Friday, February 7

Romans 3:9-20: After the diatribe that begins this chapter (verses 3-8), Paul returns to the theme introduced in chapter two, the alleged moral advantage of the Jew over the Gentile. Even though God’s fidelity to the Jews, in spite of their infidelities to Him, does ironically manifest the privileged position of the Jews in salvation history, from a moral perspective this fact hardly warrants any boasting on the part of the Jews. Indeed, it shows them up rather badly. In short, Paul is arguing, “we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (verse 9).

This is, in truth, man’s concrete position before God—he is “under sin” (hyph’ hamartian). Such is Paul’s repeated contention in Romans (verse 23; 5:5:12). Let us note he uses the word “sin” here for the first time in this epistle.

In support of his thesis about man’s subjection to sin, Paul quotes (along with other sources) the Book of Psalms 14 (13):1-3; 53 (52):1-3. These two psalms both begin with the fool’s assertion that “there is no God.” In citing these psalms, therefore, Paul is once again taking up, from chapter one, the denial of God by the “fools” (1:22), whose “foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). The “fools” in these psalms, Paul is suggesting, are not simply Gentiles, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23).

The totality, the completeness, of man’s sinful condition is indicated here by Paul’s scriptural references to the various body parts that contribute to the sin: throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes (verses 13-5). Man is, in short—sinful, sinful in all his parts.

What “man” in this context? Well, the Old Testament passages cited by Paul seem to refer to the Jews, after all (verse 19), so the Jew can claim no moral superiority over the Gentile. In verses 19-20 the totality of man’s sinful state is accented by the triple use of the word “all” or “every” (pas).

In short, man is not justified before God by the works of the Law, because “by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (verse 20). This expression, “works of the Law,” does not refer to good works generally; it refers, rather, to those commandments (including, ironically, a certain abstention from “work” on the Sabbath) laid down in the Law of Moses. Paul is not contrasting faith with works; he is contrasting the Gospel with the Law of Moses. The latter, he says, does not justify man; it gives man, rather, the knowledge or consciousness (epignosis) of sin.

Here again the apostle cites the Book of Psalms (143 [142]:1-2), where the inspired psalmist insists that “all flesh ” (pasa sarxs) fails to be justified (dikaiothesetai) before God. How, then, is a man to be justified, to be rendered righteous? The psalmist himself answers, “In Your faithfulness hear me, in Your righteousness.” That is to say, even according to the Old Testament, it is God who justifies; it is God who makes righteous.

Paul thus introduces a theme that will be developed at greater length in chapter seven, namely, man’s consciousness of sin made more manifest by the Law. The function of the Law, in this context, is to prove to man just how rebellious, how depraved, how immoral he is (4:5; 5:13). If in this sense the Law makes sinners of us all, surely this is even more the case for the Jew, after all, to whom the Law was given.

Saturday, February 8

Romans 3:21-31: The tone of this epistle has been negative hitherto, emphasizing man’s weakness and fallen state, “but now” (verse 21) Paul introduces the Christian hope, rooted in God’s righteousness and fidelity manifested in Jesus Christ. The “now” here is chronological and not just rhetorical, because a new era has dawned in Christ, foretold by the Law and the Prophets.

This reference to the present tense has been called the “eschatological now” (also in verse 26; 5:9,11; 6:22; 7:6; 8:1,18; 11:5,30,31; 13:11; 16:26), the era of the Gospel, which replaces the dispensation of the Law.

These verses, then, express the very essence of the Gospel, salvation through faith in the God who redeems us in Christ. The “righteousness of God,” which we just saw in Psalms 143 (142), is not a quality of condemnation, of outraged divine justice, but the source, rather, of divine deliverance from sin and corruption. Paul speaks of this four times in these few verses.

The pistis Iesou Christou (verses 22,26; Galatians 2:16,20) is literally the “faith of Jesus Christ.” It is not simply an objective genitive, “faith in Jesus.” This expression means, rather, “faith in all matters that concern Jesus Christ,” faith in the entire dispensation of grace through Jesus Christ, including the faith that Jesus modeled for us in the course of accomplishing our redemption (cf. Hebrews 12:2). In context it is perhaps better translated as, “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

Just as there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in sin, so there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ. After all, we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (verse 23). This divine glory (doxsa) of which we fall short (that is, “miss out on”—hysterountai), is conveyed to us as we grow in grace (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Although Paul uses the legal language of the Old Testament, it is inaccurate to interpret “freely justified by His grace” only in the sense of an outward, judicial, forensic pronouncement on God’s part. Such a view would render divine grace just as external to man’s heart as was the Law. This theory of a merely external righteousness effectively separates repentance from holiness, as though God would declare a man righteous without actually making him righteous, pronounce him to be just without causing him to be a “saint,” and convert him but without giving him a new heart. God’s righteous act, His deed of justification, does not remain external to the one whom He justifies; it alters him from within.

In fact, a major and essential difference between the Law and the Gospel consists in this very distinction between an external form and an internal transformation. God’s grace justifies by transforming from within; it actually produces something new. By this justifying grace we are made a “new creation” in Christ; we “become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Sunday, February 9

Romans 4:1-12: When St. Paul asserted, at the end of the previous chapter, that by the proclamation of the Gospel “we establish the Law,” it is clear that he understood the latter term in the sense of the whole content of the Torah, including the narratives that it contains. He apparently intended to include the entire Old Testament under this heading. That is to say, the proclamation of the Gospel provides the proper hermeneutic basis for that entire body of divinely inspired literature that the Christian Church has received from the Jews. The Gospel is the key to the Law; it provides the correct understanding of that literature.

In the present chapter the apostle illustrates and demonstrates that the principle of justification through faith lies at the heart of the Old Testament. He has recourse to this Gospel principle as illustrated in the lives of Abraham and David.

In the case of David, who had violated at least two articles of the Decalogue, justification came from the forgiveness of his sins. David had not observed the Law, but God had forgiven his lawless deeds and not imputed his sins unto him (verses 7-8).

In this non-imputation of sin, the verb employed is logizesthai, which Paul uses with respect to both David and Abraham. Such imputation is not some sort of legal fiction. This verb, in its normal and literal meaning, comes from the practice of accounting, bookkeeping, and maintaining ledgers. In the Greek Bible it is used metaphorically in the sense of a recorded account of man’s moral conduct, as though God and the angels were “keeping tabs” on him (Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalms 106 [105]:31; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12). This figurative use of the verb in a theological sense seems to be an extension of its figurative use in a legal and forensic sense, such as in court records and similar official archives (cf. Esther 6:1-3).

Thus, when David writes that a forgiven man’s sins are not “imputed” to him, the meaning is that those sins are no longer kept on the ledger, so to speak. They have been erased or “whited over.” Our sins are removed from the divine calculation, as it were. Our sins are “covered” (verse 7), not in the sense that they still remain in the soul, but in the sense that God has put them out of His mind. They are over and done with. He remembers them no more. The blood of the Lamb has washed them away, and a man never again needs to remember what God has forgotten.

Monday, February 10

Romans 4:13-25: Independent of the Mosaic Law, Abraham received in faith the promise of God (verse 13), the assurance of a great progeny. It is Paul’s contention that Christians themselves pertain to that progeny if they adhere to the faith by which Moses received the promise of it. It is faith, not the Law, which determines who are the true heirs of Abraham.

Suddenly, and as though by parenthesis, Paul asserts that “the Law brings about wrath” (verse 15). This means that the Mosaic Law, by adding to man’s moral responsibilities, increases the opportunities for further transgressions, and these transgressions, in turn, evoke the divine wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic Law actually makes man’s moral situation worse! Consequently, the Law cannot be the instrument of man’s salvation. Paul barely introduces this idea here; he will elaborate it at some length in chapter seven.

Paul here begins to treat the theme of death, a topic he had introduced in 1:32. From this point on, the arguments of the Epistle to the Romans will be directed at the theme of death, expressed in both the noun thanatos (a word found in Romans twenty-two times) and the adjective nekros (found in Romans sixteen times). Paul commences his long argument that man’s justification has to do with Christ’s victory over death. That is to say, man is justified by the power of Christ’s resurrection, unleashed into this world by the Gospel.

Abraham, exemplifying salvific faith, believed in the God who could make fruitful his own “dead” flesh and the “dead” womb of Sarah (verses 17-19; Genesis 17:15-21). Paul compares this to God’s calling all of Creation out of nothingness. This call is the promise of the Resurrection, as he will make clear at the end of the chapter.

This ascription of righteousness to faith pertains not only to Abraham but also to us his children (verses 23-24), if we live by that same faith. Concretely, this means faith in the God who raises the dead, symbolized in the “dead” bodies of Abraham and Sarah. The God who raises Jesus from the dead is the same God who called all things from nothingness into being.

Tuesday, February 11

Romans 5:1-11: Paul now moves from the fact of justification to the actual experience of the Christian life. That is to say, he moves from proclamation (kerygma) to theology, from the righteousness of God to the love of God (verses 5,8), from the experience of becoming a Christian to the experience of being a Christian. In these eleven verses Paul introduces in a few words the ideas that he will develop at much greater length in Romans 8:1-39.

It is instructive to observe Paul’s use of verbal tenses in this chapter. He now employs the past tense to speak of reconciliation and justification. This is something that has already happened: “having been justified through faith” (verse 1), “having now been justified by His blood” (verse 9), “we have now received the reconciliation” (verse 11).

If our reconciliation, our justification, is spoken of in the past tense, however, our salvation still pertains to the future tense: “we shall be saved from wrath” (verse 9), “we shall be saved by His life” (verse 10). As we saw already in chapter one, references to salvation in the Epistle to the Romans tend to be in the future tense (9:27; 10:9,13; 11:11,26; 13:11). Paul always has in mind the return of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies in glory.

The dominant tense in Paul’s description of the Christian life, nonetheless, is the present tense, the “eschatological now.” In the present tense, “we have peace with God” (verse 1), “we stand and rejoice in hope” (verse 2), “we also rejoice” (verse 11). In the present tense the accent is on hope, because the final salvation of the justified Christian still lies in the future. Like faith, hope is based on the promise and fidelity of God. The grace in which we stand leads to the glory that is to come.

If, during the eschatological now, the Christian life proves to be somewhat tough, “we also glory in tribulations” (verse 3). This is why Paul insists on patience or perseverance, hypomone. “Patience is on account of hope in the future. Now hope is synonymous with the recompense and reward of hope” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.22).

Unlike many human hopes, this hope will not be disappointed, because God’s love for us “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (verse 5). The Christian life flows from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of justified Christians. Hope, then, has a double meaning: It refers to the present reality of the Spirit’s assurance and also to the final object of the Spirit’s longing.

Regarding this hope as twofold—what is anticipated and what has already been received—he now teaches the goal to be the reward of hope” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 2.22).

Wednesday, February 12

Romans 5:12-21: Having earlier treated of Abraham and David in regard to justification, Paul now turns to a consideration of Adam, whose sin introduced death into the world. Our mortality is the Fall that we sinners inherit from Adam. If, apart from Christ, sins reigns, “sin reigns in death” (verse 21). By reason of Adam’s Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because “the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).

In the death and resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, are unleashed the energies of life and incorruption. This is the foundation of Paul’s antithetical comparison of Christ and Adam.

Paul goes to Genesis 3 to explain what he calls “the reign of death” (verses 14,17). In the Bible death is not natural, nor is it merely biological, and certainly it is not neutral. Apart from Christ, death represents man’s final separation from God (verse 21; 6:21,23; 8:2,6,38). The corruption of death is sin incarnate and rendered visible. When this “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:56) has finally been vanquished, then may we most correctly speak of “salvation.” This is why the vocabulary of salvation normally appears in Romans in the future tense.

Because of men’s inheritance of Adam’s Fall, “all sinned.” (Paul is not considering infants here, but this consideration makes no difference to the principle. What has been handed on in Adam’s Fall is not, in the first instance, a sense of personal guilt, but the reign of death: “Sin reigns in death” [verse 21]. Infants, alas, are also the heirs of death, and therefore of Adam’s Fall.)

The reign of death was present from Adam to Moses, but because the Law had not yet been given, men were not invariably held accountable for their transgressions (verse 13; 3:20; 4:15). No matter—they still died! Death reigned (verse 14).

Did the coming of the Mosaic Law improve the situation? Of course not. Not only did the Law not take away the reign of death, but it also made men more consciously aware of their fallen state (verse 20; Galatians 3:13,19). “For as the Law was spiritual, it emphasized sin but did not destroy it” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3.18.7). Indeed, wrote Augustine of Hippo, “prohibition increases the desire of illicit action” (The City of God 13.5).

It was by way of antithesis that Adam prefigured Christ, the new Head of humanity, who introduces a life more abundant, more extensive, more powerful than Adam’s Fall (verses 15-21). No matter how much sin abounded, now grace and mercy abound the more. That is to say, Christ has more than made up the “shortfall” of Adam. The abundant mercy of God is demonstrated by the fact that the whole blighted history of man’s transgressions culminates, because of Christ, in man’s acquittal.

The reign of death, then, is replaced by the reign of the saints. In contrast to the reign of death, this is a reign “in life” (verse 17), in “justification of life” (verse 18, clearly an appositional genitive), even in “eternal life” (verse 21).

The contrast between the obedience of Christ and the disobedience of Adam (verse 19) was evidently a theme of early pre-Pauline hymnography (cf. Philippians 2:5-10).

How did Adam’s sin make all men sinners? By the transmission of death as the human inheritance. “Sin reigns in death” (verse 21). In the Bible, death apart from Christ is man’s final and definitive separation from God, which is the essence of sin. Men are conceived and born as sinners because death reigns in their very being. Death is the essence of Adam’s legacy to the human race: “The death, then, of the soul, takes place when God forsakes it, the death of the body when the soul forsakes it. Therefore the death of both—of the whole man, that is—takes place when the soul, forsaken by God, forsakes the body. When this happens, God is no longer the life of the soul, nor the soul the life of the body” (Augustine, The City of God 13.2).

It is from this reign of death that Christ came to set us free. Our salvation will be complete when our bodies themselves have been set free from the tyranny of death.

Thursday, February 13

Romans 6:1-14: The sole person who has overcome the reign of death is Jesus Christ, who could not be held by the clutches of death. As soon as death grabbed hold of Him, it knew that it had met more than its match. The sin that reigned “in death” was thus vanquished, the death of Christ atoning for the sins of the whole world. Thus, the death that He died, “He died to sin” (verse 10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). His death, embraced in obedience to the Father’s will, reversed the disobedience of Adam and redeemed, for God, all of Adam’s children. By His death, the sacrificial Lamb of God took away the sins of the whole world.

By His rising again, likewise, Jesus Christ conquered and brought to an end the reign of death. “Death no longer has dominion over Him” (verse 9). Thus the death (including the shedding of His blood and all the sufferings attendant on that death) and the resurrection (including the ascension into heaven, the entrance into the Holy Place, and the sitting at the right hand of the Father) of Jesus Christ form the single activity of our redemption. Neither part of that mystery is separable from the other, such is its integrity, its wholeness, its catholicity (kath’ holon = ”according to the whole”).

At their baptism into the faith of Christ, Christians are plunged under the water in sacramental imitation of Jesus’ burial, and their emergence from that water symbolizes in mystery Christ’s rising from the tomb. Baptism, therefore, is regarded by Paul as the normative and essential foundation for the life in Christ (verses 4-5,8; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 4:1).

It is instructive to observe that Paul expects all Christians to know this, even those who have never met him or heard him preach (verse 3). He presumes this doctrine to pertain to the common deposit of the Christian faith that he himself received from the inherited apostolic teaching. Indeed, such explicit teaching about the significance of baptism was part of the pre-baptismal catechesis, in which new believers learned the meaning of what they were about to do (cf. Hebrews 6:1-2; Acts 19:1-5).

But faith and baptism form only the beginning. The life in Christ involves also a concerted effort and striving in order to bring the believer’s conduct into conformity with the mystery symbolized and effected in baptism—which is to say, death unto sin, life unto God. The new life in Christ aims at the transfiguration, the reconfiguration, of the human being (verse 4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Therefore, sin must go! There must be no more adherence to sin; we must no longer “serve sin” (verse 6). Man can bring only evil out of evil; only God can bring good out of evil. God’s redemptive activity, in which He effected the superabundance of righteousness out of the multitude of human transgressions, has no application to the Christian moral life. Those who endeavor to make the abundance of divine mercy an excuse for continuance in sin have grievously misunderstood the teaching of the Epistle to the Romans.

The basis on the believer’s rejection of sin is not a law external to him; it is an internal identification with the Lord who has conquered sin and death, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The final goal is our own bodily resurrection from the dead at the end of time. As we considered earlier, this will be the fullness of salvation (verse 5).

For the present, the Christian is to “walk” (verse 4; Genesis 17:1; 1 Kings 20:3; Proverbs 8:20). This expression designates ascetical and moral striving as essential—not optional—to the Christian life. This striving includes identification with the sufferings of Christ (verse 6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14).

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).