January 11, 2014.
Just as a heads up, the readings in Genesis over the next few weeks are going to be slightly different than the plan that was given at the beginning because of the chapters that I would like to group together. The changed readings will be posted the day before in the “Tomorrow’s Reading” section. Happy studying!
Daily Reading: Romans 3-4.
Background: Romans 1-2
Highlights and Key Concepts.
1. Jews vs. Gentiles: In the previous chapter, Paul has been discussing the differences between the Jews who had the law and the Gentiles who were without the law. He made the point that even though the specific law of God was given to the Jews through Moses, the Gentiles seemed to keep the law that was set in their heart (moral law) sometimes better than the Jews kept the Law of Moses, which was represented through their circumcision. For this reason, the uncircumcised Gentiles who kept the precepts of the law would be counted as circumcised, for circumcision was a matter of the heart (see Romans 2:12-29). Continuing on with this idea of the differences between the Jews and the Gentiles, Paul points out the advantage of being a Jew was the privilege of being given the specific Law of God which taught them how to be holy and righteous, just as God is holy and righteous. But they had failed time and again, which allowed God to show his righteousness to both the Jews and the Gentiles. So, was the unrighteousness of the Jews good so that they could show the righteousness of God to the Gentiles? If so, why would God condemn them? Should they continue to do evil so that good can be show? Of course not. Then the question is asked, well, are the Jews better than the Gentiles, or were they more righteous? No, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
2. All have fallen short: There is none that is righteous, no not one. Verses 10-18 of this third chapter are a combination of many different citations of mainly different Psalms that Paul pulls from, the point being that there is no human that has ever lived that has been fully righteous. None. That is why Jesus had to come. That is why His perfect life actually meant something. That is why He, and only He, was able to sacrifice Himself, offering His life as a ransom for all (see Hebrews 10:1-18). The Jews were given a wonderful opportunity, but all have sinned. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Thus, there was a need for a better covenant, a covenant that offered salvation to all, not based on works, for there was no one who’s works could make up for their own transgression. This covenant was Jesus. Though Jesus all men who listened to His call would be saved.
3. Faith, not works of the Law: Paul was addressing a group of Jews who had been brought up on a works based faith. The Law was set in place as a shadow of things to come, a list of rules to guide the Jews until the fullness of time when the Christ would come and fulfill all righteousness (see Hebrews 10:1, Galatians 3:23-29 and Matthew 5:17-20). Now that Christ had come and shed His blood, the Old Law was not needed. Jesus did what the Law could not: take away sins. And not just from the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles. The Law was given to the Jews as a covenant between them and the Lord. It was never meant for the Gentiles, except for perhaps the sojourner and visitor in the land of the Jews (as the Jews were supposed to be a light to the world). Christ came to save both Jews and Gentiles, and thus something more than the Law as needed. A Savior was needed. And since Jesus did live a perfect life, He was able to ransom Himself for us, not based on any works that we have done as we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but through His own mercy and grace. Thus we are justified through faith in Christ, and not works of the Law as the Jews were proposing, for it is though His righteousness that we are saved and not our own. It no longer mattered if you were a Jew or a Gentile, God’s message of salvation was now offered to all through Christ Jesus.
Faith and circumcision: Paul talks a lot about circumcision and uncircumcision in these first four chapters and it can be difficult for us to really understand why he would do this. But to the Jews to which he was writing, they would have a much better understanding that when one spoke of circumcision versus uncircumcision, a distinction was being made between the Jews and the Gentiles. Circumcision for the Jews was a big deal, and it was indeed part of the Law, as this was the covenant that was made between God and Abraham (see Genesis 17:9-14). In that passage, it is explicitly said that those who were not circumcised would be cut off from his people. Does Paul imply in this chapter that this was wrong? Does he mean that circumcision really didn’t matter? No. Paul is making a point that it was God who justified through the circumcision. The circumcision didn’t earn any Jew a place in God’s children, it was only by His grace that they were chosen. But it was the sign of their place, and it was necessary. But the sign came before Abraham was physically circumcised, showing that it was God who justified through His decree. Though circumcision was a requirement of the Law, it was not the substance of the Law. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness before he was physically circumcised, as his faith would necessarily lead him to circumcision. This is a defining characteristic of faith as shown further in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, where faith always resulted in action. Today, our faith is placed in Christ Jesus as is evidenced by our actions. We cannot have faith without works (see James 2:24), but rather our faith leads us to obedience. We are justified through this faith.
Summaries, Lessons and Connections.
v. 1-8: The Jews had the advantage over the Gentiles because they had been entrusted with the oracles of God. God had chosen them to be His children out of all the peoples of the earth, and He had given them His specific law that would teach them holiness and righteousness. In many ways, the Gentiles are actually debtors to the Jews (see Romans 15:27). But some of the Jews were faithless, which allowed for the righteousness of God to be shown through His wrath. Both the Northern and Southern tribes of Israel (the divided kingdom) were led away into captivity by Assyria and Babylon, respectively, for their disobedience. Thus, the Gentiles could see God’s righteousness in their condemnation, which in a way was good. So, should they continue to do evil so that good would come from it? If so, why did God condemn? This is what some thought Paul was teaching, but it was not.
v. 9-20: Were the Jews more righteous than the Gentiles? No. All have sinned. All have fallen short. There was none that was righteous, no not one. Paul cites several passages from Psalms in this section to show that what was written before held true. Both the Jews and the Gentiles had not been righteous, and thus a plan was needed to save all men, for the whole world was being held accountable to God.
v. 21-31: Since all have sinned and fallen short, it was necessary for Jesus to come and offer Himself as a propitiation for our sins. We cannot do it on our own, for we are not righteous. But we are justified by His grace, though we do not deserve the gift. We are justified by faith apart from works of the Law, which is a reference to the Law of Moses. The works of the law, even the sacrifices that were to be made, could not remove sin (see Hebrews 10:3-4). It is only by the blood of Christ, the perfect Lamb, that our sins can be washed away (see Acts 22:12-16). It is interesting to note here that verse 25 makes a reference to divine forbearance has looked over the past sins, which is similar to a statement made by Paul in Acts 17:30 in reference to the time before Christ came to this earth.
v. 1-12: Abraham was justified by faith, a faith that would lead him to obedience. Yet it was God who justified, God who gave Abraham the opportunity to become the father of many nations, and God who caused the world to be bless through the Seed of Abraham. The promise was given to him before he was circumcised because it was from God and not of any works that Abraham did, lest his blessing simply be a paycheck for his work. For this reason, Abraham was able to become the father to all who walked in the footsteps of his faith, not just those who were merely circumcised. This was how the spiritual covenant of circumcision, the circumcision of the heart (see Romans 2:29), was transferred to the Gentiles through Christ.
v. 13-25: Since the promise was given to Abraham through faith and before he was physically circumcised, he became the father off all that through faith are justified by Christ, not just the Jew who keeps the Law, but all who put on Christ. There was no longer those who kept the Law and those who were without the law, but all were justified by their faith in Christ Jesus. It is important to note that faith and belief are not exactly the same things, though we use the terms almost interchangeably. The faith of scripture was a faith that lead to actions (see Hebrews 11). See note above about faith and circumcision.
Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 4-5.
Walk by faith, not by sight.