Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Commentary on Scripture: Romans 3

But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 3:1-2 ~~ If indeed, as Romans 2 suggests, we are judged according to our knowledge of God, why then seek to know more of God?  "What advantage has the Jew? ...Great in every respect!  First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." To be privileged with the Presence and grace of God is to be blessed, even if there are greater responsibilities that attend such gifts.  Paul discusses the other benefits of special revelation in Romans 9, particularly verses 4-5.

Romans 3:3-8 ~~ Paul lists a series of paradoxes.  If God demonstrated His "faithfulness" to us by the gift of special revelation, why do some not believe? If error proves the existence of truth, and "our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God," why is sin wrong?  How could God judge the world if His attributes are demonstrated by both the good and the bad that we do?  Why are we worthy of judgment if "through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory"?

Romans 3:7-9 ~~ Paul asks, quite logically, why we ought not commit ourselves to the antinomian heresy.  Why oughtn't we "continue in sin, that grace may abound" (Romans 6:1)?  Paul condemns this heresy, but asks the more pertinent question for those who are not so mistaken: "Are we better than they?  Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin."  There's an interesting side note on this, as well as the ideas of predestination and divine judgment found in Luke 22:22. Speaking of Judas, Jesus says to His disciples: "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"

Romans 3:10-18 ~~ A series of quotes from the Old Testament emphasizing the universality of sin and judgment.  These quotes are taken from the Psalms -- 5:9, 10:7, 14:1-3, 36:1, 53:1-3, and 140:3 -- as well as Isaiah 59:7.  It's easy to forget, however, that these quotes all speak of man in his native or "natural" state, absent the intervention and grace of God. In verse 10, Paul quotes Psalms 14:1-3 -- "There is none righteous, not even one" -- but in chapter 4:3 he quotes Genesis 15:6 -- "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Likewise, by the revelation of God there are some who understand; by the imago dei there are some who seek for God; by the faithfulness of God not all have fallen away; by the sanctifying grace of God there are some who do good.

Romans 3:19-20 ~~ The Law was given to the Jews but was of no benefit for the justification of their souls, for the Law only reveals sin but cannot take it away (Romans 8:5, Galatians 3:21).

Romans 3:23-24 ~~ This is one of the "classic" verses often memorized by kids who grow up in the Christian Church.  It is less appreciated as another example of Paul's astounding command of rhetoric. This is quite possibly the purest example of a transitional sentence.  Paul summarizes the doctrine of the universality of sin, and introduces the doctrine of justification by faith, in a single smooth turn of a phrase.

Romans 3:27 ~~ "What then is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  Of works?  No, but by a law of faith." By what standard could we boast, but by a standard (of total reliance and dependence on God) that forbids boasting?

Romans 3:29-30 ~~ The unity of God is revealed by His just treatment of Jews and Gentiles: for both are justified in proportion to their faith in Him, without regard to the advantages of special privileges of knowledge.

Romans 3:31 ~~ The doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrine of Christian liberty (cf. Romans 7 and Galatians 3) do not "nullify the Law," but are together indeed the cornerstone of the Law -- the foundational understanding on which our reading of the Law must be based.

It is easy to rip Romans 3 out of the context of the surrounding passages and chapters, and treat it as a solitary affirmation of justification by faith. However, that context is always necessary. Justification by faith is the warm milk of our salvation -- necessary in infancy, but almost beneath our notice in our spiritual maturity. It must be balanced with understanding the rest of the message of Scripture, especially in this context the doctrine of of judgment according to knowledge (Romans 2), of inheritance according to works (James 2), of Christian liberty (Galatians 3), and most especially of divine filiation (Galatians 4). For we are justified by faith apart from works, but are sanctified and glorified according to the judgment of words and deeds, according to how greatly we reflect the glory of God, for we are by the blood of Christ heirs of the promise and sons of God.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Alex! I just wanted to leave a comment to let you know I found your blog - I've got to dash off for the afternoon, but I know I'll be back to read & enjoy your musings here!

    your brother in Christ,
    Father Maurer