Searching for Answers in Romans 8:9-17

Bruce Miller (senior pastor at Christ Fellowship), Lisa Scheffler (director of the women’s ministry at Christ Fellowship) and Barry Applewhite exchanged the following comments during an ongoing e-mail discussion about Romans 8.

Bruce, Barry and Lisa enjoy trusting friendships in which they sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron, with humor. The following dialogue involves seeking after truth among detailed interpretations over which good students of the Bible differ. All three of us share the same theology, but we differ on exactly how to understand some details in interpreting certain phrases. We respect each other and, in grace, give each other space to differ. Many statements are tongue-in-cheek as we poke at each other in fun while we strive together to understand just what Paul was saying.

We thought it might interest you to “overhear” one of these regular sessions. Due to electrical-power blackouts in Plano, it got a bit thrilling at times!

[START]

[Bruce] Struggled with meaning of S/spirit in verse 10, finally convinced of Spirit.

Struggling still with meaning of death and life in vs. 13; not convinced this is eternal life and death, but rather quality of living or dying for “brothers” who live according to the flesh or put to death the deeds of the body and then experience more death-like living or more life-like life; meaning a closer connection with the Life giver and the Living Spirit, or they quench the Spirit, reaping death in the sense of distance from the Living One.

[Barry] Oh I can see how you would think that, being a philosopher and all. What I can’t see is how Paul would have expected people he had never met to get that meaning out of his text (8:13). Should I apply similar reasoning to verse 11 and conclude that Jesus was not really dead prior to his resurrection, just feeling less lively after a hard day? Making death metaphorical has baggage.

I would not make a great deal out of “brothers” (8:12) since Paul has never met them, and any large group has its questionable members.

I agree on Spirit (8:10).

[Bruce] Nice points, and so — oh wise sage — how would you take death and life in 8:13??

Moo, Osborne and Cottrell take three different perspectives along theological lines.

I think Stott and John Owen make good sense on the point.

[Lisa]

Don’t pretend to know as much as you and Barry, but I was thinking the same thing as Barry about verse 13. To me it seems like Paul is bottom-lining it — making sure they know the ultimate outcome.

However, if he is talking about eternal life and death, I do think people will wonder if this somehow negates the security we have as believers.

Like the outline but I’d love to see a point about 8:16 — how the Spirit testifies with our spirit — since he’s the star of the chapter and all.

[Bruce]

“Brother” does not mean Christian? — Barry likes that nutty notion :)

Paul is bottom-lining it . . . [but there are] implications.

The whole chapter is about assurance, so now we are shaking that with a potential that a brother will be eternally damned?

So, this brother is not really a brother (false profession) or brothers can lose salvation [?] . . . just thinking it through.

[Barry] Uh, I believe I did say that Paul had never been to Rome upon writing the letter. He does not know these people, so I doubt he is playing spiritual fruit inspector with strangers. The chapter is big picture, not micro-focus.

“Implications” in BruceWorld is spelled T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N. Never spin a philosopher’s head!

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” [Romans 8:13]

I take the 2nd and 4th italicized words as eschatological [i.e. end times] — live or die eternally.

The 1st italicized word means to live one’s life day by day. Anyone who lives day by day with the outlook of the flesh will die eternally.

The 3rd italicized word means the same thing we see in Rom. 6:11–13. Anyone who day by day considers themselves dead to sin and refuses to allow their members to serve unrighteousness will live eternally.

Romans 6 has the commands which Romans 8 lacks. Romans 6 takes the perspective of our responsibility to live for God after trusting Christ. Romans 8 takes the perspective of what God does through his Spirit to make possible the resistance to sin and death.

Romans 8:13 is a good example of how Moo drops into theological-partisan mode when some Calvinist principle is at stake. A pity because his exegesis suffers when that happens.

[Bruce] I agree that the second and fourth highlighted words appear to be eschatological – eternal death and life — however I am struggling with the referent of “you” back to word “brothers” in verse 12 (I know there is not a personal pronoun in Greek, but implied by the verb). The brothers to whom he is talking are the ones who are in Christ, in the Spirit assured of life even though they have mortal bodies. In 12–13 Paul is not making another statement of fact (although it is indicative, there is an implied imperative/exhortation) because this is now our “obligation” as those who have received the Spirit and are now in the Spirit. That’s where I am struggling. So my solution is to find a wider meaning in “die” and “live” which is possible in the field of meaning and use in other NT passages, but I grant that the more common meaning is eschatological.

So, troublesome facts in the text:

Brothers
and
Obligation

Back to you authors (whom I may contradict on Sunday! :) —

P.S. agree on Moo — so sharp and then . . . I do not see this passage addressing Calvinist/Arminian issues — I do not see the “perseverance of the saints” as the topic. And in my view, not even an implication one way or the other. What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our  putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit.

[Lisa] My postmodern education must be showing, because now I can see how you could both be right. <sigh> That’s exhausting.

So it really couldn’t be another statement of fact? Could the “you” be more proverbial – sort of a general summation of the contrast he’s been making? It just seems odd that Paul would be so literal in discussing death and resurrection in 8:11, but switch to something more philosophical in this verse.

All that being said, I like this…”What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit” precisely because you’d preach it without it being a perseverance issue. And it does seem to stay with the assurance theme that Paul has been developing.

So…what do you do for the poor Life Group leaders when you two disagree like this?

[Barry] You two are making my bald head hurt!   :)

Romans 8:9 is the key to this entire section because it can only go one way. Only those who have the Spirit are in Christ; the others do not belong to him. This isn’t quantum physics where maybe you are a Christian or maybe not, or maybe more life-like or maybe not.

Also, how can you have assurance without perseverance? Looks like a riddle to me.   :)

[Bruce] My post-modern education leans me the same way — he may be speaking proverbially or metaphorically — I don’t think it is philosophic. It is a tough issue. Barry has stated the other view well, even better than most of the commentators I’ve read. Either you explain how “therefore” and “obligation” are contingent on the fact that “brothers” means something more like attenders OR you explain that life and death are not eternal damnation but the experience of more of less of God’s life available by the Spirit today — tastes of real life — we know eternal life starts today and it is a quality of life not just duration.

[Barry] Okay … I’m laughing at the idea that post-modernism is not philosophical.

I’m waiting for you to apply your “more or less of God’s life” theory to Romans 8:9.

[Bruce] Apples and oranges, my friend.

I stand in the rich tradition of John Owen and John Stott against those modern commentators, Moo, Schreiner and Osborne! Joined by two others who shall not be named!

[Barry] Well, I do agree you are standing in something …  :)

[Bruce] a umph,

Trace the concept of life in vs 9 “The Spirit gives life” then connect to the minority view someone [i.e. Barry in the Romans 8 study guide] took of “will also give life to your mortal bodies” — just what “life” is this? Well of course the same life that is referred to in verse 13. By the Spirit we can experience life today, but the extent of our experience varies by our death-dealing to deeds of the body.

BTW — not sure about that view of 11 — weighing explicit reference to Christ’s resurrection against the word “mortal” — you have a point that makes sense (at least you are not irrational or crazy), but I’m not sure “mortal” weighs enough against resurrection reference and analogy to Christ, but I like your view because it supports my view of 13!

[Barry] Holy cow — quoting me against me!! That’s got to be cheating of some kind.
:)

In verse 11, my view says that the Spirit provides all the power necessary for the person in a mortal body to say no to an act of sin. I do not hold that the Spirit gives sometimes more power/life and sometimes less. I fully admit that I do not know how the Spirit does these things; just as John 3 says, we are in the dark about all that.

So, under your theory of sometimes more life and sometimes less … is an act done with 75% life an act done while “walking according to the Spirit,” or not? How about 85%? At what point is the person “walking according to the flesh”?

[Bruce] That’s an engineer for you — applying percentages to wonderful spiritual truth — ruining metaphors with numbers  :)

So, we get an injection of power that we can use or not?

[Barry] Yeah, it’s kind of like a total and complete salvation that we can accept or not. Odd, isn’t it?

[Bruce] So confused, once again.

Justification vs. sanctification — already and not yet — one is total the other is partial — unless you don’t sin . . .

[Barry] You didn’t leave your meds at home again, did you?

[END]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Mercy Triumphs

Sometimes I hear Christians say that God looks at us objectively. They talk like that is a wonderful thing, but I assure you it is not!

Paul tells us exactly what we were like before we gave our allegiance to Jesus when he says we were “helpless … ungodly … sinners … enemies [of God]” (Romans 5:6 and 5:10). I’ll stand aside and let all of you who are so excited about objectivity rush forward to claim those qualities! Face it — objectively speaking, we all deserved death from a righteous, holy God.

How fortunate we are that sandwiched in between all that objectivity is a warmly subjective reason for our hope: “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

So, if you want to know how to balance objectivity and subjectivity, listen to what James tells us: “Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13, NET Bible.

I’ll take God’s subjective love every time!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

What many Christians need to learn …

David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote an important article about a Jewish teacher named Erica Brown. Many Christians need to hear and implement the kinds of ideas she presents. Excerpts from David Brooks follow:

“In the first place, she has conviction. For her, Judaism isn’t a punch line or a source of’ neuroticism; it’s a path to self-confident and superior living. She didn’t seem hostile to the things that make up most coffee-table chatter — status, celebrity, policy, pop culture — she just didn’t show, much interest.”

“In her classes and groups, she tries to create arduous countercultural communities. ‘We live in a relativistic culture,’ she told me. Many people have no firm categories to organize their thinking. They find it hard to give a straight yes or no answer to tough moral questions.”

“Jewish learning, she says, isn’t about achieving tranquility. It’s about the struggle. ‘I try to make people uncomfortable.’”

“Her classes are dialogues structured by ancient texts [such as the Old Testament]. . . . She will present a biblical text or a Talmudic teaching, and mix it with modern quotations. She may ask students to write down some initial reflections, then try to foment a fierce discussion. Brown seems to poke people with concepts that sit uncomfortably with the modern mind-set — submission and sin. She writes about disorienting situations: vengeance, scandal, group shame. During our coffee, she criticized the way some observers bury moral teaching under legal [argument] and the way some moderns try to explain away the unfashionable things the Torah clearly says.”

“All of this sounds hard, but Brown thinks as much about her students as her subject matter. “You can’t be Jewish alone” she told me, So learning is a way to create communities and relationships.”

“I concluded that Brown’s impact stems from her ability to undermine the egos of the successful at the same time that she lovingly helps them build better lives. She offers a path out of the tyranny of the perpetually open mind by presenting authoritative traditions and teachings. Most educational institutions emphasize individual advancement. Brown nurtures the community and the group.”

“This nation is probably full of people who’d be great adult educators, but there are few avenues to bring those teachers into contact with mature and hungry minds. Now you hear about such people by word of mouth.”

My take on all this: What “arduous [spiritual] community” do you belong to? What context in your church offers the chance to discuss serious questions about Christian faith and life’s issues? I hope you have specific answers to those questions. If not, you need to seek an arduous spiritual community as a priority.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Torah Observance by Christians – Part 2

[See also Part 1]

The Law of Moses in Relation to Contemporary Christians

The discussion above [see Part 1], principally from Hebrews, raises an important question. NT scholar Harold Hoehner says: “Does this mean that there are no laws in the Mosaic law that the believer of today is obligated to obey? Only those that have been reiterated in the NT. We are under the new covenant, and the old covenant has been done away.”[1] For example, murder is prohibited in both the Law and the New Testament, but the dietary regulations of the Law were not reinstituted under the new covenant (Acts 10). We are required by God to obey the commands given in the New Testament.

Many scholars believe this question of required Christian obedience to the Law of Moses was settled forever in Acts 15 when a similar controversy disturbed the church in Antioch. Luke said, “While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ” (Acts 15:1, NLT). Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed, and the matter was referred to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). In Jerusalem some believers who were Pharisees said, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, NLT).

However, Peter led in a different direction by saying, “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10, NLT).

In the end, the elders in Jerusalem wrote to Antioch saying: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29, NLT). The Law of Moses was not required of the Gentiles.

Although the Law of Moses separated Israel from the nations, it proved unable to achieve righteousness because that was not its purpose. The author of Hebrews says that the law received through Moses was but a shadow of the good things brought by Christ because it was completely unable though its continual sacrifices to perfect those who came to worship (Heb. 10:1).

The Greek verb for “to sanctify” [better “to set apart as holy”] is hagiaz?, and it occurs 28 times in the New Testament. For example, sanctifying (Greek hagiaz?) Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but did take place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10). The author of Hebrews also says, “For by a single offering he [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified [Greek hagiaz?]” (Heb. 10:14). In fact, only judgment and punishment await those who reject the blood of the new covenant that sanctified [Greek hagiaz?] them (Heb. 10:29).

The above ideas lead to a conclusion: Sanctifying Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but instead took place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10).

Indeed, rather than sanctifying us, the Law kept us enslaved until Christ redeemed us and gave us full rights through our adoption as sons of God with the Spirit indwelling us (Gal. 4:1-7). Going back to keeping the Law has a disastrous effect. Paul says that taking on the obligations of the Law is rejection of freedom in Christ in favor of slavery (Gal. 4:21-5:1).

It is ominous to say, but anyone who puts themselves under the Law is obligated to keep the whole Law (Gal. 5:3; James 2:10). For reasons discussed below, the only way for a contemporary Christian to keep the Law is through a large number of reinterpretations and excuses (e.g. “we don’t need to make the required sacrifices when no Temple exists”).

Some Reasonable Expectations

If some Bible teachers were correct in thinking that all Christians are required to obey all the laws given by Moses, then it seems reasonable to expect we would find certain things in the New Testament:

  • A New Testament command to keep the Law received through Moses; there is none!
  • A New Testament statement that keeping the Law is essential for sanctification or growth in Christ; there is no such statement!
  • Statements in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament that Christians were going to the Temple — still standing until 70 AD — to make sacrifices according to the Law received by Moses; there are no such verses!
  • A New Testament command to keep the festivals of Israel; none exists.

There is just one way for those who believe in Torah observance by Christians to overcome this lack of evidence supporting their view, and that is to say that we are obligated to imitate Christ, who kept the Law.

The idea of imitating Jesus in all things has been popular in certain parts of Christian history, but it has some serious limitations. Just to pick a few easy ones, who among us can be born of a virgin or die to atone for the sins of the world? Are you able to create the church or send the Holy Spirit? Which of us can stand up and say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18)?

It should not surprise you that imitating Christ in all things is not put forth in the New Testament as the method for Christian sanctification. Instead, New Testament authors occasionally call on believers to imitate Paul or their spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7), to imitate God in terms of love (Eph. 5:1-2) or to have the save self-sacrificing attitude as Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11). The sanctification of Christians is not based on keeping the Law or imitating Christ but on the finished work of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).

What Jesus Knew

One reason that Jesus did not command the keeping of the Law given to Moses may be that he knew that Jerusalem, including its Temple, would soon be utterly destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). The Roman general Titus carried out these terrible acts in 70 AD, when the church was in its infancy.

The idea that Christians must keep the Law runs headlong into serious problems. There is no Temple or priesthood to support required sacrifices; nor is there any provision in the Law saying that it is okay to lapse on those parts if no Temple or priesthood exists.

Consider too that no one other than Jesus ever was able to satisfy the requirements of the Law. To say that Christians must keep the law to be sanctified is setting them up to fail. The new covenant operates on a completely different principle than keeping the law — grace.

The Law of Christ

Paul says of himself that “I am not free from God’s law but [I am] under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, NET). He also says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). James 2:8-13 is also worthy of close study in regard to the centrality of love for one’s neighbor. There is no doubt whatever that the Holy Spirit is central to living under the new covenant (Romans 6, 8).

Christians today are not required to obey the laws of Moses in Genesis to Deuteronomy (so-called “Torah observance”). For instance, we are free from dietary restrictions and are not required to celebrate the Jewish feasts. We summarize with Paul’s ringing words to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1, NET).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 376.

 

Torah Observance by Christians – Part 1

Statement of the Issue

Issue: Must Christians now obey the laws recorded in Genesis through Deuteronomy — “Torah observance” — or not? For instance, are all Christians required to keep the dietary laws, celebrate festivals and circumcision?

This question has some practical implications. Is Sunday the day God intended for Christians to worship? Should Christians keep the Passover? Is it acceptable to God for Christians to eat bacon? These and many other practical questions are implicated in the theological issue stated above.

The Law of Moses Has Been Superseded

The New Testament gives numerous reasons for believing that the Law received by Moses was superseded by the death, resurrection and present intercession of Jesus Christ as our high priest.

First, we will consider the little-known facts about Jesus’ role as our high priest. The high priest defined by Mosaic Law must be a descendant of Aaron (Exod. 29:7-9; Num. 3:10), but Jesus, of the tribe of Judah, is our high priest (Heb. 8:1; 7:14), contrary to the law received by Moses. How can that be?

Jesus did not become a high priest according to the Mosaic Law. Instead, Jesus was appointed a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Gen. 14:18), and he holds his high priesthood permanently since he lives forever (Heb. 7:24; 8:1). Further, the author of Hebrews tells us that when the priesthood changes, such as when the high priest is appointed in a non-Mosaic way, a change in the law must come as well (Heb. 7:12). Indeed the law has changed!

The law received by Moses has been set aside because it is weak and useless and made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:18-19). Those are strong words, but the author of Hebrews does not hesitate to state them forcefully. Do other NT books say the same?

Paul tells us that all believers in Jesus Christ have died to the Law in order that they might serve in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 2:19). He later says that Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Rom. 10:4). In Galatians, Paul explains that the Law served as a guardian until Christ, but now that faith has come we are no longer under a guardian (Gal. 3:23-25). All of these statements point in the same direction, and Paul applies the concept in Eph. 2:15-16 in terms of the unity in Christ of believers from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

The Priesthood of Jesus Far Surpasses the Law

The ministry of Jesus is superior to all others, including the Law, since the new covenant he mediates is also better than the old covenant and is enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6). The author of Hebrews says that If the covenant through Moses had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second (Heb. 8:7). But God demonstrated the fault of the old covenant when he said that the people did not continue in it and had no regard for it; as a result God promised a new covenant (Heb. 8:8-12 quoting Jer. 31:31-34).

When God speaks of a new covenant, he makes the covenant through Moses obsolete (Heb. 8:13). When did this new covenant take effect? Jesus declared that the “new covenant” was instituted “in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The death, resurrection and appointment of Jesus as “Son-of-God-in-power” (Rom. 1:4, NET) all provided for the institution of the new covenant.

Jesus Mediates the New Covenant

As mediator of the new covenant, Jesus died to set free all those who had failed to keep the covenant received through Moses (Heb. 9:15; 9:26). Formerly, under the Law of Moses, the sins of the people had to be dealt with in a different way. The priests under the old covenant had to offer sacrifices over and over, year after year (Heb. 9:25), but the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins permanently (Heb. 10:4). God did away with sacrifices offered according to the Law in order to establish the one sacrifice made once and for all (Heb. 10:8-9) by Jesus’ offer of himself for our sins (Heb.10:10).

[Continued in Part 2]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.