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Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God … So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith” … For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ … Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be conformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, and perfect.
Romans 1:1, 15-17, 3:28, 10:1, 12:1,2
Note: This Bible study builds upon themes and understandings given in the last Mid-Watch Report, a Bible study of Hebrews 10:32-12:2 entitled “The Life of Faith."
Martin Luther, the founder of Lutheranism, did not set out to change history. He did not want to split the western Christian church into Catholic and Protestant factions. However, as a monk charged with teaching Christian theology, he did just that. And he did so primarily because he was convinced of the importance of faith by his study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Two hundred years later another man, John Wesley, also came to play a pivotal role in changing the history of the church and western civilization. The moment that changed Wesley’s life came as he was listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The letter to the Romans contained in our New Testaments touches upon a broad range of important spiritual teachings. It is, of course, a part of a whole, the whole of Scripture; which it celebrates (Romans 15:4). So we must not diminish the importance of other Scripture by acting as if Romans stands alone. Nevertheless, it rightly commands respect as one of the deepest, most far-reaching spiritual works ever authored. And a reading of Romans makes very clear, as does a reading of Hebrews, the central importance of faith. In this discussion we will review some of the important insights concerning faith that the apostle Paul teaches in this letter.
Romans is one of three books of the New Testament which quote Habakkuk 2:4 in their discussion of Christian faith.1 Two of those quotes are by the apostle Paul -- Galatians 3:11 and Romans 1:17. While there continues to be a great deal of discussion as to the meaning of the phrase “from faith to faith” in Romans 1:17, there is no controversy about the major emphasis of this verse; which is that the benefits of the Gospel come to those who place their faith in God and His chosen Christ.
Let us be clear in our understanding of what Paul states here and what Scripture emphasizes over and over. First, faith has to do with trust in God - not in some thing, but in some One - the living God (Hebrews 11:6, 27). Second. faith has to do with God’s plan of salvation - the Gospel (I Timothy 1:15). Third, faith has to do with God working out His plan in us -- a gracious plan by which, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, God transforms us and makes us part of an eternal Kingdom of life, peace, joy, and fellowship (Philippians 2:12-13, Ephesians 2:8-10).
The “righteousness of God” that Paul mentions in 1:17 is not just a characteristic of God Himself, but the power of God demonstrated in strong, saving power in the life of God’s people (1:16). It is the transforming power of God through Jesus Christ to make an individual alive to God and dead to sin for eternity.
If the faith Paul is talking about in Romans is, then, faith in God, how do we come by this faith? Why should we have faith in God?
One of the interesting things about the book of Romans is that Paul addresses this issue in the very first two chapters of his letter. While Paul praises the faith of the Romans as “world renowned” (v. 1: 8), he doesn’t take their faith for granted. Knowing that, as citizens of Rome, the cultural pressure was strong against Christianity, Paul fills the beginning of his letter with the evidence upon which the faith of the Christians of Rome should rest. Most of these are given in the very first verses of chapter 1 -- another in chapter 2. They are:
The goal of Paul’s ministry as an apostle is, on the basis of these evidences, the “obedience of faith.” This phrase is unique to Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:5, 16:26, cf. 15:18, 16:19) and indicates obedience to God that flows from faith; the Kingdom (rule) of God in and over the hearts of the redeemed.
If the result of faith is obedience, why are the authors of Scripture so often critical of those who live by the Law of Moses? The answer lies in the motivation and purpose behind such obedience. Those who obey God’s Law to prove to God that they are worthy of God on their own are motivated by self-righteousness and pride; which only evidences their need of God’s saving grace. Those who obey because of their faith in God, trusting in His righteousness, are motivated by their love of God and by gratitude for His saving work in their lives (Romans 14:7-8, Philippians 3:2-11, II Corinthians 5:14-15). The freedom into which these pass is not a freedom to deny God’s Law -- which would be antinomianism2 -- but a freedom to serve God without fear in the performance of all God asks (Romans 12:1-2, John 3:16-21).3 Thus, in Romans and elsewhere, Paul writes in opposition to using the Law for purposes for which the Law was never intended - in other words, against the abuse of the Law -- not against the Law of Moses itself (Romans 3:21-4:25, Galatians 3:16-29).
The issue of attitude arises not just in relation to the Law of Moses, but to the entire matter of the Gospel itself as well. The point of view expressed by many non-believers, both in the early days of Christianity and today, is that the evidence for Christianity is weak. This would have been driven home especially hard in Rome and in other places where the power of pagan culture was manifest. However, as we review Paul’s letter to the Romans we see quite a different view expressed. According to what Paul presents in the first two chapters of Romans, the evidence that supports faith in God and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is actually overwhelming - so much so that faith is not only hoped for, God demands it (1:5 cf. Exodus 20:1-7, Isaiah 42:8, 43:10, 44:6, 8, 45:5-6, 11, 18, 21-22). The difference between those who accept this evidence and those who do not is, according to Paul, a matter of attitude.
We need to be very careful here. Paul is not saying that we can go out into the world with an attitude of contempt against those who reject the Gospel. Quite the contrary, Christ died for us while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). Paul in Romans 10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2, clearly affirms God’s longsuffering towards those in Israel who stubbornly refused to honor God and His Word.
We need to take careful note: The very same attitude of love and concern for the lost exemplified in God is expected of God’s people as well. Just because abundant evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel exists doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of or has been brought face-to-face with the implications of that evidence. “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Paul challenges the Christians in Rome (10:14). Clearly, there must be a loving concern for the lost - a concern to present the Gospel and evidence for belief in God -- and then to give a call for an appropriate response. This concern was clearly exemplified in the life and ministry of Paul (1:14, 15:20-21). However, what Paul is also saying is that stubborn resistance to the Gospel by unbelievers is not due to a lack of evidence, but to an attitude of purposeful rebellion against God (1:18-32).
An unbeliever is likely to be skeptical that the evidence for the Gospel is overwhelming; but for the Christian this puts the entire matter of faith in a whole new light - which is exactly what Paul wished to do for the Romans right from the start of his letter. For the believer, as well as for the unbeliever, faith is a choice. Growth in faith requires the believer to choose to do the things that aid growth in faith. For example, Abraham was the friend of God. Yet, when God spoke to Abraham about the birth of a son, Abraham had to choose to live by faith in God’s Word. Abraham’s choice of faith, to trust God and His Word, made Abraham the father of all who place faith in God (4:1-25). Abraham’s faith is described here as “being fully assured that what God had promised He was also able to perform.”
In his commentary on Romans, John Murray makes an important point concerning the nature of faith. Speaking in relation to Romans 10:9-10 and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead Murray writes,
In this instance the accent falls upon believing in the heart that God raised him. The heart is the seat and organ of religious consciousness and must not be restricted to the realm of emotions or affections. It is determinative of what a person is morally and religiously and, therefore, embraces the intellective and volitive as well as the emotive.4
This is important, because emotions fluctuate according to many factors, including our physical condition. Further, a faith that is dependent upon outward circumstances is likely to falter when events turn against us. Paul teaches at the end of chapter 8 that Christians may have to face the very worst that this world has to offer - and yet - even in these circumstances, Christians “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (8:37). Clearly the kind of faith that sustains under these conditions must be dependent only upon those things that never change though they may, at the time, be unseen (8:24-25). Abraham, for example, believed in the God Whose nature (love, mercy, justice, power, and so forth) is perfect and unchanging. It is the unchangeable (theologians say “immutable”) nature of God’s goodness and perfection that our faith must be anchored in. It was Abraham’s faith in God that led him to believe what God promised to him.
So, in Romans 12:2 Paul exhorts,
…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.The word translated “world” here is actually “age” in the Greek and refers to the evil course of this world in the time prior to the bodily return of Christ. In modern parlance we might say, “don’t be squeezed into the world’s mold.” Instead, the transformation of the mind by the truths - and the living God - upon which our faith rests -- changes the way we live in this world (age, cf. Titus 2:11-14). It is the “will of God” that is “good and acceptable and perfect” here. The meaning of “prove” here is difficult, but certainly it carries with it the concept that those who do God’s will - who live as part of the kingdom of God, demonstrating the “obedience of faith” -- confirm to themselves and others the kindness, efficacy, and eternity of the Gospel.
Growing in faith, then, is first of all setting one’s mind upon the Gospel - upon God, His Christ, His steadfast love, and the righteousness of God that comes by faith; looking ahead to the eternal blessings that will come to us at the bodily return of Jesus Christ to establish His eternal kingdom over all creation (8:16-23). Faith is strengthened through the teaching of God’s prophets and the apostles of Jesus Christ - which for us is found in the Holy Scriptures - for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17 cf. 1:1, 2, 3:21, 15:4, 16:17-19, 25-27). Fellowship with other believers helps maintain the point of view that Scripture provides (1:12 cf: Hebrews 10:19-25). Growth follows a conscious rejection of the message of those whose teaching is contrary to the teaching of the apostles (16:17-19).5
In the parable of the sower Jesus discusses specific challenges to Christian faith (Matthew 13:1-23). Interestingly, in Romans Paul addresses each one. Jesus taught that Satan steals God’s Word from the hearts of the careless leaving them unaware of their spiritual condition. Paul wrote, “…it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep” (13:12, 13). Jesus taught that many turn away from the Lord during times of affliction or persecution. Paul wrote that Christians should be, “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer “ and should “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:13, 15). Jesus taught that both the problems of this age and the deceitfulness of riches can choke off faith. Paul wrote, “. . . I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18), and for the rich to humble themselves as part of Christ’s Body -- the church -- giving liberally in the service of others (12:4-6, 8, 10, 13).
Finally, there is the great truth that there can be no faith unless God brings it to our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit. We are all, to one extent or another, like the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). There can be no faith without the One Whose faith is unshakeable - the Holy Spirit. As Paul prayed in Romans 15:13,
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
However, we should not think that the Holy Spirit works without means. Concerning Scripture (“the Word of God”), section 1.5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms,
…our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
Notice that assurance rests upon the work of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit works “…by and with the Word…” - not apart from Scripture. When Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit witnessing to our spirits that we are children of God (8:15-16), this inward testimony comes from the Holy Spirit Himself. But the correct manner to seek this is to focus upon the truths of the Gospel presented in Scripture, then assurance follows (Romans 16:25-27). An “assurance” without Truth is presumption or mere feeling. The basis of true assurance is eternal realities. -SMD
1 Habakkuk 2:4 and its relationship to the teaching of the New Testament is also discussed in "The Christian Walk of Faith."
2 “Antinomianism” is a kind of spiritual anarchy in which all rules and regulations are rejected.
3 The New Covenant carries no obligation to obey all of the Law of Moses. The ceremonial, dietary, health, and civil regulations were for the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. Nevertheless, the moral and spiritual teachings of the Law of Moses are unchanging; teachings such as the love of God, the love of one’s neighbor, and separation from occult beliefs and practices (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5:19-21, Revelation 21:8). See “Acts 15: What the Decision of the Jerusalem Council Means Today."
4 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1965), 55.
5 See "Understanding the Apostolic Foundation” and “Striving to be Apostolic;” parts 2 and 3 in our series “Charting a Course for the Church."
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
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The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is copyright © 2001 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this newsletter or the articles within in their entirety as long as the copies are not sold for profit and all copyrights are included, and to quote from the newsletter as long as the meaning of the text is not distorted.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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This page was last updated August 12, 2001.