Justification available to all — Romans 4-6

First of all, I need to apologize for the lateness of this posting. Sundays are full of a great many things for preachers, and, of course, yesterday was a Sunday. The busyness of the day kept and distracted me from posting as I had intended to. Confession aside, Romans 4-6 is such a great section full of so many great teachings that it tempts me write too much — so I’ll work at being brief.

A righteousness from God

Before diving into chapters 4-6, we probably need to make an observation about an important thread running through Paul’s thoughts in the early chapters of this book/letter. It has been suggested that reasons Paul writes this letter are multiple. At the end of this letter he is clearly priming the church there for support of his missionary aspirations to come to Rome and then to Spain. But another reason (the reason for chapters 1-11) could be the return of many Christian Jews to Rome (after being expelled from Rome by the Edict of Claudius about AD 49 — see also Acts 18:2) to find a church that now had a distinct Gentile “flavor” to it.

To prevent a Jew-Gentile division, Paul writes a number of things 1) to theologically answer the Law arguments that the Jews were likely to be offering, in order to Judaize the Roman church, and 2) to reign in the pride of the Gentiles. Both issues threatened the unity of the church. Therefore, Paul writes (Romans 1:16, 17) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”” After making an airtight case for the sinful state and deserved condemnation of both Jews and Gentiles, Paul then offers the Good News in Romans 3:21, 22 — “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction” (my emphases, of course).

With this important thread in mind — the righteousness of God on the basis of faith rather than the Law of Moses — Paul continues building his case in chapters 4-8, although we’ll only cover 4-6 today.

A righteousness based on faith not the Law of Moses — Romans 4

The Judaizing of the church was a movement that Paul fought all of his ministry. Paul, being a Jew himself, and apparently seeing no problem with even engaging in Jewish rituals as a Christian on occasion, nevertheless knew and strongly argued almost everywhere he went that Mosaic Law was not a requirement anymore and especially not for Gentiles. To make his point Paul delves into thought about Abraham’s justification, specifically because Abraham was, of course, the man who first received the command about covenant of circumcision. He does this, because circumcision was the first and most important point of impact in collision between Jewish-Christianity and Gentile-Christianity — shouldn’t the Gentiles be circumcised, in order to enter into the covenant with God? Paul’s argument here is that even in Abraham’s case righteousness from God on the basis of his faith (a now familiar phrase) was credited to Abraham BEFORE circumcision. This proves that righteousness from God on the basis of faith is obtainable without circumcision. He goes further and notes that Abraham obtained the promises God gave without complying with the Law of Moses, which didn’t come for another 400-500 years. His point, again, was that obtaining the promises was not dependent on complying with the Law of Moses (read Sabbath keeping, dietary restrictions, etc.), but on the basis of faith.

This important teaching, by the way, is not a “pass” on obedience to the Lord, as some took it then (see chapter 6) and some still take it today. Rather this is an argument against an insistence on keeping the Mosaic Law. God still expects his people to be obedient to Him; in fact, saving faith — far from eliminating deeds of obedience — must by definition include them (see James 2:14ff). And when they fail, they can find forgiveness.

But God… — Romans 5:6-11

Here is one of my favorite passages. It describes so well the depth of trouble we all were in and the depth of love Christ had for us to save us. I’m especially moved by verses 7 and 8 — “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (emphases mine). By human standards, we (as enemies of God) were not worth dying for; by human standards, we were only fit for destruction and deserved erasure. “But God…” Those are sweet words, and, by the way, an interesting study, if you want to look that phrase up in a concordance. The phrase changes the impossible to the possible; it turns nature on its head; it supplies the missing ingredient for wonderful and even miraculous things; it sweeps away the ordinary and changes the paradigm; it opens up the doors of grace; it gives courage and purpose; and brightens the darkest night to the brilliance of the sun by giving hope when there was none.

The power of one — Romans 5:12-19

What an interesting comparison of the power of “the Adams” (yes, that’s plural). The first Adam brought death to the whole world. The second Adam brought life to everyone who would believe. It leads me to think of the quote by Edward Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” You just never know what you can do until you try — no, I mean really try. Sadly, we often start off on a path that could “change the world”, but like Peter we start with faith and then look at the wind and the waves and lose our faith (see Matthew 14.28).

Your own death, burial, and resurrection — Romans 6:1-7

The answer that some Jewish Christians had to Paul’s argument about forgiveness on the basis of faith was that it would promote sin — “Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?” Paul answers this deftly by simply pointing to their own baptism.

A third century baptistry: notice the pit to the right, there's another to the left you can't see. Altogether they form a cross, symbolic of being baptized into Christ's death

Every Christian of the first many centuries was baptized into Christ, and Paul reasons with these Jewish Christians that their baptism was a death (of themselves), burial (with Christ), and resurrection to “walk in newness of life” (live a different, righteous, obedient life). You’ve been baptized into Christ for forgiveness, haven’t you? Acts 2:38. And if you have, you are living that new life, aren’t you?

That form of teaching — Romans 6:17

Becoming a Christian is not a “do your own thing” event. Paul makes mention here of a form of teaching, a pattern or mold, to which they had become obedient in becoming Christians. The Greek word is “tupos” and it was the common word for a pattern, mold, or form.

A Corinthian mold into which plaster was poured to make the same image over and over again.

The point of such patterns, molds, or forms is always that the result look the same (see the picture of a mold in Corinth). The New Testament pattern of teaching for becoming a Christian is faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), repentance (Acts 2:38), confession (Romans 10:9,10), and baptism (Acts 2:38). I list only one verse per item here, but there are many more for each that help us understand that these things were the pattern that every Christian followed. If we want to be forgiven like the folks we read of in the Bible, if we want to have the same hope as the folks we read of in the Bible, if we want to go to Heaven like the folks we read of in the Bible, then we need to become Christians like the folks we read of in the Bible — and follow the other patterns, too, for the church, morality, teachings, worship, and discipleship. Follow the form.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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