3 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 27.
4 As we shall see, the word here (telos) will have more meaning than simply an “end”; it will indicate the intended end, or the goal.
1. Paul’s relationship to Jesus (1,2). In the first few verses of the book Paul relates himself to his master, his gift, and his work.
His master. In relating himself to Jesus as his master Paul uses the expression, “a servant of Jesus Christ.” This is the Hebrew Old Testament expression “servant of the LORD [Yahweh],”1 the highest title that anyone could have. Paul makes a powerful statement by substituting “Jesus” for “Yahweh.” This would be heresy to an unconverted Jew; but Paul has the deity and dignity of Jesus in mind. The point is that everyone who has been redeemed belongs to him; they are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to him, their LORD and Master.
His gift. Paul was an apostle, or as the term “called” shows, he was an apostle by calling, or, his gift originated in divine calling.2 The term “apostle” refers to his spiritual gift more than an office—he was sent on a mission to represent the risen Christ. This kind of term is not used in the New Testament for an “office” in the strict sense. Verse 5 shows the concept behind the gift: there was never the idea of the right to stand above or over someone else, but rather the privilege of serving. Nevertheless. The right to be called apostles in the New Testament leadership sense included seeing the risen Christ and being commissioned by him.
His work. Paul was “separated unto the Gospel.” On the road to Damascus God transformed him into a spiritual Pharisee. From then on he would proclaim the “good news.” The term we know as “gospel” is here called “the gospel of God—the Gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” The “gospel” is the Old Testament term for good news about the Messiah’s coming, who, according to Isaiah 40:9, is both God and Messiah. This good news had now become Paul’s life.
The Gospel is about Jesus Christ. But while it is good news, it is not completely new news, for it was promised before (Galatians says preached before). Any such news not found rooted in the Old Testament is considered a false gospel. What is new is the complete revelation of the gospel in Jesus of Nazareth, that is, exactly how the revelation of God in the Old Testament would work out in the New.
So then Paul’s identification of himself is that of a servant under the authority of Christ, a messenger called to a new life work, and a devoted minister of the Gospel. Clearly, the person of Jesus Christ was to Paul an unparalleled authority.
2. The subject matter of Romans: the divine Son (3,4). The subject matter of the book is expressed in the words, “concerning His Son.” This is what the Book of Romans is all about. The full title is given at the end of verse 4: “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Two things are now said of this “Son”: He was born the seed of David according to the flesh, but through the Spirit of holiness He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
The “Son” was born of the seed of David “in the sphere of” (a more precise translation than “according to”) the flesh. The Son of God moved in the realm of the flesh, i.e., among humanity, as a physical descendant of David. There was a birth to be sure; but that birth in Bethlehem did not mark His beginning. He entered the world through the family of David that He might be the promised Davidic King.
He was also “appointed” (a more specific translation than “declared”) to be the Son of God by the resurrection out of the dead. This was not in the sphere of the flesh, in weakness, but in power, in the realm of the spiritual, through the Spirit of holiness (or as some translate it, the Holy Spirit3_ftn7). What this means is that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrated that He was not just another physical descendant of David who passed off the scene. He is the resurrected Lord. With His exaltation in glory, Jesus for the first time possessed a glorified, resurrected body, perfectly human and fully divine. Peter in his sermon in Acts 2 announced that through the resurrection God made this Jesus both Lord and Christ.
To be appointed to be the Son of God refers to his assuming (or resuming) his sovereign and divine authority. At the resurrection and exaltation Jesus is said to have been completely “begotten”—he was appointed to the position where He could carry out all that is involved with divine Sonship. The Book of Hebrews draws on the imagery of the coronation Psalm 2 to stress this point: “You are my Son, this day have I begotten You.” This image of “the Son” certainly has to do with authority, and the idea of being begotten to rule refers to his coronation; but the description of Jesus as the “Son of God” takes the language beyond Davidic coronation liturgy and speaks of a nature shared with the Father. John describes Jesus as the “only begotten Son” in the latter sense of a shared nature. So these images of “son” reveal that Jesus has the same nature as the Father who is divine—the Son of God is equally eternal and divine.4 A son of David?—yes, to be sure, for the child was born of Mary. The eternal Son of God?— most certainly, because of the declaration of the resurrection. So Paul uses both descriptions of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah had this same balance correct: “Unto us a child was born, unto us a Son was given (Isa. 9:6). The child was born, according to the flesh, in Behtlehem; but the Son was not born, but given or sent to the world. So the creed presents it simply but profoundly: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the virgin Mary, and was made man.” In short, Jesus was very God and very Man. And now in glory there is a God-Man, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The two descriptions of the Son also reveal the two stages of the Lord’s coming (in the historical process), the incarnation as the Son of David (humiliation) and the glorification as the Son of God (exaltation).
3. The effects of the authority of the Son (5-7). Paul has a ministry of the risen Christ (“through whom” links the section with Jesus in his risen stage); or, to put it another way, it is the ministry of the risen Christ that flows through Paul to the Romans. The Book of Romans comes from the risen Christ.
The apostleship that Paul received from Jesus was to call people to the obedience of faith. I think that “faith” is appositional to “obedience here”—the obedience which is faith (see 10:14-16,17). Those who obeyed the Gospel are those who believed. And those who believed were also called to belong to Jesus Christ—they were loved by God and called to be saints.5
Paul’s salutation to the churches is “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian is a recipient of grace (holy love on the move) and is at peace with God. This has all come about because the divine Son died for our sins and then rose again, showing that he has the authority to take away sins. The salutation, “Grace to you and peace” is far more than a polite greeting or a good wish; it is drawn from the High Priestly benediction in the Old Testament. After the High Priest had been into the Holy of Holies and made atonement through the sprinkling of blood, he would come out and announce this oracle: “Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; Yahweh lift up his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).6_ftn10 Because Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has made atonement for us through his blood, and has entered the heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us, Paul with confidence can declare that “grace and peace” belongs to us. And so that became his salutation.
So in this little introduction we have words like “servant,” “apostle,” “grace,” “obedience” “called” and “Lord,” all stressing the authority of the risen Son of God. The clear affirmation in verse 4 is that the message is about “Jesus Christ our Lord.” And verse 7 reiterates that grace and peace comes from “the Lord Jesus Christ.” It should now be clear from Paul’s introduction what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” William Barclay says it well:
“It is now plain to see what a man ought to mean when he calls Jesus ‘Lord,’ or when he speaks of the ‘Lord Jesus’ or of the ‘Lord Jesus Christ.’ When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ I ought to mean that He is the absolute and undisputed owner and possessor of my life and that He is the Master whose servant and slave I must be all life long. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I think of Him as the Head of that great family in heaven and earth of which God is the Father and of which I through Him have become a member. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I think of Him as the help of the helpless and the guardian of those who have no other to protect them. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that I look on Him as having absolute authority over all my life, all my thoughts, all my actions. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that He is the King and Emperor to whom I owe and give my constant homage, allegiance, and loyalty. When I call Jesus ‘Lord’ it ought to mean that for me He is the Divine One whom I must for ever worship and adore.”_ftn117
1. Paul thanks God for them (1:8). His gratitude for them is “through Jesus Christ,” the one true Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). The thanksgiving, in typical Hebrew fashion, was offered to God, on the basis of the sacrificial Lamb of God. Paul is thankful not only that the Roman Christians have believed, but that their faith is being reported all over the world. What a marvelous reputation—in contrast to what was being reported about the Corinthian Church all over the world.
2. Paul remembers them in prayer (1:9). Paul affirms, with God as his witness, that he has been constant in praying for them. He may never have been there, and he may be across the sea in Corinth at the time, but his prayers have bound him closely to them. Thus it always is with the prayers of the saints.
3. Paul longs to visit them (1:10-13). He hopes to visit them in Rome for the mutual benefit of all. He had always planned to go there, but had always been providentially hindered from doing so. He prays now that it will be God’s will. Note: Paul always puts God’s will above his desires in prayer.
The purposes of his visit would be (1) for mutual encouragement of one another’s faith, (2) that Paul might impart some spiritual gift to them, and (3) that Paul might have a harvest among them as with other Gentiles.
4. Paul regarded himself as a debtor to the Romans (1:14,15). Because he owed his salvation to the grace of Jesus Christ, Paul knew that as a privileged believer he owed it to a needy world to tell them about His wonderful Savior. With all the ability he possessed, and at any cost or hazard, he was willing to embark for Rome to preach the Gospel—as he had to Jews and Gentiles for years.
It has come as a surprise to many that the Book of Romans does not deal with many of the issues to be found in Rome. It was a city filled with social problems, but Paul does not address those issues. It was a city filled with slaves, but he does not mention that. It was a city of lust and vice, but he does not direct his comments to avoiding these sins. It appears that Paul did not consider social reform in Rome an evangelical imperative, at least not at this occasion. Rather, the gospel of the revelation of a righteousness acceptable to God and available to people graciously upon the condition of faith was Paul’s primary imperative.
The theme of the book is the exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle does not set out the details of the Gospel here; but we may gather from his other writings that the gospel is the good news of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances together with the apostolic explanation of the doctrinal significance of these great facts (1 Cor. 15:1-5).8_ftn12 The word for “gospel” or good news carried with it a note of excitement; it is the kind of message one would shout with enthusiasm.
Here we may notice the following: Paul’s designation of the Gospel is “of Christ,” for it centers in the person, ministry, and passion of the Savior; the description of it is the “power of God” (the intrinsic power of the whole Christ-event); the objective of it is “unto salvation” (meaning complete salvation, looking to the final tense of the doctrine of soteriology9_ftn13); the universality of its presentation is unto “everyone” regardless of race or generation; the simplicity of its reception is “that believes”; and Paul’s attitude toward it all is “I am not ashamed.”10_ftn14
The central idea of the Gospel, promised in the Old Testament and now revealed fully in Jesus Christ, is “the righteousness of God.” This term “righteousness” does not here indicate only the attribute of the LORD, for in this case it is said to be by faith. Here it is forensic: it is righteousness that is revealed in the Gospel, meaning, it is conferred on people; it signifies being in the right relation to God.
To be justified is to be declared righteous by God, not to be made righteous by God. To possess the righteousness of God, then, is to possess a righteousness which God provides (5:17) and thus approves (cf. 2:13). If the righteousness that justifies is God’s, and Paul’s “It is God that justifies” (8:33) forever settles the matter, then it can only be our’s by imputation; it is credited to us by God. Therefore, the term “the righteousness of God” refers to an imputed righteousness.11
As Johnson summarizes it, “The righteousness of God, then, is the key to salvation. They who have it know the power of God in personal salvation. They who do not have it are lost. They who have it know that they are right with God. They who do not have it are not right before Him. It is as simple as that. Principal Cunningham used to say, ‘The righteousness of God is that righteousness which His righteousness requires Him to require.’ According to Paul the simplest believer in Jesus Christ is clothed in this required righteousness through the justifying work of the Last Adam (cf. Rom. 3:21-26).”12
This righteousness is “from faith to faith.” It is from faith, and it is designed for faith. Or, faith is the source of the righteousness, but it is also the goal of righteousness.13 To support this point Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The words in the context of the Old Testament prophet carry a certain ambiguity (double entente). The text says that “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness,” meaning a firm faith that is directed toward God.14 Habakkuk was drawing upon Genesis 15:6 to show that faith is belief in and firm reliance on the LORD. Paul, quoting from Habakkuk, leaves out the pronoun “his” to stress this kind of faith: “The righteous shall live by faith.” So Habakkuk, in affirming that faith is the key to one’s relationship with the Lord, was teaching that God’s favor is secured by trust. He was contrasting this with the proud Chaldeans who trust in themselves—the just, who trust in God, shall live. Paul’s use is analogical; in stressing the same point about faith, he is telling how one can attain right standing before God and live eternally.15 The key passage is Genesis 15:6 (which he will develop later; and Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:16-17 are offshoots of it. So there is some ambiguity in the line of the prophet; but Paul’s idea of “from faith to faith” stresses both points of faith as well: we have become righteous by faith, and by faith we shall live.
Thus, the main point of the argument is very clear: good works could never deliver people from judgment. Rather, it is the good news of Christ’s sacrificial work received by faith that liberates from sin, for it alone is the power of God unto salvation.
From this first section of the book there are many things that could be discussed for application, and several themes that could be stressed in developing lessons from the material. But the following questions come immediately to mind as a result of this study.
1. What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? Think in terms of the doctrinal implications about deity and sovereignty, but think also about the practical aspects—what difference will/should it make in my life that He is my Lord? How will it affect my worship, my prayer life, my daily activities or life style?
Related to this are a couple of subordinate questions. What does the title “Son of God” signify? If Jesus was appointed Son, how does that relate to his sovereign rulership? And, how does the resurrection do that?
2. What is the Gospel? Can you express its component parts succinctly and clearly—the facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the response of faith, full salvation, and the righteousness of God? This should be clearly understood and easily explained by anyone serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 I shall continue to use the traditional representation of the holy name in these notes: in the Old Testament LORD is the way the name Yahweh was signified in the English, as opposed to Lord when the term “lord, master” was meant.
2 The Greek term “called” is an adjective built on a verbal stem. Most verbal adjectives are passives; they are timeless in force (no tense)—”called.”
3 The text says “spirit of holiness”; this is not the regular way of saying “Holy Spirit” in the New Testament, but it is a way of saying it in Hebrew. But only once does Paul use this phrase, so the variation indicates a slightly different idea—the phase of sovereign spiritual existence into which He entered with power at the resurrection.
4 A simple, surface reading of these and other verses would lead one to think the image and language of “son” refers to only one thing. But in fact there are a couple of different ways it is used. Throught the Old Testament every king could be called God’s son because that is what the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 says, and the coronation Psalm 2 puts into poetry. Whe Psalm 2 is used of Jesus, it means he is a Davidic king, the Father’s vice-regent, as it were. But John’s “only begotten Son” is more specifically referring to the nature of Jesus. The term “beget” is more restrictive than “create” or “make.” One can only beget a child with the same nature. To describe Jesus as the “Son of God” or the “only begotten Son” stresses His nature. If the Father is eternal and divine, then so is Jesus the Son. And he is unique in this—we may be “begotten by God,” i.e., by grace we are given a new nature in Christ; but there is only one God-man, Jesus the Christ. When the expression “Son of God” is applied to Jesus, or when Jesus used it, it carried much more meaning than that he was another Davidic king (although the disciples at first did not realize that). Gradually, and especially as Jesus forgave sins and proclaimed his message, the Jewish leaders knew that when he claimed to be the Son of God he was making himself equal with God.
5 Those who have believed in Jesus as Lord have been sanctified, that is, set apart to Him. This is the meaning of the word “saints” in the epistles. It is perfectly legitimate to refer to believing members of the Church as “the saints.”
6 The verbs may sound like wishes and greetings in English (“May the LORD bless you”), but the Hebrew forms (jussives) in this context are decrees or oracles, announcing what the blessing is on the basisof the atonement.. The passage says that when the priest says this the LORD will bless them. This use of the verbal blessing is like Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in the place of Esau—he could not take the words back because they were an oracle and not merely best wishes. This is very different than much modern teaching of people giving blessings to children or spouses.
7 From a sermon preached at the Round Church in Cambridge.
8 S. Lewis Johnson, “The Gospel that Paul Preached,” BibliothecaSacra 128 (1971):330.
9 The Bible uses three tenses for salvation: the past tense (we have been saved from the penalty of sin: 2 Thess. 2:13; Phil. 1:28; Eph. 2:4,8), the present tense (we are being saved from the power of sin: Phil. 2:12; 2 Cor. 1:6; 7:10), and the future tense (we will be saved from the very presence of sin: Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8-9). The Bible can use the language of salvation or sanctification for all three stages; but the theology is very precise—if the process has begun, it will be completed. Technically, the past tense is covered by the doctrine of soteriology, the present tense by the doctrine of sanctification, and the future tense by glorification. If true believers pray for “salvation,” it must be in the sense of the present tense (saved from the power of sin) or future (final glorification, the completion of the process), because saving faith in the Gospel has already placed them “in Christ” forever.
10 Unfortunately, too many Christians—leaders especially—have become somewhat embarrassed by the Gospel. To Paul there was no ministry without it or with any false or watered-down version of it; in fact, there is no salvation apart from it.
11 This phrase, “the righteousness of God,” was the phrase that led Martin Luther into the light of truth that produced the Reformation. He had always hated the expression, associating it with judgment; but through his study of the Psalms in 1514 he learned that the righteousness of God was related to deliverance and not condemnation. This understanding was clarified and enlarged by his study of Romans, upon which he lectured at Wittenberg from November 3, 1515 to September 7, 1516. It was during these years that he came to the realization that justification did not presuppose some inner change, but that it was done outside of man through the mediatorial work of Jesus. The acceptance of this work by faith brought liberation, because a just God was now able to give freely to each believer the righteousness of God.
12 Johnson, p. 335.
13 James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 21,22.
14 The Septuagint adds a pronoun that serves as an objective genitive: “his faith in me.”
15 Several commentators would translate the line: “the one who is righteous by faith shall live” (see Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8, p. 72). The quotation, according to Cranfield, functions as the heading of chapters 1-8, “righteous by faith” summarizing chapters 1-4, and “shall live” summarizing chapters 5-8. The latter grouping is less convincing.
The section before us reveals the desperate plight of the human race apart from Jesus Christ. God is absolutely righteous; His righteousness is revealed in the Gospel (1:17). He is undefiled and will have no fellowship with unrighteousness. But human beings are sinners by nature and cannot rid themselves of sin, let alone earn righteousness. They will remain separated from the Almighty unless God stoops down to provide a way out. The wonderful news of the Gospel, according to Romans, is that God has provided the righteousness that people cannot achieve.
Before people can fully appreciate the gospel they must understand the depths from which sinners have been rescued. In order to glory in the cross of Christ, they must recognize how pitiful and hopeless their original condition really was. Romans 1:18—3:20 is a bleak and frightening exposure of the natural heart in need of salvation.
An irrevocable law of God is that every sin ever committed merits and must receive judgment. All ungodliness and all unrighteousness may expect a visitation of wrath. Paul is about to describe unrighteousness, but he does so against the background of impending wrath.1 Notice, however, that the ungodliness is not merely a violation of the truth—people by their wickedness suppress the truth. When evil dominates their lives, then there is no longer any room to consider truth. People are the product of what they contemplate; and if they suppress the truth and do not respond to it correctly, this will lead to a loss of morality.
There are several ways that the term “wrath” has been interpreted in this verse: (1) a time of judgment that lies in the future at the end of the age; (2) judgment in nature (suffering), conscience (right vs. wrong) and word (judgment at the end); but most likely (3) what is said in the rest of the chapter—God gave the human race over in a judicial way. The history of the world is judgment; perversion in faith leads to perversion in life, and such evil brings ruin, both as natural consequence and divine visitation.
To demonstrate the world’s dilemma Paul divides humanity into two parts, Gentiles and Jews, and in each case reveals their hopeless condition apart from Christ. The record of the Gentiles’ plight is a dreadful picture of raw sin.
a. The Gentiles (all mankind) have the light of nature (1:19,20). Here the apostle introduces the theme of general revelation: God has made plain to them what might be known about Him. From the very beginning the invisible things (His attributes) of the Godhead—his eternal power and divine nature (a supreme Being, a common term today)—have been clearly perceived in and through creation. Mankind has had more than the dim light of nature; they have had the bright light of all creation. In general, we can count on people having a sense of the existence of God; they don’t need lengthening proofs and discussions. As a result, they are without excuse, for the glories of the creation were sufficient to make them aware that there is a sovereign Lord to whom they are accountable.
b. Their moral degradation (1:21—1:32). The people of the earth rejected the truth, spurned the light, and turned their backs on God. This is clear from the early portions of Genesis and from secular history of the pagan world of antiquity. The results of this rebellion remain.
Verse 21 describes their indifference to divine revelation. There is a change of tenses here; from now on Paul looks to the past to see how the world fell away from the truth. It is the religious history of mankind in a brief sketch; it is a record of devolution. They knew God, but they failed to recognize God and to render to God glory and gratitude due His worthy name. Their foolish hearts, that is, their rebellious wills, were darkened, that is, spiritually blind to the truth.
It seems that God gives all people a certain degree of light. If they respond correctly to the light that they have, He then sends more (see how God provided Peter for Cornelius in Acts 10); but if they fail to respond to it, or choose to pervert it, they become darkened and cannot see the light. This is a judicial blindness.
Verses 22-25 describe their idolatry that resulted in rejection of the one true God. Even though they were cold and careless toward the Creator, they felt the need to worship something, they still believed there were spirits or gods or forces that had to be respected and even manipulated in life. Their utter folly was to exchange the glory of the invisible God for images of people and animals. They elevated images to a position of superstition and prostrated themselves before them. They grovelled before their manmade images, thinking themselves pretty wise for being able to invent religious systems; but in reality they were revealing their folly by worshiping subordinate creatures over which God had commanded them to rule and have dominion. Every false god they worshiped was inferior, because each was something that the true Lord God had created.
Verses 26-32 describes the immorality that came with the idolatrous beliefs—lust, incest, pride, blasphemy—the categories of vices seem endless! The great folly of false worship is that it leads to false ethics amd morals. If people worship a higher being, they will elevate their ethics and morality to that level; but when the worship is base, the practice will be base. In fact, substituting anything for God alters one’s ethics. A clear understanding of creation and the God of creation is the foundation or ethics and morality, as the Law makes clear; when people substituted the worship of the creatures for the Creator, a corrupt pattern of life could only follow, for human life was then allowed to run down with no remedial correctives. So this chapter paints a vivid description of the darkness of the race apart from God. Nothing but divine intervention could possibly lift the human race out of darkness and restore it to God. But not everyone is willing.
The way that these changes came about is described as judicial: Paul says, “Therefore, God gave them over” to their depraved customs (vv. 24, 26), and their depraved or useless minds (v. 28). In the Bible the mind is more than the intellect; it is the organ of moral reasoning and the capacity for choosing or willing. People who refuse to acknowledge God have this capacity blunted by sin and blindness, so that their minds are “disqualified” from being able to understand and acknowledge the will of God.2 People who have turned from God are fundamentally unable to think and decide correctly about God; they can certainly talk about God or spiritual things, but the substance is contaminated by their lack of spiritual discernment, or their willingness to explain away divine standards so that they may live the way they want. Only the work of the Holy Spirit renewing the mind will enable people make the correct choices and live in a way pleasing to God. God gave them up so that their wickedness would take its logical course down the dead-end highway of evil to destruction.
There are several ways that this verb “gave them over” has been interpreted. (1) In the early Church Chrysostom took it in a permissive sense, that God permitted them to be given over. But that is not the force of the verb; it is far more active than that. (2) Another view is what we call the privitive sense, that is, God did not impel them to believe but withdrew His restraining hand, and by withdrawing his restraint the effect appeared that he was giving them up. Again, that idea may satisfy some by softening the meaning, but it is still not exactly what is being said. (3) The full explanation goes a little further, that is, it is judicial (which includes something of the privitive); God actively abandoned the race to judgment because it rejected the light (see Mk. 4:12; Isa. 6). Throughout Scripture we learn that in God’s dealings with people there comes a time when he must take retributive action in judgment; for Israel, for example, after centuries of their defection he hardened their hearts and blinded their spiritual perception (Isa. 6) and declared that they were not his people and he was not their God (Hos. 1).3
Note the emphasis throughout here how they rejected the truth: v. 19, “known of God”; v. 21, “knew God”; v. 28, “holding God in full knowledge”; and v. 31, “known fully the deadly guilt of evil.”
When did such divine retribution take place? Is it broadly mankind’s history, or were there events? We may say collectively it began at Babylon (Gen. 11) where the nations were scattered because of their pride and rebellion, God allowing that wars and conflicts and separate developments in paganism were less evil than collective apostacy. Having said that, however, we must also note that collectively the restoration of believers focuses on Jerusalem and God’s covenant program. These two centers are always antithetical in Scripture for what they symbolize.
But individually the judicial retribution would have begun in the Garden. The language of verse 23 in this passage is the language of Genesis. And, Romans 5:12 makes the direct reference to that beginning of judgment. Because Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they were expelled from the Garden to make their own way, until they realized that they needed divine recovery if they were ever to be truly like God.
In what sense then are the results today? The judgment reappears or manifests itself in every generation. Humans are fallen and perverted from birth. If they are allowed to express themselves in their natural instincts, they will be perverted in every form of life and every aspect of life, never measuring up to the design of the creator for human life. For example, the sexual union between the male and the female is by nature natural affection; it is established by God as the proper use of sex. Homosexuality is an offense against God; it is not a weakness, or illness; it is a sin.4 But all sin is forgiveable. Some might say that it is natural because they were born with that nature; but that is why Jesus said we have to be born again, by the Spirit. So what Paul is saying is that when you see and rebellion against God and His Word, whether a great evil, anarchy, wickedness, or alternative lifestyles out of the will of God, we are not to think that God is about to judge that society—the people are not in danger of judgment, rather, it has happened already. God has given them over to run their course to ruin, to self destruct, as long as they live in rebellion to His will. And they will self-destruct if they never respond to the light of the Gospel. This is not simply true of one sin that gets a lot of attention today, but all sin if persisted in will bring about ruin, and there comes a point when God lets it run its course. This is why Isaiah said, “Seek the LORD while he may be found.” There may come a time when His Spirit stops working with a person, and lets that person follow the broad way that leads to destruction. None of us know when that might be, and so we continue to pray for people and call them to repentance.
c. A diatribe on the wrath of God (2:1-16). In the preceding section the apostle referred to the Gentiles in the third person (“they” and “them”). Had he meant the Roman Christians, he would have used the second person plural. Now in this section he begins using the second person, but it is not a direct address to the Church; rather the genre is a diatribe. In a diatribe the writer can get a point across by engaging in an imaginary debate with a student or opponent. He will often use posed questions and emphatic rejections. It appears that in this case Paul’s main target would be the self-righteous Jew. So Paul is now beginning to turn to the sin of the Jews. He will deal with it in three stages: first this transition part where he declares that the Jews are no better than the pagan Gentiles and will likewise receive the wrath of God, then in a parallel way he explains how the Law condemns (2:17-29), and then, third, he adds a parenthetical response to possible misconceptions of what he has said (3:1-8). Romans 3:9 explains what he has done: he has charged the Gentile with guilt; now he charges the Jew.
So in the present section Paul will focus on the attitude of the Jew who would judge others as being evil, but who will not himself live up to the standard. The “therefore” at the beginning of chapter 2 is the strongest inferential particle in the New Testament. On the basis of Romans 1:32, you are inexcusable “everyone of you who … .”
The whole point of this section is that God judges according to righteousness—in truth (v. 2), according to works (v. 6), without partiality (v. 11). Contrary to popular Jewish belief, the sins of the Jews will not be treated differently than those of the Gentiles. Simply belonging to the covenant people avails nothing because the wrath of God is revealed against sin. Rejecting the truth (v. 8) is lack of faith—it is the sin of not believing! So here Paul is reasoning like James: faith without works is dead. And, as the basis of judgment, faith and works are inseparable. If God judges by works, or if he judges by their lack of faith, the decision is the same, for those who do not believe do not produce good works—they produce evil (v. 9). What we see in appearances can be misleading; many who look lovely to the world have done so out of selfish motives, or, as Paul has laid down, everything that the unbeliever has done is touched by his depravity. The Bible elsewhere will affirm that without faith it is impossible to please God.
In verses 12 and 13 Paul affirms that those who sin apart from the Law will be judged apart from the Law and those who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law. In a parenthesis (vv. 14,15) he explains that the conscience forms a kind of law within; the conscience most of the time accuses, once in a while excuses, on the same basis that the law prescribes right and wrong.5 No person living is without this warning voice within. But does this inner voice provide the Gentiles with the righteousness they need to have fellowship with God? No, they still need specific revelation that leads to faith in Jesus Christ.
The point of the discussion about judgment begun in verse 12 is then completed in verse 16 as Paul affirms that “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”6 Jesus Christ is the Judge. Paul is not saying that God will judge according to his gospel (some translations sound that way); rather, he is saying the fact that Jesus is Judge is in accordance with my gospel (he wanted the expression “through Jesus Christ” at the end for emphasis). Jesus Christ will judge Jew and Gentile alike, according to the three previous principles: truth, works, and impartiality. So these principles provide a picture of true justice: God will judge according to reality, to truth, and cannot be deceived; God’s judgments are universally proportionate to what people deserve, and no one can protest; God’s judgments are completely unprejudiced, for apart from Christ’s righteousness all will receive their just deserts7_ftn7; and God’s judgments relate to mankind’s innermost motives—inner thoughts and outward actions are both clear to this Judge.
Paul is still laying the foundation in his argument that both Jew and Gentile need the righteousness of God. Neither the pagan apart from the law or the Jew under the law is righteous enough to escape God’s judgment. We may recall here Psalm 130, what Luther called the most Pauline Psalm: “O Lord, if you should mark iniquity, who could stand; but with you, O Lord, there is forgiveness of sin, in order that you might be feared.”
The Jews had higher moral and spiritual standards than most of the ancient world, due to their ethical monotheism with its strict laws. With the greater privileges of such specific revelation came greater responsibility as well.
a. Their great privileges did not suffice (2:17-29). In verses 17-24 Paul discusses the first great privilege of Israel—the Law of God. The commandments given to Moses were forever the unique and priceless possession of the chosen8_ftn8 race. They prided themselves in the Law and “rested” in it as though it was adequate to meet all their spiritual needs. But even though they had the truth revealed to them, knew it and taught it, they themselves failed to obey it, either in the letter of the law or its spirit.
Verses 17-20 extol the privileges that Israel had by virtue of the Scriptures; they were instructed, guides, lights, instructors, teachers. It is a marvelous list. But verse 17 begins a condition (called protasis—”if”), and the apodasis (“then”) is not until verse 21—”you then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” In other words, if in the light of all this privilege this is the way you (Jews) live, then you are without excuse. Paul ends the section with a citation from Isaiah and Ezekiel, namely that God’s name was being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of Israel. That meant that because they disobeyed and were sent into captivity, the reputation of the LORD was placed in jeopardy—their sin drew God’s name down.9
Verses 25-29 record the discussion of the other great privilege of Israel that went awry—circumcision. Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant; it was performed on the foreskin of a Hebrew baby boy when he was eight days old, to signify that the little lad was accepted into the covenant community (not that the child was sealed forever in salvation—that required personal faith).
But Paul’s point here puts this in perspective: it is not enough to be a Jew, circumcised as a member of the community; one must practice the Law. The Law itself had declared that true circumcision was of the heart, that is, a changed will set apart to serving God (Deut. 30:6). And Jeremiah, always the prophet of reality, foresaw the punishment on national Israel, that is, on those who were only circumcised in the flesh (9:25). Circumcision without the reality of a living faith is uncircumcision; but Paul will add that uncircumcision (=Gentile people) that keeps the Law (righteous people by faith) is true circumcision (of the heart). Note Paul’s points in this paragraph:
1. The rite without reality is really unrighteousness (v. 25). There was only value in being a circumcised Jew if the Law was being kept (evidence of a living faith). Keeping the Law refers to the fulfillment of the condition of faith; it was the carrying out of the precepts of faith. As with any religious ritual (today, baptism, or holy communion), circumcision meant nothing if there was not a genuine faith to live out what the ritual was designed to signify.
2. Reality without the rite is righteousness (vv. 26, 27). Paul goes so far as to say the obedience of faith is the essence of righteousness, whether there was the rite of circumcision or not. Paul’s words would have upset many of the circumcision who placed such great stress on the rite; he was affirming that it was far better to be an uncircumcised (physically, so a Gentile) believer trying to obey the Law than to be a circumcised (Jewish) unbeliever.10 The life of the believer condemns those who have the Law and the rite, but who break the Law and deny the rite.
3. The reality of a living faith is praised by God, but the empty rite is praised by mankind (vv. 28, 29). The man who is only outwardly a Jew by circumcision is not the true Jew, but the one who is a Jew in the inward man, by faith, whether he has the rite or not, is the true Jew. That is, the truly circumcised person—the believer—is one who by faith is set apart to God, circumcised in the heart to give witness to the meaning of the circumcision—set apart to God.
There is a wonderful word play here in this section. The Hebrew word for “Jew” is yehudah, literally, “may he be praised” (the verb yadah means “to praise”). So in Hebrew “praise” and “Jew” would be essentially the same. Paul is writing in Greek, of course; but when using the Greek word for “praise,” epainos, he undoubtedly knew what he was doing. His line has a double meaning: “such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God,” or “such a man’s Judaism is not from men, but from God.” The truly “spiritual” circumcision received praise from God because there was a reality of faith and not empty ritual to the claims.
So the point Paul has made in this section is that in spite of the privileges that Israel had, they disobeyed God and therefore stand in need of divine righteousness just as the Gentiles do. The probable response of the Jews to this point was that Paul was wiping out any Jewish-Gentile distinctions with the Gospel. What about those special promises to the Jews? And so Paul will attempt to balance the picture with a discussion of God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unbelief.
b. God remains faithful and righteous (3:1-8). The section begins with the question of the value of the circumcision (an expression of sign for being a faithful Jew, faithful to the faith of Abraham). Paul’s affirming “Much in every way” lets the reader know right away that in spite of Israel’s failure (meaning the vast majority of Israelites) the covenant program was not a mistake. Paul will develop this theme more fully in chapters 9—11.
First, Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God. This expression refers to utterances or divine communications in written form. It often refers to specific passages in contexts, or, not the Scripture per se, but specific parts of the Scriptures. Paul probably is singling out passages that are revelations about the Messianic promises. The Messianic revelation of the covenant and the promises to the Jews will be unfolded beginning in chapter 9 to show that they have a future. God is righteous, meaning, God will be faithful to do what He has promised.
“But,” some will object, “Israel failed.” They were disobedient. Here is answered a basic error of many modern theologians—disobedience does not cancel the promises, it postpones them (or better, shows that they were not to be fulfilled at that time, that is, without us). Or, to put it another way, God’s covenant promises are sure, but individual participation in them depends on faith and obedience. Paul is saying, “Their unbelief shall not void the faithfulness of God, shall it?” No, disobedience cannot do that. The promises rest on the divine character of God. Their disobedience only seems to affect when and how the promises are fulfilled, or who has a share in them—but not if they will be fulfilled. God has sworn to it and will not repent—the gifts and callings of God cannot be repented of. If we cannot believe that the promise to Abraham rests on God’s faithfulness and not on collective obedience of the nation, then how can we believe the promise of John 3:16, for the people of the new Covenant have been anything but faithful. No, God is faithful to keep his promises, even if we are unfaithful, for he cannot deny himself.
“Let God be true and every man a liar!” If everyone, not just some, did not believe, God’s word would still be true. This point is then backed up by a citation from David’s great confession of sin (Ps. 51:4). In that context David was throwing himself on God’s mercy, and having confessed his sin he was ready to accept whatever verdict came. If God sentenced him to death—that would be righteous; if God granted him mercy, that would harmonize with His nature. God was righteous whether David acknowledged this or not, and God could do as He pleased whether David confessed or not. But David in his confession was submitting to the will of God, and acknowledging the righteousness of God. David wanted the world to know that God was righteous; and his sin displayed it all the more.
But this might suggest to some that God was unrighteous in condemning people if by their sins His righteousness is displayed. Or, they might say, “If I have the opportunity for the greater glory of God, how can I be judged a sinner?” This kind of reasoning simply shows that there is something wrong in the person’s reasoning. The greater the evil is it might indeed show the greater that His righteousness is, but the evil is still great. People were merely trying to justify their evil and escape divine wrath.
Paul’s conclusion of the matter is that all are sinners and in need of the righteousness of God. According to verse 9 he is saying, “Well then, if we as Jews have such advantages due to God’s choice of us, do we then excel—no, we are still sinners.” Paul is saying, “We may excel in that there is yet a future for believing Israel, but we are all sinners.”
Paul has charged the Gentiles with guilt in chapter one, charged the Jews with guilt in chapter two, but now summarily proves all are guilty in chapter 3:10-18 when he quotes Scripture. What does the Bible say? Here is the real force of the argument, the indictment. This practical method of the New Testament writers is still unsurpassed; it need not be modernized. Paul was comfortable stringing together a long list of biblical texts that made the point. If people did not agree, then their argument was with God, and not with him.
Note also that in verse 19 he will say this is from the Law. The passages are clearly not in the Pentateuch, but the Old Testament as a whole, here the Psalms—that is the Law of God as much as the Commandments of Moses. The citations are introduced with the standard Rabbinic formula, “As it is written,” meaning, as the Word of God the Scriptures remains forever binding. The first part of the series comes from Psalm 14 and 53 (the two psalms are almost identical). The psalm is a contrast between the fool ( nabal) who says in his heart there is no God, and the Word of the LORD that declares there is none righteous, not one single person.
Verses 13 and 14 focus on their speech. The poetry of the Psalter is rich: what they say brings ruin and destruction (“their throats are open graves”). They are deceitful, destructive, and hurtful. If ever there was a question about the extent of depravity, one need only examine the things people say. And much of it is an inherited ability.
Verse 15 and 16 list conduct as murderous and treacherous. Human beings are murderers from the beginning. “Their feet are swift to shed blood” captures the ease and the eagerness with which they design the death of other people. Because of human nature, ruin and misery characterize our lot in life.
Verses 17 and 18 look at the thoughts. Here Isaiah is cited as well as Psalm 36:1. These two ideas form a climax to the list. The way of peace—as Isaiah meant it—is foreign to human nature. It is, as Jesus explained, not as the world gives. Psalm 36:1 essentially means “there is no dread thing from God before their eyes.” In other words, God has not slapped them down or punished them yet, and so they live as the fools they are, concluding that he must approve.
The listing by subject matter is a typical rabbinic method of building groups of texts. This is a clear, biblical description of human nature apart from faith in the LORD. The race is unrighteous; and left to themselves they become vile and destructive, leaving a trail of misery and ruin. Only common grace has kept them alive and in as much harmony as there has been.
In his conclusion (v. 19) Paul says that the Law speaks to those who are under the Law, that the whole world might be found guilty. The Jew was representative of the human race in God’s dealings with people. God tested one element of the race, the one with the most light given to them, and discovered it was sour; thus, he pronounces judgment on the whole race and no one can protest. The point is clear from verse 20: no one can be declared righteous by keeping the Law, because there is no one who can keep the Law. The race is corrupt. Here Paul seeks to destroy the Jews’ last stronghold—much as Jesus did when he challenged those who claimed to have kept all the commandments. The Law had many purposes; but salvation by keeping it was not one of them. Paul affirms that the Law pointed out sin—it showed our need. In this sense the old saying is true that the Jews’ death warrant has been written in their birth certificate. The Law was a great heritage for them; but it condemned them, and all of us as well.
This entire section is the most unpleasant section of the book, dealing with condemnation; but it is most necessary. If there is no sin, if the race is not lost, then what in the world is the Gospel all about? So as you think through some of the current debates, you should be able to explain these:
1. How would you define or describe total depravity? You may not particularly like the expression, but it has stood the test of time. What was meant by it? What does that say about theories like universalism?
2. How should we define sin? Perhaps you could write a composite description from the various ideas presented in this section.
3. Can anyone plead ignorance to God in the day of judgment? How would Paul answer that question?
4. What are some of the dangers of growing up in a religious community with all the Scriptures, rituals, and traditions?
5. Sometime privately think through your own “righteousness”; how does it measure up to the standard, and how would it stand under the kind of scrutiny Paul declares God’s judgment to have?
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name;
On Christ, the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the ‘whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
1 Of course believers in Christ understand that for them the wrath has already been poured out--on the Son of God who bore its weight and agony in the place of sinners. Now, "being justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Rom. 5:9).
2 The expression is often used in translations "depraved mind." This terminology gives the impression that everything that such an individual thinks or imagines is only evil continually (cf. Gen. 6). And, of course, that may be true. But the term really means "useless." Likewise, when we speak of the doctrine of total depravity we do not mean that unbelievers only do evil continually; rather, the doctrine of total depravity means that absolutely nothing that an unbeliever does is meritorious before God. This is why the apostle will say that without faith people are dead in trespasses and sins.
3 This, of course, does not apply to the remnant of true believers in the land, people like Isaiah and Hosea themselves; it applies to the people who had rejected Yahweh and turned to worship Baal and other false gods. Paul will tell the Roman Church that not all Israel was Israel--they might have been born into an Israelite family, but they were not the spiritual seed of Abraham.
4 Neither can you change the plain meaning of the words to suggest that for the homosexual the natural affection is to someone of the same sex and to force heterosexual compliance would be the sin. That merely twists the meanings of the words of Scripture to justify a life-style that the Bible nowhere condones.
5 Here is another part of the moral argument for the existence of God begun in chapter 1. General revelation reveals the invisible attributes, and the human conscience can respond to what is right and wrong.
6 Or, "as my gospel declares."
7 As C. S. Lewis has expressed it, if people do not believe in Christ and submit to Him, saying "Thy will be done," then in judgment the Lord will say to them, "Thy will be done."
8 To call the Jews God’s chosen people does not mean that they are any more righteous than others, or that God made special concessions for them. It means God had chosen them for a particular task, and such a choosing brought higher standards for them to follow.
9 Ezekiel records how the LORD would regather Israel, not because they deserved it, but because God's reputation as trustworthy demanded it. Likewise in the LORD's Prayer is the chief concern with seeing the name of the LORD hallowed.
10 Paul's comments on circumcision can be easily applied to other religious groups. In many churches infant baptism carries much the same significance for entrance into the covenant community as did circumcision for the Jews. People grow up not living the faith. But with a false security that they were baptized as an infant. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
“There is none righteous, no, not one.”
“ But now a righteousness from God … has been made known.”
Up to this point the message of the book has been bleak and discouraging. The whole world is by nature corrupt and degenerate. “But now” in verse 21 forms a great divide, introducing something totally new. The form is the intensive form of the adverb. It can be logical (“now as the argument stands”) or temporal (“now, in the present time”). This appears to be a case of designed ambiguity in Paul. He knew of the two meanings, and probably intended both of them to work here.
The glorious news is that God has intervened. In the gospel of salvation through his Son he has provided a faith-righteousness that avails in his sight. Paul adds that the Law and the Prophets attest to this provision of righteousness. The simple fact is that a righteousness is available, and this righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (v. 22).
Verses 23 and 24 provide the balance: all have sinned, and all are justified freely by His grace. The verbal expression “all have sinned” can be taken in one of two ways. One is to take the form as a constantive aorist, meaning “all have committed acts of sin” referring to personal sins. The other way is to take it in conjunction with Romans 5:12 referring to Adam’s sin, thinking more of the unity of the race. The former seems preferable here, in view of the consequence of the sin—”and are coming short” of the glory of God. The falling short need not be equally short for all people; that is not important. The point is that all have missed it, whether by a little or a lot—it is fatal.
But they are being justified2_ftn2 as they believe. Justification is not a process; it means that God declares to be righteous whoever believes in Christ. The act of grace by which God pardons all the believer’s sins and accepts the believer as righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is credited to the believer’s account—this wonderful act is known as justification by faith. Believers do not become righteous through faith—they are declared righteous by God.
The stress of “freely by his grace” cannot be overlooked. Believers are justified “without a cause” or “for no reason”—it is a gift, or as Lenski says, “pure, abounding, astounding grace.” Our justification originates in the loving heart of God.
This justification is through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. The noun here means a “ransoming away” with the idea of never again coming into the same bondage. The form of the word certainly harmonizes with other teachings on the certainty of salvation.3 The price that Jesus paid for redemption was his outpoured blood (see 1 Pet. 1:18,19)—he paid enough for the sins of the whole world so that faith-righteousness was secured forever.
The way this redemption worked, according to verse 25, is that God set Jesus forth as a propitiation. The term is hilasterion , a word that can function as a noun or an adjective. It is used in Hebrews 9:5 for the “mercy seat,”4 the covering for the ark of the covenant known as the propitiatory, or place of atonement (the place where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the day of atonement). There it has the article on it for stress—Jesus is the mercy seat. But the context in Romans sufficiently expresses the means of propitiation as the point (and this is the only place Paul uses the word). So the idea in Romans focuses on the act (but one can hardly ignore its connections to Israel’s mercy seat where the blood was applied). There is some debate about the meaning of the word; but it seems to include both ideas of expiation (the removal of sin) and propitiation (the averting of wrath). Although there was the wrath of God against sin, it was also God in His love who took the initative against it. So the Greek term captures both the idea of appeasement of God’s wrath, and the expiation of sin. By this death there is satisfaction of God’s justice and holiness. The holiness of God is preserved by the need for propitiation; the love of God is revealed by the provision.
According to the following verses God had several reasons for setting forth Jesus to be such a propitiation. (1) God wished to make known his righteousness. In the Old Testament age, that is before Christ died, sin was not finally or ultimately punished once and for all—it was only passed over. Old Testament believers were redeemed in the same way that we are—by grace through faith, based on the blood of Christ (who was slain before the foundation of the world). What they did not know was who was eventually going to pay for these sins, because the sacrifices of animals were repeated. But they knew they were forgiven because God told them they were (Lev. 4:10; 2 Sam. 12:13; Psalms 32, 130, et al). Yet for the payment for these sins God passed over them until they could all be nailed to the cross in the death of the Messiah, the Son of God, once and for all. In Christ the justice of God is completely satisfied. (2) God also wished to make known his justice for us at the present time. And (3) God wished to harmonize his attribute (righteous) and his action (justifying). The only way that God could remain righteous and at the same time declare sinners righteous was for God to come in the flesh and die for the sins of the whole human race. Thus, the demands have been met; the sins have been are paid for; the way is open for grace to be bestowed on all who believe.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded, shut out. Conduct and achievements cannot procure righteousness, for people are justified without the deeds of the Law. This is a blow to human pride. Nothing that a mere mortal can do will win for him or for her the righteousness needed to cover sin. The only way of appropriating it is through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. This is not a vague hoping against hope; and it is not a superstitious compliance with ritual. It is a specific believing in the person and work of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, relating especially to his atoning work upon the cross. Faith in his blood is what counts, the blood shed for the remission of sin (see Heb. 9:22). The believer is pronounced righteous, received as righteous “by his blood” (Rom. 5:9).
Does this nullify the Law? On the contrary, Paul will show that he is establishing the Law (in its right use of revealing sin). Moreover, he will show that faith upholds the Law. If the Law is properly understood, believed, and obeyed, then the appeal for faith in a sacrificial atonement for sins exposed by the Law would be seen as the heart of the Law. What is new is that the Son of God himself becomes the propitiation. Therefore, anyone who lived under the Law and had faith in the LORD would transfer that faith to Jesus and his blood.
In this chapter Paul looks back to the Old Testament to show that it substantiated the concept that a person could be accepted by God apart from the Law. Recall how Paul affirmed that this truth was “testified to by the Law and the Prophets” in 3:21. Well, this chapter is an explanation of these. The point will be clear that it is faith in the LORD that brings this imputed (credited) righteousness that is available. Just as Israel’s sacrifices were of no benefit to participants who had no faith, so the death of Jesus will be of no benefit to an unbeliever. The theme of believing, of faith, will now be illustrated from the Old Testament.
The passage begins with the conversion of Abraham, recorded in Genesis 15:6. This experience of Abraham, of course, was prior to the Law of Moses by about 600 years. “Abraham believed in Yahweh, and he reckoned it to him, namely righteousness.” That is the way I would translate the Hebrew of the passage citeds here by Paul. The text has the dual emphasis of faith and grace, as Paul says elsewhere, “by grace you are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Abraham believed the LORD, and went to do what the LORD had told him to do; and for this act of faith, God credited him—gave him—righteousness.
The point that Paul makes is that when someone works the wages are not a gift but an obligation; but for the one who trusts in the LORD who justifies the wicked faith is credited as righteousness.
But then Paul adds that David says the “same thing.” David’s point in the cited psalm is much in agreement, but the method of joining the Scriptural citations is a clever rabbinical hermeneutic method known as gezerah shawah—they find passages where a key word is used and show the relation between the passages. The term “reckoned” is used in Genesis 15:6 as well as in Psalm 32:1, 2. In the first case it says that God reckoned righteousness to Abraham who believed; in the latter passage the psalm says that God does not reckon sin against the one who is forgiven. By taking two passages that use the same word, Paul can weave the full argument about justification by faith. The doctrine of justification by faith goes beyond the mere accounting the sinner to be righteous. It includes the idea of forgiveness of sin, or the non-imputation (non reckoning) of sin. Sin involves both omission and commission; therefore, justification signifies that it is as if the person never sinned, and did everything right.
Please pardon a rather simple but I think useful illustration. The Hebrew word to “reckon” has been brought over into modern Hebrew for “computer,” which is no surprise given the obvious link between “reckon, account, credit” and “computer.” We could say, then, that it is as if God calls up our file on the heavenly computer, deletes all the sins that were registered against us, and enters into our account “the righteousness of Christ.”
But the Jew might respond that Abraham was circumcised (Gen. 17); so do ritual acts come into the picture? Paul answers, “Genesis 15 comes before Genesis 17”—a smashing blow against ritualists. In other words, Abraham’s obedience in circumcision was not the ground of his justification. The patriarch was pronounced righteous before he was circumcised—on the basis of faith. True, the genuineness of his faith was seen in the fact that he followed the call of God and left Ur and went where God directed him. His subsequent circumcision was also an outward seal upon his inward, justifying faith. Faith obeys! But it is the faith that brings justification, not the obedient acts. Outward religious forms and observances, though absolutely necessary as the evidence of saving faith, are nonetheless secondary.
Circumcision was the seal of Abraham’s faith. The expression “seal of circumcision” in verse 11 probably means the “seal which is circumcision.” Circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. A “seal” authenticates and confirms what the covenant claims; and this seal also was symbolic, representing a repudiation of the flesh as it dramatically displayed. Over the generations from Abraham, the seal of circumcision marked out the people in their covenantal relationship, identifying the descendants of Abraham (ideally) as members of a covenant community.5 The aim of circumcision for Abraham’s covenant was not only to identify him as the father of all who were born into the family, but also as the spiritual father of all who believed in the LORD as he did. From that point on the descendants of Abraham were to be known as the “seed of Abraham”; but this expression came to mean three different things: (1) physical descendants, or Israelites who do trace their line back to Abraham; (2) physical descendents or Israelites who also believed in the LORD as Abraham did—so these are the true or full seed of Abraham (see Gal. 3), and (3) true believers who are not physical descendants—Gentiles—for if they believe in the LORD they share the faith of Abraham.
The Abrahamic Covenant with its sign of circumcision, then, pertained to believing Jews who followed the rite because they shared the faith; it did not pertain to unbelievers who simply performed the rite. The rite (of circumcision) without faith is dead ritual; faith without the rite brings salvation, just as faith with the rite does. Abraham is the spiritual father of those who believe, Gentiles who have not circumcised, and Jews who have. But the deciding factor is faith. Jews cannot assume because they are descended from Abraham, or because they were circumcised, that that is sufficient. Neither can Gentiles who have become members of the Church and who have been baptized consider that sufficient to salvation. There must be genuine faith, or there is no salvation at all.
Today, believing Jews are part of the New Covenant, just as believing Gentiles are. And the name for the present body of believers, Jew and Gentile, is the “Church.” But the apostle still makes a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, for there is still a benefit for the Jews who are the natural and spiritual descendants of Abraham (as we shall see later in the book).
The promises of God are contingent on faith and not dependent on obedience to the Law. Who could attain them by doing the Law? The great promise for Abraham was that he and his descendents would be “heirs of the world”—meaning all the families, the nations of the world. After all, he was the father of nations, and the one through whom blessings would come to all the families of the earth. But for this promise to be valid it must be a promise from God, by grace; it is not an earned estate.
The simple contrast is between the human view of things and God’s view:
Human view (true): faith (means) + grace (basis) = sure promise
Human view (false): works (means) + law (basis) > [wrath]
ends up here unexpectedly
Divine View: sure promise < (based on) grace (alone) + (through) faith
God made the promise to Abraham before the Law was given, the promise that there would be blessing for all the families of the earth. God desired to assure that the promise was on the basis of grace, and the only way that this could work is that the means be by faith and not works. Here is another tremendous support for the doctrine of eternal security if you think it through. The promise precedes the Law; grace precedes faith. Our security begins and ends with God, and is not based upon works.
Abraham believed in the LORD. Or, as verse 18 says, “contrary to hope (in man), in hope (in God) he believed.” All that Abraham did was believe a promise from God—and we know he believed the promise because he went to the land God told him to enter to receive it.6 In the Old Testament faith was in the Word of the LORD, what God had said. But in essence the faith of Abraham is the same as the faith we have today—we just have more content. Abraham’s faith was a resurrection-type faith—he believed the promises of a God who could infuse life into a dead body, a God who calls things that are not as though they are.7 The promise to Abraham of a seed like the stars of the heavens has in the New Testament been first fulfilled8_ftn8 in Jesus—the promised Seed, an unexpected birth, life out of death through resurrection. It is essentially the same faith.
And so Paul finishes the chapter by noting how the words of imputed righteousness were written for us too—who like Abraham believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This is the kind of faith that brings imputed righteousness, a faith that does not stagger over the power of God to bring life out of death, to fulfill the promises. It is a faith that believes that with God all things are possible, especially our eternal salvation, because it is based on the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, like Abraham, we may struggle at times with understanding it, living up to it, demonstrating it in a consistent life of faith—but we will follow no other way.
The death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us salvation, not works, and not ritual like circumcision, or in our churches, baptism or the Lord’s Supper. These are not to be minimized; but they themselves do not bring salvation. The death of Christ does. And so on this point verse 25 calls for a closer look. The text says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The preposition dia, translated “for” in the above translation, is open to several interpretations. (l) The first view is that it is used two ways here: he was delivered because of [retrospectively] … and raised with a view to [prospectively]. The point in this interpretation would be that the result of his resurrection is our justification (as in the hymn, “rising he justified”). The difficulty is that one would expect the same preposition in parallel clauses to have the same meaning and not to be translated differently.
(2) And so a second view is to take them both prospectively (following Denney): he was delivered over “with a view to” making atonement for sins. This is satisfactory as far as the grammar goes, but misses the theological point that justification is an accomplished fact.
(3) The better view is to take them both retrospectively; they would normally be translated “on account of” or “because of.” The verse would then say that Jesus was delivered over to death because of our sins, and was raised because of our justification. The point then is clear: the fact of our justification made necessary the resurrection. Justification is accomplished in the death of Jesus Christ; resurrection is the necessary issue of an accomplished atonement. The resurrection is God’s receipt—it is the Father’s, “Amen,” to Jesus’, “It is finished.” It is heaven’s acceptance of the death of Christ. Without the resurrection from the dead, there is no indication that the death was atoning and justifying. But with the resurrection from the dead, everything that Christ claimed to be doing in His death—including justify sinners who believe—has been accomplished.
1. How would you explain these significant terms: justification, redemption, propitiation, expiation?
2. What do you think Abraham actually believed when the text says he believed in the LORD? Describe the content of his faith. What exactly does someone today have to believe to be saved (now that we have more revelation)?
3. What is imputed righteousness?
4. What is the relationship between the reality of the covenant relationship and the sign of the covenant? How did this work out in history when people received the sign before the reality?
5. How does the Father in heaven confirm that Jesus’ death was indeed efficacious—i.e., that it did redeem people from their sins?
1 Note: Section “A” was the last lesson; this is not section “B” under the main heading that began the last lesson.
2 The present is durative or iterative in force, the actions, complete in themselves, continue.
3 Some folks do not like to talk about “eternal security” because it smacks of easy believism. But the fact of Scripture is that those who truly believe in the Lord are secure eternally because of the work of Christ. Our salvation is not made secure because we are able to hold on to it, but because he is able to hold us by his grace.
4 The translation “mercy seat” goes back at least to Wycliffe. In the Old Testament it is called “a place of propitiation” and refers to the lid on the box, the ark of the covenant. The ark is described in the Old Testament as God’s “footstool” (Ps. 132), so he sits enthroned above it, not on it (according to the imagery of the sanctuary).
5 The sign was, of course, for men; but in those patriarchal days such a sign for men was a sign for the whole tribe because it was at the heart of procreation.
6 Be careful with the modern rhetoric that is often added to the call for faith. Abram did not “yield himself to the LORD 100%”; he believed in the LORD. If we had to yield 100% in order to be saved, none of us would make it.
7 He and Sarah knew that her body was dead as far as having children was concerned, but he brought life out of that womb--Isaac. And Abraham knew that if he sacrificed Isaac to God (Gen. 22), God was able to fulfill the promises through Isaac anyway.
8 This means it finds its fullest meaning in the birth of the special seed. The basic meaning is that there will be innumerable descendents; but for the blessing to extend to the whole world that seed had to be significant--and Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of God--he was and is most significant.
Romans 5:1-11 is often treated as a survey of the results of justification by faith. While it is certainly possible to use the material that way, one must be sure not to ignore the main point of the passage. The theme of these eleven verses is the certainty of salvation that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Verse 1 begins the theme: “since we have been justified through faith we have1_ftn1 peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The alienation between God and mankind is gone; the natural hostility of the human heart is gone; the sin which separated us from God has been paid for by Christ. The sinner, once at enmity with God with no hope of recovery, is now united with the Father through the justifying work of the Son. To be at peace with God Almighty, in spite of our sinfulness, is one of the glories of saving faith. This is the peace that our Lord Jesus Christ promised, a peace that passes all understanding. It can only come when the sinner is changed, that is, through genuine forgiveness. “Peace” carries with it more than the idea of the absence of hostility or enmity; it encompasses the ideas of wholeness and well-being. It is what allows for Paul to describe believers as a new creation.
Verse 2 tells us that because of the grace of our Lord there is now open to us a realm of privileged access. Paul says that we have gained access by faith into his grace in which “we have now taken our stand.” Here is the certainty of access due to the confidence of faith. This faith will not crumble in the face of adversity because it is strong enough to handle afflictions. In fact, Paul says tribulation will strengthen faith. Believers have learned that suffering produces perseverance, because the suffering of Jesus into which they have entered by faith guarantees security.
Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. The hope that Christians have is based on two facts: (1) God has given us the Holy Spirit, and by the Spirit he has shed abroad in our hearts the love of Christ (5:5) which engenders and radiates hope; and (2) the Christian experience proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that God, who was willing to send his beloved Son to the cross for our sins, remains faithful forever (5:2-5).
Verses 6-8 present the great comforting news of the Gospel, that God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Paul explains that rarely will someone die for another, even a righteous person—but Christ died for the ungodly, for all of us. Our justification is based on the love of God through the death of Christ on our behalf, and not on any merit we might claim. And since all have sinned, as Paul so eloquently discussed, our only hope is faith in the shed blood of Christ. No good works are possible for salvation; our salvation is accomplished because Christ died for sinners. The security we have in the faith is not in ourselves, but in the love of God manifested in Christ. There will be a necessary and important place for good works—but not for the purpose of achieving salvation.
The climax of this section comes in the message of verses 9-11. Paul begins with a rabbinic argument (called qal wahomer—if this is true, how much more …). Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. We are introduced here to the present ministry of the ascended Christ, which by the argument mentioned above is less difficult than the initial act of justifying people. Here are the implications in his argument: (1) it takes more to do something for an enemy than for a friend; since we are now friends, God will do even more for us; (2) it took more to reconcile us to himself than it does to keep us; (3) it took more for God to give his Son in death than for us to share in his life. If God can deliver us from the penalty of sin (justification, the harder work), then will he not also deliver us from the presence and the power of sin—that is, keep us safe and secure. So because we have been justified, we may have confidence that he will deliver/save us from the wrath to come. Or, he who has begun a good work in us will complete it in glory. Verse 10 uses another qal wahomer argument—if we have been reconciled through his death, “how much more” shall we be saved through his life. He now lives to complete our salvation.
In fact, Paul is emphatic about the joy and confidence that we have through Christ: We shall be delivered from the presence of sin, and be brought into God’s holy presence, glorying in God. The attitude of the redeemed is triumphant, joyful, happy, boastful2_ftn2 in God. This will be the attitude of all believers in the future when their salvation is complete. That he is here talking about the future complete stage of salvation is clear from his contrast with the mention of “now” in verse 11—we now have reconciliation, but in the future we are guaranteed complete salvation.
“Reconciliation” is a key idea in the discussion. The term describes the union in peace of individuals who were formerly hostile. It is not only a change of attitude, but a change of position as well. All enmity and antagonism is gone because we have been changed, we have been reconciled to God.3 So we have in verses 1 and 11 the key ideas of peace with God through justification (v. 1) and reconciliation (v. 11). They are inseparable doctrines. Justification touches our sinful nature and changes our position, our standing before God; reconciliation touches our deepest attitude toward God—it is the intimate side of the relationship.
We now come to a long section of the book about life in Christ, running from 5:12 through chapter 8. The study can break this section up into its smaller parts and focus on each one of them; but in this survey of the message of the book I shall take the material in larger sections (but breaking down the material into those smaller sections).
The doctrine of justification by faith is vast in its dimensions. It is not bound by national or racial interests. It concerns the entire human race. Paul divides all of humanity into two groups, two creations. A remarkable parallel but an absolute contrast characterizes these groups. Each has its own federal head, cohesive principle and ultimate destiny—the lost and the saved, those who are not in Christ and those who are. In the human race the descendants of Adam die in sin; in the new creation, those who are born into the family of the second Adam, live.
The main idea that Paul is trying to get across in these verses is that there is a likeness between the first Adam and the Last. Sin has affected the whole race because of the first Adam; so the act of the Last Adam has formed a great group who are related to him by faith.
The “Therefore” of verse 12 is more than a loose connection; it looks back to the whole section of l:18 through 5:11, or salvation through Christ Jesus. Because we have this salvation through one man, Paul will argue, there exists this likeness or comparison between the two Adams. Elsewhere he says, “For as all died in Adam, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Paul announces that sin “entered” the world through one man. He never tells us how sin originated. But his verb “entered” implies that sin existed before Adam. It did not begin with Adam; it merely entered the world of the human race. This sin then passed on or through the whole race (spreading out, diffusing), because “all sinned.”
What does Paul mean when he declares “all sinned.” There are three major views on this. (1) Pelagians refer this to personal sin (a view that Denney takes also), but this is not likely for several reasons. First, it is contrary to fact, because, for example, if infants do not reach the age of accountability, why then should they die? Second, verse 14 would be unnecessary—they die because of Adam’s sin—verse 14 would contradict the view. Third, time and time again (five times in the passage) condemnation and death are due to the one sin of the one man.
A second view of “all sinned” is to interpret it to mean that all are corrupt. This would be mediate imputation; or, as Murray would say of original sin, the sin which Adam sinned and infected us. But there are difficulties with this view.4 First, Paul keeps saying that it is because of one man. He does not indicate that he means a corrupt nature. Second, to suffer death because we are sinful does not fit the analogy that is expressed here; it would have to then reason that we are righteous because we have been given the righteousness of Christ.
It seems to me that the stronger view is the Reformed view of federal headship. Adam’s act implicated the whole human race. It is the sin of Adam that is responsible for death in the race; so it is the obedience of Christ that brings life to those related to him. First, in verse 12 death passed upon all because all sinned. Second, in verse 13 death is on all because of the sin of one. So there is a singularity as well as a plurality. One acts for the all, but the all sin; and they sin because of the one.
Augustine’s view is more precise than Federal Headship. We were seminally (semen=seed) in Adam, physically, when he sinned. So his act was our act. The analogy for this is Hebrews 7:9,10; but he does qualify this with “so to speak.” He felt the argument based on that alone was really weak. He based the argument on a psalm. We might say that we sinned in Adam because we were in his loins; but we cannot say the antithesis of Christ—we are not righteous because we were in Christ when he died. So this probably forces the wording too much.
Some might protest that it is not fair that they should die because of the sin of Adam. It should be pointed out at the outset that what Adam has done does not have to affect anyone’s eternal lot—just believe in Jesus Christ and there is no condemnation. The act of Adam is not the final determinant of our destiny. Paul is merely telling us how sin arose in the human race, and because it happened at the beginning, it is universal—all sinned. It is like saying the first man was contaminated with radiation poisoning, and that remains with all his descendants.5 Fair or not, it is the reality of life that the human race has been contaminated with sin, and death is the result of sin. Only Christ has provided the way out of sin and death; apart from that, one must esperience sin and death whether it is a pleasant idea or not.
Today we hear a lot of this, that life is not fair, that it is not fair that we were born this way or that, with this nature or that, and so God should accept us with our preferences and acts because it is not our fault. God’s answer to that is that we all share a fallen nature—we were born with the desire to sin and rebel against God—and so we must be born again. People do what they want, and it is dishonest and self-centered to claim that since they were born that way God should accept them that way. No. We all must be born again into the family of God, or we will die in our sins. We all are born with traits and characteristics, and at times inherited diseases—you cannot ignore the fact that we share the nature of the ancestors, and that goes back to Adam. From the very began the race is contaminated, lives in rebellion by nature, and dies as a result. Blaming Adam, or parents, or human nature, will accomplish nothing. The new birth is designed to change our nature, and our destiny.
Paul further explains that Adam’s sin was there before the Law came in. Since there was no Law, there was no reckoning of the sin except for the fact that death was the evidence. Why did death reign? Because of Adam. Paul explains that in this Adam is a type, an example, an illustration of a corresponding reality. One sinful act affected the whole race; and this is a parallel to the Last Adam, for his one obedient act has affected a great number—the redeemed, over whom the death Adam began has no power.
The rest of the chapter will focus on this obedience of Christ. Jesus’ righteousness is in contrast to Adam’s disobedience. His obedience unto death brought justification and life to believers. Grace now reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord (5:21). As Adam’s sin was imputed to humanity and issued in death, so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers and issues into their eternal life.
The parallels between Christ and Adam are numerous in the writings of the New Testament. To Paul Christ is the beginning of the new creation, for everything that Adam wrought through sin, the curse and death, Christ reverses by becoming the curse and tasting death for everyone. The Law revealed the depths of sin and showed just how righteous one had to be to fellowship with the LORD. But grace increased all the more, for what the Law demanded the LORD provided through sacrificial atonement. The Law, Paul will say in Galatians, was to bring us to Christ. Or, to put it another way, now that Christ has come we can see that God intended the Law to awaken our need for forgiveness through his grace. But the Law also prophesied through types and symbols that atonement would be provided for people so that the Law would not condemn them.
Verses 1 and 15 form structural markers in this chapter: “What shall we say, then?” and “What then, shall we sin… ?” The first question (v. 1) is linked to the argument of chapter 5. In verses 20 and 21 of that chapter Paul affirmed that the Law came alongside, and that where sin increased grace superabounded. The Law had a secondary force for Israel—it came in that sin might abound (meaning it exposed more sin), but grace increased all the more. So the basis of the question in verse 1 (“Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?”) is the suberabounding of gracious provisions.
But the answer was already there in verse 21—”through righteousness.” Grace reigns through righteousness, not through abundance of sin. Often we stress that God is a God who forgives; but we do not stress the means of that forgiveness. We imply that God is a little soft, that he is not true to the standards, or if we approach him just right he will forgive—all this manipulates and minimizes God. But grace reigns through righteousness. We have the right to stand before God; his holiness is not impugned by our presence. But does this open up antinomianism (living against the Law)? God forbid is Paul’s answer.
It is worth noting that if you are in ministry and your teaching or preaching does not produce or provoke the same question as is in 6:1, then you are not preaching the Gospel accurately. If people respond to you, as Paul imagines his audience will ask this question, then they have understood what grace means.
But, having said that, you will also have to deal with the question as Paul did. There is a threefold answer: (1) Paul makes a direct dismissal of the idea as a blasphemous thought. Many such questions can only be answered in this way. If the question is against what we know to be true, it is wrong and therefore needs no reason why. (2) Paul adds a statement of the believer’s death to sin (v. 2). And (3) Paul proves that we are in the risen Christ by identification with him, and therefore separated from the dead life. Thus, true faith that responds to grace leads to righteousness and not greater sin. If a person says, “I want to be a Christian,” but refuses to get rid of sin or change a sinful nature, and tries to reason that God’s grace will cover whatever is done, that person has not understood the grace of God. The grace of God is God’s provision of taking care of sin in Christ, so that its effects will not continue in the life of the believer, and so that sin will no longer reign in the human heart. A true believer will come to the point of saying “The way I have been living is wrong, and I want to change.”
So up to this point Paul has been discussing justification by faith. Now he has begun a consideration of the believer’s sanctification. Here he is concerned with how a justified saint can live to God’s glory. Jesus came into the world not only to deliver people from the guilt and the penalty of sin, but also to bring them victory over the daily, hourly power of sin.
Notice the cumulative effect: “dead to sin” (6:2), “baptized into his death” (6:3), “buried with him by baptism into death” (6:4), “planted with him in the likeness of his death” (6:5), and “our old man is crucified with him” (6:6).
What does Paul mean when he talks about being baptized in the likeness of his death. What kind of baptism is this? The word “baptism” is a difficult one to define in all its nuances. The background of the word refers to the ritual with water whereby someone is immersed (in the first century by self-immersion in a ritual bath with an authority figure witnessing it [but not touching the person]), either as a purification ritual, or an initiation rite. But it can be used in the Bible to mean identification with something, such as judgment (a baptism by fire), or regeneration (a baptism by the Holy Spirit). So what kind of baptism does Paul mean here?
(1) One view is that it could be water baptism. In support of this we have the common use of the word baptism, as well as the truths that the rite sets forth, death, burial, and resurrection. Moreover, verse 3 sounds as if not all the readers had been baptized (“as many as are”), whereas all believers have been baptized by the Spirit (according to 1 Cor. 12:13). And so according to verse 5 we have been united with him in the likeness of his death. His death was physical and representative; our death in Christ is spiritual and judicial. There is a likeness, but both are real.
(2) The other view is that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Paul has in mind. Water is in the picture when we talk of baptism; but water is the physical representation of the spiritual reality. For example, when John baptized Jesus, it was an actual act using water. But that act inaugurated Jesus’ ministry which was to lead to the suffering at the cross. John’s baptism prepared the way for the death of Christ. So when people respond to the preaching of the Gospel and want to be baptized, the water baptism is a testimony of the spiritual reality, that is, Spirit baptism. If they have come to faith in Christ, they have already been “united with” Christ (baptized) by the Spirit; the ritual now becomes the sign (as circumcision was in the Old Covenant with Abraham). The point Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is clear: all believers have been baptized by the Spirit into one body, the Church.6 There could be no regeneration (new birth) without the Holy Spirit. So the idea of the term “baptism” is that of “identification with” Christ.
There is a mystical union between the believer and his Lord. If anyone is “in Christ” by faith, that person has “died” in Christ. When God the Father beholds the cross of Calvary, he sees the Savior dying for our sins; but he also sees the believer dying in Christ unto sin. Our sins were placed on Christ; but we were in him in an identifying union. His death for sin was our death to sin. Our burial with him is a spiritual fact which demonstrates the reality of our death to sin (see Gal. 2:20). This language is hard for many to understand, but it has to be grasped as spiritual language to describe what saving faith means. If I truly believe in Christ (not just believe things about him), then I am identifying myself, my life, my destiny with him. When I accept Christ as my Savior, then I am receiving by faith the salvation that he purchased for me on the cross. And if that faith is saving faith, I am so identified with Christ, I am so committed to Christ, that it will change my life to be like his. And the basis for the change is in my identification by faith with his death on the cross. So Paul can say it is as if we died on the cross, and were buried, and rose to a new life—if we have the kind of faith that places our whole life in him.
Perhaps an illustration of this will help. In the Old Testament the Israelite brought an animal to sacrifice on his behalf. He placed his hand on the head as the throat was slit, and the animal would die at his hands and cruimple life less to the ground. By laying his hands on the animal, the worshiper was identifying with the animal to be slain; and when the animal died, the believer knew that that should be his blood spilled, and that should be his body on the ground. But God in his grace allowed a substitute, an animal for the sinner. For all spiritual purposes, he died with and in that animal. That truth would have a profound impact on the way the believer lived in the future, knowing that only by God’s grace could he walk away from judgment of the burning altar.
So too the believer today knows that faith in Christ is that kind of identification. The Christian faith is not a nice little philosophy of life, or some moral teachings to live by; it is salvation through the death of Christ—a salvation that not only delivers us from the judgment of God, but also changes the way wwe live today. How can we cling to a sinful life-style when we have so identified with Christ who was slain on our behalf for that life-style that God declarted sinful. To express how it should change us, Paul speaks symbolically about our dying with Christ.
A parallel passage to these verses (6:4b; 5b; and 8b) is Colossians 3:1, “If you then are risen with Christ … .” By identifying with Christ in faith the believer not only died to sin but has been raised to a new life. Here again we seem to have a positional truth that if believed could be influential; but it is much more than that. With regeneration a divine operation takes place that brings enormous changes. With faith in Jesus Christ the believer receives the Holy Spirit, that is, a new life in Christ. So the idea of being raised with Christ focuses on a divine provision that enables the believer to live on a higher plane, to walk in the newness of life. Ultimately, death and sin can have no power. Paul carries his symbolic wording then to the resurrection—Christ did not just die, he rose again and lives forever; and we who died in Christ by faith, now have risen to a new life, the spiritual life, which is eternal. We cannot go back to the old ways if we have risen to a new life.
How are we to realize this change in our life? By faith. Paul calls for the believer to reckon these truths to be fact. To live by faith means that believers must count their identification with the Lord to be true and to act upon that reality. That is the way genuine faith works (Abraham believed in the LORD, and so he acted on what God had promised and left for the promised land).
Temptation will knock. Sin has by no means been eradicated; it is a constant threat. But the Spirit will give the enablement to overcome the old nature and the old practices. But the believer must act like a resurrected child of God.
So we have here a call for faith. This is consistent in Paul’s theology: we have been justified by faith, and so we also shall be sanctified through faith. A saint can commit sin; but a saint cannot live in sin, not without the conviction that comes from the Spirit. Believers are to reckon7 that they died in Christ and therefore will live in obedience to Him. If we really want the power it is available; it is Christ working through us. But it has to be accepted by faith.
But there is a positive side to this act of faith. Not only do we reckon ourselves dead to sin and therefore not yield to living as slaves to sin, but also we must yield ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness. We must commit our bodily members up to the Lord as instruments of righteousness. We must keep our lives yielded if we want daily victory, for this is the secret of spiritual victory.
So there is an initial dedication or yielding to God (as 12:1, 2 will remind us), then a daily discipline, a daily vigilance, to live as a servant of righteousness under grace and not become a slave of sin. Spiritual identification with Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit will be the means of doing this—if we take it by faith and live as justified believers. The crucifixion of the old nature leads to the yielded person; just as salvation leads to works of faith.
The new principle is servitude to righteousness. Once we were servants of sin simply doing what our flesh, our human nature, called for (6:16,20)—and our wages were death (6:23). Then Christ freed us from the tyranny of sin (6:18,22) and we were emancipated. We are a new creation, born again, and with the Spirit have a new nature; we are now servants of God (6:22). This is our new position. A gift, eternal life, has replaced the wages of sin. We must realize our liberty and enter into the glorious possibilities it affords. We may not always be successful—that is why we have an advocate!—but the evidence of saving faith is the willingness and the desire and the conviction to live differently, and the gradual progress towards righteousness.
Paul begins this section by raising a second question in the minds of some—are we free to sin? The first question in the chapter (v. 1) was “Shall we continue to sin?” Here it is simply “Shall we sin?” The question arises out of our position under grace, not salvation by grace.
The form of the verb used looks to an isolated sin: “Shall we sin … ?” So, it is not possible to continue in sin, but is it possible to engage in sin now and then without condemnation? Paul’s answer to this is along the same lines as the previous question. First, God forbid! It is unthinkable that someone living under grace would plan such a thing and hope to justify it. Second, we have become slaves to righteousness. Paul then appeals to laws of moral living. If a man sins he becomes the slave to sin, for sin is enslaving. Not only does sin control the person, it leads to death and destruction (and our understanding of all kinds of addictions makes us painfully aware of this). But now that we have become believers in Jesus Christ, we become obedient to do works of righteousness; and the reward is holiness and eternal life. But if we are to be servants of righteousness, we will have to learn what the master wants us to do, for the old nature is still present letting us know what it desires us to do (more of this later).
It seems strange to cap this argument off with what seems to be a Gospel text: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The way we quote this verse suggests that the verse does not seem to belong here, but back in the section on justification and salvation. However, a closer look at its meaning will show why it is here.
The term translated “wages” is opsonia; it is a military word for soldiers’ daily rations. Roman soldiers lived largely on the booty taken in captured cities as well as a small wage. They subsisted on salarium (salt) and opsonia (fish), but made their money from booty. These rations were given out each and every day. What Paul is saying is that a little bit of death, a little bit of separation from God, is measured out to you when you sin. The more that you sin, the more you open yourself to sin, and the farther you get from God spiritually. The second sin is easier—that is the way enslavement works. It pays day by day with anxieties, troubles; a little bit of death is paid when you sin. At the time of sin there is a definite feeling of difference and separation from God, of guilty fears that come in. The true believer will be convicted of such spiritual alienation, knowing that sin leads to destruction.
The principle of faith brings eternal life. This gift has replaced the grim wages of sin. As we yield ourselves to be servants of God and slaves of righteousness, we will realize our liberty in Christ, and experience the healthy, enduring life that grace inspires. It is the outworking of the spiritual, and eternal life. I shall come back to this procedure when we look closely at Romans 12, for that is where it is laid out—dedication, yielding, being transformed, renewing. But at this point Paul is simply introducing the theme that identification with Christ by faith sets us free from enslavement to sin because we have a new principle of life within, thanks in chief measure to the presence of the Holy Spirit. But sin goes the other way entirely, gradually enslaving people and separating them from life.
1. Can you think of earthly examples, personal or otherwise, of reconciliation? How exactly was the reconciliation accomplished that has established our peace with God. You may wish to read again Isaiah 53:4-6.
2. On what basis do we have peace with God? On what basis do we have access to His grace? On what basis do we have confident hope of glory? On what basis do we enjoy the love of God? On what basis have we been given the Holy Spirit? So then, on what does our salvation hang?
3. What does it mean that sin entered the world through one man? Give some thought to the practical implications of this—the effects of sin such as sickness and death, the propensity to sin through a fallen nature, the alienation of the race from God. How did that come about through the fall of Adam and Eve? Or, more specifically, how is the sin nature passed on? And if someone claims to be born with a certain nature or propensity to live in violation of God’s laws, then is that a legitimate option instead of righteousness?
4. What prevents a believer from living loose and free in sin throughout his or her life? What very specifically is bound up in being identified with first the death and then the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
5. Since we are justified by faith, we are also being sanctified by faith. How does faith work in ordering our lives correctly to be servants of God? That is, what do we believe, and how does it work itself out in our decisions day by day?
There is a textual problem on the verbal form here; the choice is between the indicative (“we have peace”) and the subjunctive (“let us have peace”). There is a good deal of support for the reading with the subjunctive. The exhortation in that sense would then be to live in the reality of life that Christ has obtained for us through his death on the cross. The Bible certainly teaches that we have peace with God through his blood, and so a subjective mood reading here would not contradict that, only call for its implementation. But because that is the clear teaching of the Bible, most translations have retained “we have peace with God.” The fact that Paul had to declare this truth would suggest that many in the church had not fully appreicated it or implemented it in their lives any way.
The Bible often uses the word “boast” in a good sense, that is, boasting in the LORD, which is equal to praise. Boasting in oneself, or bragging, is a different matter.
Although it is popular to sing about or describe God as reconciled, Paul’s use of the word indicates that it is we, the sinners, who have been reconciled to God. He needed no change. As long as people remember that, they will keep this doctrine clear in their minds.
This is not to say that the doctrine of original sin is in question; the issue is what Paul meant in this passage.
You can see that if one denies the historicity of Adam, or of the account of the Fall, then there is great difficulty with most doctrines being presented in this book.
Common usage of the expression “baptism of the Spirit” does not fit the way Paul uses the expression. Every true believer has already been baptized by the Spirit. However, at some subsequent time they may yield their lives in a renewed commitment, they may be filled with the Spirit, they may learn what it means to walk by the Spirit, and they might find their spiritual gifts—all of which could be experienced with changes in worship, power in prayer, and possibly supernatural signs and wonders. Whatever those changes are called, they are not the baptism of the Spirit. In the Book of Acts, a transition book in many ways, supernatural experiences accompanied the giving of the Spirit to new groups. But once the Church is established, the epistles explain what the norm will be.
This word “reckon” has also been used for God’s reckoning us as righteousness. Because we believed in him, he treats us as if we were righteous. Thus, if we reckon these truths to be true, then we must live in that understanding.
1 There is a textual problem on the verbal form here; the choice is between the indicative (“we have peace”) and the subjunctive (“let us have peace”). There is a good deal of support for the reading with the subjunctive. The exhortation in that sense would then be to live in the reality of life that Christ has obtained for us through his death on the cross. The Bible certainly teaches that we have peace with God through his blood, and so a subjective mood reading here would not contradict that, only call for its implementation. But because that is the clear teaching of the Bible, most translations have retained “we have peace with God.” The fact that Paul had to declare this truth would suggest that many in the church had not fully appreicated it or implemented it in their lives any way.
2 The Bible often uses the word “boast” in a good sense, that is, boasting in the LORD, which is equal to praise. Boasting in oneself, or bragging, is a different matter.
3 Although it is popular to sing about or describe God as reconciled, Paul's use of the word indicates that it is we, the sinners, who have been reconciled to God. He needed no change. As long as people remember that, they will keep this doctrine clear in their minds.
4 This is not to say that the doctrine of original sin is in question; the issue is what Paul meant in this passage.
5 You can see that if one denies the historicity of Adam, or of the account of the Fall, then there is great difficulty with most doctrines being presented in this book.
6 Common usage of the expression “baptism of the Spirit” does not fit the way Paul uses the expression. Every true believer has already been baptized by the Spirit. However, at some subsequent time they may yield their lives in a renewed commitment, they may be filled with the Spirit, they may learn what it means to walk by the Spirit, and they might find their spiritual gifts--all of which could be experienced with changes in worship, power in prayer, and possibly supernatural signs and wonders. Whatever those changes are called, they are not the baptism of the Spirit. In the Book of Acts, a transition book in many ways, supernatural experiences accompanied the giving of the Spirit to new groups. But once the Church is established, the epistles explain what the norm will be.
7 This word “reckon” has also been used for God’s reckoning us as righteousness. Because we believed in him, he treats us as if we were righteous. Thus, if we reckon these truths to be true, then we must live in that understanding.
The crux of the matter therefore is our new position in Christ Jesus our Lord. Position invariably determines practice. Our position in our Savior enables us to experience daily victory over sin through constantly yielding to the Holy Spirit for obedience to God’s will. But the spiritual life will be a struggle, as chapter 7 clearly teaches.
The first paragraph of the chapter reiterates by illustration the statement “You are not under Law but under grace.” It actually begins, “Or” (if you question the statement, “you are not under Law”). In the illustration Paul talks about a married woman who is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If he dies, she is free to marry someone else without the Law condemning her.
It is possible to take this little illustration to be saying that the woman represents Christians who leave the Law and follow Christ when the Law is done away. That is possible, but not probable. More likely Paul is underscoring his teaching that the husband who dies represents the old “man” (as it has come to be called), the old sinful nature, as looked at under the Law (see 6:6 where the old man was crucified and is to be reckoned dead). The old nature is related to Adam. The wife represents our inner being that survives the changes, for at salvation there is a dramatic change that makes us new creations.
But we are still the same persons. We were converted, we were regenerated; but the old person has not been eradicated, not til glory—survives the changes that take plans at salvation. And according to Galatians 2:20, Paul reasons that if we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, then there must be a survival of the old nature to warrant such a teaching. His point is that there is such a change that I now reckon that I no longer live. Paul will go on to explain in Galatians that there is a struggle between the flesh (our nature) and the Spirit. It will take lifetime of growth to develop habits of victory over our inclinations.
There is a good deal of false teaching today that our nature represents the way that God made us, and therefore the Church should condone and bless it. This can be used to cover sexual variations or simple personality quirks. No—salvation means we are born again, we get a new nature, and that new nature will change the way we live.
The application is then found in verses 4-6. “So then,” Paul says, it is as if we were once married to sin, producing the fruit of death. But Christ died for our sins! The prerequisite to a change of marital status is invariably death (7:2). So his death ended our marriage. That is, in Christ we died to the Law and now belong to another, one who was resurrected—the Lord Jesus. The language is, of course, figurative, since we did not actually die—but a way of life, a nature, a pattern of sin, came to an end, or at least was supposed to have come to an end, or begun to come to an end. Something had to change. Here is the reiteration of the theme: we have been crucified in Christ, that we might have new life in him, in order to bring forth fruit. This new union results in fruit (righteous acts produced by the new nature) unto God. So the believer must realize this new relationship in Christ and implement it by faith to bring glory to the Lord. Paul affirms at the end of the section that we have been released from the Law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit.
If the believer has died to sin, and if the believer has died to the Law, one might think that the Law and sin are in the same category, or that the Law is sin. But Paul in no way is saying this. He confirms in verse 12 that the Law is holy, just and good. Mirroring as it does the nature and will of God, the Law is to be highly esteemed. What the Law revealed was the will of God; the regulations for Israel to implement the Law have been concluded in Christ, but the revelation is eternal.
One of the main purposes of the Law is that it reveals sin. The commandment “You shall not covet” not only reveals the sad fact that people covet, but it also draws out of our nature the desire to covet. The old principle that ‘concentrating on the prohibitions excites interest in them’ is sadly true. That is the point of verse 8—sin seized the opportunity to produce covetous desires. Sin nature did this; the Law never caused anyone to sin. The Law simply revealed sin and made people realize they were sinners who deserved nothing but death.
So while the Law is holy, just and good, sin deceives us and turns what was also a guide for righteousness into a messenger of death. It is the Law that brings the recognition and conviction of sin. But a rebellious person can use it for occasion to sin; that is how corrupt and corrupting the human nature is. How else can we explain that while Moses was on the mountain receiving the rest of the Law, the people were down below violating the first commandment by building a golden calf, and designating it as the god who brought them out of Egypt. There is a human nature that seizes every opportunity to rebel against God’s Law, and rationalize it in some way. The Law reveals that this is sin.
There are a couple of questions that must be addressed in studying the rest of chapter 7. First, is Paul drawing on his own experiences, or is he speaking autobiographically for the sake of teaching? They seem to be his experiences, but they are representative of all other people as well. This is a shared struggle.
Second, does the material deal with a saved or an unsaved person? In other words, is the struggle what he had before conversion, or is it part of the Christian life? The Greek Fathers said it referred to the unsaved person; but that view invited Pelagianism.1 Augustine contended it referred to the Christian life. Here are several arguments in support of that view:
1. The general flow of the argument of Romans 1-8 supports this view. Justification, sanctification, glorification, are all truths of the saved person.
2. To take this as a description of unregenerate people would involve contradictions both here and in parallel passages. There is no sufficient evidence of a divided self in Paul before conversion. According to Phil. 3:4-9, Paul says that he was blameless in his unsaved condition; and in Acts 24:10-16, lived in all good conscience. But in Romans 7 he is running contrary to God. So when one dies to the old nature, then a struggle ensues.
3. The exegesis of Romans 7 supports this view. There is a change of tenses: up through verse 12 the past tense was used (the salvation experience); but in verses 13-25 everything is in the present tense. This is the ensuing present experience.
4. The language fits a believer. The unbeliever could not so diagnose his condition as the writer of these verses. He hates sin (v. 15), delights in the Law (v. 22), and looks for deliverance to Christ alone through grace (v. 25).
5. Verse 18 is harmonious with salvation. It suggests that there is a part of him that is good, other than the flesh. It is the mind that must serve God.
6. Verse 25 forms the fitting conclusion, a summary statement, in which he appropriates the struggle to the present time.
This section of Romans 7 then is a picture of the capacities and liabilities of the believer apart from the enablement of the Spirit of God. If one is seeking to obey the Lord’s will without the enablement by the Spirit, it will be a frustrating struggle. Note these statistics: the emphatic pronoun “I” is used 16 times in chapter 7, the term “Law” is used 20 times, and the only reference to the Holy Spirit is in verse 6 and that is questionable. But in chapter 8 the Holy Spirit is mentioned 20 times, and the “Law” only 4 times.
Paul’s depiction of himself is in stark contrast to what he has been saying about the Law. The Law is a reflection of the character of God—it is holy, it is spiritual. But in this section Paul declares, “I am unspiritual.” “This is what I am in myself,” he is saying. But beyond that he moves to an even more degrading idea: not only is he “fleshly” (human, carnal, natural), he has been sold as a slave to sin. This slavery extends to every part of his life; if it appears that he is obedient to the dictates of the flesh, it is almost mechanical and not volitional. It takes some doing to undo a lifetime of wrang habits. As a result he seems forced to carry out things that he does not want to do (instinct), and what he really would like to do never materializes (he has no entrenched habit with it yet). Paul is not trying to escape responsibility; rather, he is putting his finger on the real culprit—indwelling sin. With this master clinging to control, no matter how strongly Paul wants to do good, he finds himself “checkmated” as it were, often failing when he wants to do what is right.
This discussion in Paul might indeed be influenced by the Jewish teaching that people have two impulses, the good inclination and the evil. The Jewish teachers’ solution was a devoted, diligent study of the Law. But Paul’s view differs radically. He has claimed that the Law cannot counteract the power of sin. So Paul must look elsewhere.
“Who will rescue me?” is his cry. There is deliverance, of course, provided by God through Jesus Christ. This question and conclusion to the chapter prepare the reader for the grand exposition of the deliverance through Christ and the Spirit in chapter 8.
There is always a struggle, but there is always a measure of victory. It is never possible to get out of Romans 7 experiences entirely, even though some who teach a victorious Christian life doctrine contend for that. But there should be a growing measure of deliverance. Romans 7 may be a present aspect of practical salvation, a necessary part of the Christian experience, but it is not the complete experience. No believer need remain in the discouraging atmosphere of defeat when the free, fragrant and wholesome air of Romans 8:1-39 is beckoning to victory. But it will take spiritual maturity to move from the struggle to the victory.
Paul will return to the theme of renewing the mind as the basis for spiritual victory in the latter part of the book.
1. There are several notions about sanctification that people hold: the struggle of the soul is essentially a struggle against certain sins; that human nature is essentially good; that sanctification is a process of obeying the commandments; that if one determines to do right he will be successful. What do you think of these notions on the basis of Romans 7?
2. Try to imagine how an Old Testament believer would have looked at the Law. Can you think of passages of Scripture that would show how it was used, both for revealing righteousness and sin as well as regulating worship and life? Do you think the devout believers thought it was a burden?
3. What clues do we find in the Old Testament that the revelation of God in the Law of Moses was incomplete for the program of redemption?
4. In your knowledge of the teaching of the apostles, how many purposes were there for the giving of the Law?
1 This is the name of the heresy that grew up in the fourth and fifth centuries that taught that people by their free choice could initiate salvation by their good deeds that they did by the good nature that God had given them. Pelagius was not too interested in the doctrine of original sin; subsequent teachers in this tradition denied it.
In chapter 6 Paul emphasized that because we have a union with Jesus Christ we should therefore walk in the newness of life; in chapter 7 he stressed that by death and resurrection we have a relationship with the risen Christ, and therefore we should bring forth fruit to God. Then, after a parenthetical discussion in which some related questions were answered, in chapter 8 Paul deals with the power of the Spirit that is available to enable us to meet these two requirements. Romans 8, next to the Upper Room Discourse, is foremost in Scripture on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Summary: The child of God has a new standing, a position “in Christ Jesus.” Because of the Savior’s incarnation (“in the likeness of sinful flesh”) and atoning death on the cross (“and for sin” [8:3]), the believer has been saved and has entered a new position in Christ. Now, in Christ, and by the Spirit, the believer can expect victory over the assaults of evil.
The passage begins with “Therefore.” In all probability the reference goes back to 7:6. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul traced the analogy of marriage to show death to the Law and marriage to Christ. Verses 7-25 are an excursus, probing whether the Law was sinful or good. Even though it was good, it has become the messenger of death because it pointed out sin. So then 8:1 picks up the discussion prior to that.1
Paul announces in verse 1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The term “condemnation” in Paul means ultimate condemnation for sin, and not merely defeat in the spiritual life. This is why the reference must go back beyond the discussion of the spiritual struggle. The point, then, is salvific. If people are “in Christ,” that is, true believers, identified with Christ by faith, there is no condemnation for them. God cannot condemn and will not condemn those who are “in Christ,” because He condemned Christ on their behalf.
The reason for our freedom from condemnation is expressed in verse 2—”the law of the Spirit of life” set us free. This is not a reference to the Law, but to the new principle which operates with the fixedness of a law (a fixed principle). By coming to faith in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit; and that Spirit produces life, whereas the Law produced death. So we have been set free—it has been accomplished—we do not have to strive to get freedom, but rather stand in the freedom that has been given to us. It is like getting on an elevator—you do not have to push your way upward.
In verse 3 he elaborates that it was impossible for the Law to do this because it was weak. It was weak because of that with which it had to deal—sinfulness and the punishment for sin. The anchor of the Law was strong, but could not hold in the mud bottom of the human heart. What did set us free was God’s sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (some theologians say in sinful flesh, but that is bad theology) to be a sin offering. Thus, He condemned sin in sinful man.
The purpose of this act was that the righteous requirements of the Law be fully met in us (v. 4). This verse is the balance, otherwise some might overly stress the doing away of the Law (the verse guards against anti-nomianism [Greek nomos is “law”]). For what the Law revealed, “the righteousness of God,” is the standard to be met. To say we are no longer under the Law is true, but that is not a license to avoid the righteousness that the Law revealed. But what Paul is saying is that the only way to meet the requirements of the Law is to be in Christ by faith (therefore there is no condemnation because our sins are paid for) and to be enabled by the Holy Spirit (to produce the righteousness that God required). Those who are in Christ do not continue to live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit. They might try for a while, but the Spirit will begin to deal with them and convict them. Note also in the verse that the idea of “might be fully met” is passive—someone does it in us. The power for the Christian walk is the Holy Spirit—even though it is still our walk.
So Paul begins the chapter with this restatement of the positional truth that Christ has set us free from condemnation and empowered us by the Spirit to walk in the newness of life.
a. The mind controlled by the Spirit. Verses 5-8 provide a contrast between the sinful mind and the mind controlled by the Spirit of God. Paul’s words here are descriptive and not hortatory (not an exhortation to do this); that is, being “in the flesh” is not a possibility for the Christians—they are “in the Spirit.” By having the Spirit of God in our lives, we can see that life and peace result; for those who live in the flesh, that is, sinful minds, death results because they are hostile to God’s laws.
Paul is simply showing the influence of the Holy Spirit on our minds—our choices and desires. Some folks do not even realize the Spirit is at work in their lives—they think they need some spectacular experience, but most of the Spirit’s work is not that way. Thus, while we might struggle with sin and guilt versus righteousness and a clear conscience, the Spirit of God is moving inexorably toward peace and life. The results may be incomplete, but they are nonetheless the fruit of the Spirit. On the other hand, without the Spirit’s mindset, found only through union with Christ, people can only order their lives in a way that is hostile to God and that will incur His wrath. No neutrality is possible.
The Greek proposition kata here represents the standard, “according to the standard of”—flesh or Spirit. To walk “after” the flesh would mean to respond throughout life to those forces of human nature apart from God. To walk “after” the Spirit means to live in accordance with the guidance, dictates and desires of the Spirit. The old illustration of dog training makes the contrast clear: if you are walking a dog down a path with bones on it, or other dogs around, something in the dog will draw it away to the bones or to the other dogs, but a stern No from the master will make it through—as long as the dog listens and looks up to follow the master. If the dog has never been trained to live according to this other directive, it will be, well, a dog, and chase after the others. It needs training in the new discipline to curb its nature, its natural bent. The Spirit says “No” to sin, and calls for us to look up and live. People who refuse to live by this new discipline often complain that their nature is this way, or that way, and they are therefore not responsible for their sin. But that is spiritual blindness. They need to learn to walk in the Spirit (I am talking here about professing believers).
b. The Spirit of God lives within. In the next few verses Paul reminds his readers that if they are in Christ then the Holy Spirit lives within them (vv. 9-11). Here the Spirit is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, showing he carries out the purpose of God by producing the fruit of Christ’s redemptive work. The body has been put to death in Christ, but the Holy Spirit within brings this new life.2 The presence of the Spirit is the evidence of justification, proof of the salvation that has come through Jesus Christ; but the presence of the Spirit is also the pledge of that final phase of salvation through resurrection to life (v. 11). The life that God will give in that future day is beyond the power of any to destroy—it is the very life of God, blessedly spiritual and indestructibly eternal.
c. The Spirit enables mortification. Here now we have the exhortation of Paul (vv. 12,13) along the same lines as is found in 6:11-14 to put to death the misdeeds of the body. What is different here, however, is the inclusion of the Spirit. No one can deal effectively with sinful nature by mere determination; the Holy Spirit is needed, and He is the Spirit of power.
Verse 12 is critical in this section. We have an obligation to live by the Spirit and not by sinful nature. The verse shows that we still have this nature; it has not been eradicated. The solicitations of the flesh are constant; therefore we have a duty not to live according to them, but to put them to death. If the believer is so preoccupied with putting on the Lord Jesus, of doing His will, there will be no provision made for the flesh.
d. The Spirit’s attestation. In verses 14-17 we read how the Holy Spirit confirms for the believers their position as children of God based on adoption into the heavenly family. The placing of this here after the call to mortify the flesh is basic, for to do that successfully we must be convinced that we have been claimed by God and equipped with infinite resources.
The relationship first is portrayed in shepherding terms: those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. Galatians 3:24 presented the Law as leading people to Christ; here the leading is now turned over to the Spirit, who guides into the truth (John 16:13) and righteousness.
Paul then goes into some detail to show that this is not an enslavement to fear at all; rather, it is an adoption, because we have received the “Spirit of adoption” or literally the Spirit who makes us sons (not slaves). By this Spirit, then, believers can cry “Abba”—Father. The cry refers to calling on the LORD in prayer, following the teaching of Jesus to use the term “Our Father.”
The term “adoption” works much like the term “justification” in these writings. They are both declarative and forensic. Adoption, like justification, bestows an objective standing; it is a pronouncement that is not repeated. It has permanent validity. Paul is probably drawing upon Roman law of adoption both here and in Galatians 4:5. So the believers are called both “sons” and “children” without any appreciable distinctions, other than that sons refers to legal standing and children to family relationship.
Often Christians will doubt their salvation because their sanctification has proceeded so slowly and lamely. The Spirit does not base His testimony on the progress of growth, but on the fact of position—He leads people to call upon God as Father, to look away from ourselves to the One who established the relationship.
The final truth about adoption is that of inheritance (v. 17). In current law even a slave who was adopted could inherit. So Paul follows the course of thinking—a slave becomes a child and then an heir. And not just heirs, joint-heirs with Christ. We are indeed called to share in His sufferings, which we shall do if we are indeed in Christ; but that is only a prelude to partaking with Him of the coming glory. How absolutely marvelous is the gracious provision of God for us in Christ Jesus.
So Paul has stressed the marvelous provision of the Holy Spirit for our spiritual victory in this life and our guarantee of the life to come. This great assurance through His presence not only enables success, but inspires us to yield to His power as we seek to walk in righteousness. Thus, the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to make us just like Jesus Christ.
With the introduction of the aspect of sharing in the suffering of Christ, the apostle now turns his attention to the glorious provisions for the future. He will first deal with the assured hope of the future glory (18-25), then the confidence that one has a strong advocate in prayer (26,27), then the certainty that all is well because it is in the Father’s will and plan (28-34), and finally the confidence that nothing can separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus (35-39).
Compared to the glorious future that lies ahead for us who believe, the sufferings of this life are light indeed. This theme Paul has written about in 2 Corinthians 4:17. Scripture does not detail much of what that future glory will be like, but it guarantees that it will be.
Paul enlarges the discussion to the whole of creation, which he personifies to be groaning for the great day of redemption. Until that time there is only frustration, a perfect term for the effects of the curse, because nothing has been able to fulfill its capabilities or achieve perfection under sin. So the creation longs to share the glorious freedom of the children of God, a freedom that liberates them also from the bondage of decay. According to verse 22, the suffering of creation is both a result and a prophecy; a result of the curse of sin, but a prophecy of a new age that is coming (hence the idea of birth). Christ Himself spoke of the renewing of the world as a rebirth (Mt. 19:28).
Paul then parallels the creation and the saints in two ways: they both groan and they both wait eagerly for the new era. And, in answer to the idea of the transforming of the earth, Paul looks forward to the “redemption of our bodies.” Only the people of God have the “first fruits” of the Spirit, the seal or pledge or down payment toward that complete renewal. In 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul describes that finished product of redemption as a spiritual body. The future resurrection will be the full harvest. Our bodies will be something like that of the glorified Christ (Phil. 3:20,21). So what Paul is dealing with here is the anticipation of glorification, the final process of salvation when adoption and redemption and sanctification will be complete.
Here, then, is the emphasis on hope, especially since we are still in these bodies and facing suffering and death. The hope does not call into question our salvation; rather, Paul affirms that in this hope we were saved. The point is that since an element of our redemption is held in reserve—the redemption of the body—we have a legitimate exercise of hope. If hardships and sufferings come, then patient endurance will be the aspect of hope that we have in the faith. But the pilgrimage is inspired by the sure hope of glory.
This is the final work of the Holy Spirit mentioned in this chapter—intercession. The section is introduced with “in the same way” which seems to link the theme with the hope just discussed. This also will bring great comfort in times of distress.
Paul’s mention of “weakness” or “infirmity” probably has a broad reference to the many aspects of human weakness that he has been discussing in previous chapters. So when it comes to prayer, he affirms that we do not even know what we should pray (that is, the content of the prayers). Do we know the real needs of our own hearts? of others? And do we know the will of God in these matters?
But in contrast to this frustration is the joyful news that “the Spirit helps us.” The only other place where this New Testament word occurs is when Martha wanted her sister to help her (Luke 10:40). The implication of the word help is that we still will be doing our part—praying; this needs to be stated since everything else in these verses will be talking about the Spirit. But as we pray, in the background and often unknown to us, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. The groaning of the Spirit might seem to us to be unintelligible prayers; but God is no stranger to the intent of the Spirit, especially since the groanings are in complete harmony with the divine will. By these groanings the Lord hears what we ourselves could not have told Him, so that He will accept what He Himself has to offer.3
This passage is not to be confused with glossolalia (tongues), for it includes the Spirit’s intercession through groaning on behalf of all Christians, not just a few with a special gift. Some folks argue that true prayer needs a special language that cannot be understood, your “in the Spirit” language.4 That is a teaching that is without foundation; and it certainly does not come from this passage. Tongues are not mentioned in conjunction with intercession, especially this heavenly intercession which is beyond our understanding.
These verses provide great comfort for the saints as they face the difficulties and challenges of this life. The referent of “all things” is probably in Paul’s mind those things that are adverse but are turned around for good by the sovereign operation of God. The idea of “good” is left general, but must be taken to mean in conformity to the Son. The beneficiaries are those who love God and are called according to His (electing) purpose. When we say, “all things work together for good … ,” we must remember that the key in here is “together.” Often we are faced with an adverse isolated event, and we cannot see how it works for good; it has to be seen in related to all that God is doing in our lives. In the final analysis, it will be good. When Joseph was in the pit crying out for help, it did not seem good. But later, when he was in power and could look back to see how God worked in his life, then he could say, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
This calling is then explained in terms of foreknowledge and predestination. “Foreknowledge” does not mean advance awareness or knowledge, but refers to God’s choice, his electing decision. This is clear in 1 Peter 1:20. But God’s calling is not haphazard, or cold or formal; rather, it is filled with the warmth of God’s love, as the Hebrew word for “know” makes clear. The emphasis on God’s calling precludes any possibility of human merit as entering the decision (cf. Eph. 1:4). We are called according to purpose, not foreknowledge; foreknowledge must be included in the purpose.
The idea of predestination goes way beyond choosing one for salvation. The background is adoption, which was introduced earlier. But now the point of the choice is conformity to His Son. The two ways in which we are conformed to the likeness of the Son are first through sufferings, through which we are gradually made like Jesus Christ, and second, through the resurrection by which we shall be conformed to the risen Lord. That will be the culmination of the process of sanctification, the completion of the Spirit’s work.
The process of God’s working out His purpose for us is laid out in verse 30: predestined—called—justified—glorified. They are all written in the past tense to stress the certainty of fulfillment, because He who has begun a good work will complete it. The use of tense is borrowed from Hebrew prophecy, which often writes in the past tense—it is as good as done because in the mind of God it has been done. The verse may be troubling at first to people who are not strong in their knowledge of God, but who still think everything should be in their control (they will learn that that is not sufficient). But the verse reveals how glorious and majestic God is, and how our destiny is in His hands, from beginning to end. In Christ Jesus we stand; but we stand because God has a purpose for us, and that purpose will carry us through to glorification.
Paul’s conclusion of this discussion (vv. 31-34) is that if God is for us, who can be against us? God has not made empty promises. He has not started something He is unable to finish. He is fully aware of our sins and our failures. He has acted, and what He has done in Christ and through the Spirit constitutes all the proof we need that the glorification will be ours one day.
This is the point of verse 32—it cost God dearly to act. He did not spare His own Son. The background is Genesis 22, where Abraham did not spare his son, but sacrificed him to God—in the form of a substitute that was provided. But in the fullness of God’s plan, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was the substitute; He had to endure the cross to take away the sins of the world. Abraham knew that the LORD would provide when the sacrifice was made; and so Paul draws on that theme of Genesis 22 to show that if God did not spare His only Son, then how shall He not freely give us all things—the LORD will provide. The same gracious spirit follows throughout all God’s dealings with us (see 2 Peter 1:3).
No one can bring charges against the elect. Satan is very busy accusing the saints in heaven (compare the drama in Zechariah 3), pointing out the discrepancy between their professions and their lives (Rev. 12:10). But he gets nowhere in his self-righteous efforts. Since all sin is against God, only God can bring charges. And God has already paid for those sins in Christ Jesus. And no one will condemn. Christ Jesus is the only one who can condemn—but He died and secured the removal of sin and guilt, He arose from the dead to give life to those who trust in Him, He is exalted to heaven where He is our advocate, and He intercedes for us at the throne of grace. So there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Finally, Paul raises the question of any conceivable contradiction between Christ’s love for us and our suffering. His point is that suffering cannot separate us from the love of God. Separation through suffering is no more thinkable than the idea that the Father ceased loving the Son through the agony on the cross. It all has a purpose; our suffering is a part of our identification with Christ.
The use of Psalm 44 in this passage reminds the reader that suffering has always been the lot of the righteous. In Psalm 44, what we call a national lament, the nation is pouring out its complaint to God—they are losing a war, being slaughtered all over the hills, and they do not know why, because they have not abandoned the faith or been unfaithful. Paul does not just quote a verse from the psalm, but rather weaves the whole argument of the psalm into this discussion. There are four main motifs in that psalm that he has picked up here in Romans 8: (l) there is intense suffering and groaning, waiting for divine deliverance (the whole psalm is a lament); (2) they are troubled by the suffering because no prophet has laid any charge against them; (3) they cry out to God in frustration, “Wake up, O LORD”; but (4) they are convinced of the love of God. These motifs appear in Romans 8 as the groaning in suffering, the frustration of not knowing how to pray, the clear assurance that no charge can be laid against us, and the final confidence that suffering does not separate us from the love of God.
So Paul closes this glorious chapter with a note of triumph—we are more than conquerors, or more specifically, “We win the supreme victory through Him who loved us.” Basing it on Christ’s love for us (“he loved us”) in no way limits it to the past event, for that love is an everlasting love. Death cannot separate us from that love; neither can life and all that it brings. Not even demons, who would delight in coming between Christ and His beloved, can make the break. Nor powers—the hostile spiritual forces that are allowed to carry on spiritual warfare, but under the restraining power of the Spirit who is greater (see Eph. 1:21; 6:12; and Job 1,2). Not even time, or height or depth—possibly these form an allusion to Roman fatalism in the astral religions. Nothing at all, nothing imaginable, can separate us from the love that has redeemed us.
1. Think for a while about the statement that there is no condemnation now for those who believe in Christ. Join the beginning of the chapter where the statement is made, and the end of the chapter where it is explained that no one can condemn us, to get the full picture. What effect should that have on our guilty fears that always rise up to haunt us?
2. What are some very practical ways for us to be sure that our minds are being controlled by the Holy Spirit? Can this work without a knowledge of the Scripture?
3. Think back through this chapter and see how many ministries of the Holy Spirit you can find. You will note that this chapter does not give the spectacular works, the signs and wonders; but the miraculous and supernatural works listed here are those upon which our spiritual lives depend every day.
4. The chapter is filled with expressions of confidence that we may have of our position in Christ. Can you list the major doctrines mentioned and discussed in this chapter that guarantee our salvation through to glory?
5. While people, especially new Christians, are often troubled by the mention of predestination, what comfort does it bring to know that God Almighty lovingly has planned for our lives and prepared for our glorification?
6. On the basis of this chapter, or of Romans so far, what thoughts come to your mind about the love of God? People often leave that concept very general; but what specifically does the love of God mean to you, now and forever?
1 Another view is that the reference in 8:1 is to all of 7:13-25. Paul would then be saying, Consequently, there is no defeat necessary from indwelling sin. But this view has the difficulty of redefining "condemnation" to mean "defeat."
2 The NIV translation of verse 10 has "your spirit is alive because of righteousness." A number of commentators would take this also as a reference to the Spirit.
3 Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans, p. 102.
4 The fallout of such a teaching is to create guilt and confusion on the part of those who do not have their “Spirit” language, even though they have prayed all their lives and have seen the Lord work in many ways.
The Gentiles have found salvation through grace, but the Jews seem to have been overlooked since the death of Jesus. A new elect people are rising up throughout the earth, called the Church, but where are the Jews? Oh there are many Jewish people coming to faith and becoming members of this mystical body of Christ; but the Jewish people as a whole are not—they reject Jesus as the Messiah and, if religious, follow their traditions. To many readers of theology there seems to be a dilemma, and they can only see an either-or: either the Gospel is true and the promises to Israel nullified, or the gospel is false and the promises are yet to be fulfilled. Paul will show that it is not a case of either or, but of both and. Paul will show in these chapters that the Jews have misread the Old Testament and therefore rejected Jesus. But a close reading of the prophets reveals that there always was a distinction made between the nation of Israel as a whole and the believing Jews (a remnant). So this section is an attempt to explain God’s dealings with Jews as a vindication of righteousness. Paul does it by a clear exposition of the Scriptures. He will show that Israel’s rejection is related to the spiritual pride of the Jews (9,10), that Israel’s rejection is not complete because some are being saved (11), and that Israel’s rejection is not final because it will be reversed before the coming of the Lord (the end of chapter 11).
It is a great concern of the apostle Paul that Israel as a nation is now unrelated to God and His Messiah. His anxiety and sorrow for them leads him to a hypothetical wish—if theologically possible—that he be cursed in their place. It is a potential (unthinkable wish) formula; but it communicates his anguish over their unbelief. This modern idea that the Jews have a covenant with God and therefore do not have to be evangelized to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is an idea that Paul would completely reject. If Jesus the Messiah is indeed God manifested in the flesh, then this is the God of the Old Testament. How could Israel be saved and reject their LORD?
Paul lists eight features that set the nation of Israel apart from all other nations. As a nation the Hebrews were uniquely privileged: they had been adopted as God’s own people; to them was revealed the Shekinah1 glory that streamed into the tabernacle; with them God entered into solemn covenant; they were the recipients of the Law; to them belonged the service of God in the Sanctuary; they had the promises and the patriarchs; but most of all, Christ2 Himself was born a Jew. What priceless treasures were given to Israel.
The translation of verse 5 poses a real theological problem. The KJV says, “from whom came the Messiah in the flesh, who is over all God, blessed forever.” The NIV translates the verse “and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” The passage rendered this way says clearly that Jesus is God. But that plain rendering has troubled some, and so there are other renderings that simply turn the expression into a reference to the blessing for God. There are four renderings possible for the grammar: (1) place the comma after “flesh” and refer it all to Christ; (2) make a full stop after “flesh” with a separate sentence starting, “He who is God”; (3) leave the punctuation as is but render it, “He who is over all is God blessed”; and (4) put a comma after “flesh” and a full stop after “all” to read “who is over all. God be blessed.”
Exegesis and not grammar alone makes the reference to Christ probable (and the NIV translation preferable). If Jesus is not God, what other way could the Messiah have come but by the flesh? That makes little sense. There are several considerations in the passage that lead to the support of the NIV rendering—and to the passage being a clear affirmation of the deity of Christ. First, there is a reference to human nature in the first part, so you would expect something different in the last part (recall the way Paul did this in 1:3,4). We expect an antithesis, and that would be “who is over all God.” Second, the transitional words “who is” probably refers to the noun preceding it, Christ. This is the most natural way to read the line. Third, if “blessed” is to go with God the Father, then the term should come first. That would be the normal word order: Blessed is God. Fourth, the context suggests a lament and not a praise to God. Israel has failed to believe in Messiah in spite of all the privileges she had. The greatest blessing is this climax—a Messiah who is God over all. Finally, salvation comes through the Messiah; and physical descent from Israel is not sufficient for salvation. Rather, it is that the Messiah is divine. According to Paul, Israel should have known all this; it was in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Some might raise the question why Israel failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah since they were the elect nation. Is not this a failure on God’s part?—they might reason. But Paul is going to make a distinction between the natural descendants (=seed) of Jacob and the spiritual descendants. God did not fail—the promises were unconditional; but the people failed, and without faith could not have a share in the promises.
He begins in verse 6 by affirming that it is not such a thing as the Word of God having fallen out. Rather, the problem was with the people—”not all of Israel are Israel,” meaning, not everyone who claimed to be an Israelite was truly a believer and therefore part of Israel, the people of God. In fact, because divine election operates then there was in Israel both the elect and the non-elect. Paul’s expression “from Israel” refers to the nation as a whole; his reference to “Israel” means the chosen element, those who are called. All may be children of Abraham, but not all are children of God. God chose a remnant of them, those who would be the recipients of the promise: “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” The point is that back of belief there is a divine calling (cf. Luke 19:9—also a son of Abraham—called), even though many Christians do not like to here this. They want it all to be their doing. But that is not what Paul says in this chapter. So here Paul distinguishes between the “children of the promise” and the “natural children” within the nation of Israel. Just being born into a Hebrew family did not mean that they were believers.
Paul refers to the way that the promise was stated, and it is a word of grace. Two illustrations work here. First, Abraham had two wives, and that is why God had to specify “in Isaac.” But then Paul carries the law of limitation to the second illustration. Rebecca was the mother of twins by one man—Isaac. And so Scripture says that “the elder will serve the younger.” How could this be? Verse 11 clarifies that it is by God’s election, for God’s purpose. The two boys were not even born yet; they had not sinned yet; but their destiny had been determined in relation to God’s program. Paul then closes out this discussion with a citation from Malachi: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” “Love” means to choose spontaneously and with affection; “hate” means the opposite, to reject.3 The emphasis in the oracle and in Malachi as well is on the election of nations and not individuals. The stress is on the resultant acts of the lines of Jacob and Esau.
But it is impossible to choose a nation without choosing individuals (the same is true of judging). So the text must be speaking of individual election as well. Paul knew full well that you could not think of the descendants without thinking of the heads. He knew that in Genesis 25:23 both ancestors and descendants were included. So he is beginning to build the case that divine election was at work, even within the family of Israelites. Israel should have known from her own history that not everyone born in the family of Abraham was part of the spiritual seed. These oracles make that clear. So while chapter 9 deals primarily with national entities, individuals are also in view.
The key to this discussion on the election of Israel is given at the very beginning: there is no unrighteousness with God. Paul anticipates the objections of his fellow Jews (v. 14 and v. 19) that deal with the nature of God. There are two sides of the same issue: Is God righteous in his sovereign choice? In verse 14 Paul deals with it from the Godward side; after verse 19 he looks at it from the human side. His answers are taken from Scripture because those who might object do accept the Scriptures.
Paul’s first answer to the question about God’s justice is the emphatic “May it never be.” His second answer to that question then is from the Scripture to show God’s answer to Moses. There is no unrighteousness with God because he is dealing with sinners; his election of some is based on mercy and compassion. It has nothing to do with mankind’s desire or effort. The first quote of Scripture was to Moses, and that shows God’s mercy; the second quote was about Pharaoh, and that shows God’s severity. It is, according to Paul, God’s right to harden some in their unbelief (as C. S. Lewis says, if people will not say to God, “Thy will be done,” God will say to them, “thy will be done”).. God did not force Pharaoh to do anything apart from his will; he was a proud, brutal, hardened sinner, and so God would confirm that by hardening him in his ways for the purpose of judgment on him in the deliverance of Israel. This was part of God’s retributive justice.
But divine election, on the other hand, shows mercy.
The natural man (our human nature) rebels against the idea of the sovereignty of God. If God makes the choice, people often respond with cries of injustice. We may not be able to reconcile in our own thinking the relation between election and free will; both are taught in Scripture. But election cannot be minimized or done away with. We may say that we came to faith at such and such a time; but we also must say that God called us, or elected us. If people refuse to believe, they cannot say they were forced to it—they did as they wished; but theologically, we must also say that they were not elect. How to harmonize these two truths is beyond human ability. But then the person and works of God are beyond our understanding.
But God is righteous in his dealings. If he chooses to save some, it is because of his mercy and compassion. When he extends mercy, he is right; when he rejects, he is right. The Jews of Paul’s day had thought God could not reject them because they were Abraham’s seed; and God could not have accepted the Gentiles, because they were not of Abraham’s seed. Paul shows that they have understood the matter incorrectly, on both accounts.
The second argument begins in verse 19: How can God blame anyone, then; we are only doing what he willed us to do? Paul does not really bother with a serious answer to this question. The question indicates a forgetfulness of the position of mankind with the Creator. He is talking here of one who defies God, not one with doubts and questions. Paul repels the answer—the charge of divine injustice shows ignorance of God. God does not have to answer charges from any of his creatures. Warped conceptions of God are at the heart of idolatry anyway, as with Pharaoh, or any other pagans. Thus, Paul is making it clear that a knowledge of the attributes of God is essential for understanding the works of God. “Who are you who replies against God?” God is the sovereign Lord of creation! As S. A. Nagel writes,
You cannot put one little star in motion,
You cannot shape one single forest leaf,
Nor fling a mountain up, nor sink an ocean,
Presumptuous pygmy, large with unbelief!
You cannot bring one dawn of regal splendor,
Nor bid the day to shadowy twilight fall,
Nor send the pale moon forth with radiance tender;
And dare you doubt the One who has done it all?
The thinking of such a charge against God is that if God had not intervened with election, taking some and leaving others hardened in their unbelief, then all people would have an equal chance. That is false. If God did not elect, none would be saved. For there is none that seeks after God. People are not lost because they are hardened, they are hardened because they are lost, and they are lost because they are sinners.
Paul has shown that God is free to act in the mystery and majesty of his sovereignty. Now, in verse 22, Paul proceeds to show that God deals in patience and mercy even with the vessels of wrath, those people who are fitted for destruction. God could have dealt with them in immediate judgment, but he chose not to. He chose to give them every opportunity to reveal any inclination for obedience. So, Paul would be saying, what becomes of your complaint about injustice now?
In verse 23 and 24 Paul shows a contrast between those vessels of wrath with the vessels of mercy. God shows patience toward both; but the vessels of mercy he prepares for glory. So throughout the passage Paul has been arguing that divine election has been at work to save some. All have sinned and deserve the wrath of God. But God in mercy and compassion chooses some to be spared. No one can lay any charge against God, for he is both sovereign and righteous. And no one can say that they did not have a chance, for people always do what they want to do. The message that comes through all the way in Paul’s writings is that you can become part of the elect by believing in Jesus Christ. But if you do not want to do that, why should you object to those who do? And if you do not want salvation, then why are you criticizing the idea of divine election?
And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you discover that God has chosen you, why should that trouble you? You believed in God, you made your choice; and now you find out that God was behind it all, calling you to himself. That should fill you with comfort, knowing that your salvation is not totally dependant on you.
There are many ways that this has worked out in the history of Israel. Godet offers one application that the vessels of wrath are the Jewish people of the time, the nation to be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus announced the destruction but was longsuffering, weeping over the city. After the judgment fell, a remnant believed in Christ and were saved. These would be vessels of mercy rescued from being vessels of warth. On the human side, they believed; on the divine side, they were chosen.
Paul closes out this section with a brief discussion of God’s choice of people to be saved according to Scripture prophecies (vv. 25-29). The first citation comes from Hosea 2:23 and refers in the first place to the nation of Israel. God had rejected his people for their unbelief and they went into exile, but another generation did believe and God restored them to the land. Here the readers should have been reminded that Israelites—the elect nation—were rejected for unbelief. They may have claimed to be among the chosen people, but without faith they could not be saved.
The second passage comes from Hosea 1:10. It refers to those who respond to the truth and obey the word of the Lord. Again, here is evidence that all Israel was condemned, but some who were not called “my people” would be called the Sons of the Living God.
Then he cites Isaiah 10:22,23 and 1:9, to announce that only a remnant would be saved, for unless the Lord had been merciful, the whole nation of Israel would have been like Sodom—totally destroyed. God never did save the bulk of Israel; it was always a remnant by grace. As you read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, being the natural descendants of Abraham availed Israel little; most of them were hardened in unbelief and refused to believe the Lord, became idolaters and were judged. But there was always a remnant of true believers, the true seed of Abraham by faith as well as by birth.
Israel (meaning collectively, for the most part, in general, but not every Israelite) rejected Jesus as their Messiah and failed to find true righteousness because of their legalism. Their privileges proved to be their stumblingstone. Their legalism (9:30-33) is a paradox with the Gentiles who have obtained righteousness. The Jews failure was twofold: they stumbled in seeking righteousness by the works of the Law (9:30-33) and they refused God’s righteousness when it was offered to them (10:1-4). But the Gentiles found it by faith. Paul quotes Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 together here concerning the “rock,” a symbol of the Messiah; this rock is a stone that causes people to stumble, but it is also a stone that brings salvation to others. In the midst of a passage about judgment for sin, God’s word of grace was extended. The legalist stumbled over it; the truly repentant found grace.
In the first few verses of chapter 10 Paul establishes the point that the Jewish people (most of the leaders and the people) refused God’s righteousness. Their great zeal for the Law worked against them. This pains him. Paul alludes to Isaiah 15:5 where the heart of the prophet was pained for the judgment on Moab; Paul follows this succession of prophets in 10:1. But the Jews sought to establish their own righteousness and could not do it.
The only way to be righteous enough to merit salvation is to be as righteous as Jesus, the Son of God. If that is not achieved, and it cannot be, then one has to be “in Christ” by faith. He is the “end” of the Law. This word telos means either goal or end. In the sense of “goal” it means that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, as in Galatians 3:24. In the sense of “end” it signifies that Christ is the termination of the law as the binding system for believers. Jesus Christ alone satisfied all the demands of the Law and therefore has done it; but the Law also pointed to him as the one to fulfill its demands.4 So faith in Christ alone brings the righteousness to believers.
The present standing of Israel is the same as the Gentiles—”there is no difference between Jew and Gentile,” all are lost, and all must call upon the name of the Lord for salvation.
Paul now addresses the issue of righteousness that comes by faith. He uses Moses’ Law to prove this—showing it was always in the Law. He refers to Deuteronomy 30:8-14. The method employed here is a Jewish midrash (analogical application); he weaves in verses from the Law and explains them in a spiritually applicable way.5 Paul is not claiming a fulfillment of Deuteronomy; rather, he is simply saying that faith as the principle of eternal life is found in the Law. He is not saying that Deuteronomy was about justification by faith; rather, he is saying that they did not have to go to find the oracle from God, because the word of faith was in their hearts. “This commandment” means the commandment to Israel to keep the Law and perform righteousness. Paul is saying that “this commandment” results from the word that is in the heart—faith. Paul then takes the phrases from Deuteronomy and applies them to Christ: who shall ascend to bring Christ down—he has already come; who shall descend to bring him up—he has already risen.6 The language of Moses then can be related to what Christ did. The analogy is this: Moses was saying it is easy, don’t work for it, don’t go on a mythocal quest for it, it begins in your heart by faith; Paul is saying, Don’t look for it in that way, or try to gain it by your works, for Christ has already come and accomplished it. So the principle of faith was always behind the command to do righteousness.
Paul now makes his major application. The commandment to believe now has the full content to it because Jesus has come. So the word is “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Here is the content of the word of faith—such confession is the outward expression of the belief in the truth. Paul does not necessarily mean that this be a public meeting; but there must be some response to the truth in prayer or praise.
When he says that the confession is “Jesus is Lord” he means that Jesus is the Yahweh God of the Old Testament. This does not simply mean make him Lord or master in every area of your life—that takes forever, but that would be what one would try to do if one believed Jesus is God. But Paul means at conversion one must acknowledge His divine person and His supernatural works.
The second part of the confession is the resurrection. Jesus as Lord would be incomplete in the ancient context—it is incomplete. You must believe he is a Lord who had a particular historical occasion. Unlike pagan deities, He stands within and without history. He is God, but He came into this world and conquered sin and death to demonstrate His sovereign power. And his conquest of sin and death, and his sovereignty over all life, was declared by his resurrection. To deny the resurrection is to reduce Jesus to being just another teacher who made great claims and promises.
Then, citing Joel, Paul announces that for both Jew and Gentile, rich and poor alike, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. To call upon Him means to believe in Him, to proclaim faith in him, to acknowledge who he is and what he has done, and to appropriate that for oneself by faith. And this is open to “whoever” calls. Once again, the whole issue of election and free will is beyond our understanding. We live in the world; we act according to our will and our desire; we see only the phenomena—what appears and what we understand. When anyone hears the Gospel and responds by faith, calling on the Lord, that person is saved. But Paul is clear to state the reality as well—that person was elected, chosen by God.
Paul shows that there must be messengers of the Gospel who have credentials from God. Preachers have to be sent with the word that people must believe, but they have to be called by God to do so. He supports his point with a citation of Isaiah 52:7, a passage which precedes the marvelous passage of Isaiah 53. And then he cites the beginning of Isaiah 53, “Lord, who has believed our message?” He uses this passage to show from Isaiah that they did not all believe, even though the preacher came from God with the message. He cites this point because it is true, but also because it does not nullify the validity of “by-faith-righteousness.” This fact harmonizes with the whole argument of this section of Romans—many Jews did not believe and therefore died in their sins, even though Israel was the chosen people. It was not God who was at fault; it was their unbelief—the Old Testament is filled with their stories. The grace is that some of them believed.
The messenger simply delivers the word of the Lord—and faith then comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. It was not enough to hear the word of God. It had to be acted upon. And it was not just any report, but it was the prophecy of the salvation of God, to be fulfilled and accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Messiah for the sins of the people.
Paul, then, through a series of questions and quotations, makes the point that Israel did hear the word, and did understand, but refused to believe. God’s word went throughout the world. They also knew from the prophets that the Gospel was going to go to the ends of the earth, and that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by turning to Gentiles. Isaiah had predicted this. So now the Gentiles were finding Christ as Savior. What excuse could the Jews give, for they had and knew the Scriptures that predicted this would happen. (Recall that when the wise men asked where the Messiah was to be born, the religious leaders knew exactly where, and what passage said also—but they would not go the 5 miles to see for themselves).
The final quotation makes Israel’s unbelief all the more astounding. The text shows that God continued to hold out the offer of salvation; their refusal is all the more reprehensible in the light of God’s mercy and patience. They persisted in rebellion and rejection; and now with the fulfillment in Christ Jesus, they continue to reject the truth of the Gospel.
So Paul’s argument in these chapters is clear. He wished to show that in spite of their privileges, most Israelites did not believe. So first he had to show that just because people were part of the family of Abraham did not mean they were saved. From the divine side, it is obvious that God in his election chose some and left others in their hardened condition. Anyone who knew the Law would agree to that. So throughout Israel’s experience there were many who were national Israelites but not of the spiritual seed of Abraham. The fact that God saved some is due to His grace; the fact that He did not destroy everyone immediately is due to His patience (recall the sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32 where they all came close to judgment). If people had wished to be part of the saved elect, they had every opportunity to believe in the LORD for righteousness. So no one could accuse God of unrighteousness, for people got what they desired and deserved. In the final analysis, Israel was rejected because they did not believe.
But looking at it further from the human side it is clear that Israel misunderstood their own Scriptures, and rather than believe in the Lord they tried to earn their righteousness through zeal for the Law. This was not possible. No one could keep the Law and be righteous enough to merit eternal life. Only Christ was able to fulfill the requirements of the Law, and so only Christ can provide righteousness. The Law of Moses itself made it clear that faith was the starting point of obedience to righteousness. But they stumbled over that and refused to believe. Consequently, today there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—all must come to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation or they have no share in the world to come. The irony is that the Gentiles have responded by faith in the Word of the Lord, whereas Israel has resisted, even though the Scriptures themselves predicted that this would happen. But God has been patient with Israel, even though they stiffened in rebellion and unbelief.
1. How would you arrange what scholars call the “order of salvation”? Take these terms: faith, election, regeneration, justification, redemption, and salvation. What is the theological order of these events?
2. How does the Bible handle the two sides of the issue, election and free will? Can you discover verses or passages where both seem to be cooperating? You might start with Acts 2:23.
3. Why does divine election not alter the fact of the righteousness of God?
4. What specifically goes into calling on the name of the LORD for salvation?
5. Why is resurrection so necessary to the profession of saving faith?
6. For a little more involved study of these two chapters, how would you assess Paul’s use of the Old Testament. Trace back through the passages he cites to see how he interprets them and applies them in the development of his argument.
1 The word “Shekainah” is a Hebrew/Aramaic word (depending on how it is spelled) which means simply “dwelling.” It refers to the glory of the LORD that dwelt in the Sanctuary. Sometimes the word “Shekainah” is used to refer to God himself, as we might use the word heaven.
2 Recall that the Greek work christos is the translation of the Hebrew word mashiah (pronounced mah-she-ack ), “messiah.” They both mean “anointed one,” i.e., the king.
3 There is no personal animosity in the “hating Esau.” It is the Old Testament language for shunning the line not chosen. God’s will was to choose the line from Jacob. Anything not in the will of God is to be rejected as such--as in hating father and mother. The language sounds excessive to us; but to the Hebrews it was for clear demarcation. And, people in the line of Esau, as well as in the line of Jacob, could come to faith--they all had to come to faith to be saved.
4 The Law is still part of Scripture and proftiable for instruction in righteousness; but the details of the Law now have to be interpreted and applied in the light of the fulfillment of Christ.
5 A midrash is an analogical application from Scripture, a homily. The writer quotes from a passage, and rather than explain its literal meaning, makes a spiritual lesson from its analogy.
6 In ancient religions finding the secret of eternal life was often presented as a pilgrimage to the netherworld, or to the realm of the gods, which was impossible. Moses was saying that they did not have to do that--they had divine revelation and faith.
Romans 11 will turn its attention to the present and future purposes of God with regard to Israel. Paul’s argument can be traced in five steps: a discussion of the remnant that is today finding salvation (1-6), but an acknowledgement that the majority are blinded to the truth (7-10), followed by a reason for the setting aside of national Israel (11-21), and a reminder of the promised restoration of God’s salvation program to Israel (22-32), all of which is bound up in the mystery of the wisdom of God (33-36). There is no doubt that Paul is discussing national Israel.
Paul again begins his discussion with a question: “Did God reject His people whom He foreknew?” According to the New Testament, Israel was apparently replaced (Matt. 21:43) by a “nation” (ethnos and not genan) that would bear fruit. Christ’s words were mostly critical of the current first century generation of Jews who had not produced fruit. The reference to “another nation” is a reference to the present form of the kingdom, the Church, a nation called out of the nations (1 Pet. 2:9,10). But Israel still had the oracles—their promises and their advantages were not nullified because the Lord turned to the Gentiles to bear fruit. Paul will ask, “Did Israel fall irrevocably?” (11:11)—Not at all! was his answer. This was another chapter in God’s dealings with Israel: God made promises to Israel, and although the majority of Israelites time and time again had sinned and been sent from the land, the promises remained.
So in the chapter Paul will point out that the rejection of Israel is not complete (there is a remnant of believers) and not final (all Israel shall be saved). His discussion will be essentially in two major parts, both begun with “I ask then” (vv. 1 and 11).
So Paul’s first question, “Did God cast them out?” (v. 1) relates to 10:21, the nation hardened in unbelief. It might appear from that discussion that they rebelled and God cast them out. (By the way, the church fathers in the early centuries saw in that quotation from Isaiah 65:2 a prophecy of the cross visibly represented).
Paul’s typical response is a direct rejection—”God forbid!” He presents himself as an example—he is a Jew, and he is a believer in Jesus, part of the remnant, part of the present form of the kingdom, the nation bearing fruit. And this is not strange, because God has not finally cast of His people. His explanation is that God foreknew them. If this means “to know beforehand” that Israel would believe, then there is no problem in asking “Has God cast them away?” But if it means “chosen,” then there is a more significant matter. Does past election guarantee the future, with sin in between? The idea of foreknowledge means essentially “to enter into intimate relationship beforehand.” Thus, Paul knows that God has a future goal based on love for the people of Israel—some future generation.
In order to show that God has not cast off His people Paul can show that there has been a remnant of believers in every age, even when national Israel was thrown off or exiled or was in sin. He makes the analogy with Elijah.1 At that time apostasy was general, but not universal. Elijah thought he alone was left faithful; but God had reserved for himself several thousand who had not bowed to Baal.
Paul’s conclusion is that today there is a remnant chosen by grace. This is not “the” remnant of prophecy that will be especially prominent in the latter days. It is an element within the Church that is Jewish by nationality. Concerning this Galatians 6:16 is important. There Paul uses the expression “peace on them and the Israel of God.” Some want to translate this “even the Israel of God,” to make the Church and Israel one and the same entity. So the meaning of the conjunction “and” (kai) in this line is critical; it is used very rarely for “even” (Ellicott says never). Galatians were Gentiles troubled by Jews. Paul was saying that there should be peace on the Gentile Christians who walk this way, as well as on true Jews who believed in Jesus and walk according to grace. They are the “Israel of God”—Jewish converts, not Judaized Gentiles. Paul here in Romans likewise is talking about a true remnant of Jews, true believers, followers of the Christian faith (or completed Jews since the Messiah was their Messiah). The Church is made up of Gentiles and Jews, and in the first century there was a good deal of tension about how this was to work—the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 being one sample of the tension. So the word “Israel” in Galatians would mean “Israel,” as obvious as that might sound, and not Gentiles now known as “Israel.” This fits the normal meaning of “Israel,” the normal meaning of “and,” and the situation in the first century Church. Those who have decided that all the promises to Israel have been and will be fulfilled in the Church attempt to make “Israel” here mean the Church, the “true” Israel. But that seems awfully forced.
So Paul is saying there is a remnant who are saved by grace and not by works, for as always, everyone is saved by grace and not by works. The principles of law and grace are contrasting and conflicting. The remnant is by grace according to election—it is a work of God. Thus, God has not cast off His people—Paul could clearly witness to that, as well as thousands upon thousands of early believers in jesus who were Jewish.
The logical question to follow is “What, then? What Israel so earnestly sought it did not obtain, but the elect did.” The elect of God, whom we recognize as the true believers, have received righteousness. The rest have only attained blindness—they have no spiritual understanding and have not come to the faith.
These other Israelites were hardened. The metaphor is drawn from the word for a petrified stone—a heart that has become callous. They do not see, they do not accept. Verse 25 will say that Israel was “hardened in part”—people like Paul and Timothy were not hardened. The majority of the Jews were hardened in unbelief. Some will say, “Oh God did not do that.” But verse 8 says that God did do it. God’s laws are operative: when people do not respond to the Word of God, they will be hardened to it (as C. S. Lewis said, if people will not say to God, “Thy will be done,” God will say to them sometime, “Thy will be done”). One cannot hear the Gospel without some effect. It never has the same effect twice. You never hear the truth the same way, for truth never simply passes by. It is serious to hear the Word and not respond by faith. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 will explain that while the Law (the Bible) is read in the synagogue service, a veil lies on the hearts of the people and they are blind to the truth of God’s revelation as it is directing them to the Messiah, the sacrificial atonement, and the gift of eternal life. They can understand a good deal about the text they hear, but they miss the main point of revelation. Only by God’s grace does the Spirit break through and bring liberty; and at that moment when they turn to Jesus the Messiah by faith, the veil is removed so that they can behold his glory and be changed into that glory. But because they are blind, it has to be a work of God to break through and inspire faith. Indeed, salvation is a work of God, for all of us, Jew or Gentile, were dead in trespasses and sins until the Spirit quickened us, made us alive. It was at that moment that we believed that the Spirit was actually working in us to regenerate us. And Paul knows that many Jews like himself believed in Christ when the Spirit opened their hearts—but many, many did not believe.
National or ethnic Israel’s rejection is not final, only temporary. Paul has shown already that it is not complete, for not all Jews rejected Jesus. In fact, down through the history of the Church, or perhaps we may say down through the first phase of the New Covenant, many Jewish people have served as great preachers, theologians, missionaries, or the like in the cause of Christ. But now Paul considers the majority who have stumbled, those who have not believed in Christ.
He reflects on the ultimate purpose of Israel’s fall in the grand plan of God, and the ultimate purpose is twofold, both the salvation of the Gentiles and the future restoration of the Jews. God has used the failure of Israel to bring salvation to the Gentiles. But Paul affirms that Israel’s stumbling was not beyond recovery. National Israel failed to believe, and so God rejected them to turn to the Gentiles. But Paul explains that if the rejection of Israel brought such blessing to people throughout the world, what may we expect at the restoration? This question indicates something great is going to happen, something that is the opposite of their rejection of the Savior. The words “fullness” (v. 12) and “acceptance” (v. 15) point to the future restoration of Israel to the promises of God. There is coming a day when those Jews who are alive will turn in faith to follow Jesus as their Messiah and Savior.
Do you see the cycle? The failure of Israel to believe led to the salvation of the Gentiles—most of us, which God intended to use to provoke the Jews to jealousy, so that they might be restored by faith in Him. (Unfortunately, the Church has done very little to make Jewish people jealous, to make them want the Savior. In fact, many times the Gospel as been presented as a triumphalism—you had it and lost it, we now have it! And Jesus was not always clearly presented as Jewish—their Messiah). One of the reasons that the Church has given Israel very little to be jealous about is because ever since the reformation (at least) most biblical scholars have missed or ignored the promises to Israel and the hope of their restoration. Instead, a Christian theology of replacement has taken hold, so much so that in commentaries about the Israelites in the Old Testament the word “Church” is used to describe those who believed, as in “the Old Testament Church.” That can be a little confusing. But it is clear in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, that the Gentiles who come to faith in the LORD would be the means of restoring Israel through their salvation. The Jews, down inside, are deeply concerned about the crucifixion and the Catholic charge (and absolution of the charge) of deicide. When Christ is presented correctly and compassionately, the witness has proved to be the most effective.
Paul’s reasoning is that the rejection of Israel (“their” in verse 12 is used three times; it refers to Israel collectively, as a whole nation2) brought reconciliation to the world, that is, when Israel rebelled God turned to the Gentiles (as He had prophesied He would in the Old Testament—see for example Mal. 1:11) to make Israel jealous; so then in the future the restoration of Israel as a believing people will be “life from the dead”—an even greater miracle in God’s working of salvation in the world (v. 15). Many simply interpret this to be the doctrine of resurrection. But it is a figure of speech in this context, a spiritual coming alive or quickening, stating what it will be like for great nations to come to spiritual life. Nations, vast numbers of people, that are now in opposition to Christ will believe when Israel is restored (see Isa. 60:1-6; Acts 15).
Verse 16 is difficult. Paul says “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.” From usage and from the immediate context the figures of first fruit and root seem to refer to Israel, consecrated to God for divine purposes. The whole lump is to be consecrated. The present, early converts are the firstfruits; there is more to come.
The root seems to be Abraham, or at least the patriarchs and their covenant. If the root is the Abrahamic covenantal blessings, then that is the basis for expectation. We who are Gentiles have no such covenant, but the basis for our blessing (=salvation) is the Israelite heritage. We are “among them” or “fellow partakers” of the Abrahamic blessing; we partake of Jewish blessings. We stand on the basis of the promises to Abraham, grafted in as in the place of the natural branches.
In verses 17-21 the apostle offers some stern warnings based on this teaching about the tree and the branches. Christians who are Gentiles should not boast because they have been grafted in whereas Israel failed. Their (our) salvation was a work of divine grace that resulted from the failure of Israel. If we do not produce fruit, that is, practical righteousness and obedience, then we too could be removed from the place of blessing as was ancient Israel (and this is the warning of John to the seven churches in revelation 2-3, that if they did not repent and do what they were supposes to do, God would remove the lampstand from them). So Paul is warning his readers to learn from Israel’s mistake; fear the Lord and live righteously if you want to have the sense of security of salvation. Paul has spoken a good deal in this epistle about grace and faith and election; but he has never presented it as an “easy believism” without evidence of a changed life. The evidence of divine election is perseverance in righteousness—a person who comes to faith and lives a changed life and produces righteousness will be recognized as part of the elect of God.
Paul warns his readers that the security they have in God’s kindness is conditioned upon their perseverance—the evidence of saving faith. If the Gentiles who have been grafted in do not persevere, they could be cut off like Israel was. And if Jewish people come to faith in Christ Jesus, they can be grafted back into the program—be partakers of their New Covenant. In fact, Paul affirms, God is eager to graft the natural branches back in to the tree.
According to verse 25, Paul affirms that Israel has experienced this hardening in unbelief in part “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”3 This is a mystery according to Paul, that is, a divine secret that must be revealed, a hidden truth. The hardness and the blindness of the nation was in part—not every Israelite refused to believe. And the hardness of Jews in their rejection of Jesus was temporary—”until” the fullness of the Gentiles. The idea Paul has is in this expression “their fullness”; it means the full complement, the full number, or the whole body of Gentiles who are to be saved will have been saved. The expression is a soteriological description, meaning the full, completed number.
Then, Paul affirms, when that has happened, then “all Israel shall be saved.”4 Here Paul is concerned with the restoration of national Israel to their covenant program with God. He has already shown that it is probable because they are the natural branches. And he has shown it is possible because of God’s kindness. Now he will show that it was prophesied by Isaiah 59:20,21, and 27:9. “All Israel” refers to the nation of Israel as a whole, the Jewish people who are alive at the time when the number of the Gentiles is completed.
The context has been leading up to this. In verse 12 he had referred to the unbelief of the Israelite people as “their fullness” in contrast to “their trespass”; in verses 22 and 23 he spoke of Israel as being unfaithful, but possibly grafted back in; and “they” and “their” in verses 30-32 refers to Israel in the light of the discussion.
So now he looks to the future plan for “all Israel.”
The use of the word “all” in Scripture does not often mean every individual. But “all Israel” means the whole nation, Jews as a whole.5 The nation as a whole was unfaithful (Dan. 9:11), but not every single individual (see 1 Kings 12:1 and 2 Chron. 12:1). Only God knows when a nation can be called apostate, when the majority is in rebellion and only a remnant holds to the true faith. When we say “all Israel rejected Christ” we mean its leadership and its people as a whole, but not every Jew who was there. So we use that idea in the same sense here for their salvation.
When it says they “shall be saved” it means according to the citation from Isaiah that they will be brought back into God’s blessing by the forgiveness and cleansing of sin. Paul, based on Isaiah, sees that in the future there will be a vast conversion of Jewish people to the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. This will occur at the end of the age, prior to or simultaneous with the coming of the Messiah. To say that by “all Israel” Paul now means the Church, that is, when the Gentiles are all saved that will mean that “all Israel” will be saved and fulfill Isaiah’s prediction, simply will not do. It would completely change the flow of the argument in the passage and alter the meaning of “Israel” here in a way that the context will not support.
Besides, any detailed study of Jeremiah. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, among others, will reveal that God will indeed redeem Israel at the end of the age. Those Jews who will be alive at that time, or at his coming, will turn to him, looking on him they have pierced and acknowledging that all they like sheep had gone astray.6 But until then the evangelistic appeal must go out, for they do not know if they will be alive at the end of the age or not. So Paul’s heart’s desire is that they might be saved.
In verse 28-32 Paul offers in summary his philosophy of history. The sentences are written very carefully: two antithetical clauses with explanations, followed by another pair of antithetical ideas and their explanation. “Mercy,” a key term in Romans, is used four times in here. The first antithetical pair concerns the Jews as enemies or beloved—enemies as far as the Gospel is concerned, but beloved because of the patriarchs. The explanation is that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.7 The promises are secure because they are based on God’s fidelity to His word. What is the “calling” that is irrevocable? It is the calling of Israel as a nation to be the witness to the nations, the means of blessing for all the families of the world. Because God does not change in His choice of election, Malachi says, Israel was not consumed (Mal. 3:16). Paul is relating divine immutability to Israel’s future. God’s plan will be fulfilled, with people who will believe in Christ. The stress in this section is on what God is going to do. God will initiate their salvation: “I will pour out on them my Spirit … and they shall look on Him whom they have pierced.”
God’s covenant promises are eternal and unconditional; but individual participation in them requires faith. There is a future for Israel in God’s plan for the kingdom; but only those who come to faith in Jesus Christ will share in them. Now a few believe; at the end of the age great numbers.
The second pair of antithetical clauses is in verses 30-31. At one time the Gentiles, who were not the elect people, were disobedient, but they have received mercy now as a result of Israel’s disobedience. But on the other hand, Israel’s disobedience will also lead to her obtaining mercy when they realize what God has done for the Gentiles. Here are the two purposes of Israel’s fall reiterated—Gentile salvation and Jewish restoration. The explanation of all this: “for God has bound all men over to disobedience (Romans 1-3) so that He may have mercy on them all.” So Paul breaks down the stages of history into periods of disobedience. The point of it all is the display of God’s mercy.
So Paul sees that in God’s plan of the ages there will come a time when Israel will be converted, restored to their mission, and enter into all the blessings promised in the Old Tetsament. And, that conversion of Israel will lead to a world-wide conversion of other Gentiles. Truly, the end of the age has some glorious prophecies to be realized.
The reason for the way that God has chosen to call the Jews to service, then reject them and turn to the Gentiles, and then to restore them again through the dealings with the Gentiles and for the greater blessing of the world—all of this is locked up in the riches of the wisdom of God. Paul cites Old Testament passages to show that God’s ways are past searching out; He has never needed the counsel of any one, for His plan is perfect.
This section is pure praise and no argument at all. Yet it may be the greatest argument of all. If you and I do not understand God’s dealings with nations and peoples, it is not because there is not a good and sufficient reason. The difficulty is with our inability to understand the wisdom of God. By weaving ideas from the Old Testament together, Paul affirms several points about God’s wisdom:
(1) No one knows the mind of the Lord [Paul has tried to give a glimpse of the way the mind of the Lord works];
(2) No one can advise the Lord—God never asks for advice from His creatures; Jesus never asked for advice when He was here on earth; and
(3) No one has given anything to God that would put Him in an awkward position of owing anyone anything.
“Because from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever. Amen!” “From Him” means that God is the all sufficient cause and source of everything. “Through Him” means that God is the mighty sustainer and Worker. “Unto Him” means that God must call every creature to account to Him. All glory is indeed due to Him.
1. Think down through Church History about Jewish and Christian relationships! How would you describe them? But on the other hand, think of significant Jewish Christians and their value to the faith.
2. Can you think back through the Bible about “judicial blindness”? Start with the call of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6. And note the immediate and mediate causes throughout Scripture (cf. also 2 Cor. 4:1-6).
3. Think back through the prophetic messages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. How much of that material has to do with the future of Israel in God’s plans?
4. If you have time to delve into some Rabbinic background, note that it is a major belief of Judaism that “all Israel will be saved.” On what basis does Judaism teach this? How does Paul’s teaching differ?
5. How would you understand the “wisdom of God”? Perhaps you might like to read through God’s speech to Job out of the wind at the end of the book of Job to get a fresh appreciation of His plans—you know, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world, when all the angels shouted for joy … ?” What should our response be to His wisdom?
1 For Paul, the Old Testament has a living, abiding voice: "What says the Scripture?" The words of Scripture are divine words with abiding force for today.
2 These are indications of the promised blessings based on the relationship to all Israel. In the development of the promises, beginning as early as Genesis 9:24-27 and then 12:1-3, Israel was a tool for blessing the nations. When they fell into general sin, they as the tool ceased to be functional, and they were exiled.
3 By the way, this can only work if election is involved. God knows how many Gentiles will come in, and who is the last to come in--then comes the restoration of the program to Israel.
4 Some commentators try to take this to refer to Gentiles, meaning "the Israel of God" will be saved. But that defies the plain meaning of the text, the point of the prophecy in Isaiah, and makes very little sense in the argument.
5 Some folks criticize the interpretation of “all” as being general and not perfectly literal; but our key to interpretation is the usage in the Bible--and “all” means the vast majority of a group in so many cases--such as “all Jerusalem” went out to see him. Likewise, biblical usage of the word “Israel” leads to the natural conclusion that it is ethnic Israel--especially in this chapter where it is contrasted with Gentiles.
6 The purpose of Israel’s restoration at the end of the age includes so much material that it is impossible to include it here. That would take a thorough study of the kingdom of God, and the function of believers in the world to come, or in the eternal state.
7 The Greek term means "not to be regretted." The idea is an after care, an after thought, to change the mind. The point is that God's promises and calling have an ultimate purpose. There is no change in His decisions.
We now come to the last major section of the book, the application of the doctrine set forth in chapters 1-11. This is the standard form of Paul’s writings, doctrine first and then practice—or application. The first part of the application deals with the living out of the Christian life in the assembly of believers, chapter 12.
In the Book of Romans as well as in his other writings, the apostle Paul gives a number of instructions for living the spiritual life by the power of the Spirit (the provision of the Spirit introduced here in Romans 8)—be filled with the Spirit, mortify the flesh, yield your members, walk in the Spirit, and many more. Nowhere in his writings is the basic process of doing all this more clearly laid out than in these two verses.
The first verse sets down the principle of one’s relationship to God. In vain one tries to live triumphantly in the midst of secondary relationships unless this primary relationship is established. It is a relationship that begins with the language of dedication—it describes a foundational commitment to the Lord and not a regular spiritual activity. Through this dedication, Paul will explain, the believer is in a position to know the will of God (v. 2).
“I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God.” Both the “therefore” and the “mercies of God” refer us to chapters 1-11. In view of the great plan of redemption unveiled in Romans 1-11, Paul exhorts believers to dedication. The urging is a powerful exhortation; the verb (parakaleo) is used for exhortations and commands, even though the New Testament exhortations do not have the sanctions that one finds in the Old Testament. We are not under Law; nevertheless, there are instructions and exhortations that must be followed if we are to live successfully (as Christians) in this world. (Of course, there often is a great difference between what is considered success in the world and what is success with God—they may overlap, but they may conflict).
How is this initial dedication to be done? We are to present our bodies as “living sacrifices.” The term “sacrifice” belongs to the realm of the dead; the term “living” counters the point. The idea is drawn from the Israelite dedication offering of Leviticus 2: the sacrifice is one of complete surrender of our bodies, our lives, our possessions, and our abilities as a perpetual dedicatory offering to God. As a sacrifice we are dead to the way of this world; as a living sacrifice we are alive to the way of Christ. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price and we belong to him.
It is interesting that the term for sacrifice used here is never used to translate an offering in the Hebrew Old Testament. But it is used of the priest’s service in “standing before the LORD.” Thus, the sacrifice to be offered is not a bloody sacrifice, so the choice of words fits better with the dedication of Leviticus 2. The verb form used is an aorist (point action); in light of the present tenses that follow, there must be a contrast intended—Paul could have used a present tense here too (“present yourselves continually”) but he did not. So his idea is probably that there should be one definite presentation (like “I do” in a marriage—an event and commitment made at a point in time but with continuing implications). There are times to renew such a dedication, but not to repeat it. It follows the atoning sacrifices in Leviticus, and so in the Church the dedication offering—ourselves to God—follows our acceptance and appreciation for his atonement. Because he has redeemed us, what can we give to God as an expression of our eternal gratitude? Our bodies!—as living sacrifices.
The verb means “to present”—not the passive idea of surrender, or even of yield, in this verse. You present it—as you would a gift to a friend. The dedication gift you offer to God is “your body” (not just “yourselves”). The body is the outward form and expression of the inner person; it includes all your talents, abilities, desires, and aspirations—all of it and more are to be given to God.
And Paul says that this is our reasonable service. This is a good translation, although some texts go with “this is your spiritual worship.” It is rational. Physical and spiritual service involves the whole body. Human beings are rational (as opposed to animal sacrifice, where the animal is an irrational victim), and so the human dedicating himself or herself is a reasonable thing to do.
The pattern of this (and the fulfillment of Leviticus 2 because it was the liturgy to be used with that dedication offering) is Psalm 40, which was then fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament (see Heb. 10). It begins with the acknowledgment: “a body you have prepared for me.” God has made us fit for his service. The talents, abilities, and characteristics we have he gave us. It continues with desire: “here I come to do your will.” If God made us for his service, then our service is to do his will. There is a plan to follow that has been revealed; and he has prepared us for it. The person who is redeemed and filled with gratitude will desire to please God. But God desires us to say it, to him, in the presence of others. And it this dedication necessarily involves direction: “in the volume [scroll] of the book it is prescribed for me.” Dedication without direction is delusion. It has to be directed to do God’s will if it is to be pleasing to him. Every Israelite who dedicated himself or herself to the LORD would use this liturgy. And we too must acknowledge or confess similar things when we make our commitment.
Now Jesus fulfilled this passage in a far greater way. God the Father did prepare a body for his Son, and that body was conceived by the Spirit in the womb of Mary. Jesus did desire to do the will of his Father, more than we every will. He was completely obedient. And, Scripture not only prescribed how as a righteous man he should live, but it spoke of him in prophetic oracles—and these he was to fulfill. Jesus’ dedication and obedience thus fulfills Psalm 40 (and Leviticus 2), and provides us the model for dedication. Like Christ Jesus we are to commit our lives to do God’s will as it is prescribed for us in his word.
One further point that is worth mentioning briefly. The Israelite dedication service of Leviticus 2 involved burning a handful of the gift that was brought on the altar as a memorial. The Hebrew idea of the verb “to remember” or its noun “memorial” involves the proper outworking of what is remembered—it is more than memory; it is acting on what is remembered (like the thief on the cross, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”). That memorial at the altar reminded God to fulfill what he had promised through the sacrifices of the covenant, but it also reminded the people to fulfill their covenant obligations as the redeemed people. Thus, in the New Covenant Jesus told us to observe Holy Communion “in memory of him.” Every time we have communion, it is an act of faith by which we confirm that we have entered into covenant with God and are awaiting the fulfillment of the promises, and, it is an act of commitment whereby we reaffirm our obligations to serve him as his redeemed people.
So the starting point of spiritual living is this serious dedication to the Lord (I say serious because there are frivolous dedications out of emotional responses and the people making them do not know what it all means). This dedication may come almost immediately when someone comes to faith in Christ; but more often, it comes with the beginning of spiritual growth, as one begins to understand what Romans 1-11 is all about. When believers learn more about Christ, salvation, the covenant responsibilities, the body of Christ, and the mission of the Church in the world, then they are ready to make a heartfelt commitment.
The second verse deals with our relationship to the world. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” By his choice of words, Paul is saying not to take as a mode of living the present, fleeting, fashions of the world, its dominating motives and moods. Here is true biblical separation—the first half of the doctrine of sanctification (“set apart from the world”). Separation from the world is not to be reduced to a few legalistic things; it is wisdom to live untarnished in a world system that is dominated by selfishness, greed, pleasure, and indifference to the needs of others—all of which are directly the opposite of the Christian life. It is that attitude of the world which dominates a person that constitutes worldliness. If what dominates my thinking and manifests itself in all my life is the way the world lives—to the exclusion of God—then I am conformed to the world. If I live, love, and choose as the world does, then I am worldly, and that way of living cannot harmonize with the dedication and sanctification of the spiritual life.
Christians in our country come close to being caught up in the world system. Little things begin to change our way of thinking. For example, people crave a blessing (this is big now), meaning success, wealth, security. But they have forgotten that they must first be a blessing in the world for God to bless them, and God may not bless them with material things. Or, people pray earnestly for illnesses and diseases to be removed, or instead of praying they think they can command them to leave; and it is perfectly understandable that people should want to be free from the pain and suffering. But they have forgotten that when they suffer they are to count it all joy, because it gives them an opportunity to use that suffering for the glory of God, as a witness to the world. They need to add to their prayers that God will change them spiritually and use them. Or, people are told if they give money it is a seed that is planted and God will pay it back and more, that is, the giving is a financial investment that will pay dividends. But they have forgotten that giving to God is simply giving to him what belongs to him, and the giving that pleases him the most is sacrificial giving—that is not a sure business deal. These trends and many more today show that many in the Church have bought into the world’s system of this country, and it is hindering the Church from being a true witness for the Lord and a compassionate help of people in great need.
The counterpoint to this negative side (not being conformed to the world) is the positive: “be transformed” (this is the other side of sanctification, the positive side—set apart to God). Here is the inner change (see Phil. 3:21 and 2 Cor. 3:18), in contrast to the outer conformity to the world. Sanctification is not just being separated from the world (with a list of worldly things that one should not do); it is a positive transformation by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ.
Notice how it is accomplished: “by the renewing of your mind.” We need to recall what Paul had said earlier about the spiritual mind as opposed to the carnal or fleshly mind. One renews the mind by yielding it (and all our members) to the Holy Spirit and studying the Word of God day by day. Then one gains the mind of Christ—the life begins to change from glory to glory as we reflect as in a mirror the glory of the Lord revealed in Scripture (2 Cor. 3:18). Too many Christians rely on personal experiences to get them through the week, perhaps an uplifting service, or a supernatural feeling. They do not study the Word. They are like cars with dead batteries, and any time they are to be useful they have to be jump-started. No. They must be in the Bible constantly so that they can grow. Too many Christians have forgotten that God redeemed the mind as well as the heart; they are to wear the helmet of salvation and renew their minds with the Word.
So the essentials of spiritual growth are: Dedication, Separation (from the world and to God), and Transformation by the Renewing of the Mind.
Once this begins to develop, we will be able to test and approve what the will of God is. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” So the rest of these chapters will lay out the application of the spiritual life in a variety of settings and situations.
Kenneth S. Wuest summarizes this verse this way: “And stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being, but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well-pleasing, and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, placing your approval upon it.” We are not to be actors, conforming to this present world system, but to be genuine, because the Spirit of truth is working within us.
Based on his apostolic ministry (“the grace given to me”) Paul warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. There is a danger of our thinking too much of our gifts and callings; instead, we have to see ourselves in relation to other believers as part of a body.
This relationship is explained several times in Paul’s letters as the spiritual gifts. Here he describes them in relationship to faith: “God has divided a measure of faith to each one.” This passage is the first place where Paul introduces the Church in terms of a body, as he does in 1 Corinthians 12. The body is the unity; so each member of the body must function as part of the body. Finally, in verse 6, Paul calls them “gifts” (charismata), differing according to the grace that is given to each of us.
A spiritual gift is the special ability that God has given to each of us to use in ministering in and to the body. Or, to put it another way, a spiritual gift is the special use God makes of an individual in certain capacities. Several observations come to mind from the general teaching in Scripture: (1) The spiritual gifts are not offices; they are functions. (2) They are not natural talents (although we sometimes call those gifts), even though they might overlap with natural talents—but they might not. It is all how God uses the person. (3) The spiritual gifts overlap with some biblical exhortations. For example, all Christians are to give, but some have the gift of faith (that is, God uses them more abundantly in these capacities than others). (4) Some spiritual gifts can be cultivated, and others cannot. There are gifts that you can try to see if God will use you in that way; but others where God simply has to break through supernaturally. (5) Some gifts are readily misconstrued, like “miracles” and “healings” (Christians love to describe things as miracles, almost anything that happens unexpectedly); but some of the phenomena here probably comes under the gift of faith because they are answers to prayer. (6) Not everyone has the same gifts. It is wrong to expect people to have certain gifts when they do not have them. (7) Spirituality is not measured by the possession of certain gifts. In fact, sometimes a serious case of pride comes in and destroys the gift, making the person with the powerful gift very unspiritual. And (8) there are far more gifts than the spectacular sign gifts that seem to get so much attention. People seem to think only of the sign gifts and wonders, the tongues, the prophesies, the healing. But what about the gifts of helps, administration, showing compassion, giving? When you discuss spiritual gifts, be sure to have Paul’s list at hand.
There is no place for pride here. The term for the spiritual gifts comes from the same word for “grace.” It is a free gift, a grace. Each member of the body of Christ has at least one spiritual gift, at least one function to perform. Those called to leadership roles in the believing community must have the spiritual gifts that go for those roles—pastor/teacher, faith, administration, and the like.
The most practical advice about the spiritual gifts is this: just get on with your spiritual life, growing in the Lord, and becoming involved in the various aspects of the ministry of the Church that are interesting to you. As you get involved, and as you develop a balanced Christian life, God will begin to use you in certain ways, and draw your heart to certain functions. These will probably focus on your gifts. Then talk about them with spiritual leaders who may be able to discern them and direct you in their development.
Paul lists several gifts here, although in other places he prioritizes them. One is “prophesying” which is a very complicated term. It must be understood in relation to the prophets in the Bible (although we must not confuse the office with the gift). It deals with exhortation, rebuke, and encouragement from the Word of the Lord. Biblical exposition seems to be its clearest manifestation now that the canon is closed, for anything said in a prophecy must harmonize with the revealed Word of God. This was a test of the prophets in Israel (see Deut. 13 and 18). Sometimes the spiritual gift of exhortation or comfort is confused with this one. But Paul says that if this gift works, do it in proportion to your faith. There is some dispute what this means; but the consensus suggests that it is to be related to spiritual growth. Paul never allows the novice or the new-born Christian to teach, be an elder, or to exercise authority over the congregation.
“Serving” is listed as the next spiritual gift—not one of the popular ones when people start seeking their gifts. Here is active service, the practical ministry. You do not need this gift to do it! We are all called to be servants—so serve. Jesus taught that ministry was self-sacrificing service in love. We have already noted that “servant of the LORD” is the highest title and task we can have. We can never be more than a servant. But there are people in the Church who have a special gift for this, that is, God by his grace has used them in this capacity most effectively—they just do it without worrying about it, without complaining, without comparing what others are doing.
The gift of “teaching” is at the heart of the pastoral ministry. The priests and Levites in Israel were the official teachers. They were to explain the Law to the people, be the source of knowledge (Deut. 33 and Mal. 2). In the early Church the saints came together for several purposes, one of which was continuing in the apostolic teaching (Acts 2). This gift makes the Scriptures clear, understandable, and applicable. Again, all Christians are called to be teachers (Heb. 5); but God makes special use of some people in this area, and they are said to have the gift of teacher. A lot of people claim to have this gift, but do not; they have to be carefully dealt with or they could lead the Church astray. They might be very gifted teachers —as the world counts the ability; but if God does not bless them in the teaching of his word, they do not have the spiritual gift.
“Encouraging” is a gift. This is the ministry of comforting those who need comfort. Paul was a teacher; Barnabas was the exhorter and comforter (“son of consolation” is the meaning of the name). See how special this is according to 2 Corinthians 1:3,4.
Here too the Bible makes it clear that we are to comfort and exhort one another. All of us. But God will make special use of some.
“Giving,” or sharing earthly possessions, is another gift. God gives some people the gift of making money and sharing it generously in an unostentatious way. One wonders about the spirituality of the great displays of giving we see so much of in modern fund raising. Giving is a gift of the Spirit; it does not manifest itself with the blowing of trumpets. Those who have the gift give and give again without any real desire for praise, perhaps not even thinking they are doing anything more than others. And everyone is required to give.
“Leadership.” It is interesting to me to see that there is so much concern in this area today. Often when seminaries survey their graduates, they get criticized for not developing in the graduates better leadership skills. That may be a partially valid criticism. It may also be that some of them simply do not have the gift. The movement of the Church requires this spiritual gift; if pastors do not have it, they have to do the best they can, hoping people in the body have it. Everything is to be done decently and in order in the Church. The smooth running of it all requires administration (not authoritative domination—leading).
“Showing mercy” is a spiritual gift. Visiting the sick, counseling the weary, exhorting the weak in the faith—many manifestations of this gift. We are all called to do it; but God uses some most effectively in these capacities. Some people who try to do this and not only do not have the gift but have not learned how to do it should be discouraged from doing it—they cast a spell of gloom over the needy. Find another avenue of service for them.
This is not the whole list (see Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 12 for supplements). But the point that must come across here in the way they all function is this by Griffith Thomas: “Three great thoughts are emphasized, or at least suggested, in these words: Unity, Diversity, and Harmony.”
The relationship of the Christian to other believers must be characterized by love. This love is to be genuine; it is not to be with hypocrisy. And as part of the outworking of love, Christians must hate evil and stick to what is good.
There are many spiritual gifts; but the most important principle is that they function in love—not in rivalry, or envy, or divisiveness. Love. After all, “the fruit of the Spirit is love … .” How can one claim his of her function is a gift of the Spirit when there is no manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit? In Corinthians Paul likewise joins the discussion of the gifts (ch. 12) with the discussion of love (ch. 13). Nothing phoney or pretentious can be present if the Spirit is producing the gift. Of course, if it is a natural talent that is well developed, it can be done with pride and with a competitive spirit. But Christian love takes the form of genuinely caring for other people and seeking their highest good—something that the Spirit produces in us.
This point is expanded more in verse 10. We are to have family affection one to another, or as Farrar puts it, “Love the brethren in the faith as though they were brethren in the blood.” But where the teaching gets most difficult is when Paul explains plainly that we are to honor one another above ourselves. Genuinely give others their right weight of authority, importance, and service. We unfortunately spend most of our time clamoring for attention and praise—the highest seats in the synagogue. We have to learn how to be genuinely glad when God blesses and uses others—even more so than he uses us. That is Christian love.
Then follows quite a loaded list of instructions: keep your spiritual fervor in zeal, be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer, share with those in need, and practice hospitality (vv. 11-13). Isn’t it amazing how out of the Pauline instructions we each tend to pick the ones we want to obey. What must be noted here is the principle that love for one another is costly; it is not usually convenient or easy. Moreover, rather than worry about which gifts you have and who is going to recognize and praise you for them, Paul is simply saying here to get on with your spiritual life and service.
To stress the sharing of the faith in the body Paul focuses our attention on human emotions, running the gamut from rejoicing to weeping (vv. 14-16). It is so easy to be professional in Christianity, to safeguard ourselves from too much involvement. That is not living in harmony and love. Part of our problem is pride; we like to have the advantage, to appear more spiritual than others, to speak down to those who mourn, to “disciple” someone else we think inferior to ourselves. These are nothing more than naked power plays, trying to seize authority. Pride and conceit must go; associate with those of lower position. Recall Philippians 2 here: Have this same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God … . And Proverbs 26:12 is worth recalling as well: “Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
The basic principle is to do what is right and try to leave at peace with everyone. To make this work, Paul says we will have to shun the idea of “getting even” or “taking revenge.” That does not build any kind of relationship; it only brings animosity. If we play the role of God and judge and avenge others, we have overstepped our bounds. Leave that to God. Paul is not saying that we should not stand up for our convictions; but we should not engage in such fleshly tactics as seeking to repay evil with revenge. Leave judgment to God.
Here Paul is drawing upon the Proverbs to show that we should treat even our enemies with great kindness. The image of “burning coals” from Proverbs 25:21,22 probably refers to the pangs of conscience, which is more easily triggered with kindness than with angry hostility.
Throughout Scripture God brings good out of evil. Likewise we who belong to him must seek ways to overcome evil with good—not with more evil.
The believer moves in several spheres, and all of them demand responsible actions. Believers are in Christ, and relate to the body of Christ. They are in families and have responsibilities there. But they also move in the civic sphere, and have responsibilities within the state.
So Paul commands that everyone of us submit to government authorities, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Remember, Paul is writing to people living under the Romans! No matter what form of government exists, we are in the human race, and our obligations to society are divine obligations. Here Paul is even broader than the Church: he is not limiting his comments to every believer, or to the Church, but to every soul.
The verb is the well-known word for “submission”—a word people today do not like. The same word is used elsewhere for submission to one another in the Church and in the home (see also 1 Peter 2:13). There is a divine order ordained by God in all aspects of life. It is a functioning order, and not a statement about quality of persons or situations.
There are two main reasons for this exhortation. First, God has ordained such authority for the state. Daniel 2 is very strong in this issue—God sets up kings and governments. Even Jesus would tell his “rulers” that they would have no authority and no power unless it was given from above. And second, governments are intended for the reward of good and punishment of evil. This is generally true of governments, that on the whole they encourage good and discourage evil—although they can become wicked and oppressive (and so can employers, and husbands, and church leaders). Society has to run on this principle, so that everyone in the state lives by a conscience to try to do what is right.
So Paul’s exhortation in verse 5 is explained that if you live obediently under the law of the land you can expect to escape punishment, and you will have a clear conscience.
Taxes provides Paul with a final exhortation. Give to them whatever you owe them. Simple and straightforward. But he expands this to add that if you owe honor and respect, give that too. There are liturgical connotations here: the diligence and care you give to paying the government what you own them should not exceed the diligence and care of your spiritual service. (Of course the government often has the motivation of causing fear of prosecution to make sure you pay your taxes). The same correlation is offered in Jesus’ reply to the question about taxes: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (what has his image on it), but give to God what is God’s. What is God’s? Whatever has His image—you yourself. So he is saying give your money to Caesar but give your life to God.
The principle of love is now applied to life in society (vv. 8-10). Here Paul summarizes the second half of the commandments (as Jesus did): love your neighbor as yourself. 1 Love is the essence of the covenant law, the motivation and the effect. To describe it this way is to speak of caring service and assistance for others. That should be the only debt owed.
Please note what is happening here. Paul is quoting the commandments. But he is not putting the Christian believer back under the Law as the binding constitution of the Church. Rather, he is saying that the Christian law of love fulfills what the Law was trying to accomplish. This makes sense, because this love is part of the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit accomplishes in us the love and goodness and righteousness that the Law required.
Paul’s appeal is based on the urgency of the time (vv. 11-14). Our salvation is ever drawing nearer, so we must redeem the time. This section is almost like an alarm clock that goes off for believers who have gone to sleep in the world. John wrote that whoever has the blessed hope in him purifies himself (1 John 3:3). Paul’s point is that the believer will not remain forever in this world; time is advancing towards that “dawn” of redemption for which creation groans. So the believer should not be caught up in the works of the night, the things of darkness.
Note the implication that this is a spiritual struggle, a warfare: “put on the armor of light.” For this we need to correlate Ephesians 6:12-18.
Note what is put together here as works of darkness—orgies, drunkenness, debauchery—these most Christians would say they really have no part in. But he adds dissension and jealousy—mainstays of most Christian groups, unfortunately. He is not merely speaking of a literal wild night-life; the “night” he speaks about is the sinful nature in a fallen world—the world system driven by greed and corruption. We must always be on guard against that.
Verse 14 is the sum of the matter: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” It is once again the mind that is central to the victory. The image of clothing is similar to Ephesians 6 with the armor of Christ, and Colossians 3:10-16. We are by faith and obedience to appropriate Christ for our daily lives, and give no priority to self-gratification—either for fleshly desires or pride or jealousy or strife. If we live to please and to serve Christ, our focus will be turned away from the self.
1. Review the steps in spiritual growth laid out in 12:1,2? How would you relate them to these other instructions in society and with neighbors?
2. What spiritual gifts do you have? How do you know? Do spiritual leaders agree with this? Now how does the Law of love work through these gifts?
3. Make an honest appraisal of your spiritual relationships. How much Christian love do you actually manifest in your relationships? Or, to put it another way, what was being a Christian cost you—in time, effort, convenience?
4. Do you think the kind of government would make any difference to Paul’s discussion of government? What do you think Paul would say about living in a democracy?
5. Think about the way the Bible uses the imagery of clothing, whether nakedness, dirty clothes, clothed in white, banquet clothes, armor, of clothing with Christ. Can you trace any patterns in these motifs?
It is not difficult to run across two extreme positions in Christianity. One position is intensely legalistic and structured, and if you do not agree with them in such positions, you are not spiritual. The other position makes almost no separation from the world, their lives being almost carbon copies of the world, because they feel free in the Lord and unrestricted. Both of these positions are flawed because of their attitudes, their treatment of the other side, and the way that they employ their convictions. Somewhere between these poles the believer is to live. These, and other related issues are the subject of this chapter. Paul will divide the discussion up between those whose faith is strong and those whose faith is weak.
Paul begins the chapter by telling us to accept those who are young or inexperienced in the faith without passing judgment. Who is “weak” in the faith? This does not mean the one who is weak in the great doctrines of the faith, who may be teaching heresy—Paul has lots to say about that one. Nor does this refer to a Christian who has been a believer for, say, twenty-five years, but refuses to grow—all he does is criticize anything different. It is hard to cause someone to stumble if he or she isn’t moving. No, Paul is talking about believers who are growing but are weak in applying the faith to all the areas of doubtful things—things the Bible does not specifically address. The chapter is about conduct, not doctrine.
Paul’s first illustration is about eating meat. This has to be interpreted in the light of the early Church, especially in Jewish and Gentile relationships (see Acts 15). Mature Christians know that they can eat anything they wish, because Jesus made all things clean (Mark 7:19) and Peter was given the specific lesson on this in his vision in Joppa (Acts 10:9-16). From that sign they knew the Gospel was going to the Gentiles, and Gentiles did not have to become Jews first and then be converted. But many Jewish people who grew up under the dietary laws of the Law of Moses could not quickly make the transition to eat pork or to purchase meat that may have come from a pagan temple. The instructed and maturing believer knows that the dietary laws do not apply—we are not under Law. In time the new believer will realize the teaching and perhaps be able to make the break—or, some may simply have a problem with this throughout their lives because of a long tradition in it.
But Paul says the instructed and mature believer must not look down on the other who has problems with this. And, the person who cannot eat must not be critical of the one who does. They have to think of this as a family—there are some things the children have to learn before they have the freedom of adults. Or in the imagery of slavery from the Roman world, the other person is accepted by God—a slave of God (as Romans has argued)—and you cannot judge another person’s slave. It is presumption and spiritual pride to judge another Christian in such areas. God will deal with each person where change is necessary, for God is able to make him stand. This is a hard lesson to learn because of human nature. Some think they are mature and they look down on others; and some who are struggling with things become very critical of others whom they think are worldly. If both people are walking with the Lord, in the Word, and conscientiously trying to grow as a body, these attitudes cannot be there.
Paul now introduces the principle of faith. He uses the example now of holy days. The mature Christian considers all days alike. Certain days may be set aside for various purposes, but according to Paul’s teachings in Colossians and elsewhere, one day is not more holy than another as in the Jewish calendar. Or, to put it another way, if it is wrong to do something on one of these “holy days” it is wrong to do it any day. But some might consider some days more holy, and they need those structures to order their spiritual conduct and life. There are dozens of examples. One person may have grown up in a strict home where nothing could be done on Sunday. But after he or she grew in their own convictions, that was not such a binding restriction, although they still might not do certain things on Sunday because there are other Christians out there who would be bothered by it. Or, some people need the period of Lent for their amendment of life. If it is helpful for spiritual growth, fine. But if someone gives something up for lent, that has to be explained properly. If one needed to give it up in Christian piety, perhaps it should have been given up earlier—why wait till lent? There is much more to all of this, of course, but these are the kinds of issues Paul is addressing in this passage. The main point is that we are not all the same in our outlook on spiritual growth—how it is to be developed and what our convictions are; and if we start judging and criticizing others for the way they see it, or considering ourselves more spiritual, then that is wrong. Remember, we are talking here about doubtful things. This teaching of acceptance would not apply for someone teaching what is clearly false doctrine, or someone living in what the Bible clearly says is sin.
Paul’s principle for doubtful things is this: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” It is a matter of personal convictions based on faith. You dare not do something if you have serious doubts about it—that is not walking by faith. So you are to think through your practice, be sure that you are doing it in the full conviction that right now in your spiritual life that is what you should be doing, and do it for the Lord (not because others think you should). Believers are to be examining everything they do, and they are to be sure that what they do they can do with a clear conscience. If there is hesitation or uncertainty or doubts, then it may be wrong to do it. Questionable things are wrong if they are indeed questionable.
Here again Paul is applying the teaching of the book. We are not under Law, but under grace. What is on the table is not important; it is what is in the heart that makes the difference. It is always a matter of walking by faith. We cannot live our lives apart from Jesus Christ; so that is our main concern as we decide if what we are doing is by faith. Can I do this for the Lord? Can I give him thanks for it? Will it honor and glorify him?
It is, after all, Christ who died for our sins. If I do things that I believe are wrong, I am not responding to the Lord in the proper way. That would include sinning against my conscience, or judging others. The bottom line is that each one of us is accountable before God. Each of us must one day stand before the Lord where our deeds—not the guilt of our sins—will be examined. This is usually referred to in Paul as the “judgment seat (bema seat) of Christ” where rewards are given out for faithfulness, an examination that differs greatly from the Great Judgment. 2
So in view of the fact that each one of us is accountable to the Lord and not to one another, then we should forbear judging one another. Learn to accept one another. I must reiterate here, however, that Paul is talking about doubtful things. If a brother is teaching heresy, or living in sin, or overtaken in a fault, then our responsibilities are different.
Our main concern is not to put a stumblingblock in some one’s way. If I have freedom in Christ, I cannot use that freedom if it will offend and make a young Christian do something against his conscience. I may in love have to relinquish my rights. The analogy of a parent and a child works well here. Sometimes when a parent is training a child, that parent cannot do things in front of the child that the child cannot do. It will be too confusing, and perhaps dangerous.
So rather than hurt another Christian who is trying to grow, we must be willing to refrain from things that offend. After all, Christ was willing to die for the weak—he did not think equality with God was something to be grasped or held on to, but he relinquished the use of the privileges of deity for our sake (Phil. 2).
On the other hand, Paul says, do not allow what you consider good to be evil spoken of. Your Christian liberty is a wonderful privilege for maturity in the faith; but if by exercising it people will call it worldliness or evil, you have to be concerned about that. We always should have other believers in mind when we choose our applications. The goal of all our activities is the good of the Kingdom of God—righteousness, peace, and joy.
This is a rather extended section with several major points being made. But the common theme running through it is the peace, unity and mutual edification within the body of Christ. Anything that destroys peace, unity and mutual edification has to be addressed.
In verse 19 Paul makes this point, reiterating the warning not to cause others to fall. “Let us make every effort” is certainly a call for diligence in these things. Indifference to the spiritual growth of others is unacceptable. We must press toward the goal of spiritual values—righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit—for these build up and do not destroy the body. If you have personal convictions that differ from others, keep them to yourself unless asked, or unless the issue comes up. Whatever you do, do it by faith, because to do it with doubting is sin, and your conscience will condemn you in that. The believer must be able to look back on his or her activities without any qualms of conscience. Vincent writes, “Christian practice ought to be out of the sphere of morbid introspection.” Or as Paul says it, “Blessed is the one whose conscience approves that which he approved before the act was performed.”
So the believer is saved by faith; and the believer walks by faith. Any conduct or any act (in the area of personal living and choices) which is not the outflow of faith becomes sin for the believer. Now Paul had earlier said (8:1) that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; but here he seems to say the one who sins is condemned. Obviously he is not contradicting himself. The condemnation spoken of here is from the conscience that condemns for sin; earlier the condemnation referred to final judgment of sinners.
When a believer sins and does not confess several things happen—conviction, guilt feelings, separation in fellowship with Christ, usefulness to God at risk, prayers not answered, chastening likely—just to name some of the major things. They are still in the family of God, but their joy, fellowship, and service is hindered by unconfessed sin. So in the area of doubtful things Christians must be sure to walk by faith.
What Paul is concerned with here, I remind you, is a body of true believers in Jesus Christ who are struggling with matters of conduct. He also had to deal with the presence of Judaizers in some of the Christian groups, people who opposed the truth and tried to teach new converts false doctrine (sort of trying to straighten out what Paul was trying to say). Paulwas not at all interested in bonding in peace and unity with them.
So beginning in chapter 15 he tells us not just to please ourselves but to bear with those who are weak. The first three verses give another discussion of the weaker brother. Since our chief concern is with the good of others, we are not to be pleased with their detriment or loss. When they are hurting, troubled, confused, we dare not gloat in our self-sufficiency—even if they should have been more mature by now! Paul supports this point with a citation from the messianic Psalm 69 to say that Christ did not seek to please himself; he served others and bore their burdens.
The samples Paul has been using really do come from the difficulty of uniting Jew and Gentile in Christ in the first century, as indeed much of the argument of Romans has addressed. But the principles they teach are applicable in any period and any culture. Now, in the rest of the chapter he will cite Scriptures for our edification that show the unity of the faith.
The use of the verse in verse 3 from Psalm 69:9 prompted Paul to stress a point that might be missed—the Old Testament Scripture is certainly applicable for us today. The Old Covenant and the Law of Moses may not be operable as the ordering structure of the Church; but what the Law revealed—the righteousness of God—is timeless truth. Some have made the helpful distinction that the Law was both revelatory and regulatory (not different passages, but each law regulated and revealed); the regulatory aspect is not binding because it usually regulated how Israel was to carry out the principle, but the revelatory, the revealed truth or principle behind the regulation, is timeless because it reveals the will of God. One of the main problems of modern Christianity is its ignorance of the Old Testament, whether by misuse or by simple avoidance. But once the Old Testament is studied in this way, one can see how the principles can also apply to us today.
The Old Testament gives us encouragement and teaches endurance. Therefore Paul prays that the God who gives encouragement and endurance grant us the spirit of unity (vv 5,6), so that with one heart and one mouth we may glorify God. Here is an important point: the praise should express the unity of the faith. Of, to put it another way, in glorifying God all the little walls that separate will fall down—if praise is biblical praise and not entertainment or show. A farmer in Iowa was once asked if all the fences didn’t mar the landscape. He agreed that they did, but also said that when the corn grew high they couldn’t see the fences. The differences between believers should be hidden by fruitful lives filled with praise.
Verse 7 gives some pretty basic advice: accept one another as Christ accepted you, and work patiently with one another as Christ works with you. This will change our attitudes to other people. Here are individuals for whom Jesus died—just as He did for me; and here are individuals that our Lord graciously accepts and develops. I am no better than they, and certainly do not have an inside track on divine favor. Here is the spirit of unity.
And there can be no superiority over Jew and Gentile issues, as the early Church had to learn. Paul’s reasoning is that the Son of God became a Jew to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, in order that the Gentiles (“all the families of the earth”) might glorify God for his mercy. In support of this Paul strings together a series of passages from the Old Testament that show God’s plans to include the Gentiles in the praise of God. His first passage is from Psalm 18:49 where praise to God comes among the Gentiles. He then uses Deuteronomy 32:43, Moses’ song with the panoramic view of God’s eternal program. Then he works in the shortest psalm, Psalm 117, which is a call for Jew and Gentile to praise the Lord. And then he adds Isaiah 11:10 to show that even though the Messiah will spring from Jesse, he will rule over the nations. It was clearly God’s plan that Gentiles should come to faith in the Messiah.
Paul stops to offer a benediction, for the main themes of his epistle end here. “The God of Hope” is a new and marvelous title for the Lord. The hope comes through the power of the Holy Spirit (5:2), and it will fill the believer with joy and peace. Only God can take people who are lost in sin and spiritually dead, save them by His grace, sanctify them by His Spirit, put them into service within the body of believers, and fill them with joy and peace. From beginning to end it is a work of grace by the power of the Spirit. It is up to us to respond by faith every step of the way, for faith accepts the word and the work of the Lord and transforms it into reality.
As Paul leaves the doctrinal section of the book he picks up the personal note with which he began the epistle, in which he expressed his desire to visit Rome.
Paul was convinced of their maturity in the faith; but he wrote boldly to them on some points because of the grace that God had given him to be a minister to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel. Here he adopts the language of the Levitical priesthood and the Temple to stress the point that he was to make the Gentiles an acceptable offering to God, sanctified by the Spirit. Paul gave the Gospel; the Lord gave the Spirit when they believed. It is hard for us today to understand the tensions of this ministry by a Jew to Gentiles; but because of it we who are Gentiles have entered into all that the Gospel implies.
So in verse 17-22 Paul affirms that his main task has been to preach the Gospel, that his ministry is Christ-centered. He glories in Christ and what Christ has done, and will take no credit for himself. Many ministers today could learn from this. Paul does not lack conviction or confidence; but there is no personal assumption in it—he has it only in relation to Christ. God gave him the ministry as an apostle; and God gave signs and wonders to them as credentials for the early church. If Paul raised someone from the dead, or healed, or converted the Gentiles—that was the work of the Lord through him.
Paul had no spirit of competition with other ministers; he was not interested in taking over works that others had started. To him there were so many Gentiles who had not yet heard, that he knew his calling was to preach the Gospel to them. This is the point of the quotation from Isaiah 52:15. The implication for the Church of Rome is that it apparently had no apostolic founding apart from Paul who preached to those who migrated to Rome and formed a church. If another apostle had founded it, Paul would not have been eager to write to them or visit them to preach the Gospel. Thus, Paul was probably the apostle of influence for the Roman Church.
Paul’s plans are disclosed in verses 23-29. He was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the money collected for the poor there, and then he was going to go to Spain. On his way to Spain he planned to stop in Rome and enjoy some fellowship with them. Paul had a particular concern to help the believers in Jerusalem who were facing hard times—before his conversion he had wasted that church with his persecutions. He insisted on taking the gift to them personally (see Acts 24:17 as well as 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). The reasoning for the contribution was that if the Gentiles had shared in the spiritual blessing that came through the Jews, then they should contribute to the needs of the Jews in return. This was foreign missions in reverse!
But he needed their prayers. This was a difficult journey. He could be in danger from the unbelievers, the Jews who wanted to destroy him. And his gift from Gentiles might not be well received by the believers. Paul is probably full of uncertainties about his escaping alive; he therefore wants them to agonize in prayer—strive earnestly—over this issue. Of course the prayer was answered, his life was spared, he finished his course. He did come to Rome—after he spent two years patiently in jail at Caesarea, then endured a shipwreck at Malta, and then finally arrived in Rome—in chains (Acts 28:16-31). Did Paul find joy and peace and refreshment when he came to Rome. Yes, but not as he had hoped. His joy was full while under house arrest in Rome. Paul knew God’s peace down in a prison, in chains, or in shipwreck. In Rome he could write,
“I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
The last chapter of the book is an extensive list of personal greetings with many explanatory comments included. It has been said that Paul here leaves the mountain peaks of doctrine to come down to the pavement of Rome. Here is witness to the fact that the faith was being lived out by these people.
Phoebe is the first believer mentioned in this list. She was a Greek woman. She was the bearer of this epistle—she was entrusted with the whole future of Christian theology! She receives here several commendations: she was a sister in the Lord, a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea (9 miles from Corinth), and she was most helpful in the work of the Lord.
First of the Roman Christians are Priscilla and Aquila—Paul’s fellow workers. At great risk to themselves they worked in ministry, discipled young Christians, and opened their home for the church to meet in. When Claudius had sent Jews from Rome, they had come to Corinth where they met Paul, and accompanied him to Ephesus where they taught Apollos. Here they are back in Rome, either in defiance of the edict or after it had ended. Because of the order of their names, it is likely that Priscilla was the most forthright in active ministry.
According to verse 5, an assembly of believers met at their house. Also there was Paul’s first convert in Asia—Epenetus.
Verse 7 mentions Andronicus and Junia, fellow prisoners with Paul, Jews. Some debate persists here over the name Junia. Junia can be either masculine or feminine, and so we really do not know if this is a man or a woman. Those who argue for its being a woman’s name contend that here we have a woman who was a fellow apostle, because they were said to be “outstanding among the apostles.” But while some take this to mean that they were apostles, that also is not very clear. The line could easily mean that they had an excellent reputation among the apostles. Paul had apparently met them in one of his prison terms; they were wonderful believers with high regard by the Church.
The rest of this section has an extended list of names of people that Paul knew, loved, and appreciated for their stand in the faith and service to the Lord. There is much interest in the meanings of the names and the identification of these people. For example, Bishop Lightfoot identified Aristobulus of verse 10 as the grandson of Herod the Great. The people mentioned here than might have been slaves of his household. Narcissus was a well-known freedman who was put to death by Agrippina. These were probably slaves who belonged to him and had therefore taken his name.
Rufus (v. 13) was probably the son of Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21). Mark wrote for the Romans and Rufus was well known in the Roman Church. The father of Rufus had carried the cross for Jesus; the mother of Rufus had been a mother to the apostle Paul. What a family!
Paul tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss. Men kissed men; women kissed women, as a Near-Eastern expression of love and unity. Many customs today of believers greeting each other and sharing the peace come dangerously close to overstepping some bounds of propriety.
The saints are commended to the unity within Christ. There were people causing divisions and scandals contrary to sound doctrine. They were to be avoided. The specific form of these descriptions suggests that Paul had something definite in mind—and they would know it. A troublemaker is to be avoided in the church (compare 2 Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 1:10). These were clever people, smooth talking, flattering “saints” as they appeared; but they were self seeking. Note the irony of his words: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under his feet. In the meantime Christians are to resist the Devil, be sober and vigilant.
Timothy, of course, is well-known to us. Tertius is the man who wrote down the letter Paul was dictating. Paul probably wrote Galatians in his own hand; but elsewhere he employed an amanuensis.
This is the third and final benediction of the book. The focus of it is the gospel—”Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” Here is the means by which God changes lives. The mystery is probably the present age of the gospel when God is taking both Jew and Gentile and fashioning them into one body. This has been Paul’s concern in much of the book, as indeed in much of his ministry. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, the “prophets” mentioned here as “now” revealing this truth are likely the New Testament writers. Paul then returns to his theme of the wisdom of God—all of it, from beginning to end, is the divine plan that is beyond our comprehension. We can only stand amazed at the wisdom of God. “To God alone wise” means that God sets the standards of wisdom. In fact, the cross is the wisdom of God, even though it seems foolishness to mankind. Paul affirmed that he preached Christ—the power of God and the wisdom of God, for the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:21-25).
1. What are some of the “doubtful things” that have become issues in the churches or areas of Christianity in which you have moved?
2. Can you think through some of modern Christianity with its many splinter groups and discover what has divided Christians into denominations. Which of them were probably legitimate reasons for separating to different forms of Christianity (whether or not they did it with peace or animosity)? Which of them were disgraceful reasons and likewise were handled poorly?
3. Think of all the ways in the New Testament that Christian love will manifest itself. You might have to get the help of a concordance. But what would Christianity look like if all the saints in the churches manifested genuine love for one another? Get a Bible concordance and look up all the New Testament verses with “one another” in them. You may wish to start in these chapters with the ideas of relinquishing rights, mutual edification, collection for the poor, and the like.
4. Some time you should write your own Romans 16. Make a list, as if in corresponding, of all the Christians who have had an impact on your spiritual life—no matter how small, or how great, whether you knew them, or just heard about them. The list will grow and grow—but it will reveal how the Lord works through the different parts of his body, to bring about unity in the faith through spiritual growth.
5. When you think through the way that God calls people and gives them spiritual gifts and uses them in his program, that calls for some evaluation and commitment. So, what should we do, next, now, today? Always ask yourself, “Why am I on earth and not in heaven?” The LORD obviously has something for us to do here before taking us to glory.