Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Letter to the Romans

I apologize that I am a day behind already! The readings for yesterday and today both come from Paul's letter to the Romans. Considered one of Paul's latest letters, the letter to the Romans contains the most extensive development of Paul's doctrine of justification. In Christian theology, justification refers to God's act of declaring a sinner righteous. We have been forgiven and justified (made righteous) through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses the metaphor of the legal proceeding of a trial, with Paul himself acting as the prosecutor. As prosecutor, Paul demonstrates that "no one is righteous - all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." However, through Christ, we have been "justified by his grace as a gift." The major theological point that Paul is making is that we are forgiven and made holy in God's sight not because of our own righteousness (good works), but only by the grace of God freely given through his Son, Jesus Christ. We simply receive this gift by faith!
However, as today's reading from chapters 7-8 reminds us, the free gift of justification that we receive by faith does not mean that we are free to live as we choose. We will continue to struggle with sin in our lives and we will continue to experience suffering. Yet, in spite of our experiences of failure and persecution, there is nothing that can separate from the love of God which has been freely bestowed upon us through Christ.
In order to persevere in the midst of sin and suffering, we must live according to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit...
  • Dwells in us (8:9)
  • Gives us life (8:11)
  • Transforms us (8:15)
  • Confirms the truth of our idenity (8:16)
  • Helps us in our weakness (8:26)
  • Intercedes for us (8:26)
God has sent his Spirit into our hearts crying "Abba, Father," so that we might no longer live as slaves to sin, but as sons and daughters of the living God. Paul's use of the term "Abba" most likely stems from Jesus' use of the term in Mark 14:36. The term "Abba" was an intimate form of address similar to the modern word "daddy." The same God who has justified us by his grace has given us the gift of his Spirit to be us and to enable us to abide in his presence and love. As Paul so boldly proclaimed, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"


  1. Welcome back to the blogging world. We missed you! We also enjoyed your sermon on Sunday about healing.

    Can you explain why the flesh is so much weaker than our mind? Do (worldly) forces become a factor?

  2. Can you define the terms "flesh" and "mind?"

  3. Thank you for clarifying what Paul means by "justification." I read the passage several times and guessed it meant something like salvation. I really couldn't figure out why he was using that term. The passage makes much more sense now.

  4. I am fascinated by Paul's claim in Romans 7:7 that the law is what makes sin possible. I understand that he wants to continue the distinction between works and faith. He also emphasizes that eternal life comes not from following the law but from following the Holy Spirit. However, is he seriously suggesting that he (and everyone else) did not covet anything until the law said "you shall not covet"? Oddly, in the verses that follow, Paul speaks of sin as if it is a proper noun, a living being that can deceive us and kill us. Is this an unusual way to view the commandments and sin, or was this a standard view in Paul's time?

    I have always thought of the commandments and laws as helping to define wrongful and immoral acts. Murder is wrong, so don't murder. Stealing is wrong, so don't steal. I think of them as reactive to a world in which people already murder and steal. I never thought of them as introducing the idea that we could murder and steal and thus making those sins possible in a way they weren't before the law. It isn't as if Moses came down with the tablets soon after the expulsion from the Garden. Humans knew of good and evil before God gave us the commandments. So why does Paul suggest the commandments themselves revived sin?

  5. I think what Paul means in Romans 7:7 is that the law brought about the consciousness or awareness of sin. Sin came into the world through Adam (5:12). The law simply defined what was already happening. According to Paul, this is a good thing! In Galatians, Paul says that the law was our guardian or disciplinarian until Christ came. In other words, the law defined the boundaries of our covenant relationship with God.

    The other side of Paul's argument concerns the enticement of sin. The law defines sin, but it can also provoke sin simply by naming it. For example, when I tell my 3 year son NOT to touch the TV that often makes him want to touch it even more! In the same way, knowledge of sin through the law and actually cause us to sin more. Since we are enslaved to sin, we do the very things we do not want to do!

  6. I also thought of the analogy with telling someone not to do something and tempting them to do it (i.e., telling someone not to look down from a great height). That makes a lot of sense to some degree, as "children of God" we may be tempted to test the limits of authority and our own autonomy just as our own children do so to us. But, if you didn't know an action was wrong, wouldn't you just do it anyway. Wouldn't your son touch the TV out of curiosity, regardless of your prohibition? Do people murder, steal, lie, etc. simply because it is prohibited? Are they more likely to do so because of a prohibition? Maybe, but more likely rates of theft, lying, taking the Lord's name in vain, and other transgressions would rise in the absence of moral laws.

    I think Paul is much closer to the mark when he talks about the weakness of the flesh (I read that as meaning our visceral desires and desire for immediate gratification rather than a strict mind/body dualism). The struggle between id and superego creates much more temptation in me to sin than any sort of law or prohibition.

    I do appreciate Paul addressing both issues as it may differ depending on one's personality. Some folks may be more likely to want to defy authority just for the sake of defiance. I have always tended to be more of a rule follower. Covering both bases makes sense.

  7. (Bill's words)Not sure what I was thinking there with that question, so when I went back and read over Romans chapter seven, it seems as if verse 25 is the answer I'm looking for...which reads "So then, on the one hand I find myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh, the law of sin."