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22 August 2019

From Plight to Solution – Resurrection Hope in Rome

SynopsisPaul’s links bodily resurrection with the New Creation. The “redemption of our bodies” refers to our bodily resurrection. 

Courtesy Unsplash.com
Courtesy Unsplash.com
The Apostle Paul presents his most comprehensive explanation of the Gospel in his letter to the Romans. His primary purpose is to deal with conflicts between Gentile and Jewish members but, additionally, he is preparing the ground to take the Gospel to Spain. In the process, he touches on related topics, including death, redemption, the Law, and the future resurrection.

His argument begins with the plight of all humanity as the result of sin, then he presents the solution provided by God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In the end, all men and women are in the same dilemma – disobedience has alienated humanity from God and condemned every man and woman to weakness, decay and, in the end, death. No one is exempt, not even the most righteous saint from the illustrious past of ancient Israel. Not even the holy law of God given through Moses is able to reverse this dark destiny.

Paul begins his letter by identifying himself:  “Paul, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which he promised through his prophets.” In this role, the Apostle proclaims a gospel about the Son of God, the one 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 to dead persons, not to the state of “death” in the abstract. From the get-go, Paul grounds his message in the past death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection 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 - Jews and Gentiles are in the same plight and, therefore and likewise, are put into right standing before God on the same basis - faith.

God has “revealed a righteousness from faith for faith,” but the gospel also reveals the “wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Sinners resist what truth they already know to be right from knowledge gleaned 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 the One Who created all things, they exchanged the worship of 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 are under His wrath already. Put another way, the “wrath” of God includes giving them over to engage in the very sins they desire.

The picture of idolatry run rampant has Gentiles in view. But what about Jews; are they any better off than idolatrous 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, including devout Jews. “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? 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 and, thereby, increases her responsibility – she is at even greater risk of experiencing God’s wrath. To whom much is given, much is required.

In contrast, 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.” Thus, a man is set right from faith and “apart from the works of the Torah.”

God demonstrated His love for us - “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 we will be saved “by his life,” he means his resurrection life. Sin will not be reckoned to us if we believe that God “raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead.” He was handed over to a violent death for our trespasses, but he was “raised for our justification.” 

This is the plight of humanity - “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 is referring to Adam and his disobedience in the Garden of Eden. That first sin doomed all humanity to death and enslavement under sin, the just punishment for disobedience. Not that all die for Adam’s sin. All men sin and, therefore, all men rightly deserve death.

But God did not leave humanity without hope. “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, above all, refers to his resurrection life.

The Raising of Lazarus - clipart.christiansunite.com
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; that is, life received by resurrection. 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 resurrection but, also, the reference to “mortal bodies.” Believers remain mortal in the present age; further, whether mortal or immortal, they live an embodied existence. The gift of the Spirit is a guarantee of the future bodily resurrection.

The Spirit of God dwells within mortal believers and attests that they are the “children of God” and, therefore, “joint-heirs with Christ.” Therefore, they are 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; however, 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” (Romans 8:10-23).
Paul’s links bodily resurrection to the New Creation. The “redemption of our bodies” refers to our bodily resurrection. If the entire creation waits in anticipation of that event, then it can only mean the promised 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! (Romans 8:31-39).

The Apostle makes the main argument of his letter 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 that 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” (Romans 10:5-13).

Israel was hardened, according to the prophetic word, but this was so the Gospel would 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 for the Gentiles” (Romans11:7-15).

But the gathering of the nations into the Kingdom of God, in turn, serves to provoke Israel to jealousy. And if the fall of Israel resulted in the salvation for the nations, what would her restoration mean?  According to Paul, nothing less than “life from the dead”; that is, the bodily resurrection of the righteous and the arrival of the New Creation.

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