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 4:11–12 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 4:6–8 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 3:1–4 God is reliable; humanity is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Fi Ultra!

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

[5] Moo, Romans, 184.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 181.

[7] Osborne, Romans, 82.

[8] Osborne, Romans, 83.

Exposition of Romans 2:28–29 Seek this: heart touched by Spirit

One of the fascinating things about professional football is that on Monday morning the great performances and the shoddy ones are first presented as matters of physical reality — touchdowns scored or fumbles — and then attributed to something inside the athletes. We may hear that our team played like they did not care or that a certain star showed tremendous heart.

Why is this so? Because we know that what is true on the inside determines what is seen on the outside.

(ESV) Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

While Romans 2:28 is fairly clear as it stands, some grammar helps us understand it better. The sentence breaks into two clauses — each stated negatively — whose subjects are Jew and circumcision. The first clause represents the Jewish view during the first century: circumcision identifies the Jews, those assured of heaven.

James Dunn presents the reasoning of that day:

Even though it was known that other peoples practiced circumcision . . . circumcision was nevertheless recognized to be a rite which marked out the Jews . . . . This can only be a reflection of the high evaluation placed on circumcision by the Jews themselves in defining their national and religious distinctiveness.[1]

To the correctness of the Jews’ belief Paul very clearly says, “No!” To understand why, we must first notice that one word is repeated: “outwardly . . . outward” (2:28). The underlying Greek word was used in 1:19 for those things God made “plain” to all humanity. To put the religious concept of circumcision into our time, imagine that all a man had to do to get to heaven was have a simple surgical operation and recover for two or three days. Does that make sense as a way to be acquitted of guilt before God? Not only is the idea ridiculous on its face, it makes no provision whatever for women. That is a rather significant omission.  :)

Douglas Moo explains the literary relationship of verse 28 to verse 29: “Paul argues by means of a contrast, with two denials in v. 28 being matched by two assertions in v. 29.”[2] The true Jew is the one changed inwardly. The true circumcision is the one of the heart done by the Spirit.

The word “inwardly” (“a Jew is one inwardly” 2:29) translates a Greek phrase that means “in the hidden place” or “in secret.”[3] That is exactly how the same phrase was used by Jesus for giving in secret (Matt. 6:4) and praying in secret (Matt. 6:6). So, a deeper way of looking at one contrast between 2:28 and 2:29 is that it compares what is in the open (fleshly circumcision; 2:28) with what is in secret (the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit; 2:29).

Dunn does the best job of presenting the contrasts in 2:28-29, and his Greek phrases will be presented in English for the sake of comprehension:

in the open           in the flesh                  by the letter (from man)

in secret                of the heart                 by the Spirit (from God)

Dunn skillfully observes:

As the summation of his indictment of the Jewish [opponent], this is what constitutes Paul’s critique of his own native religion: it puts too much stress on the outward and visible, on the physical kinship and ritual and in consequence treats the law superficially. What makes the true Jew, the Jew whom God praises, is precisely that which can never be measured in physical, visible and ritual terms — it is something hidden, of the heart, by the Spirit.[4]

Looking more broadly at Paul’s theology in all his letters, Pauline scholar Herman Ridderbos says, “For Paul, even when he speaks of being a Jew in the heart and the Spirit, faith in Christ and his gift of grace are all-important, and therefore natural descent from Abraham is no longer a determinative factor for belonging to the people of God.”[5]

God sees in secret.

Grant Osborne points the way for today’s application: “The message is just as important for our day as it was for Paul’s. It is just as easy today to center on the external (church attendance, activity or external piety) rather than on one’s relationship to God.”[6]

What are some possible reasons that both the first-century Jews and some of us today focus on external things rather than our relationship to God?

God has a word for those who are just going through the motions: “You will sow but not reap; you will press olives but not anoint yourself with oil; and you will tread grapes but not drink the wine” (Micah 6:15, HCSB).

But for those who seek God with a whole heart, he says: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19). Let your actions show you belong in the latter group.

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

 


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 120.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 173.

[3] BDAG-3, kruptos, hidden, q.v.

[4] Dunn, Romans, 124.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 334-335.

[6] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 78-79.

Exposition of Romans 2:26–27 We reap what we sow

The Bible repeatedly teaches that people’s deeds deserve more attention than their words. For example, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12, HCSB).

When Jesus taught the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), he made clear that behavior that pleased God was not the exclusive preserve of the Jews. But they did not take the point. Are we doing any better?

(ESV) Romans 2:26-27  So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

These two verses are harder than they look. Thomas Schreiner presents the issue like this: “Is the obedience of the Gentiles (1) hypothetical, (2) the obedience of those who have responded to the light they have received, or (3) the obedience of Christian Gentiles?”[1] Clearly the case involves both Jews and Gentiles who have some knowledge of the Law of Moses, including the well-known rite of circumcision.

Douglas Moo takes view (1) by saying, “Paul’s way of putting the matter in this context could, of course, suggest there actually are people who meet this requirement for salvation, but his later argument quickly disabuses us of any such idea (cf. 3:9, 20).”[2] Many agree with Moo out of concern that no basis be granted for salvation based on human works rather than on God’s grace.

But such theological considerations may be taken too far even though they are motivated by sound doctrine. Schreiner, joined by C.E.B. Cranfield,[3] takes view (3) that Paul is speaking of believing Gentiles:

The Spirit’s work on the heart logically precedes the observance of the law by the Gentiles. Autonomous works are rejected, but works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work are necessary to be saved. Paul is not speaking of perfect obedience, but of obedience that clarifies that one has been transformed.[4]

I join Schreiner’s conclusion by way of view (2) leading to (3). Some among the Gentiles respond to what they know about God: examples include Rahab (Josh. 2), Ruth (Ruth), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Lydia (Acts 16:14). God responds to such people with more of his light and grace. Like Abraham, David, Paul and many others, these people are not perfect, nor did any of them keep the law in every point. Instead, what happened to them is exactly what is described in Rom. 2:26; they were “regarded” by God as belonging to the people of God. This is an act of God’s mercy and grace.

The Greek verb (logizomai) translated “be regarded” (2:26) occurs nineteen times in Romans. In 2:26, the verb logizomai means, “as a result of a calculation evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider.”[5] Schreiner analyzes the form of logizomai used in 2:26 in the following way: “The future tense of [the verbal form] implies that such a reckoning will occur on the day of judgment, while the passive voice intimates that God does the reckoning.”[6]

Because of God’s act of reckoning [logizomai], what we have in 2:26–27 is not salvation by works but salvation by God’s gracious dealing with those who seek him. Consider these verses:

(NET) “But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

(ESV) “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6b).

In his conclusion (2:27) Paul returns to his theme that Jew and Gentile stand before God on the same basis; circumcision and law make no difference unless one adds faith that leads to obedience.

The fix is not in

God is paying attention to our actions because his judgment is not whimsical. His judgment is based on reality and truth. Paul says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NET).

1. Think in detail about the activities of your life over the last three days. How would God assess each of the actions you have taken?

2. The fact that all of our deeds are judged impartially affects what we believe, how we worship and whom we consider to be believers. For example: no one will go to heaven simply because they believe in the trinity or because they are Baptists or Roman Catholics or because they are nice people. Discuss the implications of this idea.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’  will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, 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) 139.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996)  171.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 173.

[4] Schreiner, Romans, 145; see 140-145 for the entire argument.

[5] BDAG-3, logizomai , look upon as, q.v.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 141.

Exposition of Romans 2:24–25 Some people want a magic bullet

“Hey, I was baptized as a baby! Surely that is good enough.”

“I go the church most of the time, and I figure God knows that.”

“My mother was a real Christian, and she never worried about me going to heaven; so, I’m doing fine!”

Many formerly relied on being born in America, but that does not seem to be as widely claimed in recent years. Do gold stars from Sunday School count?

(ESV) Romans 2:24-25  For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

In his ongoing argument against Jewish superiority, Paul pulls out a powerful weapon by quoting the Old Testament (Isa. 52:5) in support of his point. It is important to realize that the Word of God has always been considered authoritative by the people of God. Neither ancient Jewish posturing nor contemporary opinions can stand if they conflict with what God has revealed to his people in the Bible. “As it is written . . .” (2:24) settles issues among the faithful.

Paul is being ironic by saying that the very people whose conduct should have caused God to be praised became the cause for God to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (2:24). How did this come about? Isaiah spoke for God against the idolatry that led to the Jews being taken away into Gentile captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah was removed by Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell.

In the thinking of the ancient world, a deity who could not protect his own people was no deity at all! Because God allowed his people to experience judgment over their idolatry, the name of God was scorned by the powerful nations who took the Jews into slavery. Peter similarly warns Christians not to dishonor God by their conduct (2 Pet. 2:2).

Of course, the prevalence of idolatry in Israel and Judah is direct proof that the people were not keeping the Law of Moses; they ignored the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Exodus 20:4-6 commanded that no images be made in all Israel. No Jew could deny the historic failure of his people to keep these commands.

Paul applies this truth to the Jews who hear his arguments. Circumcision, an essential sign of the covenant people, was required of all Jewish males (Gen. 17:10–14). James Dunn says, “The irreducibly fundamental importance of circumcision for the Jew of Paul’s time can be easily documented.”[1] When Paul says “circumcision is indeed of value” (2:25a), all right-thinking Jews would be nodding yes; but his argument tightens when he adds “if you practice the law” (2:25b, NET).

Douglas Moo points out the necessity of deciding what is meant by the phrase “if you practice the law” in 2:25 by saying: “Two interpretations fit the context: (1) a heartfelt, faith-filled obedience to the stipulations of the covenant, (2) a perfect conformity to the letter of the law. If the former is adopted, then Paul would presumably regard this kind of ‘doing the law’ as possible.”[2] After noting that the decision is difficult, Moo prefers the second; I prefer the first. Great scholars fall on both sides.

Through over-emphasis on circumcision, many Jews did little more. Paul says they are no better than the uncircumcised Gentiles. That view again places Jew and Gentile on the same footing in relation to God’s judgment.

Short cuts not wanted!

Christians must beware of making the same mistake the Jews made! Grant Osborne tells how: “Those who think they are going to heaven because of being baptized but who are not committed to Christ face the same tragic consequence — they too are under God’s wrath.”[3]

1. Read Matthew 28:19–20. When Jesus speaks of “all I have commanded you,” what do you think he expects of those who become his disciples?

2. Baptism for Christians is similar in significance to circumcision for Jews. If you have not been baptized at an age when you fully understood its spiritual significance, what would it take for you to arrange for water baptism through your church? Baptism is not the end of Christian responsibility, but it is very important.

Gaming the system with God has been popular throughout the ages. The only problem is that God is not playing games! The good news is that we have plenty of notice about this issue, so pleasing our Lord can become our main concern.

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



[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 119.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 168.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 77.