“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God…” Romans 7:4-6
With chapter 7 of Romans we are now in the middle of the story that Paul thought so important for Romans Christians to know. In his greeting Paul says how deeply he desires to come to Rome and to impart some spiritual gifts to them. He, an apostle of Christ, prays for them daily and the Church of Christ throughout the world knows of the robust faith of the Romans. But almost before those words of greeting are out of his mouth he declares the overarching plot of the narrative:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to 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.’” Romans 1:16-17
And then he writes:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Romans 1:18
Paul tells the story of how sin and rebellion spread over the whole world and how even those who did not have the special revelation as Israel had were without excuse because the one God who is God is clearly evident to anyone who bothered to pay attention to the created world. Atheism is first and foremost the condition of the Adamic man, the man in Adam, and atheism has metastasized into all the other instances of sin and judgment that Paul list in Romans 1 & 3. With atheism came sin and with sin came death and with death came a kingdom of sin and death that ruled over humanity until God chose Abraham to strike back by making a promise to Abraham. The promise God made to Abraham was a promise made to his seed and by this promise God enlisted Abraham and his family to begin reversing the disaster that Adam’s sin had brought upon creation. Abraham believed God and so the faith of Abraham initiated the Abrahamic covenant or what Paul calls the Promise. Furthermore, the fact that Abraham was uncircumcised when God made the promise was proof to Paul that the whole world, Jew and Gentile, are included in the Promise. The promised seed of Abraham turns out to also be the Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ, who has become the savior of the world. Through his faith in God the Father, Jesus established the New Covenant. We get into the New Covenant through Holy Baptism. Paul sums it up with precision in Galatians 2:27:
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ… ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise…”
Now that we are midway on our journey, I want to give you a preview of things to come, all of which are based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and our belonging, our baptism into Christ. Here in chapter 7 Paul, with considerable panache, describes the difference between the religion Israel based on the Mosaic Law as opposed to the religion of Abraham and Jesus Christ based on faith in God. Then in chapter 8 he will describe the happiness, the complete blissfulness that he knows by being in Christ.
Now note that so far we have exclusively focused on humanity as though God’s whole plan of redemption was all about us. But that will change in chapter 8 as Paul reveals the meaning of the New Covenant for the rest of creation. In the Nicene Creed we profess our love and loyalty to Jesus Christ:
“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…”
I realize this may seem a banal detail, probably even unnecessary for us to point out that the word “men” as used here is to be taken just as the Nicene fathers meant it in the year 325 as shorthand for “all humanity” – men and women. That is certainly the case, but even that is not sufficient because over the years mankind has become more and more self-centered very unlike the Nicene fathers who understood man to be the creature in whom all creation dwelt and upon whom all creation depended. We tend to see creation in terms of its utility for us men and for our pleasure. The Psalmist saw things differently:
“So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to frolic therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season… thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.”
Psalm 104: 25-30
The vision of salvation that St. Paul presents, like the Psalmist, includes all creation, not just us men, though the part we play in the fleshing out of God’s will seems to not be transferable to any other creature. Every tree, every rock, every cloud, all of creation animate or not has a destiny that is tethered to man’s destiny. The sea and all that therein is, the fields, the wetlands, deserts and mountains and all the living creatures that sport in them happen to be objects of God’s love, created not out of any necessity, but called into being consciously and intentionally by God almighty. Thus we, who are under the dominion of Christ the King of Love, members of the New Covenant, are to live intentionally, attentively, and responsibly not only to man, but also to God’s whole order. Our baptism into Jesus Christ has implications for how we behave toward all living creatures ambulating, flying and swimming, creeping and crawling; but our God given office of love doesn’t even stop there because the botanical, the geological and to the degree that we may reach out and touch the interplanetary creation are all instantiations not of mechanical necessity but of God’s love and all of it, from the tail of the field mouse to swarming galaxies of light are swaddled in divine mystery. And it is frankly part of our office to behold, to be conscious of, to experience and delight those instantiations of grace and beauty. In chapter 8 of Romans in only a few verses we shall see that St. Paul has sketched an ecology of redeemed creation for the Church corporately and individually all of which not only unfolds from the narrative he has been elaborating for us in Romans, but according to St. Paul it is already unfolding, rolling forward as the true destiny of the cosmos.
Next we will once again see how large Israel looms in Paul’s thoughts and prayer life in chapters 9, 10 and 11. Three whole chapters are dedicated to her glory, her shame and her potential in Christ. After all the New Covenant of Jesus Christ did not originate in Rome or Athens, it originated in the Promised Land, and as you well know, with God’s promise to Abraham, the promise that Paul cites over and over again as the beginning of redemption and all that is bound up with Israel’s Messiah and the admission of the Gentile into the Promise. The New Covenant then is naturally Israel’s covenant albeit Israel has missed out on it for the time being because of unbelief. But the point I want you to see is that Paul must understand how Jesus can be Israel’s Messiah and the Gentile’s Savior when after all, Israel has rejected him and had him crucified in the Holy City.
Next in Romans 12, 13, 14 and 15 we will examine our life together as Christians. Those who have been baptized into Christ share a common life in Christ. Later on in Romans Paul speaks about our common life in Christ and what we should presuppose about one another and how we ought to behave towards one another. This is especially important since our common life is not under the Law but under grace. How can we possibly live together without the law and still not sin? Are there any directions that may guide our behavior without returning to the Law of Moses as our rule for life?
And along with that, how ought we behave toward those outside our common life in Christ? How should we treat unbelievers whether they are Jews or Greeks or barbarians? According to the Law of Moses non-Jews are essentially non-persons. The Mosaic Law forbids a Jew from giving testimony in favor of a non-Jew even if it happens to be true. Are non-Christians also non-persons according to Paul? What do we presuppose about the non-Christian and how should we behave toward them?
Then there is politics. Politics in America is the opiate of the masses with its myth of progress, campaigns that look like evangelical meetings, and a brotherhood or sisterhood of the faithful. And of course there is the constant everlasting chatter of the faithful who seem to live for the thrill of pontificating, all of which claims to be the really real in our real life. Politics and whatever truths politicians hold “to be self-evident” is the popular religion in America. For St. Paul the question of our relation to the State no less than any other matter in life begins with our baptism into Christ. How ought Roman Christians who worship Jesus Christ as their God and King relate to Caesar who also claims divinity as well as their undivided loyalty? How ought Christians today relate to the demands for national loyalty from the American Caesar who calls himself “the will of the people?” Who may tell Christians when life begins or when life ends? Who may tell Christians to kill in the name of the greater good?
These are the major themes that Paul will bring before his audience in Rome and as you can see they touch upon every part of our life.
Now let me quickly make just two major points about the text for today:
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
This will have great bearing next week; first, Paul has been already made this point, that we are not under the Law, but now he dramatizes it by comparing our state with that of a woman whose marriage has ended because of death. His point is that through Holy Baptism we have died to the sin and to the Law. The second point is that the transaction that has taken place in Holy Baptism by which we have been translated out of darkness into the uncreated light of Christ is not merely a reckoning in the mind of God, but it is a reality in the life of the Christian. We have died in baptism so that we might rise again, children of Abraham, being found in Christ and loyal citizens of the Heavenly City. This, Paul will work out in the remainder of chapter 7 in the dramatic and unmistakable proposition that Christians may now actually achieve righteousness to the glory of God.