Letter to the Romans
Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
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Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter to the Romans (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading comments below). Reflections on each chapter are drawn from my personal interaction with the chapter in a daily quiet time.
Introduction: Paul had completed two missionary journeys. Now, while still in Corinth during his third journey, he began preparations for a visit to Rome, probably in AD 57 or 58. The church in Rome was predominantly Gentile and may have been founded by Jews visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2) or by Gentiles who had come to Christ by some other way. In any case, Paul's visit would be to people he'd not yet met and his desire was to set a good foundation for that visit which did not take place as planned but under the circumstances described towards the end of Acts. Paul is not seeking to correct error or defend against a foe; simply to outline the Gospel as God's gift of righteousness and new life in Christ, the relation of this Gospel to the Jews and implications of the Gospel in daily life.
Careful study of Paul's letter to the Romans has changed the world. Such thoughtful engagement was foundational to Martin Luther initiating the Reformation of the church in the 1500s and, 4 centuries later, to Karl Barth initiating the reformation of a German theological Liberalism which had drained the church of personal relationship with the Risen Christ.
Who are You? Paul, as are we all who follow Christ as Lord, is bound to Christ, called and set apart for the purposes of the Gospel (v.1). To be bound to Christ is to be bound as a slave is to one's Master. At the same time we are Christ's intimate friends as we share in his common redemptive purpose.
The Gospel of God came through Jesus who, in his duel-nature, was born a descendant of David and through his resurrection revealed to all as the Son of God (v.3-4). In the Gospel of God we have grace and peace (v.7) because it is the power of God for salvation (v.16) as we receive God's gift of righteousness by faith (v.17).
The Wrath of God - Justly Deserved: God's gift of righteousness is our desperate need because of God's just wrath against unrighteousness, ungodliness and unholiness (v.18). In this we are without excuse (v.20) because we are separated from God by choice. In creation are clearly evident God's attributes, power and nature (v.20) but, due to antagonism against God, we choose to suppress that of which God has made us aware (v.18). Therefore we neither honor or thank God for who he is.
Our Fall into Sin: The results are terrible. Our fallen minds are affected (v.28) so we can no longer use them as God intended. Our hearts are affected, becoming dark and foolish (v.21). As a result people rejecting God make the worst exchange in eternity: glory for corruption, the Creator for a mere image of a created animal, truth for a lie, servitude to a creature for worship of Him who is blessed forever (v.23,25). In addition, all manner of uncleanness follows to make temporary physical life almost unbearable (v.26-32).
The Wrath of God - Justly Exercised: We must not avoid acknowledging the wrath of God against unrighteousness, ungodliness, uncleanness, lawlessness and unholiness. It is real and justly exercised both in life and at the brink of eternity. There can be no mixture of righteousness and unrighteousness. The wrath of God is necessary for our universe to be cleansed; to become just, holy, moral and righteous as God intended. We are in desperate need of grace, healing and reconciliation.
Personal Application: I am bound to Christ, called and set apart for the Gospel (v.1). Therefore I will not be ashamed of the Gospel but speak daily, directly and clearly of grace, forgiveness, righteousness and everlasting life in Jesus Christ. I will live the grace, righteousness and gratitude of which I speak.
My Prayer: Wonder of wonders, God of grace and mercy, how
wonderful your gift of righteousness to us in Christ! Flow though me, I pray,
so, as I invite the lost to receive your gift by faith, each will see You.
Everyone is under the judgment of God: When we judge others we declare the standard by which we judge others to be right. This standard then applies also to us and we are judged by it (v.1-3). In this Paul follows the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 7:1-5).
The purpose of God's patience should not misunderstood: it is to lead us to repentance (v.4) which is critical since we will be judged by our deeds and God's wrath mounts with our unrighteousness (v.5). In this, God is impartial (v.11).
Only Two Destinies: Those seeking God's righteousness will experience glory, honor and peace (v.10) while the unrighteous will suffer destruction of all that is good in and around them (v.8-9).
Jews and Gentiles will be judged alike: Jews will be judged by the law; knowing the law provides no favor (v.13). Gentiles will be judged by their conscience informed by the law God has written in their hearts (v.14-15; Jeremiah 31:33-34). There is no secret sin God will not judge (v.16; Luke 12:2-3). We are all in desperate need of Christ. None of us can avoid judgment. Christ alone is our Passover, our Jubilee.
Privilege is responsibility: God's law reveals God's character (v.20b) enabling His people to be guides to the blind, light in the darkness, wisdom to the foolish, teacher to the immature (v.19-20). This knowledge of the truth brings also responsibility and is standard by which we are judged by God (v.21-23) and by the world (v.24).
Meaning of circumcision: Like the law, circumcision - sign of God's covenant - points first to a spiritual reality (v.27) because God looks first on the heart. For this reason we must avoid shallow external appearances. Man-pleasing is nothing; God's praise everything (v.29).
Personal Application: Doing good is not mere avoidance of evil, vital as that is, but it is active and proactive initiative to bring about good in a situation where it is lacking. I will look for opportunity to do good, small or large, today, pushing back Satan's POW agenda, implementing God's Jubilee in Christ. I will not trust the Law for salvation but love it as wonderful expression of God's righteous character and goodness.
My Prayer: Father, how great your salvation and how great my
joy at your grace in Christ Jesus, our Jubilee! Renew me from within continually
by Your Spirit. I seek Your praise only, recognizing anything You affirm was
already Your previous gracious and free gift to me!
Privilege does not negate accountability: Jews are privileged to have been entrusted the revelation of God's character through the law (v.1-2) but this privilege does not extend to salvation ignoring sin (v.20). Jews and Gentiles alike are sinful and accountable to God (v. 9-20). Both require the free gift of God - "righteousness from God apart from the law" (v.21) - to be saved.
God is just (but not like us): God is just but despite our faithlessness, He remains faithful; despite our lying hearts, God remains truthful. In this God is not like us. In this difference between God and us also, gloriously, He is not vindictive, as humans are prone to be, but offers us freely justification as a gift of His grace (v.24) in Christ.
Justification (v. 24): is a legal term meaning to receive a favorable verdict, be declared righteous or to acquit. Justification is God's gift of righteousness where we have none, forgiveness and reconciliation leading to complete restoration of paradise.
Redemption is the means by which God is able to justify us, the price paid to free a slave as we are slaves to sin. Only when we try to stop sinning we discover and acknowledge we cannot free ourselves.
Propitiation likewise is the means of redemption enabling the final verdict of justification. Propitiation (v.25) is accomplished through Christ's sacrifice in our place on the cross which justly turns aside the righteous wrath of God against our sin.
God is Just and our Justifier: In this way God is both utterly just, as He must be in His holiness, and the justifier of those who cling to Jesus for salvation (v.26). In this God's gift is without any cause in us, it is all of and from God. For this reason there can never be a boastful thought, even for a moment, on any basis (v.27). We are saved by allegiance (perhaps more accurately, desperately clinging) to Christ alone (v.28), whether Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised (v.29-30).
Personal Application: How can our response be anything less than utter humility, gratitude and joy! How can we do less than cling to Christ, share this unspeakably good news with all who will hear, forgive everyone and worship God forever?
I will share the depths of these three words (justification, redemption, propitiation) lest the Gospel be received as cheap grace, reduced to 'God loves you' and shrugged off without understanding the length and depth to which God has gone for us.
My Prayer: Father, how can I plumb the depths of your righteousness, grace and majesty? How can I express right thanksgiving? I can but fall on my face in worship, and remain there till You lift me up to gaze into Your face.
Abraham our Model: Abraham found (v.1) from the beginning that "believing God...was credited to him as righteousness" (v.3). Later, David found the same (v. 7-8). Likewise we also must look nowhere but faith in Him who raised Jesus from the dead as evidence of our justification (v.23-25).
God's initiated His covenant: which was already in place to be received by faith by Abraham. God's grace was given Abraham only in response to faith in Him. Trust in God had been the only condition required of Adam and Eve in the garden, the only appropriate stance of a creature, the only way of peace; sadly sinfully violated.
"It was faith that established Abraham’s relationship with God—not works (4:3-8), circumcision (4:9-12), the law (4:13-17), or the number of his descendants (4:18-21). (NLT)"
We receive by faith: Throughout history, salvation has been available only through faith in God, who makes and keeps his promises. In fact, it could be no other way: "God is never indebted to His creatures (because we owe him everything), so anything He gives is a gift. (NLT)"
Faith is often evidenced in patience, without wavering, as shown by Abraham through the years as his and Sara's bodies were infertile and aged (v.19-22). Yet, through it all, Abraham believed God "who gives life to the dead and calls into being what which does not exist (v.17)."
We wholly trust what God did in Jesus' death on the cross for our transgressions and in His resurrection, demonstrating the Father's acceptance of His Son's sacrifice on our behalf (v.25). In response to this trust in Him, God gives, us also, His righteousness.
Personal Application: I will cease striving. I will not view repentance as meriting favor but only as an expression of faith to which grace responds. I will believe God expressing the faith which pleases God and issues forth in repentance and prompt obedience.
My Prayer: Father, how foundational are these truths which set us free from striving to do what we cannot. Thank you Lord Jesus
We are justified by faith in Christ (v.1). This gift of grace results in peace with God ("not a mere feeling ... but a real situation of peace" (NLT) in which we turned from enemy (either from our perspective or from God's) to family. This gift of undeserved privilege results also in hope of glory (v.2), even through tribulation which also must work to God's highest purposes (v.3-5). Therefore we exult in God (v.11), in our hope in Him (v.2), even in tribulation (v.3).
The love of God: is like nothing in the universe. It is the motive behind God's gift of justification through the blood of Christ. It is given us while we were yet helpless, sinners (v.8) and enemies (v.9). The love of God saves us by the blood of Christ from the just wrath of God (v.9) and from the death which is universal because sin is universal.
Much more: Christ's death on the cross for us is not only sufficient for our justification but this grace "abounds" (v. 15, 17, 20) even "more" (vs. 9, 10, 15, 17, 20) so we may never doubt. Christ's death on the cross for us overcomes all the effect of Adam's sin, provided we in faith receive Christ's righteousness (v.17). Sin reigns in death (v.21) but because of Christ's gift of righteousness, we reign in life - eternally (v.17).
Who is sufficient for this? So amazing, so sublime. We cannot earn what is given, we can only love, worship and live for the Giver.
Personal Application: I will flourish on this foundation of abundant grace, even in tribulation. I will never doubt His sufficiency but revel in His peace and hope and overflowing love.
My Prayer: Father, You are beyond words, beyond expression - You are only Glory and grace to us in Christ. Forgive me for being shakable, for not flourishing, for still sinning despite all. Empower me by Your Holy Spirit to rise above, as I learn to glorify You more fully.
Union with Christ: all the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection - in this life and eternally - are ours through our union with Him (v.5).
By firm allegiance (faith) we are joined with Christ by baptism in his death (v.4) so that we also die to the mastery of sin (v.9).
We are likewise joined and raised in Christ's resurrection so we can walk in undying newness of life (v.4).
The Power of Grace: The sinful flesh can tempt us but has no legal right of mastery over us (v.12). This freedom from sin's legal grip is a gift of grace (v.14).
Sin as Abuse of Grace: To give-in to temptation and sin nevertheless is not an opportunity for God to show His vast grace but merely our sinful abuse of grace. We must never look for any excuse or pretext for sin; it is self-deception.
Freely Slaves to Righteousness: We are not slaves to sin; much better to offer ourselves to God as slaves to righteousness, so growing in sanctification (v.19) and it's joyful outcome eternal life (v.22).
Personal Application: I want to see myself as God does from within His own glory. I will repent and run from sin on which His light shines. I will walk in newness of life, a joyful slave of righteousness, into sanctification and eternal life.
My Prayer: Father, deepen my experience of being united with Christ in His death (to sin) and resurrection (to newness of life) in sanctification. There is no greater joy!
Romans 7 - Sanctification is both a continuing battle and a continuing grace
Bride of Christ: when we die with Christ, old ties are broken and a new union is born, one which produces righteousness honoring to God (v.1-4). This is how we should reckon ourselves (6:11).
Inner Battle of Mind and Body: While our mind, in the inner person (v.22) recognizes this new marriage, loves the intent of the law and wants to do good (v.19), sin in our bodies continues to fight against us (v.17-18).
Our Need to Die with Christ: our hope for growing sanctification lies then, not in the Mosaic Law, though it is good and points in the direction we want to go (v.12,22), but in our continuing death to self and union with Christ. For this death we give thanks to God in Christ (v.25) even while the battle wages between sin and the truth.
"You also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order than we might bear fruit for God." (v.4)
Personal Application: When tempted to sin, Jesus reminded Satan of the truth of scripture. I will do the same and remind sin that I have died with Christ to sinful flesh and risen with Him to newness of life.
My Prayer: Father, though sin crouches at the door, strengthen me in Christ that He might overcome, again today.
Romans 8: Absolute Assurance of Unspeakable Glory!
No condemnation (v.1): neither from sin (chapter 6) or the law (chapter 7), or from Satan (8:33-35).
Suffering with Christ (v.17) is not condemnation or expiation for our sin (which was fully accomplished on the cross) but a consequence of living righteously in a sinful world, which also brings persecution.
Accepted in the Beloved: We have been fully adopted as children of God (v.16) with all the rights and privileges of a naturally born child and full inheritance yet to come(v.15-17). Assurance is now, full heir inheritance is certain but later. Jesus is heir to all of God’s promises and, in Him, so are we (v.17). Since God would give even His own Son for us (32), He will certainly give us all the abundance of full inheritance.
Groaning: Until Christ's return even creation groans (v.21-22), yearning to be free of consequences of the fall, redeemed with us. We too, with an eagerness so great as to be expressed in groaning, yearn with the Holy Spirit (v.23) for our full inheritance.
Are you comfortable groaning in prayer? The Holy Spirit groans with and for us in prayer (v.26).
Absolute certainty: As we yearn and pray, we do so with utter confidence and absolute certainty, as in the working of an immutable law bringing life (v.2). This certainty is ours every step of the way (v.29-30). God's purpose in conforming us to the image of Christ (v.29) is so certain that his foreknowledge, predestining, calling, justifying and even glorifying us is spoken of in the past tense (v.29-30). In God's heart and purpose all is accomplished.
Christ's Victory, Our Reality: In the journey that remains we walk knowing God is for us and not against us (v.31), that the best is yet to come (v.32), that no charge against us (v33), no accusation leading to condemnation (v.34) nor tribulation (v.35-36) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (v.37-38). And in the end God our Father will freely give us all that remains for us (v.32); wonderfully expressed in I Corinth 2:9: "What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived--God has prepared these things for those who love him."
Personal Application: I live in utter joy and confidence, despite yearning for the fulfillment of that which is certain. I will groan in yearning but never in despair. I will set my eyes on the future as anchor for steady footing in the present. I will rejoice now in that which is both now-in-Christ and in that which is to-come-beyond-the-veil.
My Prayer: Father, how great our rejoicing in You! You have taken our condemnation and, without any merit in us, in Christ set our feet on a path of joy and victory to glory in Your eternal presence!
Romans 9 - The Jews and True Israel
Why not Israel? In light of the glories and grace celebrated in chapter 8, how is it that Israel, to whom the promises and so many gifts (v.4-5) have been given, are not responding to Christ? Paul echoes the offer of Moses, who pled with God to kill him but to spare the people (Ex. 32:30-32) (NLT). Anathema (v.3) is used in the Greek OT to translate a Hebrew expression meaning “set apart for God,” which usually has the negative sense of something destined to be destroyed as an offering to God (NLT).
Three Reasons: Paul, in anguish for his people (v.2,3), sees three reasons for this crisis:
1.) Not all who are physically descended from Abraham are like him spiritually (v.7-8),
2.) God is free and gracious to choose some for mercy and glory (v.10-29). In the fall, our 'default' is hardness of heart. God’s choice is not unfair because he owes nothing to his sinful creatures (NLT).
3.) God has always desired faith, Israel has largely chosen works (v.32).
God's promise is not vain but remains powerful (v.6) to those who are spiritually like Abraham, called by grace and respond in faith. God owes us nothing. All we receive is of grace. "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy" (v.16).
There has always been a remnant, a spiritual Israel within physical Israel. Israel’s adopted status meant that they received God’s blessing and promises, not that they were necessarily saved. Jew connotes national identity, but Israel emphasizes the covenant relationship of the people with God (NLT).
We Gentles are engrafted into that spiritual Israel. On at least one occasion in the NT, Israel refers to everyone, Jew and Gentile, who belongs to God in a spiritual sense (Gal 6:16) (NLT). While having the blessings and conditional promises of God, physical Israel, choosing to ignore God or making their own path, outside of the faith God desires, will not be saved.
Personal Response: I will not blame God for unfairness when those I love ignore Christ or follow Him half-heartedly or on their own terms. I will nevertheless, like Paul, anguish for them in prayer and in persistent witness. I will pray daily for at least one family member or acquaintance, be he or she Jew, Gentile, Muslim, secularist, or a new ager not yet wholly trusting Christ.
My Prayer: Father, how great is the mystery and grace of your mercy! How majestic Your sovereignty. Father, show me the path of deep trusting faith in all circumstances. The way to you is not to be worked out as an engineering problem, rather simply looking into your eyes in love and trust.
Salvation: Paul is implacably focused on salvation as our highest need and absolute truth of the Gospel, for the Jews who have heard but were rejecting Christ (v.18-21) and for the Gentiles who were turning to Christ (v.12). In contrast to Paul's urgency, it seems much of the church today, perhaps influenced by universalism and opposition, or simply distracted, is happy to speak generally of love but less of the cross of salvation, which God in His love, offers in Christ.
Post-modern society demands a bland worldview without distinctions: erasing lines of morality, truth and error, salvation and loss.
We must be bold and clear: there is no more important reality than salvation which comes through the cross, clinging to Christ in faith. (In addition, from the character of God flow all moral distinctions, truth and righteousness.)
Faith in the Righteousness of God: arises in our hearts as we accept this truth and gift brought by Christ Himself through His messengers (v.8), As we believe in our hearts, our lips (v.9) confess God's Messiah as Lord. This Lord (v.13, quoting Joel 2:32) is Yahweh Himself incarnate in Christ.
Zeal alone is Inadequate (or Dangerous) without Knowledge: While general knowledge of God or morality does not in itself guarantee salvation, zeal (v.2), however commendable when directed to godly ends, is inadequate, even dangerous when not directed by right knowledge to God's righteousness given in Christ (v.3). Zealous efforts to manufacture our own righteousness fail utterly. Sadly, every generation anew begins from the start to gain knowledge, then, wisdom. The knowledge that saves, the knowledge we need not seek (v.6-7) because Christ has brought it to us, is the cross.
Preaching: has fallen into disfavor in the west, at root because of the independent spirit of man which doesn't want to be told anything, but rather to be the judge of all things. Paul however preaches (v.8) and calls the church to preach Christ (v. 14-15). In this Paul persists even though his Jewish countrymen reject the living word of salvation in Christ to their eternal loss (v.21).
Personal Response: Our mission is to "declare" or "herald" (perhaps more acceptable terms than "preaching," though identical in intent) Christ who is coming again, to prepare the world for His coming as Judge and Savior. I will trust the righteousness of Christ rather than seek to establish my own. I will use zeal only when coupled with knowledge. I will confess Christ as Risen Lord. I will declare (as a "herald") Christ who is coming again. I will "blow the trumpet" and "hail the King"! I will go out, rather than wait for people to come, to proclaim Him.
My Prayer: Father, how amazing and gracious, how simple and wonderful the path to righteousness established by God in Christ. Thank you Lord that it is within reach of all. Only humility and trust are needed to begin the journey. Jesus, I want to herald this good news to all, while it is yet day, as the day of Your return draws near.
God has not rejected the Jews (v.1) or caused them stumble so as to fall (v.11), but by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles. This realization will even make the Jews jealous and, in the end, bring them to life from the dead (v.15).
Root and Branch: The Abrahamic covenant is the root (v.16) producing by grace branches in Israel, some of them broken off by disobedience, yet with a remnant (v.5) remaining and Gentile branches grafted in 17-21). This is not a reason for pride among Gentiles or for distain of the Jews, for God can likewise break off Gentile branches and graft in Jewish branches again (v.21-23).
Blessing and Stumbling Block: Amazingly, it has been demonstrated that God's blessings (His table, v.9) can become a stumbling block through presumption on the part of His people, assuming we are blessed because we are worthy, i.e. by works (v.6). Not so. We must therefore remain only grateful, dependent, never becoming prideful as if we earned anything; assuming nothing but ever in awe of mercy and grace.
Mercy to Jews; Mercy to Gentiles: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (v.25) after which Israel will likewise be saved (v.26). The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (v.27). Both Jews and Gentiles, in turn, have chosen disobedience and God will show mercy to both (v.30-32) thereby being glorified before all (v.33-36).
"Mercy to all" (v.32) means to all kinds of people (Jews and Gentiles), not to every person, regardless of response.
A Magnificent Doxology: worships God as the source, sustainer and goal of all creation. This is wonderfully so in fallen nature (as the Stoic philosophers recognized) and in redemption (which Paul celebrates).
Personal Response: I will flee pride and presumption. I will ever be in awe of God's mercy. I will love and witness among Jewish people equally as among Gentiles. I will worship Yahweh who is source, sustainer and goal of all; both in nature and in grace in Christ Jesus.
My Prayer: Father, how magnificent Your ways, Your grace and
mercy, how magnificent Your eternal plan to save Jew and Gentile to manifest
Your glory. Lord, let me see Your breadth more clearly, to worship more deeply
and fully, forever!
Response to mercy: wholehearted surrender is the only reasonable response to the vast mercies of God (v.1).
Body and mind: in the end, what our physical bodies do make the will of God (v.2) visible to all. God's will is always good, to be accepted by all and is moving history to His perfect end. Our mind (v.2), set on Christ and so being renewed constantly, enables us not to be conformed, in our thinking or behavior, to the present age.
Transformation: comes by living in the present-fallen-age by the values and reality of the age-to-come; ruled by Christ enthroned in heaven as we anticipate His return. Many practical outcomes follow.
Equal parts of His Body: we are not equal in function (v.4-8) but equal in value. Therefore no one may view themselves as higher than another (vs.3 and 16).
Live in the future age, now! vs.9-13 may be among the most beautiful images of the life to come, being now lived by those who are in Christ before His return. If you don't yet memorize scripture, these verses are an excellent place to begin!
Social transformation: corruption at one end (helping yourself at the expense of others) and revenge (v.14-21) at the other (damaging others to feel better personally) come to an end in Christ. The wrath of God (v.19) remains for those who choose sin and reject the grace of the cross. Vengeance however is not our prerogative but God's alone. We rather demonstrate God's mercy in Christ to win now, those who are evil, before Christ's return.
The Christian community looks to Christ who came from heaven to enable us now to live in the age to come. This stance is all-encompassing in effect as we now longer live by the world-of-this-age for our standards. Perhaps the greatest difference between the followers of Mohamed and of Christ therefore is their view and practice of revenge (v.17-21) when persecuted (v.14).
Personal Application: In all, I will rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer (v.12).
My Prayer: Father, how glorious Your are, enthroned in the heavens from before creation. Thank you that you have brought the age-to-come near in Christ. Thank you we can live in it now. Transform me by its breaking into my life today in the ways pointed our in scripture. Lord Jesus, come quickly to bring all the glorious fullness of the age to come to the earth forever.
In process...please come again...