Sin and Grace; Commentary on some verses of  St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Sin and Grace;

Commentary on some verses of                                                St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Year 1, Week 28, Monday                              Glenroy 1977

He took on human nature and enhanced it.

“… according to the flesh.”        Romans 1:3

Such was the excellence of his authority that we cannot say human nature produced him, but that he took on human nature. His command of his own nature and of his environment showed that he was a higher principle than they. This sway was of a special kind, not the harsh control arising from a constraining idea, but the impetus that enabled his human nature and the whole of nature to achieve its perfection, indeed to achieve a perfection unavailable before. It was beneficent mastery. He took human nature, he did not destroy it. He took it and enhanced it, giving it a grace hitherto unimagined. This mastery and excellence of control, this gracefulness show that he was not primarily of human origin. He must have had an origin greater than anything earthly, so excellent indeed that we must proclaim he was of divine origin.

                                                                                East Doncaster, 1989

Paul’s creed.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”Romans 1:1-7

Paul begins his great treatise on the Christian faith with a proclamation of faith. He starts with a reference to the prophets of the Old Testament and concludes with a reference to the on-going mission of the Church.

Between these two, he places  the story of Christ. At the outset Jesus is acknowledged as Son of God, an acknowledgment made without reference to time or change. That is, he is Son of God in his very being. Paul then goes on to refer to the two major steps that Jesus has taken in time: his incarnation and resurrection. Jesus “became a descendant of David”; he is a Jew and of the royal line of Judah. But he is now risen from the dead. Jesus is therefore proclaimed for what he is most importantly;  he is the Christ.

After having referred to the three major aspects of Jesus, namely “Son of God”, “descendant of David” and  “Christ”,  Paul refers to the on-going effect: the mission of the Church. Therefore, he greets the people of Rome, offering them grace and peace.

This opening paragraph is brilliantly and tightly constructed, cut like a diamond. Every word is in its right place. It constitutes Paul’s creed.

 

Year 1, Week 28, Tuesday                              Burwood 1983

They go beyond limited forms and perceive the infinite Former.

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”   Romans1:20

Reason is able to sense what is reasonable; energy perceives energy. Indeed, since human beings are naturally creative, they are predisposed to detect whatever is creative; they even go beyond limited forms and perceive the infinite Former.

But this will actually happen only if human beings seek more than this finite creation. And again, it is one thing to perceive divine power, it is quite another to sense a personal Deity. Yet, if humans become fearful of the moral consequences of the existence of a free and personal Deity, they may be reluctant to acknowledge him. For those who seek their own untrammeled power, the acknowledgement of powerlessness becomes excruciating. They  are  led to  deny rather than  to  assent. However, if they are concerned about more than power they will acknowledge the Lover, and humbly bow before him.

These things are resolved by the coming of Christ who has the fullness of divinity and empowers humans to make a new heavens and a new earth in their own image.

 

Year 1, Week 28, Wednesday                          East Doncaster 1989

The universal need for salvation.

There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.       Romans 2:9-11

Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, speaks of the universal need for salvation. In yesterday’s reading he showed that the pagans had turned from knowledge of the true God and as a result became inhuman. In this morning’s reading, Paul turns his attention to his fellow Jews some of whom presumed that just because they were from the Chosen People they were guaranteed divine favour.

Paul teaches that what counts is a person’s form of life.  Even Jews must repent  if their lives are false. John the Baptist had already warned the Pharisees not to say ‘We are sons of Abraham’. Pedigree does not count; individual morality does.

Paul concludes by speaking more plainly: “ … suffering will come to every human being who employs himself in evil – Jews first, but Greeks as well; …. honour and peace will come to everyone who does good – Jews first, but Greeks as well. God has no favourites”.

 

Year 1, Week 28, Thursday                             East Doncaster, 1989

Christ brings freedom.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”     Romans 3:23-25

In yesterday’s reading, Paul established a contrast. On the one hand, there is sin that came into the world at the beginning; and on the other there is grace brought into the world by Christ. So, there are two forces at work in the world, in society and in the individual person; two opposing forces which seek to dominate: in one case, cravings and law, slavery and death; in the other, grace and holiness, life and righteousness.

This intolerable situation, Paul teaches is resolved by submission to the Gospel with its shift from the condition of sin to the condition of grace. Christ brings freedom.

 

Year 1, Week 28, Friday                                 Glenroy 1977

Faith and works are one.

For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”      Romans 4:3

Abraham has known God and placed his trust in him. Therefore, God blesses him. The emphasis is taken away from customs to attitude, from rituals to the heart.

That demeanor is true worship; that way of life is true religion. Once Abraham has come to his truth, God can bring him to other truths and other blessings. Abraham is justified. That is, he is authentic, truly himself; he has attained his purpose, he is real; he is in relationship with God. The moment of faith is the basic and essential step on the path of holiness.

Abraham is the Christians’ ‘father in faith’. But they must live accordingly. Those who are justified seek to express their being . They take care that waters flow from them and give life to all in need.  Faith and works are one.

 

Year 1, Week 29, Monday                              Glenroy 1977

What is beyond their reach, what supremacy is denied them?

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”       Romans 4:23-25

God promised Abraham a mighty succession, involving kings and kingdoms. Yet he was childless and his wife was beyond the age. Nevertheless, against all appearances, he put his faith in God and his promise.

That trust, despite its seeming absurdity, pleases God and reveals Abraham’s essential character.

God, in Christ Jesus,  has promised the disciples  a kingdom. They too, despite all delays, put their faith in God and in his guarantee. They know he is able to do what he has pledged because, despite all obstacles, he has raised Jesus from the dead.

Therefore, Christians trust in God. They acknowledge his supremacy and await, with persistency and patience, the coming kingdom.

What is beyond their reach, what supremacy is denied them?

 

Year 1, Week 29, Thursday                             Glenroy 1975

All elements of our being are at the disposal of the Spirit.

No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”                   Romans 6:13-14

Paul presents us with two kingdoms, the kingdom of sin and the kingdom of God. If sin is the master, the faculties and organs will advance the reign of sin.  If the Spirit is master, the whole body in all its aspects will bring justice to be bear in the world.

All elements of our being, trained and brought to a pitch of fitness, are at the disposal of the Spirit, and, more effectively than any exponent of martial arts, we eliminate injustice and establish the kingdom of God. But for those who obey sin, the fruits are bitterness, fury, disquiet and turmoil.

 

                                                                               Glenroy 1977

What powers God has given to humans!

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.”     Romans 6:19

What powers God has given to humans! Sin dissipates these powers but when they are purified and concentrated by the Spirit, what a force for good! Indeed, nothing is impossible for them. Mountains and universes will move at their behest. Even  the dead will be raised to life, because the powers, once united and brought into harmony with the Holy Spirit, issue forth to create a new heavens and a new earth.

That is the service of righteousness; that is the work of holiness.

 

                                                                               East Doncaster, 1989

The Holy Spirit is this grace, this gift, indeed the apogee of all God’s gifts.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.”     Romans 6:19

Sin is a power which touches every level of the person; it affects our world, our society. Sin is whatever is at variance with God and his purposes. It gives rise to actions or events that are sinful. The major result from sin, according to Paul, is death

Grace is a power, indeed is a Person. The Holy Spirit is this grace, this gift, indeed the apogee of all God’s gifts. Grace touches every aspect: spirit, soul, body, world, environment, society. The result is life and liveliness, confidence and peace, security and joy.

 

Year 1, Week 29, Friday                                 Glenroy 1977

The turmoil of the sinful state.

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”    Romans 7:22-25

Paul describes, succinctly and magnificently, the turmoil of the sinful state.

Paul loves the law of God. In his most authentic self he seeks the good revealed to him by Torah and reason. He disagrees with those who see the human state as basically wretched and darkened, for he knows he is essentially orientated to what is good. The problem comes when he, Paul, wants to the good but suddenly finds himself doing evil. He realises that there is another force at work in him, a hidden force which from its effects is called ‘sin’.

Paul does not explain the meaning of this term nor its mode of operation, but he knows it vitiates his whole life. It makes a mockery of all his good intentions. It holds him prisoner, unable to act properly. It destines him to death, for all sin leads to death.

So, he cries out in his confusion: “What a wretched man I am.”

But then, through the grace of Christ, he is endowed with a new force, a force able to  move mountains, a force that replaces the power of sin and allows his good intentions to operate, namely the Spirit of God.

 

Year 1, Week 31 Thursday                              Glenroy 1917

What I am, in the Spirit, makes others be.

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.”  Romans 14:7

Every person lives in connection with all others. This has been said for a long time. Truth is a force shaping things. Reality forms reality. Each person, in their own way, re-defines mankind. In their sin they distort mankind, but in their virtue  they confirm all people. The pattern of their choices tells others what life is. Therefore, each person’s life is of concern to each other. They are changed and affected and formed by the choice of others, however distant they may be, for “ the life and death of each of us has its influence on others”.

The most human of human beings, namely Jesus of Nazareth, most fully defines mankind. Such is the Christian faith, which is forever new and always surprising. Christ lived most humanly and died most humanly. Therefore, he establishes and rules both the living and the dead.

If Christ is heir, each Christian is heir with him. If Christ is first-born, so too is every citizen of heaven. If Jesus is Lord, so too is every one raised in the Spirit. Each Christian’s life, when led by the Spirit, enhances the lives of others. The course of their life, when done under the Spirit, shapes the course of history. What I am, in the Spirit, makes others be, even if they are as yet unaware of it.

 

                                                                                East Doncaster 1989

The task of Christians is to live life to the fullest and to die to the fullest.

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.” Romans 4:7-12

Jesus was most alive, being alive with the fullness of divine life, being first God and then, by choice, man. His dying was the most complete because, being most alive, his death was the greatest reversal. He chose to die. He died in sacrifice. No one has died as much as he has died. His living and dying have supreme influence. All our living and all our dying is done in relation to his living and dying. St Paul says, “if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord”.

The task of Christians is to live life to the fullest and to die to the fullest. They will live to the fullest if they allow Christ’s life to enter them. They need to prepare for death and to make their death worthwhile, indeed a sacrifice. Then they will be able to give an account to God of existence.

 

Year 1, Week 31, Friday                                 Glenroy 1971

The work of the priest is to make offerings acceptable to God.

Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”     Romans 15:15-16

The work of the priest is to make offerings acceptable to God. His work is successful when God sends down his Holy Spirit: for the Holy Spirit is the ratification, the blessing, the approval of God.

Paul sees his own work as priestly because it brings down the Holy Spirit. Although he is concerned with preaching and not with rituals, the gift of the Holy Spirit is proof that those to whom he has preached are offerings acceptable to God. Paul is not concerned with objects but with the very people themselves, and his word spoken to them, over them, with their assent, brings down the gift of the Spirit.

Paul rejoices to see this success. It means that what was unclean is now made holy; what was foreign to God is now acceptable: the Gentiles are God’s people.

It is the gift of the Spirit that proves the rightness of Paul’s work, that Spirit who urges the people to faith in Jesus and love of their brethren.

Now a new work begins. For if love is the highest gift, then faith and hope are subsumed into it. They last, of course, but are secondary. Not a love that is sentimental and introverted, but a love which is blessing, ratification and approval. Faith in Jesus remains but changes. Faith is now in the Man who fills all the universe. That Man is named, for he is real, but his reality exceeds his earthly name. For the risen Christ is greater than the earthly Jesus.

And we have faith in the Man; we have faith in all that are of him. To all of these, we say: You are Lord. And as their power begins to move in us, we now begin to bless, for we, worshippers of the Lord, become Lord with power in our hands. And we too bless in return.

 

 

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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