I love Romans! And most of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. I love how he makes his arguments, how he brings in evidence, convinces through perfect reasoning and things that speak to your heart and mind. But to get there, I’ve had to seek out sources besides the KJV. An institute teacher once gave me a series of ’roundtable discussion’ podcasts with BYU ancient scripture and religion professors, which I got a lot of insight from; my French Louis Segond (1901) edition of the Bible has opened my eyes to the logic and beauty of Paul’s teaching, which before seemed convoluted, strange and impossible to understand. I realised that all of that wasn’t him, but the translation. So now I read the NT, especially this section, with my French NT and the JST along with the KJV. It makes a lot more sense now, and I get real delight from the principles Paul teaches so well.
Romans (and really all of Paul’s letters) can be difficult to properly understand, I think, without these helps – or others, if you have them. Those of us who are Latter-day Saints have had a lot of help already, because those principles are taught so well by the Book of Mormon and through Joseph Smith and other prophets and apostles. But we can miss out on the extra insight that Paul’s letters offer, if we could get to their meaning better. So here, and in some other posts, I want to describe this letter and its teachings the way I’ve come to understand them, thanks to the helps I’ve found, and of course the Holy Spirit. Please comment and share your insights as well, if you can.
Romans is an essay: in it, Paul sets out his argument through a series of supporting arguments, like you do in an essay. You can’t just look at one chapter or verse; you have to set it in the context of the whole thing, or it could mean something quite different. The overall message of Romans is that we can never be free by living a sinless life – even if it were possible, it wouldn’t redeem us. That comes through a change of heart; a purification of spirit – which come through the power of Jesus Christ, who is perfect. The Law of Moses is the start, not the end. The end is Jesus Christ and redemption.
This post is about chapter 4. I’ve written out the whole chapter using the KJV, JST and French translation, in paraphrasing regular language, but I’m thinking you don’t want to read that, so this is an overview.
The scriptures say that Abraham believed in God, and that was attributed to him as righteousness. Someone who does a job/work/action is given a wage, not as a gift, but as a due. Those who lived under the Law of Moses received rewards because of their adherence to those laws, or punishments for not obeying. The Law of the Gospel – the New Covenant/Testament – is based on faith in the perfection and goodness of Jesus Christ. We believe that He will redeem us through His own goodness, not ours. But that goodness comes into us and works at making us like Him – it doesn’t mean we do nothing, but that we act with faith in Him – faith that we will be saved and helped and that He loves us, rather than acting purely for ourselves, full of thoughts of our own power. Because then, there’s no room for God, except as a punisher and wage-giver.
David expressed it like this: ‘Happy are those whose iniquities are pardoned, and whose sins are covered!’ – Happy the man to whom the Lord does not attribute his sin! (i.e. the one who’s been forgiven and is no longer held guilty and in bondage). This happiness isn’t only for those who already have the Gospel, or who are Jews, or the House of Israel. The legacy promised to Abraham wasn’t promised through the Law of Moses, but through the righteousness of faith. He is the father of all those who will believe on Christ and do His will when they know it. The covenant brings into the fold all who seek righteousness and desire to know God. Through their faith, they are baptised, receive the Holy Ghost, and all the other blessings of the Gospel Covenant. But it is first their faith which makes things happen. I think Paul is trying to teach that faith is an actual virtue, although it seems insubstantial because it’s not a thing you can touch or see. But it’s one of the greatest powers; Abraham’s faith in God led him to act according to His will, trusting in the promise God made that he would become the father of many nations – although he and his wife aged and had no children who could be heirs; even though God seemingly required him to give up that child when he came. Through all the trials, Abraham remained faithful. That is why it was attributed to him as righteousness. Like Ether said:
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
Abraham’s faith was a sign of great character. It’s the kind of faith we need – trusting God’s promises despite what our eyes and sometimes our head tell us. And that’s an overriding theme in Paul’s teachings – believing the things we can’t see because of the veil between this world and heaven. The Gospel is all about believing and acting on that. Abraham’s story is written so that we might be inspired – to develop his kind of faith in Christ, whom we haven’t seen. To believe that His suffering for our offenses and His resurrection can make us free. That faith is the foundation and centre of our salvation.