A Survey of Romans, Part 5

The Terrible Twos

Romans 5:12—6:27

These two and half chapters contain some of the most intriguing theological concepts in the entire Bible and if these concepts can be understood properly, the child of God will understand why they struggle with sin and why they so often feel defeated in their walk with Christ.

1. Two Races, Two Heads, 5:12—21

The “therefore” at the beginning of verse 12 suggests that what Paul is about to write is connected with verses 1—11; through Christ, all believers have been justified and are now at peace with God. Salvation, then, is not something hoped for; it is something owned by believers and it is a present reality and a certainty. The moment a sinner receives and believes the Gospel, their responsibility as a child of Adam under God’s judgment is over. But also at that very moment, their responsibility as a child of God begins. The new believer now has a new nature that craves the things of God, and most new believers can’t seem to get enough of church, of Christian fellowship, and of the Bible. However, it isn’t too long into their new life in Christ that they realize something is very wrong; their old nature—their carnal nature—wasn’t removed or improved and it begins trying to gain control once again.

At this point, many a new believer has gotten discouraged and frustrated in their salvation; they may even begin to question whether they were truly ever saved or not! Often they try to fight the impulses of their old natures and experience defeat after defeat as they experience temptations too strong to be resisted in the flesh. Virtually every new believer has learned what Martin Luther’s good friend Philip Melanchthon discovered from bitter experience. He said—

Old Adam is too strong for the new Philip.

How does the Bible address this? The moment a person is justified by faith, their standing before God is forever changed. They have moved from being “in sin” to being “in Christ.” This has nothing to do with feelings or even experience. It is an accomplished fact from God’s perspective. That converted sinner is now a member of the New Creation, whose head is Jesus Christ. Once he was a member in good standing of the Old Creation, headed by Adam. But not any more thanks to what Jesus Christ did for them.

As chapter 5 illustrates, sin has been in the world dominating human beings since Adam fell; even since before there was a law to be broken, man was a law-breaker, violating the law of God written on their hearts. We know this because death is the result of lawlessness, and people have been dying since the time of Adam. From Adam to Moses, even without the law of God, death has been the end of life because, whether consciously or otherwise (as the case of infants or mentally challenged people), all human beings were in a state of rebellion against God, therefore all died because all were part of fallen race federally involved in Adam’s sin and possessing Adam’s nature. That thought adds a whole new meaning to Genesis 5:3—

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Man was originally created in God’s likeness, now every human being bears the likeness of his earthly father: Adam. And so everybody, like Adam, dies. Thus proving they are sinners.

However, at conversion, those “in Adam” are now seen as being “in Christ,” whether they are Jew or Gentile is irrelevant. The Adam-Christ contrast becomes crystal clear: where Adam’s sin brought condemnation upon the entire human race, Christ voluntary sacrifice of His life for His people brought justification. As powerful a force as sin may be, the grace of God in Christ Jesus is much more powerful. Notice what Paul wrote:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (5:20b)

The truly amazing thing about this grace is that it did not just offset sin and death, returning mankind to a state of “innocence” like that of Adam and Eve before the fall. In fact, grace changed death into a gain, substituted righteousness for sin, and everlasting life for death. We who have been the recipients of all this have a relationship with God that Adam never had before the fall. We have experienced love of the highest degree.

2. Two Masters, 6:1—23

Chapter six introduces a new line of thought, but it is an expansion of what Paul had been discussing in chapter five. Knowing human nature, Paul well knows the tendency of man to take advantage of a good situation, even to the extent of using God’s grace and forgiveness as a way to justify sin. In essence, Paul turns from one fruit of justification, peace with God, to another fruit, holiness (Hendriksen).

Paul’s premise is that the one who has been justified before God through faith is also one who has been sanctified by God (Barth, Greathouse). The new believer now has a new life in Christ; they have been freed from their bondage to sin through their union with Christ in His death and His resurrection. Now this person is able to do something previously impossible for them to do: live a life marked by holiness through total dedication and consecration to Jesus Christ. In other words, the new believer must through obedience live up to the new order of their new life. In their old life, they lived abandoned to sin, moving from sin to sin without thought. But now, in Christ, they are to live abandoned to His grace.

Paul illustrates the believers new life with an incident from Hebrew history, namely the Exodus and water baptism. In the first illustration, Paul shows that the Hebrews had been living in Egypt in servitude to the Pharaoh but when they followed Moses, he led them from Egypt, through the Dead Sea, into freedom. The children of Israel had once been “in Egypt” but because they followed Moses, they were “in Moses,” and they symbolically passed from death to life.

Similarly, we follow Jesus in the waters of baptism; we follow Him as He becomes our new leader, just as Moses became the Hebrews’ new leader when they followed him. In the believer’s baptism, we confess that we have died to our old life under Adam, under the dominion of sin; sin no longer has a claim on us because we are dead to sin. Now, coming up out of the water, is our opportunity to prove the spiritual truth of our new life by walking in the fullness of that new life. Therefore, all thought of sinning must be rejected in favor of holy living.

Paul drives his point of our death to sin home in verses 6 and 7—

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—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

The phrase “our old self” does not just refer to our old nature, rather, it is everything we were in the flesh—our old thoughts, attitudes, ambitions, and habits. That “old self” was crucified with Christ. When Jesus died, we died as well. But the scope of this thought is dizzying in its implications. Barrett comments—

In Colossians it is Christians who are told to put off the old man and to put on the new. Here in Romans Christians are told that they must consider themselves to be dead to sin and alive to God (v. 11). It much more accurate to say that the old man is Adam—or rather, ourselves in union with Christ.

Richardson makes the powerful observation that Christ’s death was “potentially the dying of the whole human race, just as His resurrection was potentially the re-creation of all mankind.”

The day Christ was crucified, how many other people were also? There were the two thieves on either side of Christ, making three. But remember what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20—

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.

So Paul was also there, making four. But, every believer is able to say they were there as well. It is no exaggeration to say that millions upon millions of sinners were seen by God as hanging with His Son on that cross. It was not just our sins that were dealt with that day, but ourselves as sinners, as fallen children of Adam.

However, we were not just seen as crucified with Christ; for Paul goes on to say in the rest of Galatians 2:20—

Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

And so it is with us. Godet writes:

The believer understands that the final object which God has in view in crucifying his old man (verse 6) is to realize in him the life of the Risen One (verses 8, 9), and he enters actively into the divine thought.

In other words, when we realize that we have died with Christ, we of necessity feel compelled to live holy lives through faith in Christ. The question all believers should seek an answer for is this: How do I live a holy life? The answer to that question is in the realization of two things. First, God does not want His redeemed people to struggle with their old natures. And second, practical victory over sin is not possible by fighting with our old natures. Holiness is possible only by the daily recognition of the truth that we are dead to sin.

Paul advises his readers to count themselves dead to sin. The word “count” can also be translated as “reckon,” and it means “count as true.” God declares that all believers died with Christ and now live a new life in Christ. We are to consider that as a true fact. There may be times when you don’t “feel” dead to your sins. Feelings have nothing whatsoever to do with your standing before God. You deliverance from sin is a finished, judicial fact. Christ’s death and resurrection is your death and resurrection whether you feel like it not.

Paul concludes chapter 6 with this famous verse:

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

Sin is, in one respect, a faithful master. He never fails to pay his slaves. His payday is sure and his wages are death. On the other hand, eternal life is a free gift from God. Not one human being can earn it. It is given to all who trust in Christ and it is ours now. We may begin enjoying eternal life in its fullness today.

3. Two Husbands, Two Natures, 7:1—6

Paul had already laid down that sin should not have dominion of the Christians, because the Christian is not under the law but under grace. Furthermore, since the Christian has died with Christ, they are also dead to sin and the law. To help his readers understand this concept of being dead to sin, Paul uses an illustration from marriage, as he did in other letters had wrote.

A woman who is married to her husband is legally bound to him in that relationship until death severs the tie. If she marries another man while her husband is still living she becomes an adulteress. But when the first husband is dead, she is free to marry another with no restrictions.

In a simple way, the apostle has illustrated that death has ended the relationship of the believer to the law—not the death of the law, because it is still very much alive—but the death of the believer with Christ. Believers are now free to be “married to another,” namely Jesus Christ.

Verse 6 serves to sum up this illustration—

[W]e have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

4. Two Laws, 7:7—25

Verse 7 asks a question: In view of the link between sin, law, and death, is the law bad? Is the law sin? Some thoughtless readers might assume that what Paul had just written meant that the law itself was bad, but he quickly adds this—

  • Certainly not! (vs. 7)
  • We know that the law is spiritual (vs. 14)
  • I delight in God’s law (vs. 22)
  • God’s law (vs. 25)

Far from being bad or sinful, the law is God’s holy law—it came from the heart and mind of God, so how can it be bad—that reveals sin in all its awfulness. This is something people need because by nature people are blissfully unaware of how sinful they really are. In fact, they are often more aware of how bad others may be!

The law, as Paul is illustrating, was given to man in the flesh, that is, our former state, but in Christ, our state has changed. Christians no longer live in the flesh, we now live in the Spirit, and so our relationship to the law has changed. The law now has a different purpose for the believer. No longer is the rule of life, it is now the detector of sin. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:

I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet. (vs. 7)

Knowledge of the law allowed Paul to detect the sin lurking within him. Apart from that law, the sin in him was dead, it was unrecognized. Sin was there before the law was given or known, but sin, that is, the sin nature, was not recognized until the law awakened it. Once a person found out that, to use the example Paul used, covetousness was a sin, they then would struggle to keep that under control. In the flesh, the more they would struggle to stop their coveting, the more they would seem to covet. The more they would covet, the more guilt they would feel for their sinfulness. This, Paul teaches, is exactly what the law was supposed to do. Understanding this, we can understand what Paul meant in verse 13—

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

The law, then, not only revealed the sin, but revealed the sin in all its evil.

Verses 14—25 describe the experience of many Christians throughout their lives. Every believer has experienced the inner conflict described in these verses, sometimes over and over and over again. And every believer will continue to experience this inner conflict as long as they try to live a life of holiness using their own grit and determination. The fact is, it is only when we stop trying to attain holiness from our own self-efforts that we may experience deliverance from our sinfulness through the Holy Spirit’s power within us.

We notice in this section of chapter 7 that Paul is writing in the first person singular, leading many scholars to assume that he is describing his own personal struggles. This may or may not the case, and in my mind the argument is spurious because what Paul describes in an experience common to every single Christian, himself included.

Paul finds no fault whatsoever in the law of God when it is allowed to do what it was supposed to do: expose the believer to the pollution of sin that remains in them despite their new birth. The law also reveals a stunning yet obvious truth about Christians: As long as we are living in this sinful world, we are basically carnal in spite of our best efforts to rise above the flesh.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. (vs. 14)

Being a genuine child of God, Paul hates the fact that he has this internal struggle. He describes this war within in slightly different terms in Galatians 5:17—

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

This understanding of his “human” nature also led Paul to conclude—

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:12—13)

Living up to the spiritual reality that our “old self” is dead requires diligence and a Herculean spiritual effort. It is a spiritual battle, yet many believers experience defeat because they fight it in the flesh. The holy law of God, from which no one is exempt, exposes the sin in our lives, and the very fact that we are faced with the inner struggle to do what is contrary to God’s will should fill us with courage to pursue holiness using all our spiritual resources: prayer through the Holy Spirit, a knowledge of the Word of God, and a total dedication to pleasing Him in all that we do.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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