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The Epistle to the Romans
Part I (Chapters 1 – 8)
The Case of Man’s Justification
2- How can man be reconciled with God then? (Continued)
How can man receive the righteousness of God?
For man to be justified, God has to freely bestow His righteousness upon him, after man has fulfilled the punishment of the law. This is the work of redemption, that is, God has sent His Son to take away the wrath of the law in our body that He took in His incarnation, and when God has fulfilled His judgment in Christ on the cross, He gave us His righteousness, free, by faith in Christ.
What is the difference between the works of the law and the works of faith?
The works of the law result from commitment of slavery, while the works of faith are the fruits of righteousness that we received in Christ; it is the work of Christ who lives in us. Man does not sin anymore because he loves God, and sin is enmity to God. The Jew was doing the works of the law to justify himself and reconcile with God, while the believer is reconciled with God in Christ and does the works of Christ who lives in him.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul specifies the steps of justification for those who have repented and believed by saying “And such were some of you. But you were washed (by the blood of Christ in Baptism), but you were sanctified (by the Holy Spirit), but you were justified (by life in Christ) in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God …”, and then he admonishes them saying, “therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit” (1Cor 6:11, 20).
3- How was Abraham justified? Through faith or through works of the law?
In chapter 4, St. Paul presents Abraham, the father of fathers, as an example of justification by faith. This is presented as evidence that justification by faith was “witnessed by the Law” (Ro 3:21, notice that Abraham’s story is mentioned in Genesis which is part of the Law). Abraham had works to be proud of such as his obedience to God, his going out from the land of the Chaldeans not knowing where he was going, and becoming a stranger in obedience to God’s commandment, “walk before me and be thou perfect” (Gen 17:1). All this shows that Abraham was living in the fear of God. God did not count all of these works for him as righteousness. But when Abraham believed in the promise of God that he will have a son when he was 100 years old and Sarah was ninety years old, his faith “was counted as righteousness” (Gen 15:6, Ro 4:3). Although the promise was impossible to achieve with human power, Abraham believed even in what the human mind cannot comprehend. And the promise of children was not limited to Isaac only, but extended to Christ who came from his descendants. In reality, the faith of Abraham surpassed the limits of time to the coming of Christ the Redeemer.
The righteousness of Abraham was therefore the righteousness of God, which he received by his faith in Jesus Christ. Abraham received this promise before his circumcision in the flesh, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you and your seed after you” (Gen 17: 7). Therefore, it is the covenant of faith and not the covenant of circumcision, because Abraham believed while he was uncircumcised, fourteen years before his circumcision (Gen 17:26). So, “Abraham believed in God and it was counted righteousness to him” (Gal 3:6) and circumcision was given to him as a covenant for his faith, and circumcision became a visible sign to the righteousness of faith that he acquired earlier.
Abraham acquired righteousness while he was uncircumcised, which means that he represented both Jews (his descendents in the flesh) and Gentiles (uncircumcised). The promise that Abraham received was not through the law, because it was not given yet; the law was given 400 years after the promise. The blessing of Abraham came to the Gentiles, so that they can receive the promise of the Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:14).
4- Faithful union between God and His Church:
Chapters 5-8 of this Epistle discuss, in general, the life of righteousness through faith in Christ, which is also the life of union with Christ, or as described by St. Paul, the “life in Christ Jesus” when he said, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Ro 8:2). This life begins with Baptism: “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death (being buried in Baptism), certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection (by our behavior in the new life)” (Ro 6:5). And it is through Baptism that we become members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, which is united with Him as the head of the body, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1Co 12:13), “and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22, 23).
We shall study this section under the following four headings:
1- The Fruits of Righteousness in Christ (Ch. 5)
2- The Relation Between Sin and Man Before the Era of Grace and Under Grace (Ch. 6)
3- The Law and the Christian Man (Ch. 6, 7)
4- Life in Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ch. 8)
A- Peace with God (verses 1-11)
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:1). Our faith in redemption created in us justification in Christ: “There is no condemnation now to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1). Justification creates peace in the heart, because the righteousness we have in Christ leads us into reconciliation with God the Father, and the pouring of His love in our hearts, and this leads to a joy that endures in time of troubles.
B- Liberation from the slavery of sin to the freedom of Christ’s righteousness (verses 12 -21)
In this part, St. Paul explains how sin entered to the world with the disobedience of Adam, and through sin, death has prevailed over all people, because all have sinned, “for the wage of sin is death”. However, the sin of the people who lived from Adam’s time to the giving of the law by Moses was not considered as a trespass (like Adam’s sin), because there was not yet a law and commandments other than the one given to Adam (Gen 2:16, 17). Nonetheless, they died because they inherited death from Adam. Likewise, we also inherit the righteousness from Christ, although our obedience to God is not in any way the same as Christ’s obedience to Him in dying for the life of the world on the cross.
St. Paul elaborates on this theme, saying that through the disobedience of one man (Adam), many became sinners; likewise, by the obedience of one person (Christ), many will be justified (verse 19). Righteousness was given to them freely, by faith. And as sin was related to disobedience to God, righteousness is related to His obedience. Also, as death reigned through sin, grace reigns through righteousness, leading to everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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