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22 August 2019

Plight to Solution – Resurrection Hope in Rome


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The Apostle Paul presented his most comprehensive explanation of the Gospel in his letter to the churches of Rome. His immediate purpose was to deal with conflicts between Gentile and Jewish members. Longer-term, he was preparing the ground to take the Gospel to Spain by using Rome as a support base for this missionary effort. In the process, Paul touches on related topics, including death, the Law or Torah, and the future resurrection. For Paul, “everlasting life” is above all resurrection life.
Paul was a “called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which he promised through his prophets.” This gospel was centered on His Son, “who was marked out as ‘Son of God’ in power, according to the spirit of holiness, from the resurrection of the dead.” The last clause more accurately reads, “a resurrection from among dead ones.” The noun, nekros, is plural and refers not to the state of “death” in the abstract, but to dead persons (i.e., “dead ones). Thus, Paul grounds his gospel message in the past resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:1-4).
This gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Paul is preparing his audience for his proposition; that Jews and Gentiles are in the same plight and, therefore, are put in right standing before God on the same basis.
In this Gospel, God has “revealed a righteousness from faith for faith.” But it also reveals the “wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” for they resist what truth they already know from the created order (“the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made”). Having rejected Him, they exchanged the glorious God for “the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things”; that is, idolatry. For this reason, God “delivered them up to the lusts of their hearts.” The very sins in which they delight demonstrate they already are under wrath.
The picture of idolatry run rampant has Gentiles in view. But what about Jews; are they any better off than pagan Gentiles? “No, certainly not; for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin.” Paul cites several Old Passages to demonstrate that all have sinned. “There is none righteous, no, not one…They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that does good, no, not, so much as one.”
What about the Law, the Torah? Does not its possession give Israel an advantage over unenlightened Gentiles? No, just the opposite. The Law speaks to them who are under it, so that, “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God; because from the works of the law shall no flesh be set right in his sight; for through the law is the knowledge of sin.” The possession of the Law only highlights Israel’s sin, increases her responsibility and puts her at greater risk of experiencing God’s wrath. To whom much is given, much is required.
But the Gospel provides a solution to Jew and Gentile alike; “the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all them who believe; for there is no distinction; all have sinned and lack the glory of God.” Therefore, both Jew and Gentile, are set right before God “through the ransomed-release in Christ Jesus,” and a man is set right “from faith, apart from the works of the Torah.”
God demonstrated His love for us, “since while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now set right by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life.”
When Paul states that we will be saved “by his life,” he means the resurrection life of Jesus; the new life inaugurated by his resurrection. Sin will not be reckoned to our account if we believe that God “raised up Jesus our Lord from among the dead (ones),” for he was delivered over for our trespasses and “raised up for our justification.”
Humanity is in this plight because “through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin; thus, death passed to all men, for that all sinned.” Note well; the penalty for sin is death. Paul here refers to Adam and his disobedience. That first sin doomed all men to death, which is the just punishment for disobedience. Not that all now die for Adam’s sin, for all men sin and, therefore, rightly deserve death.
God did not leave humanity without hope, doomed to death forever. “If by the trespass of the one man, the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many…For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.” As before, the “life” of the one man, Jesus, refers to his resurrection life.
Believers have been baptized into Christ’s death, so that, just as “Christ was raised from the dead, so also we might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection… if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death no more has dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he lives, he lives unto God.”
Throughout this argument the counterpart to death is resurrection; life received by the resurrection from among the dead. That knowledge should reorient our entire lives, including our relationship to the Law, the Torah. We also must “become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that we should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.”
Despite being set right before God, believers are still subject to death. But if “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit.” Note well; not only the reference to life received through the resurrection, but the reference to “mortal bodies.” Believers remain mortal; further, whether mortal or immortal, they live an embodied existence. The gift of the Spirit is, in part, a guarantee, of the future resurrection.
The Spirit of God dwells within mortal believers and attests that they are the “children of God” and, therefore, “joint-heirs with Christ” destined to receive the same glory as him.
The creation itself is in “earnest expectation” as it waits for that day, the “revealing of the sons of God.” The disobedience of Adam also subjected the entire creation to decay and death. But all creation will be delivered from this “bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God…at our adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.”
Paul’s links bodily resurrection with the New Creation, at least implicitly. The “redemption of our bodies” refers to the bodily resurrection of believers. If the entire creation waits in anticipation of that event, then it can only mean the New Creation.
Paul summarizes the first half of this letter with exclamations of faith and joy, for “if God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect…It is Christ Jesus that died, yea, rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Certainly not death!
The Apostle makes his main argument in Chapters 9-11. Considering that most Jews rejected the Gospel, a question must be answered. Has God abandoned His people, Israel; has the Word of God failed? While the resurrection is not a key part of this argument, Paul does refer to it.
For example, it is part of the confession he adapts from an Old Testament passage: “if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9).
Israel was hardened, according to the prophetic word, but this was so the Gospel could go out to all the nations and, thus, fulfill the promise to Abraham of descendants from all nations. If Israel had not been hardened, the Gospel might have become little more than another Jewish sect.  Israel’s “fall” meant “salvation unto the Gentiles.” But that, in turn, will serve to provoke Israel to jealousy. And if the fall of Israel resulted in salvation for the nations, what would her restoration mean?  According to Paul, nothing less than “life from the dead” (11:7-15).

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