Bruce Collins, Evangelist

The personal website of Bruce Collins

Context, Context, Context

 

Who "WILL RENDER TO EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, 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.  (Romans 2:6-11 NKJV)

 

Seeming Contradictions

In the book of Romans, Paul is explaining the doctrines of the Gospel to Saints.  Saints are those who have been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus.  They are not some special class of believers.  All who are beloved of God are Saints.  They are saved.  They are born again.  The theme of the epistle is found in the first chapter.  Paul says, “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 (from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Greek or gentile); as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. (Romans 1:16-17 NKJV).”  However, our verses above seem to imply that salvation is by good works.

 

Principles of Interpretation

We often say that there are three principles needed for Biblical interpretation.  Those principles are (1) context and (2) context and (3) context.  We must look at the context of the chapter, the context of the book and the context of the Bible.  Any interpretation that seems to contradict the simple truth of John 3:16 is a wrong interpretation.  We always let the simple or really clear Scriptures explain the difficult ones.  In this case the context of the chapter and of the book and of the whole Bible teaches that salvation is by faith in the Lord.  The just (or those who have been declared righteous) live by faith.  The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.  So then what is meant by the statement that eternal life is obtained by those who patiently continue in well-doing?

 

Today the Gospel is often presented as a “better way of life.”  It is presented as a simple decision.  It is presented as a prayer.  But the Gospel in Romans is presented as a turn from the wickedness that results when societies turn away from worshiping the God of creation.  In Romans the wickedness of sin is presented and Romans 3 says that we are all “guilty,” even those of us who perhaps have not sinned as described in the chapter because of the way we were raised.  However, I suspect that each of us would have to admit that in our hearts we wanted to do some of the things described in chapter 1 but we weren’t given the opportunity.   When we are saved or when we become believers we are declared righteous, and we are  also people with a new master.  Romans 6 says we are no longer slaves to sin (or Satan) but now we are slaves to righteousness (or Christ).  So before we are saved, there should be conviction of sin—even with regard to the sins that we did not commit but would have if we had been provided the opportunity.  People should feel guilty about that sin.  And when they trust Christ they should have the burden of sin “roll away.”  The verses we are quoting above are not the means of salvation but the result of salvation.  And for those who do not continue in well-doing, Paul would seem to imply that they are not believers at all.  I personally do not think he is saying that believers never sin, but I do think he is saying that a believer should have a conscience about sin.  And while God can see the heart and He knows whether a person really loves Him or whether He is a pretender, He always judges objectively by what can be seen in a person’s life.  So as a general principle, a person who is saved should patiently continue in well-doing.

 

Summary

All of us know of people who claim to be saved who do not show that in their lives—at least as far as we are concerned.  We often say that by their “fruits” we should know them. So can people that do not continue in well-doing be saved?  We know that all of us sin at times and need to confess that weakness.  We know that judgmental Christians can always find fault in others.  But I do believe that this verse teaches that there needs to be a change (that is, a conversion) when people trust the Savior.  We are not saved by continuance in well-doing, but because we are saved there should be a continuance in well-doing.  It is more important that we please God on this issue than that we please our fellow Christians.  So are we continuing in well-doing as a result of finding out that Christ died for our sins?  Has there been a new desire to please the Lord?  Are we really the Saints or holy ones like Paul is addressing in this epistle?

 

And as a point aside, it appears to me that Paul thought explaining the Gospel to Saints was appropriate and necessary and I suspect that it equipped them to both preach the gospel and to evangelize.  Some unsaved friends and relatives likely also heard the Gospel as this letter was read and studied by the Romans.

 

Bruce Collins

 

Meditation for the weeks of July 29 and August 5, 2018

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