Touchstone Magazine HomeHome
The Fellowship of St. James Touchstone's editors on news and events of the day Order our publications... Speakers bureau, Chicago Lecture Series, and more... Browse back issues... All the information you need

Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.

The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.

Please report any problems with Daily Reflections here.

 

Saturday, February 4

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 Father's will, reversed the disobedience of Adam and redeemed, for God, all of Adam's 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 (kath' holon=according to the whole).

At their baptism in the faith of Christ, Christians are plunged under the water in sacramental imitation of Jesus' burial, and their emergence from that water symbolizes in mystery Christ's 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 believer's conduct into conformity with the mystery symbolized and effected in baptism-which 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. God's 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.

The basis on the believer's 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 the present, 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 essential-not optional-to the Christian life. This striving includes an identification with the sufferings of Christ (verse 6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14).

Paul's 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 death-verse 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).

Sunday, February 5

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 God's 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 stern moral and ascetical effort.

Strenuous activity and a robust sense of obligation, that is to say, pertain to the Gospel every bit as much as they 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," then, Paul clearly agrees with James' teaching about the necessity of "works": Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (verse 16)

The holding of correct doctrine is also of the essence. 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 "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, we observe that 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. Paul's 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, he says (verse 20). Alas, examples from Christian history prove (and Christian pastors today are well aware) that a misunderstanding of Paul's teaching about justification through faith has sometimes led, as though by a kind of logic, to very pernicious views about moral freedom. Such a process, however, leads the believer 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 Christian's 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 Christian's 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 Christian's 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).

Monday, February 6

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): we were kept under guard by the Law. Now, however, it has become clear here in Romans that Paul's views of the Law 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 here in Romans, 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 in this epistle, alters man from within.

To illustrate the Christian's 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 Judaizers' conflict in Galatia a few years earlier, when Paul saw the Gospel itself to be 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 Paul's 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 certain components of the Law (cf. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 2.24; Ambrose of Milan, De Paradiso 4).

Paul's argument is easily summarized. Man is made a moral agent only when he is faced with a moral responsibility. If there are no commandments that might be disobeyed, sin is lifeless (verse 8). A commandment, however, 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 later made powerful use of these Pauline verses in his argument against Marcion (Against Marcion 5.13.13-15).

Tuesday, February 7

Romans 7:13-25: Although the "I" in these verses represents the human experience generally considered, 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 offended God grievously. 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 Paul's 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 - the persecution of Christians. In Paul's conversion he was 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: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

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 sin against heaven. He had not been doing what he had intended to do (verse 15). Sin had taken over his life. He had been acting as a slave of sin. Thus, in his conversion Paul learned the experience common to all the children of Adam-the radical inability to find justification before God without the reconciling grace of Christ.

No, this dilemma was not the fault of the Law. It was, rather, the manifestation of the power of sin in man's very flesh, this flesh burdened with death. Sin is not in the Law; sin is in man's very flesh, working through death (verses 13-15). Inherited sin is internal to man, which is why grace must become internal to man.

With his mind, then, man contemplates the Law, but it remains external to him. There is another "law" internal to man, the law of sin and death, 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 doesn't want to do is properly called a slave (verses 16,23; 6:13,19), and a man without Christ is certainly a slave to sin. This is the reign of death. It abides in man's 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 never excused. Sin is paid for.

Wednesday, February 8

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 God's 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 Paul's 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 man's 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," or frame of mind. 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. Also the verb form of this noun, phroneo, which means to think on, or to set one's mind on, is found in Romans several times (8:5; 11:20; 12:3,16 [twice each]; 14:6 [twice]; 15:5).

Man's real problem was not the Law, but man's indwelling sin (7:22-23). Inasmuch as it remained external to man, the Law was unable to take away sin (verse 3). Man could not be justified by something that remained external to being. 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, therefore, 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. 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, and took away sin (Galatians 1:14; 1 Peter 3:18; Numbers 8:8). All of this Jesus did in human flesh, mortal flesh like our own (en homoiomati).

The Spirit, then, 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. It is thus with the Holy Spirit.

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.

Thursday, February 9

Romans 8:12-27: Hitherto we have considered how the Christian's 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 Christian's encouragement by bearing in mind what God will yet do for him in the future. 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. Man's definitive salvation consists in the resurrection of his body, the final victory over the reign of death.

It was in man's body, after all, that sin "reigned in death." Mortality was the essence of Adam's 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 again in the present passage. The final object of the Christian hope, for Paul, is not even the soul's departure to be with God in heaven. It is, rather, "the redemption of our body" (verse 23), 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 (huiothesia-Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), that we are made the children of God (verses 14-17). It is for this reason that the Lord's 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 God's 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), Christ's final victory over death is the object of Creation's hope and longing. Creation itself will be delivered from its "bondage of corruption" (verse 21). This physical corruption, this decay, was not part of God's 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 Spirit's "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

The greater length of these reflections obliges us to post the next reflections later in the week.


Archives

 

Copyright © 2004 by the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.


Home - FSJ - Mere Comments - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?