Posts Tagged 'Romans'



Theology of Romans: Justification, Part 1

Judges-gavel 

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.

REDEMPTION, PART 5

BETTER LIVING THROUGH BETTER THINKING

 

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.

HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN, PART TWO

HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN, PART 2

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

HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN

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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