Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 4)

And so the Facebook Bible Study continues. (To see more, just search this blog for Romans and James.) Below is my latest comment posted on the Bible Study page, We are covering Romans chapters 5-8...
I chose one passage from each chapter as key verses on which I focused this week:

5:17 - “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”

I have always found the Adam-Jesus parallel fascinating. Christ as the New Adam sets up a very rich symbolism. For instance: The first Adam in Genesis ate fruit from the tree and his penalty was death. But the New Adam BECAME for us fruit from the tree. (His body/flesh was on the cross/tree.) When we eat this fruit (His flesh) we gain eternal life rather than death. There are, of course, many other comparisons.

But here Paul is also focusing on the role of GRACE for Christians under the New Law. For Adam it was a transgression of God’s Law that brought death, but Christ brings life through Grace. What Paul wrote earlier in Romans focused on the Old Law of Works, but the New Law is not “Faith Alone” (James proves that wrong) – rather it is a Law of Grace. “…those who receive God’s abundant provision of GRACE and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” So I think Paul is stepping out beyond the “Faith vs. Works” debate and focusing on Old Law vs. Grace.

6:12-14 “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Here again, Paul is comparing “Law vs. Grace.” So it would be unfair to say that Paul preaches a “Faith Alone” doctrine. He is more concerned with Grace.

7:4-5 “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.”

This “bearing fruit” refers to the WORKS that we do – either through sin or by responding to God’s Grace. So Paul does not leave out the importance of Good Works. We are called to “bear fruit” through God’s Grace working in us. To me, this means that Paul’s doctrine is much more complicated (or rather, more ‘dynamic’) than the “Faith Alone” doctrine would have us believe. Paul does not preach “Faith Alone” but rather “bearing fruit through our Good Works done in Faith as a response to God’s Grace.”

8:16-17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

I wanted to include this bit about suffering. Paul returns to the theme of suffering with/in/through Christ elsewhere in his writing. It is just another example of Paul’s rich and complex understanding of the Christian path to salvation. It is a relationship with Christ that is not simply “Faith Alone” but reaches into a lived experience.

I did receive one reply:

I agree with you that it's through grace alone that we are saved. It's by grace through faith is how the bible states it. But you have to first have faith to receive grace. I would say grace (the new covenant that demolished the old covenant of the law) alone is a more true statement of how I as a Protestant believe rather than a faith alone doctrine. However faith is a crucial component to receiving grace so I can see how people can get that confused.

My response:   

I don't know if I would go so far as to say "Grace ALONE" is what saves us (though I would come close to that statement)... But I would definitely say that Grace is the *starting point* for our salvation. It all begins with Grace - God's gracious and undeserved gift to us. God reaches out to us first with His Grace, and the rest is our feeble response to Him. But the process of our salvation is always a dynamic relationship that involves Grace, Faith, and Works - they are bound together - I would not say any of them are ALONE. Grace comes first, then we respond with Faith, and we continue to grow that Faith and keep our Faith alive by doing Good Works. God's Grace is the foundation for all of that, but all are working together. None of it is really ALONE.

I would also say that Faith does not come first. We do not have Faith first and then we receive Grace. I would say that we always receive Grace first and then we respond with Faith. God reaches out to us FIRST. He is the first mover. So God and His Grace always come first. He moves us to have Faith, and then he also moves us to do Good Works.
So far, that is as far as the conversation has gone.

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