Character of God Controversy? The first 3 chapters of Romans provides the perfect platform to discuss some of the questions that surround the character of God. Paul reveals to us both sides of the coin. On one side, Paul describes again and again that the Good News is about “the righteousness of God” as revealed by Jesus and that this is what wins us back to trust in God again. Paul takes up the challenge of Habakkuk’s theodicy question (Habakkuk chapter 1) and responds that “The righteousness of God” as revealed by Jesus is the answer to the dilemma of a loving and powerful God and a cruel world. But Paul also shows us “the other side” – not a dark side of God’s character – but rather Paul discusses what will happen to us if we choose not to respond to the gracious character of God as revealed by Jesus. What happens if the Good News about God does not win us back to trust? What will God do to us?
In this BIble study, I referred several times to the excellent piece written by Sigve Tonstad, entitled “Reading Paul in a New Paradigm”. I think that this article is very important in understanding the thesis of Romans as well as the entire theology of Paul. My understanding is that the book of Romans revolves around the question of God’s righteousness, faithfulness, and character.
At first glance, it may seem that there are a number of contradictions in the Bible with regards to faith and actions. On the one hand, Paul says, “God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22) and then he points to Abraham as being put right with God by his faith. But then Paul would say, “For it is not by hearing the Law that people are put right with God, but by doing what the Law commands” (Romans 2:13), and in the book of James we read, “How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions….” (James 2:21). Is this emphasis on actions what led Luther to say that James was “A letter written in straw”? How do we reconcile these verses?
Much of the Bible study was spent discussing Paul’s description of the Gentiles who know nothing of the law, but yet, “Whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law….Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written in their hearts.” (Romans 2:14,15). Is there a way to salvation other than through Jesus Christ? Can the “heathen” be saved?