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 — Hewho 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 dikaiaohere (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 eirenemeans “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 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 again picks up 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”] tesdoxa 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 there as well. The standard Greek lexicon also offers “divine approbation [approval]of 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, Plano, Texas. 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, dikaiao, be acquitted, q.v.

[4] peace, Websters New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Michael Agnes, Ed. in Chief (New York: McMillan, 1999).

[5] BDAG-3, eirene, 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 Gods favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But Gods 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 Pauls entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on Gods side.

The word it has twice been italicized in my rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference of “it” might be. Thomas Schreiner says, The subject could be Gods 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 Abrahams 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 Gods 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 of 4:17 (the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do) provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abrahams 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 Abrahams descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Pauls 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 2:810. 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, Plano, Texas. 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: whos 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 Abrahams justification. Grant Osborne rightly says, Circumcision is seen both as the distinguishing mark [sign] and the confirming act [seal] of Gods 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 Gods two purposes for the significance of Abrahams 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 Gods 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 Gods 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 Gods 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, Plano, Texas. 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.