Friday, February 14

Romans 6:15-23: In this section Paul largely repeats what he had insisted on in the earlier part of this chapter (compare verses 1 and 15)— namely, that God’s gift of grace is free only in the sense that it cannot be earned. It is not free in the sense that it excuses Christians from stern moral and ascetical effort.

Strenuous activity and a robust sense of obligation, that is to say, pertain to the Gospel every bit as much as they did to Law. Man under grace has no fewer responsibilities than man under the Law. (Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount indicates that he has vastly more.) Speaking of “obedience to righteousness,” then, Paul clearly agrees with James’ teaching about the necessity of “works”: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (verse 16)

The holding of correct doctrine is also of the essence. At the time of baptism a believer submits himself “from the heart” to a “form of doctrine” (typos didaches), a creedal standard, a “rule of faith” (regula fidei), of which “you have taken delivery” (paredothete). Paul refers here to the teaching contained in the Tradition (paradosis) that he himself had received in preparation for his own baptism (16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

Once again, we observe that Paul presumes that these Roman Christians, none of whom had been catechized by him or his close associates, had nonetheless received the same foundational doctrine, in an established form (typos), that he himself had received. This is the authoritative Apostolic Tradition, which is clearly earlier than the writings of the New Testament itself.

In the profession of faith associated with the rite of baptism it has long been customary for believers to repudiate Satan just prior to their confession of the lordship of Jesus. Paul’s wording here appears to reflect this custom. The baptized Christian has exchanged one form of service for another.

In this connection Paul introduces the theme of Christian liberty (verses 18,22; 7:3; 8:2,21; Galatians 2:4; 3:28; 4:22-31; 5:1,13). This liberty is not to be confused with the supposed freedom given by the indulgence of the flesh, he says (verse 20). Alas, examples from Christian history prove (and Christian pastors today are well aware) that a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching about justification through faith has sometimes led, by a strange sort of logic, to very pernicious views about moral freedom. Such a process, however, leads the believer back to the reign of death (verses 21,23).

In context the “holiness” (hagiasmos) of verses 19 and 22 appears to refer to the sanctification and consecration of the Christian’s body, which requires control over the passions of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 1 Timothy 2:15). “This assertion may be hazarded, then, that it has been shown that death is the fellowship of the soul in the state of sin with the body, and that life is separation from sin” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.4).

In contrast to the reign of death, the Christian’s goal is eternal life. Men earn death; it is their “wages.” Eternal life, however, cannot be earned. It is the free gift (charisma) of God, given us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This eternal life also pertains to the Christian’s body, because it begins with the baptism of the body. Accordingly, commenting on these verses, Tertullian wrote sometime about the year 200:

Thus, throughout this series of meanings (sensuum seriem), withdrawing our members from unrighteousness and sin, and applying them to righteousness and sanctification, and moving them from the wages of death to the free gift of life, [Paul] undoubtedly promises to the flesh the recompense of salvation. Now it would not at all have been consistent that any rule of holiness and righteousness should be explicitly enjoined on the flesh, if the latter were incapable of receiving the reward of that discipline. Nor could baptism be properly ordered for the flesh, if by means of its regeneration a course were not begun unto its restoration” (De Resurrectione Mortuorum 42.8-9).

Saturday, February 15

Romans 7:1-6: Already in this epistle Paul has touched on the function of the Law with respect to the reign of sin and death. In the present chapter he treats this theme in a more ample fashion. How is it, he wonders, that something so godly as the Law, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, should actually serve the interests of sin and death?

When Paul had reflected on the historical function of the Law a few years earlier, his attitude had been more positive (Galatians 3:22-23): “we were kept under guard by the Law.” Now, however, it has become clear here in Romans that Paul’s views of the Law have shifted and deepened (3:20,31; 4:15; 5:13,20). They have shifted in the direction of dialectic and deepened in the perception of a mystery.

The real problem, Paul will argue here in Romans, was not with the Law in itself; the problem was in man, whose bondage to sin and death rendered him incapable of observing the Law. The Law, remaining external to man, did not alter him within. Grace, he will argue later in this epistle, alters man from within.

To illustrate the Christian’s freedom from the Law, Paul resorts to an analogy prompted by his considerations of death in the previous chapter. He compares the Law to the regulation of marriage, which provides for the dissolution of marriage at the death of one of the partners. Now, as has already been shown, Christians died to sin in their baptism. Since they are dead, therefore, the Law can make no further claim over them (verses 1-6; 6:9,14).

This was the truth at stake in the Judaizers’ conflict in Galatia a few years earlier, when Paul saw the Gospel itself to be at risk. The affirmation that Christians are still bound by the Mosaic Law meant for Paul that they would return to the reign of death. Their union with Christ in baptism and faith would count for nothing.

In baptism the Christian had died, however, by being sacramentally united to Christ in His death (verse 4). It is through their union with the sacrificial body of Christ that Christians are delivered from the curse of the Law (Galatians 2:10-20; 3:13). They are no longer “wed” to the Law, but to the Lord who died and rose again. This mystery introduces the “eschatological now” (verse 6), “the newness of the Spirit” (6:4).

In contrasting this newness of the Spirit with “the oldness of the letter,” Paul touches on an exegetical theme that he had treated at some length the previous year (2 Corinthians 3).

Sunday, February 16

Romans 7:7-12: Paul now adopts the first person singular to speak on behalf of the human race, which has experienced the transitions of its moral history. The “I” in these verses, then, is the whole human race coming to grips with sin, death, and the Law. (On Paul’s use of the “I” to designate men or believers in general, cf. 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 13:1-3,11-12; 14:6-19.)

The Law in these verses is the Mosaic Law, but the latter is understood in such a way as to include those adumbrations of the Law known earlier than, and apart from, Moses (cf. Sirach 17:4-11; 44:20). Indeed, even Adam knew certain components of the Law (cf. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 2.24; Ambrose of Milan, De Paradiso 4).

Paul’s argument is easily summarized: Man is made a moral agent only when he is faced with a moral responsibility. If there are no commandments that might be disobeyed, sin is lifeless (verse 8). A commandment, however, revives sin, as it were (verse 9), thus putting man into the realm of death (verse 10; 5:13). That is to say, by means of this very good commandment (verse 12), sin brings man to death (verse 11). Tertullian later made powerful use of these Pauline verses in his argument against Marcion (Against Marcion 5.13.13-15).

Matthew 12:38-42: The figure of Jonah should also be understood here as representing the prophetic tradition of Holy Scripture. (In subsequent verses Solomon will represent the sapiential tradition of the Bible.)

Jesus is the “greater than Jonah,” whose earlier ministry foreshadowed the Lord’s death and Resurrection and also the conversion of the Gentiles. The Lord’s appeal to Jonah in this text speaks also of Jonah as a type or symbol of the Resurrection. The men of Nineveh, who repented and believed, are contrasted with the unrepentant Jewish leaders who refuse to believe in the Resurrection (cf. 28:13-15). Matthew will return to the sign of Jonah in 16:2. Jesus is also the “greater than Solomon,” who was founder of Israel’s wisdom literature and builder of the Temple.

Monday, February 17

Romans 7:13-25: Although the “I” in these verses represents the human experience generally considered, it would be wrong to assume that Paul is not speaking from personal experience—very wrong. Paul knew on his own pulse what it was to offend God. He had offended God grievously. He had experienced the dilemma described in these verses. He was well aware what it meant to be a great sinner, even while meticulously observing the smallest points of the Mosaic Law (Philippians 3:6; Galatians 1:13-14).

Indeed, it was Paul’s own strict adherence to the Law that had led him to the most serious sin of his life, the only personal sin on which he ever comments — the persecution of Christians. In Paul’s conversion he was made aware, in a way that he would never forget, that his endeavor to achieve righteousness by the observance of the Law had led him into his worst sin: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

It was in that experience of his conversion that he discerned “another law in my members, working against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (verse 23).

That is to say, it was his very zeal for the Law of God that had occasioned his worst sin against heaven. He had not been doing what he had intended to do (verse 15). Sin had taken over his life. He had been acting as a slave of sin. Thus, in his conversion Paul learned the experience common to all the children of Adam—namely, the radical inability to find justification before God without the reconciling grace of Christ.

No, this dilemma was not the fault of the Law. It was, rather, the manifestation of the power of sin in man’s very flesh, this flesh burdened with death. Sin is not in the Law; sin is in man’s very flesh, working through death (verses 13-15). Inherited sin is internal to man, which is why grace must become internal to man.

With his mind, then, man contemplates the Law, but it remains external to him. There is another “law” internal to man: the law of sin and death, the law that man really obeys (verse 19).

A man forced to do what he really doesn’t want to do is properly called a slave (verses 16,23; 6:13,19), and a man without Christ is certainly a slave to sin. This is the reign of death. It abides in man’s very flesh, which Paul calls “this body of death” (verse 24; 6:6; Philippians 3:21). As we have had occasion to remark more than once, “sin reigns in death.” Death is the legacy left us by Adam. It reigns in our very bodies. It was to free us from death that Christ rose from the dead.

Verses 17 and 20 have occasionally been interpreted as excusing man from the responsibility for his sins. If this were the case, of course, man would not need a Savior. The whole of the Bible, however—and Paul especially—contends that the children of Adam are destined for eternal damnation, except for the mercy of God poured out in the reconciling blood of Christ. Sin is never excused. Sin is paid for.

Tuesday, February 18

Romans 8:1-11: The “condemnation” of which we are free is the ancient “curse,” the finality of death and corruption (Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:7,9).

This section, which climaxes with the promise of God’s victory over death and corruption at the final raising of our bodies (verse 11), introduces a more extensive meditation on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, hitherto referred to only five times in the previous seven chapters, will be named twenty-nine times in the present chapter, easily the highest concentration in all of Paul’s writings, and even in the whole New Testament.

The grace of justification—“this grace in which we stand” (5:2)—comes from the Holy Spirit who abides in us. Unlike the Law, by which we can never be justified, the Holy Spirit is internal to us (verse 2). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the reason of our final salvation, which is the resurrection of our bodies. Because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, they will rise again.

If, however, we go back to “live according to the flesh” (verse 5), this flesh which is still destined to die (verse 10), we place ourselves again under the reign of death.

Those who do so “cannot please God” (verse 8). And pleasing God is the summation of man’s moral duty (1 Corinthians 7:32; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 4:1). The grace of justification, therefore, places on the believer a most stern obligation to bring his mind and his conduct under “the things of the Spirit” (verse 5). Only thus will he be truly free of sin, death, and the Law (verse 4).

The word for “mind” in these verses is not nous, as in the previous chapter, but phronema, perhaps better translated as “mind set,” or “frame of mind.” Paul is contrasting two kinds of consciousness and intentionality (verses 6-7,27). Outside of the four times here in Romans 8 (verses 6 [twice],7,27), phronema is not found in the New Testament. Also the verb form of this noun, phroneo, which means “to think on,” or “to set one’s mind on,” is found in Romans several times (8:5; 11:20; 12:3,16 [twice each]; 14:6 [twice]; 15:5). Romans is preeminently a book about how to think correctly on the subject of faith and justification.

Man’s real problem was not the Law, but man’s indwelling sin (7:22-23). Inasmuch as it remained external to man, the Law was unable to take away sin (verse 3). Man could not be justified by something that remained external to his being. The new, internal principle of his righteousness is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within him (verses 9-11; Jude 9). The requirement of the Law, that is to say, is “fulfilled in us”(verse 4) by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

God, therefore, does not simply declare the believer righteous; He makes the believer righteous. Because sin is internal to man, righteousness must be internal to man. Righteousness is not an act of God that remains external to man. If that were the case, it would be no improvement over the Law.

Wednesday, February 19

Romans 8:12-17: Hitherto we have considered how the Christian’s heart is sustained by his memory of the past, his recollection of what God has already done for him in Christ. Now, however, Paul will speak of the Christian’s encouragement by bearing in mind what God will yet do for him in the future. As we have had several occasions to observe, the vocabulary of salvation (such as “saved”) in the Epistle to the Romans tends generally to be in the future tense. Man’s definitive salvation consists in the resurrection of his body, the final victory over the reign of death.

It was in man’s body, after all, that sin “reigned in death.” Mortality was the essence of Adam’s legacy to us, the very embodiment of his sin. Salvation is not complete, therefore, until the resurrection of our bodies. Several years earlier Paul had argued that thesis in 1 Corinthians 15. He returns to it several times, as we have seen, in Romans, and he deals with it again in the present passage. The final object of the Christian hope, for Paul, is not even the soul’s departure to be with God in heaven. It is, rather, “the redemption of our body” (verse 23), this very body laid low by death, but from which the Holy Spirit refuses to depart (verse 11).

It is by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, or sonship (huiothesia—Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), that we are made the children of God (verses 14-17). It is for this reason that the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father,” is supremely the prayer of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we can only pray it in the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Abba, Father,” just as it is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Only in the Holy Spirit do we know the identity of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit both makes us the children of God and alters our consciousness so that we know ourselves to be the children of God (verse 16). The Holy Spirit, then, is the new, internal principle by which we are united to the Father and the Son in knowledge and in love.

But there are obstacles to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and these must be resisted and overcome. The Christian must mortify, “put to death,” whatever in himself is inimical and recalcitrant to the Holy Spirit (verse 13). This effort will involve a measure of suffering, which we unite, by intention, with the sufferings of Christ (verses 17-19,25).

Thursday, February 20

Romans 8:18-30: The suffering of Christians pertains to the very birth pangs of Creation, for Creation too awaits the revelation of God’s glory in the resurrection of our bodies (verses 18-23). Just as the sin of Adam left the mark of death on all of Creation (Genesis 3:17), Christ’s final victory over death is the object of Creation’s hope and longing. Creation itself will be delivered from its “bondage of corruption” (verse 21). This physical corruption, this decay, was not part of God’s original plan. It is the mark of the reign of death, and it will be removed forever when Christ, at the end of time, returns to claim the bodies of the redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).

This final salvation of all Creation, which Paul speaks of here in Romans 8, will become a major theme—the recapitulation of all things in Christ—in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, written during the two years that he will soon spend in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:27).

Although manuscripts vary on the point, it appears that the words “the adoption” do not properly belong in verse 23 and should be left out. The expression is not found in the earliest papyrus copy of the text, and its insertion here, difficult to explain, seems at odds with the context.

Verse 24 is one of the few places in Romans where “saved” is in the past tense. It is significantly qualified by “in hope.”

From his own experience as a man of prayer (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; cf. James 4:3), Paul knew that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (verse 26). The reference to the Spirit’s “intercession” is literally hyperentygchanei, a verb which originally meant “to interrupt,” “to assume control of.” That is to say, the Holy Spirit interrupts, He breaks into our prayer. He takes over and guides our prayer. He becomes the divine “over-voice.” We do not hear Him, but God does.

The initial manifestation of this take-over by the Holy Spirit is found in the words “Abba, Father” and “Jesus is Lord,” the two dogmatic affirmations that we can make only in the Holy Spirit. God recognizes what the Spirit implores in our prayer (verse 27). The words “Thy will be done,” which are at least implicit in all Christian prayer, testify to our conviction that speaking to our Father in heaven invariably puts us in a realm beyond our comprehension. In Christian prayer there is always more going on than we know.

Paul brings to a close—and to something of a climax—the second part of the Epistle to the Romans (chapters 5-8), on the theme of the Christian existence of those who have been justified in Christ.

In verse 28 there is a textual problem respecting the word “God,” because the extant manuscripts vary on the matter. Depending on which manuscripts are followed (and sheer antiquity is not an adequate guide here, because the manuscripts come from various ancient Christian churches, and some textural mistakes seem to have been introduced rather early), the meaning of the passage is either “in everything God works for good with those who love Him,” or “God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him,” or “everything works together for the good of those who love God.” All of these readings testify to God’s providential control of events in the lives of those who love Him.

Friday, February 21

Romans 8:31-39: Paul speaks of Divine Providence, by which God brings mysterious influences to bear on the direction of history. Paul now inaugurates this theme. He will continue it through the rest of this chapter, and then in chapters 9-11 he will apply it directly to the historical situation that the early Christians were facing—namely, the rejection of the Gospel by the larger masses of the Jewish people. Why did that happen? Paul’s response will be: Because God had in mind some greater good that would ensue. God is the Lord of history. He knows everything ahead of time. Knowing everything ahead of time, He quietly and mysteriously arranges and prearranges circumstances in order to bring about the greater good.

Thus, Paul will continue the ancient theme of God’s providential ability to bring good out of evil. This thesis, which will form the substance of his argument in chapters 9-11, is a common one in the Old Testament. It is obvious, for instance, in the stories of Joseph. Paul will appeal to its presence in the stories of Esau and Pharaoh.

God’s knowledge of the future is the basis on which He is able to arrange for those circumstances which will influence the course of events. The English biblical word for this divine activity is “predestination,” which in context means “adjusting things ahead of time.” In Holy Scripture this category always refers to God’s historical adjustment (the word is chosen with some trepidation, for we have no idea how the Lord does these things), based on the divine foreknowledge. It never means an eternal decree that imposes itself on history. The latter concept, which is quite unbiblical, did not appear until fairly late in Christian history, and it is has been the source of endless theological confusion.
Those who love God (or however else verse 28 is to be interpreted, as we saw above) are the “predestined” (verse 29), “those who are called according to His purpose” (verse 28). These “predestined and called” are not a separate category of Christians. The terms refer to the body of those who constitute the Church, the Christians who have responded to God’s initiatory love and call (1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:12).

This statement of Paul has nothing to do with anyone’s alleged predestination to heaven or hell. It is not a statement of theodicy. Although God certainly knows all things ahead of time, including each person’s eternal destiny, He does not predetermine those actions that lie within the realm of human freedom. Men make their own choices, for which they alone are held responsible. God foreknows these actions, but He does not predetermine them. We do not understand how God influences the activities of history, but we do know that He never acts in such a way as to remove man’s freedom of choice.

What, then, does Holy Scripture mean when it asserts that God “predestines”? The verb itself, proorizo, means “to arrange ahead of time. In the biblical context, where this verb appears with “foreknow” (proginosko, “to know ahead of time”), the verb signifies the providential arrangements by which He brings people to the grace of the Gospel. That is to say, predestination embraces the mysterious influences that God brings to bear on history, so that all things work together for the good of those who love Him.