• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! In the section of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that our Epistle reading came from this morning, St. Paul is specifically addressing the Jews and the Jewish Christians. And he’s examining, both in the verses we read and more in depth in the verses following, Paul is examining the spiritual condition of the Jewish people. He’s not going to attack his countrymen—sometimes today St. Paul is read and interpreted as being almost anti-Semetic—but he was Jewish, and he begins this spiritual examination by saying “my prayer is that all of Israel may be saved.” His purpose is to share the Gospel message with everyone. And so as we listen to St. Paul expound salvation in Christ to the Jews, we have an opportunity to do two things. (1) To re-examine our own life in Christ in the light of this teaching. And (2) to properly understand the Biblical vision of man’s salvation, so that as St. Peter writes, we can be “always ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) The question that St. Paul answers in this morning’s reading is “how is man made righteous?” And he addresses this question because at the center of the Gospel is the teaching on “how is man to be saved?” The life of Christ, the witness of the Church, the lives and writings of the Saints—all of these things are given to us to guide on the path of salvation. To be saved and to be righteous are inseparably linked in the letters of St. Paul. So now we must ask, what does it mean to be saved? To sin, amartia, is to miss the mark, to lose the right path. Man was created for perfection, so sin has resulted in imperfection, alienation from God, and ultimately, death. So to be saved is to be put back on the right path, for what was lost to be restored. For man to be restored to life. But this ultimate renewal of the goal of man cannot happen apart from righteousness. And now we must define the second term of our dyad—what does it mean to be righteous? A definition of righteous would be—“a thing proper to one.” In other words, to be righteous is to be as you rightly should be. In the Scripture, this righteousness deals directly with man’s relationship with God. How can we be in a right relationship with God; how can we be rightly human? This is obviously linked to being saved—to be how you rightly are (righteous) means that you don’t lose the right path. St. Paul’s teaching, then, will be how man can be righteous, can be in a right relationship with God, so that ultimately we can be saved, united with God. St. Paul examines two choices, two “paths” to righteousness—the law, or Christ. The law, rules governing human action, is revealed to man by God. By following the law man could be righteous, man could find Christ. [Desperately important theological sidenote—Christ is the only way to salvation for mankind—OT, NT, inside the Church, outside the Church. Christ is man’s salvation. All that is Truth, Good, Right, Righteous, Holy, all of this points and leads to Christ.] If man could have lived by the law, then he would have been led to salvation in Christ. But we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t uphold the statutes of the law. St. Paul even calls the law a curse—we’re condemned by the law that we can’t follow instead of saved by it. But what the law shows us is that we can’t be righteous on our own—we can’t earn or deserve salvation. And in this light, St. Paul condemns those who “seek to establish their own righteousness” (Romans 10:3). This is the path of Adam and Eve—to have God without God. But we can’t have God apart from His will, His way. And the path that God has provided for man’s righteousness is Christ. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4) This doesn’t mean the law is over. Christ is the telos of the law—the fulfillment, the completion of the law. His righteousness overshadows the law. The law is still there, Christ says that He came not to abolish the law, and that not one jot of the law would pass away until the completion of all things. The law is still present, but Christ is the end of man’s slavery to the law in order to achieve righteousness. The law is no longer the path to righteousness and salvation. Because those who believe on Christ are clothed in His righteousness. We are made righteous—restored to a proper relationship with God—in Christ. St. Paul continues, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10) These verses have to be read in context—in the context Paul writes them, which is in the larger context of the Gospel teaching of Christ. We often hear verse 9 pulled out of this chapter and standing alone–“if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” But what does this mean? St. Paul says that there are two things necessary for our salvation—belief and confession. Verse 9 says, “confess with your mouth” and “believe in your heart.” Verse 10 says, “with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The mouth must confess the Lord Jesus—that Jesus is Lord (God) and Christ (Saviour). The heart must believe that the Father raised the Son from the dead—this is the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the whole of the Gospel message. Archbishop DMITRI (in a commentary on the Epistle of Romans that is yet to be published) lays it out like this [with quotes from St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine]: Belief comes first—man believes in his heart, is forgiven of his sins, is made righteous (restored to a proper relationship with God in Christ). Then comes confession—we confess to the world the Christ by Whom we will be saved. Christ even says: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) But you can’t confess before you believe, and before you’re made righteous. And only the righteous will be saved, as St. Paul has made very clear this morning. Of course, for us to properly understand this path to salvation, we have to clarify what the Scriptures mean when the writers say “believe in God/Christ.” Following St. Paul’s paradigm, belief leads one to righteousness, belief is not itself righteousness. Christ says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” From our belief we’re filled with the Spirit of God and led into righteousness, which obviously includes keeping the Gospel commandments. Living a life which is in accord with what we confess we believe. But our righteousness flows from true faith in Christ, which leads us to salvation. We’ll end with a very pertinent quote from one of the spiritual writers of the Egyptian desert—“What would it profit me to know and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? If I should not have Him raised within myself, if I neither ‘walk in the newness of life’ [Romans 6:4] nor flee from the old habit of sinning. [If this is the case] Christ has not yet resurrected from the dead to me.” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Book 8, chap. 2, no. 8) As Archbishop DMITRI concludes this section on Romans, he writes, “Faith and confession are the essential foundation stones of the life in Christ; on them is built [our] whole way of life, on the basis of which every man will be judged, rewarded or saved.” (Archbishop DMITRI, Commentary on Romans) Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!