Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reading Through Romans with John Stott (1-8)

RomansI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The sixth volume of the series, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, is also authored by Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from the commentary on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from Stott are in blue font.

The letter to the Romans is Paul’s explanation of the Gospel. The kernel message of the Gospel that saves is “Jesus is LORD.” In the letter Paul explains how this works and what it looks like. The overall message of the letter to the Romans is “The Gospel is God’s power to pronounce and make righteous sinners who respond in faith (true heart acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus) to its message, and empowers and obligates believers to sacrificial, righteous Romans Chartconduct in the power of the Holy Spirit.” The righteousness of God is revealed in Jesus himself and in believers in whom the Spirit is creating the character of Christ.

First the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God and has the power to save all who believe. (1:1-17) The Gospel is the message that the God-Man is risen and calls people to faith in Him, is communicated in relationship with God and people and saves because it has the power to pronounce and produce God’s righteousness in human beings.

Here are six fundamental truths about the gospel. Its origin is God the Father and its substance Jesus Christ his Son. Its attestation is Old Testament Scripture and its scope all the nations. Our immediate purpose in proclaiming it is to bring people to the obedience of faith, but our ultimate goal is the greater glory of the name of Jesus Christ. Or, to simplify these truths by the use of six prepositions, we can say that the good news is the gospel of God, about Christ, according to Scripture, for the nations, unto the obedience of faith, and for the sake of the Name. 53–54.

The first major section shows why the gospel is needed. The Gospel is Needed because God is righteous to condemn all people because all have sinned. (1:18-3:20)  God condemns the unrighteousness of the pagan because it reflects his rejection of God and his destructive nature toward fellow human beings.

The wrath of God, then, is almost totally different from human anger. It does not mean that God loses his temper, flies into a rage, or is ever malicious, spiteful or vindictive. The alternative to ‘wrath’ is not ‘love’ but ‘neutrality’ in the moral conflict. And God is not neutral. On the contrary, his wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it...Scripture is quite clear that the essence of sin is godlessness...The converse is also true. The essence of goodness is godliness, to love him with all our being and to obey him with joy. 72.

The moralist (the nice unbeliever) is condemned on God’s principles of judgment, not on his own hypocritical standards. (2:1-16) Even if God judged us by our own standards we would fail.

This is not a call either to suspend our critical faculties or to renounce all criticism and rebuke of others as illegitimate; it is rather a prohibition of standing in judgment on other people and condemning them (which as human beings we have no right to do), especially when we fail to condemn ourselves. For this is the hypocrisy of the double standard, a high standard for other people and a comfortably low one for ourselves. 82.

The religious person (the Jew in Paul’s day) is condemned for reliance on externals rather than God’s inward transformation. The tendency is for the religious person to condemn others without taking a critical look at themselves and realizing that their hearts are just as dark.  2:17-3:8

If we judge others, we should be able to judge ourselves (1–3). If we teach others, we should be able to teach ourselves (21–24). If we set ourselves up as either teachers or judges of others, we can have no excuse if we do not teach or judge ourselves. We cannot possibly plead ignorance of moral rectitude. On the contrary, we invite God’s condemnation of our hypocrisy.  92.

All humanity is condemned because all are under sin and practice sin. Works cannot gain righteous standing. We all fall short of God’s righteous standards. 3:9-20

Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. 104.

The next section deals with Justification. That is God declares people to have his righteousness based on what Christ has done and He implants his righteousness in them. This is given to all who trust in Jesus. Any sinner who believes in God’s provision in Jesus acquires right standing (righteousness) before God. 3:21-5:21

It is vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith, and that when we say that salvation is ‘by faith, not by works’, we are not substituting one kind of merit (‘faith’) for another (‘works’). Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise between God and us, in which he contributes the cross and we contribute faith. No, grace is non-contributory, and faith is the opposite of self-regarding. The value of faith is not to be found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.  117.

From the beginning the Old Testament insisted that justification was based on God’s grace and mercy and came though faith. Abraham’s life and David’ forgiveness illustrate that justification is and has always has been acquired by faith. 4:1-25

The fixed point is that God is gracious, and that salvation originates in his sheer grace alone. But in order that this may be so, our human response can only be faith. For grace gives and faith takes. Faith’s exclusive function is humbly to receive what grace offers. 131.

In this chapter the apostle gives us instruction about the nature of faith. He indicates that there are degrees in faith. For faith can be weak (19) or strong (20). How then does it grow? Above all through the use of our minds. Faith is not burying our heads in the sand, or screwing ourselves up to believe what we know is not true, or even whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. On the contrary, faith is a reasoning trust. There can be no believing without thinking. 136.

The result is that the justified believer has peace and hope because the completion of salvation is sure. Jesus’ gift of His righteous life (justification, eternal life) overcomes the effects of Adam’s sin (death). 5:1-11

Here then is the logic. If God has already done the difficult thing, can we not trust him to do the comparatively simple thing of completing the task? If God has accomplished our justification at the cost of Christ’s blood, much more will he save his justified people from his final wrath (9)! Again, if he reconciled us to himself when we were his enemies, much more will he finish our salvation now that we are his reconciled friends (10)! 147.

Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace’. For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. 157–158.

The next section shows how God reveals his righteousness in the changed lives of believers, Sanctification is God’s work of progressively producing His righteousness in the believer. (6.1-8.39) First, believers needs to realize that they are dead to sin and freed from it, but alive to serve God through Jesus Christ. Believers are free from sin’s domination because they were buried and raised with Christ and they are free from slavery to sin and are now enslaved to God’s righteousness.

So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing (6) that our former self was crucified with Christ, in knowing (3) that baptism into Christ is baptism into his death and resurrection, and in considering (11, RSV) that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God. We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. 180.

To be under law is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse or condemnation. To be under grace is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free. For ‘those who know themselves freed from condemnation are free to resist sin’s usurped power with new strength and boldness’. 181.

The believer is also free from the law, its condemnation, its guilt, its domination and its shortcomings. 7:1-25

Legalists fear the law and are in bondage to it. Antinomians hate the law and repudiate it. Law-abiding free people love the law and fulfil it. 192

We need then to keep a watch on ourselves and others, lest we should ever slip back from the new order into the old, from a person to a system, from freedom to slavery, from the indwelling Spirit to an external code, from Christ to the law. God’s purpose is not that we should be Old Testament Christians, regenerate indeed, but living in slavery to the law and in bondage to indwelling sin. It is rather that we should be New Testament Christians who, having died and risen with Christ, are living in the freedom of the indwelling Spirit. 215.

The section ends with the hopeful message that The Holy Spirit gives the believer present victory over sin and assures ultimate victory and glorification. The Spirit has freed the believer from sin’s condemnation and is freeing the believer from the flesh and so the believer must reject living by the flesh and live by the help of the Holy Spirit. Then the believer can endure present sufferings with the Spirit’s present help and future assurance of victory and have security based on God’s unchanging love despite the circumstances of life. 8.1-39

The essence of discipleship is union with Christ, and this means identification with him in both his sufferings and his glory. This is our Christian dilemma... Caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated (by giving us his Spirit) and what he will consummate (in our final adoption and redemption), we groan with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy, and the coming glory gives us hope (e.g. 5:2), but the interim suspense gives us pain. 235, 242

Here then are five convictions about God’s providence (28), five affirmations about his purpose (29, 30) and five questions about his love (31–39), which together bring us fifteen assurances about him. We urgently need them today, since nothing seems stable in our world any longer. Insecurity is written across all human experience. Christian people, are not guaranteed immunity to temptation, tribulation or tragedy, but we are promised victory over them. God’s pledge is not that suffering will never afflict us, but that it will never separate us from his love. 259

We will take a look at chapters 9-16 next week.

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