Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

You could call the apostle Paul mad, but you cannot call him soft.

Paul’s understanding of his life’s purpose prioritizes struggle. Not for Paul the vague notion that ‘I know that I am doing what God wants because I have peace.’ One wonders whether he would scoff at such palaver, roll his eyes, or simply move kindly and firmly to correct the person who speaks it. (more…)

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None of us is a viable candidate.

I recently heard a man with a track record for diligence and quiet composure dismissed as a candidate for promotion as ‘not a viable candidate’. His critic may or may not have been clear-eyed about his verdict, but the words have lingered in my soul.

It strikes me that, when evaluated as candidates for kudos in this world and the next, each of us could be summarily dismissed with that same condemning sentence: not a viable candidate. (more…)

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Having just finished rereading the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, it strikes me that the apostle Paul was supremely ‘confident in the gospel’ of Jesus Christ. His own words, in another place, say so.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:16–17 ESV)

It strikes me that there is not one way for a Christian to be ‘ashamed of the gospel’, but rather many. (more…)

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Paul is not pollyannish in the face of evil’s reality.

The apostle names opposition to God’s purposes with supple and varied vocabulary. There are ‘principalities and powers’, ‘rulers’, ‘dominions’, and ‘authorities’. Paul can discourse widely upon the power of sin and death. He lays hold of imagery of warfare, its weapons, and its equipment to paint the picture of the bellicose environment in which the follower of Jesus sooner or later discovers himself.

Yet in the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans, as he describes the confrontation of good with evil, Paul’s language is decidedly civilian.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 NRSV)

Paul places his readers in the power position. They are not so much potential victims of evil as its conqueror. Yet the battle tactics are asymmetrical. They will not experience their conquest over evil as the result of employing evil’s own tools. (more…)

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The apostle Paul seems incapable of discerning the intentions of Israel’s God in straight lines and transparent mathematics. Something is always up. Something deeper than we know is in the mix.

When Paul traces mercy’s purpose, mystery—though neither confusion nor cluelessness—is axiomatic. (more…)

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When the apostle Paul’s discourse turns doxological, it frequently takes the shape of rhetorical questions hurled with gusto into the public arena that his letters create.

Yet Paul is confident enough of his own bearing in the story which fuels his letter-writing that he inserts himself and the answers that course through him into the mix. Paul who asks is Paul who must answer. Perhaps there is too much risk that rhetorical questions might be answered inaccurately by his correspondents. More likely, Paul’s passion seizes the day and declares into the very questions that he has forged.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.‘ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

These are the queries of a man who has known bitter experience that could plausibly be construed as abandonment by God. A man who has known both extra- and quasi-judicial condemnation, who has been anathematized by his social and religious kin groups would be a strange duck if he had never wondered whether some deep truth resides in their accusation.


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The justification of the unrighteous produces passivity only among those who have recklessly misunderstood the thing.

The more closely the apostle Paul’s argument approaches the unmerited favor of God to his rebellious children, the more energetic becomes his summons to align our understanding with that which God has pronounced to be true about us.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The rhetorical questions, the imperatival tone, and the use of the verb λογίζομαι (to consider or reckon) that abound in Paul’s letter to the Romans conspire to urge the believer to an almost athletic feat of mental recalibration.

To be declared just in the light of the redemption that Jesus has won for us on the cross, we see in Paul’s prolonged and intense discussion, does not automatically lead to a changed self-awareness nor to the righteous life that ought to ensue.

Rather, we are called to align our thinking and our conduct with the new reality of sinners-cum-righteous.

Perhaps in no other context is freedom at once so free and so demanding.

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Paul, the quintessential Israelite, finds his vocation outside the boundaries of his land and people. He knows himself to have received a particular calling ‘to the nations’. There is no telling just to what degree—it is likely to be considerable—the apostle saw his destiny mirroring the Isaianic servant of the Lord, for whom it was a ‘small thing’ to restore Israel’s lost tribes. For that enigmatic figure, the properly proportioned calling consisted in taking light to the nations. (more…)

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The apostle Paul appears to have been sure of many things. If this certainty stands behind his willingness to suffer to the end for his cause, it doubtless also nourishes that softer strength that is evident in his encouragement to others to live in one way and not in another. People who are sure about lots of things make uncomfortable company. It was probably not easy to spend abundant time with Paul of Tarsus. (more…)

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At what is our twelfth chapter in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes a famous turn from the indicative to the imperative.

Although this bifurcation of the most well known of his letters is criticized by Pauline scholars as simplistic, it captures a distinction between the dominant tone of the first twelve chapter over against the prevailing note in those that follow. Paul moves from a concentration upon God’s redemptive initiative in his world through the cross-work of his son Jesus Christ, on the one hand, to the proper community response of Jesus’ followers, on the other. (more…)

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