Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Year: Rm 10-13 for Nov 29

"Those who were chosen obtained it," Paul says about what Israel was seeking, but "the rest were hardened...." (11:7). In Romans 9 (cf. 9:18) God's prerogative to show mercy on whomever He wants to is defended. In chapters 10-11, however, and even in 9:30-33, Paul brings up what is there for human beings to deal with, near-at-hand, to speak about: he talks about how "the righteousness out of faith speaks as follows ..." (10:6). What follows is not only THAT God has provided His righteousness for "everyone who believes" (10:3-4), but how "'the Word is near you ...'" (10:8).

There is a danger that we might miss the forest for the trees in what Paul is saying in Romans 10. The quotations and illustrations of 10:6-8 are not to be illustrations of the means of salvation, i.e., confessing this one fact, believing this one fact, but they are illustrations and quotations about Christ, for showing that Christ's resurrection and exalted position go together with our salvation and righteousness, and are in fact as present as what the mouth already says and the heart already believes, which came from the word of faith that Paul preaches (10:8).

In 10;6, the attitude that there are only a few accomplished souls, maybe somewhere, who can do the job of going to heaven to bring Christ down to our level so He would benefit us ... Paul says "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART" that kind of thing! Paul says, do not say in our hearts, that the distance between ourselves and Christ must be covered by us going up to Him. in 10:7 it's the opposite: Paul says, do not say in our hearts, Christ's death puts the distance to Him downward, i.e., that we must "bring Christ up." The twin thoughts are ridiculed, as well as the thought of living by "the righteousness which is out of law" (10:5).

There is culpability when the good news has been preached, and "they did not all heed the good news" (10:16). After establishing that culpability, and God's mercy in spite of it which comes in the future, Paul goes on to the practical implications of God's mercy in chapter 12. Thus chapter 12 is not so much a response to the whole letter so far, althought it is that, as well, but mainly a response to the mercy that has just been proven as late as 11:32.

Romans 11;32 goes on to 12:1, but Paul gives God glory first. And then, Christian ethics: what to do in a general way, general guidelines for the Christians in Rome, in light of who they are. We can ask many ethicists, "how do you go from an 'is' (i.e., the truths of Romans 1-11) to an 'ought' (i.e., "you must do x,y,z")," and many ethicists say you can't go, directly. For example, Paul says "by the mercies of God', present your bodies ...." in 12:1. Is the mercy of God something that implies obligations on our part? Many ethicists say that's impossible, that obligations can only be derived from other obligations, as elaborations or implications of already-accepted obligations.

In point of fact, Paul does not say that "present your bodies ..." is an implication of God's mercies. He urges the Romans, as brethren, and by God's mercies. That phraseology itself is but one of the differences between serving in the oldness of the letter, and in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). We should be able to see the differences from here to as the letter concludes.

One shock, that is not often pointed out, between Christianity and other religions / ethical systems is this very fact ... Paul's letter is concluding! Those who were reading chapters 1-11 of Romans, just so they could "get to the good part," that which we should be doing, have a short class. The very fact that Romans 12ff are the length that they are puts Christianity in a class of religions all by itself.

Not as if people have not tried to 'remedy' this. Alas, they've been too successful, in that Christianity is conceived of as an ethic first, and beliefs second. For Paul, Romans shows what he thought of as standing first, before our ethics can even be shaped: things about the Christian as a result of Christ's death and resurrection! What is left is pointedly NOT an ethics manual: it has too few few words for that: mostly about humility, in chapter 12, and a few words, about living under an earthly ruler, the governing rule of love, and about the urgency of behaving properly. The distinctive thing in Christianity is repeated for emphasis in 15:13, and then goes on to his closings.

The brevity of the ethical section is not an argument "from" silence, but an argument from brevity. Paul is writing to those "who are led by the Spirit of God" (8:14). It is a mark of the presence of that belief that Paul's ethics, neither here no in any other writing, assume the number one focus of His religion. His religion, i.e., his service to God, is in his spirit, in the gospel of His Son (1:9).

2 comments:

Nathan Skipper said...

Amen! Christian duty (Rom. 12ff), grows out of faith in Christ. The one who is led by the Spirit will live sacrificially, especially when exhorted by the apostle to do so. I believe this is what the Reformers would call the third use of the Law. The Law shows the Christian the standard of obedience exemplified in Christ's life and ministry, and the Christian is to follow Christ in that obedience, not out for salvation, but out of gratitude. Not because we want to earn favor with God, but because we want to be like our big brother. That desire to follow is a work of the Spirit as well (Ezek. 36:26-27; John 15:16; Phil. 2:12-13). Therefore, we can say that Sanctification is as much a work of the regenerative power of the Spirit as Justification is. Both are done by faith.

Larry said...

I'd like to point out an article for refernece:

http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/VII/7-3.htm

The author points out that the third use of the Law was understood at least in Calvinism if not Lutheranism also is to have it as a guide.

As for your comment "the one who is led by the Spirit will live sacrificially," I believe the converse of that, if there are instances -- indeed, even one instance -- of truly, in the sight of God, living sacrificially, we are fulfilling in that case the royal law of liberty, as James calls it, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

It is the will that Paul addresses in Romans 6:1-2, not our predictive prowess. "How shall we ...." not "that's impossible." ... "May it never be!", not "it can never be."

So the one who (coram Deo, in the sight of God) lives sacrificially by doing something which is an act that loves one's neighbor, is being led by the Spirit in so doing, and is walking by the Spirit.

Faith works, like a _good_ gun shoots: when you shoot with it. It doesn't work like a bad gun shoots, just popping off. Sanctification is for sons and daughters, not for machines.

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