Please remember that we are not meeting this week (July 4). We will resume our discussions on Tuesday, July 11 with Romans 6. This chapter is at the heart of Paul’s larger argument contained in Romans 5-8 of our hope in Jesus Christ’s victory over Sin and Death and the Law. It is in this reading that Paul answers the question posed by most of us that “If we are justified by faith, and not by works, can we continue in sin?” I have attached the excerpt from Witherington’s Socio-Rhetorical Commentary for chapter 6 that explores this question within the larger context of Paul’s letter. pp.154-178.
I have also attached two other readings concerning our justification by faith. The first is Martin Luther’s letter of August 1, 1521, to Philip Melanchthon where Luther proclaims that we should “Sin and Sin Boldly.” Melanchthon was Luther’s primary coworker. The letter covers a number of topics, but it ends with this wonderful encouragement to “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” Like Paul in Romans 5-8, Luther demands that we own our sins and understand the reality of our separation from God. For only in our understanding of our true nature and our true separation is the grace offered by Jesus Christ real. If we see our sins as slight or imaginary, then we can still hold fast to the hope that we can overcome them by our own will and that it is our own (self-)righteousness that makes us justified before God. For God’s grace to be real, so must our sin.
The second reading is from Isaac of Syria (c.640-c.700). Isaac was a monastic in the Church of the East (The Christian Church east of the Roman Empire such as eastern Syria, Persia, and Arabia). The attachment is his short meditation on justification by faith and not by works. Isaac points out that we can be justified by works, but only if we are perfect. If we seek righteousness through our obedience, once we fail, then justice demands our punishment. But if we seek righteousness through Christ and his victory, then righteousness is immediately ours. And in this reckoning of righteousness, we rejoice not in works, but in the goodness of God. For it is this divine goodness in which all of creation partakes, even sinners.
Read through Romans 6-8 this weekend, and think about the overwhelming goodness of God’s grace through Christ Jesus. And if we are justified through Christ’s perfect obedience, then upon what grounds do we have to take pride in any of our own obedience?
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 8:9-14