by Peter & Vita Toon
Kingsway Bible Studies
How to use the studies (New Testament)
Introduction to Romans
Study 1: The Prologue 1:1–17
Study 2: Universal sin 1:18–2:16
Study 3: Universal guilt 2:17–3:20
Study 4: Salvation from God 3:21–31
Study 5: The example of Abraham 4:1–25
Study 6: Two humanities 5:1–21
Study 7: Freedom from sin 6:1–23
Study 8: Freedom from the law 7:1–25
Study 9: Life in the Spirit 8:1–17
Study 10: The age to come 8:18–39
HOW TO USE THE STUDIES (NEW TESTAMENT)
1. Ensure that the aim is first to understand the text and then to make it meaningful and relevant. (The questions at the end of each study are intended to bring out the relevance for today.)
2. Begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. Have various English versions of the Bible available. At least one translation – e.g. the Revised Version, Revised Standard Version or New International Version – and at least one paraphrase – e.g. the Living Bible or Good News Bible – should be on hand for the group to use.
4. Choose one person to lead the discussion, preferably a mature Christian.
5. Encourage everyone to participate in the reading or the discussion.
6. Try the following method of approach:
(i) Begin the study by reading the whole passage in translation.
(ii) Then read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a paraphrase.
(iii) Also read aloud the notes themselves after each section.
(iv) Discuss the meaning of the passage.
This activity will involve several members of the group as readers.
7. Spend about ten minutes on each question with as many members as possible making a contribution. At the end of each discussion the leader should summarize the main points that have arisen.
8. Matters of concern which arise in the reading of the Scripture or in answering the questions could be made topics for prayer.
9. A balance must be kept between ascertaining what the Bible teaches and what are the opinions of participants. So the leader should make sure that there is an understanding of the passage before questions are raised. On some occasions this will mean that only two of the questions can be answered.
INTRODUCTION TO ROMANS
Paul probably wrote the letter to the Romans in A.D. 57 from Corinth. He wrote to a church he had not founded and to a people few of whom he knew.
But why did Paul write such a long and deep letter? Why should he write in such powerful theological language to a church he had not founded? From the evidence of the letter he appears to have had several reasons:
(i) He wanted to extend the preaching of the gospel to Spain and he hoped that the church in Rome would help him in this task (15:24). So he wrote to explain to them in some detail the message which he preached and taught.
(ii) For two decades the centre of the mission of the church had been Antioch in Syria (Acts 13). If the church was to spread to Spain and Gaul then a new western centre was needed. Paul looked upon Rome as that centre and so wrote to introduce himself and his hopes to the church there.
(iii) Rome was the capital of the civilized world. Paul wanted to see the church there strong in the faith and in evangelism so that people from many places would be won for Christ.
(iv) Paul wanted to produce for the church a handbook of the gospel of grace as he understood it. He therefore used the opportunity of having to write to Rome in order to give the church this handbook.
(v) He wanted to make clear the unity of the church, especially the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. This concern of Paul’s becomes apparent in the second half of the letter, chapters 9–16. (See especially 11:30–31; 12:4–8 and 13:8–10.)
As a prominent part of the New Testament this letter has had a significant part in the conversions and theological orientation of many great leaders – e.g. William Tyndale, the Bible translator; Martin Luther, the German Reformer; and John Wesley, the great evangelist. It has been especially important in Protestantism because of its message of justification by grace through faith.
There are many helpful commentaries on this letter. Modern ones include Ernest Best (Cambridge University Press), C. K. Barrett (A. & C. Black), Roger Bowen (SPCK), F. F. Bruce (IVP), John Murray (Eerdmans), and Matthew Black (Oliphants). Older ones by Charles Hodge, James Haldane, John Calvin, Martin Luther and H. C. G. Moule are still valuable.
Study 1: The Prologue
Here we gain insights into Paul’s pastoral heart and prayer life before he launches into the profound theological discussion which is the main content of this letter.
1. 1:1–7 Greetings
Adopting the usual form of greeting of his day, Paul made use of it to declare his calling. He was a slave of Jesus Christ and his messenger (apostle) to the whole Mediterranean world. See also Galatians 1:1, 16 and Acts 9:15. The gospel (good news) he preached is described in verses 2–4. It was good news of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, who was raised from the dead and in whom is God’s provision and gift of salvation. At one and the same time, and as one reality, Jesus was perfect man and Son of God. He was a physical descendant of King David (see Matthew 1); and intimately connected with his Jewish humanity was his deity. In the words of John 1:14 he was the Word of God made flesh, the only-begotten Son in Jewish manhood.
The Roman Christians had received this good news of salvation in Jesus and God was making them into a holy people, a calling for all his chosen people.
2. 1:8–15 The purpose of the letter
Paul was thankful to God for the faith and commitment of the Roman church. For a long time he had desired to visit them but the pressures of his work among the young churches had prevented such a visit. Now it appeared that his prayer would be answered and he would soon be in Rome. He wanted them to know that being in Rome would mean for him both giving and receiving. His own faith would be enriched through his contacts and fellowship with them, and he would exercise the ministry of an apostle in their city. He would present the gospel to those who spoke Greek and to those who did not, to those who were Roman by birth and to those who were born elsewhere.
3. 1:16–17 The power of the gospel
Why is Paul so confident of the power of the good news to bring salvation? His answer is in terms of the righteousness of God, an expression which has to be understood against its Old Testament background. When the Hebrews thought about right and wrong, they thought forensically; that is, they thought of right and wrong as if a judge were to pronounce upon them. So righteousness was a legal status, not a moral quality (like goodness). To be righteous was to be in the right, and to be wicked was to be in the wrong. A good example of this usage is Exodus 9:27, where Pharaoh declared: “The LORD is in the right and my people and I are in the wrong.” The LORD, Yahweh, is always in the right and is the source of all right. So to be righteous was to be ‘in the right’ as far as God is concerned.
The good news told of how sinners could be placed in the position of being “in the right” with God, the righteous Lord. At the same time the good news revealed that in putting sinners in this position God was acting as a perfect judge and not calling black white and white black. The good news was to be received by faith, and to this experience the prophet Habakkuk had pointed when he wrote that “the person who is put right with God through faith shall live [= have eternal life]” (Habakkuk 2:4).
4. Questions for discussion
1. How can we best explain that Jesus Christ is both man and God without falling into the trap of making him to appear as a split personality?
2. Paul prayed regularly for the Roman church. Do we pray sufficiently or regularly for churches which we know?
3. In what sense can it be said that every Christian has an obligation (as Paul claimed to have) to commend Christ to all whom he meets? To what extent are all Christians to be evangelists?
4. What is faith? Is it a gift of God or is it something we create in ourselves, our own minds, hearts and wills?
Study 2: Universal Sin
Having declared what makes the gospel effective in bringing God’s salvation, Paul shows why people actually need the righteousness of God. They are sinners under the judgement of God; they are “in the wrong” with God.
1. 1:18–32 The pagan world
Paul teaches that the idolatry, sexual perversion and general immorality of the world of the Roman Empire is the result of the rejection of God by human beings. Because humans rejected him God withdrew his providential help from them so that they developed life-styles which involved shameful and corrupt behaviour and thinking. (See verses 24, 26 and 28 and note the expression “God gave them up to . . .”.)
Paul held that there is a revelation of God through the universe (verse 20) and through the human conscience (verse 32 and 2:15). Anyone with a clean mind who studies the world will be led to think of an eternal Creator, and anyone who examines the way in which the human conscience works will be led to think of a supreme Giver of law or morality. Thus to become a worshipper of idols or to live immorally is deliberately to reject God.
To a world which rejects his revelation God must show his anger. But his anger is not like hot, human passion; it is the response of his purity and holiness towards human wickedness.
2. 2:1–16 The good-living people
It is important to note Paul’s style here. It is similar but not identical with that which was called a diatribé in the ancient world. Questions or objections were placed in the mouth of an imagined critic of a particular viewpoint so that they could be answered or removed. Using this technique, Paul intends to show that even the man who shares God’s rejection of idolatry and immorality is still a sinner. Paul is thinking of the good-living Jew and the moral pagan. A famous example of the latter would be Seneca, the tutor of the Emperor Nero, and a man highly thought of in the Roman empire. Paul accuses these good-living, and (to all outward signs) innocent people of various sins – e.g. judging others and then doing the same thing themselves, having a hard and stubborn heart, being selfish and rejecting what God has commanded, not acknowledging the goodness of God and not repenting of sin. So God will judge all – Jews by the law of Moses and Gentiles by the law of conscience – and all will be found guilty of sin.
3. Questions for discussion
1. Given the tremendous development of scientific knowledge, is it as obvious to the 20th-century observer as it was to Paul that the universe must have a personal, eternal Creator?
2. Why did Paul especially emphasize idolatry and sexual perversion?
3. Why is it that it is usually the “good” person who is the last to’ acknowledge his or her sins?
4. Does Paul teach that in the consciences of all peoples, whatever their culture, there is an inbuilt sense of right and wrong – a kind of miniature ten commandments? Consider the implications of your answer, whether it be yes or no.
Study 3: Universal Guilt
The theme of 1:18 to 2:16 is here continued. Paul demonstrates that the whole world, Jew and Gentile, is guilty before God and therefore in need of the good news of the provision of God’s righteousness.
1. 2:17–29 Jews and the law
Here Paul addresses the good-living man explicitly as a Jew. Such a man is proud of the law of Moses; he boasts of his relationship to God as a member of the chosen people; he believes that he possesses true knowledge of the one, living God, and he sets standards of behaviour for others.
Paul invites this type of man to take an honest look at himself. In his heart of hearts does he not know that he commits the very sins which he accuses others of committing? (The reference to robbing temples in verse 22 is not clear, but it may refer to an incident in A.D. 19 when four Jews living in Rome stole money that was intended for the Temple in Jerusalem and had been given by a Roman lady. As a result of the theft the Emperor Tiberius expelled all Jews from Rome.)
Circumcision, Paul argues, should accompany complete obedience to the law for, as a sign of the covenant, circumcision only makes sense in that context. Thus to boast of circumcision (that is, of being a member of the chosen people) and to sin is to be guilty of hypocrisy.
In verse 29 there is a play on the word “Jew”. Jews took their name from their ancestor, Judah, whose name is connected in Hebrew with the verb jadah meaning “to praise”. See Genesis 29:35 and 49:8. So the name “Jew” meant “the praise of God”.
2. 3:1–8 Four questions answered
(i) What advantage is there in being physically circumcised and belonging to the Jewish people? Instead of saying “none”, Paul says that there are many. Jews are in the receipt of many privileges, especially being custodians of the sacred oracles, the Hebrew Bible.
(ii) In the light of human failure to keep the covenant, will God be faithful to his side of the covenant? Paul replies that man’s unfaithfulness can never alter God’s faithfulness or spoil his purposes.
(iii) If my faithlessness gives greater prominence to God’s faithfulness and if my bad conduct highlights his righteousness, why should God find fault in me? As he gains by my sin why should he punish me? The answer is that God is the moral ruler and also the judge of all people.
(iv) If my untruth makes God’s truth shine more clearly, why must I be condemned as a sinner? If my sin brings glory to God, why is my sin wrong? Does not the end justify the means? Again Paul has an emphatic no, for God always requires holy, pure living from his people.
3. 3:9–20 Jews and Gentiles are sinners
The argument is concluded by reference to the teaching of the word of God (the Hebrew Bible). Paul first makes use of five quotations – Psalms 10:7; 14:1–3; 36:1; 140:3; Isaiah 59:7. Then in verse 20 he makes use of Psalm 143:2. The claim that the knowledge of sin comes through the law is repeated in 5:20 and 7:7–13.
4. Questions for discussion
1. Is it possible for Christians to become like the Jews described in 2:17–24?
2. In the light of 2:29 what is the difference between a real Jew and a real Christian?
3. Does the noble end ever justify questionable means in Christian work and witness?
4. Do the Jewish people still possess spiritual advantages?
Study 4: Salvation From God
In this compact section Paul explains how God now puts sinners in a right relationship with himself. To understand Paul’s presentation it will be helpful to read as many translations and paraphrases as are available.
1. 3:21–26 God’s method
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has revealed a new way for people to be in the right with God. The law of Moses and the words of the prophets of Israel pointed to this new way. Yet they were never able actually to provide it: the way of faith in God’s Messiah.
Jews and Gentiles are sinners, and having this shared condition and problem they are freely provided by God with one sure answer. Faith in Jesus Christ brings the forgiveness of sins and puts a person in a right relationship with God, the righteous judge.
How can this be? The answer lies in the special character of the death of Jesus. This death achieves in the spiritual realm what the purchase of a slave (in order to set him free) achieves in the physical realm (see Leviticus 25:47–55). By the death of Christ believers are redeemed, that is they are set free from the basic problem caused by their sin. But how can the death of Christ be a means of redemption? The answer is in terms of propitiation (removing the anger of God) and of expiation (cleansing from sin). In the death of Jesus Christ God provided a means by which he could do away with the sin of his people and turn his anger (see 1:18) from them. Paul is thinking of the mercy-seat in the Holy of Holies in the Temple where, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed animal to make atonement for sin. (For the idea of life being in the blood and atonement being made, see Leviticus 17:11.) By his sacrificial death Jesus achieved atonement for all believers of all times and places.
Why did God do all this? To show that he is righteous; that is, that he always acts rightly. For centuries he had watched the people of Israel sin and had not poured out his anger upon them in judgement. By the sacrificial death of Christ he has shown that he did act rightly in the past, for that which the death of Christ achieved is of universal power and significance, reaching both backwards and forwards in time. At the same time as acting rightly himself, God provided a way for sinful people to be right with him: this is the way of faith, and of faith alone.
2. 3:27–31 More questions answered
Here Paul states the practical results of the teaching on God’s gracious provision of righteousness. Justification, or being placed in the right in God’s sight, is through faith and faith alone. If human achievement has any place then righteousness is not a gift of God. The gift is available both to believing Jews and believing Gentiles. However, to be justified by faith alone does not mean that good behaviour is abandoned. God requires even justified Christians to obey his law of love (verse 31).
3. Questions for discussion
1. Can there ever be true faith in Jesus Christ where there is not a real sense of being a sinner?
2. Is it possible to give an adequate explanation of how the death of Christ is God’s way of providing salvation for sinners?
3. Paul made use of images drawn from the law court (justification), the slave-market (redemption) and the Temple (mercy- seat) to convey what God did in Jesus Christ. What images, drawn from life today, can we use to convey the saving work of God in the death of Jesus Christ?
4. What are the possible dangers of misunderstanding and misrepresentation inherent in preaching a message of justification by faith alone?
Study 5: The Example Of Abraham
Already Paul has claimed that “a righteousness apart from the law” is promised in the Old Testament (3:21). This claim is now illustrated with reference to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and David, its most distinguished king. (To read Genesis 15–18 would be helpful as background information.)
1. 4:1–8 Abraham’s righteousness was by faith alone
In Genesis 26:5 Abraham is described as obeying the voice and keeping the commandments of God. So if any person were eligible for justification by behaviour (works) it was Abraham. But as Genesis 15:6 (quoted in verse 3) makes clear, Abraham believed God’s promise, and because of this faith God accepted him as righteous. This acceptance was an act of pure love (grace) on God’s part. Abraham’s subsequent life of obeying God proceeded from his faith in God and God’s justification of him. (Cf. Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:6ff.)
David also knew the assurance of being forgiven and accepted by God. Paul quotes Psalm 32:1–2, written by David. The sins of David were not in question (2 Samuel 11–12) but here he claimed to be forgiven and accepted by God. Such forgiveness is not earned; it is the gift of God.
2. 4:9–12 Abraham’s righteousness was independent of circumcision
What is the relation between the faith of Abraham (Genesis 15:6) and his circumcision (Genesis 17:9–14)? His circumcision took place fourteen years after his justification by faith. This means that the rite of circumcision was an external sign, given by God, that Abraham was already righteous in his sight. It also means that Abraham is the spiritual father of all who, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, believe God’s word of promise and are counted righteous.
3. 4:13–25 Abraham’s righteousness was independent of the law of Moses
In Galatians 3:17 Paul points out that the law of Moses was given 430 years after God’s promise to Abraham. So the promise preceded the law, and the law did not invalidate the promise. Certainly the law of Moses promised blessing from God to those who obeyed it, but the fact was that nobody wholly obeyed it. In fact the law served to show up people’s sin and failure (verse 15). And this was its real purpose.
The principle on which God dealt with Abraham is the same principle as that on which he deals with Abraham’s spiritual descendants. This is what God intended in calling him the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Moreover the true quality of Abraham’s faith is apparent in that he believed God’s promise that he would have many descendants at a time when he and his wife were elderly and had no son (Genesis 15:5–6).
God has spoken his word now in the gospel, which sinners are to believe. The good news is his word of promise for today. This declares that Christ was crucified to atone for his people’s sins and was raised from death to guarantee their justification.
4. Questions for discussion
1. Is the argument concerning Abraham valid and helpful for people who are not Jewish, or does it fully make sense only to the Jew?
2. Does the quotation from the psalm of David really prove Paul’s point, or is this a case of special pleading?
3. If justification by works is excluded how can it be proved that the act of believing (faith) is not a work (a human activity towards salvation)?
4. Is verse 25 an adequate brief confession of faith for Christians?
Study 6: Two Humanities
Paul has already explained God’s method of justifying sinners and provided examples from the Old Testament. So now he lists the blessings from God that come to those who stand “in the right” before him. These blessings belong to members of God’s new humanity of which Christ is the head. So in the second half of the chapter a comparison is made between the first Adam of Genesis 2 and the last Adam (Christ).
1. 5:1–5 The blessings of justification
Being right with God means that a relationship of peace exists between God and the believer. This peace enters the heart and mind as the life of faith continues. With this comes also a God-given joy by which believers look forward to the enjoyment of God’s glory and fuller revelation of himself in the age to come. Because of this peace and joy (virtues which defy final definition) they are able to accept difficulties and trials that come their way in this life. In fact such problems only serve to increase the joy and peace. Their hope of God’s glory is also strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in their hearts and gives them the power to love others as Christ himself loves his people.
2. 5:6–11 The security of believers
The joy of Christians is increased when they consider that Christ gave his life, not for worthy people but for undeserving people – as are all human beings. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, believers are put in the right with God, delivered from his anger, made his friends and given the resurrection life of Christ. They are at one with God through Christ.
3. 5:12–21 Adam and Christ
The first human being, Adam, failed to live perfectly and introduced into the world the principle of disobedience to God. Joshua had replaced Moses, and Elisha replaced Elijah, but who could replace Adam? Who could become a new head of humanity? Paul answers that Jesus Christ is the new Adam. See also his teaching on this theme in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45–49.
For Paul, Adam was the first human being and the representative of all human beings. His name in Hebrew means “mankind” and so all mankind was viewed as existing in him. Thus what he did he did on behalf of all the human race. His sin (= offence or trespass, see Genesis 3) broke the fellowship between man and God. Inevitably he and all mankind became sinners. Yet, as Paul says, Adam was a type (a figure or counterpart) of Christ.
In contrast to Adam Jesus Christ was the head and representative of the new humanity which God was creating out of the old humanity. On behalf of his people Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to God. He died as a sacrifice for sin, to take God’s wrath away, and he rose from death to secure the justification of his people. United to Christ through faith the new humanity, or people of God, receive the benefits of Christ’s obedience, death and resurrection. They are forgiven, declared righteous and given new life.
But where does the law of Moses fit in? Paul’s answer is that this covenant was introduced only as a temporary measure. The law made people aware of what is sin and what are the demands of a holy God (verses 13–14, 20). In fact, as people were made aware of God’s demands their inner bias towards disobedience to God (inherited from Adam) made them more ready to commit sin. By the law, therefore, sin is not only revealed, it is also encouraged. But by Christ comes righteousness.
4. Questions for discussion
1. What practical teaching do verses 3–5 supply concerning everyday life for Christian people?
2. Is preaching the atonement of Christ the best place to begin evangelism when few hearers appear to have a sense of sin and need?
3. What do you think of the view that God is unjust to condemn Adam’s descendants for what Adam did?
4. Paul’s view of Christ as the last Adam establishes the unity of all believers. What implications does this have for Christian teaching and action today?
Study 7: Freedom From Sin
Having explained that all believers belong to the new humanity under and in Christ the Lord, Paul now begins a long argument (6:1–8:39) to show that believers must live holy lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this chapter he uses the imagery of baptism and slavery to make the point that in Christ believers are set free from the power of sin.
1. 6:1–2 A practical question
If human sin caused God to be specially merciful, why should Christians not continue to disobey him so that his mercy can continue to abound towards them? This seems a logical type of question, but in fact the person who asks it misunderstands the grace of God, as Paul will make clear. (Cf. 3:8.)
2. 6:3–14 The true implications of baptism
Paul, who did not consider the possibility of being an unbaptized Christian, here uses the imagery of baptism to provide an answer to the question of verses 1–2. We must remember that baptism normally took place immediately after a confession of faith in Christ as Lord had been made. Baptism signified the dying of the old sinful life, the leaving of this life behind and the acceptance of a new life, participating in the resurrection life of Christ. Thus baptism symbolized the transfer from the old humanity in Adam to the new humanity in Christ.
Yet, while in God’s sight believing sinners are justified and made members of the new people of God, a full enjoyment of this privilege will only occur in the life of the age to come. Here on earth, before the end of this evil age, believers belong to two humanities, those of Adam and Christ. Belonging to Christ brings certain obligations which are described in verses 12–14. They receive strength to live the new life and reject the old sinful life, as they offer themselves daily to God and as they recognize their true position in God’s sight. They are to gain strength from the knowledge that in Christ their old nature has died and is buried and new life is given. (See further Paul’s comments in Galatians 3:27 and 1 Corinthians 10:1–4.)
3. 6:15–23 Analogy from slavery
Slavery was common in the Roman empire. A slave had no rights, for he was the property of his owner. Before becoming Christians, believers were habitual sinners; sin was their sole master and lord, ruling them even when they believed they were doing good! They were slaves to sin. Yet, when a slave dies, the master has no active authority over him, for a corpse cannot obey his command. By faith in Christ believers have died to their former master, sin, who no longer has any true authority over them. Righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, has become their new master and they are its slaves. Being “in the right” with God they are to live in the right way, that is the way God wants them to live. They are to seek to become in reality what they are in God’s sight, as he views them in Christ. (The “standard of teaching” in verse 17 was probably a summary of Christian ethics given to new converts – see also 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6.)
4. Questions for discussion
1. Is the question raised by Paul in 6:1–2 a question which, if we are honest, we ask ourselves?
2. Does Paul’s argument in 6:3–14 fall apart if a method other than immersion is used in baptism?
3. What modern analogy can we use to make the same point as Paul makes by the analogy of slavery?
4. Do Paul’s two illustrations of baptism and slavery fully answer the question of 6:1–2?
Study 8: Freedom From The Law
If righteousness is a free gift apart from the law, then where does the law fit in? Surely the law is from God; it forbids sin and demands righteousness (see Psalms 19:7–9 and 119:161–168). Paul provides his answer.
1. 7:1–6 An analogy from marriage
A married woman is legally bound to her husband as long as he is alive. If he dies before she does then she is free to marry another man. Death breaks the bond of marriage. If she lives with another man when her husband is alive she commits adultery.
The law is compared to the husband, and the wife to the people of God (sinners who become believers). By being united to Christ in his death (6:2–3) Christians die to the law in the sense that it has no further authority over them. They marry Christ in the sense that they are united to him as their Saviour and Lord. Their lives then please him instead of their former husband; for his sake they live pure lives.
2. 7:7–13 Paul’s experience of law and sin
He makes two important points here as he surveys his own experience from the vantage point of being a believer. First of all, he knows that the law reveals sin (verses 7–8). In learning the commandments and their meaning he came to know what sin is and what it is to be a slave of sin. In particular, because of the commandment “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17), he had become aware of sin in his heart. Secondly, he knows that the law stimulates sin (verses 9–13). A basic intention of the law was to promote life (Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5) but in fact for Paul it promoted death by making him more aware of being a sinner. Not that there was anything wrong with the law of God (verse 12) but that in Paul, as in all of us, there was a sinful heart. Knowledge of the law stimulated this sinful heart to sin.
3. 7:14–25 Inner conflict
Here Paul continues to write in the first person singular but changes the past for the present tense. This strongly suggests that he is describing an experience which he constantly has as a Christian, rather than a former experience (verses 7–13) as a pious Jew. So a majority of commentators believe Paul to be describing a mature Christian experience. However, a minority think that the description of the failure to do right cannot be a mature experience and so insist that this section refers to a pre-conversion period or a period soon after conversion (immature Christian experience).
In this passage Paul is conscious of two ways, the way of God which his mind approves and the way of sin which his mind rejects. He is also conscious of a power within himself (sin) causing him to do what he knows to be wrong and what he does not want to do. He is a man with an inner conflict or a divided consciousness. In modern jargon, there is conflict between his organized and disorganized self. (See Galatians 5:17.)
How can this be? Paul as a Christian belonged to two worlds – the present evil age and the age to come – and to two humanities – Adam’s and Christ’s. From the present evil, Adamic age he will be delivered at death; but until then he lives with a human body and sinful human nature. Of necessity this sinful self is in conflict with the new principle of life, the life of the age to come, implanted in him by the Spirit. He looks forward to the deliverance through Christ from this evil age and sinful self (verse 25).
4. Questions for discussion
1. What part should the preaching of the law of God play in the ministry of the word in a local church?
2. Does the general permissiveness of society at large make Christians in general less conscious of what Paul claims to be true of the law of God (verse 12)?
3. What arguments from the text and from Christian experience can be put forward for and against the view that verses 14–25 describe the experience of a mature Christian?
4. In what sense are Christians free from God’s law?
Study 9: Life In The Spirit
In chapter 7 there was no reference to the Holy Spirit, but he is mentioned often in this chapter. The theme here is that Christians must walk (live) in the Spirit in order not to live sinful lives (cf. Galatians 5:16).
1. 8:1–4 The failure of the law
The law provides an excellent statement of God’s righteous demands upon his people. However, it does not supply people with the motivation or the power to fulfill (obey) its commandments. (See chapter 7.) So the law condemns people for failing to keep them.
Being united with Christ by faith, and having received the internal gift of the Holy Spirit, believers are counted as righteous by God and are able to please him by their Spirit-controlled living. Christ, the eternal Son of God in human flesh, satisfied both the demands and the penalty of the law for all who believe in him. The Spirit, living in the hearts of believers, gives them the internal power to begin to resist sin and to obey God by loving their neighbours (see 13:9); thereby the great prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the law in the heart is fulfilled (Jeremiah 31:33–34).
The “law of the Spirit” of verse 2 is not another set of commandments, but a way of saying that the Spirit in the believer helps him achieve true obedience to the law of God by making his motivation to be the praise of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:13). Similarly the “law of sin and death” is not the law of Moses but the principle which arises from disobedience to God’s law.
2. 8:5–13 The success of grace
Again Paul describes Christians as belonging to two humanities and having within them two principles. The power of the Spirit is greater than the power of sinful human nature, and so Christians are to live fruitful lives in the power supplied by the Spirit. This means that they are actively to reject the temptations and lifestyles which are connected with the old nature.
In verse 10 “the body is dead” means that the human body is subject to mortality and will surely die.
Verse 11 is a reference to the resurrection of the body – see further 2 Corinthians 5:15; 4:14; also 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14.
3. 8:14–17 The purpose of grace
The greatest blessing of the Christian life is that of being the adopted child of God. Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father; he is the Son by right and by nature. Believers are the children of God by adoption; through justification and the presence of the Spirit in their lives they are made members of God’s family and household. The presence of the Spirit in their lives is proof that they are God’s children.
The “witness of the Spirit” is an intimate experience which cannot really be defined, but it is real to believers, assuring them of their relationship to God the Father through God the Son. See the similar teaching of Paul in Galatians 3:23–4:7.
The word Abba in verse 15 is an Aramaic word. The language which Jesus spoke was Aramaic. This word was used in Jewish homes as the familiar term by which children addressed their father, and so is similar to the English “Daddy”. It is used only in two other places in the New Testament – Mark 14:36 and Galatians 4:6.
4. Questions for discussion
1. In what sense is Jeremiah 31:33 fulfilled by the presence of the Spirit in the hearts of believers?
2. Do you think that in much modern Christianity not enough place is given to teaching that believers still have their old sinful self with which to contend?
3. How would you explain the witness of the Spirit to a fellow Christian?
4. In days when there is a high divorce rate and many broken homes, does the image of adoption into a family carry the weight it did for Paul in his day?
Study 10: The Age To Come
Paul’s thoughts now turn to the assured glorious future for the people of God. At the present time sin appears to triumph, but the time will come when sin shall be no more.
1. 8:18–30 The future glory
Because of sin the present life of God’s people must involve suffering, but what God has in store for them is infinitely greater than all their suffering. God’s future in one word is “glory”. God will reveal his holy love in such a tremendous way that words will be inadequate to describe the experience.
Not only believers but the whole creation is involved in God’s plan. In both are the birth pangs of the new age. With the sin of man came the imperfection of the world (Genesis 3:17 “cursed is the ground . . .”), but God’s intention is to perfect and transform it (see Isaiah 11:9; 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). Believers who have the Spirit look forward to the possession of their new resurrection bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15:35ff.). The Spirit in them is like the firstfruits of the harvest, a guarantee that much more is to come (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13–14). The Spirit also helps them in prayer “in groans which words cannot express” – this may mean speaking in tongues, but more likely it refers to the deep longings of the soul.
The resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come will mean the completion of “adoption” into God’s family and of “redemption” from the slavery of sin.
The precise translation of verse 28 is difficult to arrive at, but the general meaning is clear. (Look at the translations in the NEB, RSV, NIV, etc.) God is very much on the side of his people to guide them and protect them at all times.
God’s full purpose of grace for his people is set out in verses 29–30. The new creation, a people conformed to the image and pattern of Christ, the new Adam, is said to have been from the beginning the object of God’s eternal purpose. To foreknow is to choose (see Amos 3:2; Galatians 4:9), to predestinate is to choose for salvation, and to call is to cause sinners to come to Christ through the hearing of the good news and the power of the Spirit. Those who are called believe the good news and are put “in the right” with God, being assured of sharing his glory.
2. 8:31–39 God’s love in Jesus Christ
What can be a better encouragement to Christians, as they realistically face the problem of living in a sinful world, than meditation on the love and mercy of God to sinners? To consider Jesus Christ who came from the Father, died on the cross for sin, was raised from death, ascended into heaven, sits at God’s right hand and there prays for his people – to consider this is to be filled with large thoughts of God’s eternal love. In Christ, God’s love is perfectly exhibited and perfectly assured for believers. No evil powers, nothing in the expanse of space, nothing in time and history and nothing in the whole universe can separate the children of God from the love of the heavenly Father.
Verse 32 contains an echo of Genesis 22:12, the sacrifice of Isaac. Verse 34 (“the right hand of God”) contains an echo of Psalm 110:1, while the idea of Christ praying develops the thought of Isaiah 53:12. (See also Hebrews 7:24–25; 9:24.) Verse 36 is a quotation from Psalm 44:22. The reference to principalities and powers in verse 38 (see also Ephesians 6:12) shows that Paul believed in cosmic evil powers and evil angels.
3. Questions for discussion
1. What kind of existence is promised for the people of God in the age to come?
2. Is the theme of predestination best left to the language of praise and prayer to God?
3. In what ways can we help ourselves to contemplate more deeply the love of God in Christ?
4. In the light of Romans 8, is it appropriate to talk of the “salvation of souls”?
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