The Crystal Clarity of Romans – C

Third Subsidiary Thesis: (5:1-5)
Justification Brings Certainty and Begins Transforming Us

Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι’ οὗ καὶ τὴν προσαγωγὴν ἐσχήκαμεν τῇ πίστει εἰς τὴν χάριν ταύτην ἐν ᾗ ἑστήκαμεν, καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ·οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν, εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται, ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν, ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα. ἡ δὲ ἐλπὶς οὐ καταισχύνει· ὅτι ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν.
–Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (5:1-5, NIV)

These five verses form a pivot within Paul’s narrative. They look back to the doctrine which he had established in the preceding four chapters, and then give a foretaste of what will be the subject of the next section of the epistle, through and including chapter 8: the transformation of character which is enabled by this faith-justification and empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Paul will later summarise in 8:3-4–“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (NIV)

In these five verses, Paul states seven attributes of those who have been justified by faith:

  1. εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν (eirēnēn echomen pros ton theon)we have peace with God
  2. τὴν χάριν ταύτην ἐν ᾗ ἑστήκαμεν (tēn charin tautēn en hē estēkamen)–we stand in a place of grace
  3. καυχώμεθα ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ (kauchōmetha ep’ elpidi tēs doxēs theou)–we boast in our future hope
  4. καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν (kauchōmetha en tais thlipsesin)–we boast in our (present) suffering
  5. εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται, ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν, ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα (eidotes hoti hē thlipsis hupomonēn katergazetai, hē de hupomonē dokimēn, hē de dokimē elpida)–we are motivated to grow in Christian character
  6. ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν (hē agapē tōu theou ekkechutai en tais kardiais hēmōn)–our hearts are full of the love of God
  7. διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν (Dia pneumatos hagiou tōu dothentos hēmin)–the agent of this is the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Comments

This passage lays the foundation for all that Paul will teach in the four chapters that begin here, and it provides the reference frame to which we should return if we are puzzled by something Paul says downstream. Having stated these points so emphatically, Paul is not going to weaken them in his later dissertation.

As we noted previously in different words, Paul is not writing to a collection of sceptical academics. He knows that his audience have all put their faith in Jesus Christ and have received the Holy Spirit. He also knows that many have already suffered for their faith, and those who haven’t have seen it happen to others, yet have chosen not to walk away. Certainly, his words here can deepen their assurance of their standing with God, but he is not introducing something new and unfamiliar. These words and the following exposition would therefore resonate well with their experience and so affirm and reinforce what he is teaching.

Perhaps we need to comment on one small detail. In verse 2, Paul says that we (already) hope in the glory of God, yet he also, in verse 4, presents hope as something that is arrived at as a result of the process of character development that he describes in verses 3 and 4.

Paul is not introducing a condition that must be met before, after all, we are entitled to hope. He told us in verse 2 that we stand in a place of grace. Our relationship with God is not set in a marsh of quicksand where a misstep might imperil it. We can indeed, from Day 1 of our trust in Jesus, rejoice in the certain hope of the glory of God. The difference between the hope of verse 2 and that of verse 4 is easily explained. One is the excited and perfectly warranted hope that even a brand new believer can enjoy, and the other is the hope of a seasoned believer who has endured and grown and knows even better the love of God.

Exposition C, Part 1 (5:6-11): A Paean to the Love of God

Is it any wonder (Paul implies), that the love of God has such a profound and motivating effect in us? God gave Christ to die, not for good and worthy people, but for us while we were still sinners!

And, this extraordinary love that we saw in action when we were still estranged from God assures us that it will continue now we are reconciled to him. We will be saved by Christ’s life. Thus, these words of Paul underscore what he had said in verse 2 – we stand in a place of grace.

καυχώμενοι ἐν τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι’ οὗ νῦν τὴν καταλλαγὴν ἐλάβομεν (kauchōmenoi en tō theou dia tou kuriou hēmōn Iesou Christou, di’ hou nun tēn katallagēn elabomen)–(5:11) The believer’s boast is in God, through Jesus Christ, on the basis of what he has done for us. The implied contrast is with the self-centred, law-based boasting of some Jews, whom Paul had castigated in 2:23.

Comments

Some have used verse 10 to support the quietist, “let go and let Christ” doctrine, that we should live our Christian life by listening, moment by moment, to the promptings of Christ who lives in us, and obeying them. No such meaning would have entered the minds of Paul’s Roman hearers. His point is obviously to give assurance of our ongoing relationship with God, not (yet) the details of what it means to live a Christian life.

We should also mark Paul’s repeated references to kauchēsis (boasting) or its cognates. If, as we listen to the further unfolding of his doctrine, we ever think we hear him say something that would, after all, give one person reason for boasting over another, it should surely be plain that we have misunderstood and need to think again.

Exposition C, Part 2 (5:12-19): Christ Rights the Fall

Preliminary Comment

This section brings a problem for modern readers. Paul obviously takes Adam as a literal, historical figure, and his Roman hearers would have accepted that without difficulty. Now, the question of the historicity of Adam is important when we are discussing the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, but I do not believe it is necessary to resolve that question to nevertheless take a vital lesson from this part of Romans 5 and go forward with it: whatever went wrong in early times with the relationship between humankind and God, Christ has provided the way to set it to right.

Some Key Points

εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον (eis pantas anthrwpous o thanatos diēlthen eph’ hw pantes hēmarton)–death came to all people, because all sinned (5:12, NIV).

  • In Paul’s mind, and to his Roman hearers, “death” would have encompassed physical death, but all of us can still draw a lesson from these words if we understand them as referring to the spiritual death of separation from God.
  • The first words of verse 12 are Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ (Dia touto hōsper)–“Just as”. It is therefore obvious that Paul originally meant to finish his sentence with a comparison “so {such and such)”. However, in verse 13 he digresses onto a related matter, and never returns to finish his comparison in a rhetorically neat way. The comparison becomes clear in different words, anyway, in verses 15-19.

δι’ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς (di’ henos dikaiōmatos eis pantas anthrōpous eis dikaiōsin zoēs)–one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (5:18, NIV).

  • The verse does not contain its own verb. The verb (which NIV gives as “resulted in”) is correctly inferred from the preceding context.
  • Even if you do not believe the prior clause is literally true, δι’ ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατά κρίμα (“one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people”), that does not preclude acceptance of the second clause. Paul’s doctrine of the atonement made by Christ does not stand or fall on a one-for-one correspondence between the circumstances of the entry of sin into the world and the redemption provided by Christ.
  • Paul is not teaching universal salvation. Paul set out in his grand thesis that salvation comes through faith, and he reiterated that in chapters 3 and 4, and in 5:1. Therefore, understanding Paul’s words in verses 18 and 19 in a way that is consistent with the groundwork that he has laid, all who were liable to inherit the effect of sin’s entry into the world did so, and were condemned – and, as it happens, that set included the whole human race. In a parallel way, all who are eligible to inherit the benefit of Christ’s righteous act do so – but that means all those who believe, not a greater number. If you will permit me an anachronistic metaphor, if any of the Roman Christians had understood Paul’s words as teaching universal salvation, Paul would have awarded him or her a dunce’s cap.
  • Once again, because we are 21st Century readers, it has been necessary to pause and consider Paul’s words carefully, but, once again, his original hearers would have had no such slow-down. To them, his meaning would have continued to be perspicuous.

I do not think we need to consider in detail any other aspects of this passage.

Next: Fourth Subsidiary Thesis: (6:14) By recognising their new Identity, Believers Withstand Sin

Image Attribution: Sean McGrath from Saint John, NB, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Crystal Clarity of Romans – F

F. Sixth Subsidiary Thesis: (8:1-2)
The New Way of the Spirit Replaces the Never-Competent Law

Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου. (Ouden ara nun katakrima tois en Christō Iesou. Ho gar nomos tou pneumatos tēs zōēs en Christō Iesou eleutherōsen se apo tou nomou tēs hamartias kai tou thanatou.)–There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death (8:1-2).

  • ⇑ The ara (“therefore”) connects back to 7:6, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (ESV). Full marks to any Roman hearer who remembered the connection, but, clearly, 7:6 is what 8:1’s “therefore refers to.
  • There is a textual variant in verse 2. Is it “me” or “you” that Paul says has been freed? The question is irrelevant to understanding his message here. Whichever word he used, he obviously intended his point to apply to all Christians, the Romans and himself included.
  • Should we translate 8:2 as does the ESV, “the law of the Spirit of life has set me/you free in Christ Jesus” or as does the RSV, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me/you free”? Whichever, Paul’s main point remains unchanged.

Exposition F, Part 1 (8:3-4): The Walk of the Not-Condemned

τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου, ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός… (to gar adunaton tou nomou, en hō ēsthenei dia tēs sarkos…)–or what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh… (8:3a, NIV)

  • ⇑ Chapter 7 in a nutshell!

… ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί (…ho theos ton eautou huion pempsas en homoiōmati sarkos hamartias kai peri amartias, katekrine tēn amartian en tē sarki)–…God [did], having sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemn[ing] sin in the flesh (8:3b)

  • ⇑ The “justification” part of our salvation, the removal of condemnation
  • In saying that the Son came “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, Paul is not teaching docetism. As we know from the wider testimony of Scripture, Jesus was truly human. He came in flesh, not just in the likeness of flesh. However, his flesh was sinless, so it was necessary for Paul to say, as he did, “the likeness of sinful flesh”.
  • It wouldn’t have been necessary for his Roman hearers to pause and do the process of reasoning I just did. It would have been clear to them, as it should be to us, that Paul’s teaching at this point was focused on soteriology, not Christology per se. They would have just got on with the business of listening to learn what Paul had to say next.

ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα (hina to dikaiōma tou nomou plērōthē en hēmin tois mē kata sarka peripatousin alla kata pneuma)–in order that the just claim of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (6:4).

  • ⇑ By introducing the word “walk” (paraphrased as “live” in many translations), Paul now tilts the discussion in the direction of the practical effect in the lives of those who, through Jesus Christ, have escaped condemnation.
  • In 7:18, Paul’s fleshly “I” had said, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (NIV). Now, in the next part of chapter 8, we will find that one who is “according to the Spirit” is not limited in that way.

Exposition F, Part 2 (8:5-11): Two Kinds of People


As Matt Smith’s Dr Who was wont to say, “Pay attention!”. Paul has made it clear, in 8:1 that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you come up with an interpretation of 8:5-11 that seems to open up a way for believers to wander back into condemnation, you are wrong. No two ways about it – just plain wrong, and Paul would award you a dunce’s cap.


οἱ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ὄντες τὰ τῆς σαρκὸς φρονοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ κατὰ πνεῦμα τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος.(hoi gar kata sarka ontes ta tēs sarkos phronousin, hoi de kata pneuma ta tou pneumatos) – For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who [are] according to the Spirit, on the things of the Spirit (8:5).

  • ⇑ In verse 4, Paul had spoke of those who walk according to the Spirit vs those who walk according to the flesh. In verse 5, he does not say “walk according to”, he says “are according to”, and the difference is important.
  • The NIV and numerous other translations illicitly import the verb “walk” (or its paraphrase, “live”) from 8:4, and therefore give a misleading slant to 8:5.
  • Take that, NIV and other translators! You were not paying attention; you do not understand your Paul! If you had, you would have done what the KJV, ASV, and NASB do, and translated exactly what Paul wrote, “are”.

Paul is not giving us a new criterion for discerning who is “according to the flesh” and who is “according to the Spirit”. He has already told us the distinction. Those who are “according to the Spirit” are those

●     Who have believed (5:1)

●     and, therefore, have had the Holy Spirit given to them (5:5)

●     And, as such, are “in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

Those who are “according to the flesh” are everyone else. There is no intermediate category in Paul’s thinking.


  • Paul has already talked about the change believers need to make in the way they think about themselves (6:11,14), and he will say it again in 12:2. The current verse, 8:5, is an allied verse. Yes, setting one’s mind on the things of the Spirit does admit of degrees (as the wider testimony of Scripture and the verses just cited make plain), but the basic fact is true of all Christians, even the newest and most immature believer in the Roman church – their minds are now set on the things of the Spirit in a way that was not true when they were still “in the flesh”.

τὸ γὰρ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς θάνατος, τὸ δὲ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος ζωὴ καὶ εἰρήνη· διότι τὸ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς ἔχθρα εἰς θεόν, τῷ γὰρ νόμῳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ὑποτάσσεται, οὐδὲ γὰρ δύναται· –The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (8:6-7, NIV)

οἱ δὲ ἐν σαρκὶ ὄντες θεῷ ἀρέσαι οὐ δύνανται.(hoi de en sarki ontes theō aresai ou dunantai)–And those who are in the flesh cannot please God (8:8).

  • ⇑ This time the NIV and all standard translations that I checked get it right. It is the ontological state of those who are “in the flesh”, with what that means for their mental processes, that makes it impossible for them to please God, not any variations in behaviour from day to day.

Ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σαρκὶ ἀλλὰ ἐν πνεύματι, εἴπερ πνεῦμα θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν. (Humeis de ouk este en sarki alla en pneumati, eiper pneuma theou oikei en humin)–But you are not in the flesh, if the Spirit of God dwells in you (8:9a).

  • ⇑ And what does Paul believe as regards whether the Spirit of God dwells in the Romans? – see 5:5!

εἰ δέ τις πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ οὐκ ἔχει, οὗτος οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτοῦ. (ei de tis pneuma Christou ouk echei, houtos ouk estin autou)–and if someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, such a one is not his (8:9b).

  • ⇑ There is no grey place here. Either you are Christ’s and therefore indwelt by the Spirit, or you are not. And nothing in Paul’s words, here or elsewhere in Romans, allows for an oscillation in states between “Christ’s” and “not Christ’s”.

εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, τὸ μὲν σῶμα νεκρὸν διὰ ἁμαρτίαν, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωὴ διὰ δικαιοσύνην.  εἰ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ ἐγείραντος τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ νεκρῶν οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν, ὁ ἐγείρας ἐκ νεκρῶν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ζῳοποιήσει καὶ τὰ θνητὰ σώματα ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἐνοικοῦν αὐτοῦ πνεῦμα ἐν ὑμῖν.–But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (8:10-11, NIV)

  • ⇑ Once again, Paul is clear: the gift of the indwelling Spirit of Christ guarantees our ultimate receipt of all that goes with salvation, despite our mortality.

Exposition F, Part 3 (8:12-16): We have a New Status and Obligation

Ἄρα οὖν … ὀφειλέται ἐσμέν, οὐ τῇ σαρκὶ τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆν, (Ara oun … opheiletai esmen, ōu tē sarki tōu kata sarka zēn)–Therefore, we are under obligation, but not to the flesh to live according to the flesh… (8:12).

  • ⇑ Notice that Paul implies that a believers who are careless of their obligation could indeed live in a fleshly way.

εἰ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆτε μέλλετε ἀποθνῄσκειν (ei gar kata sarka zēte mellete apothnēskein) –for if you live according to the flesh, you are on the point of dying (8:13a).

  • ⇑ If you have been paying attention to Paul, you will know that this is not a warning that he is giving to careless believers to threaten them with damnation, but a further, mind-transforming reason why they should make it their business to meet their implied counter-obligation to serve Christ.
  • 8:13 is parallel in its essence to 6:21, which I translated this way: “What fruit were you getting from those things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things [is] death”.
  • Notice the word translated here “live” is exactly that, from zoō, to live. It is not the verb Paul used in 8:4, from peripateō, to walk. It is the person’s life-basis that is in view, not the vagaries of their day-to-day behaviour.
  • Also notice, in corroboration, that Paul nowhere uses the explicit pronoun “you” in 8:13. The “you” is simply contained within the verbs. Paul is generalising, not shining a spotlight on the Roman believers.

εἰ δὲ πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος θανατοῦτε, ζήσεσθε. (ei de pneumati tas praxis tōu sōmatos thanatoute, zēsesthe.)–but if by [the] Spirit you are putting to death the works of the body, you will live (8:13b).

  • ⇑ “Ah,” you say, “present continuous tense,’putting to death’! Doesn’t that mean that a professing believer who slackens off on the putting to death may, after all, not live?”
  • No, no, no! Haven’t you been paying attention at all? 😊
    • Paul already counts the Roman believers as those in whom Christ dwells, who are “according to the Spirit”, for whom there is now no condemnation. (See the discussion above, of 8:1-11).
    • This “putting to death the deeds of the body” is an inevitable marker, present in at least some degree in all those who are Christ’s.
    • It is the presence of the marker, not some supposed minimum level of putting to death, that is the vital criterion. And the Romans have satisfied that criterion!

ὅσοι γὰρ πνεύματι θεοῦ ἄγονται, οὗτοι υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ. (hosoi gar pneumati theou agontai, autoi huioi eisin theou.)–For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (8:14, KJV).

  • ⇑ So, stop following and lose your sonship? No, no, no! The fact that someone is, in whatever degree, following the Spirit, is a visible marker of the inward transformation that happened when they believed in Christ. No minimum amount of following is specified, just the fact.
  • Remember, throughout this chapter Paul is explaining how it is that God has succeeded where the law, weakened by the flesh, disastrously failed. It is not his intention to set out here a whole lot of ways in which (supposedly) God’s solution might fail, too. That would be a rhetorical own-goal. Pay attention! 😊
  • And, of course, Paul has now introduced the fact of our inestimable privilege as the children of God – yet another reason why we must emphatically understand that we owe no obligation to the flesh.

οὐ γὰρ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον, ἀλλὰ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν· Αββα ὁ πατήρ·(ōu gar elabete pneuma douleias Palin eis phobon, alla elabete pneuma huiothesias en hō krazomen Abba ho patēr)–For we have not received a spirit of slavery [to bring us] again into fear, but we have received the Spirit of adoption, by which we are crying, “Abba, Father” (8:15).

  • ⇑ The person in Romans 7 who was trying to obey the law in the weakness of the flesh lived in constant fear of failing and displeasing God. The Spirit has brought us into a new kind of relationship with God, that of a child, and such fear is not to be part of it. (That is the force of the palin, “again”, in Paul’s words.)
  • Yet again, Paul’s words show us that he is not here giving us a set of warnings about how we should live the Christian life. Any interpretation of chapter 8 that says that he is, is diametrically mistaken.

αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα συμμαρτυρεῖ τῷ πνεύματι ἡμῶν ὅτι ἐσμὲν τέκνα θεοῦ. (auto to pneuma summarturei tō pneumati hēmōn hoti esmen tēnā theou.)–the Spirit himself is witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God (8:16).

  • ⇑ 8:16 is a stand-alone sentence, one that has its own finite verb. However, it’s juxtaposition with verse 15 suggests that it is by our very instinct to call God “Abba, Father” that the Spirit first bears his inner testimony to us that we are, indeed, children. Paul’s words don’t limit the Spirit’s testimony to just that, though.

Next: Our Present Frailty and Suffering is not a Contradiction

Image attribution: Louis Comfort Tiffany [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – G

G. Seventh Subsidiary Thesis: (8:17)
Our Present Frailty and Suffering is not a Contradiction

εἰ δὲ τέκνα, καὶ κληρονόμοι· κληρονόμοι μὲν θεοῦ, συγκληρονόμοι δὲ Χριστοῦ, εἴπερ συμπάσχομεν ἵνα καὶ συνδοξασθῶμεν. (ei de tekna, kai klēronomoi: klēronomoimen theou, sugklēronomoi de Christou, eiper sumpaschomen hina kai sundoxasthōmen.)–and if children, heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we co-suffer [with him] in order that we might be co-glorified (8:17).

  • ⇑ The “and if” at the beginning of 8:1 of course shows that his verse is grammatically part of verse 16, but the mention of suffering links it thematically with the next eight verses, so I have chosen to link it forward rather than backward for purposes of comment.
  • Notice that, whereas Paul said in verse 14 that we were huioi theou (sons of God), he now switches to tekna (children). In the culture of the times, the initial use of “sons” probably gave extra stress to the dignity of our position, but the switch to tekna takes away any sense of gender bias.
  • Do I need to say that Paul is not introducing a new condition that we must meet if we are to progress from initial salvation to glorification? If you are in unsure of that right now, 8:30 will remove all doubt.
  • What, then, does his eiper mean here? Eiper has a range of shades of meaning, but here (as is confirmed later by 8:30), the sense must be “even if, as is indeed the case”.
  • Paul has just been telling the Romans of their elevated status as the children and heirs of God. Their present suffering might have seemed to the Romans like a practical contradiction of what Paul has said, so it is appropriate for him to speak about it now.
  • As so often the case, we have had to spend time on a detail because we are 21st Century readers, but Paul’s eiper would not have raised any question in the minds of his Roman hearers. They were in the thick of it – suffering was the standard, expected experience of Christian believers. They would have simply heard Paul as saying that suffering is a normal consequence of salvation, not saying that it is a condition of it.

I will not quote the Greek as I comment on the next few verses. These verses do not form an essential part of Paul’s main case, and in any case I don’t know of any significant puzzles in this passage that would require recourse to the Greek to discuss them.


Exposition G, Part 1 (8:18-25): Where Suffering Fits In

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (8:18, NIV).

  • ⇑ This is the main point of comfort that Paul would have the Romans take as they reflect on their sufferings.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed (8:19, NIV).

  • ⇑ Paul personifies the creation, but I believe he is simply using a figure of speech, not revealing some arcane truth about the sensory abilities of the creation. Even if some such thing were true, this would not have been the place to reveal it.
  • Paul is enlarging the Romans’ horizons beyond the prospect of their own glorification. Somehow, their glorification will impact all of creation.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (8:20-21, NIV).

  • ⇑ The plan of salvation will repair and restore all of creation.
  • This comprehensive restoration was planned by God from the very time of the Fall.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (8:22. NIV).

  • ⇑ I don’t know on what basis Paul thought the Romans knew this. The Psalms and prophets, perhaps? Anyway, we needn’t pause to wonder. We can just take the same attitude as would have some brand new Roman Christian who happened to hear the letter being read, and who definitely didn’t “know” – “Really? OK, if you say so, Paul”. In short, this little puzzle need not stop us understanding and agreeing with Paul’s grand thesis.
  • Not only does Paul continue to personify creation, but here his figure of speech seems to have an element of transferred epithet. Pagan spiritualities to the contrary, there is no reason to think that granite or scoria has consciousness. Such groaning as his been done over the creation has been done by God and angels and the human race, forming a great, collective cry: “Things are not as they should be”.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (8:23, NIV).

  • ⇑ No argument here about the groaning, We are all painfully aware in our injury-prone and sickness-prone bodies that our redemption is not yet complete.
  • In 8:15, Paul had said that we have already received adoption to sonship, but now he says we are still waiting for it. The only logical way to reconcile the two statements is to take it that we already have the status but not its full consummation, and I’m sure that’s what the Romans did in their minds as the heard the letter read.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (8:24-25, NIV).

  • ⇑ A final word of encouragement with regard to our suffering, before Paul moves onto another aspect of our weakness.

Exposition G, Part 2 (8:26-27): The Spirit Even Makes our Prayers Acceptable

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (8:26,27 NIV)

  • ⇑ It is easier here to get the overall drift of Paul’s meaning than it is to analyse what he says phrase by phrase. This is one place where some details of the meaning are not crystal clear! However, what is clear is the support this passage gives to the thesis of 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Even the imperfect, incoherent, perhaps even doubting prayers we may utter out of the anguish of suffering are made perfect for us by God the Holy Spirit.

Next: God’s Glorious Purpose will not be Thwarted

Image attribution: Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810-1896) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – H

H. Eighth Subsidiary Thesis: (8:28)
God’s Glorious Purpose will not be Thwarted


In this section, we meet the terms election and predestination. It is not necessary to be certain of exactly what those terms meant to Paul and the Romans in order to understand their place in support of Paul’s grand thesis. He does not use those terms here to define who is “out”; he is addressing believers who already know that they are “in”, that they are of the elect, whatever that means, and therefore – he tells them – their future is secure.


Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν. (Oidamen de hoti tois agathōsi ton theon panta sunergei eis agathon, tois kata prothesin klētois ousin)–And we know that to those who love God, everything works together for good,to those who are being called according to [his] purpose (8:28).

  • ⇑ Is Paul inserting a condition here–love God sufficiently if you want God to work in everything for your good? Mē genoito! The second adjectival phrase is in apposition to the first, making its meaning clear. If you are one of those who is being called according to his purpose, you already are one who loves him.

Exposition H, Part 1 (8:29-30): God’s Inexorable Plan

ὅτι οὓς προέγνω, καὶ προώρισεν συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς·(hoti hous proegnō, kai proōrisen summorphous tēs eikonos tou huiou autou, eis to einai auton prōtotokon en pollois adelphois)–For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, for him to be the firstborn of many brothers (8:29).

  • ⇑ The plan culminates in our becoming like Christ.

οὓς δὲ προώρισεν, τούτους καὶ ἐκάλεσεν· καὶ οὓς ἐκάλεσεν, τούτους καὶ ἐδικαίωσεν· οὓς δὲ ἐδικαίωσεν, τούτους καὶ ἐδόξασεν. (hous de proōrisen, toutous kai ekalesen; kai hous ekalesen, toutous kai edikaiōsen; hous de edikaiōsen, toutous kai edoxamen.)–And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified (8:30).

  • Paul is unequivocal. If you have been called, you can be sure that God is going to see the process through until you attain glorification.

Exposition H, Part 2 (8:31-37): Questions and Answers

Q: …εἰ ὁ θεὸς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, τίς καθ’ ἡμῶν; (…ei ho theos huper hēmōn, tis kath’ hēmōn?)  – If God [is] for us, who [can be] against us? (8:31b).

  • ⇑ The implied answer, “No one of equal power”.

A: ὅς γε τοῦ ἰδίου υἱοῦ οὐκ ἐφείσατο, ἀλλὰ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν πάντων παρέδωκεν αὐτόν, πῶς οὐχὶ καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα ἡμῖν χαρίσεται; (hos ge tou idiou huiou epheisato, alla ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν pantōn paredōlem auton, pōs ouchi kai sun autō ta panta hēmin charisetai?)–He who indeed did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him in grace give us everything? (8:32)

  • ⇑ If you are in doubt that God is “for you”, weigh this!

Q: τίς ἐγκαλέσει κατὰ ἐκλεκτῶν θεοῦ; (tis egkalesei kata eklectōn theou?)–Who will bring an accusation against God’s elect? (8:33a)

A1: θεὸς ὁ δικαιῶν·τίς ὁ κατακρινῶν; (theos ho dikaiōn; tis ho katakrinōn?)–[It is God] who justifies; who [can] condemn.

  • ⇑ God has made it plain where he stands on our behalf. Against God, who can possibly condemn us? (8:33b-34a)

A2: Χριστὸς ὁ ἀποθανών, μᾶλλον δὲ ἐγερθείς, ὅς καί ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὃς καὶ ἐντυγχάνει ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν· (Christos ho apothanōn, mallon de egertheis, hos kai estin en dexia tou theou, hos kai entugchanei huper hēmōn)–Christ [is] the one who died, and furthermore was raised, and who is at the right hand of God, and who also intercedes for us (8:34b).

  • ⇑ Implication: Christ’s work of intercession ensures the ongoing effectiveness of what his death achieved. And, if he is interceding, he is definitely not condemning.

Q: τίς ἡμᾶς χωρίσει ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ; θλῖψις ἢ στενοχωρία ἢ διωγμὸς ἢ λιμὸς ἢ γυμνότης ἢ κίνδυνος ἢ μάχαιρα; (tis hēmas chōrisei apo tēs agapēs tou Christou? Thlipsis ē stenochōria ē diōgmos ē limos ē gumnotēs ē kindunos ē machaira?)–Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Shall] tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (8:35)

A: ἀλλ’ ἐν τούτοις πᾶσιν ὑπερνικῶμεν διὰ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντος ἡμᾶς. (all’ en toutois pasin hupernikeōmen dia tou agapēsantos hēmas)–But in all these things we more than conquer through the one who loved us (8:37).

Exposition H, Part 3 (8:38-39): The Grand Coda–Q.E.D.!

πέπεισμαι γὰρ ὅτι οὔτε θάνατος οὔτε ζωὴ οὔτε ἄγγελοι οὔτε ἀρχαὶ οὔτε ἐνεστῶτα οὔτε μέλλοντα οὔτε δυνάμεις οὔτε ὕψωμα οὔτε βάθος οὔτε τις κτίσις ἑτέρα δυνήσεται ἡμᾶς χωρίσαι ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν. (Pepeismai gar hoti oute thanatos oute zōē oute aggeloi oute archai oute enestōta oute mellonta oute dunameis oute hupsōma oute Bathos oute ktisis hetera dunesetai hēmas chōrisai apo tēs agapēs tou theou tēs en Christō Iesou tō kuriō hēmōn.)–For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor present things nor future things nor powers nor height nor depth nor another creature is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Salvation is sure, and it is not based on our good behaviour. God the Father planned it; God the Son achieved and maintains it, and God the Spirit works within us to keep us pressing forward toward holiness, even though our ultimate glorification does not depend on how far we now get.


Crystal Clarity Redux

In my introduction I said that I believed that any confusion over Paul’s grand meaning has arisen because scholars have so obsessed over details that they have lost sight of the forest in their preoccupation with trees and twigs. I will close with a different metaphor.

The field of Romans studies is like a field overrun with hares, each hare being chased by half a dozen eager dogs. The hares are the details that have been supposed to be difficulties in the interpretation of Romans, and the dogs are the many keen PhD candidates and the already-credentialed who want to up their publication count by capturing and stuffing one or more of the hares and putting them on display.

Chase the hares and the dogs off the paddock, as I have tried to do in this miniature commentary, and the pattern of the furrows laid down by the ploughman becomes easy to see.

May the end result bring blessing to everyone who reads it, to the glory of God.

Image Attribution: “The Twenty-Four Elders Adoring the Throne of God” Getty Center [Public domain]

Not the Sister Benedict Option

The Power of God in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans – Part 1

A friend of mine, a Roman Catholic, attended a Catholic boys’ high school. From time to time, he meets some of his old classmates, but my friend is the only one out of them who has continued to believe.

His friends put the blame on Sister Benedict. She was a fierce nun whose disciplinary method was to assure misbehaving boys that damnation awaited them unless they repented and mended their ways. Assailed often by this testimony, all the boys except my friend decided that they were such incorrigible reprobates that there was no point continuing to attend church. Only my friend managed to see past the ferocious sister to the gospel and so continue in faith.

My church study group has just completed a detailed study of the first eight chapters of St Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is plain there that God’s method for encouraging believers to holiness of life differs dramatically from the poor nun’s disastrous scheme. What is more, God guarantees that his way will succeed, and that the well-intentioned sister’s will not, nor any way that is like hers.

Milestone Passages in Romans 1 through 8

There are four passages that serve as milestones in the journey on which St Paul takes his readers in the first eight chapters of Romans. I will quote and comment on them here. (All quotations are from the ESV). If my comments sometimes enlarge on St Paul’s precise words, it is because I am certain that the enlargement accords with St Paul’s prior or subsequent exposition of the topic.


milestone_tr2Milestone 1
at Romans 1:16 marks the start of the journey. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Here (as we will find out when we read on in his letter), St Paul names the themes that will occupy him throughout chapters 1 to 8. We are going to find out that the gospel is about our salvation; that our salvation depends on the power of God; that we lay hold of the gospel’s blessings by faith; and that it’s the same gospel for everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike.


milestone_tr2The second milestone
is Romans 5:1-5. By the time we reach verse 1, we are at the mid-point of our journey. St Paul has proven that justification is by faith apart from works, and so he states what that means for us. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then, in verse 2, he tells us two more things that flow from our justification, and what that can mean for our state of heart. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Notice the certainty in St Paul’s words!

(i) We stand in a place of grace. We do not oscillate in and out of that place depending on how holy, or not, our behaviour is on a particular day. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who gave and still gives us access, not our success in living a godly life.

(ii) One day we will undoubtedly share in the glory of God. Someone might argue that, by using the word “hope”, St Paul is not asserting here that the glorification of all believers is certain. By the time we have read the final eleven verses of chapter 8, however, it ought to be clear that that is exactly what he does mean. Our hope of glorification is a “sure and certain” hope.

(iii) Because of this double certainty (we stand in a place of grace, and we will ultimately attain to the glory of God), we can live every day of our Christian lives rejoicing.

Verses 3 and 4 then tell us the practical result of living with such certainty. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” The Sister Benedicts of this world (and there are plenty on the Protestant side of the fence, too) think that Christians need to be kept on the straight and narrow by warnings and threats and reminders of hellfire. The Apostle Paul knows that the true foundation of a vibrant Christian life (as far as it lies with the individual) is the joyful assurance that we stand in a place of irrevocable grace, and that the grace that has seen me safe thus far will indeed see me home.

Verse 5 rounds out the rich content of this milestone passage by introducing the real power that ensures that a believer stays attuned to godliness and makes progress in sanctification, notwithstanding any deviations on the way. “…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

milestone_tr2The third milestone comes at Romans 8:1-2. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

In verse 1, St Paul repeats in different words what he said in Romans 5:1. “Condemned” is the opposite of “justified”, so “not condemned” has essentially the same meaning as “justified”. This time, though, St Paul doesn’t mention faith. Instead, he says that we are “in Christ”. In those words, he is reminding us of what he taught in chapters 5 and 6: that when we believed the gospel, God in some mysterious way united us with Christ. The only way to enter that state of blessing is to believe the gospel, so to say that someone is “in Christ” carries with it the necessary truth that he or she is a believer.

Verses 2-4 sum up what Paul hinted at in Romans 5:2 and began to teach in detail from that point forward. God will ensure that, as well as grasping hold of the gift of justification, every true believer will take the idea of holiness of life seriously and keep growing in that direction. Notice, too, how in verse 3 this progress is made to depend on the power of God: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.

Someone may point out that this progress depends on us walking in the Spirit and not the flesh. Perhaps our glorification is not so certain after all! However, in a later post, God willing, I will show that St Paul includes in the category of those who “walk by the Spirit”, everyone who has been justified by faith, and that this status is not changed even when a believer makes a deviation into fleshly behaviour. His certainty, therefore, is that the Spirit will bring them back on course in due time.

milestone_tr2The final milestone occurs at Romans 8:28-29, and marks the end of this section of the journey. “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” St Paul’s words resonate with the same joy and certainty that we heard in Romans 5:2.The Apostle has not lessened by one iota the certainty to which he encouraged us back then.

Incidentally, verses 38 and 39 are part of St Paul’s answer to the rhetorical question that he posed in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” I don’t know if St Paul knew the parable of the sower when he wrote his letter to the Romans, but it is interesting to compare verses 35‑39 with part of what our Lord Jesus Christ said when explaining the parable: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21). Paul’s victory cry in Romans 8 shows that no one who has been justified by faith is a “rocky ground” hearer.

Sister Benedict and her fretful cousins, Catholic or Protestant, who beset their charges with scoldings and make them worry about their standing with God, are like Uzzah (2 Samuel 6) who put out his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant. The triune God has fully under control the sanctification and ultimately the glorification of those who have believed. Yes, there is a place for pastoral and brotherly reminders and warnings. (See, for instance, Galatians 5:21, Galatians 6:7-8, and 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). Sin can still trip any of us for a time, but such warnings are likely to be fruitless and positively harmful if they are not built on the foundation of the teaching of grace, and if they are not accompanied by the reaffirmation of grace. Passages that show the spirit in which effective correction should be given include these: Galatians 6:1, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:15 and Hebrews 10:25

In coming weeks, I hope to add further posts to support this one by summarising the assertions St Paul makes and the proofs he provides in the various logical sections within chapters 1‑8. During that series, or in a post at the end, I will also address the “But what about…?’s” that will probably be asked, citing passages from St Paul himself or the Lord Jesus Christ or other epistles that allegedly contradict what I have said in this post is St Paul’s doctrine. (Spoiler: they don’t).

St Paul wanted us to live rejoicing. Let’s cease doubting and live as he encouraged us!

 

Main image: By ludger1961 – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305335

Milstone clipart: canstockphoto40726157.jpg