Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Romans 3:21-4:25 – Summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:39 pm on Saturday, February 2, 2008

This summary covers the last two studies on the book of Romans. I wasn’t facilitating these studies, so just presenting some of my thoughts/impressions of the things that came up during our discussions.

The first four chapters of Romans (and especially 3:21-31) are considered the best place to go to understand the gospel. Yet, in my opinion, there are some things about the gospel that remain unclear after reading. Let me summarize what we can learn.

What is clear:

1) Man’s problem (Rom 1:18-3:21). The law is God’s high standard he requires of us. Yet we are not able to obey the law fully and hence will never be justified by trying to observe it. It does not matter whether the law was revealed to us directly by God (as to the Jews) or is written on our hearts (non-Jews). We simply are not able to do it.

2) God’s solution (3:21-26). Since we cannot fulfill the law ourselves, Jesus has done it for us and through his sacrifice the debt of our sin has been paid and we are justified before God. It is entirely God’s gift, we have done nothing on our part.

What is not completely clear:

3) How we can receive God’s solution. Paul says that justification comes by faith, but he does not really explain what it means. What is clear from chapter 4 is what the faith is not. It is not works (Rom 4:1-8), it has nothing to do with circumcision (Rom 4:9-12) or law (Rom 3:17). As Douglas Moo in his commentary on Romans points out, works is something that we do and deserve to be paid for, while faith is an attitude, a willingness to receive. We can take no credit for accepting a gift.

But what about those who say they believe but never show it, continuing in their old ways? Is that a faith Paul had in mind? If we stop at chapter 4, we just don’t know.

To be fair, Paul comes back to this question (how and who receives God’s justification) later in the book, chapters 8-12. It’s not a simple answer and we will go through these passages in great detail during July-September period. But for now I am going to quote several passages that hopefully clarify things a bit. I am taking them from a recent relevant post at Parchment and Pen blog.

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5)

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (Heb. 4:1)

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (Jam. 2:14)

The author of post, Michael Patton, summarizes these as follows:

“Faith is the evidence that we have entered into the race. But what we fail to emphasize is often more destructive to the Christian faith than not telling the Gospel at all. We fail to tell people that there is a false kind of faith. There is a faith that crosses the starting line, but never completes the race. Their is a faith that does not save.”

Or, if you prefer, here is what Martin Luther has to say on the topic:

“It is like the case of a man who is ill, who trusts the doctor who promises him a certain recovery and in the meantime obeys the doctor’s instructions, abstaining from what has been forbidden to him, in the hope of the promised recovery, so that he does not do anything to hinder this promised recovery…Now this man who is ill, is he healthy? The fact is that he is a man who is both ill and healthy at the same time. As a matter of fact, he is ill; but he is healthy on account of the certain promise of the doctor, who he trusts and who reckons him as healthy already, because he is sure that he will cure him. Indeed he has already begun to cure him, and no longer regards him as having a terminal illness. In the same way, our Samaritan, Christ, has brought this ill man to the inn to be cared for, and has begun to cure him, having promised him the most certain cure leading to eternal life…Now is this man perfectly righteous? No. But he is at one and the same time a sinner and a righteous person. He is a sinner in fact, but a righteous person by the sure reckoning and promise of God that he will continue to deliver him from sin until he has completely cured him. And so he is totally healthy in hope, but a sinner in fact. He has the beginning of righteousness, and so always continues more and more to seek it, while realizing that he is always unrighteous.”

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