Saturday, January 15, 2011

Romans Study, Week 2

Session 2

Romans 1:14- 3:20

Bob mentioned last night that since there are so many churches where people give their lives to Christ, there ought to be “The Church of the Renegeth,” people who take back their lives from Christ” I assured him that though there is no denominational structure, that “church” has a huge membership and a large number of people attending it every Sunday. Or, as a fellow told me a while back, an awful lot of people are “home-churched.”

Paul’s opening chapters in the Epistle to the Romans set the stage for him to address the condition of those who live under the illusion that they are in control of their own world. He addresses the practice of idolatry, the worship of self in place of God; and the exchange of the glory of God for the dehumanizing life of sin. In Chapter 2, he dissects the role of the law as it relates to God’s righteousness.

(I am indebted to the work of Paul Achtemeier in his commentary on Romans in the Interpretation series for much of this lesson)


This is a long string of subordinate clauses:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, …my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

17 Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."

18 Because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

19 Because what can be known about God is plain to them, …

So they are without excuse; 21 because though they knew God, …

22 And the result is: Claiming to be wise, …

24 Because of all this: God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

God’s reaction to sin is permissiveness. The punishment for idolatry is to give us control over our own destinies. Someone has said, “We are not punished FOR our sins; we are punished BY our sins.

1: 26-32

For this reason God gave them up … (distortion of God’s plan)

Because they did not see fit to acknowledge God, … They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice.

And worse yet! They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

So, even those who approve of such wickedness are condemned. To call evil good and good evil is to reverse light and darkness, to set oneself in a place of complete dehumanization. This should not be read as a list of sins Paul is condemning. It is Paul’s demonstration of the results of idolatry, putting self in place of God. The moral degradation anticipates the total degradation of death. Recall the purpose of the book: exploring the relationship of creation to the Creator. Thus, the verses can’t be read as a condemnation of any particular actions. Though we might conclude that the Apostle Paul disapproved of homosexual activity, we need to be clear about his context and the fact that in the first century, loving same-sex partnerships were either nonexistent or visible. What this list demonstrates is the futility and sadness of dehumanizing ourselves in ways that exploit ourselves and others and harden us to goodness and beauty.

Chapter 2, 1-16

Not what you know, but what you do. Again, we see a string of subordinate clauses as Paul builds his argument.

1 Therefore you have no excuse, …

So, if approving is equal to participating, is judging equivalent to being righteous?

NO! 3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge …Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

We aren’t receiving punishment, because God is giving us time to turn it around and repent.

5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself …6 Because he will repay according to each one's deeds: … 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. (why for Gentiles as well as Jews?)

11 Because God shows no partiality .

12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish …(why judge the Jews, who listen to the law?)

13 Because it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (So, how can Gentiles, who do not have the Law, be justified?)

14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. (How can that be?)

15 Because they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, …

“Paul’s most damning condemnation is reserved, not for those who engage in what he regards as dehumanizing practices, but for those who adopt a posture of innate moral virtue, while themselves failing in their innate moral vocation, to be the light of the world.” (N. T. Wright, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, p. 435)

God’s wrath and judgment must exist, for if God is not opposed to evil-doing, then God is not a good God. Sin and evil are rampant in our world and in ourselves. The question is, what is God going to do about it?


Addressing the Jews

The Jews are not exempt. They, too, are guilty of doing precisely what they condemn. Again, this list is “exemplary, not exhaustive.” (Achtemeier) Just to belong to the chosen people is not sufficient for one to escape God’s wrath and judgment. The “marks” – law, circumcision, the outward signs, are not worth anything – it is the inner truth, perceived by God, that has value and is honored by God.

Even Gentiles, other people, can follow the law. To simply avoid murder, adultery, and theft does not demonstrate the light of the world. Avoiding idols or robbing temples can hardly be construed as virtue. So what distinguishes the Jews from the Gentiles? (ref. 1:11)

God has withheld discipline in order to punish sinners (1:24); the giving of the law for the purpose of enacting that discipline is an act of grace!


The Jews’ Advantage

They know who God is! They have the covenant, a gift of grace and God’s promise, They have not been faithful. But God will not break God’s promise. God is faithful, even when we humans do not reciprocate. “Even if every human being proves faithless to God, God remains faithful.” (Achtemeier, p. 55)

Supersessionism: the belief that with the coming of Christ, God rescinded the covenant with the Jews, and therefore Christianity superceded Judaism as the recipient of God’s favor. Presbyterians DO NOT believe in supersessionism. We believe, as Paul so clearly states in Romans, that God is faithful to the covenant with the Jews, irrespective of their faithfulness to God’s law. God has not broken the covenant, but has given a new covenant to the Gentiles.

So, if evil gives God an opportunity to display grace, should we increase in it, so that God’s grace may be more abundant? Of course not! God may work all things together for good, but we are not absolved of our own responsibility.

3: 9 -20

The Lutheran Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, in the Law in Article VI. It states: "[T]he Law was given to men for three reasons. . ."

  1. that "thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]"
  2. that "men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins"
  3. that "after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life"

Calvin, in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, describes these three uses of the law:

  1. It exhibits the righteousness of God, and “admonishes every one of his own unrighteousness, certiorates, convicts, and finally condemns him.”
  2. It acts "by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.
  3. "The third use of the Law. . .has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. ... For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge...

The law gives us the knowledge of sin. However, we can’t now conclude that since we are inevitably going to break the law, that keeping the law will be our redemption.

We cannot restore ourselves to life, or redeem ourselves from sin. And we have opposed the very one who can do this. What then are we to do? Where are we to turn?

More on this next week!

No comments:

Post a Comment