Romans 4-6

Good morning! The apostle Paul continues today (Romans 4-6) in his written argument to members of the church in Rome, trying to persuade them that faith is what matters, and not a series of faithful religious observances or good works. At the same time, Paul must carefully show that only righteous works flow properly from upright faith.

Paul highlights Abraham as an example of heroic righteousness, but because of his faith and not his actions. Abraham trusts in God’s ability to provide despite all appearances otherwise, and this is “reckoned to him as righteousness”. (I find it interesting that Paul makes no mention of the Binding of Isaac, since that’s often held up as an example of Abraham’s faith.) As Paul tells it, the circumcision that was required as a sign of Abraham’s covenant with God in his late years came about as a symptom of righteousness, and was not the path to righteousness. Paul’s emphasis on faith holds true even in the face of sufferings, and here we have one of Paul’s famous lines: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint” (5:3-5). While I generally have seen trials lead to greater strength in my own life, use this sparingly in relation to others! It’s one thing to say this in making sense of one’s own journey, but another thing to suggest that the suffering of others is for their endurance and character. As we discussed a few months ago with Job, ascribing goodness to the suffering of others (before they do) gets in the way of meeting people where they are and accompanying them through pain.

Another challenging paradigm in these verses is the opposition between “God’s wrath” and “Christ’s grace”. Paul writes that “the law brings wrath” (4:15), and continues with an argument of God’s wrath, a whole frame that I find difficult to swallow. The reasoning goes that Jesus slipped into the world to die on the cross, appeasing God’s wrath for human sinfulness. What’s asked of human beings for this to “stick” is to believe that this happened, and I find it hard to believe that human belief makes the difference in whether God can accomplish God’s own purposes. Paul describes Adam as the source of sin infecting the world (Genesis 3), and Christ as the antibiotic of righteousness. If one does want to follow this logic, I believe Paul’s argument about the greater impact of Christ’s action than Adam’s seems to suggest universal salvation. That, at least, is how I read Romans 5:18: “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”

Believers, Paul continues, identify in baptism (using imagery of drowning) with the death of Christ, and are therefore unified with Christ in the resurrected life. How do Christians, no longer enslaved to sin and death, live “in newness of life”? By avoiding wickedness, overcoming the passions of mortal bodies, and desisting from a libertine attitude because of “cheap grace”. We’ll hear more from Paul about the nature of the Christian life in coming days. Happy reading!

Read Romans 4-6.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Romans 7-8. Thanks for reading!

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