Exposition of Romans 5:15–16 Through Jesus, grace multiplies to all

Most who read this study have never felt the terror of being caught in a hopeless trap. So, it is hard to imagine the depth of desperation involved. Thomas Howes knows, because he was held by FARC guerillas in the jungles of Colombia for over five years. Every day he wore a heavy chain which would be padlocked to a tree or some other object. Insects, heat, abuse, poor food, and boredom were his constant companions. No one was looking for him, and no one was coming.

On July 2, 2008, Howes and other hostages were taken to a FARC helicopter to be moved; they almost refused to board out of fear. Once they entered and took off, a brave group of disguised Columbian soldiers suddenly subdued the FARC guards and flew the stunned hostages to safety!

Jesus did the same thing for us, even if we never knew how hopelessly chained we were. His gracious gift made it possible for billions of people to be justified. But will they accept the rescue by faith?

(NET) Romans 5:15–16  But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

Romans 5:15 is arranged to emphasize the difference between the free gift from God and the willful rebellion begun by Adam. Douglas Moo says, “The first contrast is one of degree: the work of Christ, being a manifestation of grace, is greater in every way than that of Adam (verse 15).”[1]

Paul’s subtle literary artistry is apparent. In 5:14, where death and sin are emphasized, the name of Adam appears, but Jesus is referenced indirectly. In 5:15, where Paul emphasizes the gracious gift of God, Paul overtly uses the name of Jesus and references Adam indirectly.

(NET) Romans 5:15  But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

Now that Moo has clarified certain general aspects of 5:15, we will dust off a few other items for clarity. “The one man” is a reference to Adam, whose transgression allowed the entry of sin into the world (5:12) and spread death to himself and all after him.

The gift meant by the phrase “the gracious gift” (5:15) is apparently “the free gift of righteousness” (5:17). So, Moo says the gift refers to “the righteous status and life conferred on ‘the many.’”[2]

Those affected by Adam, “the many” (Greek hoi polloi), is clearly a reference to all humankind. Moo represents one group who agree with that comprehensive scope but hesitate to apply the same meaning to the same Greek phrase when it relates to those affected by “the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ” (5:15b).[3] In other words, they say “the many” means all humanity in the first half of the sentence, but less than that in the second half.

What is the concern that drives them to reject a conclusion so compelling (“the many” equals humankind) which is also supported by the words “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18, ESV)? The concern goes by the name universalism, which means every human being will receive righteousness from God and ultimately go to heaven.

The Bible does not teach universalism. For example, in Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus taught about those “who will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). As for Paul, he was referring to a distinct group of people when he spoke of God’s wrath against human sin (Rom. 1:18-31). So, what is the resolution of this conflict of ideas?

Theologians come in all kinds, including some who say God saves all (i.e. universalism) and other theologians who say Paul contradicts himself. In the final analysis — and there has been extensive review — neither of these positions is worth further attention here.

How is the issue to be resolved? Does “the many” refer to all humankind or not? The solution comes in two steps. C.E.B. Cranfield quotes the reformer John Calvin’s remarks: “‘Many’ is put, not for a definite number, but for a large number, in that He sets himself over against all others. And this is its meaning also in Rom. 5:15, where Paul is not talking of a part of mankind but of the whole human race.”[4]  So, “the many” in Rom. 5:15 uniformly refers to the whole human race. That is the first step.

The second step is that we must account for the fact that the grace Christ brought came in the form of “the gracious gift” (5:15). Some accepted the gift by faith and some rejected it. Note carefully that it is “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness [who will] reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (5:17). Not all receive the gift of God because they do not want to “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (1:21). But we who trust in Christ are different; “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2).

So, we find that the offer of God’s grace is made to all humanity, but the acceptance of it is limited to those willing to respond by faith. Universalism fails due to unbelief. In terms of faith as a response to God’s gracious gift, Thomas Schreiner says, “The use of [the Greek verb lamban?, ‘to receive’ (Rom. 5:17)] in Paul confirms that the reception of what God has given is prominent.”[5]

(NET) Romans 5:16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

Paul continues the uneven comparison between Adam and Christ in 5:16. Adam sinned and ultimately brought condemnation for all, but the gracious gift through Christ overturned Adam’s sin and all other sins to bring about justification.

Cranfield ably says: “That one single misdeed should be answered by judgment, this is perfectly understandable: that the accumulated sins and guilt of all the ages should be answered by God’s free gift, this is the miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.”[6]

Two men — two destinies

Adam is the head of a race of people; he is the head of all who are dominated by sin and subject to the penalty of spiritual death. Jesus is the head of another race; he leads all who have put their faith in him, experienced his rescue from their sins and expectantly wait for a day when their salvation will be complete.

1. How have you taken advantage of the gracious gift which came to you through faith in Jesus Christ?

2. You undoubtedly know someone still in chains, and they may not even know it! What might you do to help them?

 “When the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared,
5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, NET)

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) 334.

[2] Moo, Romans, 335, footnote 96.

[3] Moo, Romans, 336-337.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 285, footnote 1.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 292.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 286.

Exposition of Romans 5:12–14 Everywhere death reigns, sin has preceded

When the great influenza of 1918 struck the world, more people died from it than even the Black Plague had taken. Everywhere the influenza pandemic spread, it came on two legs.

Sin entered the world in the same way, and it immediately became a pandemic that extended throughout humanity. You may easily identify sin’s victims — they always die. Where is the cure?

(ESV) Romans 5:12–14  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Paul decisively changes subject by analyzing the origin of sin and talking about Adam. Douglas Moo tells us what is going on in the second half of Romans 5:

In a passage that rivals 3:21–26 for theological importance, Paul paints with broad brush strokes a ‘bird’s-eye’ picture of the history of redemption. His canvas is human history, and the scope is universal. . . . The power of Christ’s act of obedience to overcome Adam’s act of disobedience is the great theme of this paragraph [through verse 21].[1]

That 5:12 has inner logic is obvious; the structure is chiastic:

A  Sin results in (5:12a)

B  death (5:12b);

B’  all died (5:12c)

A’  because all sinned (5:12d)

Moo says, “If this reading of the structure of the verse is right, then verse 12d has the purpose of showing that death is universal because sin is universal.”[2] When Paul says, “death spread to all men” (5:12c), he uses the verb dierchomai, which is used for moving from one village to another to preach (Acts 10:38) or for news spreading about Jesus (Luke 5:15); death spread throughout humanity like a deadly plague moving from one village to the next. It could be found everywhere there was sin. Death is universal because sin is universal.

Romans 5:12 has spilled a lot of ink due to various attempts to explain Paul’s grammar and logic. A majority of Bible translations (ESV, NET, NASB, NIV) and commentators think Paul began to say something in Romans 5:12 and then abruptly stopped. You see, for example the long dash at the end of verse 12 in the ESV translation above. Moo says, “Paul becomes ‘sidetracked’ on this point and abandons the comparison, only to reintroduce and complete it later in the text.”[3]

Other Bible translations (HCSB, NLT) and commentators, whom I join, say Romans 5:12 is a complete sentence as it stands. The broken-sentence view (above) has insufficient respect for Paul and utterly fails to explain how the Roman recipients would have unraveled Paul’s meaning; after all, commentators over twenty centuries have been unable to agree on the resumption point for the allegedly broken sentence!

Aside from these disputes, keep your eye on the point that sin is lethal! Christians have the remedy in eternal life through Christ, but that does not alter the fact that every time we sin we spread death. That is exactly what Adam did, as we will see.

C.E.B. Cranfield makes a telling observation: “It is difficult for those who are in the habit of thinking of death as natural to come to terms with this doctrine of death [being caused by sin].”[4]

(ESV) Romans 5:13–14 “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

The statement “sin was in the world before the law” (5:13a) captures the main idea, but the Greek imperfect verb here can emphasize that sin continued for the duration of the period before the law. The absence of specific commands from God between Adam and Moses does not imply that sin took a vacation. This is obvious because “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (5:14), see below.

The clause “sin is not counted where there is no law” (5:13b) can be confusing. The Greek verb elloge? means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[5] Thomas Schreiner says, “The purpose of that verse is to explain that apart from the Mosaic law sin is not equivalent to transgression. . . . Adam’s sin was different in kind from those who lived before the Mosaic law in that he violated a commandment disclosed by God.”[6]

Paul appears to argue that, even if sin does not rise to the level of transgression, it still killed everyone between Adam and Moses (5:14). In this way Paul continues to press the idea of 5:12 that all die because all sin. That argument would be strong in relation to those present or former Jews who might claim never to have transgressed God’s law; in effect, Paul answers, neither did the people before Moses transgress, but sin still brought about their death!

Grant Osborne says, “There was still moral transgression even if there was no official law that identified it as such, and the fact of death (God’s legal punishment on sin) proves that this was the case.”[7]

To explain the relative clause about Adam — “who was a type of the one who was to come” (5:14b) — Cranfield says, “Adam in his universal effectiveness for ruin is the type which . . . prefigures Christ in his universal effectiveness for salvation.”[8]

Is death natural or caused by us?

If death is a natural thing, then we may look for its cause among the ever-changing molecules that make up our bodies. A pill, perhaps, or an exercise regimen or a diet will eliminate the problem one day. Perhaps a little genetic engineering will save us all — or not!

The Bible presents a different theory of death; it reveals that sin causes death. That means death is not natural but caused by human rebellion against God. Medical care, exercise and nutrition have their place in maintaining life for a longer period, but sin is a spiritual/theological problem whose solution comes from the hand of God.

1. Read Gen. 2:16–17, Gen. 3:19 and Exod. 20:12. How do the first two verses show that death is caused by disobedience and subject to spiritual consequences? How does the last verse demonstrate that our obedience to God has an effect on the length of our lives?

2. Read Romans 8:11 and John 11:25–26. In what ways do the power of Jesus and the Spirit transcend even the bounds of human mortality?

“It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42–44, NET)

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) 314–315.

[2] Moo, Romans, 321.

[3] Moo, Romans, 319.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 281.

[5] BDAG-3, elloge?, charge to the account, q.v.

[6] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 279.

[7] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 140.

[8] Cranfield, Romans, 283.

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 4:6–8 Only God can offer total amnesty

One of our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, declares that we have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, those things are not that easy to come by. Happiness in particular has proven elusive for many.

In the final analysis, happiness — blessedness in the language of our Scripture passage — only comes from God, and it is based on not having our sins counted against us. Are you blessed?

(ESV) Romans 4:6–8  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

As we follow Paul’s argument in support of justification by faith apart from works of the law, we should note that he relies on the interpretation of OT revelation to make his point. All sound theology is based primarily on biblical revelation, not unguided human opinion or even traditional interpretations of the Bible.

Paul is also sensitive to the traditions of those who are his Jewish theological opponents. Jewish scholars had certain techniques they used for interpreting the OT. One such technique consisted of first locating two verses which contained the same word and then interpreting each verse in light of the other. Paul has been using Genesis 15:6 and the Greek verb logizomai (reckon or calculate), and he clearly set out to find another verse containing logizomai that also mentions forgiveness of sins. He found what he wanted in Psalm 32:1–2a, which says:

 (ESV) Psalm 32:1–2a  “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,”

Paul also scores another point ? according to the methods of his time ? for getting his primary reference from the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:6) and a secondary reference from the prophets and the writings (Psalm 32:1–2a).[1] In the bargain Paul adds the voice of David to the example of Abraham. To his contemporaries, this was skillful argument!

Since we are studying Romans, you may wonder why I am telling you about Paul’s methodology. The reason is that you will run into Bible passages where you may not understand why the author ? here Paul ? chooses the words that he does. You should take away the lesson that there is always a reason, even if we do not always know it. And you should recall that this letter was not written in the first instance to us, even though its principles may be applied to us.

In Romans 4:6–8, Paul demonstrates another reason that justification must be found apart from works; too many of our works are actually sins! Grant Osborne explains: “The particular ‘works’ mentioned in the psalm are ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins.’ Not only can they not produce righteousness; they must also be ‘forgiven’ and covered.’ Thus the flip side of God’s crediting righteousness is God’s not crediting sin to one’s account.”[2]

Paul speaks of the negative acts in two ways (4:7): ‘lawless deeds’ (Greek anomia) and ‘sins’ (Greek hamartia). The first term, anomia, refers to those lawless things done by people who care nothing for what God wants; the noun means here “the product of a lawless disposition, a lawless deed.”[3] The second term, hamartia, deals with those people who are mindful of God’s standards but fail to meet them; the noun means here “a departure from . . . divine standards of uprightness.”[4]

When he speaks of how God deals with these different types of people and violations, Paul says God forgives the lawless deeds and covers the sins. The only way God can forgive lawless deeds is “by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23, NET). God has dealt with the sins by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, whom “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25). In Israel the blood of the atoning sacrifice was poured by the high priest on the mercy seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is our mercy seat, and his death supplies the blood that covers our sins (Rom. 3:25). He resolved God’s wrath against us.

Because he has dealt with our sins through the death of Christ, we are blessed (4:8) because the Lord will “not count” (logizomai) our sins against us!

How to obtain happiness

The Bible reveals God’s thinking, so its conclusions do not agree with those defined by culture. The good news is that to be happy or blessed, you do not need to be rich, powerful, young, beautiful, educated or born into the right nation or family. All blessedness comes from God! To be happy, relate to God through faith in Jesus Christ and then devote yourself to strengthening that relationship.

1. How does society deal with sins and lawless deeds? How effective are those methods and how do they compare to God’s methods?

2. Through Christ there is a way to be forgiven before God and to have a fruitful relationship. In what ways do we or do we not provide ways for forgiveness between ourselves and other family members or among our friends?

Since God and God alone is the source of both amnesty for our sins and happiness based on faith in his Son, what possible reason could lead someone to neglect the opportunity?

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) 265.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 110.

[3] BDAG-3, anomia, lawless deeds, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

Exposition of Romans 4:1–3 Faith has always triumphed over works

Time and events have a way of knocking us off course. In 1848, San Francisco had a population of 1,000, and then gold was discovered and caused the population to increase 25-fold in 1849. The city was never the same again.

The same type of thing can happen for a people or an individual. Abraham was declared righteous by God because of his faith, but over the years his descendants forgot about that and began to work for God’s approval. Some even followed after other gods. What is the moral to this story? Do not get distracted from fundamental values; not all that glitters is gold.

(ESV) Romans 4:1–3  What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

When debating Jewish opponents, Paul could no more avoid Abraham than someone writing a history of the United States could ignore Abraham Lincoln. Douglas Moo explains, “In keeping with the [law-observant] focus of first-century Judaism, Abraham was held up particularly as a model of obedience to God. . . . It [was] even being argued that he had obeyed the law perfectly before it had been given.”[1]

So, Paul dives right into the application to Abraham’s life of what he has said about justification by faith (4:1). If he can break Jewish resistance on that point, his argument is won. To do this he uses a critical verse: Genesis 15:6, which says, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (HCSB).

Romans 4:2 is a little tricky, but we happen to have a contemporary idiom in English that matches it. Paul first concedes for the sake of argument that if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, then he would have a basis for boasting. Then Paul uses the final phrase — “but not before God” (4:2) — to negate the whole idea. In contemporary English we might playfully say, “Yes, you actually are Superman. Not!!”

Paul swiftly supports his denial of Abraham’s basis for boasting (4:2) by quoting the pivotal passage Genesis 15:6, which says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3b). Moo points out the power of this verse: “Not only is this [i.e. Gen. 15:6] the first time ‘believe’ occurs in Scripture, but it is connected with attaining righteousness — one of the very few times in the OT that this connection is made.”[2] Mention of Abraham is the other key to its power for Paul’s immediate purpose.

What about us?

Grant Osborne says, “People cannot seem to understand that no one can buy his or her way into heaven on the basis of being basically a ‘good guy.’”[3] This case of wishful thinking is going to leave a lot of people in a state of shock and disbelief when it crumbles.

1. Define biblical faith in your own words. If I said faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done — which I consider accurate — how do you see that definition as either fitting or deviating from the biblical usage of “faith”?

2. What does living by biblical faith have in common with the American idea of being basically a “good guy”? How are they different?

Jesus had something to say to the Pharisees who had lost sight of the fundamentals of the faith: “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23, NET).

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) 256.

[2] Moo, Romans, 261.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 107.

Exposition of Romans 3:23–25a God freely gives what we need

Most of us have never been in a physical situation that was both dangerous and impossible to escape. One reason is that most people who got into such situations are no longer with us. Those who are with us were rescued.

Yet the Bible makes clear that all of humanity has been in a lethal spiritual situation that was impossible to escape. Only God could craft a way for us to get out, and forging that way took the death of Jesus. If you have the faith to use that way, you will live. If not, you will learn what wrath really means.

(ESV) Romans 3:23–25a  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:23 is familiar to many evangelical Christians as a frequent reference to the universal sinfulness of humanity, and that evaluation also covered all Christians prior to their believing in Jesus Christ (3:22). However, the clarity of the front half of the verse runs headlong into the obscurity of the second half. Thomas Schreiner says concerning the second half, “The phrase . . . (doxa tou theou, ‘the glory of God’) is ambiguous.”[1]

Though he prefers a different idea, C.E.B. Cranfield reluctantly admits, “Taken by itself, [the Greek phrase] 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.”[2] I join John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, who said, “The glory of God I take to mean the approbation of God, as in John 12:43, where it is said, that ‘they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.’”[3] Before we may share God’s glory, we must receive his approval, and Paul will shortly explain that must come through faith in Jesus Christ. The translation “approval of God” also works in Romans 5:2 as recognized by the standard Greek lexicon.[4]

In a way, humanity’s lack of approval by God is the mirror image of the lack of approval of God by men cited by Paul in Romans 1:21. Paul has already explained that the consequence of that rejection was that God gave them over to a mind incapable of making sound choices (1:28).

Most commentators advance a different idea about 3:23b. Douglas Moo expresses the general view taken by most: “Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that ‘being-like-God’ for which they were created.”[5] According to this idea, Adam shared in divine glory before the fall (Genesis 3), although Genesis says nothing explicit about that.

(ESV) Rom. 2:24  “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

The second thing that is true of “all” (3:23) who put their faith in Jesus Christ (3:22b) is that they are “justified” (3:24), meaning declared righteous. That concept is qualified in two ways: (1) this justification occurs “by his grace as a gift” (3:24), and (2) this justification occurs “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). We will deal with these qualifications one at a time.

In the phrase “by his grace as a gift” (3:24), the italicized portion means that we received this freely. When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he told them, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8, NET). Paul has already said we all lacked God’s approval prior to trusting Christ, but God freely gave us a gift. Why? He did so “by his grace,” which is a favorable disposition toward us that results in an act of divine kindness. In fact, kindness is often a good synonym for grace. Moo says: “‘Grace’ is one of Paul’s most significant theological terms. He uses it typically not to describe a quality of God but the way in which God has acted in Christ.”[6]

Next we will consider the phrase “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24), which is another qualification on the action of justification. The word translated “redemption” (Greek apolutr?sis) means here, “release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance.”[7] Schreiner tells us, “Secular Greek literature leaves no doubt that a price was involved for redemption.”[8] Since it is Christ who died for the sins of the world, it is clear why this deliverance is found “in Christ Jesus” (3:24) and nowhere else!

(ESV) Romans 3:25  “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Romans 3:25 presents further information about “Christ Jesus” (3:24) by means of a relative clause introduced by “whom.” This clause says two things about Jesus: (1) God put him forward as a “propitiation by his blood” (3:25), and (2) this benefit from Christ’s blood sacrifice is “received by faith” (3:25).

The English word “propitiation” is not often heard these days outside of theological settings. The notes for the Holman Christian Standard Bible say: “The word propitiation has to do with the removal of divine wrath. Jesus’ death is the means that turns God’s wrath from the sinner; see 2 Cor. 5:21.” As we saw in Romans 1, some wrongly object to the idea of God’s wrath.

After saying that propitiation cannot be separated from divine wrath, Schreiner explains: “Romans 1–3 confirms this conclusion, for human sin provokes the revelation of God’s wrath (1:18), and the righteous judgment of God involves his wrath (2:5; 3:5–6). . . . God himself took the initiative to appease his own wrath.”[9] To appease God’s wrath, Jesus had to shed his blood in death for our sins (3:25).

As he does throughout Romans, Paul stresses our response to what God has done by saying it is “to be received by faith” (3:25).

The cost of grace

Those innocuous words “by his blood” (3:25) spell out the price of our deliverance — the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Probably you have heard the old saying that salvation is free because Jesus already paid for it.

1. What do you think about the idea that God provided the means to resolve his own legitimate wrath against your sins?

2. How do you feel about having been redeemed from a spiritual trap you could never have escaped on your own?

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!” (Eph. 2:4-5, NET).

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) 187.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975)  204.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Trans. R. Mackenzie (Edinburgh, publisher unknown, 1961) 74.

[4] BDAG-3, doxa, honor (meaning 3), q.v.

[5] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 226.

[6] Moo, Romans, 228.

[7] BDAG-3, apolutr?sis, deliverance, q.v.

[8] Schreiner, Romans, 189.

[9] Schreiner, Romans, 191.

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.