Feast of the Naming & Circumcision of Jesus A LETTER FROM PAUL THE MISSIONARY TO THE SOCIETY OF CHRISTIANS IN ROME The following abridged paraphrase of the Epistle to the Romans aims at presenting in a plain way the continuous sequence of the argument, while suggesting the free epistolary form of the original: My DEAR FELLOW-CHRISTIANS OF ROME, Wherever I go I hear of your faith, and I thank God for it. It is a part of my daily prayers that I may be permitted to visit you. I believe such a visit would do you good, and I am sure it would do me good. In fact, I have tried again and again to get to Rome, but hitherto something has always turned up to prevent me. I shall not feel that my work as missionary to the Gentiles is complete until I have preached in Rome. My mission is a universal one, knowing no bounds of race or culture--naturally, since my message is a universal one. It is a message of God's righteousness, revealed to men on a basis of faith. (Rom. 1:1-17) Apart from this, there is nothing to be seen in the world of today but the Nemesis of sin. Take the pagan world: all men have a knowledge of God by natural religion; but the pagan world has deliberately turned its back upon this knowledge, and, for all its boasted philosophy, has degraded religion into idolatry. The natural consequence is a moral perversity horrible to contemplate. (Rom. 1:18-32) But you, my Jewish friend, need not dwell with complacency upon the sins of the pagan world. You are guilty yourself. Do not mistake God's patience with His people for indulgence. His judgments are impartial. Knowledge or ignorance of the Law of Moses makes no difference here. The pagans have God's law written in their conscience. If they obey it, well; if not, they stand condemned. And as for you--you call yourself a Jew and pride yourself on the Law. But have you kept all its precepts? You are circumcised and so forth: that goes for nothing; God looks at the inner life of motive and affection. An honest pagan is better than a bad Jew in His sight. I do not mean to say there is no advantage in being a Jew: of this more presently ; but read your Bible and take to yourself the hard words of the prophets--spoken, remember, not to heathens, but to people who knew the Law, just as you do. No, Jew and pagan, we are in the same case. No one can stand right before God on the basis of what he has actually done. Law only serves to bring consciousness of guilt. (Rom. 2:1-3:20) But now, Law apart, we have a revelation of God's righteousness, as I was saying (Rom. 1:17). It comes by faith, the faith of Jesus Christ; and it comes to every one, Jew or Gentile, who has faith. We have all sinned, and all of us can be made to stand right with God. That is a free gift to us, due to His graciousness. We are emancipated in Christ Jesus, who is God's appointed means of dealing with sin--a means operating by the devotion of His life, and by faith on our part. It is thus that God, having passed over sins committed in the old days when He held His hand, demonstrates His righteousness in the world of to-day; i.e., it is thus that He both shows Himself righteous, and makes those stand right before Him who have faith in Jesus Christ. No room for boasting here! No distinction of Jew and Gentile here! (Rom. 3:21-31) But what about Abraham? you will say. Did not he win God's graciousness by what he did? Not at all. Read your Bible, and you will find that the promise was given to him before he was circumcised; and the Bible expressly says that "he had faith in God, and that counted for righteousness." The same principle applies to us all. (Rom. 4:1-25) To return to the point, then, we stand right with God on the ground of faith, and we are at peace with Him, come what may. God's love floods our whole being--a love shown in the fact that Christ died for us, not because we were good people for whom anyone might die, but actually while we were sinners. He died, not for His friends, but for His enemies. Very well then, if while we were enemies Christ died for us, surely He will save us now that we are friends! If He reconciled us to God by dying for us, surely He will save us by living for us, and in us. There is something to boast about! (Rom. 5:1-11) Christ died and lives for us all, I say. But, you ask, how can the life and death of one individual have consequences for so many? You believe that we all suffer for Adam's sin; and if so, why should we not all profit by Christ's righteousness? Of course there is really no comparison between the power of evil to propagate itself, and the power of good to win the victory, for that is a matter of God's graciousness. However, you see my point : one man sinned--a whole race suffers for it; one Man lived righteously--a whole race wins life by it. But what about Law? you say. Law only came in by the way, to intensify the consciousness of guilt. (Rom. 5:12-21) (Continued tomorrow).
Quotes, by C. Harold Dodd