Formations 05.20.2018: Signs of Life

Romans 5:1-10

Artist depiction of an exoplanet, inspired by the discovery of Gliese 876 in June 2005

Scientists used to hypothesize that many planets existed beyond our solar system. In the past few decades, the existence of these so-called exoplanets has become a proven fact. But do any of these distant worlds harbor life? Answering that question is the goal of NASA’s exoplanet program.

It is already possible to make out the light of planets orbiting distant stars and even to interpret what that light tells us about the atmospheres of those planets. Scientists can analyze the light of a star as it passes through a planetary atmosphere, a technique called spectroscopy.

Think of the rainbow we see when sunlight passes through a curtain of mist. NASA scientists use sophisticated equipment to detect when chemicals in an alien atmosphere absorb certain sections of this rainbow band. The pattern of gaps in the spectrum indicates which chemicals exist in abundance: oxygen, water, methane, carbon dioxide, etc. If the right chemicals are present, it could indicate that life—perhaps in the form of bacteria or algae—exists on that planet.

To date, no unmistakable signs of life have been discovered on any such planet.

Today’s lesson invites us to consider what “signs of life” are detectable in us. What signs might an outsider observe that would point to the presence of God’s Spirit? What are the indicators that our lives have been transformed?

Of course, we’re not talking about perfection in life. Paul is emphatic that Christians face problems of every sort. Yet despite this suffering, we confess that God is at work in our lives producing endurance, character, and hope. God brings us this hope by means of the Spirit, through whom God’s love has been poured out in our hearts.

On this Pentecost Sunday, explore the relationship between salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“Looking for Life in All the Right Places,” Exoplanet Exploration <https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/the-search-for-life/life-signs/>.

Discussion

• What do you think about the possibility of life on other planets?
• In what other contexts do people look for signs of life? (For example, paramedics at an accident scene or rescuers after a natural disaster.)
• What “signs of life” indicate the activity of God’s Spirit in someone’s life?
• How does God pour out love in our hearts through the Spirit?
• What does this love have to do with Christ’s saving work?

Reference Shelf

The Transformation of Life

Beginning with chap. 5 there is a major change in focus. Paul is here pointing his readers to the meaning of transformation or the way of growing in holiness…. Because of our justification, we have peace with God, a great hope; and our calling is to live the life of suffering love (5:1-5). Indeed, even though once we were sinners, we are justified and we have the expectation of being saved from God’s final wrath (5:6-9). Because of our reconciliation, we need to reflect his saving power in our lives (5:10-11). We are neither to follow the pattern of Adam’s successors who could not handle sin nor consider the situation hopeless because of the requirements of the Law, as in the case of the successors of Moses. But we are to accept the reign of life which has been brought in Jesus Christ and realize that grace abounds in the life of Christians (5:12-21).

Gerald L. Borchert, “Romans, Letter to the,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 773.

Rejoicing in Future Hope

The suffering experienced between conversion and consummation is not meaningless. It rather educates and strengthens the believer. Here suffering is the arena in which the Christian develops spiritual muscles. The reason for the positive attitude toward suffering is the benefits that accrue to the sufferers. The discussion of benefits accruing from suffering in the present leads back to the notion of hope. How does character produce hope? “There is a pattern of growth in the here and now, however imperfect, that indicates that we are changing. Believers, then, become assured that the process that God has begun He will complete (1 Cor 1:8; Phil 1:6).”

The focus of the unit is on Christians’ boasting (rejoicing) in their future hope of God’s glory (v. 2b). The basis for this boasting is found in v. 5, where the focus is on the Spirit, and in vv. 6-10, where the focus is on God’s acts in Jesus’ death. The two amount to an argument from experience and from salvation history. In v. 5 the evidence of experience is mentioned. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love (8:39; 2 Cor 13:13) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (15:30; cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5 [Eph 1:13-14]). God’s love here is “not simply something believed in on the basis of the gospel or the testimony of the cross,…but God’s love itself…experienced in rich measure.”

In vv. 6-10 the evidence from salvation history
is expounded. These vv. break into two parallel parts: vv. 6-9 and v. 10. The former speaks in terms of justification; the latter reconciliation. Both use a rabbinic interpretative principle called kal wahomer (light and heavy). It is essentially an argument from the minor to the major, reflected by the English “how much more.” A rabbinic example is found in the Mishnah. In m. Aboth 1:5, Jose b. Jonathan of Jerusalem said: “Let thy house be opened wide and let the needy be members of thy household; and talk not much with womankind. They said this of a man’s own wife: how much more of his fellow’s wife!” It is this way of arguing that Paul used here.

Charles H. Talbert, Romans, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 136–37.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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