Romans commentary (chapter five)

The fifth chapter of my preliminary, running commentary on Romans may be found here.

Here are some key points from chapter five that I discuss in the commentary.

1. Because trust in God as revealed in Jesus is the one non-idolatrous trust, we may indeed “boast” in “our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:2). “We boast in our sufferings” (5:3) because when we walk with Jesus we will mark ourselves as threats to the Powers. And they will retaliate, causing us to suffer, leading to endurance that enhances character and produces hope (5:3-4).

2. As evidence that God will reward our faithfulness with healing, Paul points to the presence in our lives right now of God’s love through the Holy Spirit. Paul certainly believes in an ultimate future vindication, but with this reference to the present reality of the Spirit of love, he points to a genuine experience of wholeness with God in the present as well.

3. As a rule, people do not give up their lives for others (5:7). However, God does precisely this. Paul overtly couches the mysteries of Jesus’ crucifixion strictly in terms of God’s love. There is no hint here of retributive justice, no hint of any kind of mechanistic dynamic whereby a “holy” God needs some act of propitiation in order, according to the dictates of a love-less “justice” to offer pardon.

4. We have been made whole (“justified”) by Jesus’ “blood” (5:9; that is, his life of faithfulness unto death leading to his blood being shed as a witness to the transforming character of his life that evoked such hostility from the Powers).

5. God reaches out to us while we are still God’s enemies. God’s initiative is centered on the witness of Jesus, who loved even to the point of a self-sacrificial death at the hands of the Powers (and we should remember that Paul surely had himself in mind here as an “enemy of God’ who used violence against Jesus’ followers).

6. By pointing back to Adam, Paul makes clear that the Law was not to blame. Sin was in the world before God’s revelation to Moses. However, it takes the Law to be able clearly to define sin (idolatry) for what it is. The Law, though, was never intended to solve the problem of sin. What it does is offer guidance for transformative obedience as the appropriate response to God’s mercy – mercy that does indeed solve the problem of sin.

7. Following Adam’s path leads to condemnation. Following Jesus’ path leads to “justification and life for all” (5:18). Adam’s way unleashes the Powers who tighten the spiral of death and injustice, resulting in many people being “made sinners” (5:19).

8. How does “the one man’s obedience” lead to the making just of the many (5:19)? We should think in terms of Jesus’ “saving work” having to do with his model of freedom from the Powers, vindicated by God raising him from the dead, and sustained by the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit among those who do trust in God’s mercy.

9. Paul is committed to the conviction that God’s grace will have the final word. As distressing as the reality of sin is, and as troubling as having the insight to see the deadly dynamics of idolatry might be, Paul insists that God’s mercy will be more powerful yet. Ultimately, the growth of sin will lead to a growth in mercy. The more need there will be God’s healing justice, the more God will bestow healing justice.

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