In this episode, we dive into the weeds of the central question of Romans – are works required or is faith enough on its own? The problem with works as a standard is that it creates a false sense of control. We become dependent and proud of our own capabilities. And it leaves room to judge others. But Paul’s opponents point out that faith alone makes the law meaningless and promotes bad behavior. Paul defends his side by arguing that obedience through faith is a fulfillment of the law.
The Accusation and the Accuser
Tim: Suffice it to say, God puts His wrath on unrighteousness. Now, why would he start with that? Given what we’ve said so far, why would it make sense for Paul right out the gate to say God pours His wrath on unrighteousness? Because what’s the accusation?
Joey: We should just be as unrighteous as we possibly can so that God might be more esteemed when He comes through.
T: Exactly, so that’s the context in which this letter arrives, that’s the accusation. The very first thing he says is, ‘the gospel is about being righteous and you get righteous by walking by faith.’ And this is a contrast of what? Following their rules. So right off the bat, righteousness comes through faith, from faith to faith, all the way through. Not just at the beginning, but all the way through. And what they’re saying is ‘it’s at the beginning, but then you gotta add this other stuff.’ So he starts off with the big contrast, and then he says that God’s wrath is poured out on all unrighteousness. He’s blowing away their allegation right off the bat. And then he says, ‘Therefore because God pours out his wrath on unrighteousness, you have no excuse, every one of you passes judgment.’ So the bad guys are the judges. Now, what is passing judgment?
Kylie: It’s basically telling someone, you’re not doing the right thing.
T: Exactly. And in order to tell someone you’re not doing the right thing, what do you have to be comparing them to?
K: Either yourself or a standard.
T: A standard. A rule. Who made the rule? Always.
T: Yes, yes. Well, not necessarily, but the standard is always set by the accuser.
K: Oh, I see.
T: Yeah. So even if the rule is made by somebody else, it’s been incorporated and interpreted such that ‘I’m now powering over you.’ Right? That’s what we do all the time. So now the accuser–that’s the bad guys—the accusers. And why do you accuse someone?
J: Well, I think first and foremost, because you think they’re guilty.
T: But what are you trying to accomplish when you accuse someone?
J: You’re trying to control them in a sense. You’re trying to get them to do what you want them to do.
T: You’re trying to get control of them. Right. And that’s what this whole thing is about. Who’s gonna be in control? Just like every political fight. These guys are saying, ‘You have to obey my rules or God’s gonna condemn you.’ Well, who’s standing in the way? God condemns no one if they believe that Jesus took on their condemnation. So he’s taken away their control mechanism. Because they’re making the rules but now nobody has to obey them anymore.
J: So it’s an extension of the certainty thing that we talked about before. Not just personal certainty, but I think control becomes this sort of communal certainty. Like ‘I’m gonna hold the keys to the gate and you’ve gotta come through my rules as I interpret them in order to be okay and be accepted into whatever community.’
The Temptation of Condemnation:
T: Yeah, and by virtue of the fact that I’m accusing, then what I’m claiming is, if I can accuse, then I can also equip. If I can accuse then I can equip, so I’m claiming authority. And so I can condemn you because you didn’t follow the rules, and I can also equip you. So now you can look at me for your righteousness and for your justification.
J: Which, it makes sense when we talk about what it is you are asking, What does it mean to judge? If you think about just what the profession of a judge is, the one who sits in the seat and you make your case, then they are the ones who can decide whether or not you are going to jail or whether you’re gonna be able to continue to roam free.
T: And we have already seen it once, but in chapter three, Paul says, ‘well, that’s a crazy accusation because then how could God judge the world?’ Paul is saying clearly ‘who is the judge?’ There is a judge so who is it? Who is it? Not these guys. So their condemnation is just in that, inserting these guys that are condemning, their condemnation is just. The condemning will be condemned. Oops!
J: Yikes. Yeah, I think just like in a lot of instances, and the Gospels, you get this with the disciples. You’re just like, ‘How can they be so… Or the Pharisees even?’ But, it occurs to me that this is a temptation in my life, and I’m guilty of this. What we’re basically talking about is the allure of the idea that ‘I can play God’s role’ rather than having to trust that he’s doing it.
T: Well, why do you think I can see all this? I’m an expert at this. I’m an expert at being this guy who’s a judger.
K: Yeah, I’m sitting here thinking the same thing, very convicted. Because I’m like, ‘wow, this seems really arrogant, but I do it all the time.’
J: Well, and you’re talking about this as a story where I think, when you watch a movie, you read a book or whatever it is, it’s so easy to assume yourself into Paul’s role or Priscilla and Aquila, to see yourself in the heroes’ light. But really, the villain in these kinds of things is a distorted hero, it’s someone who thinks they’re playing the hero role, but what they’re trying to do is not just be the hero of a story, that’s one thing, but trying to be the God of the story and that’s something else entirely.
T: Yeah, that’s well said, worth putting in as a parenthetical here. So how did me, who is one of these judges by nature…I’m really like one of the bad guys in this story, I’m an expert at it. I was born with incredible skill to do this, what they’re doing. What really hit me is there really is a judgment, and I’m gonna stand before it. My deeds are gonna be judged. It’ll have nothing to do with whether I’m in God’s family or not, that was given, It has everything to do with whether I was a good steward of the gifts he gave me. I’m going to be judged. So I came to grips with that. And that’s ever before me, it’s on every page of the Bible. But I couldn’t see it. So, I came to see it, that’s number one. And then number two, I saw in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For whatever measure you use to judge others, whatever your rule book is that you used to condemn other people, that is what I’m gonna use to judge you when you get here.’ And I looked at that and I thought I am hosed!
K: That’s terrifying.
T: I’m hosed! I’m going to be killed when I get there because I have a really thick rule book and I apply it to other people routinely. So you know what I did? I started tearing pages out of my book!
J: Of what you hold over other people?
T: Yes, because you know what I want when I get to the judgments? I want Jesus to say, ‘Hey, would you go get that book for Tim that he wrote’ and then they say ‘we can’t find it.’
J: Just a bunch of blank pages.
T: Yes, exactly. That’s the standard I wanna be held by.
Mental Gymnastics and our Own Deflecting
J: You know, that whole thing makes me think of the verse that talks about fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom. The idea of ‘I think that there’s a certain amount of…’ Maybe it’s just intuitive for all of us that we’re gonna stand in judgment one day, and that’s a terrifying ordeal. And so what we do is we try to get ourselves out of that and we try to deflect by becoming the judge ourselves. We try to take on that role to try to excuse ourselves and to try to do some mental gymnastics to get away from that fearful reality. When, the truth is, if we can kind of accept that reality, it’s the beginning of wisdom. It’s the beginning of understanding like ‘Okay, that doesn’t have to be something that’s terrible, it just is a call to stewardship.’
T: I would just say for me, I would never have been capable of that had I not first come to understand Paul here, that the acceptance part of this was wholly given. If my acceptance depended on my performance, then I have to have a rule book, and I have to judge other people or else I’ve got to despair. There are only two choices I have, but once I got to the point of like, ‘Okay, I’m bad, it doesn’t matter. Jesus took that. So that part’s done, I don’t have to worry about that anymore,’ it gave me the ability to do what you just said. I could say, ‘Okay, now let me just embrace reality as it is.’ Because I don’t have to make up a story to myself that I’m gonna be okay, I just believe that I’m okay, Jesus did it. That’s good enough, but Jesus is good enough for me. I don’t have to add anything.
J: Well, and you mentioned this a little bit earlier, that Paul and his team of good guys are trying to separate this idea of acceptance and approval. And I think maybe the hangup for the bad guys in the story is that they’re interlocked. They’re having a hard time separating those two. So how does Paul go about talking through those two separate realities and what are the differences between them?
Why the Rulebook is NOT the Way:
T: That’s a great question. But maybe a first question we might look at is just what was Paul’s basic accusation at those passing judgment? And the bottom line is this: you don’t keep your own rules, and everybody knows it. Now, if you’re in a political pamphlet, that’s pretty powerful, right? These guys who are judging you, they don’t keep the rules.
J: Well, it’s not only a powerful argument just within the discussion, but it’s also in alignment with the Sermon on the Mount, the verses Jesus said. Where basically what Paul was saying was like, ‘Your rulebook that you’re building for yourself, you’re not gonna hold up to it.’
T: And we find out they’re Jewish in verse 17 of chapter two, ‘But if you bear the name Jew and rely upon the law and boast in God…’ So we’re now describing the bad guys like, ‘We have… God, you should listen to us.’ Right, a typical human thing?
T: ‘And know His will and approve the things that are essential. Being instructed out of the law.’ So this is their list of all of their credentials, right? ‘And are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind. And a light of those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the law, the embodiment of knowledge and all the truth, you that claim all this. You, therefore, who teach another, do you teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal. Do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?’ And what they would do is like, ‘Well, I divorced, and then I remarried.’ ‘So you have idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, through your breaking the law, do you dishonor God?’ And then he quotes an Old Testament verse, ‘for the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written.’ You wanna know that we know about the part of the Bible that applies to you? This! God’s being blasphemed because you don’t follow your own rules. ‘For indeed circumcision is a value if you practice the law, but you’re not a practicer of the law, you’re a transgressor.’ You know that’s just BOOM.
The Audience & How it Applies to them:
J: Who’s the audience for Paul’s pamphlet? If we’ve got good guys and bad guys who’s the audience?
T: The good guys. Yeah, he’s trying to keep the good guys from getting sucked away by these bad guys. Because it would be alluring… I’m the good guy, look into all those claims about ‘I’m a God to the blind, I’m a light to those here in darkness, I’m a corrector of the foolish, I’m a teacher of the mature, I have the law, I have knowledge, I have the truth.” And those are pretty bold claims, and they may have had more credentials than Priscilla and Aquila, you know they’re just the tent makers. But meanwhile the bad guys are saying ‘I’m the professor and they’re just tent makers’ sort of thing.
J: So if we go back to the acceptance/approval and that confusion, basically what Paul is saying here, and the verses you just talked about is, if these are the things that are required for acceptance, nobody’s getting accepted.
Paul’s Recognition of Hypocrisy:
T: Nobody’s getting there. And guess what? At this point, you could say, well isn’t Paul doing the same thing they’re doing? Isn’t he judging? And here’s what he says in Verse 9, after he talks about being slandered. He says in verse 3:8 “Why not say as we’re slanderously reported and in some claim, we say, ‘Let us do evil that could become their condemnation is just…’” That’s pretty curt. In the next verse, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. I have the same problem. We’ve already charged that both groups, Greek, Jews and Greeks are all under sin, and as it is written, there’s nobody righteous, not even one.” There’s nobody that understands, none of us knows how to seek God, we’ve all turned aside. And then the famous verse is “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Me? Them? You? None of us can measure up! That’s why Jesus died.
K: Yeah, we have to accept the grace.
T: That’s right, that’s why we have to. Being justified as a gift by His grace through redemption, which is in rules? Performance? Behavior? Comparison? No. Being justified through the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation. A payment, a redemption payment. In his blood through faith, I’m in the same boat as they are. What they’re doing is telling you something that isn’t true.
J: Yeah, I mean talk about the cannon blast. It’s like the charge of hypocrisy and the condemnation is one thing, that’s curt, direct, and powerful. But then to come on the other side and say, ‘but also me’, that takes away from that. That clear kind of reciprocity in the back and forth and from turning us into a badminton and tennis match of everyone just hurling accusations. He’s like, ‘I’m right there with you, which is why this is so important and so central.’ And so, in a way, it makes it relatively clear that Paul is not getting into this petty thing to try to defend his brand or something. He’s trying to work towards the clarity of the Gospel message and what it can do for people’s lives.
T: Exactly. He’s trying to keep these people free. It’s that what these other people wanna do is just get them under their bondage, and he wants to keep them free. And he goes on, “this death on the cross was to…” I’m in 3:25 now, “His death on the cross was to demonstrate His righteousness.” We’re talking about how to be righteous. Well, is it by following these guys’ rules? No, it’s getting it from Him. “Because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed. For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just. And the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” So, you wanna be justified? There are two ways to do it: Self-justification of comparison. We all do that, right? You know what that’s worth? Zero. It’s just a boat anchor. But you know how you can get justification? Christ through faith.So that’s the essence of this whole dispute.
The Problem of the Boasting:
J: Yeah, and then he says In 27, I’m just looking at it, “Where then is boasting?” Which, I think this is one of the essential struggles that people have with the Gospel message, even today, is it takes a certain reorientation of your whole paradigm of life. Because you’ve gotta move from this like, ‘Well, how do I elevate myself, how do I– In a sense, what it is, even though this language is strong–How do I become God? How do I get control, how do I get people to worship me?’ And if I were able to do that, I could obviously boast and be proud to be in that spot. And we’re constantly,I think, trying to get a little bit more of that in our lives. What Paul is saying is, ‘where is your boasting?’ And actually, I don’t know, maybe you can correct me on this, but even as I’m talking through it, it’s not just that there is boasting, it’s that the boasting is in Christ.
T: Well, it’s really interesting. We do wanna be like God. Who puts that desire there?
J: God does.
T: God put the desire there. Can we be like God? Well, yes, we can be like God. Because Jesus says, “If you overcome as I overcame, I will give to you to sit with me on my throne.” Now, we can’t be like God in the sense of His nature, omnipotence, independence, and things like that, but we can be like Christ in His suffering. And what Christ has said, “If you will suffer with me and serve other people in love, then I will give you the same reward that I got.” So we can be like God in the sense that God became man, and as man, was elevated. We can be like him in that respect. We can’t be God. But we can be like Christ, that’s what we’re called to be. And get the same reward as Christ.
Temptation vs. Truth:
T: So that desire can be fulfilled through service and love and obedience. What Satan wants us to do is follow his way and say ‘We will command it and demand it and power over others.’
K: It’s self-elevation as opposed to Jesus saying, ‘No, I’m going to elevate you because you have been obedient.’
T: Yes. If we will humble ourselves, God will exalt us in due time, so trust Him. We all wanna be exalted, and the whole thing is, ‘if you’ll do what I ask you to do, I’ll do that. Do you trust me?’ If the answer is no, then try your own life, and see how it works.
K: Well, we also don’t like the idea of ‘in due time’ because, we want it now. We’re instant gratification people. And so we think like, ‘I can get it if I just take the shortcut and do it myself now, and I don’t have to wait.’
T: Well, and Jesus said, “If you overcome as I overcame.’ One of the things He overcame was the temptations of the Devil. One of which was, ‘Why don’t you shortcut this? I’ll give you to be over the whole world.’ Which again, tells you that Satan got reinstated after Adam fell, ‘I’ll just give it to you if you’ll bow down and worship me.’ And Jesus like, I’m gonna get that anyway in due time, but I’m gonna do it my Father’s way.’
J: Yeah, I think that desire for my best, for my own personal elevation is not bad or wrong. Like, you’re saying, God created that, it comes from God. I think the tricky part is what the whispers of Satan are saying here. The flesh in our lives is trying to make me think that ‘in order to get my best, my absolute best, my absolute highest level of elevation, I’ve gotta be separate from God. I’ve gotta be independent from God.’ Which is the big lie, in a sense. The truth is, if we come alongside Christ, we partner with him, that is what is in our best interest. That is what we most really want out of life, that is how to live the life that we’re truly after.
T: Does it sound familiar? And when I phrase it in this way, does it sound familiar? Does God really know what’s in your best interest? Who said that to who?
J: Like the serpent said that to Eve in the garden, it’s the original temptation. The original sin.
T: And if it works, you keep using it.
J: Right, right.
T: Yeah, so I think that Paul here is blowing these people away, but he’s blowing himself away too. And he’s just saying ‘We are all in the same boat, so why don’t we get real here that we can’t do this alone.’ But then, what he does is he starts in on, okay, it’s Jew versus Jew. Let’s start with Abraham. If you’ve got Jew versus Jew, how about Abraham? He’s the guy of faith, what did he do? He believed in God and it was credited to him as righteousness. What was it? Because he did some works? No, no. The law came 400 years later. It didn’t have anything to do with that. Circumcision came 17 years or whatever it was, a decade-plus later. And then he quotes the Bible multiple times there, but he quotes the Psalm like, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, whose sins have been covered.” It’s grace. So he argues that from the standpoint of Abraham. These guys are all big Jews and everything and know the law. So, let me use the law and the main hero of the faith to prove that they’re totally wrong.
J: Yeah, yeah, it occurs to me that the law of the scripture, as they have it, is just such a central part. And another strong thing that Paul is just trying to do here is to say, ‘This isn’t complete. This isn’t about ignoring the law, this is how the law is actually fulfilled.’ Because I think that’s part of what’s embedded in the accusations that they’re making is like, ‘what’s the point of the law?’ Which is a strong argument for them to be making, because the law is everything. It’s so powerful to them at the time, and Paul’s come along saying, ‘This isn’t about ignoring that, throwing that out the window, this is how the standards of the law are met.’