Paul, in his letter to the Romans, centers his discussion around God’s power (grace which makes growth) and the monster of sin (desires and death made alive by law) while correcting the community of Romans in encouragement to spur on an obedience of faith (1:5) (a life of righteousness revealed by God [1:17]) ...
At a Glance: Part 1
Paul pens down a series of words and concepts that are important for our study of his letter, they include: God with power/power of God/eternal power (1:4, 16, 20), revealed or evident (1:17-19), righteousness or unrighteousness (1:19; 2:8, 3:5, 21-22,25-26; 4:3, 5-6, 11, 22; 5:17-18); circumcised or uncircumcised (2:15-29; 3:1; 4:10-12), obedience or disobedience (1:1, 5: 19, 6:16, 11:30; 15:18; 16:19, 26), heart(s) (1:21, 24, 32; 2:5, 15, 29; 8:26; 9:2); mind (14:5; 15:5) judgment (2:1-3, 5, 16; 3:6), and faith (1:5-6, 12, 17; 3:26-27,30-31; 4:5,9, 11-14, 16, 19; 5:1-2). Major doctrines of discussion are: Justification (3:24, 26, 18, 4:1-2,5, 25; 5:1, 16, 18) and sanctification (6:22,23).
At a Glance: Part 2
With focusing on how the heart matters (2:24-29), Paul is challenging and rebuking hypocrisy within the church who are pointing out distinctions (2:17-23) and creating enmity towards their Jewish brethren. In the same spirit of the Romans, many Christians today (believing the Word of God started within them first) point in judgement at other Christians or nonbelievers as if God only reserves mercy for them without holding them to a standard (when, in fact, everyone is under the standard of God [3:2-7]). If we are to testify that God is sovereign, we must accept both His justice and mercy (3:8-20) by fearing Him as a loving Father and accepting accountability from Him and others (3:19) (accepting accountability is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and prove God’s grace is the fulfillment of Law within our lives [3:31]). Therefore, when we are under God’s grace, we are to still give appliance to His moral standard (but remember that our faith justifies, not the works of Law [4:5]), as we continue in our justification through sanctification by obedience in faith (5:16-23).
In this letter to the Romans, Paul introduces himself and his gospel, showing himself to be an agent as he seeks to encourage the Romans to support his mission to Spain (91). Paul addresses various groups in Rome, trying to rid them of the barriers (but for Paul bridges) of “honor and shame” which was so prevalent among the culture of both the Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians (92). He does so by establishing how Christ’s power overcomes such hostile boundaries (93). His first proof of this is their unified condition of being “in the way” (not as barriers but as objects) of God’s wrath as we have all suppressed God’s truth; both the Gentile and Jew have no claim to superiority in performance (93-94). Now, we are all in an unified position of being “made alive” by grace through faith (94). Paul’s second proof is that righteous made available by faith (by which we have assurance of our standing with God) calls us to abandon boasting in ourselves and boast in the work and gift of Christ in view the worthlessness of human claims of virtue, status, or superiority as we are shaped by grace (95-96). We are, therefore, no longer defined by our actions of conformity to gain prestige by virtue, but by Christ who is the agent of grace and our transformation (96-98). Our assurance of our acceptance is faith; faith which is expressing itself in suffering, in the context of suffering with Christ (98). Third proof Paul gives is that grace has always been given and never earned because God’s grace is the condition under which we receive the gift of our calling and collection as God’s chosen people (in compassion to the exclusiveness of the Jews continued by their quest to validate their own righteousness) by the power of Christ in whom all conditions are met in his crucifixion (100-101). The last proof Paul gives is that we have a new basis of tolerance: to be sober-minded, not imposing our standard on others as we become an agent of transformation for others while submitting to the government who is as an agent of God (102-103).
(Adapted from: Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. 2003)
A Deeper Look:
Paul is challenging and rebuking the Romans Christians for their pointing out distinctions (2:17-23) and creating enmity towards their brethren. Although not contrary, Paul ironically makes a distinction or division of two groups in his letter. Hawthorne, Gerald, and Reid writes how there are “too casual identifications of ‘the weak’ and ‘the strong’… and by hypothesizing too clearly distinct groups and too sharp differentiations between Jews and Christians” (Hawthorne, Gerald and Reid, 1993, 840). For this post, I will be taking a missionary perspective on what principles of Romans 14:1–15:13 are played out in the church today. The passage discusses principles of 1) judgment behavior, 2) fundamental beliefs and 3) accountability (Gorman, 2003, 399). These are played out on the mission field (whether poorly or strongly [because of those who are weak and strong]).
I will give account of one of our (Mercy Partners’) missionary partners in West Africa who refused to give account. We provide resources (mercy) for projects and funding agreements which once agreed upon, require reports for stronger partnerships and accountability. Our partner, however, told us “You won’t get a report from us like you want.” He blamed the organization for not trusting him and “judging” his lack of accountability efforts because we provided (or demanded) accountability.
In this particular situation, for our partner to be willing to receive mercy (or resources to provide mercy to others) he should have known that would have to be willing to accept accountability. Accepting accountability is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. I think the main reason why people have a hard time with accountability is because it is directly tied to the sovereignty of God. For if we accept accountability (principle #3), we give account for God as being both our judge and merciful creator (principle #2: we have “One God” [who is both Elohim and El Rachum]) and refrain from judging (or feeling judged as an individual) (principle #1). Tom Kilian (my father) writes in his book Bridging Cultures For Christ, “When we live in spirit and in truth, we won’t fear giving account because we will view ourselves standing in the middle of blessing, not at the end of the receiving line” (186).
When we are under God’s grace Christian liberty (we have liberty in grace) abounds. Paul writes “for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord…” (Rom. 14:8) (NASB, 1996). Although this gives us rights as individuals, it does not nullify our community requirements to be accountable and give accountability. The strong is to adhere to their "general call to harmony and hospitality (15:5-13)... to bear one another's burdens" (Gorman, 2003, 400). We are to still give appliance to God’s moral standard as we continue in our justification through sanctification by obedience in faith (5:16-23): following the “Law of Love” (to honor God by honoring others [to edify them]) (14:17; 15:2, 5-6, 9, 11).
A Deeper Look For Today: Part 1
“Judgmentalism” is certainly a sin that churches should address and it is an important topic of discussion. Terry Cooper writes, “Criticizing others is not just an offensive move against them; it is also a defensive move to protect our own ‘purity.’ When we are judgmental, therefore, we need other people’s faults in order to dodge our own. Stated simply, judgmental thinking is addicted to other people’s faults or destructive behavior. Judgmentalism finds its identity in what it is not” (Cooper, 2006, 23).
Paul’s second proof to the Romans of their position in God’s righteousness is that living by faith calls us to abandon boasting and boast in the work and gift of Christ in view our abandoning all human claims of virtue, status, or superiority. We are, therefore, no longer defined by our actions of conformity to gain prestige by virtue! Our identity, however, is in Christ to gain an eternal value! Robert Jewett writes that to be made alive in Christ is “to be shaped by the reign of grace so that behavior is no longer determined by conformity to the law and the quest for honor” (Dunn, 2003, 96).
I once heard a newscaster give her name and, consequently by accident, her "identity" of being a lesbian. Like the newscaster, some Christians seem to still define themselves by their sin, thus setting apart themselves from others. Do you think that the realization that we no longer need to carry shame helps to reduce our prejudices and jealously towards others?
A Deeper Look For Today: Part 2
Paul, by using “weakness,” is not addressing or referring to one’s “downfalls” or “sin.” In its context, Paul is placing an emphasize on one’s convictions (“fully convinced in his own mind” [Rom. 14:5] [NASB, 1996]) while not regarding “with contempt” (Rom. 14:3 [NASB, 1996]) other’s convictions.
I will speak from my personal experience and convictions. My girlfriend and I are convinced in our minds that kissing before marriage is wrong for us. Now, I do not proclaim kissing to be impure because my convictions are between the Lord and I (and by consequence, my girlfriend). Others have deemed me as “weak” because I have a heighten sense of conviction. Therefore, the issue lies in that if I or another person starts to regard one another with contempt because of my conviction. "Contempt" is the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, which causes dehumanization. Mark Yarhouse in reflection to dehumanizing others writes, “When I talk about dehumanizing, I am thinking about ways in which we look past the person in order to convince others of the veracity of our position.”
To avoid the act of dehumanizing someone, we love! On a slightly different note, even how we present the Gospel must be done in love. Christ is an wonderful example of what it means to be a Disciple free from cultural or “conviction contempt." In the book of John, chapter four, we read of Christ’s efforts in bridging cultures between his own culture and the culture of the Samaritans (who were considered, “half-breeds” or “sinners”). If you remember, Christ points out the Samaritan woman’s sin! In reflection to this event, Tom Kilian writes “Jesus promises that anyone who drinks the water that he provides will never thirst — not ever… but there is a cost. We must confront the reality of our situation. For the woman, it was confronting the truth that she was not all that she thought she was” (Kilian, 2016, 101). Such a reality of our standard of conformity is worthless in obtaining “righteousness” can be, ironically, threatening to some and even dehumanizing.
I remember a few years back when I was given an Arabic speaking translator in South Sudan. I preached and taught for three hours and after my translator (who belonged to a Muslim family) affirmed that the message I spoke was good and true. When I had asked when he was going to identify with Christ at baptism... he became quiet and soon, in exclamation, told me that he -- was a Christian -- but with a wandering voice. It seemed as though he was ashamed and that he was coming to realize that he was not in truth... he was uncomfortable with confronting the truth that he was not all that he thought he was, though he grew up with living in a law. We should remember the words of Robert Jewett “To be ‘made righteous’… means that humans who have fallen short of the ‘glory of God’ (3:23) have such glory and honor restored, not as an achievement but as a gift” (Dunn, 2003, 94).
A Deeper Look For Today: Part 3 (Perfection and Sin?)
To be honest, I am not too familiar with the reformist concept and argument of "Christian perfection," or even a restorationist response. At this point, I have to state that we should travel on the “higher road” and focus on truth. We should study the “real bill” and not the “counterfeit.” Despite others’ perspective on “perfection” and how they use the term, Christians continue their justification through a process “of being made into Christ’s likeness”. We are made holy by our faith as we have obedience within a crucifix lifestyle (that is to have faith in Christ’s death and resurrection act as our saving event in history): a continued life of being put to death with Christ. It is a matter of unconditional faith and unconditional surrender. Just as Christ was both raised from the dead and made alive, we too share in his resurrection and are seated with him in the heavenly realms. This is to be made perfect, Only in the since, however, that we are being made holy, or in a process of perfection (sanctification). It is not a completion of perfection. As Paul writes, the complete perfection within a Christian is when they are completely unified with Him, along with the entire creation, in a bodily resurrection.
Paul’s teachings tell us that we are no longer slaves to “sin.” We are no longer powered or enslaved by sin that is within but we do still suffer the affect of “sin’s” power around us. We are still capable to sin, because we live in our physical flesh. To “sin” is to enslave our members to “sin,” but for a Christian, sin no longer hold its power over us because we have the power of the Spirit, a gift of grace. In this way, when we do sin, we are still found under God’s grace, under the blood of Christ. By no means is this to say that we no longer should count ourselves as dead to sin, but that we should have faith in Christ’s death to justify us when we do sin.
How do contemporary Christians understand and perhaps misunderstand ‘salvation’ — such realities as justification, sanctification, resurrection, and glorification? How should Paul’s universal and even cosmic perspective on these affect us today.
From what Christians I have met, they all have a basic understanding of the realities of justification, sanctification, and resurrection. Most, however, understand justification to be based on works or on a nice mystical tale and not faith. Sanctification is seen as our prayers for forgiveness. Our resurrection, even, is seen as purely a metaphorical image or nice thought. Glorification also seems to be a doctrine which is not understood or even acknowledged.
In light of Paul’s universal and cosmic perspective, we should understand our “salvation” to be a very different “salvation” when compared to our contemporary perspective of this reality. This should lead us in a fuller life of living in the positive laws which God has given. From Paul’s universal and cosmic perspective, we understanding that 1) Christ has died in history, 2) Christ rose in history, 3) we died with Christ in history in our baptism, and 4) we will be raised in history in a bodily resurrection. This perspective, therefore, affects our understanding of life and our lifestyle in a number of ways. We are to live as if we had already died, been to heaven, and have come back to earth to live in the fullness of life by love. This means we have a heavenly position which calls for us to walk worthy in our earthy walk.
Is there support in Romans 13 for blind nationalistic obedience? If not, how have some people understood it that way? Romans 13 is not supporting blind nationalistic obedience. It is, however, supporting how obedience to the government can be a venue by which we can show our obedience to Christ. People have understood this passage as a message of “blind nationalistic obedience” because they have taken this chapter out of context. Many have not acknowledged the fact that the Christians of Rome had enmity towards Roman authorities. Given their situation, paying taxes was an responsibility and act of cruciform worship for the Roman Christians.
What are the contemporary versions of judgmentalism (‘multicultural ’or other) about things that do not matter? Does Paul’s perspective ultimately permit any and all beliefs and practices in the church? Others I have known, have been judged for using instruments in worship. A fellow co-labor in Christ told me he was “attacked” on Facebook by a group of non-instrumentalists for posting a video of a sermon that happened to have instruments in the background. These convictions are on non-essentials and to make a judgment about such things for someone other than ourselves is to harvest and breed contempt towards one another. Contempt is the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration; this causes dehumanization. Paul’s perspective was focused on how we are not to make our convictions, within our Christian liberties, a matter of division, the cause of dehumanization. Within view of Paul’s concern and motive, Paul’s perspective, therefore, does not permit any and all beliefs and practices in the church. It simply means that making our convictions within our Christian liberties a matter of division (that which causes dehumanization) is not the will of God.
Cooper, Terry D. Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental: Nurturing a Clear Mind and a Generous Heart. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. 2006.
Dunn, James D. G., ed. Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Gorman, Michael. Apostle of the Crucified Lord. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
Hawthorne, Gerald F.; Martin, Ralph P.; Reid, Daniel G., eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.
Kilian, Tom & Sandie. Bridging Cultures for Christ: Alternative ways for better results in cross-cultural missions. Chatham, VA: Sparrow Publishing. 2016.
New American Standard Bible. Reference Edition ed. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1996.