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, Gods 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 Gods 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, Plano, Texas. 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 4:23-25, Abraham believed to show us how

If we were talking about receiving old treasure — Spanish gold doubloons, say — you would snatch them up in an instant! How is it that old words — from God, say — do not produce a similarly enthusiastic reaction?

An older scholar says that God did not put all the cookies on the lower shelf. But they are within your reach. Just how much do you want them?

(ESV) Romans 4:23-25

But the words it was counted to him were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

How easily we dismiss events of the past as belonging to another age! Even though we know the Bible is the Word of God, spiritual maturity is required to apply biblical principles to ourselves. Douglas Moo points out, “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.”[1] The revelation must be applied with discretion, but that is always so.

Concerning 4:23-24a, Grant Osborne says: “Abraham’s faith was not merely a historical event but was a paradigm for believers in every age. . . . When we exercise the same faith Abraham did, then for us too that faith is counted as righteousness.”[2] The “will be counted” language is not future from our standpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Abraham’s time; for this reason it refers to our salvation through faith and not to deliverance from final judgment. Thomas Schreiner says: “We could paraphrase the verse as follows. Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.”[3]

But there is more in the depths of Romans 4:24. Notice that those to whom righteousness will be counted are described as “[we] who believe in him” (4:24). The italicized word is a Greek present participle, and the present tense most commonly refers to ongoing action in present time. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace says concerning this participle, “The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation.”[4]

In other words, believers are not those who for one minute think favorably about Jesus, pray a short prayer and then lead a life independent or even defiant of God. No, believers are those who, like Abraham, demonstrate their faith over and over. They have committed themselves to faith in Jesus and keep on living for him. Continuing to believe is not a matter of losing our salvation or working for it; it is a matter of demonstrating our saving faith is real. God knows the difference!

Just as he began this letter with the resurrected Jesus, appointed the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4) after rising from the dead, Paul again returns to that theme in 4:24 as he nears the logical end of this portion of the letter. But in making his sectional conclusion, Paul hits some beautiful themes about what Jesus did for us.

Paul joins the death of Jesus with his resurrection (4:25), and that combination maintains a holistic perspective. In saying Jesus “was delivered up for our transgressions” he uses the verb paradidomi, which sounds with ominous regularity in Johns gospel (John 18:2, 5, 30, 35, 36; 19:11, 16, 30) while Jesus is taken to his trial and execution.

Paul does not elaborate here on the statement that Jesus “was raised for our justification” (4:25), but Paul does make comments elsewhere. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But Christ has been raised!

Osborne summarizes: “His death, as seen in the epistles, is the theological basis of justification, and his resurrection, as seen in Acts (2:31-36; 13:32-39), is the apologetic basis of salvation; that is, it proves the reality of the salvation produced in Christ.”[5]

Imitating Abraham’s faith

For the sake of interacting with the questions below, I would define biblical faith as responding in a positive way to what God has said and done. That is what Abraham did.

1. Are there parts of the New Testament that you read over quickly or skip because you do not like what they say? If you are not sure, read a major section of Matthew 57 (The Sermon on the Mount) and then answer.

2. If you have identified parts of the New Testament that you skip over or avoid, is it not reasonable to think that facing those issues could be the greatest source of further spiritual growth? What would it take for you to talk to God, to one of your pastors, or to your life group leader about how to respond to those issues with faith?

Abraham did not relish talking with God about his barren wife and the long-dormant promise God had made about an heir. But when he finally spoke, God gave him even more revelation to accept by faith along with further blessings. Why not give that a try?

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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)287.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004)121.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998)242.

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996)621, footnote 22, with numerous examples.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 123.

Exposition of Romans 4:20-22, In all, get on God’s page!

Dallas Cowboys football fans have shared some common experiences. One happened when quarterback Tony Romo threw a deep-out to the sideline only to have the pass receiver cut sharply away toward the center of the football field. Then we heard the commentator tell us what we already knew: “Tony and the receiver were not on the same page.” We football fans would grit our teeth and wonder how much more money it would take to get them on the same page!

An errant pass in a football game means little in the grand scheme of things. But what happens when we are not on the same page with God?

(ESV) Romans 4:20-22

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Romans 4:20 ties very closely to 4:19, where Paul said that Abraham did not weaken in faith when considering Gods promise in relation to his own physical condition and that of barren Sarah. Paul uses the contrast between weak and strong; in 4:19 he said Abraham did not weaken, and in 4:20 he explains how his faith grew strong.

The Greek verb translated waver in 4:20 is diakrino, which in the active voice means “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate.”[1] Here in 4:20 we actually have the passive voice, but there is value in pausing to consider this verb carefully. Abraham had believed God when he left Haran and many times since, but he could have balked at this promise due to old age. In other words, Abraham could have made a distinction between what God had done in other situations and what he would do in this one. In effect, Abraham would be saying: “God, I believed you about all those other things, but this one is more than I can accept.” This one is different.

We have all had those thoughts at some point, but we probably did not have the nerve to say so overtly to God. We kept the conflict within ourselves. That is how the passive voice of diakrinofunctions, to express internal doubt or wavering. The lexicon says the passive voice of diakrinomeans “to be at variance with someone.”[2] But, in relation to God’s promise of a multitude of descendants, Abraham would have been at variance with God. Romans 4:20 tells us Abraham was never at variance with God about this promise!

Unlike the people described in Romans 1:18, who rejected the truth in unrighteousness, Abraham embraced God’s promise about descendants. Abraham took the view that whatever God said, God would do! Abraham saw no reason to pick and choose among the things God said as if some were reliable and some were not. Abraham struggled at times, but not much overall.

The clear implication of 4:20 is that when we take God at his word and act accordingly, our faith grows stronger. But what does “as he gave glory to God” (4:20) mean? Thomas Schreiner says: “The secret of Abraham’s faith is that he acknowledged God’s glory by acknowledging his ability to carry out his promises . . . . The supreme way to worship God is not to work for him (4:4-5) but to trust that he will fulfill his promises.”[3] Living by faith gives glory to God.

In light of what we have said about 4:20, the meaning of Romans 4:21 is plain as day. C.E.B. Cranfield adds the insight: “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, not merely in what had been promised.”[4]

We encounter the now-familiar verb logizomai (counted) in 4:22. Abraham’s response pleased God who counted Abraham as a righteous man. Schreiner says: “We perceive that the faith that results in righteousness is not a vague abstraction. Genuine faith adheres to Gods promise despite the whirlwind of external circumstances that imperil it.”[5]

Who is the quarterback?

All of us have to decide whether we are going to carry out the plays God calls or set out on a rogue play of our own. This metaphor should make it obvious how much success we can expect if we try to pick and choose what part of God’s promises we will believe and which part we will reject.

1. What part of God's revelation is a struggle for you? What can you do to identify the source of your difficulty and seek to resolve it?

2. In what ways have you found that trusting God in specific situations leads to growth in your faith?

The secret to Abraham’s greatness was his wholehearted acceptance of what God had said. Certainly there were times when he did not understand what God wanted of him — times they were not on the same page — but it was never a matter of rejecting what God had said. His example inspires us all to get on the same page with God.

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

 


[1] BDAG-3, diakrino, differentiate (active), q.v.

[2] BDAG-3, diakrino, to be at variance with someone (passive), q.v.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 238.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 249.

[5] Schreiner, Romans, 239.