The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Romans 6:15-23

Slaves to Whom We Obey

Christians today have a problem when reading Scripture that is due to inhabiting a thought world which is quite different from that of Paul and the rest of the apostles and the early Church in general.  When we hear the words, “free” or “freedom,” “liberty,” or any of their cognates, we think of self-determination—individuals choosing for themselves their own paths based upon their own desires, needs, or goals.  When we see these words in Scripture, we must rid ourselves of these secular notions.  I do not say that there is anything wrong with these definitions as long as we understand and rightly apply them to our secular context; indeed, I certainly favor individual freedom in a context of ordered liberty, the latter term being of significant consequence to our American founders—but that’s another matter.  The biblical understanding of freedom is exactly how Paul describes it here: Freedom from sin, and freedom to love and serve God.

The passage begins with a similar question to verse one: “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace?”  And, of course, the answer is a resounding, “No!”  In an effort to explain, Paul uses an analogy from the ancient world (which still exists in ours but in even more degraded forms), that being the institution of slavery.  You see, as the Bible presents it, everyone is a slave to someone.  Thus, the question is not whether or not one will be a slave, for that was decided in our creation.  The only question is the identity of the master to whom the slave belongs.  Is one a slave to sin and self, or is one a slave to Jesus Christ (as Paul often identifies himself in the opening of his letters, e.g., 1:1), which is the only true freedom there is?  And how does one know which of the two is his master?  Paul answers, “The one whom you obey.”  Moreover, each master leads his slave to the proper end which that path leads: The lord and master Sin leads his slave to eternal death; the Lord and Master Jesus Christ leads his slave to life everlasting.

I am intrigued by verse seventeen: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”  The Christian faith is not based on a feeling; it is not a proper sentiment that one should nurture.  The Christian faith is certainly life and joy, but it is based upon a “standard of teaching” which we do not get to modify according to our contemporary standards and tastes.  And what is that standard of teaching?  Well, that is what the whole Bible seeks to answer and what the Church has taught for centuries.  And obedience to God’s word is the means for our freedom.

Saturday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 6:6-14

Sin Will Have No Dominion over You

Throughout chapters one through five, Paul has primarily been speaking of justification by faith, that is, how one is made right before God.  And this righteousness which the believer gains is one which is rendered or given unto him by God on account of his faith; that is, righteousness is credited to the believer by God.  The believer is not said to have any righteousness of his own; indeed, he is wicked and sinful and has nothing to offer God but his sins.  God therefore graciously counts the one who believes righteous on account of his faith.  But this way of explaining a believer’s righteousness elicits the question we encountered yesterday: Shall we sin that grace may abound?  In other words, is not the believer required to walk in righteousness and faithfulness himself, or does he just rely on God’s counting him righteous and live however he wishes?

And this is where chapters six through eight come in.  Having stated the fact that we have been buried and raised with Christ in our regeneration which thereby unites us to Christ (which baptism displays so very well), Paul now shows us the effect of the believer’s union with Christ.  The purpose of dying and rising with Christ is to break the dominion and power of sin which so held us fast.  By dying with Christ, we have been set free from sin; after all, dead people don’t sin.  By rising with Christ, we have been set free from death as well; neither sin nor the death to which sin leads binds the believer any longer.  The believer now may live unto God: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

So we see that in chapter six, Paul moves from our position with God, as having been declared righteous by Him on account of our faith, to our walk before God, which may now be one of actually doing righteous deeds, and all on account of God’s initial declaration.  And please note the language Paul uses: “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies,” “Do not present your members to sin,” “Present … your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”  In each of these phrases, Paul is assuming that believers have the power to do this (with God’s help, of course).  Before being counted righteous before God, we had no power to do good; now we do.  And why is this?  Because God has broken the power of sin over us by transferring us from the realm of law to grace.  Grace strengthens the heart and the will and grants power to the believer which he did not have before.  Commands incite us to evil, because we are evil; grace melts the heart of stone and leads to a life of love.

Friday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 6:1-5

Buried with Him in Baptism; Raised with Him to New Life

When a person comes to saving faith in Christ Jesus, something really and truly happens within that believer.  For one thing, we are made “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are given a “new self” created after the image of God (Ephesians 4:24), whose “seed” abides within us (1 John 3:9).  These are all ways of speaking of a new principle of spiritual life that is given us upon our rebirth.  Then, too, we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who is our comforter, guide, advocate, helper, and guarantee (John 14:25-26; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 4:30).  In short, our rebirth (regeneration) does not leave us as we were but changes us from the inside out.

Which is why the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question in verse one, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” is a hearty, “By no means!”  Paul alludes to those who accused him of teaching such a thing in 3:5-8; now he answers this calumny with a further exposition of the gospel of grace.  And his message is simply that grace not only saves us from sin but empowers us against it.  Paul uses baptism to describe what actually happens when a person is born again.  (Please note: it is not the event of baptism itself that empowers the believer but the grace given the believer at his regeneration; Paul uses baptism as a symbol of that regenerating experience.)

Paul’s argument is that the one who has been reborn is dead to sin; that is, there must be a death before a new life can be born.  That death is our death, the death of our old self when we came to know Christ, when we repented, and believed.  Our baptism witnesses to this as we are buried (submerged under the water) with Christ into his death.  As Christ died, so must we die.  And, as Christ was raised from the dead to new resurrected life, so we too are raised to a new life (witnessed in our baptism by coming up out of the water).  Now understand that Paul is not speaking metaphorically or poetically; he is describing a real spiritual event in the life of the one born again.  There is a real death and a real resurrection, just as our Lord experienced as well.  And how is this made real?  Paul answers, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” which is all to say that the reality of that which Paul speaks is predicated on our union with Christ.  And from this union, the believer is delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).  And from this union with Christ and deliverance from darkness comes the power to walk in newness of life.

Thursday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 5:12-21

How God Is Really Unfair

There is a doctrine in Scripture recognized by the Church since ancient times that is clearly elucidated in this passage.  Before I name that doctrine, allow me to highlight some of the verses: “Sin came into the world through one man”; “Many died through one man’s trespass”; “Because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man”; “One trespass led to condemnation for all men”; and, “By one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”  We could even add 1 Corinthians 15:22: “In Adam all die.”

That doctrine which the Church has derived from these passages is called, “Original Sin,” though some prefer to call it, “Inherited Sin” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 494).  It is the biblical teaching that God has so joined us to Adam’s person that he was our representative in the Garden, such that when he sinned we sinned with him; after all, we were present “in his loins” when he sinned.  We have likewise inherited some corruption from Adam which explains why we are born sinners, that is, each with a sinful nature, such that we cannot not sin.  “In sin did my mother conceive me,” was David’s lament (Psalm 51:5), and the Christian, above everyone else, knows that it is true.  We do not commit sin and thereby become sinners; we are born with sinful natures and thereby do we commit sin.  Though some call this unfair, such is evidence that they do not know themselves, nor do they understand the doctrine.  The point is this: Had it been me and my wife in the Garden, the result would have been the same.  Thus is God just to impute to all the stain and guilt of that “original sin.”

I will tell you what is unfair—that the Father should impute, to those who believe, the righteousness of His dear Son—that is unfair!  And that is the beautiful teaching of this passage.  Paul again employs his “least to greatest” argument to show how the free gift far surpasses the original trespass; after all, the condemnation came after just one trespass, but the free gift followed many trespasses.  And furthermore: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”  Christ heals Adam, life kills death, and the free gift erases the trespass.  The law showed sin for all of its ugliness, but grace abounds all the more.  Rejoice Christian!  Yes, your sins and the sin nature you inherited are indeed worthy of death and hell, but Christ has pronounced you forgiven through the free gift of his grace and awarded you eternal life.  Aren’t you glad God is so unfair?  (Actually, the word is “gracious.”)

Addendum to 5:12-21

Just a short comment here.  Some may not know what to make of Paul’s words in verse nineteen, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  Is Paul teaching universalism, or the belief (held by some) that all will be saved?  There is no way to square such a belief with Paul, the words of our Lord, or the rest of the Bible, and neither time nor space could be given here to the vast number of passages which prove this.  But still the words are there on the page.  Why is this?  If one follows the passage from verses fifteen through nineteen, one will notice that Paul uses “parallels” among the words, “one,” “many” and “all.”  Specifically (words italicized):

5:15: “But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”

5:16: “And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.”

5:17: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

5:18: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

5:19: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” I hope you can see Paul’s use of this literary device known as parallelism in these verses (Moo, NICNT, 370).  Paul was an educated man who was not above using literary devices to adorn his writing.  And 5:17 refers to “those who receive the abundance of grace,” plainly indicating that some do not.  We might have wished that Paul would have chosen theological precision over literary ornamentation, but there are enough passages that teach the final condemnation of those who will not receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if in this place God so chooses to garnish his word with aesthetic taste, then may God be praised that He not only speaks truth but beautifies it as only He can as the very quintessence of beauty, truth, and goodness, to the praise of His glory.

Wednesday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 5:6-11

See What Kind of Love the Father Has Given to Us

When considering our Triune God, we are accustomed to thinking of the Son as the loving member of the three; after all, he is the one who gave himself to appease the Father’s wrath against sinners.  (By the way as God is one, all members of the Trinity share in God’s relations with the world, meaning that the Son and Spirit would also share that same wrath.)  But actually when it comes to crediting one of the members especially with loving mankind, the Bible designates the Father as the One who is so loving.  John 3:16 comes to mind, but also 1 John 3:1: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God: and so we are,” and 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Although all persons of the Trinity share these qualities, generally power is attributed to the Spirit, grace to the Son, and love to the Father.

In this short passage, Paul shows us the Father’s love by employing what we often call a “least to greatest” argument.  His argument goes like this: Someone might die for a good man, and someone might even give his life for a really great man—but the Father shows how much He loves us by sending His Son when we were sinners, indeed, when we were His enemies!  And then piggybacking on this blessing, Paul adds another “least to greatest” argument that goes like this: If we have been given a right standing before the Father by His Son’s blood (that is, his death), well then how much more shall we be saved by His Son’s life (that is, his resurrection)?  And then Paul adds to this: If we were reconciled to the Father by His Son’s death when we were still His enemies, well then how much more having been reconciled shall we be saved by His Son’s resurrected life?  These are rhetorical questions to which the answer is: Well, bunches!  And it was our loving Father who sent His Son to do this for us, and at just the right time, too.

Paul has been speaking of justification throughout this letter, but here he suddenly begins speaking of another very important word in the New Testament that is also a result of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and that word is “reconciliation”: “The restoration to friendship and fellowship after estrangement” (Merrill Unger, Bible Dictionary, 914).  But we were not just estranged, we were enemies of God.  And so again we see the magnanimous love of this God, of our Father: He reconciled us, brought us back into fellowship with Himself by sending His Son on our behalf when we were yet His enemies and didn’t even give a care.  “See what kind of love….”

Tuesday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 5:1-5

So We Are Now at Peace with God

Through chapter four, Paul has discussed our helpless sinful state that God has answered with His gospel.  And that gospel is predicated on the work of God’s Son upon the cross as an atoning sacrifice in which his blood appeases the just wrath of God for our willful rebellion.  By taking our sins upon himself, God does not sweep sin under the rug but justly condemns it, punishes it, nails it to the cross, and thereby remains the just God that He is.  Those who now believe and trust in this God and what He has done for them through His Son’s death and resurrection are given a right standing before God and thus made right before God.  They are given this right standing, or righteousness, as a gift of His grace.  This righteousness is not theirs by nature since by nature they are children of wrath (1:18); it is for them what the sixteenth-century Reformer, Martin Luther, called an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that by nature belongs to God but which He graciously gives to those who by faith cling to His dear Son.  We may say that God covers these with His own righteousness that He may be to them a loving Father rather than a God of wrath.

And what is the result of this exchange whereby God trades His righteousness for our sin?  “Peace,” Paul answers.  We are now at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are not here speaking so much of an inner feeling of peace as we are an objective and real peace that God has established between us and Him; in short, we have been reconciled unto Him and are at peace with God regardless of how we may feel some days (Moo, NICNT, 327). And we now have access to this grace through Jesus Christ, which is why in Trinitarian theology he is called the Mediator, the one through whom the plan of redemption is accomplished.

The next result is hope.  And so we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; that is, the future promise of the glory of heaven.  And it is this hope of heaven that carries us through life such that we may even rejoice in our sufferings.  The purpose of these sufferings is to produce in us endurance and godly character, which leads to even more hope as we grow in grace and draw closer to God and heaven, looking less like ourselves and more like Christ.  And hereby is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so that the objective reality of our reconciliation to the Father through the Son is matched by the more subjective and inward reality of the inhabitation of the Holy Spirit come to live within us.  The plan of redemption is so marvelous and mysterious!  Only our God could have dreamed it up.

Monday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 4:13-25

Abraham—the Father of All Who Believe, Continued

Paul continues his discussion about Abraham, that central figure in Jewish history, the father of their nation.  Yesterday, we saw that God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 that he would have a son, and that Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3).  Paul used this to show that righteousness comes by faith and not by works of the law and so includes Gentiles who trust in Jesus as well.  Now Paul refers to another passage concerning Abraham in Genesis 17:4-6 where God promises Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.  Again the emphasis is on Abraham believing God’s promise (i.e., faith), and that Abraham would be the father of many nations and not just one (i.e., believing Gentiles, too).  To those who insist that righteousness (that is, a right standing before God) depends on works of the law, Paul reminds them that, far from righteousness, “the law brings wrath,” for the simple reason that no one can fulfill it.  And if one could fulfill it, which one can’t, such would make faith null and the promise void, which is impossible as the promise depends on God’s faithfulness and not ours.  And so Paul writes triumphantly: “That is why [righteousness] depends on faith, that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherents of the law [believing Jews] but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

The rest of the passage speaks to Abraham’s faith in God’s promise to him, though his own body was “as good as dead,” at least as that concerned fathering a son at 100 years of age, not to mention Sarah’s barren womb who was also at age ninety.  But he trusted God as the One who “calls into existence the things that do not exist,” and “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.”  Did you notice that Abraham grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God?  We grow strong in faith when we praise the Lord.

Paul closes this chapter reminding us that the righteousness which “was counted to [Abraham]” by grace through faith may be counted to us as well “who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus Christ our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So in chapters one through three, Paul showed us that no one can stand before God on the basis of the law but can only be condemned thereby; in chapter four, he shows us that a right standing before God is available by grace through faith using Abraham as his visual aid, who is the father of us all.

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Romans 4:1-12

Abraham—the Father of All Who Believe

In all the history of the Jewish people, there was none counted greater than Abraham.  In John 8 the Jews continually insist that Abraham is their father, a claim in which they took great pride.  And indeed, he was their father, literally, their progenitor.  I am told that in some of their apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works, Abraham is described as “perfect in all his deeds” and that “no one has been found like him in glory” (Moo, NICNT, 278).  For the Jews, he was ever an exemplar of the faith, the pattern of obedience which every Jew should follow.

But Paul sees Abraham in a slightly different light than his Jewish brethren.  Whereas the Jews of Paul’s day saw Abraham as their father to whom they had exclusive rights, Paul sees Abraham as the father of all who believe—Jew and Gentile.  And how does Paul do this?  He does this by showing that Abraham was reckoned as righteous before God, not by works, but by faith.  Paul argues that to the one who works, his wages are not awarded him as a gift but as his due; after all, the laborer is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5:18).  But just as he used Habakkuk 2:4 (“The righteous shall live by faith,” in 1:17), Paul now quotes Genesis 15:6 which becomes yet another key passage for him when arguing that salvation by grace through faith for all who believe is the doctrine taught in the Law and the Prophets, whose words Jesus came to fulfill in his life, passion, and resurrection.  God had promised Abraham that he would have a son, even at his advanced age, and since “Abraham believed God,” Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, “it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Thus, from Genesis 15:6, Paul deduces two things: 1) Abraham was counted righteous before God on the basis of his faith, not his works, on the basis that he believed God’s promise, not on the basis of anything he did; and, 2) that Abraham was so counted as righteous before he was circumcised, which command God did not give until later (Genesis 17).  Paul then concludes that Abraham is then the father all who trust God for salvation apart from works (per #1), and God’s fatherhood includes believing Gentiles though they be uncircumcised in the flesh (per #2).

I know, it all sounds very theological.  Paul just wants his Jewish brethren to understand that God has broken down the wall between all who believe on the basis of faith (Ephesians 2:14).  And what is more wonderful to hear than, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Psalm 32:1-2).  To be counted righteous by God is to be forgiven of sin.

Saturday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 3:25b-26, 31

The Just One and the Justifier; the High Priest and the Sacrifice

We said yesterday that this entire passage (and frankly all of Romans) is about, not our righteousness (since we have none), but about the righteousness of God.  We noted that God is righteous in His infinite moral and holy character.  But we also rejoiced over the marvelous news that through His Son’s sacrificial atonement for our sins, God now counts us righteous before Him (covers us with His Son’s righteousness, that is) and has thereby brought us back into fellowship with Himself.  Paul writes in another place about this righteousness that God gives us through Christ that he wants to “be found in [Christ] not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Referring to these two ways of speaking of God’s righteousness, Paul later calls God the Just One and the Justifier.  He is the Just One in that He is infinitely moral and holy; He is the Justifier in that He justifies (makes right) the one who believes in Christ Jesus.  It makes perfect sense: Only the perfectly Just One has the right and ability to justify others.  But this also reminds us of a similar passage in Hebrews 9:11-28 about our Lord and Savior.  There, Jesus is referred to as the High Priest who alone is worthy to enter the true holy place, not made with hands.  And what did this High Priest offer as sacrifice for the sins of his people?  He offered himself.  Thus, just as our God and Father is both the Just One and Justifier of those who believe, so our Lord Jesus Christ is both the High Priest and Sacrifice on behalf of those who believe.  Isn’t the plan of salvation wonderful?  Isn’t God beyond mysterious?  No wonder Paul could say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways” (11:33).

Apparently the question was raised as to how God could be just while passing over the sins of former generations before Christ.  Should not God have visited them with His wrath which is mentioned in 1:18?  Paul again shows us the grace of God in His divine forbearance or restraint with those generations before, a forbearance He now shows all people before the return of His Son when divine patience and mercy will be finally exhausted (2:4-5).  And as for we who know the Lord, who were saved under the “law of faith,” ours is now a different task: To uphold the law.  What law?  The law of Moses?  The law of conscience?  No.  We now uphold the law of Christ, a law that goes beyond the other laws—the liberating law of love (James 1:25).

Friday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 3:21-25a, 27-30

God’s Answer to Our Dilemma

So we have a problem; simply put, we are law-breakers both by nature and by choice in open rebellion against the divine Law-Giver.  We are accustomed to saying that we are sinners, but Paul has thus far spoken instead of law and our breaking of it.  And it seems to me that “law-breaker” is a more descriptive and legal (scholars like to say, “forensic”) term than “sinner” as it speaks more to our willful and criminal activity thus rendering us without excuse and culpable before God.  We therefore have no standing before God, or right standing before God, and are justly subject to condemnation by Him.  Concerning “righteousness” as either a descriptive or legal category, we have none.

But Paul isn’t writing so much of our lack of righteousness; no, he is concerned instead about God’s righteousness.  This entire passage is about God’s righteousness, a righteousness which Paul says “has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  Now we all would understand that God is righteous as that term refers to his holy and infinitely moral character; or to put it another way, to be perfectly morally righteous is simply what we expect of the One we call God.  But another dimension to this “righteousness of God” is added here.  After proclaiming the obvious—that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—Paul then tells us that those who believe “are justified by His grace as a gift.”  Now the words, “righteousness” and “justified,” come from the same Greek root; that is, to be “justified” is to be “made right.”

So Paul is giving us this wonderful news: Our infinitely holy and righteous God is making those who believe in His Son righteous before Him by His sheer grace as a gift.  God pronounces those guilty unrighteous people who believe in Christ “guiltless” by covering them with His Son’s very own righteousness, the righteousness of God.  And how does He do this?  He does this through the blood of His dear Son who bore God’s just wrath and penalty on the cross (propitiation) for our sins, our lawlessness, and who thereby paid the price for our redemption.

And so God Himself has justified (made right) us through faith in His Son apart from the law since the law could not make us right but only prove us to be law-breakers.  Paul even calls this new understanding of justification the “law of faith” which excludes all boasting as it is God’s work and not ours for ALL who believe, Jew and Gentile—and yes, you, too.