Posts Tagged 'Justification'

By The Numbers, 6

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LESSONS FROM A LEVITE

Numbers 8:1 -14

Who were the Levites? Simply put, the Levites were part of the tribe of Levi. Numbers 8 deals with the cleansing of the Levites. Just as Numbers 6, the Nazarite chapter, dealt with the Nazarite vow and how the Nazarite was to live in light of that vow, so this chapter will tell us all about the Levites and how they were to live in light of their calling.

According to Numbers 8:15, this is what the Levites were to be doing:

After you have sanctified them and presented them in this way, they shall go in and out of the Tabernacle to do their work. (Numbers 8:15 TLB)

What kind of work did the Levites do in the Tabernacle? What kind of service did they render to the Lord? Was it a cold, legalistic, formulaic, liturgical kind of service? No, not at all! To think that is to completely miss three important facts. First, the Levites did their work in a place where God dwelt. Stop and think about that. These special people worked in the presence of the One who had promised to bless His people; the One who was leading them and feeding them; the One who was going to lead them into a land He promised to give them. A God who treats His people with such care and compassion could never be treated in a distant, robotic fashion. Second, to think that the Levites were only concerned about laws and movements and words dictated by mere rote is to miss the significance of Numbers 7:89 —

When Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with God, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the place of mercy over the Ark, between the statues of the two Guardian Angels. (TLB)

We’ve never heard the audible Voice of God. I haven’t and I’m reasonably sure you haven’t either. Of course, He speaks to us everyday as we pray or read and meditate on His Word, but Numbers is talking about the audible Voice of God. How would you react if you actually heard God speaking to directly to you? Wouldn’t you be a little more reverent? Wouldn’t you stand still and pay attention? The Levites did their work in the very place God spoke to His people. And finally, the first four verses of Numbers 8 is all about light.

Tell Aaron that when he lights the seven lamps in the lampstand, he is to set them so that they will throw their light forward. (Numbers 8:2 TLB)

The Levites would do their work in the warm glow of God’s divine presence and voice, not in the darkness and shadows of a cold, hard room.

Not just anybody could serve the Lord like this, only the Levites could. What made them so special? Let’s find out.

Levi the misfit, Genesis 49:5 – 7

Simeon and Levi are two of a kind. They are men of violence and injustice. O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans. For in their anger they murdered a man, and maimed oxen just for fun. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce and cruel. Therefore, I will scatter their descendants throughout Israel (TLB)

Levi was special. So special that his dying father, Jacob, called him and his brother “men of violence and injustice.” They were wicked, angry, scheming murders. Yet Levi’s descendants were given the singular blessing of acting as priests of God. In Levi and his descendants we see the grace of God. Yes, members of Levi’s family were scattered in Israel, but this was because they would, in time, be the priestly tribe. It was an act of God’s grace that took a social misfit and cruel person like Levi and made him the head of the priestly tribe!

But Levi is not the exception to the rule. In the New Testament, God’s grace is explained for us to understand:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NKJV)

Jesus didn’t die for the righteous, He died for the sinner! That’s who God calls and uses even today: the misfits, the troublemakers, the drunkards, the murderers.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen… (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28 NKJV)

God surprises us by using people we might just pass over. Remember this:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV)

God’s grace: How He works

God’s amazing grace sees a man, not as he is, but as he will be. Such was the case with Levi’s descendants, and such is the case with each one of us. God’s grace is always reaching out and calling the sinner to Himself. Consider again the Levites. They were:

Called, verse 6a

Take the Levites from among all the Israelites… (NIV)

The situation with the Levites was a little different than that of Nazarites. Remember, becoming a Nazarite was up to the individual Israelite. He or she would decide whether or not they wanted to become a Nazarite and for how long. But it was God who called the Levites to serve Him; it was God who decided who be His priests. The Levites prefigured the election of the Church; a body of “called out” believers – people called out and set apart from the rest of the world.

It’s an interesting trait of the Bible: many things in the New Testament are foreshadowed in the Old. In both the case of Levites and Nazarites, we see how God works with people. He calls and we respond.

Cleansed, verse 6b

…make them ceremonially clean. (NIV)

Those whom God calls, He prepares. The Levites had to be made clean, which implies they were not. The Levites had to be made both spiritually and personally prepared to do the work to which they were called. Only a holy people could engage in a holy work. Of special note is that this washing or cleansing was done for them; they didn’t do it themselves.

And the sinner doesn’t clean himself up, either.

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13, 14 NKJV)

This cleansing of the spirit is what God does for us. This act of God on our behalf is a practical reality, however, for it gives us a position and standing before God. In other words, while the Levitical priests were washed so that they could serve in the tabernacle, the sinner is washed by the blood of Christ so that he can stand in God’s presence completely justified. This is a profound change that took place at the moment of conversion. In addition, each and every born again believer now has a Divine power whereby he is enabled “to serve the living God.” What that means is this: not a single believer is able to serve God in his own strength any more than a single sinner is able to save himself.

Sanctified, verse 7

Do this by sprinkling water of purification upon them, then having them shave their entire bodies and wash their clothing and themselves. (TLB)

The Blood of Christ cleanses us. He purifies us because this is something nobody can do for themselves. This is God’s grace at work. But that doesn’t let us off the hook any more than the Levitical priests were absolved of any responsibility for cleaning themselves. Just as they had to wash themselves, so we have to work at staying clean as we walk through our lives. There’s sin all around us and we must be on our guard against letting it taint us. We have to take care to “shave off” any habit that might endanger our relationship with Christ. That’s our part of the sanctifying process.

Atoned For, verse 12

Next, the Levite leaders shall lay their hands upon the heads of the young bulls and offer them before the Lord; one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. (TLB)

Here’s something else no human being can do for themselves: make atonement for their sins. In very graphic fashion, the Levites learned that forgiveness of sins was made possible only through the process of substitution. Those offerings were given in place of the Levite.

It is only through substitution – Christ’s substitution for us – that we may be forgiven our sins and made ready to receive God’s grace. Jesus Christ was our “sin offering.” He was our substitute on the Cross. He was punished so we could be spared punishment.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. (Isaiah 53:10 TLB)

Consecrated, verse 13

Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. (TLB)

This is an interesting verse. Once an offering had been given to God for the Levite, the Levite himself had to be given to God. It’s no different for the Christian. Having been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, it’s up to us to yield ourselves to God.

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2 NET)

Like or not, we belong to God. We were bought with the Son’s Blood. This may rub some of the more independent-minded believers the wrong way, but it is true, nonetheless.

You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 6:19b – 20 GNB)

That last phrase, “use your bodies for God’s glory,” perfectly describes what real consecration is.

Onwed by God, verse 14

In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. (NIV)

The Levites were God’s property by His choice. They were His by grace. They were His by blood. Choice, grace, and blood. A three-fold cord cannot be easily broken.

A rope made of three cords is hard to break. (Ecclesiastes 4:12b GNB)

All these verses teach us the truth that God’s servants, be they Levitical priests or born again believers, must be pure in heart and sacrificial in spirit. God initiates the work in His people, but it’s up to us to keep it going. In the end, though, God demands undivided loyalty. The Levites were handpicked by God from among the population of Israel to serve Him. Christians have been handpicked by God out of the whole world to serve Him, too. And we belong to Him. Chosen by God. Saved by grace. Bought by the Blood of Jesus. Yes, the rope of three cords is not easily broken.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33 NIV)

Theology of Romans, Part 2

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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.

A Survey of Romans, Part 6

Romans 8: The Triumph of Grace, Part One

There are two views of Romans 8. Everett Harrison, late of Fuller Theological Seminary states one view so articulately, to change a word of paragraph would be criminal; he writes—

[Chapter 8] gathers up various strands of thought from the entire discussion of both justification and sanctification and ties them together with the crowning knot of glorification.

Harrison views this chapter as far more than just a remedy to the pitiful state of human beings as seen in chapter 7.

Others see chapter 8 and a continuation of chapter 7, providing exactly what Harrison wrote: the solution to the believer’s struggle against the flesh. That solution is walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A. Skevington Wood calls this chapter “the Pentecost of Romans.” Previously Paul had indicated that the love of God had been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in 5:5. Perhaps Paul had in mind something he knew from the words of Isaiah—

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)

The word “Spirit” in reference to the Holy Spirit occurs 20 times in this chapter. This fact had led Scottish Reformer John Knox to write:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating argument which began at 6:1 with the question “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

So, is it “glorification” or is it the Holy Spirit that is at the heart of Romans 8? Perhaps it is both, for the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies our human lives (1:17), but He is also the Pledge of our ultimate redemption (8:18—25). While we as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led believers may be delivered from the grasp of the flesh in this life, our bodies bear the scars of sin; we age, our health breaks down, and eventually we die. However, when Jesus Christ returns to consummate His New Age by the resurrection, our bodies will also be redeemed. Perhaps that is the theme of this whole chapter.

1. Link with chapter 7, 8:1—4

Properly, the first four verses of chapter 8 belong in chapter 7, linking the expression of hope as stated in 7:25—

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

In fact, it might be said that the first four verses of chapter 8 not only continue Paul’s declaration of hope, but also serve to sum up all the truth of the first half of Romans beginning with 5:12—

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

And so we have the astounding conclusion Paul comes to because of what Christ did for sinful man and continues to do through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Such a magnificent statement as verse 1 requires no qualifying clause; it does not depend on our feelings or even the steadiness of our walk. Not one single person in Christ stands condemned for God condemned sin in sinful man. If we are in Christ, God could no more condemn us that He could His own Son! Graphically, these points emerge from chapters 7 and 8:

  • While we were in the flesh, the law condemned us as sinners and we produced the fruit of that: death.
  • As believers, we have been delivered from the law because we are dead to the law as Christ died. We are now free to serve the Lord just as Christ rose to a His new resurrection life.
  • This new life in the Spirit is described in chapter 8, and the word NOW is the tie that binds 8:1 to 7:6:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we 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. (7:6)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (8:1)

This “condemnation” (katakrima) from which we have been freed is more of a “judicial acquittal.” In fact, those of us “in Christ” are not only no longer under the law, we are no longer “in the flesh.” Barth observed—

They do not have the disposition, the structure and the inclination of the flesh but of the Spirit.

That is not to say believers don’t struggle against their carnal natures, it means that believers have no business giving into their carnal natures. But when we do, there is no condemnation if we are truly in Christ; there is forgiveness and nothing else. Such a thought provides us with unspeakable relief. We may feel condemned, but we must objectively realize that Christians don’t live by our feelings but on the facts of the Word of God. God’s Word declares that God sees us in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of condemnation. John Murray comments:

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

If you are given to doubt because of feelings of unworthiness, and if Romans 8:1 fails to ignite your spirit, then look again to the risen Christ, who is no longer on the Cross where your sins put Him, and see yourself in Him, where God sees you. Christ is exalted at God’s right Hand in the glories of Heaven, where no sin can exist. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in Heaven, then there can no sin attached to you. Cecil’s majestic lyrics capture this thought—

Oh, the peace forever flowing

From God’s thoughts of His own Son,

Oh, the peace of simply knowing

On the cross that was all done.

Peace with God is Christ in glory,

God is light and God is love,

Jesus died to tell the story,

Foes to bring to God above.

Because of our new position of being “in Christ” before God, we are no longer “in the flesh” away from God. We are now free to devote ourselves to living for and pleasing God, not to appease Him in order to avoid judgment, but out of love and gratitude to Him who brought us out of our hopeless state and into a relationship of peace with Him. What the law, with all its admonitions and warnings could not accomplish, is made possible in the power of the new life by the Spirit, namely, a life of holiness. This new life is given to each believer and in the power of this new life they are called to walk. Paul would also write these words to help us understand how this new life possible:

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

The weakness of the law was the weakness of man; it demanded that which man, without Christ, could not possibly deliver for his nature is utterly perverted and corrupt. But the Holy Spirit has created a new nature in man and linked with this new nature and new life are new desires and affections that find fulfillment in the will of God, to which this new man responds in glad obedience.

2. Life in the Spirit, 8:5—11

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

The sentiments of verse 5 are echoed 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 do not do what you want.

The “sinful nature,” or kata sarka, “according to the flesh,” way of life completely inconsistent with “the Spirit,” or kata pneuma, “according to the Spirit.” So much so, that one who claims to be walking “in the Spirit” should be unable, on account of his new nature, to do anything according to his “sinful nature.” However, does our experience teach us something different? There is a very important distinction that must be noted. The life in the “sinful nature” (lived “according to the flesh) is a life of bondage. The new life “in the Spirit” (lived “according to the Spirit”) is one of freedom. And so, a person living in their “sinful nature” cannot please God (verse 8) and one “in the Spirit” still possess the freedom to sin (Galatians 5:1, 13).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)

This makes the warning of Romans 8:13 so relevant:

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

What our experience teaches us is that a life in the Spirit does not eliminate the possibility of sin, but instead gives the believer the ability to not sin. It is a choice we must make every day of our lives.

The reason our sinful natures had to be destroyed is made obvious in verses 7 and 8—

The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

The “flesh,” our old selves, can never be improved; the sinful nature in even the oldest, dearest saint in the church is evil. The carnal mind can never be reformed; this is something the law made clear. Those who are without Christ, no matter how wonderful and beneficent they seem, are carnal and they live according to their sinful natures, are wicked, evil and are enemies of God. But the believer, who is no longer “in the flesh,” is now able to please God. It is not just that believers are given the “disposition of Christ,” that is, all of a sudden they want only good and Godly things, for we know that isn’t necessarily true. It is that the Holy Spirit, sent from Christ to indwell every single member of His Church, produces a sense of conviction when a believer lapses into their old ways, and then draws them back into a desire to live according to the Spirit.

Let it be clear: it is the Holy Spirit alone who is the Source of our power for holiness. Our bodies give us no help in living a holy life whatsoever. In fact—

…your body is dead because of sin… (verse 10)

The body, that is, your carnal nature, is useless when it comes to producing any kind of holiness. It is dead. That does not mean your body is worthless, Paul makes the opposite clear in verse 11—

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Right now, our bodies are dead; not literally but judicially. In the court of Heaven, the Judge has declared our bodies dead; therefore we can’t expect any good from our bodies at all. Strength of character, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the Judge’s decision. He has declared the believer’s body dead. Eventually, it will be quickened, but it is not now. When Christ comes back, our bodies will be clothed with immortality—

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:52—54).

The body, in Pauline theology, is viewed as the vehicle through which the flesh acts. It is the responsibility of each believer to guard against from happening. Colossians 3:5 teaches—

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Having been crucified with Christ we are now in faith to live as though our bodies are dead to our former natures.

3. Obligations and privileges in the Spirit, 8:12—17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The fact that we have “an obligation” to live according to the Spirit tells us that we have freedom in Christ. This is the great privilege of all believers. We are not robots that mindlessly serve the Lord. We have a choice. In Christ, there is no spirit of bondage; He does not force His children to do anything. Far from being a spirit of bondage that fills us with fear and uncertainty, we are filled with a Spirit of Adoption or Sonship, verses 15 and 16. Hendriksen gives us an excellent summary of this passage, which he calles “Blessed Assurance.” In part, his summary is—

You who are being led by the Spirit are not slaves by children. Having been adopted as children, you, of course, are no longer filled with the spirit of slaves, that of dread. No longer are you oppressed with fear as you were when you were still living in paganism or in Judaism, with their emphasis on all the rules one has to keep in order to be saved. On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit, who transforms you into children, Who frees us with a sense of freedom and confidence, so that, in approaching God, we utter the cry of joyful recognition, sweet response, overwhelming gratitude and filial trust, “Abba!”

In regards to our adoption, the most widely held opinion is that Paul has in mind the practices of Roman adoption. This view is held because the Jews did not have a formal, legal adoption procedure. According to Roman law, adoption was not philanthropic but egocentric (Hendriksen). It was primarily practiced for the purpose of keeping property and financial/business concerns within the family. Legal adoption did not apply to females, only to males.

However, while in Jewish law and in the Old Testament in general, there was no legal adoption, there was practiced a kind of informal or “essential” adoption. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses. Modecai brought up his cousin, Esther. 2 Corinthians 6:17—18 speaks of a common Old Testament teaching, God’s adoption of His people:

“Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

That beautiful passage is reflected in numerous OT passages, 2 Samuel 7:8, 14; Ps. 27:10; Isa. 43:6; Hs. 1:10; etc.

It seems clear that when Paul uses the term “adoption” or “sonship” here, he is borrowing the word and the legal standing from Roman law, but the essence comes from God’s revelation of His adoption of His people taught throughout the Old Testament.

Those who are in Christ, who have become His sons and daughters, are now able to cry out “Abba, Father.” Jesus Himself used that double term made up of two languages, while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). This phrase is made up of words from two languages showing that all are one in Christ. “Abba” is an expression a child might use in reference to their father, and “Father” is a more mature term showing that young and old may approach God together; that there is no difference in God’s sight.

He Himself bears witness with our human spirit that we are God’s children. This is, in fact, one of two witness of this great spiritual reality. We received His witness to us as expressed in His Word—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:15—16)

And we receive His witness in us, as His Holy Spirit convinces us of our new state. He communes with our spirits; He illumines, instructs, and guides us through the Word.

What a marvelous privilege believers have in Christ! Assurance of salvation and an awareness of God’s constant presence and continual lovingkindness belong to us as we walk in the Spirit.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

A Survey of Romans, Part 2

1:1-18

As we begin our expositional survey of Romans, it would be good to recall the words of 2 Timothy 3:16—

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Even salutations are worthy of our attention.  In fact, Romans contains the longest of all Paul’s greetings.  Hendriksen offers the following chart of the comparative length of all Paul’s greetings from the original Greek:

1 Thessalonians  19
2 Thessalonians  27
Colossians  28
Ephesians 28/30
2 Timothy 29
Philippians 32
1 Timothy 32
2 Corinthians 41
Philemon 41
1 Corinthians 55
Titus 65
Galatians 75
Romans 93

So, given its length, we will spend a little extra time examining what Paul wrote in his salutation.

1.  Paul’s Credentials and Commission, 1:1

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.

As in all his letters, Paul introduces himself using his Roman name.  The first time he is referred to as “Paul,” as opposed to his Jewish name “Saul” occurred when he came in contact with a Roman official in Acts 13:6—12.  Prior to this encounter, the Biblical text always used his Jewish name.

The letter to the Romans begins like Titus, with Paul identifying himself as a doulos of Jesus Christ.   This Greek word is sometimes translated “slave,” but that suggests a forced, subservient position.  In Philippians 2:7 we read this of Christ’s relationship to the Father:

but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

In this passage, doulos describes that relationship, and we could hardly describe Christ’s relationship with God as “forced” and “subservient!”  A most precious truth is being communicated by Paul here.  Paul is describing himself, not as a slave who has no choice in the matter, but as a “bondman,” or “servant,” who, recognizing that he has been purchased by Christ, wholeheartedly serves Him in obedient gratitude for being set free from his bondage to sin and death.  Paul views his service to Christ as true freedom, as should we.  The Psalmist expressed it this way:

O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.  (Psalm 116:16)

But Paul was a servant of the Lord with a difference.  He was an “apostle.”  If doulos describes Paul’s commitment to Christ, then apostolos describes his authority.  In the Greek, the words “to be” are absent, and so the meaning of the sentence is “Paul, called an apostle.” It is a statement of the fact of his recognized authority:  he is called an apostle by all who knew him, including, but not limited to, God.

The use of the word “apostle” in the New Testament sheds some light on its exact meaning.  It is used ten times in the Gospels, thirty times in Acts, more than thirty times in the Pauline epistles, and eight times in the rest of the New Testament.  With few exceptions, it always refers to the Twelve and to Paul.  Apostles were always men, never women.  They were apostles for life and wherever they went.  An apostle was clothed in the authority of Christ, the One who sent him, and that authority covered matters of both doctrine and life.

The characteristics of full apostleship—the apostleship of the Twelve and of Paul only—were:

  • They were chosen, called, and sent forth by Christ Himself; they received their commission directly from Him (John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; Galatians 1:6).
  • They are qualified for their work by Jesus, and have been eye-witnesses of His words and work, especially of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:8, 21; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8, Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:2—8; 1 John 1:1—3).
  • They were endowed with the Holy Spirit in special measure (Matthew 10:20; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7—14; 20:22; 1 Corinthians 2:10—13; 7:40; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).
  • God blessed their work, confirming its value by means of signs and miracles (Matthew 10:1, 8; Acts 2:43; 3:2; 5:12—16; Romans 15:18—19; etc.).
  • Their office was not restricted to one local church, or did it last for a specified period of time.  Apostles were set by Christ for life and over the whole church (Acts 26:16—18; 2 Timothy 4:7—8).

Paul was a servant, an apostle, and he was “set apart for the gospel of God.”  This “separation” may be considered in different lights.  According to Galatians 1:15, Paul had been set apart for his work before he was born—

But when God, who set me apart from birth…

He is in good company, as the same thing was said of Moses, Jeremiah and John the Baptist.  But, though he was called by God to his ministry before his birth, Paul first had to learn from his weakness; he had to be brought face-to-face with both his wretched sinfulness and the unprofitableness of the flesh.  In God’s time, He had mercy on Paul, and he was set apart and called by grace.  But that was not the end of it.  Paul’s calling had to be recognized by the church as a whole; when it was, he was finally and actually “separated” with Barnabas for the specific work of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

So then, Paul’s credentials and his commission were descended directly from God, but recognized by the Church.

2.  The nature of the Gospel, 1:2—4

[T]he gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 2 is really parenthetical and it serves to link the Gospel with the Old Testament Scriptures, which would have pleased his Jewish-Christian readers.  But what he says about the Old Testament prophets is stunning, and was first preached by Peter:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  (Acts 10:42—43)

How powerful are the words of “the law and the prophets?”  Consider what Paul wrote to young Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

This Gospel which Paul carried with him was not new; it was neither a new law nor a new code of moral and ethical conduct.  It was not a new creed to be accepted,  or a new religion to observed.  It certainly was not just good advice to be followed.  The Gospel is a divinely appointed and ordained message concerning the Son of God. But the Gospel did not start with Matthew; according to Paul, it began in the Old Testament.  It begs the question:  would modern Christians discern the Gospel without the New Testament?

The phrase “by his resurrection from the dead” means literally “by resurrection of dead persons.”  In other words, Jesus Christ’s position as the Son of God was proved by His resurrection, but also the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, of the widow’s son and of Lazarus.

3.  The nature of the calling, 1:5—6

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ was the One, the only One, who could rob death of its power, eliminating the fear of death forever more.  From Him, the One who did that, Paul had received grace—not just “unmerited favor,” but favor against merit, for if anybody deserved the opposite of God’s grace it was surely Saul!

These verses briefly exposit Paul’s responsibility to proclaim the Gospel.  There are two common questions surrounding these verses.  The first one is:  Who is Paul referring to when he says “we received grace?”  Paul cannot be referring to himself and his readers because they were not apostles.  Paul is likely referring to himself and all the apostles.  The other question has to do with the phrase “all the Gentiles.”  What is Paul referring to?  Given his commission to be the “apostle to the Gentiles,” he is likely referring to his sphere of ministry.  However, that phrase can also be rendered “all the nations” (ESV and others), and that would include Israel; therefore, the “we” would include all the apostles, even those who labored only in Jerusalem.

The response Paul wants to the message he brings is “obedience that comes from faith.”  That sums up the nature of Paul’s calling; his sole purpose in preaching the Gospel was to bring people to that response.  This obedience is based on faith and comes from faith.  Faith and obedience are literally two sides of one coin; they are inseparable.  Faith cannot exist without obedience and obedience is rooted in faith.  In fact, in the Dutch language our words “faith” and “obedience” are sometimes combined into one word, geloofsgehoorzaameid.

Paul for his part offers two synonymous passages in this very epistle that show “faith” and “obedience” were the same thing to him:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.  (Romans 1:8)

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  (Romans 16:19)

However, while they are synonymous terms, we must understand that we are not saved by merely obeying a set of doctrines or theological principles.  We are saved, wrote Barnhouse, “in order to surrender our lives to Christ.”  We are to become His servants, separated from this world unto Him.  Moule wrote:

Self-surrender taken alone is a plunge into a cold void.  When it is a surrender to the ‘Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ it is the bright homecoming of the soul to the seat and sphere of life and power.

Faith is not merely agreeing to orthodox doctrines in one’s head; it is actively living out those doctrines in day-to-day life.  Obedience in not just doing things blindly without understanding why; it is action combined with knowledge.   The songwriter put it best when he wrote:

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, and the joy He bestows,
Are for those who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

4.  The true state of believers, 1:7

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul gets around to his actual greeting, “Grace and peace.”  The significant thing about this single verse, though, is the phrase “called to be his holy people.”  The Greek is kletois hagiois, the English “to be” is omitted, making the phrase even more powerful:  “called saints.”  On this point, Godet has noted that “called saints has quite another meaning from called to be saints (which would assume that they were not so).  The meaning is saints by way of calling.” Christians, not just those in Rome, are already saints—holy people—at the moment of conversion.

The basic meaning of sainthood is separation.  The saints of God are those who have been separated by God from the rest of the world.  An Old Testament reference in helpful in this:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.  (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Beet observed:

[The Christians in Rome] were men whom God had claimed for Himself.  They might be carnal like the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:3), but like the Corinthians they were still sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).

This separation is done by God, not by ourselves; we do not separate, God separates us.

It should be noted, however, that saints are not only separated, but they are also purified.  Nygren makes the valid point that all sin is utterly opposed to holiness.  This being the case, God’s holiness makes Him completely intolerant of sin “because sin robs Him of that which His holiness demands.  Only the holy (the saints) are pure, and only the pure are holy.” The purification of the saints—our purification—begins at our conversion.    What that means is simply this:  All saints—all born-again Christians—are purified from sin in the sense that God’s claims upon them have broken the reign of sin in their lives.  But the root of sin grows deep, and all true saints of God long to have the root of sin completely removed from their being.   This is accomplished, not through anything we may do, but through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who is within each and ever believer.  It is only as we daily yield ourselves to Him in decisive dedication and consecration that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

5.  Paul and the church at Rome, 1:8—15

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.  God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

It is obvious that the church at Rome had been there for some time, probably many, many years before this letter was written since their faith was, apparently, legendary.   This must have been impressive to Paul—

Paul knows nothing of a faith which is so concealed nothing of it is visible.  The world speaks of the faith of the Roman brethren, and this calls for gratitude. (Emil Brunner)

There is no inkling or hint that this assembly was the result of apostolic ministry; both Scripture and history are mute as to how the Roman church was established.  The Roman Catholic notion that Peter started it is, as has been noted by some scholars, “twaddle.”  We have no way of knowing whether any apostle ever visited Rome until Paul himself finally got there in chains.

Paul tells them that he longed to visit them, not just meet them and fellowship with them personally, but also to give them a “spiritual gift.”  He does not say what that gift might have been, although he probably does not have in mind any of the charismatic gifts (1 Corinthians 12).  Since he immediately follows that statement with mentioning a mutual encouragement based on fellowship with them, it seems likely this is what the apostle has in mind, a mutual upbuilding resulting from fellowship.  E. F. Harrison remarks—

Faith is basically one, but to see it at work in one individual after another, in various ways, adds zest to Christian fellowship.  Paul himself needed this.

As he prayed constantly for the Romans, so Paul planned to visit them many times, but was providentially hindered from carrying those plans time after time.

6.  Paul’s debt, 1:14—15

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

Paul looks forward to his visit, but he also considers it to be an obligation.  Why an obligation?  First he was Christ’s servant and as such, he had obligated himself to do his Master’s will, and second he had been given a commission to take the gospel to all people.

Even though an obligation, notice the apostle’s attitude: he was eager.  How many believers today view their obligations to God with eagerness?  All too often we see our Christian duties as a burden, a “cross to bear” and a duty to accomplish.  This is such a timely message for preacher and layperson alike.  A preacher may have great skill and a keen intellect and may be able to prepare astonishing sermons, but without eagerness and zeal in presenting it, his words will yield very little.  Living your faith at home or at work with no excitement or joy would inspire no one to want what you have.

But Paul had a marvelous perspective on his ministry; it was real to him and it impacted his whole life:

If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  (1 Corinthians 9:17)
Either way, he was doing the Lord’s will, but we learn there is a better way to it.

7.  Not ashamed, 1:16—17

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Verse 17 means much more than some think.  Usually this verse is preached to encourage Christians to share their faith unashamedly.  Certainly Paul did not blush to be called a Christian, and we know that he was always boldly proclaimed the Gospel wherever he went; nobody or no situation intimidated him.   But to Paul, the Gospel was not just an idea, but an inspired plan for the salvation of all people.  It was a divinely revealed system of truth that transcended all man’s philosophies.  Paul was committed to the Gospel and he was prepared to defend it even if it meant his death.

Darby’s translation of verse provides a different slant:

for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, But the just shall live by faith.

The Gospel is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  It meets every need a human being can ever have—mental, spiritual, and emotional.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, as Darby translated, “on the principle of faith, to faith according to faith.”  The benefit of the Gospel—it’s inherent power to change lives—is appropriated on the basis of faith alone.  That is, only those with faith are able to access the power of the Gospel.  In other words, the Gospel is not a doctrine of salvation (or help) by works, but rather a proclamation of salvation by faith alone.  This concept was so obvious and elemental to Paul that he says even a prophet who lived centuries ago recognized it.

Verse 17, then, is the quintessence of God’s plan.  It formed Augustine’s theology.  It was the key that opened the door of liberty to Luther.  It has become the spark that ignites the fires of revival.  The Gospel cannot be understood apart from faith.  No heart untouched by the Holy Spirit can ever receive the full measure of God’s truth.  It is faith saves, faith that leads, faith that sustains.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd


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