DISEMPOWERING THE BODY OF SIN

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be disempowered, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is acquitted from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Rom6:1-13)

Comprehending Paul is never easy but if you have grasped what I was saying in the previous post concerning the nature of original sin, the above passage should begin to make some sense. We saw that the source of fallen man’s problem is not his God-given soul but the procreated intellectual vessel with which it is associated at birth**. God does not supply what is rotten – the soul itself is innocent, but it is also pliable and therefore able to be corrupted by association with the intellectual vessel (i.e. body and brain) it inhabits. Remember that when the physical body and brain are buried or incinerated the soul is itself conscious and memory-retaining as Scripture affirms; the rich man wondering why he must experience suffering in Hades was told by Abraham to “remember that in your lifetime you received good things and likewise Lazarus evil things, that is why he is being comforted and you are tormented” (Lk16:25). So both body and soul are intellectual vessels derived from different sources, each with different laws or governing principles (Rom7:23). The passage under consideration shows how the matter is dealt with for those who are to relate to God in the present and be sanctified to receive a glorious inheritance as sons of God and corporate bride of Christ.

The key verse in this context is 6: “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be disempowered, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul’s “body of sin” or “old man” or “flesh” equates to the “body of this death” the apostle will go on to describe in chapter seven. Dying with Christ in baptism, the Christian is now to regard himself as dead to sin and alive to God. That is because the “body of sin” has been disempowered and the soul/spirit of the Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve the living God.

But this is by no means “all of grace” or a case of “let go and let God”. The process is aided by grace but mark Paul’s words: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” (vv12-13). It is not the work of the Holy Spirit alone – it requires the cooperation and disciplined effort of every disciple of Christ. Neither is perseverance in the matter assured as the writer to the Hebrews in particular will make absolutely clear. Paul was well aware of that when he wrote: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having achieved it as yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil3:13-14). Hopefully,  at the end of our lives we shall also say with Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2Tim4:7-9).

**This supports the creationist understanding of the soul’s origin maintaining that each person’s soul/spirit, i.e. that which is separated from the body at death, is not derived from sperm or ovaries but is created immediately by God and planted into the embryo procreated by the parents. Such has been the prevalent view within Eastern Orthodoxy and is also the official teaching of the Roman Church albeit Augustine had wavered from it. More detailed explanation and historical background: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creationism_%28soul%29

THE UNIVERSAL EXCHANGE

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom5:12-21)

Another Pauline passage packed with theology – some familiar to most, other aspects, I suspect, less so.

Starting at the top Paul affirms the reality of original sin – because of Adam’s fault, sin and its consequences fell upon the human race “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (v14). Does that seem fair? –if God had left the matter there, possibly not. But thankfully He did not leave it there, and as hinted at in the previous post the final outcome will be even better for humanity than if Adam had not sinned in the first place. But that will certainly not be apparent to many Christians as they currently perceive the matter, hence “The Little Book of Providence”** to reveal the true extent of God’s magnanimity and His wondrous plans for humanity – plans which so aggrieved certain members of the angelic race, especially You-know-Who, whilst those angels who were content within their own sphere and remained faithful are nevertheless filled with amazement and desirous to look into this matter (1Pet1:12).

Secondly, note that Paul affirms that where there is no law sin is not imputed. This is not just “Paul being Paul” as I used to think, it is gospel truth. God does not condemn individuals for that of which they are ignorant, albeit that their ignorance may result in their suffering in their earthly lifetime. That is the case with original sin and its consequences, but thankfully the remedy has already been provided. And that remedy functions at two levels resulting in three potential outcomes, as a careful analysis of Paul’s narrative reveals.

There is the universal exchange: “As through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (v18). “All” means all, but it does NOT mean that no one is to be condemned at final judgement. That would be to confuse “justification” in the present with final judgement (as many Christians have). But thanks to that universal exchange, no one (least of all an unbaptized baby) will go to Hell to “pay the price for Adam’s sin”. Those who are punished will be those who have contributed to the destruction of the Earth and have acted inhumanely towards its inhabitants (cf. Rev11:18; Mt25:45).

To discern the vastly broader benign providence I am outlining one also needs to distinguish between “justification of life” (v18) and “reigning in Life” (v17). One pertains to the Universal Exchange in which all are justified from the guilt of Adam’s sin; the other pertains to what is even more graciously provided to “those who receive super-abundant grace and  the gift of righteousness” (v17). As I have previously outlined, God is being entirely fair to all (or rather equally generous). That is in view of what is required of the latter grouping: “If we (Christians) suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him (2Tim2:12).

Again Paul is alluding here to the elect of God’s  participation in the life of Christ (previous post):  “For we are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2Cor4:11). Or as Jesus expressed it even more starkly: “Whoever wishes to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk9:24). For as Paul will later affirm, God’s justice towards His elect and everyone else is both righteous and thoroughly intelligible: “(Your tribulations) are a witness to the righteous judgement of God, that you may be counted worthy to inherit the Kingdom of God for which you suffer seeing also that is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those that persecute you” (2Thes1:5,6).

More will need to be said about the precise nature of original sin. For whilst Adam’s guilt has been dealt with by what I have referred to as the universal exchange, the impact of our first parents’ disobedience continues through the body we inherit through procreation. It is what Paul comes to refer to as “the body of this death” by which he is referring to the procreated intellectual vessel inherited from our parents, ultimately from Adam. When that is united at birth with  the spiritual essence that is our God-given soul, being that part of us that survives physical death, it creates a moral dichotomy and ineptitude from which those chosen for Christ must be delivered (Rom7:24-25). Only then can they relate to God whilst in mortal flesh and through the spiritual resources provided to them be progressively sanctified and fashioned after the One with Whom they will one day be gloriously partnered. The matter will be covered in detail when we arrive at Romans 7.

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PAUL’S THEOLOGY OF GLORY

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained access by faith into the divine favor in which we stand; and we exalt in hope of sharing in  God’s gloryAnd not only this, but we also exalt in  our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings About perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, -hope; and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom5:1-11)

Proceeding through the letter of Romans, I am not endeavouring to provide a running commentary but am drawing out those aspects of Paul’s teaching which in the past had eluded me and in some cases were directly contradicted by what I then believed.

Firstly, the fact that Paul’s theology, although rooted as in this passage in the Cross of Christ and what it has achieved, is ultimately a theology of glory. That cannot be perceived from one particular passage but from his pastoral letters taken as a whole, as I hope will be demonstrated. So as result of the Cross (which in turn is a result of God’s permission of evil and suffering to come into the world) the Christian “exalts in the hope of God’s glory” (v2). And as some translations rightly discern that is not just a case of experiencing God’s glory (as all shall do), the Christian will come to share in it. That should not be such a surprise given that the elect of God are destined to be the corporate bride of Christ. And as Paul later would  affirm to Timothy – “If we endure, we shall also reign together with Christ” (2Tim2:12) which sounds pretty glorious to me.

This in turn gives insight into what is perhaps the ultimate mystery of God – His willingness to permit the Evil One to enter the world to tempt and fatally damage the masterpiece of His creation: humanity. For if there had been no sin and the suffering that comes with it there would have been no need for the Saviour or His Cross. None would have come to share in His suffering, and as is being disclosed, suffering is a prerequisite for those who are to be raised to divinity and attain to God. Such a principle even applied to the incarnate Word, who having humbled Himself as a man “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb12:2). And as the same writer to the Hebrews astonishingly relates: “It was fitting (even for Jesus Christ), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering, for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren  (Heb2:10-11). Truly, a theology of the cross and a theology of glory (the latter an anathema to the Protestant Reformers) hereby wonderfully coalesce.  An instrument of torture could never have been a theological end in itself; rather, the cross is a vital means to an end; and that end is glory.

Glory, that is for Christ and all who, having shared in His death, come to participate in His Life. “For being reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in His life (v10). Note the tenses: having been reconciled and justified we shall be saved – salvation is a continuing process which involves a participation in the Life of Christ. Quite what Paul means by that should become clearer as we proceed.

HEIRS OF THE WORLD


13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

(Rom4:13-16)

Two points to pick up on here. Firstly, what to some will be the extraordinary statement that the children of Abraham are heirs of the world. Heirship pertains to what will be possessed in the future – we like all human beings are already the world’s inhabitants – what is being spoken of here pertains to ownership or rule. That is perhaps not so surprising when one considers that God’s elect are described as joint-heirs with Christ and He in turn is described as the heir of all things (Heb1:2). This is so much more than the idea of the soul going to Heaven when you die, wonderful though that is. That is not what God’s elect are ultimately being prepared for as I am in the business of demonstrating. And as we shall see, so is Paul. Jesus also spoke of the meek inheriting the Earth (Mt5:5) as did His forefather according to the flesh, David (Ps37:11). “Meek” is not weakness but gentleness, humility, lack of severity and particularly in its Hebrew form, one who is afflicted. Significantly, Jesus as Judge and Lawmaker and Moses as Lawgiver are both described as meek.  

The other point follows from that observation and pertains to what Paul appears to be saying about the Law. Taken in isolation such passages as these might seem to indicate that fulfilling the law is no longer an issue for the Christian. As earlier posts concerning Romans 2 indicate that is not really the case (especially vv26-29). For Paul has made a particular point of saying “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14). The letter of the Law is impossible to keep but not the spirit, and as James affirms the Christian is expected to fulfil it (James2:8). But still more to the point so does Jesus. Only those who fulfil what James describes as the Royal Law of love for neighbor  can enter Heaven, let alone inherit the earth (Mt25:41-46).

Those who believe Paul to be annulling Jesus’s teaching are dangerously mistaken. For as is evident in this passage concerning Abraham, JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH IS NOT A NEW DOCTRINE that Paul was introducing. For “AS IT IS WRITTEN the just shall live by faith” (Rom1:17 citing Habakuk2:4). Jesus will have known that perfectly well when he taught what is recorded in Matthew 25 – the definitive New Testament passage on final judgement (supported in principle by Rom2:6-11). The only, albeit significant thing that HAS changed that Paul is disclosing is that Torah observance is no longer a requirement for God’s chosen people. That is a result of Jesus “abolishing in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments CONTAINED IN ORDINANCES to make in Himself of two, one new man that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) to God in one body (Eph2:15-16).

Jesus’ teaching should not be taken as “a preparation for the gospel according to St Paul” (Mt28:19-20). In view of the Great Commission the moral and juridical teaching of Christ cannot be altered, even by Paul. And it hasn’t been. The distinctive feature of Paul’s Good News concerns his disclosure regarding “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and generations but has NOW been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery AMONG THE GENTILES, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col1:26-27). That is the fact that a way has been made open for Jew AND GENTILE to come to “receive an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18) and so become heirs of the world.

The fuller picture is set out in The Little Book of Providence  – Free PDF HERE

FAITH RECKONED AS RIGHTEOUSNESS

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who irrespective of his works trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works: ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven  and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’ (Rom4:1-8)

In the context of the previous post, this is a passage often cited by those who believe God’s own righteousness to be imputed to the believer in Christ. It centres on the word λογίζεται which, as above, is best translated in this context as “reckons” (as righteous) or “regarded” (as righteous). That same Greek word appears in vv3,4,5,6&8. But in some Bible versions (e.g. KJV), when λογίζεται appears in verses 6 and 8 it is translated “imputes” and is generally understood in the sense of something that is transferred from one Person to another. Yet in verse 8 it is obvious that cannot be the case for God would not transfer sin to the transgressor for it is already present! It can only mean that God does not reckon sin, and the same applies to verse 6 with regard to God reckoning those with faith as righteous.

Paul cites Abraham, who believed God concerning His promise of a son in old age, and this was credited to him as righteousness (v3). But as is made clearer in Hebrews 11 (v8), it was Abraham’s obedience to God’s call to leave his home country that first evinced his faith. For faith that justifies is never alone but is accompanied by a measure of obedience. That is obedience to God and His promises, to Christ as Lord and Savior or at the universal level to the divine light provided by Christ to every man through the workings of conscience. Unlike the many for whom gospel salvation does not avail, indeed cannot avail without God’s personal intervention (Jn6:44), those who utterly reject God’s universal witness via the faculties God has provided to them are without excuse and are heading for perdition. Devoid of conscience, compassion and truthfulness, they are described in the Old Testament as  “having left the paths of uprightness to walk in the way of darkness” (Prov2:13); by Jude as “those without fruit, plucked up by the roots, twice dead” (Jud12). The Apostle John defines them as “ek tou ponerou”, i.e. derived from the Evil One (1Jn3:12 cf. Mt15:13). Their defining features are, that lacking a working conscience, they have no qualms, indeed positively delight in practicing evil, have no concern for truth and fail to show compassion towards those in need (1Jn3:10 cf. Mt25:35-40).

Through the Church’s rejection of a positive role for natural law affirmed by many of the earliest Church Fathers (earlier post), the satanic herd has for centuries been lumped together with the rest of unsaved humanity. But the majority of these are like Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael, who though blessed and circumcised by his father Abraham (Gen17:20-23) and living under God’s loving protection (Gen21:20) were simply not elected to the exclusive Covenant of Promise** (cf. Gal4:28). As Paul wrote, it is the Church who like Isaac are the children of promise (Gal4:28). Apart from what it implies about non-Christian nations, communities and individuals (as hated or rejected by God), this soteriological misclassification has resulted in a disfiguring of God’s munificence and intelligible justice. It is primarily a result of a misreading of the Apostle Paul’s writing such as we are currently reviewing. I have come to understand that the sustaining of this providential mystery is nevertheless in accordance with the divine will and that its resolution has been foretold in Scripture (Rev10).

**As opposed to the inclusive Universal Covenant of Life (earlier post)

FAITH ESTABLISHES THE LAW!

27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans3:227-31)

As the above NASB translation rightly identifies through its capitalization (“Law”) the law Paul is referring to is the Torah. That is why he poses the question “Is God the God of the Jews only?” What about the Gentiles who don’t have and never have had the Law? They also were justified by evincing the quality of faith. But that cannot specifically have been faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour, for as we have repeatedly shown from the Gospels, even Jesus’ twelve disciples did not understand the Messiah was to come to die as an atonement for sin – still less did the righteous of Old Testament times apprehend the matter.

But in what sense does faith establish the Law rather than nullify it? (v31). As we have shown it is because through the outworking of faith the spirit rather than the letter of the Law is fulfilled. “For the entire Law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14). The Matthew 25 “sheep” achieved that, and it was evidenced by their showing compassion to the needy, which Jesus treated as if they had served Him personally (v40). [If you believe Paul to be contradicting the teaching of Christ, then treat the Apostle as the inventor of Christianity – the way so many have interpreted him effectively make him to be such]. I am in the business of showing that the Apostle to the Gentile’s moral and juridical teaching gels with every other Bible writer. Does Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith nullify the teaching of Christ? May it never be – on the contrary, it establishes it!

But only when rightly interpreted, and that starts by rejecting any notion of Christ’s own righteousness being imputed to the believer, who as Paul has just shown is morally as unworthy of such a gift as anyone else (Rom3:24). The providential implications of such a doctrine are odious beyond human imagining. Taken alongside predestination (which we have already established is a biblical certitude) it would mean that God had foreordained the eternal misery of the vast majority of those created in His image, a concept diametrically opposed to everything the Bible says about the character of Father, Son and Spirit. Fortunately for wider humanity the Protestant’s take on imputation is a doctrine that cannot stand against the Scriptures when taken as a whole, nor can it be reconciled with the witness of Church history. Such a doctrine is nowhere to be found in the evangelistic preaching of Acts (my earlier posts) or the writings of the pre-Medieval Church – yet is deemed by those who propose it to be an essential component of saving faith. Whilst there is certainly such a thing as progressive revelation, that cannot apply to what is essential to gospel salvation. For the Lord has never ceased to gather a people to Himself so that from the rising of the sun until its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to His name. At the same time Scripture indicates that certain mysteries will be sustained until the last days. These pertain to broader providence – in particular God’s loving intentions towards the many who have not been elected to Christian salvation, a setting forth of the means and extent to which the saving work of Christ avails for them.

Whilst as we shall continue to demonstrate, the Saviour’s personal justice is not imputed to the believer it is certainly the case that Jesus Christ is the source and resource by which the perfecting and sanctifying of those elected to be God’s royal priesthood in the present and corporate Bride through eternity is obtained. It is achieved through Christ’s disciples’ cooperation with the Holy Spirit, self-discipline and a mystical (i.e. sacramental) feeding upon Christ:  for “except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood you have no Life in you” (Jn6:53).

 In accordance with Christ’s teaching on final judgement, Paul has just taught in the previous chapter that “God will render to each person according to his works: to those who by perseverance in good work seek for glory, honour and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth but unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who practices evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory, honour and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Rom2:6-11). Note the judgement is based on what the individual has practiced, not what Christ has done on their behalf. Rather, the latter (Atonement) facilitates the former by delivering the believer from the guilt and power of sin to serve the living God in spirit and in truth. Many understand Paul to go on to contradict his statements in Romans chapter two – but not when he is rightly understood as hopefully will be demonstrated. 

JUSTIFICATION THROUGH CHRIST’S FAITHFULNESS

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the Justifier through Jesus’ faithfulness. (Rom3:21-26)

The first point to make concerns the translation. The Greek does NOT refer to “faith in Christ” in this passage but the faith of Christ. That pertains to Jesu’s faithfulness [note 1] to His Father’s will culminating in His death on the Cross. How this relates to the Christian’s faith in Christ is clarified in the following verse in Galatians:

Having known that a man is not declared righteous by the works of the Law but through the faithfulness of Christ; we (Christians) believed in Christ Jesus that we might be declared righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of Torah, therefore no flesh shall be declared righteous by works of the law

This translation resolves the more usual version’s triple tautology and shows how Christ’s faithfulness in terms of His saving work on humanity’s behalf benefits those who do not have a personal knowledge of it yet instinctively fear God and “attend to moral discipline” as some  early Fathers refer to the matter. Countless billions who have lived have not benefitted from hearing a faithful account of Jesus’ teaching and the Good News of His Kingdom. Most Church Fathers before Augustine’s fearsome assertions recognized that man in his natural state, although unable to raise himself to eternal life had effectual free will to choose and practice what is just and in accordance with sound reason [2]. Some of these early Church Fathers including Justyn Martyr and Origen regarded the seed of reason provided to all men equipping them with a degree of wisdom and a sense of justice as the essence of “Christ” Himself. I tend to refer to the same concept as the light of Christ reflected in the conscience. Either way it is a sufficient object of faith resulting in divine acceptance for those who defer to it (earlier post). This is not an assertion of absolute universalism for not all do [3].

In terms of a person’s faith in Christ as Saviour, that replaces the requirements of Torah observance previously required of those set apart as God’s royal priesthood on earth (Ex19:6 cf. 1Pet2:9). Paul’s polemics against those Jewish converts especially in the Galatian churches who said otherwise is the context of his frequent references to the fact that justification within the Covenant of Promise is by faith in Christ as opposed to “works of the Law” such as circumcision and observing dietary and sacral regulations (Gal4:9-10).

The point Paul will repeatedly make is that those privileged to be God’s people under the New Covenant are there on the basis of free grace, a gift provided through the redemptive work of Christ (v24). It is not through their own good works or virtue. However (and this is where many have disregarded the other side of the equation), such have been chosen “to perform good works that God has fore-ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph2:10). And as Paul has just stated in the previous chapter, that is the basis and condition upon which people will finally be judged and rewarded (Rom2:6-7).

More needs to be explained, for example concerning “propitiation” and what Paul meant (and didn’t mean) by “the righteousness of God” but that will come to light through future posts.

NOTES

[1] “faith” and “faithfulness” are the same word in biblical Greek

 [2] e.g. Irenaeus against heresies Book IV chap. 37 para 1

[3] These are the satanic seed (children of the devil), epitomized by Cain, alluded to by Christ (Mt15:13), elucidated a little in the first epistle of John and explained in detail in chapter 6 of The Little Book of Providence [Free PDF HERE]

PAUL’S IDIOSYNCRATIC CRITIQUE

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

10  For as it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is employing a similar method of critique here that he used in Romans 1. He is linking together passages from Scripture, in these instances where God’s own people were being chastised. In Romans3:10-18 he states that “not one of them is righteous, no not one (v10); not one of them does what is  right (v12); their feet are swift to shed blood (v15) and there is no fear of God before their eyes (v18). Did Paul actually believe that no Jew ever feared God or ever did anything right – that their hearts were set on bloody slaughter so as to bring misery and destruction wherever they went? Of course he didn’t, likewise with his depiction of the Gentile nations in the previous chapter. It is a literary technique to adduce universal sinfulness and the fact that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God (v23). He was not intimating that it is in everyone’s nature to act in the depraved manner described, so therefore equally he is not saying that no one by nature is righteous. For, “As it is written, no one is righteous, no not one(v10). That statement is the start of the concatenated prophecies drawn from the Old Testament (mainly Isaiah 59) where God’s people are being chastised. “No one is righteous” is no more a statement of fact than the idea that no Jew on the planet ever feared God.

For Paul well knew that the Old Testament (the only Scriptures at the time) does NOT teach that no one by nature is righteous, or anything like it. The Wisdom literature in particular teaches that some are righteous, other are not. And it can have nothing to do with “imputed righteousness” as some would wish to make out, for the wicked are often described as “those who leave the paths of righteousness to walk in the ways of darkness” (Prov2:13). God through Ezekiel warned that If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it (Ezek33:18) Therefore it must have been their own righteousness that was previously possessed (likewise Ezek18:24).

Paul’s method of critique is typically Jewish and decidedly idiosyncratic . As a result, he can be (and has been) profoundly misunderstood. Even in his own day, the Apostle Peter taught that Paul’s writings were hard to understand and were being misunderstood by many (2Pet3:15-16). Paul himself was aware of the problem “Why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just” (Rom3:8). So why should we not say that the Christian is not required to keep the spirit of the law? Because of the passage considered in the previous post where the Apostle says nothing of the sort (Rom2 especially vv6-15 and 25-29). Likewise Jesus and the other apostles. As Paul will shortly re-affirm (next post), Torah observance is no longer a requirement, even for those who are set apart as God’s chosen people. Nevertheless, as James put it: “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, then you are doing well” (Jam2:8).

PAUL REAFFIRMS NEED TO KEEP THE LAW

25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God. (Rom2:25-29NRSV)

Earlier in the chapter Paul had declared that not the hearers but the doers of the law will be justified (v13). Many struggle with that verse and (Reformed) commentators try to explain it away by intimating Paul was speaking hypothetically – i.e. if anyone COULD keep the law (apart from Christ and pre-Fall Adam), they would be justified by it. The passage above proves their analysis is wrong for he now writes that those who are not physically circumcised but obey the law will condemn the Jew who does not. How then could any such Jew be condemned if no one did keep the law? – his point would be meaningless.

The explanation has already been provided in the previous post and is reaffirmed by the Apostle here. It pertains to the fact that God’s Law (which indeed cannot perfectly be fulfilled in letter by anyone) can and is fulfilled in spirit by those who, for example demonstrate the same concern for others as they do themselves. However imperfect their actions, in their hearts they desire to do good. When a person in need is succored then Christ Himself has been succored, and rewards follow (Mt25:38-40). Jesus and Paul teach precisely the same principles, for as apostle will later affirm: “The ENTIRE LAW is fulfilled in keeping this ONE COMMAND ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal5:14). And now he is making clear that such law is to be obeyed in spirit not letter – not as some Bible versions portray it “by the Spirit” (e.g. NASB) referring to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Gentiles he was referring to in vv14-15 did not possess the Spirit but they were well capable of obeying BY NATURE aspects of God’s law and in so doing evinced a form of faith in the sense of a positive response to what has been revealed to them of God’s law in their soul via the conscience.

As will continue to be demonstrated, none of this detracts from the essentiality of the Gospel – so that those chosen for Christ (Jn6:44) can be delivered from the guilt and power of sin. Only then can their “consciences be cleansed from dead works* in order to serve the living God” (Heb9:14). As the Royal Priesthood of God on Earth they become a kind of first fruit of God’s new creation (cf. Jam1:18).

Predestination is an inescapable reality but it in no way undermines God’s equitable justice once God’s broader Plan of Loving Goodness has been perceived. The Creator has been fair to all – for those of God’s children He has given to His Son (Jn17:6) are required to deny themselves and their personal ambitions and submit to the yoke of Christ. If faithful to the end they shall have the unimaginably glorious prospect of becoming the corporate Spouse of Jesus Christ through eternity. Such privileges cannot be attained via natural precepts but require the witness and application of the Holy Spirit, the water and the blood (1Jn5:8) and that is communicated through the Gospel.

* “Dead works” are sinful activities that result in Pauline “death” as defined in an earlier post.

THE ROLE OF CONSCIENCE

13It is not familiarity with the Law that justifies a man in the sight of God, but obedience to it. 14-15 When the Gentiles, who have no knowledge of the Law, act in accordance with it by the light of nature, they show that they have a law in themselves, for they demonstrate the effect of a law operating in their own hearts. Their own consciences endorse the existence of such a law, for there is something which condemns or commends their actions. [Rom2:13-15 JB Phillips]

I indicated in the previous post that when it comes to verses relating to natural law (in terms of innate spiritual faculties), the relevant passages are prone to mistranslation. To be fair, the above (J.B. Phillips) translation is reasonably OK whereas some earlier versions such as the King James make out by their translation that Paul is being disparaging about the Gentiles’ response to the law written in their hearts. He is doing nothing of the sort, and in terms of positivity actually goes beyond J.B. Philips by linking his statement concerning those who obey the law with the actions of the Gentiles. This Paul does by adding the conjunction “γὰρ” meaning “for” in the since of introducing an explanation of what has just been stated. Given what I was expounding in the previous post concerning Paul’s assertion that the whole law is fulfilled in spirit by the act of treating another person as one does oneself (Gal5:14), there are broader providential implications that we shall continue to explore.

The KJV’s rendering of verse 14 concerning the Gentiles becoming “a law to themselves” tends to be understood in the negative sense of them doing as they please rather than responding in a right way to God’s requirements for humane living which is what Paul is actually indicating as most later bible versions recognize. Likewise in the verse that follows, the KJV expresses the idea of the Gentiles either excusing or accusing one another, again with thoroughly negative connotations whereas Paul is referring to the fact that their thoughts concerning their actions are either endorsed or condemned by the witness of their conscience, depending on whether or not they are in accordance with God’s law.

Truly this passage is at the heart of what I and many of the earliest Church Fathers mean by “natural law” or “natural precepts”. The Roman Catholic Church also recognizes these principles to a degree especially since the Second Vatican Council (1960s). The Roman Church had been greatly influenced by the former Evangelical-turned-Catholic John Henry Newman’s teaching in this area (as indeed was I). The problem is, Newman’s broader providential perspective cannot easily be reconciled with some earlier conciliar pronouncements concerning the fate of those outside the Catholic Church, contradicting as they do, aspects of the teaching of their esteemed Doctor, Augustine.

For Newman spoke of the conscience as “the impression of a divine Light within us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature” [1]. As such, conscience as the universal revelation of God, anterior to the Gospel and supreme over all other human faculties provides everyone with “a clear and sufficient object of faith” [2]. For faith is simply man’s positive response to what has been revealed to him from God, be it innately through the conscience or religiously through a creed. Through it one discerns the nature of right and wrong and senses a benefit in practicing the former to be at peace with oneself. The cardinal and distinguishing truth that conscience teaches is that God rewards the good and punishes the wayward; again, a facet of faith as the Bible defines it.

The conscience is effectively a spiritual faculty. Its very existence is the consequence of the fact that the human spirit has been created in God’s image and enlightened by Christ whereas the vessel that houses it is drawn to worldly lust like a magnet, for unlike the spirit it was conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity (Ps51:5) . But by habitually taking heed to the dictates of conscience, the soul/spirit is effectively relating positively to something, in fact Someone superior to itself; hence the person is regarded as exercising faith in God and so is justified through the merits of Christ’s atonement.

The latter paragraph’s assertions are my own and go beyond what can specifically be drawn from our featured passage but not beyond what can be gleaned from Paul’s teaching as a whole, as hopefully future posts will demonstrate, as indeed does my book [3].

[1]  John Henry Newman: “Grammar of Ascent” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammar_of_Assent

[2] Ibid.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammar_of_Assent

[3] Free PDF HERE

Exploring the mystery of divine providence