Bible Reading for the Week of January 7, 2019
Reflections on Romans 4-6
We Are Saved By Grace Alone
To understand this section of Romans, we must understand Paul’s basic premise in chapter 3. We are saved (or justified) by grace alone. There is nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God. God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, does everything necessary for our salvation.
Abraham Was Justified By Faith
In chapter 4, Paul appeals to Abraham’s life as an example of faith, not works. In verses, 1 to 8 of chapter four Paul tells us that Abraham was justified by faith not works. Many Jews at the time believed that they would be saved as result of their ethnic heritage. They believed that because they were descendants of Abraham, they were righteous.
In verses 9-12, Paul objects to the belief that circumcision justifies us before God. All Jewish males were required to be circumcised as a symbol of participation in God’s covenant community. Paul argues that circumcision is merely a symbol of the covenant, and not the substance of the covenant. The physical act of circumcision is not the substance of the Jewish faith in God. What matters is living a life consistent with the substance of the true meaning of circumcision.
In verses 13-15, Paul asserts that keeping the Law is also insufficient for a right relationship with God (justification). As we will see in chapter 6, right behavior is important, but right behavior is the result of our justification, not the reason for it.
In verse 16-25, Paul argues that before there was a circumcision and before there was a law, Abraham received the promise of blessing from God based on his faith. Circumcision came after justification and points back to God’s previously established promise to Abraham. Abraham lived hundreds of years before the Law was given to Moses. Therefore, Abraham could not have been justified by the Law.
Our Efforts at Self-Justification Will Fail
All this is very relevant to us today because many Christians believe that they are right with God for the same reasons the Jewish Roman recipients of Paul’s letter: heritage, ceremony, rule-keeping. Many people who call themselves Christians, at least in North America, believe that because they were born in a Christian nation, or into a Christian home, or belong to a particular denomination, or in the worst example of the decay of Christianity in America, belong to a particular political party, that they are right with God. However, Paul undercuts an appeal to heritage saying that faith alone justifies us before God.
Paul also does away with the notion that participation in a particular religious ceremony justifies before God. Baptism, no matter the mode or age, does not make one right with God. “Walking the aisle” does not justify. Participation in any ordinance or sacrament does not justify. Faith in Christ alone justifies us before God.
Rule-keeping is, perhaps, the most appealing method of self-justification. Rule-keeping gives us the “advantage” of increased sense of control over our own destinies. Our thinking goes something like this, “If I can do the right thing, then I’ll be right with God.” This action-based self-determination is very appealing in the North American context. Unfortunately, when it comes to justification, it is a failing formula. When it comes to salvation, we are completely at the mercy of God. But thank God Almighty that He is merciful and gracious and full of compassion and desires for everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). All we have to do is call out to Him, and He will save us (Romans 10:13).
Benefits of Justification By Faith
Having established justification through faith in chapters 3 and 4, Paul offers us several benefits of such as arrangement in chapter 5:1-11. First, we have peace with God. Second, we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Third, we rejoice in hard times because they can shape our character in a way that gives us assurance of our hope in Christ. Fourth, we are saved from God’s wrath. All of these things come about as a result of faith, not heritage, ceremony, or right behavior.
In chapter 5:12-21, Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Jesus, Law and grace, sin and righteousness, death and life, works righteousness and grace righteousness, condemnation and justification. The process of condemnation and justification are similar: they each started with one man, Adam and Jesus, and both apply to all people. The results, however, are very different. The way of Adam leads to sin and condemnation while the way of Christ leads to righteousness and justification.
Call To Holiness Based On Faith
In chapter 6, Paul makes the case that behavior inconsistent with the gospel is not appropriate for the believer. His language is exclusive, either/or language. If we are Christians, we act like it. When we have faith in Christ, we have died a spiritual death to sin and been spiritually reborn to a life of obedience. When we have faith in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are free from the power of sin in our lives. We are slaves to righteousness. However, we do sin. And when we do so, we are choosing to subject ourselves to the power of sin and death. The good news of Jesus is that through His death we have been set free from the power of sin and death. Paul asks us, “Why would you do that?”
In verse 12-14 Paul tells us to not let sin reign, or completely control us, or be your master. Instead we are to present our bodies. Instead we are to present our bodies as tools or weapons of righteousness. God is to be our master.
Verses 15-23 can be summarized without much elaboration by verse 22 and 23:
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sanctification Is The Goal Of Faith
The first priority of the Christian life is sanctification. All other aims are secondary and flow out of individual and corporate sanctification. Sanctification is the process and end result of a life dedicated to God in Christ. Sanctification can be thought of as a verb in that it is the process by which God in Christ reshapes our lives as God intended at Creation. Sanctification can also be thought of as a noun in the sense that it is the end state of the reshaping/transforming action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What does sanctification look like in the mundane world of work and laundry? It means that we, as people who have experienced the grace of God in Christ, do what Jesus did for the same reason Jesus did it. It means that every action we take and every interaction we have be others is prompted by love. It means that we have possessed the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) to the fullest degree possible this side of heaven. A sanctified life is a life in which obedience to the teaching of Jesus is followed with the same regularity that gravity works on the earth. Most importantly (and to connect this passage with Paul’s earlier emphasis), sanctification is the result of justification, not the other way around.
Questions For Discussion
- What are some ways that people try to get right with God? (heritage, doing good, ceremony)?
- According to Paul, what will be the result of these efforts?
- What is sin?
- What is justification?
- What is righteousness?
- What is sanctification?
- What are the benefits of justification by grace through faith in Jesus?
- What are the implications of Paul’s stark language of death/live and slave/free when arguing for obedience to God?
- If you lived your life as if you had been set free from sin, how would your life be different? You have been set free, so why aren’t you living that way?
- Do you think it is possible for you to live a sanctified life? As a believer in Jesus, saved by His grace, you have been given everything you need to live like Christ, what is holding you back?
- What steps will you take today to ensure that God, rather than sin, is your master?
Lord, help of to recognize who we are in you. Help us to willingly and cheerfully submit ourselves to you as our master and Lord. When we think that we cannot, give us strength. If we think we should not, convict our hearts. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for making a way. Thank you for bringing us this far. Now, Lord, I give myself to you to finish the task.
(Note: This post is part of series based on the Bible Reading Plan I developed for Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church. The Reading Plan can be downloaded by clicking here.)
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