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C. The Basis and the Benefits of Justification (Romans 3:27-5:1-21)

Introduction

I recently had the privilege of visiting an elderly man who was thought to be dying. When I arrived at the hospital, it was believed that he had only a couple of days to live. He was lying in his bed, almost asleep, when my wife and I entered his room. Unsure of how mentally alert and coherent he was or even if he would remember me, I introduced myself to him as though he would not know me. He was almost offended that I would think he had forgotten who I was. I was surprised when he said, “You remember that you have a job to do.” The “job” was his funeral. The last time I had visited him he requested that I perform his funeral service, and we had discussed his relationship with God and matters concerning his service. Most certainly he had not forgotten me, and he hoped that I had not forgotten him nor the job I had promised to do for him.

Knowing that he could be near death, and yet not knowing this for certain, I was reluctant to speak of his funeral as though it could be imminent. Choosing my words carefully so as to be honest and yet cautious, I responded, “Well, when the time comes, I’ll be glad to do it.” This delightful 95-year old man looked at me, not nearly as fuzzy in his thinking as I was in my speech, and replied, “Well, we don’t live forever, you know.”

What an encouragement the directness of this elderly man was to me as he faced his own death—and yet how unusual. I have seen many deny any thought or reference to death, even when death was imminent. I have watched a dying woman refuse to even talk with me about her death, blocking out her thoughts by reading movie magazines and talking of trivial matters as though she would live forever. Dealing honestly with our own death truly frees us, enabling us to go about our lives realistically and with hope, especially when we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Our text in Romans deals with much more than death. The argument of the Book of Romans is not the development of one single idea; it is more like a musical composition, in that it is the development of a number of themes, all intertwined. A musical composition has a dominant musical theme, combined with other themes which accompany and complement the melody. Each of Paul’s sections seem to have a primary theme, which in that section becomes the melody line. The other themes are interwoven with the central melody, but in a subordinate role. In a musical composition, different melody lines emerge, and then subside, so that the final piece gives prominence to different themes at different times. So, too, in Romans. As the book unfolds, each of the book’s theme are strengthened and enhanced.

Some of the more prominent themes in Romans are: (1) the righteousness of God; (2) the sinfulness and condemnation of man; (3) the righteous shall live by faith; (4) the equality of Jews and Gentiles in Christ; (5) the distinct ways in which God has dealt with Jews and Gentiles in history; (6) the sovereignty of God; (7) the obedience of faith; (8) the role of the Old Testament Law, and (9) the relationship between faith and works. There are other themes as well.

In this particular section, the “melody line” is the theme of boasting. The prideful boasting of the Jews is rebuked in chapter 2 and shown to be without biblical basis in chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 5 Paul gives the Christian three legitimate avenues of boasting, all boasting in the Lord—in His faithfulness, in His love, and in the assurance of entering into the blessings of justification by faith which He has promised.

While chapters 4 and 5 dovetail to form one message, they each also have a unique emphasis, so that the two chapters can be seen in distinction to each other. Consider the following distinct points of emphasis:

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Abraham and his children

Adam, Jesus Christ, and their children

Man’s required faith

God’s faithfulness

The basis of justification

The benefits of justification

Abraham’s resurrection faith

Our resurrection faith

Boasting denied

Boasting defined

Our Overall Approach to the Study of Romans

Our approach to this study of the Book of Romans will cover the content of Romans 1-16 three times. In the first lesson, we looked at the Book of Romans as a whole. Now, in lessons 2-6, we are surveying Romans section by section:

Lesson 2

Romans 1:1–3:26

Lesson 3

Romans 3:27–5:21

Lesson 4

Romans 6:1–8:39

Lesson 5

Romans 9:1–11:36

Lesson 6

Romans 12:1–16:27

Finally, from lesson 7 on we will be studying Romans verse by verse, beginning with a study of Romans 1:1-17. My purpose in the present sectional overview (lessons 2-6) is to trace the flow of Paul’s argument through the entire Book of Romans, section by section.

As we survey Romans a section at a time, it is not possible to put the material together in a neat, sermon-like package. A sermon generally seeks to develop one theme. While this approach has its advantages, it simply will not do justice to Romans, and to the ongoing development of a number of important biblical themes. Thus, I find myself agonizing a great deal in my efforts to communicate my understanding of the argument of Romans. I have chosen to press on with our survey of the sections of Romans in this way: (1) To identify what the sections of Romans are; (2) to summarize the main thrust of each section; (3) to look at the section as a whole, noting the themes which Paul has woven together, and how they flow from the preceding section to that which follows; (4) to attempt to gain a sense of Paul’s emphasis; (5) to begin to explore the practical implications of Paul’s primary concepts.

Our Purpose in This Lesson

Our purpose in this lesson will be to identify the major thought segments or paragraphs in this section of Romans (3:27–5:21). We will then summarize the main point which Paul is trying to communicate in each segment. Next, we will seek to trace the argument as Paul develops it. Finally, we will try to determine the main points of emphasis or principles conveyed by the passage as a whole, pointing out some suggested applications in the process.

In this we find ourselves in one of the richest portions of God’s Word, so let us proceed prayerfully, carefully, and in dependence upon God’s Spirit for illumination, understanding, and implementation (application).

Structure of the Text

The last verses of chapter 3 (27-31) serve as a transition, linking what Paul has just said in 1:1–3:26 to the following chapters. Three major questions are raised and only briefly answered. More complete answers follow in chapters 4 and following. Chapter 4 focuses our attention on Abraham, and specifically on his faith, a faith which is virtually identical with the faith of New Testament believers in Jesus Christ. Chapter 5 provides us with a fuller description of our justification, along with its present and future dimensions. In the last half of chapter 5, Paul draws our attention to two men: Adam and Jesus Christ, showing that the painful consequences of Adam’s sin have been overcome and even reversed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We can therefore outline our text in this way:

(1) Transition—No Basis for Boasting (3:27-31)

(2) Abraham—No Basis for Boasting (4:1-25)

  • He was justified by his faith, not works (4:1-8)
  • He is the father of all who have faith (4:9-17)
  • His faith, like ours, was a resurrection faith (4:18-25)

(3) Boasting in the Lord (5:1-21)

  • We boast in the hope of the glory of God (5:1-2)
  • We boast in our present tribulations (5:3-10)
  • We boast in God, through Jesus Christ (5:11-21)

The Key to
Understanding What Follows
(3:27-31)

This transitional paragraph follows up Paul’s teaching on man’s need for justification by faith. It proceeds to build on the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ to explore the nature of justification.

All mankind, due to their rejection of God’s revelation, have been given over to sinful practices, which are a manifestation of divine wrath. Jews and Gentiles alike fail to meet God’s standards, and thus are worthy of His wrath. When Jesus died at Calvary, He suffered the wrath of God, divine condemnation, which all mankind deserves. Every sinner, Old Testament or New, Jew or Gentile, is justified by faith in Jesus as their sin-bearer. In His death Jesus Christ satisfied God’s righteous anger (propitiation is the theological term for the satisfaction of God’s anger, see Romans 3:25), and He also offers justified sinners a righteousness which men could never merit or earn by their works.

Paul now raises three crucial questions in verses 27-31 to which he initially gives a very brief answer. In chapter 4, Paul will begin to answer these questions in much greater detail. The first question is found in verse 27, where the question of boasting is raised. Given the condemnation of all men, Jew and Gentile alike, and the fact that justification is based upon faith in Christ’s work and not our own works, how can any man find reason to boast on his own behalf? In chapter 4, Paul turns to Abraham, to show that even this saint of old was justified by faith and not by his own works. If Abraham could not boast, then how could any Jew boast because he was a descendant of Abraham?

The second question is found in verses 29: “Is justification by faith only for the Jews?” If so, then the Jews could boast in having something which Gentiles did not and could not possess. Paul’s answer is that salvation is offered to all men, whether Jew or Gentile, and that salvation is always based on faith. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in justification, just as there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in condemnation.

In Romans 4:9-17, Paul uses Abraham to prove that even in Old Testament times, God did not save only the circumcised (only His “chosen people,” the Jews). Abraham lived before the Law had been given through Moses. He also was declared (reckoned) righteous on the basis of his faith and not as payment for his works. Furthermore, Abraham was not even circumcised at the time he was reckoned as righteous in the sight of God. We might say that he was saved as a Gentile. Can the uncircumcised be justified by faith, as well as the circumcised? Abraham was uncircumcised, and he was justified by faith. And so the answer to the question raised, and briefly answered by Paul in Romans 3:29-30, is given a more complete answer in chapter 4.

The third question, raised and answered in verse 31 is this: “If justification is by faith, apart from Law-keeping, then is the Law useless and worthless?” The answer is short and to the point: “Not at all! We affirm the worth and value of the Law.” The value of the Law of Moses will be spelled out in several different ways, beginning in Romans 4 where Paul tells us that apart from the Law, sin is not defined, and thus the men of those times were not charged with any specific sin. In order for sin to be dealt with and put away, it would first have to be defined. The Law performed this task well. This will be taken up in chapters 5-8.

The Faith of Our Father, Abraham
(4:1-25)

Paul’s teaching from the life of Abraham in Romans 4 falls into three major sections:

(1) Abraham’s child: by faith, not works (4:1-8)

(2) Abraham’s “children”: by faith, not works (4:9-17)

(3) Abraham’s “children”: and resurrection faith (4:18-25)

In Romans 1, Paul virtually confessed to the Roman saints that the purpose of his letter was to “boast” about the gospel. He did not say this directly, but I believe this is what he implied. After all, to be ashamed is the opposite of boasting. If Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” (1:16), then he was eager to boast of it. Elsewhere in this epistle (see 15:17), and in his other epistles (see 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:14), Paul boasts only in the Lord and in that which He has accomplished. In Romans 2 Paul turned to those Jews who prided themselves because of what they viewed as their privileged position and chided them for boasting, first, in God, because they have the name “Jew” (2:17), and Second, in the Law (2:23). After showing all men to be sinners, under divine condemnation, judged or justified without partiality, Paul challenges man’s boasting by asking who could dare to boast (3:27). Men have nothing to boast in, at least before God.

Has Paul successfully demonstrated that men dare not boast in their own works, that all men are condemned by a righteous God? There may still be some who would attempt to boast in their ancestry. At least some Jews boasted in their physical descent from Abraham. In the Gospels we find them boasting in their identity as “the sons of Abraham” (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, 39). And so, in chapter 4, Paul turns to Abraham. He begins by raising the question as to whether or not Abraham could boast in his works. If so, then justification by faith would be of no need or value. But if it can be proven that even Abraham could not boast in his righteousness, then none of his descendants could boast in Abraham either. If Abraham could not boast himself, how could any offspring of Abraham boast for being his offspring?

Abraham was not an exceptional case. Paul therefore also turned to Psalm 32, written by David, to show that David, like Abraham, understood that men were made righteous by God, through faith, and not by human effort or works. David’s psalm, based on his own experience, testified to his painful knowledge of man’s sinfulness. In spite of his great sin, however, David could rejoice as one of those whose “sins” and “lawless deeds” were forgiven. This was not by the doing of any good works or by law-keeping, but solely on the basis of God’s grace. Neither Abraham, nor King David, dared to boast about their standing before God as righteous men, for they had not earned it; they were reckoned righteous because of their faith.

Nevertheless, some Jews might still seek to squeeze a little pride out of their ancestry by convincing themselves that whatever the basis for Abraham’s righteousness, it was a righteousness available only to his physical descendants. Righteousness by faith, some Jews might argue, was available only to God’s chosen people, the “seed of Abraham.” Thus, in some collective way, the Jews had access to righteousness, while the Gentiles did not. Were this true, then the Jews would have some basis for boasting. Paul will make very short work of this kind of thinking.

Paul responds by calling attention to the setting and the circumstances of the occasion when Abraham’s faith was “reckoned as righteousness” by God (4:5). Abraham lived before the Law was given through Moses, so he could not be a Law-keeper. Furthermore, he was justified while he was uncircumcised. The promise of a son was first given to Abraham at the age of 75 (Genesis 12:4) and more specifically in a later appearance by God (Genesis 15:1-6). It was at this time that Abraham was said to have believed in God’s promise and that his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. He would have had to have been no more than 86 years of age at this time (see Genesis 16:16). Abraham was not circumcised until after the birth of Ishmael, when he was then 99 years old and Ishmael was 13 (17:23-25). Nearly 15 years separated Abraham’s conversion from the time of his circumcision. And all of this time Abraham was a believer, justified by his faith. For Abraham, as for all believing Jews, circumcision was only an outward sign or symbol of the justification by faith he already possessed.

Abraham was promised that he would be a “father of many nations” (see 4:17). Paul here declares that he was not to be boasted in as a “father” in a mere physical sense; rather, he would become the “father” of anyone who, like him, exercised faith in God. Those who can legitimately claim Abraham as their father are those who have exercised the same faith. And so not all Jews are truly “Abraham’s children.”15 Likewise, those Gentiles who have trusted in Jesus Christ for justification are truly “Abraham’s sons.” As “Abraham’s seed,” these sons all look forward to the blessings which God promised to Abraham and to his “seed.” Truly he was the “father of many nations.”

Paul has shown Abraham to have been justified by faith and not works, and apart from the works of the Law or the ritual of circumcision. He has shown that those who are his physical descendants may not really be his children, while all those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are his children. Now Paul will conclude by showing just how close the relationship between Old Testament faith and New Testament faith really is. He will show that New Testament believers (Jew or Gentile) are not only linked to Abraham by faith, but that they are linked to Abraham by the same kind of faith—resurrection faith.

Abraham believed God’s promise concerning his “seed” and concerning God’s blessings through his “seed.” Initially, this meant Abraham must have a son. Abraham, by faith, believed he and Sarah would bear a son, even though they were too old to do so. On the basis of Abraham’s faith, he was reckoned to be righteous by God. But a number of years would pass before this promised son was born. Abraham and Sarah were up in years when the promise of a child was first given. They were “as good as dead” with regard to having children by the time Sarah actually conceived and gave birth to Isaac. For Abraham to believe that God would give him and Sarah a son was to believe in a God who could give life to the dead. This is resurrection faith, the same kind of faith which Christians must exercise today. As we see often in the Book of Acts (23:6-20), it was the resurrection which caused the Jewish unbelievers of Paul’s day such difficulty.

In Romans 4, Abraham has been used as an example of Old Testament faith in such a way as to show that the Jews cannot boast in their physical descent from this man. In order to be declared righteous by God, they must forsake any claim to Law-works or to a privileged status. They must, like Abraham, the uncircumcised saint, be justified by faith. They must recognize that both Jews and Gentiles can claim Abraham as their father if they have a resurrection faith, like Abraham’s. There are no grounds for boasting as a descendent of Abraham. The proper grounds for boasting will be laid down in chapter 5.

Another Melody Line

Before we consider the three categories of boasting Paul encourages, let us carefully note another development, another “melody line.” Until now, Paul has spoken mainly of our sin, of its resulting condemnation, and of the righteousness of God in condemning sin in men, and also in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, thus providing for man’s justification. Just exactly what justification involves has not yet been explained in detail. Paul will now begin to undertake that explanation, and he will continue to do so throughout the remainder of this epistle. By faith we have received justification, Paul has said. But so far, justification has been a kind of package, one which has not yet been opened. Now, in chapter 5, Paul begins to unwrap the package and to display the blessings and benefits of all that it contains.16 At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul describes the benefits of justification as “peace with God” (verse 1) and an “introduction by faith into the realm of grace” (verse 2), a realm in which we are firmly footed (“stand,” verse 2).

A Biblical Basis for Boasting
(5:1-21)

The theme of boasting is not immediately evident in Romans 5:1-21. This is because of the way in which the various translations of the Bible have veiled Paul’s references to “boasting” by their translations of verses 2, 3, and 11 of chapter 5. Below, you can see the different ways in which three of the major translations of the Bible have rendered the same term17 in the original text of Romans:

Reference

King James

NIV

NASB

2:17, 23

boast

brag

boast

3:27

boast

boasting

boasting

4:2

glory

boast

boast

5:2

rejoice

rejoice

exult

5:3

glory

rejoice

exult

5:11

joy

rejoice

exult

15:17

glory

glory

boasting

In its various forms, the term “boast” is found 58 times in the New Testament. All but two of the verses in which the term is found are in the Pauline epistles (the other two are found in Hebrews and James). Of its 58 occurrences, the term is rendered “boast” (or “boasts,” “boasting,” etc.) 46 times. “Exult” is a rendering found only four times in the New Testament, three of which are found in Romans 5 (verses 2, 3, 11). Note from the chart above the ways in which the same term is rendered in three translations. In chapter 5, the NIV (“rejoice”) and the NASB (“exult”) at least translate the term in all three verses with the same English word; the KJV renders each of the three terms differently (“rejoice, glory, joy”).18

In his introduction, Paul has already expressed his desire to boast about God (by not being ashamed of the gospel, but rather wishing to proclaim it in Rome and around the world). He has also rebuked the Jews for boasting in their “Jewish distinctives” (the name “Jew” and the Law). Having shown that Abraham could not boast, because he was justified by faith, Paul has also prevented the Jews (who descended from Abraham and who boasted in him as their father) from boasting in being the “sons of Abraham.” Now, in chapter 5, Paul turns to those things in which a true “son of Abraham” can and must boast.

The three categories of boasting which Paul describes are introduced in verses 2, 3, and 11 by the term almost always rendered “boast” elsewhere, but here by the term “exult” (NASB; “rejoice,” NIV). We are to boast (1) in the “hope of the glory of God” (verse 2); (2) “in our tribulations” (verse 3); and (3) “in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 11). Viewed from the perspective of time,19 our boasting is future, present, and past. We can boast in the future, confident that we shall spend eternity enjoying the “glory of God.” We can boast in the present—even in tribulation—for it confirms our hope of the future and deepens our grasp of God’s love. And we can boast in the past, when Jesus Christ died and was raised again on our behalf, canceling out the effects of Adam’s sin and our identity in him. Let us now consider these three avenues of boasting.

    Boasting in the Future: The Hope of the Glory of God

Those who have been justified by faith may first of all boast in the glorious future which awaits them. This future is summed up in the expression, “the hope of the glory of God” (verse 2). In chapter 2, Paul spoke of the reward of the righteous as “glory,” “honor,” “immortality,” “and eternal life” (2:7) and “glory” and “honor” and “peace” (2:10). None of this was ever earned by man, for all mankind is justly declared to be unrighteous and thus unworthy of these blessings. Paul sums up what man has lost in chapter 3: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

That which all mankind has lost hope of gaining, due to sin, is summed up in the expression, “the glory of God.” And so now the benefits of justification are referred to as “the hope of the glory of God.” What men could never hope for because of sin, Christians may now boast in by being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

    Boasting in the Present: Hope in Our Tribulations

Justification promises far more than “pie in the sky, bye and bye.” Justification results in a boasting in our present circumstances, even when they are grim and painful. Paul does not speak of “peace and prosperity” here, but of hope in the midst of adversity. Tribulation is not seen as the unusual experience of the few, but as the normal experience of the many. As he wrote elsewhere, “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

In Romans 5, Paul is speaking of far more than simply the adversity of rejection and persecution of fallen and unbelieving men to which he is referring in the passage above. He is speaking of the sufferings which are the result of living in a fallen world, as described in greater detail in Romans 8.

Affliction causes the roots of our faith to sink deep into the soil of God’s character and His promises. The trials of this life turn us toward God, and when we do turn to Him, we find Him faithful. The more we suffer, the more we must turn to Him in utter helplessness and dependence. The more He proves Himself faithful, the more confident we become of His faithfulness. And thus, the more sure our future hope becomes, because of His faithfulness in the hardest times of our lives (Romans 5:3-4).

For the Christian, adversities in life are the “test track” on which God’s work in us is shown to endure and on which He is shown trustworthy. Just as the automobile manufacturer puts their new products to the test, to show that they are roadworthy, so God puts His children to the test, to perfect our faith, and to prove His faithfulness. Present tribulation strengthens our faith and our hope of the “glory of God.”

Our hope is also strengthened in the present by a growing understanding and appreciation for the love of God (5:5-10). The Holy Spirit indwells the believer, and one of His tasks is His ministry of dispensing the love of God in our hearts. As we go about our daily lives, the Holy Spirit turns our attention to the love of God which has been poured out within our hearts. The basis of this love is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.20

God loved us “while we were yet sinners.” He did not wait until we were holy. (If He had, He would still be waiting). He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to identify with humanity by adding humanity to His deity. He died on the cross of Calvary, taking the place of the sinner, and bearing the penalty for sin, enduring God’s wrath. This is love of a much higher kind than men can comprehend. Few men would die for one who was righteous or for a good man, but no man would die for a reprobate. This Jesus did, as the expression of God’s love. And if God loved fallen men this much, how much greater His love will be toward His child! This reality is that which the Holy Spirit conveys internally to the child of God. The love of the Father is seen through the Son, on the cross of Calvary, and this love is conveyed by the Holy Spirit to the believer.

    Boasting With Respect to the Past: Exchanging Our Identity

I have always been amused by the eagerness of the Jews of Jesus’ day to identify themselves with Abraham, to be viewed as his children. I have noted that none of these Jews ever wanted to be identified with Jacob (whom God named Israel, Genesis 35:10). Paul has shown in chapter 4 that any Jew or Gentile can be identified as a son of Abraham, but only by faith and not by works. Now, Paul turns to the matter of one’s identity and shows that it is a matter of one’s choice between two individuals, Adam or Jesus Christ, the “first Adam,” so to speak, or the “last” (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

Did the Jews wish to boast in Abraham as their father, in such a way as to set themselves apart and above others? Let them go all the way back, to their first father, indeed, to the father of all men. Our righteousness cannot be derived from one of our forefathers, like Abraham, but sin is a different matter. The sinfulness of all mankind, Jew or Gentile, shows us that the problem of sin must be traced back to its roots. The roots of sin and death are to be found in our first father, Adam. It was his one sin which has resulted in the sinfulness of the race, and in death for all men. All men, by virtue of their birth, are the “children of Adam.” As such, they are under the bondage of sin and are subject to death.21

The gospel is good news because it offers men an exchange of identity. The federal government has a witness protection program. Those who enter into this program are offered a new identity, with their past wiped out. They can start life all over, regardless of what they were before. God has a far better offer: men may change their identity, from being a “son of Adam,” under sentence of death, to being a “son of God,” destined for eternal life. Men are what they are—sinners, subject to death—because of who they are, the sons of Adam. But no one needs to remain a son of Adam. By faith in Jesus Christ, any man, woman, or child can renounce their old identity in Adam, and become a son of God through Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the gospel.

Adam’s sin, and its consequences, were, in one sense, a type of what would happen in Christ, the “last Adam.” But on the other hand, his sin and its consequences were quite different in two ways. First, the work of Christ was much greater than that of Adam. Second, the work of Christ on man’s behalf was for man’s good, while Adam’s act was destructive. Adam committed one sin, and this brought sin and death on the whole race. Jesus bore all of man’s sins, and as a result He made salvation and life possible for all men, through faith in Him. Adam’s sin brought misery and death; Jesus’ sacrifice brought with it life and hope of the glory of God.

The Law had a role in all of this. The sins of men could only be “prosecuted,” as it were, if they were defined as sin. The Law was given to define sin, to cause it to be clearly seen, and thus even to increase. The increase was not to promote sin, but to deal it a death blow, through the work of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by pointing out some of the themes which I see Paul developing more fully in our text and then suggest some areas of application.

    The Theme of Man’s Unrighteousness

Beginning at Romans 1:18 and concluding in chapter 3 (verse 20), Paul has been showing man his need for a righteousness other than his own. The problem is man’s sin. Whatever revelation men have received from and about God, they reject, exchanging the truth for some other “truth” of their own making and more to their own liking. In Romans 5, Paul traces sin back to its roots, to Adam and his sin. In chapters 4 and 5, Paul also plays out the devastating consequences of Adam’s sin for all men—death.

    The Theme of Death

Death will become a very prominent theme in the Book of Romans. Surprisingly, death is not nearly as prominent in the first three chapters as one might think. The theme of death22 is distributed in the following way, by a calculation of the number of verses in which the theme of death occurs.23

 

        Death in Romans

        Romans 1 - 3

        2 verses

        Romans 4 - 8

        42 verses

        Romans 9 - 16

        5 verses

In chapters 4-8, the theme of death is a dominant one. This is because death is not only a problem for sinners, but for saints. The great tests of Abraham’s life were directly related to death. Abraham lied about the identity of his wife, Sarah, because he feared that men would kill him to marry her (Genesis 12:13; 20:1). The barrier to Abraham and Sarah having a child was the “deadness” of their old age (Romans 4:19-21). The ultimate test of Abraham’s faith was the command to sacrifice Isaac, his son—to put him to death, the one through whom all of God’s promises were to be fulfilled (see Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17-19).

Death is a great problem for all men. The fear of death haunts all men (Hebrews 2:9-15, especially verse 15). Death is the last enemy which must be overcome before the kingdom of God is established (1 Corinthians 15:26). It is the “deadness” of our flesh which renders us unable to overcome sin (Romans 7:24; cf. 8:11). As the death and resurrection of our Lord are the basis for our justification, so we shall soon see that these are also the basis for our sanctification. It is for this reason than death is so prominent in chapters 4-8.

    The Theme of Justification Expounded and Expanded

The need for justification by faith was a principle theme in Paul’s first section in Romans, the climax coming in Romans 3:21-26. Justification by faith eliminates all grounds for personal pride and boasting. Justification by faith has always been God’s way of making men righteous (chapter 4). In chapter 5, Paul begins to expand upon all that justification by faith provides. It not only provides men with the forgiveness of their sins, and with the righteousness of Christ, it gives them a certain hope of the “glory of God.” It also assures them of God’s blessings in the present, among which are a growing sense of God’s love, ministered to the saint by the Holy Spirit. After expanding upon the benefits of justification by faith in chapter 5, Paul will next move to some of the obligations of justification in chapter 6.

    The Theme of Faith

As his motto, Paul chose the words of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, “the righteous man shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). Paul had also spoken of his mission to bring Gentiles to the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). Faith is therefore one of the principle themes of the Book of Romans. Faith has been shown to be the only means of attaining righteousness, because by our works we only earn God’s condemnation (Romans 1-3a). Justification by faith is the way in which God can justly save lost sinners. Old Testament saints were justified (and lived) by faith, just as we are called to do. Both Abraham and David believed in justification by faith (Romans 4). Abraham’s faith, like ours, was such that it believed in God’s ability to do as He promised, even to the extent of bringing the dead to life. In Romans 6-8 we will see how directly applicable this is to our living by faith in the matter of our personal sanctification, for our bodies are dead so far as our ability to live righteously is concerned (Romans 7:24). We are as dead to living righteously as Abraham and Sarah’s were to bearing children.

    The Theme of Boasting

Paul’s boldness and eagerness to preach the gospel are the result of his desire to boast in God and about Him. The Jews were entirely wrong to boast in themselves, in their identity as Jews and in their possession of the Law. Because all men are condemned by the Law of God, and because justification is by faith, and not works, there is no basis for boasting by men or in men. Our only ground for boasting is in the Lord. It is in our identification with Jesus Christ that we are justified. It is in our union with Him that we are released from our identification with Adam, with sin, and thus from our bondage to death.

Our boasting is related to the matter of our identity. It is not related in the way we would naturally think, however. The Jews saw Abraham as a celebrity, and thus they wanted to identify with him and to share in his glory. They wanted to boast in their privileged function as stewards of God’s revelation, the Law. They wanted, if possible, to glory in their own personal achievements. But in the final analysis, the identity of every man, woman, and child is tied to the first Adam or to the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Adam is our father. Because he sinned, we are stricken with this malady (by our own decision). Because he sinned, we find ourselves subject to death. Jesus Christ came to give us a new identity, by faith in Him. When we gain our new identity (from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ”), we discover that our boasting is now in God.

It does not matter what you think of yourself. The question is: “Are you in Adam (you got there by birth)? Or are you in Christ? Once you settle the issue of identity, you solve the problem of boasting. Men boast in their identity as unbelievers in terms of who they are or what they do. Those who have trusted in Christ boast in their identity in Jesus Christ, and they find no other grounds for boasting than Him—Christ and Christ crucified—because He is the One who has the glory. He is the One who is the glory, and He is the One in whom we boast and about whom we boast.

The glory which we seek, and for which we hope, is not our own glory, but the glory of God. God revealed His glory to mankind in and through His creation. We rejected His glory and exchanged it for those created things in which we wish to glory. We did not boast in God, but in the works of our own hands, and in our own wisdom. The gospel offers us a second chance, a last chance. By faith in Christ, the full and final revelation of God to men, we can be forgiven and justified. We can boast, but only in what God has done for us in Christ. We can boast in God’s promised future blessings, the hope of his glory. We can even boast in present adversity, for in our tribulations God’s love is manifested, and our hope is assured.

We find that it is not just the Jews who had an “identity problem,” which resulted in false boasting. Our own culture is bent upon establishing an “identity.” Self-image has become not only the explanation for what we are and what we do, but also the quest of men’s efforts, the focus of their attention. I must tell you, my friend, that the only identity that matters is your identity in Christ. No matter what you think of yourself, no matter who you think you are, you are a child of Adam, a sinner, condemned by God. The only identity in which you can boast is an identity in and with Jesus Christ. You can change your identity by simply trusting in the death of Jesus Christ on your behalf, and by accepting His righteousness in place of your unrighteousness. This is the good news of the gospel. And for this one act of faith, God promises not only justification, but peace with Him, a standing in His grace, the infusion of His love through the Holy Spirit, and the certain hope of His glory.

While sinful boasting is prohibited and foolish, godly boasting—that is, boasting in God—is most profitable, to us and to others. The more I ponder this thought, the more I see much of what Christians are commanded to do in terms of boasting. Paul’s preaching was really his boasting—in God. Evangelism, for all of us, is just that—boasting about God. Edification (the building up of fellow-believers) is boasting too. The only things which really build up the saints are those which focus men’s attention, devotion, and obedience toward God. Worship is yet another form of boasting, and corporate worship is Christians boasting about God together.

If our worship is not what it should be, if our proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior (evangelism) is infrequent and timid, if our words and actions toward other believers are of little value, it may very well be because we are failing to boast in God. And our failure to boast about God may reflect a diminished appreciation of our justification and of the God who has accomplished it. If our heart toward God grows cold, our boasting will turn to shame.

    The Riches of the Gospel

I am beginning to see Paul’s teaching in Romans as being like a rock which is thrown into a pond. It enters in one place, then makes ever-widening ripples which eventually affects the entire pond. In biblical terms, I am reminded of these words of Paul found in his Ephesian Epistle:

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, … that He would grant you, … that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

The gospel is so rich, so immense, simply because it is a reflection of God. Paul’s desire to “preach the gospel” is not simply a desire to repeat the same truths concerning salvation (as often seems to happen today), but a passionate desire to expose the Romans to the riches of the gospel, and thus to the glory of God, in all of its vast dimensions: its height and depth; its length and width. In the Book of Romans Paul takes those themes he has introduced at the beginning of his epistle, and returns to them, filling in more and more detail, and exposing the reader to the wealth which is in Christ. It is an inexhaustible wealth, and thus one into which Paul may probe more and more deeply. We are thus enriched by his labor.

I want to conclude by asking a few simple questions which are meant to encourage you to consider the application of these Scriptures to your own life:

(1) Where is your identity found?

(2) Upon what or whom is your self-concept based?

93) Where is your hope?

(4) In what, or in whom, do you boast?

(5) Are you a “son of Adam” or a “son of God”?

(6) Does adversity and tribulation deepen your love for and your trust in God?

(7) Are you finding the gospel of Jesus Christ and your riches in Him to be higher and deeper, wider and longer each day?

(8) May God use these inspired words of Romans 3:27–5:21 to enrich your life.


15 See Romans 9:6-9.

16 In chapters 6 and following, Paul will also point out some of the responsibilities which come with this “package” of justification. The sequence is significant, however, for Paul does not speak of the responsibilities of justification until after he has spoken of its rewards.

17 There are several different forms of this Greek root, which is typical. The same Greek root may be found in the form of a noun, a verb, a participle, an adjective, or an adverb. Thus, in order to do a thorough search of a term, one must search for the term in all of its forms. The root concept of boasting has three forms in the New Testament, and so my study includes all three forms.

18 It is understandable that translators would wish to translate the original term differently, since there is a great deal of difference between carnal “boasting” and “boasting in the Lord.” Nevertheless, if a different expression is used to translate the same original term, it would be very helpful to the Bible student to have an indication that the different renderings all are based upon the same original term. This would make tracking a certain theme (like boasting) less difficult.

19 One might also note in these three “boastings” that all three members of the Trinity are included.

20 The love of God the Father is manifested in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit, based upon the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21 That we are subject to death because of Adam’s sin is seen by the fact that all men from Adam’s day to the time the Law was given through Moses died, and yet the Law was not in force and thus they could not be indicted for their sins. The only sin of which they could be guilty was to disobey the command given Adam, not to eat the forbidden fruit—and none of them sinned in this way. See Romans 4:15; 5:12-14.

22 This is only an approximation, based upon those verses in Romans in which the terms “death,” “die,” “died,” “dying,” and “dead” occur. There may well be other references to death also. My intention here is only to give a sense of proportion, to show where the theme of death is most prominent.

23 It should be pointed out that in any one verse, more than one term or reference to death may be found.

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification