This Week’s Reading Schedule
Monday, April 30: Romans 1-6
Tuesday, May 1: Romans 7-11
Wednesday, May 2: Romans 12-16
Thursday, May 3: James 1-5
Friday, May 4: Galatians 1-6
Next week we will go back over Romans chapter by chapter, comparing James and Galatians (and the Gospels).
The overall year’s plan is here.
Romans, Galatians, and James Intro
I believe it is a good idea to read the apostles’ letters an entire letter at a time. They are, after all, letters, and not actual books. Romans, the two Corinthian letters, and Hebrews are too long for me to ask you to do that, but I do recommend it. For the rest of the letters, I will schedule them that way.
Romans, Galatians, and James are at the heart of a controversy that’s been brewing for 500 years. It was so bad during the Reformation that Martin Luther called James’ letter an epistle of straw (lit., "a right strawy epistle") in the introduction to his German New Testament.
To this day, skeptics and opponents of our faith cite the "differences" between Paul and James on faith and works as evidence that the Bible contradicts itself.
I want us to read those three letters this week, and I want to show you the misunderstandings that make Paul and James seem to contradict. Specifically, I want to show you the passages in Romans and Galatians that Protestant denominations ignore and often don’t believe.
Too often, extreme efforts have been made to reinterpret James’ words to make them sound like Paul’s, rather than paying attention to the many places where Paul’s words sound just like James’ words. The truth that we must face is that in most Protestant denominations you can be labeled a heretic for saying word for word what James said: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (2:24, NASB).
When we can’t quote the Bible without being labeled a heretic or asked to reword what we said, that’s a problem.
Today, by simply paying attention to what Paul said, and with the help of the Christians who were in the churches that Paul started, we are going to make that problem right.
We are only going to touch on things this week, but we will go back next week and read Romans again, looking at it more indepth, taking the entire week to read it, and comparing Galatians and James.
Most introductions I’ve read to Romans suggest that the church was not yet organized there. Paul writes to "all who are beloved of God in Rome" (v. 7, NASB), not to the church at Rome. One introduction I read counted five house churches in Romans 16 and suggests they were Paul’s targeted audience.
The key issue I want to point out is that Paul was answering charges about his Gospel. We see it first in Romans 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel." We get a hint of it again in 3:8, "As it is slanderously reported and some affirm that we say." But above all we see it in the careful explanation of his Gospel and his attempt to exactly explain the role of faith in it. No other letter, not even Galatians is so carefully crafted to explain how salvation can be by faith. Galatians is an answer to those who wanted Christians to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. Romans is an explanation of Paul’s preaching of faith first, an exposition of the role of the Law second.
We saw in Acts that the apostles were primarily witnesses to the resurrection, which was their proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Paul sticks to that theme in verse 4.
Verses 16-17: Note the reason that Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation, and the righteousness of God is revealed in it from faith to faith. In other words, when people believe Paul’s Gospel, they become righteous through the Spirit. The righteousness of God is revealed in them, meaning it can be seen (cf. 1 Jn. 3:7). That is the first and foremost power of the Gospel, before even miracles.
Verses 18-32: Paul powerfully justifies the wrath of God against the ungodly. Notice, though, that the ungodly are those who turn away from the Creator and worship false gods. Their unrighteous deeds, including homosexuality, which is emphasized here, are the symptoms of their ungodliness.
Paul freely goes after hypocrisy in this chapter, to everyone (vv. 1-3) and to the Jews in particular (vv. 17-24).
He warns that judgment will be without partiality and fair, even taking into account the extent of each person’s knowledge. He also warns that we will be judged by our works, not by our claims to know the Law (or even have faith), and that eternal life will be given to those who pursue it "by perseverance in doing good" (v. 6, NASB).
I’ve heard many reasons why Paul didn’t mean what he says here, but since we’re going to be reading all of Romans and Galatians anyway, let’s reserve judgment. Let’s see if we have to change Paul’s words into some other meaning, or whether we can simply take him at his word and know that there really is a judgment based on works, with eternal life as the reward, for us as well as for everyone else (Matt. 25:31-46; Jn. 5:28-29; 2 Cor. 5:10).
What is Paul saying about the benefit of being a Jew? He is saying that having been entrusted with the oracles of God, they have an advantage. They should be open to the commands of Christ, which are simply the fullness—the original, spiritual intention—of the Law of Moses, written on our hearts and carried out by the Spirit of God.
But the Law is only a revelation. It brings the knowledge of sin. (Paul is tipping his hand here; he won’t explain this fully until ch. 7.) The works of the Law will not justify because no one keeps the Law. We’ve seen as we’ve looked at Psalms that even King David, who cried out to God to regard his clean hands, also cried out for mercy for his many sins.
There is a different route to righteousness, Paul says (vv. 21-22). It is revealed in those who have faith, and if it is revealed, then it is not simply God regarding us as righteous, but God actually producing righteousness in us (again, see 1 Jn. 3:7).
At the end of this chapter (vv. 23-30) there is a discussion of God justifying us by faith. The word "justify" here is the word "righteous" in verb form. There has been much debate about its meaning. I am not qualified to resolve that debate, but I can point out that we have already seen that the Gospel actually produces righteousness in us. We cannot continue to be hypocrites as described in Romans 2.
Once we’ve settled that in our minds, the word "justify" definitely has a connotation of "right standing with God" that has nothing to do with behavior. We do not begin by having to earn God’s approval, but we begin simply by faith, coming to God and standing in good relationship with him.
Paul explains that this is justification apart from the works of the Law. He explains further in chapter 4.
The first few verses of this chapter describe a great blessing: How blessed is the one to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
But who is that one?
Clearly, it is the person who believes.
But how do we reconcile this with all the other verses we’ve been reading about God’s judgment and works and about hypocrisy? And, when we get there, how do we reconcile this with James 2, where James appeals to Abraham to say what is apparently the exact opposite?
There are two things that must be taken into account. I’ll bring them out now so you can see them as we progress.
- Faith produces real, lived-out righteousness in the person who has it, AND it brings mercy from God. "IF we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from every sin" (1 Jn. 1:7).
- These statements about faith apart from works address the BEGINNING of our Christian walk. The statement about works and eternal life in Romans 2 address the END of our Christian walk. You will see that Paul is absolutely consistent about this distinction.
Finally, for chapter 4, don’t miss verse 16. It is by faith so that it might be by grace. This is crucial. I have defined grace for you a couple times before. Grace is what removes sin’s power over us (Rom. 6:14) and teaches us to live righteously, godly, and soberly (Tit. 2:11-12). Faith brings both mercy (forgiveness) and grace. Grace is visible in a righteous life (Rom. 1:17, "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith"), and the one does not exist without the other (again, see 1 Jn. 3:7).
Verse 25 is crucial, too, but we will cover that next week.
In verses 1-2 we see Paul speaking of the beginning of our Christian walk again. We obtained our "introduction" by faith into the grace by which we stand. In other words, faith, apart from works, brings us into the grace that delivers us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14) resulting in a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:11-14).
In verses 6-11 we see the difference between the beginning and end of our Christian walk even clearer. Only, rather than tying the beginning to faith and grace and the end to works and judgment, he ties the beginning to Christ’s death and the end to Christ’s life (vv. 9-10 especially).
In verses 12-14, the death being spoken of is spiritual death, which we are born with, and which we are delivered from when grace comes (Eph. 2:1-6). Thus, we are baptized into his death and raised up to newness of life (Romans 6:3).
In verses 15-21, the difference between the gift of Jesus Christ and the transgression of Adam is that one gives life, the other death.
"Free gift" is redundant, but translators use it to distinguish the Greek words dorema and charisma; I would consider charisma, which has as a root word charis, or grace, to be an empowering gift that changes the receiver. I base that wholly on its many uses in Scripture (i.e., 1 Cor. 12:4-11).
We have talked repeatedly about baptism being the initiation rite into the New Covenant. There our old self is buried, and we rise to our new life in Christ. In verses 1-7, Paul makes it clear he considers that transformation real and powerful. He pointed to it as proof of his Gospel in 1:17!
In verses 8-11 Paul speaks of our new life in Christ. I think he says it clearer in Galatians 2:20:
I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. Yet the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Verses 15-23 is a warning to those who would use the grace of God as a license for sin. Sin results is death (vv. 16,23). We turn our members over to righteousness, and we obtain a result. That result is holiness, and the outcome of holiness is eternal life (v. 22; Heb. 12:14).
As a result, you see again how Paul differentiates between the beginning and end of our Christian life. We enter into grace by faith. We then live by faith and by the life of Jesus Christ, which we can do because we have the Spirit of God and sin is no longer master of us (Rom. 6:14).
There is an end of our Christian life, too, and that depends on our continuing to the end. The gift of God that produces grace and holiness will result in the outcome of eternal life at the end of our Christian life. Turning our members over to sin, will result in death. Paul says that even more directly in Romans 8:12-13 and Galatians 6:7-9.
We modern Christians are in desperate need of the power that brings us into fellowship with God, a real grace that makes us "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works" (Eph. 2:10). Because so often we do not have it, we have developed a theology of faith alone, which ignores the judgment awaiting us, to try to manufacture an invisible grace where there is no visible grace. Where grace abounds, the righteousness of God will be revealed, not just talked about.
We do enter the Christian life by faith alone, which brings us into grace so that sin’s power is broken and so that we can walk in the Spirit. When Paul talks about the end of our Christian life, however, he does not talk about faith but eternal life as the reward of the good works that we have persevered in (Rom. 2:5-8; Gal. 6:7-10) and as the outcome of holiness (Rom. 6:22).