Notes on Romans 1-6 "The Power of God unto Salvation," CFM study for Aug. 5 - 11
About the Book of RomansAnd now we're on to the letters portion of the New Testament! This is an interesting section, which is not organized chronologically, but mostly by length of the letter. Romans is the longest letter and Paul's writing is very dense. There's also a lot of terms that are used that have a lot of baggage in that they have come to mean specific things to some denominations and so it is hard for us to parse out the modern meaning that some have assigned words like "faith," "grace," "works," "justification," from the author's original intent. It's also easy to proof-text, or take one verse in isolation and claim Paul meant something he really didn't. It's important to put the words in the context of the original Greek and in context of the other things that Paul wrote, both in Romans and in other letters.
Peter himself wrote that Paul isn't easy to understand, "even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:15-16). So if we have trouble understanding Paul a few centuries removed from context, we should remember that some people who weren't so far removed also had difficulties.
Romans is an epistle that was written to the Saints in Rome. Most scholars date it to about A.D. 57, written from Corinth during Paul's third missionary journey. So this letter was written fairly late in relation to the other letters and events of the New Testament. Eric D. Huntsman explains, "Paul’s important letter to the Romans is significant both because Paul wrote it to a congregation with which he was not yet familiar and also because of the particular history of the congregation there. He seems to have written it from Corinth in the winter of AD 57–58, when Paul began making plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain and the west after first delivering a collection of money to the poor Saints in Jerusalem (see Romans 15:14–33). Since he knew individual Saints from Rome but had not yet been there himself, the letter was partially intended as a letter of introduction in which he hoped to familiarize the Roman congregation with “his” gospel, perhaps recognizing that his views had been incorrectly represented to the Roman Saints by others (see Romans 3:8).  Furthermore, Paul wrote this letter with over a decade of preaching and writing behind him, including the letters to the Thessalonians, Galatians, Corinthians, and perhaps to the Philippians and to Philemon. As a result, in this letter Paul provides a masterful survey of many of the issues he treated in earlier letters to other congregations, producing in the process what is perhaps his most systematic treatment of the issue of justification by faith (see Romans 1:16–8:39). 
"The background of the Roman church itself influenced both how Paul approached the issue of justification and why he also introduced another topic, God’s promises to Israel. Christianity had been brought to Rome by others, presumably Jewish Christians, perhaps as early as the AD 40s or even earlier since Jews from Rome had been among those in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost (see Acts 2:10). The introduction of Christianity in the capital had apparently led to conflict within the large Jewish community in the city, leading the emperor Claudius to expel all Jews from the city in AD 49.  Consequently, in Romans, Paul addresses many of the same issues as he did in Galatians, but here the situation is reversed. In Galatians, Paul addressed a congregation that he had founded but which had subsequently been infiltrated by Judaizers bringing with them old practices of the Mosaic law. In Romans he was addressing a church founded by others and one in which Jewish Christians had been significant but were no longer dominant. As a result, he is less strident and more diplomatic about some of the same principles.
After the death of Claudius in AD 54, Jews and Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome, but in the meantime the Church had continued to grow among Gentiles, perhaps resulting in some tension between them and the returning Jewish Christians. The failure of the majority of ethnic Israel to accept Christ and the confusion about what role Jewish Christians should play in the Church led to questions such as whether the Gentiles had superceded the Jews or whether the promises of Israel had passed to the Church, subjects that Paul addresses in his treatise on God’s promises to Israel (see Romans 9:1–11:36). Largely misunderstood by sectarian Christianity, Paul’s arguments here regarding such issues as God’s election of Israel (see 9:1–29), Israel’s unbelief (see 9:30–10:5), the availability of salvation to all (see 10:6–21), the fact that Israel’s rejection is not final (see 11:1–10), Paul’s allegory of the ingrafted branches and the salvation of the Gentiles (see 11:11–24), and the promise that all righteous Israel will be saved as a group (see 11:25–32) have a particular importance in the context of the restored gospel. 
Romans was written by Paul through a scribe named Tertius. There's a great article here by Lincoln H. Blumell about the use of scribes during the time period. At times scribes had a lot of literary license. Sometimes the author of the letter would dictate word-for-word what he wanted written and other times he would give an outline or simply give the scribe a rough idea of what he wanted said. Usually (but not always, as the article shows in a few examples), the author would have the final version read to him so he could approve it. "In six of the thirteen epistles bearing Paul’s name, there is explicit evidence that he employed the hand of a scribe to write the main body of the epistle: Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Thessalonians. It is also quite possible, given the evidence in 2 Thessalonians, that Paul employed scribes in the other letters bearing his name and that in these letters he left only an “unsigned postscript.”  . . . The primary purpose of this analysis has only been to demonstrate that Paul did in fact use scribes and that their employment could have had a significant impact on the final form of certain epistles affecting their consequent vocabulary, style, and perhaps even content."
Introduction, Romans 1:1-7
- Paul introduces himself as an apostle in this letter and in verse 7 says it is by Jesus Christ "by whom we have received grace and apostleship," Whether that meant a member of the Twelve or not is not known for sure. Paul certainly had a special witness of Christ and a specific mission he was determined to fulfill.
- Paul tells the Romans that they "are also the called of Jesus Christ and that they are "called to be saints." (verses 6-7) How do we fit that description today? What is your calling from God? Are you working to fulfill it and to be a saint?
Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving, Romans 1:8-15
- I love that Paul tells the people that "without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;" (v. 9). I need to do better about remembering to pray for others outside my own family circle. Sometimes I get so focused on my needs and my worries that I don't remember to pray often for others I know who are struggling. My prayers are too much about me, I'm afraid.
- Paul longs to be with the saints in Rome that he might give them a spiritual gift. Lynn Wilson says, "He wanted to give a spiritual gift “to make you strong” (NIV). He hoped it would help the saints become “established/sterichthenai/fix firmly, direct myself towards, (b) support; strengthen.” If these saints had the gift of the Holy Ghost, was he referring to the initiatory blessings of washings and anointings or perhaps the temple endowment? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that: “The apostles after their endowment, were qualified to ordain others after the holy order of God to teach repentance and remission of sins also or, in other words, to teach all those things that Christ had commanded them to teach.”11
- Paul also wants to go to Rome that he and they will be comforted in the mutual faith they share. It was a hostile and wicked world they lived in; the comfort and strength they drew from each other must have been so powerful. I have felt the comfort of being with apostles and other believers in our day. There is something so wonderful about being on vacation somewhere and joining with the local ward or branch. It never fails to feel like home. We've been to Church with wealthy members in California, with the farmers of small-town Idaho, with native Hawaiians who greeted us with big hugs and kisses, and even in a small chapel in Armenia. That immediate brotherhood is beautiful.
- The word "let" in the KJV in verse 13 means "hindered." Paul wishes he could have been to see the Romans but wasn't able to yet.
The Theme of the Letter, Romans 1:16-17
- Every commentator seems to agree that the thesis of the whole letter is these two wonderful verses. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
- Are we ashamed of the gospel and the power of God that brings salvation?
- Wayment notes, "The righteousness of God is taken to mean his righteous actions and plan, not a description of God's personal righteousness that was achieved by human standards."
- Wayment that "the word faith is not to be defined too narrowly, as believe only, but it is a word signaling orientation, an orientation to God and Christ." Faith was and is an action word. How do we increase our ability to live by faith today?
- From the student manual, "“Believeth” (verse 16) and “faith” (verse 17) are translations of the Greek verb pisteuō and the related noun pistis. These terms can mean both “faith” and “faithfulness.” For Paul, faith in Jesus Christ was not just mental agreement with the idea that Jesus is the Son of God, but wholehearted acceptance of Jesus Christ and trust in Him as the One who offered Himself in Atonement for our sins. This deep trust leads to a life of faithfulness, manifested by repenting of sins, being baptized, and trying to live as Jesus Christ taught (see Acts 16:30–33; Romans 6:1–11; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
God is Seen in the Creation, Romans 1:18-32
- In these verses, Paul lays out how God is going to grant an opportunity for salvation to everyone, whether they have had the opportunity to learn about the gospel or not. This is a hard doctrine for some Jews at the time. Weren't they God's chosen people? And didn't that mean that they alone would be saved? The answer, of course, is yes, they were chosen (as Paul will discuss a bit here and in chapter 8), but, to paraphrase Inigo, that status didn't mean what they thought it meant. (Actually, this meme is relevant for a lot of words misunderstood in Romans!)
- The KJV words "hold the truth in unrighteousness" in verse 18 is a bit archaic in meaning. Wayment translates it to "unrighteous people who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness," and the KJV footnote in our Bibles says, "IE restrain the truth by unrighteousness." The JST also clarifies this verse.
- Paul says that God can be seen and felt by all in the world, with or without the gospel. The creation testifies of the Creator and the "invisible things of him" are "clearly seen" by his creations. And yet, some turn their back on this innate truth within them and "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools," (v 22) and they worship idols and "changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator,"
- "Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “Man once knew God by revelation; but this knowledge was lost because of disobedience. Then man, by foolish reason, created his own gods” (student manual)
- How are we tempted to worship the creature more than the Creator? We're not into actual idol worship today, but there are plenty of things to distract us from our Creator. Worshiping an ideal body type and spending too much time and energy pursuing it could be one example. Deciding to follow any kind of lust or desire because if you feel it, that means it's part of your core identity could be another. Deciding that every man is the only judge of his own actions is a third.
- Paul gives examples of this pride and rejection of light from the world of the Romans. Sexual sins, homosexuality, pedastery, and more were common. Slaves, especially boys and young women, were often used for sexual purposes. You can feel Paul's disgust of such behavior, along with a whole host of other sins, "wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:" All of these are examples of how one can serve the creation more than the Creator.
- "Not convenient" in verse 28 means not fitting or correct (student manual).
Righteous Judgment, Romans 2:1-16
- Notwithstanding Paul condemns all these sins, he admonishes the saints to look to their own sins. "thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?"
- From the student manual, "These verses are an example of a “diatribe,” an ancient rhetorical style in which authors would state their readers’ possible objections and then respond to them. Some of the diatribes in Paul’s epistles may reflect real conversations Paul had experienced during his years of teaching the gospel. In Romans 2:1–3, the rhetorical dialogue proceeds as follows: Verse 1—Paul, having just taught about humanity’s sins (see Romans 1:18–32), now turns to an imaginary listener and declares the man to be guilty of judging others of sins the man has committed himself. Verse 2—The man protests that it is only just that God would condemn people who had committed such sins. Verse 3—Paul replies that if it is right for God to condemn people for their sins, then the man, who has also sinned, cannot expect to escape the judgment of God." It's important to note where Paul uses these exaggerated, imaginary conversations so that one verse isn't taken out of context and used to prove Paul meant something he didn't.
- Paul says that God will reward us all "according to his deeds." Those who are patient and "worketh good" will reap eternal life, glory, honor and peace, while those who do evil reap tribulation and anguish. This is true of the Jew and the Gentiles, because God is no respecter of persons. Those who have the law and don't live it don't merit any special consideration.
- From the student manual, "Those “in the law” were the Jews, while those “without law” were the Gentiles. Some Jews believed that God would condemn Gentiles but judge Jews favorably because they were His chosen people and possessed His law. Paul emphasized that “there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:11); God’s judgment of Jews and Gentiles is impartial (see Romans 2:5–11). Since both Gentiles and Jews were guilty of sin, without the Atonement of Christ they would all perish. But since the Jews had sinned against the law, they would also “be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12; see also 2 Nephi 9:27). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught, “God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them”
- Paul's statement that God does not show favoritism (verse 11) is revolutionary. Most societies through the history of the world have been divided into classes by race, creed, chances for learning, wealth, and birth. Look at the special status afforded Paul over and over again by virtue of his Roman citizenship. But the gospel doesn't value a Jew or a Gentile, a citizen or a slave, a male or a female, above another. Even members of God's kingdom are not prized above the heathens or those without law. Everyone that does good is blessed.
- Wayment points out in the notes to verse 15 that "Paul's teaching is informed by the Greek concept of the conscience, the part of the self that determines morally guided decisions and that today would be referred to as a soul or a spirit" Other scriptures affirm that "the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil;"
- I had an interesting conversation with a friend who lived in Saudi Arabia for 18 months. She shared with me many of the wonderful aspects of Saudi culture while also acknowledging difficulties. She talked admiringly about the reverence they have for God and the respect they have for motherhood. She said nowhere has she been more honored or respected when she went out in public with her children than in their culture. Everyone was kind and deferential to her. Their willingness to do good and live up the light they have "without the law" is as pleasing to God as someone who does have more light and knowledge and tries to live up to it.
Living Under the Law, Romans 2:17-29
- This is another example of the diatribe rhetorical device, "Paul addressed a representative Jewish man, acknowledged his status as a possessor of God’s law (hinting at the man’s pride), and then confronted him with examples of his own disobedience. Further examples of rhetorical diatribe can be seen in Romans 3:1–9, 27–31; 6:1–7:25; 9:14–33; 11:1–15." (from the student manual).
- Paul has some pretty hard words for those who profess to teach and believe something but then don't do it at all. He condemns those who steal or commit adultery while teaching others it is wrong, and those who boast of the law but break it. He says to those who do this, "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written." They had the covenant of God but spit upon it by only making a pretense of living it. It is a mockery and it hinders the Gentiles from believing.
- This reminds me of Corianton in the Book of Mormon, who was chastised for his sexual sins and the way they impeded the missionary labors: "Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words."
- Paul then uses circumcision as an example. It was a sign of God's covenant, not the covenant itself, so if a person is not a Jew inwardly as well as on the outside, it is just as if there was no covenant made, "thy circumcision is made uncircumcision." In contrast, one who lives the law that they know by nature but isn't circumcised shall "be counted for circumcision."
- I think it's important to note that Paul condemns hypocrisy, but that hypocrisy is not the same thing as falling short. We all fall short, as Paul will remind us very soon. Hypocrisy is pretending to live in a way that you actually have little or no intention of living. It isn't hypocrisy to try and fail to live as well as you should. In the words of Elder Holland, "In that regard, Leo Tolstoy wrote once of a priest who was criticized by one of his congregants for not living as resolutely as he should, the critic concluding that the principles the erring preacher taught must therefore also be erroneous.
In response to that criticism, the priest says: “Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.” Unable to live up to the high ideals he taught, the priest admits he has failed. But he cries:
“Attack me, [if you wish,] I do this myself, but [don’t] attack … the path I follow. … If I know the way home [but] am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering from side to side?
“… Do not gleefully shout, ‘Look at him! … There he is crawling into a bog!’ No, do not gloat, but give … your help [to anyone trying to walk the road back to God.]”
Brothers and sisters, every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living. If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human. May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future, or the possibility of godliness. If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.
Jewish Objections to Christian Faith, Romans 3:1-20
- This next section can be confusing but it is setting up the rest of the epistle for topics he will visit in greater depth. From the student manual, "As recorded in Romans 3:3–8, Paul posed a series of rhetorical questions and provided some brief answers on subjects to which he would return later in the epistle. These preliminary questions prepared Paul’s readers for more complete answers to come.
Romans 3:3–4. Question: If some of God’s chosen people were unfaithful, does this nullify God’s faithfulness? Answer: “God forbid!” Or, translated differently, “may it not be!” or “absolutely not!” Even if everyone lies, God is always honest and true to His word. (Paul addressed the problem of Israel’s unfaithfulness in more depth in Romans 9–11.)
Romans 3:5–6. Question: If our sin makes God’s righteousness even more clear for people to see, isn’t it unfair for God to punish us? Answer: Absolutely not! If God were unjust, He could not judge the world.
Romans 3:7–8. Question: How can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights His truthfulness and brings Him glory? Why shouldn’t I say (as some people slanderously reported Paul as saying), “Let us do evil, that good may come”? Answer: The people who are saying such things are rightly condemned. (In Romans 6, Paul returned to the false idea that the gospel condoned sin; for more insight, see the commentary for Romans 6:1–11.)
- I love verse 20 where it points out that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law helps us understand our need for the Savior and how we are "all under sin." (verse 9). My study Bible points out that one translation of this passage says, "Indeed it is the straight edge of the Law which shows us how crooked we are."
- This brings up some philosophical questions. Because if the law is impossible for anyone mortal to keep, what purpose does it serve? Is God just sending us here to fail? Yes, and no. God's law and commandments show us a better way to live and a standard to strive for, and helps us understand the need for One who is perfectly able to keep the law and save us from sin and death.
Justification, Romans 3:21-31
- Lest we miss the point, Paul reminds us bluntly, "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: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
- From the student manual, "In Romans 3:22, the sense of the Greek phrase translated as “by faith of Jesus Christ” is ambiguous; it can mean that we receive salvation “by our faith in Jesus Christ” or “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” The latter meaning teaches that because of the Savior’s faithfulness in suffering and dying in atonement for our sins, we can place our faith in Him and receive salvation. Both our faith in Jesus Christ and His faithfulness in atoning for us are essential elements of our salvation."
- In verse 25, "A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice, a means of making amends for sins and thus reconciling a broken relationship. Under the law of Moses, individuals who had committed sins offered animal sacrifice to make reparation for their sins and reestablish a right relationship with God. Because of His love for us, God reversed this order in the Atonement of Jesus Christ—instead of the sinners (us) offering a sacrifice to appease the One offended, propitiation was offered by the One who was sinned against. God the Father offered the reconciliation offering—His Son—as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of all our sins, upon the condition of our repentance (see also 1 John 2:2; 4:10)." (student manual)
- Lynn Wilson concurs, " Paul uses “propitiation” which is a form of the word meaning “priestly sacrifice.” It is not the blood of animals, though, but our Savior’s redeeming blood. Paul pictures Jesus as the High Priest making “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, NKJB). Paul attests to the Atonement and never moves far from this subject."
- As a further testament to the temple imagery used, Wayment translates verse 25 as "whom God put forward on the seat of mercy through faith in his death." and writes, "faith in his death is literally faith in his blood. Paul speaks specifically of Jesus being put forward on the seat of mercy, a technical term referring to the covering or lid of the ark of the covenant where the blood of sacrificed was sprinkled."
- By law alone no one can be justified. Justification has the sense of being exonerated in the courtroom. All of us have need to cling to Jesus Christ and his Atonement.
- King Benjamin made a similar point about our standing before God, "I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. . . And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you." (Mosiah 2:21, 25).
- Again from the student manual, "In Romans 3 and in Galatians, the word works does not appear to refer to righteous deeds or efforts to obey God. Instead, in these passages, works refers specifically to performances of the law of Moses (see Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16). Furthermore, the context of Romans and Galatians indicates that these “deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28) refer not to the law’s universal commandments (like the commandments not to kill or commit adultery), but to distinctively Jewish observances like circumcision, dietary regulations, and special feast days—parts of the law that were not required of Gentile Saints (see Acts 15:1–11, 19–20).
Paul had encountered some Jewish Christians who were teaching the false doctrine that Gentile Christians would not be saved unless they were circumcised (see Acts 15:1–2; Galatians 5:2). Though this ordinance was one of many performances of the law that God gave to ancient Israel, those performances were not the means of obtaining forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness was available only through the Atonement of Christ (see Romans 3:24–25). Thus, the way of salvation for all, both Jew and Gentile, was through faith in Christ and commitment to His gospel (see Romans 3:29–30).
Paul’s use of the phrase “the law of faith” (Romans 3:27) shows that even though salvation does not come by the law of Moses, individuals must follow laws in order to be saved. Faith in Christ is the law of faith, a way of life that does not “make void the law,” but rather, through faith, “we establish the law” (Romans 3:31; compare Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:2). Faith leads to repentance and striving to live as Jesus Christ taught.
The Faith of Abraham, Romans 4:1-25
- Paul wants to explain the goodness of God and how salvation is open to all, both Jew and Gentile. He uses Abraham as an example. He lived long before the law of Moses and yet he was the father of the faithful and received promises and covenants from God even before he was circumcised as a sign of that covenant. Verse 10 tells us that this "blessedness" came upon Abraham "in uncircumcision." Verse 11 then tells us that circumcision worked as a sin or a seal of the righteousness and faith(fulness) he had before he was circumcised. In other words, circumcision was a mark or token of the covenant, not the covenant itself. Verse 12 and 16 tell us that Abraham became the father of all the faithful, both the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
- Paul explains how Abraham was faithful to the promises of God, and "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be."
- In the KJV, it reads, "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;" (verses 19-20). Wayment says the "he did not consider" part was not included in the early manuscripts but was probably a scribal attempt to extol the faith of Abraham. Instead of saying that, most early manuscripts say something to the effect that even though Abraham had great faith, he saw his body as dead and Sarah as barren. I love that picture of Abraham. He knew how unlikely God's promises were. He wasn't oblivious to his and Sarah's infertility. He was aware that what God had promised would take a miracle. And yet, he continued to hold fast to his faith in God, "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."
- How do we hold onto that same faith in the promises of God? What has God promised you? Will you hold onto that promise and against hope believe in hope? Can you hold onto hope when things are the most hopeless? Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "Hope is not knowledge, but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future. It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance.
In the language of the gospel, this hope is sure, unwavering, and active. The prophets of old speak of a “firm hope” and a “lively hope.” It is a hope glorifying God through good works. With hope comes joy and happiness. With hope, we can “have patience, and bear … [our] afflictions.” . . . And to all who suffer—to all who feel discouraged, worried, or lonely—I say with love and deep concern for you, never give in.
Never allow despair to overcome your spirit.
Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorrow, and gladdens every heart."
Reconciliation, Romans 5:1-11
- Just as Abraham was justified by his faith, so we can be (v. 1) and through Jesus Christ we have access, by faith, to the grace "wherein we stand." Elder D. Todd Christofferson says, "Because of “the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice,” Jesus Christ can satisfy or “answer the ends of the law” on our behalf. Pardon comes by the grace of Him who has satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified.
Thus, we may appropriately speak of one who is justified as pardoned, without sin, or guiltless. For example, “Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Ne. 27:16; emphasis added). Yet glorious as the remission of sins is, the Atonement accomplishes even more."
- Not only should we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, says Paul, but we glory in tribulation and how it works patience, "And patience, experience; and experience, hope:" Wayment translates those words slightly differently, as "knowing that trial produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope." It all works out for our good.
- Knowing we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God, Paul reminds us that our hope can help us not be ashamed because of the love of God. God loves us so much that Christ died for us even before we repented and became faithful. "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God isn't waiting for us to be perfect to bless us; He gives us his Grace and enabling power anytime we take any steps toward Him. As Elder David A. Bednar explains, "If I were to emphasize one overarching point this morning, it would be this: I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.
Brothers and sisters, the gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. There is help from the Savior for the entire journey of life—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature.
I am not trying to suggest that the redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement are separate and discrete. Rather, these two dimensions of the Atonement are connected and complementary; they both need to be operational during all phases of the journey of life. And it is eternally important for all of us to recognize that both of these essential elements of the journey of life—both putting off the natural man and becoming a saint, both overcoming bad and becoming good—are accomplished through the power of the Atonement. Individual willpower, personal determination and motivation, and effective planning and goal setting are necessary but ultimately insufficient to triumphantly complete this mortal journey. Truly we must come to rely upon “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8)."
Death and Sin, Romans 5:12-21
- Lynn Wilson points out about verse 13, "In Paul’s Epistles, most often, the word “law” refers to the Law of Moses, so he is saying that before Moses, there was still sin. Paul knew that God taught earlier prophets the laws of the Gospel, as eternal principles of happiness. The word “imputed” meant “to reckon, or lay to one’s charge.” It is also translated “taken into account” (BSB). It describes our responsibility to follow, knowing God’s laws (as discussed above in Romans 2:12)."
- Verses 12-14 reminds us that Adam brought sin into the world and that Christ was the "new Adam" who was able to save us from the fall. As Adam's life and transgression brought effects for all of his posterity, so the righteousness of Christ brings effects and salvation for all. Adam brought the fall and Christ the Atonement. "For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." My favorite print that symbolizes this is below.
- Lynn Wilson says about verse 20, "In Greek the word used for, “entered” means “to come in by the side of.” In classical Greek plays, it was used for supporting actors who would enter the stage briefly and leave again.37 This is how Paul saw the Law of Moses—it was just a supporting actor who briefly played its role, and then left the stage for the main actor to perform."
Rising with Christ and Baptism Imagery, Romans 6:1-15
- In both the beginning and end of this section (verse 1-2 and 15) Paul cautions that what he says about God's grace is not a license to sin. "God forbid!" Such an attitude makes a mockery of Christ's gift. He suffers for our sins and for the pain we cause others when we sin. Should we knowingly add to that burden? God forbid! I think Brad Wilcox says it best (forgive me a long quote but it is so good!): "Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.
I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”
They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”
I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”
Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.
- Paul explains the beautiful imagery of baptism as a death and a resurrection and an entrance into new life. Our old, sinful nature needs to die so that "that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (v. 6). Because of Christ's atonement, we can be alive in Him. We should be changed forever. Paul says, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." In the world today, lusts are not only are indulged in, they are encouraged. We are told that our sexual desires form the core of our identity. None of this old-fashioned reigning in or bridling anything. No need for self-restraint or discipline. It is sad because the fruits of letting sin reign are so bitter.
- In contrast, Elder Neal A. Maxwell tells us how the man of Christ should live, "Whereas the natural man vents his anger, the men and women of Christ are “not easily provoked.” (1 Cor. 13:5.) Whereas the natural man is filled with greed, the men and women of Christ “seeketh not [their] own.” (1 Cor. 13:5.) Whereas the natural man seldom denies himself worldly pleasures, the men and women of Christ seek to bridle all their passions. (See Alma 38:12.)
Whereas the natural man covets praise and riches, the men and women of Christ know such things are but the “drop.” (D&C 117:8.) Human history’s happiest irony will be that the covenant-keeping, unselfish individuals will finally receive “all that [the] Father hath”! (D&C 84:38.)
One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we “own” ourselves. Of course we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to “come unto Christ” soon realize that they do not “own” themselves. Instead, they belong to Him. We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence, there is a stark difference between stubbornly “owning” oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is not a mark of independence, but of indulgence!
Our Commitment to Righteousness, Romans 6:16-23
- What are we when we rise from that baptism but servants (or slaves) to Christ? No one can avoid serving one master or another. Paul tells us that we become slaves to that which we obey. If we choose sin, our master is death, but if we choose obedience we obey righteousness.
- About these verses, Lynn Wilson points out, "In a culture where one third of the Roman Empire were slaves and half of the city of Rome were either servants or slaves, Paul used words that they understood better than we do. Slave or servant, was the same word. Servants worked more as indentured servants in that time, and slaves usually had a time limit (seven years for Jewish men, and age thirty to forty for Romans).40 They served their masters as doctors, teachers, scribes, personal assistants, farmers, household help, and garbage men. Servitude was so widespread that even slaves owned slaves. The audience had a better understanding of what was required by obeying one’s master. This gave a stronger commitment to the call, “become servants of the Righteous One.”
- The student manual adds, "Frequently in Paul’s writing, the Greek word translated “servant” also means “slave,” and Paul used the imagery of slavery to teach about the spiritual consequences of choosing to sin. Since slavery was a common institution in the Roman Empire, Paul’s audience would have readily identified with metaphors like yielding to God as servants would yield to their master (see Romans 6:13) and being slaves to sin (see Romans 6:17, 20). Slaves in ancient Rome could purchase their freedom or be freed by their masters. Continuing his slavery analogy, Paul taught that the price of freedom from sin was paid by Jesus Christ through His Atonement (Romans 3:24); however, freedom could be realized in the lives of His followers only as they chose to abandon sin and become “servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)."
- Paul asks, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death" (v. 21). Paul knew what he was talking about, having suffered his own shame over his former persecution. Can you imagine the gruesome images of Stephen being stoned while you held the cloaks, the families torn apart and persecuted by being put in prison and whipped? Paul knew first-hand that sin brings shame and the ultimate fruit is spiritual death. Why would one who has been given new life in Christ and the promise of holiness and justification go back to that kind of life? Lest we miss the point, Paul reminds us again in verse 23, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Ultimately the law of the harvest will prevail. If we plant restraint, obedience, love, joy, compassion, and service, we reap everlasting life with Christ and the fruits of eternal joy. If we plant lust, abuse, selfishness, anger, bitterness, and hatred, we reap those fruits. It reminds me of this comic that was re-purposed for the beginning of 2019: