Dan Popp
Good will toward (bad) men
Romans: The most important book ever written
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By Dan Popp
December 21, 2010

Today it's a cliché to call Abraham "the father of faith" — but only because we don't understand its implications. The first-century Jews did. Paul showed that Abraham is not the archetype of the man who makes it to heaven on his own merits; he's the perfect symbol of an imperfect person declared "not guilty" through simple trust in God. This core idea behind the good news is still scandalous after two millennia.

Welcome back to the Romans Book Club. Almost as soon as we got to Chapter 4, we took a side trip over to James. Now we're back in the most important book — certainly the most important letter — ever written. I'd like to resume with verse 13.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. [ESV] ...but where there is no law there can be no breach of law. [NEB]

Here on The Planet of the Pretzel People, increasing the number of "Thou Shalt Nots" inevitably increases the number of crimes. This verse reminds me of the folks I call, "faux Jews." They want to put Christians under the yoke of dietary laws (for starters), totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. This heresy feeds only their pride; more rules bring more wrath, not more rightness. God has a better idea.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." [NIV 2010]

To the Jews, this should have been a compelling argument. If the fatherhood of Abraham is something purely physical, this prophecy has not been fulfilled. Either God failed, or there is another, spiritual dimension to the promise. Let's skip down to verse 19 for a eulogy for Abraham:

Without weakening in his faith, he 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. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." [NIV]

Faith is not irrational. It's perfectly reasonable to say that an omnipotent Being is able to do whatever He says He'll do. Choice is required, of course: the choice to ignore surface appearances, as Abraham did. Don't we teach children not to "judge a book by its cover," and that "appearances can be deceiving?" To those with faith, it seems that those who reject faith see the world in a very superficial way.

The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. [NIV] ...who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. [NKJV]

If "God is no respecter of persons," then those who respond like Abraham will get what Abraham got.

John A. Witmer comments that the translation raised because of our justification is more accurate, adding, "Christ's resurrection was the proof (or demonstration or vindication) of God's acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice."

Chapter 5

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.... [NKJV]

Chapter 5 begins on the foundation that has taken the first four chapters to build. The opening argument is concluded. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, has proved logically and scripturally that we are not right, nor can we make ourselves right. Either we are justified by faith in Jesus, or we are not justified.

Faith alone.

If you have a problem with that, you'll have to re-read the first 4 chapters, because the principle is a "given" for the rest of the letter.

Note the verb tenses in this section. Having been justified (declared right) is something that happened in the past that is still true in the present. The fact that we have peace with God (or possibly: let us continue to enjoy peace with God) is current and flowing into the future. This truth upsets people. If you tell someone that you know your sins have been forgiven and you're going to heaven, he may become hostile. Many cultural Christians and others find this assertion outrageously arrogant. But of course it's exactly the opposite. Only sinners can repent; only the broken can abandon their efforts at self-rehabilitation; only the humble can believe, and thereby receive grace.

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand... [KJV]

Jesus is everything in this matter: He is the sacrifice for, the proof of, and the access to God's good will. When we hear the joyous tidings of, "Peace on earth, good will toward men," we must recognize that these promises come only via "a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord." (Luke 2:11-14) Everyone who has ever received grace has received it through trust in Jesus.

...and rejoice in hope of the glory of God [KJV] ...and we exult...[Con] ...and triumph...[Mof]

Something interesting is going on here. Remember that one recurring theme of Romans is boasting vs. believing. The most literal translations render the phrase above: and boast on hope of the glory of God. Now here's something worthy of some holy boasting: not what we have done for God, but what God has done for us!

And not only [so], but we also boast in the tribulations.... [YLT] ...we exult also in our sufferings [Con]

If we've been accepted by God and have such a glorious destiny, why are Christians being killed and looted and subjected to all kinds of "fiery trials," as Peter calls them?

knowing...

Christians can not only endure, but take a certain delight in sufferings. Our Master taught us to rejoice in persecution (Matt. 5:10-12). This isn't because we're insane; it's because we know that there is something behind the veneer of what unbelievers call "reality." Hebrews 10:34 reads, "For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one." [NASB]

Well, it's time to draw this meeting of the Romans Book Club to a close, but since we're only days away from Christmas I hope you'll make some time to ponder the correlation of the angels' announcement in Luke 2, and Paul's explanation in Romans 5:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Therefore being justified [legally cleared of guilt] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace [good will] wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.


This gift is for you — if you'll receive it.

© Dan Popp

 

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