Exposition of Romans 5:1–2 You are standing on home base

There is serenity in seeing a child standing on home base and bragging to the other children about being safe during a game of tag. Many of us spent happy hours dealing with the pretend-risks of playing tag during childhood.

But childhood is over, and the path to safety is blocked by our sins. How can we reach home base now?

(ESV) Romans 5:1-2  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

The beginning of Romans 5 marks the boundary of a major division in the book. The key sentence of Romans 1-8 occurs in Romans 1:17b, which C.E.B. Cranfield translates as “He who is righteous by faith shall live.”[1]  Cranfield outlines Romans 1:18-4:25 as “The revelation of the righteousness which is from God by faith alone — ‘He who is righteous by faith’ expounded”; he also outlines Romans 5:1-8:39 as “The life promised for those who are righteous by faith — ‘shall live’ expounded.”[2] I accept Cranfield’s placement of Romans 5 with chapters 6-8, joining Douglas Moo, Thomas Schreiner and Grant Osborne.

Romans 5 also serves as a transitional chapter with strong links to what has preceded. We see that immediately with the opening clause “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” (5:1), looking back to the theological arguments of Romans 3-4. Before we leave this backward-looking summary, we should clarify some issues of word choice.

The Greek verb dikaia? here (5:1) means “be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous.[3] This is terminology of a law court and is sometimes called “forensic” language. Some Bible translations prefer forensic language for Romans 5:1; NET and HCSB say “declared righteous by faith.“ Other translators like to boil it down to one word that has the same general force but is a bit less legal in nuance; so, ESV and NIV say “justified by faith.” Justified has the sense “vindicated.” Either way is acceptable so long as you remember that “declared righteous” and “justified” are saying the same thing. For precision, “declared righteous” is probably the better choice, as the standard lexicon suggests.

(ESV) Romans 5:1b we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Since all of us had been lacking God’s approval (3:23) and expecting his wrath (1:18) because of our universal domination by sin (3:9), the statement that we have “peace with God” (5:1) provides terrific relief. This change in our condition is described by Paul in Colossians 1:13 by saying, “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (NLT).

The word “peace” is a good example of how Greek and English do not enjoy a one-to-one relationship. For English speakers, peace is primarily “freedom from war or a stopping of war.”[4] Here (5:1) the Greek noun eir?n? means “a state of well-being, peace.”[5] According to theologian Herman Ridderbos, peace refers to “the all-embracing gift of salvation, the condition of shalom, which God will again bring to unrestricted dominion.”[6] Bring it on!

As for the phrase “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1), Douglas Moo says, “That all God has for us is to be found ‘in’ or ‘through’ Jesus Christ our Lord is a persistent motif in Rom. 5-8.”[7] I am reminded of Paul’s clause in Col. 3:11b: “Christ is all and in all” (NET), a fitting summary of life in Christ! Actually, I prefer a more literal translation: “All and in all — Christ!”

(ESV) Romans 5:2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Christ is the “him” (5:2) who provided us the life-giving access into grace. Greek grammar authority Daniel Wallace states that the two Greek perfect-tense verbs in this verse as stress our current status: we currently have access and stand in the realm of grace.[8] We stand in the safety of this grace through Jesus.

This amounts to an astonishing change in status; we have moved from being “under sin” (3:9) to standing in grace (5:2)! When you consider that is the difference between heaven and hell, the significance becomes more apparent.

The dramatic change of status makes it all the more puzzling that translators throttle back on Paul’s word selection in the remainder of Romans 5:2. The Greek verb kauchaomai means “to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag.”[9] The lexicon specifically suggests the verb should be translated “boast in something” in Rom. 5:2 due to combination with the Greek preposition epi. What is worth boasting about? ESV says the “hope of the glory of God” (5:2).

There is a big difference between boasting and rejoicing. Dunn explains Paul’s bold use of the word boast, which has been used negatively prior to this point in Romans:

Not by accident Paul picks up again language (“boast”) which he has used only pejoratively [i.e. as something to avoid] so far (2:17, 23; 3:27; 4:2). Since boasting epitomized Jewish pride in Israel’s privileged status among the nations, so Paul deliberately inserts the equivalent note into this conclusion of his argument so far. . . . Paul does not condemn “boasting” per se; on the contrary, it should be a natural and proper response to the wonderful favor of this divine patron.[10]

So far, we have said that “boast” is superior to “rejoice” in Romans 5:2b, but improvements have not been exhausted. You will recall that the Greek phrase underlying “the glory of God” also occurred in Romans 3:23. Concerning that verse, Cranfield reluctantly admits, “Taken by itself, [the Greek phrase translated ‘the glory of God’] h? doxa tou theou could, of course, mean ‘the approbation [approval] of God, as it does in John 12:43 (cf. John 5:44), and it is so understood here by some.”[11] Using that meaning, I recommended that Romans 3:23 be translated “For all have sinned and lack God’s approval.”

The same Greek phrase occurs in Romans 5:2, and the same translation applies here as well. The standard Greek lexicon also offers divine approval of a person as one translation alternative in 5:2.[12] After all, justification by faith is all about our becoming acceptable to God.

So, to sum up, I believe the best translation of Romans 5:2 would be: “Through him we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in expectation of God’s approval.” The only way we can stand securely in grace is because Jesus won our access through his death.

Standing in grace

Through Jesus Christ our Lord we have not only gained well-being before God but also the right to stand in the realm of grace. This is what you may expect when God approves of you through faith in Jesus Christ.

1. What does having peace with God do to stabilize your Christian life? How does having peace with God undercut the idea that we must use good works to maintain a status of salvation?

2. How does knowing you already stand in the sphere of grace affect your motivation to live for Christ?

Stand where God has placed you, with grace and peace surrounding you because of Christ.

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

[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975)  27.

[2] Cranfield, Romans, 28.

[3] BDAG-3, dikaia?, be acquitted, q.v.

[4] “peace,” Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Michael Agnes, Ed. in Chief (New York: McMillan, 1999).

[5] BDAG-3, eir?n?, well-being, q.v.

[6] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 184.

[7] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 300.

[8] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 576.

[9] BDAG-3, kauchaomai, boast, q.v.

[10] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 264.

[11] Cranfield, Romans, 204.

[12] BDAG-3, doxa, approval (meaning 3), q.v.

Exposition of Romans 4:18–19 Faith accepts reality but trusts God

Abraham’s faith was based on a very simple idea: God will do as he has said even if I cannot understand how. This explains, for example, how we may believe in heaven with full assurance even though we have never seen it.

Will we live on the basis of what God has said or restrict ourselves to what our eyes can see?

(ESV) Romans 4:18-19  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

Sometimes I imagine Paul in an ironic humor thinking about all those who would later try to untangle one of his phrases that his associate Peter said were “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). We have one of those phrases in Romans 4:18 where the sequence “against hope, on the basis of hope”[1] occurs. Oh my!

When confronted with such a paradoxical combination, Bible translators have their work cut out for them. However, in this case we have definite help from the immediate context. Grant Osborne points out, “The most amazing fact of all is that Abraham accepted his physical situation without weakening in his faith (verse 19), another way of expressing the same idea as in verse 18: ‘against hope, he hoped.’”[2] That is all the guidance needed to unravel the puzzling phrase in 4:18.

Of course, the phrase “against hope” looks at the fact that Abraham was “about a hundred years old” (4:19) as well as “the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (4:19). The counter-phrase “in hope” informs us that in spite of the seeming impossibility, Abraham had a solid expectation of descendants “as he had been told” (4:18).

(ESV) Romans 4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

C.E.B. Cranfield, when read carefully, does an excellent job explaining Paul’s take on the faith of Abraham: “Because of his unweakened faith, Abraham considered steadily, without attempting to deceive himself, his unpromising circumstances, but, as verse 20 goes on to indicate, did not allow what he saw to make him doubt God’s promise.”[3] Abraham did not close his eyes or fool himself.

Since Christian faith is sometimes portrayed in cartoon-style as a leap-into-the-dark, Douglas Moo says, “Abraham’s faith is not described as a ‘leap into the dark,’ a completely baseless, almost irrational ‘decision’ . . . but as a ‘leap’ from the evidence of his senses into the security of God’s word and promise.”[4]

Science and faith are not enemies

Life is odd sometimes. The religion which named itself “Christian Science” is neither Christian nor scientific; one of its key beliefs is that disease is an illusion. But that type of denial is not what Christian faith, as taught in the Bible, is about.

There should be no final conflict between science and Christian faith because both should look unflinchingly at reality. But science cannot put God in the test tube any more than Christianity can solve the equations of quantum mechanics. Christians should be as clear-eyed as the most meticulous scientist, and, indeed, Christianity has produced some of the greatest scientists.

Science can only deal with issues that can be tested by the scientific method. It cannot tell you whether Caesar was stabbed in 44 B.C. or whether Jesus Christ will return to rule the world. Science cannot tell you whether murder offends God or what God will do about it. Faith is the only appropriate way to deal with what God has said and done.

1. What has God promised you that you cannot prove in a court of law or a lab?

2. Do you ever feel uncomfortable, as a person living in the twenty-first century, about responding to God with faith? Why or why not?

Christian faith views the world as a system in which God has decisively intervened. He created the world, sent his Son to save it, and will replace it with a new creation in due course. Faith knows these things because God has revealed them, not because we can see it!

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) 282.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 118.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 247.

[4] Moo, Romans, 282-283.

Exposition of Romans 3:13–19 Plan on lacking words before God

Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.

If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?

(ESV) Romans 3:13-19

“Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13–14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15–17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”[1]

C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is “striking.”[2] Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someone’s death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a drug cartel!

For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people they need something which they do not need. Consider what children tell parents and what single adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!

While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.”[3] That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.

NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?

Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16–17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7–8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15–17 falls right into place.

Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:

The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13–17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.[4]

Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word “law” (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of law probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase “under the law.”

When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. ‘Shutting the mouth’ connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”[5]

The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.”[6] Oh my!

So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!

The longest day

How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!

1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?

2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)

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) 202.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 194.

[3] BDAG-3, pikria, bitterness, anger, harshness, q.v.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 167.

[5] Moo, Romans, 205.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 168.

Exposition of Romans 3:5–8 Twisted arguments cannot defend our sin

The popularity of gymnastics in the Olympic Games is legendary. Many of us follow those events closely, and they always get prime-time positioning on television.

Much less attractive are the verbal gymnastics of special-interest groups who portray issues as if their side had a corner on the truth and the opposition was against Mom, apple pie and football. Those gymnastics often come to center stage when religious views are discussed.

Is it fair or sensible in such an argument to pit the special interests of a group against the interests of God?

(ESV) Romans 3:5–8  But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Paul had to deal with some serious arguments in explaining the gospel — such as God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel — but he also had to contest some fundamentally silly arguments raised by special-interest groups. Grant Osborne describes the basic counterargument from Paul’s Jewish opponents: “If sin does highlight the righteousness of God (v. 5) and bring him glory (v. 7), then we should try to sin even more so as to bring even more good out of it (v. 8).”[1]

This is similar to a systemic or even ecological argument that goes like this: sin is part of the whole ecological system of God and man, and sin even serves a constructive purpose in the system by making God look good by comparison. So, it would be unrighteous of God to inflict wrath on us as sinners since we are actually doing him good.

Wow! Using this type of reasoning, we could argue that cancer is a good thing because it keeps so many oncologists employed.

The real problem is not that such arguments are silly and may rightly be mocked. The real problem is that such ideas constitute blasphemy by attacking God’s character! Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

Now you may be thinking it unlikely that anyone would make such an argument. If so, you underestimate the ingenuity of the ancient rabbis. Paul has just quoted Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4b. That Psalm contains David’s remorse for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Samuel 11). C.E.B. Cranfield describes how the rabbis explained David’s sin. They argued that the young king looked back to Genesis 8:21 where God said, “. . . the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” David reasoned — as the ancient rabbis imagined — that if he did not take the beautiful Bathsheba, then God’s statement would be falsified! So, David took her and murdered her husband only to protect God![2]

Since Paul is dealing with the Jews, his most theologically powerful opponents — both inside the church and outside of it — his reference in 3:5 to “our unrighteousness” probably refers to the failure of the Jews to live up to their covenant obligations. We will apply these ideas to contemporary Christians at the end of the lesson.

The phrase “righteousness of God” in 3:5 also needs clarification, because it does not mean the same thing as it did in 1:17. Douglas Moo says, “’God’s righteousness’ here designates God’s faithfulness to his own person and word, particularly, as v. 4b reveals, as this is revealed in his judgment of sin.”[3]

Paul points out that if God does not inflict his wrath on the unrighteous (3:5), then he is in no position to judge the world (3:6). If God allowed the Jews to rebel against him without experiencing his wrath — presumably on the basis of possessing the law and circumcision — this would be such a breach of justice as to disqualify God from judging the Gentiles. But all Jews held that God must judge the Gentiles in keeping with Old Testament revelation (e.g. Gen. 18:25). Paul relies on that universally-held doctrine in 3:6.

Verses 3:7–8 make clear that the Jewish objectors were angry about the idea that God would judge them for their sins and also at Paul for teaching a doctrine that they thought encouraged the practice of sin. In their view, how could those sinners who put their faith in Jesus Christ succeed when law-keeping Jews had failed? Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

To be sure, Paul will return to give a much deeper answer to those who challenged God’s faithfulness to Israel in Romans 9–11. For now he continues on track to show that all Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God’s justice.

Are Christians exempt?

Moo speaks of our situation in plain terms: “All too often we Christians have presumed that God’s grace to us exempts us from any concern about our sin. . . .We want to ‘stand on the promises’ — and this is entirely appropriate. But we must not forget that God promises (in the NT as well as the OT) to rebuke and chastise his people for sin as well as to bless them out of the abundance of his grace.”[4] Ouch! It seems that Christians also take part in religious gymnastics.

Have you ever found yourself presuming that (1) God’s grace to us exempts us from concern about our sin, or (2) God’s grace excuses our sin so it is not that bad? How does either of those concepts show up in your life?

Peter agrees with Paul’s conclusions when he says:

For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?
(1 Pet. 4:17-18, NET)

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


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 84.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 183, footnote 5.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 190.

[4] Moo, Romans, 196-197.


Exposition of Romans 3:1–4 God is reliable; humanity is not

The Jews misunderstood the Law of Moses as their assurance of salvation when in fact it was given to bring their flaws to the surface of their awareness. But instead of running to God for mercy, they reduced the law to a one-sided promise and wrapped themselves in a cloak of self-righteous pride.

By tearing away this façade, Paul brings out countercharges from his opponents that God is being both unfaithful and inconsistent. Are the Jews of Paul’s day right to object? God’s faithfulness and constancy means just as much to us as it did to them.

(ESV) Romans 3:1–4  Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

The first eight verses of Romans 3 are considered some of the most challenging in the entire letter. Paul continues his imagined argument with a Jewish or Jewish-Christian opponent, a style known as diatribe.

Osborne does a great job summarizing the biblical text that includes today’s verses as well as tomorrow’s verses:

The basic issue is this: if there is no advantage in being Jewish, and if God can reject one of his covenant people, then how can it be said that God is faithful to his covenant promises? Paul’s lengthier response in Romans 9-11 is anticipated here: God’s response in judgment also constitutes being faithful to his promises. The covenant contained blessings and curses (= salvation and judgment here), and both are proper depending on the actions of the covenant people.[1]

Since the Jew has no special advantage over the Gentile during the judgment of God — thus has Paul argued in Romans 2 — why then would anyone think it preferable to be a Jew (3:1)? In light of all that is said in the Old Testament about the privilege of being God’s people, Cranfield points out a serious issue: “The question raised is nothing less than the question of the credibility of God.”[2]

The NET Bible does a great job translating Rom. 3:2 by saying, “Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” It is no accident that Paul begins with God’s revelation in words because that is the gateway to so much more! Cranfield explains that the phrase “the oracles of God” is virtually identical to “the Word of God.”[3] But possession of that treasure makes the holders all the more responsible to heed the words!

The other advantages held by the Jews are not taken up in this context, but Rom. 9:4–5 names many more: “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. . . . the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever!” (Rom. 9:4–5, NET).

Paul’s question in 3:3 is a rhetorical method of putting the blame where it belongs, but translators are unsure how to punctuate the sentence.

(ESV) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

(NET) What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?

For complex reasons, the NET Bible’s punctuation should be preferred here.[4]

Cranfield points out the heavy density in 3:2–3 of words based on the Greek root underlying the noun for faith and the verb for believe and entrust. Moo brings this insight to bear on 3:3 by saying, “These words point up the contrast between Israel’s ‘faithlessness’ and God’s ‘faithfulness.’”[5]

In case rhetorical questions tend to confuse you more than help you, the NLT fairly renders them more directly: “True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful?” (Rom. 3:3, NLT).

Cranfield summarizes 3:3 by saying, “It is unthinkable that God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel should be rendered ineffective even by the Jews’ unbelief.”[6] Romans 9–11 shows how God will fulfill the covenant, just as he promised.

Humanity — here epitomized by unbelieving Jews — always has an excuse, a justification, an argument to shield itself from judgment. Paul seizes instead on the Old Testament’s assertion that God is faithful at all times. Osborne says, “Behind the term true is the Old Testament term for ‘faithful’ (emet), meaning God is true to his promises.”[7]

By their unbelief the Jews had failed to keep the covenant’s provisions, yet they still wanted its blessings! Paul says it was God who was keeping the terms of the covenant by invoking the curses on covenant breakers. Osborne says, “God cannot be faithful to his covenant until he judges Israel; only then will he be proved right to his promises (and warnings).”[8] God’s judgments will in all cases be vindicated.

Semper Fi Ultra!

Christians have a critical stake in the issue of God’s faithfulness toward the Jews. If God has broken his promises to the Jews, then his promises to us are meaningless. Not to worry! Paul makes it plain that doubting God’s reliability is pointless; worse, those who accuse God of breaking his promises are liars.

1. Name one or two key promises from God are you relying on.

2. Over the centuries believers have had to resolve the issue of God’s reliability; how do you suppose they did so? How did you resolve the issue for yourself?

David had it right; “I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name, because of your loyal love and faithfulness, for you have exalted your promise above the entire sky” (Ps. 138:2, NET).

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 79.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 177.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 178-179, footnote 1.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 183-184.

[5] Moo, Romans, 184.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 181.

[7] Osborne, Romans, 82.

[8] Osborne, Romans, 83.

Exposition of Romans 2:6–11 God does not play any favorites

When the kids chose up teams in your school, did they choose you first? In my school it was always the favorites who were chosen first, and certain people got left for last every time. If you were one of the fastest, smartest, best looking, most sociable, life was good. The alternative was painful — a lesson learned from a distance.

Playing favorites is also common among adults. How about with God? Does he play that way too?

(ESV) Romans 2:6–11  He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Keep in mind that Paul is still in the midst of addressing the argument of the Jews that their special status as children of Abraham and recipients of the Law ensures the salvation of every Jew. Paul is tearing away that illusion. In today’s Scripture he does so using a literary arrangement known as chiasm, as shown below:

A   God will judge everyone equitably    verse 6

B          Those who do good will attain eternal life   verse 7

C         Those who do evil will suffer wrath   verse 8

C’        Wrath for those to do evil     verse 9

B’         Glory for those who do good    verse 10

A’  God judges impartially    verse 11[1]

Grant Osborne points out that Paul is trying to “demonstrate divine justice by showing how God judges fairly with both Gentiles and Jews.”[2] This accounts for the phrase “the Jew first and also to Greek” (2:10), which overtly shows that both Jew and Gentile stand in the same relationship of responsibility to God.

In short, verses 7 and 10 refer to those who are justified by faith and prove it through a life of obedient works before God. C. E. B. Cranfield says, “Paul was probably actually thinking only of Christians; but there is little doubt that, had he been asked whether what he was saying also applied to OT believers, his answer would have been affirmative.”[3] There is more than one way to reach this conclusion. Douglas Moo holds that Paul is teaching here (2:6–11) that God will impartially judge all men by their works; later Paul will show that no one can reach a positive verdict in that way (3:9; 3:19–20); later still Paul will show that faith in Christ enables the believer to have good works “as the fruit of faith.”[4] So, Moo effectively arrives at a similar conclusion by a different thought process.

Verses 8 and 9 refer to those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18) and prove it by doing those evil deeds outlined in Romans 1:18–32. The nature of the works depends upon the human heart behind them; the works provide an image of the heart. Be sure to notice the chilling vocabulary of Romans 2:8–9. God’s wrath is bad enough; his fury is worse than unthinkable!

Critical to Paul’s argument is the fact that God impartially judges the works ? and thus the heart behind them ? without regard to whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile. God does not play any favorites.

The verb used in 2:11 confirms what has been said above about God showing no partiality in judging the works of Christians. That is exactly how the same verb is used in Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25, and James 2:1.

Only one name to know: Jesus

Think carefully about God’s impartiality! This means that the rich have no advantage over the poor; the powerful have no edge on the weak, and the socially-connected have no insider pull. Jesus said the same thing in these words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

1. Read Matt. 7:1–2. How do these commands guide you in the same direction as Paul’s words in Rom. 2:6–11?

2. Since every human is judged on the same basis before God, how does this influence the way you make choices and behave?

During Prohibition the only way to get into many private clubs was to know the right name to give at the door. Heaven is the most exclusive club of them all, and the only name to know at that door is Jesus. If Jesus knows you, you enter without question. If not, there is another door ? you do not want to see what goes on in there!

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) 135, citing K. Grobel.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 63.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 152.

[4] Moo, Romans, 142.

Exposition of Romans 2:1–3 Don’t try to condemn those others!

A woman in authority once said, “Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly.” In like manner, nobody likes to be told that their conduct brings them before God’s judgment seat without any reasonable defense. But there is incredible value in knowing that fatal weakness in advance when we may seek the one remedy that can put us on God’s side.

(ESV) Romans 2:1–3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God?

A natural reaction to what Paul has said in Romans 1 is: “You are right, Paul, that those bad people — not me of course! — are just as wicked as you say they are.” Paul was not born at night, so he is prepared for that counter to his argument. In short, his statement is: each of you does the very same thing (2:1). Jesus spoke similarly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1–5).

Paul was likely writing from Corinth to people whom he has never met, but he knows that among these Christians in Rome is a strong contingent of Jewish-Christians. Most scholars think this not-me type of pushback will come chiefly from these Jews. The Jews had argued for centuries that they were superior to the godless Gentiles because God had chosen them as his own people, Abraham’s children. Of course, there will also be some Gentiles who jump on the bandwagon to condemn someone else. In this game, everyone plays.

In Romans 2, Paul ramps up his rhetorical power in several ways. Douglas Moo describes one element: “Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe style . . . uses the literary device of an imaginary dialogue with a student or opponent.”[1] In keeping with this device, Paul addresses his argument to you (second-person singular). That is more forceful. The third device is the “O man” (2:1; 2:3) direct address, which Daniel Wallace says “is used in contexts where deep emotion is to be found.”[2] Clearly the verbal intensity is increasing.

In saying the objectors “have no excuse” (2:1), we have the same Greek adjective used in 1:20 for those who have knowledge of God but suppress it. This adjective is part of a serious change in vocabulary that begins in 2:1. In Romans 1, Paul spoke of God’s wrath (1:18), but now we begin to see the verb krin? (“to judge”), used seven times in Romans 2:1–16, and the noun krima (“judgment”), used in 2:2 and 2:3 to refer to God’s verdict of guilt. In 2:1 we have one person judging another, but Paul says in 2:1–2 that we all stand under God’s judgment because of our individual guilt.

(NET Bible) Romans 2:2 “Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.”

The ESV gets unusually metaphorical in saying “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (2:2), but NET has the better translation here by replacing the italicized phrase with “in accordance with truth.” God is not confused by arguments over which humans are more sinful; they all are! C.E.B. Cranfield explains, “What is being said of the divine judgment is not that it truly is (that there truly is such a thing), but that it is in accordance with the facts (i.e., is just).”[3]

In Romans 2:3 an important Greek verb makes its first appearance: logizomai, here meaning “to hold a view about something, think, believe, be of the opinion.[4] Since the verb primarily is used for calculating costs and debts, it involves a serious kind of thinking. Even though Paul is asking a rhetorical question, he effectively states that no one is going to be a special exception when it comes to sin, guilt and judgment before God.

In relation to Paul’s question in 2:3, Moo says: “Such a question is legitimately put to the Gentile moralist or philosopher who thinks he or she can please God by his or her good life, but it is particularly the Jew who would be likely to make such an assumption.”[5] None will escape!

Denial is futile

God is saying through Paul that every human being is guilty of acts that put us under his judgment; we are all without excuse.

1. World history is replete with those who fought for high status as proof they were better than others. But such denial of the truth about humanity does not work before God. What role has self-justification played in your own spiritual journey?

2. How does admitting our guilt before God free us to seek God’s solution to the problem?

In itself our sin and guilt before God cannot be considered good news, yet it forms a critical pillar of the gospel. Just as accurate diagnosis must precede effective medical treatment, so our spiritual condition must be accurately described so that God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is all the more clear.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed 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) 125.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 68.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 143.

[4] BDAG-3, logizomai, be of the opinion, q.v.

[5] Moo, Romans, 132.