Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Life of Holiness, Romans 1:5-7, pp. 69-88

Posted by Robert C. on March 20, 2013

[Thanks, David G., for sending in the post below.]

[5]through whom we received the grace of apostleship to bring about, for his name’s sake, trusting obedience among all the Gentiles, [6]among whom you are also called of Jesus Christ) – [7]to all that are in Rome, beloved of God and called as saints: grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.


At first I thought it odd that I, together with the other reviewers, would be writing commentary on a commentary of Romans. It seemed like too many layers once removed. But Faulconer has written no ordinary commentary. In fact, it’s not a commentary at all. It is rather an exercise in reading scripture slowly, very slowly. For Faulconer, this is an exercise that began over thirty years ago and is, no doubt, still in process of revision and expansion. His exercise teaches us above all else that there is very much more in the scriptures than we at first realize. If we can slow down and deepen our study, much will be gained.


In the seven verses of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and in Faulconer’s coverage of these verses in his first eighty-eight pages, we gain a much deeper appreciation of who Christ has called Paul to become and of how Paul’s service in this calling mimics Christ’s work by trying to make saints of us, collectively.


Paul catches the Romans attention by highlighting his bondage to his calling – which bondage is a form of grace, a form that invokes trusting obedience in Paul and invites it of all nations. The saints at Rome may become holy if they accept their service to God, if they submit to the obedience to which He has called them.

Thus Faulconer leads us into a deep discussion about how grace is not to be thought of in opposition to works, about how our callings – that is, the things which God requires of us – obedience, driving to the hospital late at night to bestow a blessing, wiping runny noses, or trying to remember the words to that Primary song – are “spiritual gift[s],” about how love and obedience “can be equivalents” and about how we really do need to trust God more than we do.


One of the many powerful passages between page 69 and page 88 is Faulconer’s observation on saintliness. Paul reminds us in verse 7 that we are called as saints. Faulconer attends to “saints” as plural:

Though in scripture holiness has more to do with our being called than with our actions, the calling to be a saint carries with it the obligation to be pure. . . . That the Greek word for saint indicates purity shows that there is more to being a saint, to taking Christ’s name upon ourselves than membership in the formal organization of the church. We become saints by being called and set apart for God’s purposes, and we remain saints by striving to meet the obligation of purity that such a calling entails. . . . accepting the call to fulfill divine purposes qualifies a person for a token of [Christ’s] purity . . . . Interestingly, the word saint does not usually appear in the New Testament in the singular except when referring to Jesus. . . Christ’s redemption and our humble submission to him make us saints (83-84).


The last two weeks remind us all that Rome is still very much the center of the world as we know it. We have Paul as much as Peter to thank for it (Cicero, and Augustus, and Constantine, too). Rome stands in for the world as a whole, in some sense, and for that which pulls us away from our trusting in the covenant God offers us. That is to say, the saints at Rome, like those struggling to be saints everywhere, are in danger of forgetting their callings. Peace be unto you, Paul says through the ages. Faulconer observes that Paul is calling to us about the sometimes painful peace won through repentance, the discomfort of having to gird up your loins and once more try to trust the only trustworthy one around.


Paul was called as an Apostle and a slave: Paul was called to love, Paul was called to obey. Paul calls to love. Paul calls to obey. All of this calling, including mine and yours, is from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!

15 Responses to “The Life of Holiness, Romans 1:5-7, pp. 69-88”

  1. Jim F. said

    David G: thanks very much for reminding us of the place of traditional forms in the modern world! Thanks for that as much as for your good words.

  2. joespencer said

    David, thanks for your beautiful presentation of Jim’s discussion. I’ll add just a few words about passages that seem to me to tie in with Jim’s larger project here.

    As my comments so far in the course of this project make clear, I’m particularly interested in how Jim is developing a theory of—as his subtitle has it—the life of holiness (see here and here). I see Jim working toward Romans 5-8 slowly and deliberately. What he adds to this preparation of the ground this week comes in three passages.

    The first is in the second full paragraph on page 81: “It is interesting that Paul identifies the saints, not by their love for God or by their love for each other, but by the Divine’s love for them.” This is not only an example of careful, close reading; it’s a clarification of both what it means to be holy more generally and what it means to be a slave more particularly. If it’s holiness that Paul’s after in Romans, we here begin to see that holiness is first being loved, is first passive. Further, if holiness—as Jim has argued already in this book—begins with our recognition that we’re owned, then his comments here suggest that holiness begins with our recognition that we’re loved. I think there’s much to learn from that idea.

    The second passage is in the last full paragraph on page 82: “Given the connotation of the word saint in the Old Testament, we must remember that saint describes not just moral cleanliness (in the broadest sense), but also and especially a particular covenant relation to God.” Jim has already argued in the course of the book that the formal means of recognizing the fact that we’re owned by God is to covenant with Him. Now he makes even clearer that that covenant is bound up with sainthood, with holiness. Adding to the above, then: holiness begins with our recognition that we’re owned/loved, and that recognition takes the shape first of a covenant. But what does that imply that hasn’t already been implied in Jim’s earlier discussion of covenant? The answer, I think, is in the final passage.

    The third passage, then, comes in the first full paragraph on page 84: “Perhaps the word [saint] is used almost exclusively in the plural to remind us that our membership in the community of the saints is a token of the possibility that we can become true saints, though we are not yet saints as individuals. Or perhaps it is plural so we will not forget that we do not become saints alone. We become pure only through Jesus Christ and with others, the rest of the saints, and particularly our ancestors (see D&C 128:15).” Why is this important? At the very least because our recognition that we’re owned/loved, formally signaled in covenant making, is in part a recognition that we’re not alone. Covenant indicates community. It may be that holiness is never had alone, never had independently—always and only it’s had in community, with Christ of course, but also with each other. Part of what it means to recognize that we’re owned/loved, then, is to recognize that we’re owned/love along with others. Holiness begins in giving up on individual salvation, in giving up on being uniquely good. The life of holiness is always a life lived with others.

    I think that’s got to be right. So let’s keep reading together.

    • Jim F. said

      As everyone knows, Joe, you are a careful as well as an imaginative reader. Thanks for giving such a careful reading of Life of Holiness.

    • cherylem said

      In teaching D&C this year I have been thinking about the individual’s role in the community more. That is, in the early days of the church, someone would convert and Joseph Smith would immediately put that person to work in big, important ways. The individual involved would sometimes ask for and receive an individual blessing that is recorded in our D&C. Sometimes that same individual would be in the church for days, months, years, and then go on to something else in his or her life (we call that falling away though I am not sure that term is correct). Other times that individual remained “faithful” to the end of his or her life. But . . . in the meantime, the church, the community grew and expanded. it is not so important (I am not sure I am saying this well) that some stayed and some left, in the collective sense. What is important is while the individual was part of the community, the individual was given tasks to do that moved the work forward. If then an individual left, someone else was there to pick up the load and carry the work of salvation forward.

      So when you say, that Jim is saying, that Paul is saying (many layers here): “Holiness begins in giving up on individual salvation, in giving up on being uniquely good. The life of holiness is always a life lived with others,” this related to this thing I was thinking about. In a personal sense, my relationship to God is central to me, perhaps, but is not central to the overarching work of salvation. That is, in spite of the fact that we emphasize our belief causes us never to be alone (as in the song) or that Jesus would have completed the atonement for each one of us individually, the work and plan of salvation is not about “me” in ways I am just beginning to realize.

      Does this relate?

      • joespencer said

        I think so, Cheryl. What I hear Jim saying—and I agree with him wholeheartedly—is that salvation is always a collective or communal affair. There’s something wrongheaded about our very-Western and perhaps particularly-American idea of salvation being a me-and-Jesus sort of thing. Salvation is a community affair.

      • cherylem said

        On the other hand, what about every hair of your head being numbered? etc.

  3. cherylem said

    Thank you David G for starting this discussion of Romans 1:5-7 in Faulconer’s book.

    It was especially wonderful to return to the slow reading exercise in which we are involved after a rather chaotic and intense week. Immediately after I began reading I felt a sense of peace settle over me. I was in the presence of a trusted guide – James Faulconer – and the spirit of contemplation immediately began to heal up some wounded places. Not that I had been personally wounded, but sometimes life itself feels like such a separation from godliness that we are wounded without knowing it.
    I sometimes envision Jesus looking out on any group of people and seeing them all with wounds that need to be bound up, whether or not they even know they are bleeding. Perhaps that is a pessimistic view of the human condition, but it seems real to me.

    To the text:
    at the end of page 72 Jim writes, (and this has been noted already): “Grace and works are two aspects of exactly the same thing, namely the godly life.” Just ahead of this Jim has defined works as “obedience.” On page 74 we read that we have a moral obligation to obey, that love and obey are equivalents. Throughout this reading I wondered about this obedience. What are we obedient to? Obedience is not a comfortable concept for me. Obedience takes such trust (also emphasized by Jim) that I need to think about it more. Does obedience mean every jot and tittle of the law? not the ancient law, but our current one? I hate that we seemingly have so many rules, many of them apparently minor. Or is obedience something more? The way I have dealt with the concept of obedience for some time is to just try to take one step at a time, one day at a time, in obedience to what I perceive as the way of Jesus: lovingly, carefully, trying to look out for others at least as much as I look out for myself, trying to understand who God is and aligning myself with that divine nature and outlook. But if I start to think about particulars of obedience, I become restless and rejecting. So maybe this says more about me than obedience, but, what are we to be obedient to? It is easy to say we are obedient TO God, but in WHAT way? Again, Jim says, to love IS to obey.

    On page 76 we read that we are to be obedient TO THE FAITH. As I contemplate that the ideas of faith, trust and obedience are all intimately intertwined, and bound up in Christ’s love for us and ours for him, I realize that once again I am contemplating a way of life that is fearful to me. This so far seems to be a theme of my own study of The Life of Holiness. I am reminded, in my thoughts, of 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” And I wonder if this is the fear that is cast out: the fear of obedience, the fear of understanding God, the fear of becoming someone new, someone I am not. (as I said, a continuing theme)

    I appreciated Jim’s emphasis on the idea that a calling of any kind is a spiritual gift, that membership in the Lord’s community, the Lord’s church, is a calling, and a gift. I am still thinking about the idea that being holy = being set apart for holy purposes. But also, being holy mean to be pure.

    As Joe mentions, Jim again mentions the idea of covenant: the chosen people are those enter into a covenant with God. Anciently Israel was chosen by God to be a covenant people. Now it appears we do the choosing as to whether or not to enter God’s community of covenant people, whether or not to enter God’s covenant.

    Entering God’s community of covenant people means also to be called as saints. Not individually as a saint, but collectively, saints (see Joe’s notes above). We are called to a saintly life. Any other life – (a life that includes sin) alienates us from God (page 85)

    Whoa. What? But whose life does not include sin? As a good Catholic might say: I sin daily.

    Which brings me to a question I jotted down when reading page 83: what is purity? Would I recognize purity if I saw it? Jim writes on page 83: “We become saints by being called and set apart for God’s purposes, and we remain saints by striving to meet the obligation of purity that such a calling entails.” What is the obligation of purity?

    Jim ends this section with a challenging definition of the word peace. That is, Paul writes: “Grace to you and peace from God . . . ” Yet peace may only come after a wrestle with . . . whom? what? God? ourselves? life experience? What is the nature of God’s peace? Jim suggests that peace may be a gift of grace. To be a Christian is to receive grace and peace.

    As David G. alludes, Paul writes to the first century Romans, and to us. After this slow reading of the first 7 verses of Romans, I have some questions, some fears (even some fears of the text, as I’ve mentioned before), and several delights. I look forward to our continued discussions.

    • Jim F. said

      Cheryl, I very much enjoy your obviously thoughtful responses to what I wrote. Thank you–though it is frightening to be trusted, even as a guide or perhaps especially as a guide.

      I think as long as we separate love and obedience we make a mistake. There are two directions that mistake can go. One is to think that love allows for anything or at least for a lot: Jesus said X, but . . . . The other is to think that obedience means tight-jawed, iron-clad discipline: do it or be damned. The truth doesn’t lie between them; they are perversions of the truth.

      I like your reading of 1 John 4:18. I’ve usually used that scripture the other way:if I fear someone, then it must be that I do not yet love that person as I ought. You’ve given it a nice twist.

      I would hope that good Catholics aren’t the only ones to say “I sin daily.” We are called to be saintly, but we live lives of sin. That is the problem to which Jesus is the answer.

      Isn’t the obligation of purity the obligation of whole-hearted love / obedience? It is an obligation that we strive to meet. And the problem of that striving is the problem that Paul takes up in the second half of chapter 7. So, Cheryl, you anticipate well the direction this is going.

      • cherylem said

        Thanks for your comments Jim. This is a great way to study – so interactive!

        I appreciate your second paragraph – the explanations of truth’s perversions.

        I am still unsure of what is meant by purity, unless it is purely . . . love. And obedience, maybe. I am not sold on obedience yet. That way too many dragons lie . . .


      • Jim F. said

        But don’t forget, Cheryl, that the dragons that lie that way are the same dragons one finds on the path of love.

  4. Robert C. said

    I’m still finishing the reading, but I’m very excited about the strong role of (faithful) language that I see Jim drawing out, esp. in regard to covenants.

    So, I would add a slight theological (not textual) point to what (Joe mentions that) Jim writes on page 81 — namely that, “It is interesting that Paul identifies the saints, not by their love for God or by their love for each other, but by the Divine’s love for them.” I would add that I think it’s important both that Paul identifies the saints via language, and that God’s love is recognized by it being declared. And I think this supports Jim’s comment above (to Cheryl, I think it was), about the link between obedience and love: it seems to me that this link is established primarily (at least in the Church) through faithful declarations of obedience, particularly during rituals such as during baptism, the sacrament, and various temple ordinances. And these declarations are faithful in a double sense: first in that we respond faithfully to a declaration given to us, and second that our response is itself faithful in that it is backed up by obedient action that corresponds to our own declarative response.

    (And I’ll add that my thinking here is rooted largely in my ongoing fascination with Agamben’s take on faith and language, esp. in The Time that Remains and Sacrament of Language.)

    • Jim F. said

      Robert, as always you produce good stuff. I would only make one change to what you’ve said. Rather than “backed up by obedient action that corresponds to our own declarative response” I would have said “backed up by obedient action that grounds our own declarative response.” I want to make it clear that, at least as I understand things, our declarations flow from the lives we live.

  5. […] Romans 1:1 (pp. 21-46) [-Kirk C.] 3/11: Romans 1:2 (pp. 47-68) [-Robert C.] 3/18: Romans 1:3-7 (pp. 69-88) [-David G.] 3/25: Romans 1:8-15 (pp. 89-110) [-Robert […]

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