Romans 1 – 5
From Paul: A slave of Jesus Christ, called to be a witness of his resurrection, and set apart for the good news of God about his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the gospel that was previously promised by his prophets in the holy scriptures. And this Jesus, in the flesh was the descendent of David. But this Jesus in the spirit was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. And it is by this Jesus that we have received grace and been commissioned to be witnesses of his resurrection to demand in his name that people from all nations obey the faith; and you who are the called of Jesus Christ are among those people.
To: Everyone in Rome who is beloved of God and called to be saints.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me begin by thanking my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, that your faith is spoken of everywhere around the world. God who I serve in the gospel of his Son with every fiber of my being is my witness that I always mention you in my prayers when I plead with God that he would allow me to finally visit you. Because I desperately want to see you, so that I might strengthen your resolve by sharing some spiritual gift with you; but more importantly, so that we all might have the opportunity to comfort each other by our mutually shared faith. I don’t want you to think that I didn’t want to minister to you the same way I have ministered to the other Gentiles. Many times I planned to visit you, but was thwarted everytime. I am very aware that I owe a debt to both the Greeks and the Barbarians; to both the wise and the unwise. So, as far as I am concerned, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: First, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes — both to the Jew first and also to the Greek; and second, because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, clearly predicated on and substantiated by faith. As pertaining to both of these reasons it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (More on this later.)
Conversely to the revelation of the righteousness of God: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who’s suppression of the divine revelation, that is clearly manifest in them, is predicated on and substantiated by unrighteousness. First, because they have no excuse. The immaterial nature and invisible power of God can be clearly seen in the Creation and comprehended by observing what is material and visible. And second, because when they did know God, they neither glorified him as God should be glorified nor did they even express thanks; but instead through their silly speculations they became worthless and because of their foolishness they descended into moral darkness. Claiming to be wise, they made complete fools of themselves trying to replace the glory of the eternal and immaterial God with figurines shaped like temporal and physical men, and birds, and mammals, and reptiles. As a final consequence, God gave them up to be overcome by the dehumanizing, filthy cravings of their own innermost desires. I reiterate, because they had replaced the divine revelation with a lie, and had worshipped and served the creation more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
To particularize this final consequence of God giving them up to filthy cravings: It was so catastrophic that even their women perverted their own sexual nature, in the same way as the men had abandoned the natural attraction towards women and burned with disgusting passions and enaged in depraved sex with other men; all of them receiving in themselves the well deserved consequences of their depravity.
And to particularize the consequence of them suppressing the divine revelation: God gave them over to an unmoored and twisted worldview to pursue their self-destruction. Hence they are filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness. They are full of envy, murder, contentiousness, deceit, and malignity. They are gossipers, slanderers, antitheists, disdainful, proad, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, renegers, without natural affection, unappeasable, and merciless. And to top it all off, although they are aware of God’s judgment that the penalty for these crimes is death, they not only continue to do them, but they celebrate those that do them.
But since the righteousness of God is to the Jew first, then you also have no excuse, whoever you are that judges the heathen: For in judging others you condemn yourself, because you actually commit the same crimes that you condemn. We have already established the indisputable fact that God will unfailingly judge anyone who commits such crimes. So do you really think you can judge others for these crimes that you commit yourself, and yet somehow manage to escape God’s judgment? Or is that you contemptuously dismiss God’s good natured patience and self-restraint in affording you space to repent? Either way, be it because of your obstinate hypocrisy or your contempt of repentance, the consequence is the same: You are only succeeding in multiplying and intensifying the wrath of God that he will pour out on you in the day when he decides to no longer restrain his anger and reveals his righteous judgment. At that time he will give back to everyone according to what they have done: To them who patiently persevere in doing good — because they desire glory, honor, and immortality — he will give back eternal life; but to them who defiantly refuse to obey the divine revelation, pursuing unrighteousness, he will give back contempt and wrath. In short, on that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel, there will be adversity and anguish on every last one who does evil, on the Jew first, but also on the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace on every single one who does good, again, on the Jew first, but also on the Gentile; because God shows no favoritism.
This impartiality is evident in the reality that as many as have sinned without the law shall perish without the law, and as many as have sinned under the law shall be condemned by the law. This is because it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who are acquitted. But to the point that those that sin without the law perish all the same: When the Gentiles who ostensibly don’t have the law, intuitively do the things contained in the law, they declare that they do, in fact, have a law: It is the functional law that is written in their collective consciousness and revealed when they accuse and excuse one another.
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 (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.