A Friends (Quaker) Perspective on Romans and Galatians
Provided several years ago for Illuminate, an adult Sunday School curriculum published by Barclay Press, a Friends publishing house
Romans 5:1-8, 12-14, 18-19
Jesus identified with us by joining us in the death our sins earned, and God identifies us with Jesus in putting all of us right through the resurrection. This is a mystery of our faith, which we trust in without entirely understanding. Because we know now that we are at peace with God, one with God, we move into all we should be. No more fear. So we no longer see hard times as punishments but as chances to endure and be faithful to God, opportunities for God’s love to pour into our hearts.
Charles Williams noticed that Job complains to God about his undeserved hard times, and God shows up and says, “Have you considered the hippopotamus?” Though God does not explain, the beautiful thing is that God shows up. Several times as I have honestly expressed my own negative feelings to God, God has shown up. God doesn’t explain why I am going through trials, nor does God say how much better a person I will be for them. God’s presence does not answer my questions, but it satisfies my hunger for justice and mercy. It’s so clear God is someone we can trust.
Paul reminds us that we don’t earn this kind of relationship with God. Jesus has made it possible for us to be at peace with God. Jesus showed confidence in God and put his life on the line for us. Hidden in the word reconciliation is a metaphor of exchanging currency. Jesus set us free by exchanging himself to death for us, and now his resurrected life keeps us safe and sound from wrath, from agitation of soul.
NRSV adds “of God” to wrath, though the Greek doesn’t have it. Julian of Norwich said that she acknowledged that Holy Church teaches the wrath of God, but that she never saw it in any of her openings. Certainly God loves us so much. But when we stubbornly refuse to enter the Kingdom through the door provided by Jesus, God looks to us like wrath.
Paul always walks the fine line between celebrating grace as our doorway to relationship with God and warning that grace does not mean license. This relates so well to the early preaching of Friends. George Fox spoke constantly against “crying up sin” as if Jesus could not really set people free. Fox insisted that dying with Jesus and rising with Jesus actually makes us innocent and able to choose obediently, rather than to make the same habitual selfish, harmful choices.
Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, particularly God and “mammon.“ The issue hidden in the word “mammon” is trust: where do we place our trust? This returns us to the universal sin of Romans 1, which is to place the created thing in the place of the creator. Such a disposition means we covet, envy, murder, fight, deceive, gossip, slander, defy authority, boast, fool around, hurt, and betray other people.
George Fox refused to take his hat off to social superiors, and their angry and often violent response was evidence to him that their Christianity was hardly even skin deep. This contributed to his understanding that true baptism was spiritual rather than physical, since almost everyone he met had been baptized. Today’s Quakers need to ask whether they have indeed undergone spiritual baptism and understand that we are joined with Jesus in death and resurrection. And we need to ask what in our own lives shows others that our Christianity has not gone deep, that we think we can serve two masters?
Clearly, living under grace is not effortless. We exercise our wills to do what we know is right, what God is telling us each day to do. God washes us, clothes us with new garments, gives us a job to do, and we choose, as slaves of God, to do that job faithfully.