Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to  barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it is revealed the saving justice of God; a justice based on faith and addressed to faith. As it says in Scripture, “Anyone who is upright through faith will live (Romans1:1-17)

The gospel, says Paul, is God’s Good News focused on the coming, living, sacrifice and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. When Paul’s take on faith and justification is rightly understood it truly becomes good news for the world, even for the vast majority  of people who were not chosen by God to become “His holy ones” (i.e. saints) such as those he is writing to in Rome (v7).

An essential feature of Paul’s gospel that we are all likely to agree about is his emphasis on the fact that in order to be righteous in God’s sight, the key is faith rather than moral perfection or compliance with law. The question is – what exactly is faith? The New Jerusalem Bible is perhaps one of the more accurate translations of the key verse 17: “For in it (the gospel) is revealed the saving justice of God; a justice based on faith and addressed to faith. As it says in Scripture, “Anyone who is upright through faith will live” . Note here that Paul is quoting from the Old Testament (Habakkuk2:4). Quoting from my earlier post: “This surely affirms that the apostle was not introducing an entirely new concept: for ”AS IT IS WRITTEN, the just/righteous shall live by faith/faithfulness”. That, indicates Paul, had always been the case. Habakkuk likewise is indicating that “the just” are not regarded as righteous in God’s eyes because they have perfectly fulfilled a law or are morally perfect but because they are faithful to what they know to be right, which in the Jews’ case meant being faithful to Torah. Such faith or faithfulness (same word in biblical Greek) is a virtuous quality that furnishes a guiding principle resulting in endeavour, as opposed to aspiring to a standard which in God’s case is likely to be perfection, for He is perfect. If justification were dependent on the perfect fulfilment of a law or moral perfection, fallen man, including God’s chosen people would indeed be scuppered”.

“Faith alone” on the other hand is rather a meaningless concept. Faith that saves is never alone as the Apostle James points out, as more importantly did Jesus in the New Testament’s definitive passage on final judgement (Mt25:31-46). Herein lies the challenge: if that passage in which the “sheep” who had shown compassion to others were accepted and the compassionless “goats” were rejected appears to you to be denying the principle of justification by faith (as frankly it did to me for 25 or so years), then you don’t currently understand the concept in its entirety. If Paul really were contradicting Jesus Christ, then I know Who I would believe – but he is not. Yet that vital “sheep and goats” passage and Paul’s teaching in his pastoral letters can never be reconciled interpreting faith and justification as either Augustine or Luther came to understand it. The solution has already been provided and highlighted in the definition of faith I have quoted from my earlier post. That not only provides resolution but also vastly enlarges the scope of God’s grace and saving justice through the redemptive actions of His Son – to the glory of His name and the joy of all people of good will. All hopefully will become clearer as we proceed through Romans. Alternatively read chapter three of my book** where the matter is set out in full.

In the meantime I will finish with a statement from a relatively obscure fourth century Eastern Church Bishop Acacius of Caesarea, who contrary to his more illustrious western counterpart Augustine comes close to summarizing  what Paul is teaching concerning faith and the gospel in Romans and elsewhere:  “The Jew has been brought from the faith of the appointed Law to the faith which is through Christ and the Gentile from the faith of nature to the same faith in Jesus Christ”.

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