Sunday, February 1
Romans 6:1-14: The sole person who has overcome the reign of death is Jesus Christ, who could not be held by the clutches of death. As soon as death grabbed hold of Him, it knew that it had met more than its match. The sin that reigned "in death" was thus vanquished, death of Christ atoning for the sins of the whole world. Thus, the death that He died, "He died to sin" (verse 10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). His death, embraced in obedience to the FatherŐs will, reversed the disobedience of Adam and redeemed, for God, all of AdamŐs children. By His death, the sacrificial Lamb of God took away the sins of the whole world.
By His rising again, likewise, Jesus Christ conquered and brought to an end the reign of death. "Death no longer has dominion over Him" (verse 9). Thus the death (including the shedding of His blood and all the sufferings attendant on that death) and the resurrection (including the ascension into heaven, the entrance into the Holy Place, and the sitting at the right hand of the Father) of Jesus Christ form the single activity of our redemption. No part of that mystery is separable from the other, such is its integrity, its wholeness, its catholicity (kathŐ holon).
At their baptism in the faith of Christ, Christians are plunged under the water in sacramental imitation of JesusŐ burial, and their emergence from that water symbolizes in mystery ChristŐs rising from the tomb. Baptism, therefore, is regarded by Paul as the normative and essential foundation for the life in Christ (verses 4-5,8; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 4:1).
It is instructive to observe that Paul expects all Christians to know this, even those who have never met him or heard him preach (verse 3). He presumes this doctrine to pertain to the common deposit of the Christian faith that he himself received from the inherited apostolic teaching. Indeed, such explicit teaching about the significance of baptism was part of the pre-baptismal catechesis, in which new believers learned the meaning of what they were about to do (cf. Hebrews 6:1-2; Acts 19:1-5).
But faith and baptism form only the beginning. The life in Christ involves also a concerted effort and striving in order to bring the believerŐs conduct into conformity with the mystery symbolized and effected in baptismŃwhich is to say, death unto sin, life unto God. The new life in Christ aims at the reconfiguration of the human being (verse 4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Therefore, sin must go! There must be no more adherence to sin; we must no longer "serve sin" (verse 6). Only God can bring good out of evil; man can bring only evil out of evil. GodŐs redemptive activity, in which He effected the superabundance of righteousness out of the multitude of human transgressions, has no application to the Christian moral life. Those who endeavor to make the abundance of divine mercy an excuse for continuance in sin have grievously misunderstood the teaching of the Epistle to the Romans.
Yes, the basis on the believerŐs rejection of sin is not a law external to him; it is an inner identification with the Lord who has conquered sin and death, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). The final goal is our own bodily resurrection from the dead at the end of time. As we considered earlier, this will be the fullness of salvation (verse 5).
For now, the Christian is to "walk" (verse 4; Genesis 17:1; 1 Kings 20:3; Proverbs 8:20). This expression designates the ascetical and moral striving essentialŃnot optionalŃto the Christian life. This striving includes an identification with the sufferings of Christ (verse 6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14).
PaulŐs expression, "body of sin" (verse 6), means not only the physical aspect of man (but certainly does include this, because the physical body is still marked for bodily deathŃverse 12), but the whole human being in his weakness and disposition to sin (7:24; Colossians 1:22). (The more usual expression for this in Holy Scripture is "flesh.") This expression, therefore, is related to what Paul here calls "the old man." In the words of Tertullian, "Every soul, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ; in addition, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration. And because it is unclean, it is actively sinful and suffuses even the flesh, with which it is joined, with its own shame" (De Anima 40).
If we have truly died with Christ in baptism, none of our former transgressions will ever be held against us (verse 7). Why, then, should we ever again enter into bondage to sin, to "serve sin"? (verse 11) On the contrary, we must not permit sin to reign over us, as it did under the Law. The Law was external to us, but divine grace is a new principle of activity within us (verse 14).
Monday, February 2
Psalm 42 (Greek & Latin 41): This is one of those psalms that take their rise from the grace-filled experience of the material Creation. The poet is gazing at a formidable scene of rugged rock formations, with thundering cataracts of cold, clear water cascading down from pristine mountain springs and melting snow. He stands on the stony ascent of the Golan Heights, at the sources of the Jordan River, from which he looks up and sees nearby Mount Hermon, the loftiest peak of the region. No sound is heard but the loud pounding and roar of the rushing stream. Some deer come to drink from an eddying pool of the fresh water.
This stark, yet glorious scene before him becomes a sort of picture of the poetŐs very soul, simultaneously yearning and tumultuous, full of both dereliction and desire: "As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? . . . O my God, my soul is cast down within me. Therefore, I think of You from the land of Jordan and Hermon. From this low summit, deep calls out to deep at the voice of Your waterfalls. All Your waves and Your billows have overwhelmed me."
GodŐs roaring waterfalls, His overwhelming waves and billows, describe the infinite, frightful abyss of the longing that He evokes from the human spirit, the very depths of God calling out to the depths of the soul. The forlorn poet prays: "Why are you cast down, my soul? And so disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, for my God is the salvation of my being."
From the depths of his dereliction in the belly of the whale Jonah prayed to God: "All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said: ÔI have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple. . . . When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, to Your holy temple" (Jonah 2:3f,7).
Likewise here in Psalm 41 our struggling poet, longing for God and deeply experiencing His apparent absence, recalls the joy of worshipping in His temple: "I remembered these things and poured out my soul within me Ń how I walked in the place of the marvelous tabernacle, even to the house of the Lord, with the voice of rejoicing and praise, the echo of festivity."
Though the soul longs for their return, the music of those happy days is for now but a distant memory. There sounds instead the incessant mockery of the unbelieving world that takes such longing as an illusion. The voice of a scornful and skeptical world taunts the God-afflicted soul: "My tears have become my bread day and night, while day by day they say to me: ÔWhere is your God?Ő . . . Within me is my prayer to the God of my life. I will say to God ÔYou are my helper. Why are You hidden from me? Why do I go about in grief, while the enemy afflicts me.Ő"
What this psalm describes is a fairly common experience of the life in Christ. Our memory testifies to a sense of spiritual heights earlier attained, but now evidently lost to us. We recall "how things used to be" and sadly contrast them with our current trek through the lowlands. We find ourselves saying such things as "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago . . . was caught up to the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2). Fourteen years ago, yes, but no third heaven for us now.
The message of this psalm is one of encouragement, an inner exhortation to trust the memory of earlier grace and to hope for its abundant return. Even if, like Jonah, our loss of the earlier heights is of our own fault and infidelity, God is yet merciful and can restore to us the joy His salvation: "The Lord will command His mercy by day, and His song by night. . . . Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my God, the salvation of my being."
Tuesday, February 3
Romans 6:15-23: In this section Paul largely repeats what he had insisted on in the earlier part of this chapter (compare verses 1 and 15), namely, that GodŐs gift of grace is free only in the sense that it cannot be earned. It is not free in the sense of excusing Christians from their stern moral and ascetical obligations. Duty, that is to say, pertains to grace every bit as much as it did to Law. Man under grace has no fewer responsibilities than man under the Law. (Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount suggests that he has vastly more.) Speaking of "obedience to righteousness" (verse 16), Paul clearly agrees with JamesŐ teaching about "works."
At the time of baptism a believer submits himself "from the heart" to a "form of doctrine" (typos didaches), a creedal standard, a "rule of faith" (regula fidei), of which (literally translated) "you have taken delivery" (paredothete). Paul refers here to the teaching contained in the Tradition (paradosis) that he himself had received in conjunction with his own baptism (16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Once again, Paul presumes that these Roman Christians, who had not been catechized by him or his close associates, nonetheless received the same foundational doctrine, in an established form (typos), that he himself had received.
In the profession of faith associated with the rite of baptism it has long been customary for believers to repudiate Satan just prior to their confession of the lordship of Jesus. PaulŐs wording here appears to reflect this custom. The baptized Christian has exchanged one form of service for another.
In this connection Paul introduces the theme of Christian liberty (verses 18,22; 7:3; 8:2,21; Galatians 2:4; 3:28; 4:22-31; 5:1,13). This liberty is not to be confused with supposed freedom given by the indulgence of the flesh (verse 20). Alas, examples from Christian history prove (and Christian pastors today are well aware) that a misunderstanding of PaulŐs teaching about justification through faith tends to lead, as though by a kind of logic, to very pernicious views about moral freedom. Such a process leads back to the reign of death (verses 21,23).
In context the "holiness" (hagiasmos) of verses 19 and 22 appears to refer to the sanctification and consecration of the ChristianŐs body, which requires control over the passions of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 1 Timothy 2:15). "This assertion may be hazarded, then, that it has been shown that death is the fellowship of the soul in the state of sin with the body, and that life is separation from sin" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.4).
In contrast to the reign of death, the ChristianŐs goal is eternal life. Men earn death; it is their "wages." Eternal life, however, cannot be earned. It is the free gift (charisma) of God, given us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This eternal life also pertains to the risen body, because it begins with the baptism of the body. Accordingly, commenting on these verses, Tertullian wrote: "Thus, throughout this series of meanings (sensuum seriem), withdrawing our members from unrighteousness and sin, and applying them to righteousness and sanctification, and moving them from the wages of death to the free gift of life, [Paul] undoubtedly promises to the flesh the recompense of salvation. Now it would not at all have been consistent that any rule of holiness and righteousness should be explicitly enjoined on the flesh, if the latter were incapable of receiving the reward of that discipline. Nor could baptism be properly ordered for the flesh, if by means of its regeneration a course were not begun unto its restoration" (De Resurrectione Mortuorum 42.8-9).
Wednesday, February 4
Romans 7:1-12: Already in this epistle Paul has touched on the function of the Law with respect to the reign of sin and death. In the present chapter he treats this theme in a more ample fashion. How is it, he wonders, that something so godly as the Law, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, should actually serve the interests of sin and death?
When Paul had reflected on the historical function of the Law a few years earlier, his attitude had been more positive (Galatians 3:22-23). However, it has already become clear here in Romans that his views on the matter have shifted and deepened (3:20,31; 4:15; 5:13,20). They have shifted in the direction of a dialectic and deepened in the perception of a mystery. The real problem, Paul will argue, was not with the Law in itself; the problem was in man, whose bondage to sin and death rendered him incapable of observing the Law. The Law, remaining external to man, did not alter him within. Grace, he will argue later, alters man from within.
To illustrate the ChristianŐs freedom from the Law, Paul resorts to an analogy prompted by his considerations of death in the previous chapter. He compares the Law to the regulation of marriage, which provides for the dissolution of marriage at the death of one of the partners. Now, as has already been shown, Christians died to sin in their baptism. Since they are dead, therefore, the Law can make no further claim over them (verses 1-6; 6:9,14).
This was the truth at stake in the JudaizersŐ conflict in Galatia a few years before, when Paul saw the very Gospel at risk. The affirmation that Christians are still bound by the Mosaic Law meant for Paul that they would return to the reign of death. Their union with Christ in baptism and faith would count for nothing.
In baptism the Christian had died, however, by being sacramentally united to Christ in His death (verse 4). It is through their union with the sacrificial body of Christ that Christians are delivered from the curse of the Law (Galatians 2:10-20; 3:13). They are no longer wed to the Law, but to the Lord who died and rose again. This mystery introduces the "eschatological now" (verse 6), "the newness of the Spirit" (6:4).
In contrasting this newness of the Spirit with "the oldness of the letter," Paul touches on an exegetical theme that he had treated at some length the previous year (2 Corinthians 3).
In verses 7-13 Paul adopts the first person singular to speak on behalf of the human race, which has experienced the transitions of its moral history. The "I" in these verses, then, is the whole human race coming to grips with sin, death, and the Law. (On PaulŐs use of the "I" to designate men or believers in general, cf. 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 13:1-3,11-12; 14:6-19.)
The Law in these verses is the Mosaic Law, but the latter is understood in such a way as to include those adumbrations of the Law known earlier than, and apart from, Moses (cf. Sirach 17:4-11; 44:20). Indeed, even Adam knew components of the Law (cf. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 2.24; Ambrose of Milan, De Paradiso 4).
PaulŐs argument is easily summarized. Man is made a moral agent only when he is faced with a moral responsibility. If there are no commandments to be disobeyed, sin is lifeless (verse 8). A commandment, then, revives sin, as it were (verse 9), thus putting man into the realm of death (verse 10; 5:13). That is to say, by means of this very good commandment (verse 12), sin brings man to death (verse 11).
Tertullian made powerful use of these Pauline verses in his argument against Marcion (Against Marcion 5.13.13-15).
Thursday, February 5
Romans 7:13-25: Although the "I" in these verses represent the human experience generally considered (that is to say, Paul is speaking for all mankind without Christ), it would be wrong to assume that Paul is not speaking from personal experience. Very wrong. Paul knew on his own pulses what it was to offend God. He had experienced the dilemma described in these verses. He was well aware what it meant to be a great sinner, even while meticulously observing the smallest parts of the Mosaic Law (Philippians 3:6; Galatians 1:13-14).
Indeed, it was PaulŐs own strict adherence to the Law that had led him to the most serious sin of his life, the only personal sin on which he ever comments Ń the persecution of Christians. In his conversion he had been made aware, in a way that he would never forget, that his endeavor to achieve righteousness by the observance of the Law had led him into his worst sin. It was in that experience of his conversion that he discerned "another law in my members, working against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (verse 23). That is to say, it was his very zeal for the Law of God that had occasioned his worst offense against God. He had not been doing what he had intended to do (verse 15). Sin had taken over. He had been acting as a slave of sin. Thus, in his conversion Paul learned the experience common to all the children of AdamŃthe radical inability to find justification before God without the reconciling grace of Christ.
No, this was not the fault of the Law. It was the manifestation of the power of sin in manŐs very flesh, this flesh burdened with death. Sin is not in the Law; it is in manŐs flesh, working through death (verses 13-15).
With his mind man contemplates the Law, but it remains external to him. There is another "law" internal to man, the law of sin, the law that man really obeys (verse 19).
The dilemma that Paul describes here is well know to anyone who has "tried to be good," and moralists have often commented on it (Epictetus 1.26.4; Horace, Letters 1.8.11; Ovid, Metamorphosis 7.20-21; Dante, Purgatorio 21.105).
A man forced to do what he really doesnŐt want to do is properly called a slave (verses 16,23; 6:13,19), and a man without Christ is a slave to sin. This is the reign of death. It abides in manŐs very flesh, which Paul calls "this body of death" (verse 24; 6:6; Philippians 3:21). As we have had occasion to remark more than once, "sins reigns in death." Death is the legacy left us by Adam. It reigns in our very bodies. It was to free us from death that Christ rose from the dead.
Verses 17 and 20 have occasionally been interpreted as excusing man from the responsibility for his sins. If this were the case, of course, man would not need a Savior. The whole of the Bible, however, and Paul especially, contends that the children of Adam are destined for eternal damnation, except for the mercy of God poured out in the reconciling blood of Christ. Sin is paid for. Sin is never excused.
Friday, February 6
Romans 8:1-11: Once again Paul begins with the "eschatological now" (verses 1,18; 3:26; 5:9; 7:6; 11:5; 16:26). The "condemnation" of which we are free is the ancient "curse," the finality of death and corruption (Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:7,9).
This section, which climaxes with the promise of GodŐs victory over death and corruption at the final raising of our bodies (verse 11), introduces a more extensive meditation on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, hitherto referred to only five times in the previous seven chapters, will be named twenty-nine times in the present chapter, easily the highest concentration in all of PaulŐs writings, and even in the whole New Testament.
The grace of justification, "this grace in which we stand" (5:2), comes from the Holy Spirit who abides in us. Unlike the Law, by which we can never be justified, the Holy Spirit is internal to us (verse 2). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the reason of our final salvation, which is the resurrection of our bodies.
If, however, we go back to "live according to the flesh" (verse 5), this flesh which is still destined to die (verse 10), we place ourselves once again under the reign of death.
Those who do so "cannot please God" (verse 8). And pleasing God is the summation of manŐs moral duty (1 Corinthians 7:32; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 4:1). The grace of justification, therefore, places on the believer a most stern obligation to bring his mind and his conduct under "the things of the Spirit" (verse 5). Only thus will he be truly free of sin, death, and the Law (verse 4).
The word for "mind" in these verses is not nous, as in the previous chapter, but phronema, perhaps better translated as "mind set." Paul is contrasting two kinds of consciousness and intentionality (verses 6-7,27). Outside of the four times here in Romans 8, phronema is not found in the New Testament. ManŐs problem was not the Law, but manŐs indwelling sin (7:22-23). Remaining external to man, the Law was unable to take away sin (verse 3). Man could not be justified by something that remained external to him. The new, internal principle of his righteousness is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within him (verses 9-11; Jude 9). The requirement of the Law, that is to say, is "fulfilled in us"(verse 4) by the indwelling Holy Spirit . God does not simply declare the believer righteous; He makes the believer righteous. Because sin is internal to man; righteousness must be internal to man. Righteousness is not an act of God that remains only forensic and external to us. If that were the case, it would be no improvement over the Law.
In order for the Holy Spirit to be sent forth into our hearts, God first sent forth "His own Son" (ton Heavtou Huion) (verse 3; Galatians 4:4-6). This sending forth of the Son refers to the entire economy of the Incarnation, including all that the Son accomplished in this world, in the nether world, and in His glorious exaltation to heaven. The "mystery of Christ" is a single reality (3:24-25; 4:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 3:13).
Assuming the mortal flesh of our fallen race, Jesus experienced death, the curse of our sins, and thereby conquered sin, atoned for sin, took away sin (Galatians 1:14; 1 Peter 3:18; Numbers 8:8). All of this Jesus did in human flesh, mortal flesh like the rest of us (en homoiomati).
The Spirit is in the Christian, and the Christian is in the Spirit (verse 9). Remembering that the Greek word for "spirit," pneuma, means breath, the correct analogy is one of breathing. The air is in us only if we are in the air. The air and ourselves are mutually atmospheric.
Finally, our bodies will rise from the dead because they are the temples of the Holy Spirit (verse11). When we die, our souls leave our bodies and go to God. The Holy Spirit, however, does not leave our bodies. Even in their humiliation, their decay and dissolution, they remain the abiding place of the Holy Spirit, who will raise them up on the last day. The ultimate victory is over death.
Saturday, February 7
Romans 8:12-27: Hitherto we have considered how the ChristianŐs heart is sustained by his memory of the past, his recollection of what God has already done for him in Christ. Now, however, Paul will speak of the ChristianŐs encouragement by bearing in mind what God has yet to do for him. As we have had several occasions to observe, the vocabulary of salvation (such as "saved") in the Epistle to the Romans tends generally to be in the future tense. ManŐs definitive salvation consists in the resurrection of his body, the final victory over the reign of death.
It was in manŐs body, after all, that sin "reigned in death." Mortality was the essence of AdamŐs legacy to us, the very embodiment of his sin. Salvation is not complete, therefore, until the resurrection of our bodies. Several years earlier Paul had argued that thesis in 1 Corinthians 15. He returns to it several times, as we have seen, in Romans, and he deals with it in the present passage. The final object of the Christian hope, for Paul, is not even the soulŐs departure to be with God in heaven. It is, rather, "the redemption of our body" (verse23), this very body laid low by death, but from which the Holy Spirit refuses to depart (verse 11).
It is by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, or sonship (huiothesiaŃGalatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), that we are made the children of God (verses 14-17). It is for this reason that the LordŐs Prayer, the "Our Father," is supremely the prayer of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we can only pray it in the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, "Abba, Father," just as it is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, "Jesus is Lord." Only in the Holy Spirit do we know the identity of the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit both makes us the children of God and alters our consciousness so that we know ourselves to be the children of God (verse 16). The Holy Spirit, then, is the new, internal principle by which we are untied to the Father and the Son in knowledge and in love.
But there are obstacles to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and these must be resisted and overcome. The Christian must mortify, "put to death," whatever in himself that is inimical and recalcitrant to the Holy Spirit (verse 13). This effort will involve a measure of suffering, which we unite, by intention, with the sufferings of Christ (verses 17-19,25).
This suffering pertains to the very birth pangs of Creation, which awaits the revelation of GodŐs glory in the resurrection of our bodies (verses 18-23). Just as the sin of Adam left the mark of death on all of Creation (Genesis 3:17), ChristŐs final victory over death is the object of CreationŐs hope and longing. Creation itself will be delivered from its "bondage of corruption" (verse 21). This physical corruption, this decay, was not part of GodŐs original plan. It is the mark of the reign of death, and it will be removed forever when Christ, at the end of time, returns to claim the bodies of the redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
This final salvation of all Creation, which Paul speaks of here in Romans 8, will become a major theme, the recapitulation of all things in Christ, in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, written during the two years that he will soon spend in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:27).
Although manuscripts vary on the point, it appears that the words "the adoption" do not properly belong in verse 23 and should be left out. The expression is not found in the earliest papyrus copy of the text, and its insertion here, difficult to explain, seems at odds with the context.
Verse 24 is one of the few places in Romans where "saved" is in the past tense. Significantly it is qualified by "in hope."
From his own experience as a man of prayer (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; cf. James 4:3), Paul knew that "we do not know what to pray for as we ought" (verse 26). The reference to the SpiritŐs "intercession" is literally hyperentygchanei, a verb which originally meant "to interrupt," "to assume control of." That is to say, the Holy Spirit interrupts, He breaks into our prayer. He takes over and guides our prayer. He becomes the divine "over-voice." We do not hear Him, but God does.
The initial manifestation of this take-over by the Holy Spirit is found in the words "Abba, Father" and "Jesus is Lord," the two dogmatic affirmations that we can make only in the Holy Spirit. God recognizes what the Spirit implores in our prayer (verse 27). The words "Thy will be done," which are at least implicit in all Christian prayer, testify to our conviction that speaking to our Father in heaven invariably puts us in a realm beyond our comprehension. In Christian prayer there is always more going on than we know.