Theological Reflections – Romans 13:1-2

The following is an excerpt from my second essay written for my summer theology class on Romans. I hope that by reading this, your knowledge of God would increase, and your faith would grow in His grace.

Links to the sources I used are at the end of the post.


Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Context and Content

These two verses are Paul’s introduction to his fairly brief exhortation for Christians to remain subject to their government (13:1-14). This portion is part of what is commonly known as the “practical” portion of Romans (12-16), wherein Paul starts by urging Christians to live their lives in service to God. He states specifically in 12:1 – “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” [NIV 2011] Panning, in his commentary on Romans, gives 13:1-14 the title “Obedience to authorities,” which is a subset of the larger portion spanning 12:1-15:13, entitled “Righteousness practiced.”[1] Paul wishes for the Christians in Rome to reflect on the grace of God written about in chapters 1-11, and to serve both God and men in light of God’s mercies.

Including an exhortation to submit to the government is not an uncommon theme throughout the Pauline Epistles[2], and must have been a point that he commonly wanted to emphasize. It is somewhat striking that Paul writes these words while underneath the rule of a government that was growing increasingly hostile to Christianity. Regarding the nature of Roman government during the writing of Romans, Panning notes:

In the context in which Paul is writing, his directives to the Romans especially include respect for secular government. That is perhaps the more remarkable when we realize that in Paul’s day the civil government of Rome was undoubtedly totally pagan. In fact, if we were right in assuming, as we did in the introduction to this commentary, that this letter to the Romans was written from Corinth in the winter of A.D. 58, then Nero would have been the Roman emperor—hardly a model of kind and benevolent leadership![3]

Paul wanted to make it clear that although all forms of human government are flawed, the ultimate purpose of rulers and authorities is to carry out God’s judgment.[4] Obedience to the authorities put in place by God is also necessary to maintain peace and order in society, something that Christians always strive for. From what scripture teaches about the Church and civil government, it is plainly seen that Christians are subject to two different “kingdoms” during their life on earth. The Church rules over spiritual matters concerning the gospel, and the government rules over civil matters by protecting its citizens and punishing those who do evil.[5] Much can be said about the nature of Church and government and the dangers when one institution assumes authority given only to the other. To put it simply, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states:

[The distinction between the two kingdoms] can be easily explained if we keep this in mind: The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but it is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers. Besides, the Gospel not only approves outward governments, but also subjects us to them (Romans 13:1).

There exists a fairly clear and obvious caveat in a Christian’s obedience to the government. When a Christian is asked by the authorities to act contrary to God’s Word, he must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This calls to mind the noble and faithful actions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found in Daniel 3, who resisted the king’s command to bow down to a false idol, even though they knew their lives were in danger.

Reflection and Application
Obedience to governmental authorities has always been an issue of contention in the United States, going back to the very birth of our country. Regardless of whether or not the rebellion was justified, the United States of America was born from disobedience to England and rebellion against the instituted government. There is a residual spirit of resentment towards authority apparent in society today, where disobedience can often been seen as a noble cause. However, Christians are given a very clear command in Scripture to submit to the government, even to the laws and statutes we don’t necessarily agree with. Whether dealing with local authorities or the Federal Government, we must always remember that they were placed into that position of authority by God himself, and he will always see fit that they carry out his plans for the sake of the gospel. God speaks of his ultimate authority over all creation in Isaiah 55:8-11, emphasizing the point that the gospel will always prevail and accomplish its purpose:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [ESV]

Christians must also keep in mind that God did not ordain the government to advance to gospel message, as Christians in some Evangelical circles may believe. It is true that the government’s purpose is to punish those who do evil, and we pray that the government’s definition of “evil” would be synonymous with God’s. Some Christians take this too far and advocate the establishment of a “Christian” government that subjects its citizens to certain Christian moral laws. Koehler states in A Summary of Christian Doctrine:

For as the power of the Word was not given to the state, so it the power of the sword not given to the church, papal claims notwithstanding. The church as such has not right to rule land and people, to enact and enforce laws, and to do any of the things that properly belong to the domain of civil government. Christ refused to act as judge and arbiter in a civil suit (Luke 12:13-14); His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). There is no scriptural reason for a church state, even as there is no scriptural reason for a state church. Wherever a church state or a state church exists, they exist not by the will of God but by the will of people. It is the mark of the antichrist to claim supremacy over all civil authorities (2 Thessalonians 2:4).[6]

To briefly summarize this notion, we recognize that the government has been put in place to carry out justice in society, whose laws are often aligned with God’s moral law which has been instilled in the hearts of men. (Rom 2:15) It is good and right for the authorities to punish those who do evil and reward those who do good. It is not correct, however, for the government to have control over spiritual matters or the advancement of the gospel. While God certainly does use these human institutions for his purposes, he has solely commissioned his Church to make the gospel known to all nations. (Mt 28:19-20)

[1] Panning, Armin J. Romans. St. Louis: Concordia, 2000. 8-9.
[2] See Ti 3:1, 1 Tm 2:1-2
[3] Panning, Armin J. Romans. St. Louis: Concordia, 2000. 212.
[4] Hoerber, Robert G., ed. Concordia Self-Study Bible. New International Version. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 1986. 1737. (See notes for 13:1)
[5] McCain, Paul Timothy. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006. 194-195. (Apology, Article XVI)
[6] Koehler, Edward W. A. A Summary of Christian Doctrine; a Popular Presentation of the Teachings of the Bible. 3rd Rev. ed. St. Louis: Concordia, 1971. 380-381.

Theological Reflections – Romans 4:1-3

The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for a theology class this summer. The course was dedicated to studying the book of Romans. I am thankful for the amazing amount of information I learned from the class, which also strengthened my faith, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. 


 

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

Context and Content
This portion of Romans sits in the middle of Paul’s exposition on justification by grace through faith. More specifically, this portion of the text is the introduction to Paul’s utilization of Abraham’s story as a parallel with the previous chapter, in which he described how righteousness comes through faith, apart from the law. By doing this, Paul uses Abraham as an illustration of his main point in 3:28 – “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

Although Paul is writing these words for the purpose of teaching all Christians in Rome, both Jew and Gentile, Paul’s exposition on Abraham would have been especially engaging and perhaps challenging for the Jewish people, who venerated Abraham for his trust in God and his moral uprightness. At the time of the writing of Romans, the Jews’ perception of Abraham had been somewhat skewed and corrupted by some of the apocryphal writings of the intertestamental period. “Some of these documents claimed to be written by people in the Bible from long ago (Pseudepigrapha, credited to people such as Enoch, Adam and Eve, and Moses…).”[1] One such pseudepigraphical work, “The Testament of Abraham,” was influenced heavily by rabbinic Jewish mysticism and speculation, and not on the actual canonical information about Abraham that is found in Genesis. In 10:14 of “The Testament of Abraham,” God’s voice comes from heaven, proclaiming: “For behold, Abraham has not sinned and he has no mercy for sinners.”[2] Much of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, as demonstrated in this example, perpetuated a false image of Abraham as a perfectly righteous, just, and sinless man, ignoring the fact that Abraham doubts God’s promises multiple times throughout Genesis.[3]

Before Paul could utilize Abraham as an example of God’s righteousness being imputed freely, he sought to dispel the false notions of Abraham’s perfection. Many Roman Jews originally hearing the book of Romans might have (falsely) seen Abraham as an example of justification by works.[4] Paul challenges this stance, establishing with apostolic authority that Abraham had nothing to boast about before God.

To make his case even clearer, Paul makes a direct appeal to Scripture. He quotes Genesis 15:6 – “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The Jews and Christians of Paul’s time would have been familiar with the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament. The original Hebrew root word for “credited” is “chashab” (חָשַׁב), which can be literally translated as “to count, reckon, impute.” In the Septuagint from which Paul is quoting, the word “logizomai” (λογίζομαι) is used, which can be similarly translated as “to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over.”[5] The meaning of this wording is clear and carries a sense of transaction or a debt being paid. Abraham was not credited God’s righteousness because he had earned it through his actions. Rather, it was given to him on the account of faith and trust in God.

The righteousness spoken of in this verse does not originate from Abraham in any way. Rather, it speaks of God’s own righteousness, given to Abraham as a free gift out of grace and mercy. This gives rise to the question: how could a just and holy God, one who despises sin, ignore Abraham’s sinful status as a human? In reality, Abraham’s sin was not ignored in the slightest. It was completely paid for, linked to the cross of Christ through space and time, and atoned for through the vicarious atonement of Jesus. The just punishment for Abraham’s sin was placed upon Christ in order that Abraham could be declared righteous.

Abraham is not the sole beneficiary of God’s declaration of righteousness. Paul was using him as an example to illustrate the nature of justification through Christ, who suffered and died for all mankind. Not everyone will be saved and be brought to faith in Christ. However, Christ died for all of humanity, as Paul says in Romans 5:6 – “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” It is clear from chapter 2 of Romans that the term “ungodly” applies to everyone in the world, not just the elect. Christ’s atonement was universal, and paid off the sins of every human to ever live. In order for one to benefit from righteousness, one must have faith in Christ, through which God saves. This saving faith is not of our own doing. Rather, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 – “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Reflection and Application
Justification by grace through faith is at the very heart of the gospel message and Christ’s redeeming work. The entirety of Scripture culminates in this doctrine, and it is the means by which God claims sinners as his own. It is the foundation of the Christian’s comfort in this sinful world. As Gene Edward Vieth states in The Spirituality of the Cross:

When we come before the Holy God, He does not turn away in judgment; rather, He sees us through the lens of Christ—we might even say, he sees us as Christ. Our mediator claims all of our sins and has paid for them with His blood. He provides all of the good works we need, clothing us in His—not our—righteousness. This is what it means to be saved. [6]

 

While one may recognize that it is exceedingly clear from Scripture that man can contribute absolutely nothing to his justification, there are still hazardous falsehoods that distort the Christian’s understanding of this important doctrine. When faith is created in the heart, and God’s righteousness is imputed, the sinful human mind can quickly turn faith into the one good work that saves. Treating faith as a good work rather than the gift of God can lead to a multitude of problems. It can lead to doubtful questions like, “am I really saved? Do I have enough faith in God? Do I really even have faith?” Once this misconception takes root, faith suddenly becomes the work and responsibility of the believer, and, in turn, makes justification dependent on the Christian. As Christians journey through life, still being sinful humans, it will not always seem to them as if they are saved. They will still struggle with doubt, denial, vices, and sorrow. When these trials arise, looking inwards to the state of their faith is perhaps the most damaging thing that can be done. All they will find is sin and wretchedness. Instead, Christians must always look outside of themselves for their assurance of salvation. Specifically, because Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us, we turn ourselves to face him and his cross. We recall to mind the mark made on us at baptism, where God declared us to be His own, despite our sinful protests to stay as far away from God as possible. Our justification comes from outside of us; thus, it is outside of ourselves where we look for our reassurance.

The other extreme on the spectrum must also be avoided. There are those who reason that because they are justified by grace, and there is nothing they can add for their salvation, that there is no need to serve God and their neighbor as fruits of their faith. The law seems to have no use in this line of thinking, completely disregarded because Christ has already fulfilled it for us. This is true: Christ did fulfill the law in its entirety in order to redeem us from our inability to obey God. However, good works are necessary in the life of the Christian. They do not, however, contribute to our justification in any way. As Edward Koehler writes on good works in A Summary of Christian Doctrine:

Good works are necessary because God asks them of His children. Furthermore, they are the necessary fruit of repentance or the inevitable product of faith. Without good works, faith is dead…Good works are not necessary for justification and salvation…When God justifies a person, He does not in any sense take into account the good a person may have done. Instead, God looks solely at the merits of Christ…Nor are good works necessary to give our faith strength and saving power, for faith trusts in the merits of Christ, not in its own fruits. Nor are good works necessary to preserve faith in our hearts, for this is done by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. [7]

 


 

[1] Engelbrecht, Edward. The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes: English Standard Version. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2012.
[2] James H. Charlesworth, ed. “The Testament of Abraham,” in The Old Testament Pseudopigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. NY: Doubleday, 1983.
[3] See Ge 12:10-16, 16:1-6, 17:15-19, and 18:10-15 for examples
[4] Hoerber, Robert G., ed. Concordia Self-Study Bible. New International Version. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 1986. 1721.
[5] Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
[6] Veith, Gene Edward. The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Pub. House, 1999.
[7] Koehler, Edward W. A. A Summary of Christian Doctrine; a Popular Presentation of the Teachings of the Bible. 3rd Rev. ed. St. Louis: Concordia, 1971.

Christianity and Evolution – Compatible or Contradictory?

“Theistic evolution is the proposition that God is in charge of the biological process called evolution. God directs and guides the unfolding of life forms over millions of years. Theistic evolution contends that there is no conflict between science and the Biblical book of Genesis.” [1]
Worldview Warfare
Across the world, in churches of varying denominations, faithful Christians are having their scriptural beliefs and worldviews compromised. As the values of secular culture continue to seep in through the cracks of unsuspecting churches, more and more Christians are trading their beliefs for those of the world. These ideological assaults on churches are easily visible in the debates and issues prevalent in our modern culture. The clash of worldviews on abortion, homosexuality, and evolution rage on around us and in our lives, with Christianity generally making a stand for the “conservative” side.
Each of these three topics would take pages and pages to cover, and that would barely scratch the surface. I want to address all of these issues eventually, but right now I am focusing on only one of them.
The Rise of Theistic Evolution
The historic and ancient Christian Church, with very few exceptions, has always accepted the creation account of Genesis 1 to be literal history. The acceptance of this interpretation has been on a decline ever since the foundations of evolutionary biology were established by Charles Darwin in the 1800s. To be fair, Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not completely synonymous with modern evolutionary theory. However, it did lay the foundation from which an evolutionary worldview would soon be born.
The problem of theistic evolution can by no means be discussed in full in just a few paragraphs, but I hope to present a general understanding of some of the dangers of theistic evolution.
I’m not trying to engage in an ad hominem attack on Christians who accept evolution. They are, for the most part, well-meaning Christians who simply want to remain Christian, but feel as if believing in creation labels them as uneducated fundamentalists. Seeing the evidence of evolution paraded around by biologists, paleontologists, and geologists, they can’t help but accept evolution as a fact. I’m not stating a scientific argument for creation and against evolution. I simply want to discuss the implications of believing that God used evolution (over millions of years) to create humans.
Theistic evolution, in summary, is the belief that God created the universe and all that is in it, but did not do so in just six days. Creationists believe that all animals and organisms in the world were present at the time God stopped creating, on the seventh day. Theistic evolutionists believed that God created and developed the natural world through the process of evolution of a long period of time.
Understanding the Text
Believing in creation is not just an issue of examining historical evidence and seeing that it points to a young earth. Rather, it is also an issue of taking God’s Word at face value. By examining the historical context of the books of the Bible (isagogics), and using the context of Scripture as a whole, theologians are able to understand when the Bible is speaking in a literal sense, and when it is speaking in a symbolic sense. The visions found in Daniel 7, along with the book of Revelation, are examples of symbolic literature. They are inspired and inerrant, just like all of Scripture, but they use dramatic and vivid imagery to convey what God has to say.
The entire book of Genesis was meant to be a literal history of God’s creation of the world, in addition to a testament of His mercy toward His people. It is presented and portrayed, from beginning to end, as a historical account. There is nothing in the text that would signify a shift from symbolism to history at the end of the creation account. This is very important to understand, as it makes the basis for the most important arguments against theistic evolution.
Jesus’ Mention of Creation
In Mark 10, when Jesus is confronted on the topic of marriage and divorce, states that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” Now, taken at face value, Jesus’ language seems to suggest that humans were there at the beginning of the world. One could make an argument that Jesus only said “from the beginning of creation” because it’s what the Jewish people believed, they themselves holding to a view of six-day creation. One can claim that Jesus only meant “from the beginning of creation” in a symbolic sense. But as is the rule for Biblical interpretation, we always take the plainest and simplest meaning of the text unless the context would tell us to do otherwise.
The Problem of Death
One of the bigger issues with theistic evolution is the way it deals with death. We are told in Genesis 1:31 that God saw His creation as “very good” after He had finished creating. His creation was good because it was perfect: there was no trace of sin and death, because God didn’t create it that way. In order to hold to a view of theistic evolution, one must believe that God formed the universe and started the “evolutionary chain of events” that would transform primitive organisms into humans over millions of years.
Evolution requires two major things to succeed: time and death. In order for organisms to evolve into more advanced creatures, the weakest animals need to die, only allowing the stronger ones to reproduce. Transition of one organism into another species requires generation after generation of that organism to die off in order than stronger and better versions of that organism can take their place. Millions and millions of years of natural selection and death are necessary for evolution to take place. In order to hold to theistic evolution, one must believe that God created a world that was filled with death.
However, Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” Paul is clearly stating that sin is a prerequisite and cause of death entering the world. Sin only came into the world after Adam disobeyed God, so death did not exist in God’s creation before the Fall of Man. Believing that God used death and evolution to produce mankind seems to lie contrary to what the Bible tells us about sin, death, and the Fall of Man.
Jesus, the New Adam
Most theistic evolutionists see Adam and Eve as allegorical representations of the first human beings, not as real historic people that lived in the Garden of Eden. However, the doctrine of justification discussed by Paul in Romans hinges on the fact that just as Adam was the one man who brought death into the world, Christ is the one man who undid Adam’s curse. As written in Romans 5:17 – For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Jesus is and his saving work is the exact antithesis of Adam and his fall into sin. If Adam were only a symbol of the first men, and death existed in God’s original creation, the redemptive work of Christ is undermined. We are made righteous in Christ the same way we were all made sinful through Adam. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18). The redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the New Adam, has undone the work of the Old Adam.
Can we Trust the Bible?
Ultimately, when the authenticity of the historical accounts written in the Bible is brought into question, the accuracy of the entire Scriptures is endangered. Once a certain story is labelled as a myth, it raises doubt about the rest of the history recorded in Genesis. The entire book of Genesis, as true history, is an absolutely vital piece of God’s plan for salvation. The lives of Israel’s Fathers, such as Abraham and Jacob, are referenced frequently in the New Testament as testimony to the Truth of Christ. If the entire Bible isn’t trusted as inerrant, it leads to the picking and choosing of only the doctrines we find agreeable. When it comes to inerrancy, it’s either all or nothing.
There are many objections that theistic evolutionists can raise to refute the problems listed here. However, for a more thorough treatment, check out these websites for great scientific and theological material challenging evolution:
Creation Ministries International (and this article on the dangers of theistic evolution)

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

-Acts 17:24-25 (ESV)