Faith, Faithfulness | Sunday Morning Greek Blog

Sunday Morning Greek Blog

September 26, 2021

Obedience of Faithfulness: A Walk on the Romans Road

Context note: I delivered this message 9/19/2021 at Wheeler Grove Church in Carson, Iowa. I actually wound up extemporizing the testimony section. I expound on the phrase Obedience of Faithfulness in more depth in a separate post on this topic in the blog.

Well, this is my fourth time to share with you on a Sunday morning. Since we’re getting to know each other a little better, I thought I might share my story on how I came to make my faith in Christ my own, and along the way, share some insights from Paul’s letter to the Romans, more specifically the “Romans Road,” and how that has shaped me into the Christian man I am today.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about my faith in the past month or so for a number of reasons, which is why I wanted to focus on my story. The first is that 40 years ago this week, I walked into a Bible study at the Agape House near the UNL campus hoping to get some answers to questions I had about my fledgling faith and to make sure I was well grounded in the faith during my college years. More about that later in the message.

The second reason that’s been on my mind is that the pastor of the church that sponsored the Agape House just passed away 10 days ago, and I remember how his preaching, in part, motivated me to go into ministry. That pastor’s son is the pastor of the church I attend in Omaha. I feel privileged to have been ministered to by the Chitwoods for a good chunk of my adult life. I even had the honor of filling the pulpit for the elder Chitwood a few years ago. He had been preaching at the Brownsville, NE, Christian Church right up to the end.

But let me go back to the beginning for a brief summary: I was born, christened, and raised in Mt. View Presbyterian Church in north Omaha. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t in Sunday school, and I remember my confirmation class where I became a bona fide Presbyterian in sixth grade. About the only thing I remember from confirmation is the name John Knox and that I was struggling with memorizing the Scriptures I needed to memorize (I overcame the memorization aversion).

After my sophomore year of high school, my mom started leaving little evangelistic cartoon tracts around the house. She had gotten in with a women’s Bible study group that renewed her faith in the Lord and wanted to make sure we kids got exposed to a fresh perspective on faith. I went to my aunt’s ranch in Wyoming that summer, and she had the same tracts in her house. There in the middle of nowhere northeastern Wyoming, I finally realized I needed to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I pledged my life to him. That was the beginning of making my faith my own.

At least one of those tracts had what was known as the “Romans Road” in it. Anyone ever heard of that? The Romans Road is a series of verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans a Christ follower could use to show a friend or stranger how to become a Christ follower. Now real Roman roads were quite well constructed, and remnants of these roads survive to this day in places. But the Romans Road was quite twisty, primarily focused on Chapters 3, 5, and 10, with a couple of pit stops at the end of chapter 6 and beginning of chapter 8.

In case you’re not familiar with it, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here: No one is righteous, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin are death, but God gives the gift of eternal life. We have access to this eternal life because Christ died for us, and we must in turn confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in his resurrection. That act of calling on the Lord is what saves you, you’re declared “not guilty,” and you’re free from any condemnation.

Now between the tracts, the Romans Road, and the testimonies of my mom and aunt, that was enough to get me to the place where I felt like I was beginning to own my faith. Like many who are new in the faith or are renewing their faith, I still had many questions. I began to make friends with other Christian students and experienced the full range of expressions of the Christian faith, from legalism and traditionalism to more open and charismatic styles. That only served to raise more questions in my mind, but I was determined like the Bereans in Acts to search the Scriptures and try to figure it all out.

In those last two years of high school, I began to dive into God’s Word, and I had two main things on my mind. The first was the second coming of Christ and the book of Revelation. There seemed to be general agreement on the millennial perspective among my diverse Christian friends, but I’d never really heard about that growing up, at least, not in any significant way that it sank in.

The second concern on my mind was what the Bible said about baptism. I had been sprinkled as an infant, but of course that wasn’t MY decision. Still, I cannot sell short that act, for it is commendable to dedicate a child to be part of the kingdom of God and for the parents and congregation to commit themselves to raising you in the faith. But as I began to talk about with my Christian friends, I realized not only were there differing opinions about baptism, but that some of those opinions seemed to be polar opposites.

On the one hand, one group said it was just a work of the flesh and really not necessary, and that the real thing that mattered was confessing Jesus like Romans 10:9–10 says. On the other hand, my charismatic friends were telling me stories of people being immersed and coming out of the water speaking in tongues! Surely both viewpoints couldn’t be true! And to be honest, at that stage of my life, speaking in tongues after coming out of the water sounded a lot more exciting to me than just ignoring the topic altogether!

As I continued to pursue my study of that, reading Romans and other Bible passages that discussed baptism, I began to realize that the Romans Road had completely bypassed the topic of baptism. There had to be a middle ground among the extremes I’d been exposed to. The more I looked into the topic, the more I became convinced that I needed to be baptized, not to be saved, but to have a sort of physical and emotional point of reference for my faith.

I didn’t completely understand that at the time, but I had faith that if I did what the Scriptures seemed to be telling me I should do, it would all become clear soon enough.

So that was a bit of a long way to go to get to the heart of my message today: an overview of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Now when most people read the Bible, myself included, I suspect we are looking for a verse here or there that means something to us, a verse that gives us or a friend hope, or a confirmation of what we believe. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as God’s word never returns void when it’s spoken into our lives.

But we also need to remember that Bible tells a story as well, and in between our favorite verses, and specifically in our case today, in the overall terrain through which the Romans Road winds, the author often reveals a greater purpose that we miss by focusing on individual verses. What I want to do this morning is give you a sense of that overall purpose by highlighting a couple recurring themes.

Obedience of Faithfulness

One of the first themes that presents itself in Romans may escape the casual reader. Romans 1:5 is a purpose statement: “Through [Jesus] we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience of faithfulness for his name’s sake.” The phrase “obedience of faithfulness” is, I believe, the primary recurring theme throughout Romans. It’s an unusual phrase, because we typically link the concept of “obedience” to the Law. But it may in part be borrowed from Israel’s prophecy about Judah in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs [that is, Jesus] shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”

So what does this phrase mean? In Paul’s language, the phrase is only two words, and the simplest, most direct translation is how I presented it: “the obedience of faithfulness” or, as three modern translations (RSV, NASB, and ESV) render it, “the obedience of faith.” The New King James Version translates it “obedience to the faith.” The NIV translates it “the obedience that comes from faith.”

Faith” is typically the go-to translation of the word in the original text. But lately contemporary scholars are increasingly considering whether “faithfulness” would be appropriate in several contexts, especially Romans. it can either mean the “belief” (“faith”) or “the action that accompanies the belief” (“faithfulness”). Faithfulness is a demonstrated meaning of the word, as we see in Romans 3:3: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!”

This is where the broader terrain of the passage comes into play: Paul spends the first five chapters of Romans contrasting the role of the Law with respect to obedience and faith. These concepts fill his discussion. He closes out the discussion at the end of Chapter 5 with the following statement: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.” This is the “obedience of faithfulness,” not just believing in Jesus, but believing that Jesus’s faithfulness not just to the Law but to death on the cross is what makes salvation possible for us.

Chapter 5 itself has several references to the faithful life and death of Jesus. This isn’t intended to be easy believism: Paul is calling us to believe something that the pagan world in his day thought was foolishness, fake news, a conspiracy theory. That was a hard choice then, just as it is in today’s world that seems increasingly apathetic or even hostile toward the Christian worldview.

Baptism (Immersion)

Now it is this emphasis on the death of Christ that caused me to take a closer look at what Paul said about baptism in Romans 6, and how that passage might answer the questions I had about baptism. Was it just a work that really didn’t matter one way or the other? Or was there something more to it?

Now before I get too far into this section, I do want to offer a disclaimer: I understand there are different views of baptism in the church, and I respect and accept those differences. My purpose here is strictly to tell my story and how my understanding of this particular subject influenced my faith, my story, and my understanding of the message of Romans.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a number of different influences when it came to working out what I believed about baptism. Of course, I knew I had to ultimately look to Scripture. I had used my concordance to look up passages like Matthew 28:19–20, where Matthew indicates that baptism is part of the process of making disciples, and 1 Peter 3:18–22, where the flood waters that wiped out sinful humanity are compared to the death of Christ, which assured the victory over sin and our salvation for sinful humanity. Peter goes on to say that the flood analogy “symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” I was beginning to notice a pattern, but I was just scratching the surface.

The more I read and reread Romans 6, the more I realized that baptism was more than just a “work of the flesh” as my fundamentalist friends believed. Romans 6 flows naturally from the discussion of the efficacy of Jesus’s death and resurrection in Chapter 5. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

By this point, I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t sure I could talk to my Presbyterian minister about it, and I had already decided I would go to Capital City Christian Church when I got to college. So that night I walked into the Agape House, I had only one question I really needed an answer to for my faith: should I get baptized by immersion?

As I talked to the teachers there about it, that solidified my resolve to get immersed, and I didn’t want to wait any longer: that night, some of the people in the Bible study that I had just met that night went with me to the church to see me get immersed. I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I could have made for my Christian walk. I have never looked back from that moment when it comes to my faith.

Just as communion is the event where we remind ourselves of the sacrifice of our Savior and come into contact with Christ’s body and blood in mystery of God’s economy, baptism reminds us of the same thing: buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and raised to newness of life. Again, in the mystery of God’s economy, baptism puts in contact with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is definitely a game changer!

The rest of the middle section of Romans through chapter 11 speaks in more detail about the results of Christ’s death, especially recognizing that we have the ability through the Spirit to make better decisions for ourselves and that we have no condemnation in Christ Jesus. The benediction at the end of Chapter 11 closes out this section by acknowledging “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” It would seem to be a simple leap to suggest that Paul’s discussion of baptism is part of that mystery the benediction alludes to. It’s something we accept by faith, but not without good reason.

Living Sacrifices

The irony of the Christian life is that we must die to have that life. Paul tells the Ephesians that in Christ we die to sin but are made alive in Him. In Christ, we put off the old self, renew our attitude, and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In Christ, we’re called out of the darkness of unbelief and become light in the Lord, and we can live as children of light! In Philippians, Paul says to consider all our worldly gain loss to gain Christ and his righteousness, which comes to us through the “obedience of the faithfulness” of Christ (Philippians 3:9).

This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 12:1–2: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” and to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Notice that the promises I just mentioned are not for life after the grave. These promises are for our life in the here and now! God wants us to live in the fullness of his blessings, to know not only that we have a new life here on earth, but that, as Ephesians says, we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms; that we can know here on Earth the hope to which he’s called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power when we enter into that obedience of faithfulness.

Conclusion

And here’s the clincher about the obedience of faithfulness: Paul confirms beyond any shadow of doubt that that is his theme in his letter to the Romans when closes out the letter with this benediction: “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience of faithfulness—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!”

Paul was an excellent writer: He told us what he was going to say, he said it, and he told us he said it. That sounds vaguely familiar to what my Junior High English teacher told me about writing a persuasive paper. God has called all of us to walk in this “obedience of faithfulness,” for it is only through Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life— that we can come to God the Father. If you’re there already, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not there yet, I or any of your church leaders would be happy to talk to you about following Christ and walking in his ways.

Benediction

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

February 9, 2019

#ToxicMasculinity: Walking Like an Egyptian Pharaoh

Toxic masculinity is a hot topic these days, but I’ve yet to hear a clear definition of it from the media. As I was reading through the first few chapters of Exodus today, however, I saw several examples of it.

Extreme Toxicity: Pharaoh

The one that sticks out most to me is Pharaoh himself. In Exodus 1:16, Pharaoh is afraid of the Hebrews becoming too numerous, so he orders the midwives to kill all male babies as they are being delivered. The female (note the gender here) midwives, however, have great courage and integrity, and refuse to obey Pharaoh’s command to practice perinatal abortions founded on gender discrimination. Not only that, this is also a prima facie example of the rich and powerful oppressing, abusing, and dare I say even murdering the poor, weak, and defenseless. When Pharaoh realizes the midwives aren’t able to carry out his command, he takes his toxic masculinity to the next level and orders that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile River (Ex 1:22). It is important to know here that the females fear God’s (or their gods’) retribution if they kill the innocent, while Pharaoh has no fear of God.

Pharaoh overplays both his responsibility for leadership and defense of others. He overplays his leadership responsibility by becoming a tyrant with respect to the Hebrews. He overplays his responsible to defend those he’s responsible for by attempting to destroy those whom he views as a threat, even if that threat may be 20 to 30 years down the road. The ultimate source of his toxic masculinity is his lack of regard for the one true God, the God of the Hebrews, whose power he will soon come to experience.

Pathetic Toxicity: Moses

Moses, initially at least, represents the other extreme from Pharaoh. Moses has first-hand knowledge of God, and even has an extended conversation with him. However, in spite of all the assurances God gives to Moses about being with him, giving him words to speak, and showing Pharaoh his mighty power, Moses plays the wimp card. “Who am I, God?” “I speak with faltering lips, God.” “Send someone else to do it, God.” Really, Moses? God gives him a rare gift, a full accounting of what God wants him to do (most of us feel like we’re guessing at that, right?), and he isn’t man enough to accept it, at least, to accept it willingly and enthusiastically. To Moses’s credit, though, once he starts to see God afflict Pharaoh and Egypt with the plagues, his reluctance wanes and his confidence in God’s purpose for his life grows exponentially.

Toxicity 2019: Men With No Chests

Is it a stretch to say that so-called men like @GovernorVA Ralph Northam and @NYGovCuomo Andrew Cuomo are not that far removed from Pharaoh’s toxicity? Like Pharaoh, these two toxically masculine State governors want to kill babies right up to the time of birth and even after birth. They have indeed regressed to a more primitive culture, hiding behind the guise of “Pro-Choice,” which is in itself a form of toxic femininity (judging from the tweets and retweets of New York Council on Women & Girls chairperson @Melissadderosa she’s an icon of toxic femininity in New York). They prey on the weak for their own political gain, not caring one whit about the emotional impact on women and families or the cultural decline that such positions represent. It is an absolute power play of the rich and powerful.

And where are men who should be taking the lead opposing this toxicity? Let’s start with the men who father these children, then run away and make an intentional choice not to be involved in or support the care of the pregnant mother or the child that is born to the mother who has the courage and integrity to give the child a chance at life. That’s pathetic toxicity to be sure. And what about you, men of God? Are you silent on this issue? Is this a worthy battle to fight? Can we harness our righteous energy and lead with integrity? Can we fight for the things that matter most, like the sanctity and dignity of those created in the image of God? Can we show tender care for the weak, the helpless, those who have lost hope, and those who need a vision of heaven? Let us rise up and make our voices heard!

Conclusion

It is scary to think that the world has come almost full circle from the time of Pharaoh in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. This culture of despising life at its most vulnerable stages is toxic regardless of gender. Those who think they are “progressive” are lying to themselves; they have in fact put on display and are proud of their “regressive” policies. It’s time for the people of God to stand up for truth. God is with us! We need to be faithful to him and trust that he will win the victory for us just as he did when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. Remember, that God was always the one fighting for them; they never had to lift a finger in violence toward their enemies, and neither should we.

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

January 23, 2012

Take Heart! (θαρσέω tharseō, Matthew 9:2, 22)

(Note: All Greek words are linked to www.blueletterbible.com.)

As I begin my fiftieth trip around the sun this year, I’ve determined to make several difficult choices that quite frankly have me scared and stressed. I took our congregation’s “401” class last week on spiritual maturity, which emphasizes acting out of love and faith, only to be confronted with the fact that the first major decision I made in 2012 was one out of sheer desperation, fear, and resignation. I started taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this week at our church, which means I’m committed on Sunday afternoons for the next 12 weeks, but the opening session gave me a little hope. Personal relationships are looking up as well, and things at work are on a more or less even keel. In addition, I hope to be able to go see my kids a little more often this year. Still, that first difficult decision overshadows the positives I am anticipating.

Courage!

So when I saw Jesus’s encouragement Θάρσει (“Take heart!”) twice in Matthew 9 the other day, I had to sit up and take notice. Matthew 9 comes in the heart of Jesus dealing with many who come to him or are brought to him for healing. Jesus, of course, meets their physical needs, but he is ever mindful of their spiritual needs as well. In Matthew 9:2, Jesus declares that the paralyzed man’s sins are forgiven, which incites the teachers of the law to accuse him of blasphemy. Unfazed, Jesus proceeds to demonstrate he has the power to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. After the woman who suffered from a bleeding disease for 12 years touched Jesus’s garment, she was healed and greeted with the same word of encouragement.

The word is found five other times in the New Testament. Six occurrences are in the Gospels, and one is in Acts. Two of the occurrences are found in story of Jesus walking on the sea (Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50) when the disciples are so terrified in the storm that they think Jesus is a ghost. John begins a major section of his Gospel with the phrase: “Do no let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (14:1 NIV). John teaches in chapters 14–16 on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the troubles that his followers would face in the world. He ends that section with the word of encouragement: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (16:33 NIV). The two other occurrences of the word are found in Mark 10:49 and Acts 23:11.

Compassion

But that word by itself was only the tip of the iceberg that day as I was reading Matthew 9. When I got to the end of the chapter, verse 36 really hit home, because I felt like part of the crowd: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion [σπλαγχνίζομαι] on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (NIV). The words for “have compassion” and “compassion” are two of my favorite Greek words, not only because you have to expel about a pint of spit to say them, but because they are so descriptive of the literal meaning: “bowels.” Yes, that is where the phrase “bowels of compassion” originates. Compassion comes from the gut in the Hebrew worldview, much deeper than the heart.

But leaving that word aside, the thing that really struck me was the condition of the people who came to Jesus: “harassed,” “helpless,” “shepherdless.” I’ve not forgotten I have a shepherd, even when I may wander off at times, but I’ve certainly felt the first two in the last few years. The shepherd has guided me through those times, but I often have to wonder what I’m supposed to be learning in the school of hard knocks.

The fact that I have a shepherd was reinforced even more when I came across an OT passage last week as a friend and I were reading through Six Battles Every Man Must Win by Bill Perkins, where he reminds us of the story of another shepherd, David. Before David secured his place on Israel’s throne, he was a fugitive running from Saul. During that time, however, he was not alone. Those who would become David’s “mighty men” gathered around him early in his fugitive life: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him” (1 Samuel 22:2). That sounds very much like the people who were gathering around Jesus in Matthew 9. And it sounds very much like my life currently. My life-résumé is a pretty good match for the “qualifications” of a mighty man.

Contentment

I know I don’t have the strength to dig myself out of my own problems. Some days, I wear my weakness on my sleeve, but only because I know that it is only through my weakness that Christ can perfect his power (2 Corinthians 12:9). I need my shepherd, Jesus, to guide me through. The path is mountainous and treacherous at times, but I know he’s got my back.

I remember going on a horseback ride as a teen through Chadron State Park in NW Nebraska. We had about 15 people riding single file along the trail, and we were going along a high ridge with a 45 degree slope that dropped about a thousand feet to my right (at least, it seemed that steep and deep). My horse decided to take his own route, and instead of staying on the main path, he moved to the right a bit and went between a tree and the slope. The path between the tree and the slope was no wider than the horse, but when I started to panic a bit, my dad reassured me that the horse knew what he was doing. It was only a short little detour, only ten feet or so, but I had to duck a bit to avoid the lower branches of the tree. The horse was sure footed though and got me safely back on the path.

That detour is a microcosm of what I’ve experienced in the past few years, poised precariously on the brink of disaster. But God has seen me through it, and for that, I am grateful. The road ahead still has its challenges, but I can be content knowing that my Savior holds me in the palm of his hand and will put me on the straight path in his own timing.

Conclusion

So my word to you is the same as Christ’s to the paralytic and the bleeding woman: Take heart! Know that his promise that he would never leave us nor forsake us holds true, even when we have trouble seeing the end result.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

November 18, 2011

“Falling Away” (παραπίπτω parapiptō) in Hebrews 6:6

Hebrews 6 is a scary passage to me. I don’t think those who believe in the doctrine of eternal security (i.e., “once saved, always saved”) have ever taken the warnings in this passage seriously. I will address the full context shortly, but the heart of the passage is found in vv. 4–6: “It is impossible… for those who have fallen away (παραπίπτω parapiptō \pah-rah-PEE-ptoh\) to be renewed to repentance.” The question that has always occupied my mind about this passage is, “How far do you have to fall before you can’t be restored to repentance?”

Context and Contrast

The broader context, Hebrews 5:11–6:12, informs in part the understanding of the warning in verse 6. Verse six also has four words that are only found in that verse in the New Testament, I will break those down later. But first, let me address the context. The author of Hebrews begins this section by chiding the readers for not having obtained a level of maturity they ought to have obtained. In fact, “maturity” is a prominent theme in Hebrews 5–7, which has nine words from the τελειόω (teleioō, \teh-lay-AW-oh\ “I make perfect,” “I complete,” “I become maturity”) family scattered throughout. Hebrews 5:11–6:12 is also bracketed by an inclusio of νωθροὶ γεγόνατε/νωθροὶ γένησθε (nōthroi gegonate/nōthroi genēsthe, \noh-THROI geh-GAW-nah-teh/ noh-THROI GEH-nay-stheh\ “have become lazy”) making the contrast between maturity and laziness even starker.

If that contrast isn’t enough, the author goes on to speak of the need for the Hebrews to go back to baby food (γάλα gala, \GAH-lah\; gen. γάλακτος galaktos, \GAH-lah-ktawss\ “milk”) instead of eating solid food. What I find interesting is what the author of Hebrews considers “elementary” teaching: repentance from dead works, faith in God, teachings about baptism (TNIV: “cleansing rites”), laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment. These strike me as pretty important doctrines, but do you notice what is missing? Think 1 Corinthians 13 here, especially where Paul makes the connection between maturity (τελείος) and love. Faithfulness (i.e., acting consistently on faith) and hope are included in the closing verse of 1 Corinthians 13 as well.

The (Neglected) Meat of the Passage

The imagery of “eating” is carried through into the stern warning of 6:4–6. Here is the meat, I believe, the author of Hebrews is talking about: being enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, and tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers/miracles of the coming age. I’m not sure if the structure and syntax here is significant: two different words are used for “and” here, one indicating a strong connection (καὶ kai) and the other (τε te) a weak connection. I present a modified diagram below:

4 It is impossible

    for those who were once enlightened, also (τε) having tasted of the heavenly gift

    and (καὶ) who have been sharers in the Holy Spirit

5    and (καὶ) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God along with (τε) the miracles/power of the coming age

6    and (καὶ) yet have fallen away (παραπίπτω)

for [these people] to renew continually (ἀνακαινίζω anakainizō, \ah-nah-keye-NEE-zoh\) in repentance

because they recrucify (ἀνασταυρόω anastauroō, \ah-nah-stow-RAW-oh\ [\ow\ as in “how”]) the son of God to themselves

and (καὶ) hold him up to public shame (παραδειγματίζω paradeigmatizō \pah-rah-dayg-mah-TEE-zō\).

Allow me to give a brief treatment of each of the four hapax legomena (literally, “once spoken,” referring to words only used once in a text) to better understand what is meant by “falling away” and the other terms.

παραπίπτω

The word παραπίπτω is found six times in the OT, five of which are found in Ezekiel 14–22, referring exclusively to Israel’s unfaithfulness and defilement, from worshipping other gods to just simply living like God couldn’t do anything for them. The other occurrence is in Esther 6:10, where Haman is instructed not to be unfaithful to the words and actions of praise he unwittingly bestowed upon Mordecai. Given that the word is primarily used of the exiled Jews in the OT, I would hazard a guess that the NT usage of the word has a parallel meaning. In other words, this passage isn’t talking about the normal ups and downs of the life of a Christian, but a steady pattern of unfruitfulness, a lack of faith in God, and even idolatry. (We still have idolatry today, lest we think we’re off the hook.) Judah had to fall pretty far to be removed from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon. I hope that none of you reading this have fallen that far yet, but if you have, hang on, because all hope is not yet lost.

ἀνακαινίζω

The ἀνα- prefix of this word and the next word below means “again,” and often times will simply be translated as “re-” plus the base word meaning. The NT doesn’t have a verb for “newing” something, but the -καινίζω part comes from the adjective καινός (kainos, \keye-NAWSS\ “new”). The word is found three times in the LXX, twice in the Psalms (103:5, 104:30) and once at the end of Lamentations (5:21). In the Lamentations passage, Jeremiah says something that is particularly relevant to the Hebrews passage:

21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;

renew our days as of old

22 unless you have utterly rejected us

and are angry with us beyond measure.

We know that Israel was eventually restored to the Promised Land, so even the Exile was not enough for God to utterly forsake his people for all time. We are, after all, in a covenant relationship with God. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” Just as we can’t enter heaven by good works alone, so too we cannot lose our salvation simply on the basis of evil works alone. We would pretty much have to tell God ourselves that we want nothing to do with him any more for him to grant that desire and remove the blessing of salvation.

A question from my friend Eric Weiss in the comments after I originally posted this prompted me to expand on this particular word. I had originally translated the word in the passive voice, “to be renewed,” admittedly because I wasn’t paying attention to the parsing of the verb. It is a present tense active infinitive. As an infinitive, the subject is “those who have fallen away.” As an active voice, it should be translated “to renew” (many translations have “brought back,” but I think “renew” is a better translation). As present tense, the focus of the action is not on the time of action so much as it is on the aspect of the action, that is, it is continuous action. The implication of this goes back to the author’s statement in 6:1 about not returning to repentance. In other words, if you want to advance in the Christian life, repenting over and over again is not the way to go. At some point, you have to decide to grow up and move on to maturity.

Since I’m on the subject of tense, the other two verbs I deal with below are also in the present tense, so the focus there is also on continuous action. If you’re continually repenting, it’s like you’re continually crucifying Christ and continually holding him up to public shame.

ἀνασταυρόω

Protestants often give Catholics a bad rap about their view of the Eucharist, that the elements actually turn into the body and blood of Christ (the fancy word for that is transubstantiationism). Christ is recrucified in the Mass each week, so the Protestants complain. I don’t want to debate that point, because I don’t think it is profitable, and I don’t know that it is a completely accurate characterization. My point is, the only time “recrucify” is mentioned in Scripture is here in this passage, and it has nothing to do with Eucharistic theology. Those who have fallen so far so as to warrant exile (if we borrow the OT meaning of the word) after having known the enlightenment and blessings of God, must recrucify Christ to restore their salvation. But Christ, let alone anyone else, can only be crucified once. It’s impossible for him to be crucified again. But is that the author’s point here? I’ll come back to that in a moment.

παραδειγματίζω

The final hapax legomenon refers to holding Christ up to public shame. If you think about it, though, this is exactly what the original crucifixion was. Hebrews 12:2b (NIV) says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The word for “shame” in Hebrews 12:2 is the more common word (a noun) for “shame” (αἰσχύνη aischynē \eye-SCHOO-nay\), but the idea is the same. In the LXX, παραδειγματίζω is found in Numbers 25:4 in reference to the capital punishment delivered to the men seduced by Moabite women, in Jeremiah 13:22 in reference to those destined for exile, and in Ezekiel 28:17 in the prophecy against the king of Tyre (which some mistakenly take to imply Satan). A related word (δειγματίζω) is found in Matthew 1:19, where Joseph decides he wants to hide Mary so as not to expose her to public shame.

The Author’s Intent

I think the author of Hebrews here uses the hapax legomena because he is using a literary device known as hyperbole. We all know that in spite of the Jews’ idolatry and apostasy (falling away) that got them exiled, God led them back into the Promised Land to rebuild their nation, their religious traditions, and their faith. They never had a problem with idolatry again after the exile, so they learned their lesson. The author is saying it’s a pretty serious thing to trash Christ or trash your faith. In fact, he repeats this warning in even sterner language at the end of chapter 10, which forms an inclusio with this Hebrews 6 passage. The author realizes it is an impossibility to recrucify Christ. His purpose here is to say that Christ’s crucifixion the first time around should have been enough, and they need to get back to living out the implications of that. They could lose their salvation, but it would seem that they had not reached that point yet.

But the author doesn’t think the Hebrews have fallen that far yet. He (they?) says, “We are convinced (πείθω peithō \PAY-thoh\) of better things in your case.” This same confidence is repeated in Hebrews 10 (note the connection to that chapter again) when he reminds them how they endured persecution and exposure to shame and insult, and in Hebrews 13:17–18 with respect to the leaders (NIV: “Have confidence in your leaders” is a better translation in my opinion than “Obey your leaders”).

Faith

The author’s remedy for the danger of falling away is to continue meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The word ἐγκαταλείπω (enkataleipō \en-kah-tah-LAY-poh\; if you’ve been picking up on the Greek, the gamma-kappa γκ is pronounced \nk\) is translated “giving up” (NIV), “forsaking” (NASB), or “neglect” (NLT). This is the same word Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is how important the author views “meeting together” (ἐπισυναγωγή episynagōgē \eh-pee-soo-nah-goh-GAY\; see a familiar word?) as the body of Christ on a regular basis. Don’t give up. Don’t make excuses. Make it a priority, because it’s for your own strengthening and encouragement as well as for those who attend with you.

Hebrews 11 provides the encouragement for Christ-followers to remain faithful and endure hardships. This is what the author is building to in Hebrews 6–10, especially since he praises them twice for their character, in 6:9–12 and 10:32–39. The patriarchs endured similar struggles, and although they were not perfect, they persevered faithfully even though they never saw the ultimate promise of the Savior.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is the author of Hebrews is puts it in the strongest words he can muster to emphasize it is possible to “lose” your salvation. But he also seems to use language that suggests his readers have not progressed to that point yet. Indeed, it seems to take a pretty serious act of apostasy to lose your salvation (e.g., Matthew 10:32–33; 1 John 2:23). But I think the real message in Hebrews 6–10 is not the author’s warning, but the author’s call to perseverance and faithfulness in the face hardship and persecution. The Jews, after all, spent 70 years in exile, but they eventually returned to their Promised Land. In the last part of Hebrews 9, the author lifts up the blood of Christ, which purifies us from all uncleanness and prepared the way for us to live with our Savior eternally.

Peace,

Scott Stocking

This post was revised from the original on 11/19/11, adding additional material to the ἀνακαινίζω section and additional material on Hebrews 11.

August 27, 2011

πιστίς (pistis,Faith’/‘Faithfulness’) in Romans 1–5

The following is an updated version of an assignment I did way back in the late 90s as I was finishing up my Master’s degree at (then) Lincoln Christian Seminary. It is rather lengthy and was written for Dr. Walt Zorn, who is a phenomenal biblical languages scholar, so it might be a tad more heady than my usual blog posts, but I hope I’ve clarified and summarized Paul’s argument in Romans 1–5 so you can get a handle on it. Some of this was in my blog post from two weeks ago, but this is a fuller treatment of the subject. I hope you are challenged to think more deeply about the Scriptures and your own faith through this post.

Introduction

Paul’s letter to the Romans has been a seminal letter for Paul’s development of the themes of faith or faithfulness and righteousness in his theology. The themes are connected by Paul in this letter in several places and with several nuances. I would hazard a guess that the prominence of these two themes was an important consideration in placing this letter at the beginning of the Pauline epistles in the New Testament.

When studying Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans, one finds a richer, fuller expression of faith than appears on the surface. Much has been said about the thematic nature of 1:17: δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται, Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται. (dikaiosynē gar theou en autō apokalyptetai ek pisteōs eis pistin, kathōs gegraptai, Ho de dikaios ek pisteōs zēsetai, “God’s righteousness in [the Gospel] is being revealed from the faithfulness [of Christ] to faith(fulness), just as it is written, ‘The Righteous One will live from faithfulness'”).

It would seem that the traditional translation of “faith” falls short of the sense of πιστίς in Romans. In the following analysis, I will defend my contention that “faithfulness,” rather than “faith,” is a more appropriate translation in many instances. A presupposition (which I also intend to demonstrate) is that the subjective genitive dominates Paul’s discussion of [the] faith[fulness of Christ] and [the] righteousness [of God].

Some structural considerations are worthy of note when it comes to Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans. The most pronounced structural consideration is the inclusio of the phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”), found in both 1:5 (the first occurrence of πιστίς) and 16:26 (the last occurrence of πιστίς). This phrase helps both to define and to qualify the relationship between faith and righteousness. By far, the heaviest concentration (20 of 40 times in Romans) of the word is in 3:21–5:21, especially 3:22 through the end of chapter 4. It occurs 6 times in his introductory section (1:1–17).

What one finds when examining the usage is that, in the first five chapters, Paul essentially builds three arguments explaining justification by “the obedience of faithfulness:” one from a negative perspective (the wrath of God revealed in the Law, 1:18–3:20); and two from a positive perspective (Jesus, 3:21–31, and Abraham, ch. 4). He then concludes this section with application (5:1–11) and a historical illustration, an inclusio of Adam and Christ (5:12–21).

Since 1:5 seems to be the thesis statement for the whole book, I would argue that 1:16–17 is a secondary thesis statement for the section that follows, namely 1:18–5:21. I suggest the following structure:

A 1:16

Paul’s declaration of the Gospel’s ability as the power of God for salvation

B 1:17

Paul’s declaration of the righteousness of God for faithfulness

–A 1:18–3:20

Paul’s declaration of the Law’s inability to save or justify

B 3:21–5:21

Paul’s demonstration of “the obedience of faithfulness” of Jesus and Abraham and its power to justify

1:18–3:20: Justification and Righteousness not Obtainable through the Law

An interesting feature of 1:18–3:20 is that πιστίς occurs only once, in 3:3, in reference to God’s faithfulness (interestingly enough, not “the faith that comes from God,” which would parallel other similar constructions in the NIV [1984 version] translation!). The verb πιστεύω (pisteuō, \pee-STOO-oh\) is found in 3:2, with the sense of “entrusted,” while in 3:3, the negative form of the verb (ἀπιστέω apisteō, \ah-pee-STEH-oh\) and the negative form of the noun (ἀπιστία apistia, \ah-pee-STEE-ah\) are found. These four occurrences form a chiasmus:

A First, on the one hand, they were entrusted (v) with the words (τὰ λόγια ta logia, \tah LAW-ghee-ah\) of God

B What is it then? If some did not have faith (v),

B′ would their faithlessness (n)

A′ nullify the faithfulness (n) of God? (The question expects a “no” answer.”)

Verse 4 completes the thought: “May it never be! On the other hand [note the contrast with vs. 3], let God be true and ‘everyone else liars’ [Psalm 116:11], just as it is written, ‘In order that you be justified in your words and be victorious when you judge’ [Psalm 51:4].”

This section (Romans 1:18–3:20) begins with the continual revealing of the wrath of God. I believe what Paul is referring to here is the Law (cf. 4:15) and the punishments contained therein that are being applied even in his own time against the wicked. In 1:18–32, Paul says that these people have no excuse, because they know of his “righteous decrees” both through “natural law” and from God himself through the Law of Moses.

In chapter 2, then, Paul demonstrates that those “stubborn and unrepentant” (vs. 5) Jews who still insist on living by the Law, or at least resting on their laurels as God’s chosen people (vs. 13), are in danger of experiencing God’s wrath as well. In the latter part of verse 13, he declares that the only way to be justified is to obey the Law. It is safe to assume that he means a complete obedience here (2:23, 25, cf. Gal 5:3, James 2:10). The reality is that no one is capable of such complete obedience, therefore he can quote the Psalmist in his conclusion (3:9–20); “There is no ‘righteous one'” (3:10, par. Psalm 14:1–3; 53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20), at least according to the Law, and thus no one can be justified by the works of the Law (3:20).

Romans 3:2–3 serves as a crucial turning point for 1:18–3:20. In addition to the chiasmus in those two verses, it is interesting to note that τὰ λόγια (‘word’) and πιστίς (‘faithfulness’) are parallel with respect to God. God has been and is faithful in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers, regardless of the degree of violation (1:18, 3:5). Thus God’s faithfulness in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers would imply in this case a subjective genitive construction. The phrase τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ (tēn pistin tou theou, ‘the faithfulness of God’) in 3:3 is parallel to (and has profound implications for) the next section, especially in 3:22, where we find the phrase πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (pisteōs Iēsou Christou, ‘the faithfulness of Christ’).

3:21–31: The Faithfulness of Christ and God toward Mankind

Because Paul here resumes a concentrated discussion on faith/faithfulness, I understand the key phrase in 3:22 (πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) to inform most occurrences of πιστίς in 3:21–5:21, and most likely in the whole book of Romans. I believe this phrase and “the faithfulness of God” in 3:3 are both what grammarians call “subjective genitive.” Subjective genitive means that the noun in the genitive case (in these verses, “God” and “Jesus Christ”) serve as the “subjects” of the verbal action of the accompanying noun (“faithfulness”). So we could turn these around and say “God is faithful” and “Jesus Christ is faithful.” The opposite category here (which is the way 3:22 is usually treated in contrast to 3:3) is objective genitive. This means the nouns in genitive case would be objects of the verbal action implied by the accompanying noun. If these phrases were treated as objective genitive, then they would be rendered “trust/have faith in God” and “trust/have faith in Jesus.” The implication of the subjective genitive is that the faithfulness of Christ is an activity Christ performs, primarily his death on the cross.

But there is another implication here that may escape the casual reader. Remember that Paul wrote in 1:17 that “the Righteous One (δίκαιος dikaios) will live by faithfulness,” but in 3:10 he says, Οὐκ ἔστιν δίκαιος (ouk estin dikaios, “there is no righteous one”). In both places, he uses the adjective substantively. The context here suggests that it was not only Jesus’ faithfulness to his suffering and death on the cross, but his faithfulness to the Law as well. Jesus is the exception to 1:18–3:20. This is a key conclusion: Jesus is “the Righteous One” of 1:17.

Several Scriptures help to make this point. In Matt 5:17, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (emphasis mine). In Romans 10:4, Paul says that Jesus is the τέλος…νόμου (telos…nomou), that is, the ‘perfection,’ ‘completion,’ or ‘fulfillment’ of the Law. Hebrews 5:8–9 (NIV 2011) says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Although Hebrews was most likely not written by Paul, the connection here of learning obedience (Romans 1:5) through his faithful enduring of suffering drives home the fact that Romans 3 should be read in the light of the subjective genitive.

My own translation of Romans 3:21–31 reads differently from the traditional reading in many translations, for every reference to “faith/faithfulness” is a reference to the “faithfulness of Christ” in v. 22. Here is how the passage might be rendered:

But now God’s righteousness, apart from the Law, has been revealed, being testified to in the Law and the Prophets, God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who are believing. For there is no difference. For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus sinned and are falling short of the glory of God. whom God presented the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice through [his] faithfulness in his blood into a demonstration of his righteousness because God overlooked of the sins committed beforehand in his forbearance, towards a demonstration of his righteousness in the present time, in order that [Christ] himself would be the “Righteous One” and the one justifying those of the faithfulness of Jesus.

This also demonstrates God’s faithfulness. God required a blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Under the Law, that happened in the sacrificial system. But now, “apart from the Law,” a new method of atonement is achieved through Christ. God’s faithfulness is vindicated in Christ, for now God can “set aside” the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant because of what he accomplished through Jesus on the cross.

Romans 4: Abraham’s Faithfulness Demonstrated

If the last half of chapter 3 was not enough to convince the Jews that it is possible to be justified “apart from the Law,” then Paul hopes the example of Abraham in chapter 4 will irrefutably drive home the point. Actually, Abraham lived “apart from the Law” that did not yet exist (i.e. “prior to” the Law). But the quote from the LXX is revealing (Romans 4:9, see also vs. 3 for a variation): Ἐλογίσθη τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ἡ πίστις εἰς δικαιοσύνην (elogisthē tō Abraam hē pistis eis dikaiosynēn, “Faithfulness into righteousness was reckoned to Abraham.”)

Although the context of this quote (Genesis 15:6) suggests at first glance Abraham’s simple belief in the promise from God that he would have many descendants, Abraham later demonstrated his faithfulness to the promise (because he knew God would be faithful to the promise) by taking Isaac up on Mt. Moriah and raising the knife to sacrifice his only son through whom that promise (presumably) would come.

James would want to speak up at this point. Of course James is famous for arguing that “faith without works is dead.” It would seem, then, that James and Paul converge here. James’s concept of faith-based works seems similar to Paul’s concept of faithfulness (cf. Eph 2:10): faithfulness involves obedience not to the Law, but to Christ who fulfilled the Law.

δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and the Subjective Genitive

Just as 3:22 informs us that Paul is talking about Christ’s faithfulness throughout the last part of chapter 3, and not our faith in Christ; and God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham in chapter 4; so also δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in 1:17 (a subjective genitive) helps to inform us of God’s righteousness (even though “God’s” does not always modify “righteousness”) in most places in Romans.

No one save Christ could have obtained the justification or righteousness from total obedience to the Law, so that now we who believe can be justified not through the Law, but through Christ “apart from the Law.” Not only can we be justified, but God is just in doing so through Christ, because Christ fulfilled the Law (3:26).

Application & Conclusion

Often I have struggled with whether or not my own “faith” was a work, and if I did not have enough “faith,” what would God do to me? Often I hear horror stories of pastors or ill-informed Christians telling people going through a bad time that they are suffering because they do not have enough faith. With the above interpretation, the amount or quality of our faith is not necessarily a factor. God’s faithfulness stands firm even if we are faithless. Does this imply universalism? No. Eternal security? No. But it does call us to trust all the more in his promises, because he has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt his ability and willingness to faithfully follow through on his promises. This is an assurance that all of us could use.

As for the translation of πιστίς, I would suggest that many occurrence of the word in Romans (and perhaps everywhere in the Pauline corpus) be filtered through the important phrase in his inclusio of 1:5/16:26, phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”). When Paul speaks of “faith,” even when he personalizes it in the first or second person, he has in mind a faithful obedience to Christ, and the good works that “God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

All Greek Scripture quotations taken from Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (With Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Logos electronic edition, unless otherwise indicated.

The NIV (1984 edition) translated this identical phrase two different ways. In 1:5, the translators chose “to obedience that comes from faith,” and in 16:26, they chose “so that [all nations] might believe and obey him.” In both places, also, ἔθνη (ethnē ‘Gentiles’) is translated differently: “Gentiles” in 1:5 and “nations” in 16:26. It would seem in 16:26 that Paul puts his Q.E.D. on at least one of his purposes (1:5) for writing this letter to the Romans. The 2011 edition of the NIV fixes this inconsistency, having “the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” in both places. Many other modern translations, such as the NRSV and ESV got the consistency right in the interim, translating the phrase “obedience of faith” in both verses. I would still maintain, however, that “faithfulness” is the better translation.

August 14, 2011

Redemption and Faithfulness (Romans 3:23–24)

(Media Note: We tackled 1 Timothy 2:9–12 in Sunday School this morning, which reminded of the YouTube video “All Things Are Better in Koine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!)

I have finally caught up with my reading schedule and find myself in Romans this week. I think there’s a good reason why Romans was placed at the head of Paul’s letters in the New Testament (NT): he lays out a detailed description of the connection between faith, justification, and redemption that is foundational for understanding not only his letters (Romans through Philemon), but for the entire Bible, as he brings into the discussion the relationship of Jews and Judaism to God’s plan of salvation.

I am working on simplifying and updating an assignment I did 15 years ago for a class I had with Dr. Walt Zorn at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I summarized Paul’s argument in the first five chapters of Romans. It is rather detailed and heady (it was a seminary class, after all), but I want to simplify it for my blog readers, because I think understanding the flow of the argument will help us understand just what Paul meant when he wrote it. The basic question of the assignment (and I’ll leave you to explore this on your own for a time if you wish) is, “Who is the righteous who will live by faith (Romans 1:17) if Paul in Romans 3:10–12 quotes the Psalms (14:1–3, 53:1–3) and Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’?” If you figure out the answer to this, then consider why that is significant for your own Christian walk.

Translations of Romans 3:23–24

I will give you a little hint of it here this morning, as I want to focus on what is arguably the most familiar salvation passage in Romans, 3:23–24, the first step on the “Romans Road.” Before I go into the Greek text, I want to give you a few different English translations of the passage: depending on your background, you may have a slightly nuanced understanding of the passage, so I want to make sure I respect whatever differences there may be. After these English translations, I’ll give the Greek text and transliteration. Later in the post, I will do a phrase-for-phrase comparison with another key salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8. (All passages are from the Logos electronic versions of the respective editions.)

‎‎NIV (1984): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NIV (2011): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎TNIV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NLT: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

‎‎AV (KJV 1769): For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

‎‎ESV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

‎‎NASB95: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

‎‎The Message: Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

NA27: πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō Iēsou; see my English translation below).

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Romans 3:23–24


The sentence diagram in Figure 1 makes the following clear: the participle δικαιούμενοι (present passive, from δικαιόω, “who are being justified”) is directly connected to the subject of the main clause, πάντες (“all”). I’ll come back to this in a moment. The main verbs of the passage are those in verse 23, so this is the primary point being made: we “sinned” (aorist, or simple past tense) and “are falling short of” or “are lacking” (present tense) the glory of God. It is important to note that the verb for “sinned” (from ἁμαρτάνω) is in the aorist tense, which is the basic, workhorse past tense in the Greek language. English translations are not wrong to render this in the perfect tense (“have sinned”), but it may be that Paul is just making a general statement (based on the quotations from the Psalms in 3:10–20) that we “sinned.” The second verb, ὑστεροῦνται, is present tense, so it denotes a current, ongoing state, but as we will see, it is one that is being reversed by the justification taking place at the same time.

Before offering my translation, however, I need to deal with the participle δικαιούμενοι. This is a present passive participle, which generally means the action is going on at the same time as the main verb(s). But with one main verb past tense and the other present, which is it? My decision is admittedly theological, but because I believe that salvation is not just a “one-and-done” event, but a lifelong process that includes sanctification and justification, I would argue that we are currently being justified because we currently lack the full glory of God. Our salvation, although effective at whatever stage of spiritual growth we are at, is not “full and complete” until we stand before our Maker. The phrase that follows this participle modifies (or is an extended adjective of) the word for “all”. If I rearrange the word order slightly, the passage has a very different nuance to it in English: “For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Messiah Jesus sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” (I should note in Romans 5:1, δικαιόω is an aorist participle, but that does not mean the process is done, necessarily, only that the process of justification precedes the peace that we have with God as a result.)

Comparison to Ephesians 2:8

So what does all this heady grammatical talk have to do with living the Christian life? In order to help make a little more sense of things, I want to bring Ephesians 2:8 into the mix. As you will see in Table 1 below, Ephesians 2:8 is actually a parallel passage to Romans 3:24, with one revealing comparison. Ephesians 2:8 says: τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·tē gar chariti este sesōsmenoi dia pisteōs kai touto ouk ex humōn, theou to dōron, “For it is by this grace you are being saved through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Table 1: Comparing Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 3:24

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 2:8

Δικαιουμενοι

are being justified

ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

are being saved

δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι

freely by his grace

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί… θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

by this grace… it is the gift of God

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

through the redemption which [is] in Messiah Jesus

διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν

through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves

I am guessing that most of you were able to follow the first two comparisons between the verses. Being justified and being saved, while not strictly synonymous legally or technically, essentially represent the restoration of our relationship with God. The second pair about grace is straightforward enough. It is the third pair that tends to raise people’s hackles, because most of us have been taught that it is through our “faith” that we are saved. But the word for faith in Greek, πίστις, can also mean “faithfulness.” But whose faithfulness is it, really? If there is anything to the comparison, then the faithfulness is not ours (“this salvation by grace through faith is not from yourselves”), but it is the faithfulness of Jesus to go to the cross and purchase our redemption. Not convinced? Look at Romans 3:25, where Paul uses the identical phrase from Ephesians 2:8: ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia [tēs] pisteōs en tō autou haimati, “whom [Jesus] God presented as an atoning sacrifice through the faithfulness in his blood” (emphasis mine).

Suppose for a moment that this faith is ours: How much faith do I need to be saved? We know faith is quantifiable, because Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed, while in Hebrews 11, the faith of the saints who have gone before us is exemplified in numerous ways. If it is our faith, then salvation by “our” faith becomes a relative statement, not an absolute. If it is relative, then we can get caught up in asking ourselves if we have enough faith, but simply asking that question denies the grace aspect of salvation. It’s a gift: we can’t earn it; it’s not dependent on the quantity of our faith. But if this faithfulness refers to the sacrifice of a perfect savior, then the statement becomes absolute, and we never have any reason to question the amount of faith we have relative to the state of our salvation.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

This is not to deny the importance of our own faith and trust in Jesus, however. Our own faith or trust in Jesus is not so much for the purpose of being saved but the result of being saved. Because we know God is with us, because we know God has our back, because we know we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can “walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We show our faith by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:15–20; John 15:1–16; Romans 7:4). We demonstrate our faith by what we do (Romans 4; James 2:14–26).

We hear much about faith and salvation, but I think there is an equal, if not greater emphasis on “confession” or “profession” in many salvation passages. Now I do not here mean only confession of sins (see, for example, 1 John 1:9). In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, a confession that is made by many new Christians before joining a congregation or getting immersed (at least in our own Restoration Movement congregations). In Acts 2:38, the would-be converts had to repent, which essentially meant renouncing their old lifestyles, and make the public statement of being immersed. Romans 10:9–10 speaks of confessing (or “professing”) that Jesus is Lord. Toward the end of Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayers that he might boldly profess Christ, and in the opening chapter of Romans, he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

Romans 3:23–24 is a beautiful passage that says God doesn’t give up on us just because we sinned. God continues his work of justification in us in spite of our shortcomings (see also Romans 4:5, 17; 5:6–10). We don’t have to perfect ourselves first; we just need to let God do the perfecting.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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