Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Romans 6

I've been working my way [once again] through the Greek text of Romans, focusing on the first half of the epistle consisting of chapters one through eight. Here's an overview of what has transpired so far.

In an earlier post I gave a whirlwind tour of Romans 1-4 in the sense that I tried to give an outline of just what Paul was trying to accomplish. The main thing was to bring out the "big picture" or "broad brushstrokes" of what Paul was trying to say [and how he was trying to say it].

Copying and pasting what I had written earlier, here, for the reader's convenience, is the nutshell summary of Romans 1-4 found in the prologue of the post on Romans 5:

**********BEGIN ROM 1-4 SUMMARY***********

Let's review the structure 1-4 in a brief fashion.

(1) Paul greets the Romans and announces his great desire to come see them and preach the gospel to them. [1:1-15]

(2) Paul states what is clearly the main theme for chapters 1-8, if not the entire epistle: He is not ashamed of the gospel, and this lack of shame in connection with the gospel [and indeed his exultation in connection with the gospel] is due to the fact that the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe it. And, in turn, the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe it because in it the righteousness-of-God is revealed, which righteousness-of-God is connected wholly with faith. [1:16-17] I argued in the previous thread that the righteousness-of-God mentioned here is, if we let Paul speak for himself, the conferral of a righteous status on the sinner by God.

Another way of stating the above paragraph is as follows: Because the righteousness-of-God [i.e. the conferral of a righteous status in God's eyes] is revealed in the gospel, it follows that the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe it. From this, it in turn follows that Paul [and you and me] should never be ashamed of the gospel.

(3) Paul argues that the righteousness-of-God must be wholly by faith:
(a) By pointing out that God's wrath is revealed against non-Jews,
(b) By pointing out that God's wrath is revealed against Jews,
(c) By pointing out that, accordingly all of mankind deserves God's wrath.

In other words, the righteousness-of-God, if it is to be a real possibility for you and me and not just an unrealizable abstraction, must be connected exclusively with faith and nothing meritorious in men because men have nothing meritorious [relative to God's exacting standards] to offer. Point (3) takes us from 1:18 through 3:20.

(4) After summing up the sad state of humanity in 1:18-3:20, which summing up is intended to show that the righteousness-of-God [i.e. the conferral of a righteous status] is wholly by faith, Paul now goes into the positive details of this righteousness-of-God in 3:21-26:

(a) The righteousness-of-God is not a novum relative to the OT, but it is actually borne witness to by the OT [21],
(b) The righteousness-of-God is apart-from-law [21],
(c) The righteousness-of-God is through faith in Jesus Christ for all those believing [22a], and all those believing are freely justified in an act of grace that is none other than the person and work of Christ. [24]
(22b-23 seem parenthetical, as Paul seems to want to uphold the fact that the righteousness-of-God is through faith in Jesus Christ for ALL those believing by pointing out that there is no distinction among men --- all sinned and have failed to meet God's standards.)

(5) In 3:27-31, Paul goes into the negative details of the righteousness-of-God:

(a) Any hope of putting a claim on God due to one's deeds, conduct, etc is shut out --- one cannot make God a debtor to one's self relative to earning His approval.
(b) The fact that putting a claim on God due to one's deeds, conduct, etc is shut out not on the basis of works, but by faith.
(c) A man is not justified by works, but instead by faith.

Considering 3:21-31 and the propositions therein, we see that the righteousness-of-God first mentioned in Rom 1:17 is nothing but the conferral of a righteous status on the sinner [this is what we call justification], and this conferring of a righteous status is free, through grace, and by faith [as compared to works of the law].

(6) Paul now turns to an argument [consisting of Rom 4] that is apparently designed to uphold his claim in 3:27 that, for all men, the idea of earning one's righteousness is excluded, by pointing out that Abraham, a case for merit if there ever was one, was not justified on the basis of any meritorious act, but on his faith.

(a) In 4:1-8 Paul mentions Gen 15:6 and claims that Abraham's faith was not a meritorious work, and Paul lists (i) the forgiveness of sins and (ii) the fact that future sins will not be reckoned to one's self as consequences of justification.
(b) In 4:9-12 Paul points out that Abraham's justification came before circumcision, hence one could not claim that Abraham merited his righteous standing before God on the basis of his faithfulness in submitting to God's covenant sign.
(c) In 4:13-25 Paul delineates just what he means when he mentions Abraham's faith.

As Abraham has no merit for his justification, and as Abraham is the best case for merit, then you and me, being far less attractive candidates for meriting our justification, must also be justified by faith [if indeed we are justified] and not by works, hence we cannot entertain the possibility of putting a claim on God.

So, in Rom 1-4, Paul has, among other things, delineated the righteousness-of-God, specified that one is justified by faith and not by works, and shown that, relative to the hope of earning a respite from God's wrath, merit-on-the-basis-of-works is excluded.

***********END ROM 1-4 SUMMARY**********

I had indicated that Paul at the beginning of Chapter 5 begins a new line of thought, pulling out the implications [as he sees them] of being justified by faith and not by works.

Chapter 5, in a nutshell, consists of two sections.

(a) The first section, consisting of verses 1-11, draws out the implication from being justified by faith and not by works that we have peace with God and exult in the hope of the glory of God, God Himself, and even our tribulations. We are not only spared God's wrath, which scenario would've been more than one could reasonably hope --- we are in actuality God's friends, reconciled to Him through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

(b) The second section, consisting of verses 12-21, Paul's interest turns to "inferring Christ's significance for all men from the reality of what He now means for believers." [Cranfield pp 271-2.] That is, whereas in vv 1-11 Paul has drawn out the implications of Christ's person and work for believers [peace with God, reconciliation to God, and the fact that we exult in God], Paul now discusses the implications of Christ's person and work for all men, believers or not. The main inference of Christ's significance for all men from the reality of what He means now for believers is this: whereas through Adam's primal misdeed sin entered into the world with death to all men coming as a consequence, the person and work of the one man Jesus Christ, summed up in His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, also affected all men, namely it affected all men by issuing unto justification. But Paul, being aware that perhaps people might draw further deductions or parallels between Christ and Adam beyond the fact that Christ and Adam had acts that subsequently affected all of humanity --- something that Paul does want them to do --- Paul delineates some major differences between Christ and Adam [vv 15-17].

Having thus inferred Christs's significance for all men from the reality of what He now means for Christians, Paul next discusses the revelation of the Law in vv20-21. The Law came in so that the nature of sin as sin could be made as starkly as possible, but in sin being starkly shown as the rebellion against God that it is, it multiplied, reaching a climax in Israel's willful rejection of Jesus Christ as the messiah. [Verse 20 states that "The law came in so that the misdeed might increase, but where sin increased, grace superabounded." --- this is my somewhat wooden translation of v20. Cranfield's translation is "But the law came in as a new feature of the situation in order that the misdeed might increase; but where sin increased, grace superabounded."] But here, grace superabounded --- from the climax of sin came the master-stroke of God's salvation plan [death and resurrection] --- leading to our justification and promised eternal life.

Romans 5:20 --- "The law came in so that the misdeed might increase, but where sin increased, grace superabounded" --- might lead one to think that sin is a good thing, which thought would lead to an endorsement of sinning. The reason that Romans 5:20 might lead to such a thought, according to Paul, is because one might draw the false inference that, because sin and sin's increase was directly tied to the superabounding of grace, sin might be intrinsically good in that it leads to an increase [superabundance] of grace. In other words: grace is an objectively good thing; why not do whatever causes grace to increase, even sin?

Romans 6 shows that Paul considers the inference from 5:20 that sin is good or desirable for those justified by faith and not by works [since it led and leads to the increase of grace] to be a false inference.

Like Chapter 5, Chapter 6 seems to be divided into two main flows of Pauline thought: vv 1-14, and vv 15-23. In my opinion, discerning this chapter's structure is a pretty straightforward affair, though the exegesis of the verses found in this chapter is certainly not as straightforward as discerning the structure!

Dealing with the structure of 6:1-14 first:

From 5:20, one might think that sin is intrinsically good for the Christian, as it is directly concomitant to an increase of grace. This is the question Paul asks in 6:1: "Shall we continue to remain [or merely "remain"] in sin so that grace might increase? God forbid!" Paul therefore expresses his conviction regarding sin: it led and leads to grace, but that in no way gives us a pretext for sinning; we cannot view our sins as intrinsically good nor rationalize them away because they trigger an outpouring of grace.

Paul has made his opinion [and we'd say the Holy Spirit's opinion known too!] regarding the possible inference from 5:20. But how does he support his claim?
In other words, what arguments does Paul give to defend his thesis that the notion "I will sin so that grace might increase" is a false inference from 5:20?

(1) Paul claims that we "died to sin." [He then asks [rhetorically?] how will we still live in it?]

But how did we "die to sin" ? Paul seems to imply that the Romans know the answer to this question already: the Romans, having been "baptized into Christ Jesus," were therefore "baptized into Christ's death." The phrase "baptized into Christ's death" is then expanded by Paul: he and the Roman Christians were "buried with Christ through baptism-into-Christ's-death" [whatever THAT means!].

Therefore, so far, Paul's argument appears to look liks this:

We were buried with Christ through baptism-into-Christ's death because we were baptized into Christ's death, and this holds in turn because we were baptized into Christ Jesus. Our being baptized into Christ Jesus is why we died to sin, and hence, Paul's revulsion at the idea that we continue to remain in sin so that grace might increase.

(2) Paul claims that we should walk in newness-of-life.

But how does Paul support the claim [which is really a purpose clause in the Greek] that we should walk in newness-of-life?

The answer is that Paul is using the same argument as before. We were "baptized into Christ Jesus," hence we were "baptized into Christ's death," which phrase is explained by Paul as meaning "we were buried with Christ through baptism into His death," but this "being buried with Christ through baptism into His death" was done for the purpose of [or "so that"] "our walking in newness-of-life."

[Note: not only was our "being buried with Christ through baptism into His death" done for the purpose of "our walking in newness-of-life," but our being buried with Christ through baptism into His death is analogized by Paul to Christ's being raised from the dead through the glory of the Father.]

So, in short, Paul claims that we should walk in newness of life, that is, in a life that [at the very least] doesn't view sin as something to be rationalized or even approved of, because, ultimately, we were baptized into Christ's death --- a death died to sin once for all [v10].

(3) Paul claims that we are no longer in a state of servitude with respect to sin.

But why are we no longer in a state of servitude with respect to sin? Answer: our "old man" was crucified with Christ, which [according to Paul] leads to the nullification or abrogation of the "body-of-sin," and, because our "old man" as crucified with Christ, we are no longer in servitude to sin. Indeed, stealing Paul's words, we "have been justified from sin."

(4) Paul claims that just as "the death which Christ died was a death to sin once and for all time, and the life he lives is a life lived for God," we are to view ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God."

The fourth argument of Paul is really a restatement of (1), though he upholds it a bit differently than he upheld (1). To uphold (1), he mentioned the concept of our being baptized into Christ's death; here, he upholds (4) by appealing to vv 8-10.

At this point, we attempt a summary-so-far of what has been covered in Chapter 6:

In 5:20, one might think that sin is something to rationalize or even approve of on the basis that sin's increase led to a superabundance of grace. Paul rejects this inference as blatantly false because

(1) We have died to sin,
(2) We are to walk in newness-of-life,
(3) We are no longer in a state of servitude with respect to sin,
(4) We are to reckon ourselves as simultaneously dead to sin and alive in God.

[PP Note: The evidences for these four buttresses of Paul's thesis overlap; there doesn't seem to be a clean break between evidence and the point the evidence is supposed to make with Paul. My Western mind wants distinct non-overlapping reasons given in a linear fashion with clearly-defined bounds. Paul was clearly not writing for pedantic Protestants...]

Paul has now given four arguments [(1)-(4) just mentioned] as to why the false inference from 5:20 is indeed false. Having expounded thus Paul states the following as a summary exhortation: "Do not continue to let sin reign over you!" He then closes up 1-14 with "Sin shall not reign over you, for you are not under law but, to the contrary, your are under grace."

Thus, if we had to paraphrase Paul in 6:1-14, giving only the most basic skeleton structure, the following seems reasonable:

Do not think from 5:20 that sin is something to rationalize or even approve! Why? Because you've died to sin and are made alive to God, are no longer in servitude to sin, and are to walk in newness-of-life. Do not let sin continue its unopposed reign over you, for you are not ruled by sin --- you are under grace.

[[Before turning to the second major section of Chapter 6 [vv 15-23], let me make a few miscellaneous comments about 6:1-14.

(i) I'm only trying to discern or bring out the structure of Paul's argument. The primary question in this study is: what are the major flows of thought in Paul?.

(ii) The reader will note that I've completely avoided trying to understand exactly how Paul is using the idea baptism in vv 3 and 4. I've also avoided [quite consciously!] trying to understand exactly what such phrases as "die to sin," "buried into Christ's death," etc mean. The unravelling of these pregant phrases requires a careful commentary.

(iii) On a personal note, as stated earlier, I believe the structure of Paul's thought-flow is clear enough, but the actual exegeses of the pregnant phrases mentioned in (ii) are still things through which I'm working.]]

Let's again state 6:1-14 in its barest skeletal form:

Do not think from 5:20 that sin is something to rationalize or even approve! Why? Because you've died to sin and are made alive to God, are no longer in servitude to sin, and are to walk in newness-of-life. Do not let sin continue its unopposed reign over you, for you are not ruled by sin --- you are under grace, not law.

The second section of Chapter 6, namely, vv 15-23, owes its existence to Paul's question in v.15. "Shall we sin because [as v 14 states] we are not under law but under grace?"

In 5:20, Paul stated something that, in his mind, could be misinterpreted as an endorsement of sin or a refusal to confront the awful reality that is sin. Hence, Paul's thoughts in 6:1-14 combat this possible misinterpretation. But in the process of combatting this possible misinterpretation of 5:20, Paul evidently seems to think that in his preventing against the possibility of misinterpreting 5:20, he has [inadvertently?] created another possibility for being misunderstood. This new possibility for misunderstanding concerns Paul's claim that we Christians are not under law but under grace, and the misunderstanding might be something such as "But sinning must be OK or not-such-a-bad-thing since, far from being under law, we're under grace."

Thus, the question that Paul anticipates from claiming that we are under grace [as compared to being under law] is this: shall we sin since we are not under law but under grace?. Paul firmly denies it with his favorite optative phrase "God forbid!"

On what bases does Paul deny the implication that we can sin since we're under grace and not law? The three main arguments seem clear enough:

(1) We're slaves to that which we obey and/or gives ourselves to. Giving ourselves to sin would be making sin our master, and [v23] the wages sin pays is death.

(2) We're freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness [v 18] and to God [22]. In fact, we are to present our faculties as instruments of righteousness; such a presentation leads to sanctification.

(3) We are forced to have exactly one of two masters: sin or righteousness. [v20] We cannot have a detached neutrality with respect to sin versus righteousness, and we have to choose one...righteousness is the better choice obviously!

Quoting Cranfield, p 321:

This subsection [i.e. vv 15-23] underlines the fact that the question of a man's being free in the sense of having no master, of not being a slave at all, simply does not arise. Only two alternatives present themselves, to have sin for one's master or to have God (this second alternative is variously expressed in these verses); there is no third possibility. The Roman Christians have been freed from the slavery of sin and made slaves of God; and they must act accordingly and not try to combine incompatibles.

With the structure of vv 15-23 elucidated [so we claim], we may now attempt a skeletal summary that captures the main structure:

If you think that being under grace and not under law grants you license to sin, you are very mistaken, for you are enslaved to righteousness, not sin.

Of course, the arguments (1)-(3) just given would buttress Paul's argument [at least in Paul's eyes they would].

Therefore, we are now at last in position to attempt a skeleton summary of Chapter 6:

Do not think from 5:20 that sin is something to rationalize or even approve! Why? Because you've died to sin and are made alive to God, are no longer in servitude to sin, and are to walk in newness-of-life. Do not let sin continue its unopposed reign over you, for you are not ruled by sin --- you are under grace. But do not from this think that being under grace and not under law grants you license to sin, for you are enslaved to righteousness, not sin.

This then, would appear to be the most basic structure of Rom 6: a proactive strike [vv 1-14] by Paul against the misinterpretation of 5:20 which asserts that sin is rationalizable or even good, which proactive strike itself [in v14b] opens the door to another misinterpretation along the same lines ["Shall we sin since we are not under law but under grace?" --- v 15] and hence requires its own proactive Pauline strike [vv 15-23].

*************Commentary Time

Let's turn to some PP commentary:

There appears to be a rather triumphalist tone on Paul's part relative to sin.

2a: "we died to sin, how shall we still live in it"
4b: "we might walk in newness-of-life"
6 : "we know that our old man was crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin might be nullified [or abrogated?], so that we no longer are in servitude to sin"
7 : "we have been justified from sin"
11: "reckon yourselves to be dead to sin"
12: "do not let sin continue its unopposed reign"
14: "sin shall no longer reign unopposed over you"
15: the essence here is that we are not to sin
18: "we have been freed from sin and placed in servitude to righteousness"
22: "but now, being free from sin,....."

The triumphalism is that Paul seems to be strongly suggesting that Christians don't sin, or that sin is to be the rarity in the Christian's life. We are dead to sin. Does this not seem to carry with it the implication that sinning for the most part is, for the Christian, a past activity? And if Chapter 6 existed on its own, this would be a quite reasonable interpretation. At this point, a Christian like myself who sins, knows he sins, and knows he often doesn't fight sin as he should, and even rationalizes or excuses such laxity, begins to feel his collar tighten. For, on the one hand, I have faith in Christ, looking to "the God who justifies the ungodly," but at the same time, I run aground of the statements on sin in Chapter 6. I don't seem dead to sin. Sin still, at times, feels as if it has full reign over me. I don't feel free from sin, especially when my weaknesses are confronted with temptations, and there are many weaknesses.

At this point, the sinning Christian begins to wonder if in fact he is Christian after all, if he is in fact justified in God's eyes. Perhaps, say, I'm not really Christian after all, despite my affectations and outward appearance, and, in my sinful state, I have quite successfully deluded myself into mistaking "talking the game" with "playing the game." Since misery loves company, I then attempt to rationalize the situation by looking at other people who seem Christian and noticing that all of them have horrible flaws --- flaws that perhaps, not being the best judge of myself, I conveniently overlook when they manifest themselves within me.

In the end, my conscience is confronted with the inalterable fact that Paul in Romans 6 is describing the life of somebody justified by faith and not by works, but at the same time my own life, despite occasional bursts of effort and periodic attempts to grapple with the seriousness of sin and the stringency of God's demands, in no way conforms to Paul's description of the Christian. At this point, I conclude that I'm not a Christian.

Such a conclusion is eminently rational.

However, against such a conclusion is the simple fact of the matter that Romans 6 does not exist in isolation; it is part of a series of consequences that Paul deduces from justification by faith alone. Romans 6 cannot be fully apprehended by itself; it must be seen as one facet or description of the post-justification life, where Romans 5, 7, and 8 present other facets. Therefore, Romans 6 must be [re-]discussed as well after grappling with Romans 7 and Romans 8. This is not to say that Romans 6 is reinterpreted in light of Romans 7 and 8. But it is to say that Romans 6 does not present the complete picture of the Christian's life, only a part, and, so I'll argue later, an idealized part.

Romans 7 will provide, so I say, a very comforting fact to the believer who has the terrors of conscience regarding his sinful nature, terrors of conscience that are fully aware that the fall grossly short of the seeming ideals in Romans 6. But that will be the topic for the next post.

Speaking structurally, Romans 7 seems to be an exposition of 6:14: "For sin shall not reign unopposed over you, since you are not under law but under grace." In other words, Paul probably wanted to put the Chapter 7 material right after 6:14, but, because Paul thought he had given a possible cause for misunderstanding in 6:14, Paul had to take some time to address this possible cause for misunderstanding. With 6:15-23 being Paul's attempt to address the possible cause for misunderstanding, the material in Chapter 7 is his getting back to what he wants to do, which, apparently, is to exposit the statement that "sin shall not reign unopposed over you, since you are not under law but under grace."

Hopefully, a post on Romans 7 will be up within a week.

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