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.
This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 at 2:25 am and is filed under On studying, Scripture topics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
11 Responses to “The Life of Holiness, Romans 2-4 (Transition); Romans 5:1-2 (pp. 182-209)”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.