About Me

Arborg, Manitoba, Canada
Married to the love of my life with whom I (and God - all three of us) have co-created three incredible sons. Interested in philosophy, theology, and how to live Truth. Love music but couldn't carry a tune to save my life.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Romans 5:12-21 ConneXion March 29, 2009

Death through Adam, Life through Christ
Romans 5 is a pivotal piece of Paul’s theology. Like almost every other pivotal passage its meaning is hotly contested. As much as possible we want to try to hear Paul before we decide what he can and cannot be saying.
Paul’s frequent use of ‘Therefore’ belies the flow of thought in his writings. Paul’s writing is a journey and you need to know where he came from in order to understand why he is here and where he is going. This is not to say that all his work is a tidy flow of logic. Paul is the kind of traveler who likes the byways. He is constantly distracted by what he sees beside the road, and frequently veers off on a rabbit trail for an excursion, before returning to the main course of his thought. In this part of Romans we will encounter a prime example of this meandering.
“Therefore” says Paul, and we are following up on the interview with Paul that Zach let us listen in on last week. In that interview/overview of the first part of Romans 5 Paul told us that we can boast and rejoice, not in what we do, but in what God does for us, long before we experience even the first premonitions of our own desperate need.
“12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”
and here is the first rabbit trail. Paul started out making a comparison ‘just as’ but now he sees an auspicious trail that he cannot resist exploring:
“13for before the law was given, sin was in the world.”
Paul wants us to understand the nature of sin. First, we are not merely guilty in Adam, though the biblical view of the solidarity of humanity mitigates the perceived injustice of such a conclusion. In our own time we have an impoverished view of what it is to be human because we give far too much credit to individuals as being the basic unit of humanity. In biblical thought the basic unit of humanity is the community. The writer of Hebrews talks about Levi, who is the type of the priesthood since that is the tribe that was given the priestly role of collecting tithes. The writer notes that Levi, who collected Israel’s tithe in fact paid the tithe to Melchizedek because he was in Abraham’s body when Abraham met Melchizek and paid him the tenth (Hebrews 7:9-10). The OT is replete with similar stories and in this chapter of Romans Paul shows that this principle works both ways. The same solidarity that has us all sinning in Adam also has us all justified in Jesus Christ. However, none of us can blame Adam for our sinfulness because, as Paul notes here and elsewhere, “all sinned.”
Paul understands that we may resist the notion that sin is pervasive, by reason of a deficient understanding of sin as breaking the law. Sin is more than doing what you know you should not do because you have learned better. If sin was only a matter of operating against better knowledge than those who did not have the law could not be considered guilty, and yet death, which in Paul’s mind is integrally linked with sin,
“reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of the giving of the law to Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a law. Adam did sin in breaking an explicit command, and death came as a result of that sin, but even those who never had a law to break still operated under the curse of death because they all sinned, with or without the law.
This is another clear indication that we are not guilty in Adam because of his sin, we are guilty with Adam because we all sin. However, being classed with Adam is not only bad news, because Adam was a pattern of the one to come, the One who would more than reverse the curse of Adam’s disobedience with another superlative act of righteous obedience.
“15But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
‘The many’ is a term (hoi polloi) that does not intend to select a group of many out of a larger group that includes all. Hoi polloi is a term that refers to the masses of people without distinguishing them as a subset of a larger category. The parallelism also makes it difficult to suggest that the many in one case is in any way distinguishable from the many in the second use. The emphasis in this verse is not a comparison of two different categories of the many, but on the impact of the gift as over against the trespass. If the masses died because of the trespass of the one man, how much more will God’s grace and gift that came by the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the masses!! The implication is that those who died because of sin will be more than restored in the work of Jesus Christ. But just in case we missed the point, Paul says it again:
“16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
The superlative comparison continues as Paul points out that the judgement of death followed one sin, but the gift followed on the heels of many sins and still prevailed to bring justification. One sin was enough to bring death, but many sins were not enough to stand in the way of justification! The comparison of extravagance continues:
“17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
The precise denotation of “those who receive” is one of those hotly debated phrases in this text. Does this phrase intend to limit the “provision of grace and the gift of righteousness” that comes though Jesus Christ to a subset of those over whom death rules? If so, then this phrase stands in stark contrast to every other comment in this text regarding the relative extent of the curse as compared to the gift, not to mention the general tenor of this passage which uniformly exults in the excess of the gift over sin and death.
If this phrase is understood to introduce a hint of conditionality it should not be taken to refer to the gift, but to the fruition of the gift. The gift remains an ‘abundant provision’, but those who ‘receive’ the gift will ‘reign in life’. The gift is the antidote to everything impacted by sin, and those who receive the gift will reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. The reigning in life is not something we can do on our own, it only happens as we participate in Jesus Christ. It seems that the work of Jesus Christ flows for all at least as freely and as powerfully as the original sin introduced death into the world, a death which impacts all. We do not have an original choice in whether or not to participate in sin, though we do have a choice in how enthusiastically we participate. It seems there is a parallel in that we do not have an original choice in justification, but we do have a choice in how far we allow God’s salvation to take root in our lives, and how far we go in letting the life of Jesus Christ reign in us. Paul’s next words are a powerful reiteration of this very point:
“18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
This is an incredible salvation! As awful as was the curse, God has more than simply reversed the effects of sin for us!! Any perception of injustice in being included with Adam in original sin is more than mitigated by the good news that we are also all included in the justification that brings life for all. We start life twice born! Solidarity in the actions of others stands in our favor as it brings us the righteousness that can only be realized in the work of Jesus Christ.
20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is not likely that Paul intends to say that the advent of the law actually increased sin because he has just said that sin is pervasive even where there is no law. It is much more likely, given the context, that he intends to remind us that we know sin because of the law. This fits with earlier statements like “through the law we become conscious of sin” (3:20). It would be positively contrary to God’s nature to take action that increased sin when the consistent message of scripture is that sin is anathema to God to the extent that He chooses to give his own life rather than allow sin to rule his creation. In fact it would be quite appropriate to recognize that it is grace that works through the law to bring about a recognition of our own sinfulness and our need for a Saviour, and it is the same grace that reigns through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ.
The key verse of Romans is 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Romans 5:12-21 is a pre-eminent exposition of this salvation. Even before we realize we have fallen God has already provided a remedy that is more than sufficient to restore the relationship that was broken by our sin. The question now is how shall we live in light of this salvation provided for us and for all who sin? Romans 6 will lay that our for us, but it quite emphatically does not condone any notion of living frivolously in a presumption of this grace freely bestowed. Rather, in a heartfelt gratitude for this salvation we should count ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Romans 3:1-20 ConneXion March 1, 2009

(Note: This is a revised version of an oral delivery and discussion at the ConneXion in Arborg on March 1, 2009. It is one session in a series of presentations on Romans. Presenters in the series included others from the ConneXion, as well as visiting presenters.)
We have looked at various parts of Romans already so we will just do a very quick and cursory review to set the stage for our look at chapter 3. Romans 1:16-17 are the key to the book:
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[c] just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."[d]
Then Paul talks about the wrath of God directed against wickedness, which Peter handled so well 2 weeks ago. After stirring up his readers about wickedness and the filthy way of life of "others" he turns the tables in chapter 2:
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
It seems clear that Paul's intent in this part of Romans is to annihilate any confidence we have in any distinctions we perceive or posit between ourselves and the "others". Nothing gives us a head start with God in relation to "others", whether we call those "others" the lost, or the world , or any other designation that emphasizes a gap between us.
I want to take a bit of a closer look at 2:17-29 because this piece is the context for chapter 3. Paul's focus in this section is on the Jews and their confidence in their special status with God based on their being a chosen people with a special revelation from the God who chose them. The section targets the Jews, but we need to reflect on how this applies to us. Paul begins:

ROMANS 2:17-3:20
The Jews and the Law
17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew;
Paul is speaking very specifically to the Jews, but we believe that the Bible is God's word to us today. What terms would we use to highlight for ourselves that this text speaks to us? Terms like raised in church, Mennonite, and Christian are some examples that help us understand how this warning applies to us.
As we go on reading I will read very slowly to give us time to reflect on what the text is saying to us. I will try to read with pregnant pauses that leave room for fecund thought and I invite you to listen as the Spirit speaks between the lines, and then we will discuss your reponses.

if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—
Why does Paul talk about the embodiment of knowledge and truth? What does it mean for knowledge and truth to be embodied?
Knowledge and truth are not without corporeal substance. Knowledge and truth are not only intellectual categories, they include embodied, lived substance. You cannot know truth if you do not do truth. Knowledge and truth are embodied in the way you live, not merely testified to in what you say.
21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?
Recall Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. What does Paul mean with these questions? How do these questions relate to the "embodiment of knowledge and truth"? Knowing the law is good, but living the law must always exceed the law. Living the law means more than adhering to the technicalities of the law.
24As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."[b]
God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because God's children are in a bondage of disobedience. Abraham kept going to Egypt thinking the living was better there, when God had given him the Promised Land. Israel was given land but went to Egypt to live, and ended up enslaved. When Isaiah is saying the words Paul quotes here Israel is in Assyrian captivity. God's promise to Israel was always blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. The dire warnings issued to Israel concerning their fate if they did not continue to walk in Yahweh's ways are not appropriate for children's bedtime stories. The worst of Hollywood's degenerate filth hardly compares. And for the masses around Israel God's children are a reflection of Yahweh.
(Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:22-23)
Paul continues:
25Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the[c] written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
28A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
Knowledge and truth, and the law, must be faithfully embodied in order to be of any value. Adherence to technicalities is worthless, and what one is, is indicated in what one does. What sort of value is there in this embodied keeping of the law? Paul asks:
God's Faithfulness
1What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
3What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness?
Based on the context, what do you think Paul has in mind when he talks about "faith" and "faithfulness"? Is there any faith that is not embodied? Clearly no. Faith not lived is not faith. It is a religion and a pretense and it is a keeping of the letter of the law, but it is not faith. Recall Romans 1:17 and compare with Habakkuk 2:4-5 Habakkuk is complaining because God uses faithless heathens to punish his own children, and this is God's response, speaking about those who come to trouble his children. The righteous, living his faith, will live very differently from the one who lives by his desires. So can our lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? Will the fact that we do not live faith mean that God willl not be faithful either?
4Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."[a]
This is a quote from Psalm 51, a psalm of David written as a response to the prophet Nathan who came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
Our faith and our faithlessness prove God right in that good and evil are their own reward. God has made a world that is designed to run on the fuel of the good, and it sputters on the impurities of evil. Whether our faithful living contributes to the beauty and harmony of God's creation, or whether our sinfulness fouls the systems and wreaks havoc with the good creation, God is proved right either way.
5But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.
No One is Righteous
9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better[b]? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
"Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin" Is this text still speaking to us? Recall the terms we suggested earlier (raised in a church, Mennonite, Christian, etc.,) that highlight our inclusion in the message of this text. Could those same terms obtain here as well? If it is difficult for us to imagine our own complicity in sinfulness as equal to that of the "others" whom we often recognize as the targets of our evangelistic efforts, then it is clear that we do not begin to understand our own sinfulness.
10As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."[c] 13"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit."[d] "The poison of vipers is on their lips."[e] 14"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."[f] 15"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know."[g] 18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."[h]
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The law can speak only to those under the law. Should we recognize the same for our Christian heritage? Does Christianity speak to those who share a heritage of religious Christianity, leaving room for the God who exceeds Christianity to deal without those outside this umbrella in whatever ways He deems just and faithful? The problematic posed by the question will not be uniformly perceived, but the answer may well shake foundations for us as severely as Paul's message riled the Jewish establishment. If it does not, we may simply be sharing the comfortable seat of the scribes and Pharisees.
The only thing the law can do for us is to show us what sin is and how sinful we are. Does the same hold true for our Christian heritage? The implication of Paul's words is that our religious heritage can only show us our sinfulness. Christianity cannot save us, it can only show us that we need salvation.

Romans 2:6 Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12
Romans 2:24 Isaiah 52:5; Ezek. 36:22
Romans 2:27 Or who, by means of a

Romans 3:4 Psalm 51:4
Romans 3:9 Or worse
Romans 3:12 Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20
Romans 3:13 Psalm 5:9
Romans 3:13 Psalm 140:3
Romans 3:14 Psalm 10:7
Romans 3:17 Isaiah 59:7,8
Romans 3:18 Psalm 36:1
Romans 3:25 Or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin