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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
There is no letter or book in the world to equal the one that we are about to consider, for it is a detailed explanation of the Good News of God which is the power of God that results in salvation for all who believe (1.16) from the pen of an inspired writer.
Its scope is immense. Its first eight chapters, which contain the essence of that salvation, commence with a view of the parlous state of the world, and of man in his rebellion against God (1.18-32). All is in darkness. And it ends with a description of the triumph of God’s purposes with regard to His elect (8.28-39). All is light. So his words reveal how out of man’s darkness God brings light to those whom He has chosen. And in between is the glowing account of the effectiveness of Christ and His cross, and of the Holy Spirit in the bringing about man’s salvation.
The central character in all this, however, is God. In Romans he is mentioned more than any other, and is mentioned more times per hundred words than in any other New Testament book except 1 John, as He brings about His saving purpose through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Chapter 1 Introduction (1.1-4).
The letter is about ‘The Gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, even Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 1b-4).
This Letter was written by Paul to the church in Rome, and its whole stress is on ‘the Good News of God’. It begins here with a description of that ‘Good News (Gospel) of God’, which is what the letter will be all about, and it stresses that there are two important things to bear in mind when we consider it:
Promised by God In His Holy Scriptures.
The fact that this Good News was promised by God in His holy Scriptures will come out throughout the letter.
Thus the whole basis of the letter to the Romans is founded on Scripture.
The Gospel Is Good News Concerning His Son.
The Good News concerns God’s own Son, Who came into the world as true man, descended from David as the Scriptures had foretold, but Who was revealed to be the true and only Son of God as a result of God’s powerful activity through the Holy Spirit in and by the resurrection of ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’, which vindicated all His claims.
Let us consider this in more detail:
So in the end the Good News is summed up in our Lord Jesus Christ Who, as God become man, has made a way for us back to God, and a way by which we can become God-like.
Chapter 2. The Essence of The Gospel (1.14-17).
‘I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it is revealed a righteousness of God from faith to faith, as it is written, “But the righteous shall live by faith”.’
Having received the Gospel Paul considered himself a debtor to all men in that he owed it to them to bring them that Gospel (verse 14). The same onus clearly lies on every Christian to do the same. And he stresses that he was not ashamed of it, even though he was mocked, castigated and ill treated because of it. And the reason that he was not ashamed of it was because of what it is, for it is ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.’ Compare 1 Corinthians 1.18, ‘the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved (those who truly believe) it is the power of God’. Its message is that the power of God to save men and women has now been made available and is received through truly and savingly believing in Jesus Christ and what He came to do for us as the crucified One (1 Corinthians 2.2).
The letter will then go on to explain how this is so.
b). It will reveal that, having received that ‘justification’, having been ‘reckoned as righteous’, from that time on God will be at work on us through life’s experiences and the working of the Holy Spirit (5.1-5), in connection with His risen life (5.10). And all this will be on the basis of our having been accounted as righteous (justified) in Christ, with the result that we are delivered from His wrath (aversion to sin which brings judgment), and reconciled to Him (5.9-10).
And it will do all this because in it is revealed the effective powerful working of the saving righteousness of God which is experienced by faith, and which both imputes righteousness, and imparts righteousness, to all who believe (1.17a). For it is through faith that those taken up into the righteous working of God will ‘live’ (1.17b).
Chapter 3. He Reveals The Awful Condition Of Man In His Ungodliness And Unrighteousness Which Has Resulted In His Downward Spiral Into Degradation (1.18-32).
‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is made known within them, for God made it known to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things which are made, even his everlasting power and divinity, in order that they may be without excuse, because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, nor gave thanks, but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four–footed beasts, and creeping things. for which reason God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonoured among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.’ (1.18-25)
Paul now gives his diagnosis of the condition of all men as a result of their ignoring God’s witness to Himself in creation, and he then brings home God’s attitude toward it. He declares mankind to be under the wrath of God because of what men reveal themselves to be by their lives (verse 18a). And this is because in their unrighteousness they ‘hold down’ (keep suppressed, render inoperative) the truth as a result of their unrighteous hearts and minds (verse 18b).
‘The wrath of God’ is Scriptural terminology for God’s abhorrence of, and antipathy towards, sin which results in Him having to act against it in condemnation and judgment, because it is contrary to His very nature. It does not necessarily indicate what we mean by anger. It is a sense that is unique to a holy God.
This unrighteousness of men is revealed by the fact that human beings ignore the testimony of nature (what is manifested to them) and of conscience and their awareness of spiritual things (what is manifest in them).
The Testimony of Nature Which is Manifest To Them.
According to Scripture the testimony of nature is clear. It tells us that we have only to consider the world about us, and the heavens which are the work of His hands, to recognise from them the evidence of design and power, and to realise that all is continually held in place by God. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork, day unto day utters speech, and the night-time is not silent’ (Psalm 19.1-2). ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not neither do they spin, and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these’ (Matthew 6.28-29). These ideas of design, magnificence and beauty should therefore point our hearts towards God, and would in fact do so were we not blinded by sin.
The Inner Testimony.
Furthermore both the fact of our inner awareness of God and the fact of our sense of moral right and wrong, should be seen as natural indicators of a moral divinity. Thus it may be argued that we have only to respond rightly to the voice within us which calls us to worship the everlasting God and to do what is right before Him, in order to know something of His very nature.
So these two aspects of creation, the glory of nature and the inner testimony, are seen as making clear, to all who are not blinded or deliberately suppressing, the truth, His everlasting power and Godhead, because there is that in man and womankind which, when not affected by sin, testifies to them.
But man in his folly, far from responding and looking upwards and seeing the glory of God, looked downwards and got caught up in the folly of seeing himself and his world as being all that should concern him. Thus in his supposedly ‘spiritual’ mind, corrupted because he did not want to obey God, he pictured God in terms of created things which he could control, and then worshipped them instead of their Creator.
And this is equally true in Western societies, for although we no longer on the whole bow down to effigies and images, we do bow down to the great gods of Science and Evolution, counting them as Creators, rather than recognising in them the fruits of creation. It is only necessary to listen to the modern media on the subject to realise man’s folly. We are told, ‘Evolution did this’ and ‘Evolution did that’ as though there was some invisible force (a god) intrinsic in nature that guaranteed that it would be so. But, says Paul, the man whose mind is spiritually attuned will not be able to talk like this for He will recognise that behind all nature is the powerful activity of God (Colossians 1.17; Hebrews 1.3). Whatever his views on science and evolution he will recognise that all is under His control.
It should be stressed that true science is no enemy of God for it only examines what is. It examines events and processes, which are subject to investigation. It is unable to examine what lies behind what is, or what causes the process. That is simply surmise. Thus it is sinful man’s interpretations of science, based on no evidence other than their own ideas, which are the enemies of God. Science itself can tell us nothing about God’s essential Being for by its very nature it is considering only the physical, and cannot look into the spiritual which is outside its scope.
But the inevitable consequence of man’s over-exaltation of creation and of science is that he allows it to begin to affect his behaviour. Because man exchanges the truth of God for a lie and exalts nature rather than the Creator, seeing himself and God in terms of the bestial, he himself begins to behave bestially. As a result men behave uncleanly and dishonour their own bodies.
This bestial behaviour is then seen as manifesting itself in a number of ways. It results firstly in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage (the only marriage so defined in Scripture, and the only sphere in which Scripture allows sexual activity). All sex outside of heterosexual marriage is seen as condemned, however described, although in verses 26-27 special emphasis is laid on same-sex sexual behaviour, which is described as ‘against nature’.
And because men have refused to have God in their knowledge this then results in their minds becoming ‘reprobate’ (rejected after testing, unfit, spurious), so that they do things which are unfitting. This is confirmed by a long list of the sins that reveal the bestiality of men’s minds. Regularly in Scripture the natural man is likened to a wild beast, while in contrast those who keep God’s covenant are described in terms of ‘a son of man’ (see especially Daniel 7). It is only the man who obeys God who retains the true image of God. It will be noted that no sexual sins are listed in verses 28-31, those having already been dealt with in verses 24-27 as especially heinous, because they replace the true worship of God. They are the kind of sins common to mankind and cover all aspects of human behaviour leaving none of us untouched. The point that Paul is bringing out is that without exception all have sinned in one way or another.
And he ends up by pointing out that it is not only the doing of these sins that brings men into judgment and under sentence of death, but also the giving of approval to those who practise them. Thus by his words all men are revealed to be sinners.
For completeness we will now consider Paul’s list of man’s sins, which are over and above the sexual sins previously described.
‘Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, lacking in understanding, promise-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful.’
It does not take much effort for us to recognise from this list that we all stand accused in one way or another. .
Chapter 4 Even Respectable Men And Philosophers And Jews Come Under God’s Judgment As Sinners (2.1-16).
Having demonstrated the sinfulness and inexcusability of the majority of mankind, Paul now turns to the idea of those who are the most highly respected in society, the leaders of the community, the judges and the philosophers, and the Jews, whose moral standards were seen as above those of most of the world, and who saw themselves as having ‘the truth’. Those who see themselves as having responsibility for the behaviour of mankind.
‘Wherefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judges, in the fact that you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge do practise the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practise such things. And do you reckon this, O man, who judge those who practise such things, and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?’
Paul’s argument is quite simple, and it is that those who claim to act as judges of others regularly themselves indulge in the same sins, which therefore makes them doubly without excuse in the sight of God. For by judging others they do not have the excuse of ignorance. They demonstrate by their behaviour that they do know what is right and wrong. And yet they still behave wrongly. They must therefore recognise that God shows no favours to ‘fellow-judges’, and will judge truly. If they pass judgment on others, do they really think that they can themselves expect to escape God’s judgment?
‘Or do you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance, but on the basis of your hardness and of your impenitent heart treasure up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works?’
Paul then asks them why they do not respond to God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering. He points out that He has constantly shown His love towards them in the provision of sun and rain, and all the benefits of nature, He has borne with their sins patiently while waiting for them to become aware of them and repent, and He has longsufferingly waited for their response. Why then do they despise His goodness and mercy, and not respond to it? It is because of their spiritual and moral hardness and because their hearts are impenitent in the face of their sins (for which they constantly condemn others).
And as a result they are storing up for themselves ‘wrath’ (God’s righteous response against sin) in the Day when God reveals His antipathy against sin and when His righteous judgment is revealed. For God will deal justly without ignoring anything that anyone has done. He will render to every man without exception whatever his works (described in 1.29-31) have deserved. And in that Day no one will be found innocent (3.19).
And on what basis will God judge men?
‘to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life, but to those who are factious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath and indignation.’
At first sight Paul appears here to be saying that the good will be accepted, and the not so good will be rejected (and we most of us think that we are on the side of the good). But a moment’s careful thought in the context will demonstrate that this is not so. What Paul is pointing to is the impossible ideal that no man achieves, for he will soon point out that all are under sin and are guilty before God (3.9, 20). He is drawing the picture of the ideal man, as sometimes portrayed by philosophers of the day, and saying, ‘measure up to that if you can’, knowing all the time that at one time or another all fall short of this ideal. He knows that it is just not a true picture of any man unless he has first turned to God with his whole heart and received forgiveness for his sins. He has provided the true picture of man as he really is in chapter 1.
For the man Paul is describing here never falters. His life is always pure. His temper is always even. His thoughts are always God-like. His generosity is unceasing. His whole thought is on pleasing God. His concentration is always on perfection and on finally enjoying eternal life. God is in all his thoughts. In other words this man is like Jesus, never failing in any way. But apart from Him such a man does not exist. He is a ‘chimera’, a fanciful conception.
So, he says, their judgment will be on the basis of whether they have patiently walked in well-doing, never failing, abstaining from all the sins described in 1.29-31, and have been constantly and unwaveringly seeking for glory, honour and incorruption, in other words for eternal life. Or, in contrast, on whether they reveal themselves as being in a state of rebellion against God, have failed in love towards their fellowmen, and do not obey the truth that He reveals to their hearts, but rather obey unrighteousness. To these latter there will only be indignation and wrath. This last, he is saying, is the true picture of man. And the result for such people can only be to face the wrath and indignation of God.
As we will discover later Paul is not here trying to say that those who do good will be accepted and that those who do evil will be rejected, as though mankind could be one or the other. For He will later point out that he has proved that we are all under sin, and are all guilty before God (3.9, 19, 23). Rather he is already anticipating that some will be ‘saved’ and as a result of being changed in heart and life, will begin to live a Christian life which will gradually become like this, while others will turn away and lose their opportunity. To Paul it was only those who were following Jesus Christ who could hope to meet the criteria he was laying down, and they only because they had first been ‘declared righteous in Christ’.
‘Tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek, but glory and honour and peace to every man who works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for there is no respect of persons with God.’
So he stresses that man will receive what he deserves. The one who is ‘evil’ and has not done wholly what is right will suffer tribulation and anguish. He will experience the judgment of God. ‘The Jew first’ is because he has been especially privileged in being given the Law. And to the one who works good without failing, in the manner already described, will come honour and glory. Apart from Jesus there is of course no one who has ever lived like this, and he may well have had Jesus in his mind. But ever in his mind is the aim of the Christian life. To him only those who desire to be like this with all their hearts can expect to receive a reward. And that can only ever be those who have first found forgiveness, and have been accounted as righteous by God.
‘For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without the law, and as many as have sinned under the law will be judged by the law, for it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but it is the doers of the law who will be justified --- in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.’
It will make no difference in that day whether men have had the Law or not. Those who have not had the Law will perish outside the Law. They will be judged by the law written in their consciences. Those who have had the Law will be judged under it, and they too will perish. For in both cases it is not those who are aware of what their particular law says who are accounted righteous, it is those who fully and without exception do what that law says. Only they will be able to be accounted righteous in the Day when God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. That is what Paul’s Good News of the Gospel confirms. But as he has already pointed out, no one does in fact keep their particular conception of the law. Thus all will perish.
‘For when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to it, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ .’
Not having the Law does not give the Gentiles any excuse. For all men have written in their hearts the principles of God’s law, the principles of moral right and wrong, and their consciences bear witness to it. Those principles may be distorted by them, but they are there. And thus they have a responsibility to live wholly according to those principles. If they do their conscience will excuse them. If they do not it will accuse them. And the fact that this happens is evidence of the moral law within them. But either way they are bound to live by it, and will be judged by it. And they too will be judged accordingly in the Day when God judges the secrets of men. And there too they will perish because they have failed to live fully in accordance with their conscience (verse 12).
It must be recognised in all this that Paul is demonstrating logically that all without exception have sinned and are therefore guilty before God. He is not speaking of mercy but of justice. It is not to deny that some can repent and find mercy, whether they be Jew or Gentile. And it may well be that these words are indicating that God does work in the hearts of some people, even among those who have ‘never heard’, bringing them in repentance to receive forgiveness through the cross (even though they have not heard of it), and to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him. Missionaries have testified to meeting such people when they have gone to ‘unreached’ peoples. And such people have immediately responded to the Gospel, declaring that this was the message that they had been waiting for. But such people are few, and had turned away from the false gods of their people. We must not put a straitjacket on God’s mercy, but nor must we treat it with laxity. What is, however, sure, is that without repentance towards God and faith in His mercy there can be no salvation.
Chapter 5. The Jew Is No Better Off Unless He Obeys The Law From The Heart (2.17-29).
Paul then points out that although Jews may boast about having the Law of God they are no better off than Gentiles, for it is that very Law that condemns them. Having the Law is only of benefit if they respond to it fully and obey it from the heart. And the problem is that they cannot do that even if they try. For all are sinners. Thus their claim to have the Law of God simply puts them under greater condemnation.
What The Jews Claimed.
‘But if you bear the name of a Jew, and rest on the law, and glory in God, and know His will, and approve the things which are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth.’
The Jews in Paul’s day had a very high view of their privilege, and in some ways rightly so, for they did have the Law of God. But the problem was that while they viewed themselves highly because of it, they failed to recognise that it meant that if they sinned it put them under greater condemnation. We can compare here James 3.1-2. To claim special insight is to be committed to following that insight in obedience, and to fail to do so brings that insight into disrepute.
Note the claims that the Jews boastingly made for themselves:
All this was, of course, partly true. But having such privileges but them under a great obligation to live in accordance with the light given to them, and Paul will now point out that that is precisely what they did not do. And the consequence was that what appeared to be of great benefit to them turned out only to be a curse.
Where The Jews Failed.
Paul now demonstrates how, with all their great privileges, they failed to carry them into practise.
‘You therefore who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say that a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who glory in the law, through your transgression of the law do you dishonour God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written.’
The problem with the Jews as a whole (there were of course exceptions), as indeed with many religious people, was that they had the truth but did not live by it. They taught others the Law and said that they should obey it, but they did not teach themselves to obey it. They did not practise what they preached. What they condemned in others they themselves did. They taught the ten commandments but did not themselves obey them when properly understood (see Matthew 5.20-48). They condemned idolatry but were hypocritically willing to benefit from wealth obtained from idolatrous temples, which should have been anathema to them. They gloried in the Law, and then by their lives brought it into disrepute. And the result was that the Gentiles had a poor opinion of the God of Israel, and mocked their beliefs, and thus the name of God was blasphemed as a result of their behaviour even as their Scriptures had warned (for the quotation see Isaiah 52.5).
Having The Truth Is Only Of Benefit If It Is Lived Out.
Another thing that the Jews boasted in was that they were circumcised and were thus members of God’s covenant, for their circumcision was a sign of that covenant (Genesis 17). But Paul points out that if they break the covenant then the covenant ceases to be of any value. Their disobedience invalidates their part in that covenant, and as a result their circumcision in which they boast, which is the sign of that covenant, is also invalidated. On the other hand if others who are uncircumcised keep the covenant then surely that means that they are circumcised in their hearts, for it was the keeping of the covenant that God was concerned about. Furthermore by keeping the covenant they will be passing judgment on the Jews who failed to fulfil it. Paul here undoubtedly has Christians in mind.
‘For circumcision is indeed of profit, if you are a doer of the Law, but if you are a transgressor of the law, your circumcision is become uncircumcision. If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision? And shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge you, who with the letter and circumcision are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
So the point behind all these arguments is that although the Jews are truly greatly privileged, they have in fact forfeited that privilege by being disobedient to the Law and to God’s covenant. They are therefore equally sinners along with the remainder of mankind, and stand condemned. The only true Jew is the one who is one inwardly and reveals it by full obedience to the Law, and the only true circumcision is that which changes the heart so that a man walks in accordance with the spirit of the Law. It is they alone who will receive the true praise, the praise that comes from God
Chapter 6. Paul Deals With Possible Objection To His Position (3.1-8).
Paul now deals with possible objections to his position, and considers a number of rhetorical questions.
‘What advantage then has the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? Much every way. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? God forbid. Yes, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, “That You might be justified in your words, and might prevail when you come into judgment.” But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visits with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men). God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? But if the truth of God through my lie abounded to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil, that good may come?” Whose condemnation is just.’
Paul knew that men have devious minds, especially when it comes to justifying themselves, and deals with some of their arguments here. Note the rhetorical questions that he asks himself:
The first question concerns what advantage the Jews have. Is Paul really suggesting that they have in fact no advantage at all? The second question argues that God’s faithfulness will not be affected by man being unbelieving. The idea of the argument is that God’s faithfulness is surely above being affected by man. The third question suggests that if our unrighteousness actually emphasises God’s righteousness, then surely God cannot visit it in judgment. After all it is then to His benefit. It is in fact suggesting that morality is not of first importance. What is of first importance is only the glory of God. They fail to see that morality makes clear the glory of God. The fourth question suggests that if my deceitfulness brings out the truth of God and thus brings glory to Him, I cannot be judged a sinner for that reason.
There is a kind of perverted logic to these questions. They point to people whose view is that what matters is the glory of God, so that anything that contributes to that is to be commended, whether it is in itself good or bad. It is a sad indication of men’s failure to recognise the importance of their moral behaviour. And until it is examined more closely such a suggestion sounds watertight, for it is always man’s tendency to think that his sin is not really all that important. It would in fact be perfectly true in an amoral universe (if such could theoretically exist). But this is not an amoral universe, and God is very much concerned about men’s morals. Thus unbelief, disobedience and deceit can never finally contribute to the glory of God, even if their side effects seem to do so, for they are actually a stain on His perfect universe.
What advantage then has the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision?
Paul’s reply is that they had a huge advantage, because they had received the oracles of God. They had the inspired word of God. But, of course, it was only an advantage if they took heed to it. It was of little use if it was ignored. Furthermore circumcision was evidence of their covenant relationship with God, but that was only of value if they truly from the heart observed His covenant.
The same applies very much today to the Bible. What a huge privilege it is for us to have the Bible, and yet that very fact will add to our condemnation if we do not pay heed to it.
For what if some were without faith? Will their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?
The argument is that God will continue faithful to His covenant whatever His people’s attitude of heart, and asks whether their want of faith can possibly make God’s faithfulness of none effect. They expected the answer that God would certainly remain faithful even though His people were disobedient. They were, of course, thinking in terms of the benefits promised by the covenant. But Paul’s reply was not quite what they expected, because he looked at the covenant from a different angle. He had come to recognise that the covenant not only contained promises of blessing, but also warnings of judgment. So he said, ‘God forbid. Yes, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, “That You might be justified in Your words, and might prevail when You come into judgment.” In other words he was saying that God will certainly be faithful to His covenant because His covenant stands firm and He only does what is true. But what they should therefore do is consider that covenant. If they did they would recognise that it contained exclusion clauses. And the corollary is that His people will be brought into judgment because of it. For in His faithfulness He will thus ensure that its terms are carried out, and that includes its curses.
But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visits with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men).
Some men may ask (‘I speak after the manner of men’, not of God), ‘Would not God be unrighteous to visit men with wrath for their sins if those very sins in fact demonstrate and commend God’s righteousness?’
Paul refuses to even acknowledge any truth in the argument, which he sees as specious and as special pleading. His reply to their suggestion of God’s righteousness being lacking is simply, ‘God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?’ and his counter-question is simply asking, “How can God, if He is the Judge of all the world, be shackled by excuses for sin. He must judge sin righteously on its merits. Therefore any such arguments simply fall by the wayside.”
But if the truth of God through my lie abounded to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?
This question, like the last one, works on the assumption that the end justifies the means. ‘If my falsehood brings out God’s truth, does that not justify my falsehood?’ Paul wants to indicate that he has had enough of such questions and replies that they might just as well say, “Let us do evil, that good may come?” a question which can only deserve condemnation. (‘Their condemnation is just’). For the truth is that true goodness can never be forwarded by false means (even though there are some who slanderously accuse Paul of that very thing).
So the point that comes out from all this is that God will deal seriously with sin, whether it be in Jews or Gentiles, and will accept no excuses. All will be judged on the same basis, and that is on what they have done and failed to do.
Chapter 7. The Whole Of Mankind Is Found Guilty Before God (3.9-20).
This long section on sin and judgment, which began at 1.18, now comes to an end with the verdict that all are guilty before God. In 1.18-32 it was the world as a whole that was considered. In 2.1-16 it was the respectable, and the philosophers, and the Jews. In 2.17-3.8 it was especially the Jews. Now all are being looked at together.
‘What then? are we better than they? No, in no possible way. For we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin, as it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one, there is none who understands, there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not, so much as one. Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues they have used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, in order that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God, because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.’
Paul now dismisses any suggestion that, in the light of God’s coming judgment, anyone is in any better position than anyone else. And he sees this as confirmed by the Scriptures. For they make clear that all are under sin.
The initial quotation “There is none righteous, no, not one, there is none who understands, there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not, so much as one”, comes from Psalm 14.1c, 2b-3 (compare Psalm 53.1c, 2b-3). It clearly indicates:
Thus there are clearly none who genuinely do always what is good, and so all come under condemnation.
The quotations that follow then illustrate the point. These quotation are intended to give a general picture of sin as seen by the Scriptures, and basically sum up what man is. ‘Their throat is an open sepulchre’ (Psalm 5.9). That is, their words are such that like an open and unprotected grave they form a trap for the unwary into which they can easily fall. Or alternately that they result in men becoming unclean by coming in contact with them. ‘With their tongues they have used deceit.’ (Psalm 5.9). Here the lack of honesty of men and women, and deceitfulness of their words generally is in mind. ‘The poison of asps is under their lips’ (Psalm 40.3). Here the thought is mainly of the maliciousness of men and women which results in cruel and hurtful words, backbiting, slanderous accusations, and the murdering of other people’s reputations by gossip and tale bearing. ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness’ (Psalm 10.7 LXX). Such people curse and swear and reveal their own bitterness of heart in the bitter things that they say. It will be noted up to this point that the emphasis has been on the effect of what people say. As Jesus said, ‘For every idle word that men shall speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment’ (Matthew 12.36). Compare ‘The tongue is a little member -- set on fire of Hell’ (James 3.5-6).
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood’ (Proverbs 1.16; Isaiah 59.7). Here the emphasis is on people’s violence and its consequences. ‘Destruction and misery are in their ways’ (Isaiah 59.7). Here the concentration is on the harm that people do to each other, and the misery that people bring to each other, by the way in which they behave. ‘And the way of peace have they not known’ (Isaiah 59.8). This is the opposite side of the coin. Such people have no desire to bring peace into the world in which they live, nor to seek peace. Rather they bring trouble and distress. ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’ (Psalm 36.1). This both sums men and women up and is the final indictment. They live without regard for God and for His judgment, and that fact comes out in their lives and in their behaviour.
‘Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, in order that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God’ (3.19). So Paul’s conclusion is that Scripture has spoken and that what it says applies to anyone ‘under the law’, whether the Law of Moses, or the law of conscience, so that no one can plead innocence and all the world is brought under God’s judgment. The term ‘the Law’ often referred to the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures, seen as God’s law to man.
And he then gives a reason why this is so, it is ‘because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.’ In other words, because all men and women are sinners the law can never result in their being accounted as righteous before God, because the law simply draws attention to their sin and accounts them as guilty. It provides the knowledge of sin. It says, you have done this and you have therefore sinned. For this reason there can be no salvation through the Law, because the Law is there to accuse and point the finger, not there to deal with their sin. Here he has very much the moral law in mind. Thus from the point of view of acceptance before God the Law is helpless. By it all men and women are found guilty before God.
Chapter 8. God Has provided A Way By Which Men Can Become Acceptable To God (3.21-31).
Having proved that all men stand guilty before God, and that all that the Law can do is make things worse, Paul will now turn to the way that God has provided by which men and women can become acceptable to a holy God. He will point out that in the midst of their darkness and rebellion ‘a righteousness of God’ has been provided for sinners who will come to Him in faith, so as to make them acceptable before Him.
‘But now apart from the law a righteousness of God has been openly revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all those who believe’ (3.21-22).
It was a constant theme of Isaiah that God would send His righteousness and His salvation so as to redeem His people (Isaiah 45.8; 46.13; 51.5, 6, 8; 56.1; 61.10). And now, says Paul, that righteousness has come. And it is a righteousness, a saving righteousness, which is received through faith in Jesus Christ and provided for all who believe.
In order for God’s people to enjoy the blessing of a holy God two things were necessary. One was that they be seen as acceptable in His presence. That could only result from their being clothed in a God given righteousness (Isaiah 61.10), in other words being provided with an imputed righteousness, a righteousness put to their account. The second was that they become righteous within, so as to be pleasing to God in their lives, and that could only happen through an imparted righteousness, a renewal within their lives that starts them on the road to righteousness. In what is to come he will deal with both. But first he concentrates his attention on an imputed righteousness which will make them judicially acceptable to God and free from the charge of sin. This comes out in the next few verses.
‘For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God, for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season, that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus’ (3.22b-26).
When it comes to this method of salvation it is the same for all. ‘There is no distinction.’ All must be saved in the same way. And this is because all are in the same boat. They have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Whatever may have been said before, this sums up man’s position. Morally he falls short of the glory of God. He is simply not up to His purity and His righteousness. Put plainly, he is not as righteous as God. He falls short of perfection. And therefore he is seen as guilty before God and as falling short of what is required of him.
But now for those who have faith in Jesus a solution has been found. Jesus Christ has provided a ransom from sin by the giving of Himself on the cross (Mark 10.45), and a propitiation for sin through the sacrifice of Himself in the shedding of blood (1 John 2.2) The first indicates that a redemption price has been paid, so that the person now belongs to God, the second that atonement has been made so that there is no barrier to his approaching God. The idea of a propitiation is that God’s antipathy towards sin no longer applies for that sinner, because the cause of that antipathy has been removed. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom God will not impute sin’ (Psalm 32.1-2).
And as a result of these blessings all to whom they apply are ‘accounted as righteous’ (dikaioo which signifies being accounted as righteous in the eyes of the law) in God’s eyes. And this is by His grace (His unmerited favour and active love) which is given freely (without cost) through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Thus the blessing is freely given, it is without cost to the recipient (compare Isaiah 55.1-2), and it is bestowed through faith in Jesus Christ. From the moment of ‘believing’ and receiving it, therefore, that person is ‘counted as righteous with God’s righteousness’, is seen as belonging wholly to God, and is reconciled and ‘at one’ with God. All God’s condemnation and antipathy to sin is done away with as far as they are concerned. They are as acceptable in His sight as Jesus Christ, for they are ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). And all this is now accomplished without demeaning the righteousness of God in any way, for because of the cross and what was accomplished there, He can be totally just, and yet at the same time can count as righteous the believer in Jesus Christ.
This can be, and is, presented in two ways. One way is to see Jesus Christ dying as our substitute. This is unquestionably true in Mark 10.45. Because Jesus has died in our place as a ransom and has borne our sin, we can be accounted as righteous and go free, as a result of the fact that He paid the price instead of us. The second way is to see ourselves as ‘in Christ’, which is a regular New Testament idea. And as a result, being one with Him we are seen as having gone to the cross with Him. We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2.20). When He died, we died there with Him. Thus with the punishment for all our sin being borne by Him as the One Who has absorbed us into Himself, we have paid the price of sin in Him and can go free, to begin our new lives for Him.
Imagine a scene in a court room. A young man stands in the dock. He is accused of the most abominable of crimes, and he knows that he is guilty. The previous day the prosecutor, unable to keep the scorn and anger from his eyes, has laid out the charges against him. He has been aware of the anger even in the judge’s eyes. All are against him. And now all the evidence is to be introduced against him. He is without hope, and he awaits the proceedings with dread. The prosecutor comes forward. But now he is no longer angry, he is smiling. He declares to the court that all charges have been dropped. The young man’s elder brother has taken the full blame for the crime. He has pleaded guilty and has been justly sentenced and executed. The young man can leave the court room with no charge lying against him. As far as the prosecution is concerned he is free to go. The judge also is now smiling. He declares the young man to be ‘justified’ in the eyes of the court. He can leave without a stain on his character. All he has to do is believe it and go free. Everyone gathers round to pat him on the back. The judge comes and shakes his hand. He is aware in his heart that he is guilty. But the whole court has declared him to be ‘accounted as righteous’, because his elder brother has borne the shame and ignominy of the crime. That is ‘justification’.
And all this is the consequence of the cross where the price was paid and man’s sin was borne. Furthermore it not only provides salvation for those who believe in Jesus now, but it also redeems from and atones for ‘sins done aforetime’. From the time of Adam onwards God had provided a way back to Him through the offering of sacrifices. All who came to Him in genuine faith, offering their sacrifices, obtained forgiveness and pardon. But it was only a shadow of what was to come. For the blood of bulls and of goats could not really take away sin (Hebrews 10.4). They were a ‘shadow’ pointing forwards to this supreme moment when Jesus Christ was offered for the sins of the world. They had gained any efficacy that they had through His coming sacrifice of Himself. And now as a result of His offering of Himself all those who have believed from the time of Adam onwards are effectively ‘saved’ and made acceptable to God through His cross. Any accusation pending against them has been cancelled out. They too are ‘reckoned as righteous’ through the cross.
But if this is freely given through God’s unmerited favour what else is required in order to be accounted as righteous before God? The answer is nothing. And what credit can the saved person take for his salvation? The answer is none. For he has done nothing towards it, he has simply received it through the channel of faith. He does not receive it because of his belief. His belief is only the means by which he receives it. It comes to him totally from God as a result of the work of God upon him. ‘By grace are you saved through faith, and that salvation is not of yourself, it is the gift of God and not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2.8-9).
‘Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? No, but by a law of faith. We reckon therefore that a man is justified (accounted as righteous) by faith apart from the works of the law.’
And the result of this salvation being freely given through the unmerited favour of God is that no one has anything to glory in as regards themselves. They have no grounds for preening themselves or boasting. All self-glorying is excluded. Why? Because of the law of works? No. That would have given plenty of reason for boasting. Rather it is by the law of faith. And we can thus reckon on the fact that a man is accounted as righteous by God, not as a result of works, but through faith in Jesus Christ.
And all this comes to all men who believe, whether Jew or Gentile, in the same way, through faith. For there is no distinction. All come to Him through faith. And does this then mean that we are making the Law of none effect? No, we are establishing the Law. For we are giving it its full authority as the accuser of men, and as the standard by which men must be judged; we are taking its provisions for atonement which were but shadows, and replacing them with the reality that really atones; and we are bringing about its fulfilment in men and women in the ‘accounting of righteousness through faith’ (Genesis 15.6).
Chapter 9. The Way Of Justification Through Faith Illustrated In Abraham And Announced By David (4.1-12).
Paul now illustrates his teaching concerning being accounted righteous by faith from the Scriptures. His first illustration is Abraham. For in Genesis 15.6 we read, ‘And Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness’. And this will then be followed by a verse from the Psalms which teaches a similar thing.
‘What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has whereof to glory, but not toward God. For what says the scripture? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him who does not work, but believes on Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man, to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works, saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom, the Lord will not reckon sin.”
The first question is as to how Abraham was accounted as righteous by God. And he evidences from Genesis 15.6 the fact that Abraham was reckoned as righteous because he believed God. So, he points out, Abraham was not reckoned as righteous because of his works, but because of his trust in God. Whereas his works might have justified him before men, they could not do so before God. And that must be so, for who can boast before God?
It is the same for all. Whatever our works, they cannot make us accounted as righteous before God, because that would be to put God in our debt, and God is no man’s debtor. Rather then, like Abraham, we are to believe on Him Who actually counts as righteous the ungodly, and then, as with Abraham, our faith will be counted as righteousness.
‘He Who counts as righteous the ungodly.’ In different ways both Abraham and David sinned. And yet God counted them as righteous. This is clear evidence that God counts as righteous the ungodly who believe, for both were in some ways ungodly. Thus we can be sure that if we are ungodly and yet come to God by faith in Jesus Christ, we too will be accounted righteous, as they were, whatever we may have been or have done in the past. We can come just as we are and He will receive us.
Note what these words tell us about the character of God. They tell us that He is merciful and longsuffering, and that He reaches out to the ungodly. They tell us that He is ever ready to receive those who come to Him through faith. No matter what their state may be at the time, if they come to Him in faith He will receive them and ‘reckon them as righteous’ through faith in Jesus Christ.
The same was true of David. He was an adulterer and murderer. And yet he could say, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom, the Lord will not reckon sin.” In other words, he was conscious that he had been forgiven, and that he was accounted as righteous in God’s sight. And how was it so? By believing the prophet who came to him with God’s offer of mercy. He believed God and was accounted as righteous.
Thus Scripture clearly demonstrates that for a man to be accounted righteous he must believe God. He must be accounted as righteous ‘by faith’, by believing. And if neither Abraham nor David could claim the ground of works, how can we possibly do so?
Paul then goes on to point out that far from circumcision being required in order that a man might be accounted as righteous before God, in the case of Abraham it was simply a later seal on the fact that he had already been accounted as righteous. He was accounted as righteous first, and circumcised later. Thus he can be seen as the direct spiritual ancestor of all who walk in the steps of that faith that our father Abraham had in God, both of those who are circumcised and those who are not. Outward circumcision is not required in order for a man to be ‘reckoned as righteous’. Faith resulted in Abraham being counted as righteous even when he was uncircumcised (He will later point out that any man who comes to Christ is in fact ‘in Christ’ and therefore shares in the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). But that is not the answer here)
Chapter 10. As With Abraham, God’s Greatest Gifts Do Not Come To us Because We ‘Obey The Law’, But Because We ‘Believe In The Lord’ (4.13-25).
‘For the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul now points out that all the great promises made to Abraham that he would be ‘heir of the world’, the one through whom blessing would come from the Father to the whole world (Genesis 12.3), were made to him when he was righteous through faith. In his case there was no question of his having been required to attain to a certain level of obedience to the Law in order to obtain it, for at that stage there was no Law. No, he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. That was the basis on which he received blessing for the world. (While the statement appears in Genesis 15.6, he had already demonstrated his faith in Genesis 12).
‘For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect, because the law works wrath. But where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this reason it is of faith, that it may be according to grace, to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.’
And it was a good thing that the promise came on the basis of faith, and that the fact that Abraham was the heir on behalf of the whole world was on the basis of faith, because if it had been those who were under the Law who had been the heirs acting on behalf of the whole world the world would have lost out. Because the heirship would have been cancelled because they failed to keep the Law and thus came under the wrath of God, and the promise would thus have been of none effect.
From this it should be obvious that those who come to God on the basis of having obeyed the Law cannot look to the promise, because all that the Law can do is condemn and bring men under God’s disapproval. That renders the promise of non-effect, as a result of the fact that they have put themselves outside the sphere of acceptability to God. But those who come to God on the basis of faith, without bringing in the question of the Law, are not put outside the sphere of acceptability to God. For they are reckoned as righteous by faith. And because the question of obedience to the Law is not being called on, the question of having transgressed it does not enter in.
Thus it is clear that the only basis on which men can come to God and be acceptable is ‘by faith’, and this is so that it may be the result of God’s unmerited favour. And the consequence of that is that none who believe will be excluded. The promise is sure to everyone who believes, whether they see themselves as the people of the Law, or as the sons of Abraham who believe like he did. He is thus the father of all who believe.
‘Who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) before Him Whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead, and calls the things which are not, as though they were. Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to what had been spoken, “So shall your seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, yet, looking to the promise of God, he did not waver through unbelief, but acted strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. For which reason it was counted to him for righteousness.’
For the Scriptures make clear that in the sight of God, Who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were, Abraham is not only the father of the Jews but is the father of us all, for it declares that he is ‘the father of many nations.’ Thus all nations can share in what God did for Abraham.
And what did God do for Abraham? Well, in response to his strong faith in God’s promise of a coming ‘seed’, a faith which He accounted to him as righteousness, He gave him a son when both he and Sarah were past being able to bear. So clearly Abraham continued to be ‘accounted as righteous through faith’.
‘Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned to him, but also for our sake, to whom it will be reckoned, who believe on Him Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.’
Furthermore this description of what Abraham received through faith was not only written for his sake alone. It was written so that all who have the same confidence in God as being able to give life to the dead, and believe that He raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, might also have their faith ‘reckoned for righteousness’. And in so believing we believe in the One Who was delivered up in order to bear our trespasses, and was raised up in order that through Him we might be accounted as righteous. Thus through faith in Him we receive both forgiveness and justification (a state of being ‘just-as-if-I’d’ never-sinned).
Chapter 11. The Consequence of Being Accounted as Righteous Through Faith (5.1-11).
Paul now outlines some of the consequences of our being ‘accounted as righteous’ through faith. These he represents as follows:
We will now consider these in order.
1). We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 1).
‘Having therefore been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Because we have been accounted as righteous once for all through believing in ‘our Lord, Jesus Christ’ we have peace with God. His anger at sin is no longer directed against us, the enmity against sin has been removed, and we are reconciled to Him and He to us. No longer do we live in fear of the judgment. No longer are we afraid of the record of sin that stands against us. No longer do we have to fear the pointed finger. God our erstwhile Judge is now our friend, and our Father and is smiling on us. All is at peace.
2). Through Jesus Christ we have access by faith into the grace in which we now stand (verse 2).
‘Through Whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace in which we stand.’
In consequence of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf, and as a result of our responding to Him, we now have access by faith into the ‘grace’, the unmerited, active favour and mercy of God, in which we now stand. We have entered into the sphere of His love and compassion (Ephesians 3.17-19). We have entered into the sphere of His loving work towards us and in us. We are now sure of God’s continual gracious working, working within us in order that we may will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). We can now be sure that we will be confirmed to the end through His faithfulness (1 Corinthians 1.8-9). And we can be sure that all the blessings of God (Matthew 5.3-10) will be poured upon us. We are ‘surrounded by GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense)’.
3). We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (verse 2).
‘And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’
Those who are accounted righteous in Jesus Christ can rejoice in hope of the glory of God in at least three ways;
4). We rejoice in tribulation because of what we know it will work within us through our confidence in God’s love, and through the work of the Holy Spirit Who sheds abroad His love in our hearts (verses 3-5).
‘And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation works patient endurance, and patient endurance works proven character, and proven character works hope, and hope does not put to shame, because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given to us.’
The fourth thing in which we can rejoice is tribulation, persecution and hardship. Not because we have a desire to suffer, but because we know that these things will work within us what is pleasing to God. They will teach us patient endurance. And this will result in proven character as God is at work within us. And this proven character will confirm our hope of being like Him and of being with Him where He is. So we are not to see the world as a vale of hardship, but as a training ground, as a potter’s wheel, as a blacksmith’s fire, as God shapes and moulds us to His will.
Furthermore that hope is a certain hope, it is not one of which in the future we will be ashamed. Indeed we know that we will win the prize. And this is not because of our steadfastness, but because of the work of God within us. It is because love for God, and the love of God Himself, will be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us. And this love will ensure that we are able to persevere to the end, ‘kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time’ (1 Peter 1.5). For ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and they will never perish, nor will any pluck them from My hand’ (John 10.27-28).
5). We are made aware of the greatness of God’s love which is commended towards us in that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us (verses 6-8).
‘For while we were yet weak, in due season, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die, but God commends His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’
One of the central things about the cross is that through it God has ‘commended’ His love towards us, as we are filled with wonder that He should reach out to us as sinners. We might have understood it if we had always been righteous and obedient, although even then it would have been surprising. We could have understood it even more if we had been exceptionally good and strong. But to think that Christ should die for us when we were weak, ungodly and sinful is almost beyond belief. And yet that is the case. ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’
‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4.10). All we can say therefore is, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!’ (Romans 11.33).
6). We know that we will be saved from the consequences of God’s antipathy to and hatred towards sin because we are accounted as righteous through His blood (verse 9).
‘Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him.’
And if Christ has died for us while we were yet sinners, how much more, being accounted as righteous by His sacrifice of Himself on the cross and His blood shed for us, will we be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For how can those who are made righteous with the righteousness of Christ face the wrath of God (1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21). When God looks at us He will see Christ and His righteousness, and thus He will be at peace with us. There will be no more wrath because our sin has been removed.
Through the shedding of His blood Jesus has made a full, perfect and complete satisfaction for our sins, and has provided for us a robe of righteousness in which we appear before God (Isaiah 61.10). As a result God’s holy antipathy against sin is completely satisfied with what He has done and the provision that He has made. Nothing therefore now comes between us and His holiness.
And the result is that we are saved from His ‘wrath’ in all its aspects. The idea of wrath is not one of anger in the way in which we understand it. It is holy anger. And it is directed at us because of our sin. It results from God’s holy antipathy towards sin. We must not, however, simply see this as indicating that the Father feels like this while the Son does not. This is the ‘wrath’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a reminder that in the depths of His being God hates sin, for He knows what it is and what it does, and He cannot therefore abide it. In one way or another it must be rooted out. And that is what Christ came to do for His own
In Scripture the wrath of God is revealed in three ways:
Clearly each merges into the other so that some references have all in mind. Thus when we read about and think of the wrath of God we should keep in mind all three. But the joy for the Christian is that while he might have to endure some of the consequences of that wrath as it is exacted on the world, for him it is not wrath but the tribulation that works for his good (5.3) and God will preserve him in it.
7). We rejoice because, having been reconciled to God by the death of His Son, we will be saved by His life (verse 10).
‘For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, will we be saved by His life.
Having been reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and being saved from God’s present and coming antipathy to sin in Him, how much more will we be saved by His life. Being released from darkness and filthiness, we can look forward to the glory of His saving work within us. This is in a sense a reference to what is to come in the chapters that follow, for in chapters 6-8 we will learn more of what it means to be ‘saved by His life’. For through His resurrection He raises us up to newness of life (6.4), and through His abiding presence He continually renews our life (Galatians 2.20). But here Paul puts it in as a reminder that He not only died in order that we might be accounted as righteous, but also in order that we may experience righteousness, so that we might gradually be transformed until we are made like Him. For He not only died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good.
8). We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received reconciliation (verses 11).
‘And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation.’
And finally because we have been accounted as righteous by faith we rejoice in God. This is because, having received reconciliation, we now know Him and can come into His presence. And yet even so it is through our Lord Jesus Christ, for without Him we have nothing.
In view of all this how can we fail to give Him glory? It is indeed right that having considered all the benefits that He has given us through the cross we should now pause and worship Him. For it is from Him that we have received everything. It is to Him that we owe everything. And thus we join with the heavenly beings in crying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come’ (Revelation 4.8), and with all of creation in saying, ‘To Him Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be the blessing and the glory and the honour and dominion for ever’ (Revelation 5.13), because ‘He has purchased us to Himself with His blood out of very tribe, and tongue and people and nation and made us unto Him a kingdom and priests so that we might reign on the earth’ (Revelation 5.9-10 adapted).
Chapter 12. As In Adam All Die So In Christ Will All Be Made Alive (5.12-21).
The theme of this passage is that as in Adam all struggle and die, so in Christ will all be made spiritually alive, and reign in life. But another theme might be seen as the indication that, when we get down to the foundations, the Law is of secondary (although real) importance. It neither initially caused the condemnation of mankind, nor could it give him life. All it could do was bring man’s many transgressions into the open.
This passage can be divided into three sections:
We will consider these section by section.
1). Adam brought death into the world for all, because all have sinned (12-14).
‘Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned — for until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of Him Who was to come.’
It will be noted a). Through one man sin entered into the world and death by sin (Genesis 3). b). Death passed to all men because all sinned (Genesis 5). c). This was despite the fact that there was no written Law by which they could be accused and as a result of which they could be condemned. d). Adam can in some ways be seen as a figure of Christ, in that all men are united with him and live out their lives as he lived his, under sentence of death, while in Christ all Who are His are united with Him and live out their lives in and through Him, with the guarantee of eternal life.
Clearly what is written here harks back to what has gone before. The fact that all men sin reminds us of 1.18-3.20. The fact that there was no law does not mean that they were lawless, for they had the work of the law written in the heart so that their consciences either accused them or excused them (2.14-15). But in the end the point is that all goes back to Adam’s sin. Man is sinful because the first man sinned. Something happened when man first sinned and the result was that the tendency to sin was passed on from Adam. And because all died it demonstrated that all sinned, and that all were worthy of death, even though there was no written Law. Their sin and their death flowed from Adam, but it was the consequence of their own choice. But even so all that the Law could do later when it did come in was to make sin abound (verse 20). Thus the Law was not the solution to man’s need.
There is no need to see here the idea of imputed guilt, or even imputed sin. For we are specifically told that sin was not imputed (counted against us). What we are to see is that sin and death flowed from Adam and what he did, just as later we will see that righteousness and life flow from Christ as a result of what he did. Sin brought death into the world and it has done so ever since.
2). Adam brought death and condemnation into the world. Jesus Christ has brought into the world the free gift of true righteousness which saves from death (15-19).
This section can be divided up into five statements, each of which contrasts one thing connected with the Fall, with the one thing brought by Jesus Christ.
It will be noted that there is a progression of thought concerning the consequences of sin as we advance through the statements:
All the problems of mankind can thus be traced back to the initial act of the one who was made in the image of God, and deserted his post through disobedience, as a consequence bringing sin into the world. It is a warning concerning the awfulness of one sin. Nevertheless these consequences arose because all sinned. No man is directly condemned by the sin of Adam. We are each condemned by our own sin.
The second progression of thought is that:
1). ‘But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many.’
Paul begins by emphasising that God’s gift was not like the trespass. For while the original trespass was simply the one act of the one which resulted in many dying, a grim prospect indeed, in the case of God’s response God’s gracious and unmerited activity of love, and the gift of true righteousness which came to men by the gracious and unmerited activity and love of Jesus Christ, abounded to many. It flowed over in abundant measure. There was no stinting about God’s activity and the activity of Jesus Christ. The gift was basically of Himself, bringing His atonement (in respect of many trespasses), and His saving righteousness, to men, as a result of which they would have eternal life.
2). ‘And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift, for the judgment came of one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification.’
Again the gift of Jesus Christ far surpasses what Adam did. His one sin resulted in sin and death for many. But Jesus Christ’s one free gift of Himself came bringing atonement and forgiveness in respect of many offences, resulting in all who are His own being accounted as righteous before God.
3). ‘For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one, much more will they who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the One, even Jesus Christ.’
In the case of Adam, through his one trespass (how deadly it was) death reigned on all who descended from the one. He was the arbiter of death. The thought is both stultifying and horrifying. But in absolute contrast, those who receive the abundance of God’s loving unmerited favour, and the wonderful gift of Christ’s righteousness, will have the life of the One, Jesus Christ, reigning in them, cancelling death, and bringing eternal life. This is bringing out the parallel. But there is an added emphasis here on the fact that not only does the life of Christ reign within us, but we also reign through Christ.
Whereas grim death reigned in the first case, those who are saved, themselves reign in life in the other case, as a result of Christ’s life within them. Christ’s life given to His own thus enables them to reign in life through His life. In the words of Paul elsewhere, ‘Christ lives (His life) in me’ (Galatians 2.20).
4). ‘So then as through one trespass the judgment came to all men to condemnation, even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came to all men to justification of life.
There is a slight change of emphasis here in that the whole emphasis is now on the trespass. As a result of that trespass judgment came onto all men to condemnation (but as we have already seen that was because all sinned - verse 12). That one act had devastating results. As a result of its consequences the whole human race was tainted and condemned, as Paul has already drawn out in 1.18-3.20. But in the case of Jesus Christ the one act of righteousness resulted in the free gift being offered to all men bringing not condemnation, but justification (being counted as righteous) resulting in life. We must probably see the one act of righteousness as signifying His offering of Himself on the cross (3.24; 5.8), although it could alternatively signify His original act in deliberately choosing to be made in the likeness of men in order to die for them (Philippians 2.5-12). Either way it includes the cross and has resulted in the offer of ‘justification of life’, that is, ‘the accounting righteous which has resulted in life’.
Alternately we might see the ‘all’ as signifying ‘both Jew and Gentile’, in which case the idea is that justification of life came to all who received Him, whether Jew or Gentile.
5). ‘For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.’
Finally the spotlight turns fully on the persons involved. In the same way that through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so were many to be made righteous ones by the obedience of One. As sin and death flowed to men through Adam’s disobedience, so righteousness and life flows to men through Christ’s obedience. This is to summarise all that has gone before in terms of the two prototypes. For this stress on Christ’s obedience compare Hebrews 10.5-10.
We must not leave this series without once again pondering on the wonder of what God and Jesus Christ have done for us. The grace of God (His unmerited active love and favour) and the gift by the grace of Jesus Christ abounded to many, the free gift came for the purposes of our being accounted as righteous in the face of many offences, those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through Jesus Christ, from the one act of righteousness of the One came the justification that results in life, and through the obedience of One many will be made ‘righteous ones’, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
3). The Law comes into its own by bringing out God’s abounding grace (20-21).
‘And the law came in besides, so that the trespass might abound, but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly, that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
What then was the position of the Law in all this? It entered in order that the offence might be made to abound. It highlighted man’s sin and failure, and drew open attention to it. But it could not deal with the problem of sin. However, where sin abounded, the unmerited love and favour of God and of Jesus Christ abounded more and more, so that as sin had reigned by causing death for all men, even so the unmerited love and favour of God and of Jesus Christ reigns through righteousness by giving eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord to all who are His. Note the emphasis on righteousness. God could only act in righteousness. Nothing less would have been possible.
Chapter 13. Shall We Then Continue In Sin That Grace May Abound? (6.1-11).
The question in the title brings home the fact that what is now to follow does not just deal with the question of men and women being accounted righteous through Christ, but also deals with the question of how they can become actively righteous. It was necessary to answer the calumny that Paul could be seen as teaching that being ‘accounted righteous through faith freely and without cost’ encouraged sin. Indeed, there were claims that he actually taught that it was good to sin because it brought out the grace of God. And he answers this by pointing out that his very doctrine, of dying with Christ and rising with Him, is in fact the greatest argument against sin, and in favour of living righteously, that it is possible to have. For as he says in verse 2, ‘we who died to sin, how shall we any longer live in it?’ And the remainder of the passage expands on that question.
We have been submerged into the death of Christ and have risen with Him in newness of life.
‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live in it? Or are you ignorant of the fact that all we who were submerged into Christ Jesus were submerged into his death? We were buried therefore with him through submersion into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also might walk in newness of life.’
In those early days all Christians were baptised as adults immediately on conversion and Paul points to what the significance of that baptism was. As they went into the water it signified dying with Christ and being buried with Him, and as they came out again it signified rising with Him. It signified life from the dead. But we should note that his emphasis is not on the act of baptism as such but on the experience that lay behind it. As a result of repenting and believing it was ‘by one Spirit’ that they had been submerged into Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12-13), and thus by it they had been submerged into His death. That was what their experience of responding to Christ had meant. By their response to Him they had been ‘crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2.20). And then they had effectively been ‘buried’. They had acknowledged that they were only fit to die and be buried because of their sin, indicating their awareness of the awfulness of sin. In which case how can they who have died to sin, live any longer in it? It would be self-contradictory.
But having effectively, by faith and submersion into Christ Himself, died and been buried in Christ, they had also experienced resurrection. For just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father so they also had risen to newness of life through the working of the Spirit of God. That was the essence of becoming a Christian, the new birth of the Spirit from above (John 3.1-6). And the purpose of that was so that they might walk in newness of life. It was that Christ might live in and through them (Galatians 2.20). It was that they might be led step by step by the Spirit (Galatians 5.25). How then with Christ living in them in the power of His resurrection can they continue in sin?
We have been united with Christ in His death, and we have been united with Him in His resurrection.
Because we are ‘in Christ Jesus’ (verse 12) we have, as a result of the work of the Spirit, been united with Him in both His death and His resurrection, and the result is that our ‘old man’, the person that we once were, has been crucified with Him, while we ourselves as we now are, new creatures in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 5.17), have risen to walk in newness of life.
‘For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old man (the man that we once were) was crucified with him, that the body controlled by sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin, for he who has died is free from the condemnation of sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more, death no more has dominion over him.’
We must never underestimate the wonderful experience that has been ours. By becoming Christians we have been made one with Christ in both His death and resurrection. We have been ‘united with Him’. We have died with Him. Our old life of sin has been crucified with Him, and we are therefore to reckon it as dead. The old life which was controlled by sin has been put to death. We are new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17).
And this is so that we may no longer live in the bondage of sin, because He has delivered us from ‘the house of bondage’, from the slavery of sin. For, having been freed from the condemnation of sin by being ‘accounted as righteous’, it has lost its hold on us. Thus by positively reckoning on the fact that we have died with Him we are now free from sin’s grip and power. It no longer has dominion over us.
But from where can we obtain the power to have victory over sin? It is by recognising that having died with Him we also live with Him. That we can rise over sin by His risen power. With Christ dwelling within us, we must let Him in His risen power live out His life through us. That is the glory of our new life in Christ.
And being raised with Him we will recognise that sin and death are defeated. For once having died in Christ, for us death has lost its sting. The price of sin has been paid (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19). In our spirits we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, simply awaiting our resurrection body (Ephesians 2.6). We are therefore to live as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), because we have been transferred under the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). We are to recognise that we are partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1.12).
Furthermore we know that Christ, having risen from the dead, has faced death and defeated it. Death is behind Him and everlasting life ahead. Death has lost its dominion. And we can take heart from the fact that what is true for Him is true for us, because we are united with Him.
We Are Therefore To Reckon Ourselves As Dead To Sin And Alive To God iIn Christ Jesus.
‘For the death that he died, he died to sin once, but the life that he lives, he lives towards God. Even so you also must reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive towards God in Christ Jesus.’
When Jesus died He had done with sin. Although He had borne our sin, it was now fully dealt with once for all. It can thus now no longer point the finger at us. It can no longer accuse us, because we have died with Him. Sin has been dealt with once for all. But Jesus also rose from the dead. He triumphed over sin and death. And now on His throne in His manhood He lives towards God. All His thoughts are of God. All His desire is to please the Father, as the Father seeks to please Him. And if we have been raised with Him then that is what must be the ruling factor in our lives too. We too must live towards God as we share Christ’s throne (Ephesians 2.6).
Thus the essence of our having come to Christ, and of our having put our trust in Him, is that we must reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive towards God through Him. Thus inevitably we must never choose to sin. For we are dead, and our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). And the way in which we can ensure that this becomes a reality in our lives is by dying to ourselves daily (Luke 9.23), and yielding control of all our faculties to the risen Christ, so that He might live through us.
Chapter 14. We Must No Longer Hand Over Our Bodies To Sin As The Tools of Unrighteousness. We Must Hand Them Over To God As Risen With Christ And Therefore As Tools of Righteousness To God (6.12-23).
Paul continues with his point that no true Christian can continue in wilful sin. Indeed that it would be contrary to everything in which he believes. Nevertheless having dealt with that in some detail he triumphantly finishes the chapter with the declaration eternal life is not to be earned. Rather it is God’s free gift to all who believe (verse 23). Salvation is not of man, but of God.
‘Do not therefore let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its longings and desires, nor present the members of your body to sin as tools of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as tools of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.’
Sin is here seen as having a personality and as having a say in the running of our bodies. This recognises that there is that within our bodies which would drive us to disobey God. It is our fallen longings and desires, ‘the lusts of the flesh’ (Ephesians 2.3 add, ‘and of the mind’), which seek to drag us into many kinds of sin (Galatians 5.16, 22). But we are no longer to let sin control our bodies. We are rather to let the risen Christ Who lives within us control our bodies (6.4-5, 8; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.17). We are to obey the longings and desires of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.17).
‘Do not therefore let sin reign in your mortal body.’ We therefore have the choice as to whom we allow to reign in our bodies. We can choose sin, or we can choose Christ. The choice lies in one or the Other. Either we can hand our bodies over to sin, and let our members be tools of unrighteousness, or we can hand them over to God as those who have risen with Christ and are alive from the dead in Him, and let our members be God’s tools of righteousness, inspired by Him. We can let either sin or the risen Christ live through us, reigning over our faculties. But the choice is already made for the Christian, for ‘how shall we who are dead to sin live any longer in it’?
‘For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.’ For the truth is that with Christ within us, and having died with Him, sin has lost its power. It can no longer have dominion over us. The one thing that gave it its power was the Law. Because we had sinned against the law, every time that we sought to turn to God sin thundered, ‘it is a waste of time turning to God, you are law-breakers’. And we recognised that there was no help for us in God. But now that is no longer the case. If we are Christ’s we are delivered from the Law. We have died with Him and have paid its penalty. It can no longer accuse us. We are thus free from its constraint. We are ‘under grace’. Now when we sin we look to the free, unmerited compassion and mercy of God and find forgiveness. We are upheld by His active love. Furthermore if He reigns within us through grace sin’s dominion has been annihilated.
‘What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid. Do you not know, that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were servants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching unto which you were delivered, and being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness.
However, being ‘under grace’ will we now say, ‘good, now we can do as we please’? ‘God forbid (let it not be)’, says Paul. ‘That can never be.’ Why, we have died with Christ and sin is our enemy. Can we therefore present our bodies back to sin to do its will? Rather we are to recognise that having been ‘accounted as righteous’ we have become the servants of righteousness.
So in theory we can either be obedient to sin, or we can be obedient to God and to righteousness. But we must recognise what this entails. If we are obedient to sin, then we become the slaves of sin, and the result will be death. We will have become the servants of death. But this is no choice for one who has died and has risen with Christ. On the other hand, if we are obedient to righteousness, the righteousness which has been imputed to us in Christ, we will live (verse 22), for that righteousness will be our master.
So Paul stresses that for the Christian the possibility of obedience to sin is only theoretical. No true Christian could opt to be obedient to sin. That is why he cries, ‘Thanks be to God. Though you were once the slaves of sin, you put yourself under obedience to the teaching to which you were delivered, which is that you have been declared righteous by faith in Christ, and have received the righteousness of Christ. Thus being set free from sin, you have become the slaves of righteousness.’
‘I speak after the manner of men because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification.’
He stresses that he is speaking from a human point of view because they are still creatures of the flesh. The taint and influence of sin within them makes them weak. But now they are to face up to the truth. Just as they had previously presented their bodies as slaves to uncleanness, to illicit sexual activity, and also continually to a multitude of other sins (iniquity unto iniquity), now they are to present their bodies as slaves to righteousness, as slaves to ‘sanctification’ (that act and process whereby they are set apart totally to God). Having been accounted as righteous by God, they are to experience the working of His righteousness within them, the activity of the living Christ, setting them apart to Himself.
‘For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit did you then have at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life.’
Let them therefore consider their past lives before they were Christians. Then they had had no obligation to righteousness. God’s righteous saving work had passed them by. They were free to wallow in their sin. But what fruit did that produce? It produced things of which as Christians they are now ‘ashamed’, things that they now want to get rid of because the consequences of such things is death. But now that they have experienced God’s saving righteousness, now that they have been made righteous in Christ, they have become slaves of God. They live in obedience to His righteousness (verses 17, 19). And the result is that their lives will enjoy the fruit of sanctification, of being continually set apart in their lives to God and to His righteousness, which will result in eternal life.
We should note that to Paul it is not an option. The Christian is not being given an alternative. It is being made clear that to him there is only one ‘alternative’, it is to be set apart to God and to His righteousness. And this is now confirmed in his final statement.
‘For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Facing the question of the alternative possibility of being slaves to sin, or slaves to God and His righteousness, the Christian knows that he only has one option. For the wages paid out by sin to its servants is death. And that is what those who serve sin will receive, whatever their wrong ideas might be. ‘Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. whatever a man sows that will he also reap. He who sows to his own flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6.7-8). But for those who have come to God and have been accounted righteous, and have become the servants of God’s righteousness and delivering power, is given a free gift. They could never earn it. It is beyond earning. And that free gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So the one who has come to God through Christ, and has been ‘accounted as righteous’ in His sight by faith, and who has thus died with Christ and risen with Him to newness of life, thus becoming servants of God’s righteousness, has received that greatest of all gifts, the free gift of eternal life. He did nothing to deserve it, he did nothing to earn it. He has received it freely from God, and it has transformed the whole of his life (even though it might take time for him to work it out in his life, for as Paul indicates in chapter 7 a battle might be taking place in his life. But it is a battle in which the victory is certain through Christ).
Chapter 15. We Are No Longer Under The Dominion Of The Law, We Are Wed To Christ Who Is Free From The Condemnation Of The Law (7.1-6).
Paul now looks at the idea of being dead with Christ, and alive with Him from another angle which reveals that man is freed once and for all from the condemnation of the Law.
‘Or are you ignorant, brothers (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law has dominion over man for so long time as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by law to the husband while he lives, but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband lives, she is joined to another man, she will be called an adulteress, but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man.’
His illustration is simple and basic, and its lesson is that men and women are under the dominion of the law for the whole of their lives, and can only find freedom from it through death. Thus if we are to be free from the condemnation of the Law, which is what gives sin its power, it can only be by dying.
For the purpose of his illustration he takes the law of marriage. Here is a woman who is bound to her husband by that law. While he lives therefore she is bound to him. If she has sexual relations with another man she is guilty of adultery. But if her husband dies then she is free from the law’s binding of her with regard to her relationship with her husband. Now she can marry again. And the consequence is that having sexual relations with that man will now not result in adultery.
‘In the same way, my brothers, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you should be joined to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.
In the same way as that woman had been made free from the law as regards her husband, and could thus be joined to another (and produce fruit by him), so also is the Christian made free from the Law by the death of Christ, and by his own dying with Christ. Through a death there is a release from the Law. And the result is that he also can now be joined to another. He can be joined to Christ as the One Who has been raised from the dead, and he can through Him bring forth fruit unto God.
‘For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were firmly held, so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.’
Without actually laying it out plainly, Paul now envisages a situation where the woman, full of sinful passions, and provoked by a Law which forbids her to produce children by another man, rebels, and as a result comes under sentence of death for sin. For that is what the natural man regularly does, rebels against the Law that constrains him. The Law simply goads him into doing what he should not do.
But because the Christian has died in Christ, he is discharged from the control and condemnation of the Law. He is no longer goaded by the Law. He is dead to the Law. And thus he can serve in the newness of the Spirit, responding to the urgings of the Spirit (8.14; Galatians 5.17).
So while the illustration is not parallel to its interpretation in every detail (it is not a full allegory) it make clear two important points.
Marriage is a good illustration of our relationship to Jesus Christ. Through marriage a man and his wife are made one, just as we have been made one with Christ. And in marriage the woman is to be in subjection to her husband and to obey him in every way (Ephesians 5.24), and in the same way we are to be in subjection to the Lord to obey Him in every way (Ephesians 5.22).
Chapter 16. The Law Is Not Sin Although It Does Act As A Spur To Sin The Law Is In Fact Good, It Is Sin That Misuses It (7.7-13).
There was a grave danger in what Paul has said that he might be accused of condemning the very Law of God. He has brought out that the Law causes sin to abound (5.13, 20). And he has suggested that we are in fact not under the Law (6.14-15), but rather that we have benefited because we have died to the Law (7.1-6). Some might well therefore have felt that he had a jaundiced view of the Law. It was not so, of course. Paul always looked for Christians to be in full obedience to the Law (5.14). He stressed that we are under the Law to Christ (1 Corinthians 9.20). But what he did argue was that the Law could never be the grounds on which we could be made acceptable to God, because all that it could do in those terms was establish our guilt
So here he will now make clear that in his eyes the Law is not on the side of sin, but is holy, just and good.
‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. But however that may be I had not known sin, except through the law, for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting.
The process of his thinking can be brought out like this:
However, he is not blaming the Law. Nor is he saying that it was a bad thing that it made him aware of its sinfulness. Rather he is taking the opportunity of revealing, in the process of vindicating the Law, what the Law does actually achieve for the unconverted man (and indeed from another point of view for the Christian, for to us the Law is a mirror which enables us to discover our true condition. From our point of view, however, it is the law of liberty, the law that helps us to gain freedom from our secret fault).
‘For apart from the law sin is dead. And I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died, and the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death, for sin, finding occasion, through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me. So that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good. Did then that which is good become death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; —that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.’
The fact is (and it is not a good fact) that without the Law sin often lies dormant. Man goes happily on his way content that all appears well, and that life is good. He sins unconsciously and does not even realise it. As far as he is concerned sin is dead. That had been true of Paul in his old life. It can even be true of many a Christian. It may even have been Paul’s experience some time as a new Christian. But then suddenly the Law speaks to a man. It says, ‘You shall not do this --.’ And he is suddenly sharply brought to a halt. The result is that sin comes alive to him. He can no longer hide from the fact of his sinfulness, and he finds himself under sentence of death. The commandment which was intended to give life, and to lead to a wholesome life, has become the arbiter of death. Thus sin, taking advantage of the commandment, beguiles the man and makes him aware that he is under sentence of death. And the result is that in his despair, and even more as a result of his perverse attitude, he goes on sinning more and more. It makes sin to abound.
Did that which was holy and righteous and good become death to that man? The answer is ‘no, never’. Rather what has happened is that deceitful sin has taken advantage of what the Law has rightly revealed, and has made the sinful man aware of the fact that he is under sentence of death. That is how that which is good has wrought death in him. And the consequence is that sin multiplies, the result of the hardness of men’s hearts and of the deceitfulness of sin.
Chapter 17. And This Experience Is Also True For The Christian In His Struggle Against Sin (14-23).
It is not only the non-Christian to whom the Law brings home his sin, it is also to the Christian, for Paul can speak of the experience in the present tense. ‘I am carnal, sold under sin’. He is aware that although he has learned to overcome sin through Christ living out His life through him, underneath there is still his fleshly nature, lurking there and waiting to burst through. Let him but take his eyes of Christ, and let him cease to let Christ live through him, and let him cease to be led by the Spirit, and that carnal life will indeed break through and take over. When it come to the fleshly nature, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
‘For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not. For it is not what I really want to do that I practise, but it is what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.’
Paul is bringing out here the constant skirmishing which takes place in every Christian life. On the one hand is the Law’s requirements which the Christian seeks to fulfil, not in order to be saved, but because he wants to be pleasing to God, for he knows that for him the law is spiritual. But he also knows that he himself underneath is carnal. For just as he himself has been bought by Christ and therefore belongs to Christ, so his carnal nature, which has died with Christ, belongs to sin. It is ‘sold under sin’. Let him but once cease to let Christ have control of the reins of his life, let him but for a moment cease to let Christ live through him, and that carnal nature will spring to life.
Indeed he has to admit that, when he lets his faith slip, sometimes he does not know what he is doing. ‘For that which I do I know not.’ Had he done so he would not have done it. That this is the meaning comes out in the next words, ‘For it is not what I really want to do that I practise, but it is what I hate, that I do.’ At these times he does what he does not really on his spiritual side want to do. He no longer follows his better mind and conscience, and instead carries on with what he does not really want to do. Indeed he does what in his right mind he hates.
‘But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good.’ The very fact that he hates it and is doing what in his heart he does not really want to do demonstrates that he sees the Law as good. In his deepest heart he consents to what the Law is asking of him. He knows that it is right. Why then does he do it? ‘It is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.’ It is because of his carnal nature. It is because of sin which dwells in him.
Because he has taken his eyes off Christ, and has ceased for a moment to let Christ live through Him, and has ceased to be led by the Spirit, he has allowed sin again to take control. How easily it happens. And how often we have to admit that it is so. It is doubtful whether it happened very often with Paul but he was aware that it still happened. It happens with us all (even if we are unconscious of it). Then we must come to the light and let the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1.7), and then rise up and begin again.
For God’s standard is that we live to the full magnificence of His glory (3.23) and we inevitably ever fall short. What one of us can truly say that we love the Lord our God with ALL our heart and soul and mind and strength, and all our ‘neighbours’ as ourselves? Each of us falls woefully short of this, but happily we are not conscious of its full significance lest it drive us to despair. We have to see by this that we are growing not only in our knowledge of Christ, but also in our knowledge of sin. What is acceptable for a young Christian is totally unacceptable for one established in the faith. He should have a deeper knowledge of what is sinful. And part of the way in which this growth occurs is through the work of the Law. And we are then brought to recognise that sin still dwells in us, ever ready to try to seize control. But what should not be occurring is that we continually fail with known sins. Such a failure, however, can only be when we take the reins out of Christ’s hands and seek to live our lives on our own.
‘For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing, for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.’
Paul was ever aware that there was a sinful nature within him in which there was nothing good. For while, along with his heart and mind, his will was to do good, he found something within him that all too often made him do the opposite. All too often he did not do the good that he intended to do, but rather practised the evil that he did not want to do. Why then did he do it? It was because of sin which dwelt in him, that carnal nature that sometimes he failed to reckon as dead (6.11).
Of course as he grew in his spiritual life, and especially as he yet more and more experienced the Spirit’s work within him that he will describe in chapter 8, these instances grew less and less, at least to the outward observer. But as he grew in the knowledge of Christ so his conscience became more tender, so that even towards the end of his life he could speak of ‘sinners, of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1.15). No doubt this was partly because he remembered how he had persecuted the people of God, but it was also an indication of his increased awareness of what true holiness involved, and how much he fell short of it.
‘I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.’
He sees a principle at work in men, a principle that when they wished to do good, non-goodness would raise its ugly head. Always there was something within men that sought to prevent them from doing what they would (Galatians 5.17). He saw it in himself. He delighted in the Law of God in his inner heart, spirit and mind. It was his joy and delight. But he was aware of a different ‘law’ that was at work in his bodily members, the ‘law of sin’. And that was constantly warring against the law of his mind, constantly seeking to bring him into captivity to the ‘law of sin which was active through his bodily members’.
Thus his Spirit enlightened mind longed after the things of the Spirit, while sin within his carnal flesh was pulling him the other way (Galatians 5.16-17). And it was like a war in which sin was trying to take the members of his body into captivity. It wanted to operate through his thoughts, and his eyes, and his mouth, and his arms and legs. But he was not disheartened for he knew where the answer to the problem lay.
‘Wretched man that I am! who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’
He still could hardly believe that after all these years of serving Christ, and with all that he owed to Christ, he should still allow his members sometimes to do what they should not. We do not know of course what his temptations were. Perhaps he was aware of sexual stirrings within him that he was finding hard to control, perhaps it was the battle not to allow his prominence to make him proud and a little arrogant, possibly it was a tendency to slacken off a little in his physical exertions because of his physical problems, perhaps it was a tendency sometimes to be a little harsh and lacking in understanding for the weakness of others. But it is clear that they were there. They were not what the world would call gross sins, but they were gross sins to him. And so he cried out, ‘Wretched man that I am! who will deliver me out of the body of this death?’
The ‘body of death’ need signify nothing more than that, because it was a body destined for death, it was ever a reminder of his sinful nature. He knew that the very fact that it was dying demonstrated the presence of sin.
But immediately his awareness of his own weakness then turned his thoughts towards the One Whose grace was sufficient for him, and Whose strength was made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9). He knew what the answer to his own question was. ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ He was the One Who could enable him to overcome sin as He lived out His life through him. And He was the One Who would one day raise his dead body, giving him a glorious spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15.42-44).
He then concludes the chapter by summing up the situation, ‘So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.’ By this he describes the inevitable battle facing all Christians, the battle between the spiritual mind and the carnal flesh. He as he was in himself served the Law of God. His whole aim and purpose was to please God. But ever there to be held in restraint, and to be crucified with Christ, was his carnal nature which sought to serve the law of sin.
Chapter 18. The Glorious Work Of The Spirit (8.1-11).
Here we now come to Paul’s answer to the battle that he has been describing, and as previously it is twofold. It consists firstly in the fact that for the true believer there is now no condemnation (literally ‘punishment after sentence’) because they are ‘in Christ Jesus’, Whose sacrifice of Himself has been sufficient to deal with the judicial problem of their sins. And it consists secondly in that the work of the Holy Spirit ensures the triumph of the spiritual mind over the carnal flesh.
‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’
The first way in which deliverance comes for his ‘body subject to death’ is through the fact that he has been accounted righteous by God ‘in Christ Jesus’. He knows that as he is in Christ Jesus he has nothing to fear. For him there can be no punishment after sentence. He is submerged in the love and righteousness of Christ and in the power of God to save. The Law to which he had once looked as a guide to salvation had turned out to be ‘weak through the flesh’ His human body had just not been able to cope with its demands. But God had sent His own Son, in the likeness of his sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, and as a result He had condemned sin in the flesh, rendering it ineffective and taking away its accusing power, thus removing its own power to cast sentence. Notice the emphasis that he places on God’s part in the work of salvation. Salvation was of God in Christ, and God’s name is mentioned in this letter more often per hundred words than any New Testament book other than 1 John, which similarly emphasises salvation and the love of God.
But there was also more, for Christ had not just died, He had risen again, and through the power of His resurrection now reached into His people’s lives to empower them against sin and to strengthen their spiritual minds. Thus Paul could say, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.’
As the ‘Spirit of Life’ He had not only arranged for Paul’s justification in the sight of God, but had also imparted to him spiritual life. He was thus made free from the law of sin and death in two ways, firstly as far as its condemnation was concerned, and secondly as far as its power could cause him to sin. And the result of this was that he did not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, strengthening the law of the spiritual mind, had enabled the conquest of the carnal flesh through the life of Christ being at work in him and through him, working in him to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13).
‘For those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but those who are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.’
He then examines the state of all men in the light of what he has said. On the one hand are those who are ‘after the flesh’. They follow the ways of the flesh. They do what the flesh wants them to do. They exercise no free will. They are driven along and manipulated by the desires of the flesh. The love of the world, and the things that are in it, possess them, and these things take up all their thoughts. They are described in detail in 1.18-32. And then there are those who are after the Spirit, who follow the ways of the Spirit. They have the mind of the Spirit. They may sometimes fail. The flesh may sometimes lead them astray. But their minds are set on hearing the Spirit and on following the Spirit. With the mind they serve the Law of God, although sometimes it might not seem so. But if they are truly His then His work is going on within them, and nothing will prevent it.
And these mindsets lead men in two different directions, the broad way and the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14). For the mind of the flesh, the way that men of the flesh think and will and plan, leads to death, while the mind of the Spirit, Whose desire is to fulfil the Law of God, leads to life and peace. And the reason that the mind of the flesh leads to death is because it is at enmity against God. It has no real concern for the things of God. It has no desire to please God. It does not therefore subject itself to the Law of God, not realising that it is condemned by it. And indeed not only does it not subject itself to the Law of God, it is also unable to do so because its mindset is against it. Thus those who are in the flesh cannot please God. They may think that they can, but they cannot. For their aims, motives and attitudes are all displeasing to God. The love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2.15-17).
‘But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.’
In vivid contrast are those whose minds are after the Spirit. They are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, because the Spirit of God dwells in them. Indeed that is the crucial test. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His. Thus the indwelling of the Spirit of God and of Christ is the mark of the true Christian. And if Christ does dwell in them then their bodies have died with Christ. They have been crucified with Him. They are no longer the controlling function in their lives. And in contrast the Spirit is life within them, and thus they walk in the newness of life in Christ (6.4). They are possessed by the very life of God. They have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4). And this is ‘because of righteousness’, it is because God’s saving righteousness has been at work upon them. As a result they are accounted as righteous in Christ, and at the same time experience righteousness at work in their lives producing righteousness within them.
‘But if the Spirit of Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He Who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in you.’
And as a result they not only walk in newness of life and enjoy eternal life in the present (John 5.24; 1 John 5.13), but they know that because ‘the Spirit of Him Who raised Christ from the dead dwells in them’ He will give life to their mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in them. This may be a reiteration of the fact that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is at work in them giving them power in their bodies to counteract the sin that is at work in their bodies of death, thus making even their bodies ‘spiritual’, or it may be referring to the resurrection at the last Day when they will be raised up and their resurrected bodies made alive (John 5.28-29). Or indeed it may include both.
Note the quick switch in the verses between ‘the Spirit of God’, ‘the Spirit of Christ’, ‘Christ’, ‘the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead’, ‘He Who raised Christ from the dead’, ‘His Spirit’. The whole of the Godhead is at work in their salvation, each playing a full part.
Chapter 19. Their Glorious Position As The Sons of God (8.12-17).
‘So then, brother, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if you live after the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’
At this point Paul is so excited at the thought of what he is describing that he begins to talk of ‘we’. He now includes himself with those to whom he is writing.
The consequence of this work of God within us through the presence of the Risen Christ and power of the Holy Spirit is that we are debtors to God. We owe Him our very lives. And thus we are not debtors to our flesh to live after the flesh. We owe our flesh nothing. All it has sought to do is bring us to death. And indeed if we live after the flesh, that is what will happen to us. What we sow we will reap (Galatians 6.7). But if on the contrary we put to death the deeds of our body we will live.
‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
For the fact that our response demonstrates that we are being led by the Spirit of God indicates that we are the sons of God. Like the children of Israel of old we have been led forth out of the Egypt of our old lives into the freedom of the new in Christ (‘out of Egypt have I called My Son’ - Matthew 2.15). Like them we have been adopted as sons. Compare the idea of the adoption of Israel in 9.4, and the claims ‘Israel are My son, My firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22), ‘you are the children of the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 14.1). Like them we have been delivered from bondage (Exodus 20.2).
But the old Israel had again become subject to bondage because of disobedience. They had lived in their new land in fear. And this was because in spite of the presence of a Saviour among them they had grieved His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63.9-10). They had been disobedient to His ways. However, this is in total contrast with the new Israel. We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, rather we have succeeded where Israel failed. We have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba, Father’. We are the children of the Lord our God, a holy people, chosen and set apart to Himself above all peoples who are on the face of the earth (compare Deuteronomy 14.1-2; Exodus 19.5-6 which shows that that was what Israel had been intended to be). As He promised through the prophets, as a result of our receiving His Spirit, He will dwell among us and be our God (Ezekiel 36.25-28; compare 2 Corinthians 6.16-18).
Thus as a result of the Spirit at work within us we have been adopted as His children and can look to Him as our personal Father. There is a reflection in this close relationship being described here of Jesus’ teaching concerning ‘your’ heavenly Father which is so prominent in the first half of Matthew’s Gospel, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount (in the second half of the Gospel the emphasis turns to ‘My Father’ as Jesus real status begins to unfold). Being children of our Father is clearly seen as central to the Gospel. Thus we can constantly look to our Father in Heaven, as the Lord’s prayer regularly reminds us.
‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him.’
As He leads us the Spirit Himself bears witness with us that we are children of God. That is glorious enough. But then Paul draws on the idea to the full. If we are children of God then we are also His heirs, which means that we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. In other words we will share with Jesus in His privileges and glory.
But if we are to share His glory, we must also expect to share His suffering. The two go together. No glory without suffering (see 5.1-5). It is if we suffer with Him that we can expect to share His glory. Having shared His suffering, we will also be glorified with Him. It cannot be doubted that this suffering has partly in mind the battle against sin as previously described. Not all who are His have to face persecution, but all will suffer in the battle with sin.
‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed towards us.’
And he closes off by stressing that so great will be the glory which will be revealed to us, that any sufferings that we have to face will pale in comparison. The sufferings of this present time, however great they be, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed towards us.
Chapter 20. The Whole Creation Groans Along With Us As It Awaits The Manifestation Of The Sons Of God (8.19-27).
Having spoken of the supreme glory which will be revealed to us, Paul then goes on to speak of the suffering of creation as it awaits our manifestation as the sons of God. The passage continues to emphasise how important His children are to God. Creation groans and endures birth pangs as it awaits our deliverance, we groan as we await the resurrection, and the Spirit Himself groans as He makes intercession for us, making up for our failure to know what we should be praying for.
‘For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him Who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first–fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’
The thought of the suffering that we will have to endure now turns Paul’s thoughts to the fact that the whole of creation also groans as it awaits the consummation when the sons of God will be revealed. We are not alone in our groaning, For the creation, which when it was created was seen as ‘very good’ (Genesis 1.31), had also been marred by the Fall as a result of the ground being cursed (Genesis 3.17), with the result that it suffered from decay and corruption and needed restoration. This was not its own doing, but was the work of the One Who had subjected it to this experience, although in hope that one day it would be delivered from the bondage of corruption to enjoy the glorious freedom of the children of God. The curse must eventually be reversed. Compare Revelation 22.3. Thus first must come man’s restoration, and then creation’s. But Revelation 21-22 reveals that this restoration is in the form of a new Heaven and a new earth. Compare Isaiah 65.17. Compare for this whole idea James 1.18, ‘of His own will He begat us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures’.
And because of its decay and corruption creation groans as it awaits the deliverance of the children of God, like a mother awaiting the birth of her child. The idea is that the whole of creation is concerned about and is longing for the final restoration of God’s elect, so important is that in the scheme of things. Paul wants the Roman Christians to know by this just how much they mean to God
And along with the groaning creation we also, having experienced something of a new creation in the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves longing for more, longing for the full glory of which we have only come to know a part, waiting for our final adoption through the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection, when our restoration will be complete.
‘For we were saved in hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for that what we do not see, then do we with patience wait for it..’
We groan because we look forward in the hope in which we were saved, but it is a hope that is looking for what is invisible. For who hopes for what he can see? And thus we continue to patiently wait for it.
‘And in the same way the Spirit also helps our infirmity, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He Who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’
Creation groans, we groan, and along with us groans the One Who comes to our aid, the Spirit. Seeing that we do not know what to pray for He aids us in our weakness, and as we pray He makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. The idea behind this is that His groanings are thus beyond our understanding. They are the secret things of the Almighty. But God, Who searches all hearts, does understand them. He knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with His will. Thus can we, as we come to God to pray for the fulfilment of His purposes, have the confidence of knowing that alongside us prays One Whose prayers go right to the heart of God, and are fully in accordance with His will.
Chapter 21. God’s Side Of What Is Happening. The Working Out Of His Eternal Purpose (8.28-30).
Now Paul tells us that even as creation has groaned throughout history and continues to groan because of the suffering caused by the Fall, even as we groan awaiting the consummation, and even as the Spirit groans in order to strengthen and supplement our intercessions, so God’s purposes move forward along the lines of His eternal plan. Nothing can prevent their fulfilment, and this steadfast moving forward of His purposes is the guarantee to those who love Him that, whatever happens, God will make all things work together for their good. For He controls all things from beginning to end. Here is the master plan that will deliver us all from sin, and its effects and consequences.
‘And we know that He works all things together for good to those who love God, even to those who are called according to His purpose.’
Some see this as referring back to the Spirit, with the idea that as He prays for us with groaning which cannot be uttered, He makes all things work together for good for those who love God. Others see it as God Himself acting to work everything together for our good. But either way the point is that in accordance with His eternal plan all things are made to work together for good by Him on our behalf.
Here we have Paul’s stress on God’s intimate concern for His own. As the eternal plan rolls forward God is ever vigilant on behalf of true believers, and thus nothing can happen to them without His specific approval, for their lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).
The stress on ‘those who love God’ in contrast with ‘those who believe’ is probably intended to stress personal warmth in the light of the great and somewhat austere words that follow. He does not want us to see God as an automaton in the way that the plan unfolds, but stresses that those who are called according to His purpose respond to His love and ‘foreknowing’ of them, with their own genuine love. This is not some cold doctrine of harsh predestination, but a warm recognition of God’s eternal activity on our behalf, the love that causes it, and the love that results. We can compare here 1 Corinthians 8.3, ‘if any man loves God, the same is known by Him’.
‘For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers, and whom He foreordained, them He also called, and whom He called, them He also accounted righteous, and whom He accounted righteous, them he also glorified.’
As we have gone through Romans we have seen God interacting with man, and man’s response towards God, but now Paul lifts us out of that world of continual activity into the higher regions of God’s eternal purposes. And every word is pregnant with significance. Here laid out before us is God’s plan from eternity to eternity. It commences with His entering into relationship with those on whom He has set His purpose from before time began, and ends with His glorifying them at the consummation. The only passage that we can really compare with it is Ephesians 1.3-14. There too we learn of His choosing us before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and without blame before Him in love, which again finally results in the consummation.
‘Whom He did foreknow (proginosko).’ What does it mean to ‘foreknow’? It means to enter into loving relationship with beforehand. And who are these whom He foreknew? They are the called according to His purpose (verse 28). We can compare with them the faithful in Israel whom He foreknew, whom He could therefore not cast off (11.2), and His earlier elective knowledge of His people as a people, ‘you only have I known of all the families on earth’ (Amos 3.2). Thus they are everlastingly secure in His hands. The word ginosko means ‘to know by experience’. It is the word used in describing sexual activity. Thus this is not just some preknowledge, some intellectual conception. It is a personal and warm knowing of His people before time began. We should not see this as difficult with God. He purposed, and He loved, and He foreknew, and He created.
‘He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.’
His purpose in knowing His people beforehand lay in what His final aim was for them. It was that they might be made in their inner beings like His Son. His purpose was that we should be like Him when we see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). It was that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1.4), changed into His image from glory unto glory by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18). And so, having foreknown us, He purposed that it might be so. He ‘marked us off beforehand’ as His own so as to make us like Himself. And the final reason for that aim was in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. It was not God’s desire that His Son should be alone. But He could only share eternity with those who were pure and holy.
‘And whom He foreordained, them He also called.’ This was no call to be refused. It was an effectual call. Having foreordained them He called them with no question or doubt about their response. ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life, and they will never perish, and none will pluck them from My hand’ (John 10.27-28). For ‘all whom the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and him who comes to me I will not cast out for any reason whatsoever’ (John 6.37)
‘And whom He called them He also accounted righteous.’ Having called His own in their sinful state He acted in saving righteousness towards them, accounting them as righteous in His sight, enveloping them in the righteousness of His Son (1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21). Compare 3.21-5.1. They were made totally acceptable before Him. This was essential if they were to be acceptable to God.
‘And whom He accounted righteous, them He also glorified.’ And so the long process will come to its end with the final revealing of the sons of God (verse 19). Then will they share His glory, and themselves be made glorious (Colossians 3.4; 1 Corinthians 15.43; 2 Corinthians 4.17; 2 Thessalonians 2.14; 1 John 3.2). Then will the righteous shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13.43).
But the idea of ‘being glorified’ also includes the idea of suffering for His sake. See John 12.23-24, 31-33. ‘If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him’ (verse 17). But that suffering is as nothing compared with the glory that awaits.
Chapter 22. Secure In The Love Of God And Of Christ (8.28-39).
On the basis of his previous words Paul now asks five questions which are related to them. Thus:
‘What then shall we say to these things?’
Overawed at the concepts about which he has just written Paul now asks, ‘What then shall we say to these things?’ And the answers also can only be as awe-inspiring, while underneath them lies the recognition that it might involve suffering.
‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ If God in His eternal purposes has entered into personal relationship with us beforehand, is at work on our behalf, and is continually watching over us, who can be against us? What does it matter who opposes us, or what they do? What does it matter what treatment we receive? ‘The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33.27).
‘He Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?’ ‘He did not spare His own Son.’ The words are pregnant with significance. The Almighty God held nothing back out of His love for us, not even His own Son (John 3.16). He gave Him up to appalling suffering, and it was in order that we might be adopted as His sons. He delivered Him up to the cross for us all, so that we might be His brothers, and a part of His family. Thus we can have no doubt that, having given us His own Son through suffering and death, there is nothing that He will withhold from us. How will He not freely with Him give us all things? The concept is staggering and immense.
‘Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ The challenge is now flung out. The Roman church had already suffered some forms of persecution. Some had no doubt been dragged before the Roman tribunals. Charges had been laid against them. But in the light of the fact that it is God Who has accounted them as righteous, and it is Christ Who, having died and been raised from the dead, ever lives to make intercession for them, who will dare to lay a charge against them before Him? With such a Judge and Advocate what have they to fear?
He may well have had in mind here the scene in Zechariah 3. There Satan had stood to lay charges against God’s High Priest who was there as the representative of His people. And God had rebuked Satan and thwarted him by removing His servant’s filthy garments and replacing them with rich apparel. (He puts down the mighty from their seat, and exalts those of low degree). Even Satan cannot successfully lay a charge against God’s elect because God has clothed them in His righteousness.
‘It is God Who accounts as righteous.’ For whatever man may say or do, if we have believed God has accounted us as righteous. He has clothed us with rich apparel. For us the eternal judgment has already been decided. Thus Satan’s accusations count for nothing, and the activities of puny earthly judges, no doubt filled with overweening pride as a result of their exalted positions, are irrelevant.
‘Who is he who condemns?’ Who can condemn when the eternal Judge has died for us, and when, His saving work being accomplished, He has been raised from the dead, and now stands at God’s right hand to plead our cause? Who then dare speak a word against His elect?
‘It is Christ Jesus Who died, yes rather, Who was raised from the dead, Who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.’ Let us pause to consider Who it is Who has acted on our behalf. It is the Messiah Jesus, the One Who having been crucified and raised from the dead was made ‘both Lord and Messiah’ (Acts 2.36). And let us consider what He has done. He has died for us. He Who is the source of all life expended His life. Who can understand it? But then He was raised from the dead. At the time when eternal issues were being decided God vindicated Him. The life that He had expended was restored. Justice was satisfied. Life was now available to all. And now He is at the right hand of God to plead our cause. He intercedes for us. What then need we fear?
‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For Your sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him Who loved us.’ If Christ’s love was so great that He Who was the darling of Heaven and the everlasting light endured the cross and the darkness of the grave for us, what else can possibly separate us from His love? Paul had no doubt about the future that awaited God’s people. Indeed Scripture had already made it clear. But he was equally as sure that they would triumph through the One Who loved them.
Nothing, he declares, can separate us from His love. Not tribulation, anguish and persecution. (The results of the direct activity of men against His people, although it also goes beyond that, for tribulation and anguish can have many causes). Not famine or extreme poverty (the results of natural causes and events). Not threatening dangers or sword (the perils of life). For the sufferings of this present time, whatever they may be, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us (verse 18).
For all these things must be expected for God’s true people, as the Scripture has declared in Psalm 44.22, “For Your sake we are killed all the day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” The constant warning of the prophets was that His people would suffer constantly, along with God’s chosen One. For it is through suffering that God brings about His purposes (5.3-5).
‘No.’ He is answering his own question. ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, etc.?’ And his reply is ‘No’. And his conclusion is that ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him Who loved us.’ We do not just overcome them, he declares, we triumph over them with rejoicing. We are more than conquerors. We overwhelm them.
‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
In order to ensure that he leaves nothing out Paul closes with a challenge to the whole of the universe and beyond, indeed to life and death and all created things. Whatever death or life may throw at us. Whatever powers or influences we may face. Whatever the present or future holds. None of them, whether in Heaven, or earth, the grave or the Abyss, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. As His we are invulnerable, for our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).
Chapter 23 What Then About Israel?
The suggestion that God has foreknown men and women, resulting in their certain calling, justification and glorification, would immediately raise the question as to how we can then explain unbelieving Israel. If Paul’s teaching is correct how could Israel be God’s chosen people and yet so many of them still be unbelieving?
Paul’s reply is basically that:
So genuine Israel from God’s viewpoint is made up of those in Israel who are faithful to the covenant, those whom God has chosen, and that excludes unbelieving Israel while incorporating believing ex-Gentiles who have been grafted in.
Paul Asserts His Deep Love For His Fellow-Countrymen (9.1-5).
‘I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul commences by first of all expressing a deep love for his fellow-countrymen. He does not want anyone to think that what he is about to say is said lightly. Indeed he grieves over them and could wish he were accursed from Christ if it would have helped them. They are Israelites, and it is to Israelites that all the good things described in the Old Testament outwardly belong, the adoption as sons, the revealed glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the sacred service of priesthood in the Temple, and all the promises. All are on offer to them. And theirs also are the fathers. And from those fathers came Christ as He was in His humanity, He Who in His essential being is over all and is God, blessed for ever. So He too is theirs, if they would but receive Him..
We should, however, at this stage introduce a caveat and remind ourselves that it is one thing to have a cake. It is another to eat it. For all these things were in practise to be given to those who responded faithfully to the covenant. The remainder would be ‘not My people’ (Hosea 1.9). Thus unbelieving Israel are ‘not My people’.
But Their Unbelief Does Not Mean That The Word Of God Has Come To Nothing (9.6-13).
‘But it is not as though the word of God has come to nothing. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel, nor because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children, but, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For this is a word of promise, “According to this season will I come, and Sarah will have a son.” And not only so, but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac — for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him Who calls, it was said to her, “The elder will serve the younger.” Even as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
However, the condition of Israel does not mean that God had failed, for Paul commences his argument by establishing a number of points which demonstrate that it is not the word of God which has come to nothing.
And we are surely expected to compare here 2.25-29 where Paul made clear that not all Jews were real Jews. The true Jew was not the one who had been circumcised (the Israel of the flesh) but was the one who obeyed God from the heart, and that included Gentiles. The same would therefore be true of ‘the true Israel’. Thus unbelieving Jews would not be seen as part of the true Israel.
We should note in this respect that the notion that the whole of Israel was directly descended from the patriarchs was simply a popular myth. Many were descended from the servants in the patriarch’s households (of which Abraham must have had over a thousand for he could raise 318 fighting men). Many would be descended from the mixed multitude (Exodus 12.38), which became a part of Israel at Sinai. Many would be descended from families which had opted to enter the covenant (Exodus 12.48), something which Deuteronomy 23.1-8 suggests was fairly common. And not all would feel genuine loyalty towards the covenant. But it does demonstrate that ‘Israel’ was a fluid concept. Paul may, however, not be thinking mainly of that but of what he had said in 2.25-27 and what he will now say in his following argument.
So it is clear from this that not all of physical Israel were to be seen as ‘the chosen’, but only those on whom He set His seal, those whom He elected.
God Is Not Unrighteous Because He Makes Sovereign Decisions (9.14-18).
‘What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will be hardens.’
The fact that God chooses on whom He will have mercy is also made clear in the life of Moses. Thus to Moses He declares, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Exodus 33.19). The point is never that He refuses mercy to those who seek it, but that to those who do not seek Him of themselves He only shows mercy to whom He will. Consequently, because of what man is, it is God Who chooses to show mercy not men who seek it.
This is especially, from a negative point of view, illustrated in His dealings with Pharaoh. Pharaoh did not seek mercy, (although he was certainly initially shown some), and therefore God chose to use him as a means of bringing glory to His own Name by His exercise of power in judgment, and towards the end even hardened his heart, (but only after he had first continually hardened his own heart), to that end.
Paul’s conclusion then is that ‘He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will be hardens.’. All is in His hands. And the corollary is that in fact none ever choose to seek Him of themselves, for if they did they would find mercy.
Chapter 24 God Does What He Wills But It Is Men who Fit Themselves For Destruction.
It is to be noted that Paul never goes as far as some theologians tend to do in the question of God’s sovereignty. He never actually suggests that God directly fits men for destruction. His point is rather that He may endure their behaviour for a while in order through it to demonstrate the severity of His judgment. What he is clear on, however, is that it is God who fits men beforehand for salvation. The impression is given that no one would be saved without it.
God Can And Does Do What He Will As Regards Saving Men and Women (9.19-24).
‘You will say then to me, “Why does He still find fault? For who withstands His will?” No but, O man, who are you who replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me thus?” Or does the potter not have a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel to honour, and another to dishonour? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy, which He beforehand prepared to glory, even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?’
Paul then boldly takes up the question of whether if God shows mercy on whom He will and hardens whom He will He can yet find fault. For if He does behave like this who has resisted His will? The questioner, of course, assumes open honest people whose hearts are right in themselves (which is no doubt how the questioner sees himself), and God manipulating them to suit Himself. Paul, however, knows that people are not on the whole like that, and his illustrations have brought that out. Esau chose his own path. Pharaoh chose to harden his own heart. These were not honest seekers who fell by the wayside, but people who dismissed God from their thoughts. And it was not God Who had made them like that. It was of their own choice.
His reply is that we are in no position to pass judgment on God, any more than something that is formed can say, ‘Why have you made me like this?’. And he illustrates it from the right of the potter to shape things as he wills, and turn the clay into what he wills, some vessels to grace a king’s table, others to be chamber pots. The clay has no say in the matter. But it is important to note his application of this illustration. As with Pharaoh the initial example is of one who is already deserving of wrath. God does not make him like that. (It is not said who fitted them for destruction). He simply puts up with the situation for a little longer in order to bring about His purposes. He had done the same with Israel. It was not He Who had made the particular Pharisees and Chief Priests into what they were, He had simply allowed them to continue as they were.
It is, however, different with the vessels of mercy. Here He wanted to make known the riches of His glory, and He had prepared them beforehand for glory. Thus when they did come to Him it could be seen as on His initiative. And those vessels of mercy are ‘even us, whom He also called’, both Jews and Gentiles. It is the true church of Jesus Christ who are the called ones, and the vessels of mercy whom He prepared beforehand and fashioned for His purpose. Thus it does not say that He fits some for destruction (He does not need to so say, they fit themselves for it). What He does do is make fit those who are to find mercy.
The Scriptures Make Clear That God Only Calls A Remnant To Be His True People (9.25-29).
‘As he says also in Hosea, “I will call that my people, who are not my people. And her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall be, that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ There will they be called sons of the living God.” And Isaiah cries concerning Israel, “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant who will be saved. For the Lord will execute His word on the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.” And, as Isaiah has said before, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become as Sodom, and have been made like to Gomorrah.” ’
He now stresses that this is all in accord with Scripture. His first citation is from Hosea. In Hosea Israel had been declared ‘not My people’ (Hosea 1.8). And then He calls some to be His people. Thus it is an example of ‘they are not all Israel who are Israel’, for some out of Israel were ‘not My people’ while some became ‘My people’. This was precisely what had happened in Acts. Unbelieving Israel was ‘not My people’ (note how in Acts 4.25-27 ‘the peoples of Israel’ are seen as one with the unbelieving Gentile nations in opposition to God and His Anointed). Believing Israel, along with believing Gentiles, were ‘My people’.
The second citation is from Isaiah. There, no matter how large the children of Israel grow, it is only a remnant who will be saved. This again parallels the picture in Acts and illustrates the fact that only a part of ‘Israel’ is true Israel, for only a part will be saved.
The third citation is also from Isaiah and here the thought is that only a remnant of the people will survive the judgment of God. Thus only a remnant are His true people.
Paul’s Final Conclusion (9.30-31).
So Paul’s arguments in this chapter have been that not all Israel are Israel, that only a selected proportion of Israel are really Israel, and that that selected proportion have found mercy along with a proportion of Gentiles through God’s sovereign working, and that the large proportion of those who claim to be Israel will face God’s judgment because they are not true Israel. Thus the true Israel is made up of the believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
‘What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith, but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. And why was this? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling, even as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence: And he who believes on Him will not be put to shame” ’.
What then is our conclusion? It is that the Gentiles who had had no intention of following after righteousness, had attained to it, the righteousness which was by faith. They had become God’s people through faith. But unbelieving Israel, in following after the law of righteousness, had failed to achieve it because they sought it by works. They had sought it by striving to obey the Law, The result was that when God’s Rock had come they had stumbled at Him. They had turned away from Him because they had clung to the Law. (Compare Matthew 21.42-43). On the other hand the Gentiles who had believed on Him were not put to shame (see 10.11-12). They had become established on the Rock of Zion. They, along with the believing Jews, had become the true Israel. Thus God’s promises to Israel were being fulfilled in them.
Chapter 25. The Way Of Salvation From Which Unbelieving Israel Have Turned Away Even Though It Is Written In The Law (10.1-15).
Having demonstrated that what has happened with the Jews was in accordance with the Scriptures, and that the true Israel is composed of the believing Jews and Gentiles, Paul now makes clear the message that is the basis of the faith of the true Israel, and why the unbelieving Jews have not received it.
‘Brothers, my heart’s desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one who believes.’
Paul again points out his longing and desire that his fellow-Jews might be saved (compare 9.2-3). It is a reminder of the same concern that we should have for our fellow-countrymen. But the difference was that the Jews were zealous for God. Every part of their lives was affected by what they believed. And yet sadly that belief erred. It was not in accordance with the true knowledge, with the final truth. For they were ‘ignorant of God’s righteousness’.
In other words God’s saving righteousness as promised in Isaiah had come among men, brought by Jesus Christ, but it had passed them by. That saving righteousness was available for them if only they would believe. It is God acting in power, making men aware of their sinfulness; it is God offering men the cloak of Christ’s own righteousness (Isaiah 61.10; 2 Corinthians 5.21); it is God renewing men spiritually so that they are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17); it is God working in men’s hearts the spiritual transformation promised in Jeremiah 31.33-34; Ezekiel 36.25-27; Isaiah 61.3. It is experienced in the coming of the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.9-14).
But blind to what Jesus had brought them they were still endeavouring to establish their own righteousness, by religious ritual, by almsgiving, by obedience to the teaching of the Scribes without it deeply affecting their inner lives. They struggled after a false righteousness, ‘the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees’ (Matthew 5.20), the righteousness of religious works, but it was not sufficient to enable them to enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 5.20). Thus they had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.
And what is the righteousness of God? It is Jesus Christ. For ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’. This is such an important statement that we must examine it more closely.
In what way is Christ the end of the Law? The word ‘end’ can have two meanings. In the first place it can mean ‘aim’. Christ is the aim to which the Law is pointing. Having made men aware of their sinfulness it says ‘look to Christ, for He is the source and provider of true righteousness. Believe on Him so that He Who is the saving righteousness of God can do His work in your heart.’ As he says elsewhere, ‘the Law is our slave-tutor to bring us to Christ, that we may be accounted righteous by faith’ (Galatians 3.24).
In the second place it can mean ‘the finish’. From the point of view of salvation once the Law has pointed men to Christ its task is finished. The Law was never intended to be a means of salvation. Under the old dispensation salvation was through faith in God’s covenant and promises (Genesis 15.6) conjoined with the offering of sacrifices from a pure heart. The Law was intended to show man his sinfulness so that He would submit himself to the mercy of God. Under the new dispensation the Law is intended to turn us to Christ, so that we may be accounted as righteous through faith in Him. So once a man has come to Christ he can forget the accusations of the Law, because Christ has provided him with a righteousness which more than fulfils the Law, a righteousness which clothes him in the garment of salvation and deliverance, and then works within him that same salvation and deliverance. He no longer needs the Law in order to be saved, Christ is his all. That does not mean that the Law has no function. As James tells us it is like a mirror (James 1.23) which shows us that we have, as it were, to wash our faces. But we do not then use the mirror for the purpose of washing our faces. Rather it turns us to the means of cleansing, and in the case of sin that is through the blood of Jesus (1 John 1.7).
It is unnecessary to choose one significance of the noun over the other, for both are true, and both are necessary. As a means of obtaining salvation the Law is dead, but as a guide and pointer to Chris, Whose coming was prophesied in the Law, and as a guide to those who are ‘saved’ as to how they are to live their lives, it is very much alive, more than revivified in the Sermon on the Mount.
So when Paul says, ‘they have not submitted themselves to the Righteousness of God’ he is saying, ‘they have not submitted themselves to the Righteous One (Acts 7.52) for Him to do His work of righteousness upon them and within them’. He then illustrates this from the Scriptures.
‘For Moses writes that the man who does the righteousness which is of the law will live by it. But the righteousness which is of faith says thus, “Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down), or, “Who will descend into the abyss?” (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that is, the word of faith, which we preach, because if you shall confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and shall believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture says, Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame.’
He points out that Moses wrote that ‘the man who does the righteousness which is of the law will live by it’. And in the sense in which Moses meant it he was quite right. The teaching that he had brought lifted men out of the mire of sin and degradation and pointed to a higher life. But the problem was that the Jews had then made it a means of obtaining salvation. They had begun to think that if only a man lived by the covenant he could achieve eternal life, and in their view this involved full observance to the Law. But the Law had become so complicated and so demanding that all who sought to live by it struggled in vain. And it had also been made into a mechanical thing rather than a living word, being fitted in with the ideas of the day. It portrayed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, which as Jesus had brought out, was insufficient, both because it was based on a distorted Law and because it was not from the heart (Matthew 5.20).
In stark contrast, however, is the righteousness which is by faith, the God provided righteousness given to all who believe. It says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down), or, “Who will descend into the abyss?” (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’ In other words it does not demand of a man some great achievements, some impossible exercise of faith. It does not call on men to somehow bring Christ down from Heaven, or to bring Christ up from the dead. For God has already done both. Christ has come because He sent Him, and Christ has risen from the dead because He raised Him. God has already done the hard part. And now having come, and having died for them and risen again, He is invisibly among them, available to all who believe (compare Matthew 28.20).
What then does it say? It says, ‘The word is near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that is, the word of faith, which we preach, because if you shall confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and shall believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’
The truth is that God’s word to us is right at hand, it is easily within reach. It is ‘within your mouth and within your heart’ so that you can say it and can appreciate it and can meditate on it. And that word is the word of faith. And what is that word? It is that if we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord (it is on our lips), and believe in our hearts that He has raised Him from the dead (it is in our hearts), we will be saved.
Here we are at the very heart of God’s saving work, and it is therefore very important that we understand it so that we can explain it to others. (The heart in which God is working can often experience what is being described without being able to put it into words. But once we are called on to explain it to others then we need to understand it).
What it does not mean (although it is a beginning) is that we must simply give the title Lord to Jesus, recite the creed, and believe academically in the resurrection. What it rather means is that:
‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all who call on Him, for, “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” ’
Paul then closes the thought off by citing from the Old Testament (‘the Law’ in its wider sense) in order to demonstrate that this is so for both Jew and Gentile without distinction. “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The citation is from Joel 2.32 (compare Acts 2.21). And it is on the basis that the same Lord is Lord over all, and is rich towards all who call on Him. So anyone, both Jew and Gentile, can call on the name of the Lord of the whole earth.
Chapter 26 In Order To Believe Men Must Hear The Word Of God (10.16-21).
But in order for men to respond to this word from God it was necessary for them to hear it, an idea which Paul wants to burn into our hearts.
‘How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach, except they be sent? Even as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they did not all listen to the glad tidings. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’
If men and women are to call on Christ then they must first be brought to belief. But how can they believe until they have heard? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach except they be sent? Here is the great mystery. The world is waiting to hear the word of God, but it is dependent on those who are sent out by the church, and how woeful has been the church’s response.
If we think about it for a moment we will recognise that here we have the strongest of all arguments for the sovereignty of God. For if the salvation of men and women is dependent on human response alone, why did God not use some more efficient form of communication? The angels would have vied with each other to leave Heaven to carry this word among men. It could have been written across the heavens. But God chose this method, knowing that it could not fail because of the certainty of His divine purposes, and that it would meanwhile aid in the ‘sanctification’, the setting apart to Himself in full yieldedness, of His people. That is the only real explanation. For without such a task ahead of them men would have grown slack (sadly many grow slack anyway).
Paul now piles up the Scriptures in order to demonstrate his point. He wants no Jew to be able to say that he, Paul, has deserted the Old Testament Law. Everything is therefore to be seen as in accordance with the word of God. The first two citations are taken from Isaiah 52.7 and 53.1. ‘Even as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they did not all listen to the glad tidings. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’
Could God have given a greater incentive to His people than this? Do they want to be seen as people with ‘beautiful’ feet? Then let them go out into the world with the glad tidings of good things. Then their feet will be beautiful indeed, and many will treasure the remembrance of their coming. It should remind us that we also should ask, How many of us have beautiful feet today?
But not all is well. For not all will listen, or did listen, to the glad tidings. It was not that the Jews had not had the opportunity to demonstrate that they were the true Israel. One had walked among them Whose teaching had outstripped that of the greatest minds who had ever lived. And it had been supported by a beauty of life that was beyond compare (John 1.14; 8.46), and with clear evidences that He was sent from God (Matthew 11.2-6). And yet so many of them had not heard. But was it so surprising? asks Paul. Was this not what the Scripture had warned about the coming Servant when it said, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53.1). So their very lack of responsiveness confirms the word of God. It is not that Israel have been rejected. It is that the unbelieving part of Israel have refused His word, evidencing the fact that they are not the true Israel.
Nevertheless ‘belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ so that it is incumbent on all who are His to ensure that all hear the word of Christ so that they may believe as they have.
‘But I say, Did they not hear? Yes, truly, “Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I say, “Did Israel not know?” First Moses says, “I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, With a nation void of understanding will I anger you.” And Isaiah is very bold, and says, “I was found of those who did not seek me, I became manifest to those who did not ask of me.” But as to Israel He says, “All the day long did I spread out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.” ’
Then he asks, But has the world not heard? And the answer is that they have. They are without excuse, for what may be know of God has been revealed to them and in them (1.18-20). The voice of creation has spoken. The heavens have declared the glory of God, and the firmament has shown His handywork. Thus “Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19.4). Furthermore the voice of conscience has been revealed within their hearts. The message has thus come through words and through the heart. And they have also heard in another way, for even in Paul’s day the word of Christ was spreading out throughout the known world (1.8).
And how about Israel? They too have heard. They too are without excuse. It is not that God has forsaken those who see themselves (rather optimistically) as descendants of Abraham. It is that once more they have forsaken Him. And this also the Scriptures had foretold. For Moses had said, “I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, With a nation void of understanding will I anger you.” (Deuteronomy 32.21). Because of their hardness of heart God would have to try to break down their resistance by making use of nations which had not had the opportunities that they had had. But that could only be because they were at present in unbelief. Thus the word of God is simply being fulfilled.
And Isaiah is even more forthright, for he declares, “I was found of those who did not seek me, I became manifest to those who did not ask of me” (Isaiah 65.1). And as to Israel He says, “All the day long did I spread out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Isaiah 65.2) ’ Thus Isaiah had made clear that His word would go out to ‘a nation who was not called by His Name’ (Isaiah 65.1). He had made clear that the Gentiles would hear and respond. And He had equally made clear that although He would give them every opportunity, a part of Israel, unbelieving Israel, Israel of the flesh, would on the whole be disobedient and gainsaying.
So Paul makes clear that the word of God has not failed, and that it is not God Who has turned away from His people. Why, His arms are still stretched out to them through Christ. The problem is that they have turned away from Him, and thus fulfilled their own Scriptures.
Chapter 27. God Has Not Failed In His Promises to Israel For He Only Ever Promised To Bless His Elect (11.1-12).
Paul does not want to leave the impression that Israel as a whole have therefore been put to one side. That might be true of unbelieving Israel, but it is not true of the Israel within Israel. It is not true of those whom He foreknew (verse 2), of His elect remnant (verse 5). Why he himself is of Israel (verse 1). So true Israel, believing Israel, are still His people, as are all who have conjoined with them to make up ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22). And to them the promises still apply. And what is more, any in unbelieving Israel who wish to do so may again become a part of the true Israel by responding to the word of Christ. Indeed this is one of God’s purposes for them, to win them by provoking them to jealousy (verse 11). And if they do respond it will add to the riches that believing Gentiles now enjoy (verse 12).
God Has Not Cast Off Any Whom He Has Foreknown.
‘I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not cast off His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life.” But what says the answer of God to him? “I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’
To suggest that God has cast off any whom He has foreknown is iniquitous. For Paul himself is a true Israelite of pure descent. This alone makes it clear that he has not cast off all His people. And there is not only him. Let them consider the days of Elijah. Elijah had thought that God had cast off His foreknown people so that only he was left. And what had God replied? “I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So he was not alone. The seven thousand were also foreknown. And in the same way Paul also is not alone, for there are believing Jews around the world who along with the converted Gentiles form the true Israel. ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’
His point here is that what he has described in 9.6-13 still applies. When God looked ahead to His ‘true Israel’ it was to be composed of ‘the chosen’. Not all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob) would participate. Always there would be those who would fall by the wayside while others would remain steadfast because they were of the ‘election of grace’, like the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Those who had been foreknown would stand firm. And that was so even now. In Jerusalem, and throughout Palestine, and throughout the Jewish dispersion, there were tens of thousands, yes hundreds of thousands, of Jews who had responded to Christ, ‘the remnant according to the election determined and carried through by the gracious and unmerited love of God’. They too had been foreknown. And they too were faithful. And with the converted Gentiles they formed the new Israel.
The Failure Of Unbelieving Israel Is Because They Have Rejected The Grace Of God.
‘But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. What then? What Israel seeks for, that they did not obtain, but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened, according as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor (Isaiah 29.10), eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29.4; Jeremiah 5.21; Ezekiel 12.2). And David says, “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them, let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, And do You bow down their back always” (Psalm 69.22-23).’
They have only to think about it to realise that all is happening in accordance with the Scriptures. For the election is by ‘grace’, God’s unmerited, active, saving love, and it is of those whom He chooses. And if it is of grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise it would cease to be of grace. Put the responsibility in man’s hands, and let it be something that man has to do something in order to receive it, and it will immediately build up into a religious burden. But God has forestalled that by doing everything Himself. All man has to do, therefore, is to confess to the Lordship of Christ, and believe in the power of His Risen Life to save (10.9). Then God will ‘work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13), and he will be one of His elect.
That is why although they have sought for salvation Israel as such have not received it. It is because they insist on trying to work it out in their own way. Strictly speaking, of course, that whole sentence is not quite true, for not all Israel have failed to receive it. (Again there is the distinction between the two Israels). The elect have obtained it. But it is the remainder who have been hardened. And again this is what the Scriptures have taught. For they declare, “God gave them a spirit of stupor (Isaiah 29.10), eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29.4; Jeremiah 5.21; Ezekiel 12.2). So all that is happening is in fulfilment of Scripture, and in accordance with the promises of Scripture. Far from failing the promises are all being fulfilled, while at the same time God’s elect are being gathered in.
We are not necessarily to see by this that God Himself specifically acts to blind their minds. Rather it is accomplished by another, for ‘the god of this world blinds the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, dawns on them’ (2 Corinthians 4.4). It is simply that they have allowed their minds to be blinded, and God has not intervened to prevent it.
What then is Israel’s problem? It is ‘as David says, “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them, let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, And do You bow down their back always” (Psalm 69.22-23).’ They want to eat of the table that they have set for themselves. They are not willing to eat at God’s table. They want righteousness by the Law. But this is ‘a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them’. All it can do is make them stumble on in their ignorance.
Some see ‘the table’ as referring to the altar in which case there is the idea that they have allowed their ritual to cause them to stumble. Compare Isaiah 1.11-18.
But All Is Not Lost. Christ’s Aim Is Still To Draw To Himself Those Who Will Come To Him.
This stumbling and fall of Israel has resulted in salvation coming to the Gentiles. But the situation is not necessarily fatal for Israel. For God’s hope is that the riches which the believing Gentiles have received will provoke Israel to jealousy so that they too will come to Christ in order to enjoy the same riches. And what a huge benefit that would be. For with their knowledge of the Scriptures and their intensely religious natures they would make a huge contribution to the whole, for they have so much to contribute. But, of course, only when it is pointing in the right direction.
(The further problem, of course, was that the visible ‘church’ also miserably failed in a way that Paul could never have dreamed of, for they too experienced the spirit of stupor and the closing of ears and eyes. That is why unbelieving Israel do not at present have anything to be jealous about. They do not see a living spiritual body presented to their gaze).
‘I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid. But by their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if their fall, is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?’
Paul emphasises that God had not closed the door on Jews, only on their mindset. Their position was not totally lost. If they would but come to Christ then they too could become a part of the true Israel, God’s elect, and could bring into it all the riches of their culture.
But their fall had been necessary in order that salvation might come to the Gentiles. Their way of thinking would never have allowed the kind of outreach achieved by the church of Christ. And that fall (partly through the persecution that it produced) unquestionably resulted in the riches of Christ going out into the world. Thus their loss contributed to the riches of the Gentiles in that many of them came to believe and enjoy the full riches of Christ (2 Corinthians 8.9; Ephesians 1.7, 18; 2.7; 3.8; Colossians 1.27; 2.2). However, God’s hope was that when they saw the new spiritual freedom in the church, and recognised the glorious liberty of the new children of God and the greatness of their blessings, they would become jealous, and would determine to have them for themselves by responding to Christ. For if only they were willing to submit to Christ their contribution could be so great.
Chapter 28. The Formation Of The New Israel (11.13-36).
Jesus had revealed Himself as ‘the true Vine’ (John 15.1-6). This was in contrast to the false vine of old Israel (Isaiah 5.1-7). This suggests that Jesus saw Himself as the beginning of a new Israel springing from the old. And this was confirmed when He spoke of establishing ‘His congregation’ (a word signifying Israel in the Old Testament) on the foundation of Peter’s Messianic statement (Matthew 16.18). Furthermore the Kingly Rule of God was to be taken away from old Israel, and given to a new nation producing its fruit (Matthew 21.43) which would be founded on a new Cornerstone, which would be Jesus Himself (Matthew 21.42). All this had been in mind in the fact that God initially ‘called His Son out of Egypt’ as the new incarnation of Israel (Matthew 2.15). Thus the idea of a new Israel founded on Christ and replacing the old is prominent in Matthew.
And this rejection of the old Israel is supported in Acts 4.27 where ‘the peoples’ (of the nations) of Psalm 2 become ‘the peoples of Israel’ who are seen as allied with the nations against God and His Anointed. In a similar way Paul could, to Gentile Christians, speak of ‘our fathers’ (where in context ‘our’ includes the Gentiles Christians) when referring to Israel of old. There is a clear suggestion that the church is in some ways the continuation of Israel, indeed is literally the new Israel (compare Ephesians 2.11-22; Galatians 6.16), for its foundations were of Jews, and Gentiles were then grafted in.
Paul now builds on that idea in terms of an Olive Tree. In Hosea 14.6 Israel had been likened to an olive tree, ‘his branches will spread and his beauty be as the olive tree’, whilst in Jeremiah 11.16 ‘olive tree’, is the name by which ‘YHWH called Israel’, a description which indicates something momentous (compare Genesis 5.2; 35.10). Thus the olive tree is a clear metaphor for Israel. Nor can we ignore the clear and distinct parallel between this Olive Tree and the true Vine in John 15.1-6. Natural branches (unbelieving Jews) are cut off from it because they do not bear fruit (verses 17, 21; compare John 15.6). Other branches are encouraged to grow because they do bear fruit (they are holy - verse 16), and in the case of the Olive tree further branches are engrafted in (verse 17). Any unfruitful branches will be removed (verse 21).
In the light of John 15.1-6 the most natural interpretation of this picture is therefore to see it as a portrayal of Christ as representing Israel. The idea of branches being removed is found in both pictures (compare also the branches broken in Jeremiah 11.16-17). Jesus is thus portrayed as having incorporated in Himself the whole of Israel, and then by a process of divine gardening, as having removed the old dead branches and brought the new to fruitfulness. The change to an olive tree was necessary here because of the picture Paul intends to use of the grafting in of branches from a wild tree. In ancient days this was not done with vines, but it was with olive trees.
It is true that there is nothing specifically in the immediate context directly to support this interpretation, but it is necessary to bear in mind that there is nothing to support any other interpretation either. We are simply presented with the olive tree with little explanation. But in the light of Jeremiah 11.16-17 that can only signify Israel, and therefore the One Who, in the New Testament, is seen as representing Israel (Matthew 2.15).
However, even apart from the obvious connection with Jesus’ words in John 15.1-6, which must have been well known to the Roman Christians, there are a number of other indications that suggest that Christ is in mind. There is the indication of the importance of ‘the root’ (11.16, 18). It was Jesus Christ Who was ‘the root of Jesse’ to Whom the people would seek (Isaiah 11.10) and ‘the root out of dry ground’ (Isaiah 53.2). There is the emphasis throughout the letter that the church is ‘in Christ’. There is the fact of our oneness in Christ which is stressed in 5.12-21. There is the stress on our being united with Christ in 6.5 seen in the light of its context. There is the idea of our being ‘joined to another’ in 7.4. There is the continual emphasis on the fact that our righteousness comes from our being in Christ (see especially 10.6-10). There is the clear comparison between the olive tree ‘receiving’ those who are grafted in (11.15) and Christ ‘receiving’ His people (15.7). And finally there is the pointer to Jesus as the coming Deliverer Who would take away ungodliness from Jacob (11.26).
Others, however point out in the previous verses there is great emphasis on Israel and its roots, and therefore suggest that the olive tree is the promises and covenant with Abraham, which would tie in with 9.5, 7-13; 11.3-4, which then solidifies into the concept of ‘Israel’ in which there are both dead and living branches. The idea would then be that those who revealed by their unbelief that they were not true members of the covenant would be cut off, while those among the Gentiles who revealed the faith of Abraham were grafted in (4.12).
A further possible interpretation is that it represented Israel as it should be in the mind of God, the ideal Israel. Supporting this is the reference to the firstfruit in 11.16, for it was the ideal Israel in its first moments of enthusiasm at Sinai who were called ‘the firstfruits’ (Jeremiah 2.2-3).
But whichever interpretation we take it is clear that in the end the olive tree has in mind the new Israel in Christ which has resulted from the removal of the old unfruitful branches and the incorporation of the new.
We must thus rid our minds of the suggestion that old Israel as an entity has in itself any further part to play in the purposes of God. The only part that Jews can play in the future is if they are again grafted in by coming to faith in Jesus Christ and becoming a part of the new Israel. For all the promises of God now belong to the true Israel as found in Christ and His body (compare Ephesians 2.11-22; Revelation 21.12-27), although the Jews can once again partake in them by believing and turning to Christ.
‘But I speak to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what will the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?’
Paul now turns his attention to Gentile Christians, and informs them that as the Apostle to the Gentiles he trumpets his ministry to them with a view to provoking the Jews to jealousy as they behold their Messiah blessing the Gentiles. His hope is that they may then themselves seek Him. For his view is that if the casting away of old Israel has contributed to the reconciling of the world to God, the receiving of them back into the new Israel can only result in a revivified church, with the zeal of the new Jewish converts setting the church alight. ‘And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.’
The firstfruit here will depend on our view as to whether the olive tree is Jesus Christ Himself, or whether it refers to the covenant promises with Abraham, or whether it applies to an ideal Israel. If we refer it to Jesus Christ Himself then He is the firstfruit and the root (both terms applicable to Jesus in Scripture). If we refer it to the covenant promises then it is Abraham and Sarah, and the initial children of the promise (4.3, 9-12, 16-21; 9.5, 7-13; Galatians 3.6-9, 16, 29; 4.26, 28), together with the covenant promises made to them, who are the firstfruit and root. They were ‘holy’, set apart to God for His purposes. If we apply it to the ideal Israel then it is they who are the firstfruit and the root (compare Jeremiah 2.2-3) who take root downwards and bear fruit upwards (Isaiah 37.31; compare 27.6).
And because either He was holy or they were holy so is the whole lump of dough (Numbers 15.17-21), the new Israel. Thus the whole of true purified Israel will be holy too (compare Exodus 19.5-6). And again if the root is holy, so will be the branches.
So up to this point the argument is that Israel sprang from the root of the children of the promise, probably as personified in Christ, and were therefore potentially profitable to God, which was why their becoming a part of the church would revivify it. But the further point is that it can only be so if they fulfil the promise contained within the root. The true Israel will be believing and obedient like Abraham was. Thus the true Israel can be determined by examining its fruitfulness. For if they were God’s elect springing either from Abraham or from ideal Israel or from Christ they would be a believing and obedient lump, a holy lump, and they would be holy fruitbearing branches. Thus the fact that they are not demonstrates that they are not true sons of Abraham or true Israel or true followers of Christ. ‘But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree, do not glory over the branches. But if you do glory, it is not you who bear the root, but the root you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” Well, as a result of their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Do not be highminded, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.’
Thus it was because of unbelief that some of the branches were broken off. They had demonstrated that they were no longer a part of the promises given to Abraham, or of the true Israel, or of Christ, and thus were not a part of the true Israel (9.6). In contrast the new Gentile believers, like a wild olive, were grafted in. (Apparently the grafting in to an olive tree of wild olive branches in order to increase its fruitfulness was a common horticultural procedure testified to in external sources). And they became partakers, along with the remaining original branches, the believing Jews, of the root of the fatness of the olive tree, of the benefit of the promises to Abraham, or of the Messiah Himself, or both. They became a part of the new Israel.
But they were not to glory over the branches, neither those which had been cut off nor those that remained. They were not to feel uppity against the Jews. They were to remember that what they were they owed to the root who had borne them, to Abraham and to spiritual Israel and to Christ and to God’s sovereign promises (4.3-5, 11-12). The root owed nothing to them.
And if they began to argue that the branches had been cut off to make room for them, let them remember why those branches had been cut off. It was because of unbelief. While they themselves stood there securely by believing (4.12; Galatians 3.5-9). So they were not to be highminded but were to walk in the fear of God. For if God had not spared the natural branches when they lapsed into unbelief, neither would He spare them if they too lapsed into unbelief. And being highminded and arrogant was a precursor to losing faith.
‘Behold then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but towards you, God’s goodness, if you continue in His goodness, otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?’
So they were to take note of the goodness and severity of God. Towards those who did not believe, and fell, severity, to those who did believe and continued in His goodness, God’s goodness. But if they or their children (the singular ‘you’ indicates ‘you Gentiles adherents as a whole’) did not continue in that goodness, if they did not continue in true belief, then they too would be cut off.
On the other hand if the unbelieving Jews repented and believed, then they would be grafted in again. They would once again become a part of the true Israel. For God is able to graft them in again. Indeed they will be easier to graft in because of their background.
Chapter 29 All The Elect Will Finally Be Gathered In (11.25-36).
As we come to the final words in this section we must remind ourselves of what we have learned in it:
Thus the emphasis is on the fact that the true Israel is made up of the children of promise, both Jew and Gentile, who are those whom God has chosen beforehand and they are the genuine Israel.
‘For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own’.
Paul does not want them to be ignorant of God’s secret now revealed (His mystery). Before looking at these words in detail we should perhaps consider what Jesus and Paul normally have in mind when they speak of God’s mystery:
It will be noted that Paul’s teaching concerning the mystery is remarkably consistent (and ties in with the teaching of Jesus). It has been hidden from all ages, it centres on the person of Christ Who is the all important focus, and it involves the establishing of the new people of God, His church.
Interestingly this is also the emphasis here. It speaks of the ‘coming Deliverer’ who will turn away ungodliness from Jacob and take away their sins, and refers to the makeup of the whole church of Christ which is made up of the fullness of the Gentiles and the whole of chosen ‘Israel’. This has in mind the whole number chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4), and will include those yet to be won, those who, in spite of at present being disobedient, are God’s elect for the father’s sake. It is another angle on the mystery.
‘For I would not, brothers, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part has befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and so in this manner all Israel will be saved, even as it is written, “There will come out of Zion the Deliverer; He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant to them, When I shall take away their sins.” ’
He wants his Gentile brothers to recognise (so that they would not get above themselves) that the hardening that has come on a part of Israel is all part of God’s purpose so as to ensure the completion of the call of the Gentile elect (see for example Acts 13.45-49), which will go along with a final gathering to faith from among unbelieving Israel, so that ‘all of elect Israel’ might be saved. Thus will God have fulfilled His promise to the true Israel.
And this promise of further conversions of Jews from among unbelieving Israel is in accordance with Isaiah 59.20-21; 27.9 where the promise was that out of Zion would come forth a Deliverer Who would turn away ungodliness from Jacob. No reader would doubt that this was pointing to the Deliverer Who had already come, but Whose work must go on until all of ‘elect Israel’ are saved. This is His covenant with them, and as a result He ‘will take away their sins’. That this includes Gentiles believers as well is clear in 11.16-24. (‘Israel’ has been used by him in this section in three senses, as signifying Israel as a whole (9.27; 11.25), as signifying unbelieving Israel (11.7, 11) and as signifying the elect of Israel (9.6), and that the Gentiles have been engrafted in has been made clear in 11.16-24).
So his final conclusion is that the fullness of the Gentiles will come in, and ‘in this way all Israel will be saved’. God will thus not have failed in His promise to Israel. Here ‘all Israel’ must signify chosen and elect Israel, including the elect Gentiles. Those chosen of God and elect (as Isaac and Jacob had been), will be saved. Only those who had revealed themselves as ‘not My people’ by being unbelieving would not be saved. So God’s ‘foreknowledge’ of His true and chosen people is proved to have been fully effective.
‘As touching the Gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.’
This confirms that within the term ‘all Israel’ he is including the elect of Israel who have not yet believed (but will in the end believe), for they are here seen as having been enemies of the Gospel so as to benefit the Gentiles (compare 11.17-20), while on the other hand touching election they are beloved for the father’s sake, because the gifts and calling of God are not repented of. This can finally really only have the elect in mind. They alone are beloved for the father’s sake. So Paul is confident that among the unbelieving Jews are many who are elected to be saved, and will therefore in the future believe, making up the number of ‘all Israel’.
‘For as you in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy. For God has shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.’
He points out to the Gentile believers that they have no right to despise unbelieving Israel for not believing, because in times past they also had been unbelieving and disobedient. And yet they had been shown mercy. And so in the same way, while unbelieving Israel are at present disobedient, those who are truly Israel will be won back to obedience as a result of the mercy shown to the Gentiles. For from the point of view of God’s electing purposes He has shut all of them up under disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.
‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counsellor? Or who has first given to Him, and it will be recompensed to him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things. To Him be the glory for ever. Amen.’
Paul does not see what he has written about God’s foreknowing and electing men and women as some coldly worked out theological doctrine to be laboriously explained. Rather he is moved by it to exult in the inscrutability of God. He exults first in the depth of the riches of His wisdom and knowledge, following it with a declaration that none can search out, or even presumably understand, His judgments, and that His ways are beyond man’s ability to trace out. He is indeed beyond the ability of man to comprehend. For no one knows the Lord’s mind, and no one has ever been able to give Him guidance, simply because it is beyond them
Nor has anyone give Him anything that He has to repay back to them. He is no man’s debtor. He is the great Giver, not a receiver from others of anything that can add to what He possesses and controls, for He possesses and controls all things. Thus all must be of grace as he has already said. For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. He created all things, and by Him all things hold together. And as he considers the mighty subjects he has been considering Paul can only end the section with an ascription of praise. ‘To Him be the glory forever. Amen’
Chapter 30. A Call To Total Consecration (12.1-13).
Having outlined the ways of God in salvation, in clothing His people in the righteousness of Christ, and in making them righteous within by His Spirit, and having demonstrated God’s sovereign activity in the world, Paul now calls on all Christians as a consequence (‘by the mercies of God’) to totally consecrate themselves to God’s service.
‘I plead, therefore, with you brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And do not be fashioned according to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’
He pleads with his readers as a result of the mercies of God that he has been outlining, to present (yield, compare 6.13, 19) their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Being united with Christ in His sacrifice of Himself, they are to see themselves as offered up as a freewill offering along with Him, and thus as dying to themselves; as being totally set apart for God to possess (holy); and as being made acceptable through Jesus Christ. This is to be their act of spiritual service, the evidence of the work of the Spirit within them. They are to be a sweet savour for God by being effective witnesses to the Gospel (2 Corinthians 2.15).
The concept of sacrifice must not, of course, be overpressed. Only Jesus Christ could be a guilt offering and an atoning sacrifice. We are therefore more to be seen as whole offerings, thanksgiving offerings and freewill offerings, without the atoning element that even they necessarily had within them. In our case, full atonement having already been made by Christ, no further atonement is necessary. The element that Paul has in mind is the total offering of ourselves through ‘death’.
‘For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but so to think as to think soberly, according as God has dealt to each man a measure of faith.’
Having called for total consecration and dedication Paul now enters a caveat. The danger with enthusiastic dedication is that it can go beyond itself. Thus while they are to be dedicated and enthusiastic, they are not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. Rather they are to think soberly, recognising the God given gifts that are among them, and recognising the level of their own faith. Each is to esteem others as better than themselves (Philippians 2.3).
Notice his reference to ‘the grace given to me.’ He recognises that he is writing to a church which was not of his founding, and therefore draws attention to the gift that has been given to him as the Apostle to the Gentiles, so as to give force to his injunctions. See 15.15-16.
‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.’
He draws on the picture of ‘the body’ to illustrate his point. A person’s body has a number of members, eye, ear, nose, arms, legs etc. and each has a different function. And all must work together for the good of the whole, for all are necessary. In the same way Christians are one body in Christ which has members which have differing functions. And all are necessary. But in bearing this in mind they are to recognise that what they do is to be for the benefit of each other, and of all. We all have a responsibility for one another.
‘And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.’
Paul now lists the gifts of the Spirit as pertinent to the Roman church. This may suggest that some of the gifts manifested in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12.7-10) were not in use here, for it may be argued that otherwise they would surely have been referred to. On the other hand they may be included under the term ‘ministry’. Each is to use his gift in accordance with his measure of faith. These gifts include prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, overseeing, and showing compassion and mercy. The fact that ‘ministry’ is included among the vocal gifts suggests that vocal gifts are in mind with the ‘ministry’ described here. Thus different people were seen as gifted in different types of ministry. As ever prophecy comes first. After the Apostles the position of prophet was highly honoured. They were seen as men and women especially inspired by God (although still needing to be judged by the other prophets - 1 Corinthians 14.29) who came with a message from God. The positioning of ministry before teaching emphasises its relative importance. It seemingly involved preaching.
But the other gifts should be noted. Some are especially good at giving generously, others at general oversight, and others at demonstrating compassion and mercy. All are God’s gifts to the church, and each has a part to play.
‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cleave to what is good. In love of the brethren being tenderly affectionate one to another; in honour preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing steadfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality.’
But the gifts are useless unless the spirit is right. Thus Paul now centres in on the need to be pure in spirit, to be true, humble and loving. With regard to each other Christian love (agape) is to be without pretence. We have a description of what is required in 1 Corinthians 13.4-8. What is evil or unhelpful is to be abhorred, and what is good is to be sought after. They must have brotherly love for each other which should run deep. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples, because you love one another’ (John 13.35). They must honour others above themselves. ‘Whoever would become great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever would be first among you shall be servant of all’ (Mark 10.43-44). They are to be diligent and not slothful.
With regard to service and worship they are to be ‘fervent in spirit’ or possibly better, ‘aglow with the Spirit’ as they ‘serve the Lord’. They are to have their eyes fixed on the eternal future, ‘rejoicing in hope’. They are to be enduring in tribulation, knowing the good effect that it will have on them (5.3-5). They are to continued steadfastly in prayer.
And finally they are to ensure that no child of God is in need, making sure that all are provided for materially as well as spiritually, and they are to be ‘given to hospitality’, always ready to welcome people into their homes.
Chapter 31. The Behaviour Required Of Christians Towards All Men (12.14-21).
There is in what follows the ring of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and of the Book of Proverbs. While Matthew would not yet have been written, the traditions concerning the teaching of Jesus (‘The Testimony of Jesus’?) would have been well known and regularly repeated in the churches, and the likelihood is that written sources were already available, especially among Gentile Christians. (The Jews tended more to memorise oral teaching and to honour the spoken word).
‘Bless those who persecute you, bless, and curse not.’ Here we have an echo of Jesus’ own teaching, ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in Heaven, for He makes His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5.44-45). Compare also, ‘Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you’ (Matthew 5.10-12). Paul was not lacking in giving a personal example, ‘being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now’ (1 Corinthians 4.13).
‘Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.’ Christians are to be adaptable to circumstances and to have regard to the sensitivities of others. Thus they are not to be a damper on people’s enjoyment (within reason) or killjoys. Wedding festivities may have been prominent in his mind. But that does not mean going to the same excess as others. They are not to be drunk with wine, resulting in riotous behaviour, but to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5.18). He would also later have to warn against taking part in festivities connected with idols (1 Corinthians 8.1-13; 10.19-21, compare Romans 14.10-23). On the other hand they are to feel deeply for those undergoing sorrow. Christians should never be shallow, but always thoughtful and considerate.
‘Be of the same mind one towards another.’ They should not be quarrelsome among themselves, but ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4.3). Love, not dissension, should be the keyword. The maintenance of harmony should be a main concern unless vital issues were at stake.
‘Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly.’ In one sense their minds are to be set on high things. They are to ‘seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God’ and to ‘set your mind on things above and not on things on earth, for you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.1-2). They are to ever remember that their citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3.20). But what Paul means here is that they are not to seek the highest place on earth, they are not to desire prominence or wish to be thought of as important. They are to shun ‘the pride of life’ (1 John 2.15-16). Rather they are to seek to be the servant of all. Thus they should not be afraid to get their hands dirty, but ever be ready to stoop to help another, or to perform what are seen as menial tasks. Jesus, Whose thoughts were ever fixed on things above, stooped to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13.1-11), not as a show of spirituality, but as an act of genuine love when there was a real need for it.
‘Be not wise in your own conceits.’ Compare Proverbs 3.7a. Christians are not to be cleverclogs, or full of themselves and their own knowledge. They are to humbly recognise that on some things they might be wrong. They must at all costs avoid having a sense of superiority, always recognising the worth of others.
‘Render to no man evil for evil. Christians should never retaliate or seek to ‘get their own back’ for personal injury. In conformity with the words of Jesus they should rather ‘turn the other cheek’ (see Matthew 5.39-42).
‘Take thought for things honourable in the sight of all men.’ Compare Proverbs 3.4 LXX. Christians should have the reputation for being honourable and being concerned with things that are honourable. They should avoid anything that seems the least shady, or that good men might frown on.
‘If it be possible, as much as in you lies, be at peace with all men.’ Jesus had said, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God’ (Matthew 5.9). In other words they were by their attitude to be seen as ‘God-like’. Christians are thus to seek to avoid confrontation, and stirring up trouble for its own sake, although there are times when it is very necessary and unavoidable when questions of conscience are at stake. Nor are they to be ‘stirrers’. Their aim should always be harmony, both in the community and in the church.
‘Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will recompense,” says the Lord.’ Christians should not be constantly seeking ‘revenge’. They are to commit matters into God’s hands recognising that He is the One Who evens things up and in the end ensures fairplay. The quotation is taken from Deuteronomy 32.35. To take revenge is the opposite of loving our enemies (Matthew 5.44).
‘But if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ See Proverbs 25.21-22 which adds, ‘and the Lord will reward you’. The idea here is not that by being kind to others we will ensure their greater punishment. That would hardly tie in with the teaching of Jesus. It is that by doing so we will benefit them, leaving it to God to reward us as He will. To pour coals of fire on the head probably refers to the practise of helping a neighbour by supplying a means for them to light or maintain their fires for cooking purposes or as protection against the cool of the night. It was thus an act of generosity. The head was regularly the place on which vessels were carried. The hot coals would be poured into them and thus be available for use. Others have connected it with the Egyptian practise in which men publicly revealed their penitence by carrying on their heads a vessel containing red hot coals. The idea then would be that by being kind to such people they might burn into their conscience and bring them to penitence.
‘Do not be overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ They must not give evil an advantage over them, either by being unwary in the face of it, or by responding to it wrongly. Above all they were to seek to defeat it by responding with good.
Chapter 32. The Christian Attitude Towards The State (13.1-7). .
Having stressed the need to overcome evil with good Paul now considers the position of the state as a force for good. Although recognising its faults, and sometimes having to take a stand against it on particular issues, the Christians attitude towards the state is to be positive. Christians should be seen as good citizens rather than as troublemakers, adding their weight to the state as a force for good. For their aim is ever to be the maintenance of peace and harmony, recognising that that is for the good of all.
‘Let every person be subject to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Therefore he who resists the power, stands contrary to the ordinance of God, and they who withstand will receive judgment to themselves.’
Here is the primary basis for our attitude towards the state. It is to result from the fact that God has sanctioned rulership as a means of controlling the wildest excesses of men and women, so that to undermine the rulership is to be on the side of excess. Thus unless there are very strong grounds for seeing otherwise those in authority are to be seen as having been placed there, at least indirectly, by God. They are thus to be seen as ‘ordained of God’. And to resist them by unlawful means or for unlawful reasons is to stand contrary to God’s ordinance, and will result in repercussions from God.
This does not mean that we may not seek to sway their decisions by peaceful protest, or, when it is really justified, by peaceful civil disobedience, nor is it intended to prevent action against a particularly cruel and self-seeking regime, but it is to indicate that in most regards the authorities should be able to depend on our support against the forces of wrongdoing.
‘For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And would you have no fear of the one in power? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same, for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil.’
Paul now gives the practical reason for obeying the authorities. He points out that on the whole rulers are not an enemy of what is good, but of what is evil. The good usually have nothing to fear from the authorities. Thus they should not disregard them or despise them. Rather they should hold them in respect and acknowledge their authority (‘fear them’).
So Christians are to do what is good, thereby receiving praise. For the ones who in authority are to be seen as servants of God placed there in order to watch over what is good for all. Indeed if anyone does what is unlawful they must expect punishment, for that is why the authorities have been given the means of enforcing their position. And in dealing with unlawfulness they are acting in God’s Name.
Clearly there are some things in which even the authorities must be ignored, for we must serve God rather than men. But that is only when the authorities are actually seeking to enforce what is evil or contrary to God’s word. Thus Peter declares, ‘let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in another person’s matters, but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this Name’ (1 Peter 4.15-16). While Jesus Himself declared, ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ (Mark 12.17), with His emphasis being on rendering to God what is God’s.
‘For this reason you must necessarily be subject, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.’
And because the legitimate authorities have been placed there in order to restrain evil that necessarily puts Christians under a further obligation, not only to take note of what will happen to them if they disobey the laws, but also of conscience, as those who are in favour of anything that restrains evil. Supporting the authorities in the control of evil, and even assisting them in it, is thus their duty.
‘For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. Render to all their dues: taxes to whom taxes are due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.’
And it is because of this important responsibility of the authorities to control evil, something that they are constantly active in, that Christians should also pay their taxes and demonstrate their respect for the authorities. For they are to give to all their dues. Thus ‘taxes to whom taxes are due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Chapter 33. The Christian Attitude Toward Others In The Light Of The Approaching Day (13.8-14).
The Christian’s attitude towards the state was to be one of submission and cooperation, something which was to result in their fulfilling their obligations. And this was because of the state’s role under God in maintaining peace and quelling evil. But towards people as a whole their obligation is to be one of love. Christians are to fulfil the Law by demonstrating love for their neighbour, and are to live in the light of the Lord’s coming, recognising that the Day is approaching. In order to do this they are to put on the armour of light, and walk rightly, as in the day, donning the Lord Jesus Christ, and making no provision for the fulfilment of fleshly desires.
‘Owe no man anything, except to love one another. For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there be any other commandment, is summed up in this word, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love works no ill to his neighbour. Love is therefore the fulfilment of the law.’
Those who belong to Christ are not to go into debt except in one way, and that is in their debt to love others. And by doing this, by loving their neighbours, they will fulfil the Law. Thus although the fulfilling of the Law is not to be called on as a means of salvation, it is to be seen as a consequence of salvation. God has not set aside the Law. But its use is as a guide by which to live rightly (which was its original intention), not as a means of building up merit before God.
But it is not to be a burden consisting of lots of detailed stipulations. All the commandments, whatever they are, will be fulfilled by the one who truly loves his neighbour as himself, for the commandment to do that sums up all the other commandments as regards attitude towards our fellowman. Compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 22.34-40; Luke 10.27, where Jesus also sees it as summing up the commandments. For if we truly love our neighbour (all men and women) as ourselves we will not steal a man’s wife from him, or murder them, or covet what they possess. We will never intend to do evil towards them. Rather we will only seek to do them good. So loving our neighbours as ourselves will fulfil the Law. And as Christians that is our debt to our neighbour.
‘And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep, for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand, let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make provision for the flesh, to fulfil its desires.’
And a powerful motive force for loving our neighbours as ourselves is the fact that ‘the great Day that is coming’ is approaching. We should be aware of the times. We should recognise that it is now the season for throwing off our lethargy and awaking out of sleep, because the final phase in our salvation when we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52) and taken up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.17), having been made holy, unblameable and unreprovable in His sight (Colossians 1.22), is now nearer than when we first believed.
We should recognise that the dark night of our pilgrimage is coming to an end, and the day is at hand. That the light is beginning to dawn. So, because we do not want the daylight to catch us out, we must awake from sleep, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Our lives should be a glowing testimony to the love of God. And clothed in that armour we must walk becomingly as in the day. We must put away any thought of revelling and drunkenness, or of illicit sex and loose behaviour, we must cease striving with others and being possessed with jealousy, and we must rather ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. We must live our lives as though clothed with Jesus Christ. And we must make no provision to fulfil the desires of the flesh. So all our thoughts and all our lives are to be centred on Him, living in readiness for His coming.
Paul is not suggesting here that the Roman Christians are living lascivious lives. He has rather in mind the things that they once did, in which their contemporaries are engaged. He knows that they are surrounded by them on every hand. But the negatives are what the Christians have already left behind. And they are to make sure that it remains that way. They are to thrust any thought of them to one side, and keep their eyes firmly on the coming Day.
We should note here that Paul presents a number of consecutive but contrasting pictures in pairs, as follows:
And if we combine them in another way we then obtain two powerful contrasting sequences. ‘It is time to awake from sleep -- the night is far spent -- let us cast off the works of darkness.’ And on the other hand, ‘salvation is nearer than when we first believed -- the day is at hand -- let us put on the armour of light’.
The result then is that they are to ‘walk becomingly, as in the day.’ The picture of the Christian life as ‘walking in the light’ is a common one in the New Testament. It was introduced by Jesus in John 8.12, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. There the light is to guide those who follow Him in their walk. And His purpose was that all should come to His light. It was for any who would respond. ‘I am come a light into the world, that whoever believes on me may not abide in darkness’ (John 12.46). So He called on them to ‘Walk while you have the light --- while you have the light, believe on the light, that you might become the sons of light’ (John 12.35-36). All this points to seeing Him as the light, in consequence of which, having received the light of eternal life, we are to walk continually in His light and in the light of His teaching. In accordance with this we should therefore all be walking in His light, living our lives in the radiance of the light of His presence, and knowing that all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.
Paul also uses the same idea elsewhere. ‘You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5.8-9). And he adds, ‘You are all the children of the light, and the children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness’ (1 Thessalonians 5.5). So those who walk as children of light will produce the fruit of goodness and truth, because if their lives are being lived in His continual light, and in the light of His word, that light, like the sun, will shine on them and produce fruitfulness, and it will allow nothing of the darkness to survive.
John continues in similar vein. However, in his case he recognises, as Paul did in Romans 6-7, that in walking in that light there will be things revealed that need forgiveness, so he assures his readers, ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light, (openly admitting our sin daily), we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son goes on cleansing us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).
Walking in the light is thus to be very much a part of the Christian life. But because of the cleansing of the blood of Jesus we do not need to be afraid of the light. Rather we should embrace it, and, as we come continually to Him day by day, ask that the searchlight of His presence might shine on us continually. Then it will lead the way before us so that all that is of darkness is put away. In that way we will be ready for that Day.
But in the end our ability to walk in that light lies in our ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’. For, once we have clothed ourselves in Him and in His righteousness, we will want nothing more than for our lives to reveal that righteousness. And if we have clothed ourselves in Him we will not be afraid of the light.
Chapter 34. We Must Learn To Be Gentle With The Weak in Faith (14.1-23).
The church of Jesus Christ in those early days was very much a combination of Jew and Gentile, and the result was that some had scruples about such things as what foods could be eaten and concerning the Sabbath, brought with them from their past life. While they truly believed in Jesus Christ they were still bound by these traditions which clearly meant a lot to them. So Paul here warns the church against despising or judging such people, or causing them distress by arguing with them over unimportant matters, on the grounds that only Jesus Himself has the right to judge them. He is concerned to maintain unity in the church between Jew and Gentile in line with His teaching in 11.13-32. For it is necessary for the true Israel to remain as one.
‘But him who is weak in faith receive, yet not for a decision over scruples. One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats herbs. Let not him who eats set at nought him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him that who does eat: for God has received him. Who are you who judges the servant of another? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for the Lord has power to make him stand. One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who regards the day, regards it to the Lord, and he who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and he gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself. For whether we live, we live to the Lord, or whether we die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Paul commences by stressing that while the man who is weak in faith must be received by the church in Christ’s Name, it must not be in order to question his scruples. Thus while the strong may feel that they can eat all things without restriction, others consider that they can only eat herbs. This not be made an issue. Neither is to judge the other, for God has received them both. So they must leave such judgment to God. For who are they to judge God’s servants? Each of them stands or falls to his own Lord. And, he adds, each will in fact be made to stand because the Lord is able to make them stand.
It is probable that the restriction to the eating of herbs reflected the fact that Jews, especially Jewish slaves who would have no choice in the matter at all, were unable to ensure that the meat that they ate was killed in accordance with the Law, and therefore avoided meat altogether (compare Daniel 1.8, 10, 12-13 where the same applied).
The same principle as with food applies to the observance of the Sabbath. One man esteems one day above another, another man esteems every day alike. Each must be decided in his own mind. The one who observes the Sabbath observes it to the Lord, just as he who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks. While the one who does not eat, even though he does not eat to the Lord, still gives God thanks. Nothing is said about the one who does not especially observe the Sabbath, and that is probably because he observes all days to the Lord.
And the basis of all this is that none of us who are Christians lives to himself or dies to himself. We all live to the Lord, or die to the Lord. He has our destinies under His control, and our lives are in His hands. The choice of whether we live or die is therefore the Lord’s. For Christ died and lived again precisely so that He could be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
‘But as for you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you set at nought your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written, “As I live,” says the Lord, “to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess to God.” So then each one of us will give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more, but judge you this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.’
So none of us must judge or set at nought a brother on side issues. It is not up to us. For all of us will appear before the judgment-seat (bema) of Christ, where each of us will give account of himself to God. Thus rather than judging each other we should rather be seeking not to put a stumblingblock or occasion of falling in each other’s way. This should be the way in which we demonstrate our concern for our brother.
Paul backs up his reference to the judgment-seat of God by a quotation from Isaiah, where God says, “As I live,” says the Lord, “to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess to God.” (Isaiah 45.23). And concludes that therefore every one will have to give an account to God. The word ‘bema’ means a judicial bench or tribunal, and simply indicates a place where men are judged. There is no good reason for seeing it as separate from other references to judgment.
‘I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself, except that, to him who accounts anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of meat your brother is grieved, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died. Do not let your good be evil spoken of, for the Kingly Rule of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who herein serves Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men.’
Paul now states his own position, that all foods are ritually clean because of itself nothing is unclean, but immediately points out that if others see it differently, their position is binding on them. We are each bound by our conscience. And what is therefore of the greatest importance is that we do not cause our brother grief, for if we do we are not walking in love. For us to press meat on a brother who thinks that he should abstain could cause him, one for whom Christ died, to fall away and be destroyed. And that could not be countenanced. This may well have in mind the same thing as the ‘falling asleep’ in 1 Corinthians 1.30. They die under the guilt of their failure but are not to be seen as being lost for ever. Their lives are cut short by sin because they have been disobedient.
But this is not what the Kingly Rule of God is all about. To see all meats as clean may be good, but it is not so if it causes grief or even worse to a brother. Then it will rightly be evil spoken of. For the Kingly Rule of God is not about meat and drink but is about righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is not about making people behave against their own consciences, or breaking up the peace, or destroying men’s joy in the Holy Spirit. It is about living positively in the Holy Spirit, and helping others to live positively.
‘So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may edify one another. Do not overthrow for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean, but however that may be, it is evil for that man who eats considering it an offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby your brother stumbles’
So the important thing is for the people of God to consider each other’s weaknesses and to follow the way of peace, and the things which will edify each other. Indeed it would not be good, for the sake of a scruple about meat, to overthrow God’s work. The point here may be that such things can split the whole assembly and cause it irreparable damage. Or ‘the work of God’ might be referring to the individual work in a person’s life, the person who is caused to commit an offence by our casual attitude towards his views. By attacking his scruples we may very well be undermining the work of God in his life. For whoever is in the right about the general principle, for a person to eat what he considers to be unclean is an offence for that person. It is thus good not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that might cause another to stumble. In this regard we are each our brother’s keeper.
We see in all this Paul’s willingness to follow the principles laid down at the Council in Jerusalem which suggested that the Gentile Christians should avoid foods that could cause offence to Jewish Christians (Acts 15.29), something which was clearly very relevant in Rome.
One further thing should be noted. Paul appears deliberately to avoid referring simply to one stance taken by a few. Initially he speaks of those who feel that they can only eat herbs (possibly because they felt that they could not be satisfied that meat had been slain in the required manner). Later he appears to be speaking about those who see only certain meats as unclean. So his overall point is that we must take into account, when meeting together, all secondary scruples that people might have. We must ensure that all are content.
‘The faith which you have, have to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not judget himself in that which he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eat, because he does not eat of faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin.’
Paul ends his theme by making a general statement of the position. Each person is to be confident that what they believe to be right, is really so. They must be satisfied in their own conscience. But it is then a position that they must take up before God, not one that they must inflict on weaker Christians. Happy is the person who comes to the right decision about such things, to such an extent that what he approves does not bring judgment on him. But anyone who is in any doubt must not act contrary to that doubt. If he is doubtful about eating something then he should not eat it. For whatever may be the true position, to do something that one has doubts about is undoubtedly sin.
These are probably not problems that many of us come across today, but the principle behind them is important, our concern for the spiritual welfare and happiness of others, and our willingness to forego things if it will be of benefit to others. It is a warning against being dogmatic about secondary matters, or ignoring other people’s consciences. And it is a reminder that we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters. We must love our neighbours as ourselves.
Chapter 35 Their Example In All Things Is To Be Jesus Christ (15.1-13).
Fearful lest his descending into detail in the final part of the last chapter may have momentarily taken their eyes off Christ, Paul now refocuses on their thoughts on Him. They are to fulfil their obligations because they are following in His steps, remembering that He was both a minister to those of the circumcision so that He might reveal the truth of God and confirm the promises to the fathers, and a joy to the Gentiles because He has become their hope. Thus they are to be filled with all joy and peace in believing, abounding in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit. (For this is what being in the Kingly Rule of God is all about - 14.17).
They are to bear with each other and build each other up even as Christ has borne with them (1-4).
‘Now we who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbour for that which is good, to edifying. For Christ also did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
Those who are strong in faith are responsible for assisting the weak, and bearing with their difficulties and problems, and not with pleasing themselves. Rather they are to please their neighbours with regard to what is good in order to build them up and meet their spiritual needs, and are themselves to share any reproaches that fall on them. In this they will be following in the footsteps of Christ. For He did not please Himself. Rather He bore men’s reproaches. In the words of Scripture, ‘the reproaches of those who reproach You are fallen on Me’ (Psalm 69.9).
They are constantly to look to the Scriptures so as to patiently endure and be strengthened and filled with confident hope.
For whatever things were written in past times were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.’
This is in itself a reminder to us that the Scriptures were given to us for our learning so that through patient endurance and the strengthening of the Scriptures we might be able to look forward in confident hope.
He prays that God Who is the God of patient endurance and strengthening (paraklesis - comfort, strengthening, help) will unite them together, so that together they may with one mouth glorify Him (5-7).
‘Now the God of patient endurance and of strengthening grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Once again we notice Paul’s emphasis on unity. The true Israel is not to be divided (compare Romans 11.13-32). Both Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian must worship God as one together. As he has just previously mentioned they are going to need patient endurance and strengthening through the Scriptures. Now he points them to the God of patient endurance and strengthening, and prays that He will grant them to be of one mind one with another, in accordance with Christ Jesus in Whom Jew and Gentile are made one (see Ephesians 2.11-22). And this so that they may as one people, with one accord and with one mouth, glorify His God and Father, ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
For this reason receive one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God.’
Thus they are to receive one another as Christ received them, to the glory of God. He may very much have in mind here his picture of the olive tree in 11.13-32. There also he speaks of the ‘receiving’ of men (verse 15) by God through there being grafted into the olive tree (verse 23). That is the only reference to ‘receiving men’ in this way in Romans. And the thought is then that just as Christ received them, by incorporating them into Himself as the olive tree, so they are to receive one another, with the aim of bringing glory to God.
The Gentile Christians have benefited because Christ was initially made a minister of the circumcision (8-12).
‘For I say that Christ has been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore will I give praise to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” And again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.” And again, Isaiah says, “There will be the root of Jesse, and He Who arises to rule over the Gentiles, on him will the Gentiles hope.”
The Gentile Christians are to recognise that the reason that they have hope is because Christ was first made a minister to the circumcision, the Jews. For Christ was made a minister to the circumcision so that He might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. Thus His coming as a Jew among Jews had been necessary for the confirmation of the promises if the Gentiles were to be saved. Without the Jews they would never have been saved. And furthermore it is along with the Jews that they were prophesied as giving praise to God
And this he sees as demonstrated by a number of Scriptures:
Thus the blessing that has come to the Gentiles is dependent on their association with the Jews, is prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures, and comes through the Jewish Messiah. They must not therefore see themselves as superior to the Jewish Christians, even the ones who appear to them to be ‘weak’.
The thought of the hope that has come to the Gentiles through Christ causes Paul to pray that they may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit (13).
‘Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can compare here 14.17, ‘for the Kingly Rule of God is -- righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ Now he prays that the Gentiles, looking to the God of their hope, might abound in hope as they enjoy their part in the Kingly Rule of God, which has come to them through coming under the Rule of the Root of Jesse (verse 12).
Chapter 36. Paul Provides His Credentials And Commends Himself To The Roman Church (15.14-33).
Paul carefully explains that he has not written to them in this way because he is in any doubt about their ability to minister among themselves, but reminds them of his high calling and what God has done through him. This is what justifies his writing to them in this way. And he then goes on to explain why he has not yet visited them previously. It was not through lack of desire but because of the demands of his ministry. But now that he was intending an outreach to Spain, he hoped that they would give him hospitality and help him on his way.
We learn from all this his tact, the widespread nature of his previous activities, his determination not to build on what other men had done, the yearning within him to take the Gospel to those who had still not heard, leaving others to watch over his churches, and his willingness to depend on the prayers and love of his fellow Christians, together with the love that he himself had for them.
‘And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.’
He begins by acknowledging that they are a mature church with a solid past and a good reputation. Everyone, he has suggested (1.8), knew of the firm faith of the Roman church which had survived the local persecutions inevitable in the capital of the empire, and was known throughout the Christian world for its goodness, its breadth of knowledge, and its capable teachers.
It was inevitably so. Proverbially all roads led to Rome, and many Christians would have travelled that road over the years, some freely and others as captives and slaves, while there is no reason to doubt that some of the sojourners from Rome (Acts 2.10) who were converted on the Day of Pentecost would have sped back there, unable to restrain themselves from passing on the new message, which was probably how the Gospel reached there in the first place. ‘The church’ (in our terms a number of churches) had thus been established for many years, and we cannot doubt included within its ranks some distinguished people. It would have consisted of house churches both large and small, spread out over the city, and watched over by numerous bishops whose joint oversight would maintain it as ‘one church’.
‘But I write the more boldly to you in some measure, as putting you again in remembrance, because of the grace that was given me of God, that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I have therefore my glorifying in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God. For I will not dare to speak of any things apart from those which Christ wrought through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem, and round about even to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ, yes, making it my aim so to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation, but, as it is written, “They will see, to whom no tidings of Him came, And they who have not heard will understand.” ’
But he wants them to recognise that he speaks with authority. He can write boldly to them because of God’s gracious gift to him in appointing him as the Servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. Thus he had ministered the Gospel of God in such a way that he could happily ‘offer up’ the converted Gentiles to God as a kind of offering which was acceptable because of the Holy Spirit’s presence among them, a presence which sanctified the whole. This therefore counted to him as evidence of his worthiness, as confirmed by Christ Jesus, in things pertaining to God.
Nor would he speak of anything outside his own ministry, and what Christ had wrought through him in bringing the Gentiles into obedience, whether in word or deed, through signs and wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit. This work had reached from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum, (north east of Macedonia), and had always been in places which no one else had evangelised and where Christ was not already named. For he had been determined not to build on someone else’s foundation, in accordance with the Scripture, “They will see, to whom no tidings of Him came, And they who have not heard will understand” (Isaiah 52.15). He considered that these were sufficient credentials.
‘This was also the reason why I was hindered these many times from coming to you, but now, having no more any place in these regions, and having these many years a longing to come unto you, whenever I go to Spain (for I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first in some measure I shall have been satisfied with your company).
This also explained why he had not previously visited them. But now that these things were behind him and there were no unevangelised places in the regions in which he had been working (a testimony to how the Gospel had spread), he was planning an outreach to Spain and would meanwhile look to enjoy a time with them on the way there so that he could enjoy their fellowship. But meanwhile he had a task to fulfil.
‘But now, I say, I go to Jerusalem, ministering to the saints. For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. Yes, it has been their good pleasure, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister to them in carnal things. When therefore I have accomplished this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will go on via you to Spain. And I know that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Due to the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia, who had gathered a large sum of money for the poor in the Jerusalem churches, it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to hand it over. They had got great pleasure out of doing it, but it was right that they should do it because of the debt that they owed to the Jewish church for the spiritual benefits that they had received from them (hint! hint! compare 11.18; 14.3). But once that mission was accomplished he would visit them on the way to Spain, and he was sure that he would come to them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
So Paul, unaware of what God had planned for him, had his eyes set further and further afield. He could not bear to think of any part of the world which had not been reached for Christ, and he knew that he must go on. He is thus both an encouragement to us, and an admonishment to us as we consider our own laxity.
‘Now I beg of you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judaea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that I may come to you in joy through the will of God, and together with you find rest. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.’
He was not unaware of the feelings of the unbelieving Jews about him in Jerusalem and so he finishes by begging the Roman church to pray for him, for Jesus’ sake and because of their love for him through the work of the Spirit, that he might be delivered from the hands of ‘those who are disobedient in Judaea’, and fulfil his mission successfully and acceptably, so that he might come to them in joy in accordance with God’s will, and might with them have a period of rest. As we know, their prayers were answered, but in a totally different way than they all expected. Paul would arrive. But he would arrive in chains. And he was then to have a lengthy ministry among them as he proclaimed the good news from his own hired house (Acts 28.30-31).
Chapter 37 Final Greetings.
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