Tuesday, December 12, 2017

8. Concentrated Romans (7:1-8:39)

The last in the series.

Romans 7:1-8:39
A. The function of the Jewish Law (7:1-25)
  • 7:1-25. Romans 6 has addressed the question of sin. If we are not deemed right with God initially on the basis of our own righteousness, "Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Paul gives a resounding "no" to this question. 
  • Romans 7 then pursues the related question, "If we are not judged by the Jewish Law, what then was the purpose of the Law in the first place?"
  • 7:1-6. The reasoning of Paul in relation to the Law is difficult for us. It is not the way we think. Paul is not merely saying that I am no longer judged by the Law's standards. He is suggesting that Sin had power over a Jew somehow through the Law. The Jewish Law was a catalyst of Sin's power for a Jew or a Gentile for that matter.
  • He seems to be thinking about the core of the Jewish Law again here, as in Romans 2. This is the core that a Gentile or a Jew could keep in theory, which we find out in 13:8-10 is loving your neighbor as yourself.
  • 7:1-3. A wife is married to her husband as long as he is alive. If he dies, she can remarry. If Paul had been married and she left him when he believed on Christ, there could be a personal flashback here. In Palestine, it may not have been possible for a wife to divorce her husband, only to leave him. If so, that would make this illustration more effective than a husband being bound to a wife, at least to "those who know the Law" (7:1).
  • 7:4-6. So believers have died to the Law. Now we can marry Christ. We have died with Christ, as Paul said in 6:3-5 (cf. Gal. 2:20). We can rise with Christ to a new life that is not under the Law. Paul means that we can rise to bear fruit of righteousness in our life.
  • 7:5-6. Here we get another version of the "used to"/"but now." We saw this claim in 6:17-18, 6:19, and 6:20, 22. Paul's meaning there seems clear. You used to be slaves to the power of Sin, but now you are not. Now you are slaves to righteousness.
  • So here, when we were in the flesh, the passions of Sin, working through the Law, used to bear fruit associated with death. This is past tense for the believer. The power of Sin used the Law to make us sin even more.
  • But now, we have been "cancelled" from the Law, "discharged." Now believers serve God in the newness of the Spirit, which empowers us to live under a different power.
  • 7:7-12. In the next few verses, Paul clarifies that it is not the Law's fault. That is to say, the Law itself is not the problem. It served its purpose.
  • 7:7. For example, the Law tells a person what sin is. The Law says, "Do not covet." Jews thus know that coveting is wrong. This is the first function of the Law in Paul's argument.
  • E. P. Sanders in Paul pointed out that Paul intentionally picked the most internal of the commandments, the one that it is hardest to keep perfectly. Any other of the commandments could be kept perfectly, at least from an external point of view.
  • 7:8. In some way, human flesh is putty in the hands of Sin through the Law. The power of Sin takes advantage of Jews and Gentiles through the Law. Perhaps it is a little like a child told not to do something. He or she wants to do it even more. So the Law, when I am in the flesh, aggravates my sinfulness. This is a second effect of the Law in Paul's argument.
  • 7:9. Paul now seems to dramatize the life of a believer in relation to the Law in terms of the story of humanity and God's people. Some think he has Adam in mind here, but it is not at all clear.
  • So there was a time when humanity did not have the Law (cf. 5:13-14). In a way, there is a time in a believer's pilgrimage when he or she does not have the Law because they are not yet old enough to know it.
  • Then the Law was revealed to Moses. So in an individual Jew's life, there is a time when he or she learns the Law. The power of Sin comes alive and they die, as Adam did in the day that he sinned (cf. 5:12). However, Adam did not have the power of Sin over him when the commandment came, making it unlikely that Paul is thinking too much of Adam here.
  • 7:12. The bottom line is that the Law itself is holy, righteous, and good. A human, Jew or Gentile, by contrast, is a slave to Sin when he or she is in the flesh. The power of Sin, working by way of the Law, produces sin in a person.
  • 7:13-25. We now come to perhaps the most misunderstood verses in the whole Bible. Paul is still walking through the pilgrimage of an individual, especially a Jew but also a Gentile, in relation to Sin and the Law. He has covered the period of a person's life when they did not know the Law. Then he has spoken of the point where a person learns the Law and the power of Sin is accentuated.
  • In these verses he expands upon this phase of a person's pilgrimage before they become a believer and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be freed from Sin (chap. 8). The last sentence of the chapter sums up this phase: "With my mind I serve the law of God but with my flesh the Law of Sin" (7:25b). This is only a phase of the pilgrimage, before the Spirit.
  • 7:13. Here we see the two functions of the Jewish Law. The Law tells me what sin is and it aggravates my sinfulness.
  • 7:14. The default state of a human is to be "fleshly, sold under Sin." The Law again in itself is spiritual.
  • 7:14-20. Here is the plight of the person who now knows the Law. This person has come to recognize that the Law is good, but without the Spirit he or she will find only failure. The good they now want to do, they will not be able to do.
  • Again, these are probably the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. Paul's words here so resonate with Christian experience that all of Romans 6, the beginning of chapter 7, and chapter 8 are thrown out the window and these words are taken to be the never-ending plight of the believer. But if Paul is talking of his present experience, then he is painting himself as a non-Christian in the terms of Romans 6 and 8, as well as the beginning of Romans 7.
  • In fact, Philippians 3 and the rest of Paul's letters do not give us the impression that Paul thought of himself as a moral failure even before he came to Christ. That is to say, it does not seem likely that Paul even felt this way before he believed on Christ. See Krister Stendahl, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West."
  • So Paul is dramatizing in these verses the plight of the person who recognizes the goodness of the Law as a standard but, being in the flesh and under the Law, he or she is not able to attain to that standard. The present tense is very flexible and does not in any way in itself imply this is Paul's current experience. Again, that would negate the entire immediate context.
  • 7:17-20. In stark contrast to Augustine, the "I" of the person in these verses actually wants to keep the Law. The problem is the flesh of the person. Augustine made the problem a matter of a corrupted will. This may be true theologically even if it is not what Paul was saying here.
  • "Sinful nature" is a bad translation given the baggage of this phrase. The word Paul consistently uses here is flesh. Flesh is my skin under the power of Sin. My mortal body is not sinful in itself. It is just weak. Under the power of Sin, there is no hope for me to resist sin with my body, even if my mind wants to. There is thus a certain dualism to Paul's language here.
  • 7:20. Sin is dwelling in me. That is, it has power over my body, my flesh.
  • 7:21-25a. Here we reach the climax of the conundrum for the person at this stage of their pilgrimage. They know the Law. They know its standard is good. But they cannot keep it because of the power of Sin over their flesh.
  • They delight in God's Law in their inner person, but there is another rule, another law in their physical members. It is warring against the law of God they understand with their mind.
  • 7:24. "Who will free me from this body of death?" Paul dramatically exclaims. Who will enable me to fulfill the righteous expectation of the Law? Who will free me from the power of Sin over my flesh that only leads to death?
  • 7:25a. "Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Here is how we will be set free from the power of Sin and become slaves of righteousness, as in Romans 6. In fact, Paul made this same exclamation in 6:17. He has slowed down the sentiment of 6:16-18. You used to be slaves to sin, but thanks be to God, you are now slaves to righteousness.
B. Life in the Spirit (8:1-30)
  • 8:1-4. Now we cross the threshold. We believe. We are justified. We have peace with God (5:1). We receive the Holy Spirit. In 8:9 we will learn that a person is not in Christ if he or she does not have the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8, we have finally become Christians.
  • 8:1-2. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus because the rule of the Spirit has set you free from the rule of Sin and death.
  • 8:3. The Law had no power to actually enable a person to keep it. So God did it through his Son. Jesus condemned sin in the flesh. 
  • Jesus came "in the likeness of the flesh of Sin." There is a hint here that Jesus himself did not have the power of Sin over his flesh.
  • 8:4. "That the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." This is not merely legal because it has to do with "walking," which is a matter of life and ethics. Paul is saying that the Spirit actually enables a person to keep the core of the Law, which again 13:8-10 suggests is loving one's neighbor. This is the Law that we do not nullify because of faith (3:31).
  • 8:5-8. Paul reviews the two ways of being he has been discussing for the last two chapters: the slave to Sin and the slave to righteousness.
  • 8:5-7. Those who are "according to the flesh" think in a fleshly way. Those who are "according to the Spirit" think in a spiritual way. The first leads to death. The second leads to life and peace. The mind of the flesh is an enemy of God. This person cannot submit to the Law of God.
  • 8:8. The bottom line and a classic holiness preaching text: "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Paul has moved beyond flesh as body or flesh as weak to flesh as "the body under the power of Sin," probably also including those who do not even serve God with their minds.
  • In Romans, Paul sets up a two state metaphor. You are either a slave to God or a slave to Sin. You are either fleshly or you are spiritual. 1 Corinthians complexifies this situation, for the Corinthians are initially sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2) and thus must have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). But they are still fleshly and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1). In real life, therefore, we find people who are justified but not fully sanctified. They are in the flesh. They are at least at times like the person of Romans 7:14-24, suggesting that they need to "go on to perfection" or maturity (Heb. 6:1).
  • 8:9-11. But believers are not in the flesh or at least should not be. Sin should not be reigning in their mortal bodies (6:12).
  • 8:9. In this verse we have an important truth that has often been lost in the holiness movement's emphasis on entire sanctification. The Spirit is the indicator par excellence that a person is in Christ. The correct understanding of the Spirit-fillings of Acts is as an initial experience that indicates a person is "in." You can repent, be baptized, have faith, but until you have received the Holy Spirit, in Paul's words, "this person is not Christ's." This is the consistent teaching of Paul, Acts, and Hebrews (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14; Acts 2:35; Heb. 6:4).
  • 8:10-11. Paul walks through the logic of the Spirit. We die with Christ. We are in Christ. But Christ is also in us when the Spirit is in us. The body is dead. The body of Sin is dead. We die to the Law. But our spirits are alive. Paul then reaches the final conclusion. God, who raised Jesus from the dead, will also give life to our mortal bodies through the indwelling Spirit.
  • That is to say, we are now able to live out the Law in our bodies. We now "walk in newness of life" (6:4).
  • 8:12-13. We reach the life conclusion. Believers do not live according to the flesh. Those who live according to the flesh will die. Galatians 5:19-20 indicate that those who live according to the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says the same. Those who live by the Spirit will live and have put to death the practices of the body.
  • 8:14-17. Those who have the Spirit are children of God, and they are led by the Spirit of God. This is not a Spirit that makes us fear judgment.
  • 8:16. There is a witness of the Spirit, a key theological idea of John Wesley. "The Spirit himself witnesses together with our spirit that we are children of God."
  • 8:15. Adoption is a key soteriological concept (along with the chorus of theological words associated with salvation: atonement, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, adoption, regeneration, sanctification, glorification).
  • Adoption in the ancient world was perhaps, for lack of a better word, more "ontological" than it is today in our world where we are conscious of DNA and genetics. An adopted child in the ancient world was at times more important, perhaps a more substantial child than a biological one, because an adopted child was a child by choice. So Julius Caesar had biological children, but none of them were as significant as his adopted son Octavian, who would become Caesar Augustus.
  • The mention of the Aramaic word Abba substantiates the claim that Jesus used this word in reference to God the Father. It presumably was the practice of the Jerusalem church also to refer to God as Abba.
  • 8:17. Believers are thus heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, especially if we suffer with him, a common theme in Paul's writings (cf. Phil. 3:10).
  • 8:18-30. Paul now takes an eschatological perspective on the situation. He began this sub-section with consideration of how Adam brought Sin and death into the world (5:12-21). Now he ends with a consideration of how the creation eagerly awaits its redemption.
  • 8:18-25. Paul and the Romans were undergoing suffering in their bodies. Here he surely refers to external pressures on the church. 
  • 8:20. Paul pictures the creation subject to decay and corruption, perhaps in the same way that Adam brought sin and death into the world. This includes our mortal bodies, which as we have seen are subject to the power of Sin if we do not have the Spirit. 
  • 8:19. The creation is thus waiting with us for the transformation of our current bodies to be like Christ's glorious body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49-50; Phil. 3:21). This is the revelation of the children of God. This is the "glory about to be revealed" (Rom. 8:18). This is part of glorification. The creation awaits its liberation (8:21).
  • 8:22-25. Paul has spoken of our current adoption because of the Spirit (8:15). Now he speaks of the second phase of adoption in the future tense. "The redemption of our bodies" (8:23), the transformation of our bodies to be like Christ's resurrected body, will take place at the second coming when we either are alive and transformed or are dead and raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:52).
  • 8:24. "In hope we have been saved." That is, we trust that we will be saved from God's coming wrath. In hope, we have already been saved. The Spirit is the firstfruits of our coming inheritance (8:23; cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).
  • 8:26-27. In the meantime, the Spirit intercedes for us. We do not know exactly what we should pray. Should we pray for deliverance? Should we pray for endurance in suffering? The Holy Spirit knows.
  • 8:26. Some have suggested that "unspeakable groanings" refers to Paul speaking in tongues (cf. 1 Cor. 14:18). It seems impossible to know.
  • 8:28-30. Everything though is headed for redemption. We know that all things will end up at a good destination for those who love God. 
  • 8:28. Although certainly God is in control and does nothing that conflicts with his love, 8:28 probably isn't about individual circumstance but about the final goal of the story, which is in salvation. We still die of cancer. War still kills thousands of believers. You might still be murdered. That is in the point here. The point is that history works out for good and that the collective destiny of the people of God is salvation.
  • The election language of these verses is corporate. It is about the collective body of believers rather than the individual believer. 
  • 8:29. God has predestined the plan of salvation. Those in Christ will be transformed. Their bodies will be redeemed from the bondage of decay. They will be conformed to the resurrection image of the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49). Paul is not thinking here of sanctification in this life but about the resurrected/transformed bodies that will take place at the second coming/resurrection.
  • The church is predestined to be saved. Those in the church he planned to justify. Those in the church will be glorified at the point of Christ's return.
C. The love of God! (8:31-39)
  • This paragraph climaxes this section (6:1-39) and indeed chapters 1-8 as a whole. No matter who might oppose the church. No matter what suffering the church might undergo, God is on the side of the Roman believers.
  • God loved us so much he did not spare his Son. Certainly he will not let anyone else get in the way of the salvation of those with faith, especially the Gentiles.
  • 8:31. God is for us--he is for the Gentiles and Jews who believe. 
  • 8:33-34. He is the judge. He is the one who justifies. Who cares if some other believers or some non-believing Jews say they are not "in." The church are the elect, the ones God has chosen.
  • 8:34. Jesus' blood intercedes against our condemnation. The Spirit thus is intercessor for our needs and desires. Christ is more our intercessor for atonement (cf. Heb. 7:25).
  • 8:35-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ or the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Death cannot. Various evil spiritual powers cannot. The future cannot. Nothing in the creation can.
  • We do have to read these thoughts within the scope Paul intended. Paul is assuming throughout that we want the love of Christ, that we have faith in God. Nothing outside us can separate us from Christ. But if we walk away from faith, we have walked away from God. God does not force us to stay. 
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23

No comments: