Romans: Getting a Grip on Romans

Posted on 27 March 2008

Readers’ notes for the whole of Paul’s letter.

Getting a Grip on Romans (or, Letting Romans Get a Grip on Us)

The Big Picture
The congregation at Rome faced a major theological crisis. Indeed, amid a ‘mixed bag’ of ‘messianic’ Jews and converts to Christianity from other cultures, questions about the relationship between the old and new covenant were bound to arise (they still do!). Romans is written ‘into’ this situation; this explains why chapters 9-11 and, even, chapter 4 are there and suggests they were vitally important to Paul’s argument (not tangential thoughts to ‘skip’ over as we tend to do).
The key to Paul’s argument is 1:16, 17. Here is ‘his’ Gospel in a nutshell. It concerns God’s power that, beginning with the Jews, works to bring all sorts and conditions of people to faith: a faith that places a person in a righteous relationship with God, a faith that issues in the ‘life of faith’. The following chapters will demonstrate why righteousness is needed (1:18-4:25), trace out the working of God’s power in salvation (5:1-8:39), necessarily explores the place of the Jews within this framework (9:1-11:36) and concludes with tracing out the way faith issues in the life of faith (12:1-15:33) and some final greetings (16:1-27) that ‘earth’ the letter in the lives of real people like us!

Zooming In
1:18-3:20 comprise the first great section of this letter. The argument is lengthy but relatively simple (though sometimes missed through over-concentration on the details). The underlying ‘Big Issue’ is whether God’s relationship to Jews is different to his dealings with others, the ‘Gentiles’. In answering the question he hones in upon the question of ‘righteousness’. His fundamental point is to be grasped by noting the envelope within which the argument is worked out. Thus, in 1:18 he states that want of righteousness places the individual under the wrath of God, in 3:9-20 he emphasises that ‘None is righteous’. This is his summary of the human condition.

The Hopelessness of Humanity (1:18-3:20)
He works this out by dividing humanity into three groups: 1) the evil (1:18-32), 2) the good (2:1-16) and 3) the Jews (2:17-3:20).

Exploring Paul’s Argument:
1)    1:18-32. The picture in 26-32 (in particular) describes fallen humanity ‘in the raw’. It is a desperate picture of incarnate evil that we recognise as true of many of the environments and people we encounter in our world. Paul is at pains to show that this does not arise through chance or misfortune. The evil we witness is the consequence of deliberate moral choice: the deliberate and inexcusable suppression of the evidence that points to the existence of deity (1:18-20) and that leads to clouded minds (1:21-23) and a perverted morality (1:24ff) and an ‘upside down’ world where black is white (1:32). The links are to be noted, as is God’s role: to allow humanity to reap the consequences of their actions so as to demonstrate the need for righteousness.
2)    2:1-16. Yet the world we live in is also, paradoxically, full of ‘nice’ people who are as horrified as we are by the conduct and world-view of those depicted in 1:18-32. Such can easily stand on their ‘high horse’ and judge others, unaware of their own need of the ‘righteousness’ that Paul is discussing here. This is the apostle’s point in 2:1ff. Such persons ‘practice the same things’ or are ‘tarred with the same brush’.  The critical verse is probably verse 8. Where self is placed first, rather than God and his ways, the end is the same and the disease identical if manifested in less abhorrent ways. Indeed, conscience itself is sufficient witness to the correctness of Paul’s evaluation of the human condition and need.
3)    2:17-3:20. But what about the religious (specifically, here, the Jews)? Paul acknowledges their religious privileges (2:17-20, 3:1,2), but also that those very privileges reveal the need for righteousness is as great among the religious as the bad and good! The Scriptures that lie at the heart of religious life are the very witness to the need for righteousness among the religious since they expose the nature and existence of sin in all people.

The Hopelessness of Humanity and the Generosity of God (3:21-4:25)
The previous section enables Paul to reach his conclusion (3:23): ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God or, put another way, everyone lacks that righteousness that can, alone, secure a favourable verdict when faced by divine anger against sin. In the present verses Paul demonstrates how God has acted to overcome this fundamental human need for righteousness.
The picture presented by Paul is one both of human inability and need ‘cheek by jowl’ with a God who cannot deny his own perfection: his constitutional uprightness. Wrath appears the only ‘option’.
Paul, however, points out that there is a God-given answer. It is the startling climax and awesome conclusion of his discussion so far.
1)    To seek righteousness through personal effort is doomed to failure for, as the preceding discussion has demonstrated, such is a futile exercise since ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’. Whether bad, good or religious the fundamental need is the same and self-help a vain pursuit.
2)    Righteousness is obtained at a) the initiative of God and b) received as a gift, c) through personal trust.
3)    Righteousness is possible because of the a) penal, b) substitutionary sacrifice of Christ Jesus that a) turns away God’s wrath from us, and, b) wipes the slate clean of all that which would otherwise condemn.

Some timely lessons
From 3:27-4:25 Paul seems to have a double focus; the desire to knock the self-righteous down a peg or two and to encourage those who might have felt they were not ‘good enough’ for God. Such are always with us! Thus:
1)    His main point is that the self-confidence of the religious is wholly inappropriate. Very simply, he points out that righteousness has never been obtained except through faith.
2)    The subsidiary point is that the way of faith has always had in view every sort and condition of humanity.   
This is set out, in brief (or in principle) in 3:27-31. It is then demonstrated through the example of Abraham (and, incidentally, David) himself: and no better example was available since he was the ‘founder’ of the Jewish people. Simply, put:
*      Abraham was reckoned as righteous on the basis of his faith (1-5);
*      David concurs that such blessing is contingent upon an act of divine forgiveness not personal effort (6-8);
*      Abraham’s example demonstrates that it is faith that characterises the true believer, not race or the possession of religious privileges (9-12);
*      Further, the Old Testament Scriptures reveal the basic lack of righteousness in ALL (13-14);
*      Hence, righteousness ‘depends on faith’ (16); a faith that has always had Jesus as its object (17-25).
*      He, then, is the one who dealt with sin and established personal righteousness (25)
Thus, by faith, and without any other preparation, supplementation, or addition, men and women may be forgiven.

The fruits of forgiveness and the gift of righteousness
      In 5:1-8:39 Paul seeks to spell out, for every true believer, the practical consequences of such a salvation. He does so by setting before his readers four great freedoms which are theirs if they are ‘in Christ’ by grace through faith. These are: freedom from God’s wrath (chapter 5), from sin (6), Law (7) and death (8).

Freedom from Wrath
In a sense, chapter 5 is ‘back-to-front’. Verses 12-21 set out more fully the basis upon which God’s wrath is turned aside from believing sinners. Verses 1-11 offer the practical blessings that arise. This is typical of Paul and it shows his pastoral concern in these chapters.

Four Great Truths to Live By
      The gift of righteousness, through faith means:
1)    Peace with God (1). No longer enemies and under the wrath of God, believers now enjoy a new relationship with God: harmony. This is good news indeed for men and women, formerly riddled with sin and burdened with guilt and anxiety.
2)    Access to God (2). God has not simply brought to an end the enmity that formerly existed between Him and sinners. To peaceful relations is added the ready welcome of God. All this is ‘through him’, i.e. the Lord Jesus.
3)    Hope (2). For Paul this is the greatest of all such blessings and privileges. In the Bible hope is not vague wishfulness but certain confidence. The believer’s certain confidence is, says Paul, the ‘glory of God’: an all absorbing glory is guaranteed to believers! Note, the importance of this hope and its practical value are seen in Paul’s next words (3,4). Paul is a realist. He knows that the external pressures and burdens and internal vexations and anxieties (even sickness) will affect the children of God. However, hope is a great antidote. Further, here he emphasises that suffering develops Christian graces when accompanied by hope…. and such fits us for glory! Thus, in hope we can rejoice even amid the anguish of suffering.
4)    Assurance (5). This runs throughout these chapters: but is especially seen here. We shall not be disappointed because God has: 1) shown us in history His love (6ff) and 2) by His Spirit gifted to us assures us that we are the beneficiaries of all that is spoken of here.
    In 5: 6-11 this is more fully explained. Believers can confidently face the certain future of ‘the glory of God’ (2) for three reasons.
  a) Our condition when we were saved. God’s love in salvation was shown to a people who were:
*      lawbreakers (‘sinners’, 8);
*      careless of God (‘ungodly’, 6);
*      enemies of God (10).
*      powerless to do anything about it (6).
      b) It was in such a helpless situation that God acted (8):
*      visibly, in history in a love vividly portrayed in the death of His Son;
*      to this He added the gift of the Holy Spirit (5).
On these two great facts, redemption accomplished and applied, lie the basis of our knowledge of God’s love.
      c) Hence, salvation is for ever (9-11). Paul’s argument is:
*      that God has accomplished and applied the work of Christ. But salvation in its fullest sense is still awaited. Only at the end of the world will this salvation be finally manifested. However, the very nature of salvation secures the believer’s future. Salvation is ‘in sure and certain hope’.
*      God, who has already undertaken such a remarkable work for His enemies will surely complete it for friends (9f).
Thus the nature of salvation and the character of God guarantee the final glory of all true believers.
      d) The exalted work of Jesus achieves the same end (10). Paul probably has the intercession of Jesus in mind (see 8:34).

Facing the Past
      Having set out the blessings that result from the gift of righteousness, Paul explains more fully the basis of his teaching by reference to a universal fact: the inescapable effect of the past on what we are. He notes:
1)    The inescapable consequences of Adam’s sin on us. Paul notes that just as our actions affect the future of ourselves and others (especially our dependents) so Adam’s sin had the same consequences. They were three:
*      sin was ‘unleashed’ into the world. We live in a world where we cannot escape the consequences of that initial sin. Thus, we too, sin (12).
*      condemnation (16) which was the experience of primal man when he sinned is also our inescapable lot. So is the sequel;
*      death reigns over us (a vivid metaphor of our plight). See 14,17. Thus we all submit to it but with a profound sense that death is unnatural and ‘wrong’.
      And if, foolishly, we try to escape such a verdict by professing that we have not sinned as Adam did (14) or by protesting our ignorance of wherein we have sinned, then Paul’s response is twofold:
*      death itself is sufficient proof of our condemnation;
*      the law of God, properly applied, can only establish the propriety of Paul’s verdict (20).
      This, then, is our inevitable condition as descendants of Adam. However, this is not the end of Paul’s message. He adds:
2)    The inescapable consequences of Jesus’ righteousness for His children. Paul sets before us Jesus as the ‘last Adam’ who has utterly overturned the damage caused by the first Adam. He teaches that just as the action of the first Adam had devastating consequences for us, so the ‘acts of righteousness’ (Jesus’ active obedience and, especially, His death) have similar inevitable results.
*      grace reigns in righteousness (21). Accounted righteous we will be righteous: and, in measure, become so now.
*      justification, aquittal (16), the counterpart of condenmnation in Adam, follows.
*      life (17), which, for Paul, embraces ‘eternal life’ (21) and the present enjoyment of the ‘life of the eternal’, results.
      Thus, for the believer, Jesus ‘neutralises’ the inevitable consequences of Adam’s sin on us: meeting each need arising from sin, condemnation and death.
3)    we must, in this context, never lose sight of the glorious grace of God. This theme has a prominent place here. The ‘gift’ is not like the trespass (15). Thus:
*      sin ‘entered’ the world, but grace ‘overflows’ (12,15) because condemnation followed sin but justification followed innumerable transgressions (16).
*      death reigned, but by grace we shall reign in life (17).
But, and this is Paul’s final word (as it is in each of the next three chapters, see 6:23; 7:25a; 8:39), it is ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Freedom from Sin
In 6:1-23 the second of the freedoms righteousness brings is examined. Firstly, in 1-14, Paul teaches two simple complimentary truths:
1)    Men and women without Christ are slaves to sin and under its mastery and reign (6,9,12). This is no new thought in Romans. It has been spelt out in detail in 1:18-3:31. Paul, however, teaches here that this fact is no excuse for a sinful life among those who claim to be believers. This is because:
2)    Christians are servants of a different master. They are ‘in Christ’ (11) and benefit from all that He is and has accomplished.
      In particular, at conversion (notice the past tenses):
*      they were freed from servitude to sin because Jesus, their new master, defeated sin (a fact seen in His resurrection and symbolised in their baptism, verses 3,4 );
*      they were, additionally, ushered into eternal life (‘the glory of the Father’, verse 4). A new life-style is, therefore, inevitable (4). Christians live to God (10).
      Thus, Paul teaches, not only is the power of the former life broken but a new, quite different, power is at work in the Christian.
The application inevitably follows:
a)    Sin is not to reign (12). There is no longer any reason it should.
b)    We are to offer yourselves to God (13), he says, as was once impossible, but is now inevitable since ‘sin shall not be your master, because you are under grace’ (14).
In 15-23, Paul re-enforces his doctrine by appealing to an example drawn from the slave market. He does this to answer two misunderstandings of his teaching:
1)    Two great temptations. There have always been two different reactions to Paul’s teaching that Christians are ‘free’ from sin (14). On the one hand, there are those who find it inconceivable that men and women will be able to do what they should if they are not co-erced to it by rules. On the other hand, there are those who reason that if they are free from sin then what they ‘do’ cannot affect the ‘real’ them. At its most extreme this view is obviously in error, yet, all to often a watered down version of it prevails in our own hearts.
      Thus, Paul quotes (15) words that could easily have been on the lips of either group: the one as a condemnation of him, the other as a distorted approval of him and their sinful ways. He replies by offering:
      (2) The Biblical Response. He says,
*      On the one hand, people without righteousness are slaves to sin (16,20). Opposed to God and His ways they pursue a course of action that increasingly rejects His ways for them (19). It is this that constitutes their sin. Its result is ‘death’: here to be understood in its widest biblical sense: dead to sin, they must suffer physical dissolution and the eternal punishment of God against sinners.
*      On the other hand, Paul speaks of those who have been delivered from one slave master into the hands of another (18). These are those whose new master can be variously described as ‘obedience’ (16), ‘righteousness’ (18), even God himself (22). These three things are deliberately linked to emphasise that a slave of God is one who obeys God and whose obedience is seen in a moral life that conforms to God’s ethical programme (see, especially, verse 17). Thus, a Christian must lead a holy life (19) and such a life is, alone, able to realise the Christian’s hope: ‘eternal life’ (22).
*      This is the crunch: one cannot be a servant of two masters. Service to God must lead to obedience to him. But it is that way round. ‘Law’ does not produce Christian obedience (see, further, on chapter 7) but service to God must, because a believer is one who has been delivered to the ‘form of teaching’ (17) that produces Christian conduct.
*      We love to quote verse 23. But the only way that we can prove it applies to us is if verse 17 is true of us. Equally, however, we must not lose sight of Paul’s total rejection of works-righteousness. We are saved by grace alone: but a grace that produces the fruit of obedience.
Freedom from Law
In chapter 7, Paul explores the third freedom effected through the gift of righteousness. With one eye on the Jewish ‘party’ who are never far from his thoughts here, he says:
1)    God has revealed in His Law the standard of a good and holy life. This is very clearly stated by Paul in 12 (where he describes the Law as holy, righteous and good), 13 (where it is, again, good) and 14 (where he tells us it is spiritual). It is, after all, God’s law (22), a transcript of His own perfection. Thus, the great principles of His Law (especially as perfectly revealed in Jesus) remain the standard of a godly life that pleases God. They are the standard for life before God (10). Despite much misunderstanding of Paul, he never departs from this high view of the Law.
2)    However, he notes, the inability of human nature to conform to God’s standard in the Law. This is the other great truth that Paul teaches in this chapter. Mankind are ‘flesh’ (5). For Paul this meant two things: 1) it pointed to the basic weakness of human nature and to the fact that 2) it was a nature that was in the control of sin (8). The result was (and is) inevitable: a) Though the Law reveals sin as rebellion against God (7), b) it is powerless to effect a godly life (8ff). Indeed, it actually provokes sin. This is true of everyone who tries to live a godly life in their own strength (14ff). On the one hand, such a person knows what is right and even desires to do good, delighting in God’s standards (see, esp. 18b). However, because of the weakness and sinful inclination of the flesh it is impossible to do what God demands. Inevitable failure and utter wretchedness are the only possible sequel (21-24). The Law simply cannot produce a godly life.
3)    The Christian is freed from the Law (1-6). Paul clearly doesn’t mean we are to be lawless. This misunderstanding of his teaching does not square with (1) above. The freedom of which he speaks, therefore, is freedom from the sequence of Law > sin > death. A freedom which, on the contrary, leads from grace > righteousness > life and, thus, enables the believer to live a godly life, in conformity to God’s demands. This freedom is the privilege of the Christian because the power of the Law is broken in Christ. Obedience to Him, produced by the new nature given by the Holy Spirit can achieve what the Law can never do.
      Paul paints on a large canvas. His teaching elsewhere shows that he is not advocating sinless perfection or suggesting that the Christian’s life is free from the experience of battle with sin. However, he is teaching that a true Christian will find spiritual resources through Christ Jesus that will enable him to live a progressively more godly life. Paul thus highlights one great, fundamental truth. We will grow in godliness, not simply by knowing what God demands of us (or even approving those demands) but by our growing knowledge of and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, alone, the resources of a godly life are to be found. Moral unbelievers need to recognise the validity of Paul’s analysis of the power of sin through the Law. Such will drive them to Jesus. As believers, too, we must ensure that we do not build on any other foundation than that of the Lord Jesus. 
Freedom from Death
Paul now, in chapter 8, explores how a Christian is also free from ‘the last great enemy’, namely, death. He says,
The true Christian is free from the ‘penal servitude’ of sin, Law and death (8:1-2). These verses are really a reminder of Paul’s argument up to this point. The Christian is no longer a habitual sinner as formerly, neither does the Law provoke to sin. Thus, the inevitable sequence sin > Law > death has been broken. ‘No condemnation’ emphasises this, for here it means, not freedom from judgement, but freedom from the regime and power of sin that leads to ‘death’.
      Two reasons are given for Paul’s conclusion:
*      Jesus broke the power of sin in human flesh (3). Jesus, reminds Paul, became a man: a man who had the same weak human nature that we all have and which has ensnared us all. But Jesus won a victory over it and, thus, in the cross, broke its power. All the resources that sin and Law could bring against Jesus, even death, were cast at him. Yet he conquered and, in him, we are ‘more than conquerors’ too. 
*      However, the Christian is also under a new power and has a new nature (4). The old, weak nature has been replaced by a new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit: a nature that, with his help, is able to produce a godly life that is pleasing to God and in conformity with his Law.
      The consequence is as inevitable as it is glorious: death itself is conquered. This great truth occupies the remainder of chapter 8. Thus Paul teaches:
*      The inevitability of a victorious Christian Life. In the believer, a weak nature that, through sin and Law leads to death, has been replaced by a nature empowered by the Spirit/ It follows that righteousness and life must result. This is the confident stance taken up by the apostle in verses 5 and following. On the one hand, those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (8). Conversely, the person controlled by the Spirit (as every Christian is, according to Paul, see verse 9) has victory over sin and a righteous life must result. But even this is not all. The victory will find its consummation when even the mortal body will be raised to resurrection life: just as that of the Lord Jesus (10-11). Victory over sin thus anticipates and guarantees our final victory over death.
*      The inevitability of Spiritual Warfare. Much that Paul has taught in 6:1-8:11 might encourage the reader or hearer to assume that the experience of battle with sin is, or ought to be, outside the experience of the true Christian. This misunderstanding is exposed in 12-17. Paul has already remarked that the Christian has a foot in two different worlds (10). He or she has a weak nature under the power of sin as well as a renewed nature under the power of the Holy Spirit. This makes conflict inevitable: the two natures engage in warfare against each other. This makes it necessary for the believer to make a conscious choice and to seek the power of the Spirit to live to God (12, 13). Yet, it is the presence of the Spirit that makes ultimate victory certain. Despite the heat of the battle and the inevitable lapses, the true Christian must experience victory.
In this context, Paul offers two incentives to victory (15-17):
*      The Holy Spirit’s testimony to our Sonship (15). One of the great facts of Christian experience is that we come to know God as Father. This confirms our Sonship and assures us of our final glory (17). Such must be an encouragement to victory: He has already declared us conquerors.
*      The inner witness of the Holy Spirit (16). Paul refers to the subjective experience that assures us that we are in Him. ‘You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart’. This latter may sometimes come and go. However, each are great encouragements to faithfulness and victory.
All this is the background against which Paul’s words in 18-30 are to be understood. He offers four encouragements to suffering Christians:
*      The certainty of ultimate freedom from the frustrations of living in a fallen world (18-21). In a fallen world:
1)      nature, for all its beauty, is ‘red in tooth and claw’;
2)      there is ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ to offset the many achievements which the human race accomplishes and,
3)      there is the final indignity and absurdity of death to arouse the complaint ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
The Christian cannot escape the frustrations, agony and pain that these facts arouse. It is this ‘subjection to frustration’ (20) and ‘bondage to decay’ (21) of which Paul speaks. As a realist, he knows the anguish these things create, above all, in the believer.
What encouragement may be gained, then, from man’s most hurtful experiences?
1)    Paul has already offered one: ‘we share in his sufferings’ (17). God, in Christ, passed through the sufferings of sinful humanity before he achieved his reward. This was no accident. It was the very path to glory: it could not be by-passed. Thus, for the believer, too, suffering actually has the effect of producing glory. To this fact Paul adds two others.
2)    the sheer greatness of the glory to come should put an altogether different perspective upon present suffering (18).
3)    In God’s purpose the vanity and its painful consequences are ‘birth pangs’: not the final agonies presaging death but the pains that immediately precede life (19-21). These considerations, suggests Paul, radically affect the way a Christian views suffering: though suffering there inevitably will be (22).
*      The indwelling of the Holy Spirit (22-25). In this paragraph Paul indicates that, perhaps surprisingly, though the believer has the Holy Spirit the suffering of which he has spoken is nevertheless an ever-present reality to the Christian. But the very presence of the Holy Spirit is a comfort. We long for freedom from the curse (23). And the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of precisely that. He it is who guarantees our future glory. In this way the certainty of the future glory is our guaranteed future.
*      Divine power amid present weakness (26-27). Yet the certainty of future glory and the fact that it will be ours needs supplementation. We need adequate resources to meet us while we suffer as we await the final revelation of God’s glory. It is with this need in mind that Paul wrote these words. The agonies of life in this world of sin and death often render us speechless, even in prayer. Yet that very speechless agony is the voice of the Spirit: a Spirit who inevitably pleads before the Father in accordance with his will. The sequel is obvious. In our deepest needs our prayers are most eloquent when they reach the Father: a Father whose character demands he always meets the needs of his children. Perhaps, this is the point of verse 28 which could be translated, ‘For we know that the Spirit works for the good of all those who love God’.
*      The eternal purpose of God (28-30). This, for Paul, is the final and greatest encouragement to suffering believers. It is not simply that God plans to put the present sorry state right in the next age. It is also that before the present age he had a dedicated purpose to establish such a glory upon his children (29, and see Ephesians 1:4). Thus his discriminating love (‘foreknew’) was accompanied by his intention to bring such individuals to glory (‘predestined’): a glory here defined as nothing less than the resurrection life of the Son. This great purpose has been worked out in time in each true believer. Effective calling has resulted in justification (chapter 5) for all those predestined. Passing over the present life of the believer, Paul immediately jumps to the consummation of redemption, ‘glorification’ and speaks of it by means of a prophetic perfect: it is as certain as an event in the past. In this way the inevitability of God’s final purpose is eloquently emphasised.
What a wonderful pastoral heart the realist Paul had. He did not deny the agonies of Christian experience, but tenderly dealt with them and drew upon every available ground to comfort the suffering believer.
In the concluding verses in this chapter (31-39) Paul draws together his earlier thoughts and, especially in the light of the suffering of believers of which he has so recently spoken, teaches four wonderful guarantees upon which the Christian disciple can build. But before he comes to these Paul, ever the realist, emphasises the nature of suffering and the greatness of the opposition that faces every Christian believer. Thus, he refers to
a)    The sufferings that inevitably dog the path of every believer (35b). He mentions seven: probably using a ‘perfect’ number to represent all suffering.
b)    Especially, the sufferings that result from being a Christian (36).
c)    Finally, he cites 10 (another perfect number) things that constantly wage war against the Christian (37-39a). The precise meaning of the different words does not obscure the fact that Paul is speaking of all the visible and invisible powers that are mustered in warlike array against the Christian.
Thus, Paul has no doubts concerning the difficulties which believers face: difficulties that might easily lead to discouragement and defeat. However, it is precisely this background that forms the basis of his victorious doxology. How can this be so?
Four wonderful guarantees. Discouragement, says Paul, is turned to victory as the believer reckons with each of these great truths. In their purpose they may be grouped into two pairs in a ‘chiastic’ arrangement (a-b-b-a). The two central guarantees deal with security from guilt and the other two refer to security amid trial and opposition. However, we need also to notice that the first two relate to guarantees that are to be found in the Father; the second two describe securities found in the Son. Thus, whatever the trial, both the Father and the Son are on the side of the believer. In particular, note:
*      The guarantee of God’s favour (31-32). Fearsome powers assault the Christian. In the face of such might the Christian may fear that he will lose hold on God. But, says Paul, the important thing is not that we are on his side so much as that he is on ours. This guarantees the final impotence of all those who assail us. The certainty of this is secured not by mere words but by the mighty works of God (32), above all, the fact that he did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. This teaches two things:
1)      Since God has done the hardest thing to secure our acceptance with Himself, he will not, he cannot default in anything less. Thus, He cannot fail to be always ‘for us’.
2)      In particular, he did not ‘spare’ his son from the full penalty of sin and wrath. He did all that was necessary to secure our eternal release: stopping at nothing. How then can any other obstacle prove too great for him.
A further point needs to be noted. Paul speaks of ‘us all’. In the context this has a special meaning: it refers to all the individuals who have been the object of God’s discriminating and particular love. Thus, Paul emphasises the individual attention that God shows for every true believer. It is not so much that he is for believers as that he is for me. Thus, to me is guaranteed ‘all things’: all the promised blessings of salvation. This individual and yet comprehensive attention guarantees that no one can lack the resources that will eternally bind the believer to his Lord.
*      The guarantee of Christ’s love (35-39). The favour of the Father is accompanied by the love of the Son: the two inextricably bound together. Thus secure, the believer has nothing to fear whatever the scale of present difficulties and hostilities.
*      The guarantee of God’s choice (33). The previous two guarantees were intended to secure the believer in the face of overwhelming trial and opposition. The second group of two trials are intended to encourage the believer when tempted to despair by guilt, the foe within.  Verses 31-2 pointed to the gift of the Son to meet men and women’s needs. Paul here turns more specifically to the Lord’s ‘council’ before eternity. Both the plans and the actions of God are thus intended to provide us with security.  Such security is not to be found in ones present frame of mind, but in the eternal plans of God for each of his children. Thus, when tempted through sin to despair the Christian has an impregnable fortress on which to stand: the electing love of God.
*      The guarantee of Christ’s prayers (34). Jesus, Paul teaches, is in the place of power engaged in prayer for the believer. He ‘ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:25). This, together with the choice of the Father, secures the believer against the alarms of guilt. It is also interesting to note that whereas, in the first guarantee, Paul appealed to the past actions of God and, in the third, he looked to the eternal purpose of the Father, here he appeals to the present activity of the Son. Thus, in a comforting consistency, the plans and actions of God, both in the past and the present, are marshalled together by the apostle to comfort believers.
*      The certainty of overwhelming victory (37). Paul uses a superlative verb. No mere victory ‘by the skin of the teeth’ is described. Total and absolute victory is described and guaranteed! Four freedoms secured by four such guarantees can have no other result.
Paul does not, of course, with these words intend to encourage lazy discipleship. We are to strive with all our might to make ‘our calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10). However, while engaged in such a task we are no to be anxious when we are surrounded by ‘fightings and fears within, without’. God, though Jesus Christ our Lord guarantees to stand and fight with us (39, and compare how each of chapters 5-8 conclude with similar words).
The ‘Jewish’ Question
Paul has spent a great deal of time in his letter in showing the Gospel message to be one of salvation by grace. He has sought, moreover, to show how his teaching is fully in accord with the teachings of the Old Testament. However, he knew only too well (for he had once been among their number) that the majority of the Jewish nation had not welcomed Jesus as the promised Messiah. The point has been reached, therefore, where it is necessary for Paul to tackle the inevitable difficulties this fact would create for both Jews and Gentiles: the former might use it to excuse belief, the latter might find it an obstacle to faith. This issue that, as we have noted above, lies behind much that is written in this letter, surfaces here and dominates Paul’s discussion in the next three chapters (9-11).
The Issue
In 9:1-5 Paul may well be reflecting the words of Jewish objectors. They argued that their privileges and the promises of God placed the Lord under an obligation to them. If this were conceded by the apostle then his whole teaching would be undermined and destroyed. Thus, though Paul does not deny their tremendous privileges, even to the extent of declaring that ‘according to the flesh’ God incarnate was born among them (5), he does deny that it placed God under an obligation to them.
The Response: God acts in sovereign grace
Paul replies to his objectors by making the following response:
*      God has always dealt with men and women on the basis of His free and sovereign choice (6-13). The apostle makes two points:
1)      In the Old Testament God dealt with people on the basis of his promise not on the basis of birth (6-9). The Jews were inclined to appeal to their racial descent from Abraham. But, says Paul, not all the children of Abraham were the heirs of God ‘s promise.
2)      Moreover, this was characteristic of God’s dealings (10-13). God loved Jacob, not Esau though the two were both children of the same woman, as twins were conceived at the same time and even though Esau was the firstborn! Moreover, he did so before they were born (Genesis 25:23). In this way, says Paul, the Scriptures establish that God saves men according to his free and sovereign choice. No one has any claim on God. This teaching, which effectively answers Paul’s objectors, is a lesson that we, too, need to learn. Neither birth nor merit places God under any obligation to us. Even faith is evidence of God’s sovereignty (Ephesians 2:8,9). Salvation is entirely by free and sovereign grace.
*      God’s sovereign choice is just and merciful (14-29). Two objections are almost inevitably raised against such biblical teaching: 1) ‘But its not fair’, and 2) ‘How can God blame me?‘ Paul deals with these two questions in 14-17 and 18-24. Paul’s argument is simple. Since all men and women are the enemies of God and have no claim on him the appeal to justice is totally invalid. Rather than speak of justice, men and women should marvel at God’s mercy. Only those who do not take their sinful condition seriously and still think in terms of merit and deserving can complain of injustice with God (16-18). It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not all consumed! Thus, Paul does not disagree with his objector (19). He would be the first to acknowledge with Calvin, that ‘every drop of rain falls by divine decree’. However, he does not regard this as an objection to his teaching. The Creator has complete authority to dispose of his creation as he wills. This is not Paul’s final word: later he will deal with human responsibility (9:30 and the next verses). However, he does not diminish in any way the sovereign authority of God. If God chooses to act in such a way, says Paul, no valid complaint can be raised against him (22-24).
*      The evidence of Scripture itself (25-29). Paul concludes this section by showing that his teaching throughout the 29 verses is fully in accord with the Old Testament Scriptures. Both Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 establish that God works in sovereign mercy; Isaiah 10:22,23 shows that God did not intend to deal with ‘Israel’ en masse but would deal, in mercy, with and through some of the people (see also Isaiah 1:9).
There is always difficulty in evaluating the activity of God if we start with ourselves and our own standards. But, says Paul, we must not think in this way. We must look at ourselves as the sinful and helpless creatures of a Creator God. Then we can have no complaint at the Bible teaching.
The Response: human beings are responsible for themselves
But this is not the complete story. Thus in 9:30-10:21 Paul teaches that it was also the Jews fault that they had not welcomed Jesus. This is always the paradoxical truth about rejection of the Gospel: men refuse to undertake their proper responsibility and God acts in sovereign freedom. Yet neither can be resolved into the other so as to either deny human responsibility or reject divine sovereignty. In this the apostle Paul is a good deal more balanced than many who have followed him: content with a mysterious and yet utterly true fact.
Paul is, of course, dealing with a problem that more urgently required an answer in his day than it does in ours. Yet, there is still much of vital importance for us to learn from these verses. Thus he teaches:
*      World Religions are of two sorts (10:5-13). Though Paul is only comparing the religion of contemporary Judaism with Christianity his teaching does make this wider point. On the one hand, there is misconceived, man-made religion that believes that religious life is built around human merits and achievements. Thus the apostle deliberately misuses Leviticus 18:5 (as doubtless his contemporaries did) to set forth the sort of thinking that dominates all religions untouched by the Christian message (5). On the other hand, he concludes the same paragraph by setting out the most basic features of the Christian faith (9-13). Salvation is universally available (see, especially, 11-13) to those who do not start with themselves and what they may think they are or can achieve but with what Jesus has done. His death and resurrection (the subject of verses 6-11) is the source of righteousness, through faith. This is not the first time that Paul has said this. It has occupied most of the earlier part of the Epistle. But it is so important that Paul mentions it yet again. There is a world of difference, an irreconcilable difference, between true Christianity and all other religions.
*      It is all too easy to be very religious but hated by God (1-4). This, Paul realised, was the tragedy of the Jews. There was no doubting their religious zeal (2 and compare Acts 26:5,8; Galatians 1:14). Moreover, they were zealous for the right thing: the favour of God ( or ‘righteousness’, verse 3). But their great and fatal failing was that they thought that it could be achieved by their own efforts. Says Paul, ‘they sought to establish their own’ (3). In so doing they failed to understand that Jesus brought to an end all such self-seeking (4).
*      All too often there is no excuse for such conduct (14-21). It was the ultimate tragedy of the Jews that they really did know better. It was not as if, says the apostle, they had not been taught the truth (14-15). They had received the testimony of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament heralds of the Gospel, even Jesus Himself (14-17). Moreover, they had understood what they heard (18-20). However, there is a world of difference between hearing and actually listening. And this was their failing: a failing made worse by the fact that the everlasting arms were spread open in unwearied love (21).
*      The sad sequel (9:30-33). Zealous religious people miss what they are looking for while others are ‘surprised’ by finding something they seldom if ever have sought. And it is their own foolish fault, tripping over the very one whom could have been their salvation!
The Final Word
But this cannot be Paul’s final word. The question remains, ‘Has not God’s word failed?‘ (9:6), or, put more pointedly, ‘Did God reject His people? (11:1). It is to this question that Paul now turns and, in so doing, teaches some truths that are of vital importance.
*      God will never reject His people (1-10). There were times in the history of the Jewish nation when the people seemed to have rejected the LORD. This had been true, for example, when Elijah undertook his ministry (2-4). However, the important thing, says Paul, was not that many rejected the LORD but that he reserved for himself a remnant. Thus, though the majority of the people (7-10) had turned away from the LORD, his remnant (chosen by grace) stood as a testimony that he had not rejected his people.
*      God has a glorious purpose for His people (11-32). Paul’s argument in this section is fairly clear. At the present time, says the apostle, the Jewish race have largely rejected the Gospel. There is a double divine purpose in this. On the one hand rejection by the Jews has hastened the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. On the other hand, the spread of the Gospel worldwide will, at length, provoke the Jewish race to repentance and faith. Thus,  Paul looks to the time when,
a)    the Gospel will have had widespread success throughout the world. The pleroma (‘fulness’) of the Gentiles (25) is clearly in parallel to verse 12 where the pleroma of the Jews is mentioned. In the context the word speaks of a general (but not necessarily universal) welcoming of the Gospel message. In addition to this,
b)    b) there will be a general turning of the Jewish race to Jesus [though there is no thought of national restoration here]: see verses 26-27, especially. At this time the widespread welcoming of the Gospel will lead to the ingathering of the Jews and the ingathering of the Jews will lead to the unparalleled blessing of God upon the church (15). In this mysterious way God will show that all stand under his judgement and yet will lead Jews and Gentiles alike to the place where they will find mercy (32). No doubt it was this hope that drove Paul out to save some (14). It must have been these truths that explained his confident missionary strategy (even in the midst of so much difficulty, danger and discouragement). It remains a powerful incentive to us too.
Paul acknowledges the wisdom and the knowledge of God to transcend all human understanding, even when the mystery is revealed (25). What he does know is that God is worthy of wonder, awe and praise (33-36). Such great vistas as are given us here ought to provoke the same spirit in us and arouse the necessary strength to go out confidently into the world to spend and be spent for him.
Walking the Walk
A major snare stands in the way of all Christians. It is that assenting to and even delighting in the great truths of the Gospel (those which Paul has set out in the first eleven chapters of his epistle) we fail to live a godly life. It was with danger in mind that Paul wrote the last great section of his epistle, chapters 12-16. In so doing he, a) gives extensive examples of Christian morality: just in case we are inclined to suggest we lack clear directions; b) he begins this section with one of the most significant ‘therefore’s’ in the Bible. This ‘therefore’ looks back to all that has gone before and emphasises that the earlier truths are only truly received where they issue in a life which is consistent with them since a holy life is the inevitable fruit of a true profession. And yet such godliness does not come without effort. Thus in the opening two verses of chapter 12 Paul sets out the motive, character and means of a godly life.
The motive for a godly life (1a). In 11:32 Paul concluded the great doctrinal section of his letter by saying, ‘God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all’. It is that compassionate pity that led the LORD God to seek us out and win us, if we are believers. The tender care of a mother for her child has been extended to us by our Creator: while we were yet his enemies. At great cost he has reconciled us to Himself. As heirs of such mercy we are to seek to live to his praise and delight. How can we do anything else? Watts once said, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’. If we are not motivated by such mercy as his we must, inevitably, be strangers to it. There can be no other explanation.
The character of a godly life (1b). Two vital points are made by Paul:
*      Godliness relates to the body. There is always a tendency to think of godliness as an inward, spiritual thing with only a minimal relationship to outward conduct. Paul knew this: and this explains his emphasis. There is no inner godliness, he teaches, unless it is seen in the lifestyle of the believer. This explains his moral and ethical demands in these chapters.
*      A Christian is called to worship God: and true worship is found in a godly life. Interestingly the New Testament never describes the meeting together of God’s people as worship! We do not worship God when we meet together unless we already are worshippers: in the whole of our lives. And God is worshipped in a godly life.
The means to a godly life (2). Paul’s teaching is both simple and yet profound. He begins by stressing the vital importance of the mind. We are what we think, since we act on the basis of how we perceive and understand things. Thus, says Paul, we need to think straight! When we do think straight we will then be able to recognise, approve and do the right thing. How, then, is this to we worked out in detail. Paul may surprise us with his first point.
Godliness and the local church
A true believer delights in the fellowship of the local church. A Christian is someone who is ‘in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). But, as Paul never tires of reminding his readers, that to be ‘in Christ’ means to be a member of the body of Christ, the Church. And this is not merely a mystical relationship. Rather it lies at the heart of the tremendous emphasis that the New Testament puts on the ‘local church’. A body is not a body but a severed corpse if its members are not in a living relationship with one another. Thus the mark of a ‘new creation’ is seen in its desire for fellowship in a local church. Spiritual life is first and foremost life in community. This is Paul’s point in 12:3-8.
The local church is a multi-gifted community. No member of the body is useless, every part has a role, usually differing from the others, but together helping the body to function properly and (this is Paul’s point) grow in holiness. The anatomical analogy is fundamental to Paul’s understanding of the local church (5). Thus, he teaches:
1)    All have gifts.
2)    These gifts vary in their character and strength. Church members ‘do not all have the same function’ (4). Gifts are to be exercised, ‘in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you’ (3), i.e. according to the limit of the capacities we have been entrusted with by God.
3)    Gifts are as varied as the needs of the fellowship. Paul’s list is not intended to be comprehensive. Other lists he gives vary widely from this one. They include spiritual and practical needs and natural as well as ‘supernatural’ gifts: an unhappy division since they are all charisma.
The giftedness of the local church places obligations on all its members. Thus:
*      A believer is to reckon all he or she is and has in terms of ‘charisma’:  a ‘gift’. This forbids pride (3).
*      Every believer has a right to the gift of the other members (5). The analogy of the body emphasises the need we all have of one another and stresses that gifts are to be exercised not for our benefit but for the benefit of the fellowship. Thus if pride is forbidden so is theft (often cloaked behind a false humility) and narcissism (paradoxically seen either in ostentation or the desire for it, or, in ‘hiding our light under a bushel’). ‘Let him use it’ is a word of command (6). Neither shyness or laziness is an excuse for disobedience!
*      Put differently, every gift is to be used to promote unity and employed to build up the work. And the church can only grow to maturity where this is so. Walls cannot be built unless the bricklayer is willing to work, etc. Thus, a spiritual work can be severely and irreparably weakened without all gifts being exercised appropriately.

In the following verses, 9-21, Paul emphasises the vital importance of love as a community grows in holiness. He notes that:
*      Love is the cement that unites the Christian community (9-10). Paul has spoken of the local church as a multi-gifted community. He has emphasised the need for the members of the community to use their gifts, not for their own ends, but for the benefit of all. But how can the local church members do this since what Paul calls for is not natural to men and women? For the apostle the answer lies in love. To walk in Christ is to walk in love. This is the connection between 3-8 and 9-21. Paul never fails to make this connection. Compare, for example, Ephesians 5:2. If we have been truly loved by Jesus we will love him. The evidence that we love him is that we love his body. The love of which he speaks is the devoted and caring, intimate and tender love within a good family (10a). Such a love is seen in:
a)    Deliberate and passionate preference for thinking well of others: conduct which snuffs out division and dissention (9);
b)    Honouring of others above ourselves (10b).
*      Love is generated by a genuine spiritual life (11-13). Loving zeal (11a) will be found where the work of the Holy Spirit is fostered and not quenched (11b). In other words, genuine spiritual life will produce the love that unites a local church. Where a church is not united, love is missing. Where love is missing, spiritual life is at low ebb: and spiritual life is stimulated by prayer and the ‘eschatological’ assurance (the ‘hope’ of heaven) that issues in patience and joy (12). Thus, Paul highlights the fact that where spiritual life is low it indicates that prayer is neglected and hope is lost sight of. Conversely, true life stretches out to those who are in need and practically meets the need (13).
*      Love stretches out to all, even our enemies (14-21). We cannot love our enemies if we cannot love our colleagues in the faith. However, we cannot be content merely to love the body of Christ. The life of the church must ‘spill over’ to all our neighbours: even the most reprehensible. Jesus loved us when we were reprehensible and did all that he could to promote our greatest good. We can do no less if his life throbs in our lives. This is the thought that lies behind these verses. Thus, we are not even to bear the persecution of others stoically, but actually seek the blessing of God upon them (14). We are to be sympathetic to them (15) and have a place in our affections even for the most despised (16). We are never to be motivated by revenge or have revengeful thoughts (17). Our great aim is to be harmony with all (18). It is God’s responsibility to reward good and evil: not ours (19)! Thus, we are to help even our enemies if they are in need (20). In this way we may well win them over and gain friends (21). This is exactly what Jesus did.
Godliness in society
In 13:1-7 Paul shows a similar reluctance to adopt a truncated individualism when speaking of godliness. Rather, he shows that godliness is to be seen in the Christian’s conduct in society at large.
Paul begins by teaching:
*      The authority and validity of human governments. Some people are democratically elected to high office. By contrast, many gain it by force. But whatever means has been used to achieve high office the reality is that such men are ‘established by God’ (1, N.B. how this thought is repeated for the sake of emphasis). This emphasises their divine authority and explains Paul’s words in verse 5. A Christian is to submit to the ruler not merely because there is no option but for conscience’s sake: a conscience made sensitive through the word of God and that demands this as a duty before God. Thus, the rejection of such authority is tantamount to high treason against God himself (2) and places such a person not only under the threat of punishment by the governor but also under the wrath of God (in verse 5 the NIV’s ‘possible judgement’ is better simply as ‘wrath’, i.e. both the governor’s but, above all, the LORD’s). This is a remarkable description of the high calling of a governor from one whose Master had been put to death by the ‘powers that be’. Thus, we turn to his application:
*      The responsibility of the Christian citizen to government. Paul requires submission (5a). However, it is clear that this is no grudging acceptance of the status quo. On the contrary, the Christian is to do all that he can to help the governor meet his responsibilities before God. He or she is to do ‘good’ (better than ‘right’, NIV, verse 3), be a good citizen, upright in morality and active in all those things that will help improve society. Recognising the governor as God’s servant (a phrase repeated 3 times for emphasis in 4a, 4b, 6) respect and honour will be given, practically, by (for example) paying all his taxes (7).

*      The sphere and limits of human government. Paul does not deal with this question directly. He is more concerned with the basic theology of human government than working out answers to specific situations. Nevertheless, he does hint at certain matters that are more explicit elsewhere. Thus, he suggests:
1)    The sphere of government is the rule of human society, especially the maintenance of law and order (3,4). This defines the limits of the ruler’s authority.
2)    Where rulers claim an authority in a sphere other than that delegated to him, they can be ignored. So, for example, the ruler has no authority over the church, or, to offer another example, the family.
3)    The ruler is a servant of God. Such must not, then, countermand a decree of his Sovereign. In such circumstances the Christian must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).
4)    Where the ruler ignores the moral principles God has revealed by which he is expected to rule the Christian has an obligation to speak out. Christians may not be politicians. Thus, they may be naive or ignorant of the best way to achieve God-given objectives. In this respect they are wise not to interfere in politics unless they are, themselves, politicians. However, they must set out the moral principles that are to govern political action. This may sometimes be very costly.
5)    Can revolution ever be justified? This is unlikely. However, mere acquiesence in a wicked regime is also wrong. Passive (and often costly) resistance is probably the biblical mandate.
There are many agonisingly difficult decisions to be made in this area. Nevertheless, we do well to recognise our responsibility to live as Christians in precisely such an area. We cannot speak of the state as outside the sphere of God or godliness. Equally, we must be much in prayer to know what we should do and how our brothers and sisters should act in the agonising situations in which many find themselves.
Godliness and the social life
Here (13:8-14) Paul turns to a third area in which the Christian is to live a godly life: in all his or her ‘social’ life. In doing so, he teaches:
The Christian’s obligations to everybody (8-10). Paul has two things to say:
*      A Christian is to meet all their obligations (9a). These are not specified by Paul, unless we view verse 9 as, in part, setting them out. However, Paul probably regards such obligations as self-evident to his readers.
*      Love is to be the means whereby all obligations are to be undertaken (8b etc.). Paul is not suggesting that the law can be dispensed with and love put in its place. Rather, he intends to stress that no obedience to the law is the obedience sought by the LORD unless it arises from an attitude of positive benevolence to the neighbour (9b). And love places the believer under a constant obligation, since love can never cease or else it is not love! Thus, love alone fulfils the demands of the law (10).
The necessity that the Christian fulfil all their obligations (11-14). The last verses in this chapter have in view (not only verses 8-10 but also the whole of chapters 12-13). They teach:
*      we stand, as believers, with one foot in eternity (11). This is a constantly repeated theme in the New Testament. Though we still live in this world with its sin and warfare, yet eternal life is already ours (in part) and this necessitates that the life of the eternal is manifested in us!
*      sunrise is already beginning to shed its light upon us (12). Two thoughts are involved in Paul’s use of this metaphor:
a)    Light banishes darkness. If light is already shining upon us then the works of darkness must flee before the light.
b)    The period immediately before sunrise is one of maximum activity in an oriental day. Thus, our active pursuit of the life of ‘light’ is emphasised.
*      In the ancient world night-time was the time of day when anything was possible. But we are to live ‘as in the daytime’ (13).
What then should we do?
*      We should reject all evil (both those things which characterise the most wicked of men, but also those ‘sins’ which we are all so prone to: dissension and jealousy, 13).
*      We are to live out the reality of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ (14). We are united with him (Romans 6:5). That union provides us with both the power also sets us out our example; and we are to live in the light of both (14 and compare 12:2). In this way, we are to show in our moral life the reality of our spiritual standing.
Godliness when disagreement occurs
Paul concludes his discussion on Christian conduct in 14:1-15:13. In so doing, he focuses attention upon how Christians are to conduct themselves when they disagree as to what God expects of them. It is important to notice that this is the context. Paul is not dealing with matters that prejudice the integrity of the Gospel itself. Where the Gospel itself is under threat Paul can be vehement in his denunciations (see, for example, Galatians 4:11, Colossians 2:20,23). Moreover, the apostle is not dealing with the situation where certain believers are not willing to submit to God’s revelation. He would have been equally stern in such circumstances: calling defaulters to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. Rather, Paul has in view the situation in which different believers conscientiously disagree as to what the LORD requires of them. Many differences among believers are of this sort, especially in the realm of conduct. Paul’s words are, therefore, very relevant to such circumstances. He teaches:
*      Frequently, Christians have a perverted view of their duties and freedoms in Jesus. This was true of the situation that Paul mentions. There were a minority of believers in Rome who retained the taboos and inhibitions that they had formerly had as pagans or Jews. They believed that God required them to be vegetarians (2), teetotallers (21) and they had scruples about certain days, believing them to be ‘holy days’ (6). Probably this means they were sabbatarian. Paul, as we can see, was sure that they were wrong, for in 15:1 he sides with the ‘strong’ group. He knew that the gospel freed him from all such ‘ritual’ observances. Nevertheless, he recognised that not all had arrived at the same insight. Moreover, what was more important for Paul was how such differences were handled within the Christian fellowship.
*      Differences in our views of our Christian duty often lead to divisions among believers (1-4). Two different attitudes are at work that secure division. On the one hand, those who are ‘weak’ tend to judge the ‘strong’ and are critical of them because they do not do all those things which they believe are part and parcel of dedicated discipleship (3b). On the other hand, the ‘strong’ tend to look down on the ‘weak’ (3a) and despise them as still inhibited by traditions and taboos not derived from the Gospel. Such attitudes cannot but lead to friction and, often, division.
*      Advice to ‘weak’ believers (5-12). Paul rebukes the judgemental believer (4). The only one before whom the ‘strong’ believer has to give account is the LORD himself, a LORD who is able to vindicate all His children (4,9-12). However difficult the ‘weak’ believer may find it, he is to recognise that the other Christian is seeking to honour the LORD (6,8): to live out his life as a servant of Jesus (7).
*      Advice to ‘strong’ believers (13-23). A ‘weak’ believer finds the freedom of the ‘strong’ believer from some of the things that constrain him a difficulty to his faith (13). This fact must be borne in mind by those who are ‘strong’. Their own convictions may be right (14) but, in this connection, it is vital that the ‘strong’ recognise that every action undertaken against the judgement of a conscience which believes itself to know the will of God, is sin. This is because such a person acts against what he believes is God’s will for his life (however misguided such a belief be!). Thus, a ‘strong’ believer must not lead such a tender conscience into sin (14) and the subsequent distress given to that conscience (15). Thus, the freedom of ‘strong’ believers is limited by the scruples of others (22,23). Whatever freedom such a person may rightly believe he has is to be kept a private matter. In public he is to do nothing to harm the tender conscience. If freedom is wrongly insisted upon it can bring disgrace to the church (16) and can undo the work of Christ in the other (15). Paul is speaking experientially. No less than apostacy can be fostered by an unbridled use of Christian freedom! How absurd, then, to risk such consequences. Especially is this so when one considers the heart of the Gospel (17,18). The Gospel is intended to give joy consequent upon a conscience quieted at the Cross and to produce a godly life. In the light of