Douglas Campbell taught me something profound about the book of Romans. The heart of Romans is chapters 5-8, not the usually emphasized chapters 1-4. Ever since the day I discovered this great fact from Campbell’s The Deliverance of God I have read Romans 5 over and over again. I will present to you in multiple short posts an interpretation of Romans 5 and a paraphrase of Paul’s argument. It speaks wondrous thoughts.
Prelude: More Unconditional Than We Have Thought
We tend to think about relationships conditionally, our relationship with God no less than with people. God loves and bestows blessing, it seems to many religious people, based on their meeting the prior condition of faith. We must have done at least a little something to deserve it.
Even when we say we don’t deserve God’s kindness, we don’t entirely mean what we say. We tend to mean by that we are thankful that God lowered his standard. He relaxed his requirement. Instead of moral perfection — which we could not offer him — he accepted mental assent or perhaps moral repentance in its place as the condition of acceptance. God was merciful to us because we were willing to believe.
What if his love was even more unconditional than that? What if we found ourselves in this relationship with God for no other reason than that he wanted us to know him? Strange, you say? Consider the Jewish people.
By accident of birth, a Jewish person belongs to Israel, God’s priestly people among the nations of the earth. Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod talks about the strange fact a Jewish person must consider about their chosenness. God is not constrained, says Wyschogrod, but is free in every way. “God chose the route of election,” says Wyschogrod. He adds that this is “the election of a biological instead of ideological people” (Body of Faith, New Jersey: Aronson, 1996, p. 58).
Can a person really be chosen without conditions? What if God’s love was first and our love for and faith in him are not conditions but results of being loved? According to Romans 5:1-11, those of us who know Messiah find ourselves inexplicably in a position of unassailable assurance. God showed his love for us while were at odds with him, weak, and “sinners.”