Resources: The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 9, Acts, Romans
The Good Book Club, Romans 101
Leading ideas in Paul’s preaching
The human situation—We human beings are created in the image of God and have God’s law written across our hearts, and yet we have fallen under the control of sin.
Sin is an outside demonic power, alien to our true nature, which has gotten into us and holds us captive.
How did sin get in?
The flesh—the physical, natural, the physical stuff of human life. Paul often uses the term in this manner, i.e., “Jesus is descended from David according to the flesh.” It isn’t the “flesh” that’s the problem, it’s the “sin in the flesh.” Putting the physical and the material in place of God allows sin in (disordered loves).
Paul believes that all people are sinful, that estrangement from God is a universal condition. We all desire a relationship with God, but are in actual fact estranged from God and therefore divided against ourselves and others. (When Adam and Eve gave in to sin, we all became enslaved and guilty.) Death and decay are God’s judgment upon sin.
What part does the law play?
The natural law—the law of God that people know through observing the created order, common to all humans.
The written law—the Torah, entrusted to the Hebrew people. Paul believes that knowledge of the law awakens us to our condition and makes salvation possible, but it cannot release us from bondage to sin or save us from corruption and death.
Release and salvation are accomplished through Christ.
Paul represents Christ as paying for us a ransom or a debt which we could not pay, as offering on our behalf the sufficient sacrifice which we could not offer, or as winning a victory of our demonic adversaries which we could not win.
How does Jesus do this?
Paul says that Jesus was perfectly obedient, refused to consent to sin, and offered humanity a fresh start (The New Man, as opposed to Adam, The Old Man). We have belonged to Adam, the defeated, but now we belong to Christ, the victorious.
Also, we are not only the slaves of sin, but we also break God’s laws, and are therefore guilty and under condemnation. BUT, Christ through his death offered a sufficient sacrifice, satisfied the just requirements of God, and thus made possible God’s being just and at the same time forgiving sinful men. Sin is guilt and bondage, the work of the Savior is correspondingly justifying and redeeming.
Justifying—with Jesus’ death and resurrection, he triumphs over the power of death and sin and does this for all people across all time.
Redeeming—Buying back—We are redeemed by Christ whose great act of self-giving on the cross breaks the power of sin and death in our lives.
The invitation is unlimited.
Just as Adam was man, not Jew. Christ is Man in the most universal and inclusive sense. The only condition of our belonging to him is our belief in the gospel and our trusting ourselves without reservation to the mercy of God which we find disclosed and working in the good news.
Much of the book of Romans is concerned with laying out the nature of the new life we find in Christ. The key term is Spirit. The new life is spiritual life—God’s own life imparted to us and therefore our own true life, since in the beginning God made us by breathing God’s spirit into us. This Spirit, who is love, brings reconciliation within and without, or what Paul calls “peace.” The Spirit also reinforces our own spirit so that we can triumph over the sinful desires and to know something of the original order and peace of God’s creation. Paul thinks of the ethical life as the “fruit of the Spirit”, not the achievement of moral effort, but the inevitable expression of the new spiritual life.
This new life is eschatological—it belongs to the new age. But because the new age is about to break in, we catch some glimmers of it, and a foretaste of its glories have already been given. The age of the Spirit is yet to come, but the Spirit itself has been given as an advance installment of our inheritance. The new life is therefore essentially a hope, but it is hope which has already begun to be fulfilled.
The church is a “colony of heaven,” an anticipation of the kingdom of God and the guarantee of its reality and its nearness.