This review is provided by Katie, an active Mormon
I liked Eric’s format of summary, reflection and comment, and LDS application…so I’m gonna steal it. 🙂 The only difference is I’ll put LDS application ahead of personal reflection and comment, so I can close with my own thoughts, questions, and personal wrestling with this chapter.
Quick note: this is the first time I’ve read Romans in years. Unlike many of the frequent commenters on this blog, I have limited understanding of the Bible. I’m dealing with the text as best I understand it based solely on my own reading of it.
vs. 1-8. Paul continues his argument from chapter 2 that circumcision of the heart and spirit matters most to God, and not necessarily the physical act itself. He reiterates that, while the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God, many of them did not have faith – and yet despite that, God proved faithful. He points out that our unrighteousness more clearly demonstrates God’s righteousness by supplying a sharp contrast; yet he argues that we are NOT justified to sin because of this. Instead, our condemnation is deserved.
vs. 9-19. Paul declares that no one is righteous, quoting Psalms. He argues that no one is made righteous by observing the Law, because no one truly observes the Law – rather, the Law is the tool by which we are made aware of our failings.
vs. 21-27. Paul explains how we may be made righteous. It is not by obedience to the Law, but by the free grace of Jesus. As a result, none of us have any reason to boast; none of us is better than another – not Jew, not Gentile – for God justifies humanity through faith as opposed to personal merit.
LDS application. This chapter addresses the grace / works debate we Mormons and evangelicals often find ourselves in the middle of. I think it’s interesting to note that, while we might disagree on the specific application of Paul’s words, paradigmatically, we have several things in common. Specifically, we both believe that…
- Everyone sins.
- Even one violation of the law is enough to estrange us from God forever – in other words, we all inherently deserve eternal separation from our Heavenly Father as a result of sin.
- Jesus Christ is our only way “out.”
The question then becomes how Christ is our way out; or in other words, how can we access the cleansing power of God in order to be found blameless at His judgment seat?
In this chapter, Paul says that justification comes by faith, apart from observing the law.
My experience is that most Mormons accept what Paul has to say about being justified by faith, with this caveat: that faith is an “action word” — so if you’re not obedient and righteous, you don’t have true faith.
Reflection and comment. My struggle with this passage of scripture goes well beyond faith vs. works, which I think is an argument of semantics. Fundamentally, both Mormons and evangelicals agree that we need faith in Christ in order to be saved. We agree that we can’t save ourselves through personal righteousness. What’s more, we agree that a crucial part of a godly life is obedience.
The order in which it all gets sorted out seems irrelevant to me. Personally, I know people who have come to genuine, vibrant faith in Christ by living His commandments before they believed; I know others who believed before they obeyed. My experience is that God works with us where we are and takes us as we come: He knows which approach will be most effective for us, and as long as we end up with both our hearts and lives engaged in Him, I don’t know that it matters much which comes first.
What I struggle with is the assumption at the bottom of the whole construct — that human beings automatically deserve death for being, well, human. As katyjane said in the discussion on Romans 2, it is difficult to reconcile the idea of a good, loving, personal god with a God who condemns people to hell for circumstances beyond their control…and both the Mormon and evangelical position is that the nature of mortality is such that we cannot control the fact that we’ll sin.
I agree with that, by the way: I don’t think it’s possible for human beings to avoid sin — even if we choose a loose definition of “sin,” such as acting against one’s own ideals (let alone God’s). But if that’s the case, then what kind of God do we have if He’d make us this way, then condemn us for being as He made us?
Because I struggle so deeply with this issue, I have a hard time with much of Paul’s message in Romans — at least what we’ve covered so far.
Having said all that, I would be remiss if I didn’t close with more positive thoughts. After all, I’m still wrestling with this stuff. And while I don’t know if I buy that God made us to be flawed and then damns us eternally for it, I do believe there is a dark, broken, ugly underbelly in humanity — something that needs to be fixed. And while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can honestly say that I have experienced profound transformation in my life by turning myself over to Jesus and asking Him to heal my brokenness and fill me with His love.
What’s more, I acknowledge He did it, not me; it was nothing I “earned” or “qualified for” by observing the law, but something He did for me out of pure grace. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I don’t know what it all means. But I thank Him for doing it all the same.