Through the letter to the Romans – Part 8 The consequence of the forgiveness of our sins.

N. T. Wright is fond of saying that Jesus’ coming finally taught us and enabled us to be truly human. To be what we were created to be. I have reached the conclusion that Jesus’ revelation to Paul finally taught him what it really meant to be a Jew, chosen by God to bless the whole world.

And what greater blessing than to tell everyone that we can now live a new life.

Forgiveness of our sins is the reason we are declared not guilty by the Judge of the whole Earth. This is what that legal term “justified” means. But that is not all that the principle of faith, as Darby puts it, accomplishes. Even though the principle of the Law and the principle of Faith are juxtaposed by Paul in the previous Chapters it doesn’t mean they are equal and opposite.

Paul has to hold them side by side because the Jewish believers in Rome were in danger of reverting to their baseline worldview as blood descendants of Abraham. In that worldview, they believed they were declared to be in the right by God because they were His chosen people, they had the Law. But after proving that that Law was powerless to actually make them right with God – in terms of being free from sin – he comes back and reminds them that the only way to be free from sin, guaranteed by the promises of the Law itself and by the proof of the resurrection of Jesus, is faith in the Messiah.

Thus, the subject of having right standing with God has forced Paul to contrast Faith and Law. They are not equal and opposite because they are not even in the same category. I would like to say it this way: Law is a noun, it identifies things; and, yes, many of those things are actions and their consequences. But Faith, the way it is used in the Gospel, always has the power of a verb: it describes action. Faith is intimately tied with cause and effect. (Think of Jesus saying: ‘Your faith has made you well.’) The principle of faith brings with it supernatural power into action. Therefore, once we have been justified on the principle of faith there are consequences:

5:1-5 Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom we have also access by faith into this favour {grace} in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And not only [that], but we also boast in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works endurance; and endurance, experience; and experience, hope; and hope does not make ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad {poured out} in our hearts by [the] Holy Spirit which has been given to us:

We have peace toward God. We are no longer, as he will expound later, His enemies. And that means we can now live in His favor (grace). And in that favor, we know that our lives are now in His hand. As Jesus said:

hand holding a baby

John 10:27-29 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them life eternal; and they shall never perish, and no one shall seize them out of my hand. My Father who has given [them] to me is greater than all, and no one can seize out of the hand of my Father.

This assurance includes knowing that there is a glory coming on the other side, when we are done with this life. But that assurance about that which is to come (hope) exists as an extension of the assurance in which we live right now. Faith has given us a new way, the real way, to live in the NOW. Because I am in the Father’s hand, everything that happens to me in this world is in His hands. Therefore, what we would have considered before to be tribulations, now we consider to be a training ground to develop endurance. Endurance builds tested (or experienced) character. And that character is able to hope on that which my eyes cannot see because I have all the evidence I need in the Love that God has poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit.

This is why the principle of faith has supernatural power. It is through it, through the embracing of the Messiah that we find ourselves in the position to receive the Promise of the Holy Spirit. Just as Abraham by faith received the Promise of the Messiah and the power to bless all mankind, we, by faith, receive the Promise of the Holy Spirit so that we can truly live in this world (for this world) as the children of Abraham, children of faith, acting out God’s Love.

And all because of the extravagant Love of God

As Paul is listing things we rightly can boast on, (that is, things we know to be true and thus rejoice in the fact that they are so) he points out that this boast, this confidence is justified (in the sense of being reasonable, logical). It is justified by the evidence of the Love of God. And now he proceeds to explain that love so that it becomes clear how different it is from any worldly love, to point out that the only explanation for such a love is the existence of the God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, who LOVES.

Romans 5:6-8 for we being still without strength, in [the] due time Christ has died for [the] ungodly.  For scarcely for [the] just [man] will one die, for perhaps for [the] good [man] some one might also dare to die; but God commends *his* love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us.

painting of the crucifixion
Painting by Jean Leon Gerome: Consummatum est

We have all heard the expression about a “punishment that does not fit the crime”. This is a case of the immense reverse. The extravagance of God’s love does not compare in the least with the one thing I did to receive this mercy: the fact that I asked for forgiveness through Christ.

Therefore, if this is the way God loves, above and beyond any human idea of balance, then His forgiveness brings with it an equally disproportionate grace. This is why we are sure not just that we have been forgiven but that this forgiveness brings with it a supernatural transformation that guarantees eternal life:

Romans 5:9-10 Much rather therefore, having been now justified in [the power of] his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath. For if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much rather, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in [the power of] his life.

This is why we can live NOW in confidence. We might wonder why Paul brings up the concept of wrath into this conversation. I mean, if we have believed, and therefore we believe that we have been forgiven and have eternal life, doesn’t that automatically imply we have been delivered from the coming wrath?

I think Paul brings this up because it is human to doubt. Remember when John the Baptist was thrown into prison by King Herod? If there was anyone that absolutely knew Jesus was the Messiah, it was John. He told so to his disciples: He heard the voice from Heaven, he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him. John knew he was the prophesied herald, ordained to prepare the people for the Messiah. Yet here was his mission, foiled by man. That didn’t make sense to the way he thought things would turn out. So, he sent two of disciples to Jesus to ask Him, ‘are you really the one?’ (Luke 7:18-19).

If John could have that moment of doubt, it is isn’t hard to imagine that when we find ourselves in the middle of tribulation, we too might doubt. We might even think that all this trouble has been sent our way by God because He is displeased with us. In other words, it is the wrath of God being manifested now in our lives. And Paul is saying, ‘No way! When God reconciles, He reconciles. The life we live now is in His Son… and all the Father has for His Son is Love.’

Therefore, we have the confidence to boast about our present (tribulations and all) and we have the confidence to boast about our future (the hope of glory), all because we know a God we can boast about:

Romans 5:11 And not only [that], but [we are] making our boast in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we have received the reconciliation.

All this because we have been forgiven our sins and thus reconciled with God.

The superabundance of Grace

Having demonstrated that God’s love is extravagant beyond human measure, gives Paul now the opportunity to reiterate once again that this salvation promised to Abraham was for all mankind. He goes about it again by contrasting human expectation with God’s response.

Paul has already argued that all mankind is under the grip of sin whether or not they had the Law explicitly stated. His argument in Chapters 1 through 3 were from evidence: Both from human observation and from the word of Scripture.  Yet while he went through those arguments, we already got a hint of what human counterarguments were like: “How can it be my fault that I sinned? God is infinitely powerful. If He had wanted to stop my sin, he could have done it. And besides, Paul, you keep telling me that all this proves how great God is.” Back then Paul ended that argument by saying, “If you say that, you are being facetious. You know better… that argument doesn’t even deserve an answer.”

But now he has the opportunity to return to it. Why do we all sin? Whose fault is it? The answer is, it’s all my fault. There is no one else to blame.

Romans 5:12-14 For this [cause], even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until law sin was in [the] world; but sin is not put to account when there is no law; but death reigned from Adam until Moses, even upon those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is [the] figure of him to come.

Sometimes people look at this passage as if the point is that we all sin because of Adam. In other words: it is all the fault of “original sin”. But if that were the point, doesn’t that play directly into the human counterargument above? If it is all original sin, then I can’t help myself. I am doomed to sin and God knows it. How can that be fair?

That could actually be the foundation for a valid argument. And since God created Adam and Eve, and the Garden, and the Tree of all that can be known about good and evil, and since He knew Adam would eat from it, then we could be justified in saying God is the author of evil. To which Paul would say, “May it never be so!”

tree against night sky background

The point of that passage we just read is that we all die. That death proves that we inherited from Adam the ability to know all that can be known about good and evil, and like him, given that knowledge, we end up choosing evil. But we choose it! It is by exercising our free will that we sin.

Adam didn’t kill us, Adam made us like him; and we condemn ourselves just like he condemned himself. The proof is that we all die, whether we are born under the Law or outside the Law. (Paul doesn’t miss the chance to reiterate again that Law makes no difference in this regard).

And this is key to Paul’s logical presentation of the Plan of Salvation:

If breaking the Law were the reason we are condemned, the Gentiles ignorant of the Law could claim to be exempt, since, logically, “sin is not put to account when there is no law”. But we all die. In fact, everybody between Adam and Moses died before there was ever any Law and, for that matter, between Adam and Abraham before there ever was a chosen people.

ALL die even those not given an explicit verbal or written commandment by God that they broke. This proves that sin is an undeniable reality. It also proves that the Law is not what the First century Jews wanted it to be. And this is why Jesus told them:

John 5:39-40 Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; and ye will not come to me that ye might have life.

The Law does not contain anywhere within it a “free pass” to eternal life. The law simply proves, to any who would try to argue otherwise, that we are all sinners. And argue we would. And we would, naturally, try to create loopholes by specifying the Law so precisely that it could be reduced to a “checklist”, an inventory of rites, of external deeds that once performed counted as “keeping the Law”.

So, Jesus comes onto the scene and gives us the Sermon on the Mount, to prove to us that sin is not just breaking the externalities of the Law: sin is breaking the spirit of the Law. And all men do. No one can claim they do not.

I think this is utterly important:

If according to Paul, this is the way we are to understand the Law: as the revelator of sin, then it is the way we must also understand the Sermon on the Mount. If eternal life could not be attained by trying to keep the Law, then eternal life cannot be attained by trying to keep the Sermon on the Mount. They are one and the same. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t lead us to cry “I give up” because it is too difficult. It should lead us to cry “I give up” because by it we understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are sinners.

So, what is the way out? FORGIVENESS OF SINS. Who can give me that? THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH. He is the only one that can declare me not guilty. Who is He? Paul explained it this way to the philosophers at the Areopagus:

Acts 17: 30-31 God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent, because he has set a day in which he is going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by [the] man whom he has appointed, giving the proof [of it] to all [in] having raised him from among [the] dead.

This is why if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

Romans 5:17-19 For if by the offence of the one, death reigned by the one, much rather shall those who receive the abundance of grace, and of the free gift of righteousness, reign in life by the one Jesus Christ: so then as [it was] by one offence towards all men to condemnation, so by one righteousness towards all men for justification of life.  For as indeed by the disobedience of the one man the many have been constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted righteous.

Notice that the free gift of righteousness Paul is talking about is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah – the righteousness of the One Man. That righteousness resulted in our justification, it resulted in us – the forgiven – being declared “in the right” by the Judge. Paul is not saying that those of us who receive abundance of grace also “receive” a gift of (personal) righteousness. To make this clear, Darby translates the Greek word kathistemi as “constituted”. That way it has a legal connotation. And it is congruent with the whole thought of justification being a legal declaration, and the idea that righteousness is reckoned to us rather than somehow being imputed (transferred) onto us.

All this, Paul has already said before, but his emphasis now is on the immense asymmetry. One sinful act of Adam rendered all humanity weak, defenseless before sin. It rendered us susceptible to death, eternal death proven by the evidence of physical death, a death that each one of us deserves by virtue of our own choices.

But now, by one righteous act, the Messiah has delivered a salvation to all mankind; a salvation that none of us had the power to get or deserve. And instead of bringing an end (death) it brings a never-ending beginning: eternal life.

Romans 5:20-21  But law came in, in order that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded grace has overabounded,  in order that, even as sin has reigned in [the power of] death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, Paul repeats, don’t put your hope of salvation (eternal life) in law. The Law came to prove that even readers and knowers of the written Law are just as everybody else in desperate need of salvation. And, again, the two sides being contrasted (Adam and Jesus, Law and Faith) are not equal and opposite. It is more like x and 1/x. Take x in the limit as x goes to zero and what do you get? Zero, we all die. Take 1/x in the limit as x goes to zero and what do you get? Infinity.

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