“…We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles…” (Rom.1:5)
The book of Romans is considered by many to be, next to the gospels themselves, the most important book of the New Testament. It contains, supposedly, the famous “Romans Road of Salvation”, which can be found easily in the text of the epistle, particularly if one completely ignores many of the things that are actually written in it.
That’s right. A funny thing happens when we read the text of the Bible for what it really says, instead of simply what we are told it says. There seems to be a whole lot of “works” being suggested in the “works-free” gospel of Paul. Yes. Could our understanding of righteousness and redemption need tweaking? Let’s walk through the first five verses of Romans and see what we might find:
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rom.1:1)
It should be noted that, as a “bond-servant” of Christ, Paul certainly will not be teaching or presenting “another gospel” than what has been entrusted to him. Particularly not one which stands at odds with those in authority over him. I’m speaking of course of Christ Himself, but also of the Jerusalem Council and specifically James, the head of that Council, who has often been assumed to be at odds with Paul’s message of “free grace” in the famous exhortation we find in chapter 2 of the epistle credited to him. Ditto for the Sermon on the Mount, in which the Lord states that “whoever keeps and teaches (the commandments) shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:19)
So much for the idea of a “law-free gospel”. So much for “Haven’t you read Galatians?”. No. Such ignorance of the sacred texts must be dispensed with now. Because if Paul were to teach contrary to Yeshua and of the Jerusalem Council (a Council that Paul was not on, and was subservient to), he would be a heretic and we would not have the ability to read his letters, since they would have been destroyed.
“…(a gospel) He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures…” (Rom.1:2)
This means that the gospel is not something first declared in the New Testament. No, the gospel is an “Old Testament” idea. It springs from the covenants God has made with Israel, and is centered on Israel entirely. That should give many of us pause from our triumphalism, as we declare “freedom in Christ” in our 10,000 person church auditoriums, complete with tattooed “worship” leaders and latte bars. How Jewish is our hope? Very. Surprise.
“…concerning His son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Rom.1:3)
Hold onto to your seats. This means that Yeshua was fully man, and a direct blood descendant of David. Not a pre-incarnate being that “showed up” on the scene as a baby. (Down here!! It’s really me, God!!). No, Yeshua was a human child, a blood descendant of David. Born of a woman. He had to be weaned, instructed, taught. He grew in favor with God and man (Lk.2:52). Notice, he grew. Not just physically, Luke tells us. But also in wisdom, in spirituality and in stature and esteem. He didn’t start out perfect. Yeshua was never omniscient. He grew in holiness and stature. And the point is: So must we. To ignore the human Jesus is to cop out of our responsibility to follow his example. After all, how can we be God? Yet, this is what the church tells us: Jesus is God and we must always strive to be like him. Really? How am I supposed to do that? I’m not God. Well, guess what, I have good news. The story has been exaggerated. Yeshua was and is a man. An exalted man, yes. A man like none other, yes. A resurrected and (now) immortal man, yes. But a man. And since he’s a man, I can follow his example.
“who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead…” (Rom.1:4)
What proves that Yeshua is the son of God? What proves that he’s the Messiah? Is it his miracles? His teachings? No, it’s one thing and one thing only: the resurrection. When God, through His mighty power, raised Yeshua from the dead, He declared his righteousness. The resurrection is the key to our faith. As Paul declares, “…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Cor.15:14)
And make no mistake, it was God’s power that raised him. He didn’t raise himself. Peter declares as much: “…God raised him up again…” (Acts 2:24)
It’s the fact that God raised Yeshua from the dead, and only that fact, which gave the apostles the courage and conviction to risk their lives preaching the gospel message as the Lord’s ambassadors, and the same fact that causes us to proclaim him today. He has gone before us as the “first fruits of our hope” (1 Cor.15:23)
“through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles…” (Rom.1:5)
Firstly, who is “we”? Paul is not referring to all of us who believe the gospel. He’s referring, in the context of the epistle, to himself and his companions, and perhaps the Council who granted Paul his authority to bring their Acts 15 ruling to the Gentiles as the apostle to the Gentiles.
But what I really want to emphasize is the idea of the “obedience of faith”. What is this, exactly? Well, many will tell you that it is “believing the message of the gospel”. However, even most theologians who promote Replacement Theology will readily admit that this definition of terms falls woefully short. Paul is talking plainly about our “walk”. Meaning, our conduct, as we see here:
“Faith is not intellectual assent to a series of propositions but surrender to the one who asks us to trust him. To surrender is to obey.” (Robert H. Mounce, “New American Commentary on Romans”, pg.62)
So, what we are dealing with here is a proclamation at the beginning of arguably the single most important epistle of the New Testament that the primary message of Paul is to bring the Gentiles into a state of “obedience”, in conduct. Meaning, he wants them to practice righteousness. He rather demands it as the condition of being in the faith, first and foremost.
If you are an evangelical, you are right now probably getting quite tense. Perhaps rather defensive. Your mind is saying “No way…this is not good. This guy is promoting legalism.” No, I’m simply quoting Paul.
You may say, as others have, that “Paul is simply setting the stage for the wonderful, miraculous message of grace that is to follow.” Well, perhaps that’s one way to look at it. But the problem with this assumption is that Paul reiterates this concept of obedience to God’s commandments in chapter 2:
“God…will render to each person according to his deeds.” (Rom.2:5-6)
Whoa……really? Yes. He wraps up the epistle with the same theme:
“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.” (Rom.15:18)
Just what does Paul expect of his audience? It appears he fully expects them, through his preaching and example, to order their lives in godliness according to God’s revealed will, which as he tells Timothy, in his second epistle to his disciple, is found in the Torah.
It’s tempting at this point, if we have been raised within the confines of evangelicalism, to recoil from this idea. But the truth is that Paul, Yeshua, James and the rest of the writers and voices of the New Testament all clearly believed and taught that God’s final judgment is based on deeds, not upon intellectual beliefs or creeds. So, before we defensively say “we are saved by grace alone”, let’s take some time to figure out what is meant by that concept, in apostolic thought.
Before we run to Ephesians 2:8-9, we must keep in mind that this passage in Ephesians (you know, the one that declares we “are saved by grace, not by works, lest anyone should boast”), so overused and often-quoted, must be balanced by the many, many passages in Paul’s writings which define the terms of God’s judgment and the measuring stick that will be used to determine our ultimate destiny, which is our behavior. (In fact, a strong argument can be made, and has been made by many scholars, that the “works” in view in this passage are not the commandments at all, but legal Jewish status, which Acts 15 declared is unnecessary for salvation.)
What we do find in the writings of the apostles, is the idea that if we don’t practice daily repentance and allow God to search our hearts and purify them through His word, and if we don’t actively pursue obedience and righteousness, that we may be running the risk of being like the 5 virgins in Matthew 25 who were left outside the wedding feast, even though they had an invitation in hand.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s leave off with the cryptic and even chilling words of our Lord and Master Yeshua, who declared:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And I will then declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt.7:21-23)