THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS

INTRODUCTION AND THEME

Rom. 1:16-17
Part 2

INTRODUCTION

Today whenever I read political websites, these websites try to grab your attention with the following lead-in: SHOCK CLAIM! followed by the claim itself. Well, I would like to introduce this lesson with the following: SHOCK CLAIM: Even Catholicism teaches we are saved by grace through faith! Now that might surprise you; however, I didn't come up with this claim. Marshall Taylor makes just this same claim in Catholic Perspectives on Paul. Yes, we believe that grace flows through the sacraments; however, it is received by faith. Faith is so important to Catholicism that the latest catechism begins with the emphasis on faith. Faith is so integral to Catholicism that whenever Henry VIII of England intially defended Catholicism against Luther's attacks, the Pope rewarded him with the title: "Defender of the Faith", not Defender of Works!

How can this be? We shall see as we come to Romans 1:17: "The righteous man shall live by faith!"


THEME CONTINUED

At the very end of verse 16 Paul introduces a major theme in the Letter to the Romans—”the Jew first and also to the Greek” (with the word “Greek” representing all people who are not Jews). This gospel must also be for all the Gentiles; otherwise, Jesus is just some kind of local deity and not the Lord of the universe. On the other hand, if Jesus was really sent by the God of the OT, then He must also be first of all the Messiah of the Jews. Otherwise, the God of the OT has broken His promises to the fathers of the Jewish nation (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to send to the Jews the Messiah. If Christ is Lord over all, if God is God over all, then He must save everyone the same way. Since only the Jews had the Law, then God would not save people by means of the works of the Law; otherwise, He would be God of Jews only. Since all people can exercise faith, God has chosen faith as the means of salvation.

    When Paul writes that the gospel is for the Jew first and then to the Greek, he is addressing one of the main purposes of this letter: has God abandoned the Jews because of Paul's successful outreach to the Gentiles? Paul's response: No! In fact, just a cursory look at Paul's ministry shows that he himself honored this principle. During his first and second missionary journeys in which he was spreading Christ in virgin territories, Paul would first go to the synagogues. Only after the synagogues had rejected Paul and Christ would he then turn specifically to the Gentiles.[6]

    Now when he claims that this gospel is for the Jew first, Paul does not mean that Jewish Christians are first-class Christians while Gentile Christians are second class. Although the Jews felt that God chose them to be the sole beneficiaries of His promises to Abraham, God chose them so that they would be the vessels He would use to save the rest of mankind. Jesus focused on the Jews in order to prepare them to be the great missionaries of the gospel. Unfortunately on a massive scale the Jews rejected God’s purpose for them, Even in the Jewish OT, God asserted this, Jonah being an excellent example of the Jewish rejection of their being chosen by God to reach the Gentiles; some like Paul though accepted it (see Rom. 11:1).

According to verse 17 what does God reveal in the gospel?



Paul states another major theme of this letter and of his gospel in general—”the righteousness of God.” An understanding of God’s righteousness is pivotal if you are going to understand what Paul is saying in Romans. The root of the word “righteousness” is made up of 3 Greek letters: DIK or dik (delta, iota, kappa) meaning “right”. The word “righteous” in Greek is dikaios (DIK-ai-os); the word “to make right” or “to justify” is dikaioo (di-kai-AH-oh). When the Bible says that God is righteous, it means that He is right with Himself and right with others. God is always right. When we speak about God’s righteousness, we’re talking about the kind of life God Himself lives and which only He can produce. (See Rom. 12:1-15:13 for a description of that righteousness.)

Normally when we think of righteousness, we think of something that a person possesses, like goodness or honesty. We use it to describe God’s character, that is, He is righteous or that He possesses righteousness.

Paul, on the other hand, in discussing God's righteousness, stresses in Galatians and Romans that God is not only right but is also shown as righteous in that He acts righteously, or to be more precise, makes people right with Himself, with others, and with themselves. It refers in a major way to God's righteous-making activity. This righteousness then produces the righteous life in the believer

    By the late Middle Ages this view of righteousness seemed to disappear from view (this teaching was still an integral part of Catholic theology; it is just that during Luther's time the abuse of indulgences had seem to sweep it aside). A positive contribution of the Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli) was to reemphasize this concept of God’s righteousness. Luther had tried everything in the world to achieve his own righteousness. Only after he was totally frustrated was he open to receiving God’s righteousness by faith (he based so much of this upon the writings of St. Augustine, one of the great doctors of the CATHOLIC church). The same applies to us. Our frustrations many times are God’s way of alerting us that we need to quit trying to produce His life in our own strength and power and that we need to allow Him to produce His life in us.

    It is also sad that Luther attacked the entire Catholic Church based upon the practices of Tetzel and the pope (Leo X, a de Medici) who was corrupt at that time. The truth is that the all-time greatest theologian of the Catholic Church distinguished between "operative" grace and "cooperative" grace. If Luther had understood or admitted this difference, he would not have led out in a Reformation of the Church.

    As Catholics, we value the claim that righteousness is God's doing, not ours: the baby receives the gift of the Spirit at baptism without having to do anything to merit that gift; weekly we receive the gift of the body and blood of the resurrected Christ which through our faith produces in us the life of Christ. Faith may appropriate the gift, but this grace is nevertheless a gift and not a work. The way this works will be seen in Romans 8.

    One thing needs to be noted here: the injection of faith into this discussion of the sacraments helps prevent the sacraments from becoming mere magic. Unfortunately, there are 2 errors concerning the sacraments: (1) they are just mere symbols (the error of some conservative evangelicals) and (2) they are magic (the error of at least some Catholics). According to Catholic teaching the Lord's Supper is not merely symbolical as many Protestant evangelicals would claim, but neither are they were magic which save us no matter what our response is. God's Spirit works in the sacraments regardless of our response; however, our response determines whether these sacraments work positively for us or negatively against us. For a simple illustration of this, see Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. 11. What was happening to some Christians in Corinth when they took the Lord's Supper because they were not exercising faith in their relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 11:27-30, especially v. 30)?


Paul says that God’s righteousness is revealed from “faith to faith.” There are several different ways to interpret this last phrase: “from God’s faith to our faith” or “from beginning to middle to end the Christian is to exercise faith.” Both are operating here. God's faithfulness to us (and to Israel) leads to our faith in Him. Also, it means that the way to obtain God’s righteousness and to experience it daily is by exercising faith. From first to last it is faith.

Paul backs up his claim by appealing to what OT verse? (Look in the margin of your Bible; that should tell you where this OT verse is found.)

According to Habakkuk how does the righteous man obtain life?


    Here we see one of the ways the NT writers used the OT. They sometimes used it to show that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies in the OT. In other instances such as the present one, the NT writers quoted the OT to show the proper way to interpret the OT. The Jews claimed that Christianity contradicted the OT. Christians claimed that they correctly interpreted the OT and that the only thing they contradicted was the Jewish interpretation of it.

There are 2 ways to understand the word “faith” in verse 17. The Jews interpreted it as “faithfulness.” In other words, the Jews said that if you wanted to obtain eternal life, then you needed to be faithful to God, that is, you needed to live a life of doing good works to be right with God. Paul, on the other hand, rejected this interpretation of the word. For him the word meant “faith” or “belief.” A person did not have to do anything or live a certain way in order to obtain God’s gift of life. Rather all he had to do was exercise faith or belief in what God had done him in Jesus Christ.

Now don't pull out James on me. When you do that, you are still caught in the 16th century with its false controversy. You are pitting James against Paul as if the two are opposed to each other. They are BOTH apostles. Why choose one over the other? On what basis would you do that? Moreover, if they are opposed, then I will go with Paul since his way is easier and since he wrote 13 letters instead of just one. Don't go there.

HERE IS THE KICKER: NT faith though always and inevitably leads to faithfulness; otherwise, it is NOT New Testament faith. Faith ALWAYS produces works; otherwise, it is not saving faith. As C.S. Lewis wrote, once you trust somebody, you take their advice:

    "The other set were accused of saying, "Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn't matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end." The answer to that nonsense is that, if what you call your "faith" in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him" (Mere Christianity, Book 3, chapter 12: Faith).

    If you trust someone, then you are doing to do what they say. Notice that in The Nicene Creed, we don't say, "I believe THAT God is the Father Almighty" or "THAT the Lord Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God" or "THAT the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life." We say, "I believe IN God the Father ... IN the Lord Jesus Christ ... IN the Holy Spirit." If we believe in the Lord Jesus, then we are going to do what He says because He is our Lord. THAT necessarily leads to good works because we are obeying Him. To call Him, "Lord" and not obey Him is to commit the sin of the demonic.


Works must always spring from faith; otherwise, it is not saving faith. Not just works, but works which spring from faith. To put it bluntly: performing works which do not spring from faith is the sin of the Pharisees. Believing God and not producing works is the sin of the demonic world (James 2:19).

    This faith doesn't produce a dull life of dreaded works. It produces an exciting life, an adventure. Right after Heb. 11:1 defines faith, it goes on to describe the kinds of works faith produces: Abel offered a righteous sacrifice; Enoch walked with God; Noah built an ark and condemned the world; Abraham followed God and was even willing to sacrifice his own son; Moses destroyed the world's super power and saved his people...and on and on and on. Faith produces an exciting life of works...actually it produces the only kind of life worth living.

    You may respond, "Well, I go to mass. That's faith." Yes, it is, but it doesn't stop there. Notice in Hebrews 10 the emphasis on worship/sacrament. Immediately following these chapters, though, the author of Hebrews describes people who lived by faith. In fact Hebrews 11 has been called The Great Hall of Faith. Sacraments/worship should ALWAYS lead to the life of faith, a life full of works produced by faith; otherwise, true worship has not occurred.

In case you might think that we are imposing a false Catholic interpretation upon this interpretation of faith, look at Rom. 1:5. According to that verse, what is Paul trying to bring about or to produce in the Gentiles?

Many well-meaning Protestants rush to Eph. 2:8, 9 when they want to discuss salvation. They forget about Eph. 2:10. According to verses 8 and 9, we are saved by grace through faith. Great? According to verse 10, what should this grace through faith lead to in the believer?


The point is that it is false to pit faith against faithfulness as Luther did. Saving faith (NT faith) ALWAYS leads to faithfulness; otherwise it is not NT faith. This totally harmonizes with the way Paul constructs his letters: the doctrinal parts of the letters are always followed by the ethical parts. The ethical parts never precede the doctrinal parts. Faith should always lead to practice.

  • What does Paul command the Philippian Christians to do (Phil. 2:12)?

    And this from Paul, the promoter of FAITH.

    One final word here about works and their relationship to salvation. Catholics and Protestants are 2 peoples divided by a common language. We use the same words but in vastly different ways. When Protestants claim that Catholics believe you are saved by works, they see Catholics as having a check list of good works they should do in order to go to heaven (this is Luther's misunderstanding). The Catholic perspective is that the works which spring from faith actually help mold us into the image of Jesus, the true goal of salvation.

    That might seem strange, but psychology has confirmed that this works. The process is called behavioral modification. We instruct our children to go in certain paths. They obey us and many times turn out the way we instructed them. (One psychologist told me that children normally adopt at least 80% of their parents values.) Works are not a check list for the Catholic. Rather, springing from faith, these works can help mold us into the image of Jesus, the ultimate goal of salvation. When I performs acts of mercy because Christ commanded me, then these acts of mercy just might transform me into a merciful person. When I perform acts of love, these acts may help transform me into a loving person like Jesus.

    Why is becoming like Jesus the ultimate goal of salvation? Because it prepares us to see the face of God. Only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8) So PLEASE, let's move beyond the false controversy of the last 500 years between Protestants and Catholics.

    So much of the rest of Romans focuses on three elements: God's righteousness, His faithfulness, and our response of faith which produces a life of faithfulness. As God of the entire world of mankind, this God who seeks to make all people right with Him through His Son Jesus by our response of faith has done so by being faithful to His chosen people, the Jews.


    Theme: The Faithfulness and Righteousness of God (1:16-17)

    I. The Need for God's Righteousness (1:18-3:20)

      General Statement Explaining Why Man Needs God’s Righteous Activity (1:18a)
      The Gentile Need for God’s Righteous Activity (1:18-32)
      The Jewish Need for God’s Righteous Activity (2:1-3:20)

    II. God’s Gracious Provision of Righteousness (3:21-8:39)

      The Method of God Making Us Right with Himself (3:21-31)
      Abraham: OT Proof that God Makes Us Right With Him By Faith (4:1-25)
      Results of Being Made Right with God (5:1-6:23)
          (1) A Proper Relationship of Peace with God (5:1-2)
          (2) A Proper Understanding of Suffering (5:3-5)
          (3) Assurance in Judgment (5:6-11)
          (4) A New Race of Mankind (5:12-21)
          A Rejection of Lawlessness (6:1-23)
      Experiencing God’s Righteousness Daily (7:1-8:39)
          (1) The Way Not to Experience God’s Righteousness (7:1-25)
          (2) The Way to Experience God’s Righteousness (8:1-39)


    III. God's Faithfulness To Israel in Spite of Her Temporary and Partial Rejection of God’s Righteousness in Jesus Christ (9:1-11:36)]

    IV. Practical Applications of God’s Righteousness in Life (12:1-15:13)

      Complete Surrender to God (12:1-2)
      Proper Exercise of Spiritual Gifts (12:3-8)
      Love for Those in the Church (12:9-13)
      Love for Persecutors (12:14-21)
      Christian Citizenship (13:1-7)
      Primacy of Love (13:8-10)
      The Nearness of the Day of the Lord Motivates Us to Live Righteously (13:11-14)
      Care for the Weaker Christian (14:1-15:13)
            (1) Grace Towards Those Who are Different From Us (14:1-12)
            (2) Love Requires Self-Limitation (14:13-23)
            (3) The Witness to the Universal Lordship of Christ at Stake (15:1-13)

    END NOTES

    [6] Acts 13:5; 13:46; especially 18:6-7.