Thursday, October 09, 2008

Romans on Grace, Works and Justification

As a Latter-day Saint, there was a time when the letter to the Romans in the New Testament seemed like a theological maze. Whenever I spoke with non-LDS, they would point to verses in it to support their claim that "Grace only" or "Believe and Confess" were the theological underpinnings.

I took up Romans as my own special project, to try to get my arms around it. After many years of study, I have reached several conclusions which I think are helpful to people of all faiths.

1. The letter to the Romans was primarily written to the Jews of the Church at Rome. Romans 2:17, 4:1, 7:1-2. There are parts written to everyone, but Paul repeatedly quotes from the Old Testament and illuminates what the proper understanding of the role of "works" are in salvation.

2. "Works" are almost always meant to be understood as works or deeds of the Law of Moses. There was an article from Biblical Archeology Review in Nov/Dec 1994 which demonstrated that Paul is almost always using the phrase "works/deeds of the Law" as a technical defined term closely corresponding to writings by the same name in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

3. Paul requires obedience as a fundamental condition of faith. Romans 10:16 literally defines it as such.

4. Works differ from obedience and walking or living in Christ because of the intent. Paul talks about works as a way of earning salvation, without a requirement of exercising faith. Obedience not only expresses our faith, but grows it as well.

5. Probably the most fascinating point in Paul's writings, and continuously ignored by those who advocate a "Grace Only" salvation scheme, is Paul's central teachings that through Jesus Christ, ALL people are already saved and justified in the sight of God (Romans 5:18; 7:9); that they retain this state of salvation only by refraining from sin and walking in faith (Rom 6:15-18; 8:1,4) , and failure to do so results in damnation (Rom 8:5-6).

Paul teaches that God is no respector (2:11) of people, and that all have sinned(3:23). He elaborates on this in Romans 5 by pointing out that through Adam, sin entered the world to all people(5:12). He points out, though, that Christ's atonement covers all of mankind's sins, not just those of the believers(5:18). The gift of the Atonement is on all mankind for justification unto life. This becomes the foundational teaching for why we must obey, because the only thing which differentiates believers from non-believers is their attempt to follow Christ and be led by the Spirit. Otherwise they are worthy of damnation, just as the unfaithful are (1:32).

6. Paul's teachings on Election and predestination are exclusively about God's selection of Israel as the channel to deliver prophets and ultimately Christ. This an area of Paul's teachings where he heavily draws on Old Testament verses (Isa 29:16; Jer 18:6) to show it is the corporate body of the children of Israel which God had chosen, and now he had chosen the New Testament Church as the same vehicle for dispensing salvation.

7. Romans 10:9 about confessing and believing is about being taught the Gospel by authorized preachers (10:15) and upon exercising faith, we must be obedient (10:16). Romans 10:13 is from Joel 3:5, and was quoted by Peter at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:21). When asked by those listening what they needed to do, as they felt the Spirit testify their preaching was true (Acts 2:37), since they already BELIEVED in Jesus, they were told to "repent and be baptized...for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost...Save yourselves from this untoward generation." (Acts 2:38-40)

Paul teaches in Romans that it is through water baptism that one puts on Jesus Christ and becomes the New Man (Romans 6:3-5). Living our life in obedience is our confession of who we are, that is, we are Christ's (Rom 7:4, 12:5).

8. Lastly, Romans 8 is teaching that mankind can become like God. The phraseology Paul uses, calling those who are saved the "children of God", "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ", to be glorified (vss17-18), of which receipt of the Spirit is just the beginning of the gifts we are to receive(vs 23), but he notes that what we are now, even with the Spirit, not even a glimmer of what we will become (vss 19-21). Again, this is consistent with the teachings of the Old Testament that man's destiny was to rule over all the creations of God (Rom 4:13, Ps 8:6).

Paul begins and ends the letter to the Romans by mentioning obedience (1:5; 16:19,26), and he laces it 10 more times directly in the letter, then uses language such as "do" (48 times), walk (6 times), follow (3 times), keep(twice) to emphasize our part in our salvation.

'Faith' in Romans results in obedience, and obedience results in our continuing salvation. It is possible to have Faith without obedience. The lack of obedience leads us to death. Thus James and Paul completely agree that Faith without works is dead, being alone.


Clean Cut said...

Great post, and you're right on. And I absolutely LOVE what you've written in your profile.

Aaron said...

Dear Bob,
Read your article on Romans and you made one error. The letter was to Gentile Christians and not Jewish Christians. However, I have been doing textural criticism of Romans and there is a reason that it seems like a theological maze. Paul is predominantly using two models for his theology: Judicial and Participation

Judicial - Paul basically teaches that we all fall short of the law. The ultimate penalty for breaking any single commandment is death. Irregardless if you were Jewish (who made a covenant with God to keep his commandments)or a Gentile who did not know the law. Good works will not erase the damage (a judge wouldn't let a drug smuggler go free because he obeyed all traffic laws). However, Jesus Christ who was righteous and did not need to die did so for the sins of others. It is only by the grace of Christ that one truly is saved. This is where Paul brings up justification by faith. Many Evangelical Christians (predominantly Calvinists) use this in their defense and forget the second theological model. How does one truly have faith in Christ?

Participation - This theology is well known amongst Eastern Orthodoxy (and somewhat in Catholicism), but most Reformed theologies forgets this. In order to receive salvation in Christ, one must participate in His grace (become one with Christ). Baptism by immersion is how one enters this participation (yes, a non-Mormon is telling you baptism is necessary according to Paul). By baptism we die from Christ and are risen with Christ (well, at least not until His return). Also, receiving the Holy Spirit, who is Christ witness, allowed for further participation in Christ. These ideas of Paul are part of Theosis and other important Christian doctrines. Unfortunately, due to TOTAL DEPRAVITY (being born into sin), most Calvinist cannot see baptism as being vital (especially if they are Reformed Baptists).

Now election and predestination, which Calvinists also butcher, is about the prophets, Israelites, and Gentiles. The Prophets were elected to speak on behalf of God, the Israelites where elected to be God's chosen people, and the Gentiles were predestined to be more likely to accept Christ than the Jews (which is in the Septuagint, but not in the later Masoretic texts). The Gentiles were worried if they were fallowing the real messiah because if He was prophesied to the Jews, one had to wonder why not many Jews were converting. Basically, this later was to correct the Christians misconceptions of the Gospel (who lived in Rome). This is why many scholars dubbed this text "The Gospel According to Paul."

I hope this clears up any misconceptions.
- Aaron

Bob the Anti-Anti said...

I appreciate your comments. I will respectfully disagree with your assessment that the letter is to Gentile, not Jewish, Christians. I cite three specific passages which state to whom Paul is addressing those portions of his letter. While there is much addressed to all believers, there is also much which is singling out the Jewish Christians. Verses 2:17 and 4:1 are not even debatable due to their clarity. 7:1-2 can be argued, though I think context says he is once again re-asserting his focus on the Jewish-Christian conversts.

Anyway, I reserve the capricious right to comment further later. It is just very late now, and I am tired.
Thanks for writing in. A well spoken comment, to be sure.

Aaron said...

Dear Bob,
I do feel the letter was written to the Gentiles because this was predominantly who Paul spoke with (although he did admit in his letter that he never spoke with the Christians of Rome before, but did intend to visit). Dr. Ehrman was one New Testament scholar I read that talked about the intertwined theological models and I also believe that he felt the letter was predominantly for the gentiles. However, I will agree that some of the writing was for the Jewish Christians as well.
- Aaron