Monday, December 3, 2012

The Romans Inclusio and Gutless Gracers

Here's the introduction to Romans, emphasis added:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ... (Rom 1:1-6)

And here's the closing:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom 16:25-27)

Paul brackets his magnum opus with this phrase summarizing the purpose of the letter, and in fact his entire ministry: "to bring about the obedience of faith". He starts by saying that's what it will be about, concludes by saying that's what it was about, and in between, well, that's what it's about: the glory of saving faith and the corresponding transformation to Christlikeness.

What this phrase (and the entire rest of the letter!) makes clear is that, to Paul, if there is no obedience, there is no faith.

Yet Romans is the perpetual favorite of those who insist that obedience is merely optional, a nice little extra for the Christian. All that really matters is just saying 'Christ is Lord' once - after that, you can be sanctified and that's great, but you don't need to. You don't even have to keep claiming to be a Christian - just say it once, and you're good. This idea mostly comes from a really, really lazy interpretation of Romans 10:9-10 (hints: what does "Lord" mean, and what would such a confession mean for a 1st-century subject of Caesar?). This interpretation flies in the face of the rest of the letter, where nonchalance towards sin is condemned, sanctification is a necessary result of being a son of God, being conformed to the image of Christ is what we are predestined to, etc.

Romans simply cannot support the Gutless Grace position - it denounces it many times and in various ways - which Paul lets us know with a few little words at the beginning and end. The gospel brings about the obedience of faith; no obedience, no faith.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Thank you. Appreciate you pointing this out!