Posts Tagged 'Romans'

Theology of Romans, Part 6


Walking in the Spirit

Romans 8:3, 4


We aren’t saved from sin’s grasp by knowing the commandments of God because we can’t and don’t keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins. So now we can obey God’s laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (TLB)

Verse 2 is positively triumphant, but incomplete:

For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.  (TLB)

It’s incomplete in the sense that Paul’s declaration of his freedom from “the vicious circle of sin and death” is given as a statement of fact, yet how this freedom was gained in not given.  Yes, it is the result of work of the Holy Spirit, but surely there is more to it than that.  Verse 3 tells us what exactly the Holy Spirit does in us to bring about this freedom from sin:   God put into effect a different plan to save us.


The law (the system of Jewish teachings and practices) was given by God.  Because it came from the very heart of God, the law was completely just and holy and, therefore, good.  But, as perfect as the law was, it was ultimately ineffectual because of the weaknesses of man’s flesh.  This raises a question in the minds of some Bible readers:  Can man’s sinfulness and weakness really limit the working of God?  Questions like this one are more often than not the result of ignorance of the what the Bible really says.  The more pertinent question is this:  What was it the law could not do?  Contrary to what some may think, the law was never given to save a soul.  That was not God’s purpose in giving Moses the Ten Commandments.  Simply stated, the law could not make a person holy; it could not sanctify anybody.

Weak flesh

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh…  (Romans 8:3a  NKJV)

The law of God was rendered weak on account of our weaknesses; our sinful nature.  The law, with all it’s righteous demands, amounted to nothing because man could not fulfill those demands.  Without God’s help, there was simply NO WAY any Jew could live the way God wanted them to.   Similarly today, there is simply NO WAY any human being can live a life completely pleasing to God on his own.  He needs God’s help, and this is why these verses are so important.

As Paul previously taught, the law was very good at pointing out sin, but it could never stop sin because it was “weak through the flesh.”   In fact, man’s sinful nature actually found the law appealing in a perverse way.  Instead of recognizing what God’s law was really about, man, because of his sinful nature, took that law and changed it into something God  never intended it to become:  a  means of grace.  Man took something spiritual and turned it into something carnal.  Man took what should have been a blessing and turned it into a curse.

The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  (1 Corinthians 2:14  RSV)

Man without Christ is “unspiritual,” psychikos.  As such, he is blind to that which he cannot relate to:  the spirit and the things of the spirit.  He is cut off, not only from God, but from the things of God because of his sinful nature.  Therefore, he cannot have any kind of a relationship with God even through the law of Paul’s day.   Instead of using the law to draw to close to God, sinful  man foolishly and arrogantly tried to use the law to make himself holy.

It’s interesting to see how the Jewish rabbis added more and more rules and regulations to God’s law in a vain attempt to make it easier for man to obey the essential tenets of the law.  How ridiculous it is to think education can save man from his sin.  The Jewish religious leaders thought this in Paul’s day, and secular progressives in our own society think we can educate or even legislate man into a better human being.  History and experience shows neither education nor legislation can do this.  Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can.

Divine intervention

…God put into effect a different plan to save us… (Romans 8:3b  TLB)

The weakness of the human spirit demands God’s intervention.  Nothing else can possibly help man get over his sin problem.  His weakness—his totally depraved nature—can do nothing to help himself.  The law made demands which the Jew couldn’t possibly meet, then that very same law condemned them when those demands were not met.  The conundrum meant that it was up to God to do for man what he could not do for himself.  Of course, the law’s real intent was to show man just how sinful and helpless he was in the first place.  Therefore, this “different plan” wasn’t really a new plan or a contingency plan at all, but rather one God knew would kick in one day.

And that is the way it was with us before Christ came. We were slaves to Jewish laws and rituals, for we thought they could save us.  But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own sons.  (Galatians 4:3—5  TLB)

Once again, let’s remember that we are not Jews; we were never enslaved to the law.  However, we are enslaved to this idea that good behavior alone can change our standing before God; that righteous deeds produce righteous character.  The fact is, they do not, any more than the law saved a single Jewish soul.  It did not.

He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  (Romans 8:3c  TLB)

Surely Romans 8:3 must be one of the most significant verses in all of Scripture as it relates to the nature of Christ.   This statement is the very bedrock of the faith:  the virgin birth!

Paul chose his words with supreme care, lest he be misunderstood.  Paul does not say the Father sent His son to us in a body exactly like ours, but in one similar to ours.  Truth is, Christ’s body was a body of flesh before and after the resurrection, in this sense it was like ours.  And yet it was essentially different because Christ’s body was not of the same nature as ours.  He looked just like us in every way, but He was as different from us as a straight line is from a circle!  He couldn’t be the same, otherwise He couldn’t have been the Lamb without blemish.  If Jesus Christ had been the son of Joseph the carpenter, then He would have been exactly like us:  corrupted by sin and subject to sin as we all are.  His nature would have been exactly like ours:  sinful.  But because He was no ordinary baby, being born of a virgin and whose Father was the Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ was all divine (from His Father’s side) and yet all human (from His mother’s side) at the same time!  Indeed, it all  makes your head spin, proving the truthfulness of 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Moving from Christ’s body to His Work, then.  His work was “to be a sin offering,” NIV.   It has been noted that the NIV’s translation may be a little too intense.   The idea Paul may be trying to put across is simply that Christ’s mission was to deal effectively with sin, thus making it possible for His people to live the kind of life demanded of them.

This is why the virgin birth is so important.  It was in the very realm of sin—the realm of the flesh—that our Lord came and defeated the tyrant known as Sin.  The work of Jesus, and in fact His very Person, pronounced the doom of sin.  Dodd comments:

By His life of perfect obedience, and His victorious death and resurrection, the reign of sin over human nature has been broken.

Yes, thanks to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, sin is a defeated enemy.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:56, 57  NKJV)

The reason for it all

Verse 4 gives us the reason for verse 3:

So now we can obey God’s laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (TLB)

…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (NKJV)

Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh,” thus enabling us to live as God demands us.  John Murray wrote,

Jesus not only blotted out sin’s guilt and brought us night to God, He also vanquished sin as power and set us free from its enslaving dominion.  And this could not have been done except in the flesh.  The  battle was joined and the triumph secured in that same flesh which is in us the seat and agent of sin.

Jesus conquered the sin in us, and in doing so, He freed us up to fulfill the “righteous requirement of the law.”  What does that mean?  Paul himself gives us the answer:

Pay all your debts except the debt of love for others—never finish paying that! For if you love them, you will be obeying all of God’s laws, fulfilling all his requirements.  (Romans 13:8  TLB)

Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need.   (Romans 13:10  TLB)

And where does this “love” come from?

…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (Romans 5:5  NKJV)

The righteousness demanded by the law is an absolutely perfect manifestation of God’s love.  This makes complete sense:  God is perfect, therefore He could demand no less than perfection.  This perfection, though, is not native to human beings:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23  NKJV)

As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one… (Romans 3:10  NKJV)

The thing is, though, God not only redeemed us from the “curse of the law” and the guilt and corruption of sin, He  made it a reality for His children to live righteously.  There is a lot confusion around this idea of sanctification as a “second work of grace.”  This the Bible does NOT teach.  The Bible does not teach that there are two works of grace:  justification and sanctification, and that the latter ought to be sought after.  What the Bible DOES teach is this:

And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.   (Philippians 1:6  TLB)

A justified person IS a sanctified person.  Period.  Now, in the practical sense, as we discussed previously, the redeemed person declared justified and made righteous must now live a sanctified life; he must exert some effort to live up to his new life.  How is this possible?  God makes it possible!

…if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (Romans 8:3b  TLB)

Here is why so many Christians fail in their attempts at holiness.  Real sanctification is MORE than just living right.  It is MORE than just you exercising self control.  The Bible makes it clear that sanctification is a work of Christ in the believer that begins at the moment of our conversion.  It is, as Calvin might have said, part of “perseverance.”  Here in Romans, our “perseverance” is described as “following after the Holy Spirit” (TLB).  When we are born again, the Lord begins a work in us and, just like real babies eventually learn to walk, so we must also learn to walk spiritually, in the footsteps of the Spirit.  Following after the Spirit is learning to discern what God wants for us, then with the help of the Holy Spirit, living the way God wants us to.

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.  (Romans 12:1, 2  TLB)

Theology of Romans, Part 5


No Condemnation

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (NKJV)

What a magnificent statement of fact! There was not a doubt in Paul’s mind when he wrote those words so long ago. In the Greek, it’s even more powerful—

No possible condemnation is there, therefore, for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Barnhouse)

1. “Therefore…”

What is the “therefore” there for? It actually connects 8:1 with what went before. Specifically, when we read the “therefore” of 8:1, our minds should flash back to Paul’s teachings in:

  • Chapter 3: the fact and truth of justification;

  • Chapter 6: our real union with Jesus Christ;

  • Chapter 7: our complete identification with Him.

In light of these three chapters, therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ; to whom these three chapters apply, there is no chance of any condemnation. Ever. How could God possibly condemn those He has justified; those who are spiritually joined to His Son; those who confessed faith in everything He did for them on the Cross? How could God condemn one He has previously declared—

…to be good in his sight if they have faith in Christ to save them from God’s wrath. (Romans 4:5b TLB)

No wonder there is no possibility of any Christian standing condemned before God by God! After everything He did for that redeemed person, for God to turn around and condemn him would make God a cruel, psychotic cosmic prankster. And He is definitely not that!

We will get to the rest of Romans 8 in due course, but for now, it should be understood that this chapter continues the idea of the believer’s sanctification, with an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Up to this point in Romans, Paul has barely mentioned the Holy Spirit, but in this chapter, he mentions the third Member of the Trinity some 20 times! Some Bible scholars refer to this chapter as “the Pentecost of Romans.” Why is the Holy Spirit mentioned so often now? It’s because true sanctification is possible only as the Holy Spirit works in the heart and life of a believer. John Knox:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating section of the argument that began in 6:1 with the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may about?”

The only way a redeemed, justified, born again individual may experience victory over sin is by letting the Holy Spirit work in him. The Holy Spirit sanctifies our lives (a practical work) and He guarantees our final redemption (a spiritual work). The Law (for Jews) and our own grit and determination (all people) can never sanctify us actually; sanctification is more than just a cessation of sin; at its core, it is a spiritual work and may only be accomplished spiritually.

And in the same way—by our faith—the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. (Romans 8:26, 27 TLB)

What a precious gift the Holy Spirit is! He does so much for us and in us. But above all, the Holy Spirit and His work in us is completely indispensable. A life that is pleasing and glorifying to God must be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him. (Ephesians 5:18 TLB)

2. “…now no condemnation”

The first word, “now” is awkward in this sentence, but essential. When is there to be “no condemnation?” The answer is NOW—right now. The blessing of “no condemnation” may be experienced immediately. In other words, believers don’t have to wait until the great by-and-by to discover the fact that they stand free and clear, forgiven and declared “not guilty” in God’s sight. It is a present reality! We stand not condemned right now. You may feel condemned, but in fact you aren’t and can never be. Our “no condemnation” is an objective truth independent of you, what you have done or not done. It’s all about God, not you. Now, later on in this chapter, we will deal with what the Holy Spirit works in you to perfect your sanctification, but for now understand that regardless of your present experience, you stand absolutely not guilty before God and, therefore, not condemned.

No wonder Paul wrote about “joy” earlier in this letter. Because of your new living relationship with Jesus Christ and subsequent new dead relationship to sin, you can walk through this world sin, sadness, and sorrow serene in the knowledge that you are free from all that! You may have the assurance that your sins are forgiven and your guilt erased right now.

3. “…for those who are in Christ Jesus”

The exclusivity of Christianity rubs against the grain of our modern sensibilities, but the truth is, Christianity is exclusive in the sense that its blessings are ONLY for those who have experienced the new birth—those who belong to Jesus. If you don’t belong to Jesus, you stand unforgiven and condemned before God and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. You must be “in Christ Jesus” if you want what Paul is writing about in Romans.

In the original, there are no verse or chapter breaks, so 8:1 is not a new topic but a continuation of what Paul began in chapter 7. Believers, including himself, have been set free not just from sin and condemnation, but also from the Law and the curse of the Law. The Law, which is not evil—something Paul bent over backwards to state—is incapable of saving anybody, and it doesn’t have the power to remove the guilt and stain of sin.

Sin fooled me by taking the good laws of God and using them to make me guilty of death. (Romans 7:11 TLB)

Paul, no matter how he tried to follow the Law, felt as though he were drowning in his sin.

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. (Romans 7:15, 16 TLB)

Now, you probably aren’t a Jew, but you more than likely can relate to what Paul wrote in these two verses! We all struggle with sin and temptation. Yes we know what the Word declares, and we know what’s right and what’s sinful, yet we are drawn to sin like a moth drawn to a flame. How, we ask like Paul did, is it possible to pray, go to church, read and study the Word, yet be tempted to sin and often give into that temptation? We get angry with ourselves and frustrated with God.

In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? (Romans 7:24, 25 TLB)

Have you ever felt like that? You probably have, and thank goodness Paul gives us the answer to his question:

Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free. (Romans 7:25b TLB)

The apostle recognized, as every believer must, that it is the work of Jesus and only His work that cleansed our soul, ridding it of the guilt and stain of sin. We can do nothing to cure our sin problem. Jesus Christ set us free from our enslavement to sin and God the Father, our Lord and Judge, declares us “not guilty,” eliminating the possibility of any kind of condemnation from His court forever.

From the obvious relief expressed in the last statement of chapter 7 to the triumphant and joyous declaration of chapter 8:1, we see a truly marvelous fact that ought to shine a light on our true standing before God. There is not a Christian anywhere in the world who should feel inferior or condemned because to entertain those feelings is to give credence to them and that shows a disregard for what Jesus Christ did for you. That’s not to say we should feel proud or self-sufficient in any way; rather in humble thankfulness we need to realize that ours is no lowly position. Consider:

But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead—only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved—and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms—all because of what Christ Jesus did. (Ephesians 2:4—6 TLB)

That is our present position! We don’t sit around waiting for this to happen! We are sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms NOW. God, the Alpha and Omega, the One who sees the beginning from the end, sees believers as they will be. We may “feel” unworthy and not good enough—and in ourselves this may be true—but the facts of the Word are clear: our lives have been given back to us! Don’t let your feelings condemn you! Jesus, by His work on the Cross, elevated us to the greatest heights of all: HIS. We are with Him when we are in Him. And all believers are IN Christ.

When the Great Book is opened in Heaven, there will be recorded in it the names of all those who are in Christ. Those whose names are not written in that book are the Christless: those who, for their whole lives, may have relied on their good works and moral lives or their religion as their hope for a place in Heaven. Unfortunately for them, on this point God’s Word is abundantly clear. Only those who are in Christ will find eternity in Heaven.

Those who aren’t in Christ can’t blame God the Father:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 TLB)

Nor can they Jesus, the Son of God:

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10b NKJV)

And they cannot in good conscience blame the Holy Spirit:

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth… (John 16:13a NKJV)

Jesus Christ came into the world to do for sinners what they could never do for themselves: save them. Salvation is not possible apart from Jesus Christ.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18 NIV)

Theology of Romans, Part 2


Justification is a glorious blessing from God.  Last time, we looked at some of the blessings of justification.  This time, let’s look at the “nuts and bolts” of this piece of theology Romans.

1.  Who does God justify?

The answer to this question is truly amazing because it cuts against the grain of religious thinking.  Almost everybody—at least everybody who subscribes to “Hallmark theology”—naturally thinks that God wants good people in heaven and that the only way to get there is to do good things and live well-behaved, well-ordered lives.  Of course, that’s what unthinking, Biblically illiterate people always think:  their entrance through the pearly gates is guaranteed by their efforts.  But that is far, far from the truth.  As Christians, we don’t take our theology from Hallmark cards; we take our theology from the Bible, and here’s what the Bible says in answer to this question:

But didn’t [Abraham] earn his right to heaven by all the good things he did? No, for being saved is a gift; if a person could earn it by being good, then it wouldn’t be free—but it is! It is given to those who do not work for it. For God declares sinners to be good in his sight if they have faith in Christ to save them from God’s wrath.  (Romans 4:4, 5 TLB)

When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him.  (Romans 5:6  TLB)

In case these verses are misunderstood or misinterpreted, this one clinches the Biblical truth that the only people God saves are the UNGODLY:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  (Romans 5:8  TLB)

All of this means, of course, is that Hell will be full of good people.  The Bible makes it abundantly clear throughout, but especially here in Romans, that if you really want to be saved, you must come to the stark realization that you are UNGODLY.  You must without hesitation accept that fact and then—and ONLY then—will you become eligible for salvation.

This is a huge pill for religious people to swallow.  Religious people are those who rely on their “good deeds” to tip the scales in their favor.  Religion complicates what God sees as a very simple process.  To be saved takes, not a lifetime of hard work and effort, but a moment’s decision.

…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  (Romans 10:9, 10  NKJV)

2.  How can God possibly justify someone who is guilty?

This is another question, like the last one, with an answer so profoundly surprising as to be almost unbelievable.  The answer to this question is also the answer to another one:  Why did Christ die?

It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.  (Romans 4:24, 25  NKJV)

The “it” of verse 24 is “righteousness.”  What Paul is talking about here is “imputed righteousness”; that is, a righteousness (Christ’s, as we learned last time) foreign to the one who now possesses it.  Christ died so that His perfect righteousness could be imputed—given—to the unrighteous and ungodly.

Jesus Christ was “delivered up” on account of OUR offenses—our sins and our lack of righteousness.  So, how can God justify someone who is guilty?  The real question these two verses raises is:  How can God punish the only One who was NEVER guilty?  Jesus Christ was punished in the sinner’s stead so that that sinner may be given Christ’s righteousness.  God is able to justify the guilty because atonement has already been made for them.

Now we rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in dying for our sins—making us friends of God.   (Romans 5:11  TLB)

Christ’s work on the Cross secured first of all the sinner’s forgiveness, then his justification.  It is those who believe in Christ that are justified.

3.  Do man’s good works have anything to do with his justification?

Biblical justification is a theology that sounds almost too good to be true.  It flies in the face of religion, which tries to complicate it and it flies in the face those who believe in personal responsibility and accountability.  This is where faith comes in to play!  We can do NOTHING to justify ourselves in God’s sight.  We can do NOTHING to appear better than we really are.  We MUST rely solely on what Jesus did for us on the Cross.  Mote’s powerful lyrics come to mind:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

It’s hard for a lot of Christians to “wholly lean on Jesus’ name”!  They always think it takes something more; that they have to “do” something, which is why legalistic religions seem to thrive.

Now do you see it? No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them; his laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners.  (Romans 3:20  TLB)

Now, it is true that if a person does the best he can he will be justified in the sight of other people, but not in the sight of God.

Don’t you remember that even our father Abraham was declared good because of what he did when he was willing to obey God, even if it meant offering his son Isaac to die on the altar?  (James 2:21  TLB)

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  (Romans 4:2  NKJV)

God sees no good works coming from a bad heart.  A person hoping their good works will get noticed by God and somehow tip the scales in their favor is simply proving their heart is still bad.

4.  How does God justify man?

Simply put, God justifies man judicially.  God, as the Judge of universe, makes a declaration in man’s favor.  In Romans 4, there are three words occur over and over again that clearly express the nature of God’s justification:  counted, reckoned, and imputed.  The righteousness of God is, therefore, counted, reckoned, and imputed to the believer.  God does it all.

But these three words, wonderful as they are to man, cut the other way as far as the Son of Man is concerned.  Our sins were counted, reckoned, and imputed to Christ as He hung on the Cross.  God did that, too.

But now God has shown us a different way to heaven—not by “being good enough” and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way (though not new, really, for the Scriptures told about it long ago). Now God says he will accept and acquit us—declare us “not guilty”—if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we have been like.  (Romans 3:21, 22  TLB)

5.  Is justification achieved by simply believing?

As hard as it may be for you to grasp, the answer to this question is a resounding a YES!

But isn’t this unfair for God to let criminals go free, and say that they are innocent? No, for he does it on the basis of their trust in Jesus who took away their sins.  (Romans 3:26b  TLB)

It’s not just a belief in God, for even the demons believe in God!  It’s belief or trust in Jesus, specifically, what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.

The simplicity of it all!  Have you ever wondered why such a deep and profound doctrine is so simple?  It’s because of the love of God!  When God looks at this world of ours, what do you think He sees?   He faces a world of sinners, desperately lost and stuck in their rebellion and absolutely miserable in their sin.  There is not a thing man can do to help himself out of his lost, pathetic state.  It’s all up to God.  It was up to God to find a way to rescue man without He Himself getting tainted by man’s filth.

Can a man hold fire against his chest and not be burned?  Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?  (Proverbs 6:27, 28  TLB)

Can God help a filthy sinner without getting dirty?  God says:  Absolutely I can!  God does it all for the believer HIS WAY.  Only the act of believing is left up to us.  By faith, we count on God’s Word being true.  By faith, we believe Jesus did exactly enough to save us; that there is nothing left for us to do, save believe.

Theology of Romans: Justification, Part 1


Justification, Romans 3—5

In the book of Job, perhaps the most ancient piece of literature in the world, we read a very interesting comment and question courtesy of a man with the curious name of Bildad:

“God is powerful and dreadful. He enforces peace in heaven.  Who is able to number his hosts of angels? And his light shines down on all the earth.  How can mere man stand before God and claim to be righteous? Who in all the earth can boast that he is clean?  God is so glorious that even the moon and stars are less than nothing as compared to him.  How much less is man, who is but a worm in his sight?”  (Job 25, TLB)

Like all of Job’s friends, Bildad’s theology was hit-and-miss, but he nails it here.  How indeed can any man stand before God call himself “righteous”?   This is a question asked by all serious people.  Other people ask other questions, like:

  • How can I stay healthy and live a long life?
  • How can I make people like me?
  • Where can I find happiness?

Those are all good questions, but the serious, thinking person who realizes there is One greater than himself, to whom he is accountable, wonders how in the world he may be considered “good” in that One’s eyes.

This question is tackled by Paul, the theologian, in his letter to the Romans.

1.  Do all people need to be justified?

In the estimation of the world, there are “good” people, there are “bad” people, and there are “so-so” people.  But in God’s estimation, everybody needs to be “justified” before Him.

Well, then, are we Jews better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all men alike are sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles.   As the Scriptures say,  No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent.”  (Romans 3:9, 10  TLB)

There were some Jews in Paul’s day that thought they had a great advantage over Gentiles.  God had entrusted them with the Law and blessed them over the centuries and they felt, therefore, they were special.  Paul makes it clear that the Jew, or the people who think they are somehow morally superior, have no advantage over anybody else.  Both stand equally before God.  All people everywhere have been affected by sin in one way or another.

Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…  (Romans 8:23  TLB)

As proof that all people are sinful and fall short of God’s ideal, Paul cites 6 passages from Psalms and Isaiah that show how sinful all people are.

  • The very character of man (verses 10—12) condemns him.
  • The conduct of man (verses 13—17) proves how sinful we are.
  • The cause of our conduct is given:  we just don’t care what God thinks (verse 18).

Paul sums it up perfectly in verse 19:

…all the world stands hushed and guilty before Almighty God.

In other words, there is no defense we can put forward.  Neither Jew nor Gentile; teetotaler or recovering drunk; Roman Catholic or Protestant; nobody can justify themselves before God.  Not one of us can excuse our behavior in a way acceptable to God.  Old Bildad was right after all!  No matter how good you or others may think you are, you aren’t in God’s sight.

2.  What does “justified” mean?

That brings us to the need of every human being to be justified in God’s sight.  What does that mean?  We take as our jumping off point in discovering a working definition what Paul wrote in Romans 4—

King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared “not guilty” by God.  “Blessed and to be envied,” he said, “are those whose sins are forgiven and put out of sight.  Yes, what joy there is for anyone whose sins are no longer counted against him by the Lord.”  (Romans 4:6—8  TLB)

To be justified is to be forgiven.

These verses are what caused Martin Luther to refer to the Christian’s righteousness (or goodness) as an “alien righteousness.”  Here is how he put it:

Everything…is outside us and in Christ.  For God does not want to save us by our own but by an extraneous righteousness which does not originate in ourselves but comes to us from beyond ourselves, which does not arise on our earth but comes from heaven.  Therefore, we must come to know this righteousness which is utterly external and foreign to us.  That is why our own personal righteousness must be uprooted.

It takes Luther a long time and a lot of words to make the simple point that the goodness God demands of us is not in us.  What He demands of us He puts in us through the Holy Spirit the righteousness (or goodness) of His Son.  He fills us with HIS righteousness.

To be justified is to be saved from wrath.

And since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come.  (Romans 5:9  TLB)

Because we are all sinners, we all deserve to be punished.  But because we have been forgiven those sins, part of our justification, we are spared that punishment.  God has done so much for us in the work of Christ; we have the glorious expectation of an ultimate salvation.  That expectation gives us present peace with God.  Why would we fear the One who has declared us “not guilty?”  Yes, thanks to the far-reaching work on the Cross, we can expect to be delivered from the judgment all men must face.  This deliverance is positively guaranteed by the fact of justification—the declaration by God that we are “not guilty.”

To be justified is to be considered righteous.

…we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  (Romans 4:9b  NKJV)

What a mind-boggling thought!  We who are not righteous are considered to be righteous by God simply by virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ!  Abraham is given as an example.   The Jews loved to think their blessings came from circumcision, that is, their observance of the Laws.  But Abraham, the father of Judaism, lived long before the Law was given yet was the recipient of all those blessings.  Why?  Because he had faith, and that faith was credited to him as righteousness.  In other words, Abraham believed in advance and it was that belief in God’s future promises that made Abraham righteous in God’s eyes.

So, we may not be righteous in practice, but our faith in our ultimate redemption and restoration through the work of Christ makes us righteous in God’s eyes.  Or, to put it another way, God sees us as we will be in our final state, not as we are at this moment.  Of course God is not blind to our sin, that’s why we must walk in a constant state of humble forgiveness.

To be justified is to be at peace with God.

So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  (Romans 5:1  TLB)

J.B. Phillips in his translation of this verse gives us, perhaps, a better sense of what Paul was trying to say:

Let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God…

We no longer live under the shadow condemnation.

So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1  TLB)

We should no longer fear the wrath (present or future) of God because of our change in position.  Once we were unforgiven and deserving of God’s wrath.  But He has moved us into a new position; one of freedom from condemnation.  Therefore, we can sleep knowing peace.  We can live without fear that God is “out to get us” because we deserve it.

To be justified means rejoicing in hope.

For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.  (Romans 5:2  TLB)

Through our faith in His Work, Christ brings us into the fullness of God’s grace—the place of divine favor.  We had no right to be in God’s presence before and we had no right to an ounce of His grace.   Just like the common peasant could not just walk into the King’s throne room, so we were unable to walk into God’s throne room.  We, like the peasant, need someone better than ourselves to introduce us to God.  The French have a word for this:  entrée.  It is Christ who brings us who are justified into the full grace of God.  And that gives us HOPE.  And never discount the importance of hope!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick…  (Proverbs 13:12a  TLB)

Life is miserable without hope.  People who have lost hope have lost the will to live and died.  Hope is vitally important, and through our relationship with Christ and our new position in Him, we can “joyfully look forward.”  In other words, we have HOPE.

To be justified is to know the love of God in full measure.

Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  (Romans 5:5  TLB)

Our hope is rooted in God’s love for us.  It is God’s love for us, not our love for God, that makes all the difference in the world.  How do we know God loves us? It’s because He has poured His Holy Spirit into us!

For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children.  (Romans 8:16  TLB)

Because we have been justified, we have received the Holy Spirit and that Spirit bears witness to our spirit that God loves us.

To be justified is to be reconciled to God.

And since, when we were his enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of his Son, what blessings he must have for us now that we are his friends and he is living within us!  (Romans 5:10  TLB)

“Justification” is a judicial term; a legal term.  God, as the Judge of the Universe, has declared the believer “justified,” freed from the guilt of sin.

“Reconciliation,” however, is a relational term; it deals with a relationship.  When two people are reconciled, it means they are not longer at loggerheads; they are not longer at odds with each other.  The thing that was causing them to be hostile towards each other has been removed.

Both “justification” and “reconciliation” have been accomplished by the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  No longer is there any enmity between God and man.  No longer is man fearful of divine punishment.  There is complete assurance that our sin problem has been dealt with once and for all.  Of course, both justification and reconciliation are exclusive blessings of the redeemed; those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.




Perhaps the most important aspect of spiritual renewal involves our mind. When we think about our redemption and the scope of our salvation, we naturally think of the spiritual aspects. Most naturally we think of ourselves in light of eternity. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, our eternal destination changes from Hell to Heaven. Rarely do we think of our redemption in terms of our thinking process. But we should because the way we live starts as a thought.

Spiritual transformation comes through continually submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and that submission begins in the mind.

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he… (Proverbs 23:7, KJV)

1. Renew your mind, Romans 12:1—3

a. A living sacrifice, vs. 1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

There is no distinction between “doctrine” and “life” as far as the Christian is concerned. Even though many Christians cringe at the word “doctrine,” the simple fact is “doctrine” determines how you “live.” The word “therefore” links what Paul is about discuss with what he just finished discussing. Up till now in Romans, Paul had been discussing some heavy duty spiritual doctrines, including all that was accomplished on the Cross by Christ on our behalf. The fundamental idea of the first 11 chapters of Romans is that of the sacrifice offered by God for the sins and transgression of the world—

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25, 26)

In light of this fundamental Christian “doctrine,” Paul is about tell the Romans, and us, how Christians should live, hence his use of the word, “therefore.” His appeal is based on “God’s mercy.” Because God did all this (the doctrines of chapters 1—11) out of mercy, Christians ought to live a certain way out of gratitude. But how do you do that? The Old Testament’s elaborate sacrificial system was one way, but it is not the Christian way. When an Israelite wanted to show his love and commitment to God, he would personally offer his best animal or bird  at the tabernacle as a sacrifice. That offering was “holy” to the Lord in that it wholly His, the priest and the offerer got no part of it. This, however, wouldn’t work for the Christian. For the Christian, God demands his whole person as an offering—no animal or bird is adequate. The Christian is urged to present his body once for all for the service of God. The idea of a “living sacrifice” suggests that it is an ongoing thing to be expressed in our activity. Though we present our whole being one time—we are saved only one time—that offering goes on and on. John Chrysostom ponders how this can happen:

How can the body become a sacrifice? Let the eye look upon nothing evil, and it has become a sacrifice. Let the tongue speak nothing shameful, and it has become an offering. Let the hand do nothing unlawful, and it has become a burnt offering.

In other words, Christians must make conscious decisions to render to God acts of acceptable worship every day in how they live and act in and react to the world around them.

b. A renewed mind, vs. 2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The core of the Christian life is the complete abandonment of our bodies to God’s service. Verse 2 tells us how we are able to do this: it will be the natural result of changing our way of thinking. Remember, all our actions begin as thoughts, therefore if we want act righteously, we must think righteously. From henceforth, we must not think like the world thinks. Our attitudes must be markedly different from those of the world. J.B. Phillips’ classic translation captures Paul’s thoughts excellently:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within...

Remember, this admonition comes on the heels of some heavy-duty doctrinal teaching. Doctrine is not separate from practical Christianity; it is, in reality, the force behind it. The great doctrines of Scripture should be the motivation behind how we think and how we live. Only when we change our habitual (read: sinful) way of thinking, can we grasp what God’s will is.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Living sacrificially, which comes from right thinking, will lead a Christian to find his place in the Body of Christ.

c. A measure of faith, vs. 3

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

With authority from Christ Himself, Paul tells his Roman friends that they are all part of the Body of Christ, none has a special status. Living sacrifices all have something special from God, however: a measure of faith. As Paul has received “grace” from God, so all believers have received this faith. This brings mind something Peter wrote:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

2. Put on the new self, Ephesians 4:17—24

a. Remembering the old self, vs. 17—19

Here again, like in Romans, Paul deals with how believers ought to conduct their lives and he begins this teaching by reminding his readers of how they used to live. They used to live like Gentiles—like unredeemed people—but now, through their new birth in Christ, they are different. As we read what the life of sin consists of, we realize that that that old life is light years away from our new life. The idea Paul wants to impress upon his readers is that they must make a clean break from their old lifestyle. Even as they are surrounded by it, they must not be part of it.

b. Becoming the new self, vs. 20—24

The believers in the Ephesian church, like believers today, are not to be like the unredeemed Gentiles just described by Paul, who lived only to satisfy their base nature. This was not how the converts in Ephesus came to know Christ!

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires… (verse 22)

This was how the Ephesian believers came to know Christ: He could be known only by taking off the costume of the “old self.” In other words, their previous lifestyle was to be disposed of completely; they were no longer to live like they used to. And Christians should rush to do this because the old way of life is totally destructive!

…to be made new in the attitude of your minds… (verse 23)

Here is the key to Paul’s teaching of the new life: it begins in the mind. By receiving Christ, the Christian is expected to exhibit Christ-likeness. We are made new by taking on new attitudes. This is our obligation; God won’t do our thinking for us. It is true that elsewhere in Scripture Paul taught that Christ did all the work for us on the Cross—

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9, 10)

This is a finished, spiritual fact. In Ephesians, however, Paul explains the importance of the public, practical demonstration of this spiritual fact.

3. Strive to know Christ fully, Philippians 3:7—16

a. Live to win Christ, vs. 7, 18

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…

Paul was an amazing, successful Jewish man. Yet he considered all of his accomplishments and his pedigree as nothing compared to the privilege of knowing Jesus. In spite of Paul’s acknowledged abilities as a rabbi and Jewish scholar, when He found Christ and his new life, he knew he had to surrender the old life; he had to let it all go. He gave it all up, all of its benefits, for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.

b. Knowing Christ, vs. 9—11

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vs. 10, 11)

What does it mean, “to know Christ?” It goes back to the thought began in verse 8, that everything Paul once knew and had was nothing compared to knowing Christ. When a sinner, like Paul, comes to Christ, he appropriates by faith a “righteousness that is from God.” But when that born again sinner begins to think about Christ and what God did for him, there is produced in that person a yearning to get to know Christ more, in a deeper way, and this means knowing all about Christ and all facets of His great work.

Paul wanted to know, not only the mind of Christ, but also His heart. Paul knew that with knowledge comes power, and what Paul wanted was to have a complete knowledge of Christ, thus possessing the power Christ had, even resurrection power. In knowing Christ, we become like Him in all ways.

c. Pursuing Christ, vs. 12—16

In spite of Paul’s dedication to Christ, he makes it clear he hasn’t “arrived yet.” He had not yet achieved perfection nor had he completely “figured out” Christ. Paul was work in progress and he was determined to fulfill one, single, three pronged goal:

  • He wanted to somehow forget his past. Naturally, the human mind forgets some things very easily over time, but Paul wanted to ensure that his past, his old life, would never affect his present or his future. He never wanted his former way of life or way of living to keep him from fulfilling God’s will in his life.

  • Paul was determined to always look and reach forward. He was wholly committed to living a life that pleased God.

  • Finally, Paul pressed—worked determinedly—to achieve his new life’s goal, “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

That final point could never be fully realized here on earth. This goal was an eternal one that would find its ultimate fulfillment in Heaven.

As we see, the quality of our new life in Christ is in our hands, or more accurately in our minds. It is up to individual believers to take charge of their thought-life, to bring it in line with the Word of God. Only then will our lives reflect Christ.



Romans 6

Paul continues his line of thought, relating the believer’s present position in Christ to how that believer should live his life.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:8—10)

After giving his readers a lot of information about the believer’s identification with Christ as illustrated by water baptism, Paul begins this new section with the assumption that “we died with Christ.” His readers are true believers, not just Christians in name only, but Christians who have experienced Jesus Christ in a real, personal way. All of us who have named Christ as Savior are related to Him and we share in His death to sin and His resurrection. But what “died to sin” mean?

1. Christ’s experience with sin: Our experience with sin

When the Son of God entered the sphere of humanity, He left the glories of Heaven. He left a place of sinless perfection; a place of purity, uncorrupted by sin, and completely separated from sin in every sense of the word. He left that place and entered a world dominated by sin and evil. Jesus was immediately confronted by sin’s presence and power. Think about it; for some 33 years our Lord walked among the evil of sin; it’s tentacles always reaching out to Him, seeking to get Him in their grip. Jesus, like all men, lived a life surrounded by the darkness of sin.

When He went to the Cross, He assumed our sin, for He had none of His own. He bore the wrath of God against our sin; He was punished for all the sinful, rebellious acts every single human being had ever and will ever commit.

When we consider the awful, horrendous hours our Lord spent on the Cross, preceded by over 30 years of having to deal with sin after leaving an environment of complete sinlessness, no wonder He cried out “It is finished” when He died! What a relief it must have been for Him to bow His head and release His Spirit. At that moment, it was over for Jesus. His time on Earth was finally over. His nightmare with sin and the effects of sin were over forever.

In much the same way, Christians who are united—glued—to Christ, can throw up their hands and rejoice in the fact that just like their Lord, they may cry out, “It is finished” and breathe a sigh of relief because they are dead to sin and no longer under any obligation to look for or yield to sin. The tyranny of sin, as far as the redeemed is concerned, is over!

But, not only did Jesus die to sin, He rose to a new life, and we did too! What a marvelous thought! You see, when Jesus was alive, in the flesh, He had an obligation to deal with sin. Though He never sinned, He had to deal with sin and the effects of sin. But after His death, Christ arose, completely done with sin, able to give full attention to God the Father and the glories of Heaven. In same way, believers who are continually besieged by sin day and night; having to deal with it over and over and over again; strangled in its relentless grip, are finally released and are finally able to devote more of themselves to serving Christ and pleasing God the Father. Like Christ, believers have a new life.

2. How to live that new life

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (vs. 11)

Here is how Paul helps his readers to experience what Jesus experienced: “In the same way…” We have to acknowledge that this is not the easiest thing to do. We do, after all, live in a world of sin. Unlike Christ who got to return to sinless paradise, we’re stuck here on Mother Earth. So how in the world to we live a “new life” while we are still here, in the same old place? Paul gives us the answer in verses 12—14 with a series of exhortations. The interesting thing about Paul’s exhortations is that without them, we have a very unbalanced view of the Christian life. Without the exhortations, we get the impression that “God does it all.” All the Christian has to do is coast along until he dies then goes to Heaven. Talk about unbalanced! With these exhortations, though, we see that while our salvation is a work of God alone, our Christian life is ours to live; God won’t live it for us. For the whole of our existence on Earth, we must consciously fight against and rebel against sin’s rule. The decisions to sin or not sin are ours to make; God won’t make them for us.

This is the great paradox for the believer. We are dead to sin, yet sin is all around us. We are alive to Christ, yet still living in the flesh. We have been declared fully righteous by God, yet still sinners who need forgiveness. We are called to live NOW like we are already living in the Kingdom, yet the Kingdom is nowhere in sight. How can we do that? Paul gives us the key in three points:

a. Counting, verse 11.

This is a real challenge to believers: to become in reality what we are in Christ potentially. Hodge comments:

If in point of fact believes are partakers of the death and life of Christ; if they die with Him and live with Him, then they should so regard themselves. They should receive this truth, with all its consoling and sanctifying power, into their hearts, and manifest it in their lives.

b. No reign, verse 12.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

The implication here is that sin has been reigning, but it should not any longer. The believer must do his part and refuse to obey the calling to sin. The word “obey” means “to listen” or “to heed.” If a believer wants to live a holy life, then he himself must STOP listening to the wooing of sin. This we must do for ourselves; God won’t do it for us. He can help up; this is one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit in fact, but in the end, we must decide to obey God instead of listening to lies of Satan.

c. Offering, verse 13.

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

To “offer” comes from the Greek parastesate, written in the aorist imperative meaning, “present yourselves by one decisive act”. Christians are to refuse to offer themselves to sin and encouraged to offer themselves to another: God. We are to stop offering parts of our bodies to sin (eyes, hands, free will, mind, etc.) as instruments against God. Instead, we are to offer those parts to God, for the sake of righteousness.

So, it’s not enough to simply will ourselves to stop sinning. If we do that, a vacuum is created and, lo and behold, what will get sucked into the vacuum? Different kinds of sins, that’s what. In order to avoid creating a vacuum, when we stop offering ourselves to sin, we must start offering ourselves to God.

3. A new kind of bondage, 6:15—23

Now, Paul has claimed that believers are not under the Law. However, this does not mean that they are free from the demands of righteousness. Just because one has been set free from the Mosaic Law as a covenant system does not mean they are now indifferent to God’s moral will. In other words, freedom from the the legalism of the Law is not freedom to sin. All believers, not just Jewish converts, need God’s moral law to help them see the seriousness of sin. Even though it sounds like Christians are free from God’s law, in a sense they aren’t:

To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:21)

It’s vitally important for believers, in this day of moral relativism and pluralism, to remember that while we are no longer in bondage to sin, we are in bondage to the will of God. It sounds funny, so Paul adds this:

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. (vs. 19)

The “example” he is speaking about is the “slave-master” illustration, which helps us understand the simple fact that, as Jesus Himself taught, nobody can serve two masters. Serving God is an all or nothing proposition. The fact that Paul had to use an “example from everyday life” shows us how difficult a concept this is. Once we were completely sold out to sin, now we need to be completely sold out to Christ. Once we were forced to sin, now we able to walk away from it.

This is a result of our acceptance of the Gospel; we are not only set free from captivity to sin, but enslaved us to a new master: righteousness. In this context, “righteousness” refers to ethical goodness.

This is also what holiness is. Instead of letting sin use our bodies, leading us to a sense of moral indifference, we are to offer our bodies in the service of God, leading us to perform acts of righteousness.

Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. (vs. 19b)

The word “holiness” comes from the Greek hagiasmos, which itself is part of a word group that includes such words as “holy,” “saint,” “purify,” “hallowed,” and “holiness.” Primarily, the sense of hagiasmos is to be set apart completely for the use of God. This is hagiasmos as far as God is concerned. But it has a secondary meaning as far as man is concerned. Because he has been set apart for God’s use, man now has an obligation to fulfill God’s will for him, which includes performing acts of righteousness. This is something a believer needs to do for himself; God will not force him to perform holy acts, but He often places the believer in the position of having to make the choice of performing them or not. In this way, man’s free will is protected and at the same time, the believer is developing a character like his heavenly Father’s.

F.F. Bruce paraphrases the last part of Paul’s thought like this:

A slave’s former owner has no more authority over him if he becomes someone else’s property. This is what happened to you. You have passed from the service of sin into the service of God: your business is now to do what God desires and not what sin dictates.

Finally, verse 23 is really a contrast to help drive home Paul’s point of the nature of our new life in Christ (it’s God’s gift to us) with it’s benefits and our old life with it consequences:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To help the believer make the right choice, we see on the one hand that sin produces death as a just reward for living in a way that displeases God. But on the other hand, God is full of grace, which results in the calling of many people to Himself.

Most commentators see the word “wages” being used here in the military sense of a soldier’s rations or pay. Sin, then, is viewed as a General who pays out these wages to those under his command. What a depressing way to view life without Jesus Christ! What a contrast to God’s free gift of grace! Instead of being ordered around by an overbearing General, not having any say in the matter, we instead have been placed into a relationship with a loving Heavenly Father who loves us, respects us, and gives us far more than mere wages.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


If you misunderstand God's grace, you'll end up like this guy, Rasputin, the Mad Monk!

By the end Romans 5, Paul has concluded the main points of his teaching. All human beings stand condemned before God as sinners—rebels against Him. That same God, however, has intervened on behalf of all those sinners by providing acquittal and forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus His Son, Jesus Christ. What’s awesome about this acquittal is that it comes to sinners initially irrespective of our lack of moral values and sinfulness. Acceptance by God is based solely on our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

As if that weren’t enough, our continuing standing before God—our salvation—does not depend on anything good thing we do, but on God’s amazing grace. Paul even goes so far to state that as sin increases, grace increases even more.

1. Paul and a mad monk

Without a doubt, all that sounds good; maybe too good to be true. No wonder God’s grace is so abused! Paul foresaw the potential that for some believers, God’s grace and forgiveness could lead to a kind of spiritual laziness. Such was the case with a monk; a man of God who confused the gospel of grace with a form of “antinomianism,” a perversion of doctrine that encourages the casting off of all moral restraint so as to experience more and more of God’s grace and forgiveness. This monk, because of his misunderstanding of grace, became a chief contributor to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.

His name was Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (1972—1916). He was born into a poor, peasant family in a desolate region of Siberia, Russia. Until his religious conversion around 18, young Grigory became known as “Rasputin,” a Russian word for “debauched one,” because of his immoral lifestyle. After his conversion, however, he found himself at a monastery, which was part of Flagellants sect. Thanks to Rasputin’s ungodly influence, their sect became perverted—leaving the teachings of Scripture and embracing absolute antinomianism. The monks believed that one drew closest to God through sexual escapades and prolonged partying.

Eventually Rasputin left the monastery, traveling thousands of miles through Europe and much of the Middle East, finally lighting in Jerusalem. It was there that the “mad monk” solidified his reputation as a holy mystic with supernatural healing and prophetic powers, and in 1903, Rasputin was welcomed by church leaders and by politicians into the highest political circles in the land in spite of the fact that he hadn’t bathed in years.

Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were completely taken in by the charismatic Rasputin, largely due to a supposed miracle wrought by the monk which saved their young son and heir to the throne, Alexey. This event endeared Rasputin to the royal family and gave him extraordinary influence with them. Within the royal court, Rasputin was viewed as a humble, gifted monk, sent by God. But outside the court, he lived up to his nickname wholeheartedly.

In spite of persistent rumors that Rasputin was having an affair with Alexandra, he was placed in charge of Russia’s internal affairs when Nicholas II left St. Petersburg to command Russian troops when World War I broke out. The “mad monk’s” influence proved to be so disastrous, that a group of conservatives, some related to Nicholas II, met to plot the assassination of Rasputin, ending his evil influence over the nation. They accomplished this in December of 1916, but it was too late to save the political structure of Russia. The Bolsheviks seized the opportunity of national discontent and their revolution broke out in 1917. Russia became as godless as the Emperor’s closest adviser.

Misunderstanding the nature of God’s grace can lead to all kinds of problems, which Paul refutes in Romans 6.

2. An answer to two questions, vs. 1—4

With the beginning of chapter 6, Paul picks up a line of thought he began back in 5:20—

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…

We can imagine how some might interpret a statement like that! As if to head off any misunderstanding of what he was teaching, Paul asks the obvious question:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (vs. 1)

This, of course, was the fatal flaw in Rasputin’s thinking. It’s a good question to ask, though, because it explains a fundamental truth about grace that isn’t always obvious. To answer the question, Paul exclaimed using a favorite Greek phrase of every student of that language: me genoito. The reason we all like me genoito is because it can mean so many different things:

  • Not at all!
  • Certainly not!
  • By no means!
  • Never!
  • Absolutely not!
  • May I never!

The sense of me genoito is obvious: “No way!” There is no way that Paul means to say that the more you sin, the better it is. After getting their attention, Paul warns the Roman church:

By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (vs. 2)

The two tenses of the verbs in verse 2 are important to note:

  • We died to sin. “Died” is in the aorist tense, indicating a past, completed action.

  • How can we live in it any longer? “Live” is in the future tense, suggesting an ongoing, habitual action.

The NIV’s translation here is, perhaps not the best. Eugene Peterson paraphrased verse 2 in a way that brings out the tenses using a clever word-picture:

If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

The NIV of 1984 leaves out a very important word that the NIV of 2010 has included:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 1984

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 2010

It’s a minor point, but an important one. The word left out in the older NIV is a specialized Greek form of “who.” The sense of the phrase is this: We who are true believers, we have died. The suggestion is that there may be those who call themselves Christians or who are at best nominal Christians who have not died to sin. The fact is, to be a true Christian means to have died to sin. Therefore, it is a moral contradiction for a Christian to remain living in sin, when he has, supposedly, died to it.

But, what does it mean to have died to sin? To answer this question, Paul uses the example of the believer’s baptism:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (vs. 3, 4)

Here is Paul’s theology of water baptism, for this is the baptism to which he is referring. Notice he begins with “don’t you know.” The idea he is conveying is that it was the norm for Christians to be baptized in water; it was something each and every member of the Roman church would be familiar with because they would have experienced it firsthand. For the Christian, water baptism is not an optional experience.

The ordinance of water baptism, though not spiritually efficacious in any way, demonstrates outwardly in dramatic fashion an inward truth. To be baptized into the name of Christ means to be baptized, or placed, into union with Christ. It means to be dedicated to Him, and it means to participate in all that Christ is and has done.

To be baptized into Christ also means to be “baptized into his death.” When Christ died, He died to sin. His death literally cut Him off from all further contact with sin. Our water baptism demonstrates that we, like Jesus, have been cut off from sin. What that means precisely is covered in the next verses.

3. Killing my old man, vs. 5, 6

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (vs. 5)

The phrase “united with him” comes from the Greek symphutoi, which means literally, “grown together.” The sense of the word is that of “grafting,” as in a tree graft, or a “vital joining together” or “fusing.”  The believer has been “glued” to Jesus; our identification with Him is that complete.

Paul is still using the water baptism metaphor to illustrate a spiritual truth. Clearly, the believer didn’t die when Christ died, nor does he die at his baptism. He also won’t rise from the dead in the future the way Christ was resurrected. Paul’s point in verse 5 is actually must simpler than most people think. Water baptism is designed to show to the whole world that a change has occurred within the believer that is as radical as Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (vs. 6)

Believers have been freed from sin because they have been crucified with Christ; that is, just as Christ severed all contact with sin when He died, so sin’s constant contact with us has been severed. Only one thing can free a man from the temptation to sin: death. The highway of sin leads to one destination: death. The only way to get off that highway is to die before reaching the end of it. Now, obviously, believers haven’t really died; we’re all very much alive. What is verse 6 teaching? What is “our old self?” All those who have identified with the death and resurrection of Christ—believers, “glued to Him”—still have the potential to sin, but no longer the obligation to sin. Identification with Christ through faith, demonstrated by water baptism, does nothing to free one from the possibility of sinning, but it does free one from having to sin.

If we look at what Paul is saying in verse 6, his point become crystal clear:

  • Our old self was crucified with Christ. Again, Paul is not saying a believer is given the ability to never sin, but the ability to say NO to sin.

  • The body of sin has been done away with. This refers to our tendency to sin. Obviously, this tendency has not been eradicated. The Greek word translated “done away with” is katargeo, which is a broad word that means anything from “abolish” to “render powerless” and everything in between. Kata means “according to” argeo means “to be idle,” the cessation of work or activity. But since that tendency was not eradicated, what happened to it? We know that we still have the tendency to sin, and even Paul did, because in verse 13 he encouraged the Roman Christians not to sin! The tendency to sin has not been eradicated, but it has been rendered powerless as we walk in God’s power.

  • We are no longer slaves to sin. This is how our “body of sin” as been rendered powerless. While old habits are hard to break, it is possible to NOT sin because believers are no longer bound to sin. We have total freedom to turn around and walk away from the temptation to sin.

What does it mean to be “freed from sin?” This is the tie which binds the first five chapters of Romans together. The Greek word is dikaio, one of Paul’s favorite words, which means “to justify”or “to pronounce righteous.” We have been “freed” or “justified” from our sins. We have been declared righteous in spite of our sins. Believers have been set free because the price for our sins has been paid for any Another. We have been provided with an off ramp on the highway to death because One went on ahead of us, making a way off the road that leads to death.

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