Archive for the ‘Romans’ Category

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Romans Part 8: Death to Sin

March 14, 2007

In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul begins a line of argument to prove that righteousness through faith leads us, not into more sin, but towards holiness.

Remember that the overall thrust of the letter is to address the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Rome (see this earlier post on the background to the letter). In the latter part of chapter 5, Paul explained that the justification provided through Jesus extended far beyond those under the Law, to include all those who died prior to Moses, in fact being offered to every person. And he affirmed that the grace provided through Jesus increases as necessary to cover the sin of all those who receive the righteousness through faith.

The natural Jewish objection was that this kind of justification encourages sin. If grace is going to cover us, why not go ahead and sin? It is not as if the Jews would have accepted that line of thinking. Instead they would have pointed to that as a logical end result of righteousness through faith, and therefore rejected the whole idea.

Rom 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

Those Jews would have known that Paul was accused of teaching this. And undoubtedly there were Gentiles who would have been glad enough to take this teaching and run with it. It even may be a precursor to the Gnostic heresies that came along later, in which it was taught that flesh is inherently evil, so that there was no point in trying to live a righteous life in the flesh.

In chapters 6-7, Paul destroys that argument. He does so by four counter arguments:

1) Baptism shows that we died to sin, and were raised to a new life.
2) We were released from slavery to sin, and became servants of righteousness.
3) Slavery to sin results in death, but slavery to righteousness results in eternal life
4) As in marriage, the death to sin set us free from the law.

Note that Paul was not primarily teaching about baptism in chapter 6. Instead he was using baptism to illustrate the point that we died to sin. We can learn some things about baptism from this passage (baptism is a burial; associated with death to sin; raised to a new life), but the primary message concerns death to sin.

Death to sin” and “new life” form a strong metaphor for conversion. Baptism marks the point of exit from the old life of sin, and entrance into the new life of righteousness. Sin is associated with the old life, which terminates at the point of baptism (“buried with him through baptism into death.”) Righteousness is associated with the new life we began as we were raised from the water. Paul was making the point that it makes no sense to carry sin over from the old life to the new. The whole point of the process was to leave the sin behind, along with its consequences.

Conversion is meant to break the addiction to sin. In the new life, we are no longer slaves to sin. But we still face the possibility of returning to that slavery and addiction. Paul’s point is, “Why would you want to do that?” Our past experience with sin, its consequences and penalties should be enough to warn us away from it. The blessings and advantges of remaining righteous are additional incentive to be holy. The decision really is between life and death:

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[2] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul then turned his attention to the effect that this death had on the relationship of the Jew to the Law. Using the illustration of marriage, he taught that the death to sin set the Jewish Christians free from the Law. The Law was insufficient to control the sinful urges of a life enslaved to sin. With the death to sin, a new life began under a new covenant, in the new way of the Spirit:

Rom 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Next time: the struggle with sin, and life in the Spirit.

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Romans Part 7: Adam and Jesus

March 10, 2007

In the last half of chapter 5 of the book of Romans, Paul explained how Jesus is the solution to the problem of death.

In the preceding portions of the book, Paul wrote of the problem of unrighteousness, which places all mankind under God’s wrath. And he explained how God has given us a solution to that problem through a righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus, purchased for us at the cost of the blood of God’s son. This righteousness is credited to us as a gift through faith, rather than as a reward for righteous deeds. As a result of this righteousness, we have peace with God and many associated blessings.

One of those blessings is an answer to the problem of death, which dates back to the days of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the tree from which God had forbidden them to eat. As a result of that sin, God told Adam:

(Gen 3:19) By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

The penalty for the disobedience of Adam and Eve is that they and all their descendents would return to dust. They would experience physical death. This penalty continues to apply to us today.

J. W. McGarvey commented on this point in his commentary on Romans, saying:

Adam’s sin brought natural death upon the whole human family, but nothing more. The punishment which we incur through Adam terminates at death. If men are punished after death, it is not because of Adam’s, but because of their own individual sins

The salvation that Jesus brings resolves all the outstanding charges by God against man. So how does it affect the penalty of death that comes to all the descendents of Adam? Beginning in Romans chapter 5, Paul explained how in Jesus we are rescued from the permanent consequences of this penalty. He began his explanation in verse 12, then took a detour to explain some concepts, and came back to the explanation in verse 18. First we will look at Paul’s overall point from the beginning and end of this section, and then we will return to look at the explanation inserted in the middle.

Rom 5:12 Therefore, 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–

Rom 5:18 Consequently, 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.
Rom 5:19 For 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.

In a parallel passage, Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1Co 15:20-22 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Through Jesus, in additon to the gift of righteousness through faith, we also receive the resurrection from the dead. The penalty of death, which comes to us through the universal fall of man, is overcome by resurrection through Jesus Christ.

Paul marveled a the symmetry of God’s salvation. And he offered that symmetry as part of his proof that Jesus was the solution to the problem of sin and death.

Now let’s take a look at the parenthetical explanation in the middle of this section.

Rom 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
Rom 5:14 Nevertheless, death 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.
Rom 5:15 But 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!
Rom 5:16 Again, 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.
Rom 5:17 For 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.

Here Paul was trying to help the Jews, who were looking at everything through the eyes of the Law of Moses. To them, it seemed that all the promises and all the penalties from God were under the umbrella of the Law. To clear up that misunderstanding, Paul pointed out:

  • that death entered the world before the Law, and was independent of Law
  • that death was a penalty to all mankind because of the fall of Adam
  • that righteousness through faith in Jesus is offered to all mankind because of the gift of Jesus
  • by implication, the gift of Jesus was also independent of the Law

So, if all these things were independent of Law, where does the Law fit into the picture?

Rom 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
Rom 5:21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Law was given “so that the trespass might increase.” In other words, it shines a spotlight on the sin so that it becomes obvious, and to increase our accountability. Law makes it clear what God expects, so that when we disobey we are all the more responsible as a result. Law leaves us with no excuse. We are forced to admit that we are sinners.

But God did not leave us there. Along with the greater sinfulness that results from our disobedience because of the Law, he also provides access to greater grace. And therefore the final result is not a permanent death, but a resurrection to eternal life in Jesus!

Next time: Paul begins to address various Jewish objections to this comprehensive salvation by faith.

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Romans Part 6: Benefits of Justification

March 3, 2007

In Romans chapters 1-4, Paul presented the great need of all men for salvation, and the plan of God to provide that salvation by offering justification through faith in Jesus Christ. In chapter 5, he began to explain the benefits of that justification:

Rom 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

When a man realizes the wrath of God is against him because of his sin (Rom 1:18), there is nothing he longs for more than peace with God. As the Hebrews writer warns, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). Being justified removes all dread. It means we have that peace with God. And it means we can joyfully anticipate the glorious eternity in heaven, delighting in the presence of Him with whom we now have peace.

The next benefit of justification in Paul’s list might strike us as odd:

Rom 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

The truth is that we have to wait a while for the delights of heaven. Meanwhile we will struggle through various trials and tribulations of this life. Every person who lives faces troubles. Christians may face a few extra ones, because Satan is trying to take us down. And from time to time God decides to discipline us. Paul points out that even in these times we can rejoice–not because we have some unhealthy appetite for suffering, but because we recognize the blessings that will come as a result. When we resist evil, we are following in the footsteps of our Lord (Heb 12:3). When we suffer the discipline of God, we are being refined and made ready for greater things (Heb 12:11). We can anticipate with confidence that the God who loves us will reward us with a blessing far exceeding what we have suffered (Rom 8:18).

Next Paul explains the great security we can have in our justified state:

Rom 5:6-10 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

God loved us with an amazing devotion even when we were sinners–so much so that he sacrificed his beloved Son to save us. That was at a time when we bore the guilt of an innumerable list of sins. It was when we were enemies of God! Now, through the perfect and completely sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, those sins are no longer counted against us. The barrier is now completely removed! How much more will God bless us now, since the entire debt of sin has been taken away!

Rom 5:11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As a result of our reconciliation, we rejoice in God! We stand amazed at His love, His truth, His mercy, His holiness, His justice, and His wisdom. We delight that such a God loves us and rules our lives. And we delight that we will never be separated from Him, from now into eternity! What a wonderfully secure place to be!

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Romans Part 5: The Faith of Abraham

February 26, 2007

In chapter 4, Paul explained how Christian justification works. He based his explanation on the account of Abraham in Genesis 15.

Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Paul argued that, because God made his promise to Abraham (Gen 12, Gen 15) before he was circumcised (Gen 17), that therefore the blessing is not only for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised:

Rom 4:11-12 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

To understand what Paul is saying, and to reconcile it with what James said in James 2, one must understand the Genesis account of Abraham.

In Genesis 12, God approached Abram and called him to leave his home and travel to another place God would show him. God also made a magnificent promise to Abram at that time:

Gen 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God did not say at that time why he was making the promise to Abram. He simply gave the instructions, and made the promise.

Then in Genesis 15, God elaborated on the promise:

Gen 15:1-6 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Again in this context, God did not tell why he was making the promise, or why he had chosen Abram to receive the promise.

In Genesis 17 God gave Abram three things: a new name (Abraham); the covenant of circumcision; and confirmation of the promise of a son (Isaac). But once more, he did not explain why he had chosen to give these great blessings to Abraham.

In Genesis 22, we finally learn more about why God was doing these things:

Gen 22:1-18 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

Here God revealed why he had chosen Abraham to receive these great blessings. The reason is stated two ways. First he said “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son“. Then he said “because you have obeyed my voice.” Because Abraham was willing to obey God’s command sacrifice Isaac, God made these great promises to him. For those reasons, God promised:

(1) to bless Abraham; (Gen 12:2-3)
(2) to multiply his offspring as the stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore; (Gen 15:5)
(3) to grant his offspring the gates of their enemies (Gen 12:7, 15:8, 17:8); and
(4) to bless all nations of the earth through his offspring.(Gen 12:3)

Notice that God made all these promises prior to testing Abraham. But in chapter 22 God made it very clear that the reason he made the promises was because of Abraham’s obedience to the command to sacrifice Isaac. Because Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, God sent his own son through Abraham as a sacrifice for all our sins. When God made the promise in chapters 12, 15, and 17, he knew in advance all the events that would follow. God saw the faith that was already present in Abraham before he had done anything. He knew what kind of faith it was.

Also notice the relationship between these promises and the righteousness that comes from faith:

Rom 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

In other words, we are told on one hand that the promises were due to Abraham’s obedience (Gen 22:18); but on the other hand that they were due to the righteousness that comes by faith (Rom 4:13). Both obedience and faith are cited as the reason for the promises. That should not surprise us, since obedience and faith are inseparably linked. Abraham was the great example of obedience that comes from faith–the same thing Paul was also called to preach (Rom 1:5).

Paul spoke of this faith that existed in Abraham prior to his deeds of faith:

Rom 4:18-25 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Now let’s look at what James said about Abraham:

Jam 2:20-24 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

In this passage James taught that Abraham was justified (Gen 15 “credited as righteousness”) by what he did. He further explained that Abraham’s faith and deeds worked together. The works completed the faith. Though Abraham was justified before those deeds, he was also justified by them, as they demonstrated Abraham’s genuine faith. James even points out that by obediently offering Isaac, Abraham was fulfilling the scripture from Genesis 15:6. Without the deeds, the faith would have been incomplete and the crediting of righteousness would have been unfulfilled.

In Luke 17, Jesus taught a parable that clarifies this subject:

Luk 17:7-10 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

Christians are servants of God. As servants, we have been given responsibilities to carry out. We are fully expected to fulfill those responsibilities. But after having carried them out, we are still servants. More importantly, after doing everything God has required, we are still unworthy servants. Obeying the commands of God will not make us righteous. Only God’s gift of righteousness through faith can do that. But like Abraham, we need to have the kind of faith that produces obedience. Those who have that kind of faith are the ones to whom God will credit righteousness.

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Romans Part 4: Justified by Faith

February 19, 2007

The first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans describes the plight of all mankind before God. We are all under God’s wrath because of the godlessness and wickendness in our lives. Not a single person on the planet is exempt from that wrath. And there is absolutely nothing we can do ourselves to remedy the situation.

Then in the latter part of chapter 3, Paul described God’s solution to our sin problem. By his very nature, God had to punish sin. But because of his love for us he devised a way to save us. Rather than bring that punishment upon us, he offered Jesus as a substitute. The sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sin of those who have faith in Jesus.

As a result of God’s gift, through our faith, we are granted a righteousness we do not deserve and could not possibly earn. Yet the righteousness we have been given is not imaginary nor theoretical. It is not righteousness in name only. The righteousness is real because the punishment inflicted on Jesus was real. The price that was paid was real. We are really redeemed from our sin.

From the earliest days, some people have taken this gift as a license to sin. Paul was well aware of this. Throughout Romans, Paul presented potential objections and mistaken conclusions to warn us not to draw the wrong conclusions from what he was saying.

Rom 3:28-31 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Both circumcised and uncircumcised would be justified by faith. The Jew would not be saved by following the Law of Moses. And the Gentile would not be saved by following the law written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). Both would be saved by faith. And both would be expected to uphold the requirements of God.

As previously discussed, the gospel Paul preached calls us to the obedience that comes from faith. There is another kind of faith that does not produce obedience. Such faith does not save. (It is unfortunate that this even needs to be pointed out, but it most certainly does need to be said in today’s religious world.) But the good news is that, to all who respond to the gospel of Jesus with the kind of faith that produces obedience, God grants righteousness. We pass from death to life, from damnation to heaven, from wrath to blessedness. What a magnificent gift we have been given!

The better we understand that gift, the more we will appreciate it, and the more we will strive to live appropriately in response. In the next post we will go into chapter 4, to look more closely at the wonderful gift of righteousness.

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Romans: Another Sidebar

February 13, 2007

As I dig into Romans I am constantly running across things I will not have time to pursue on this time through the book. I am convinced that a month of sermons could be preached from each verse in chapters 2-3. Do not think that this series even begins to plumb the depths of this book!

I’ve been using a variety of study helps to dig deeper into Romans. That includes multiple Bible versions, Strongs and Thayer’s Greek concordances, and several commentaries coming from different perspectives. Albert Barnes and John Gill give a Calvinist perspective. Adam Clarke, John Wesley, and J. W. McGarvey give a Free Will perspective. I think it is important to get both sides, and to realize that there is some truth to both. But I don’t want to get bogged down in choosing sides on that controversy. I want to get beneath those things, to understand what God was trying to say through Paul.

I hope this series will inspire others to dig deeper into this book, to look at alternate perspectives, and to come away with a deeper appreciation for what we have in Christ. Paul often spoke of his prayers and efforts to that end (Eph 1:17-19, Eph 3:18-19, Col 1:10, Col 2:2, Titus 1:1…) God intends for us to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for what we have received. The more we understand, the more joy we will experience because of it, and the more benefit we will derive from it. We can get a glimpse of that joy and awe from Paul (note that he is the one expaining these deep truths to us!) in Rom 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Think back to the last time you felt what Paul expressed in that passage. I know I could not have written that. Seeing Paul’s passion, awe, joy, and amazement at the glory of God, makes me want to know God like Paul knew Him, and to understand the gift we have been given as Paul understood it. I have a long way to go.

What inspired Paul to write such exalted praise of God? He had just spent eleven chapters explaining the unrighteousness of all mankind, and the gift of righteousness God has prepared for those who have faith in Jesus. What Paul understood about that gift affected him deeply. It moved him. I want to get closer to that kind of appreciation for what God has given us. So it is time to move forward. In my next post I will pick up on the end of chapter 3 and begin the discussion of the righteousness that comes through faith.

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Romans Part 3: Righteousness by Faith (Only?)

February 8, 2007

In Part 1 we looked at Paul addressing man’s unrighteousness, and God’s wrath towards that unrighteousness. Then in Part 2 (Rom 2:1-3:18) we saw Paul show that Jews and Gentiles are equally entrenched in that unrighteousness. Paul concluded that part of the argument by stating:

Rom 3:19-20 Now 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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Then Paul turned his attention to God’s solution to this seemingly unsolvable problem:

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood

God’s solution is to grant righteousness to all who have faith. He accomplished that through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. We are saved from our sins, not by obeying the Law, but by believing in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Paul explained futher:

Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

This one verse has been center of controversy among believers since 1522. In December of that year, Martin Luther’s German translation of the New Testament first went to the printing press. Over the next 40 years, over 100,000 copies of that translation were printed, a phenomenal number for that day. The simple fact that the scriptures were being distributed in the common language was controversial enough at the time, but the greatest controversy centered on Luther’s treatment of this one verse. To the literal translation of Romans 3:28, Luther added the German allein (alone), rendering it as:

Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone, apart from observing the law. [Luther]

It is understandable why Luther preferred that rendering. By the time he published his translation, he had been publicly embroiled in a controversy over salvation through works in the Catholic church for a number of years. In particular he was opposed to the practice of indulgences, a process whereby a Catholic believer supposedly could obtain absolution for sins he had committed by performing certain acts prescribed by the priest. In 1517 Luther produced his famous 95 theses indicting these and other related practices of the Catholic church. So when translating the New Testament five years later, he made it a point to add the word “alone” to emphasize how wrong those Catholic practices were.

Of course that created trouble with passages like James 2:14-26, especially verse 24:

James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

To address that seeming contradiction, Luther moved the book of James to an appendix of his Bible along with Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation, and added the following comment:

Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, and my reasons follow.

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works 2:24). It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac (2:20); Though in Romans 4:22-22 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. Although it would be possible to “save” the epistle by a gloss giving a correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses’ words in Genesis 15 (which speaks not of Abraham’s works but of his faith, just as Paul makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham’s works. This fault proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.

Luther recognized that his translation of Romans was in direct contradiction to the book of James. His solution to that contradiction was to reject the apostolic authority of the book of James, rather than to question the correctness of his own understanding.

Remember what Peter said about Paul’s writings. He said that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand. And he said that men would distort what Paul wrote, to their own destruction. He also characterized those prone to such distortions as “lawless,” men who cast off restraints and live for their own pleasure.

Now consider the alteration Luther made to Romans 3:28. If we are saved by mere belief (faith alone), apart from any appropriate response, why not just believe in Jesus and continue to sin? What impact would the sin have on our salvation? The doctrine of salvation by faith only has led many people to their own destruction in exactly that way. As we saw in the previous post, Paul himself pointed out the folly of that teaching. Peter also warned about that kind of distortion. And James flatly stated that we are not saved by that kind of faith. It seems that all three writers, two apostles and the brother of the Lord himself, have amply warned us not to fall into the “faith only” trap.

We will still reap what we sow. In Galatians (perhaps his most direct frontal assault on salvation through law), Paul wrote:

Gal 6:7-9 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

It really does matter how we live. To teach otherwise is deception and a mockery of God.

So then, how are we justified? We will pursue that question further in the next post.