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The Life of Holiness, Romans 2-4 (Transition); Romans 5:1-2 (pp. 182-209)

Posted by kirkcaudle on April 24, 2013

The following notes come from Cheryl McGuire:

After spending 181 pages  (actually160 pages plus the Introduction) Jim gives us a transition from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5, outlining Chapters 2, 3, and 4 much more briefly.

Jim reminds us that the thesis of the letter to the Romans is found in 1:17.  However, I think we should encompass all of verses 16-17. Using Jim’s translation (and which uses the word trust in place of faith) we read:

I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is God’s power to bring salvation for all those who trust, both to the Jew first and to the Greek. For God’s justice is revealed in it by means of trust to those who trust, even as it has been written, “And the just will live by trust.”

These two verses call out to us, not just from Jim’s close reading of them, but also because these verses are so very radical. As rebellion against God is universal and banal – as shown later (1:18 – 3:21) – God’s grace is radical, universal, and far from banal. God’s grace is available to all. That is, God’s grace operates in spite of the universality of the rebellion on behalf of those who rebel. And the radical nature of this grace is pounded home in these two verses: both to the Jew . . . . and to the Greek. God’s justice is revealed to all via the simple and yet grandly extravagant nature of the Gospel, which plays no favorites, even as all of humanity judges favorites and hierarchies, value and exchange, as has been noted in previous discussions.

In his summary of Chapter 2, Jim points out that “behavior, not intention, is the most important part of the law.”  I find this especially telling in 2:11: “For  there is no respect of persons with God.” Beverly Roberts Gaventa has written of this verse, “that the claim that God is impartial forms a basis for admonitions to protect the widow, the orphan, the outsider.” (Women’s Bible Commentary, 1998, p. 406.) Paul carries this impartiality further than an implied commandment within circumcision, but now says that just as the ancient Israelite was to view people impartially in that each should be cared for without respect for their social importance, so now the inhabitants of the entire world are to be viewed in the same way – as God views them – whether or not they are in the Covenant!! As if that is not enough, not radical enough, they are to be viewed without respect to their social standing, their worldly importance, or even without respect to whether we have something – anything – in common with them. Rather we must seek to understand that commonality that God has with all people – that searching out and bringing in. So that when Jim offers his insight, “behavior, not intention, is the most important part of the law,” I think he is spot on. Our intention may be toward righteousness, but the truly righteous –  the one who lives within the Covenant and is obedient to Gospel law – will change her behavior as a result of that life. She will not respect persons, but try to be as radical and extravagant in her attitude, her conversion, as the Gospel is, or the Gospel calls her to be.  Hearkening back to previous discussions, the person living within the Covenant will do what she can to bring people back from being a commodity in today’s economic terms, into being a person – fully formed and realized – in God’s – and our – covenantal relationship. She will desire to walk people from other paths into the Covenant life. Thus, behavior [towards self, others, and God] is the most important part of the law.

In Jim’s summary of Chapter 3, Jim interprets Paul’s interpretation of his readers’ question: “What does it mean to be one of the chosen people if all people have access to the blessings of the covenant people?” Jim points out that this is a good question for LDS believers to ask themselves, and reminds us of the seeming unfairness inherent in the parable of the laborer – those that come late to the work (as converts) receive the same reward as those who have labored all their lives, who were born into the covenant relationship? Where is the advantage to being part of the covenant people? I’m reminded of the discussion of economic exchange in last week’s reading – that sometimes we might think that God’s owes us an advantage, a greater reward. How would that reward be seen? I suggest that the lifer in the church might expect greater spirituality, greater understanding (even greater cynical, thus cynically superior understanding, in a way), more important callings, better marriages, more righteous children,  greater physical health, more manifestations of the Spirit. Plus of course some greater blessing in the hereafter. But Paul confounds all that, and he recognizes the despair in the question: “What does it mean to be one of the chosen people if all people have access to the blessings of the covenant people?” because I think there is despair there. Why despair? Because of the nature and teaching of the law. See below.

Jim writes: “Covenant life is always better than noncovenant life.” Yet even this statement is not as simple as it first reads, because according to Paul, covenant life is not outward and fleshy (circumcision) but inward and of the soul (circumcision of the heart). God does not make a mistake to establish his Covenant; it is through the Covenant that he draws all to him. We mistake God’s Covenant, however, as outward signs and show.

Jim’s summary of Chapter 4 emphasizes the importance of Paul’s explanation that salvation depends on faith (trust) rather than on the law. Paul uses Abraham to bolster his argument, explaining that Abraham had faith before he was outwardly marked (circumcision). Paul is leading us to understand the importance of Covenant, and of law – the “law can only teach us that we are sinners.” Therefore the law is the great schoolmaster, giving us a lesson over and over again that will strip us of all pride: we are all sinners, everyone alike, and God is no respecter of persons. We can ram our head against the law a hundred times, and a hundred times it will yield the same answer: the law gives “us a standard that we cannot meet.” It is only our faith – our trust – that will be counted as righteousness (though obedience is not to be discounted).

Paul explains that while we are not justified by the law, God raised up “Jesus Christ for our justification after he had been unjustly executed for our sins.” I’m going to go on a little diversion here. Jim gave us a wonderful discussion of 1:17 earlier in the book and he will refer to this in his further discussion of Chapter 5. I just want to add that one way to define justification is to be counted legally righteous, even if we are not soul-righteous yet.

In other words, I suggest that to be justified – declared legally righteous – is not the same as being made holy – to be sanctified. We are closer to the life of holiness but we are not there yet. Justification is a step made possible by grace along the way to sanctification. We have learned from the law that we are sinners – I am a sinner. After repentance (our act of trust and faith), we have been/are/will be declared legally righteous by Christ’s righteous act. Now we are a little further along the path to holiness, open and humble, ready to be guided through the next part of our life’s journey back to God.

Thus we are led naturally to Romans 5:1-11, and specifically to Romans 5:1-2. Here is Jim’s translation:

Therefore, having been justified through faith, we are now at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access, by faith to the grace within which we stand and within which we boast in the hope of God’s glory.

And just like that we are back to close reading. Still, before moving on, we need to take a moment and just read these two verses several times, and feel the rightness of Paul’s argument, and his understanding. The law has shown us how we are enemies to God in our natural state, how we are all sinners. But God has pulled us to a better way, one which calls us to trust in God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – to justify us through our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who gives us access to God’s presence, to the “grace within which we stand.” It is Jesus Christ, and our trust in him, that declares us legally righteous, even while we are still not whole, imperfect, and [repentant] sinners. Stripped of pride, we stand in a place of grace.

I have a friend who reminds me frequently that wherever I am, in whatever situation I find myself, is my own personal place of grace. I need to trust this place in which I abide, trusting that here is the place where I can know God. I think this idea applies.

Jim meditates on these two verses in profoundly interesting ways. He wonders who the “we” is, for example. Is “we” the saints in Rome? Is “we” generic because he is speaking doctrinally? Or is it those who have put their trust in God? All readings bear fruit, and the fruit that Jim plucks from this meditative tree is the idea that the “act of justification has already occurred. Thus, potentially, we, anyone hearing Paul’s letter or reading it for themselves, have been justified.”

Justification then, and trusting the justification process, brings us into a state of peace with God. No longer enemies in our natural state, we are brought into a state of grace, or “wholeness” or “healthiness (p. 197).” Just as for ancient Israel, “peace was a matter of keeping the covenant,” so for us peace with God can be had during times of stress, conflict and war, on micro and macro levels. In this peace our relation to God is restored, and we talk about this using the word atonement (p. 197).  Jim further leads us to understand that while gospel peace means more than peace of mind – though it does mean that. Rather the “gospel brings peace in our relation to God.”

My comments are getting lengthy (no surprise) and I’m going to stop here. Perhaps others in your responses will take up Jim’s meditation on grace, rejoicing, hope and glory. If not, I encourage you to read these pages on your own, with the Biblical text and Jim’s alternate translation next to you, as we prepare to understand further where and how Paul is leading us on this path of justification, grace, and holiness.

11 Responses to “The Life of Holiness, Romans 2-4 (Transition); Romans 5:1-2 (pp. 182-209)”

  1. cherylem said

    Well that was a totally unedited first paragraph. Hey. I’m a permablogger here. I need to know how to do my own posts so I can go in and correct!

  2. joespencer said

    Nice, Cheryl. Thanks for your notes. I’ll add just a few thoughts (as you hoped others might!).

    There are a few points well worth mentioning that I won’t mention, hoping others have more to say about them. I want to look primarily at what Jim does with hope—largely (and selfishly) because I’m working on hope very extensively in my research right now (and with a close eye on Romans 4, 5, and 8).

    First, the indicative/imperative in “we have peace”/”let us have peace.” I really appreciated Jim’s discussion here. Commentators I’ve read almost always prefer the indicative, but they tend to cite theological rather than contextual reasons for their decision—reasons that haven’t been terribly convincing to me. Jim’s contextualization (the imperative would fit better in the ethical exhortations of Romans 12-15, etc.) makes good sense, and makes me wonder how I might rethink Romans 5:1-11. (I wonder, though, whether the fact that “peace” is otherwise the focus only of Romans 14 doesn’t suggest that Paul isn’t anticipating the exhortations here?) Jim doesn’t mention it, but there’s a similar indicative/imperative difficulty in verse 3 (“we also boast” or “let us boast”?), and I assume what Jim does here applies there as well. That one is perhaps particularly important for making sense of hope, since the boasting in question is a matter of boasting concerning hope.

    Second, I like Jim’s point (drawn from J. D. G. Dunn) that Romans 5:2 contains “the last time that Paul speaks of faith until Romans 9:30″ (p. 203). Fascinatingly, hope comes into Paul’s story only in chapter 4, where it’s introduced specifically in its connection with (Abraham’s) faith. Once that faith/hope entanglement is initially worked out, then, faith disappears and hope takes center stage. Hope is the focus of these first verses in Romans 5, and it’s obsessively the focus of Romans 8 as well. Apparently the life of holiness—what Jim’s been telling us all along is the primary focus of Romans 5-8—is centered first and foremost on hope. (We should probably find it significant that love gets mentioned both here in Romans 5 and again in Romans 8 as well. Faith here gives way to both hope and love.)

    Finally, Jim’s actual discussion of hope. There’s much here to learn, so I’ll just take a few isolated points.

    “Though for us the word hope can imply doubt, the Greek word it translates [via the Hebrew of Paul's culture] implies confidence or even certainty” (p. 206). This is a really nice point, one predicated on Jim’s argument that hope is rooted in an already-past event (the offer of justification) that organizes and orients hope. The result is that hope is confident and certain because it begins from something sure to which one declares one’s fidelity.

    “The fear and trembling of Christian hope is not a fear and trembling that salvation will not come, nor is it a fear and trembling that perhaps being a Christian is a cosmic mistake. Instead, we fear and tremble that we will turn from the salvation that will come and that has already come in Jesus, the Messiah” (p. 207). This, obviously, follows from what I quoted just above. If hope is woven from confidence and certainty due to God’s faithfulness, then all that remains open-ended in hope is whether we will remain faithful and so be a part of what God has announced is going forward.

    “Though one ought not to confuse Christian hope with natural hope, the two are not antithetical, for the Christian’s hope is directed at that which makes all natural hope possible and meaningful” (p. 207). Jim’s point, I take it, is that because Christian hope is rooted in the God who creates all things, Christian hope hopes for what renders every natural hope possible. I think that’s right, though I wonder if there isn’t a certain imprecision here. One hopes in the God who creates, yes, but one hopes in that God because of what He’s done in transforming the created order of things. (We might even say: One hopes less in the God who creates than in the God who resurrects.) If that’s right, there’s a sense in which Christian hope can only emerge from the collapse or failure of every natural hope—something Paul arguably sets out in Romans 4 (“hopeless but hoping”).

    “One way in which becoming a Christian gives us rebirth is in making us young again with regard to hope. Christian hope is for something that remains not-yet as long as we live in this world; it is a hope for something that goes beyond the measure of our lives. Christian hope renews the possibility of hope by moving us from natural hope, inextricably tied to our life span, to the hope for salvation, for what is beyond mere history” (pp. 207-208). Here, I think, Jim—against the last bit I quoted from him—couldn’t be more right. To whatever extent hope is tied to the not-yet (and I appreciate Jim’s references to both Pieper and Bloch), it’s necessary to see Christian hope as dispensing in a certain way with every natural hope. That said, I wonder what Jim means by “salvation” here. As Paul will make clear in especially Romans 8, “salvation” has to be a great deal broader than “me getting to heaven” or some such thing. The salvation in question amounts to the redemption of the entire earth.

    “It is significant that the hope we feel is present joy rather than the hope for future joy” (p. 210). This is a beautiful point. What’s hoped for isn’t joy, but redemption, and joy is the affect that comes in the present through that orientation to future redemption. That has to be right. And that’s reason enough to get serious about hope: the joy that comes with it is worth all our attention.

  3. cherylem said

    Thanks for your great additional comments on hope, Joe. These pages in Jim’s books were dense with pleasurable things to think about, and hope certainly was one of those things. There is so much to learn and understand in our Gospel journey, and understanding the mind and thought of Paul is a great place to hang our hats for awhile.

    I like very much what you’ve said here. If I can paraphrase, I think you’re saying hope – as a type of certainty – is a fruit of faith/trust. I appreciate your pointing out the structure of Romans, and the letter’s emphasis on hope.

    Also I liked what you wrote about fear and trembling. We’ve talked many times in GD class aabout fear and trembling – your thoughts here will be incorporated soon in those discussions.

    Regarding the joy that comes, I’m reminded of this quote attributed to Augustine of Hippo:

    ‘The times are bad! The times are troublesome!’ This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, such are our times.”

    I think this applies, especially to our present joy which is the fruit of our hope and realized love which are both a fruit of our faith/trust. In the presence and reality of bad times, both personal and communal, trust, hope, love and joy continue.

  4. [...] cherylem on The Life of Holiness, Romans 2-4 (Transition); Romans 5:1-2 (pp. 182-209) [...]

  5. Cheryl and Joe, thank you very much for great responses to these pages. You’ve added things for me and other readers to think about.

  6. Robert C. said

    Cheryl and Joe, these are some really nice thoughts. Thanks.

    Cheryl, may I ask where you are getting the phrase “the grace within which we stand” — is this your phrase, someone else’s in particular (Jim’s?), someone else in general, or what? Needless to say, I really like it!

  7. Robert C. said

    I think Jim’s discussion of “peace” as a covenantal term (pp. 196-200) is very insightful and interesting.

    Because of this, I wonder in response to Joe’s comment and musings above about hope, whether it isn’t best to understand hope in covenantal terms. So, for example, whereas Joe suggests a tension between the hope of the God who creates and the God who resurrects, I’d think that a covenantal hope takes the sign of creation as a sign of the God who will provide salvific gifts like resurrection. So, it’s not only resurrection that induces hope, but resurrection is a sign that is analogous (at least in many ways) to creation. Creation and resurrection are thus signs or tokens of God’s power and love, and it is this power and love that underwrites messianic hope. Or something like that….

    • Robert. I like that. I’m beginning to think about atonement and resurrection: resurrection rather than suffering and crucifixion as the sign of the atonement. I’m not far along, but your remarks are very provocative. Thanks.

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