Romans (part 3)
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The law doesn’t give life because commands don’t transform us. Romans 8 says we need the Spirit to transform us. The witness of the Spirit that we are his children is a mystical sense and evidence of our obedience. Paul says all the promises for relationship to God are for the gentiles as well as the Jews. God is in charge of everything. (44:25)
Flow assignment on Colossians 1:15-20
D. The triumph of grace over the power of the law (Romans 7:1-8:17)
E. Assurance of hope (Romans 8:18-39)
V. God's righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles (Romans 9:1-11:36)
VI. God's righteousness in everyday life (Romans 12-15)
Lecture 14: Romans Part 3
This is the 14th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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The law doesn’t give life because commands don’t transform us. Romans chapter 8 says we need the Spirit to transform us. The witness of the Spirit that we are his children is a mystical sense and evidence of our obedience. Paul says all the promises for relationship to God are for the gentiles as well as the Jews. God is in charge of everything. (44:25)
Flow Assignment on Colossians 1:15-20
This is a crucial Christological passage like we saw in Philippians. ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him is all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ A word here is ‘for’ by him all things were created, but there are no key words. Of course there is a poetic nature to the text. We have a purpose clause in verse 18, ‘so that in everything he might be preeminent.’ ‘Having made peace’ is all one word in Greek, a participle. This is a very rich text.
E. Assurance of Hope (Romans 8:18-39)
So Paul has argued in chapter 7 against the typical Jewish view that the Law doesn’t give life. Commands don’t transform us. The Law itself gives us no capacity to change. It simply gives us commands; so we need the Spirit of God in our lives. We need God’s spirit to transform us so that we are able to keep God’s Law. Paul doesn’t argue that there are no commands at all in the Christian life. Instead he argues that when the Spirit comes, he grants us ability to keep God’s law. That is very clear in verses 1-4. The Law of the Spirit (8:2) of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Christ died so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, those who do not walk according to the flesh, but walk according to the Spirit. Those of us who have the Spirit do what the Law says, not perfectly but significantly; there is a changed life here. And that is what he goes on to say. Those who are of the flesh live according to the flesh. Those of the Spirit live according to the Spirit. Flesh and Spirit are ways of talking about believers and non-believers. This is about those who are in the new redemptive age of the Spirit and those who are in the old redemptive age of the flesh; so you are either one or the other. If you have the Spirit, you are a Christian; if you don’t then you are not a believer. Russell Morris preached on this passage in chapel. Verse 13, those who have the Spirit put to death the sins of the body by the power of the Spirit. The desire for sin still arises in us as believers, so Paul isn’t arguing for sinless perfection but he is arguing that the power of the Spirit grants us the ability and strength to say no. So when he says in verse 14, ‘for all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God’, he doesn’t mean all those who receive guidance from the Spirit. When we refer to the Spirit we usually use words like guidance, directing and letting. But here he means - are you obeying him? And all those who are led by the Spirit and obeying him; those are the children of God.
The evidence that we are the children of God is that we are different. Paul is still arguing against the Jewish view that the Torah changes people. His argument is that it is the Spirit who changes people. We have a supernatural source to live a new life; that source is the power of the Spirit. People think that Paul is talking about perfection but he is not. Instead Paul is talking about a remarkable change, not perfection. I think this is the way to solve the tension in these verses. Those of us who are Christians have the witness of the Spirit within us that we belong to God. I would argue that this is a mystical, ineffable, indescribable sense from the Holy Spirit that we are his children. But it is matched by obedience; so it is not just saying that you are a Christian without fully understanding the commitment that is associated with such a statement, especially without having any evidence of it. The Spirit tells us that we are saved and that we are different now. I am a different person from what I used to be because of the cross work of Christ within me. I think this is what Paul is arguing here.
In chapter 8:18 and following, Paul speaks of the groaning of the created world and in our own lives. We live in a fallen world, yet we have the Spirit of God within us in this fallen world. Ever since sin came into the world, sin has abounded ever increasing with death and destruction of the created order. The perfectly created and beautiful world is being corrupted by the fall. It is not just us who have fallen but it is also the created world and we look forward to a new heaven and new earth and a transformed universe also. That explained the horrors that take place in this world, evil rulers, natural disasters, etc., all being very destructive. The beauty that we see still shows itself from that which was once perfect. So Paul argues that we as Christians, we still groan, even though we are adopted as sons of God, we await that final adoption. This is that beautiful, already not yet character of Pauline theology. We are adopted and redeemed and we wait for that final adoption. We await the final redemption. In the mean time we groan of the difficulties of this life, because everything in it is still touched by the cruse, even though we belong to the Spirit. There are many good things in this life but there is nothing that is perfect. Everything has been touched by sin and this fallen nature. Sometimes people want heaven now and they leave jobs, friends, places, home and even marriage to look for that perfect situation. They leave good seminaries and schools to find perfect ones but they are not going to find it. People leave churches for that reason. Some people just hop from church to church to church as other people hop from marriage to marriage to marriage looking for perfection but they are not going to find it.
At the same time Paul is remarkable optimistic. He doesn’t just say vanity, all is vanity. Paul’s attitude is realistic and optimistic at the same time. When you look at Pauline eschatology and Paul’s view of the Christian life; we see that there is hope. Chapter 8:26-27, because we live in an already, yet, not yet place, we don’t always know what to pray for. We don’t know what to pray for because of this. As Christians, we don’t always know what God’s will is. But then he says that the Spirit prays for us through our groaning. Those prayers are always answered because the Spirit knows what God’s will is for us. We are not conscious what the Spirit is praying but that He is praying for us. This is a great comfort to us, isn’t it? We are still encouraged to pray; Paul doesn’t say that we are not to pray. He is sayings that as we groan and not know what to pray for; the Spirit does this and is a remarkable help to us. Some interpretations say that this is praying in tongues; I don’t think this is what it’s talking about. If this were true, it would only comfort people who speak in tongues. There is no evidence that Paul is limiting this to tongues. Gordon Fee argues this very strongly.
8:28 and following; ‘we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ We know that everything works together for good; that is not the same thing as everything being intrinsically present. The good here is being conformed to the image of Christ. Everything that comes into our lives, God uses to make us like Christ and here he is thinking particularly of salvation. So you have the promise and you have the foundation. Everything is working for good because God fore knew us, predestined us, called us, justified us and glorified us. This has often been called the golden chain because every link in that chain is secure from fore knowing to glorifying. God promises that he will glorify you. It is as good as done. When it says that he fore knew us, this word ‘fore know’ when used of God doesn’t merely mean that God looks ahead and sees what we will do. He looks ahead and I see that you will believe. In the Bible, fore know means that God set his covenantal affection upon people. It means that God has chosen a certain people. This is within his covenantal saving grasp. In verse 2:3 it says that you only have I known among the nations of the earth. Of course he knows all the nations of the earth. But you are the only nation that I have set my covenantal affection. You are the object of my covenantal love. That is even related to marriage because in the Old Testament, sexual relations are described by the word ‘know’, a covenantal union. Verse 29, those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. All of those who are called are justified, therefore called can’t mean invited. All those who are called are justified. If you don’t hold to unconditional election, how can you possible hold to eternal security? The most difficult issue in the five points of Calvin is the issue of perseverance. If you would give up anything, it would be the perseverance of the saints. Preferential theology is choosing to get in through your own choice. But everything works together for good.
Verses 31-39 Paul sums this up by saying, ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ There are a lot of people against us: Satan, unbelievers, friends and even other Christians. But the point here that no one can conquer us now. No one can win against us now. God has already given us his son and when he has given us his son, he has given us everything. Nothing that comes into our lives can triumph over us because we have God’s Son in our lives. Who will bring a charge against us in the last days? Satan will and other people, even our friends and our family members! Our own consciences can remind us of all the sins we have committed. But what matters is what Christ has done in our lives. Christ is at the right hand of God interceding for us. We hold on to the fact that Christ died and rose from dead for us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God; neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Sometimes Christians starve to death, sometimes we are persecuted and tortured and called all sorts of names even by the people we assume to be friends. What would cause us to abandon Christ? The Scriptures say that the love of God will keep us in Christ. He will not let you go.
V. God’s Righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles (Romans 9:1-11:36)
We see in Paul’s argument that God will fulfil his promises to the Jews. All those promises he made to the Jews will come true. But he never promised that every ethic Jew will be saved. In 9:6-13 it is through Isaac that our descendants will be counted. The children of promise are counted as descendants. If God chose Jacob and not Esau before they were born, this seems to be not fair but God said to Moses ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ Exodus 33:19 God says that he will make all his goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before you; and will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom he will show mercy. This means that nobody deserves to be saved. It is not a deserved right to be saved. Those who are condemned deserve to be condemned. God is not an equal opportunity Savior in this sense. We do choose salvation but we being saved don’t depend on that choice. We being saved depend on God’s mercy. God even raises up evil to accomplish his purposes, but God is not evil. God is even in charge of wicked rulers like Pharaoh. God is in control and he raises up armies, leaders, dictators, people to accomplish his purposes and yet he is not stained with evil; a mystery of revelation. God is sovereign over everything and working his purpose out. He gives mercy to those he chooses and hardens those he chooses to harden. He finds fault on those who resists his will. Who are we to question God; he can do whatever he wants. Paul is explaining this to those who ask, ‘how does this work?’ For those who are rebellious and question God’s authority, Paul basically reminds us that we are nothing compared to God. Our intellect cannot challenge God. We should be careful in thinking that we could be smarter than God. We do not have anywhere the wisdom of what God has. To think this, borders on blasphemy.
God doesn’t explain everything to us as if he needs our agreement on any one thing. Job wanted an answer to why things happen, but God said to him, ‘I am God. I created the world and I keep it running. What do you have to do with it and what do you know about it? Hardly anything! Just trust me! I am sovereign and your job isn’t to figure it all out. You job is to trust me. I think this is what Job 38-42 is all about. Salvation history has been arranged in such a way that both his wrath and his mercy would be shown. But predestination doesn’t cancel out the significance of human choosing! Some people think it does but I don’t think it does in Scripture. God wanted to display his mercy which shines against the backdrop of wrath. It is seen as mercy when we see that others deserve judgement. So what is Paul’s point in Romans 9-11? God is a God of surprises. You have Israel, waiting in expectation to when the Messiah would come, thinking that they would be saved. After all they’re the chosen people! And God mainly said, ‘no’; no, I am going to save the Gentiles.’ Some wonder about why God chose the Jews as his people as there were others, but how like God to choose a little insignificant people to glorify himself. Then there was Israel thinking they were great because God chose them and when he came, he said no and chose the gentiles instead. And he tells the gentiles in Romans 9-11, ‘don’t you become proud. Don’t you begin to think that you are better.’ Interestingly how we struggle against pride and arrogance. God wants us to depend upon him and his mercy and his grace. Paul indicates that at the end of history, there is another surprise coming, all Israel will be saved! This is still to come (Romans 11:26). When the fullness of the gentiles come in at the very end of history, closely associated with the second coming of Christ. Christ will come and Israel will believe. I don’t think that every Jew in history and the world will be saved. Those who don’t believe in Christ will be damned forever. I think that there will be an end generation of Israel; a great majority of Jews will turn to Christ and be saved. Why, because God has chosen them. Some people consider this Israel to be the church but I don’t think this is the case according to the context. In Galatians 6:16, I have already argued that Israel there refers to the church. But here, I think it refers to the Jewish nation. So Israel will be saved by trusting in Jesus. Some think that Israel will be saved without believing in Christ but this doesn’t make any sense.
VI. God’s Righteousness in Everyday Life (Romans 12-15)
You can sum up the Christian life in Romans 12:1-2, give your whole life to God as a living sacrifice. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. God works this out in our lives in terms of spiritual gifts, loving one another and loving our enemies, and being rightly related to the state. The Jews were always concerned about purity laws, observant of the Sabbath and other days while the gentiles would not be. And Paul basically sides with the gentiles. Foods don’t matter, days don’t matter and he says that if it isn’t required for salvation, but you must be gentle with them. Paul tells them that they are not required to do what the Jews do but don’t cause them to stumble. Don’t crush them over these things; be gentle with those who have different views.