Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
Peace with God: Most Christians are familiar with Philippians 4:6-7 which tells us about the peace of God. Those two verses envision upsetting situations that come into our lives (like lost of job, illness, death of family member). But this is not the peace that Romans 5:1 is talking about. Romans 5 is not referring to the “peace of God,” but to “peace with God.” The idea here is not that we are upset and therefore need to become trusting and more tranquil, but rather that we have been at war with God and He with us, because of our sin, and that peace has nevertheless been provided for us by God – if we have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ.
What Paul has been saying in the previous section is that God is not at peace with us but is at war with us because of our ungodly and wicked behavior. The word Paul has been using is “wrath” (Rom. 1:18). Having shown what this means and having answered the objections to those who feel that it is an appropriate description of the condition of other people, but not themselves, Paul then reveals what God has done to satisfy His wrath against men in Jesus Christ. The Son bore the Father’s wrath in our place. He died for us, and we receive the benefits of His atonement by believing on Him and in what He has done. This is the point at which the fourth chapter of Romans ended.
Standing in Grace: In Romans 5:2, we come to a second benefit. There are a number of very important words in this verse: access, faith, grace, and stand. But these can be used in different ways, and it’s not easy to see how they all go together in this sentence. So we will attempt to define each one: (1) Grace. Grace is usually defined as “God’s unmerited favor,” and that is sometimes rightly strengthened to read “God’s favor to those who actually deserve the opposite. But this is not the meaning of the word here. Here Paul prefaces it with “this.” “This grace!” “This” indicates that he has a specific grace in mind. It specifically means that, while we were previously “under the law and wrath,” we are now “under grace” because we stand before God as justified men and women – if we have been justified through the faith in Jesus Christ. (2) Faith. Faith also has a variety of meanings. But since here the word is linked to “grace” in this sentence and since this grace is the grace of justification, the faith referred to here is the faith in Jesus Christ by which we are justified. (3) Access. What Paul is saying here is that we “have had our access into the grace of justification.” Paul uses this past tense to show that justification in which we stand is something that has been accomplished for us and into which we have already entered. We have been justified; therefore we remain justified. We have had our access, and it is because of this that we still have it. (4) Stand. The final key word here in verse 2 is the verb “stand.” By the mercy of God we have been brought into the grace of justification, and that is the grace in which we now have the privilege to stand. Before, we were standing without, as children of wrath. Now we are standing within, not as enemies or even as pardoned criminals, but as sons and daughters of Almighty God.
Hope of Glory: Paul wrote the fifth chapter of Romans to teach those who have been justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ that they are secure in their salvation. We have already seen two initial ways he has done this. He has spoken of the “peace” that has been made between God and ourselves by the work of Christ, and he has spoken of the “access” to God that we have been given as a result of that peace. In the final sentence of verse 2 we come to a third evidence of our security, namely that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
“Glory” is one of the richest concepts in the Bible. The meaning of “glory” in early Greek means; “to believe,” ‘to think,” or “to seem,” “to appear,” or “to have appearance of,” in those early stages the word naturally referred to how a thing seems or appears to someone. But as time went on, the word came to be used almost exclusively of a good opinion – it meant “renown,” “reputation,” or “honor” – and finally it meant only the very best opinion of only the very best individuals. When we express high opinions of God what do we do? We “glorify” Him, don’t we? So, in this sense, to “glorify” God, “worship” God, and “praise” God are the same thing. To worship God means to assign Him His true worth.
The meaning of “glory” in Hebrew is a bit different, and to complicate matters a bit more, there are two very distinct ideas. The common Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod. It’s the closest to the Greek word and is therefore usually so translated. Kabod can mean “reputation” or “renown.” The other distinctly Hebrew idea is the Shekinah. This was a visible manifestation of God’s glory, generally understood as light so brilliant as to be unapproachable. This was the glory transferred to the face of Moses as a result of his spent time with God on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:29-35).
In these verses, seeing the glory of God and seeing the face of God is treated as identical. This means, in the final analysis, that “hope of the glory of God,” the phrase Paul uses in Romans 5:2, is nothing less than the vision of God – the goal of our faith, the climax. So what Paul is telling us is that the boon for which Moses prayed, and for which the saints of the ages have longed for fervently, is to be ours, and it is to be ours because of our gracious justification by the Father. Those who have been justified will see God. Therefore, as Paul wrote elsewhere, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1Cor. 13:12).
There are two more points to unfold fully what Paul is getting at in these verses of Romans. The first is that this glorious culmination of our salvation by God is certain because of Paul’s use of the noun “hope” in our text: “hope of the glory of God.” Today’s use of the word “hope” is rather weak. One dictionary defines it pretty well when it says: “desire with expectation of obtaining what is desired,” listing “trust” and “reliance” as synonyms. But in common speech we usually mean much less than this. We speak of “hoping against hope” or “hoping for the best,” which implies that we are not very hopeful. But this is not what “hope” means in the Bible, and even the dictionary definition falls short of it. In the Bible, “hope” means certainty, and the only reason it is called hope rather than certainty is that we do not possess what is hoped for yet, although we will.
The second point, in 1 John 3:1-3, the apostle is speaking of the return of Jesus Christ and of the fact that when He appears we shall be like Him. He calls this our “hope,” which is an appropriate use of the word, as we have seen. But this is not only something having to do with the future, says John. Hope has a present significance, too (vv. 2-3). It is our hope, or confidence, that we will be like Jesus one day that motivate us to be like Him now. It leads us to live as morally pure a life as possible.
Romans 5:1-2 Reflection Questions:
What are some New Testament Scripture examples of how “hope” is used?
What does it mean to you to “be like Jesus”?
A key phrase in chapter 5 of Romans is “peace with God.” What does peace with God look like as described in verses 1-2?
In several preceding studies we have been working through the Apostle Paul’s proof from the Old Testament of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Paul has given two Old Testament examples, Abraham and King David, but his chief example has been Abraham. But Paul is not in love with the past for its own sake. Paul was writing for the present. So, as he comes to the end not only of Romans 4 but of the first major section of the letter, he returns to his first theme, reminding his readers that things that were written in the Old Testament were written for us and that proof of the doctrine of justification by faith from the case of Abraham is for our present benefit (vv. 23-25). This passage is a summation of the Christian gospel, and a study of it is an appropriate way to end this first section of the Book of Romans.
The first point in Paul’s summary of the gospel in Romans 4 of this explicitly Christian statement of faith to the case of Abraham is belief in God. Paul expresses this by saying, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” This sentence involves both continuity with and development beyond Abraham’s example. The continuity is important, since the God whom Christians believe in is the same as the God Abraham believed in, and the nature of the faith involved in trusting that God is therefore also the same. This is why we have been able to make practical applications from Abraham’s life to our own lives. In discussing Abraham’s faith we have learned that it was: (1) Faith in God’s promise; (2) Faith based on the bare words of God and on nothing else whatever; (3) Faith despite many strong circumstances to the contrary; (4) Faith that was fully assured; and (5) Faith that acts.
This is exactly what our faith is to be and do and the reason is that it is faith in the God in whom Abraham believed. Moreover, such faith is to grow increasingly strong, because it is grounded not upon itself but upon God. In theses ways, Abraham’s faith is the same as our own. But our faith also involves development beyond Abraham’s faith, because, as Paul writes, it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Abraham’s faith in the promise was an anticipatory faith in Jesus since the promise ultimately was fulfilled in Him, but we have a gospel, the Good News. Abraham looked forward to what God had said He would do. We look back to what God has already accomplished.
What has God accomplished? The answer brings us to the first of its great declarations in our text, namely, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins.” According to the Book of Acts, Peter made the identical declaration at Pentecost (see Acts 2:23; 13:27-28). There are two important points to these classic proclamations of Christ’s death: (1) It was planned by God. It was God the Father who sent the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. This tells us that the death of Jesus was no accident, but rather the accomplishment of God’s plan of redemption, devised even before the universe was created. It was why Jesus came. (2) It was for others. The death of Jesus, thus was planned by God, was for others, which means that it was substitutionary. Paul says that it was “for our sins.” Death is God’s punishment for sin, its consequence. But Jesus had not sinned and therefore did not deserve death. That He did die was because He was dying in our place as our sin-bearer.
The final part of the gospel in our passage is the resurrection. Paul speaks of it twice in verses 24-25. There are a number of explanations of the meaning of the phrase “raised to life for our justification,” but the one most agree on is that the resurrection is God’s proof, provided for our benefit, that a full payment for sins has been made. The resurrection proves a great many things. It proves that: (1) There is a God and that the God of the Bible is the true God; (2) Jesus was a teacher sent from God and He was inerrant in His teaching and spoke the very Words of God; (3) Jesus is the Son of God; (4) There is a day of judgment coming; (5) Every believer in Christ is justified from all sin; (6) All who are united to Christ by a living faith will live again; and (7) Christians can have victory over sin. But chiefly the resurrection proves that every believer in Christ is justified from all sin, as Romans 4:25 declares. In other words, it is God’s evidence to us that the penalty for our transgressions has been fully paid by Jesus.
We have come to the end of the fourth chapter of Romans and therefore to the end of the first major section of Paul’s letter. It has been a long journey. So the question is: Do you believe in God and trust His promises, as the patriarch Abraham did? Although he knew less about the person and work of Jesus than you do, his faith was not different in kind from yours, and for that very reason he remains your example.
God has promised salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. You must trust His word in this, even though the circumstances of life may seem to rule against it. Abraham looked at himself and considered his body as good as dead. You also are dead to spiritual things. But you must believe what God says, commit yourself to Christ, as He tells you to do, and find that the power of God that was active in quickening Abraham’s old body will quicken you. Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God (Rom. 4:20). Neither should your faith falter. Receive the promise, and believe in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Romans 4:23-25 Reflection Questions:
How do verses 24-25 sum up the previous four chapters of Romans?
In specific ways, how can we live as one family with all those who share the faith and hope depicted in this chapter?
The apostle Paul is now going to discuss the immediate benefits of this God-given salvation and the nature of the resulting Christian life. In reviewing the nature of Abraham’s faith, Paul highlights five of its most striking characteristics.
The first important thing about Abraham’s faith is that it was faith in God’s promise. That is clear in verse 18, where one expression of the promise from Genesis 15 is quoted. But it’s also a dominant theme throughout the latter half of Romans 4, in which the noun promise appears four times and the verb promised once. God made a multi-faceted promise to Abraham, involving personal blessing, a land to be given to him and his posterity, blessing on his descendants, and a Redeemer to come. Therefore, the first and most important characteristic of Abraham’s faith is that it was faith in this promise.
When we first look at this, the fact that Abraham “believed” God may seem obvious and therefore unimportant. But it is neither obvious nor unimportant. It’s not “obvious,” because most of our natural thinking about faith moves in different categories entirely. What do we chiefly think of when we think about faith? We think in subjective terms, don’t we? We think of our feelings about something, which really means that we are man-centered in this area rather than God-centered. In the Bible faith is grounded in God and is something that springs from His encounter with the individual. We are not saved because we have a strong subjective faith (that would focus the matter on us), but because we believe the promises of God regarding salvation, promises made known to us in the pages of the Bible. In other words, Christian faith is a Bible faith. Or, to put it in still other words, we are saved not because of our faith but because of God’s promises. True faith is receiving these promises and believing them on the basis of God’s character.
The second characteristic of Abraham’s faith is that it was based on the Word of God and nothing else. We go back to Genesis 15 and find that God promised Abraham many offspring (as numerous as the stars in the heavens), by the time of his life described in Genesis 15, Abraham had lived most of a century without having any children. Where could Abraham find external support to assist him in believing this “wild” promise? There was no such support! So, if Abraham believed God, as he did, it was only because it was God who had made the promise. It’s the same when we trust God in the matter of salvation today. God says that He has given His Son in death for us (see John 3:16). What else in life can sustain you in believing such a promise except the bare Words of God in the Bible. Apart from God’s Word, we don’t even know anything about eternal life, let alone how to obtain it. So if we find salvation, it’s by believing God’s Word, pure and simple.
The vitality of Abraham’s faith (and therefore of all true faith) was greater even than this. For, as Paul points out in the closing verses of Romans 4, it was not a case of Abraham’s merely believing God in the absence of all external supports; he believed God when the external evidences were actually and sharply to the contrary (this is the third characteristic of Abraham’s faith). This is the meaning of the sentence “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” (v. 18). It means from a human perspective the situation was hopeless. But since God has spoken, Abraham was willing to believe God despite the adverse physical evidence. At this point it is clear that Paul’s thought is moving beyond the situation described in Genesis 15 to the utterly “impossible” conditions of Genesis 17. As we have seen, by this time Abraham was 99 years old and there was no longer any hope that the aged couple could have their own child. When they were a bit younger, perhaps; but not at this point. That is why the text says, “Without weakening in his faith, he [Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (v. 19).
The fourth characteristic of Abraham’s faith is assurance. Paul says this in a number of ways: (1) “without weakening in his faith” (v. 19); (2) “he did not waver through unbelief” (v. 20); and (3) he “was strengthened in his faith” (v. 20). But the chief statement is in verse 21: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.” This is an important point. True faith should always have this assurance. But how does faith achieve this in a world where flesh is weak and circumstances are usually more powerful than we are? There is only one answer: True faith has assurance because it is directed neither to ourselves nor to circumstances but to God. Faith that is grounded in the Being and character of God will go from strength to more strength, since God is faithful.
The fifth characteristic of Abraham’s faith that we dare not omit and need to remind ourselves of, is that faith acts. Faith believes God, but it also acts decisively. Did Abraham believe God? Of course he did. He believed God enough to engender the child of the promise when he was 99 years old. How about you? Will you act on your faith as Abraham acted? Will you step out in faith, believing the promise of God concerning the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ? You will get little support from the world to help you make such a commitment. On the contrary, the world will hinder you as much as it possibly can and think you are irrational, even foolish. But where is the foolishness found? Is it on the side of those who trust God? Or is it on the side of unbelievers, who trust only themselves and the world, both of which are passing away? I urge you to trust God and act on it!
Romans 4:18-22 Reflection Questions:
Is your faith man-centered or God-centered?
In what specific ways is 4:18-25 a deliberate reversal of Romans 1:18-27?
How can we as believers celebrate the God who promises impossible things and brings them to pass?
There is a sense that the apostle Paul is in a war and has been shooting down enemy soldiers. In Romans 4 his war is for the gospel, of course, and the champions that have been sent to do battle against him have been formidable. Thus far there have been two of them. The first was “Works.” This is the soldier almost everyone believes in, the people’s favorite. But Paul shot him down with an arrow from Genesis 15:6, which proved that Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promise, rather than by works. Since Abraham is the Old Testament pattern of a justified and godly man, his experience sets the pattern for those who follow him. The second soldier was “Circumcision.” This champion was peculiar to the Jews and seemed to have the blessing of God behind him, since after all, God had Himself established circumcision. Paul defeats this mighty foe by showing that Abraham was declared to be justified by God years before circumcision was imposed on him and his descendants. The last of the enemy’s heroes is “Law.” Paul will shoot this soldier down in the next two paragraphs of his letter (vv. 13-17).
It’s important to notice his change in strategy, however. When Paul was arguing against circumcision as a way of salvation, he used a temporal or historical argument, as we have seen. Instead he speaks of the results of trying to live by law, showing that by nature law is contrary to both faith and promise and that the inevitable result for those who choose this bad option is God’s wrath.
Why does Paul take this approach? Why does he not argue from a time sequence, as he does in Galatians? It may not be possible to assign a sure reason for this, but we have a clue in the fact that Paul does not use the direct article (“the”) before the occurrences of the word “law” in verses 13-15, by contrast the article does occur with “law” in Galatians. In Romans Paul is not thinking so much of the specific Jewish law, though nothing he says excludes it, but of law in general. It is the law principle, rather than a specific set of laws, that he is thinking about. It is what we commonly call morality.
Is that distinction important? Well, it is for Gentiles, which includes most of us, as well as the bulk of those to whom Paul was specifically writing. The Gentiles of Paul’s day generally did not have the advantage of the Old Testament law for moral guidance. But they did have some standards of behavior, just as we do today. And like us, they wanted to trust in their personal ability to keep that “law,” to measure up to those standards, as a way of salvation.
We see that all around us, don’t we? People will say that God ought to save them because they have done the best they can, “best” in that statement being defined by their partial attainment of whatever standard they perceive to be a just one. Or because they are good people, “good” being merely the sense that they have done better at living up to some moral code than others. This is the way we naturally think about salvation. Because we think we have measured up to some moral standard, we believe that God owes us something.
So what are the consequences if a person tries to achieve a saved status with God not by faith but by morality or, as Paul says, by the law principle? Paul says there are three consequences: (1) Faith has no value (v. 14). The reason faith has no value if one is living by the law principle is that faith and law are opposites, and if a person is choosing one, he or she is inevitably rejecting the other. (2) The promise is worthless (v. 14). The second consequence of living by the law principle is the nullification of God’s promise. Why is this so? Well, if the promise of salvation is linked to the law principle, this can only mean that it is necessary for a person to keep the law in order to receive the promise. If that were the case, the promise would never be fulfilled because, as Paul has already proved in the earlier chapters of Romans, there is nobody who has ever done what God’s law requires. (3) Law brings wrath (v. 15). The third consequence of trying to achieve a saved status by the law principle is that, instead of achieving salvation, all one actually achieves is wrath. This is an important point, for it goes beyond what has already been established as the first and second consequences. This is because the law can do nothing but condemn. That is its very essence. If you do not turn from the law as a way of salvation and trust the work of God in Jesus Christ, the very standard that you trust condemns you – because you have not kept it and never will.
The second paragraph (vv. 16-17), shows the fortunate consequences of seeking to be justified by God, not on the basis of morality or by the law principle, but by faith – which was the path pursued by Abraham. Again, as in the case of law, there are three consequences: (1) Faith establishes grace (v. 16). Why is this so? It’s because faith and grace belong together by their very natures, just as works and law belong together. Faith establishes grace. Therefore, we must have faith, since it is grace we need. (2) Faith makes salvation certain (v. 16). We can see the truth of this by contrast. Anyone who wants to be saved by works can never be certain that he or she has performed well enough – assuming (wrongly) for a moment, that the standard can be less than utter perfection. If, by contrast, salvation is not by morality but by the grace of God received through faith, then salvation is certain – because God is faithful and does not waver in His promises. He has done what is necessary through the death of Christ. That work is a perfect and all-sufficient work. Nothing can be added to it. Consequently, the person who rests on that work can be quietly content and confident. (3) Faith opens the door of salvation to all (vv. 16-17).The final benefit of faith as the way of salvation is that it opens the door of salvation to everyone, not just to the Jew, who possessed the Old Testament law, or to the few favored Gentiles who had been taught a particularly high standard of morality. It’s open to everyone. All may enter. This is the point Paul particularly emphasizes in Romans 4, not only in these verses but from verse 9 to the end of the chapter.
I don’t know of any human benefit or award or promise of which that can be said, because all human offers have conditions and thereby always exclude some people. But this is not true of the way of salvation offered by God through the work of Christ. Because of this, I can say the door is open for you, regardless of who you are or whatever you may have done or not done. None of that matters because we are all reduced to the same level. Salvation is by the grace of God through faith. If you are excluded, it’s only because you have refused to walk through the open door. It’s because you prefer your own sullied morality to God’s grace.
Don’t let that be true of you. Instead of refusing grace, accept it and enter into the full joy of God’s salvation. That salvation is for you, whoever you may be – if you will have it.
Romans 4:13-17 Reflection Questions:
According to Paul in verses 13-15, what is the purpose of the law?
How does the knowledge that Abraham is the “father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5) and that you are a child of Abraham affect the way you view your faith?
We remember from our study of the first verses of Romans 4 that in this chapter Paul is attempting to prove the gospel from the Old Testament. His chief example and the basis of the proof is Abraham, patriarch of the Jewish people and the one to whom they looked as their spiritual model. If Paul can show that Abraham was saved by the grace of God in Christ, received by the channel of human faith, he has made his point and established the doctrine. Paul does show that Abraham was saved through faith and not by works by quoting Genesis 15:6. Having proved his point concerning Abraham, Paul then adds a second witness; David, and the words Paul cites in Romans 4:7-8 are drawn from Psalm 32:1-2. The case should be clear-cut: Abraham was saved by faith apart from human works; we must be saved by faith too.
If you are a Jew and are saved, it’s not because you are a Jew. It is because of the work of Jesus Christ. If you are a Gentile and are saved, it’s not because of anything you are or have done as a Gentile. It’s because of the work of Jesus Christ. No one is saved because he or she has been baptized or confirmed or gone to Mass or shared in the communion service. A person is saved through faith in the perfect and completed work of Jesus Christ. Either you have been saved by Him, or you have not been saved at all. It is by faith and not by works that one is justified.
There is a valid question still to be asked at this point: If Abraham was saved by faith apart from circumcision, which he must have been if he was declared to be justified fourteen years before circumcision was given to him, why was this rite given? If Abraham was not saved by circumcision, didn’t the giving of circumcision just muddy the waters? Or, to put the question in other terms: What’s the purpose of the sacraments anyway? This is a good Bible passage from which to ask these questions, because it contains in one verse (v.11) the two most important words in the Bible for understanding what the sacraments are about. The words are: “sign” and “seal.”
Let’s take the word “sign” first. Paul writes that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision” (v. 11). What does that mean? Well, in simple language a sign is a visible object that points to something different from and greater than itself. In the case of circumcision, it is a case of pointing to the covenant God established with Abraham based on the work of Christ. In the case of the New Testament sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the same. The Lord’s Supper in particular points back to Christ’s death (see Luke 22:19-20). But on another level, these sacraments also indicate ownership. They show that we belong to Christ and that we no longer belong to ourselves.
The second word Paul uses to discuss the nature of the sacraments, whether circumcision, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, is “seal” (v. 11). In the case of Abraham, Paul says that circumcision was “a seal of righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” That is, after Abraham had believed God and God had imparted righteousness to him, God gave the seal of circumcision to validate what had happened. In the same way, baptism is a seal that the person being baptized has been identified with Jesus Christ as His disciple, and the elements of the Lord’s Supper, when received, indicate that the person has taken Jesus to himself as intimately and as inseparably as eating bread and drinking wine. Important? Yes, the sacraments are important as signs and seals of what has happened spiritually and invisibly, but not as a means of salvation.
The last portion of our text teaches that because Abraham was saved by faith before he was circumcised, he has become the father of all who are truly saved, both Jew and Gentile. This doesn’t mean that no one had been justified before Abraham. Adam, Enoch, Noah, and other early believers were also justified by faith. But is does mean that in Abraham’s case the way of salvation was made explicit in Scripture for the first time; therefore, all who have been saved trace their spiritual ancestry to him.
I don’t know who your ancestors have been, whether they have been worthy or quite undistinguished, or even whether you know who they are. But I know this: You can step into the long ranks of the greatest honor roll of ancestors any human being could ever have and it will not cost you a single cent – though it will cost you your pretensions. It is the ancestral line of Abraham. You need only believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and this great company of the faithful will become your family tree.
Romans 4:9-12 Reflection Questions:
In Romans 4:3 and again in 4:9 Paul quotes Genesis 15:6. In 4:9-12 what does Paul point out about when Abraham was circumcised?
This passage was very controversial in Paul’s day because in it Paul is redefining the family of Abraham. How has the family of Abraham been redefined both in regard to Gentiles and in regard to Jews in verses 9-12?
The church today, and in every generation, must make sure the door is wide enough open to let in people of every ethnic group, every type of family, every geographical region, every sort of moral (or immoral) background. But it must also make sure that the defining characteristic of the membership of this multiethnic family remains firmly stated and adhered to: the faith that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. How can the church keep this balance and do so in the right spirit?
Paul had indicated that salvation through the gift of God’s righteousness apart from law had been announced beforehand in the Old Testament (Rom. 1:2; 3:21). Now he shows that it is not only something that had been previously announced, but was also the only way anyone either in the Old Testament period or the dawning New Testament era has been saved.
Paul begins with Abraham, and it’s clear why he does so; Abraham was the acknowledged father of the Jewish people and, with the exception of Jesus Himself, the most important person in the Bible. Abraham is a giant in Scripture. So where do we start in considering the case of Abraham? The place at which to begin – the same place we ourselves must begin, if we would be saved – is with the acknowledgment that there was nothing in Abraham that could ever have commended him to God. If Abraham had no natural good in him, it is certain that he was not saved by human goodness. How then was he saved? The answer, as we have seen several times already, is by God’s gift of righteousness to him, which he received by faith.
Paul refers to a specific Old Testament teaching concerning Abraham, and the text he refers to is Genesis 15:6. The context of the verse is the incident in which God took Abraham out under the night sky and promised him offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, even though at this time Abraham was 85 years old and had no children, and Abraham believed God. From the viewpoint of the doctrine of salvation this is the single most important verse in the entire Bible. This is because in Genesis 15:6 the doctrine of justification by faith is set forth for the first time. It is the first reference in the Bible to (1) faith, (2) righteousness, and (3) justification. This is the first time that any specific individual is said to have been justified.
How was this accomplished? Here we have to be extremely careful. First, we need to dismiss what are clearly two serious misunderstandings of the text. One is the liberal misunderstanding, though it is probably what the great majority of Jews would have thought in Paul’s day. It supposes that when the text says “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” it means that Abraham was just a good or pious man, and that he was justified in that basis. Obviously, if Abraham believed God when God promised him numerous children, Abraham was the kind of person who delighted in believing and obeying God, in doing what God told him to do. And, so this reasoning goes, it was because he was such a good man that God saved him. That is not justification by faith, of course. It is the opposite, justification by works. But it was what many people fervently believe and what liberal scholarship teaches.
The second misunderstanding is not a liberal but an evangelical one. It goes like this: Since Abraham did not have any righteousness in himself by which he could be justified before God – but since God wanted to save him – God looked for something He could accept in place of righteousness. Since Abraham had faith, at least a little bit, God said, “Even though this little bit of faith is not righteousness, it is something I can work with. I’ll treat it as righteousness and so save Abraham.” Even to put it like that shows the absurdity of this interpretation. For God is not a juggler of truth. God does not pretend a thing is something it is not. Consequently, if God counted Abraham as being righteous, it must have been on the basis of a true righteousness – either His or someone else’s – and not on the mere fiction of substituting apples for oranges.
There are several reasons why we should be warned against this second insidious but very common misunderstanding. First, when the text says that “it was credited to him as righteousness,” what does it refer to? The evangelical misunderstanding would have to maintain that the antecedent is the fact that Abraham believed God or the fact that he had faith. But this is hard to support grammatically. “It” demands a noun (or at least a verbal noun) as an antecedent, and the text supplies neither. This fact alone suggests that we should look further for what was actually reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. Second, there is the way faith is referred to in the rest of the Bible, specifically in the writings of Paul. It is never said that people are saved because of their faith or even on the basis of their faith. They are saved by faith. Third, faith cannot be a substitute for righteousness because the important word “credited” does not permit that interpretation.
When God saved Abraham He did two things, one negative and one positive. (1) He did what Paul quotes David as saying in verses 7-8 (a quotation of Ps. 32:1-2), namely, God did not reckon his sin against him. How So? It is not merely that God simply struck Abraham’s transgressions from the ledger book of his life and then forgot about them, as if they could simply be discounted. God does not play imaginary games. True, He did remove the list of Abraham’s sins from his ledger, but that was only because he had first transferred it to the ledger book of Jesus Christ. Jesus took the liability of those transgressions on Himself and paid their price by dying for them. Abraham’s sin was not reckoned to Abraham because it was reckoned to Jesus Christ instead. (2) In a parallel action, God then also reckoned the righteousness of Christ to Abraham, which is what Genesis 15:6 teaches. God took Christ’s righteousness and wrote it in Abraham’s ledger.
That is the only way anybody has ever been saved, and it is precisely what has happened for anybody who has been saved. It is true that there have been different degrees of understanding of what happened. The Old Testament saints understood less (although Abraham probably understood a great deal). New Testament saints understood more. But regardless of the degrees of understanding, the only way we or anybody else is saved is by the imputation of righteousness of Christ to our account.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? That’s what God declares Him to be. Abraham believed what God had revealed to him concerning Jesus Christ, and the righteousness of Christ was credited to Abraham as if it were his own. Adam, Jacob, Moses, David, John the Baptist – all believed the same thing. No one has ever been saved in any other way. So I say, if you have not believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, believe now. Today is always the day of salvation.
Romans 4:1-8 Reflection Questions:
On what basis do you expect to obtain salvation?
What do you believe concerning Jesus Christ?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior?
Two studies back, we saw that in the final paragraph of Romans 3 (vv. 27-31), it contains three conclusions from or implications of the gospel. They may be expressed by saying that the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ: (1) Excludes boasting (vv. 27-28), (2) Establishes one way of salvation for everybody (vv. 29-30), and (3) Upholds the law of God rather than subverting it, as some seem always to suppose it does (v. 31).
The last of these points (v. 31) is an answer to a false conclusion or erroneous implication that some people, particularly religious people, might draw from the gospel. Paul has spoken forcefully about salvation by grace apart from law. He has repeated the idea of salvation being apart from law twice, once in verse 21 (“apart from law”) and once in verse 28 (“apart from observing the law”). “Well then,” such a person might argue, “if salvation is apart from the law, as you say, doesn’t the doctrine of salvation by grace set God’s law aside and thus show it to be worthless? And if it does that, shouldn’t your gospel be rejected as being quite false? Aren’t we obliged to reject any doctrine that would nullify the revealed law of God?”
Paul’s reply is that the gospel of grace does not nullify God’s law. God forbid that it should! If it did that, it would be a false gospel, one rightly to be rejected. But it does not nullify the law of God. On the contrary, it establishes the law and is, in fact, the only thing that does or could establish it.
There are two ways in which this objection to the gospel may be raised. The first is: “If we don’t have to keep the law of God in order to be saved, why should any of us want to keep it? If we are saved by grace apart from obeying the law, we must be free to sin. So let’s all sin. Let’s indulge ourselves by doing any and every sinful thing we want to do – because, after all, we will get to heaven anyway.” It shouldn’t be too difficult to see what is wrong with this argument. It’s wrong psychologically, if for no other reason. It assumes that the only motivation for right moral conduct is fear of hell or of losing heaven, when actually those are the least significant motivations. The highest motivation for godly conduct comes not from fear of hell but from love of God. It’s because God has saved us by grace entirely apart from any merit in ourselves that we love and want to please Him. Moreover, we recognize the importance of what we have become a part of by God’s grace – the kingdom of God on earth – and we want to advance the goals of that kingdom.
The second error is theological. It’s the false assumption that when a person is justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she is personally unchanged by that process. Or, to put it in other terms, it is to suppose that one can be justified without being regenerated or born again. Actually, the one effect never occurs without the other. So the one who is justified always shows it by striving for righteousness. If a person does not strive to live a moral life according to the law of God, the failure proves that he or she is neither regenerated nor justified.
The theme of Romans 3:21-31 is not sanctification (important as that is) but justification, which is achieved for us by the work of Christ. So it’s not that the law is upheld by “our faith” in the sense that we inevitably live moral lives if we are living by faith, true as that is, but that the “faith” Paul is describing – that is, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith – upholds the law. This is so important let me state it in a different way. The point is not that the law is somehow established by what we do as Christians by the power of the new life of God within. It is rather that the Lord Jesus Christ has established the law in the process of providing salvation for us by His death on the cross. Or, to put it in still other language, God has established the law by seeing that the demands of the law were met in the way He provided salvation for us.
We have now come to the end of the most important single passage in the Word of God. Romans 3:21-31 is the very heart of the Bible, the most important and critical passage in all Scripture. To review, there are four great doctrines: (1) God has provided a righteousness of His own for men and women, a righteousness we do not possess ourselves. This is the very heart or theme of the Word of God. (2) This righteousness is by grace. We don’t deserve it. In fact, we are incapable ever of deserving it. (3) It is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for His people, redeeming them from their sin, which has made this grace on God’s part possible. Redemption describes the work of Jesus Christ in relation to ourselves; propitiation describes the work of Jesus Christ in relation to the Father; justification describes the act by which God the Father declares us to have met the demands of the law on the basis of Christ’s work for us. It is because of Jesus’ death that there is a Christian gospel. (4) This righteousness, which God has graciously provided, becomes ours through simple faith. Believing and trusting God in regard to the work of Jesus is the only way anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, can be saved. Faith is essential. “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6).
The important point is: Have you been saved by what is described in these doctrines? Have you been saved from your sin by Jesus Christ? Do you know that He died in your place to bear the punishment for your sin and offer you, in its place, His own perfect righteousness? Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?
We live in a day – perhaps every age has been like this – when people are trying their best to establish other “gospels,” other ways of salvation. Some are into good works, some into yoga or reincarnations or crystals or something else. But the Bible’s gospel is not a human gospel, as those all are. The Bible is God’s Word, and this is God’s gospel. It is the only true gospel. It is the only way in which a sinful man or woman can be saved. But, praise God, it is the way by which man or woman may be saved – yourself included. Believe it, and thank God for it!
Romans 3:31 Reflection Questions:
In verse 31 Paul says that the law is not abolished. Rather, he says that the law cannot be fulfilled by works. Instead it is fulfilled by faith. How does reliance on the law of faith instead of the law of works put Jews and Gentiles on the same footing before God?
This passage explains the very foundation of the Christian faith. How could you take these verses and restate them in a way that would communicate the message of Christ to people around you who do not know Him?
Spend several minutes thanking God for His act of mercy in fulfilling the law through Christ and providing a way for all those who have faith in Jesus to be members of the new covenant family. Then pray for one friend who does not know Jesus. Pray that God would give you opportunities to communicate the message of the gospel in relevant ways.
In this second paragraph of Romans 3 which we have been studying, Paul is providing three natural conclusions or inferences from these doctrines, among which is the teaching that in terms of salvation is but one way of salvation for everybody (see verses 27-28; 29-30; 31). Today we will be studying the second point which is the one Paul develops in Romans 3:29-30. These verses teach that the fact that there is only one way of salvation follows from the fact of their being only one God. God is the God of all. So the salvation He provides is but one salvation for all. Far from being narrow or sectarian, this truth actually swings the grand door of salvation wide open for everybody.
The gospel that Paul has been expounding maintains the great high principle of monotheism, for it is the gospel of this one God. It flows from His grace. It has been accomplished by His Son, who died for us. It requires us to be like Him. At the same time, the gospel does not promote any kind of exclusiveness, for it is a gospel offered to all alike – apart from their religious advantages or disadvantages, understanding or lack of understanding, good works or very evil deeds. It presents a God as equally a God of the Gentiles as of the Jews. God deals with both classes on precisely the same principles; He pursues, with regard to both, the same plan, and offers salvation to both on exactly the same terms.
That is what I want to do (and you should too); to apply the gospel developed in Romans 3 as universally as possible. My method is simple. I want to tell you that whoever you are or whatever you may or may not have done, this gospel is for you, because it is for everybody. I want you to see that if you will come to God in the way He has appointed for you to come – He will receive you and will never cast you out.
I can only think of one thing that could possibly turn you away from this gracious, embracing, “all are welcome” gospel. And that is that you do not want to go into the Father’s house with all those other types of people. But if that is so, do not call Christianity narrow or bigoted or mean or self-righteous or sectarian. It is you who are sectarian, and Christianity is the only thing I know of that can cleanse you of that blight. Only Jesus can give you grace to place your pride aside and step through that wide door of salvation as the rebellious sinner you truly are. No one else will go through – only sinners who have confessed their sin, turned from it, and believed on Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Romans 3:29-30 Reflection Questions:
Paul says that Jesus’ faithfulness was His dealing with sin to the point of death. How does the death of Jesus show God’s willingness to deal with sin when He had earlier left it unpunished, perhaps making Him look unjust?
Did you know that the gospel is for everyone? If so, how are you showing and telling the gospel to everyone?
This next section of chapter 3 (vv. 27-31) is a postscript to verses 21-26. The earlier verses, the first paragraph, tell of the plan God has devised to save men and women. It is by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and can be summed up in the words “justification by grace through faith alone.” The next five verses, which make up a second paragraph, present three consequences or implications of this plan. The first is that this way of salvation “by grace through faith” excludes boasting. The second is that it provides one way of salvation for everybody. The third is that, far from allowing a person to indulge in immorality or lawbreaking, as some suppose, it actually upholds the law. God’s way of salvation provides a level of morality of which mere adherents to law, apart from the grace of God in the gospel, cannot even dream.
With today’s study we will study the first implication of the doctrine of justification by faith, which concerns boasting. For boasting is related to pride – it is an expression of it – and pride is the greatest of all sins according to biblical Christianity. If pride is the greatest of all sins and God’s plan of salvation does not destroy pride – rooting it up, casting it out, and even dusting off the place where it stood – then it’s not a good plan. It has failed, and we need a faith other than Christianity. Pride was the very first sin (see Isaiah 14:13-14). Pride made Satan want to ascend into heaven to the very throne of God, but the Bible says it actually brought him “down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (v. 15).
Where in the range of human experience and relationships is pride most evident and at the same time most clearly wrong and inappropriate? The sphere of life in which people show the most pride is religion. And there is a good reason for this. Religion – not true Christianity, but religion in the generic sense – is the ultimate setting for the very worse expressions of pride. For it is in religion alone that we are able to claim that God, and not mere human beings, sets His approval on us as superior to other human beings. Moreover, the more demanding or rigorous our “religion is, the more prideful we become. Do we need an example? The Lord Jesus Christ provided one when He compared the humility of the tax collector, who was saved by faith in the mercy of God made known in the sacrifices, with the pride of the Pharisee who boasted of his goodness (Luke 18:11-12).
The fact that the Pharisee did not see himself as a sinner in need of mercy shows that he did not know God at all. Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it: “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say that they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how he approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men… Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”*
But how can we forget about ourselves – we who are filled with pride? It’s the very nature of pride to do the opposite. The answer is that in ourselves we cannot. That is what being saved by grace means; it means that we cannot save ourselves. We are no more able to save ourselves or forget about ourselves than are other human beings. But we are enabled to forget about ourselves when God turns our attention to Jesus, who died for us and binds the whole of our hope and life to Him through faith. Which brings us to our Romans 3:27-28 text. Salvation by grace is the one doctrine that undercuts all boasting.
So let’s be done with boasting in the church of Jesus Christ – “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Christians are all nothing but sinners saved by grace. If you do not believe that, you are not saved. You are still trusting in your own good works, your feelings, your superior religious knowledge or your faith – not in Jesus. Jesus saves! That is the message of Christianity. If you believe that, you will forget about yourself and bow low before Him.
Romans 3:27-28 Reflection Questions:
How often do you give yourself credit for doing some good works, instead of giving God the praise and credit?
Are you worshiping an imaginary god?
What do you do daily to forget about yourself?
*C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958), p. 96, 97.
It’s time to talk about faith. Wonderful as the salvation that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ may be, it is of no use to us unless it becomes ours personally – and the way the work of Christ becomes ours personally is through faith. That is why the Bible says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6) and why the apostle Paul speaks of faith so often in the section of Romans we are now studying – eight times in verses 21 through 31.
What exactly is faith? Of the writers on faith, John Calvin perhaps had the strongest point of view, for he found it necessary to oppose a very serious error about faith that had developed in the teaching of the medieval church. In the years before the Reformation the church had been derelict in teaching the Scriptures to the people. Consequently, most people were ignorant of the true gospel of salvation, and most clergy were ignorant of it also. Calvin argued that “the object of faith is Christ” and that “faith rests upon knowledge, not upon pious ignorance.” Calvin wrote, “We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace as true whatever the church has prescribed, or because we turn over to it the task of inquiring and knowing. But we do so when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of reconciliation effected through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, sanctification and life. By this knowledge, I say, not by submission of our feeling, do we obtain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.” This ancient debate has bearing upon the “faith” of many persons today, for although many probably do not exercise “implicit” faith in the church or in any other authority, they seem to have implicit faith in themselves or merely “faith in faith,” which turns out to be almost the same thing.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin is so concerned about stressing the importance of knowledge as the first element in faith that he rightly presents it in another way, showing the necessary link between faith and the Word of God, or the Bible. Reduced to its basics, Calvin shows that: (1) faith is defined by God’s Word; (2) faith is born of God’s Word; and (3) faith is sustained by God’s Word.
The first of these points is particularly clear in Romans 3. For Paul speaks of faith after having spoken of the righteousness of God (that is the gospel) in verse 21. It is after this that he says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (v. 22). In other words, the faith in Christ about which he is speaking is faith in that work of Christ previously revealed in and explained by the Old Testament. There cannot be any true faith without the Word of God, for it is in the Word alone that we learn what we are to believe.
The second way in which faith is linked to the Word of God is that faith is created, born, or awakened in us by that Word. Apart from the Word, we are like Lazarus – as dead in our transgressions as he was dead in his cold Judean tomb. What will awaken us from that sleep of death? Only the call of the life-giving God can produce such new life. The only place where we can hear the voice of God is in the pages of the Bible, where alone God speaks.
The third link between faith and the Bible is that it is through the Bible that faith is strengthened or sustained. Why? Because the Bible directs us to God and His promises, and only God is strong enough to support us in this matter of salvation. The conclusion is that if you wish to be strong in faith and grow in it, you must spend time studying the Bible and appropriating the promises of God that are found there.
As important as biblical content of faith is and which Calvin stressed so strongly, it is nevertheless possible to know this content and yet be lost – if it has not touched the individual personally at the heart level. Here is how Calvin put it – after a long section (forty out of fifty pages on “faith”) dealing with the element of knowledge or content: “It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed. For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart that it may be an invincible defense to withstand and drive off all the stratagems of temptation.”
The third element of faith is a real yielding of oneself to Christ, which goes beyond having knowledge, however full or accurate, or even being personally moved by the gospel. (Many are moved, even to tears, but are not saved.) It is the point at which we pass over the line from belonging to ourselves (as we think) and become the Lord’s disciples. It is what was seen in Thomas when he not only believed in Jesus and his resurrection but fell at His feet in worship, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is at this point that faith joins hands with love, which it closely resembles, and hope is born from that union.
Jesus pledges Himself to us; He has already done it. We pledge ourselves to Him through the third element of faith: commitment. He died for us, demonstrating the nature of His true love and sterling character. He wooed us getting us to love Him who first loved us. Now He takes the wedding vow, saying, “I Jesus, take thee [put your name in the space], to be my wedded wife; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving an faithful Savior and Bridegroom; in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in this life and for all eternity,”
We then look up into His face and repeat the words: “I [your name], take thee, Jesus to be my loving Savior and Lord; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful wife: in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, and in sickness and in health, for this life and for all eternity.” God the Father (not an earthly minister) then pronounces the marriage, and you become the Lord Jesus Christ’s forever.
Have you done that? Have you believed on Jesus Christ? Do you love Him? Do you know yourself to have been made His forever? You may say, “Well, I don’t know if I have or not.” If you don’t know, settle the matter right now! Perhaps you say, “But I’m unworthy.” Of course you are. How could anybody possibly be worthy of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ? All are unworthy, but it is precisely your awareness of your unworthiness that makes it possible for you to know you need a Savior. Paul reminds us that God has shown “His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
You might say, “But my faith is so weak.” Yes, and your love and hope and everything else are weak, too. But it does not take strong faith to be saved, just faith. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift.”* Reach out your hand. Place it in that pierced hand that is stretched out to you. Clasp it to your heart, and love Jesus forever.
Romans 3:25-26 Reflection Questions:
What is your faith in; the church, some other authority, yourself, in faith, or in Christ?
How much time do you spend daily or weekly studying the Bible? Now compare that with the time you spend on your phone, the internet, or the T.V.
Has the Word of God touched your heart? How do you know?
*Spurgeon, All of Grace, p. 43.