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 7 is the law of sin and death. When you read "the law of sin and death" in 8:2, don’t mistake it for some mysterious law that we don’t understand or that hasn’t been explained. Romans 7 explains it thoroughly.
The Law is good, but we are not. Due to the sin in our body, we can’t keep the Law. The Law of Moses is not deficient, we are.
The Law exposes the sin in us by proving us violators of its commands. The result of this is death because that is the penalty of the Law.
That is the Law of sin and death.
A lot of people and even some Bible translations, such as the NIV, understand "the flesh" to mean "the sinful nature." I think things are a lot simpler than that. I think Paul means our bodies. Our bodies long for comfort, food, reproduction, and security. We struggle to survive, we defend ourselves, and we selfishly long for our own gain. Those are all natural things, but we are not natural creatures. We are spiritual creatures, and we are called to follow Jesus Christ in a way that is completely antithetical to the desires of the body. Thus, the apostle Paul writes:
I discipline my body and bring it under subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:27)
Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)
But how do we do that when Paul has just told us we are unable to do that through the Law?
What the Law could not do, God did … (Rom. 8:3)
Romans 8:2 says that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death (which was explained in Romans 7). The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is explained in the next ten verses. Jesus is sent as an offering for sin, condemns sin in the flesh, and the righteous requirement of the Law (not the Law itself, but the fullness of the Law, its righteous requirement) is fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of their body.
That’s why it’s so important to distinguish that the Old Covenant was the covenant of the flesh for an earthly people, an earthly Israel. Now, though, the New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit, in which every member has the Spirit (Acts 2) and knows God (Jer. 31:31-34). Grace has come, the power of the sin in our flesh is broken, and we can walk by the Spirit and thus live out the righteous requirement of the Law.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11, NASB)
There’s so much more to cover here, but we’ll wait until next week and just touch on a couple things.
Verses 16-25: These verses rejoice in our inheritance, and refers to our life here as the sufferings of the present time, which he says are well worth it.
Verses 26-27: The Spirit prays through us. That’s understood different ways by different Christians, but we should all learn to rely on the Spirit when we pray.
Verse 28 has been a watchword for me over the last nine months. I had to ask myself if I really believed it. I was diagnosed with acute leukemia last June. Without intervention, I’d have been dead in under a month. I received four rounds of chemotherapy, had a minor heart attack induced by a fever while I had perilously low blood counts, and received a bone marrow transplant in January. (See my blog for details.)
From the beginning, I had to say, "This is not only acceptable, but it is God’s highest and best for me, and this is what I want above all else." For me, it was a wonderful affirmation that God had really planted faith in my heart, and the experience was joyous, wonderful, and full of suffering.
All things really do work together for good if we love God and are called according to his purpose.
Verses 29-30: The subject of predestination is addressed in the section below (chapters 9-11). We’ll talk more about these two verses next week. For now, just see that the apostle has said clearly that it is those that God foreknew—knowing their choice, not choosing for them—that he predestined. He did not predestine them to choose, but he predestined those who answered his call to be glorified and inherit immortality with Christ.
Verses 31-39: For those that repent, believe, and experience the grace of God, the reward is incredible, despite the suffering of this present times. Such are justified, which means that the are in good covenant relationship with God, and he is for them.
Many of us are slow to believe that God is really for us. Paul drives the idea home for nine verses. Can you imagine how empowering this would be if we all believed it?
One note: Recently I heard a youth pastor talking about verses 37-39, where Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of God. The youth pastor’s focus was entirely upon sin, and he claimed that even sin could not separate us from God.
Of course, there is some truth to this. God loved us and sent his Son while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). Sin doesn’t separate us from God’s love, but the Scriptures are clear that sin will separate us from God (Isa. 59:2).
There is nothing in verses 37-39 that talks about sin. You can separate yourself from God by continuing in sin. You can die spiritually by living according to the flesh (Rom. 8:12) and be kept from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
Instead, verses 37-39 talks about beings: principalities, powers, created things. God is for us, and no one can lay a charge against us when God has justified us. They cannot drive us away from God if we will lean on his mercy and walk by his Spirit (see 1 Jn. 1:7-2:2).
Romans 9-11: God’s Choices
In chapters 7 and 8, Paul has completed his exposition of his Gospel by faith. One topic remained. Why the Gentiles? Why would the Gospel not only come to the Gentiles but come primarily to the Gentiles?
It is important to keep this topic in mind as you read these three chapters.
It seems like the subject of these three chapters would be impossible to miss. Paul returns to it over and over, hardly deviating at all.
But tradition is strong, and here we will need to discuss "Calvinism" because you will run into it. Calvinism teaches the following five points (which spell out TULIP):
- Total Depravity: Man is so depraved that he cannot even believe or make a choice to be saved.
- Unconditional Election: God chooses certain individuals, the elect, based on no conditions at all (which makes his choice effectively random).
- Limited Atonement: Jesus only died for the elect, not everyone else.
- Irresistible Grace: If God calls a person to be saved by grace, that person will believe and will be saved because God will give them the gift of faith.
- Perseverance of the Saints: The elect will not only believe and be saved, but they will continue to the end as well. (Those who do not continue to the end are not part of the elect.)
Five-point Calvinism, the belief in all five of these points, is a widespread but minority viewpoint in Protestant circles, but something like this was believed by both Martin Luther (who wrote a booklet on it called The Bondage of the Will) and John Calvin, though the five points of Calvinism were not written out until around a century after Calvin’s death.
Romans 9:1-20 is perhaps the leading passage to which Calvinism appeals. We need to look at that quickly.
Paul really does argue in Romans 9:1-20 that God can do whatever he wants. If God only wanted to save some random people and send the vast majority of humanity to hell, he would have the right to do that as the creator.
But is that what God wants? Is that what Paul is saying?
God could save only chihuahuas and St. Bernards along with their human owners. Romans 9:1-20 would be an effective argument that he has the right to do that, but is that what Paul was talking about?
Paul was not talking about chihuahuas and St. Bernards. Neither was he talking about God randomly choosing who would be saved, while everyone else would die with no hope whatsoever of ever believing. Such an idea is contrary to everything we read about God.
- [God] wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4)
- The Lord is … patience with us, not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)
- [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Romans 9 to 11 have nothing whatsoever to do with God randomly choosing who should be saved. It has to do with God hardening the Jews and showing mercy to the Gentiles.
It is this that Paul is justifying. God has the right to do anything, but God doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t choose St. Bernards and their owners, nor does he choose individuals randomly. He chose Gentiles over Jews for a time period so that the mercy he has shown to the Gentiles would result in mercy for the Jews as well when the fullness of the Gentiles have come in.
Romans 9-11: One Tree, One Israel, One Elect
I need to make one other point. In these chapters there is only one tree, not two. There is only one elect, not two.
There is not a Christian tree and a Jewish tree.
Paul describes one tree, and that tree had Jewish branches which were broken off. Gentile branches were grafted in. The Jewish branches can be grafted in again, but the discarded branches do not constitute a second tree.
This is clear in Romans 9-11, but it is even clearer in Romans 2:28-29:
He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. Instead, he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter.
I mentioned several times as we went through the Gospels that Jesus had warned of this.
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation that will produce the fruits of it. … When the chief priests and Pharisees had heard [Jesus’] parables, they knew that he was talking about them. (Matt. 21:43,45)
If a Jew wants to be among the elect, he needs to be grafted back into the tree whose branches are now primarily Gentiles. That tree is spiritual, new covenant Israel, whose circumcision is of the heart and of the spirit. That tree once had fleshly Israelites as its branches, but no longer.