Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reading Through the Letter to the Romans #1 (1.1-5.11)

Romans KeenerThis post begins my reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans accompanied by Romans, New Covenant Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. In Romans Paul focuses on God’s righteousness as it is seen in the gospel which includes Jews and Gentiles in the family of God, by grace through faith without partiality. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The introduction to Romans follows the pattern of ancient letters. In it Paul greets the Roman church and talks about his plans. This makes us aware that even Romans needs to be understood in its immediate cultural context and is dealing with issues faced by people in a certain time and place as we gain the timeless and authoritative principles it teaches. Keener sees several ways of stating the main theme- gospel, God's righteousness, the "obedience of faith" - all of which point to the same idea. Paul is sharing the good news that the righteousness of God is available to all from Christ, as a gift which is received through faith (trust, "dependence," and "loyalty") in Christ. This restores and transforms believers into what God created him/her to be: the image of God and incorporates them into the worldwide kingdom of God.

In Romans, righteousness is a transforming gift. It is a divine gift rather than human achievement (Rom 5:17, 21), but God’s gift also enables obedience (cf. 1:5; 2:8; 5:19; 15:18), i.e., right living (6:16–18; 8:2–4; 13:14). In theological terms, justification is inseparable from regeneration. 29

The first part of the book argues that all people, Jew and Gentile, are equal before God and come into God's kingdom in the same way - faith in Christ. The Gentile should have been able to see God in creation, but instead remade God in the image of creation and debased themselves with the natural results of their worship. You become like what you worship. The Jew had the law and should have known better, but failed to live as God instructed. They would be judged by a higher standard based on superior knowledge. What God wants is heartfelt devotion to His covenant, relationship with God based on trust. Without that all outward religious observance is hypocritical. Thus, everyone enters into God's kingdom in the same way, through faith, and all are in equal in their need for grace and faith and in their status within God's people. 

Humanity “knew” God, but because they refused to “glorify” him (1:21), they ended up exchanging his “glory” and image for that of mortal, earthly creations (1:23). They were God’s image (Gen 1:26–27), but by corrupting God’s image in worshiping things other than God they gave up and lost his glory (cf. Rom 3:23). God punished their failure to act according to the truth by delivering them to their moral insanity (1:21–22). Romans 1.18-32, 34

While Paul is focusing on God’s ethnic impartiality rather than on believers here, when he later addresses such issues he seems to assume that it is believers in Jesus who are able to fulfill the role of the righteous. Christ comes not merely to forgive unrighteousness but to empower for righteous living. Romans 2, 45

Presumably by twisting Paul’s argument about justification by faith, some had insisted that Paul essentially taught that one may as well sin—a perversion of the doctrine also popular today. This conception entirely misses Paul’s point, as his letter will go on to make clear: one truly “righteoused” by faith is not only put in right relationship with God, but now has new power to live righteously (by faith that God has made them share Christ’s victory over sin. Romans 3.1-8, 53

Paul reveals the solution to the universal problem of sin and death in 3.21-5.11. God's grace has provided Jesus as a "mercy seat" (the place where the blood was spread on the day of atonement to atone for sin and to provide access to and relationship with God and inclusion in his covenant for the nation each year) which provided access to God and the blessings of the new covenant to both Jew and Gentile. This was available to all who would place their "loyal, obedient faith" in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Paul provides scriptural backing for this with the examples of Abraham and David in chapter 4. Neither received righteousness or forgiveness based on the law. Instead God accounted their trust in God and his promises as righteousness, despite their weaknesses and subsequent sins. The result of this is full reconciliation with God now and the gift of the Holy Spirit who provides growth in righteousness and makes sure the hope of life in God's eternal kingdom (5.1-11). Hope is sure because sin has been paid for and the growth in righteousness depends on God. Assurance comes as we trust God and see His work in us as we patiently endure the troubles of this life.

Believers are set right and made righteous as a gift by grace. For an ancient audience, the mention of either “gift” or “grace” (favor or generosity) would imply benefaction; their coupling here underlines the emphasis on the divine initiative on which believers can depend. The content of the benefaction involves “redemption,” a term denoting the liberation of slaves, as in the exodus. This experience of redemption is completed in the future, but here involves what Christ has already done, filled out in the freedom from slavery image of 6:6–23. Romans 3.21-31, 58–59

Abram’s faith is much greater years later when he offers up Isaac apparently without question (22:2–3), but this initial, somewhat rudimentary faith is sufficient to be reckoned righteous, analogous to even those initially entering the Christian faith...God was not paying Abraham his due for righteous deeds, but “reckoning” his faith as if it were righteousness (4:4–5). Romans 4, 64

In 5:11 Paul may summarize his point in this paragraph: believers can boast in God because Jesus’s death has reconciled us to him. We also boast in God alone because proven character and hope come by God’s Spirit in our hearts rather than our own work (5:2–5). “Through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1, 11) frames the paragraph. Romans 5.1-11, 73

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