Tag Archives: Holy Epistle to the Romans

Reflections on Romans 9

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39 (NASB)

That’s how Paul wrapped up the eighth chapter of his Holy Epistle to the Romans (as we count the chapters and verses) and as I recorded in my previous reflection on this letter. Paul is offering a note of comfort and conciliation to his Jesus-believing Gentile readers in Rome that in spite of all the adversity they face, they will never be separated from God’s love through Messiah.

But while Paul wasn’t writing letters in chapters, what we call chapter 9 does seem to start off with a major shift in topic.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5

I’ve always wondered why Paul began this part of his letter by saying he wasn’t lying. Who would have thought, over halfway through reading the epistle, that Paul started being duplicitous or disingenuous?

Of course, there’s this:

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

Acts 21:20-21

Paul had enemies in some Jewish communities in the diaspora and they had apparently been spreading rumors that he had been teaching the Jews in the galut that they did not have to follow the Torah of Moses or the traditions of their Fathers. Perhaps some Jews and Gentiles hearing these rumors (and remember, at the point Paul is writing this letter, he’d never been to Rome before so none of the people reading this would likely have met him before) thought they were true. If indeed Paul was following the instructions for teaching the Gentiles formally adopted by the Apostolic Council’s halachic ruling as chronicled in Acts 15, he was teaching the Gentiles that they were not obligated to the yoke of Torah as were the Jewish disciples. I can see where this could have been confusing.

The Jewish PaulBut either through malice or miscommunication, the rumors existed and the Gentile (and Jewish) disciples in Rome may have believed they had good cause to doubt Paul’s affection for his fellow countrymen. So given that Paul’s about to launch into an impassioned plea for unbelieving Jews, a strong preface of “I’m not lying” may have seemed necessary. Of course, all this is guess-work on my part, but as I’ve said before, these “reflections” on Romans are just my impressions at reading the letter “cover-to-cover,” so to speak.

Paul says he’d rather be accursed and separated from Christ. The ESV translation uses “cut off” in place of “separated” which immediately brings to mind the following:

For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.

Leviticus 18:29

If (and it’s probably a big “if”) the Apostle to the Gentiles meant “cut off” in the sense of the Hebrew word “Karet” as described by Derek Leman, then Paul was indeed saying he was willing to undergo great suffering, complete isolation from Israel, and perhaps even death for the sake of the salvation of some of his brethren in the flesh, that is, for other Jews.

On the heels of that declaration, Paul then says that his unbelieving Jewish brothers (and indeed all Jews) are those to whom belong “adoption as sons,” “the glory and the covenants,” “the giving of the Law (Torah),” “the Temple service,” and “the promises, whose are the fathers.”

In other words, the promises God made to Israel, that is, all Jewish people, as recorded in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (what Jews commonly call the Tanakh and what Christians refer to as the Old Testament), all of them, still belonged to all of Israel, to all Jews from Paul’s point of view as he was writing his letter.

Remember, Paul was writing after the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Messiah, the Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father and who is our High Priest in the Heavenly Tabernacle. Apparently, none of that deleted, watered down, erased, or “fulfilled” any of those aforementioned promises in order to make them go away or to transfer them from Jews to Gentiles.

So if the Jews had all those advantages, why was it so important to Paul that they accept the validity of the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah?

…whose are the fathers, and from whom is he Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:5

What an odd way to end that sentence. What does Christ (Messiah) have to do with everything Paul said in the previous verses?

But now He [Messiah] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 9:6

D.T. LancasterYou’ll have to read my sermon reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lengthy sermon series on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, particularly Better Promises and Glory to Glory to get the full meaning of what I’m saying here, but a big, big part of those “promises” of “the fathers” (also translated as “the patriarchs”) are the promises of the New Covenant, which Paul has been referencing heavily so far in his letter, a Covenant for which Yeshua is the mediator.

In order to access those promises fully, the next step in Jewish religious life and faith was to acknowledge the revelation of the Messiah and it was so important to Paul that Jewish people do so, that they claim their own heritage, he was willing to voluntarily surrender his part in those promises, including the final and total forgiveness of sins and the resurrection into the Messianic Kingdom.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;  for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:6-13

This set of verses has been misused time and again by Christians including those belonging to some portion of the Hebrew Roots movement, to say that Christians are “spiritual Israel” or that Jesus-believing Gentiles actually are Israel in fact.

But hold up there, Tiger. Not so fast.

Verse 6 may say “for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (and we typically think of “Israel” = “Jacob”), but look at the verses that immediately follow. I suggest that what Paul is actually saying is that not all offspring of Abraham are Israel, but only the descendants of Isaac, the child of the promise (remember, Paul was talking about promises God made to the patriarchs). God loved Jacob but hated Esau. In other words, God loved the child of promise Isaac and Isaac’s child Jacob, but He hated Isaac’s child Esau. Only one of the twins could inherit the promises and that child’s offspring became the Twelve Tribes of Israel who are now the Jewish people.

It has nothing to do with Gentile Christians and only has to do with Gentiles in the sense of the non-inheriting offspring of Abraham and Isaac since their descendants are not Israel, not Jewish.

I think this is Paul’s way of saying that all of the direct descendants of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob are loved because of the promises God made to each of them (see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:21; 22:15-19; 26:2-5; 28:10-17). Those promises and all the other promises God made with Israel were never rescinded, thus they all remained (and still remain to this day) in force, but only for the Israelites.

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Romans 9:14-18

calvinism vs arminianismI once heard these verses used to support Calvinism or the idea that God selected only specific individuals for salvation from before the creation of the Earth and not others. Since God is sovereign over the universe, He has the right to do this, but was Paul inventing Calvinism in these scriptures?

Look at the context and especially what he wrote above. He’s been talking about how “God loved Jacob” (Israel) and “hated Esau” (the non-children of promise from Abraham and Isaac, and perhaps all pagan peoples descended from them). Is this unfair of God? According to Paul, no. God had/has the right to choose Israel from among all the nations of the Earth for special blessings, promises, and duties (and make no mistake, being the sole objects of the covenants and obligated to their conditions by performing the Torah mitzvot is indeed a challenging set of duties).

Now recall that Paul isn’t writing to the Jews in Rome but to the Gentile believers, very likely because he had heard of some strife between the Gentiles and Jews sharing community space in the Roman synagogues and that the Gentiles might have been getting a bit arrogant in their special status of equal co-participants in Jewish worship life without the obligation to undergo the proselyte rite. I’ve said in previous “reflections” that the non-believing Jews may have been pushing back by emphasizing their special chosen status as Israelites and no doubt that had the intended effect of “stinging” Gentile pride.

I think what Paul is saying here is that God had every right to choose the Israelites for whatever reason or not reason at all, and that God is not being unfair. God can have mercy on who He chooses and there’s nothing we can do to change God’s mind. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh whose heart God hardened during Moses’ numerous appeals to secure freedom for the Israelite slaves, and God did this for His own glory, even though you might think it was unfair, since this hardening ultimately lead to the deaths of many, many Egyptians.

But God is sovereign and Paul is saying because of such, God can choose Israel for special blessings and quite frankly, we Gentiles have nothing to say about it.

I didn’t fail to notice that such a position has applications in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements of today. Many non-Jews involved in each of these two disciplines can sometimes get that “I’m on the outside looking in” feeling when it comes to Talmud study, davening in a minyan, or even reciting the blessings of donning a tallit, that is, those mitzvot that are distinctively Jewish.

Some non-Jews attached to these movements have said it’s unfair for Messianic Jews to withhold the observance of these mitzvot to themselves and have even gone so far as to say that Messianic Jews are exclusivist and racist.

And yet we have Paul strongly stating that God has every right to give the Torah to the Jewish people and not assign the same chosen status to those of us who are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My impression of Paul is that he would have little patience with the demands of such folks.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Romans 9:19-24

claySo being clay, all of us, in the hands of our molder, that is God, who are any of us to complain if He made some clay Jewish and some clay Gentile? Those He made for “honorable use” (I know this is going to sound unkind) can be compared to the Jewish people, while those made for “common use” are the Gentiles. After all, relative to the entire world population, the Jewish people have always been only a tiny number, apparently reserved for a special use while the rest of us, because we are so many, are more “common.”

I think this was Paul’s message to the Roman Gentile Jesus-believers. He sounds like he was definitely playing “hard ball” in this letter, but since he wasn’t with them in person to emphasize his points, he had to make sure there would be no way his readers could misunderstand him. Going back to that part of the chapter where Paul said he wasn’t lying, maybe he had a good reason to say things in as definite a manner as possible.

Thus the “vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory” to whom God would “make His power known” are the Jewish people, but some of that glory also extends to us, “not from among the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.”

This is the hook Paul uses to keep the Gentiles engaged so they wouldn’t be completely put off by everything he just said. Further:

As He says also in Hosea,

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
“And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold,

“Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

Romans 9:25-29

Now Paul flips the Prophets, so to speak, emphasizing where the Gentiles are included in the promises, showing them where they/we are involved. Paul has made his point that the Gentiles can’t assume the role and place of the Jews and now he’s showing the Gentiles where their role and place lies using the relevant scriptures.

Finally (for today’s meditation):

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

There are not two paths to justification and salvation, faith for the Gentiles and the Torah for the Jews. That the Gentiles are not obligated to “pursue righteousness” through the Law in the manner of the Jews but are saved by faith alone, does not make them better or worse than the Jews, but the Jews, having the Torah (pursuing righteousness through the mitzvot), must still walk by faith. If a Jew (as perhaps some of the Roman Jews had been thinking) believed that mitzvot observance alone justified them before God, then the Torah became a “stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offense” for them. Torah doesn’t replace faith, it is by faith that the Jewish people walk the path of Torah.

TorahIf Paul expected both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master to pursue righteousness by observing the same Torah statues and commandments, then he would have said the “stone of stumbling” and the “rock of offense” was for both Jews and Gentiles who lacked faith, but he didn’t. He deliberately juxtaposed the faith of the Gentiles and the Law of the Jews, for it was the Gentiles who were bragging that by faith they were saved and that they had no obligation to the mitzvot, rubbing Jewish noses in Gentile “freedom,” so to speak.

In spite of the differences in role and responsibility between the Jewish and Gentiles disciples, the common denominator, the place where God was totally impartial as far as Israel and the nations were concerned, where He broke down the dividing wall between the two groups (Ephesians 2:14), was that only the faith of Abraham justifies anyone before God. We are all justified by faith in God through the mediator of His promises, Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).

What an illuminating “reflection” Romans 9 turned out to be.

Reflections on Romans 8

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

If you’ll recall from my previous Reflections on Romans 7, I said that Paul didn’t write his epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so at the end of chapter 7, he was still probably in the middle of a thought. Let’s continue with that thought.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:1-8

Paul, like the rest of us, is a man caught between his inclinations of the flesh and the righteousness of God. He doesn’t do what he wants to do which is the right thing, but finds himself doing what he doesn’t want to do, which is disobeying God. What can save him but only the blood sacrifice of Messiah, the Righteous Tzaddik whose death atoned for the sins of many; who inaugurates the New Covenant which is a time when the righteous Word of God will be written on hearts and all sins will be forgiven.

So Paul I think is justified (no pun intended) when he says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” not that we should continue sinning due to “hyper-grace” (see my forthcoming review of Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s book Jude: Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy for more on this topic), but that in striving and often failing to meet God’s expectation, in contrite repentance, we are forgiven.

Paul continues to compare and contrast the “law of the Spirit of life” and the “law of sin and death”, but this time he says that the former has set us free from the latter, not that our human natures are changed yet, but they will be, and we can choose to live as if our hearts are changed now and as if the “law of the Spirit of life” is fully and permanently written on our hearts.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh…

Romans 8:3

On one of Pete Rambo’s blog posts, I commented that the Torah is a delight but that even though God fully expected the Israelites to always observe the mitzvot, it was also a burden because of human frailty and weakness. My sometimes “sparring partner” Zion criticized my opinion, but frankly, I believe there would be no need for a New Covenant if human beings could naturally obey God and never sin.

Here, in the above quoted verse from Romans 8, we see what I think is a clear reference to this process, God doing what people can’t do…making it possible (or creating a process in which it is slowly becoming possible) for people, specifically Israelites and their descendants, the modern-day Jewish people, to fully observe the mitzvot and obey the commandments through the New Covenant promises and that covenant’s mediator, the Messiah, the Christ.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…

Romans 8:3

The Torah could outline all of God’s requirements for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but in and of itself, Torah cannot enable broken, imperfect human beings to attain God’s righteous perfection. That’s why a New Covenant is necessary, not to replace the requirements of the Torah so that the Israelites would have a much easier or watered down set of standards, but to “fix” people, so that their/our hearts and spirits would become (are becoming) so different that they would be enabled to naturally obey the statues of God, “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

walking_discipleSo for human beings who are walking in the flesh and attempting to observe the Torah, that observance is going to be imperfect. However, those walking in the (New Covenant) Spirit will be able to perfectly obey God and not sin, at least after the resurrection when the New Covenant is fully enacted and people really do have new hearts and spirits.

…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:7-8

People have a choice to make now where before, apparently, they (we) didn’t, or at least that choice was much more difficult. In Messiah through the Spirit, they (we) can choose to walk by that Spirit in obedience (to those Laws that apply to us depending on whether we are Jewish or Gentile disciples of the Master), or we can continue to set our minds on the flesh and continue to be hostile toward God in our natures, even as another part of us seeks to obey Him. We must, according to Paul, subject ourselves to the law of God, though those people who are still in the flesh, that is, their human natures, are unable to do so.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…

1 John 2:1

Paul goes on to assure his readers that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, that is, if the Spirit dwells in them at all. If it does, it is an indication that the New Covenant age has begun which allows Jews and Gentiles to receive the Spirit (Acts 2; Acts 10) impartially and with equal access. Spiritual man can override natural man, not that we don’t still have our human natures, but we can choose to overcome those natures by the Spirit’s power.

But we have to choose…it’s not automatic, and the battle goes on daily.

He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

Paul is continuing to present the New Covenant promises with this clear reference to the resurrection. So just as God raised Jesus (Yeshua) from the dead, so too will He raise us through the Holy Spirit.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Romans 8:14-17 

Those who receive the Spirit, which must be both Jews and Gentiles, are adopted as sons of God and entitled to cry out to Him “Abba! Father!” If we live the life of the Master, if we are obedient and are willing to suffer for his sake and not pursue the flesh for our own, then we prove that we are indeed sons and daughters of the Almighty through the Spirit and “fellow heirs” of God’s blessings of the resurrection and a life in the Kingdom with Messiah. If we suffer, we will also be glorified.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Romans 8:18-22

broken worldAnd yet, we aren’t the only ones suffering. Remember in Romans 5, Paul compared and contrasted Adam and Yeshua, the first man who brought sin into the world, and Messiah the redeemer who takes it away. But the fall of humanity through Adam didn’t just affect the nature and character of all subsequent human beings, but somehow, it altered the nature of all Creation. Creation itself “groans” in its present, imperfect state. The world is broken and is constantly in need of repair.

If Creation is “anxiously longing” and “waiting eagerly for the revealing of the Sons of God” and we believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, are the sons and daughters of God, what must we do to “reveal” ourselves and how does this help Creation?

This is only my opinion of course, but I think that we are expected to observe the principle of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world. I heard a Jewish person once refer to Messiah as “the great fixer” because that’s what he’s supposed to do: fix everything broken about the world.

According to some opinions, “making the world a better place…brings us closer to the Messianic Age.” According to Rabbi Yochanan, quoting Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, the Jewish people will be redeemed when every Jew observes Shabbat (the Sabbath) twice in all its details (Kaplan, Aryeh. Chapter 2, “Sabbath Rest”, Sabbath: Day of Eternity, 1974). Shabbat 118b suggests that performing acts of tikkun olam will hasten the coming of Messiah and the emergence of the Messianic Age.

So, at least in my way of seeing things, the “Sons of God” reveal themselves to a waiting Creation by acts of repairing the damage to Creation.

But all that isn’t going to be easy:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Romans 8:22

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Matthew 24:6-8

If we’re supposed to help repair the world by pushing against human nature and sin, human nature and sin are going to push back. We, along with the world around us, will continue to suffer, even as we fight to establish the Kingdom, until Messiah’s return when he comes to finish the work that he started (and that we’ve been continuing) and brings the completion of the New Covenant with him by perfecting the world and by perfecting us through the resurrection.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:23-25

We have the first fruits of the Spirit, the down-payment, so to speak, of what is yet to come (Ephesians 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Like Creation, we must suffer, but we must also patiently wait. For as Creation waits for us, we wait longingly for the return of the King.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

This is one of those passages that some Christians say “proves” that Calvinism is correct and that God only chooses certain people to be saved. I’ve written more on this topic than I care to think about sometimes, including a four-part series called Taking the Fork in the Road (with apologies to Yogi Berra), but rest assured that God’s Sovereignty is not threatened in the least by allowing us free will to choose Him or to reject Him. That He has foreknowledge doesn’t affect what we choose to do down here “on the ground,” so to speak.

After all, it’s not the first time God set the choice between blessings and curses, between life and death in front of people:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.

Genesis 4:7

love-in-lightsWe have the same choice set before us as did the Israelites, life or death, in our case by accepting or rejecting the New Covenant and its mediator Jesus Christ.

The rest of the chapter is an encouragement from Paul to his readers that given everything he’s just said, we have a great promise and a tremendous assurance that in choosing our Master and obedience, we cannot be ultimately condemned. If God was willing to turn His own Son over to suffering and death so as to elevate him to His right hand, He will also not fail us in our suffering but will graciously give us all things and fulfill His covenant promises.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

Human anguish and suffering in a broken and bleeding world juxtaposed against our conquest of that world through God and His love from which we cannot be separated by any imaginable entity or force. This is what we are longing for as adopted children who are being continually brought into His Presence through the blessings of the New Covenant promises as we enter the world that is here and still yet to come.

Reflections on Romans 7

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

That’s the last set of verses from my previous reflection on Romans. Paul is addressing his Gentile readership in the synagogues in Rome that when they were still pagans, they were slaves to sin but “free” from righteousness, however, as they were deriving benefit from shameful things, the outcome they were facing was death. Coming to righteousness through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), they became freed from sin but enslaved to God resulting in sanctification with the ultimate outcome of eternal life.

Paul states the wages of sin is death. Then he continues:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

Romans 7:1-3 (NASB)

He’s speaking to those who know the law. Does he mean he’s shifted the focus from Gentiles to Jews? What law? The Torah or the Law of Sin? Let’s look at Paul’s metaphor of the married woman. Let’s say the woman is “married” to a pagan life of sin. She is bound to her “husband” while he lives, but when he dies she’s free to “marry” another. Turn the statement around and you have a person dying to sin and living to righteousness. Turn it around again and if you are married to righteousness and continue to consort with your former “spouse,” to sin, then the “wife” is an adulteress.

The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

Hosea 1:1-5 (NASB)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.

Matthew 16:4 (NASB)

When the ancient Israelites were disobedient to the commands of God and particularly when they sought after other “gods,” the Almighty referred to them as “adulterous.” In a very real way, the covenant ceremony at Sinai was a “marriage” between God and Israel in which Israel swore an oath of fealty much like a wedding oath. Any time Israel pursued pagan “gods”, they were likened to a harlot or an adulterous wife.

Paul seems to be saying something similar about Gentile believers (assuming he hasn’t shifted audiences in his letter as I suggested above) who have come to faith in Messiah but who continue to go after their former pagan lifestyle…or at least Paul is warning them against such a return. In any event, they should have no reason to return to idolatry.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:4-6 (NASB)

newPaul says his readers have died “to the Law through the body of Christ,” but given the current context, he can’t be talking about the Torah for two reasons. The first is that he’s (most likely) writing to Gentiles so they were never obligated to the mitzvot before coming to faith in Messiah. Pagans don’t observe the Torah of Moses. The second reason is that he is still talking about the “Law of Sin,” not the Torah, so it makes more sense that he is saying these former pagans have “died to the Law (of sin) through the body of Christ,” since as believers, they have shared in Messiah’s death to their former lives even as they share in the promise of eternal life. Now he urges them to “bear fruit for God,” which could be interpreted as performing good works in His Name. Paul keeps toggling back and forth between their former lives under the Law of Sin and Death and their current lives in the “newness of the Spirit.”

“…we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter.”

This suggests to most Christians that the Spirit (and grace) are new and the letter (of the Law/Torah) is old, meaning the Spirit has replaced the Torah. But again, given the context and the main object of Paul’s commentary, it is the oldness of their former lives, the letter of the Law of Sin that is done away with and replaced by the newness of their lives in Christ through the Spirit.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!

Romans 7:7 (NASB)

Paul seems to have made a quick shift in which Law he’s discussing.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans 7:7-12 (NASB)

I don’t think we know enough about Paul’s relationship with his audience to understand how they would have followed the shifts of topic in his letter, moving from the Law of Sin to the Law of Moses, but this section seems to clearly be talking about the Torah since it quotes the Torah (“You shall not covet”). Paul actually seems to be talking (still) about both “laws” since one law took the “opportunity through the commandment” to produce coveting “of every kind.” While the commandments of the Torah are designed to produce life, the law of sin produced death. Paul says “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” but when we choose to sin and disobey the commandment, the Law of Sin produces death.

It would seem that once we have a definition of right and wrong, which the Torah provides, we have a clearer choice and as we are brought closer to righteousness by obedience, we must be ever more mindful of the temptation to disobey, to sin, which leads to death. By accepting God’s righteous standards upon our lives, we are more accountable for our behavior (not that pagans won’t be judged in the end) and the higher we climb in our life of faith, the farther we have to fall should be let ourselves be tempted and sin.

Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

Romans 7:13 (NASB)

the-divine-torahBut make no mistake, that accountability has been increased does not mean the Torah is bad. “May it never be!” Sin is bad and the Law of Moses shows us clearly the terrible consequences for sin, which we did not know when we are still slaves to sin. Through the commandment, we see sin for what it really is. Then we have no excuse if we return to sin. We know what we’re doing. Our eyes have been opened.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:14-20 (NASB)

Paul is describing the struggles of every person of faith, the struggle between a Heavenly ideal and human fallibility and frailty.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (NASB)

God obviously expected the Israelites to keep his statutes and judgments and didn’t consider them to be too difficult to observe. More than that, He wanted Israel and their obedience to Him to be an example to the nations around them, to be a light to attract other people groups to Hashem, God of Israel, that they too might believe and obey, for the statutes and judgments are righteous.

But if Paul is writing to a bunch of Gentiles in Roman synagogues who are mixing with Jesus-believing and unbelieving Jews (and maybe getting a little arrogant that they can have equal co-participation in Jewish communal life without undergoing the proselyte rite and converting to Judaism), why is Paul leaning so much on the Torah as the counterpoint to the former pagans’ lives of idol worship and sin?

Of course, as I mention above, the one thing all people of faith have in common is the struggle between our human natures which draw us into sin and our values and ideals which come from God. Even Paul experienced this struggle and it obviously pained him greatly.

But as a man of faith, he could differentiate between the sin in him, that is, his human nature being the cause of his misbehavior, and his will and desire, which was for God.

But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Romans 7:20 (NASB)

We all do what we don’t want to do because sin dwells within us. It always will until the resurrection when we will be perfected in Messiah’s Name by the Holy Spirit.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

WrestlingHere Paul makes it even clearer that he is talking about two different laws, the Law of Moses, which is holy, spiritual, good, and a delight, and the law of sin and death which is waging war within Paul, making him a prisoner of the law of sin. He saw himself as a “wretched man” who could only be set free through “Jesus Christ our Lord,” yet like all of us, he was still standing between serving the law of God with his mind and the law of sin with his flesh.

Remember, Paul didn’t write this epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so even though the chapter ends, Paul’s probably still in the middle of a thought, and if you peek ahead to chapter 8, you’ll see this is correct…

…but that will have to wait until next week. I’m still looking for a way to understand Paul comparing the Torah to the Law of Sin in a letter to a non-Jewish audience. What could he be telling them about their lives in relationship to the Torah?

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Reflections on Romans 6

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:1-4 (NASB)

I realized the other day that I haven’t written one of these “reflections” in a while and thought I should get back to it. Chapter 6 is fairly short so hopefully this will be a short blog post as well (but don’t count on it).

Remember, these “reflections” are just that…a set of impressions I received and took notes on as I was reading Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in a single sitting. I’m not taking a look at the Greek or doing anything in-depth. Take this for what it’s worth.

Since Paul wasn’t creating chapters and verses in this letter, it’s not really fair for me to “review” the Epistle this way, but if I didn’t, I’d have to write one really long blog post, which also wouldn’t be fair (to my poor aching fingers or to you, my readers). So here we are. Paul is continuing the thought he was pursuing at the end (for us) of the previous chapter:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

This is the comparison and contrast between Adam, the first man, and Jesus (Yeshua) the “antidote” for Adam’s bringing sin into the world. As sin increased, God’s grace increased in proportion to the sin. So then Paul asks (Romans 6:1-2), “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Even though grace increases as sin increases, this is hardly a reason to continue sinning.

Then Paul gives his reasoning. We were baptized into the death of Messiah and so as he died for our sins, we died to sin.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:5-11 (NASB)

When we became baptized into the name of the Messiah, we entered a unity with him via an oath of fealty, but it seems something even closer. We became united with him in dying, in this case to our old, pagan natures, and resurrected, both as the promise of the physical resurrection of the faithful to come, but also in terms of a change of our natures.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

new heartThis is classic New Covenant language describing how God will circumcise the Jewish heart, write His Torah upon it, and give Israel a new Spirit, all of which will enable the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s commands and to observe His mitzvot flawlessly.

This, of course, does not happen until the resurrection of the faithful from the dead, so just as Jesus was resurrected in a perfected body, so too will we be resurrected into perfection, not only of our bodies, but our spirits so that we too will be without sin, not only having our past sins completely atoned for, but not sinning in the Messianic Age.

Paul directly ties Messiah’s resurrection into our own resurrected states so our bodies will never die again and in the realization that we are dead, but only to sin.

However, the Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 passages are specifically addressed to Jewish Israel and not to the peoples of the rest of the nations, but Paul is writing to a Gentile audience in his epistle. How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency? How can Paul apply the writing of Torah on the hearts of Gentiles?

On yesterday’s morning meditation, ProclaimLiberty commented giving part of the answer:

Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.

Sorry for the large block of text but that’s a direct quote.

bedtime-shemaYou can click on the link to see his entire comment, which includes an interesting perspective on Gentiles reciting the Shema. What I get out of it is a way to look at how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, also being given a new heart and new spirit with the Torah written with us even though the nations aren’t directly addressed in the New Covenant and accounting for variability in application of the Torah to Jewish and Gentiles co-participants.

But that hasn’t happened yet…or has it?

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:11 (NASB)

Paul is saying to his Gentile readers that they are to be “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” right now (as he was writing his letter). That’s not in the future Messianic Era but rather in the present for his audience. But how could Paul expect them to be dead to sin if their hearts were not yet changed and they hadn’t been given a new spirit yet?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Acts 10:44-45 (NASB)

OK, so did the Jews and Gentiles have the spirit or not? Clearly they had the spirit but as D.T. Lancaster has said in different sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, the spirit we see given to the Gentiles in Acts 10 and to the Jews in Acts 2 is a pledge or down payment, a mere foretaste of the full filling of the Holy Spirit we will be given when the New Covenant times completely enter our world with Messiah (also see 2 Corinthians 3:3 and Ephesians 1:13-14).

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB)

The Greek word translated above as “pledge” can also be rendered “down payment,” “deposit,” or “guarantee.” The idea is that we have the spirit, but it’s not nearly as much as we are going to have. It’s like putting a down payment down on a car. You get the use of the car without paying the full price, but with the idea that your down payment is your pledge that you will pay the full amount when it comes due.

So we have a portion of the spirit and perhaps the finger of God is beginning to write the Law on our hearts, but it’s not to the degree that all of the promises are within our grasp yet…we just know by what we have now, we can be assured that the rest will be coming.

Rising IncenseBut even though “the goods” haven’t arrived yet, we are expected to live, to the best of our abilities, as if we have already received everything we were promised. I guess this is the part where the person who gives the down payment on the full amount gets to drive the car right away. God can expect us to behave as if the Law were already within us (as it applies to different populations) even though it isn’t yet. That’s the point of verses 12 through 14 in the current chapter.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6:15-18 (NASB)

So if we are no longer to consider ourselves slaves to sin, we are to consider ourselves slaves to righteousness. After all, we are always slaves to something, it’s just a matter of choosing our Master.

But it looks like Paul might build some “wiggle room” into this system:

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Romans 6:19 (NASB)

Paul speaks of “human terms” and “weakness of your flesh” seemingly indicating that we aren’t really “there” yet in terms of the ability to be sinless. He’s also presenting us with a choice given our weaknesses, to chose to present our “members as slaves to lawlessness or slaves to righteousness”. I guess the implication is that prior to becoming disciples of the Master, we really didn’t have a choice. We were slaves to lawlessness being without the Law (or rather slaves to a different law as we’ll see below), that is the Law that leads to sanctification.

But there’s another law to consider:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

Under the law of sin and death we were free from righteousness, but now under the Law of Righteousness, we are free from sin.

“The wages of sin is death” is the Law of Sin which Paul periodically contrasts with the Law of Righteousness (Torah). If you didn’t know that, then every time Paul writes “law” it would be easy to assume that he’s always talking about the Torah. That, I think, is why many Christians take a dim view of “the Law” since they’ve been taught that the Law brings increased transgression (see Romans 5:20). That’s also why reading the Bible and getting “impressions” or “reflections” as I’m doing is a little dangerous, especially given the various English translations, because Paul’s meaning isn’t always plainly written on the surface of the Bible’s pages. Sometimes you have to dig for what he’s really saying.

brand-new-daySo at the end of this chapter, we’re left in an interesting place. We are baptized into the name of our Master and therefore in unity with him on a very intimate level. Just as he was resurrected into a perfected body, we are to consider ourselves also resurrected as a new person free from sin and a slave to righteousness. The trick is that we have only been given a down payment on the full amount of God’s promises and it’s only that full amount of His Word and Spirit that will truly perfect us.

Nevertheless, we are expected to behave as if we have already received the full gift, even though we must constantly struggle to present ourselves for righteousness and to disdain acts of sin and lawlessness.

One question, in verse 10 when it says “He (Jesus) died to sin once for all,” how could he die to sin if he lived a completely sinless life?