to the Romans
Bishop Alexander (Mileant).
Translated by Seraphim Larin/ Dr. Steven Bushnell
Prologue of the Epistle. Salutation and intention to visit Rome. Essence of the message.
Outline of the Christian faith. All people are sinners and subject to God's judgement. Sinfulness of the heathen. God is just. Sinfulness of the Jews. Conclusion: All are guilty.
Salvation only in Christ. Necessity of faith. Abraham — forefather of the faithful. Justification through Christ's blood. From Adam — death; from Christ — life.
Power of Christ's grace. Rejuvenating power of Baptism. From slavery to a new life. Internal conflicts. Life in the Holy Spirit. Joy of sonship. Forthcoming glory. God's love — everything for us.
The call to Israel. God's Providence in the fate of nations. Israel's calamity — its unbelief. Future conversion of Israel.
Essence of a Christian life. Utilisation of Christian talents. Obeying the civil authorities. Love is most important. Living in harmony. Christ — an example of tolerance.
Wishes and greetings. The need to retain the purity of faith.
Among the many holy books of the New Testament, the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans occupies a special place: not one book of the Holy Gospel deliberates so deeply and in such detail on the fundamentals of Christianity as does this epistle.
The combination of extraordinary talents of Saint Paul made his work an invaluable document on Christian teachings. His work reflects a deep knowledge of the Old Testament, an extensive education, enormous oratorical experience, and literary talent. Consequently, his Epistle to the Romans always commanded special attention — in ancient times it was called the "second Testament" — not only by the ordinary faithful but also by thinker-philosophers. That is why it is thought that this particular work is placed first in the Scriptures authored by Saint Paul, ahead of all his other epistles.
As can be seen in the contents of the epistle, Saint Paul endeavoured on many occasions to preach Christ's teachings in the famous and mighty capital city of Rome but was confronted with various obstacles. At this time Rome had a significant community of Christians. It contained not only Jews that had converted to Christianity but also Romans. The circumstances surrounding the formation of this community are not quite clear. It is known that even before the birth of Christ, there were many Jews residing in Rome that used to undertake pilgrimages to Jerusalem for important holy days. Having visited Jerusalem during Christ's presence there, they could not have failed to hear about His miracles and His new, inspirational teachings. Therefore, it is quite possible that the first seeds of Christianity were carried to Rome during the lifetime of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Book of Acts of the holy Apostles relates that on Pentecost, in 33 A.D., among the many witnesses to the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles were pilgrims from Rome (Acts 2:10). Reacting to the astonishing miracle of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the fervent sermon by the Apostle Peter, nearly 3,000 people were baptized that day, and another 5,000, a few days later. Thus, right from the beginning, the spread of Christianity was on a grand scale, sending its roots into neighbouring countries — Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and so forth. This spread was not only because of the sermons of the Apostles but also due to the newly christened pilgrims, returning home and recounting the wonderful, new faith. According to Acts, we know that it was indeed in this way that the Christian faith was introduced into Antioch (Acts 11:26). It is also possible that it was in this way that Christianity entered Rome. From the greetings found at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, it can be seen that the Apostle Paul personally knew many Roman Christians, whom he met in Jerusalem during his frequent visits there.
In the first century after the birth of Christ, there were over 50,000 Jews living in Rome, and there were eleven synagogues. The initial Christian community was made up exclusively of Jews. However, over the next few decades the number of converted Romans soon began to outnumber those of Jewish Christians. At the beginning, both the Romans and the Jews lived in harmony, praying and partaking of the Sacraments together. In the middle of the decade, tensions on ethnic grounds began to appear between the two groups. Jealous of Christianity's success, non-believing Jews began to stir up their converted brothers to reject the heathen that had become Christians, on the basis that they were unclean and unworthy to receive the blessings promised by their forefathers. Their intrigues proved to be successful: in mid-decade Emperor Claudius quelled the ensuing religious confrontations by banishing many Jews from Rome (in the years 41-54 A.D.). After this, these conflicts subsided. However, in his Epistle to the Romans, one feels Saint Paul's deep concern for the Judeo-Christian problem. Totally conversant with the Old Testament, Saint Paul both assists the reader to realise the roots of Christianity in it and also shows that to God genuine faith is more important than biological origins.
This epistle was written around 59 A.D. in the city of Corinth, during the Apostle's third missionary journey. After his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Saint Paul was hoping to visit Rome and assist in strengthening the Christian community there. Indeed, at long last in the summer of 62 A.D. — after some big unpleasantness in Jerusalem as described in the Book of Acts (chs. 21-28) — Saint Paul was able to visit Rome. Apparently after this, the Apostle Peter also visited Rome. Some years later (around 67 A.D.), they again went back to Rome, where they met their martyr's deaths at the hands of Emperor Nero.
The basic concept of the Epistle to the Romans is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of a sinful mankind. Essentially, neither conscience, nor fear of eternal punishment, nor the beautiful, God-inspired sermons of the Prophets could liberate man from his main affliction — sin. Sin split our nature in two. Having a God-like soul, every person instinctively reaches out toward God, but sin overcomes us and forces us to do that which we don't want to do. The reason that people die, even youths and innocent infants, is because of the sinful nature of man. In essence, Paradise and eternal life is inaccessible not only to the heathen but also to Jews that attempt to live according to the law of Moses. However, our merciful God found a path toward salvation for people: He sent into the world His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who redeemed our sins with His death and through His Resurrection opened the path for us toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Now every human, whether he is Jew or gentile, can receive forgiveness for his sins and divine help, purely from his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not because of some personal accomplishments. In every person, the turning point from sin to a righteous life is Baptism. In this Mystery, the faithful individual is cleansed of his sinful blemishes, is liberated from his slavery to passions, and receives spiritual strength. From a guilty sinner, he becomes a son of God by grace and an heir to the Realm of glory. This work of salvation is so great and marvellous that all other things are truly petty.
The second part of the epistle (chs. 12-15) is dedicated to enunciating the basic nature of Christian living. The Apostle calls for Christians to display the high ideals of the Christian faith in their lives and to apply their spiritual gifts towards the common good.
In the fourth chapter, the Apostle shows Abraham as an example of faith, while in the ninth and eleventh chapters, Saint Paul examines the spiritual problems of non-believing Israel. Although these topics may be out of date, they nevertheless are important in our time because they assist in understanding the basic precepts of the Christian faith, whose roots go back to the Old Testament.
In the Epistle to the Romans the reader will find exceptionally deep thoughts on a range of spiritual questions that can not be found in any other sections of the New Testament, such as original sin and the moral damage to human nature, the power of the voice of conscience, the meaning of faith and of salvation, the rejuvenating properties of the Mystery of Baptism, the power of Christ's grace, the rejuvenation of the whole of nature, the importance of Israel in the history of mankind, and others.
In the epistle the reader may encounter a few passages that are difficult to understand. These difficulties arise because of the depth of the subject matter, because of their contracted depictions, and because of the richness of the Greek language in which the epistle was written. Even the Apostle Peter noticed in some of Apostle Paul's epistles, "things, in which are some things hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). No single translation can meet the demands of accuracy of the written word and an ease of understanding at the same time. For example, the Church Slavonic translation is outstanding in its verbatim accuracy, but it is difficult to comprehend. The Russian translation is much easier to read but is not as accurate.
Apart from the original Greek text and the translation of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, some English translations were utilised in the preparation of this booklet, as were the major work of Theophane the Recluse (which incorporates opinions of the holy fathers of the Church), the "Interpreted Bible" of Professor A.P. Lopukhin and his associates, and several contemporary studies.
of the Epistle
Salutation and Intention to Visit Rome
The Apostle Paul's salutation was written in accordance with established guidelines that required the author to inform the reader about himself and the substance of his letter:
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated to the Gospel of God which He promised before through His Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born 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. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be Saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-7).
In order to calm the fears of the Roman Jews concerning the truth of the proffered teachings, the Apostle explains that he is not expressing a new teaching but is elucidating that which has been written by the ancient Prophets.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 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 some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also (1:8-15).
As Rome was a legislative and administrative center that attracted all the governmental functions of a broad and powerful empire, the identity of a Christian community in it was extremely important for the success of Christianity. That is why Saint Paul was intense in his desire to especially assist the strengthening of the Christian faith in Rome. However, as he was unable to go there immediately, the Apostle wants to at least participate in this activity through the written word.
The essence of his message
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith' (1:16-17).
While Rome was acclaimed for its political power, military might and earthly riches, Saint Paul was not ashamed of his preaching about Christ crucified. All the material riches of the heathen world are contemptible and insignificant: No physical power is capable of plucking a person from the slavery of sin and the destiny of death. Only the evangelical sermon conveys to people the invincible might of God, which rejuvenates and elevates humanity into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Further in the epistle, the Apostle shifts toward enunciating the teachings of the Scripture in the following order: a) All humans are guilty of sin and are therefore subject to God's judgement and predestined death (1:18-3:30). b) Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-5:21). c) Faith provides the access to Divine help and righteous living (6:1-8:39). After some lengthy insertions where the Apostle discusses the problems of Israel's lack of faith (9:1-11:36), he concludes his epistle with an outline of the essence of Christian living (chs. 12-16).
Outline of the Christian faith
The reader of Holy Scripture has to get used to the biblical form of expression. The contemporary individual is accustomed to the purported "scientific" method, in which the themes are described in a logically sequential manner. As one issue is concluded, another one flowing from it commences. In scientific literature, a thought must flow in a direct line.
This method is dry, lifeless, and is not suitable for expressing deep religious-psychological topics, in which every revelation is intimately interwoven with a range of other revelations in which an immediate spiritual acceptance is needed rather than an impossible scientific substantiation. Here, a strict "pigeon-hole" classification is not only impossible but is not needed. The Bible in general, and part of Saint Paul's epistle, develops a number of themes simultaneously that are connected centrally with one another. The author explains the relationships among the spiritual events from different perspectives, progressing from one level to another. He does not travel along established norms but rather elevates the reader along a climbing ladder.
Before offering the reader a treatment, the Apostle establishes a diagnosis of the moral ailment common to everyone.
All People Are Sinners
and Subject to God's Judgement
Sin is not simply an impediment of the will, an error, or a temporary weakness: it is a frightening moral sickness that has poisoned our human nature. All the evils of the world are from sin — forfeiture of moral freedom and the loss of the happiness derived through communion with God. Sin produces all types of physical and spiritual illnesses, ease in inclination toward sin, and diminished ability toward creating good. Sin breaks the harmony between the physical and spiritual forces of a person, resulting in turmoil in family and societal lives, emergence of injustice, mutual vexation, lies, crime, rape, and wars that produced poverty and starvation. Sin is the prime reason for our main misfortune — death, which inexorably destroys all the joyous wishes and noble aspirations of a human being!
The Apostle Paul opens his epistle with an outline of humanity's moral decay. He shows that everyone has sinned. Neither the voice of conscience nor nature's marvellous arrangement (which bears witness to the Creator) nor the written law given to Moses by God nor anything else could spiritually rejuvenate humanity. Everyone — the gentiles and the Jews — were immersed in sin and therefore foreign to God and destined to perish.
Sinfulness of the heathen
The Apostle explains that in principle every person — including one who does not have an extensive knowledge of God's teachings — instinctively acknowledges that there is a God, that there is a spiritual world, that some acts are correct while others are sinful. This innate spirituality occurs because God etched His law, which reveals itself through the voice of one's conscience, into each soul. According to God's plan, every human being by nature should aspire towards good. However, in reality the majority of people sin, ignoring the voice of their conscience. In turning away from their Creator, people have strayed into various superstitions and submitted themselves to the pursuit of base and bestial pleasures. And there are consequences:
For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like a corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things, Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves. Who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (1:18-25).
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful (1:26-31).
Who, knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (1:32).
In principle, all people are capable of knowing God and believing in Him correctly. In examining nature's wonderful arrangement, its grandeur, harmony, and beauty, they cannot but conclude that the omnipotence, wisdom, and generosity of its Creator are real. After all, people in everyday life make judgements on the skills of a master according to the quality of his creation. Nevertheless, instead of trying to find God and to give thanks to Him, they have committed themselves to earthly cares. Pursuing earthly ambitions and physical pleasures, they have reached such a state of irrationality that instead of worshipping God, they are deifying the powers of nature and various monstrosities; and because of their lack of mental illumination, they have immersed themselves deeper into moral decay.
As an example of the depravity of the heathen, the Apostle cites the sin of homosexuality. He explains that this sin is especially repulsive because it goes against nature and is the consequence of extreme sexual depravity. In defiling their bodies, homosexuals reap within themselves their own punishment for their lust: gnawing conscience, internal turmoil and animosity. While in this day and age some people are trying to excuse and legalize this practice and the massive resources of the media are teaching the youth to look upon it as fully normal, it is very important to understand the Apostle's condemnation of the sin of homosexuality. It is bad enough when people sin, but it is worse when they try to justify their sin: "For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."
If we accept the Apostle's cited reasoning that an incorrect arrangement of thoughts propels a person toward sinful acts, then it follows that the knowledge of God and good thoughts will promote his moral recuperation. That is why it is important to seriously commence the practice of spiritual self-education. Then our internal light will illuminate our earthly path and everything around us (Matthew 5:14-16).
God is just
Exposing the sinfulness of heathen society, the Apostle is quick to warn the Jews of the temptation to judge. He shows that the degree of guilt before God of one person or another is measured not only by the acts themselves but also by the advantages granted to that person. In general, the Jews knew God's laws better and were more ethical than the heathen, and this gave them the motive to look upon the latter with contempt. The Apostle calls upon the Jews to realize that the demands on them will be more stringent because God had moved them closer to Himself: He gave them His Divine law, His Church, Church services and religious holidays, sent them His prophets, and did everything necessary for their moral improvement. On the other hand, the heathen were left to their own devices. They had no inner motive toward righteous living. Nonetheless, some of the heathen acted in a more moral way than the Jews. In the absence of an external law, they were governed by their internal precept — the voice of their conscience.
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgement of God is according to the truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practising such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you despise the richness of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God, who 'will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath (2:1-8).
Tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honour, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified (2:9-13).
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel (2:14-16).
In creating man, God etched a moral law into his heart, which prompts through the voice of his conscience what is good and what is evil. Had man remained in his initial, innocent state, then this internal moral law would have been sufficient to manage his life. However, because of the sin-inflicted damage, his moral consciousness was clouded, bringing about the need for a written law that is concrete and in a more distinct form to add to the inner law, which would direct him how to act correctly. It was for this purpose that God gave the Jews their laws, which are written in the Holy Scriptures. In essence, these laws that were revealed by God carry the same teachings as those that are imparted by the voice of his conscience. At the same time, inasmuch as the laws of God express His will with absolute clarity and preciseness, their contravention is manifested as an inexcusable violation of the Creator's will. That is why in comparison, those Jews that knowingly violated God's will deserve greater punishment than those that sin through ignorance.
On the other hand, as God's laws demanded significant moral excellence and, consequently, extensive endeavours, the Jews who succeeded in living righteously expected a great reward in comparison to the heathen who lived by their primitive and undemanding simple inclinations.
Just as a reward may be internal or external, so can punishment. In doing good or fulfilling his moral obligations, a person feels an inner satisfaction, an especial serenity and joy. This is his inner reward — a threshold of the joyous life that he will receive in the Kingdom of Heaven. Similarly, a person indulging in sin will reap his inner punishment through a gnawing conscience, a heavy feeling, disturbances, and sorrows that invariably follow the violation of God-established norms. Once again, the wilful transgression of the written law is regarded as a greater sin than the violation of the dictates of one's conscience. That is why it carries with it great inner sufferings. However, the sinner will receive the full punishment for his sins on God's Judgement Day. If justice is often infringed in this world, in the next it will triumph and each person will receive according to his works. This idea is repeated by the Apostle on a number of occasions: "For there is no partiality with God."
In our analysis of the second chapter of the epistle, we find some very valuable thoughts concerning salvation. Some people think that only those belonging to their faith will be saved, while everybody else that has deviated will perish. For example, Roman Catholics have thought that only Roman Catholics will be saved; Baptists, only Baptists; and so forth. In order to resolve this matter, it has to be understood that here, salvation must be seen as deliverance from eternal condemnation, which is not the same as enjoying different levels of Heavenly bliss. Correct faith and Divine gifts granted by the true Church provide an opportunity for the Christian to attain high levels of spiritual perfection, and through this, a greater nearness to God, and consequently, greater joy. Regarding the salvation in the sense of pardon and deliverance from the agony of Hell, it is evident in the following teaching from Saint Paul that even the heathen, although having no manifest understanding of God but nonetheless acting according to the dictates of their conscience, can be saved: "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" (2:14-15).
When a person has acted correctly, he receives approval from his conscience and his mind. When a person has acted incorrectly, he is rebuked by his conscience, and try as he may to justify his act through circumstances, logic, or weakness, he is unable either to convince his conscience of this or force it to keep silent. However, it is true that through repetitive sinning a person's conscience becomes deadened and mute. That is why it would appear that with hardened criminals there is a complete absence of a conscience. In reality they too have a conscience, only in a suppressed state. When God exposes the inner status of every human being on Judgement Day, everyone's conscience will awaken with renewed strength and censure him throughout eternity. Apparently it is this manifestation of the conscience on Judgement Day that the Apostle had in mind when he says: "In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel" (2:16).
Sinfulness of the Jews
In his epistle, Apostle Paul separates humanity into Jews and Hellenes, a term which presumably includes all non-Jews. This separation of mankind into two categories was justified because of the particular situation of the Jewish people in times of the Old Testament. Just as individuals differ from one another in their specific qualities and talents, so are people different among themselves through their nationalistic individualities: For example, some stand out by their discipline and martial character; others, by their generosity and hospitality or their music and romanticism; and still others by their disposition toward the philosophical and precise sciences. Some people established great empires that determined the fate of their neighbouring peoples, while, on the contrary, others entered into history inconspicuously and vanished without a trace.
From very ancient times, the Jewish people were outstanding in their religious fervour. Apparently, because of their special innate spiritual awareness, God selected the Jewish people and predetermined them to be His instrument for the salvation of all other peoples. As mentioned in Genesis and other historical books of the Bible, while the neighbouring heathen peoples were sinking in superstition and every possible form of iniquity, the Jews were honouring one true God, Creator of Heaven and earth. From the midst of the Jews there emerged such great, righteous individuals of ancient times as Abraham, the prophet Moses, King David, and the prophets Elijah, Isaiah, and Daniel. Indeed, these were righteous human beings that prepared the spiritual ground for the coming of Christ the Saviour into the world. Also from among the Jewish people came the Mother of Christ the Saviour — the Blessed Virgin Mary — as well as the prophet John the Baptist, the Apostles, the first Evangelists, the first martyrs and the first Saints. Undoubtedly, God bestowed a mission upon the Jewish people to rejuvenate mankind's morality.
Of course, every person represents a personal, distinctive, and sometimes very complicated world. Every person is free to direct his talents toward good or toward evil, develop or "bury" them. In one and the same family there could be a child who could become an educated genius while his blood brother, a useless loafer. Similarly, while the Jewish people had enormously righteous people among them, they also had hypocrites, criminals, and even those who fought God. Nevertheless, over their lengthy history, the prophets ceaselessly reminded their countrymen about their high calling and demanded that they live righteously. However, many Jews mistakenly accepted their calling as an unconditional selection, ignoring their moral obligations and responsibilities before God. Consequently, many of them developed a high opinion of themselves and contempt for other "unclean" people. The Apostle Paul repeatedly espouses (in this and other epistles) the thought that without faith and chaste living, outer advantages will not only receive no reward from God, but, on the contrary, will also incur His just wrath. The Apostle writes:
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You, who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, 'Do not commit adultery,' do you commit adultery? You, who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonour God through breaking the law? For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written (Romans 2:17-24; Ezekiel 36:20; Isaiah 52:5).
Such a stern accusation could only be expected from one who being a Jew understood full well their outlook on the world and their ethics. In general, at that time, the Jews were more virtuous than other peoples. They did not allow themselves to reach such sexual profligacy as that of the Roman heathens. However, they accommodated such moral deficiencies as greed, avarice, conceit, hypocrisy, and pride, justifying them by strictly fulfilling all the customs prescribed by the law. The writings by the Evangelist Matthew (ch. 22) record the speech of the Lord Jesus Christ, where He sternly judges the leaders of the Jewish people for their conceit. The outward characteristic of the Jewish faith was circumcision. The Apostle writes:
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (2:25-29).
The custom of circumcision — i.e., the removal of the foreskin of boys — was practiced in ancient times by a number of peoples. It is known among ancient Egyptians and some Semites (Arabs before Muhammad and others) as well as some African tribes. Some explained the need for circumcision on hygienic grounds, others for enhanced procreation, or simply because of tradition. Beginning in the times of Abraham, circumcision among Jews received a religious character (2,000 B.C.; Genesis 17:9-27). From a formal point of view, circumcision served as a bond or covenant between the Jews and God. However, the prophets explained that the covenant with God is subject not only to rejecting the carnal but also to the "circumcision of the heart," i.e., suppressing sinful desires of the heart (Ezek. 44:7, uncircumsised heart). The council of the Apostles in Jerusalem acknowledged that because Baptism had replaced circumcision, it was no longer necessary for Christians to be circumcised (Acts 15:28-29; Galatians 5:6 and 6:15; Colossians 2:11). Nevertheless, Christians of Jewish descent wishing to preserve their ancient customs continued to circumcise their newborn boys. Saint Paul reminds them that this custom is pointless when they are violating that which it symbolizes.
Further on, the Apostle explains that in judging the deficiencies of the Jews, he is not trying to demean the faith itself that was given to them by God. The Holy Scriptures taught the Jews how to believe correctly and lead pious lives, which in turn gave them an advantage over other peoples, who dwelt in dark ignorance. However, the majority of Jews were unable to take advantage of the preference shown them.
What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: 'That you may be justified in your words and may overcome when you are judged.' But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man). Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come'? — as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just (3:1-8).
The fundamental thought of the cited text is that God does not back away from His promises. Even though the Jews violated their union with God and had not fulfilled their mission, nonetheless God's great wisdom found another way to save mankind. Nevertheless, the good results derived from God's intervention do not excuse the sinner from his responsibility for his stubbornness and evil volition. Good emerged not because of them, but despite them.
Conclusion: all are guilty
Lashing out against the self-opinionated Jews, the Apostle further writes:
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one' (Psalm 14:1-3). 'Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue. The poison of asps is under their lips' (Psalms 5:9; 140:3). 'His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression' (Psalm 10:7). 'For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths' (Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8). 'There is no fear of God before his eyes' (Psalm 36:1). Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (3:9-20).
The Jews applied the above-mentioned censure of iniquities to the heathen and not to themselves. Because they were descendants of Abraham and fulfilled their canonical customs, they regarded themselves as being righteous. The Apostle proves to the Jews that they too are sinful, because the prophets accused specifically them — the Jews, and not the heathens. God's laws are wonderful things when they guide a person. However, when a person consciously violates them, then this knowledge only increases his culpability.
Salvation only in Christ
Having shown that neither being a member of the Jewish people nor the knowledge of the law and the fulfillment of customs can justify the sinner before God, the Apostle moves on to the main theme of his epistle, which is: Salvation can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Necessity of faith
In outlining the Christian teachings about salvation, Saint Paul applies conceptions and terminologies that his contemporaries are accustomed to. In those days, both the Jews and the Romans had formed precise judicial perceptions. Such terms as law, truth, guilt, absolution, and the like were common and understood by all. Because every human being had violated God's law — from a formal-judicial point of view — everybody was guilty and subject to God's punishment. While the heathen violated their innate moral laws, the Jews violated the written law as revealed by God.
But how do you vindicate yourself before God if kinship with Abraham, circumcision, and even fulfillment of the law does not help? The Apostle explains that the all-merciful God, in seeing the people's helplessness, took pity and through the most unexpected and miraculous means, gave them salvation through Christ. The largest part of the Apostle's epistle is dedicated to explaining this main thesis. In referring to the salvation that Christ offered to humanity, the Apostle applies the then society's established idiom and calls it truth or vindication. He writes:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (3:21-26).
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from deeds of the law. Or is he the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (3:27-31).
In other words, justice demanded that God, as an impartial Judge, punish all sinners. But seeing the moral weakness of people, God withheld His wrath during the whole of the pre-Christian era, while preparing the people for their salvation through His only Son. Through the prophecies about the Messiah-Redeemer by prophets of ancient times, the Jewish people were receiving the foundation for their faith in Him. As the people were in no position to redeem their guilt before God, His Son voluntarily took it upon Himself to accept the blame for all the sins of mankind by offering Himself as the Sacrifice, thereby averting the punishment that they deserved. In essence, the Apostle expounds this incomprehensible mystery of God's rightful judgement and mercy in somewhat formal-judicial terms. Here we have to take into account that basically, Christ's redeeming Sacrifice is a mystery, unfathomable even to the Angels (1 Peter 1:12; Revelation 5:2-5). That is why no applied terminology can explain it. This Mystery is understood more with the heart than with the mind.
In as much as redemption was accomplished fully and completely by our Lord Jesus Christ, God doesn't demand some kind of outward formal acts of justification from sinners. The only condition for justification that is placed on a person is that he believes in Christ as the Saviour sent by God. Faith is the minimal and at the same time essential condition for the redemption from sin.
The Jews' boasts of their outward superiority and customary acts of the law were useless. In reality, because of their conscious violation of God's laws, they were in greater need of God's mercy than the heathen that they despised. Because all are guilty without exception — after our Lord Jesus Christ's ordeal of crucifixion — God saves all sinners by one means — faith. The Apostle explains that faith doesn't revoke the religious-moral aspect of the Holy Scripture. In as much as the law of God teaches piety, it continues to be needed even though it is unfeeling and formal. It leads but does not strengthen the traveller. It is faith that warms and transfuses strength.
Note 1. The word "redemption" used in the Holy Scripture is tied in with a number of understandings, like: repayment of a loan, paying ransom for a prisoner, or obtaining something on known conditions. In the spiritual sense, the word "redemption" is very close in meaning to the word "salvation." During the times of Moses, God redeemed (or liberated) the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. From the moment of having being liberated from their former captors, the Jews became God's possession, their Saviour (Exodus 12:27 and 14:13; Isaiah 63:9). The symbolic value of the ransom paid for releasing the Jews from slavery was the sacrificial lamb's blood, which they had to smear on the doorjambs of their houses. This is how the yearly holiday of Pascha began, during which the Jews used to bring God a sacrifice of a newborn lamb. This Paschal lamb was the symbolic forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, God's Lamb, Who by shedding His blessed blood on the Cross saved us from Devil's slavery and procured us for God — but now, not as slaves but as His children in Grace. The ancient Jews quickly adopted the idea of redemption as a means of removing guilt from themselves. The Holy Scriptures taught that every sin had to be removed through a bloody sacrifice. For their cleansing, they used to bring God a variety of animals. As the Apostle Paul explained in his epistle to the Jews, by itself, the sacrificial offerings had no cleansing power, but they received their potency from the future Sacrifice, Lord Jesus Christ. These sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament served as a symbol to the Jews — the sufferings on the Cross of the world's Saviour. In the fifty-third chapter of his book, the Prophet Isaiah foresaw the meaning of the universal Sacrifice by the Messiah.
Note 2. By the word "law," the Apostle has the Torah in mind, i.e., the first five books of the Bible, written by the Prophet Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Right from the beginning, the Torah became the religious-civic code for the Jewish people. Apart from moral norms (laws of God), it contains a great number of practical instructions that governed family and civilian life. These include pronouncements regarding diverse customs, on the Sabbath and holy days, on sacrificial offerings, on clean and unclean foods, on marriage and divorce, on hygiene, and so forth. With time, these instructions were overgrown with supplementary decrees that also received an obligatory status. In stifling the spiritual-moral laws, these outer decrees became a heavy burden for the Jewish people, who were unable to carry them out accurately (Matthew 23:4; Acts 15:28; Galatians 2:4). Anyway, the Jewish scribes developed a fantastic casuistry, which helped to bypass the demands of not only the customary but moral laws. Here, the Apostle proves to the Jews that before God's judgement, their hopes of vindication through their outward laws is only self-delusionary, and as they violate God's laws knowingly, they are guiltier than the heathen. The reader must clearly understand that when the Apostle Paul talks of revocation in regard to works of the law, or simply the law, what he has in mind is the customary and formal side of it, and not God's Commandments. Not only have these Commandments not being revoked, but also in Christianity they have been elevated to a higher level. In general, the word "works" requires an explanatory word. For example, there are evil works, or works of the law, or good works — each having a different meaning. Good works are the manifestations of faith and love. A Christian without good works is like a tree without fruit.
Note 3. As can be seen in the context of his sermon, Saint Paul's usage of the word "faith" is not in the sense of a mental acceptance of known religious truths but a radical turnaround towards God. Genuine faith has to be alive and productive. Such a faith has to include a genuine acknowledgment of guilt before God, deep contrition, a genuine desire to live righteously in the future for the glory of God and for the common good. Such faith is accompanied by deep inward changes. Having grown up in the legalistic atmosphere of ancient laws, the Jews could not comprehend the meaning of faith. They were used to observe religion in a purely formal sense: Because you were a descendant of Abraham and were circumcised, you were automatically exonerated before God. The more works of the law you performed, the more blessings you will receive from God. It was like a commercial mentality. The Apostle shows that such an outlook on religion is not reiterated in the Holy Scripture. A person receives his absolution from God because of His mercy and not because of works of the law or inner formal reasons. Faith accomplishes that indispensable inner change that places a person on the righteous path. Faith makes a person obedient to God and receptive to His blessings.
In order to convince the Jews of the superiority of faith over the works of the law, in his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle devotes his fourth chapter to the example set by Abraham.
Abraham — forefather of the faithful
Abraham, progenitor of Jews, Arabs, and some other Semite peoples, appears as one of the greatest righteous figures of ancient times. He lived some 2,000 years before the birth of Christ — during those times in which people were forgetting their true God and worshipping various pseudo-gods. Idolatry began to come into fashion, enriching itself with pompous rituals and permeating deeper into the private and community life of the Middle Eastern peoples. The temptation of idolatry was so great that even Abraham's relatives (who lived in Chaldea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf) began to succumb to it. In order to preserve the true faith in at least one people among all humanity, God appears to Abraham and directs him to abandon his tribe and relocate to a land that is totally foreign to him — the land of Canaan (the future Israel).
Obeying God, Abraham (already advanced in age) leaves his relatives and his possessions, resettles with wife Sarah and nephew Lot to Canaan, where he begins his nomadic life. The life and deeds of Abraham are described in the Book of Genesis (11:27-25:11). Only those that were forced to leave their country and wander as refugees in different countries are capable of understanding the difficulties that Abraham had to endure. His deed is all the greater because in those times there were no roads, no guesthouses or restaurants, no civil law or keepers of order and no humanitarian organisations. Minimal order and welfare existed because people lived as large families, in which everyone supported and protected one another. To be separated from your own family and to appear among foreigners was very risky. Through his unequivocal obedience to God, Abraham displayed enormous faith.
For Abraham, life in this foreign land among people with a language not known to him, with alien customs and morals, was very hard and sorrowful. Some of the Canaanite tribes, like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, had morally decayed to such an extent that God destroyed them by fire. Realizing his defencelessness, the heathen princes took away his beautiful wife Sarah on several occasions. Abraham's life was in danger several times. However, in every difficult situation, God successfully protected Abraham. In this way, God fulfilled His promise to assist Abraham.
However, God's main promise — to give Abraham a son and heir — was apparently slow in coming. Some twenty-five years had gone by since Abraham resettled in Canaan, and Sarah, being infertile by nature, could not conceive. Although during this period Abraham had established large flocks of sheep and other animals, as well as other significant possessions, all this could fall into foreign hands. One night, Abraham, at the age of seventy-five years and deep in thought, stepped out for a walk. Unexpectedly, God appeared before Abraham and said: "Look up at the heavens and count the stars. That is how many descendants you will have." Further, the denominative words stated in the Book of Genesis are used as an example by Saint Paul to the Jews: "And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to Him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:5-6). According to human logic, it was absolutely impossible for infertile Sarah to bear a child. If she couldn't conceive when she was young, how could she now when she was old? However, Abraham had no doubts, and God ascribed this to him as an achievement.
Nonetheless, over the next twenty-five years God continued to test Abraham's faith by not sending Sarah any children. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him in the form of three travellers (Genesis ch. 17) and confirmed His promise regarding the birth of a child to Sarah. It was here that God concluded His covenant (union), and as a mark of this union, all his offspring were to be circumcised. Indeed, shortly after and contrary to all the laws of motherhood, Sarah conceived and after the normal period, gave birth to a boy who was named Isaac. There was indescribable joy: faith had conquered the laws of nature!
In his Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul omits many details of this event (well known to the Jews) but pauses to explain the main moment. Abraham became righteous not because he was circumcised or because he fulfilled the customs, but because of his faith.
What shall we say about Abraham, our father through flesh, as to what he achieved? If he justified himself by deeds, he has praise but not before God, for what does the Scripture state? 'And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness' (Gen. 15:6). Reward is granted to the worker not as an act of kindness but as is his due. But one who is an idler yet believes in Him, Who justifies the impious, his faith is imputed as righteousness. Thus David calls a person blessed when God ascribes righteousness to him, independent of his deeds: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity' (Psalms 32:1-2). 'Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness (4:1-9).
When was it ascribed? After or before circumcision? Not after but before circumcision. And the mark of circumcision he received was like a stamp of righteousness through faith, which he had before circumcision. That is why he became the father of all faithful — including uncircumcised, so that they too can be ascribed with righteousness just as the circumcised, who not only were circumcised but walk in the steps of our father Abraham's faith — a faith which he had before his circumcision. Abraham and his descendants were promised to inherit the earth not because of their fulfillment of the law, but because of faith. (Genesis 15:6 and 17:4). If only the adherents of the law become heirs, then faith is useless and the promise ineffectual, because the law attracts wrath. Where there is an absence of the law, there is no lawlessness (4:10-15).
The Jews regard their superiority as originating from Abraham. Saint Paul explains that apart from a physical relationship, there is a more important spiritual relationship. People are brought closer together through spiritual, rather than physical relationships. Albeit all Jews came from Abraham, many of them were spiritual strangers to him because they refused to believe in God and even opposed Him. On the other hand, heathen that had no kinship with Abraham were becoming his spiritual heirs thanks to their faith. In this, God's promise that many nations will come from Abraham was fully realized. This would be not so much physical as spiritual offspring (see similar thought in Galatians 3:7). It was this spiritual kinship that our Lord Jesus Christ had in mind when, motivated by the Centurion's faith, He said to the Jews: "And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:11-12).
Further on, the Apostle Paul brings up the more astonishing example of Abraham's faith shown when God demands that he bring his son Isaac as a sacrifice. This touching occurrence is described in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. At that time, Isaac was twelve years of age, and human sacrifices were unheard of in the Jewish faith. These were performed by some heathen during periods of extreme religious degeneracy. Notwithstanding this and the frightful abnormality and personal tragedy of such a demand, Abraham obeyed God. Loading his son with firewood for the sacrificial offering, he began to climb to the top of Mount Moriah. According to tradition, this was the place where subsequently the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. When they had reached the top of the mount, the unsuspecting Isaac asked his father: "Here is the fire and firewood, where is the sacrificial lamb?" Holding back tears, Abraham answered: "God Himself will provide a lamb for sacrificial burning, my son." Only when Abraham raised his dagger to slay Isaac did God's Angel stay his hand from sacrificing his son, for whom he had pleaded to God for so many years and whom he loved so much. Then God said to Abraham: "By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the Heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. . . And in thy Seed (your Descendant, i.e., Christ — see Galatians 3:16) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because thou hast obeyed My voice" (Genesis 22:16-18). From this event, Saint Paul makes the following deduction:
Consequently, the promise was made because of faith, through grace, so as to make it unalterable for everyone — not only by law but by faith, which before God, made Abraham our common father: 'for a father of many nations have I made thee' (Gen. 17:5). In believing, he became our father before God — a God Who resurrects the dead and refers to the non-existent as existing. As it is written, transcending all expectations Abraham believed with hope, for which he became the father of many nations: 'So shall thy seed be' (4:16-18; Genesis 15:5).
His faith did not weaken through such thoughts as, being nearly 100 years old, he was deadened and so was Sarah's womb. His belief in God's promise did not waver, and fortifying his faith, he praised God in the belief that He was mighty enough to fulfill His promise. That is why Abraham is imputed in righteousness (4:19-22).
Moreover, the imputation did not only relate to him alone but in relation to all of us — believers in Him, Who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ that was surrendered for our sins and resurrected for our absolution (4:23-25).
Here, the Apostle explains that in preparing to carry out God's directive, Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise regarding his offspring and resurrect Isaac from the dead. This was such a strong faith that it can serve as an excellent example of the New Testament in our days!
The Apostle explains that he writes this so that we Christians believe in the power of Christ's redeeming death, Who was resurrected so that we could be exonerated and become the heirs to His promise, given to Abraham.
Saint Paul returns to the example of Abraham's faith in his epistles to the Galatians (third chapter) and to the Hebrews (eleventh chapter). The Apostle James presents Abraham as an example of living faith — faith that reveals itself in good deeds: through his act, Abraham submitted himself to God's will (James 2:20-23). In trying to weaken Saint James' argument, the Protestants present faith in opposition to deeds. The founder of Protestantism — Martin Luther — even argued against the authenticity of the Apostle James' epistle on the basis that it underlines the necessity of good deeds — which went against Luther's assertion of justification by faith alone.
Here, of course, their lack of understanding of the Apostle's cardinal thoughts regarding faith and works can be seen. In stating that legalistic obedience is useless, the Apostle does not repudiate good deeds, but customs. In the total context of the Apostle's dissertation on Abraham's faith, it can be seen that all its potency and greatness is revealed in Abraham's actions. This was not a theoretical but a living faith. For over fifty years, he suppressed within himself all doubts regarding the genuineness of God's promise as to his having an heir. Even when God demanded that he bring his long-awaited son as a sacrifice, he did not permit himself to complain but humbly submitted himself to the will of the Almighty. Abraham reveals his faith in God through his obedience and devotion to Him. God awaits from us not an unfeeling mental acknowledgment, nor a passing inspirational surge, but a total dependence on Him — as the ruler of our thoughts, aspirations, and acts. One must aim to establish harmony between one's inner convictions and outer actions. Undoubtedly, genuine faith acts through love (Galatians 5:6). It cannot be placed in opposition to good deeds — because together they make a complete whole, just as a body and soul go to make a live human being.
Justification through Christ's blood
Having explained the necessity of faith, the Apostle returns to the main theme concerning the fruits of Christ's redeeming works. Through His death by crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ not only liberated us from condemnation but also brought us immense blessings — reconciliation with God, access to the grace of the Holy Spirit, and eternal joy in the Kingdom of Heaven. In filling the heart of the faithful with ineffable peace and love toward Him, God's blessing gives us spiritual strength to overcome life's ordeals. The Apostle expresses it this way:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us (5:1-5).
For a spiritually immature person, at times it is difficult to reconcile himself with his sorrows. He is perplexed by the thought: if God truly loves and cares for me, why did He allow this misfortune to overtake me? The Apostle explains that sorrows are indispensable for our spiritual growth, and as a consequence, they play a role in God's plan for our salvation. In the first instance, patience is developed through sorrows. A Christian becomes more steadfast, resolute, and intrepid. Along with this, he becomes enriched with spiritual experience and becomes more proficient in his spiritual life. Growing in spiritual stature, he starts to experience the nearness of God and His warming love more evidently. This feeling in his soul will then engender a reciprocal deep love of God as he becomes tranquil and enlightened. Whereas before these spiritual treasures were only known to him in theory — by word of mouth — they have now become his personal possessions. If not for these sorrows, he would have remained an inexperienced spiritual child. The Apostles James (James 1:2-4) and Peter (1 Peter 1:7 and 2 Peter 1:6) speak of the necessity for sorrows in this plan of spiritual growth of a Christian. In articulating on spiritual statures, Saint Paul brings forth our Lord Jesus Christ as an example:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation (5:6-11).
Further on, the Apostle returns to the problem of sin, not in the context of a personal violation of God's will but from the point of view of its destructive power, which has permeated into the very core of the human being, corrupting it from within.
From Adam — death; from Christ — life
The Apostle explains that the prime reason for our mortality is not our personal sins but our corrupted nature that we all inherited from Adam.
He expounds on this theme:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned — For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him Who was to come (5:12-14).
The Jews presupposed that people died because they violated God's laws. The Apostle refutes this by pointing out that before the Prophet Moses there were no laws and consequently no laws to violate. Because many people did not have serious laws of conscience, they did not deserve to be punished by death. Yet everybody without exception died sooner or later, including infants. This shows that the death of people is a consequence of their being born with a mortal nature. They inherited this mortality from Adam.
The association between death and sin was established in Eden. Having created Adam and settled him in paradise, God directed: "Of every tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). It is true that biological death existed among animal and plant life before the appearance of the first human and, consequently, before the first sin. One can surmise that as humans have a great deal in common with the animal kingdom, they too are subject to the physical laws of mortality. However, the Bible shows that in creating man in His likeness and image, God intended to free him from the customary laws of decay by creating in Paradise the Tree of Life. Evidently, the fruit from this mysterious tree possessed properties to rejuvenate the organism in such a way as to either remove or compensate for the natural ageing process of cells. Incidentally, modern biology knows that not all organic cells are subject to the normal ageing process and subsequent death. So, for example, while normal body cells age every time they split and multiply and eventually become worthless to the organism after this cycle had been repeated sixty times, cancer cells can split and multiply a seemingly unlimited number of times. It is possible that by eating the forbidden fruit, something was injected into the human organism that accelerated the ageing process of cells. Nevertheless, from the Book Genesis, it is possible to conclude that even after violating God's commandment, Adam could have continued to prolong his physical life by eating of the fruit from the Tree of Life. However, God did not allow this (Genesis 3:24) — as Saint Gregory the Theologian explains it, "so that sin would not become immortal." Sin that resides inside a human being dies with his physical death. In this way, through the Creator's marvellous arrangement, punishment becomes medicine — albeit in part. The complete cure of our nature is dependent upon Christ's Resurrection.
The problem of heredity is quite complicated and the science of biology is only now able to penetrate some of its mysteries. The primal sin damaged the human being not only physically but also more importantly, spiritually. Consequently, after violating the Commandments, the soul yielded its authoritative position to the flesh, which made the human morally impotent and easily submissive to its disorderly physical inclinations. Only a few individuals like Abraham, Moses, the Prophet Elijah, and the like, had the heroic spirit to rise above the moral level of their surrounding environment. Still, as we learn from the Bible, even these righteous figures were not irreproachable in all matters. Without Christ, all mankind would remain doomed to slavery and decay.
However, just as there is a physical inheritance, so is there a spiritual one. Christ became the Forefather of the new, rejuvenated humanity. And the grace of rejuvenation is stronger than the enslaving nature of sin. The Apostle writes:
But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man's (Adam's) offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift (blessing) is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgement which came from one offence (Adam's) resulted in condemnation (of the descendants), but (now) the free gift (serves as) which came from many offences resulted in justification. For if by the one man's offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (5:15-17).
In other words, Christ's rejuvenating grace reveals its supremacy over sin in that it not only releases a person from his inherited primal sin but also from all his personal sins, as well as curing him of all his spiritual illnesses. From the above, the Apostle goes on to make the following conclusion:
Therefore, as to one man's offence judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5:18-21).
During the times of Moses, moral levels had fallen so far that people ceased to comprehend clearly what was right and what was wrong. The purpose of the Commandments given to the Prophet Moses by God was to assist people to sort out their moral problems and commence to live righteously. However, the Commandments were able to teach and advise only but were incapable of giving a person moral strength to combat temptation. Acting through the very essence of human nature, sin compelled a person to sin consciously in spite of the Commandments. That is why after the era of Moses, the moral condition of humanity became even worse than it was before him, and instead of weakening, sin became even stronger.
But this is all in the past! In the New Testament, the grace of rejuvenation conquers every sin and every passion: ancient Adam gives way to the new Adam — Christ. Before, people lived by the laws of physical inheritance, were moral prisoners of sin and doomed to die. From the New Adam, people are born spiritually rejuvenated, free from the shackles of sin and filled with the power of grace to live righteous lives. Further on, the Apostle explains the way a person unites with the grace of Christ.
Power of Christ's grace
From chapter six through to chapter eight of the epistle, the holy Apostle describes in detail those deep changes that occur in a believer under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the moment of baptism, the Christian is inducted by God into a new — previously unknown — sphere of existence, where His life-giving power is active and not formal Commandments. God's grace enlightens the Christian's mind with bright thoughts, rejoices his heart with pure and noble feelings, inspires his will toward works of love. The Mystery of Baptism serves as the turning point from old to new.
Rejuvenating power of Baptism
In rejecting the Jews' incorrect conclusions that Christianity, in promising freedom, ostensibly weakens the moral norms, the Apostle explains that for a Christian to sin is a total contradiction to that which happened to him in Baptism: in Baptism he became dead to sin and was reborn for a holy life.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life (6:1-4).
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (6:5-11).
Adam died because he sinned. Naturally, having inherited his sinful nature we too must die. But Christ, being sinless was not subject to the laws of mortality and could have lived forever in His human form. However, He voluntarily died for us. His death was not a consequence of a personal sin but a most immense act of love to rid others of sin. That is why, having died on the Cross, Christ gave a new meaning to death: from that point on, it was not to be a retribution for but abolition of sin. While in the first Adam, sin and death were friendly fellow travellers, in the second Adam — Christ — sin and death became irreconcilable enemies. Immersed into the baptismal waters, a person unites with the redeeming death of Christ and becomes dead to sin himself.
In this way, Baptism has two sides: outer-symbolical and inner-spiritual. The triple immersion symbolises interment with Christ and the surfacing from the water — resurrection with Him. Together with these outward actions of Baptism, God's invisible power of rejuvenation cleanses the individual from all moral corruption, injects new moral strength and makes the newly christened a son of God by grace and a member of His Kingdom. Here the faithful truly changes internally for the good and not just symbolically. From this moment he begins to feel the need to have communion with God, to desire to create good, and to thirst for justice. He receives a flow of spiritual energy that draws him toward the Heavenly. That is why it is important for people preparing for Baptism to approach this great Mystery with complete seriousness — and having being christened, to refrain from past sinful habits and endeavour to retain and entrench the power of grace within themselves for as long as possible. The Apostle writes:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (6:12-14).
The meaning here is that every human act of an individual leaves its mark on his character. Good deeds create good habits while sinful acts engender vices. While Baptism cleanses of moral corruption and heals sinful ulcers, it does not eradicate ingrained sinful habits immediately. This is because they have been grafted onto our character and interwoven into our minds. That is why even after Baptism evil habits can continue to push a person towards his past sins, albeit without their former compulsion. While the grace of Baptism gives a Christian spiritual strength to conquer evil habits, it demands one's own exercise of willpower as well as steadfastness, so that the soul is rid of all traces of former vices. In order to receive help, we must avail ourselves of the medicine that God offers us.
From slavery to a new life
Further on, the Apostle calls on the newly christened to substitute their former repulsive practices with righteous ones. The nature of sin is to enslave a person. Before Baptism, even though the person suffered from and was remorseful for his unrighteous behaviour, he could not find the strength to liberate himself from his enslaving vices. The Apostle summons the faltering faithful to go from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness. Here he explains that submission to righteousness is, correctly speaking, not slavery but an enormous inner freedom:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanliness, and of lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness (6:15-19).
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (6:20-23).
The Apostle's fundamental thought is that it would be senseless for a Christian to again enslave himself to past vices. In examining the question of good and evil in an abstract sense, it becomes doubtlessly clear that a choice has to be made between the two. The tragedy here lies in the fact that being a skilled hypnotist, the Devil is able to hide the lethal consequences of sin under the guise of its seemingly attractive delights. He instills into the person that such gratification does not present any danger: God is merciful and in the end everything will turn out all right. When the person is hooked, the Devil hangs on to him, dragging him into graver sins by implanting thoughts that he is too weak to stand up against his own basic nature. Thus, through his own negligence a person can again be entangled in the web of sin.
The Jews could not but agree with the Apostle Paul's conclusions concerning the destructiveness of sin. Nevertheless, it was not completely clear to them in what way Christianity was superior to the law of Moses, because they too condemn sin and call for righteous living. Why be baptised when the law of Moses can lead to the same results? They looked upon the enactments in the laws of Moses as everlasting norms, but Christianity, as a new and untried teaching.
The Apostle explains that the law of Moses had an obligatory meaning only up to the coming of Christ. The law existed for a sufficient time to help people rejuvenate morally. But as it was incapable of achieving this, God decided to abolish it and now offer people a new path to salvation. The Apostle illustrates his reasoning by referring to matrimonial laws:
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man (7:1-3).
Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (7:4-6).
In other words, Christ liberated us from slavery to sin and from the ties to the law of Moses. Now we can serve God with a rejuvenated soul and not blindly fulfill ancient and outdated rules.
The Apostle cautions against a possible false conclusion that the reason for sin lies within the law — as though there would be no sin if there were no law. No, the cause of sin lies within a person. By itself, the law is holy — as are its commandments that are just and lead toward good.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet' (Exodus 20:16-17). But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead (7:7-8).
I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (7:9-12).
As we can see, the Apostle returns to the problem of sin. At the beginning of his epistle (1:18-3:20), he established the fact of mankind's sinfulness, and in the second part (5:12-21) he explained that everybody was born with their nature damaged by sin. Now, with great persuasion, he explains that no one is capable of freeing himself from sin and its destructive effects by their own innate powers.
The Apostle points to the glaring contradiction: when God gave people His holy commandments, their sins not only did not abate but actually increased. The reason for this is that sin has conquered our nature.
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (7:13).
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present in me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (7:14-19).
Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me (7:20).
It is one of the few passages in the Holy Scripture where, before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, Man's moral impotence is exposed with such tragic clarity.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (7:21-23).
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin (7:24-25).
The last phrase sums all that has been said up to this point, and that is: Man has a dual personality — physical nature forces him to sin while his soul, although it reaches out toward good, is powerless to overcome the flesh.
Thus, in the whole of the seven chapters, the Apostle presented with great detail all the power and destructiveness of sin, with the aim of convincing the reader of the necessity to seek supernatural help in the battle against evil within one's self. Not the inner voice of conscience, not the straightforward directives of the law, nor the fear of eternal punishment were able to restrain a person from acting sinfully. This can only be achieved through God's power, which comes to a person through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is necessary to note here that the Apostle's directives are more pertinent to our times than those of some 2,000 years ago. Human society continues to suffer from its moral problems: injustice, deception, rape, wars, and every conceivable crime. Public activists do not understand that the main reason for all these woes lies in the damaged moral character of man. You can write — as many as you like — fine laws and establish organisations to combat crime and other social ills. But these measures are as ineffectual as applying a bandage to cancer. What is needed to destroy the very roots of evil in man is a radical and powerful medicine. Our Lord Jesus Christ offers this medicine. In essence, this mistake of the ancient adherents to the law of Moses is being repeated. Having rejected God's help, in their attempts to achieve righteousness with their own strength, their self-delusion made them so cruel that they condemned to death, the Righteous of the righteous!
Our spiritual soul can only be saved by Him Who created it. Our Lord Jesus Christ eradicates the very roots of evil within us and gives us strength to live righteously. The greatest hindrance toward resolving social problems appears to be the current, fashionable pseudo-intellectual and religious-philosophical instructions that reject the very existence of sin and teach that all our desires are natural and normal. If someone is wrong or does something incorrectly, it is because of ignorance or immaturity. Just wait a while — he will understand it himself, and he will reform. Indeed, this is the type of approach the devil needs! Let everybody think that evil is an illusion or a temporary divergence on the path of spiritual evolution. Without understanding the problems of sin and without a contrite supplication to Christ, all will remain the devil's slaves, destined for destruction. Without God, what will happen is not evolution but degeneracy!
In the next chapter, the Apostle deals with God's grace and spiritual life in a rather detailed manner.
Life in the Holy Spirit
Having explained the redemptive feat of Christ our Saviour, the Apostle convinces the Christian to live — with the help of Christ's grace — by spiritual struggles. He writes:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (8:1-8).
This part can be paraphrased thus: Before the coming of Christ and inasmuch as man submitted himself voluntarily to the devil by sinning, satan rightfully felt that he had the prerogative to manipulate people. He assumed the mantle of an executioner of the guilty; and from an academic point of view, he was correct because in torturing and executing sinners, he was destroying those who deserved destruction. Then Christ appeared incarnate. Instead of giving way to the holiness of Christ, satan rebelled against Him with all his ferocious hate and eventually, through his subordinate sinners, achieved the death of Christ, who was without sin and therefore not subject to his authority nor to the physical laws of mortality. The devil violated all sense of justice by openly exceeding his rights. For this, God's justice deprived him of his former authority over human flesh, which was united with Christ through the Mystery of Baptism, and earned the devil his defeat — specifically through Christ's flesh. It is specifically through Christ's Resurrection that people were liberated from satan's power and received access to a spiritual lifestyle. The Apostle writes:
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (8:9-11).
Joy of sonship
Being God's children and led by the Holy Spirit, we therefore become inheritors of His glory on the condition that we do not refuse to participate in His sufferings:
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (8:12-17).
Just as it is easier to slide down an incline than walk up a hill, so it is easier to become corrupt than virtuous. We know from personal experience that to obtain something good requires effort and determination. Therefore, there is no need to be afraid of trials and tribulations as though they were abnormal. It is better to accept them as steps by which we ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Apostle explains this in the context of the forthcoming rejuvenation of nature:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance (8:18-25).
In other words, all created living matter — all animal and plant life — is burdened by its current futility and is waiting for its rejuvenation. Of course it is waiting unconsciously, although it is possible that some more-developed animals, may have an obscure gravitation toward a more complete life. The fundamental thought of the Apostle is that in as much as man, being the crown of God's creation, still had to apply personal exertion in order to achieve perfection, nature was created by God incomplete. When the Christian part of humanity — with God's help — achieves this aim, then the whole physical world will be rejuvenated and transformed into a new land and a new heaven (see 2 Peter 3:13). Then, with the general resurrection of the dead, all of nature will be rejuvenated, and its creatures, together with man, will be liberated from their former laws of corruption and decay. What appearance will nature take on then — will there be animals and plants that are familiar to us? The Apostle leaves these questions unanswered. However, there are hints in the Bible that in the new world there won't be anything similar to what we are seeing now (Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Revelations chs. 21 and 22). But all this is a supposition, because in that ethereal world time, distance and all nature's laws will take on completely new configurations.
Every step of our way toward God is accompanied and assisted by the Holy Spirit. He teaches us what we should aim for, what to aspire to and what to ask from God; it is He Who conveys our prayer to God's altar.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God (8:26-27).
The Apostle reminds us that God had pre-determined to save us right from the beginning. He constantly cares for us, directing everything toward our benefit and our salvation — pleasant as well painful.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (8:28-30).
Unlike the teachings of some sects that this is an unconditional predetermination, here the predetermination is based on the all-seeing power of God. God did not arbitrarily and without regard to the individual's will, predetermined some for salvation and others toward destruction, but being All-seeing, knew in what manner each individual would apply his given freedom.
God's love — everything for us
In concluding his teachings on justification through Christ's grace, the Apostle raises the thoughts and feelings of the reader toward the perception of God's all-powerful love in the following victorious hymn:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (8:31-34).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter' (8:35-36).
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor Angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:37-39).
The call to Israel
The Apostle Paul deeply loved his people, and his soul ached because many of his countrymen opposed the sermons of the Gospels. Here, the Apostle witnessed the tragic contradiction between what should have been according to the promises of the prophets and what was transpiring in reality. In preparing the Jews for the coming of the Messiah, God bestowed upon them the honour of being the first citizens of His Kingdom and preachers of the true faith among other people. In reality the Apostle was becoming more convinced daily that his countrymen were acting not like God's chosen people but more like His opponents (theomachists). On the other hand, the heathen that up to that point in time were distanced from everything spiritual were now very receptive to the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul agonized over the question of whether it is possible that God summoned the Jewish people and promised them such great mercies needlessly. The saint found the answer in that there are two categories of Israelites: ethnic Israelites and Israelites in spirit. Everyone that accepts the New Testament — Jews as well as heathen — become real Israelites and children of Abraham. Faith is the specific catalyst that brings people of various nationalities together — unifying them into one chosen people called Israel. Jewish non-believers, by their very nature are completely alien to Abraham and to the Lord God Himself. Notwithstanding the fact that the majority had become obdurate, the Apostle noticed that within the Jewish people there still exists a living part that is capable of turning to Christ. This will occur at the end of our time.
In the next three chapters of his Epistle to the Romans (9-11), the Apostle deliberates in detail over this vexatious question. This part of the epistle presents itself as a complete and independent analysis of God's providence in people's destinies. The Apostle emphasizes his conclusions by many references to the Holy Gospel, especially to the Prophet Isaiah.
God's Providence in the fate of nations
Saint Paul laments for his people whom he tried to convert to Christ over so many years:
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen (9:1-5).
How can one understand that a people, selected by God and who were to receive so many blessings, turned away from Him? The Apostle searches for answers in the Bible and comes to a conclusion that God's selection is based on spiritual qualities rather than physical ones. He writes:
[They are perishing.] But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called' (Genesis 21:12). That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: 'At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son' (Genesis 18:10). And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger' (Genesis 25:23). As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated' (9:6-13; Malachi 1:2).
The key thought here is that God selects a person for his inner and not outer qualities. In emphasizing this point, the Apostle cites an example in Abraham, who apart from Isaac had other children — among them being Ishmael, son of the servant Hagar. The Apostle points out that God's blessing by-passed all the other children of Abraham and was transferred to only one of them — Isaac. Similarly in the next generation, from all the children of Isaac God blessed only his youngest — Jacob — rejecting the eldest — Esau — who had primacy by law.
The Apostle brings forth "negative" selections where God utilises the callousness of famous people so as to reveal His omnipotence for the spiritual benefit of others. Thus, during the days of Moses, God permitted the proud Pharaoh to oppose His directive to free the Jewish people from bondage. As a result of this resistance, God punished Egypt with terrible disasters, revealing His superiority over the heathen gods, who were incapable of protecting the Egyptians. The purpose of all these miraculous events, described in the Book of Exodus (chs. 7-14), was to convince the Jews as well as the Egyptians and the rest of the people that there was only one true and omnipotent God, Creator of heaven and earth. God could have defeated Pharaoh and his associates in an instant, thereby liberating the Israelites. But He chose a slower path so as to bring people a bigger spiritual benefit. In the language of the Holy Scripture, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh — as though purposely making him stubborn and cruel, although in fact, God just allowed Pharaoh to oppose His will. However, the ancient prophets did not differentiate between an independently active and a sanctioned will: to sanction — is the same as to do it yourself. The Apostle Paul adheres to this terminology:
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion' (Exodus 33:19). So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth' (Exodus 9:16). Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens (9:14-18).
God, being Sovereign King of the universe, decides Himself whom to pardon and whom to punish. Just as His right hand holds the destiny of every human being, so does it hold that of whole nations, and He does not have to give account of His actions before anyone. Nevertheless, being supremely just, God sends to everyone precisely that which he deserves. The Apostle explains it this way:
You will say to me then, Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for dishonour? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: 'I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved' (Hosea 2:23). And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'you are not my people, There they shall be called sons of the living God' (Hosea 1:10). Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth' (Isaiah 10:22-23). And as Isaiah said before: 'Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah' (9:19-29; Isaiah 1:9).
On the one hand, these quotations foretell the conversion of the heathen to the faith, and on the other, the rejection of the Jewish people because of its unfaith. From this, it can be concluded that God's promise is subject to the future behaviour of the person. Those Jews that have believed will receive that which was promised, and those who have refused to believe will be rejected. At the same time God preserves the "remnants" or the minority of the Jews, who have not lost the ability to believe. Indeed, throughout the whole period of Christianity, individual Jews converted to it and joined the Church — despite the opposition from their relatives and friends.
In the eleventh chapter of his epistle, the Apostle foretells of massive numbers of Jews converting to Christianity before the end of the world.
The Apostle sees that the reason for Jewish callousness lies in their insistence that righteousness comes through customs, and their unwillingness to submit to righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus Christ:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame' (9:30-33; Isaiah 28:16).
According to God's plan, believers from all nations had to merge into one spiritual family — the Messiah's Kingdom. The prophets likened this Kingdom to a magnificent dwelling, towering on top of Zion (Zion was the hilltop on which the temple of Jerusalem and the king's palace were located), while the Messiah — being founder of the Kingdom of Heaven — was likened to a cornerstone. In emphasising the meaning of faith, the Apostle cites one of these prophesies: "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16). The 118th Psalm speaks of this miraculous Cornerstone-Christ: "The Stone which the builders rejected Has become the Chief Cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvellous in our eyes." The meaning here is that despite the fact that the spiritual and political leaders of the Jews did not take a meaningful, active part in establishing the Kingdom of Heaven and then rejected its founder, God still made Him the Cornerstone.
Further on, the Apostle shifts towards analysing the spiritual crisis confronting the Jewish people.
Israel's calamity — its unbelief
The aim of the law of Moses was to prepare the Jewish people to receive the Messiah. The concept of customs, holidays, and church services was to serve as an outer shell for a better preservation and assimilation of the spiritual substance of the law. But the Jews were so engrossed in these outer formalities that they lost their sensitivity for the spiritual, so that when the Messiah eventually arrived, they did not recognise Him as the promised Saviour. While Christ was summoning them to faith and moral renovation, they were insisting on the strict observance of all the established traditions. The Apostle articulates this:
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:1-4).
For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, 'The man who does those things shall live by them' (Leviticus 18:5). But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into Heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith which we preach) (Deuteronomy 30:12-14): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame' (Isaiah 28:16). For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved' (10:5-13; Joel 2:32).
The teachings of Christ to the Jews seemed new and strange. Besides that, it must have been very close and familiar to their souls because it emanated from God, Who created the soul in His image and likeness. Words brought from Deuteronomy — "Do not speak in your heart" — speak of the regeneration of spiritual feelings. A person genuinely yearning for righteousness cannot be satisfied with just the outer customs: he craves for a living communion with God. In principle, a person of any nationality is capable of believing in God and loving Him because in the Messiah's Kingdom, all types of racial, social, cultural, and other differences lose their meaning as all the faithful merge into one people of God — a new Israel. It is this new Israel to which all the prophets' promises refer.
In order to believe in the teachings of Christ, it is essential to hear them, and in order to hear them, it is essential to have preachers. The Apostle brings quotations from the Bible that foretell of a universal evangelical sermon. The Jews are guilty before God not because they did not hear of Christ but because they refused to believe and therefore fell away from faith. Meanwhile, the heathen, who were free of any prejudices regarding the customs of the law, proved to be more receptive to Christianity.
How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!' (Isaiah 52:7). But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?' (Isaiah 53:1). So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (10:14-17).
But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: 'Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.' But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: 'I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.' But Isaiah is very bold and says: 'I was found by those that did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me' (Isaiah 65:1). But to Israel He says: 'All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people' (10:18-21; Isaiah 65:2).
All these quotations from Scripture confirm Saint Paul's conclusions that the Jews themselves are to blame for falling away from God.
Future conversion of Israel
Like an eagle soaring in the sky, the Apostle observes with his prophetic eye the future of humanity. He sees that along the historical path of the Jewish people, there will be a sharp turn toward belief in Christ.
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 'Lord, they have killed Your Prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life' (3  Kings 19:10)? But what does the Divine response say to him? 'I have reserved for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed their knee to Baal' (3  Kings 19:18). Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work (11:1-7).
What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: 'God has given them the spirit of stupor, eyes that they should see And ears that they should not hear, to this very day' (Isaiah 29:10). And David says: 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them, Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always' (11:7-10; Psalms 69:22-24).
The Jews' stubborn unbelief prompted the Apostle to turn to the heathen with his sermons. However, there is a live branch of faith — not visible to the physical eye — that has been preserved among the Jewish people, which with time will bring forth fresh growth. The Apostle gives a reminder that similar spiritual obscurity occurred during the times of the Prophet Elijah, some 700 years B.C., when the vast majority of Israelites succumbed to the temptation of worshipping heathen gods that were popular at that time. The profane Jezebel, wife of Israel's king Ahab, began to persecute the faithful of the true God and exterminate His prophets. In saving his life, the Prophet Elijah hid in an impenetrable wilderness. In a most depressed state, he complains to God about his people. It seems to him that everything is finished and that from that point on, Israel will be ruled by the false Sidonite god Baal. But God consoles him and reveals to him that within the Israelite people, He has reserved "seven thousand men who have not kneeled to Baal." The Apostle foresees that just as in the past history of Israel, there were periods of spiritual decline and then rebirth of faith, the Jewish people will turn to God in the future.
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches of the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness (11:11-12).
The opposition of the Jews to Christianity led the Apostles and the following missionaries to direct all their exhortational energies toward converting the heathen to Christ. These sermons had an enormous success among them, and the heathen turned Christian entered the ranks of the new Israel. Utilising picturesque speech, the Apostle likens God's people, the real Israel, to the noble olive tree that over many centuries had brought God bountiful harvests. Initially, this good tree was made up exclusively of righteous people of the Old Testament, descendants of Abraham, while the heathen nations remained unproductive — like a wild olive tree. Now, having believed in Christ, many branches of the wild tree are "grafted" on to the existing "noble olive tree," while the unbelieving Jews were as though dried up and fallen away from their own tree.
At the same time, the converts should not boast before the unbelieving Jews, because their fall is not total. Beside that, no one is insured against disbelief or sin.
For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an Apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the first-fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches (11:13-16).
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either (11:17-21).
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (11:22-24).
The Apostle foretells that the time will come when many Jews will turn to Christ and then, being enlivened, God will once again graft them back to the olive tree to which their righteous ancestors belonged. To emphasise this, he quotes the Prophet Isaiah's prophecy. Unfortunately, the circumstances themselves and the details of prevailing historical changes remain unclear to us. In all probability, this conversion to Christ will occur not long before His Second Coming. Then, the converted Jews will replace those that have withdrawn from Christ. The Apostle foresees in his Epistle to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:3) the falling away of various peoples from Christianity.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins' (Isaiah 59:20-21, 27:9). Concerning the Gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all (11:25-32).
The words "all Israel will be saved" refer to the true sons of Abraham — those Jews who have inherited Abraham's high spiritual qualities. The words "The Deliverer will come out of Zion" — or "to Zion," according to the Jewish text — are unclear. Some assume that the word "Deliverer" is supposedly the Prophet Elijah, who has to come before the Second Coming of Christ and "restore all things" (Matthew 17:11).
In these designated world events — the falling away of Israel and the conversion to faith of the heathen peoples and then the return to faith of the Jews — the Apostle sees God's great wisdom, where through incomprehensible destinies, He leads all those that are capable of being saved, toward salvation. "With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him?" (Isaiah 40:14). "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (11:36).
Note 4. Israel's problem is a problem of spiritually gifted people. Endowments and talents are spiritual strengths that require proper direction. After all, a powerful automobile without a steering wheel is a dangerous thing. When a person directs his inner energy toward God, he is capable of producing much good and of elevating himself to a high spiritual level. However, when he does the opposite by turning away from God, he falls under the influence of the fallen angel that is much stronger than him. Being himself a former highly talented angel, the Devil plunged into the abyss of evil because he wanted to be greater than God. From the moment of his fall, he has directed all his powers toward leading others astray in his theomachistic battle against God. And he seduces others with the same element under which he fell — pride. He knows that more-talented people would have more reasons to succumb to his temptations.
Among the biblical false prophets, far from many were charlatans. On the contrary, among them were quite a few highly gifted people that went along the false path. For example, the Prophet Balaam was tempted into extracting material gain from his gift of prophesy (Numbers ch. 22-24). Similarly, Judas Iscariot did not become one of the twelve Apostles by chance. Together with the other Apostles, he performed miracles and drove out evil spirits, but later — at some moment of his Apostolic activity — he fell away from the living faith, and his soul was taken over by the Devil.
A similar tragedy of spiritual distortion occurred with the Russian people, called not without good reason "wearers of God's truth." During the Revolution, having grown indifferent to its faith, the people began to destroy and ruin — with some kind of despairing callousness — everything that they had held sacred at one time. Their natural spirituality turned into anti-spirituality, humility into pride and compassion into hatred. This is how the Devil repaid the Russian people for all the defeats he had suffered from the Russian Saints. In this scheme of things, one can understand the tragedy of the chosen Israelite people. Having fallen away from the living faith, it came under the influence of the prince of darkness and became an opponent to God's will. It is the same with any clergyman that does not serve God with all his heart, because he is in danger of falling to the Devil's deceit, or in the Church's language — self-exaltation. False prophets, false bishops — these are spiritually gifted people that are heading in the wrong direction and are therefore dangerous — and, the more talented, the more dangerous they are.
The falling away of Israel is a tragedy for the whole of humanity and not only for one people. At the same time we should rejoice, because this is not the last word in their history and their conversion to Christ has seemingly begun.
Note 5. We are living in the designated time when the process of the Apostle Paul's prophecy regarding the conversion of the Jews to Christ is coming to fruition. The impetus to this movement was given by a Jewish lawyer — Joseph Rabbinovich — in the middle of the nineteenth century. Having visited the Holy Land with the aim of assisting Jews in resettling to the land of their fathers, he began — with the aid of the books of the New Testament — to locate historical sites of ancient Israel. This study of the Gospel and the Apostle's epistles, gradually brought him to the belief that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah, as promised by the prophets — Who was not recognised by his ancestors. Returning to Bessarabia (modern Moldavia), he began by word and print to preach Christ to his compatriots. His efforts were crowned with success, and after a number of years, an organisation of Messianic Jews was established in Bessarabia, which spread its influence from Austria-Hungary to Siberia. Notwithstanding an active opposition by non-Christian Jews, by the end of the nineteenth century, the number of baptized Jews began to steadily increase in Eastern and Central Europe.
It was in 1866 that a Jewish Christian association of Great Britain emerged — nearly the same time as the Zionist movement. An American Jewish Christian association began in 1915 and an international Jewish Christian association, in 1925. Approximately at this time several Jewish Christian congregations sprang up in Europe and the United States — and the first Messianic synagogue in Bessarabia. At the end of the 1970's, the number of Jewish Christian congregations in North America reached thirty. By the mid '80s, this figure had risen to 100. In the beginning of the '90s, they had grown to more than 150. Slowly but surely, Jewish Christian congregations are beginning to appear in various parts of the world.
While some Jewish congregations sprang up as the result of missionary efforts by Christian parishes of Protestant denominations, the majority came into being by independent endeavours of devout Jews studying the Bible. Although it has been observed that the portrayal and practice of the beliefs among Jewish congregations are diverse, they do all come together in the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the promised Messiah; they all believe in the Holy Trinity, acknowledge that the Bible is God-inspired, confess to the Mystery of Baptism and believe in the life hereafter.
Currently, throughout the world, there are nearly 200 Messianic Jewish congregations — Christian Jews that observe their national customs. In telephone books, their communities appear under the rubric — Jewish Messianic. The following are Jewish Christian societies that are in existence: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, the Fellowship of Jewish Congregations, International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues, Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, Jews for Jesus, The Chosen People, American Board of Mission to the Jews, and others. In confessing to the cardinal Christian dogmas, members of these congregations strive to preserve their national identity and continue to observe ancient Jewish holidays and customs, like the Sabbath (Saturday), circumcision, Pascha (Passover), and others.
Supplementary data on the Messianic movement can be found in the books Return of the Remnant by Michael Schiffman and Elliot Klayman, Lederer Publications, Baltimore, Maryland, 1992, and Messianic Jews by John Fieldsend, Marc Olive Press, Monarch Publications, 1993. Some Messianic congregations are active in publishing journals and books, in which they convincingly prove — on the basis of the Old Testament prophesies — to their fellow Jews that the Lord Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. This type of literature can be received, for example, from the publisher Jews for Jesus, 60 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94102, tel. (415) 864-2600.
Essence of Christian life
After describing the foremost truths of the Christian faith, in the second part of his epistle Saint Paul turns to outlining Christian morality. The Apostle persuades Christians to live for Christ, for the good of their neighbour, and to fervently strive for the Kingdom of Heaven. He calls upon Christians to liken themselves to Christ through self-control, indifference to material things, humility, patience, and other virtues. The main aspiration of a Christian should be to love everyone — just as Christ loves us.
In this temporary life temptation, obstacles, and doubt are unavoidable realities. So as not to weaken in your Christian endeavours, it is necessary — right from the beginning — to condition yourself for your undertaking. Obstacles may be inner or outer. Inner ones arise from weakness, from vanity, and from sinful wishes. Outer ones are from the Devil, from an accumulation of unpleasant circumstances, and from people. The Apostle summarises his instructions on Christian living in the following:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (12:1-2).
In the middle of his epistle, Saint Paul prevails upon Christians to "be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord" and "by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body," i.e., not to submit to sinful cravings. Now he repeats this in somewhat different words and asks that "you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God." Through this, the Apostle is attempting to say that Christian faith undoubtedly includes in itself active undertakings of self-restraint, a pure and chaste life, indifference to material things, constancy in prayers, discharging family and social obligations, and an active display of love toward loved ones. With this, the Apostle advises us to be attentive, so that our undertaking or service to God is sensible — conforms to His will and to our abilities and circumstances — because blind and inappropriate zeal could bring more harm than good.
At that time, as with the majority of Christian congregations in other cities, the Roman Christians were not a monolithic community. The community was made up of people from different nationalities and social origins, as well as different cultural levels. It is natural that when a mature person accepts Christianity, he retains to a certain degree his former outlook on the world and is unable to instantly free himself from his developed practices and habits. Often, much of the intellectual and practical "baggage" from the person's former environment is alien to Christian teachings and must be cleansed and corrected. That is why the Apostle persuades the Christian to regenerate mentally — free himself from a former non-Christian outlook, from Jewish and heathen prejudices, and to adopt a pure, Christian form of thinking — in other words "have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). The Apostle states that the more a Christian succeeds in his internal renovation, the more receptive he becomes to what the Lord instils in him. In this way, he becomes a conveyor of God's holy will.
As we will see later, in his instructions concerning Christian life, Saint Paul returns several times to the theme of love, explaining its qualities and its manifestation. According to the Apostle, our actions acquire their value specifically from our level of feelings of love. Without love, even the greatest feats are nothing (details in 1 Corinthians ch. 13).
Utilisation of Christian talents
If love is the highest of all virtues, then meekness appears as the foundation of all virtues. Meekness is having a modest opinion of yourself — acknowledging your moral weaknesses, not trusting the strength of your own virtues but combining it with hope in God's help and readiness to submit to His holy will in all things. Just as conceit destroys everything good in a person, meekness assists in one's spiritual development. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ established the first commandment of His Beatitudes as spiritual poverty, i.e., meekness. The deeper the foundation, the larger a structure can be erected on it. And the deeper the meekness, the higher a person can elevate himself morally. That is why Saint Paul begins his instructions on Christian living with meekness:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophecy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (12:3-8).
These pronouncements contain two important deliberations. The first is that God gives every believer a certain amount of talents; the second is that these given talents should be applied for the good of all. St. Paul the Apostle develops this theme in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians ch. 12). Here, as in that epistle, he compares the Church of Christ with a human body in which every member has its own specific designation. Just as a body does not have any superfluous parts but all are essential and complement one another, so it should be in Christ's Church — every believer is summoned to serve for the good of his congregation.
Although every believer is given his special spiritual talent corresponding to his service within the Church, everyone without exception is given a common and great gift of love. These are the attributes and indications of this Heavenly gift:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be
in brotherly love — tender
in honour — obliging
in diligence — unwavering
in spirit — fervent
to the Lord — serving
in hope — rejoicing
in tribulation — patient
in prayer — steadfast
in the needs of saints — charitable
in hospitality — zealous (12:9-13).
The Apostle persuades Christians to forgive their offenders — whoever they may be — because love cures not only one's personal spiritual sores but also those of strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:14-21).
If a conflict has occurred, it is important not to succumb to evil, vindictive feelings. Although our initial reaction is to respond accordingly — to teach him a "lesson" so to speak — we must remind ourselves that the main danger is not the offender but our own malicious and vengeful feelings. If we permit these feelings to take root, they will begin to destroy us from within and we may lose all our God-given spiritual riches. It is possible that externally we will overpower our enemy, but internally we will suffer a great defeat. That is why God gave us only one weapon against evil — good! "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." This is a very powerful weapon even though sometimes it takes a while before it achieves the desired result. If the offender continues with his hostility toward us, then in accordance with the Apostle, the righteous Judge Himself will avenge us.
Obeying civil authorities
Every society — be it family, commercial enterprise, organisation or country — is naturally made up of seniors and juniors, executives and subordinates, rulers and citizens. Without such a pyramid structure, no society can exist. That is why no prophet or Apostle ever ruptured any existing societal structures. Instead, they condemned anarchy and rebellion.
Apparently, the Apostle writes here about obedience to civil authorities because to the Jews of his time, having lost their national independence, this was a very sore point. It is known that the Roman rulers frequently abused their authority over the Jews by wounding their national-religious feelings, without any need for it. Undoubtedly, with the obvious contrast between the elevated Christian teachings and the teachings of the dissolute ruling class, not only Jewish Christians but also those of other nationalities could have been concerned with the question of whether or not it seems to be a betrayal of God to obey those that legalise profane and heathen practices and do not acknowledge His authority. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul explains that the very principle of authority has been established by God and, therefore, civil rulers have to be obeyed even when they are non-believers.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour (13:1-7).
We find similar instructions in the Apostle Peter's writings: "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (1 Peter 2:13-15).
Of course the Apostles' description of civil authorities is more of an ideal than what is realised in practice. Nonetheless, it is known that legislature — of ancient and subsequent times — was established on principles that attempt to reflect equality, justice, and concern for the good of its citizens.
The ruler in Rome during the writing of this epistle was Nero, who a few years later initiated a savage persecution of the Christians. As a result of this, thousands of believers died (including the Apostles Peter and Paul) in Rome and its neighbouring lands. It is difficult to visualize such a cruel and depraved ruler like Nero as a just servant of God that encourages the good and punishes the wicked. Nonetheless, in accordance with Christian teachings, in spiritually neutral earthly matters, all legal rulers have to be obeyed — even those that are hostile towards the Christian faith. One has to remember that Jesus Christ and His Apostles taught this not only in words, but through personal example. When Pontius Pilate boasted to our Saviour that he had the authority to either crucify Him or set Him free, Christ calmly replied, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above" — i.e., at this given moment, God has allowed you to control My destiny (John 19:10-11); and immediately added: know this, that "the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." meaning that the Jewish leaders are guiltier than you because they are committing this evil deliberately. But you too will answer to God for abusing the authority that was given to you.
So as not to be perplexed over the need to obey unjust authorities, it is necessary to remind ourselves that we are citizens of the Heavenly King. Earthly life is but a path toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Here, we are temporary wanderers and there we will be permanent citizens. In this light, the words of the Apostle become clear: "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Timothy 2:1-2; Titus 3:1) — i.e., the important thing now is to draw closer, without any impediments, to our ultimate goal. So let us beseech God to enlighten our rulers that they may maintain the necessary order and lawfulness in our society.
The only time a Christian is allowed to disobey his rulers is when a spiritual conflict arises, i.e., when the demands of civil authorities contradict the teachings of our faith. Thus, for example, when the members of the Sanhedrin demanded of the Apostles that they cease preaching Jesus Christ, Saint Peter and the other Apostles boldly replied: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In occurrences of religious conflict, a Christian must remain faithful to God right up to giving up his life, as the Lord taught: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Consequently, the general rule is: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17).
The Apostle concludes his epistle with a call to have respect for every person — corresponding to his position, rank and age — as well as to have consideration for existing laws and societal order.
Love is most important
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (13:8-10).
It was Jesus Christ that explained to the Jewish scribes that love of God and love of your neighbour were the two commandments on which "hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:40). In other words, all the teachings of the Holy Scripture lead to this — that you need to love God and your neighbour. He who loves has realised all the demands of God's law; and conversely, he who does something without feelings of love, is wasting his effort.
Further on, the Apostle reminds Christians that they have stepped out of the sphere of darkness into the sphere of light. This is why their lives should mirror their high Christian beginnings (Matthew 5:14-16), so that their concerns for natural needs did not turn into excess and sinful distortion.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (13:11-14).
Earlier, the Apostle said that in Baptism a person is resurrected with Christ; now he urges those baptised to clothe themselves with Christ — to liken themselves to Him with their spiritual qualities. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul speaks primarily about those qualities that are so essential to a Christian congregation: all-forgiving, non-judgemental, mutual harmony, accommodating to the weaknesses of others, and concern for the salvation of loved ones.
Living in harmony
The Christian community in Rome presented itself as quite a variegated ethnic and social amalgam. For example, the Jews scrupulously differentiated between clean (kosher) and unclean foods. They held to ancient Judaist traditions and observed biblical holidays. Some of them fasted on certain days. Christians of heathen backgrounds were more liberal. However, some of them — as for example, former adherents of Orpheus and Pythagoras — were vegetarians and did not drink wine; former Stoics adhered to completely special dietary observances.
Christianity liberated the faithful from the blind observance of dietary decrees and various earthly rules. It taught that in principle all food was clean because it was created by God, especially when it is blessed by prayer (Colossians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33).
Having adopted the principle of freedom from man-made conditions, some Christians were inclined to look condescendingly upon those that continued to retain old predilections. They, in turn, whom the Apostle describes as feeble in faith, criticised those that did not conform to established rules, regarding them as reformists that trampled everything holy.
The Apostle calls for the Christians to live in peace among themselves and not argue over petty disputes. In essence, it is not who the person is or what customs he observes but the aim of his actions. If his practices do not inflict harm on anyone, then let him continue to do that to which he is accustomed. Sometimes, behind fine works hide unholy motives, and conversely, seemingly useless and bizarre occupations may express a heartfelt desire to achieve something good. God accepts our labours not only for their objective value, but more importantly, He also considers our intentions. That's why:
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but do not dispute over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand (14:1-4).
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the Judgement seat of Christ. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God' (14:1-11; Isaiah 45:23).
Thus, each of us shall give account of ourselves to God. Let us not start to judge one another, and instead, condemn that which may create an obstacle or temptation for our brother.
Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offence. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (14:15-23).
We should try to ensure that our actions are not only objectively correct, but that they also do not harm anyone. This dominant rule is expressed in a more detailed format by Saint Paul in his Epistles to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Some Corinthian Christians, realising that idols were nonentities, looked upon heathen sacrificial offerings as harmless superstitions of the unenlightened masses. Some of these "sages" even allowed themselves to visit the temple and partake of sacrificial food offered to the idols. This behaviour caused great agitation among the most inexperienced of new converts, who saw this behaviour as betrayal of the Christian faith and an open recognition of heathen gods. The Apostle explains to the Corinthians that the problem does not lie in the food itself that is consumed with prayer, but specifically in the provocation that such behaviour produces. The general rule should be: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence, either to the Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved."
Christ — an example of tolerance
In concluding his directives, Saint Paul calls for spiritually mature Christians ("strong in faith") to be tolerant and understanding toward their spiritually immature fellow members. He presents Christ as an example of forbearance:
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me' (Psalm 69:9). For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Jesus Christ (15:1-5).
Here the Apostle is citing an excerpt from the sixty-ninth Psalm, in which the Messiah's suffering and humiliation are foretold. The prophecy expressed in the ninth verse: "Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me" — was fulfilled when our Lord Jesus Christ first visited Jerusalem at the very beginning of His service to mankind. Seeing the lively trading activity within the temple, His spirit became agitated. Making a whip out of ropes, Christ drove the traders and moneychangers out of the temple, telling them: "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (John 2:16). Because of Christ's action in blocking the material interests of the traders, as well as the Jewish leaders, they unanimously rebelled against Christ and denigrated Him in the eyes of the people.
From that day on, the Jewish leaders came to hate Christ and used every opportunity to belittle His standing among the people. During the trial at Caiaphas' house, they reminded Him of this event. Through this, Christ subjected Himself to denigration from those who by desecrating the temple dishonoured its Owner. Saint Paul brings up this incident in the form of an example so that Christians, in emulating their Saviour, should not be strangers to humiliation and sorrows when this is demanded for the defence of God's glory and the spiritual benefit of their relations. In his epistle, Saint Paul repeatedly returns to the example of Christ, Who, through His compassion for us, left His Heavenly glory and descended into our world darkened by evil. By right, the Jews regarded themselves to be citizens of the future Kingdom of the Messiah. But the Apostle, having shown that the Jews are as guilty as the heathen, now explains that God extends His mercy to all people — excluding no one from His Kingdom. In confirming this foremost mystery of the New Testament, the Apostle brings up the witness of the ancient prophets:
That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: 'For this reason I will confess to you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name' (Psalm 18:49). And again he says: 'Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!' (Deuteronomy 32:43). And again: 'Praise the Lord all you Gentiles! Laud Him all you peoples!' (Psalm 117:1). And again, Isaiah says: 'There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope' (Isaiah 11:10). Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (15:6-13).
Note: Jesse was the father of King David. The expression "root of Jesse" is in reference to the Messiah.
Wishes and greetings
The Apostle concludes his epistle with some supplementary thoughts and greetings. This segment of the epistle is quite clear and needs no clarification:
Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient — in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ. And so I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation, but as it is written: 'To whom He was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand' (15:14-21; Isaiah 52:15).
For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been the partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ (15:22-29).
Already in the first year of Christianity's emergence, Jerusalem became the centre for warring Judaism, where from time to time Christians were subjected to cruel persecutions (Acts 8:1). Taking advantage of the Christians' non-legal status, some of the more aggressive Jews plundered their property with impunity (Hebrews 10:34), impoverishing the Jerusalem church and leaving it in need of outside help. While preaching in various countries, Saint Paul did not forget his mother-Church and from time to time collected financial assistance for her (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians chs. 8-9). The Apostle writes about one of these contributions, which he had hoped to deliver personally.
The Apostle had a premonition that his imminent visit to Jerusalem could see him facing persecution — and he was not mistaken. As we know from the Book of the Acts of the holy Apostles (Acts 22:27-24:1), a crazed mob of Jewish fanatics nearly killed Saint Paul when he arrived there. Later they arrested him and wanted to try him in Caesarea. However, being a citizen of Rome, he demanded to be tried before the Roman emperor. Thus, after many mishaps, Saint Paul finally got to Rome. However, here we have gone ahead of ourselves. The Apostle writes:
Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen (15:30-33).
The need to retain the purity of faith
Even during the times of the Apostles, heretics had already begun to distort the Christian faith. Motivated by greed, these false teachers used Christian terminologies and rhetorical means with great success to entice simple souls into their heretical sects. Concerned with the purity of faith, the Apostles, through their epistles and by their preaching, exhorted Christians to ignore the false teachers (see Acts 20:28-31; James 3:1; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:9-11; 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 11:13-15; Galatians 1:8-9; Philippians 3:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 1 Timothy 1:5-7 and 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:16-19 and 4:3; Titus 1:9-11 and 3:10; Hebrews 13:9).
Bearing in mind the constant danger from these false teachers, Saint Paul begs the Christians of Rome not to be tempted by their eloquence and sophism but to hold to their own original professed belief and church unity. He writes:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen (16:17-20).
In his other epistles, Saint Paul comes out more definitively against the false teachers. He writes:
"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8). "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:1-2). "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). "But even if we, or an Angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).
Without immersing ourselves in the complicated subject of heresy, it is essential to mention one of them, which lies at the base of contemporary sectarian teachings. These assert that by depicting the importance of faith in his Epistles to the Romans, the Apostle Paul rejects the need for good deeds.
As we have mentioned before, the Jews in Apostolic times — under the excuse that they have been justified because of their lineage to Abraham and their conformity to the law — refused to believe in Christ. In refuting their incorrect understanding of justification structured on formal grounds, Saint Paul shows that in essence, justification was always found in faith and not the external works of the law. As an example, he presents the faith of Abraham. From the context of his speech and the example of Abraham's faith, it can be seen that under justification by faith, Saint Paul had in mind a live and active faith and not just an acknowledgment of Christ being the Messiah. He taught that faith should transform the Christian's whole life from a self-centred sinner and make him akin to Christ. In all of six chapters of his Epistle to the Romans (7-8 and 12-15) the Apostle explains what is entailed in the life of a genuine Christian.
In asserting that a person supposedly is saved by faith alone — independent of his way of life — the sectarians in essence are returning to the former Jewish formalism, which the Apostle so energetically opposed. This lofty phrase "believe, and you are saved" transforms faith into a magical means, similar to the formal acts of the law. The Jews adhered to external, while contemporary sectarians — to intellectual determinism. In reality, salvation cannot be separated from the inner transformation of a person, which with the help of faith occurs during the course of his life. God wants for each Christian to be transformed from the "old" (conceited, vain, and dissolute) to a "new creation" (self-controlled, humble and altruistic). That is — the aim is to change the moral essence of a person, which is no small endeavour, requiring an active Christian love and an effort to eradicate the passions/lusts. Like that of the ancient Jews, the sectarian formalism appears to be nothing but an attempt to by-pass Christ's narrow path and automatically — without effort — enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is taken "by force" (Matthew 11:12). It is because the path to the Kingdom of Heaven is narrow and thorny that a Christian requires the almighty help of the Holy Spirit — in accord with what Saint Paul wrote (8:11).
It is bad enough when a Christian violates God's laws, but it is worse when he gratifies his laziness and vanity by distorting Christ's teachings, taking from the Scripture that which is pleasant and profitable and rejecting that which he does not like. This is an unforgivable trampling of truth.
The only Saviour of a mankind that is perishing in its sins is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Apostle showed that not the voice of conscience, not the fear of eternal torment, and not the magnificent precepts of God-inspired prophets are capable of saving mankind from its main misfortune — sin, which enslaves man's will and forces him to do what he does not want to. That is why before the coming of Christ, Heaven and eternal life were inaccessible both to the well-intentioned heathens and to the Jews striving to live according to the law of Moses. Salvation from sin and the Devil's tyranny came from Christ.
Descending into our sinful world, our Lord Jesus Christ not only taught mankind faith and how to live righteously, but also took upon Himself people's sins and eradicated them on the Cross with His blood. Subsequently, He was resurrected from the dead and vanquished death, opening a path toward eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven for all who believe in Him. Now, every person — Jew or heathen — has access to God's mercy and eternal salvation. And this is not because of some personal merit but exclusively from God's mercy.
The turning point in the life of one who has believed in Christ occurs in the Mystery of Baptism. Here the newly baptized becomes dead to sin and is born for righteous living. God leads him into a new, hitherto unknown sphere of living in which the life-giving power of Christ is active and not the formality of the law. This power — not visible to the naked eye yet sensed internally — enlightens the mind of the believer with bright thoughts, makes his heart joyful with pure and elevated feelings, and inspires the will toward acts of love.
From the context of the Apostle's precepts, it can be seen that faith has to be alive and active. Undoubtedly, it has to exhibit itself in the act of self-restraint, in a chaste and pure life, in philanthropy, in constancy of prayer, in fulfillment of family and societal responsibilities, and mainly in acts of compassion and love. In his directives on Christian living, the Apostle repeatedly returns to the example of Christ and urges Christians to strive to be like Christ in all things.
We should rejoice ceaselessly and thank our Lord Jesus Christ for everything that He has done and is doing for our salvation.
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Missionary Leaflet # E60
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 901011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)