Exposition of Romans 5:3-5, Our hearts have the Holy Spirit

It is one thing to praise God when you cruise in sunny skies with a fair breeze, but what about during life’s storms? The vital point is that God has not left us to muddle though trouble on our own.

Only God can bless his own in the midst of trouble. How does he do it?

(ESV) Romans 5:3-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

If the previous section (5:1-2) boasted of our having God’s approval in the context of grace and peace, the present section (5:3-5) boasts about God’s loving purpose in the context of suffering. It is certainly paradoxical to boast “in our sufferings,” but Paul assures believers that even there we may expect to triumph because of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (5:5).

The initial phrase “more than that” (5:3) adds the context of trouble to the previous context of blessing (5:1-2). Because of what Christ has done for us, we have a reason to boast — again, not “rejoice” — no matter what our circumstances may be. The Greek noun which ESV translates as “sufferings” is thlipsis, which here (5:3) means “trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation.”[1] This can be just about anything that puts pressure on a person; indeed, the ANLEX lexicon says thlipsis means “literally pressure.”[2]

For the unbeliever consider that trouble produces nothing but misery. The reason a believer may boast is that even suffering is used by God for good in that person’s life (5:3). So, we get the famous sequence: trouble to endurance to character to hope (5:4). It is plain that Paul is expressing a constructive, supernatural process that could not arise naturally from trouble. He next explains how this surprising uplift is possible.

The reason that a Christian may gain benefit even during trouble is because God is intervening in both the believer and the events. So, “hope does not put us to shame” (5:4) because biblical hope is an “expectation”[3] backed by God. “Hope” is so iffy in English usage that it presents problems.

The NET Bible does a good job on Rom. 5:5 by saying “hope does not disappoint.” If you live by faith, the eventual outcome when you stand before God will reward you. That is extremely significant to a Christian’s motivation since the Christian life involves sacrifice and service (Luke 9:23-24; Mark 10:45), and such sacrifice and service often involve trouble.

Finally we get to the cause of the uplift-within-trouble: the Holy Spirit within us is the expression of God’s love (5:5). Love has not previously been mentioned in Romans. Grant Osborne eloquently speaks of its significance:

First, this love is poured out into our hearts, meaning we realize God’s love as an inner, spiritual experience at the deepest level of our being. Second, the means by which we experience this is the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. . . . The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift that makes it possible for us to know the gift of God’s love.[4]

The verb “has been poured” is a Greek perfect tense, which Daniel Wallace says emphasizes the act of outpouring the Spirit into our hearts; the perfect also has that special idea of the present state emerging from that past action.[5] God gave us a matchless gift, the Holy Spirit who gets us through our trouble.

God gives inner strength

Some of us live blissfully unaware of how common trouble is in human experience. The ubiquity of trouble makes it vital for Christians to know how God will use it in their lives.

1. What have you been through that you did not initially think you could handle? How did God use that pressure to produce endurance?

2. What has been your own experience of endurance producing character? It is said that trouble makes us or breaks us: how does God use each outcome?

Jesus was not given a pass on trouble. “During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered.” (Heb. 5:7-8, NET). Jesus understands how to use the trouble we face to build us up!

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, thlipsis, trouble, q.v.

[2] ANLEX, thlipsis, trouble, q.v.

[3] BDAG-3, elpis, expectation, q.v.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 131-132.

[5] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 577.

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 4:23-25, 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 4:18-19, Faith accepts reality but trusts God

Abrahams 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 Sarahs 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 Pauls 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 Gods 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, Abrahams 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 Gods 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, 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) 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 4:16-17, 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 4:13-14, An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound — so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress, and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited. (Smile)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Paul’s day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word torah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that one could be Abraham’s child only by taking on oneself the yoke of torah.[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: “The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise” (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abraham’s time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters such as the miracles of Jesus. (Smile)

In a way, Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase “not through the law” near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came “through the righteousness of faith” (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: “If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for God’s promise would be removed.”[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — “faith is null and the promise is void” (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) faith is empty and the promise is nullified (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NETs translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) faith is null and the promise is void (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. “Null and . . . void” has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLTs “not necessary and . . . pointless” uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains what the law does:produces wrath — as opposed to what it cannot do:secure the inheritance.[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12-14 and 7:7-13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Paul’s point when he says, “Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.”[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause “where there is no law there is no transgression” (4:15) does not mean “where there is no law there is no sin.” On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, “Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.”[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

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) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.

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.