Romans, Part 17

Where, then, is boasting?  Paul continued in Romans.  It is excluded!  By what principle (νόμου, a form of νόμος)?[1]  Of works (ἔργων, a form of ἔργον)?[2]  No, but by the principle (νόμου, a form of νόμος) of faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις)![3]  For we consider (λογιζόμεθα,  a form of λογίζομαι)[4] that a person is declared righteous (δικαιοῦσθαι, a form of δικαιόω)[5] by faith (πίστει, another form of πίστις) apart from the works (ἔργων, a form of ἔργον) of the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος).[6]  The NET translators chose principle for the first two occurrences of νόμου (a form of νόμος) in this passage to help the reader distinguish between the “law of faith” that excludes boasting and the works of the law, one’s own efforts to keep God’s law.

It is virtually impossible for me to quote the above passage without recalling James’ letter, a person is justified (δικαιοῦται, another form of δικαιόω) by works (ἔργων, a form of ἔργον) and not by faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις) alone (μόνον, a form of μόνος).[7]  I’ve often wondered if James intended to refute or correct Paul.  But James didn’t write enough that I can know his intent.  So I content myself with attempting to understand the Holy Spirit’s intent.  He wrote quite a bit about this subject.

Or is God the God of the Jews only? Paul asked.  Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too!  Since God is one, he will justify (δικαιώσει, another form of δικαιόω) the circumcised by faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις) and the uncircumcised through faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις).[8]  It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit’s intent would of necessity be something that both Paul and James described truthfully and accurately.  Paul continued to preach justification by and through faith, James stressed works and that one was not justified by faith alone (πιστεως μονον).

I recalled a story when Peter saw, what he thought was, a ghost walking on the water.  Have courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid,[9] Jesus said.  Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.”[10]  I had heard the story since childhood, but for some reason as I was striving to obey God’s law in my own strength it struck me what a dumb thing that was to say.  Why would anyone in his right mind set himself up for that kind of failure?  And just as I asked the question, the answer was right in front of me.  Peter believed that Jesus’ command would come to pass.  If Jesus ordered him to walk on water, he would walk on water.  It was a wonderful insight.  I could turn back to Exodus 20 and read The Ten Promises as opposed to the ten commandments I was trying so hard to obey on my own, not to mention all of Jesus’ other commandments.

I went off sure that I understood everything now, found out again that I didn’t, and then came back to this story.  So [Jesus] said, “Come.”  Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus.[11]  Peter may have had that kind of faith, I thought, obviously I did not.  But even Peter didn’t fare all that well, when he saw the strong wind he became afraid.  And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”[12]  So Peter, just like me, got all excited about faith and then made a fool out of himself.

Jesus wouldn’t let me get away with that for very long.  I heard a sermon about this story, not a sermon browbeating me to have more faith and stop doubting, a good one.  When the preacher read the text—Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”[13]—this preacher’s attention wasn’t focused on Peter’s failure but on Jesus’ immediate help.  Then he said the most revolutionary, life-changing thing I had heard to date, “Jesus had the faith to stand on the water and hold Peter up as well.”

The preacher kept talking but I didn’t hear any more that day.  The sermon wasn’t over for me, however.  It had only just begun.  “You weren’t making fun of Peter, were you?” I prayed.  Then Jesus’ question— why did you doubt?—became a real question, my question—Why do I doubt?—and it deserved a real answer.  I don’t recall how long it took to get to the bottom of that question, but finally the answer was fairly simple and obvious.  I doubted because I was depending on my faith.  My faith was pretty good at changing what I thought, but not so good at changing what I did, much less having any effect on the world beyond my mind.

That sounded pretty much like James’ faith alone (πιστεως μονον).  So also faith (πίστις), if it does not have works (ἔργα, another form of ἔργον), is dead (νεκρά, a form of νεκρός)[14] being by itself.[15]  But Paul didn’t write the Romans about that kind of faith, Do we then nullify (καταργοῦμεν, a form of καταργέω)[16] the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος) through faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις)?  Absolutely not!  Instead we uphold (histēmi, ἵστημι)[17] the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος).[18]  Clearly, my faith was dead, being by itself alone.  My efforts to obey the law, my works of the law, by my dead faith were meaningless.

I danced around that conclusion for a long time because my religious mind had me convinced that if I acknowledged its truth I would be condemned, rather than that I would have learned something extremely valuable.  It is no idle word that Paul proclaimed, There is therefore now no condemnation (κατάκριμα)[19] for those who are in Christ Jesus.[20]  I want to call this the absolute baseline of faith in Jesus Christ.  Apart from this faith no one can be honest enough to learn anything from the Lord or the Bible.

So if I can’t depend on my faith, whose faith can I depend on?  I hope the answer is obvious.  I want to depend on Jesus’ faith.  He has the faith to stand on the water and hold Peter up as well.  How can I have Jesus’ faith?  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (πίστις)…[21]  And that is exactly what Paul wrote about in Romans, the righteousness (δικαιοσύνη)[22] of God through the faithfulness (πίστεως, a form of πίστις) of Jesus Christ for all who believe (πιστεύοντας, a form of πιστεύω).[23]

[6] Romans 3:27, 28 (NET)

[7] James 2:24 (NET)

[8] Romans 3:29, 30 (NET)

[9] Matthew 14:27 (NET)

[10] Matthew 14:28 (NET)

[11] Matthew 14:29 (NET)

[12] Matthew 14:30 (NET)

[13] Matthew 14:31 (NET)

[15] James 2:17 (NET)

[18] Romans 3:31 (NET)

[20] Romans 8:1 (NET)

[21] Galatians 5:22 (NET)

[23] Romans 3:22 (NET)