Comforts From Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time by Elyse Fitzpatrick wasn’t originally on my radar, but I saw that the True Woman site would be going through Romans 1-8 in the four weeks preceding Easter, using this book as a supplement. I had been wanting to do something a little different in my pre-Easter reading, and I had been wanting to read something by Elyse Fitzpatrick, so I ordered the book. In the meantime, I decided to do a different reading plan for Easter, so I saved this book for afterward and caught up with the weekly discussion about it at True Woman (under Romans Reboot).
The book is not a thorough exegesis or commentary of all of Romans 1-8, but rather a “devotional taste” of its truths. Elyse mainly just pulls out those parts of it dealing with “the absolutely shocking message of grace” (p. 13). The gospel isn’t just for the obtaining salvation at the beginning of our Christian lives: we need to hear it and think about it daily. Why? To stir up praise and gratitude to God for it, but also to remind ourselves, because we’re too prone to forgetting that our relationship with God is based on Jesus’ righteousness and not our own even after salvation.
If you’re familiar with Romans at all, you know that the first three chapters start with very bad news: the fact that we are all sinful, that our sin deserves judgment from God, and there is nothing we can do in ourselves to deliver ourselves. Even if we could perfectly obey every command of God from here on out (and we can’t), that won’t erase the sin we’ve committed up to now. It’s hopeless — which is why the gospel is very good news: Jesus kept every law of God in our place, and because He was perfectly righteous and the eternal Son of God, He was the only One who could take our sin and punishment in our place so that we could be saved when we believe in Him. Elyse discusses all of these factors in more detail: our “ruined righteousness,” our inability to keep God’s law, the great grace of God in Jesus Christ, what He accomplished in our salvation, and the implications of grace in our everyday lives. It is very refreshing and encouraging: even having known these truths for decades, it has been good to meditate on them again, to be reminded of the freedom we have in Christ.
One aspect of that freedom that particularly resonated with me was when she discussed receiving an email from a friend about something she had done wrong. Elyse writes that she was able to receive the criticism, acknowledge its truth, confess and apologize for it without negative feelings for the messenger: “Because the gospel tells me that I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, I am no longer entrapped in trying to prop up my former flawed identity…I can freely admit my failure without needing to cover up, be defensive, or beat myself up…Rather than raking myself over the coals, wondering, How could I be such an idiot and sin like this? I am now free to say, Of course I sinned like this! It’s just God’s grace that I don’t get e-mails like this every day! I am, after all, a very great sinner…but I’ve got a very great Savior” (pp 79-80).
There are a few places I have some quibbles with. One is in an otherwise very good series of chapters about “One Man’s Obedience,” Jesus’s having fulfilled all of God’s law perfectly every single day of His life. How He interacted with His siblings is conjecture, of course, since the Bible doesn’t say much about His childhood, but we can imagine what He must have encountered showing love to His siblings, yet being laughed at, misunderstood, sinned against, and so on. When she gets to His baptism, however, she says, “At that moment He knew without question who He was and why He’d come” (p. 86). I don’t think He doubted it or didn’t know until then: I don’t think His Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” was meant to reassure Him, but rather to be a testimony to those witnessing it. She goes on to say that “The Spirit, His Spirit, was finally released and flew to Him like a dove, granting Him the power to live and die and rise again.” I don’t think that’s what the Spirit was doing, but what exactly was going on and signified at Christ’s baptism is a discussion for another time, and I do understand good people can differ in their opinions about it.
In another place, she’s discussing the righteousness we have in Christ and the joy we should feel because of it: “Be done now with all your stupid efforts to approve of yourself and to look good…Be revolted by your own goodness and your love of reputation!…Dance a lot. Brag a ton about how righteous He’s made you. Show off your new clothes! Be as free as a drunk to look stupid and hop about for joy. Weep over your sin. Rejoice over His obedience…All those lessons about how to keep your religion dignified and presentable will be completely blasted away in the raucous party that will be known as ‘heaven'” (p. 100). I get that when we really grasp that we have the righteousness of Christ, when we really comprehend that as much as we’re able, we’ll be exceedingly joyful, but I don’t see anything in the glimpses of heaven the Bible shows us that compare it to a raucous party. Yes, the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7), but I don’t see that rejoicing as “raucous.” Not a big deal or a big quibble — we’ll see when we get there what it’s like. 🙂 I also cringe a little bit at “hopping around like a drunk.” I grew up in the home of an alcoholic: I have seen happy drunks (and other kinds as well), and to me it’s incongruous to think of rejoicing in Christ’s righteousness looking like that. Yes, I do know the Bible says “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) as a comparison of being under the control of something else, and that may be the kind of allusion Elyse means here, or she probably was just getting at the idea of rejoicing with abandon. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way because of my background, but again, it’s a small quibble, taking more time to explain that it is probably worth.
Another quibble is the interchangeable use of “law” and “rules.” The verses in the Bible about “the law” are referring to the commandments given to Israel in the first five books of the Bible. Much of Romans deals with the fact that we’re no longer under that law, but that doesn’t mean we’re no longer under any “rules,” that rules are evil, etc. The New Testament is full of commandments. I delved into that more here. We don’t keep rules, or even commandments, in order to be saved, because salvation is by grace through faith. We don’t keep them to be “made” or “kept” righteous even after salvation: our walk, our growth, is by faith, not by our own works. But we don’t ditch the NT commands to love our neighbors as ourselves, etc., either: we seek His grace, His power, is strength, His love, to enable us. Commandments and laws can’t produce righteousness, but they show us what it looks like so we can see where we fall short and how much we need help.
The one area I had a big problem with, though, is when discussing Romans 6:12-14, she says, ” My guess is that you’re feeling a little nervous right now and that you’re tempted to ask the same question that Paul does in the next verse: ‘Yes. yes, but, but…are we to sin because we are not under law, but under grace?’ to which I respond, ‘You can if you want to. But God forbid that you would want to in light of all He has done'” (p. 112). She then says very much the same thing at the beginning of the next chapter. I do see the “God forbid” in Scripture, but I don’t see the “you can sin if you want to.” That totally threw me.
I wish she had talked a little bit more about sanctification in the book. She does somewhat. She discusses that we “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6), that we’re motivated to live for Christ not by heaping on more rules, but out of gratitude for what He has done, that we’re dead to sin, etc. I really would loved to have seen a discussion of Romans 8:13 about mortifying the deeds of the body through the Spirit. I’ve mentioned before that there are action verbs in the New Testament that indicate effort on our part, though it is not an effort to earn righteousness but rather effort springing from His righteousness in us. But I still wrestle with all of that, with what’s my part and what’s His part.
Probably one of the most helpful statements in the book, which ties together much that I’ve mused on here, is this, in a discussion of what it means to have died to sin: “This happened through our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection as is demonstrated at our baptism. Paul doesn’t give us new, more stringent rules to live by. No, he tells us who we are. It is the realization of our new identity that will ultimately and at heart level transform us” (p. 102).
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)