Exposition of Romans 5:20–21 Where grace reigns, Jesus is Lord

Contemporary people live in the swirl and cross-currents flowing in a culture that encourages drift. Whether we consider the ever-changing world of fashion, our most recent text message, the latest ‘news’ about celebrities, or the long sequence of fast-food outlets, we encounter an endless series of mock-serious choices about how to occupy our minds and our bodies. It all means nothing!

Think harder: if we are drifting with the culture, we are serving the domain of sin by treating the awesome role God has given us without a sense of priority or godly purpose.

Paul tells us: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16, NET). Life is not about drift; it is about deciding whom you are going to serve.

Romans 5:20–21  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Greek verb pareiserchomai is translated as “the law came in to increase the trespass” (5:20). But the standard lexicon says pareiserchomai may also mean “slip in,”[1] which is the way it is used in Gal. 2:4, where the verse says, “the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy” (NET). Douglas Moo says, “Negative connotations dominate in the use of this verb during the NT period.”[2]

Those under the law were unaware that the law was working to “increase the trespass” (5:20) to make them more aware of their danger (Rom. 7:7-8). In other words, the operation of the law within them was making them more aware of the utter sinfulness of sin (7:13). Moo explains: “The law came with a purpose. But its purpose, Paul affirms, was not to change the situation created by Adam, but to make it worse. … But this negative purpose in the law is not, of course, God’s final word.”[3]

Paul intentionally uses the verb for “increase” twice in 5:20a to show God’s first objective in giving the law — to increase trespasses designed to reveal sin — and then to show the result of God’s effort; sin did indeed increase. The work accomplished by the law was like the efforts of a surgeon to expose diseased tissue.

Next the surgeon applies the cure: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20b). Sin increases ten-fold, but grace escalates one-hundred-fold. Note carefully that the law cured nothing! Grace is what God offered to abundantly deal with sin. That was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament.

So, we learn that the law is not a basis for righteousness, but it is a useful means to the end of a grace-based righteousness.

(ESV) Romans 5:21 “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes: “In expressing the divine purpose in the triumphant overflowing of grace, Paul has for the last time in this section made use of a comparison — this time comparing the never-ending reign of the divine grace with the passing reign of sin.”[4]

First, we will clarify the clause “as sin reigned in death” (5:21a). Moo observes: “Paul often thinks in terms of ‘spheres’ or ‘dominions,’ and the language of ‘reining’ is particularly well suited to this idea. Death has its own dominion: humanity as determined, and dominated, by Adam.”[5]

But if sin is a proxy ruler for Adam, grace is a proxy ruler for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul draws the strongly one-sided comparison to a close by showing the utter superiority of Christ over Adam, of grace over sin and death. This Age (dominated by sin) is giving way to the Age To Come (dominated by grace through Christ). We live in the tension between the two.

But the comparison has a lesson, which Cranfield summarizes: “In spite of the vast and altogether decisive dissimilarity between Christ and Adam, there is nevertheless a real likeness between them consisting in the correspondence of structure between the Christ-and-all-men relationship and the Adam-and-all-men relationship, a likeness that makes it possible and appropriate to compare them.”[6]

But Paul does more than compare Adam and Christ; he contrasts them as well. Christ will rule! Sin and death, brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, will vanish into the lake of fire.

Whose kingdom will you serve?

As Paul will make known in Romans 6, each of us will serve either the domain of sin or the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16, NET).

1. As you look back over what you have learned in Romans, whose kingdom have you served in the various stages of your life?

2. What is one thing you intend to do today to begin serving God’s kingdom more effectively? What might you add for becoming a more mature follower of Christ?

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Rom. 6:14, NLT). Use your freedom to serve Christ!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] BDAG-3, pareiserchomai, slip in, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 347.

[3] Moo, Romans, 347.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 294.

[5] Moo, Romans, 349.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 295.

Exposition of Romans 4:23–25 Abraham believed to show us how

If we were talking about receiving old treasure — Spanish gold doubloons, say — you would snatch them up in an instant! How is it that old words — from God, say — do not produce a similarly enthusiastic reaction?

An older scholar says that God did not put all the cookies on the lower shelf. But they are within your reach. Just how much do you want them?

(ESV) Romans 4:23–25  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

How easily we dismiss events of the past as belonging to another age! Even though we know the Bible is the Word of God, spiritual maturity is required to apply biblical principles to ourselves. Douglas Moo points out, “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.”[1] The revelation must be applied with discretion, but that is always so.

Concerning 4:23–24a, Grant Osborne says: “Abraham’s faith was not merely a historical event but was a paradigm for believers in every age. . . . When we exercise the same faith Abraham did, then for us too that faith is ‘counted as’ righteousness.”[2] The “will be counted” language is not future from our standpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Abraham’s time; for this reason it refers to our salvation through faith and not to deliverance from final judgment. Thomas Schreiner says: “We could paraphrase the verse as follows. ‘Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.’”[3]

But there is more in the depths of Romans 4:24. Notice that those to whom righteousness will be counted are described as “[we] who believe in him” (4:24). The italicized word is a Greek present participle, and the present tense most commonly refers to ongoing action in present time. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace says concerning this participle, “The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation.”[4]

In other words, believers are not those who for one minute think favorably about Jesus, pray a short prayer and then lead a life independent or even defiant of God. No, believers are those who, like Abraham, demonstrate their faith over and over. They have committed themselves to faith in Jesus and keep on living for him. Continuing to believe is not a matter of losing our salvation or working for it; it is a matter of demonstrating our saving faith is real. God knows the difference!

Just as he began this letter with the resurrected Jesus, appointed the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4) after rising from the dead, Paul again returns to that theme in 4:24 as he nears the logical end of this portion of the letter. But in making his sectional conclusion, Paul hits some beautiful themes about what Jesus did for us.

Paul joins the death of Jesus with his resurrection (4:25), and that combination maintains a holistic perspective. In saying Jesus “was delivered up for our transgressions” he uses the verb paradidomi, which sounds with ominous regularity in John’s gospel (John 18:2, 5, 30, 35, 36; 19:11, 16, 30) while Jesus is taken to his trial and execution.

Paul does not elaborate here on the statement that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (4:25), but Paul does make comments elsewhere. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But Christ has been raised!

Osborne summarizes: “His death, as seen in the epistles, is the theological basis of justification, and his resurrection, as seen in Acts (2:31-36; 13:32-39), is the apologetic basis of salvation; that is, it proves the reality of the salvation produced in Christ.”[5]

Imitating Abraham’s faith

For the sake of interacting with the questions below, I would define biblical faith as responding in a positive way to what God has said and done. That is what Abraham did.

1. Are there parts of the New Testament that you read over quickly or skip because you do not like what they say? If you are not sure, read a major section of Matthew 5–7 (The Sermon on the Mount) and then answer.

2. If you have identified parts of the New Testament that you skip over or avoid, is it not reasonable to think that facing those issues could be the greatest source of further spiritual growth? What would it take for you to talk to God, to one of your pastors, or to your life group leader about how to respond to those issues with faith?

Abraham did not relish talking with God about his barren wife and the long-dormant promise God had made about an heir. But when he finally spoke, God gave him even more revelation to accept by faith along with further blessings. Why not give that a try?

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 287.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 121.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 242.

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 621, footnote 22, with numerous examples.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 123.

Exposition of Romans 4:20–22 In all, get on God’s page!

Dallas Cowboys football fans share some common experiences. One occurs when quarterback Tony Romo throws a deep-out to the sideline only to have the pass receiver cut sharply away toward the center of the football field. Then we hear the commentator tell us what we already know: Tony and the receiver “were not on the same page.” We football fans grit our teeth and wonder how much more money it would take to get them on the same page!

An errant pass in a football game means little in the grand scheme of things. But what happens when we are not on the same page with God?

(ESV) Romans 4:20–22  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:20 ties very closely to 4:19, where Paul said that Abraham “did not weaken in faith” when considering God’s promise in relation to his own physical condition and that of barren Sarah. Paul uses the contrast between weak and strong; in 4:19 he said Abraham did not weaken, and in 4:20 he explains how his faith “grew strong.”

The Greek verb translated “waver” in 4:20 is diakrin?, which in the active voice means “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate.”[1] Here in 4:20 we actually have the passive voice, but there is value in pausing to consider this verb carefully. Abraham had believed God when he left Haran and many times since, but he could have balked at this promise due to old age; in other words, Abraham could have made a distinction between what God had done in other situations and what he would do in this one. In effect, Abraham would be saying: “God, I believed you about all those other things, but this one is more than I can accept. This one is different.”

We have all had those thoughts at some point, but we probably did not have the nerve to say so overtly to God. We kept the conflict within ourselves. That is how the passive voice of diakrin? functions, to express internal doubt or wavering. The lexicon says the passive voice of diakrin? means “to be at variance with someone.”[2] But, in relation to God’s promise of a multitude of descendants, Abraham would have been at variance with God. Romans 4:20 tells us Abraham was never at variance with God about this promise!

Unlike the people described in Romans 1:18, who rejected the truth in unrighteousness, Abraham embraced God’s promise about descendants. Abraham took the view that whatever God said, God would do! Abraham saw no reason to pick and choose among the things God said as if some were reliable and some were not. Abraham struggled at times, but not much overall.

The clear implication of 4:20 is that when we take God at his word and act accordingly, our faith grows stronger. But what does “as he gave glory to God” (4:20) mean? Thomas Schreiner says: “The secret of Abraham’s faith is that he acknowledged God’s glory by acknowledging his ability to carry out his promises . . . . The supreme way to worship God is not to work for him (4:4-5) but to trust that he will fulfill his promises.”[3] Living by faith gives glory to God.

In light of what we have said about 4:20, the meaning of Romans 4:21 is plain as day. C.E.B. Cranfield adds the insight: “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, not merely in what had been promised.”[4]

We encounter the now-familiar verb logizomai (“counted”) in 4:22. Abraham’s response pleased God who counted Abraham as a righteous man. Schreiner says: “We perceive that the faith that results in righteousness is not a vague abstraction. Genuine faith adheres to God’s promise despite the whirlwind of external circumstances that imperil it.”[5]

Who is the quarterback?

All of us have to decide whether we are going to carry out the plays God calls or set out on a rogue play of our own. This metaphor should make it obvious how much success we can expect if we try to pick and choose what part of God’s promises we will believe and which part we will reject.

1. What part of God’s revelation is a struggle for you? What can you do to identify the source of your difficulty and seek to resolve it?

2. In what ways have you found that trusting God in specific situations leads to growth in your faith?

The secret to Abraham’s greatness was his wholehearted acceptance of what God had said. Certainly there were times when he did not understand what God wanted of him — times they were not on the same page — but it was never a matter of rejecting what God had said. His example inspires us all to get on the same page with God.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] BDAG-3, diakrin?, differentiate (active), q.v.

[2] BDAG-3, diakrin?, to be at variance with someone (passive), q.v.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 238.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 249.

[5] Schreiner, Romans, 239.

Exposition of Romans 4:16–17 Grace toward all — faith from all

It is easy to wonder how Paul ever thought he would get Jews and Gentiles together, but Paul had a secret weapon: God. God was the one who wanted the unified worship of every nation, race and language. He did it by extending grace to all and by demanding faith from all.

Many have sought God’s favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But God’s free act of grace in Christ means his children must share a common faith no matter what their deeds might be.

(NET) Romans 4:16–17 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.

Romans 4:16 is another of those formidable creations by Paul that is best understood by dividing it into its constituent parts. Note the switch to NET, which sticks closer to the Greek text in this verse than ESV does.

(NET) Romans 4:16a “For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace,”

The phrase for this reason points forward, not backward. We might rearrange the sentence to say: “The reason it is by faith is so that it may be by grace.” Critical to Paul’s entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on God’s side.

The word “it” has twice been italicized in our rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference might be. Thomas Schreiner says, “The subject could be God’s plan of salvation . . . or the promise . . . but ‘the promised inheritance’ is probably the most comprehensive and precise rendering.”[1]

(NET) Romans 4:16b “with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”

Because the promise is grounded on faith, it is certain for all who, when under the law, shared the faith of Abraham, and those who, like Abraham, demonstrated their faith apart from the law. In that way, Abraham is the father of all who receive righteousness by faith. Schreiner says, “Here the intent is to say that the inheritance is available to both Jewish Christians and Gentiles who share the faith of Abraham.”[2] The words “Abraham, who is the father of us all” would have shaken Jews to the core!

John Chrysostom summarizes with great skill: “Here Paul mentions two blessings. The first is that the things which have been given are secured. The second is that they are given to all Abraham’s descendants, including the Gentiles who believe and excluding the Jews who do not.”[3]

(NET) Romans 4:17 “(as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.”

In support of his shocking assertion that Abraham is the father of all who believe (4:16b), Paul cites one of God’s promises to Abraham from Genesis 17:5. The clause “He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed” (4:17b) stresses the solemnity of the promise by reminding the reader that God spoke directly to Abraham in naming him the father of many nations.

The final clause — “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (4:17c) — provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abraham’s time, when the promise was made, God made the sexually dead Abraham alive and thus ensured the existence of his countless descendants.

The second meaning affected those to whom Paul wrote and us as well. The two present-tense verbal forms stress that God is still making the dead alive and summoning things that do not exist into reality. What things? For one he is creating a new people of God comprising all Abraham’s descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:11–3:6.

What do we have in common?

In previous chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that works are wholly insufficient to achieve salvation. Today he demonstrates deeds are actually irrelevant for salvation. Because salvation is by grace through faith, all who believe come to God in exactly the same way. That commonality is the basis for unity in the church. Whatever differences make one a Jew and another a Gentile do not matter; what makes each a Christian is exactly the same!

1. Who has a right to call themselves a Christian? Who is eligible to call Abraham their spiritual father?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8–10. What role do works play after salvation?

Most of us find it alarmingly easy to focus on our differences. But the narrow gate that leads to life requires each of us to enter on the same basis ? by grace through faith.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 231.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 232.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 120.

Exposition of Romans 4:9–10 Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is “what are the sources of that which we know?” Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has recently commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which “instructs with respect to the Scripture: ‘Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.’. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .”[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9–10  Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis “that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: “A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25–26). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying “Have you not read . . .” during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in God’s Word!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Romans 4:4–5 Since God provides all, believe him!

A powerful image in late 20th century politics was the welfare-cheat, someone who was getting something for nothing. It was easy to say — and was sometimes true — that people on welfare were not willing to work. They were all cast in a negative light.

In America we have historically believed in self-reliance, hard work, and pulling ourselves up by sheer effort. Our media regularly praise such qualities.

Whatever the political value of these concepts, they present exactly the wrong idea with respect to attaining salvation. In attaining salvation, we are both helpless and ungodly. God’s way of solving our problem demands that we be counter-cultural and substitute his efforts for our own.

(ESV) Romans 4:4–5  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Paul continues his argument concerning Abraham by using common knowledge about the nature of work and wages (4:4). One word that is central to Paul’s analysis is the now-familiar verb logizomai which here (4:4) means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate.”[1] This verb is the very one used in Genesis 15:6 in the Greek version — called the LXX or Septuagint — that Paul is quoting in Romans 4:3.

We could translate Romans 4:3 by saying, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not calculated according to grace but according to obligation.” Grace is something freely given, but an obligation is a debt which is owed. Paul forces his Jewish opponents to face the fact that attaining salvation-righteousness by works has the inescapable baggage that it means God owes that righteousness to the one who works. Since Paul knows Jewish theology fiercely rejects the idea of God as debtor, the logic forces his opponents to disavow works as playing any part when God credited (logizomai Gen. 15:6) Abraham with righteousness.

But if works were not pivotal to the reckoning of righteousness to Abraham, what was? The answer is found in Gen. 15:6 when Abraham “believed God.” C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes the message of Romans 4:4–5 when he says, “The best explanation of Paul’s exposition of Gen. 15:6 in these two verses would seem to be that which understands it to turn upon the fact that the Genesis verse makes no mention of any work of Abraham but simply refers to his faith.”[2]

(ESV) Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”

If Romans 4:5 explicitly mentioned the name of Jesus Christ, it might be even more famous than John 3:16. The phrase “him [i.e. God] who justifies the ungodly” (4:5) is absolutely astounding! Grant Osborne expresses the natural reaction: “At first glance this does not seem right. It should be the godly, the pious who should be justified.”[3] That would work fine if anyone were pious enough.

Romans 4:5 first forces us to realize that no matter what we think of ourselves, we come to God as those who are ungodly. Second, we see that God can justify the ungodly, declaring them to be righteous. Later Paul will explain how God could possibly justify the ungodly: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6, NET). That leads us to ask: how can we receive such profound benefit?

Paul says that we the ungodly obtain God’s justification the same way Abraham did. We do not work for it, but believe in the gracious God who made our justification possible through Jesus Christ. Romans 4:5 uses both the verb pisteu? (“believes in him”) and the noun pistis (“his faith is counted as righteousness”) to nail down the central importance of faith to our justification.

Remember who is reckoning

The church father Origen of Alexandria (185–254 AD) said, “The root of righteousness does not spring from works; rather the fruit of works grows from the root of righteousness.”[4] So, it is God who provides the way for us to become righteousness, and then our works can honor the one who saved us.

1. How do you think the merciful character of God figures into his counting (or reckoning or crediting) our faith as righteousness?

2. Do you think that the faith God wants from us is merely mental assent to an idea (e.g. Jesus died for my sins), or is there more to it than that? Explain.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23–24, HCSB)

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] BDAG-3, logizomai, reckon, q.v.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 231.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 109.

[4] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 112.

Exposition of Romans 3:21–22 Christ made righteousness possible; we believe.

Mount Everest is a cruel place. Hundreds come every year to try their luck against the savage winds, the 29,030 foot altitude and low temperatures. But worst of all is the death zone, those levels above 23,000 feet where the body cannot adjust. Once you enter the death zone, your body begins to shut down, and the time remaining is unknown, yet the summit juts a mile above you. So, you must keep moving in spite of exhaustion, pain or adversity.

One survivor put it this way: “The only way to describe it is an utter exhaustion. You really don’t care if you die or if you just sit down and don’t go any further.”[1] If you sit down, you must get up — or die. No one can take you to safety.

The Bible explains that every one of us start out life in a spiritual death-zone, and time is running out. We all fall there and cannot get up. What then?

(NET) Romans 3:21–22  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, [verse break]

After his long presentation of humanity’s universal guilt before God (1:18–3:20), Paul now returns to his theme from 1:17 — the unveiling of a righteousness from God that is entirely by faith.

In order to explain this passage, we will repeat something stated in previous posts. The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosun? [righteousness] theou [of God], where the final word is in the genitive case. Since the genitive is a descriptive or limiting case[2], we are roughly speaking here of a God-kind-of-righteousness. In context, that righteousness contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Jews, who were trying to get to heaven by keeping the law.

But how exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Douglas Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, ‘righteousness of God’ is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the “righteousness of God.”

However, Paul has advanced his argument beyond what he said in 1:17 by adding the phrases “apart from the law” and “which is attested by the law and the prophets” (3:21). He has just demonstrated that no one will be justified by works of the law (3:20), and yet God demands righteousness of his people.

Before we leave 3:21, we will consider some important facts about how Paul presents his statements. First, note carefully the use of the phrase “but now.” Moo correctly says: “‘But now’ God has intervened to inaugurate a new era, and all who respond in faith — not only after the cross, but, as Rom. 4 will show, before it also — will be transferred into it from the old era.”[4] We got our first big clue about this new era in 1:4, where we learned that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead” (NET).

Theologian Herman Ridderbos speaks about these two eras when commenting on 2 Cor. 5:17, “The ‘old things’ stand for the unredeemed world in its distress and sin [Rom. 1:18–3:20], the ‘new things’ for the time of salvation and the re-creation that have dawned with Christ’s resurrection.”[5]

The second thing to observe about how Paul presents his facts in 3:21 is his use of the Greek perfect tense, translated “the righteousness of God . . . has been disclosed.” After saying that the choice of the perfect tense is often deliberate, Wallace approvingly quotes M. Zerwick when he says, “The perfect tense is used for ‘indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.’”[6] The present state of affairs is that the righteousness of God stands in plain sight as a result of the past action of Christ in dying and rising from the dead.

As we enter 3:22, we encounter an interesting debate, although the outcome is not theologically significant no matter which view is right. On the one hand, we have the traditional translation of 3:22a given by the ESV: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” With that we compare the alternative translation of 3:22a presented by NET: “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

The key question is whether in the italicized phrase alone Jesus is the object of faith (ESV’s translation — “faith in Jesus Christ”) or Jesus is the one whose subjective faithfulness is meant (NET’s translation — “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ”). Note very carefully that both translations end with the necessity of our own faith in securing God’s righteousness (“for all who believe”), and the decision on the disputed matter does not alter the necessity of our faith in Jesus for salvation.

I join grammarian Daniel Wallace, who, after a long analysis, says, “Although the issue is not to be resolved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of [the NET Bible’s translation].”[7] Many thoughtful authorities fall on each side.

In the final analysis, our salvation depends on Christ’s obedient death followed by his resurrection to become the Son-of God-in-power. When we put our faith in him, we obtain righteous standing before God.

In the zone

Jesus has been to the spiritual death-zone. He died there and rose again so that he might lift us up and take us to safety ? as many of us as are willing to trust in his help.

1. How long did you spend in the spiritual death-zone, apart from Christ? What did it take for you to take his help and get out?

2. Who do you know who is still in the spiritual death-zone? What can you do to get them the only help — Jesus Christ?

“Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (Heb. 2:14, NLT).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] “Everest: The Death Zone.” Nova. PBS. 02-24-1998.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76–77.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 74.

[4] Moo, Romans, 221.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 45.

[6] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 573, citing M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 96.

[7] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 116.