Romans, Part 86

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, Paul continued, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.[1]  Though it may sound as if Paul commended Roman believers for their peculiar goodness and knowledge, I will maintain that his confidence was in the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.[2]

The Greek word translated am fully convinced was Πέπεισμαι (a form of πείθω).  For I am convinced (πέπεισμαι, a form of πείθω), Paul wrote, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[3]  I know the one in whom my faith is set, he wrote Timothy, and I am convinced (πέπεισμαι, a form of πείθω) that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day.[4]  And he characterized himself as one who put no confidence (πεποιθότες, another form of πείθω) in the flesh, Roman or otherwise: For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh (καὶ οὐκ ἐν σαρκὶ πεποιθότες)…[5]

The goodness Paul was fully convinced that Roman believers were full of was ἀγαθωσύνης (a form of ἀγαθωσύνη) in Greek.  Again, it was not that Romans were peculiarly full of goodness in Paul’s estimation while citizens of Thessalonica needed to rely on God: we pray for you always, Paul wrote believers in Thessalonica, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness (ἀγαθωσύνης, a form of ἀγαθωσύνη)…[6]  Walk as children of the light, he wrote believers in Ephesus, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness (ἀγαθωσύνῃ), righteousness, and truth[7]  And, of course, goodness is delivered daily to believers as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (ἀγαθωσύνη), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[8]

The knowledge with which believers in Rome were filled was γνώσεως (a form of γνῶσις) in Greek.  Once again, I don’t think Paul meant that Romans were peculiarly filled with all knowledge.  He didn’t even claim knowledge for himself or the other apostles beyond what was given by God: For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” he wrote believers in Corinth, is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge (γνώσεως, a form of γνῶσις) of God in the face of Christ.[9]  My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, he wrote the Colossians, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge (ἐπίγνωσιν, a form of ἐπίγνωσις) of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (γνώσεως, a form of γνῶσις).[10]  Christ’s love, in fact, surpasses knowledge: to know (γνῶναι, a form of γινώσκω) the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (γνώσεως, a form of γνῶσις), so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.[11]  For Paul the value of knowing (γνώσεως, a form of γνῶσις) Christ Jesus my Lord was far greater than all human honor.[12]

But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, Paul continued his letter to believers in Rome, because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister (λειτουργὸν, a form of λειτουργός) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.[13]  Paul had not yet been to Rome.  His self-consciousness about all that he had written to believers there intrigues me.  I can easily see this letter as the culmination of Paul’s working through his own issues, from the Jerusalem Council to Athens to Corinth and on to Ephesus.  Did he recognize the importance the Roman Church would assume once the Jerusalem Church was scattered?  Surely the Holy Spirit did.

I don’t think Paul intended to write a treatise on the Gospel but a letter to Roman believers.  Still, by the Holy Spirit a Gospel treatise is what he wrote.  Without altering a word Paul wanted to explain his boldness (τολμηρότερον; translated more boldly).  I serve the gospel of God like a priest, he continued, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.[14]  So that the Gentiles may be sanctified by their own obedience or by adding their own works to their faith?  No, so that the Gentiles may be sanctified by the Holy Spirit (ἡγιασμένη ἐν πνεύματιἁγίῳ).

The Greek word translated sanctified was ἡγιασμένη (a form of ἁγιάζω).  Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy (ἁγιάσαι, another form of ἁγιάζω), Paul wrote believers in Thessalonica, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.[15]  Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify (ἁγιάσῃ, another form of ἁγιάζω) her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.[16]  Sanctify (ἁγίασον, another form of ἁγιάζω) them by the truth, Jesus prayed to his Father, your word is truth.[17]  For them, Jesus continued in prayer, I sanctify (ἁγιάζω) myself, that they too may be truly sanctified (ἡγιασμένοι, another form of ἁγιάζω).[18]

For indeed he who makes holy (ἁγιάζων, another form of ἁγιάζω) and those being made holy (ἁγιαζόμενοι, another form of ἁγιάζω) all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters[19]  As I’ve written before,[20] it is axiomatic to me that Jesus’ holiness was from the Holy Spirit rather than his own divine nature.  Otherwise, his command and invitation, Follow me, would be meaningless to sinful human beings.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles, Jesus promised Paul, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified (ἡγιασμένοις, another form of ἁγιάζω) by faith in me.[21]

Luther/Graebner called the religious mind “that monster called self-righteousness”:[22]

This is the principal purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, thief, he would swear that he is righteous. How is God going to humble such a person except by the Law? The Law is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of God’s wrath to bring down the proud and shameless hypocrites. When the Law was instituted on Mount Sinai it was accompanied by lightning, by storms, by the sound of trumpets, to tear to pieces that monster called self-righteousness. As long as a person thinks he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises in Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.

This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff.

The awful spectacle at Mount Sinai portrayed the proper use of the Law…

The Law is meant to produce the same effect today which it produced at Mount Sinai long ago. I want to encourage all who fear God, especially those who intend to become ministers of the Gospel, to learn from the Apostle the proper use of the Law.

This could explain Jonathan Edwards’Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  It was not based on his own experience of eternal life, knowing God, but on a preaching technique derived from a metaphorical reading of the events at Sinai.  But when I approach those events with Jesus’ key to understanding the Old Testament I can’t hear it as a metaphor, only as a literal demonstration of the absolute limits of fear-based righteousness.  With theatricality and pyrotechnics beyond any human preacher’s bellicose pulpit pounding yehôvâh got forty days of obedience to the law out of fear.

To be fair Luther/Graebner didn’t expect preaching designed “to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff” to produce righteousness (or even obedience to the law) directly, but to foster a hunger and thirst for righteousness:[23]

The proverb has it that Hunger is the best cook [Fames est optimus coquus]. The Law makes afflicted consciences hungry for Christ. Christ tastes good to them. Hungry hearts appreciate Christ. Thirsty souls are what Christ wants. He invites them: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Christ’s benefits are so precious that He will dispense them only to those who need them and really desire them.

I understand precious here as scarce and conclude that this last statement is essentially false.  Christ’s benefits are not scarce.  They are as omnipresent[24] as the Holy Spirit.  Everyone needs them: Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’[25]  And God Himself provides the desire for them as well as their accomplishment: for the one bringing forth (ἐνεργῶν, a form of ἐνεργέω) in you both the desire (θέλειν, a form of θέλω) and the effort (ἐνεργεῖν, another form of ἐνεργέω) – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.[26]  There is no cause to add conditions to sanctification beyond faith in Christ.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.[27]  But how are they to hear without someone preaching to them?[28]  Or how are we to hear if preachers preach something other than the truth that we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit?

On the one hand Luther/Graebner seemed to grasp this:[29]

…the Holy Ghost is sent forth into the hearts of the believers, as here stated, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” This sending is accomplished by the preaching of the Gospel through which the Holy Spirit inspires us with fervor and light, with new judgment, new desires, and new motives. This happy innovation is not a derivative of reason or personal development, but solely the gift and operation of the Holy Ghost.

Though they did a yeoman’s job demonstrating that justification is by faith in Christ apart from the works of the law, any law, when it came to sanctification Luther/Graebner let the whole wretched works religion in through the back door:[30]

If we think of Christ as Paul here depicts Him, we shall never go wrong. We shall never be in danger of misconstruing the meaning of the Law. We shall understand that the Law does not justify. We shall understand why a Christian observes laws: For the peace of the world, out of gratitude to God, and for a good example that others may be attracted to the Gospel.

First, I want to be perfectly clear that a believer in Christ merely appears to observe laws.  That appearance does not result from attempting to “observe laws” but from hearing with faith and receiving the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the love that is the fulfillment the law.  The peace of the world, my gratitude to God and desire that others may be attracted to the Gospel is not up to the task of righteousness.

At times Luther/Graebner seemed to comprehend the fruit of the Spirit:[31]

The Word of God falling from the lips of the apostle or minister enters into the heart of the hearer. The Holy Ghost impregnates the Word so that it brings forth the fruit of faith.

Yet when Luther/Graebner addressed the “fruit of faith” directly it reads:[32]

FAITH

In listing faith among the fruits of the Spirit, Paul obviously does not mean faith in Christ, but faith in men. Such faith is not suspicious of people but believes the best. Naturally the possessor of such faith will be deceived, but he lets it pass. He is ready to believe all men, but he will not trust all men. Where this virtue is lacking men are suspicious, forward, and wayward and will believe nothing nor yield to anybody. No matter how well a person says or does anything, they will find fault with it, and if you do not humor them you can never please them. It is quite impossible to get along with them. Such faith in people therefore, is quite necessary. What kind of life would this be if one person could not believe another person?

In fact every detail of every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit in the Luther/Graebner commentary reads like a definition of a virtue, an ideal or a rule to be pursued by my desire for “the peace of the world, out of gratitude to God, and for a good example that others may be attracted to the Gospel.”  In contrast I will quote Paul once again (Romans 15:15, 16 NET):

But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.  I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Anything less than being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is a human attempt to be perfected by the flesh.  Are you so foolish? Paul asked struggling believers in Galatia.  Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort (σαρκὶ, a form of σάρξ)?[33]  We of this generation risk being judged by skeptics or some future apostle of some future dispensation with the words:

For if grace had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by  grace.

Romans, Part 87

Back to Fear – Deuteronomy, Part 7

Back to Who Am I? Part 6


[1] Romans 15:14 (NET)

[2] Romans 15:13 (NET)

[3] Romans 8:38, 39 (NET)

[4] 2 Timothy 1:12b (NET)

[5] Philippians 3:3 (NIV)

[6] 2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NET)

[7] Ephesians 5:8b, 9 (NET)

[8] Galatians 5:22, 23a (NET)

[9] 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NET)

[10] Colossians 2:2, 3 (NET)

[11] Ephesians 3:19 (NET); See: Ephesians 3:14-21

[12] Philippians 3:3-11, cf. verse 8

[13] Romans 15:15, 16a (NET)

[14] Romans 15:16b (NET)

[15] 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24 (NET)

[16] Ephesians 5:25b-27 (NET)

[17] John 17:17 (NIV)

[18] John 17:19 (NIV)

[19] Hebrews 2:11 (NET)

[20] The Righteousness of God; Romans, Part 50

[21] Acts 26:17, 18 (NET)

[22] Commentary on Galatians 3:19, “The Twofold Purpose of the Law”

[23] Commentary on Galations 3:21

[24] Psalm 139:1-18 (NET)

[25] John 3:7 (NET)

[26] Philippians 2:13 (NET)

[27] Romans 10:17 (NKJV)

[28] Romans 10:14b (NET)

[29] Commentary on Galatians 4:6

[30] Commentary on Galatians 4:4, 5

[31] Commentary on Galatians 4:19

[32] Commentary on Galatians 5:22, 23

[33] Galatians 3:3 (NET)