Exegesis of Romans, part 2


Preface.

This portion of Romans is especially difficult to exegete. Chapter 5 is probably the most complicated writing in the New Testament. (For instance, in the Greek sentence found in verse 5:18, there are no verbs. I don’t even know what to make of that. For what purpose would Paul write a sentence like that?) Throughout the book Paul is using a literary style that often looks like a plate of logical spaghetti noodles. It is beautiful how ‘connected’ everything is, but it is brutal to follow and even worse to try to simplify. None of this is a criticism, after days of working on these exegesis, I am thoroughly persuaded that there probably is no better way to write such a treatise, then how Paul wrote it. So, it might seem that it jumps back and forth and all over the place, but what is actually happening is that Paul fleshes out each point as the text introduces it, then returns to the previous point. It is important to understand this or we will quickly get lost in the pile of noodles. One key to following these many strands is researching the Greek wording, as the English translations generally don’t maintain a very strict rendering of them, for various legitimate reasons.

(2.17 – 5.21)

Continued from Exegesis of Romans, part 1

But no, not you! You are called a Jew, and are ensconced in the law, and boast in God, and know his will, and have a discriminating moral palate, because you are steeped in the law. You are a self-assured guide of the blind, a light to them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes; you have the form of knowledge and truth in the law. So… You teach others, but not yourself? You preach that a man shouldn’t steal, but do you steal? You say that a man should not commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You hate idols, but do you commit sacrilege? You boast in the law, but do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision really is an advantage, if you keep the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision is voided and in effect undone. What all this implies is that if the uncircumcision keeps the spirit of the law, won’t his uncircumcision also be voided and in effect undone. And more to the point, doesn’t the principle of uncircumcision keeping the spirit of the law indict you, who break the law despite having the letter of the law and the advantage of circumcision? So, just as circumcision is not referring to an external operation, in the same way the Jew is not defined by external characteristics. The real Jew is he who is a Jew through-and-through, and real circumcision is an operation on the heart, in accordance with the spirit not the letter; and his motivation is to be praised by God, not boasting.

But if this is the case, then what advantage does the natural Jew have, or what is gained from circumcision proper? A tremendous amount in every way imaginable. First and foremost: The conduit of God’s communication was committed unto them. But then what conclusion is warranted of those Jews that were faithless? Does that altogether negate faith in God? Absolutely not! Rather, absolutely: “God is true; every man is a liar.” And not rather, the damnable heresy: “Let us do evil, that good may come.” (As we are slanderously reported to have said, with some going so far as to even perjure themselves.) Speaking of negating faith in God, it is written by David in Psalm 51, when he confessed to God his terrible crime as primarily a sin of faithlessness: That you would be upheld in your rulings, and vindicated whenever you are indicted.” But then, if our unrighteousness so serves to highlight the righteousness of God, can we then claim exoneration? In other words, if my lie has created an opportunity for the truth of God to triumph and magnify God’s glory, then why would I be condemned as a sinner? Wouldn’t that make God unrighteous when he then avenges righteousness? (I am playing the Devil’s advocate here.)  Absolutely not. Otherwise, how could he ever then judge the world?

If the Jews have such advantages does that mean they are better than Gentiles? No. Not in any way imaginable: we have already made the case that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin; just as it is also written There is no one righteous, not even one: there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one. Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. 

Returning to the revelation of God’s righteousness: We all know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law. Its purpose is to shut every mouth and indict the whole world before God. This means that by the works of the law no flesh can be justified in God’s sight, because by the law there is only the awareness of sin. But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed; being attested to by the law and the prophets — specifically, the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all those that believe; for there is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God — and being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has presented as a means of atonement through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness both for the remission of sins in the past — remitted through God’s merciful patience — as well as in this time. And this he did that he might be both just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.

So what room is there for the boasting we spoke of earlier? It is banished. Which law excludes it? The law of works? No, it is in the law of works that such boasting takes place. It is the ‘law’ of faith that excludes all such boasting.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Otherwise we would be relegated to an incoherence, namely: Is the one true God the God of the Jews only? Mustn’t he also be the God of the Gentiles? Of course he must be the God of the Gentiles also, since there is only one true God… who will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith. Do we then abolish the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we prop the law up.

What happens if we apply these principles to the real case scenario to our ancestor Abraham? Simply put, if Abraham were justified by works, he has a legitimate reason to boast, but not before God. But what does the scripture say regarding that? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” It is self-evident that the wage a person receives for working is properly conceptualized as ‘debt’, not  ‘grace’. Contrast that with the person who doesn’t work, but just believes on him that justifies the ungodly: His faith is counted for righteousness. David declares the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works when he says, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” 

To apply this scenario to a previous point: Is this blessedness only available to the circumcision, or to the uncircumcision also? Well, we observed that faith was counted to Abraham for righteousness. But how, or when, was it counted? When he was circumcised or when he was uncircumcised? To state the obvious: When he was uncircumcised. It was only after that he received the sign of circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness that he received by faith while he was yet uncircumcised. And that was so he could be the father of all those who believe, even if they aren’t circumcised; to make it clear that righteousness can be imputed to them also. He is also the father of circumcision, but only to those who are not only circumcised but also walk in the steps of faith which father Abraham walked when he was yet uncircumcised. 

And to apply it to yet another previous point: the promise of being heir of the world was not to Abraham nor to his descendents by way of the law, but by way of the righteousness of faith. To put it succinctly, if they who are of the law are the heirs then faith is a facade and the promise is empty, because the intent and effect of the law is wrath —  just consider this truism: If there is no law then there is no law-breaking to be angry over. The only viable conclusion is that the promise is by way of faith that it might actually be by grace because that is the only possible way that the promise could be sure to all the descendents, not just those who are of the law, but to those also who are in a similar condition as that of Abraham when he believed; after all, from the vantage point of God, he is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made you a father of many nations.” It was in this context that Abraham believed in God, who makes alive the dead, and who calls things which are not yet as though they were already. Abraham, contrary to any rational expectation, believed with confidence what was spoken to him, So shall thy seed be“; and as a result became the father of many nations. To unpack that — Because Abraham was not weak in faith: He didn’t give any thought to his own body now practically dead, seeing he was almost 100 years old, nor to the deadness of Sara’s womb; He didn’t shrink through unbelief in the promise of God, but was filled with strength through faith, giving glory to God; he was fully confident that what God had promised, he was also able to do. That is what was imputed unto him for righteousness. 

The scripture that says faith was counted unto Abraham for righteousness, was not written for his sake only, but for our sake also, because our faith will also be counted unto us for righteousness if we believe on God that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.

The benefit of being thus justified by faith is that we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (By whom we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand; and by whom we can boast in the hope of the glory of God, of which we had before fallen short. And not only do we boast in the glory of God, but we boast in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation produces patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope does not allow us to shrink back.) because God has poured out his love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is also poured out unto us.

To comprehend this love consider that Christ, at the perfect time (and while we were completely powerless), died for the ungodly. Think of this contrast: It is very unlikely that you would be willing to die to save a not-guilty person — although admittedly, for a good person you might actually be willing to sacrifice yourself — but, God commends his own love toward us in that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. If we are justified by his blood in such a manner, then even more so will we be saved from wrath through him, and have peace with God! I repeat, if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, then even more now, being reconciled, we will be saved by the life of his Son!  And hence, not only do we boast in the glory of God, and boast in tribulations, but now we boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation. 

Returning to Jesus being delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification: Given that by one man sin entered into the world, and death entered by sin, and thereby death spread to all men since the whole sinned… Allow me to argue for this natural theology: Even though sin cannot be imputed when there is now law, sin was still in the world before the law was introduced. This is self-evident in that death, which is a result of sin, reigned in the world from Adam to Moses, even over anyone who had not themselves sinned in the same form as Adam’s transgression. And speaking of Adam, he is a type of the One who was to come. But despite the analogies between them, there are important differences between the offense of the former — through whose offense many are dead — and the free gift of the latter, by whom the grace of God and the gift of grace has abounded unto many, and abounded even more than the offense necessitated. One critical difference is that the judgment to condemnation was the result of a single offense, but the free gift encompases many offenses unto their justification. I say abounded even more than the offense necessitated because under Adam we can say: By the offense of one man death reigned; but under Jesus Christ we say: All those who receive the abundant grace and the gift of righteousness reign unto life… Given all that, let us reduce this to the most basic formulation: So then just as by one offense to all men unto condemnation; so also by one righteousness to all men unto justification of life. That is to say, by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, in like manner by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. As for the incidental introduction of the law: That was so the offense would abound. But even when sin abounded, grace super-abounded. To such a degree that even though sin did reign unto death, grace reigns through righteousness unto ETERNAL life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

To be continued…

M. N. Jackson is a founding elder and teaching pastor of Free Born Church. He was a missionary in Mexico for over 20 years where he was part of a team of church planters. After being deported from Mexico for preaching the gospel, he returned to San Antonio, and continued ministering the word.

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