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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose kingdom will you serve?

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

[3] Moo, Romans, 347.

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

[5] Moo, Romans, 349.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 295.

Exposition of Romans 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 5:1-2 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 Cranfields 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 Gods 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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 Israels 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 Gods 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 Gods 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, Websters 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 4:16–17 Grace toward all — faith from all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we have in common?

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 232.

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

Exposition of Romans 4:11–12 Good to ask: who’s your daddy?

Because he was a famous man of faith, everyone wanted to claim Abraham as their father. Jesus’ opponents loudly proclaimed themselves the children of Abraham (John 8:39), and, when Jesus said that could not be so in light of their desire to kill him, they shouted that God was their Father (John 8:41). Jesus said no, their true father was the devil, a murderer guiding their lives (John 8:44).

Obviously, it makes a big difference whether you are a true child of Abraham or not. It is the difference between heaven and hell.

(ESV) Romans 4:11–12  He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,  12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Paul continues his biblical-historical argument about Abraham to demonstrate that God confers the status of righteousness by faith apart from works of the law (3:28). In order to promote understanding of these complex verses, I will present the sections one-at-a-time for discussion.

(ESV) Romans 4:11a “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”

Here (4:11a) circumcision is said to be a sign and a seal of Abraham’s justification. Grant Osborne rightly says, “Circumcision is seen both as the distinguishing mark [sign] and the confirming act [seal] of God’s covenant with his people.”[1]

But the sign and the seal are related to — indeed they depend upon — a more important, more central idea. They both signal the primacy of “the righteousness that he had by faith when he was still uncircumcised” (4:11a). Paul clearly implies that without that faith circumcision means nothing.

(ESV) Romans 4:11b “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

In presenting God’s two purposes for the significance of Abraham’s faith, Osborne says: “Paul could have subsumed [included] them under one statement that Abraham was the father of all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike. But instead Paul separates them into two sections for emphasis.”[2]

Romans 4:11b is the Gentile track. Abraham is the father of all Gentiles who believe and receive righteousness, because Abraham was uncircumcised when he was declared righteous by faith.

In passing, we note that Paul once again points to God’s internal reckoning using the verb logizomai: “so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.” This is called a “divine passive” because the passive voice is often used in the NT for God’s actions. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace points out: “That God is behind the scenes is self-evidently part of the worldview of the NT writers. The nature of this book demands that we see him even when he is not mentioned.”[3]

(ESV) Romans 4:12 “and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

Before we explain this verse, we will look back at what Paul said in Rom. 2:28–29 where we find: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.” (NET)

Paul will also take up this theme later in the letter when he says, “For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel” (Rom. 9:6, NET).

Romans 4:12 shows the track of God’s purpose for true Israel. Thomas Schreiner puts it best: “Paul teaches that Abraham is the father only of Jews who have faith. Circumcision alone is insufficient to belong to the people of God.”[4]

Wow! That is a game-changer for a lot of Jews who were involved in going-to-heaven-by-the-numbers — by analogy to painting-by-the-numbers. You can begin to see why Paul got a hot reception when he returned to Jerusalem. More than forty Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12), and the Roman commander escorted him far away with a force of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen (Acts 23:23)!

So, Abraham is the father of believing Gentiles and believing Jews, but he is not the father of those Jews who are circumcised yet fail to have the faith which God requires for righteousness. Those without faith are orphans.

Like father like son

Jesus tells us that “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Those who follow in the faith-steps of Abraham are truly his children.

1. To what extent do you benefit from feedback from others to ensure you are living with the faith of Abraham?

2. In terms of false standards, what could circumcision represent by analogy in the lives of others and in your own life?

Being from a good family does not help much with getting into heaven. In that setting, faith is the coin of the realm, and nothing else can substitute for it. Faith in Jesus Christ proves who your Father is once and for all.

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) 111.

[2] Osborne, Romans, 112.

[3] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 438.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 226.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember who is reckoning

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

Exposition of Romans 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.