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There is little doubt—even among critical scholars—that Paul wrote Romans. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo write, “There is little debate about whether Paul wrote Romans.” Thomas Schreiner concurs, “No serious scholar today doubts that Paul wrote Romans.”
Paul used a scribe to write the letter for him. At the end of the book of Romans, the scribe takes control of the pen and writes, “I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom. 16:22). This might be why Romans almost sounds like a live teaching. Paul preached this letter out loud, and Tertius wrote his words, as he spoke them.
Date of Romans
When we compare Paul’s missionary plans in Romans 15 with the book of Acts, we discover that Paul wrote the book of Romans at the end of his third missionary journey. Paul wrote the letter before he made his trip to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:24-32; Acts 21). It seems most likely that Paul wrote Romans while in Corinth, Greece:
- Paul mentions Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) who was from Cenchrea (one of the port-cities of Corinth).
- In Romans 16:23, Paul mentions writing in the house of Gaius. In 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul mentions baptizing “Gaius” in Corinth.
- Paul writes, “Erastus, the city treasurer greets you” (Rom. 16:23). In 1929, a piece of pavement from the first century uncovered the inscription: “Erastus, Procurator and Aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense.” At the end of his life, Paul again mentions that Erastus “stayed in Corinth” (2 Tim. 4:20).
When we flip over to the book of Acts, we see that Paul stayed in Corinth for “three months” at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:3). Blomberg, Bruce, Moo, and Mounce date the letter to the winter of AD 56-57, while Paul was on a three-month sabbatical in Corinth, Greece. Making a more conservative estimate, Schreiner states that we can “safely locate the letter between AD 55 and 58.”
Table of Contents
How to use this commentary well 6
Who were the Romans?
Suetonius records that the Roman Emperor Claudius kicked all of the Jews out of Rome in AD 49, because they were rioting over a man named “Chrestus.” He writes, “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from the city.” The Latin for Christ is only one letter away from this title (Christus). Blomberg writes that “most historians think that Suetonius’s statement reflects a garbled reference to Christian and non-Christian Jews squabbling over the truth of the gospel.” Even Critic Bart Ehrman explains that “this kind of spelling mistake was common.” If this is a reference to Christ, this means there were Christians in Rome at least by AD 49. Luke mentions Claudius’ edict in Acts 18:2, when Priscilla and Aquila are living in Corinth, bringing the news about the expulsion from Rome. After Claudius died in AD 54, the Jews flooded back into Rome. Priscilla and Aquila must have found their way back to Rome, because Paul mentions them at the end of his letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:1-5), which we’ve dated to AD 56-57.
Many of these Jews had lost their homes and jobs due to Claudius’ edict. This must have created tension between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers, when the Jewish believers came back into town. Since Paul wrote his letter in AD 57, these issues must have still been fresh to the audience, and there was still tension between the Jews and Gentiles.
Did Peter or Paul start the church in Rome?
Roman Catholic tradition holds that Peter founded the church in Rome. They base this on two church fathers: Eusebius (~AD 354) and Irenaeus (AD 180). Eusebius writes that Peter was in Rome in AD 42 (Ecclesiastical History, 2.14.6), and Irenaeus (AD 180) states that Peter and Paul “founded” the church in Rome (Against Heresies, 3.1.1; 3.3.2; cf. Ignatius, Romans, 4.3). However, this seems unlikely for several reasons:
First, Paul is clear that he is a stranger to Rome (Rom. 1:10, 13, 15:22).
Second, if Peter travelled anywhere after Acts 12:17 (“[Peter] left and went to another place”), he no doubt went to Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14), not all the way to Rome. After all, we find Peter back in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Is it really likely he travelled all the way to Italy and back in such a short time? Schreiner comments, “Few contemporary scholars espouse the theory that Peter established the church when he went into hiding.”
Third, why wouldn’t Luke mention Peter in Rome in the book of Acts—especially since that is such a focus of Luke’s writing?
Fourth, other church fathers deny that an apostle made it to Rome. Ambrosiaster (the fourth century Latin father) said that the Romans “had embraced the faith of Christ, albeit according to the Jewish rite, without seeing any sign of mighty works or any of the apostles.”
Finally, why wouldn’t Paul mention Peter in his sixteen chapter letter—especially since he greets so many believers in chapter 16?
Regarding Irenaeus’ statement that Peter and Paul “founded” the church in Rome, Schreiner comments, “[Irenaeus] probably does not mean that they both established the church in Rome, since it is obvious from Romans that Paul had no role in the church’s founding. Irenaeus likely refers to the fact that Peter and Paul both ministered and were martyred in Rome.”
Paul’s Reason for writing Romans
Get the picture in your mind. Paul has just finished his third missionary journey. He settles down at the house of a friend in Corinth to get some rest. He probably had heard from Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2) that a revival is occurring in none other than Rome, the capital of the ancient world! Rome contained anywhere from a quarter million to a million people, and the Jewish population was anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 people. Yet no apostle had ever been there.
Most likely, the church was started by a “visitor from Rome,” who had come to Christ during Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Paul knows a lot of the believers involved in the church in Rome (see his closing comments in Romans 16), and he can’t stand being away from them. He wants to show up to Rome to teach doctrine and theology, and he’s looking forward to helping this young (but thriving) group, as they grow in Christ. In Romans 1:9, Paul writes, “How unceasingly I make mention of you.” As Paul prayed for them, he was hoping that he could come to them “at last” (Rom. 1:10), longing to see them (Rom. 1:11).
Given the cost of papyrus and the labor of a scribe (amanuensis, Rom. 16:22), scholars estimate that the book of Romans cost roughly 20.68 denarii (or $2,275 by today’s standards). The average ancient letter was only about 87 words. Roman statesman Cicero averaged about 295 words per letter, and Seneca averaged 995 words. With this in mind, Paul’s letter to the Romans is 7,114 words! This was a long and expensive letter to write, but millennia later, we’re glad he made this investment during his sabbatical in Corinth.
Genre of Romans
Paul wrote Romans in the style of a diatribe. Diatribe is a back and forth style of writing, where the author interacts with a hypothetical opponent. It’s similar to a courtroom argument. Imagine Paul in a courtroom arguing with an opponent. Carson and Moo argue that this is the style of Romans—not the genre of Romans. They write, “While Paul clearly uses some of the devices of the diatribe, it was not so much a genre as a style that could be employed in many different genres.” In other words, Paul uses the literary device of diatribe in the letter. As one commentator explains,
Paul’s interlocutor [opponent] was no straw man… In fact we would probably not be far from the mark if we were to conclude that Paul’s interlocutor is Paul himself—Paul the unconverted Pharisee, expressing attitudes Paul remembered so well as having been his own!
Udo Middleman writes, “Until recently, Romans was studied in American law schools in order to teach students the art of presenting an argument. A reasoned case is made for a foundational proposition. Counter statements are considered one by one, and refuted. Romans is not about a leap of faith but presents a comprehensive argument for the central proposition.”
Is Romans Paul’s systematic treatment of Christianity?
Yes and no. Because Paul had never personally visited Rome, he needed to explain the essentials of Christianity to them—from A to Z. Unlike his other letters, Paul didn’t have an overt pastoral concern for the Romans which he need to address (compare with 1 Corinthians, for example). In this sense, Romans is a unique letter.
On the other hand, Paul did know many of the believers in Rome (R0m. 16). Furthermore, he was no doubt aware of Claudius’ expulsion of the Jewish believers in Rome, because he spoke with Aquila and Priscilla in person (Acts 18:2; cf. Suetonius, Claudius, 25.4). By the time he wrote Romans, he addresses this Christian couple personally (Rom. 16:3). His knowledge of the Jewish-Gentile tensions comes out throughout the letter. Specifically, he addresses this tension in chapters 1-3, 9-11, and 14.
Furthermore, if Romans is truly a comprehensive account of core Christianity, it’s odd that there is little mention of eschatology (though see ch.11) and Christology (though see 1:3-4; 9:5). In conclusion, it’s probably better to say that Romans is the most systematic account of Paul’s teaching. We agree with Mounce when he writes, “Although written to a specific church, it would prove to serve the broad interests of the Christian faith everywhere.”
How to use this commentary well
For personal use. We wrote this material to build up people in their knowledge of the Bible. As the reader, we hope you enjoy reading through the commentary to grow in your interpretation of the text, understand the historical backdrop, gain insight into the original languages, and reflect on our comments to challenge your thinking. As a result, we hope this will give you a deeper love for the word of God.
Teaching preparation. We read through several commentaries in order to study this book, and condensed their scholarship into an easy to read format. We hope that this will help those giving public Bible teachings to have a deep grasp of the book as they prepare to teach. As one person has said, “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.” We couldn’t agree more. Nothing can replace sound study before you get up to teach, and we hope this will help you in that goal. And before you complain about our work, don’t forget that the price is right: FREE!
Discussion questions. Each section or chapter is outfitted with numerous discussion questions or questions for reflection. We think these questions would work best in a small men’s or women’s group—or for personal reading. In general, these questions are designed to prompt participants to explore the text or to stimulate application.
Discussing Bible difficulties. We highlight Bible difficulties with hyperlinks to articles on those subjects. All of these questions could make for dynamic discussion in a small group setting. As a Bible teacher, you could raise the difficulty, allow the small group to wrestle with it, and then give your own perspective.
As a teacher, you might give some key cross references, insights from the Greek, or other relevant tools to help aid the study. This gives students the tools that they need to answer the difficulty. Then, you could ask, “How do these points help answer the difficulty?”
Reading Bible difficulties. Some Bible difficulties are highly complex. For the sake of time, it might simply be better to read the article and ask, “What do you think of this explanation? What are the most persuasive points? Do you have a better explanation than the one being offered?”
Think critically. We would encourage Bible teachers to not allow people to simply read this commentary without exercising discernment and testing the commentary with sound hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation). God gave the church “teachers… to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). We would do well to learn from them. Yet, we also need to read their books with critical thinking, and judge what we’re reading (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). This, of course, applies to our written commentary as well as any others!
In my small men’s Bible study, I am frequently challenged, corrected, and sharpened in my ability to interpret the word of God. I frequently benefit from even the youngest Christians in the room. I write this with complete honesty—not pseudo-humility. We all have a role in challenging each other as we learn God’s word together. We would do well to learn from Bible teachers, and Bible teachers would do well to learn from their students!
At the same time, we shouldn’t disagree simply for the sake of being disagreeable. This leads to rabbit trails that can actually frustrate discussion. For this reason, we should follow the motto, “The best idea wins.” If people come to different conclusions on unimportant issues, it’s often best to simply acknowledge each other’s different perspectives and simply move on.
Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).
Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996).
Moo is a solid Bible-believing scholar. His research into Romans is incredibly deep—even for an academic commentary. However, we repeatedly found ourselves at odds with Moo’s treatment of sanctification in Romans 5-8, and his strong Reformed interpretation of Romans 11.
Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995).
Mounce’s commentary was insightful, pastorally minded, and quotable. We hold a very similar interpretation of sanctification in Romans 5-8, and he also holds to a non-Calvinistic reading of Romans 9-11. He holds to a Lordship perspective on salvation which becomes a repeated theme in his commentary. Overall, we enjoyed his commentary.
Francis A. Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998).
I read this book in 2007 (or 2008?). If memory serves, these were transcribed teachings from Schaeffer on Romans from his informal lectures to students at L’Abri. Schaeffer’s keen insights and illustrations into the content and message of the letter are still very memorable—even though this is not a rigorous commentary. We highly recommend this classic book.
Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014).
Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015).
Keller is an insightful expositor, a strong author, and a practitioner. We found ourselves in surprising agreement on his treatment of Paul’s sanctification material in Romans 5-8. Keller really stresses our identity with Christ, which was quite good. Of course, we found ourselves in disagreement over his Reformed reading of Romans 9-11. Overall, these books were good treatments of the letter.
Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976).
Harrison’s commentary is a short and terse commentary on Romans. This was a good commentary for readers who are first studying this letter.
Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Osborne’s commentary is a short and terse commentary on Romans as well. With a letter like Romans, readers most likely want further depth than this. Osborne holds to an Arminian reading of Romans 9-11, which may interest non-Reformed readers. At the same time, his treatment was so light that it might not add much to the discussion.
F.F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985).
Bruce was an expert historian and classicist, and his work in these fields is still invaluable. However, his work as a commentator didn’t match his historical work. His commentary on Romans wasn’t very insightful.
Commentary on Romans
Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Romans 1:1-17 (Introduction)
(1:1) “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
“Called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” This could be an allusion to Jeremiah’s calling: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Paul didn’t create his own calling to be an apostle. Rather, Jesus personally called Paul to this role (v.5; Acts 9). Similarly, as Christians, we don’t place ourselves into roles, but rather, God calls us to them (Lk. 14:7ff; 1 Cor. 12:18; Eph. 2:10; Acts 13:25; 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:7).
(1:2) “[The gospel] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.”
Throughout this letter, Paul grounds his ideas about salvation in the OT. The gospel was not a revision of God’s plan, but was his plan all along. Jesus is the fulfillment of OT prophecy (see “Jesus and Messianic Prophecy”). Paul elaborates on the Jewish basis of the gospel throughout the letter, demonstrating that this was God’s plan all along, being “promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.”
(1:3) “Concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.”
In order for Jesus to be the Messiah, he needed to come from the line of David. This must be an extrapolation from verse 2—namely, Jesus was from David’s line and this was promised all along. Moreover, he was born as a human being “according to the flesh.” He was flesh and blood.
(1:4) “[Jesus] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Declared… by the resurrection from the dead.” If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, we would likely believe that he was a dead messianic pretender. There would be no reason to believe in his radical claims of self-authenticity. However, God’s resurrection of Jesus validated his life, ministry, and teaching. The resurrection didn’t change the “essence” of who Jesus is, but it did change his “status.” That is, he was recognized for who he truly is through the resurrection.
“According to the Spirit of holiness.” Mounce understands the “spirit of holiness” to refer to Jesus’ “own inner spirit.” However, we agree with Moo that this refers to the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. For one, the text doesn’t say “his Spirit of holiness,” but rather, “the Spirit of holiness.” Second, the contrast with “flesh” and “spirit” most naturally contrasts the natural from the supernatural—the physical from the spiritual. This becomes a major theme throughout Romans: the flesh versus the Spirit. Third, the mention of the Holy Spirit fits well with the assertion that Jesus was a descendent of David “according to the flesh.” While Jesus was truly human (“according to the flesh”), he was also supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit (“according to the Spirit”).
(1:5) “Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.”
Paul viewed his unique calling as an apostle as being a gift of God (“grace”). Paul viewed his role as a privilege—not an obligation.
(1:5) Does this passage support Lordship Theology?
(1:6) “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ.”
Gentiles (v.5) constituted many of the Christians in Rome.
“You also are the called.” In context, the rest of the “called” are “all the Gentiles.” If “called” (klētos) refer to the Elect, then this would imply that “all” Gentiles are elected. This implies that being “called” does not refer to unconditional election. Rather, many are called, but few are chosen (Mt. 22:14).
(1:7) “To all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are not lovable, but we are loved (agapetos). God doesn’t love use because we are lovely, but because He is loving. Indeed, this text doesn’t state that we act as “saints” (hagiois); instead, we are called or declared saints by God. The “as” in the NASB is not in the original Greek. God simply calls us saints (i.e. holy). Paul will later unpack this “forensic righteousness” in the rest of his letter.
(1:8) “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.”
“First…” What was at the top of Paul’s list of subjects to communicate to the Romans? The first subject on his list—his top priority—was giving thanks to God for these believers. This gives insight into how Paul operated in ministry. He remembered to give thanks for people who were following Christ, many of whom he’d never met.
“Because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Since Rome was at the center of the known world, it would make sense that “everyone” was hearing about these believers.
(1:8) What does Paul mean when he says that their faith reached the “whole world”?
(1:9) “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you.”
Paul “serves” (latreuo; literally “worships”) God through his ministry of sharing the gospel. Evangelism is a form of worship.
“God… is my witness.” Paul might have used this phrase to demonstrate that he “was not using idle rhetoric regarding his concern for them.”
(1:10) “Always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.”
Paul kept praying for an opportunity to come to Rome. Paul writes about this at the end of his letter (Rom. 15:22-32). This implies that Paul wanted to discover and follow God’s will and timing for his plans in travelling to Rome.
(1:11) “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.”
This “spiritual gift” probably refers to seeing people come to Christ (v.13) through his teaching (v.15).
(1:12) “That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
Paul didn’t take a celebrity approach with these believers. He wanted to approach them as a fellow brother in Christ. At the end of this letter, Paul writes, “[I hope to] come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company” (Rom. 15:32). Tim Keller writes, “This is striking! Since Paul sought out encouragement from other believers, and since if Paul sought that encouragement in the faith of other believers, how much more should we?!”
(1:13) “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
“[I] have been prevented so far.” Paul planned to come, but he was thwarted. This might relate to verse 10, where Paul was praying for God to open the door for him to come to Rome, but he was “prevented” from coming. This likely relates to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius (AD 49). As a Jewish man, Paul would’ve been included in this expulsion. Yet, when Claudius left power in AD 54, the decree was rescinded and the Jewish population was allowed back into Rome. Paul (himself a Jew) wouldn’t have been allowed to return until this time (AD 56-57).
(1:14) “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.”
Who are the “wise” and “foolish”? Paul unpacks this later in Romans 1, referring to the Gentiles: “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). In the Jewish mind, the Gentiles were “foolish” (Rom. 2:20).
In what sense was Paul “under obligation” to them? Tim Keller writes, “It is illustrative to think about how I can be in debt to you. First, you may have lent me $100—and I am in debt to you until I pay it back. But second, someone else may have given me $100 to pass on to you—and I am in debt to you until I hand it on. It is in this second sense that Paul is ‘obligated’ to everyone, everywhere. God has shared the gospel with him. But God has also commissioned him to declare it to others. So Paul owes people the gospel.”
(1:15) “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Paul couldn’t wait to teach to the Romans about the gospel. Moo holds that Paul wanted to preach about the gospel to the Christians in Rome. That is, as Christians, we need to be reminded over and over about the good news of Jesus Christ. However, the context refers to the non-Christians in Rome (v.14). Perhaps both are in view.
(1:16) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Paul writes about not being ashamed of the gospel in the context of evangelism (vv.14-15; cf. 2 Tim. 1:7-8). Why isn’t he ashamed? Because the gospel is the “power” of Almighty God! The power of the gospel is similar to verse 4—the same “power” that raised Jesus from the dead. The gospel, likewise, has the power to bring spiritually dead people to life. Paul also notes that the gospel is God’s power, which is His role. Our role is simply to trust in this message and “believe” it. Surprisingly, the hardest part of the Christian life is simply believing that God is really this good!
“To the Jew first and also to the Greek.” First, Paul shared about Jesus with the Jews, because they were closer to the God of the Bible. He also believed that they were coming back in God’s plan (11:26-27). Thus, they deserved to hear about the Messiah first.
Keller notes that the gospel is boundless (“to everyone who believes”), but is also boundaried (“to everyone who believes”). Thus, it is both radically inclusive (Rom. 3:22; 4:11; 10:4, 11), but also exclusive in its claims.
Referring to the depth of the gospel, Theodoret (a Syrian bishop in the fifth century) writes, “A pepper outwardly seems to be cold… but the person who crunches it between the teeth experiences the sensation of burning fire.”
(1:17) “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”
“In it the righteousness of God is revealed.” How does the gospel reveal the righteousness of God? While the answer to this question is multifaceted, Paul’s focus centers on God’s righteousness being revealed through humans becoming righteous through the Cross (Rom. 3:21; 5:17; 10:3; Phil. 3:9; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). Additionally, the righteousness of God is revealed through faith (“revealed from faith”), and the wrath of God is revealed through unbelief (or “suppressing the truth”). Indeed, Paul’s citation of Habakkuk 2:4 focuses on the believer being righteous through his faith in God. Finally, throughout the rest of Romans 1-11, Paul shows how God is righteous in his plan of salvation. So, in some respects, all of these are in view, but the emphasis is on God’s righteousness in saving sinful humans and making us righteous in the process (see Moo and Mounce).
“From faith to faith.” While this is debated, our view is that this refers to coming to Christ, living for Christ, and being rescued by Christ at the end of history. Thus justification, sanctification, and glorification are all in view, as the rest of the letter unpacks. Harrison writes, “What it conveys is the necessity of issuing a reminder to the believer that justifying faith is only the beginning of Christian life. The same attitude must govern him in his continuing experience as a child of God.” Likewise, Mounce writes that this expression “points to faith as the origin of righteousness and the direction in which it leads.” This makes sense of Paul’s citation of Habakkuk 2:4 (“The righteous man shall live by faith” in the present tense). How do others interpret this expression?
- Augustine understood this to mean “from the faith in the law to the faith in the gospel” (Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter, 11.18). However, Romans 4 shows that OT believers like Abraham and David believed in grace—not law. So, this interpretation doesn’t fit.
- Karl Barth and James Dunn understand this to mean something like “from the faithfulness of God to the faith of humans.” This seems to be importing too much into these four short words.
- Moo and Osborne argue that Paul is using intensification, meaning something like “faith and nothing but faith.” This is a rhetorical way of repeating the same word for emphasis.
“As it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4. In the book of Habakkuk, Israel is being judged by the Gentile nations, because they didn’t keep the Law. Therefore, because they didn’t obey the Law, they fell under the curse of God. Habakkuk told his people that the way out from under the curse of God (i.e. takeover by the Gentile nations) was by faith. Nothing has changed in this regard. Paul argues that God would bring people out from under the curse of judgment because of faith during Habakkuk’s time, and he will bring NT believers out from under the curse of judgment by faith during our time.
Questions for Reflection
What do we learn about Paul from verses 1-17? What sort of person was he like? What were his desires? What motivated him and gave him confidence?
What do we learn about Paul’s prayer life from verses 8-10?
What do we learn about the Roman Christians from verses 8-15?
What do we learn about the gospel message from verses 1-17?
Romans 1:18-32 (Judgment based on the revelation of creation)
Paul began to share the good news about the “gospel” (Rom. 1:16-17). However, before he can share the good news about Christ, he needs to share the bad news about the human condition. So, he begins with judgment, or what he calls “the wrath of God.” In our view, this does not describe a specific event, such as the initial Fall of humans (Gen. 3) or the idolatry of Israel (Ex. 32). Instead, we agree with Moo that this describes “describes the terrible proclivity of all people to corrupt the knowledge of God they possess by making gods of their own.” We agree that there might be allusions to Genesis 3, but disagree that this refers to the narrative of the Fall. The indicting language is universal and timeless, applying to all people throughout history.
(1:18) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
“The wrath of God is revealed.” While there is certainly a day of final wrath to come, there is also wrath right now. Paul writes in the present tense, describing how the wrath of God is currently being revealed from heaven. How can we see God’s wrath right now? One sign of God’s wrath is that he doesn’t intervene. This is called God’s passive wrath, where he hands us over to our own devices (v.24, 26, 28).
“Men… suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The problem with people is not the absence of evidence, but the suppression of it. As atheist Aldous Huxley openly admitted, his reason for rejecting Christianity was because he “objected to the morality because it interfered with [his] sexual freedom.” We might not be so brazen, but our “unrighteousness” (of various kinds) is at the heart of unbelief. This “unrighteousness” stands in stark contrast to the “righteousness of God” that is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17).
While the wrath of God often offends people, Keller notes, “If you don’t understand or believe in the wrath of God, the gospel will not thrill, empower or move you.” After all, from what did God save us if he is not a God of justice?
(1:19) “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”
The truth of God is “evident” (NASB) or “plain” (NIV, ESV, NET). It is “evident within them,” which can also be rendered “evidence among them.” In this case, the evidence would refer to creation (v.20). The term “evidence” (phaneron) means “revealed” or “manifested.” How did God reveal the reality of his existence to us? Paul states that can be perceived through creation itself.
(1:20) “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Paul’s assertion seems to be that creation requires a Creator. When we look at a piece of art, we know certain things about the artist. For one, we know that an artist must exist, because the oil paint didn’t simply organize itself into the form of a landscape or a portrait. Second, we know that the artist has certain attributes: intelligence, creativity, physical ability, etc. Third, we know some of the interests of the artist by looking at his or her art. Of course, we cannot know everything about the artist, but we can infer some basic aspects of what he or she is like.
Similarly, when we look at creation, we know certain things about the Creator (e.g. omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, timeless, spaceless, etc.). Of course, we cannot know everything about the Creator by exploring creation, but we can learn certain attributes. This seems to be Paul’s argument here in Romans 1—namely, humans have sufficient knowledge about God to know that he exists.
How strong is the evidence from general revelation? Paul states that the evidence for God in the created order is so strong that it leaves people “without excuse” (anapologetos). Literally, this word “suggests that from a legal standpoint people had been stripped of any defense.”
(1:21) “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
“Even though they knew God.” This must refer to the suppressed knowledge of general revelation in creation from verses 19-20.
“They did not… give thanks.” How did all of this sin enter into the world? The gateway to a rejection of God is not flagrant disobedience or vitriol. Instead, the pathway starts with a lack of thankfulness and gratitude (v.21). When we refuse to give thanks, our minds become poisoned and we can’t think straight. This leads to a slippery slope that can lead to all other forms of unbelief and sin. Paul mentions this in Ephesians 4:18, using the same word (“being darkened in their understanding”).
(1:22) “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
What terrible irony: At the very moment that these people were saying how wise they were becoming, they were in reality becoming more and more foolish! Mounce explains that turning from truth necessarily results in foolishness: “One cannot turn from knowledge with impunity. The rejection of truth marks the rebel as a fool.” Osborne writes, “This is especially true of the Greeks, who developed the greatest concentration of philosophical ‘wisdom’ in history in the midst of one of the most depraved cultures in the ancient world.”
(1:23) “And exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
Instead of recognizing that God made us in His image, people chose to distort God in their own image. In fact, this idolatry rapidly declines—going from bad to worse: from man to birds to animals to crawling creatures. The people shift their focus from honoring God to worshipping “crawling creatures.” This is “spiritual rock bottom.” Harrison writes, “Man is a religious being, and if he refuses to let God have the place of preeminence that is rightfully his, then he will put something or someone in God’s place.” John Stott writes, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.”
We might compare “incorruptible” metals like gold to “corruptible” metals like rusted iron. Imagine trading gold for a rusted hunk of metal! How foolish! Paul states that this is the deep insanity that resides in the human heart; this is the horror of the human condition (cf. Ps. 106:20; Jer. 2:11).
This passage supports the deity of Christ. Paul was against worshipping humans, but he was for worshipping Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus wasn’t God, according to Paul, this would be tantamount to idolatry.
(1:24) “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.”
“Lusts” (epithymia) is used 17 times in the NT. It is a compound word: epi (“over”) and thumos (“desire”). We might understand this as referring to an “inordinate desire” or an “over desire.” Whenever Paul uses the word referring to himself, it is used in a positive sense (1 Thess. 2:17; Phil. 1:23). However, the other 15 usages are not only negative, but connected with sin (cf. Rom. 6:12; 7:7-8; 13:14; 1 Thess. 4:5).
“Impurity” (akatharsia) is used nine other times in the NT. In Romans 6:19, Paul uses this term alongside “lawlessness.” Paul writes of those “who have sinned in the past and have not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced” (2 Cor. 12:21). He writes, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal. 5:19). Paul is referring to morality—not civil or ceremonial laws.
“Dishonored” (atimazō) is used several times throughout the NT. It is elsewhere translated as living “shamefully” (Mk. 12:4), treating Jesus with “dishonor” (Jn. 8:49), and how breaking the Law brings “dishonor” to God (Rom. 2:23).
“Gave them over” is legal language. Osborne writes, “The verb for gave them over means to ‘deliver’ them for their punishment… It refers to a judicial act on God’s part.” Yet, instead of judging us actively, God does this passively. God hands us over—not to the executioner—but to ourselves! God is so infinitely loving that allowing us to rule our own lives is a form of judgment.
While freedom from God might initially seem liberating, we soon discover that it is deeply degrading. We don’t make something more of ourselves, but something less. Tim Keller writes, “The tragedy of humanity is that we strive for and fail to find what we could simply receive and enjoy. We suppress the truth which would free and satisfy us.”
God doesn’t force humans to sin. He gave them over “in the lusts of their hearts.” One commentator describes, “[God] ceased to hold the boat as it was dragged by the current of the river.” By contrast, Moo argues that God doesn’t just let go of the boat, but also God “gives it a push downstream.” We see no warrant in the text for God’s active wrath here.
God’s wrath is passive: He simply lets us go. Do you really want to hold onto the reigns of your own life? God considers this a form of his “wrath” to allow you to do this! Are you ready to come under the loving leadership of God?
Paul addresses opposite-sex fornication before he addresses same-sex fornication. Many Christians have pre-marital sex. According to a recent study from the General Social Survey, of those in fundamentalist churches, 86% of females and 82% of males had sex before marriage. And this is only after the age of 18, so the percentage could be even higher. Paul considers same-sex behavior (SSB) to be immoral. But it is quite hypocritical for these same Christians to denounce SSB, when they themselves engage in fornication.
(1:25) For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
This further explains what people did by engaging in rampant idolatry (v.23). This is nothing less than trading a “truth” for a “lie.”
(1:24, 26, 28) Why does it say three times that God “gave them over” to their sin, if God loves people?
(1:26) “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.”
“Degrading” (atimias) refers to “a state of dishonor or disrespect, dishonor” (BDAG).
“Passions” (pathē) is only used on two other occasions in the NT. Both refer to sin (1 Thess. 4:5; Col. 3:5). When combined with the term “degrading,” this refers to “illicit sexual passions.”
“Their women exchanged.” This passage is parallel with the idolatry mentioned above: Just as all people “exchanged” (metallassō) the truth about the Creator for a lie (v.23, 25), these women “exchanged” (metallassō) God’s natural design for sex. The parallel is with the truth of reality being exchanged for a lie about reality. In this context, it refers to the realm of sexual ethics. Thus, Moo comments, “Sexual sins that are ‘against nature’ are also, then, against God, and it is this close association that makes it probable that Paul’s appeal to ‘nature’ in this verse includes appeal to God’s created order.”
“Natural function for that which is unnatural” (physikēn… para physin) refers to God’s created order or his “natural” order. According to Paul, even people without the Bible are able to recognize the natural complementarity of male-to-female biological anatomy for sexuality.
“Function” (chrēsin) is used for both women (v.26) and men (v.27).
(1:27) “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
The penalty is not God’s active wrath as in 1 Corinthians 6:9, but God’s passive wrath (Rom. 1:18). Just as opposite sex fornication is degrading, same-sex fornication is degrading to God’s image-bearers as well.
“Burned in their desire toward one another.” This does not refer to exploitative sex (e.g. masters with slaves, rich with the poor). This is consensual sex between two men, because both “desire” one another. The term “desire” (orexei) is only used here in the NT, so it is difficult to translate. Yet Dr. Thomas Schmidt notes that the Jewish author Philo “employs orexis fourteen times, always negatively, and twice in discussions of sexual desire.”
“Men with men committing indecent acts.” Once again, this does not refer to exploitative sex such as pedophilia. Both people are grown “men.” The text does not say “men with boys,” but “men with men.”
These sexual acts are considered “indecent” (aschēmosunē), which is “behavior that elicits disgrace, shameless deed” (BDAG, p.147).
“Receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” This likely refers to how sexual sin affects us. The context refers to the passive wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). When we flee from God’s design for sex, we don’t find liberation—only degradation. Referring to fornication, Paul writes, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Another view is that this refers to eternal punishment, which is the greater context of Romans 1-3. Moo holds that both are faithful interpretations. We favor the former view above for the reasons listed there.
(1:28) “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
This whole section can be understood as rejecting God’s will and God’s design for us. If we choose not to acknowledge God, then he will not acknowledge us. And sadly, God gives us over to what we want. Keller writes, “The worst thing that can happen to us is that we are given what our hearts over-desire. Take a man who worships his career. He serves it as what will make him ‘a somebody.’ It drives him, and it dominates his life—everything else is fitted around it. The worst thing that can happen to him is promotion! It allows him to continue to think that he can find blessing in his over-desires. It convinces him that this is ‘real life.’ It enables him to forget the wreckage he is making of his marriage, his family, his friendships, in order to pursue his god. Oscar Wilde summed it up well: ‘When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.’”
“Depraved mind” shows the catastrophic result of a life lived apart from God. As Paul already wrote, “They became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). This refers to the noetic effects of sin—whereby sin actually affects our ability to think. This cannot be healed until we experience the “renewing of our mind” through Christ (Rom. 12:2).
Do Paul’s words about carnality lead to self-righteousness? Christians certainly use his words to decry the immorality of others. Yet, this is very far from Paul’s intention. Paul issues a fierce rebuke to the self-righteous in chapter 2, and for now, Paul is in the midst of developing a case for why all people fall short of God’s moral standard (Rom. 3:23). Citing 1 Timothy 1:15, Keller writes, “We only grasp the gospel when we understand, as Paul did, that we are the worst sinner we know—and that if Jesus came to die for us, there is no one that he would not die for.”
(1:29-31) “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.”
No one can get through this list alive. Paul adds sins that are overlooked in our culture today such as “greed… envy… deceit… gossip… slander… arrogance… disobedient to parents.” Regarding this list of sins, Tim Keller writes, “[Paul] has in view people who promote and encourage idolatry. It is easier to see how others do this, and harder to see it in ourselves. But it is worth asking: Do I ever encourage my children to make idols of exam results? How might I nod sympathetically at someone’s envy? Have I allowed gossip to go on around me unchallenged?”
While Paul addresses SSB in verse 24-28, he addresses as sorts of various strains and species of sin that plague humanity. There’s no escaping Paul’s indictment: We are all in the same boat when it comes to sin, and that boat is sinking rapidly!
(1:32) “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
Paul himself isn’t being self-righteous. He had been one of the people who gave “hearty agreement with putting [Stephen] to death” (Acts 8:1).
Questions for Reflection
Does Paul’s description of the human condition fit with what we see in our world today? If so, how?
Does this description of humanity lead you to be self-righteous? Or does it lead you to be heartbroken for those who don’t know Christ?
Romans 2:1-16 (Judgment is based on the revelation of conscience)
Paul is carefully building a well-crafted argument to show that all people—with or without the Bible—need the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. All of us come to God the same way, with the empty hands of faith. Paul just demonstrated that all Gentiles are under the judgment of God. Why? They have rejected both internal evidence (Rom. 1:19) and external evidence (Rom. 1:20) that God exists. After suppressing this evidence, they refused to honor and give thanks to God, and worshipped idols instead (Rom. 1:21-25). Consequently, we become what we worship: These Gentiles fell headlong into all different types of sin (Rom. 1:26-32).
At this point, Paul imagines a self-righteous Gentile (contra Moo, Mounce, and Stott). Perhaps he has in mind a man who has a good work ethic, loves his family, and lives an upright life. This Gentile might be saying, “Paul, I fully agree that those Gentiles are under God’s judgment. But not me! I’m a good man!” Here Paul turns the tables on this sort of person, revealing that these sorts of Gentiles have their own set of problems before God: self-righteousness.
(2:1) “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”
“No excuse” (anapologetos) literally means “no apologetic” or “no defense.” This is the same word used in Romans 1:20. Just as the libertine Gentile had “no excuse” for rejecting God (Rom. 1:20), so too this self-righteous Gentile has “no excuse” for his rejection of God—though for totally different reasons. In his case, the self-righteous Gentile inwardly knows that he’s a hypocrite, judging others by a moral standard that he himself doesn’t reach.
It doesn’t matter if you think something is wrong (i.e. “judge”). It matters if you do the same things (i.e. “practice”). The self-righteous Gentiles are being judged based on the law of their conscience. Their judgment of others turns around and condemns them.
(2:2-3) “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?”
God’s judgment is fully fair. He bases his judgment on the moral conscience of the individual, which they themselves break. Francis Schaeffer described this as an invisible tape recorder that is hung around the neck of every person who ever lived. (Today, we might say it’s an mp3 or digital recorder, and in another 40 years we’ll probably say it’s a microchip inserted directly into your brain!) According to Schaeffer’s illustration, every time an unbeliever makes a moral statement, this is recorded. At the end of the person’s life, God will “play back the tape” to judge the person based off of what he said. He will judge the person based on their own judgments. We all break God’s objective moral laws. But more pathetic than this, we even break our own subjective standards.
(2:4) “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
This is a noteworthy verse when we consider how God desires to change us: Not through fear but through kindness—not through judgment but through grace. God doesn’t gloss over sin through his kindness. Rather, Moo writes, “God’s purpose in his kindness is not to excuse sin but to stimulate repentance.”
(2:5) “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
God is winsomely drawing us to himself through “kindness,” “tolerance,” and “patience.” But we are the ones filled with “stubbornness” and an “unrepentant heart.” We’re learning more about God’s “righteousness” that is revealed in the gospel (1:17). God’s active judgment will be revealed in the future—just as his passive judgment is being revealed in the present (1:18).
(2:6) “Who will render to each person according to his deeds.”
Later in verse 16, Paul repeats this thought: “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” God’s judgment will be fair—based on what we’ve done (citing Psalm 62:12).
(2:7-10) “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
(2:7) Does this verse teach that good works can get us into heaven?
If you seek God and do good, you’ll be given eternal life. The problem (as Paul makes clear) is that no one seeks God and no one does good (3:10-12).
(2:11-12) “For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.”
Paul is driving home the point that God’s judgment will be perfectly just—neither lower nor higher than what we deserve. God will judge the Jews and Gentiles based on whatever revelation they were given. The Gentiles might complain, “But I was never given the Law!” Yet Paul’s point still stands: They were given the law of conscience, and they couldn’t even live up to that. It might be like someone saying, “I was never given an opportunity to go to college!” But that same person couldn’t pass their classes in high school. If the Gentiles cannot even pass the law of conscience, then how could they pass the even higher Law of God?
(2:13) “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”
It isn’t enough to merely hear the Law. We need to do it. This is very similar to James’ burden in his letter (Jas. 1:22-25).
“Just before God.” This is Paul’s first use of the verb “justify” in the letter. Moo writes, “The law can justify only when it is obeyed; reading it, hearing it taught and preached, studying it—none of these, nor all of them together, can justify.”
(2:14-15) “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”
Even people without the Bible still have a moral conscience. It isn’t as though someone reads the Ten Commandments for the first time and says, “What?! We shouldn’t murder? I always thought murder was such a good idea!” The moral law of God in the Bible will fit with a perfectly calibrated conscience. The problem is that our conscience isn’t always a perfect reflection of God’s moral standards (see Rom. 14).
The plight of this person is that sometimes their conscience defends them (leading to self-righteousness), while other times it accuses them (leading to condemnation and guilt). Paul is leveraging this innate sense in the human heart to show people their need for God’s grace. Moo writes, “The excusing and accusing testimony of the thoughts within each person’s conscience portends the verdict of the one who will bring every thought to light.”
(2:16) “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”
God will even judge what is in the human heart. What a terrifying concept when we really reflect on this! All “secrets” will be exposed on this day. Imagine if all of your internal private thoughts were posting on a teleprompter above your head throughout your whole life. How many friends would you be able to keep, when they saw each and every shameful thought going through your mind? If you’re anything like me, you’d be a very lonely person!
On the Day of Judgment, all of these hidden thoughts, motives, and desires will be brought to light. Our only hope is grace—not self-effort, not self-righteousness, not self-made religion. Paul will later explain that we need grace from a transcendent source (Rom. 3:21ff). Here, Paul is only setting up the insurmountable problem.
Thoughts about Self-Righteousness
Self-righteous judgment is a serious sin. Not all judgment is wrong (see Matthew 7:1), but self-righteous judgment is certainly wrong. When a fellow believer has a moral fall, we should correct, comfort, and even admonish them, but we should make sure that this doesn’t lead to self-righteousness in our own hearts. In a different situation, we realize that we could’ve made the same sinful choice ourselves (Gal. 6:1-2).
No matter how sinful you think you are, you’re worse! Truly, I am the worst sinner that I know (1 Tim. 1:15). I am the only person (besides God) who has first-person awareness of my thoughts, desires, motives, and intentions, and even I am not qualified to sort all of these out! (Jer. 17:9-10; 1 Cor. 4:3-4) When we begin to self-righteously judge others, God will often remind us of our own sinful thoughts and desires—presumably to keep us humble before him. Our role is to humble ourselves before God, rather than stick to the thin veneer of self-righteousness.
Questions for Reflection
Read verses 1-16. Self-righteous people gauge their righteousness from themselves. If you asked them if they were self-righteous, they would probably say, No! Since self-righteousness is so deceiving, how can we get out of this vicious loop of self-righteousness?
What are key ways to identify self-righteousness without morbid introspection?
What are key ways to grow as a self-righteous person? How would you help a self-righteous person to grow in this area?
Romans 2:17-3:8 (Judgment is based on the revelation of Scripture)
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul carefully lured in his Gentile readers to accept his argument by writing about other Gentiles. He spoke of them with “they… them… those…” language. But in Romans 2:1, he turned on the individual by writing, “Therefore… YOU!” To paraphrase, we might imagine Paul saying, “You know that those sorts of people are bad, and they deserve God’s judgment? Well, what about you? You deserve God’s judgment for the ways you break your own moral conscience!”
In Romans 2:17, Paul uses the same strategy with his Jewish readers. Paul will draw them in from verses 17-20, and he will drop the hammer in verse 21 (“You, therefore”).
(2:17) “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God.”
“Bear the name ‘Jew.’” The Jewish people in Paul’s day thought that they were in God’s family for simply being ethnically Jewish. But simply coming from a Jewish family doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be forgiven. Being a child of God doesn’t come in our DNA or human ancestry.
“Rely upon the Law.” The word for “rely” (epanapauomai) means to “to be in a state or condition of repose, rest, take one’s rest” or “to find well-being or inner security, find rest, comfort, support” (BDAG). The Jewish people that the by merely possessing God’s law resulted in a special spiritual status.
“Boast in God.” The word for “boast” (kauchomai) means to “to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag” (BDAG). It seems like a good idea to “boast in God.” Yet, looks can be deceiving. The context shows that these religious people were boasting in God’s gifts—not in God himself. As Mounce writes, “Gradually… privilege gave birth to self-righteousness.” Furthermore, it’s odd that this quality is stated last—almost as if God was tacked on at the end. If these blessings were given in descending order, this would mean God was the least valuable of all in the mind of the religious person.
Think of the Pharisee in Jesus’ illustration about showing true faith. It seemed like this religious man was thanking God in his prayer, but it turns out that this was a mere formality for thanking himself! The Pharisee prayed, “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income” (Lk. 18:11-12 NLT). This man’s prayer was not about God, and really all about himself (“I… I… I…”).
(2:18) “And know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.”
“Know… approve… instructed.” These religious people possessed a lot of religious education, but they had no application. We can’t just approve of God’s will. We need to live it out.
(2:19-20) “And are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.”
All of these gifts led the Jewish people to think that they should be expert teachers of others. Indeed, the Jewish people were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles in the OT. Yet, merely possessing spiritual and moral knowledge doesn’t make someone a good teacher of others. They had turned into “blind guides” (Mt. 23:16, 24).
At this point, Paul’s Jewish audience would be nodding their heads. We might imagine them saying, “Let ‘em have it, Paul! Those Gentiles deserve judgment, and we are the true chosen people of God! We have the right religious identity, we possess the Law, and we top notch religious education.” But right at this moment, Paul turns on his fellow Jewish readers…
(2:21) “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?”
Paul cites the 8th commandment: “You shall not steal.” It isn’t enough to teach that you shouldn’t steal. It matters if someone’s wallet went missing!
(2:22) “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?”
Paul cites the 7th commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” Paul doesn’t give any commentary on this commandment, but he must have known that this would’ve connected with his audience.
Paul cites the 1st and 2nd commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me… You shall not make any graven image.” The religious Jewish people were desecrated their own Temple (Mt. 21:13). Moreover, while they disapproved of Gentile idolatry, they didn’t mind profiting off of it.
(2:22) What does it mean to “rob temples”?
(2:23) “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?”
These religious Jewish people were boasting about the Law, but they were dishonoring God through the Law.
(2:24) “For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ just as it is written.”
The Gentiles “blasphemed” God, because they saw that God’s followers were hypocrites. Tim Keller writes, “A life of religious legalism is always distasteful to those outside their faith.”
(2:24) Why does Paul cite Isaiah 52:5 and/or Ezekiel 36:20ff?
(2:25) “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
Paul is arguing that the Jewish people should not place their trust in circumcision or in the Law. Later Jewish writing stated, “No person who is circumcised will go down to Gehenna” (Exodus Rabbah 19). Yet Paul argues that these are worthless without obedience. This is similar to a golfer who is always bragging about his expensive golf clubs, expensive shoes, and polo shirts… Yet, doesn’t know how to swing the club! In the same way, merely having circumcision and the Law doesn’t mean anything unless you’re putting it into practice.
Gentiles were uncircumcised and thus outside the covenant people. By calling the Jews “uncircumcised,” Paul is equating these religious people with the Gentiles!
(2:26-27) “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?”
If the Gentiles follow the Law, they are more righteous than the Jewish people by comparison. This would be a radical statement for a Jewish listener. Paul is saying that the Gentiles will actually hold court and judge these Jewish people because they do not keep the Law. In some sense, this shouldn’t be that radical, because God used Gentile nations in the OT to judge the Jewish people. But in the first-century, the Jews had such antipathy for the Gentiles (and vice-versa) that this statement would’ve stung. Moreover, Jewish authors often placed themselves as the judges over the Gentile nations (1 Cor. 6:2; 1 Enoch 91:12; 98:12; Apocalypse of Abraham 29:19-21; Wisdom of Solomon 3:8). But Paul “reverses this customary scheme.” Jesus paved the way in taking this approach, claiming that the “men of Nineveh” and the “queen of the south” would judge his generation (Mt. 12:41-42).
(2:28-29) “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
The “circumcision of the heart” was predicted in the OT. Moses wrote, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). Likewise, Jeremiah wrote, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds” (Jer. 4:4).
(2:28-29) Does this passage teach that Christians inherit the Jewish promises of the Old Testament? (c.f. Phil. 3:3; Gal. 6:16)
In this section, Paul’s hypothetical Jewish opponent raises objections to Paul’s argument in 2:17-2:29. If the Jewish people are God’s chosen people, then what benefits—if any—does this give them? Furthermore, how can God be faithful to his people, but also judge them at the same time? Moo writes, “Taken as a whole, then, the passage both affirms the continuing faithfulness of God to his covenant people and argues that this faithfulness in no way precludes God from judging the Jews.” Moo holds that Paul will elaborate on this subject in Romans 9-11.
Paul had likely rehearsed these questions with unbelieving Jewish people countless times in his ministry, and he had most likely raised these questions himself as a former Pharisee. In what follows, we read Paul’s responses to these important questions.
(3:1) “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?”
Paul anticipates the question that would be on his Jewish readers’ minds: If being Jewish only condemns someone more, then what is the benefit of being Jewish? Wouldn’t you be cursed to be Jewish—not blessed? No, not at all. Paul explains why…
(3:2) “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
“First of all.” Paul only mentions one benefit here, but he mentions many benefits later in Romans 9:4-5. To begin, he notes that one blessing was having the Bible—namely the “oracles of God” (cf. Acts 7:38; Heb. 5:12). Peter uses this expression to refer to what our language should be when we speak and teach (1 Pet. 4:11). Note, this implies that the Jewish canon was already established in Paul’s day. Otherwise, he couldn’t have said that they were entrusted with the word of God.
God “entrusted” (episteuthesan) them with the Scriptures, which is the root word for “faith” (pistis). While we shouldn’t rely on the Bible for our salvation (Rom. 2:17), we should consider possessing God’s words as an indescribable privilege. It is God’s breathed words that are sufficient for faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, these Jewish people had a huge advantage in being Jewish: They knew all about God’s promises, his plan, and his predictions about the Messiah.
(3:3-4) “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged.’”
God was faithful to the Jewish people by “entrusting” (pisteuō) them with the Scriptures and remaining true in his “faithfulness” (pistis). The problem wasn’t with God’s “faithfulness” (pistis), but with “some” (not “all”) of the Jewish people’s “unbelief” (apisteō).
Paul cites the words of David in Psalm 51:4 (“That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged”). If even the great King David admitted that God was right to judge him, then which Jewish reader could deny the force of Paul’s assertion that God was being unfaithful in judging his people? In other words, if David recognized that God is justified when he judges, then so should all faithful Jews. God’s word included “warnings that God will judge sin as well as promises that he will bless his people.” If God didn’t follow through on the warnings in his word, then he would be unfaithful.
“When You are judged.” In our estimation, this should be taken in the middle voice (“in Your judging”)—not the passive voice (“are judged”). See the NASB footnote.
(3:5) “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)”
Some might argue that their sin only makes God look better by comparison. But Paul flatly denies this and concludes that God will judge sin—not become personally inflated by it (v.7). God doesn’t need us to sin in order for him to look better by comparison! This is the thinking of self-righteous people—not the self-existent God.
(3:6) “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?”
Paul is not writing to postmodern people who question the judgment of God. Instead, Paul is appealing to “the common OT postulate that attributes absolute justice to God.” Paul’s Jewish readers assumed that God would judge the world (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 96:13; Isa. 66:16; Joel 3:12). Thus, if they agree with that premise (which they most certainly did), then their argument from licentiousness falls apart.
(3:7) “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?”
The Jewish listener might say that their sin only makes God’s truth more glorious. However, Paul retorts, God doesn’t get more glory from us sinning more. As a self-existent being, he doesn’t need us.
(3:8) “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just.”
Paul was accused of teaching antinomianism (cf. Rom. 6:1-2).
Questions for Reflection
While this passage is written about unbelieving Jewish people, there are principles of application for us as Christians. The religious and self-righteous mindset is not unique to any one religion, but spreads across all religions, including Christianity. This is because self-righteousness has a stronghold in the human heart. Therefore, as Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised to see these sorts of religious sins surfacing in our hearts as well.
How do you respond to this quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones? He writes, “As you read your Bible day by day, do you apply the truth to yourself? What is your motive when you read the Bible? Is it just to have a knowledge of it so that you can show others how much you know, and argue with them, or are you applying the truth to yourselves? …As you read… say to yourself, ‘This is me! What is it saying about me?’ Allow the Scriptures to search you, otherwise it can be very dangerous. There is a sense in which the more you know of [the Bible], the more dangerous it is to you, if you do not apply it to yourself.”
Why do you read your Bible? We should never discourage knowledge of the Scriptures, because the Bible never disparages knowledge. However, Scripture does speak against education without application. What truths of the Bible do you already know that you’re stubbornly refusing to put into practice? What has God already revealed about your life and character that you haven’t had a change of heart about?
Teaching the Bible is a serious responsibility. All Bible teachers sin (Jas. 3:2). There’s no doubt about this. But are you communicating your own faults under grace—even as you teach others the truth of God?
How do you react to professor Daniel Gilbert’s research about self-righteousness? How have you seen this in your experience? Daniel Gilbert (professor psychology at Harvard University) writes, “Science has given us a lot of facts about the average person, and one of the most reliable of these facts is that the average person doesn’t see herself as average. Most students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student, most business managers see themselves as more competent than the average business manager, and most football players see themselves as having better ‘football sense’ than their teammates. Ninety percent of motorists consider themselves to be safer-than-average drivers, and 94 percent of college professors consider themselves to be better-than-average teachers. Ironically, the bias toward seeing ourselves as better than average causes us to see ourselves as less biased than average too. As one research team concluded, ‘Most of us appear to believe that we are more athletic, intelligent, organized, ethical, logical, interesting, fair-minded, and healthy—not to mention more attractive—than the average person.’”
Romans 3:9-20 (Everyone is under God’s judgment: both Jews and Gentiles)
Paul has already argued that Gentiles deserve God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-2:16) and Jewish people deserve God’s judgment (Rom. 2:17-3:8). The logical conclusion is that all people deserve God’s judgment. This is precisely what Paul addresses next. Mounce compares this to a “courtroom scene,” where there is an accusation (v.9), evidence (vv.10-17), and the verdict (vv.19-20).
(3:9) “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”
The Jewish people had an “advantage” and a “benefit” (v.1), but not with regard to the penalty of sin. Here Paul is combining his two different arguments into one: both Gentiles (1:18-2:16) and Jews (2:17-3:8) are both under God’s judgment. Paul cites various Psalms to further develop his case that all people are sinful.
(3:10-12) “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
This is a citation of Psalm 14:1-3. The passage uses universal language (“none… not even one… all”). There are no exceptions in this passage: Every single human being is under the curse of sin.
“None who seeks for God.” People certainly seek out religion, but this isn’t the same as seeking God himself. Various religions might give a person an experience, a sense of righteousness, a sense of comfort, or perhaps a group identity. Yet, this isn’t the same as seeking out God himself.
(3:11) Do humans seek for God or not?
Don’t some people do good things from time to time? Paul writes that “there is none who does good” (v.12). Does this mean that we need to affirm that every single moral action of humans is immoral? We need to understand Paul’s statement in its context: Paul is addressing good works in front of a morally flawless God. God sees our motives and intentions. Tim Keller writes, “Without faith in Christ, good deeds are not truly done for God, but for ourselves—and thus are not truly good.” He gives the illustration of walking an old lady across the street—only to rob her on the other side! Or giving money to an old lady in order to receive moral praise from others. In this case, the person isn’t doing the good deed for others, but really for themselves. They are acting virtuously in order to get something in return. Another way to understand this difficulty is to acknowledge that God gives all humans “common grace” (Jas. 1:17). This means that even good deeds are ultimately generated and motivated from God’s common grace for all people.
(3:13) “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips.”
Paul cites from Psalm 5:9 and 140:3. From God’s perspective, when people open their mouths, it’s like cracking open a coffin containing a rotting corpse. It’s like a doctor telling us to say, “Ahh,” only to see a poisonous snake snap at her finger. What vivid imagery to describe the sad state of humanity.
(3:14) “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
Paul cites from Psalm 10:7.
(3:15-17) “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 and the path of peace they have not known.”
Paul cites from Psalm 59:7. With all of our education and technology, humans still are hellbent on killing each other through war. We don’t know how to live in peace with one another—either on a macro-level in governments or on a micro-level in our households.
(3:18) “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Paul cites from Psalm 36:1. The “fear of God” is the summary problem of Paul’s indictment on lost humanity. Keller writes, “This does not mean that every person is as sinful as every other person. It means that our legal condition is the same. We are all lost, and there are no degrees of lostness.” He gives the illustration of three swimmers trying to swim from Hawaii to Japan: One sinks immediately, another makes it 60 feet, and another makes it 50 miles before drowning. Keller asks, “Is one more drowned than the others? No! It doesn’t matter at all which swam further; none were anywhere near Japan, and each ends as dead as the others.”
(3:19-20) “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
Paul argues that all people know the law—whether the law of conscience (2:14-15) or the Law of God (2:17ff). But the law was never given to justify us, but only to show us how far we fall short. It is the X-ray of the broken bone, but not the splint to fix it. It’s the scale that shows us our obesity, but not the Weight Watchers program to help us shed the extra pounds. Keller writes, “The law is not a checklist we keep; it is a benchmark we fail.”
If the careful reader has been following the logic of Paul’s argument up to this point, he will quickly fall into abject despair. The Gentiles have failed to respond to God through creation and conscience, and the Jews have failed to live out their privileged status of possessing God’s word. Consequently, Paul issues a universal statement of judgment for all of humanity: “every mouth may be closed… all the world may become accountable to God… no flesh will be justified in his sight.”
What should we conclude? Is there no hope? Do we exist in a living hell—knowing that each day merely brings us closer to death and a literal hell?
Thank God that the letter doesn’t end here! Instead, we read two words that can change our lives forever: “But now…” (v.21)
Questions for Reflection
Some people don’t affirm original sin or total depravity. How do you react to this quote from author G.K. Chesterton? He writes, “The ancient masters of religion… began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders… have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
Paul writes that there is “none who seek for God”? How do we harmonize this with our experience of seeing people seeking after God—or perhaps our own experience of seeking God?
Paul writes that there is “none who does good”? How do we harmonize this with our experience of seeing people do tremendous acts of self-sacrifice and heroism? (e.g. Bridger Walker saving his sister from a German Shepherd attack)
Romans 3:21-31 (Forgiveness from judgment)
The conclusion to this section (1:16-3:20) is that humans need to give up on their self-improvement project. They need to admit that they are not good enough for God. In this case, Keller writes, “What keeps people from salvation is not so much their sins, but their good works. If we come to God telling him that we are good, offering him the works of our hands as our righteousness, we cannot take the righteousness he gives by grace. We need to give up our goodness, and repent of our religiosity as well as our rebellion. We need to come with empty hands, and silent mouths, and receive.”
(3:21) “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”
Originally, Paul wrote that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel (1:16-17). Now, after two chapters of explaining God’s righteousness against sin, he finally explains how God has chosen to forgive unrighteous people like us. While this is being revealed “apart from the Law” in the sense that the moral law cannot give us God’s righteousness, Paul is quick to add that the OT predicted this all along (“witnessed by the Law and the Prophets”). Indeed, Paul demonstrated this fact by citing various OT passages to make this case clearly from the OT itself (vv.9-18).
Theologians refer to this as imputed righteousness. That is, God gives us the righteousness that we need, giving us the credit that we don’t deserve. Keller compares this imputed righteousness to a person with a spotless resume for a job they are applying for. If you have the credentials, the company will hire you. Here, God is willing to give this “spiritual resume” to anyone who asks—as long as we approach him “apart from Law” (i.e. self-effort, self-righteousness, etc.).
(3:22) “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”
(Rom. 3:22) Is this verse about the “faithfulness of Jesus” or is it about “our faith in Jesus”?
(3:23-24) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
We have all fallen short. But there is good news: We can be “justified” by God. The word “justified” (dikaiomenoi) is a legal term used of a judge’s verdict in a courtroom.
Justification is a declaration of God—not a demonstration of our righteousness. We are not justified in the sense that we become righteous, but rather we are declared righteous by the Judge—by God himself. For instance, a lawyer approached Jesus, asking him how to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him that he needed to keep the entire law, he sought to “justify” (dikaiosai) himself (Lk. 10:29). This is the natural approach of the human heart: self-justification. But God doesn’t want us justifying ourselves. He wants us to simply accept his justification for us.
Justification is immediate—not something for which we wait. Moo writes, “No ‘legal fiction,’ but a legal reality of the utmost significance, ‘to be justified’ means to be acquitted by God from all ‘charges’ that could be brought against a person because of his or her sins. This judicial verdict, for which one had to wait until the last judgment according to Jewish theology, is according to Paul rendered the moment a person believes.”
Justification is passive—not active. The word “justified” (dikaiomenoi) is in the passive voice. This means that God’s justification is not something we do, rather it is something done to us.
Justification is free—not something we earn. Justification is a “gift” (dorean), which means “to being freely given, as a gift, without payment, gratis” (BDAG). Elsewhere, this term is translated as a “free gift” or “without charge” (2 Cor. 11:7).
Justification is essential—not optional. Christian philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Grace is indeed needed to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts it does not know what a saint or a man is.”
How did God accomplish all of this? Paul just finished writing two chapters arguing for the fact that we’re legally guilty, but now, we can be declared righteous. How can this be? Our redemption is “in Christ Jesus.”
(3:25) What does “propitiation” mean?
(3:25) “[Jesus is the one] whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”
“God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation.” The concept of the “propitiation” (hilastērion) refers to the “mercy seat” where the atonement took place in Leviticus 16. Moo comments, “What in the OT was hidden from public view behind the veil has now been ‘publicly displayed’ as the OT ritual is fulfilled and brought to an end in Christ’s ‘once-for-all’ sacrifice.”
God chose to “pass over” the sins of OT believers until Jesus came: “God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate “satisfaction” of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Heb. 10:4).” In other words, God waited to judge their sins, and placed their sins onto Jesus at the Cross. Now that the Cross has occurred in space-time history, all sins have been paid for: past, present, and future.
(3:26) “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Christ absorbed the punishment for our sin in himself. We access this atonement through faith. God fulfilled his justice by punishing Christ—not us. This is how he can be both “just” (i.e. punishing sin) and the “justifier” (i.e. granting justification to sinners).
We see the same objective versus subjective genitive here. Almost all translations render this as the objective genitive (“faith in Jesus”), while the NET renders this as the subjective genitive (“because of Jesus’ faithfulness”). We agree with most translations that this should be rendered in the objective genitive (see comments on verse 22).
(3:27) “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”
Paul uses the term “law” in a generic sense—almost like referring to the “law of gravity.” Similarly, he refers to the “law of faith.”
(3:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Justification is antithetical to Law. Paul doesn’t end in theological abstractions. He shows that these deep theological truths about the Atonement relate deeply to our lives: specifically, boasting and pride.
(3:29-30) “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
Neither Jews nor Gentiles can boast about being in God’s people. This is because neither group earned it. This will come up later in Romans 9-11, where Paul attacks Jewish and Gentile self-righteousness.
Compare this passage about boasting with Paul’s statements in Philippians 3:5-8. Paul had every reason to boast in his self-effort, but considers these things “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8). Believers—even “righteous” law-livers like Paul—should only boast in Christ (Gal. 6:14).
(3:31) “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”
How is it that law-breakers can uphold the law? Paul will later explain that Christ fulfilled the Law for us (Rom. 10:4; cf. Mt. 5:17). Moreover, as believers walking by the Spirit, we can actually begin to carry out the Law in our new identity (Rom. 8:4; 13:8-10).
Questions for Reflection
What consequences might occur if we rejected either the love of God or the justice of God?
How do you react to this statement? As one person has said, no matter how sinful you think you are, you are far worse (Rom. 3:10-20). And no matter how much you think God loves you, he loves you far more (Rom. 3:21-31).
Romans 4:1-25 (The Gospel in the OT)
Paul’s Jewish audience probably wondered how all of this could be possible. If God is now declaring people righteous on the basis of grace through faith, is this a new and novel idea? Not at all. The Hebrew Scriptures affirm the idea of justification by grace through faith—even though OT believers didn’t know about the death and resurrection of Jesus yet.
In Romans 4, Paul argues that the grace of God is not new. In fact, it was how both Abraham and David were declared righteous before God. Abraham lived 2,000 years before Christ, and David lived 1,000 years before Christ. Since both Abraham and David had tremendous clout in the Jewish community, this would carry serious theological weight. These two men are the “founding fathers” of the nation of Israel: Did their experience align with Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith and apart from works?
(4:1) “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?”
Paul continues his discussion of the gospel by appealing to Abraham. Ancient Jewish sources stated that Abraham followed all of God’s laws—even before God gave them to Moses! (Kiddushin 4:14; Jubiliees 23.10). Thus, in Paul’s day, observant Jewish people believed that Abraham was a paradigm for what it looked like to follow the Law. Yet, Paul asks, “What is it that Abraham discovered about justification? Was Abraham’s justification by works, or by grace through faith? What do the Hebrew Scriptures say?”
Later, Paul will reveal that Abraham is not simply the “forefather” of the Jewish people, but for all people: “He might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised” (v.12).
(4:2) “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
If Abraham was sinless, then he could boast before humans (since humans are sinful). But since God is already sinless, Abraham couldn’t boast before God. This aligns with our reading of James 2:14-26. Namely, this is a case where a person could be “justified” in the sight of people.
(4:3) “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’”
Paul appeals to Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified by faith—not works. He builds his argument from the authority of “Scripture.” Incidentally, Genesis 15:6 is the first use of the word “believe” in the Bible, and it “is connected with the attaining of righteousness,” which is “one of the very few times in the OT that this connection is made.”
(4:4) “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.”
You don’t consider your paycheck a “favor” (charis) from your boss every two weeks. You earned that money. You could take your boss to court if she didn’t pay you for your work.
(4:5) “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Faith is not a work. It isn’t that Abraham’s faith was a righteous act. Instead, his faith was the instrument that connected him with God’s righteous declaration. Similarly, even though we are “ungodly,” we can be “justified” (v.5).
“[God] justifies the ungodly.” Jewish readers would struggle with this concept. Throughout the OT, we read, “I will not acquit the guilty” (Ex. 23:7). Later we read, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 17:15; cf. 24:14). Thus, F.F. Bruce states that God’s justification of sinful people “is the greatest of all his wonders.”
(4:6-8) “Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
God made David righteous in the same way (“just as…”). Paul doesn’t mention David’s faith, but he cites Psalm 32 to show that righteousness is apart from works. David was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Sam. 11). Yet he says that these sins were forgiven by God.
It doesn’t say that the blessed man avoids “sin” or “lawless deeds.” It says that the blessed man has these sins “forgiven… covered… not [taken] into account” by God.
What about circumcision? Do we need this work to be counted righteous?
(4:9-12) Is Paul teaching that the church has fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant?
(4:9-10) “Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.”
Paul’s Jewish readers probably figured circumcision gave them some merit with God (Rom. 2:25-29). Not so! Paul makes a historical argument that Abraham was granted righteousness before he was circumcised. Abraham was “credited as righteous” in Genesis 15, but he wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17. The rabbis held that this was 29 years later, though we have no way of knowing if this is true.
(4:11) “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.”
Abraham isn’t just the father of faith to the circumcised, but the uncircumcised too. He is “the father of us all” (v.16), and the “father of many nations” (v.17). He is the father of faith for the Gentiles—not just the Jews.
(4:12) “And the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.”
Paul doesn’t oppose circumcision. After all, he himself was circumcised. He merely states that circumcision does not bring about righteousness—only faith does.
God’s promise to Abraham
In verses 13-22, the “promise” of God is mentioned five times, making this the theme of this section.
(4:13) “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
Paul’s Jewish readers probably figured that the Law gave someone forgiveness. But Paul makes the historical argument that Abraham received the promise (and righteousness) 500 years before the Law was given to Moses.
(4:14-15) “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified. 15 For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.”
Paul’s logic in verses 14-15 can be explained in this way:
- Either Law or Faith brings about the promise of forgiveness.
- Law doesn’t bring about the promise—only wrath.
- Indeed, if we can get rid of Law, then we can get rid of wrath (“violation”).
- Therefore, Faith is the only option.
The Law was not introduced to bring forgiveness, but judgment. Moo writes, “Paul is countering the very positive, and sometimes even salvific, function given the law in Jewish theology.” Mounce writes, “Ironically, the very thing the Jews were counting on to make them acceptable to God turned out to emphasize their sinfulness.” Even in our legal system, we don’t have laws primarily to reward good actions, but to punish bad or evil actions. Paul might be lining up for the shot he’s going to take in Romans 5-8; namely, we need to get out from under the Law to be both justified and sanctified. The Law brings “wrath,” not spiritual life or spiritual growth.
(4:16) “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
Abraham received the promise to be a blessing to the nations (i.e. the Gentiles), and he received this by faith—not law. The consequence of grace is that God’s promise would be (1) “guaranteed” and not contingent on fallible human works and (2) available to “all” people even though we are all sinful (“all the descendants… the father of us all”).
What is biblical faith?
(4:17) “(As it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”
Paul cites Genesis 17:5. This is after Abraham receives the covenant of circumcision. However, even when the text is about Israel’s election, the focus was still on “many nations” (i.e. the Gentiles). Paul shows that Abraham is the paradigm of faith—not just for Jews but for all people.
“[God] gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” This seems to be referring to Abraham’s body which was “as good as dead” (v.19). God “makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (NET). Consequently, it refers to Abraham becoming the father of many nations that did not yet exist.
(4:18) “In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”
Paul cites Genesis 15:5 to show that Abraham’s descendants should be like him. Abraham wasn’t expecting this promise to come to fruition naturally, but supernaturally. He didn’t trust in the weakness of his body, but he expected it to come true through God’s power. This is the key teaching of faith: Not I, but Christ.
“Hope against hope.” Two types of “hope” are being pitted against each other. There was no natural hope, but there was a supernatural hope. The NLT renders this, “Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.” He trusted the One who gave him the promise (“he believed”).
(4:19) “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.”
Abraham’s body was “as good as dead,” being about a “hundred years old” (Gen. 17:1). Sarah’s body was also incapable of having children (Gen. 18:11). Keller writes, “Faith is not opposed to reason, but it is sometimes opposed to feelings and appearances. Abraham looked at his body and it looked hopeless. But he didn’t go on appearances. This shows us that faith is not simply an optimism about life in general, nor is it faith in oneself. It is the opposite. Faith begins with a kind of death to self-trust. Faith is going on something despite our weakness, despite our feelings and perceptions.” Mounce comments, “Can God? is not a valid question for the believer. Will God? is the question that drives us in prayer ever closer to his heart.”
(4:20-21) “Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”
Abraham was “fully convinced” (NET, NLT, ESV) or “fully persuaded” (NIV) that God was able to fulfill this promise. Faith is not antithetical to reason. Abraham faced the barriers squarely, but also reflected on God’s power.
Specifically, biblical faith is grounded upon “what God had promised” (v.21). He couldn’t have worked for this promise. Instead, he believed that God would fulfill it for him. Likewise, since Abraham is the father or paradigm of faith, he is a model to us regarding biblical faith.
(4:22) “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.”
Once again, Paul alludes to Genesis 15:6.
Paul draws some conclusions
(4:23-24) “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
This historical account was not just for Abraham, but has application for us. If we didn’t see this already, Paul shows that Scripture has application throughout the centuries—not merely to the original audience.
(4:25) “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”
Paul seems to be alluding to Isaiah 53:11-12.
Did the resurrection cause our justification? Douglas Moo and the NET take the second dia (“because of”) as prospective, which would mean that Jesus’ resurrection caused our justification. Thus, this passage would be rendered in this way: “He was handed over because of our trespasses [e.g., because we are sinners], and was raised for the sake of our justification [e.g., in order to secure our justification].” Otherwise, Moo argues, our justification “was in some sense a cause of Jesus’ resurrection.”
However, we don’t see how this follows. After all, our sins didn’t cause Jesus to take up the Cross. After all, he could’ve chosen not to do so. In the same way, our justification didn’t cause Jesus to rise from the dead.
Since dia is used retrospectively in the first part of the verse (“delivered over because of our transgressions”), it seems more consistent to take it this way in the second part (“because of our justification”). Since dia can be rendered as “for the sake of” (BDAG), we could see that Paul is using this meaning in both clauses (“[Jesus was] delivered over for the sake of our transgressions… [and] for the sake of our justification”). Thus, Paul is simply stating that Jesus’ death and resurrection were a “package deal” that accomplished our justification. We consider this understanding to be the most consistent interpretation of the language and grammar.
Paul chose Abraham and David as two key OT persons to show that justification was always by faith. Why do you think he chose these two particular OT figures?
Both figures were well respected in Judaism.
Both figures were guilty of serious sin, but also great faith.
Both were justified by faith—not works. Indeed, David was an adulterer and a murderer.
Abraham was not only a paradigm of justification through faith for Jews, but also for “many nations” (vv.16-17). This shows that all people should come to God through faith.
Many people are confused about the meaning of the term faith. What do we learn about biblical faith from this passage?
Faith is antithetical to boasting (vv.2-3, 20).
Faith is antithetical to cowering in fear (vv.6-8).
Faith gives us a new and marvelous identity (vv.12-17).
Faith brings about assurance (v.16).
Faith gives us hope when all hope seems gone (v.18).
Faith is the key that unlocks the door to all of these great virtues. We neither boast in arrogance—not cower in fear. Why? Because we have a new identity in Christ, boasting and fear are both inconsistent with this identity. We have meaning (i.e. identity), assurance (i.e. security), and perseverance for the future (i.e. hope when all hope seems gone). Do you want these qualities in your life? You need to stop minimizing God’s promises, and instead, trust in what he says about you. In a word, you need to grow your faith.
Romans 5:1-11 (Results of Justification)
Whenever we get good news (e.g. job promotion, engagement, our wife gets pregnant, etc.), we immediately think of how this will affect the rest of our lives. In this chapter, Paul unpacks what justification means for the believer, and how it will change our lives.
(5:1) “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Having been justified by faith.” This is a summary of Paul’s argument in Romans 1-4. Our justification with God is a completed, past event (“having been justified by faith”). Grammatically, Paul uses the “nominative plural of the aorist passive participle.” This means that he is referring to our justification as “an event in the past, an event that extended righteousness to all believers.” Moreover, Paul writes this in the passive voice. This means that justification was something that was done to us—not something we did.
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not the subjective peace of God (Phil. 4:7). Rather, this is peace with God—an objective standing with him, regardless of our feelings.
(5:1) Do we have justification in the past tense, or are we supposed to seek justification in the future tense?
(5:2) “Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Verse 1 refers to the truce in our war with God. We are no longer God’s enemy. Here, we have something more: access to God. The term “introduction” is better translated as “access” according to Moo and the NIV. The context favors this view, because this shows how we can partake of God’s blessings. Moreover, this term is translates as “access” in its two other usages in the NT. Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father… In [Jesus] we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” (Eph. 2:18; 3:12). The translation of “introduction” simply doesn’t fit these texts.
“In which we stand.” The Enemy will try to move us from this firm ground on which we “stand.” Our role is not to flee, but to take our stand. If we give up the firm ground of our justification, we give up everything! Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil… Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-11, 13). We don’t stand on feelings, but on divine facts.
“We exult in hope of the glory of God.” We “exult” (or “boast”) in God’s work on our behalf. There is nothing inherently wrong with boasting. In fact, we were designed to boast—as long as we boast in God, rather than in ourselves.
(5:3-4) “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”
Why does Paul bring up suffering and endurance immediately after justification? It seems that the truth of our justification becomes a personal reality during times of suffering and endurance. When temporal blessings are taken away, we appreciate the truth of our justification like never before. Like a man clinging to a life preserver after his boat sinks, we grasp to these spiritual and eternal truths even firmer. Paul further explains that suffering brings about:
- “Perseverance.” Suffering produces an ability to endure over the long haul, and it is characteristic of those who “bear fruit” (Lk. 8:15). Therefore, this quality has a purpose, transforming us into a person of “character.”
- “Character” (dokimen) refers to “(1) a testing process, test, ordeal; (2) the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character” (BDAG). This leads to “hope.”
- “Hope” (elpis) doesn’t refer to wishful thinking or wishing upon a star. It means that we are “looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” or as “matters spoken of in God’s promises” (BDAG). Of course, this definition fits with the context that states, “Hope does not disappoint.” If we had “hope” in the sense of gambling, we could very well be disappointed! But that is not Christian hope.
Paul returns to this theme of how trials and tribulations create glory at the end of this section (see Rom. 8:18-30).
(5:5) “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Interestingly, this is “the first time Paul has mentioned God’s love in Romans.” We deserve God’s wrath poured out on us, but instead, we get his love. This doesn’t refer to the objective historical events of God’s love. Rather, it refers to the “inner, subjective certainty that God does love us.” In other words, the Holy Spirit makes these historical and life-changing realities come alive in the heart of the believer (cf. Rom. 8:15-16).
Does this verse teach that we love God, or that God loves us? The “love of God” could be translated either as a subjective genitive (“God’s love for us”) or an objective genitive (“Our love for God”). Most translations favor the subjective genitive, and that is our view, because this favors the context. However, even if the objective genitive is in view (“Our love for God”), it would only show how our love for God comes as a consequence of the Holy Spirit being “poured out within our hearts.” Thus, even the subjective genitive would imply God’s initiative—not self-effort.
“Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” This is the reason that “hope does not disappoint.” The Holy Spirit in our hearts is the assurance that we belong to God, and very soon, we will be with Him directly.
(5:6, 8, 10) “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” In this repeated refrain, Paul gives three attributes of our spiritual state before meeting Christ: “helpless” (v.6), “sinners” (v.8), and “enemies” (v.10). There is intensification in this list. It moves from depicting us as weak to willfully sinning.
- “Helpless” (asthenes) means “weak” (1 Cor. 4:10; 1 Pet. 3:7) or “unimpressive” (2 Cor. 10:10). But it is normally rendered as “sick.” BDAG’s first definition is “pertaining to suffering from a debilitating illness, sick, ill.” This word is used to refer to the paralyzed man that Peter and John healed (Acts 4:9), the sick brought to the apostles’ feet for healing (Acts 5:15), and those dying of sickness in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:30). The point is that both renderings are probably in view. We were weak, helpless, and spiritually sick. Christ looked on us with love and charity, knowing that we couldn’t heal ourselves.
- “Sinners” (hamartolon) means “not measuring up to a moral standard” (BDAG).
- “Enemies” (echthroi) means “being subjected to hostility or hatred” (BDAG).
Why does it say that Jesus died for us “at the right time”? Does this refer to the right time in our lives, or does it refer to the right time in human history? The latter is definitely in view, because Paul is referring to the historical event of the Cross—not our subjective experience of meeting Christ. Even though this was all true, Christ died for us in this spiritual state (cf. Gal. 4:4).
(5:7) “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.”
Human love only goes so far. We might sacrifice our lives for our kids or our loved ones. But we wouldn’t give our lives for a mass murderer or a child molester!
(5:9) “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
We were justified in the past tense by Jesus’ blood, but we’ll be saved in the future tense from his wrath. If God performed the unthinkable to die for every man, woman, boy, and girl on Planet Earth, then it follows that he would want us to avoid judgment at the end of our lives. Therefore, our current justification has future ramifications. We can know that God won’t ever judge us. There is nothing here mentioning the fact that we can be unjustified. Once justification occurs, our future salvation is divinely secured.
(5:10) “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Paul has been writing with legal language (e.g. justification), but now he turns to relational language (e.g. reconciliation). This is a great passage for eternal security. Paul uses an a fortiori argument: If God forgave us when we were his enemies, how much more can we know that we’ll be sent to heaven now that we’re his allies? Keller writes, “If he was able to save us when we were hostile to him, would he fail us now that we are friends? If he didn’t give up on you when you were at war with him, what could you do to make him give up on you now that you are at peace with him?”
(5:11) “And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Our reconciliation with God has started, and this is our basis for “boasting” about God in the future. Paul concludes this section in the same way that he opened it: Our justification is a past and completed event (v.1), and therefore, so is our reconciliation (“we have now received the reconciliation”).
Paul writes that suffering leads to character change (vv.3-5). We shouldn’t cause this process of suffering. However, what are ways we can cooperate with God to bring about character change during times of suffering?
See our earlier article, “Means of Growth: Suffering.”
How could you make a case for eternal security based off of verses 1-11?
- We have been justified in the past tense (v.1) and reconciled in the past tense (v.10).
- We have the Holy Spirit (v.5).
- Christ died for us when we were enemies (v.6, 8, 10). How much more will he hold us secure in his love as his sons?
- Because we are secure, we can persevere and grow. This is the subject to which Paul will turn in the rest of Romans 5-8.
Romans 5:12-21 (Federal Headship)
Federal headship refers to gaining an identity in Adam or in Christ. This concept has also been called “corporate personality.” Paul offers a parallel discussion of this in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49, but his most robust explanation of federal headship is found here in Romans 5.
While the Jewish and Gentile Christians were arguing over genetic ancestry (e.g. Abraham), Paul levels the playing field by going back to our earliest common ancestor: Adam. We’re all descended from Adam, and we’re all saved through Christ.
(5:12) “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
This is not merely saying that we also sinned like Adam sinned. Later, Paul makes it clear that we died because of Adam’s sin (“by the transgression of the one the many died,” v.15), and we were given a sin nature from Adam (“through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,” v.19). This isn’t “fair,” but neither is our forgiveness in Christ: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). It is simply a fact that in a world of free-moral agents, other people can affect us for good or for bad. Paul begins with the bad news: Adam gave us all a sin nature.
(5:12, 14) How can God judge all men for Adam’s sin, when it wasn’t their fault?
(5:13) “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”
Paul seems to be responding to a possible objection: Maybe we should go back to a period of time before the Mosaic Law was given. “No,” says Paul, “this won’t work, because we still face a problem with death.” Even though people weren’t under law (a main theme of chapters 6-7), these people were still under death.
During this period of time, God surely judged people according to the light they were given. Before the Mosaic Law, God judged humans according to Natural Law (Rom. 2:14-15), which Paul has already explained.
(5:13) Did God not judge people before the time of the Law?
(5:14) “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”
People continued to sin after the time of Adam, but not in the same way that Adam sinned. Adam disobeyed a direct law from God (Gen. 2:16-17).
“Who is a type of Him who was to come.” A type is a foreshadowing (or “prototype”) of something to come. Types are not identical analogies. In this case, the analogy is that Adam and Jesus both had a universal effect on humanity—even though Adam brought death and Jesus brought life. Paul shows the differences in the subsequent verses.
(5:15-16) “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.”
Again, we need to stress that types are not exact analogies. The type here refers to the universal impact of both Adam and Christ. However, Adam’s decision universally impacted humanity negatively, while Jesus universally impacted us positively. Adam gave us a “transgression” to live with; Christ offers us a “gift” to enjoy forever.
(5:17) “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”
“Much more” doesn’t refer to the total quantity of people who were affected. Rather, it refers to the insuperable quality of Christ’s work. Adam made us die, but Christ gives eternal life in heaven.
“Reign in life through the One.” The earlier contrast to “death” reigning through Adam refers to our current fallen world of separation from God, resulting in an eternity in hell apart from Him. Therefore, the concept of reigning “in life” through Christ could be setting up what Paul is going to argue for the next several chapters—namely, to “reign in life” refers to our spiritual growth in this life. This, of course, could also refer to reigning with Christ in eternity (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5).
(5:15, 17) Is Paul saying that everyone will be forgiven in the end?
(5:18-19) “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. 19 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.”
Paul continues to compare Adam’s action of sin and Jesus’ action of justifying sinners.
(5:20-21) “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
(5:20) Is Paul saying that the Law makes us want to sin more?
Paul lines up a shot that he’s going to take in chapters 6 and 7: Falling under Law causes us to sin more—not less. Law is not the solution, but the problem. We appreciate the great insights of older Bible teachers on this subject:
Watchman Nee: “In his atoning work before God he acted alone; no other could have a part. But the Lord did not die only to shed his Blood: he died that we might die. He died as our Representative. In his death he included you and me.”
Watchman Nee: “If we are ‘in Adam’ all that is in Adam necessarily devolves upon us; it becomes ours involuntarily, for we have to do nothing to get it. There is no need to make up our minds to lose our temper or to commit some other sin; sin comes to us freely and despite ourselves. In a similar way, if we are ‘in Christ’ all that is in Christ comes to us by free grace, without effort on our part but on the ground of simple faith.”
Watchman Nee: “In his death we all died. None of us can progress spiritually without seeing this. Just as we cannot have justification if we have not seen him bearing our sins on the Cross, so we cannot have sanctification if we have not seen him bearing us on the Cross. Not only have our sins been laid on him but we ourselves have been put into him.”
Miles Stanford: “Death is his decreed portion. There cannot be two masters in our lives. If the old ‘I’ is in active possession of us, then Christ cannot be. But if we gladly take hold of the great fact of redemption—‘I have been crucified with Christ’—then Christ by His Spirit takes up the exercise of the function of life within us, and leads us as His bond-slaves (disciples), in the train of His triumph.”
Miles Stanford: “‘If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. This is surely a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.”
By contrast, Douglas Moo does not think that the “old self” and “new self” refer to our natures. He contends that these refer to our old relationship to Adam and our new relationship to Christ: “What is crucified, then, is that relationship. Our tie to Adam is dissolved; he and the sin and death he represents no longer dictate terms to us.” However, this doesn’t fit with the language. Paul doesn’t say that our relationship died, but that we died. Just as Jesus himself died, so did our old natures. We are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
Why does Paul begin a long explanation of sanctification (Romans 5-8) by starting with Adam? Isn’t this a strange place to start?
The way we got into this sin-problem was through one man: Adam. The way we can get out of this sin-problem is also through one man: Jesus. Our problem starts with our OLD IDENTITY in Adam, and it can only be solved through our NEW IDENTITY in Jesus.
Identity is important: If sin comes naturally because we have an identity in Adam, then righteousness would come naturally because of our new identity in Jesus. Paul’s point is that if we could only get our identity working in the opposite direction, then we would be able to be break free from the stranglehold of sin.
Paul states that Adam was a type of Christ. In what ways is Adam similar to Jesus? In what ways is Adam different?
Romans 6:1-23 (Being “in Christ”)
(6:1) “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
If we are truly under grace, shouldn’t this cause us to fall into licentiousness? Paul firmly disagrees. Yet, he doesn’t base his argument on revoking grace or threatening God’s wrath. Instead, he writes that sin is inconsistent with who we are “in Christ.”
Why was Paul accused of being an antinomian? From this passage, we can infer that Paul had been accused of being an antinomian; that is, he was accused of eliminating the law or being anti-law with his teaching about grace. Of course, Paul’s teaching was certainly not antinomian, but it must have been close enough for someone to cast this accusation (Rom. 3:8). Otherwise, the accusation would carry no weight, and Paul would never have raised the question here at this point in his letter. John Stott writes, “This shows conclusively that he did preach the gospel of grace without works. Otherwise, if he did not teach this, the objection would never have been raised. It is the same today. If we are proclaiming Paul’s gospel, with its emphasis on the freeness of grace and the impossibility of self-salvation, we are sure to provoke the charge of antinomianism. If we do not arouse this criticism, the likelihood is that we are not preaching Paul’s gospel.” Stott’s point is interesting: When was the last time you were accused of being an antinomian? Of course, antinominianism is a heretical doctrine, but Paul’s teaching of radical grace was so forceful that he garnered this criticism. Surely, extreme Lordship theologians would never be accused of being anti-law!
(6:2-3) “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”
The first step to spiritual growth is not to struggle or fight with sin. We shouldn’t simply “try harder” or “just do it” as the Nike slogan says. Paul’s focus here is not on doing, but on knowing (“do you not know…?”). Bruce writes, “[Paul] could never consider legalism as the remedy for libertinism; he knew a more excellent way.”
Paul’s remedy for sin doesn’t begin with doing, but with knowing (“do you not know…?”). The first step is to realize an important divine fact: I’m dead. If I was praying through this passage, I might say, “Thank you, God, that James Rochford is dead. That man who is so selfish, so greedy, so egotistical, so jealous… you’ve killed him. He’s dead and gone! Thank you that James Rochford has died. He died with Christ on the Cross.” By focusing on this reality, the behavior of our old self begins to die as well, and it results in the reality of Christ being formed in us (Gal. 4:19).
Keller agrees that Paul is referring to spiritual baptism—not water baptism. He interprets Romans 6 in line with the “new identity” in Christ. He writes, “When a Christian sins, they are acting against their identity. Why would they sin? Therefore, if I sin, it is because I do not realize who I am; I have forgotten what has been done for me in Christ.”
(6:3-4) Is this passage describing water baptism?—or something else?
(6:4) “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.”
This baptism is being “put into” Jesus’ death (“buried with Him”). If we are a Christian, we have experienced this objective fact. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus was a certainty (“Christ was raised from the dead”).
But the term “might walk” (peripatesomen) is in the subjunctive mood, meaning that this is a possible outcome, rather than a certainty. We could be united with Jesus, and yet, we can still fall into sin (and do fall into sin regularly).
(6:5) “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.”
Some hold that this refers to our physical resurrection after death. After all, Paul uses the indicative mood (“certainly we shall…”), rather than the subjunctive mood (“we might…”). This implies the certainty of the believer’s resurrection from the dead. He also uses the future tense (“we shall also be…”). This is a plausible interpretation.
However, we agree with other commentators that Paul is referring to our spiritual union to Christ in our new identity. For one, the language refers to our union with Christ. Paul specifically mentions being “united” with him. Second, the context refers to daily walking in “newness of life.” In the flow of thought, the certainty is not the physical resurrection, but rather the certainty of being united with Christ’s resurrection if we have died with Christ. In other words, there is no such thing as a person who has “died” with Christ who is also not united to his resurrection power. Our “death” isn’t literal in the sense that our pulse has stopped and our brains have gone dead. Paul is saying that our old self—our old identity—is dead. In the same way, our resurrection is a current power in the Christian life at this very moment.
What about Paul’s use of the future tense? Regarding the future tense (“we shall be…”), this fits with the interpretation that Paul is describing our bodily resurrection. However, it also fits with the view of our future and ongoing sanctification. Thus, it fits both perspectives.
(6:6-7) “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.”
“Our old self.” This refers to “what we were in Adam… dominated by sin.” It was this old self that was “nailed to the cross with Jesus.”
“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him.” The punishment for sin is death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). Instead of rehabilitating our old self, God crucified and killed it. Consequently, the old self has been crucified (Gal. 2:20), and God has made us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Does this refer to the daily death to sin? Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23). Jesus was referring to an ongoing death to sin (“take up his cross daily”), but Paul is referring to a one-time death to sin (“our old self was crucified”). Therefore, this does not refer to the daily dying to sin in our condition, but to our one-time death to sin in our position—just as Jesus died “once for all” (v.10).
We come in and out of agreement with Moo throughout Romans 6, but in our estimation, he gets it right in this section. He writes, “The believer who is ‘crucified with Christ’ is as definitely and finally ‘dead’ as a result of this action as was Christ himself after his crucifixion… Paul’s language throughout is forensic, or positional; by God’s act, we have been placed in a new position. This position is real, for what exists in God’s sight is surely (ultimately) real, and it carries definite consequences for day-to-day living.”
“In order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” If my old sinful self is dead, then I can’t sin. “Knowing this” is what inactivates the sinful nature. The term “done away with” (katargeo) means to cut off the power of sin or make sin inactive.
(6:6) Does Paul really believe that we do not have a sinful nature anymore?
(6:7) “For he who has died is freed from sin.”
Paul began this paragraph with a question: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (v.1) Why does he keep answering this question by repeatedly stating that we have died? Understanding these divine facts is the key. When we realize that our old self is dead, we see that we are “freed from sin.” Sin cannot control a dead guy. As the rabbis said, “When a man is dead he is freed from fulfilling the law” (b. Shabbat 151b, Baruch).
(6:8) “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
If our reading so far is correct, then to “live” with Christ refers to our current walk with him in this life (vv.4-5). This doesn’t refer to the future resurrection of the dead, but rather to our present spiritual growth (Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:5-6). Paul writes elsewhere of the present implications of having died with Christ, “I have been crucified with Christ… and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20). We agree with Mounce when he writes, “This is not a promise of life after death with Christ in heaven but of a life to be lived out here and now.”
Based on these truths, we have a battle of belief ahead of us. Our war is not with sin, but with unbelief. We don’t have the power to fight sin; instead the Holy Spirit does this in us. Paul writes that our “flesh” (old self) fights with the Holy Spirit: “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). It isn’t that we fight with sin, but the Holy Spirit does this for us. Our role is to be “led” by the Spirit. Hence, Paul writes, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal. 5:18).
What is our role in this process? Do we passively plop down and have nothing to do with our spiritual growth? Is the Christian life inactive and lifeless? No way! The battle is in our own mind—a battle of belief. We do need tremendous action, but action in the right place. In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer referred to this as “active passivity.” By this, Schaeffer was not trying to be paradoxically deep—like some mystic sage. Instead, what he meant was that we are very active in one respect (i.e. our faith), while we are very passive in another respect (i.e. self-effort). We don’t battle sin with self-effort. So, in this respect, we are passive. However, we do battle sin by fighting to believe what God says about us, giving ourselves to him in faith. We need to (1) know these truths, (2) consider and trust them, and then (3) present ourselves to God based upon them.
(6:9-10) “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”
Death has no power over Christ because of his resurrection from the dead. If we never knew about this, we wouldn’t have access to this power in our lives. Like a slave who was never told about the Emancipation Proclamation, we would continue on in slavery—not knowing that we had been freed. Paul gives a second step: we need to trust, meditate, and “consider” the great truth of our new identity.
(6:11) “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
The NIV renders “even so” as “in the same way.” This relates Jesus’ death and resurrection to our current sanctification—not our future resurrection. Just as Jesus cannot die again, so too, we cannot die again. We’re already dead. Therefore, our job is not to die, but to consider ourselves to be already dead.
“Consider yourselves to be dead to sin.” The term “consider” (logizomai) is an accounting term and refers to making an accurate ledger entry. In other words, our role is to believe that we have died, and we’re now alive to God (“consider yourselves”). Harrison writes, “[Considering] does not create the fact of union with Christ but makes it operative in one’s life.” Bruce writes, “This is no game of ‘let’s pretend’; believers should consider themselves to be what God in fact has made them.” This implies that we very actively trust in these great truths, battle false beliefs, and take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
To return to our illustration from earlier, this is similar to a slave who did hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, but was too afraid to claim his freedom. Author David Oshinsky writes,
Among the hundreds of ex-slaves interviewed in the 1930s, about forty percent claimed to have moved during the war itself or in the months immediately following emancipation. But most remained where they were, living as tenants or field hands on the same land they had worked all along… The exhilaration of moving was tempered by feelings of insecurity and fear. ‘We wanted to be free at times, den we would get scart an’ want to stay slaves.’ a freedman recalled. ‘We was tol all kinds of things but didn’t know jes what to believe.’
It’s one thing to know we are free, but it’s another to trust and believe in our freedom. Finally, Paul gives a third crucial aspect of spiritual growth. Once we know about our new identity and consider it, we need to present ourselves to God.
(6:12-13) “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” How can we accomplish this? Paul has already gone to great lengths to show just how strong of a grip sin has in our lives. What is the key to breaking the stranglehold of sin?
Paul issues two commands here: (1) not presenting ourselves to sin, but instead (2) presenting ourselves to God. It’s interesting that Paul does not say that we are to present ourselves to righteous living or righteous behavior. Righteous living is surely the goal. But in order to get there, you first need “to present yourselves to God.” This text doesn’t say anything about acting on our faith—at least, not yet. Instead, Paul is describing the active decision to turn to God in faith, presenting yourself to him in your new identity in Christ, believing what he says about you is true. Without this, we’re operating out of self-effort and willpower. When we actively remember and believe in our new identity, righteousness comes naturally. To repeat, the contrast is not between sinning and not sinning. The contrast is between presenting ourselves to sin and presenting ourselves to God.
Is this a one-time action? Paul uses the aorist indicative mood to describe the way in which we present ourselves to God. However, Moo states that this doesn’t count for too much grammatically.
“Instruments of righteousness to God.” A scalpel cannot do anything on its own. It is merely a lifeless metallic “instrument.” But in the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel can perform tedious and delicate—not to mention lifesaving—surgery. So too, apart from Christ, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). Instead, we present ourselves to him as “instruments” for him to use. Only in this condition can we do anything in his powerful hands! (Phil. 4:13)
To return to our illustration above, a slave would need to know that he was legally free and he would need to believe he was free. But then he would need to present himself to others as a freeman—not a slave. Here, the believer needs to start by presenting himself in this identity to God himself. Even during times of struggles or sin, she might pray, “God, I believe that I’m loved by you and completely accepted. You love me, just like you love Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Mt. 3:17). I’m coming to you right now as your dearly loved daughter, and pray that you’d use me as an instrument to make an impact for the cause of Christ. I trust that you will guide and empower me to accomplish your will today.”
Examples of the importance of believing in identity and reality
Paul’s teaching about our new identity is very abstract, but perhaps these illustrations can help.
EXAMPLE #1. A warrior who didn’t believe the war was over. Hirō “Hiroo” Onoda was a Japanese intelligence officer in the Philippines in World War II. His commander, Major Taniguchi gave this order to Hiroo:
You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.
After the war ended, Onoda and his three friends didn’t believe it. The Japanese blanketed the jungles of the Philippines with leaflets (signed by General Yamashita), but Hiroo continued to fight for 29 years! It wasn’t until Major Taniguchi personally visited him in 1974 that Hiroo surrendered. Similarly, many believers never grow spiritually because they do not know, consider, or present themselves to God based on their new identity.
EXAMPLE #2. A librarian who didn’t know what book was in her attic. In 1961, Barbara Testa, a Hollywood librarian, inherited six steamer trunks that had belonged to her grandfather. They sat in her attic for 30 years. Then, in the autumn of 1990, she unearthed the original handwritten copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is valued at $1,500,000! For decades, this librarian had been living like a middle-class person—not realizing that she was a millionaire.
EXAMPLE #3. A prisoner who couldn’t live as a freed man. In the film The Shawshank Redemption (1994), “Red” (played by Morgan Freeman) is released from prison, but he can’t adjust to real life. He is so accustomed to living as an incarcerated man that he still asks for bathroom breaks and even wishes at times that he could go back to prison.
(6:14) “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
The key to spiritual growth is to get out from under the law. When we focus on law, we are not under grace.
Does “under law” refer to the OT era? Douglas Moo takes this verse to refer to the Mosaic law which “dominates the old regime from which we have been set free in Christ; grace dominates the new regime inaugurated by Jesus.” Likewise, Thomas Schreiner writes, “Paul has turned the tables on those who would say that the entrance of grace actually foments sin. On the contrary, it is those under the law who are subservient to sin, while it is only those under grace who triumph over it.”
We disagree that “under law” refers to the Mosaic era and “under grace” refers to the new covenant in general. The difficulty with this view (as Schreiner admits) is that this would imply that there was no grace in the old covenant! Schreiner takes this to be a generality, rather than a rigid statement, as does Moo. We simply hold that this interpretation is headed down the wrong track altogether. We take Paul’s statement at face value: The Ten Commandments are not helpful for generating spiritual growth. In the next verse, Paul refers to his original question of whether we should sin because we are “under grace” (Rom. 6:15). Clearly, his approach to spiritual growth was radical; otherwise, he wouldn’t need to repeat this question about licentiousness twice in the very same chapter (Rom. 6:1, 15).
Mounce understands being “under law” to refer to the “old era in which law served to intensify sin (3:20; 4:15; 5:20).” Now that we are “under grace,” we have the “power to overcome sin” and “grace frees from the condemnation brought by failure to keep the law.” He concludes, “Believers no longer live under the condemnation of the law but with the realization that God by his grace has placed them in a totally new relationship to himself.”
We agree with Tim Keller who writes that Paul is getting us to focus on our position and identity in Christ—not the law: “We need to realize that we are not to be stoics when it comes to sin: Just say NO! Paul is showing us here that sinning comes not so much from a lack of willpower, as from a lack of understanding our position and a lack of reflection and rejoicing.”
Watchman Nee writes,
How can you know? You can know for the one sufficient reason that God has said so. It does not depend on your feelings. If you feel that Christ has died, he has died; and if you do not feel that he has died, he has died. If you feel that you have died, you have died; and if you do not feel that you have died, you have nevertheless just as surely died. These are divine facts.
‘If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether a fallacy; it is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.
If we had more revelation, we should have fewer prayers and more praises. We spend so much time praying for ourselves just because we are blind to what God has done.
What, then, is the secret of reckoning? To put it in one word, it is revelation. We need revelation from God himself (Matt. 16:17; Eph. 1:17, 18). We need to have our eyes opened to the fact of our union with Christ, and that is something more than knowing it as a doctrine. Such revelation is no vague indefinite thing. Most of us can remember the day when we saw clearly that Christ died for us, and we ought to be equally clear as to the time when we saw that we died with Christ. It should be nothing hazy, but very definite, for it is with this as basis that we shall go on. It is not that I reckon myself to be dead, and therefore I will be dead.
The Devil is a skillful liar, and we cannot expect him to stop at words in his lying. He will resort to lying signs and feelings and experiences in his attempts to shake us from our faith in God’s Word. Let me make it clear that I do not deny the reality of the “flesh.” Indeed we shall have a good deal more to say about this further on in our study. But I am speaking here of our being moved from a revealed position in Christ. As soon as we have accepted our death with Christ as a fact, Satan will do his best to demonstrate convincingly by the evidence of our day-to-day experience that we are not dead at all but very much alive. So we must choose. Will we believe Satan’s lie or God’s truth? Are we going to be governed by appearances or by what God says?
(6:15) “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”
After Paul explains our identity in Christ, he returns to his original question from verse 1. Now that he has explained the argument from the new identity, the answer to this question takes on a deeper meaning.
(6:16) “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?”
The key to spiritual growth is the person or thing we are presenting ourselves to. Again, Paul appeals to the mind—not our willpower (“Do you not know…?”). The “presenting” leads to slavery—one way or the other. Some things in life are nuanced and need many qualifications. But this is not one of them. We can either be a slave of God or a slave of sin: “There is no possibility of neutrality.” If we present ourselves to God, then he will use us as his “instruments” (v.13) and his “slaves” (v.16). Jesus taught, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34). When we present ourselves to sin, it enslaves us even further. Now that we are “in Christ,” we have a new master. But which master will we actively trust?
(6:17-18) “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, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
This refers to our identity shifting from the one place to the other—from our old self to our new identity in Jesus. These verses are in the past tense, demonstrating that these are indicatives—not imperatives.
“Freed from sin… Slaves of righteousness.” This is the paradox of spiritual growth. We gain freedom through certain restraints. Indeed, some restraints result in greater liberty. For instance, getting to bed early is a restraint, but it gives the liberty of being well-rested the next day. By following Christ, we enjoy freedom by coming under his leadership. In so doing, God doesn’t want to take anything away from us that’s worth anything. So, if he leads us to restrain ourselves in certain ways, this is only for our benefit, as well as the benefit of others.
(6:19) “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.”
Paul was using an analogy for them to grasp these deep spiritual truths.
“For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
Since our identity objectively changed (vv.17-18), the imperative is to actively present ourselves to God based on that new identity. This is the key to “sanctification,” or spiritual growth. When we served sin, we didn’t have to actively think about it or use willpower. Therefore, Paul writes, “just as” you served sin in this way, “so now” serve God in your new identity.
(6:20) “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”
Before we met Christ, we didn’t exert effort to sin. This came naturally. Indeed, this is Paul’s point. If only we could get our identity working in the other direction, then righteousness and love would also come naturally. It’s true that non-Christians have a lot of freedom that Christians do not. But, the terrible reality is that they are free of “righteousness.” They cannot seem to develop a living reality of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). They have freedom, to be sure, but a terrible freedom.
(6:21-22) “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
Our old lives led to death (Gen. 2:17). Our new identity leads to sanctification in this life and glorification in the next. Paul creates a parallel between “death” (v.21) and “eternal life” (v.22). Why would we engage in sin, when we know that it leads to death? Peter writes that we’ve already had our fill of sin, and we have no more need of it. As Peter writes, “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4 NIV).
(6:23) “For the wages of sin is death.” Harrison writes, “Sin turns out to be a wretched paymaster, promising life but meting out death.” The Harrison also points out that the concept of “wages” implies a repeated payment of death. Sin leads to more and more death in the life of the Christian.
“But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While the “wages” is given in the plural, the “free gift” of God is in the singular (cf. Rom. 5:15-16). Moo summarizes the three contrasts that Paul gives in this chapter: “The master that is served—sin versus God; the outcome of that service—death versus eternal life; and the means by which this outcome is attained—a ‘wage’ earned versus a gift received.”
Questions for Reflection
Paul begins by asking why Christians shouldn’t simply sin more because they are under grace? We often hear the same question, “If you’re under grace, then what would stop you from going out and murdering someone?” If all you had was Romans 6, how would you respond to this question?
In addition to Romans 6, what additional points might you make to answer this question?
Paul tells us to consider our new identity in Christ. What barriers do we need to overcome in order to focus on our new identity?
Our new identity in Christ can be very abstract. What are some helpful ways to meditate on our new identity in Christ, and make this a firm reality in our lives?
Pray through this passage from Paul in Ephesians. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to your new identity as you pray through this. Paul writes, “I am asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. 19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him” (Eph. 1:17-19 NLT).
We are not referring to the placebo effect. We actually have a new identity in Christ. The problem is that we don’t believe and trust in who God says that we are.
Your actions will follow what you believe—not what is true. As we saw in all of the examples above (e.g. southern slaves, Japanese intelligence officer, librarian with an original copy of Huck Finn, etc.), their lives weren’t based on reality but on what they believed about reality. If God says that you are loved and accepted, but you feel that you’re unacceptable and worthless, who is right? Will you choose personal feelings or divine facts?
How many believers are walking through life without ever knowing any of this? They are sitting on a goldmine of spiritual facts, but they simply don’t know it or believe it! What a truly heartbreaking tragedy!
Romans 7:1-6 (Released from the Law)
(7:1-4) “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? 2 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. 3 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. 4 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.”
We shouldn’t press Paul’s analogy too far. Parables and illustrations often only one main lesson. If we over interpret them, we run into problems. For instance, regarding the ten virgins and their oil lamps (Mt. 25), interpreters will often ask, “What do the virgins represent?” or “What does the oil represent?” or “Why are there ten virgins?” This misses the point entirely. The one main lesson of the parable is, “Be ready!”
In this analogy, all Paul is trying to illustrate is that death breaks the contract of the law. He is asking the question, “What breaks the law of marriage?” No one is legally married to a dead person. Marriage is binding “until death do we part…” Even the rabbis stated, “If a person is dead, he is free from the Torah and the fulfilling of the commandments” (b. Shabbat 30a, Shabbat 151b bar). In the same way, argues Paul, how does a human being get out from under the legal binding of the Law of God? That person needs to die! Paul argues that we did die—with Christ on the Cross. Our identity is wrapped up in His identity (v.4). Since that old self died, we are freed from the Law. Interestingly, Paul says that this death allows us to “bear fruit for God.” Our death and separation from the Law is essential for spiritual growth.
(7:1-3) Why does Paul compare the Law to marriage? This illustration doesn’t seem to fit.
(7:5-6) “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. 6 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.”
It isn’t that the Law died. God’s moral Law is eternal and unchanging. There will never be a time that worshipping other gods will be moral, or that adultery or murder will be moral. If we believe that the Law died, then this would result in antinomianism (i.e. a rejection of the Law).
No, Paul doesn’t argue that the Law died. He argues that we died (v.4, 6). We have been released from the obligation and covenant of the Law, because of the work of Christ.
Is Paul referring to sanctification or justification? Paul emphasizes our current release from the Law in sanctification. He uses the present tense to describe how we “bear fruit for God” (v.4) and “serve in the newness of the Spirit” (v.6). Moreover, just as the old self was “done away with” (katargeo, Rom. 6:6), we now are “released” from the Law (katergethemen, Rom. 7:6).
Does this refer to Paul before he came to Christ? Some commentators think that this entire section refers to Paul’s pre-conversion, because he refers to being “in the flesh” (v.5), which seems to describe a non-believer. We disagree. First, Paul uses the plural “we” referring to all believers—not just himself. Second, Paul uses the expression “in the flesh” to refer to believers (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:22; 2 Cor. 10:3; Phile. 16; cf. 1 Pet. 4:2), and he also uses it in contrast to spiritual living (Rom. 8:8-9). Elsewhere, Paul tells us not to “trust in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). Another way of understanding “in the flesh” is to say that this refers to the old self, but now, we are released from the Law. Either way, our current standing with the Law in regards to sanctification is one of release—not bondage. For these reasons, we hold that Paul is referring to the current state of believers—not his pre-conversion experience. We agree with Mounce who writes, “How unfortunate that so many believers continue to understand their Christian experience within an ethical framework determined by law. To serve in the Spirit is to live the resurrected life, to claim our rightful place in Christ. Dead to sin and freed to live for righteousness, we now live lives that bear fruit for God.”
(7:6) In what sense are Christians “released from the Law”?
(7:8-13) Is Paul describing himself here, or something (or someone) else?
Romans 7:7-13 (Defending the Law)
(7:7) “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.’”
Once again, Paul anticipates the accusation of antinomianism: If the Law results in an “increase” of sin (Rom. 5:20) and if our “sinful passions… were aroused by the Law” (Rom. 7:5), does this mean that the Law is evil? Not at all. It isn’t that the Law is sinful; we are sinful. There is nothing wrong with the Law of God. One of the purposes of the Law is to know and identify sin (“I would not have come to know sin except through the Law”). Hence, Paul cites the 10th commandment.
(7:8) “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”
Paul uses a military metaphor when he writes “taking opportunity” (aphormen). Paul cannot be saying that people cannot sin before they know the Law (cf. Rom. 2:14-15; 5:13). Instead, he must be saying that the Law (when combined with our flesh) produces more sin. This one law (the 10th commandment) produced sin “of every kind.” If only we could get out from under Law, we’d be free from sin (“apart from the Law sin is dead”).
Consider the Israelites. God told them, “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4). Just a few weeks later, these people had Aaron make them a Golden Calf to worship (Ex. 32).
(7:9) “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.”
This is the first time Paul uses the pronoun “I” in his letter. The context is sanctification—not justification. Paul would never say that a person without Christ could be considered “alive.” Instead, he writes that without Christ we “were dead” and “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3), and “we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:5). We didn’t become “alive” until we met Christ (Eph. 2:5; cf. Col. 2:13).
Does this refer to Paul’s pre-conversion experience? Keller writes, “[Paul] had not realized what the law really required. He saw a plethora of rules, but not the basic force or thrust of the law as a whole. He had no understanding of holiness, of what it meant to love God supremely, of what it meant to love his neighbor as himself. Thus he was ‘apart’ from the law. What does it mean, though, that he was ‘alive’? Paul probably is referring to his own self-perception. He felt he was spiritually alive—pleasing to God, satisfying to God… [Paul] must mean: The commandment came home to me.” Keller later argues that Paul is speaking about sanctification in verses 14-25 (i.e. Paul’s present struggle with sin). But here, he holds that this is referring to justification.
We respectfully disagree with this interpretation. The more natural reading is that Paul is continuing to write about sanctification in the present—not launching back into justification. Indeed, Paul doesn’t say that he felt alive, but that he was alive (“I was once alive apart from the Law…”).
(7:10-11) “And this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”
What does Paul mean by “death” here? One interpretation is that this refers to spiritual death (i.e. hell and the judgment of God). Another view is that this is referring to dead works or death to our sanctification. We hold to this latter view. Paul uses “death” in contrast to “righteousness” (Rom. 6:16), and he also refers to “bearing fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5). Later, he refers to his current body as “the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). In our view, the death mentioned here refers to death to our spiritual growth.
(7:12-13) “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 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.”
Paul has now answered the objection raised in verse 7: “Is the Law sin?” No, the Law is “holy” and “righteous” and “good.” Paul is not against the Law.
Paul describes a time after he came to Christ when he was living in his position in Christ. But then, the law came in. As a former Pharisee, it was probably easy for Paul to fall back under the law. He describes the struggle that this was for him. Whereas he formerly relied on the law as a Pharisee, after coming to Christ, he realized that the law only inhibited spiritual growth.
Romans 7:14-25 (Struggling under Law)
(7:14-25) Is Paul describing his own personal struggle with sin?
(7:14-25) “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 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. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 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. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 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. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 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.”
Paul explains what it is like to fall back under law as a believer. He focuses on himself (“I”), rather than Christ. He focuses on the law, rather than the Holy Spirit. This frustration leads him to ask, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (v.25). Paul’s savior is a who—not a what. He depending on a person—not a list of laws.
Questions for Reflection
Why does Paul spend an entire chapter on the moral law in Romans 7, when he is in the middle of a discussion on spiritual growth? What is the importance of this?
How do you react to these quotes from author and pastor Watchman Nee (1903-1972) from his book The Normal Christian Life?
Watchman Nee: “A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself. When we give up the case, then God will take it up. He is waiting until we are at an end of our resources and can do nothing more for ourselves. …For our every attempt to do his will is a denial of his declaration in the Cross that we are utterly powerless to do so.”
Watchman Nee: “Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance to his work is not others but himself.”
Watchman Nee: “If you have a very clumsy servant and he just sits still and does nothing, then his clumsiness does not appear. If he does nothing all day he will be of little use to you, it is true, but at least he will do no damage that way. But if you say to him: ‘Now come along, don’t idle away your time: get up and do something,’ then immediately the trouble begins. He knocks the chair over as he gets up, stumbles over a footstool a few paces further on, then smashes some precious dish as soon as he handles it. If you make no demands upon him his clumsiness is never noticed, but as soon as you ask him to do anything his awkwardness is apparent at once. The demands were all right, but the man was all wrong. He was as clumsy a man when he was sitting still as when he was working, but it was your demands that made manifest the clumsiness which, whether he was active or inactive, all the time were in his make-up. We are all sinners by nature. If God asks nothing of us, all seems to go well, but as soon as he demands something of us, the occasion is provided for a grand display of our sinfulness. The Law makes our weakness manifest. While you let me sit still I appear to be all right, but when you ask me to do anything I am sure to spoil it, and if you trust me with a second thing I will as surely spoil that also. When a holy law is applied to a sinful, man, then it is that his sinfulness comes out in full display. God knows who I am: he knows that from head to foot I am full of sin; he knows that I am weakness incarnate; that I can do nothing. The trouble is that I do not know it. I admit that all men are sinners, and that therefore I am a sinner; but I imagine that I am not such a hopeless sinner as some. God must bring us all to the place where we see that we are utterly weak and helpless. While we say so, we do not wholly believe it, and God has to do something to convince us of the fact.”
What does it look like in your life when you are just beginning to fall under the weight of the Law? What are ways that you’ve found helpful to get back under grace?
First, if you’re having these feelings about your sin, this is a good place to be! Don’t despair. The lesson of Romans 7 is to understand that faith in God begins, where faith in self ends. However, if you stay in this spiritual state, you need to move on to Romans 8.
Second, believers who don’t understand this sort of struggle are superficial. Broken believers are very enjoyable to be around. You don’t feel like you have to put up a façade around them. Because they are open about their sin and struggles, you feel the freedom to share honestly as well. This happens when we are able to get our focus off of the law and onto the Holy Spirit. Romans 7 mentions the law 31 times (and the Holy Spirit once). By contrast, Romans 8:1-27 mentions the Holy Spirit 19 times.
Third, the law is useful in breaking us of our self-sufficiency. When we fall under law (e.g. comparison and performance), spiritual growth breaks down. If Romans 7 is teaching on the believer’s reaction to a law focus, then Lordship Theology will actually cause less spiritual growth—not more.
The word pneuma occurs 21 times in Romans 8. All but three references refer to the Holy Spirit (vv.10, 15-16).
Romans 8:1-13 (Spiritual Mindset)
This section is difficult to interpret because Paul moves back and forth between our position in Christ and our condition in the flesh. Our position refers to our new identity in Christ. We cannot change our position. Because we belong to Jesus, we are loved, secure, blameless, pleasing to God, etc. However, we don’t always act this way! This is where our condition comes in. Our condition refers to how we’re acting moment-by-moment every day—for good or for bad. Our experience shows that even though we have an unchanging position in Christ, we live with an ever-changing condition. Those who reject the concepts of “position” and “condition” have an extremely difficult time consistently reading Romans 8. As you read through this section, you should consider when Paul is referring to our unchanging position in Christ and when he is referring to our current condition in life.
(8:1) “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Why does Paul return to the security we have in Christ at this point in his letter? He must do so because this is a place of worry for the believer. When we try to serve God, we repeatedly fail and wonder if we’re really in a position of security with God at all. Some Bible teachers like to threaten the believer at this point: “Perhaps you’re not even a Christian… Or you may have even lost your salvation.” Yet how different is Paul’s perspective? The “fear-threat” motivation wasn’t Paul’s method for motivating spiritual growth. Instead, he brackets this entire section with the security we have in Christ (8:1, 39). Mounce comments, “It follows that if condemnation as an objective reality has been removed, there is no legitimate place for condemnation as a subjective experience. To insist on feeling guilty is but another way of insisting on helping God with our salvation. How deeply imbedded in human nature is the influence of works-righteousness!”
Can a fear-threat motivation change us? Yes, it can. Indeed, we see this happen all the time. If a person is showing up late for work, a threat from his boss will motivate him to show up on time. Likewise, people give up various addictions because they see the consequences of their actions, and want to change. However, the goal of spiritual growth is love (1 Tim. 1:5), and a totally changed outlook on life (Rom. 12:2). Fear cannot change us into a loving person. Threats do not free us to love others. We need more than threats to change at such a fundamental level. We need the security of a new identity.
“No condemnation.” Earlier, Paul used the term “condemnation” at the beginning of this long train of thought (Rom. 5:16, 18). Now, he brings this to a conclusion, and later he will write, “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died… who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). In Greek, the first word gives the emphasis. In this opening verse, the sentence opens with, “No.” It is as if Paul is saying, “There is NO condemnation for those in Christ.” It literally means “not one.”
“Now.” Remember the context: Paul was wrestling with sin at a very deep level (Rom. 7:14-25). His conclusion? Even in the midst of sin, there is “now,” at this very present moment, no condemnation for the believer. We have security “in Christ” even in the midst of sin.
(8:1) Is there condemnation or not?
(8:2) “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
Does the “the law of the Spirit of life” refer to the moral law (or Ten Commandments)? No. For one, this would overthrow the entirety of Paul’s argument about the impotence of the Law—an argument he’s been making for 2.5 chapters. Second, the context states that the moral law was unable to do anything for us. The next verse states, “What the Law could not do, weak as it was” (v.3). This doesn’t fit with the idea that “the law” can “set us free” (v.2). God didn’t empower the Law, but by giving us Jesus and thereby “sending His own Son” (v.3). Third, Paul mentions two different kinds of laws in the same verse, and these cannot both be the moral law. Fourth, the term “law” (nomos) has a wide semantic usage by Paul—especially in this section of Romans. Just a few verses earlier, Paul uses the word “law” (nomos) in a more general sense: “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 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” (Rom. 7:22-23).
In conclusion, the “law of the Spirit of life” doesn’t refer to the moral law (or Ten Commandments). Instead, we agree with Moo, Keller, and Mounce that Paul is using the word “law” (nomos) in a more general sense—similar to how we refer to the “law of gravity” or a “principle… of controlling power.” Paul is saying that if you live according to the Spirit, you’ll be set free from the death that occurs by living under law. By contrast, this is the reason why Paul was failing in Romans 7:14-25. Those “difficulties of the Romans 7 experience [were] self-imposed.” He was depending on himself—not the “law [power] of the Spirit of life.”
(8:3) “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.”
Does this refer to the moral law? Yes. The word lacks any kind of modifier as in verse 2 (“the law of the Spirit… the law of sin”). Here, Paul simply writes “the Law.”
Did God’s Law cease to be fulfilled? Not at all. The law has been totally fulfilled—just not by us. It was fulfilled by Christ (Mt. 5:17-20).
“Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.” The expression “for sin” (peri hamartias) often refers to a sacrificial offering—both in the NT (Heb. 10:6, 8; 13:11) and in the OT Septuagint (LXX, 44 of 54 uses). The author of Hebrew writes, “[Jesus] He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).
“He condemned sin in the flesh.” This is a good passage for substitutionary atonement. God took out his judgment (katakrino) on Christ. This is why there is “no condemnation” (katakrimo) for those who are in Christ (v.1).
(8:4) “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.”
“The requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us.” This refers to our condition (i.e. our current spiritual state). Paul’s use of the passive verb (“might be fulfilled”) implies that God is doing the work in our lives. If we are walking by the Spirit, we’ll naturally carry out the requirements of the Law. But ironically, if we focus on the Law, we cannot fulfill the Law. We only fulfill the Law when we focus on our standing in Christ, and when we act in love (Rom. 13:8-10).
Mounce offers a helpful illustration at this point. We do not store up spiritual power from God like a car filling its tank with gas. Rather, we access spiritual power by staying in contact with the Spirit like a tram touching the rails: Once we lose touch with the Spirit, the power is gone. We need to remain in close contact with the Holy Spirit at all times, rather than store up big experiences of the Holy Spirit to endure over time.
How do we walk according to the Spirit? The battle begins in our minds!
(8:5-7) “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. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 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.”
The key to spiritual growth is our mindset. Paul refers to our mindset four times in these three verses. Are we focusing on Christ or the Law? Keller writes, “The twentieth-century Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said: ‘Your religion is what you do with your solitude.’ In other words, wherever your mind goes most naturally and freely when there is nothing else to distract it—that is what you really live for. That is your religion. Your life is shaped by whatever preoccupies your mind. The overcoming of sin in our lives begins in our minds; and victory over sin is only ever the result of having minds set on the Spirit.” He continues, “We are to be preoccupied with our standing in Christ. We are to drill into our minds and hearts his love and adoption of us.” We agree. Apart from the “renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2), we are unable to “please God.” This is our role: to consciously set our minds on our new identity in Christ. We should revisit what it means to know, consider, and present in Romans 6 for more detail.
This cognitive aspect of spiritual growth is a real battle. Paul writes that we will either think about the things of the Spirit or the things of the flesh. We can do one or the other, but we cannot do both (and we cannot do neither!). The battleground is in our minds (Gal. 5:17).
Does the mention of “death” refer to eternal separation from God? Lordship theologians often bring in fear-threat at this point. They often claim that “death” refers to spiritual death (i.e. hell). Douglas Moo doesn’t bring a fear-threat motivation, but rather, he argues that this entire section (vv.1-8) is descriptive of Christians and non-Christians. He writes, “It is fair to say that Paul is contrasting two groups of people: the converted and the unconverted.” Therefore, from this perspective, Paul is not teaching how to grow spiritually, but merely what Christians and non-Christians do.
We disagree with both of these perspectives. We understand the terms of “life,” “peace,” and “death” to refer to our condition—not our position. Paul is referring to our spiritual growth—not our eternal state. The context of Romans 8 refers to spiritual growth, and Paul is explaining just how exactly we can grow spiritually. This is why Paul uses the present tense (“The mind set on the flesh is death”), not the future tense. Moreover, throughout Romans 7-8, Paul has been using the term “die” or “death” in a variety of ways. Earlier Paul wrote, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:9-11). This usage (obviously) cannot refer to Paul going to hell; instead, it refers to how the law was stalling his spiritual growth.
What is the difference between “according to the flesh” and being “in the flesh”? In our view, the language of “according to the flesh” refers to our condition, while “in the flesh” refers to our position. Therefore, a Christian could be living “according to the flesh,” but could not be “in the flesh.”
(8:8-9) “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
Does “in the flesh” refer to our condition or our position? Paul seems to be referring to our position. Those who are “in the flesh” are non-Christians. However, when he uses the expression “according to the flesh,” this is different. This seems to refer to carnal Christians, who live for sin in their condition.
“But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” If we have the Holy Spirit, then we are believers. There is no such thing as a believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit.
(8:10) “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
Paul brackets our condition (“though the body is dead because of sin”) with our position. Our old self was crucified with Christ (“James Rochford is dead”). But our spirit is alive, because we have been identified with Jesus’ resurrection.
(8:11) “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
“He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” This could refer to our future bodily resurrection. After all, Paul uses the future tense (“[The Spirit] will also give life to your mortal bodies”). Moreover, the parallel here seems to be between Jesus’ bodily resurrection and our bodily resurrection.
On the other hand, this could also refer to our current sanctification. After all, this is the context of our chapter, and Paul uses the first-class conditional clause (“If and I’m assuming this is the case that the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you”). In verse 10, Paul is referring to the current power of the Spirit in the life of the “dead” believer. So, when Paul says that God will “give life,” this could refer to our spirits being alive for spiritual growth (v.10). We think the context favors this latter view: Paul is referring to our current sanctification.
(8:12) “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.”
When Paul uses the expression “according to the flesh,” this refers to our condition. Paul’s point is that we don’t need to live for the flesh anymore. We don’t owe the flesh anything, because we died to the flesh. Before we came to Christ, the flesh was all that we had. But now, we have a new position and a new identity.
(8:13) “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Lordship theologians understand this to refer to eternal separation from God in hell. For instance, Moo writes, “We must not eviscerate this warning; Paul clearly affirms that his readers will be damned if they continue to follow the dictates of the flesh.” This is why it is so crucial to understand the difference between being “according to the flesh” rather than being “in the flesh.” The former refers to our condition and spiritual growth, while the latter refers to our position and eternal state. Paul mention of “death” refers to spiritual alienation from God in our condition (“you must die”). That is, sin leads to the death of our spiritual growth. Earlier Paul wrote, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom. 7:9-11). The death and killing cannot refer to future judgment, because Paul already said that he was dead and killed! Instead, this “death” refers to our present alienation from God. Paul is calling for us to line up our position with our condition. In a parallel passage, Paul explains how to “put to death the deeds of the body.” Elsewhere, he writes, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
What does it mean to have your mind set on the flesh?
There are a number of ways to have a mindset on the flesh. A fleshly mindset refers to focusing on (1) self, (2) sin, (3) the law, and (4) the world. In our new identity, we are dead and severed from all of these things. Therefore, focusing on these brings a fleshly mindset.
(1) Self. Paul writes, “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” (Rom. 6:5). We shouldn’t focus on “I… I… I…” but instead, “Him… Him… Him…” When believers spend 90% of their time focusing on themselves, they are in a fleshly mindset.
(2) Sin. Paul writes, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2) In much Christian literature, the suggestion is to spend the first several minutes confessing your sins. There are surely times when we need to bring conscious sin to God and repent of it. But the emphasis of much Christian literature doesn’t fit with what Paul wrote. Where do we read that the new covenant believer should be constantly thinking about and confessing all of our sins to God? This morbid introspection is all wrong. Should I focus on what I’ve done before God?—or what he’s done for me?
(3) Law. Paul writes, “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” (Rom. 7:6). Many believers approach God focusing on what they have to do for him. Yet Jesus said that in him we will “find rest for [our] souls” (Mt. 11:29). If we feel burdened by our walk with Christ, then we are probably under law. Of course, in the same context, Jesus said that we find rest when we take up his “yoke” (Mt. 11:28). Paradoxically, we find rest when we are serving and working for him. We just need to make sure that our focus is on him—not on law.
(4) The world-system. Elsewhere, Paul writes, “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Christians who are focused on the “world” (kosmos) have a mind set on the flesh (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17; Mt. 6:24).
Questions for Reflection
What is the significance of Paul opening and closing this chapter with our security in Christ? (vv.1, 38-39)
Paul emphasizes our “mind” being set on the Spirit (vv.5-7). What are key ways to set your mind on the Spirit today? What are ways you’ve found helpful to set your mind on the Spirit in the past? What are new ways that you might try to set your mind on the Spirit?
Romans 8:14-17 (Sonship)
(8:14) “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
Paul’s use of the word “for” relates to his teaching on spiritual growth in verse 13. The key to spiritual life is being led by “the Spirit.” Elsewhere Paul writes, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
If a Christian is not being led by the Spirit, does this mean he is not really a Christ? No. To say this commits the negative inference fallacy. Paul is not affirming a negative, but only a positive: All people being led by the Holy Spirit are sons of God. This is not introducing a fear-threat motivation. After all, in the very next verse, he writes, “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again” (v.15). Moreover, this passage is not an imperative. The believer is being passively led by the Spirit. The picture here is that of a father leading his little son by the hand—not an executioner leading a prisoner down death row.
(8:15) “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!’”
Paul is the only NT author to use the adoption metaphor to describe our relationship with God. The idea that we have received a “spirit of adoption” could be a general reference to a sense from God. Elsewhere, however, Paul states that it is the Holy Spirit who confirms our sonship. He writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6).
Our adoption as sons has an “already-not-yet” tension as well. We currently are sons of God, but we wait to be revealed as God’s sons: “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” (Rom. 8:23). This, of course, makes a certain amount of sense: What kind of Father would God be if he didn’t take his sons into his presence? Currently, God places his Spirit inside of us to give us his presence, but later, we will come directly into the presence of God.
(See “From Slaves to Sons: The Fatherhood of God and Spiritual Adoption”)
(8:16) “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Both the Holy Spirit and our spirit testify to us that we are children of God. Regarding the word “witness” or “testifies” (martyria), Keller writes, “The word originally meant an authoritative witness who solved a difficult case and put the solution beyond doubt. The picture Paul is painting looks something like this: There is a trial going on and the defendant is being accused of a crime. There seems to be some evidence against her and some evidence in favor of her claim of innocence. Then, suddenly, the defense comes in with a new witness who can be proved to have been at the scene of the crime! …This person ‘testifies with’ the defendant. He says the same thing and puts the verdict beyond doubt.” This is the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives: He assures us of the reality of our adoption as God’s children.
(8:17) “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.”
In the first century, one “heir” would inherit the money, land, etc. Since God has so much to give, Paul can write that we are all heirs of God’s estate. We are all fellow heirs with Christ.
“If indeed we suffer.” This is a first-class conditional clause, which assumes the consequent for the sake of argument. We will reign and rule with Christ to the extent to which we suffered for him. Reward is in view here (v.18). Mounce writes, “What appears to be a condition on this promised inheritance (“if indeed”) is actually a simple statement of fact. Sharing the sufferings of Christ leads to sharing his glory.”
Questions for Reflection
What are some signs that you are beginning to relate to God as a slave, rather than a son? (vv.14-17)
Romans 8:18-39 (Glorification in Christ)
(8:18) “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.”
Paul will continue to expound upon the terrible suffering that we endure in a fallen world when we are trying to follow Christ. But here he tells us, “It’s all worth it!” Right now, Paul is in heaven, and there is no doubt in his mind that his suffering was worth it.
“The glory that is to be revealed to us.” The word “to” (eis) could also be translated “in.” Therefore, Paul could be writing, “The glory that is to be revealed in us.” This reading seems to be more likely. In the next verse, Paul writes of seeing “the revealing of the sons of God” (v.19), and later he refers to “the glory of the children of God” (v.21). This implies that we will be beautiful beyond imagination, radiating the glorious restored image of God in our physical bodies.
(8:19) “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Creation itself waits to see the image-bearers restored and glorified. Indeed, Paul refers to the “whole creation” (v.22). The purpose of the Earth was for sinless people to rule over it and take care of it (v.21; cf. Gen. 1:28). This purpose has never come to its ultimate fruition. But someday, it will.
(8:20) “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.”
Young Earth Creationists argue that God cursed the natural world after the Fall. This is what is meant by the “creation was subjected to futility.” However, the reason that the creation groans is because humans are poor rulers of the planet (Gen. 1:28). But one day, we will be perfect leaders. This fits with the context that states that creation will be set free when humans are revealed as glorified (v.21). Moo writes, “The word probably denotes the ‘frustration’ occasioned by creation’s being unable to attain the ends for which it was made. Humanity’s fall into sin marred the ‘goodness’ of God’s creation, and creation has ever since been in a state of ‘frustration.’”
“Him who subjected it, in hope.” This seems to refer to God’s act of decreeing that the world would be fallen because of the fall of humans. Yet, he made this declaration “in hope.” One day, God knew that he would get the final word (Gen. 3:15).
(8:21) “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.”
Paul personifies creation as eagerly waiting for its own redemption through the redemption of believers. Again, when humans become glorified and perfect rulers, then creation will experience perfect leadership and healing.
(8:22) “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
Again, Paul personifies creation as “groaning” until its redemption.
(8:23) “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.”
Everyone can see that the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” But Paul takes this a step further: We are not the way we’re supposed to be. Whether we look outside of ourselves at creation or inside ourselves as fallen image-bearers, we yearn for God’s restoration. Paul had taken so many beatings that his body must’ve uniquely ached for a resurrected body. Our adoption is “already-not-yet.” We are currently sons (Rom. 8:15). But to a much fuller extent, we will later be revealed as sons.
(8:24-25) “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
Paul is confident that this hope will be realized. He calls for patience—not uncertainty. The term “hope” (helpidi) means “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation” (BDAG).
(8:26) “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
“In the same way” could refer to (1) the way that hope enables us to persevere, or (2) the way that the Spirit “groans” even as we “groan” (v.23). Regardless, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid—even for activities as obvious as basic as prayer. We are so weak that we can’t even pray without the Holy Spirit’s help.
“We do not know how to pray as we should.” This passage can be translated as “we do not know how to pray as we should” (NASB) or as “we do not know what we ought to pray for” (see NET note). The Spirit helps us with the content of our prayers—not the style of our prayers. Sometimes, we pray for something that is biblically sound, but might not be in the omniscient will of God. For instance, we might pray for someone to come to a Bible study, but it would actually be better if they didn’t make it that night. While we are praying a biblical prayer, the Holy Spirit knows what the person needs more than we do. So, he intercedes to bring about the intention of our prayer. Perhaps it would actually be better for the person to stay at home that night and receive Christ, and the Bible study would actually distract that person from deciding to receive Christ. Of course, we would never make such a request, but that’s precisely the point: The Holy Spirit knows what people need far more than we do.
“With groanings too deep for words.” This could refer to our “groanings” of the heart that are difficult to articulate to God (see v.23). However, we agree with Mounce and Moo that this refers to the Spirit’s “groanings” before God the Father. When we pray something that is good-hearted but out of God’s will, the Spirit intercedes between us and God the Father to correct what we prayed.
As a thought experiment, suppose we prayed for an unbelieving friend to come to our Bible study to see the love of Christians and to hear a moving Bible teaching. But suppose that from God’s omniscient perspective, he knows that the person will come to faith in Christ if they stayed home that night and had time alone to reflect on their life and the claims of Christ. Indeed, the people at the Bible study might actually be a distraction from the person coming to Christ (!). Surely this scenario sounds strange: Why would we pray that an unbelieving person to not hear a Bible teaching and enjoy fellowship? Obviously, we would likely never pray such a thing, and this is exactly the point of this thought experiment: The Holy Spirit knows all things, and he intercedes with what we should pray according to God’s will. This means that if we spend time in prayer, we cannot fail. This is the only means of spiritual growth where God himself personally fixes any mistakes!
(8:27) “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
What is it like for the omniscient third person of the Trinity to communicate with the other omniscient members of the Trinity? This is mind-blowing to consider. We agree with Mounce who writes, “We stand at the edge of mystery. It is better to acknowledge humbly our spiritual incapacity than to reduce the action of the Spirit to human terms.”
(8:26-27) Does this refer to speaking in tongues?
(8:28) “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.”
“God causes all things to work together for good.” This promise allows the believer to trust in the sovereignty of God. Keller writes, “This must lead to some ability to relax! We are not in the grip of blind chance or fate. The Greeks thought that even Zeus was subject to the fates. Not us! The universe is not a mechanism run by blind chance; it is run by a person—and not just any person, but our Father. We don’t need to fear life and circumstances.” He continues, “If we think we require some good thing that God has withheld from us, in reality we don’t absolutely need it. It also means that if we feel our life has been ruined by some bad thing, in reality it is playing some very important role in our lives.” We would simply qualify his statement by noting that the suffering may not be for our earthly good (or even for us at all). But we can know that God will use it for the cause of Christ, having implications far ahead of us in eternity.
“Those who love God.” Paul typically focuses on God’s love for us, rather than our love for Him (1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; Eph. 6:24). Why does Paul bring up our love for God here? He mentions this because this promise is contingent on loving God and putting him first. We don’t receive this promise if we are rebelling against God’s will.
“Those who are called according to His purpose.” Even though this is similar in structure to the clause above (“Those who…”), this isn’t a condition on God’s will. In the first clause, we actively “love God,” but in this clause, we are passively “called” by God. The former describes what we do, while this describes who we are. This means that this promise only applies to Christians (“Those who are called”). This sets up Paul’s description of how we come to Christ in the first place.
(8:29-30) “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; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
This has been called the “golden chain of redemption.” Once the process starts, God takes us step by step into glory. It’s possible that we are “glorified” in the (aorist) past tense because our glorification is such a certainty. Mounce writes, “Our future glorification is so certain that God speaks of it as already having taken place.” Yet, it’s also possible that we are already glorified through our growth with God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). We favor the earlier view, but the latter is not impossible.
(8:29-30) Is this passage teaching predestination?
(8:31) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
Because we are in Christ, we can have confidence that God is for us. What can a human being do to us, if we know that God is with us?
(8:32) “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
If God gave us the ultimate gift of his Son, why would he be stingy on giving us anything else?
(8:33) “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.”
God is the ultimate judge. If we’re clear with him, no one can make us guilty.
(8:34) “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
God “justifies” us (v.33), and Jesus “intercedes” for us (v.34). Jesus won’t condemn us; after all, he died for us. Why would he turn around and condemn us? With an intercessor like Jesus and a judge like God, we have nothing to fear in the divine courtroom!
“Intercedes for us.” Incidentally, Jesus doesn’t intercede for us before God the Father by saying that we’re “not that bad” or that we’re “really sorry” for what we’ve done. If Jesus was to make an appeal for us, he would say that we have been “justified.” He would intercede by saying, “The penalty for him has already been paid. If he is judged or condemned, then that’s a breach of justice, because my death on the Cross already paid for him.”
(8:35) “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
This list comprises all of our greatest fears in life. Yet none of these can separate us from the love of God. There is no need to fear anything when we are secure with God’s love. In fact, Paul lists all of these (except the final one) in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:26-27; 12:10). In other words, Paul isn’t writing abstract theology in these verse. He lived through each of these nightmares, but the love of Christ carried him through each and every one.
(8:36) “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”
Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 to show that believers can be persecuted for doing the right thing—yet we need to cling to the promises of God.
(8:36) Why does Paul quote Psalm 44:22?
(8:37) “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
We don’t conquer by avoiding suffering but by persevering in suffering. We “overwhelmingly” conquer suffering through Jesus who loves us. Even in suffering, we don’t rely on self-effort or moral willpower. We conquer suffering by relying on the love of Christ.
(8:38-39) “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Keller writes, “The central question of the Christian life—the one that prompts all our doubts and worries and tensions—is this: Is there anyone or anything that can separate me from Christ’s love for me?”
Questions for Reflection
Paul writes that we are sons of God (vv.15-17). Then, he goes on to list the great privileges and gifts that we have as God’s sons (vv.15-39). What are some of the most important gifts that God has given to us?
- We have personal assurance of our future salvation (v.16).
- We will be rewarded for how much we’ve suffered (vv.17-18).
- The Holy Spirit personally helps us to pray—as long as we try (vv.26-27).
- When followers of Jesus suffer, our suffering has an eternal purpose (v.28).
- We have eternal security (vv.29-30, 33-39).
- God will not hold back gifts from us (v.32). If he gave the ultimate gift of his Son, why would he hold back anything else? He will only withhold gifts if it is for our benefit.
Romans 9 (God’s grace for the Gentile race)
See Romans 9: An Arminian Interpretation
Romans 10 (The Jewish people)
(10:1) “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
Paul still struggles with the fact that many of his Jewish brothers do not know Christ, and they are actively rejecting him. Apparently, this was a residual prayer of Paul’s. Paul was not an abstract, cold theological thinker. These great truths about God’s plan, God’s election, and God’s sovereignty stirred his heart for evangelism.
(10:2) “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”
Before Paul speaks about the problems with his unbelieving Jewish friends, he begins with the positives: He loves them deeply (v.1), prays for them frequently (v.1), and acknowledges their zeal (v.2). Before we begin to critique someone, it is important to affirm something good in them, as well as our love for them.
Paul had been zealous for the law (Phil. 3:6), but didn’t acknowledge the truth of Christ. Their lack of knowledge was “self-inflicted.” Consequently, Paul’s statement contradicts the modern concept of, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” Psychological certainty or personal sincerity is not enough. Truth matters!
(10:3) “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
The problem with Paul’s Jewish brothers was that they underestimated the righteousness of God. Instead of accepting the gift of his righteousness through Christ (Rom. 1:16-17), they wanted to establish self-righteousness. This is a willful ignorance, as Paul has already argued in chapters 1-9. Furthermore, God warned the nation of Israel that he didn’t choose them because of their righteousness (Deut. 9:4-6).
(10:4) “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Christ fulfilled the righteous demands of the law in our place (Mt. 5:17-18). To “subject yourself to the righteousness of God” (v.3) means to allow Christ to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law in your place.
(10:5) “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.”
Paul cites Leviticus 18:5 to show that we need to follow the law (perfectly!) to be righteous. Paul reminds us of his argument in Romans 1:18-3:20. No one keeps the law perfectly. (No one, of course, except Jesus.)
(10:6-7) “But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’”
In short, Paul’s purpose in citing from Deuteronomy 30 is to demonstrate that if the Law was easy to understand, then how much more in the gospel? We don’t need to do the impossible by travelling to heaven, or dying and rising again. Someone already did this for us—namely, Jesus. We simply need to accept what Jesus did on our behalf. So, to repeat, if the Law (Deuteronomy 30) states that it was clear, how much more is this gospel message?
(10:6-7) What does Paul mean, when he writes about “ascending into heaven” and “descending into the abyss”?
(10:8) “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.”
Paul cites Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to show that the message of the Law was not difficult to understand. And if the Law was easy to understand, then how much easier is the gospel to understand? It is “near” the unbeliever—right on the tip of their tongue. They merely need to “confess with their mouth” and “believe in their heart” (v.9).
(10:9-10) “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
The message of Christ is simple: Confess and believe in the person and work of Christ. Like Hebrew parallelism, “confess” and “believe” are not distinct concepts, but complementary ideas. The point is that we need to trust in Christ. This is similar to how “righteousness” and “salvation” are parallel in verse 10. Later, Paul just describes this as simply as possible as “call[ing] on the name of the Lord” (v.13).
(10:11) “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’”
Paul cites Isaiah 28:16 for the second time (cf. Rom. 9:33). We make a lot of decisions that we will regret, but receiving Christ is not one of them! This is the greatest decision we will ever make.
The message of Christ is both exclusive (because we need to “believe”), but it is also inclusive (because “whoever” chooses to trust Christ will be forgiven).
(10:12) “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him.”
We all need the Savior: Jews and Gentiles alike. This fits into the sweeping context of Romans 9-11—namely, both Jews and Gentiles are in God’s kingdom. In the historical context (see Introduction above), the Jewish and Gentile Christians were likely embittered with each other. Paul’s abolished the idea of ethnic, religious, or sociological superiority by his repeated affirmation that they were both in God’s church with “no distinction.” This theological truth had sociological implications.
(10:13) “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Paul cites Joel 2:32 which originally referred to calling on the name of Yahweh. Here, Paul applies this passage to calling on the name of Jesus (see the parallel in verse 9). Paul’s point is that Joel referred to “whoever” would call on the name of God—not just the Jewish people. Gentiles are included along with Jews.
The problem with Israel? Faith
If coming to Christ is so accessible and understandable, then why have so many of Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters not come to Christ? They have stubbornly refused Jesus’ offer of love and forgiveness. Summarizing this section, Moo writes, “[Paul’s] point, then, is that Israel cannot plead ignorance: God has made his purposes clear in both the OT (note the six OT quotations in vv. 14-21) and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. So the fault rests with Israel: she has been ‘disobedient and obstinate’ (v. 21; cf. v. 16).”
(10:14-15) “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’”
This could be Paul’s hypothetical opponent (or interlocutor) raising this question. The unbelieving Jewish person could argue that they need to hear a preacher in order to come to faith (citing Isa. 52:7). Paul accepts this premise, but he goes on to say that these people have heard a preacher.
(10:14) Does this verse teach that we need to hear Jesus’ name to be saved?
(10:16) “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’”
The problem with Israel is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of faith. They heard the gospel from good messengers (citing Isaiah 52:7), but they didn’t believe it (citing Isaiah 53:1. In the middle of one of the most powerful predictions of Jesus in the OT, we read that God anticipated Israel’s unbelief (Isa. 53:1).
(10:17) “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Many of us deeply desire a stronger faith. Simply “hearing” the word of Christ can build faith in us.
(10:18) “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’”
Paul cites Psalm 19:4 to show that God’s general revelation has made it to everyone on Earth. Paul seems to be making another a fortiori argument: If all people have heard about God through general revelation, then haven’t the Jewish people heard about Christ through special revelation? Indeed, Paul’s hypothetical opponent knows quite well about Jesus; otherwise, there would be no debate.
Similarly, we find ourselves talking with skeptics who ask, “What happens to those who never hear about Jesus? What will God do with them?” To them, this is equivalent to telling a Christian, “Checkmate!” But our common response is this, “That’s a good question. But that question doesn’t apply to you, because you are hearing about Jesus right now. What will God do with you if you refuse to respond to what you are hearing?”
(10:19) “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.’”
Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:21. Paul is setting up for the concept of Gentiles causing the Jews to be “jealous” of the gospel in Romans 11. Jewish people will see the transformation of Gentiles by the Holy Spirit, and they will yearn for the same transformation in their own lives. Mounce adds, “If unenlightened people outside of the covenant could understand the gospel, then certainly a religiously gifted and highly favored group like the Jews had no grounds for claiming that it was beyond their understanding… It is an argument from the greater to the lesser: if the Gentiles, then certainly the Jews.”
(10:20-21) “And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ 21 But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’”
Paul cites Isaiah 65:1-2. This passage shows that God predicted how the Gentiles would accept him, but his own Jewish people would deny him.
What prevented these non-believing Jewish people from coming to faith in Jesus?
- They needed to have religious affection for the truth (v.2). Truth matters.
- Self-righteousness (v.3).
- They didn’t believe that Jesus had fulfilled the Law for them (v.4). They were set on fulfilling the Law for themselves.
- They were making salvation more complicated than it needed to be (vv.5-8).
- They needed to trust in Christ (vv.9-11).
- Religious and ethnic prejudice may have stopped them from coming to faith (vv.12-13). It was scandalous that they simply need to come to Christ just like anyone else.
What do we learn about evangelism from this section?
- People need to hear the message (v.14). Preaching, teaching, and verbalizing the gospel is very important.
- Some people will reject the clear evidence for Christ (v.16). Paul cites from Isaiah 53:1 to show that many could hear this awesome prediction, but they would reject it.
- God is doing his role to welcome people into a relationship with himself (vv.18-21). The problem is not on his end, but on ours (v.21).
We saw in Romans 1:18 that our core human condition is not a lack of evidence, but a suppression of it. Here, Paul applies this same logic to Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness: It isn’t complicated. We need to agree with God (“confess”) and trust God (“believe”), and as a result, we will be saved (v.9). Are you ready to come to faith in Jesus? There’s nothing complicated about this. All you need to do is surrender to the love and leadership of God in your life. Why procrastinate on this decision any further? You can come to Christ right now.
God is standing with wide-open arms wanting you to come to him (v.21). The problem is not on God’s end, but on ours. Will you turn toward his loving invitation, or will you reject him? Some things in life are nuanced and grey issues. But not this is not one of them! Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Mt. 12:30).
Romans 11 (God’s promise for Israel has not—and will not—fail)
(11:1-21) Why did the Jews reject Jesus if he was their Promised Messiah?
(11:1) “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
“God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!” This comes on the heels of Paul writing that God had outstretched arms to a “disobedient and obstinate people” (Rom. 10:21). It wasn’t that God rejected his people, but that they had rejected him.
“For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” To prove that God is still working with a remnant of believing Jews, Paul writes that he himself is “living evidence that God has not abandoned his people Israel.” Yet the question remains, “Why haven’t more Jews come to faith in Jesus? Why so comparatively few?”
(11:2) “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?”
Why does Paul bring up God’s foreknowledge here? It seems that he is reemphasizing the fact that God knew the Jewish people would rebel, and God’s plan hasn’t fallen off the tracks. He cites Elijah to drive home this point. Elijah thought that he was the only true follower of God, but he was massively mistaken! In the same way, many Jewish people could feel like they are all alone in their faith, but how do they know that they are not in the same situation as Elijah? They might think that they are the only one of the few Jewish followers of God, but they cannot grasp the bigger picture of all that God is doing around them. They are too fixated on their own unique situation.
Does foreknowledge imply choosing? Reformed scholar Douglas Moo writes, “The temporal prefix, ‘fore-’ (pro-), indicates further that God’s choosing of Israel took place before any action or status on the part of Israel that might have qualified her for God’s choice.” Once again, Calvinistic commentators make the illogical leap from knowing to actively choosing. This is unwarranted from the language of the text. He needs to pull the language of “God’s gracious choice” from later in the text (v.5). Yet, God’s choice is based on his foreknowledge—not the other way around (see Romans 8:29-30). Furthermore, Paul is referring to the nation of Israel—the majority of whom (according to Paul’s argument) were not saved.
(11:3-4) “‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ 4 But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’”
To support his case, Paul quotes from the story of Elijah (1 Kin. 19:10, 14, 18). By drawing from this story, Paul is arguing that God has always worked through a minority of his people. In this sense, nothing changed after the coming of Christ. God is working through a minority of believing Jews now—just as he did in the past. If we consider our context, we see that in Romans 10, Paul demonstrates that Moses and Isaiah also described the same difficulties in their time, as well (Deut. 32:21; Isa. 65:1-2).
(11:5) “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant.”
While it would seem bizarre to see so many Jews rejecting Jesus (their promised King), Paul argues that this was not a NT pattern, but an OT one. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we repeatedly see that the majority of the Jews were unfaithful, while there was a “remnant” (or minority) of believing Jews within the nation.
The word “remnant” (leimma) is used in the LXX in Genesis 7:23, where the “remnant” is only Noah and his family. This same word appears in 1 Kings 19:18, which refers to the 7,000 man “remnant” that would not bend their knees to Baal. This is the only use of the term in the NT. Earlier, Paul cited the OT Scriptures to demonstrate this point: “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’” (Rom. 9:27).
“According to God’s gracious choice.” The term “choice” is a noun—not a verb (eklogen). It can be rendered “choice of grace” (see NASB footnote).
(11:6) “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
God’s choice of the remnant (v.5) is based on grace—not works (v.6; cf. Rom. 9). Paul is still referring to groups—not individuals here. Moo writes, “If God’s election were based on what human beings do, his freedom would be violated and he would no longer be acting in grace.” This allegedly supports the notion that God’s calling is unconditional and his grace is irresistible. But not so fast! Our text is saying that God created a world where he freely chose to save people according to his foreknowledge. If God chose this, then how does this hinder his freedom in any way? After all, this would be his sovereign choice. Similarly, if God chose to give us eternal security (which we affirm), then does this sovereign choice limit his freedom. Not at all. This was his choice in the first place, knowing all future contingencies.
(11:7) “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it.”
The term “chosen” (eklogen) is a noun—not a verb. It can be rendered “the election” (see NASB footnote). Why were some Jews part of the elect, and others were not? Calvinists appeal to a mystery here. But look at the text: Israel was seeking legalistic righteousness, rather than God’s righteousness through Christ. Earlier Paul writes, “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law” (Rom. 9:31). Later he writes, “Not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
“And the rest were hardened.” A number of observations can be made about this hardening:
- Like Pharaoh, this hardening occurred only after the Jewish people hardened themselves first by rejecting Christ (vv.8-11). Likewise, the Jewish population in Ephesus “were becoming hardened and disobedient,” when Paul spoke about Christ to them (Acts 19:9; cf. Acts 28:23-28).
- God is using this hardening to bring a maximum number of Gentiles to Christ (v.25).
- God is using this hardening to help the non-Christian Jews to become “jealous,” and thereby come to faith (v.11, “to make them jealous”).
- The purpose of this hardening was not to send the Jews to hell (v.11, “they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be!”), but instead, to send the gospel to the Gentiles (v.11, “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles”). We see this in a parallel passage in Acts. There, Luke writes, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. 46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:45-46). This ties in with Paul’s thesis statement earlier in Romans, where the gospel is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
- This hardening can be taken away, if individual Jewish people turn to Christ (2 Cor. 3:14-16).
(11:8) “Just as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.”
To defend this point, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:10, which demonstrates how many Jewish people in the OT were hardened toward God. Isaiah himself is quoting Moses in this section (Deut. 29:4). Paul is pointing out that the hardening continued from Moses to Isaiah’s day. “In reality,” writes Paul, “that hardening is still continuing today.”
(11:9-11) “And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.’ 11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.”
Paul cites Psalm 69:22-23 to connect the Jewish hardening with the crucifixion of Jesus. Verse 21 is quoted in all four gospels as fulfilled in the Cross (Mt. 27:34, 48; Mk. 15:23, 36; Lk. 23:36; John 19:28-30). During his crucifixion, Jesus was given gall and vinegar to drink, as Psalm 69 predicts. In Romans 11, Paul quotes from the two verses immediately after Psalms 69:21. These two verses predict the hardening of the Jews after they crucify their Messiah. The logical ordering is that they crucified Jesus and then they were hardened as a consequence. It was their “transgression” that led to their hardening (11:11), not the other way around.
Paul argues that God is bringing salvation to the Gentiles for the purpose of reaching the Jews. This is an interesting point: In the OT, God chose the Jews to reach the Gentiles (Gen. 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). Now, writes Paul, God is choosing the Gentiles to reach the Jews. Paul’s focus is on the nations: He is thinking “mainly in terms of corporate bodies, not in terms of individuals within those bodies.” Paul’s hope was that the Jews would become “jealous” of the Gentiles (11:11, 14), and thus, they would come to faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, the Jewish and Gentile Christians only hated one another more in the following centuries. And yet, Paul held out the hope that the Gentiles could be used to reach the Jews.
Keller points to a possible example of this principle in Acts 6. There, the Christian community took care of the needs of the poor widows. This was what the Jewish people were supposed to do for their people (see Deut. 15:4-5). As a consequence of the seven servants (many of whom had Gentile names), many Jewish priests came to faith in Jesus, because they may have been “jealous” of what they saw happening in the Christian community. The difficulty with this example is that the text of Acts doesn’t explicitly say that this was the reason for the priests’ conversion. However, it is an interesting parallel nonetheless.
(11:12) “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!”
Was it wrong of God to harden many Jewish people to reach the Gentiles? No way! This is exactly what God did with Pharaoh: God hardened one Gentile to reach many Jews, and now, God is hardening some Jews to reach many Gentiles.
“How much more will their fulfillment be!” Paul states that “all Israel will be saved” at the end of history (v.25). A similar thought is made in verse 15. Moo states that this refers to a quantitative fulfillment—not a qualitative fulfillment. Paul is stating that “the present “defeat” of Israel, in which Israel is numerically reduced to a small remnant, will be reversed by the addition of far greater numbers of true believers: this will be Israel’s destined ‘fullness.’” This fits with the context of the chapter which refers to the numbers of Gentiles coming to faith.
Paul turns to the Gentiles
(11:13-14) “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.”
The Gentile Christians might have thought that Paul (a Jewish man) was abandoning his own people to reach the Gentiles. After all, Paul repeatedly states that he is an apostle primarily to the Gentiles. This could’ve caused arrogance on behalf of the Gentile Christian.
However, Paul argues that he was reaching Gentiles in order to “indirectly serve to bring Jewish people into the kingdom of God.” Likewise, Paul tells his Gentile readers that the goal is to go out and reach the Jewish people. By seeing God’s movement in the Gentile community, the Jewish people could become “jealous” and they could “save some of them.” Imagine what it would feel like to be a Jewish person who had perpetual sin problems, only to see God transforming, healing, and growing Gentiles to become good, godly, and loving people!
(11:15) “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
This sounds similar to Paul’s reasoning in verse 12.
(11:16) “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.”
This metaphor is difficult to understand. Paul doesn’t stick with the metaphor or explain it, but he does stick with the root and branches metaphor, so we will spend more time looking at that one. In short, Paul seems to be saying that the believing remnant of Jews has a “sanctifying effect” on the nation as a whole.
“If the root is holy, the branches are too.” The “root” could refer to Christ, Jewish believers, the patriarchs, or the covenants. We understand the root to refer to the patriarchs and the covenants given to the Jewish people (Rom. 9:5; 11:28). Though, this is certainly debated.
The “branches” refer to ethnically Jewish people.
(11:17) “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.”
“And you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” The “you” refers to Gentiles. In verse 13, Paul writes, “I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.” Paul is saying that the Gentiles came to receive the blessings of the new covenant. God is now working through the Gentiles—just as he formerly worked through the Jews. This refers to ethnic Israel losing its standing and utility in the church age.
Was this a common arboricultural practice? We’re not sure. Moo thinks that this was not common; however, this shouldn’t be pressed hard for the sake of a metaphor.
(11:18) “Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.”
The reasoning here is that God can break off branches (i.e. Jews) and graft in others (i.e. Gentiles). This should cause Gentile believers to be humble, rather than arrogant. Paul opened the letter speaking to the arrogance of the non-Christian Jewish person who relies on the law and circumcision (Rom. 2:17-20). Paul doesn’t want the Gentiles to make the same prideful error.
(11:19) “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’”
The Gentiles had an arrogant attitude toward the Jews. But why were the Jewish people “broken off”? Paul says that this was because of their “unbelief” (v.20).
(11:20) “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear.”
Instead of being prideful that God is using them (much like the Jewish attitude in Romans 2), the Gentiles should take a humble posture, realizing that none of us deserve to be used by God.
(11:21) “For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.”
God could go back to working through the “natural branches” (i.e. the Jewish people) if they changed on their unbelief (see verse 23), and he could remove the Gentiles for their unbelief too.
(11:22) “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”
This refers to being used by God in his global mission—not to individual salvation—as the context makes clear.
(11:22) Does this passage threaten the idea of eternal security?
(11:23) “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”
The term “continue” is in the subjunctive mood, which holds open the possibility that this might occur in the future. We learn in verses 25-29 that God will eventually return to the nation of Israel at the end of history.
(11:24) “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”
To describe God’s method of using the Gentiles, Paul uses the term “grafting” (Rom. 11:17). The Greek word for “graft” (egkentrizo) means “to cut into for the sake of inserting a scion” or “to inoculate, ingraft, graft in” or “to insert a slip of a cultivated tree into a wild one.” This Greek word is used a total of five times in the NT, but all five occurrences are here in Romans 11. Paul uses this illustration to explain how God chooses to use whomever he wants for his plan of salvation. Currently, God is using the Gentiles, but he could pull them out of the equation if he desired to. In fact, he is arguing that believing Jews would do a much better job than the Gentiles, if they would only believe!
God is not done with the nation of Israel
(11:25) “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel.”
Who is Israel? Both Augustine and John Calvin believed that Israel referred to the Christian community—both Jewish and Gentile Christians. However, even modern-day Covenantalists (who reject the return of national Israel) believe that Israel refers to ethnic Israel. For one, out of the 148 times the OT uses the expression “all Israel,” it always refers to ethnic Israel. Second, in Romans 11:1, Paul uses the term “Israel” to refer to his own ethnic identity (“I too am an Israelite”). Third, Paul calls unbelieving Israel “enemies” of the gospel (v.28), which can hardly be used to describe Christians! In fact, “throughout Romans ‘Israel’ means ethnic or national Israel, in contrast to the Gentile nations.”
(11:25b-26) “Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’”
How long will the hardening last? The term “and so” (houtōs) in the phrase “and so all Israel will be saved” can be rendered “in this way” (ESV), as Hoekma contends. However, in context, “and so” makes for a better translation. Paul’s use of the word “until” in verse 25 refers to a sequential event—not an overlapping process. Moo sees this language as a “temporal reference.” Thus the NEB (“when that has happened”) and the JB (“then after this”) translate this passage correctly. After the Gentiles come to faith, the hardening will be lifted. This will occur after all nations hear about Christ (Mt. 24:14); otherwise, the “fullness of the Gentiles” would not yet have been completed.
The “mystery” revealed here is the timing of Israel’s mass salvation as a nation. Paul’s Jewish readers assumed that the nation would accept Jesus en masse at the First Coming, but as it turns out, they wouldn’t largely accept him in this way until his Second Coming.
When Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved,” does this refer to the nation of Israel or simply a large number of Jewish people? Covenantalists typically interpret “all Israel” to refer to a large number of Jewish people meeting Christ before the Second Coming. However, even Amillennialist Kim Riddlebarger writes, “If all Paul wanted to tell us here was that God was going to save the sum total of elect Jews throughout the ages, then ‘the salvation of Jewish Israel will be limited forever to a remnant.’” He’s right. Additionally, Paul is referring to the nation of Israel—not just dispersed Jewish people. “All Israel” stands in opposition to the small remnant mentioned earlier in the chapter (Rom. 11:5). So, whatever Paul is describing, it isn’t a small part of the nation, but the nation as a whole. Paul described, “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Whatever Paul means by “all Israel,” it is in contrast to the small and partial rescuing of the Jews mentioned earlier.
Unless we believe that every Israelite on Earth will come to Christ during this time, then we must concede Paul is thinking in terms of the nation—not just another remnant. Since Paul has been thinking in terms of nations throughout Romans 9-11, the expression “all Israel” must refer to the nation of Israel.
When will Israel be saved? Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 in verse 27. He writes, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Covenantalists argue that this refers to the First Coming of Christ. For example, Riddlebarger writes, “Paul, therefore, probably understands the future tense of the Isaiah prophecy as fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, which set in motion the apostolic mission of the Church.” This would fit their view, because it wouldn’t place the salvation of Israel alongside the return of Christ at the end of history.
However, Paul consistently uses the future tense to describe this event—not the past tense. Moreover, read the context of Isaiah 59 for yourself: Isaiah states that the Redeemer will come with “vengeance” (Isa. 59:17) and “will repay his enemies for their evil deeds” (Isa. 59:18 NLT). Does this sound like the First Coming or the Second? Surely the Second Coming!
Zechariah predicts that the people of Jerusalem will mourn over crucifying Jesus (Zech. 12:10-12), and “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity” (Zech. 13:1). Paul could be reflecting on his own conversion to Christ: When Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road, he came to faith. Similarly, at Jesus’ Second Coming, the nation of Israel will have a chance to come to faith in Jesus—or more likely, they will have already come to faith in him during the great and terrible Tribulation.
(11:27) “This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
What covenant is this referring to? Paul could be thinking of the covenant made through the work of the Suffering Servant (Isa. 42:6), the promise to “restore the land” (Isa. 49:8), or the Davidic covenant (Isa. 55:3). In our estimation, Paul is most likely referring to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31. God promised to make this covenant with Israel despite “all that they [had] done” (Jer. 31:17). Clearly, Paul believes that these OT covenants were still in effect.
(11:28) “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.”
These people are non-believers (“they are enemies [of the gospel]”), and yet, they are still God’s chosen people (“from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved”). How can this be? Clearly, God’s “choice” means more than salvation, because these people are chosen, but not saved.
(11:29) “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
Paul quotes multiple OT passages to make his case for Israel’s salvation: He gets his concept of a remnant from 1 Kings 19:18 (v.4); he gets the concept of Israel’s blindness from Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22 (vv.8-10); finally, he gets the concept of the holy root from Leviticus 23:10 and Numbers 15:17-21 (v.16). Thus, when Paul writes that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v.29), he must have the covenants to Israel in mind from the OT.
In Greek, the order of words shows us emphasis. In verse 29, the word “irrevocable” (ametamelatos) starts Paul’s sentence, showing emphasis. “In other words,” Paul writes, “Do not ever say that God will revoke his promises to Israel!”
Why isn’t the regathering and return of national Israel written about more often in the NT? Covenantalists argue that the NT authors should have written more on this topic if they truly believed in a restoration of the nation of Israel at the end of history. However, arguments from silence are only compelling if we would expect to read more on the topic. The NT authors were first century Jewish men who assumed that the restoration of Israel was on its way (Acts 1:6). They felt no need to write more on the topic. As Jewish believers, they simply assumed it. Moreover, when the NT authors were writing their letters, the Jewish people were still in their land, and they were still a nation. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect the NT to say more about a topic that wasn’t even an issue when they were writing.
(11:30-31) “For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience [the Jews], so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.”
This is a major role reversal. In the OT, the Jews were supposed to be lights to the Gentiles (Rom. 2:19-20). Now, in the new covenant, the Gentiles are supposed to be lights to the Jews. God is working through the unbelief of one group to reach others with the gospel message.
(11:32) “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
God’s plan in human history is so brilliant that he is even able to use the unbelief of people to bring about the spread of the gospel. The goal of his plan is not to favor one group or another, but to “show mercy to all.” This does not imply universalism (i.e. all will be saved). To be blunt, a person who interprets Paul this way simply hasn’t come to terms with Romans 1-11! Paul simply means that God will show “mercy” to all kinds of people, particularly the groups of Jews and Gentiles to whom he has been recently referring. He is extending his invitation to all people through his magnificent plan in human history.
(11:33-36) “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen”
Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 41:11, and Job 35:7. Paul began his discussion of the nation of Israel with a broken heart (Rom. 9:1-5). However, now he has come full circle, marveling at the brilliance and complexity of God’s plan in human history. No one would’ve predicted that God would use the Jews to reach Gentiles, only to have the Gentiles reach Jews.
In chapter 11, Paul asserts that God has not abandoned the Jewish people. What arguments does he give to support this claim?
- Paul himself is Jewish. So, at least one Jew had come to faith (v.1).
- Paul cites OT precedent in Elijah for the fact that we often feel like very few people are following God (vv.2-4). Now, just like then, we only have a remnant of believing Jews in Jesus (v.5).
- The Jewish people were seeking God through works—not grace (vv.6-7). Consequently, they were hardened for this decision (vv.8-10).
- God wants to use the Gentiles to make the Jewish people jealous of how they are changing, growing, and experiencing the love of God.
- God is still supporting the Gentiles through their Jewish roots (v.18).
- Paul rebukes the pride and arrogance of the Gentiles, just as he rebuked the pride and arrogance of the Jews (vv.19-24).
- God will return to the nation of Israel in the future (vv.25-29).
Anti-Semitism is a serious sin. Paul’s indictment of anti-Semitism is clear throughout Romans 11. Gentiles are supposed to be examples to Jewish people—not haters of them. Sadly, the history of Christianity has seen more hatred, than love, of Jewish people.
Do you notice the difference between how this section starts and how it ends? Paul begins with deep emotional sorrow for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-3). Paul probably had family in Jerusalem—at least a nephew (Acts 23:16), and it tore him up to see so many Jewish people rejecting Christ. Also, at the beginning, Paul wants to trade his own salvation for the Jewish people. His focus is on himself—not on God.
However, by the end of the discourse, Paul focuses upward toward God’s inexpressible nature—specifically God’s riches, wisdom, power, and glory (Rom. 11:32-36).
Paul’s heart changed because he turned his focus onto God. Paul may have been writing Romans 9-11 to himself, as much as he was writing to us. He worked out his feelings of grief by focusing on God’s incredible plan for all people on Earth. By the time he is finished, Paul’s spirit was lifted, and he is praising God. Do you work out your “bitter sorrow” and “unending grief” by meditating on God’s word and his brilliant will? Have you ever found consolation from the fact that God has predicted and revealed the future, and you can know that he will get the final word in the end? Are you trusting that God’s plan is not only wise, but also good?
Paul has covered incredible theological ground so far: Justification, sanctification, glorification, and God’s corporate election of Jews and Gentiles into his kingdom. At this point, he reflects on all of this and praises God for his inexhaustible and ineffable wisdom, intellect, and glory (Rom. 11:33-36). Now, Paul moves from the abstract into the practical, beginning with our individual dedication to Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2) and our corporate dedication to the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:3ff).
Romans 12 (The Body of Christ)
(12:1) “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
In Greek, the order of the words shows priority. The word “urge” (parakaleō) starts the sentence, which shows that this is the emphasis in Paul’s mind (“I urge you…”).
Commitment to Christ is not based on self-effort or willpower. It is based on “the mercies of God.” How different this call for commitment would be if it was in chapter 1, rather than chapter 12! Paul spent eleven chapters explaining his reasoning for why we should surrender the leadership of our lives to Christ. Thus, the “therefore” refers to chapters 1-11.
“Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” God doesn’t just want what you can give to him. He wants you. He wants to lead your entire life. God doesn’t want a dead sacrifice (like in the OT system). Rather, he wants “living” sacrifices; people who dedicate all of life to him.
“Spiritual” (logikon) really means something closer to “logical,” as you may detect for yourself by reading the original Greek word. The term refers to “being carefully thought through” or “thoughtful.” This word was “a favorite expression of philosophers since Aristotle” (BDAG, p.598). Translators render it as “spiritual” based on Peter’s usage of the “pure spiritual milk of the word” (1 Pet. 2:2 NIV). But the context of 1 Peter 2 is different, because it is referring to the words of God (logion). We agree with other translations: “reasonable service” (NET), “true worship” (TNIV), or “truly the way” (NLT).
After viewing God’s enormous and gratuitous love for us, it only makes sense to give everything for Him. Why would you withhold anything from Jesus, when he gave everything for you? This isn’t merely a sinful decision, but it’s illogical and foolish! Jesus will never ask more of you than what he did, and we can never do more than what he did for us! Keller writes, “Once you have a good view of God’s mercy, anything less than a total, complete sacrifice of yourself to God is completely irrational! If you give yourself partially or half-heartedly, you are simply not thinking; you are not looking at what Jesus did. If what he did does not move you or break the ice over your soul, you must ask yourself if you have ever understood the gospel.”
What is worship? In the new covenant, we worship God through our daily “service” to him—not through old covenant methods (e.g. animal sacrifices, liturgy, singing, priestly duties, etc.). We worship him through our “service” in the cause of Christ. Paul “extends the sphere of [worship] into every dimension of life.”
(12:2) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“Do not be conformed to this world.” How would we know if we’re conforming to the thinking of our culture? We can’t know this from within ourselves, because we could be conforming without knowing it. A broken clock cannot know if it’s telling the right time, just as a person brainwashed by his culture cannot know if his mental faculties are working properly. We need an outside perspective to know if we’re falling into conformity (cf. 1 Pet. 1:14). The Bible serves as an infinite point of reference to give us this perspective.
“Conformed” (syschematizesthe) means “to form according to a pattern or mold, form/model after something” (BDAG). Peter uses the same term in 1 Peter 1:14.
“Transformed” (metamorphoō) is the root from which we get our English word “metamorphosis.” The Bible uses this term to refer to Jesus being “transfigured” on the mountain (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:2), and Paul uses it of inner transformation (2 Cor. 3:18).
To “prove” (dokimazo) the will of God means “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine” (BDAG). In this context, Paul could mean that we “understand and agree with what God wants of us with a view to putting it into practice.” Thus, we could be proving the will of God to ourselves, to others, or perhaps to both.
Questions for Reflection
Read verses 1-2. What is the basis for dedicating our lives to Christ? And what is the process for doing this?
Have you made this decision to place your life up on the altar and present yourself to God as his instrument?
#1. Don’t have an inflated view of yourself
(12:3) “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
“I say to everyone.” This message of humility is so important that literally “everyone” needs to hear it (and rehear it!). Only a proud fool ignores this message of our need for humility before God and before others (see our earlier article “Humility”).
“Not to think… but to think.” The key to humility begins in our minds. We need to put into practice Paul’s urging to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v.2). It’s interesting that the very first application of this principle is in the area of humility.
We shouldn’t boast in our spiritual gifts, but rather, we should fit into the role God has given us. This verse comes off the heels of verse 2. If we are “conformed to the world,” then we will have a high view of ourselves. But if we are “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” this leads to humility. Keller writes, “Despite all the warnings our culture gives about the danger of low self-esteem, the real danger is self-centeredness and egocentricity.” Mounce refers to people in this condition as “egoholics.”
(12:3) Does God give us our faith—or do we produce faith?
#2. Instead, realize that we’re all one body—not competing individuals
(12:4) “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function.”
Here Paul makes an analogy between Christian community and human anatomy. While the human body is composed of various parts (e.g. arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc.), these all form one singular body. Our body parts have different “functions,” and they all play a vital and unique role. Paul uses this imagery to speak against the prideful attitudes of individual Christians—namely, we all need each other.
(12:5) “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
We not only have an individual identity in Christ (Rom. 6), but we have a corporate identity in the Body of Christ. Paul elaborates on this concept in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. While Paul affirms that we are individuals with special gifts and contributions, he is not teaching individualism. Each person has a distinct “function” (v.4), but we are all interconnected in the Body of Christ. While Paul’s teaching has implications for the universal church across the globe, Paul seems to have “the local church only in view.” One indicator of this is the fact that Paul doesn’t mention “apostles” (contra 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Indeed, the church in Rome had no formal apostles. We aren’t aiming to be unified with all Christians in every part of the world. While we enjoy this objective unity, Paul’s burden is for local Christians to exercises the unity that belongs to them in Christ.
#3. Because #1 and #2 are true, we should USE our gifts to build up others—not glorify ourselves
Throughout this section, we see that Paul is referring to love in the Christian community. The expression “one another” occurs three times (v.10, 16) and “brotherly love” (philadelphia, v.10) occurs as well. See our earlier article “Spiritual Gifts” for a thorough explanation of the spiritual gifts.
(12:6) “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.”
God has given different gifts for the purpose of building up the Body. We aren’t given gifts to glorify ourselves, but to build up the Body of Christ. We don’t marvel at the possession of our gifts, but rather our use of them for God and others. Thank God that he didn’t fill his church with people all exactly like me! What a horrible church that would be! Thank God that he gifted all of us differently, so we can show the multifaceted nature of Jesus’ love to others.
“If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.” Prophecy doesn’t simply deal with foretelling the future, but forthtelling God’s leadership in the present. Prophecy “involved proclaiming to the community information that God had revealed to the prophet for the church’s edification (see esp. 1 Cor. 14:3, 24-25, 30).” Of course, such claims are open to verification or falsification from the church (1 Cor. 14:29).
“According to the proportion of his faith.” Many commentators understand “faith” to refer to the objective faith revealed “once for all to the saints” (Jude 3). That is, prophets should prophesy according to the truth of the Bible. Certainly, this is true! But is that what Paul is teaching here? We think not. We agree with Moo that this refers to the prophet’s exercise of trust in God as he or she uses this gift.
The gift of “prophecy” should be exercised in close connection with our faith. Why is our level of faith important specifically with regard to the gift of prophecy? Christian history shows us that the gift of prophecy can quickly degrade into false prophecy. Perhaps Paul was foreseeing that this gift could be abused in this way, and he wanted prophecy to be grounded in faith—not imagination.
(12:7) “If service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.”
The term “service” (diakonian) means “ministry.” Of course, Jesus was the ultimate servant of us (Mk. 10:45). Some think that this could refer to having a higher energy output than others. That’s possible, and we’ve certainly observed this in certain people. However, notice that 1 Peter 4:11 states, “Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies.” We don’t serve based on self-effort, but based on God’s power. If a person has a higher energy output, this would only be because God gave them this gift and the “strength which [He] supplies.”
(12:8) “Or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
“Exhorts, in his exhortation.” The term “exhorts” (parakalon) is literally translated “to call to one’s side” (BDAG). It can also be rendered “to summon to one’s aid, call upon for help” or “to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage” or “to make a strong request for something, request, implore, entreat” (BDAG). Regarding Romans 12:8, Keller writes, “This is the word parakaleo, which means to ‘come alongside.’ ‘Encouragement’ is a good translation, but it also includes most of what today we would call ‘counseling’—support, inspiration. Encouragers are not necessarily trained, formal counselors. They can serve as advisors, supporters, greeters, and welcomers in many ways.”
“Gives, with liberality.” The term “liberality” (haploteti) can be rendered “generously” or “sincerely” (BDAG). That is, this could refer to generous givers or to transparent and sincere givers. Contrast the latter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5! God is not in the business of promoting hypocritical financial giving.
“Leads, with diligence.” The term “diligence” (spoude) can be rendered “swiftness, haste” or “eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal” (BDAG). Those with a gift of leadership are not supposed to be boring, apathetic, lackadaisical, or half-hearted. Leaders are supposed to bring zeal, passion, excitement, and vision to those around them.
“Mercy, with cheerfulness.” The term “cheerfulness” (hilaroteti) refers to the “opposite of an attitude suggesting being under duress, cheerfulness, gladness, wholeheartedness, graciousness” (BDAG). People with a mercy gift can often have a “martyr complex.” Paul doesn’t want the mercy-gifted to walk around feeling sorry for themselves. He wants them to serve with a happy heart—eager to help those in need.
(12:9) “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”
“Hypocrisy” (hypokritēs) originally referred to a “play-actor.” When we do not have close community (v.10) where people exercise their gifts (vv.6-8), we fall into hypocrisy. In such a scenario, we aren’t exercising authentic love, but merely “play acting.” If we’re not willing to put any time into the Body of Christ, then all we’re left with is hypocrisy—fake and fraudulent love. Thus far, the word “love” (agapē) has been used only for God’s love toward humans. This is the first time that the word “love” (agapē) has been used with regard to human love.
“Abhor what is evil.” Christian community is also a moral community. Without moral boundaries, love is an impossibility. We need moral boundaries so that we aren’t harming and taking from each other. In a world-system run by Satan himself (1 Jn. 5:19; 2 Cor. 4:4), evil is so common that it is simply the air that we breathe. This is why we need a “transforming of the mind” (v.2), developing a worldview that is constantly refined and informed by God.
“Cling to what is good.” The word “cling” (kollaō) means to “glue or join together,” and it is used for the closeness of sexual union.
(12:10) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”
The picture of Christian community is one of “devotion” (philostorgoi) or “loving dearly” (BDAG).
“Give preference to one another in honor.” Humility is hard to define, but easy to see. This is a beautiful and practical picture of humility. Serving people should never turn into an opportunity to serve myself. The term refers to “outdoing one another in showing honor” (RSV) or “surpassing one another in showing honor.” This means to “recognize and praise one another’s accomplishments and to defer to one another.” This comes on the heels of learning about our spiritual gifts. God gives us gifts to glorify him and others—not ourselves.
(12:11) “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
How should all of us serve God, no matter what gifts we have? Paul mentions three qualities:
“Lagging behind” (okneroi) is literally “a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance, idle, lazy” (BDAG). Much of our lack of zeal stems from self-protectiveness and not wanting to express ourselves publicly. We fear that we will look foolish if we express excitement and emotion about the cause of Christ. When we are thinking clearly, however, we will wonder why we show excitement for anything else on Earth.
“Diligence” (spoude) was mentioned above in reference to leadership (v.8), but here it refers to all believers. This term can be rendered “swiftness, haste” or “eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal” (BDAG).
“Fervent” (zeontes) is also rendered “zeal” (NIV), and it can literally mean to be “set on fire” to “boil” or to “seethe.” BDAG defines this term as a “figure of emotions, anger, love, eagerness to do good or evil, to be stirred up emotionally, be enthusiastic/excited/on fire.” Apparently, this was one of the keys to Apollos’ fantastic teaching ability (Acts 18:25). These imperatives are probably interconnected. As we engage in each imperative, they mutually support each other.
“Serving the Lord.” Our excitement and passion are not just charismatic experiences. Our zeal should result in serving God and others.
(12:12) “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”
It isn’t that we’re supposed to “be joyful” (NIV), as if this is an emotional state. The term “be joyful” (chairontes) is a verb—not a noun. The NASB is correct in translating this as “rejoice.” This is a decision to rejoice—not necessarily a feeling of joy (at least, not immediately). This must be connected with our ability to suffer and “perseve in tribulation.” The object of our rejoicing is our “hope” (elpidi), which refers to “looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” (BDAG).
How can we possibly “rejoice” during times of “tribulation”? Paul implies that “prayer” is the key. In fact, “tribulation” is sandwiched between “rejoicing” and “prayer.”
(12:13) “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
We need to spend adequate time building up fellow believers, and taking care of their needs. But this needs to be balanced with an outward focus:
“Practicing” (diōkontes) is the word used for persecution in verse 14. Consider the zeal and drive of an antagonistic persecutor. Paul wants this same drive, but only directed toward good—not evil.
“Hospitality” (philoxenian) means to “love” (phileo) the “strangers” (xenoi). We can’t only love our fellow believers. Otherwise, Christian community becomes inward and strange. We need to balance our time by loving those who don’t know Christ yet. This fits with the context of persecutors in verse 14.
Questions for Reflection
Read verses 3-13. As you read through this list of gifts and qualities, which of these do you see in your friends around you? How can you encourage them to grow in these gifts even further?
Which of these qualities have others seen in you? How can you leverage your gifts and grow in them to build up others?
With such an awesome community, it seems that everyone would love this! But this is not the case…
(12:14, 17) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”
Paul gives the command to “bless” twice in this same verse. He must feel the need to repeat it, because it is so tempting to curse our persecutors. Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Lk. 6:28; Mt. 5:44) and to do good to them (Lk. 6:27). To “bless” our persecutors “is to call on God to bestow his favor upon them” and the opposite is “cursing… asking God to bring disaster and/or spiritual ruin on a person.”
What does it look like to not retaliate against persecution—without being weak? In reality, lashing out is easier than loving others. Retaliation is a quality that any beast in the animal kingdom possessed by nature, but the latter is a virtue of the transformed believer. This quality is virtuous—not a weakness. The purpose is for our witness to the world (“…in the sight of all men…”).
(12:15) “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
This is not just a command to feel empathy with those who are hurting, but also to express empathy with those who are hurting (and/or rejoicing). Since we all have the same corporate identity in the Body of Christ, we can take pride and ego out of the equation. Ask yourself, “Am I just as happy to see my brother get publicly acknowledged as I would be if I were publicly acknowledged? Do I feel the same level of pain for my sister who is hurting, as if I was hurting?”
(12:16) “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”
This surely refers to our common convictions and values—not “groupthink” (cf. Phil. 2:2). As Stott writes, “Since Christians have a renewed mind, it should also be a common mind, sharing the same basic convictions and concerns. Without this common mind we cannot live or work together in harmony.” After all, Paul has already shown that there is tremendous diversity in the Body of Christ. We chafe against this command, but this is because “the biggest barrier to unity is pride.” Pride manifests itself in an inability to show deference to others’ ideas, claiming the credit for our own, and resenting being under the leadership of others.
“Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” The key to loving the marginalized is realizing that we are no better than anyone else (“Do not be wise in your own estimation”). Just consider how different your life would look if you missed out on a few key opportunities, made just a few decisions differently, or grew up in a different situation. These small changes could’ve ruined your life! If we are proud, we simply don’t realize how easily our lives could’ve been different if it wasn’t for the caring hand of God.
(12:17) “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”
Paul tells believers to be ethical in the eyes of the culture. He doesn’t want to see Christ’s name pulled through the mud, because of the evil behavior of believers.
(12:18) “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Sometimes, peace is impossible. But our job is to do our best to make peace with all people—even our persecutors.
(12:19) “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Why is the wrath of God necessary for forgiveness? Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:35. If we didn’t believe in the real wrath of God, then forgiveness and non-retaliation wouldn’t have any basis. Paul uses the wrath of God as the foundation for why we shouldn’t seek our own revenge. After all, if God isn’t going to judge, then we would be quick to carry out the judgment ourselves.
Why shouldn’t we retaliate? One reason is that we are the “beloved” of God. That is, we have been given great love from him without deserving it. In addition, we’re simply not in a position to deliver wrath objectively or perfectly. God promises to do this for us. Our role is to win over others with love. The word “overcome” is a military word for “overpowering” the enemy. In other words, love is our strongest weapon.
(12:20) “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Paul cites Proverbs 25:21-22a.
(12:20) What does Paul mean by “burning coals on his head”?
(12:21) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When we succumb to evil solutions while suffering, we become evil in the process. God promises to overcome evil through the good works of believers (1 Pet. 2:23; Ps. 37:5ff).
Questions for Reflection
Read verses 14-21. Paul ends this section on the Body of Christ by speaking about persecution. Why would anyone want to persecute a highly dedicated and loving group of Christians like this?
Romans 13:1-7 (Submission to Government)
(Rom. 13:1-7) Are we supposed to submit to evil governments?
Questions for Reflection
Why does Paul bring up the Christian’s role of the government after writing about the Body of Christ and persecution in chapter 12?
Romans 13:8-14 (Love)
(13:8) “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
The expression “love one another” usually refers to believers (“one another”). Here, however, it extends to all people (“neighbor”). Love is the one debt that “can never be paid off.”
(13:9) “For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Paul cites from the Ten Commandments: Seventh, sixth, eighth, and tenth (Ex. 20:13ff; Deut. 5:17ff). The summary of the Law can be found in the OT (Lev. 19:18) and in the words of Jesus (Mt. 19:19; 22:39ff). Love is the fulfillment of what the Law requires (Gal. 5:14).
(13:10) “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Love still has a moral dimension. Love shouldn’t harm or take from others. This looks back to Romans 8:4 where Paul writes, “[God] did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4 NLT). We agree with John Stott who writes, “Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.”
(13:11) “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”
When Jesus taught about his Second Coming, he repeatedly gave the practical application to “be alert” (Mt. 24:42; 25:13; Mk. 13:32-37; Lk. 12:37; Lk. 21:36; cf. 1 Thess. 5:6). Eschatology is intertwined with our love for others. When we realize that our time is short, it makes us want to give our lives away with the limited time we have left. Our resources will all burn up. Why not give them away now before it’s too late?
“For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” This shows that the Bible holds to a linear view of time: the return of Christ is “nearer” than when we first believed. This also shows that the term salvation can be used in a broad sense. We are already saved, but we still await salvation. In this context, “salvation” refers to our glorification (cf. Rom. 8:23).
We don’t know when Jesus will return. However, the “uncertainty of the time” should not deter the “certainty of the event.” We don’t know when Jesus will return (Mt. 24:36), but we do know that he will return.
(13:12) “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
The “night” refers to this present evil age (Gal. 1:4), while the “day” refers to the return of Jesus. This alludes back to renewing our minds, rather than conforming to the world-system (Rom. 12:2). The motivation for change is based on the fact that we will be glorified at the return of Christ. Why not line up our lives right now with our future state? Harrison writes, “The Christian is to live as though that final day had actually arrived, bringing with it the personal presence of Christ.” Paul’s argument is similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
“Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” This language of “putting off” and “putting on” comes up throughout the NT as the way to see transformation (Eph. 4:22, 25; Col. 3:8, 12; Eph. 6:11, 14; 1 Thess. 5:8; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:1). Later, Paul explains that we “put on” Jesus himself (v.14); that is, we rest in our new identity in Christ.
The “armor” (hopla) can be translated as “any instrument one uses to prepare or make ready” or as “an instrument designed to make ready for military engagement, weapon” (BDAG). The concept of armor refers to protection, but offensive action is also in view. This aligns with Ephesians 6:10-18, which uses language that refers to both defensive armor, as well as offensive weapons.
(13:13) “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”
We should act consistently with what we will be.
“Carousing” (kōmos) could refer to having a feast, but it was typically used of Pagan feasts, where participants would engage in wild behavior. It was “originally a festal procession in honor of Dionysus—compare our festival of Mardi Gras” (BDAG).
“Drunkenness” (methē) isn’t consistent with being “awake” and “alert,” which was mentioned above (v.11). Since our time is short, we need to make the most of our opportunities—not wasting our lives for pleasure.
“Sexual immorality” (koitais) is where we get our modern term “coitus” (i.e. sex). It can refer to lying down in a bed, sexual intercourse, or “sexual excesses” (BDAG). In this context, it refers to sexual immorality, because it is accompanied by other vices—not least of which is “sensuality.”
“Sensuality” (aselgeiais) refers to a “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment” (BDAG).
“Strife” (eridi) refers to “engagement in rivalry” or “contention” (BDAG).
“Jealousy” (zēlos) is a neutral term. It can refer to “zeal” in general, so it can be used for zeal aimed at good or evil. In this context, it can be defined as “intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success, jealousy, envy” (BDAG).
It’s interesting to see Paul putting sins like orgies and drunkenness right alongside jealousy and strife. By mentioning strife and jealousy, Paul is likely setting up for the divisions which he will address between the weaker and stronger brothers in Romans 14.
(13:14) “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
The term “put on” (enduō) is identical to Galatians 3:27, which states, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed or (enduō) yourselves with Christ.” However, in Galatians, Paul is referring to our position in Christ (past tense completed), while here he is referring to our condition (present tense).
“And make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” How do we stop the constant invasion of the flesh? Paul tells us to make no “provision” (pronoia), which means “thoughtful planning to meet a need, forethought, foresight, providence” or “make provision for something, be concerned for or about something” (BDAG). Therefore, much of our battle is in our mind. The flesh wants to take more and more ground. Don’t give it a foothold!
In AD 386, a professor of rhetoric at Milan despaired over the reality of his sinful life. He wept in the garden of a friend, wondering if he should make the decision to come to Christ. At this moment, he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! tolle, lege! (“Take up and read! Take up and read!”). He picked up a scroll of Romans, and he read this passage (Rom. 13:13-14). Later, he wrote, “No further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” This man went on to become one of the greatest minds in Christianity: Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430).
Questions for Reflection
Read verses 8-14. If all you had were these verses, how would you define the biblical concept of love?
What reasons does Paul give to motivate us to love others?
What is your reaction and response to this quote from John Stott? He writes, “It is sometimes claimed that the command to love our neighbours as ourselves is implicitly a requirement to love ourselves as well as our neighbours. But this is not so. One can say this with assurance, partly because Jesus spoke of the first and second commandment, without mentioning a third; partly because agapē is selfless love which cannot be turned in on the self; and partly because according to Scripture self-love is the essence of sin.”
Romans 14:1-23 (Willingly limiting our freedoms)
Paul already addressed loving persecutors (Rom. 12:14-21), the government (Rom. 13:1-7), fellow believers, as well as non-believers (Rom. 13:8-10). Here he addresses complicated love in the Christian community (Rom. 14:15). When is it appropriate to limit our freedoms for the sake of others?
1 Corinthians 8: A parallel passage?
Paul’s argument is similar to his discussion in 1 Corinthians 8. However, the careful interpreter should notice key dissimilarities as well.
SIMILARITIES between 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14
1 Corinthians 8
“If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13)
|Don’t stumble others||
“Determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13, 15, 20-21)
“Through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died” (1 Cor. 8:11)
|Don’t destroy one another||
“If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).
“Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense” (Rom. 14:20)
“Their conscience being weak” (1 Cor. 8:7, 9-12; 9:22)
|Mention of the weak||“Accept the one who is weak in faith” (Rom. 14:1-2; 15:1)|
|“If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?” (1 Cor. 10:30)||Your good will be spoken of as evil||
“Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16)
“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24)
|Others-focus||“Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2)|
|“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1)||Imitate Christ||
“Even Christ did not please Himself” (Rom. 15:3)
DIFFERENCES between 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14
1 Corinthians 8
Gentile believers were being stumbled
|Jewish believers were being stumbled|
|The “weak” were former idol-worshippers, who were “accustomed to [idolatry] until now” (1 Cor. 8:7)||
The “weak” were Jewish believers in Jesus, who had always rejected idolatry
In danger of falling into idolatry
|In danger of falling into legalism|
|“Faith” never appears||
“Conscience” never appears
Doesn’t mention the “strong,” only the weak
Mentions both the “weak” and the “strong” (Rom. 15:1)
In both cases, Paul applies the same logic: Willingly give up your rights for the sake of loving others!
The imperative: “Accept one another”
(14:1) “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
The “weak” in faith were Jewish believers in Jesus, who didn’t want to eat meat. The “strong” (Rom. 15:1) were Gentile believers in Jesus, who saw no ethical problem with eating meat. Though the groups are reversed, the same principle is in play in both passages.
Paul theologically sides with the “strong,” but ethically advocates for the “weak.” These “weak” believers were clearly in the wrong theologically; otherwise, why would Paul use the term “weak” to describe them? Moreover, Paul explicitly sides with the “strong” believers theologically. He writes, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (v.14), and later he writes, “All things indeed are clean” (v.20). Stott notes, “There is no attempt to conceal or disguise what these brothers and sisters are. They are weak in faith (here meaning ‘conviction’), immature, untaught, and (as Paul’s unfolding argument makes clear) actually mistaken.”
“Accept” (proslambanō) means far more than accepting people “in the sense of acquiescing in their existence.” The NT uses this term to refer to Philemon accepting Onesimus (Phile. 17), the Maltese accepting Paul (Acts 28:2), and Jesus accepting people into heaven (Jn. 14:3). Paul concludes this section by writing, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Acceptance is equivalent to love—not mere toleration!
“But not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” There are moral grey issues in the Christian life, which are called “opinions” (dialogismoi). This is the root from which we get our English loanword “dialogue.” This comes from the root words “through” (dia) and “to think” (logizomai). These grey areas of conscience should be discussed and dialogued about, but we shouldn’t hurt other people based on grey issues.
“Passing judgment” refers to “judging between” different options (diakrino). The strong could be in the right in their judgment, but their forcefulness could be in the wrong.
Gentile believers in Jesus saw no problem eating meat, while Jewish believers in Jesus thought this was sinful. After all, the meat may have been originally sacrificed to an idol in the market. Therefore, in their minds, eating this meat would be tantamount to participating in idolatry.
(14:2) “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.”
Why were some of the people only eating vegetables? This isn’t referring to modern day vegetarian ethics. Instead, it is “more probably in order to avoid eating the flesh of animals that had been sacrificed to pagan deities or not properly slaughtered according to Jewish law (cf. Dan. 1:8, 12).” Moo believes that the Jewish believers were trying to keep kosher laws, and “kosher meat was not easily obtained.” It makes sense that Jewish believers would be stumbled by Gentiles eating meat sacrificed to idols or eating non-kosher meat.
Because some Jewish believers in Jesus wanted to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols, they outlawed meat eating altogether!
Is 1 Timothy 4 a good parallel?
Some commentators see parallels with 1 Timothy 4, where Paul writes,
“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:2-5 NIV).
While the theological principles are the same (i.e. all food is clean), the ethical principles are far different. Paul takes a much stronger stance toward these false teachers (calling them “hypocritical liars”), whereas he takes a softer stance toward these people whom he simply calls “weak” in faith. The difference here is that the false teachers in Ephesus were non-Christian, pseudo-Gnostics, whereas those of “weak” faith were sincere believers in Jesus, who were simply misguided.
Returning to the main question, why should we “accept one another” (v.1)? Paul gives several reasons:
#1. Accept one another because God has accepted us
(14:3; cf. 14:14) “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.”
The “strong” are not to hold the “weak” in contempt. Likewise, the “weak” are not to judge the “strong.” We shouldn’t despise or wrongfully judge someone whom God loves and accepts. These ethics come on the heels of Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, being built upon our corporate identity.
A modern exercise of this principle is the consumption of alcohol. Some Christians (particularly in the United States) feel that it is immoral to drink alcohol. But this passage tells both groups—the strong and the weak—not to pass judgment on each other.
(14:4) “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
In context, the “servant” is the man whom “God has accepted” (v.3). Paul is saying that we all answer to Christ.
“He stands or falls.” This seems to refer to having “approval” or “disapproval.” A better translation might be, “He has good standing or bad standing with his master.” God gives us a good standing because of his grace (“for the Lord is able to make him stand”).
Broadening the principle: The observance of “holy” days
(14:5) “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Paul’s ethical principle does not just refer to eating meat. It also refers to “holy days” and later to drinking “wine” (Rom. 14:21). This shows us that we can apply this principle to various areas of life. Moreover, just like the case of eating meat, Paul doesn’t hold that holy days exist anymore. Elsewhere, he writes, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
We should seek to be “convinced” of our view, rather than just holding on to tradition. It’s fully appropriate to dialogue about these topics, but it’s equally important not to wound each other or the unity of the Body of Christ in the process.
(14:6) “He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”
Paul takes a soft stance on issues of conscience, because each of these types of people does what he does “for the Lord” or “to God.” In other words, their motive is to do this for God.
#2. Accept one another because Jesus laid down his rights first
(14:7-8) “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
We have to consider how our lives and actions affect the Body of Christ—not just ourselves (“not one of us lives for himself”). If we are doing what we are doing “for the Lord,” that is the guiding principle.
(14:9) “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Jesus didn’t base his life on what he deserved. Instead, he sacrificed his rights and gave his life for others. He is the example we should follow in these areas of opinion and disagreement. Consequently, this is a strong affirmation of Jesus’ deity (“[Christ is Lord of] both of the dead and of the living”). See comments on verse 11.
#3. Accept one another because we will all stand before God someday
(14:10) “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
In light of Jesus’ example of laying down his rights, why would a person continue to judge another? This is the same language he used in verse 3 (“contempt… judge…”). We shouldn’t judge each other harshly, because we won’t want God to judge us harshly! Paul’s point is that we should not judge “before the time” (1 Cor. 4:5).
The “judgment seat of God” is elsewhere referred to as “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This is another affirmation of the deity of Christ.
(14:11) “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
Paul cites Isaiah 45:23 to refer to God, but elsewhere, he cites this OT passage to refer to Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11). It’s interesting that this passage comes in the context of verse 9, where Jesus is Lord “both of the dead and of the living.” This is yet another affirmation of the deity of Christ.
(14:12) “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
Each person needs to stand before God on issues of conscience. We can’t play the role of judge, jury, and executioner with regard to their motives (1 Cor. 4:3-5).
#4. Accept one another because the alternative is to stumble one another
(14:13) “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
We shouldn’t “judge” (krino) someone’s conscience, but we can “determine” (krino) how our actions affect others and whether or not these lead others into sin. If I drink a beer around an alcoholic, that might stumble them into drinking. Therefore, I can judge this as wrong.
The word “obstacle” (proskomma) means “something against which one may strike his foot, causing him to stumble or even fall.”
The word “stumbling block” (skandalon) is the root from which we get the word “scandal” or “scandalous.” It means “a device for catching something alive, trap” (BDAG). Jesus used this term to describe Peter’s words: “You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt. 16:23). In other words, the term implies that it could influence someone into sinning.
Therefore, Paul is not referring to merely offending others with our actions, but rather, influencing others to sin by our actions. Modern fundamentalists sometimes cite this passage and claim that drinking alcohol “stumbles them.” However, most often, what they mean is that it simply “offends” their personal, moral sensibilities. Keller rightly states, “We must be careful here. ‘Stumble’ and ‘fall’ mean more than just bothering the weaker brother. A grumpy Christian could blackmail a whole church in that case.”
(14:14) “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”
Paul called on these believers to be “convinced in their own mind” (v.5). Paul says that he himself is “convinced” that nothing is inherently unclean. When he says that he is “convinced in the Lord Jesus,” this could refer to Jesus’ teaching regarding “all foods [being] clean” (Mk. 7:15-23). Remember, even Peter had a difficult time with this teaching (Acts 10:9-15).
Paul is not teaching moral relativism here. Instead, he is stating that people could falsely conclude that a given action was sinful. Paul doesn’t say that God calls food unclean, but merely that “to him it is unclean.” In other words, an individual’s conscience could lead them to think that an action is wrong—even if it isn’t.
(14:15) “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”
The “strong” were causing “weak” believers to feel “hurt” (lupeitai), which means “to cause severe mental or emotional distress, vex, irritate, offend, insult” (BDAG). Is my eating of this food really worth hurting my brother in Christ? Which do I want more: a good meal or loving my brother?
“Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” (apollymi) is very strong language. Is my food selection really worth “destroying” my brother in Christ? On a side note, Paul is not referring to “destroying” a person and sending them to hell (see comments on 1 Corinthians 8:11). Indeed, we are surprised that so many commentators erroneously make such a bizarre conclusion!
(14:16) “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.”
The “strong” could keep saying that all foods are clean and “good.” But their actions and attitude could rightly be called “evil” due to the fact that it was causing disunity and damage to others.
(14:17) “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Paul (sarcastically) reminds them that the point of the Christian life is not eating food, but loving people!
(14:18) “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Paul inserts God’s view of loving Christian workers here.
(14:19) “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
Pursue peace in the Body of Christ—not food!
(14:20) “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”
The “work of God” most likely “refers to the Christian community.” We agree with Keller who writes, “It is possible that ‘the work of God’ could mean the church, and thus the strong are harming the relationships that God has built within the church.” This seems most plausible in our estimation. After all, Paul’s entire ethic is built on our corporate identity, and unity is the driving factor in this chapter.
“All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” Again, Paul sides theologically with the “strong,” but he rebukes them ethically. The word “offense” (proskomma) is the same word used in verse 13 to refer to an “obstacle.”
(14:21) “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”
The focus here is on the “strong” believer having a loving outlook—not the “weak” believer being judgmental.
Why does Paul add ‘wine” here? This refers back to the kingdom of God not being about “eating and drinking” (v.17). This doesn’t relate to the modern dispute over the consumption of alcohol. In its historical context, this refers to drinking wine dedicated to idols. Moo writes, “Paul’s reference here to ‘drinking wine’ probably implies that the same believers avoided wine out of similar concerns: for wine was widely used in pagan religious libations.” Later, Moo writes, “Modern Christians who, for example, abstain from all alcoholic beverages do so not because they fear ritual contamination. Some abstain because they are leery of a product that has had such a sad history of ‘enslaving’ those who partake (see the principle of 1 Cor. 6:12b). Many others do not drink because they do not want to set a bad example for others who might not be able to handle alcohol. Abstinence on these grounds may be a laudable course of action; but it has little basis in Paul’s argument in these chapters. For the ‘weak’ here are not those who cannot control their drinking. They are people who are not convinced that their faith in Christ allows them to do a particular thing. They are not ‘weak’ in respect to handling alcohol; they are ‘weak’ in respect to their faith (14:1). And Paul urges the ‘strong’ to abstain, not because their example might lead the ‘weak’ to drink to excess but because their example might lead the ‘weak’ to drink and so to violate their conscience (14:22–23). Only, therefore, where the contemporary Christian is convinced that his drinking (or eating meat) might lead another to drink (or eat meat) in violation of his conscience is Paul’s advice truly applicable to the matter of alcohol.” Osborne concurs, “Probably the weak applied the same scrupulous attitude regarding meat to wine, for it might have been offered to the gods.”
(14:22-23) “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”
We don’t want to act against our conscience, because this could damage our conscience. Again, we should dialogue about these issues, and we may need to be persuaded and convinced of the proper view (v.5). But as believers, we should surrender our rights for the sake of loving others.
Questions for Reflection
Paul’s teaching on the weak and the strong boils down to living a life that places the needs of others over my own personal freedoms. Hence, we can broaden the application to more than merely food, wine, and holy days. We might ask ourselves:
- Do I alienate others by how I talk or act?
- Do I spend more time thinking about my unmet expectations, or the needs of others?
- Am I holding bitterness in my heart toward another believer?
- Can I refrain from certain freedoms for the sake of another’s spiritual growth?
Romans 15:1-14 (Essential Christian living)
(15:1) “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.”
This is an unfortunate chapter break. This verse concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14: The Christian ethic focuses on what is best for the other person—not ourselves. Stott writes, “Strong people are of course tempted to wield their strength to discard or crush the weak. Paul urges them instead to bear with them.”
(15:2) “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”
This does not refer to the practice of man-pleasing, which is spoken against by Paul (Gal. 1:10; Col. 3:22; 1 Thess. 2:4). Man-pleasing is a self-protective act, where we try to tell people what they want to hear. In this context, Paul is referring to helping a person “for his good,” not our own.
Why would we adopt a selfless lifestyle like this? Paul continues…
Jesus didn’t please himself
(15:3) “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’”
The NT frequently cites Psalm 69 as a messianic psalm. Paul cites from this psalm (Ps. 69:9) as the basis for our ethic regarding sacrificial, selfless love—namely, Jesus took our “reproaches” or “insults” (NIV, NLT). The “You” refers to God the Father, while the “Me” refers to Jesus. In this situation, Jesus took the sins of the people on himself. This was a tremendous act of love that Paul wanted the “strong” to imitate. Moo writes, “Perhaps, Paul may be trying to get the ‘strong’ to put their own ‘suffering’ in perspective: occasionally abstaining from meat or wine or observing a special religious day should not seem like much of a burden in comparison with what Christ had to suffer for the sake of others.”
(15:4) “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
This is a good passage on the relevant timelessness of Scripture. It wasn’t merely written for that time and place; it has a universal message for all times and all places. This is why Paul uses broad sweeping statement (“Whatever was written…”). This encouragement comes directly from God (v.5). As we open up our Bibles, God wants to speak to us (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Mounce comments, “To separate oneself from Scripture is to turn a deaf ear to the voice of a Heavenly Father anxious to console.”
There is also a practical purpose behind Scripture. As we have “perseverance” in waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, God gives us “encouragement” and “hope.”
(15:5-6) “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Be of the same mind.” In Greek, this is a compound word that comes from the root words “same” (auto) and “think” (phronein). It is translated as having the “same mind” (NASB) or “harmony” (ESV, NLT) or “unity” (NIV, NET). This unity is built on the back of Paul’s earlier teaching that believers are “members of one another” (Rom. 12:5). Of course, this is unity in essentials, but charity in extraneous issues. We agree with Stott, who writes, “This can hardly be a plea that the Roman Christians may come to agree with each other about everything, since Paul has been at pains to urge the weak and the strong to accept each other in spite of their conscientious disagreement on secondary matters. It must therefore be a prayer for their unity of mind in essentials.”
“One accord” (homothumadon) comes from the Greek words homo (“same”) and thumos (“passion”). It refers to having “one mind/purpose/impulse” (BDAG). As Christians, our passion should be for God and the cause of Christ.
“You may with one voice glorify God.” Many commentators understand this to refer to corporate worship services (e.g. Mounce, Keller). For instance, Keller writes, “The reference to ‘mouth’ probably refers to corporate worship. There is no way to glorify God with ‘one mouth’ unless you are singing and praying together! The ‘so that’ here shows that God gives spiritual unity in order that we can worship together; our seeking to do so will enhance unity.”
We respectfully disagree. In verse 7, Paul writes that “accepting one another” brings “glory to God.” In context, the “one voice” refers to unity in our thinking, passions, and relationships—not in our choirs. Moreover, Paul refers to giving “praise,” not to singing. It’s true that singing is mentioned in verse 9, but this isn’t the immediate context of verse 6. (For more on this topic, see “What is Worship?”).
(15:7) “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”
Another essential to glorifying God is to accept fellow believers. In this context, this refers to believers of different backgrounds and ethnicities (v.8ff), not to mention the “weak” and the “strong” mentioned earlier.
Christ came for BOTH the Jews and the Gentiles
(15:8) “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers.”
Christ fulfilled the promises to the Jewish people to become a “servant.” Paul might be thinking of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (chs. 42, 49, 50, 53).
(15:9) “And for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.”
Paul cites 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49. Christ came to be a servant to the Gentiles, as well as the Jewish people. This is how the gospel can be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Since Christ came to serve both groups, how can a follower of Jesus deny serving all ethnicities?
(15:10) “Again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.’”
Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:43. The context of these OT citations has to do with subduing the Gentile nations. Paul cites these to demonstrate that Christ is reaching the Gentile nations—not through force, but through grace. Moreover, once again, Paul points out that the Gentiles are supposed to rejoice with the Jewish people.
(15:11) “And again, ‘Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.”
Paul cites Psalm 117:1.
(15:12) “Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.” Paul cites Isaiah 11:10.
What are we to make of these OT citations? Paul quotes from all over the OT: one passage from the Law, one from the Prophets, and two from the Writings. He does this to show God’s love for all people, which is spread throughout the OT.
(15:13) “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We get joy and hope when we trust in God (“in believing”). The Holy Spirit’s role is to fill us with “joy” and “peace” and “hope.” Our role is to trust him (“in believing”). As we trust in the great promises of God, the Holy Spirit brings a transformation of character.
(15:14) “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”
Paul had never been to Rome, but he was confident that these believers had enough competency to counsel and instruct each other. This implies that unity includes admonition. Mounce understands this as referring to Christian counseling. If so, this implies that Christians should become competent to counsel one another (see comments on Romans 12:8 above).
Romans 15:15-33 (Paul’s personal ministry)
Here were see several insights into Paul’s view of Christian ministry.
1. Ministry is based on grace
(15:15) “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God.”
(15:15) If Paul had never been to Rome, then why does he say “remind you again”?
2. Ministry is based on the gospel message
(15:16) “To be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
Paul viewed his ministry as a form of worship. He uses OT language of worship to describe his service for Christ in evangelism: “minister” (leitourgon), “ministering” (hierourgounta), and “offering” (prosphora; Deut. 12:11). This is a “liturgical metaphor” to describe his ministry. Paul’s offering was not an animal sacrifice; his offering was his evangelistic work of reaching the Gentiles. Moo writes, “Paul therefore pictures himself as a priest, using the gospel as the means by which he offers his Gentile converts as a sacrifice acceptable to God. The language of ‘priest’ and ‘sacrifice’ here is, of course, metaphorical; Paul makes no claim to be a ‘priest’ or to be offering sacrifice in any literal sense. This is made altogether clear by his reference to the Gentiles themselves as the sacrifice. In keeping with the rest of the NT, Paul assumes an eschatological transformation of the OT cultic ministry, in which animal sacrifices are replaced by obedient Christians (cf. 12:1) and the praise they offer God (Heb. 13:15), the temple by the community of believers (e.g., John 2:21; 1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Pet. 2:5), and the priest by Christians (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) or Christian ministers.”
3. Ministry is for God’s glory
(15:17) “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.”
The NASB is preferable. Paul doesn’t boast in himself (Rom. 3:27; 4:2-3), but he boasts in Christ. Keller writes, “This is a strong statement! Paul accomplished many things—consider the fact that he was probably the greatest theologian in the history of the church. But his work as a theologian was not what made him ‘glory’ (v.17). The thing he was most excited about was the people he had seen pass from death to life through his ministry.” We couldn’t agree more with this assessment!
4. Ministry is by God’s power
(15:18) “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.”
Paul didn’t boast in his ministry, but in what Christ did through him.
(15:19) “In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
“In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit.” Miracles supplement the gospel message, but they do not substitute for the message. Biblically, we often see that people misinterpret miracles. For example, when Paul healed a physically handicapped man in Lystra (Acts 14:9-10), the people started to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods! (Acts 14:11) Then, they ended up stoning Paul and leaving him for dead (Acts 14:19). Without content, miracles can be easily confused.
“From Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum.” God supernaturally supported the gospel message—no matter the geographical context. Illyricum was east of Rome. The term “round about” seems to refer to an “arc” or a “circle” that geographically shows how far Paul had preached.
5. Ministry is for everyone
(15:20) “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.”
The term “build” refers to ministry (1 Cor. 3:9-15). Paul wanted to reach the unreached people groups, rather than going to existing church people (cf. 2 Cor. 10:13-18). Of course, this wasn’t an absolute rule, because Paul wanted to visit Rome to see some “fruit” borne (Rom. 1:13), and others had started the church in Rome.
(15:21) “But as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’”
Paul cites from Isaiah 52:15.
(15:22) “For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you.”
Paul’s ministry to these other people (“from Illyricum to Jerusalem”) was what prevented him from coming to Rome.
(15:23-24) “But now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.”
Paul wants to go visit the Romans on his way to Spain, since he has hit all of the lands from Jerusalem to Italy already.
6. Ministry includes money
(15:25-29) “But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”
Paul needed to drop off the monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem from the Gentile churches (see 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9). Then, he would go to visit the church in Rome (Acts 19:21). Why does Paul include this? It seems that wants to show how Jews and Gentiles are loving each other in the larger church. This would hit home with the Roman believers, who were having trouble with this.
The churches in “Macedonia” refer to “modern northern Greece, Macedonia, and southern Albania/Macedonia.” Likewise, the churches of “Achaia” refer to “the bulk of modern Greece.” These would include Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth.
This passage shows that Paul had already collected the money, but he hadn’t dropped it off yet. This would place the writing of Romans before Acts 21 when he delivered the money to the church in Jerusalem.
7. Ministry is fueled by prayer
(15:30) “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.”
Paul needed prayer, and he asked others for prayer. Some commentators think that this “striving” in prayer is with God: One commentator thinks that this imagery refers to “‘agonizing’ [and] ‘wrestling’ with God,” harkening back to Jacob “wrestling” with God (Gen. 32:22-32). We disagree. Our “striving” is not with God but with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. We agree with Moo that Paul wants the Roman Christians to join him in a powerful prayer ministry.
(15:31) “That I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.”
Paul was about to go into Jerusalem, knowing that he would face persecution, so he asks for prayer. Ironically, it was the persecution of the Jewish people that led Paul to go to Rome in the book of Acts. Yet, this prayer was answered by the Romans taking Paul into custody (Acts 21:27-36).
(15:32) “So that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.”
Paul really wanted to visit this church (cf. Rom. 1:13).
(15:33) “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Paul seems to end the letter here… But then he picks back up to address specific believers in chapter 16.
Romans 16:1-2 (Phoebe)
(Rom. 16) Was this chapter added to the book of Romans?
(16:1-16) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.”
This is a “letter of commendation” from Paul on behalf of Phoebe. As a woman serving God in a patriarchal time period, it would help tremendously to have a letter of support from Paul.
Romans 16:3-16 (Long list of greetings)
(16:3-16) Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”
This shows that Paul was pretty diffuse in his friendships. He lists 26 people, and 9 of these people are women: Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, the mother of Rufus, Julia, the sister of Nereus. Phoebe would make it an even 10 women listed here.
(16:7) Was there a female apostle (Junia), or was this a contraction for a man’s name (Junias)?
Romans 16:17-20 (False teachers)
(16:17-19) “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
It seems that in every church there was the danger of false teachers.
“I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” Paul seems to be aware of Jesus’ teaching (Mt. 10:16).
(16:20) “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
Because we are identified with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4), the promise of Genesis 3:15 is partially fulfilled in the Church itself (cf. Ps. 91:13).
Romans 16:21-23 (Paul’s friends give greetings)
(16:21-23) “Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]”
Gaius was personally baptized by Paul in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14).
Erastus might be attested to in an archaeological discovery in 1929. A Latin inscription in Corinth states, “Erastus, in return for his aedileship, laid the pavement at his own expense.” An aedile was a “commissioner for public works.” It’s possible that Erastus was promoted to the “city treasurer.”
Romans 16:25-27 (Paul’s final prayer)
(16:25-27) “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
The mystery of Christ has been revealed. This is why he calls God “the only wise God” (NIV, verse 27).
Questions for Reflection
What qualities does Paul name when encouraging his friends (vv.1-16)? What qualities does he not name?
What does this list tell us about the nature of Paul’s relationships?
 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p.393.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 2.
 Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), 234.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 19-20.
 Of course, Moos states that “leeway of a year or two either way must be allowed.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 3.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 26.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 3.
 Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25:4.
 Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), pp.234-235.
 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 53.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 10.
 Ambrosiaster, Patrologia Latina, 17, col. 46. Cited in D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p.395.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 11.
 Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 10.
 Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 1.
 Craig Keener, Romans: New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 1-2.
 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p.403.
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1988), 91.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: the Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 8-9.
 Furthermore, Moo observes, “Christology, we might say, is not the topic of any part of Rom. 5-8, but it is the basis for everything in these chapters.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 300.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 27.
 Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker (Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, 2009), 57.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 48.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 62.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 50.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 66.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 15.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 82.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 17.
 Moo simply thinks it is “more natural to take ‘you’ to refer to the Roman Christians.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 63.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 20.
 Cited in Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 20.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 71.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 72.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 20.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 73.
 Cited in Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 76.
 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford University Press, 1933), 41.
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1988), 44.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 76.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 43.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 109-110.
 Aldous Huxley, End and Means (1937), 272.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 25.
 The term “in” (en) is often translated “among” when applied to a plural object. This would refer to God’s evidence among people through creation (v.20). Incidentally, this makes sense of the connecting word “For…” that opens verse 20. Though, the internal evidence of the conscience could also be in view. See footnote. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 103-104.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 78.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 79.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 49.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 23.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), p.159.
 Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1995), p.71.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 51.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 29.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 111.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 111.
 David J. Ayers, “Current Sexual Practices of Evangelical Teens and Young Adults.” Institute for Family Studies (August 2019). See also Mark Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 113-114.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 115.
 Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1995), p.73.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 116.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 30.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 35.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 36.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 93.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 88.
 Though, Stott holds that it could be any type of “moralizer,” whether Jewish or Gentile. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 81.
 Many (most?) commentators hold that Paul has turned to a hypothetical Jewish objector at this point. However, we hold that this refers to Gentiles—not Jews. For one, Paul doesn’t address his Jewish readers until Romans 2:17 when he writes, “If you bear the name ‘Jew.’” This must mean that the people in 2:1-16 are not “Jews.” Second, Paul simply calls this person “O man” (ho anthrōpoe) not calling him Jewish (Rom. 2:1, 3). Third, with the possible exception of Romans 2:6, Paul doesn’t directly cite the OT from 1:18-2:16. Paul makes many allusions to the OT throughout this section, but he never directly cites the OT. This fits with a Gentile audience. Fourth, uses the same method to indict both the Gentiles and the Jews. To begin, Paul draws in his reader in 1:18-32, and then he opens this section with the words, “Therefore you have no excuse” (Rom. 2:1). We see the same pattern later in the letter when Paul addresses the Jews: He draws in his reader in 2:17-20, and then he writes, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom. 2:21).
 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: the Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 45.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 133.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 147.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 153.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 98.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 59.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 171.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 180.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 188.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 102.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 192.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 147-149.
 R. C. Wylie, The Self-Concept: Theory and Research on Selected Topics, vol. 2 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).
 L. Larwood and W. Whittaker, “Managerial Myopia: Self-Serving Biases in Organizational Planning,” Journal of Applied Psychology 62: 194-98 (1977).
 R. B. Felson, “Ambiguity and Bias in the Self-Concept,” Social Psychology Quarterly 44: 64-69.
 D. Walton and J. Bathurst, “An Exploration of the Perceptions of the Average Driver’s Speed Compared to Perceived Driver Safety and Driving Skill,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 30: 821-30 (1998).
 P. Cross, “Not Can but Will College Teachers Be Improved?” New Directions for Higher Education 17: 1-15 (1977).
 E. Pronin, D. Y. Lin, and L. Ross, “The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28: 369-81 (2002).
 J. Kruger, “Lake Wobegon Be Gone! The ‘Below-Average Effect’ and the Egocentric Nature of Comparative Ability Judgments,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77: 221-32 (1999).
 Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006), p. 252.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 107.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 73.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 67.
 For a rebuttal of the “New Perspective” on Paul’s use of this expression “works of the Law,” see Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 211-217.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 75.
 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1909), 24.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 76-77.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 79-80.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 227-228.
 Pensées, #508.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 232.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 240.
 I think Jack Miller originated this aphorism.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 261.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 117.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 268.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 276.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 127.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 104.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 131.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 289.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 289.
 Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 348.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 109.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 300.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 131.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 304.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 118.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 130.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 45.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 47-48.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 49.
 Miles J. Stanford, The Green Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975), p.71.
 Miles J. Stanford, The Green Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975), p.82.
 Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 207.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 167.
 Of course, Stott himself was a Lordship theologian, but he was not an extreme Lordship theologian. John Stott writes, “We must surrender absolutely and unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot make our own terms. What will this involve? In detail I cannot tell you. In principle, it means a determination to forsake evil and follow Christ.” John Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Press, 1958), 128. See also John Stott, (Sept 1959), Yes, “Must Christ Be Lord To Be Saviour?” Eternity 10: 14-8, 36-7, 48.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 139.
 Keller writes, “Notice that water is not actually mentioned here. Paul is referring to the spiritual reality to which water baptism points.” Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 140.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 142.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 142.
 See footnote. Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 151.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 151.
 He states, however, that this is not a “change in nature, but of a change in relationship.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 373.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 152.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), p.247.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 71.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 143.
 David M. Oshinsky, Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1996), 17.
 Moo writes, “The aorist imperative often lacks any special force, being used simply to command that an action take place—without regard for the duration, urgency, or frequency of the action. This is probably the case here. However, we may surmise that, as the negative not presenting ourselves to sin is constantly necessary, so is the positive giving ourselves in service to God, our rightful ruler.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 385.
 Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 200.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 300.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 326-327.
 Moo writes, “The nature of Paul’s salvation-historical scheme is such that, as we have seen, a neat transfer into straightforward temporal categories is impossible. People before the coming of Christ, while still ‘bound’ to the law, could nevertheless escape its condemning power (e.g., Abraham, David—chap. 4). Moreover, people after the coming of Christ can still be subject to its rule.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 390.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 154-155.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 147.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 52.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 53-54.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 58.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 65.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 76-77.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 399.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 145.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 75.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 408.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 163.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 175-176.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 164-165.
 Keller makes this justification based on (1) the different verb tenses used, (2) the change in situation, (3) Paul delighting in God’s law in verse 22, and (4) Paul admitting that nothing good dwells within him in verse 18. Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 167-168.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 167-168.
 Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Cloverdale, Indiana: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), 9.
 Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 157, 158.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 468.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 174.
 Paul uses the Greek term ouden. See footnote. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 473.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 475.
 Keller shows that “law” could refer to (1) God’s law, (2) a general principle, or (3) a force or power. He takes law in Romans 8:2 in this third general sense. Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 14. See also Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), 185-186.
 See footnote. Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 174.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 175.
 See footnote. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 480.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 177.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 16-17.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 18-19.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 486.
 Incidentally, Moo takes “peace” to refer to our justification and being at “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 488.
 We recognize first-class conditional clauses by the helping word “if” (Greek ei) followed by a main verb in the indicative mood (in any tense). The NASB usually translates these conditions with the English rendering “If indeed…”
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 494.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ga 5:18.
 D.A. Carson defines the negative inference fallacy in this way: “It does not necessarily follow that if a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true.” D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), p.101. Consider some examples of this fallacy:
(1) “All the basketball players were exercising at the gym. Therefore, no one else was exercising there.”
(2) “Jeff hates broccoli. Therefore, he likes every other kind of vegetable.”
(3) “Jesus gave an exception for divorce. Therefore, there are no other exceptions for divorce.”
These are all examples of the “negative inference fallacy,” and it does not logically follow. A way to avoid the fallacy is to change or add the word “only” to the major premise of the argument or proposition (i.e. “Only the basketball players…”).
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 30.
 We recognize first-class conditional clauses by the helping word “if” (Greek ei) followed by a main verb in the indicative mood (in any tense). The NASB usually translates these conditions with the English rendering “If indeed…”
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 183.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 515.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 522-523.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 523.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 186-187.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 525-526.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 187.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 43.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 44.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 190.
 Mounce is open to both views. Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 189.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 53.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 207.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 75.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 210.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 663.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 212-213.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 673.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 674.
 Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1978), 248.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 678.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 686.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 90-91.
 Emphasis mine. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 690.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 691.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 700.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 703.
 Thayer, Joseph Henry. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 3rd ed. [S.l.]: Hendrickson Pubblishers,Inc., 2007. 166.
 Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1985. 277.
 For instance, John Calvin writes, “I extend the word Israel to include all the people of God in this sense.” John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Edinburgh, St Andrews Press, 1961), 255. Likewise, Augustine held that “Israel” referred to as “the predestined elect, drawn into a unity out of Jews and Gentiles.” Cited in Peter Gorday, Principles Of Patristic Exegesis: Romans 9-11 in Origen, John Chrysostom, and Augustine (New York: E. Mellen Press, 1983), 171, 333.
 Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times: Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 212.
 John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 303.
 Hoekema prefers this reading for the purpose of relating Israel’s salvation to the Gentile salvation—namely, Israel will be saved in the same way that the Gentiles were saved. They will be made jealous of the Gentiles knowing Christ, and they will come to faith in this way. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 145.
 John Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration.” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December, 1945), 415.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 720.
 Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times: Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 60. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, 215.
 Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Expanded Edition.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 2013. 220.
 Dispensationalists don’t necessarily believe that this means every single Jewish person on Earth will come to Christ in the future. Yet they do believe that Paul must be thinking of something more than just another “remnant” in the future. Walvoord writes, “The release, such as it is, will undoubtedly occasion a great turning to Christ among Israel after the rapture of the church, but by no means is the entire nation won to Christ.” Emphasis mine. John Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems VIII: Israel’s Blindness.” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September, 1945), 289.
 John Stott writes, “This was, in Isaiah’s original, a reference to Christ’s First Coming.” John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 303. Hoekema also takes this view. See Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 146.
 Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Expanded Edition.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 2013. 220-221.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 736.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 230.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 106.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 754.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 757.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 109.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 234.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 763.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 765.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 766.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 113.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 330.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 330.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 237.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 777.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 778.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 778.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 780.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 333.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 783.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 123.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 245.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 350.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 822.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 143.
 Both verbs are in the aorist tense (Gal. 3:27 and Rom. 13:14). However, Romans 13:14 is in the context of a present tense verb (“make”), which would imply that it should also be translated in the present tense. This translation is followed throughout almost all English translations.
 Augustine, Confessions 8.29. Cited in F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 65.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 350.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 359.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 359.
 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 245.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 837.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 841.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 148.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 157.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 860.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 155.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 861.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 881.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 373.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 369.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 869.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 260.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 371.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 260.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 164.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 372.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 266.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 266.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 890–891.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Co., 2015), 169.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 895.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 903.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 903.
 M. Black, Romans: NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), p.205. Cited in footnote of Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), p.270. Mounce seems to favorably cite Black’s view.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 910.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 272.
 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 531.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 281.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995).