A dynamic commentary on the first eight chapters of Romans by one of the most influential Christian thinkers of this century. Schaeffer provides fresh biblical insights and an arresting perspective on our times.
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About the Author
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984)authored more than twenty books, which have been translated into a score of languages and sold millions worldwide. He and his wife, Edith, founded L'Abri Fellowship international study and discipleship centers. Recognized internationally for his work in Christianity and culture, Schaeffer passed away in 1984 but his influence and legacy continue worldwide.
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INTRODUCTION AND THEME: (1:1-17)
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The book of Romans falls into two distinct sections: chapters 1 — 8 and chapters 9 — 16. There has been great discourse among Christians through the years as to whether there is a relationship between the two sections. One may find a relationship, but this is not the important point. Both sections are worth studying by themselves. In this study we will deal only with the first section, chapters 1 — 8.
In several books of the Bible there is a verse or verses that constitute a theme statement, and this is very plainly so in the book of Romans. The key to understanding this first section of Romans is found in 1:16-17:
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.
With that theme statement in mind, we will begin our study of Romans by looking at Paul's introductory remarks in 1:1-15.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God ... (1:1)
Paul identifies himself as a servant, or slave, of Jesus Christ. He says this specifically and with great care. He is writing to the church at Rome, and Rome knew a great deal about slaves. Slavery was legal in the Roman Empire. The world understood what it meant to be a slave, and Paul begins by declaring himself a slave of Christ.
There was a great distinction, however, between the slavery of the Roman Empire and Paul's slavery to Christ. Slaves in the Roman Empire were slaves not because they wanted to be, but because they had to be. A heavy iron band would be welded around a slave's neck, something he could not possibly remove by himself. This marked him as a slave for as long he remained a slave.
Paul's slave relationship to Jesus Christ, however, is something quite different. He is a slave not because he has to be a slave, but because he wishes to be one. Paul had an iron band around his neck, not because it had to be there but because he held it there by the fingers of his own will. We too must adopt this attitude if we are to be fruitful in the things of God.
Just as the slave must "will" the will of his master, our usefulness to Jesus depends on the extent to which we will the will of God. We are not robots. Rather, in love we choose to return to the position of obedient dependence on God in which He created us. This may seem an unpleasant idea to some, but as God's creatures this "slaveness" is the only place of joy and the only place of usefulness.
Paul was human. It hurt him just as much as it would hurt us to be beaten and imprisoned for his faith. It hurt him just as much as it would hurt us to be thrown to the beasts. His shipwreck was just as wet, just as windy, just as uncomfortable as it would be for us. Beheading was surely not pleasant to anticipate. And Paul could have escaped all of this simply by forsaking his servanthood. So when Paul introduces himself in this way, it is not just a pious expression. Rather, it introduces a theme central to Romans: that after accepting Jesus as our Savior, we are to live for Him.
... separated unto the gospel of God ... (1:1b)
As Christ's servant, Paul is "separated unto the gospel." Separation always has two actions: separation from and separation to. Separation from is easy to understand. Many things can keep us away from God, and it is not possible to be separated to God unless we are separated from such things. It is a means to the end of being separated to God to preach to the Gentiles. Paul was separated from the normal comforts of life, such as marriage (1 Cor. 7:8). That doesn't mean every Christian will be called to forego marriage, but every Christian should be willing to do so. Nor will every Christian be asked to die for the gospel, but every Christian should be willing so to die. The willingness is the crux of the matter.
Paul calls himself a "servant of Jesus Christ" but then speaks of the "gospel of God." The gospel relates to all three persons of the Trinity. It is the good news of the Trinity to a lost and fallen world. Jesus is the Lord of our redemption; however, the gospel is the good news of the entire Godhead, the Trinity.
(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,). (1:2)
The phrase is in parentheses, yet there is really no interruption of thought in the first three verses, and verse 2 is important. It expresses the unity of the Old and New Testaments, a theme emphasized constantly throughout the Bible. Paul says God promised the gospel "afore" in the Holy Scriptures. How far back does that go? Romans 16:20 will give us a clue: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." Surely this refers to Genesis 3:15, which states that the woman's "seed" is going to bruise the serpent's head. Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman (compare Gen. 3:15 with Gen. 22:18 and Gal. 3:16). He is the one who crushed the serpent's head. Yet, by identification with Jesus, we look forward to the Second Coming and shall also bruise Satan under our feet. The gospel goes back literally as far as we can go. As soon as mankind sinned in the Garden, before twenty-four hours had passed, God promised the Messiah. And it looks forward to the Second Coming on the basis of the finished work of Christ.
People often try to pit the Old and New Testaments against each other. But the emphasis throughout the New Testament is on its unity with the Old. This was true in Christ's preaching, in the book of Acts, in Paul's epistles, and in all the other epistles. There are not two messages, only one. The Old Testament people of God looked forward to the Messiah revealed fully in the New Testament. Paul knew that the church in Rome included Jews as well as Gentiles, so it was important to remind them that there is just one message.
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (1:3-4)
Paul shows both the human and the divine side of the Incarnation.
He certainly believed in Christ's deity, but the fact of His being truly divine does not change the fact Christ was also a true man and came down through the natural line of David. Again, Paul probably has his Jewish readers in mind. It is extremely important for them to be reminded that Christ is indeed the son of David, because the Old Testament prophesied specifically that the Messiah would come through Abraham and David.
... the seed of David according to the flesh ... (1:3b)
Obviously, by "flesh" Paul means "human." He does not have in mind the sinful connotation of that word, as he will later in 7:5.
Paul says nothing of Christ descending through David's son Solomon. God's promise to David was absolutely unconditional: He would be the ancestor of the Messiah (2 Sam. 7:16). Solomon wanted an unconditional promise too, but God's promise to Solomon was conditional. In essence, God said, "If you do so and so, then you will carry on the line" (1 Kings 9:4ff.). But Solomon didn't do so and so, and neither did his royal descendants, so God denied him involvement in the fullness of the promise. If one takes the genealogy in Matthew as referring to Joseph and that in Luke as referring to Mary, one finds that Jesus came through David on both sides. He came on Joseph's side through Solomon, establishing a legal continuity with David. But as far as His actual conception by the Holy Spirit through Mary, He came through Nathan, a son of David other than Solomon. Both the unconditional promise to David and the conditional promise to Solomon were thus fulfilled in exquisite detail.
On the human side then, Christ came through David. But there is more than the human. He was also "declared to be the Son of God with power" (1:4a). "Declared" in this place is better translated "determined." Determined means it is certain. It is certain that Christ is also the Son of God. Why? Because of a particular "power" (1:4). Christ's deity, to be believed, must be demonstrable. The thing that demonstrated with certainty that Christ was God was His "resurrection from (or of) the dead" (1:4).
Before considering the resurrection itself, notice that the Resurrection was "according to the spirit of holiness" (1:4). The spirit of holiness can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, or as the Holy Spirit Himself. Much is said throughout the New Testament of the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Third Person of the Trinity. That relationship resulted in a holiness of life on Christ's part. Paul says elsewhere that Christ was "justified in the Spirit" (1 Tim. 3:16). The writer of Hebrews says that Christ "offered himself without fault to God ... through the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9:14) and spoke of Christ, "who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard for his piety, his godly fear..." (Heb. 5:7). When He was on earth as a true man, Christ operated through a commitment to the Holy Spirit. Because He did this, God heard Him.
Jesus was declared to be the Son of God "by the resurrection from the dead" (1:4). This can be translated either "from" or "of" the dead. What is the difference? Resurrection "from the dead" would seem to refer solely to Christ's own resurrection, while resurrection "of" the dead would seem to have in view our future resurrection as well. Either way it would be enough to prove Christ's deity — He is determined to be, declared to be the Son of God by the marvelous fact that He has been raised physically from the dead and that there shall be the Christian's future resurrection from the dead.
By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ. (1:5-6)
Paul and his colleagues received grace and apostleship for a definite purpose: "for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name." Paul's mission is not only to Jews, but to "all nations." He is leading up to 1:7, where he states that he is now writing to Rome, the capital of his known world. He now faces away from himself and the "we" of 1:5 and turns toward those to whom he is writing: "... among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ." These are the Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, making up the church at Rome. They all have a place "among the nations" that Paul has been called to reach.
To all that be in Rome ... (1:7a)
We are now brought face to face with the church in Rome, probably meeting in a home, a church perhaps founded by laypeople rather than by an apostle. Paul had not been to Rome, and neither, despite the traditional Roman Catholic view, had Peter. If Peter had been in Rome, it is inconceivable that Paul would not have mentioned him in this letter. Yet the church was there, a united church of Jews and Gentiles in the world capital of Rome. And this should not surprise us, for the church at Antioch of Syria, perhaps the greatest of the early churches, the one that sent out the first missionaries, was also started by laypeople (Acts 11:19-20). It is reasonable to think that the same thing could have happened in Rome. If you go to Rome today you can see the traditional site of Priscilla and Aquila's home, where a church met. To me this is the ideal. It is the way the church would have continued to function if the Holy Spirit had been allowed to work — wherever Christians go, they proclaim the gospel and little churches spring up.
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called ... saints. (1:7a)
You will notice that I have left out the words "to be" in the phrase "called to be saints." The KJV includes these words in italics, but they are not there in the Greek; they were added by translators to make the English flow more smoothly. When we read it as "called saints," however, we are brought face-to-face with the fact that here in Rome, in the world capital, there are those who are saints in God sight. As soon as we accept Christ as our Savior, we are saints in God's sight. This is based first upon Jesus' passive work, His passive obedience in taking the punishment for our sins. But it is based also upon His active obedience in perfectly keeping the law for us. Christ's mediatorial work for us began at His baptism, when His public ministry started. From that time on, what He did, He did not only for Himself but for us. When we accept Him as Savior, His active obedience means that we have a positive righteousness with God. We are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Our guilt is gone on the basis of His finished work on the cross, His passive obedience. But we are also clothed with His perfect righteousness, based on His active obedience. This being so, we, like the Romans, can be called saints right now.
Paul likewise addresses the Ephesian and Philippian Christians as saints (Eph. 5:3; Phil. 1:1). The Ephesians passage is especially intriguing: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints." This speaks of something quite different than the traditional Roman Catholic view that a saint is someone special. The New Testament teaches that you are a saint as soon as you accept Christ as your Savior. Christ has taken your guilt and you are clothed with His perfection. If a little boy puts on his father's overcoat and buttons it above his head, you see nothing but the overcoat. Likewise, when God looks at us, He sees nothing but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers us.
But since you are a saint, says Paul in Ephesians, you should live like a saint. Likewise he says elsewhere, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). Be what you are in the sight of God. This is the very antithesis of salvation through works. Everything depends upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Our calling is to live in keeping with what we already are in God's sight — and as we will be one day in history, at Christ's Second Coming. This is the great lesson of chapter 6, where Paul explains sanctification. There we will learn more about this great truth.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. (1:7b-8)
News of the little church at Rome and the reputation of their faith had become known throughout the Christian world. It must have been a great encouragement as word came back that in Rome, the capital of the world, there was a faithful church of Jews and Gentiles.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (1:910)
There are three steps in Paul's prayer for the Roman believers: He thanks God for them (1:8), then prays on their behalf (1:9), then makes a specific request regarding them: that he might get to see them soon (1:10).
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. (1:11-12)
Paul is not distant or aloof from the people he writes to. Rather, he longs to be with them. His desire that they be "established" parallels Luke's desire that his friend Theophilus might "know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed" (Luke 1:4). Paul knows that such maturity will bring sweet and wonderful fellowship between himself and the Romans. He expects to receive a blessing from them as well as giving one to them. This is surely true among Christians always. When the relationship is what it should be, the blessings run in both directions.
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) ... (1:13a)
The educated reader should have few problems with the King James translation, but "let" is one such problem. It meant "hindered." Today it means the exact opposite. Its meaning of "hindered" survives only in tennis: When the ball strikes the net we have a "let ball," meaning that the ball was hindered. Paul was "let," or hindered, in his desire to visit Rome.
... that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. (1:13b)
Paul has expressed his desire to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans (1:11), but he expects from them a harvest of spiritual fruit. It is two ways of saying the same thing: The gift is the cause, while the fruit is the effect.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Finished Work of Christ"
Copyright © 1998 Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Udo W. Middelmann vii
1 Introduction and Theme (1:1-17) 13
Part 1 Justification (1:18-4:25)
2 The Person without the Bible: Guilty (1:18-2:16) 29
3 The Person with the Bible: Guilty (2:17-3:8) 55
4 The Whole World: Guilty (3:9-20) 67
5 Justification after the Cross (3:21-30) 73
6 Justification before the Cross (3:31-4:25) 83
Part 2 Sanctification (5:1-8:17)
7 The Result of Justification: Peace with God (5:1-11) 117
8 Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ (5:12-21) 139
9 The Christian's Struggle with Sin: I (6:1-23) 149
10 The Christian's Struggle with Sin: II (7:1-25) 173
11 Life in the Spirit (8:1-17) 187
Part 3 Glorification (8:18-39)
12 Believers Resurrected, Creation Restored (8:18-25) 207
13 Eternal Life Is Forever (8:26-39) 221
Scripture Index 235
General Index 237
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