Reasoning Through Romans
By: Mark Miller
Christ’s Church in the Clark Fork
3020 1/2 South Ave, Missoula MT
Inner Man Radio
Romans Chapter 1
Romans 1:1-4 - Twice a King
Romans 1:5-7 - Obedience of Faith
Romans 1:8 - World-Wide Proclamation
Romans 1:9 - Spiritual Service
Romans 1:10 - Prayer Opens Doors
Romans 1:11-13 - The Other’s Faith
Romans 1:14-16 - The Gospel
Romans 1:16-17 - Righteousness Revealed
Romans 1:18 - The Descent of Man
Romans 1:18-19 - Mankind Descending
Romans 1:21-28 - Rejection of God
Romans 1:21-28 - A Warped Mind
Romans 1:18-32 - Wrath of God
Romans Chapter 2
Romans 2:1-5 - Danger of Hypocrisy
Romans 2:6 - According to his Deeds
Romans 2:11 - Without Partiality
Romans 2:14-16 - Two Laws
Romans 2:17-24 - "Keeping" the Law
Romans 2:25-29 - The Value of Circumcision
Romans Chapter 3
Romans 3:1-3 - Jewish Advantage
Romans 3:3-8 - Let God Be Found True
Romans 3:9-19 - None Righteous – Not One
Romans 3:19 - Knowledge of Sin I
Romans 3:19-20 - Knowledge of Sin II
Romans 3:21-26 - Introducing Righteousness
Romans 3:31 - Faith Establishes the Law
Romans 3:27-4:5 - Where is Boasting?
Romans Chapter 4
Romans 4:1-4 - Abraham’s Discovery
Romans 4:5-8 - Gifts or Wages?
Romans 4:9-12 - Righteous While Uncircumcised
Romans 4:9-12 - Father of the Promise
Romans 4:13-14 - By Promise or Law
Romans 4:15-16 - No Violation
Romans 4:17-20 - Hope Against Hope
Romans 4:22-25 - Our Sake Also
Romans Chapter 5
Romans 5:1-3 - By Faith
Romans 5:1-3 - Exult In Tribulations
Romans 5:6-8 – Faith of God
Romans 5:9-11 – Saved by His Life
Romans 5:9-11 – Sin Enters the World
Romans 5:15-19 – Free Gift vs. Transgression
Romans 5:20-21 - Antidote for Sin
Romans Chapter 6
Romans 6:1-2 - Shall Grace Increase?
Romans 6:3-5 – With Christ
Romans 6:3-10 – Freed From Sin
Romans 6:11-16 – Two Masters
Romans 6:16-18 - Obedient from the Heart
Romans 6:17 - Knowing the Heart
Romans 6:18-19 – Perpetual Cycle
Romans 6:20-23 – Dubious Benefit
Romans Chapter 7
Romans 7:1-6 - Law-ful Marriage
Romans 7:7-13 - You Shall Not
Romans 7:7-13 – Sin and Death
Romans 7:14-25 – Bondage to Sin
Romans 7:14-25 – Inconsistencies
Romans 7:14-25 – Two Solutions
Romans Chapter 8
Romans 8:1-2 - No Condemnation
Romans 8:3-4 – Weakness of the Law
Romans 8:5-8 – Setting the Mind
Romans 8:9 – In Flesh or Spirit
Romans 8:9 – Belonging to Christ
Romans 8:10-11 - Life-Giving Spirit
Romans 8:12-13 - Change of State
Romans 8:14 – Led by the Spirit
Romans 8:14-17 – Sons of God
Romans 8:14-17 – Revealing of God’s Sons
Romans 8:19-23 - Longing of Creation
Romans 8:19-23 - Freedom of Creation
Romans 8:23-25 - Adoption and Redemption
Romans 8:26-28 - Spirit’s Intercession
Romans 8:27-30 - His Purpose
Romans 8:27-30 - His Purpose II
Romans 8:31-32 – If God is for us
Romans 8:33-35 - Who Accuses?
Romans 8:33-35 - Who Condemns?
Romans 8:35-38 - What Separates?
Romans Chapter 9
Romans 9:1-5 - Kinsmen of the flesh
Romans 9:6-8 - God’s Word Failed?
Romans 9:9-13 – Jacob, Esau and Election
Romans 9:15-16 - God’s Choice and Ours
Romans 9:16-17 – Hardening of Pharaoh
Romans 9:21-23 – Vessels for Glory
Romans 9:24-26 – My People
Romans 9:27-29 – The Remnant
Romans 9:30-31 – A Righteous Gentile
Romans 9:32-33 – Rock of Offense
Romans Chapter 10
Romans 10:1-3 - Zeal for the Law
Romans 10:4-5 - Achilles and the Law
Romans 10:6-8 – Earning Salvation
Romans 10:8-10 – Word of Faith
Romans 10:11-13 - Calling on The Lord
Romans 10:14-15 - How Shall they Call?
Romans 10:15 - What Beautiful Feet
Romans 10:16 - Heed the Gospel
Romans 10:17 - Hearing with Faith
Romans 10:17 - Ends of the World
Romans 10:19-21 - God Makes Jealous
Romans Chapter 11
Romans 11:1-4 - The Remnant
Romans 11:5-10 - Spirit of Stupor
Romans 11:5-10 - Jealous of Gentiles
Romans 11:16-24 - Kindness and Severity
Romans 11:25-27 – Hope for Israel
Romans 11:25-27 – All Israel
Romans Chapter 12
Romans 12:1-2 - Living Sacrifice
Romans 12:1-2 - Conformed vs Transformed
Romans 12:1-2 - Sound Judgment
Romans 12:4-6 - Body Parts
Romans 12:6-8 - Finding Your Gift
Romans 12:7 - If Service, in His Serving
Romans 12:7 - Or in His Teaching
Romans reads more like a courtroom transcript than a book of the Bible. In writing his letter to the Roman congregation, the apostle Paul borrows from his previous experience as a Pharisee of the Jewish Law trained in legal argument. He does not defend the Jewish system, but instead sues for freedom in Christ. The Gospel itself is on trial, and Paul becomes counselor to both parties: stating propositions, raising objections, and countering arguments to make a case for freedom in Christ. Paul’s hypothetical courtroom provides us with not only a positive statement of what to believe, but also how it ought to be defended. Romans therefore sets the faith precedent for Christianity as confirmed through the case history provided by its sister work - the book of Acts. In tandem the pair form the foundation of our doctrinal understanding; Romans states in principle what Acts confirms in practice. Christians require a working understanding of them both.
At the time Romans is written, Paul is concluding his third missionary journey. He has already collected the Gentile’s gift from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia which he plans to deliver to Jerusalem presently. (Romans 15:24-25) It is likely that the letter itself is written in Corinth since Gaius - the name of one of Paul’s personal converts in the Corinthian congregation. (I Corinthians 1:14) - is mentioned as host to Paul and the church along with Erastus, the city treasurer. (Romans 16:23) A 1929 archaeological discovery in Corinth confirmed there was indeed an, "Erastus, Procurator and Aedile [treasurer] …” there. Finally, the letter is sent with a recommendation to receive and help “our sister Phoebe” from the church at Cenchrea - a port city suburb of Corinth. (Romans 16:1-2) It is therefore likely that she is the carrier of Paul's letter to Rome.
Paul addresses his letter, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…” (Romans 1:7) and lists himself as the sender - “a bondservant of Christ Jesus.” (Romans 1:1) Paul had not yet traveled to Rome, but his desire to visit the city is abundantly clear in verses 10, 13, and 15 of chapter one. He was nonetheless familiar with several of the saints there, specifically Aquilla and Priscilla his tent-making companions when originally in Corinth. Those two were first from Rome, but were displaced when Emperor Claudius demanded that the Jews leave the city. (Acts 18:2) After meeting Paul in Corinth and becoming Christians, they went with him to Ephesus, where they remained, though Paul continued on to Jerusalem and Antioch. By the time of Paul’s writing to the Romans, it seems the duo found themselves back in the familiar setting of the royal city and Paul greets them by name as well as Epaenetus whom he refers to as the first convert to Christ from Asia. (Romans 16:5) Asia is where Ephesus was located, and thus it is likely that Epaenetus had become acquainted with Aquilla and Priscilla there and went with them to Rome when they left Ephesus. (Romans 16:3-5)
Paul is eager to preach the Gospel in Rome (Romans 1:16), but he has another motive for the trip. “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.“ (Romans 1:11-12) Though Aquilla, Priscilla, and Epaenetus would probably have received spiritual gifts through Paul’s hands previously, the rest of the brethren in Rome apparently had not received them. Paul was eager therefore to impart those gifts to establish the Church there and share in the encouragement of the saints.
Similarly, the Roman letter works to establish our faith. Paul begins with the character of God and His divine revelation provided in the Old Testament and methodically proceeds to establish our faith on the basis of reason. With the present cultural attacks on faith and reason - the twin pillars of Western civilization - growing almost daily, the book of Romans remains indispensable.
For the benefit of those in Rome who had not previously become acquainted with Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles wastes no time before introducing himself. He identifies his person, his position and his purpose, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1) It is that Gospel - the glad tidings of righteousness by faith - that forms the heart of his letter to Rome and the motive of his ministry. (Romans 1:14-16) Paul describes three of its characteristics: it was promised beforehand, it had caused men like Paul to be set apart for its purpose, and it concerns God’s Son. (Romans 1:1-2)
The Gospel had indeed been promised long before; Abraham heard it when God said, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:8) The father of the faithful would play a major role in its revelation, as we shall see in Romans 4, but the good news preexisted Abraham from eternity. It is the holy calling “…which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Timothy 1:9-10)
The prophets also were witness to the good news preached in many portions and many ways. Though they made careful search and inquiry, the glorious details of that message would not be fully revealed until the coming of Christ. King David received such a glimpse when God spoke through Samuel saying, “I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (II Samuel 7:12-13) Thus David also would be a father to God’s Son. “concerning His [God’s] Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3) The unshakeable promise to David, is confirmed by other prophets, notably Jeremiah in 33:14-21.
The line of David was significant for it was the key to Israel’s throne. This fact was not lost on the folks of Jesus’ day who wondered aloud if the prophet from Nazareth could be the awaited Messiah (Matthew 12:23) Later, when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, they were ecstatic over the possibility that David’s heir had finally come. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:6) As the son of David, Jesus is heir to the throne of Israel.
Another paternity however, takes precedence, for though Jesus’ fleshly birth makes Him David’s son, (Matthew 1:1) another grants Him a greater claim and we must raise our understanding from the manger of Bethlehem. Our text reads, “who [Jesus] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4) Jesus’ resurrection is a birth of another kind. Colossians calls Him the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:14) and then defines the title by adding “…He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18)
The second birth of Christ is the first of its kind - a birth from the dead. Even still, however, our understanding of this second birth must rise still higher, for we will note that a handful of others were raised from fleshly death prior to our Lord’s resurrection - including several by His own hand. Here, Romans again enlightens, “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” (Romans 6:10) Jesus’ resurrection - though demonstrated through His empty tomb - was much more; it is a re-animation of a spiritual sort, for the death that He died was to sin. Therefore, His resurrection was a spiritual raising from a state of death in sin to a life of righteousness in God. This point cannot be overstressed as it is the foundation of our redemption and the template for our life in Christ.
Romans brings both those births together describing Christ as the Son of David and of God. He is therefore heir to David’s throne as well as the rightful ruler of heaven. “And so, because he [David] was a prophet, and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS UPON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30-31)
It almost sounds like a contradiction to the modern ear - obedience of faith. Too often, christendom keeps the elements of obedience and faith separated as if one might nullify the other and both somehow could be lost. In fact, just the opposite is true; obedience and faith are mutually affirming rather than exclusive and only together is either one made whole. In this case also it is true, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:9)
Paul is pleased to point out that it is this very thing, the obedience of faith, for which he has been selected and supported in his ministry. He writes that through Christ, “…we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:5-6)
Though it was his aim, Paul's goal of effecting faithful obedience was outside his direct control. The responsibility for faith - and its resulting action - fall squarely on the hearer. Thus, like a vigilant watchman, Paul was the trumpet of God’s call to the Gentiles, that their blood - should they ignore His calling - would be upon their own heads. (Ezekiel 33:4)
The Saints in Rome had heard and answered that call. “among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:6-7) The term, “call” is defined by its use in the Scriptures. II Timothy 1:8-10 refer to God’s holy calling granted from all eternity and now revealed through Christ, but God’s call is even more defined by the second Thessalonian letter. “And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 2:14) The call of God is nothing other than the Gospel which many have heard, but relatively few have accepted. “many are called, but few are chosen” (Mathew 22:14)
Those few have chosen well, for it is the responsibility of the hearers to add faith and therefore action to their hearing. “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (II Peter 1:10) Notice that we are instructed to ensure God’s calling and choosing. God calls all men through the Gospel - the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ - and He chooses to redeem those who respond by calling on His name in return through baptism - their death, burial, and resurrection - (Acts 2:21,38 & 22:16) thus adding obedience to faith.
The Roman Christians’ faithful obedience to the Gospel call had changed both their position before God and His expectations of them. “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…” (Romans 1:7) In God’s eyes (and His are the only eyes that count) the folks in Rome who had believed the message and responded were beloved to Him and He considered them sanctified (saints). But God’s call doesn’t stop there. The upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14) beckons us ever higher following the source of that call. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1) How ought the called to walk? Naturally, they should walk in the likeness of Him who called them, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. “ (II Peter 1:3)
After his initial salutation, the apostle Paul is quick to give thanks for the Roman congregation to whom he addressed his letter. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Romans 1:8) Paul was grateful for their personal faith, but on a larger level the preacher was appreciative through Christ that their faith was spreading…across the world.
The preaching of the Gospel to all the world was a major step in the developing plan of God as it is a prerequisite for other events. Most notably, the Lord Himself confirmed the necessity of such a global proclamation before the end. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matthew 24:14) Sadly this verse is often misinterpreted to mean that the Lord cannot yet return because the whole world has not heard the message of Christ.
This is mistaken on two counts. First, Paul said the Gospel was already being preached throughout the whole world! (Romans 1:8) Secondly, the end to which Jesus referred in this context is not His second coming. Verse 14 is spoken amidst Jesus’ discussion of the events that would spell the end for the Jewish nation. The Jerusalem tribulation of 66-70 AD characterized by false christs, political unrest and localized Judean hardship is the backdrop against which Jesus spoke. Therefore, before Jerusalem could fall, and the Jewish religion would be swept away, all nations would hear the Gospel. But why is that important?
God has always taken an interest in how He is perceived among the nations. If Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed, and the religion cut off, might not the nations think that the God of Israel also had finally been overcome? The Gospel message made it clear everywhere it was preached that Israel’s God was not defeated, rather He was justifiably angry with the Jews for their role in Jesus’ death. (Acts 3:13-15, 4:10-12, etc) Their destruction therefore was deserved and divine. Even the Gentiles recognized God’s justice. General Titus, who had conquered the city, refused a laurel of victory on the grounds that the Jews had been “forsaken by their God” and Mara Bar Serapion, a Syrian writer after 70 AD, cited the Jew’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion as the cause of their demise. “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.”
Just as the Gospel made the Jews liable for their crimes, it also called the Gentiles to account. Previously the nations had been at liberty to indulge the bliss of ignorance, but the resurrection removed that excuse. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) Through the message of the resurrection - the Gospel, Yahweh removed any doubt as to the identity of the true God, announced the presence of, and the solution for sin, and called mankind to repentance.
That call continues to reverberate its message of accountability and redemption throughout the world when honest men and women again give voice to the word of the cross in harmony with those who came before. “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.” (Romans 10:18-19)
Even the little things in the Scripture often turn out to be significant. Romans 1:9 is just such a verse: “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you” Paul’s primary thought centers around his unceasing prayers on their behalf and his hope to visit the saints in Rome. It’s only in passing that the apostle comments on the nature of his service to God, but it provides us with a valuable insight into the nature of our service as well.
Occasionally someone will try to categorize worship and service as spiritual and physical respectively. Though this has some merit, it is an oversimplification of the issue, and devalues the latter. Worship is translated from the Greek word “proskyneo” which is a construction of two elements: pros (toward) and kuneó (to kiss). Thus to worship God is literally to kiss towards Him as one might kiss the ground in prostrate obeisance. We might also describe worship then as affectionate reverence not unlike the reverence Sarah willingly gave to Abraham when she submitted herself calling him lord. (I Peter 3:6)
As the spiritual bride of Christ, our affectionate reverence, our worship, must also be spiritual just as Jesus confirmed to the Samaritan woman when He said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) But if our worship is to be spiritual, what ought our service to be?
When speaking to the Athenian pagans, Paul attempted to find some common ground to bridge their understanding to the one true God. “The God who made the world…” he said, “does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything…” (Acts 17:24-25) The same message that went to Paul’s Gentiles, had first been heard by recalcitrant Jews. Stephen said, “‘Heaven is My Throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord; ‘or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?’” (Acts 7:49-50) Since neither physical temples nor physical service are fitting for the God who made all things, how then ought He to be served?
Christians present their bodies in service as living sacrifices, holy and well-pleasing to God By the renewing of their minds, they demonstrate the good, acceptable and perfect will of God through their behavior. (Romans 12:1-2) Thus we find that our service to God has both physical and spiritual elements. Is prayer a physical or spiritual exercise? Though the nature of prayer is spiritual, it spills over into the realm of flesh since our bodies participate in the process and our daily calendars must accommodate its practice.
We find the same principle at work in all our Christian ministrations. Our service is not merely physical, but spiritual in nature, since our spiritual priesthood replaced the physical one. Consider Paul, who was called, “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:16) His preaching certainly required physical effort as he walked, sailed, spoke, worked, was beaten, etc, but the essence of that sacrifice was spiritual.
Our sacrifices likewise require a spiritual focus. Though we labor in the flesh, it is a spiritual offering that we present to God, when we praise Him, give thanks, and do good, for with such spiritual sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15-16)
Paul hadn’t even begun to make his case for righteousness through faith in Christ when he addressed the Roman saints in the opening of his letter. Nevertheless, there are pearls in his salutation for those snuffing about in search of wisdom. One such gem is the apostle’s brief allusion to his custom on their behalf. “always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you” (Romans 1:10)
Paul had intended for some time to travel to Rome and encourage the saints there, and even though he was not one to vacillate between yes and no, his plans had not come to fruition. He wrote, “And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far)” (Romans 1:13) Paul had been diligent to plan his way, but understood ultimately the Lord directed his steps, (Proverbs 16:9) for his plans had been altered more than once.
On his second missionary journey, Paul and Silas tried repeatedly to reach Asia but were not allowed. The Holy Spirit forbade them from entering that Roman province, neither did He permit the two entry into Bithynia. “And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;” (Acts 16:6-7) Later, he wrote to the saints in Thessalonica, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan thwarted us.” (I Thessalonians 2:18) For reasons known best to God, the steps of Paul’s feet were directed contrary to the plans of his heart. The Lord was responsible for Paul’s itinerary and he arrived with the Gospel right on schedule.
Paul was aware that he operated on the Lord’s timetable and by divine leave. His prayers sought heaven’s help to open doors he could not. Paul prayed specifically to be granted opportunity for the Gospel, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;” (Colossians 4:3) and he recognized that such doors opened by God’s hand. “And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27)
God does the heavy lifting. As with all matters of faith, God works in tandem with our participation. When we do our part, the Lord does His and the results are miraculous. Prayer, immersion, repentance, and even evangelism follow this pattern: when our faith leads us to action, the Lord blesses our efforts and it becomes much more than we could have hoped. Think loaves and fishes.
The early Church understood this well as they faced the challenge of how to continue spreading the Gospel effectively. As the congregation in Jerusalem grew, so did the needs of its members. The responsibility of ensuring that the widows were cared for had become a burden to the twelve, who said, “…It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2) After delegating that task, the apostles set themselves to the task of discipleship, but note their description. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4) In order to avoid neglecting the word of God two things were necessary. The responsibility of preaching fell to the apostles, but prayer moved the hand of God as the results showed it. “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem…” (Acts 6:7) If the apostles required the Lord’s blessing in their travel and preaching, do we any less?
Paul had two reasons for his desire to visit the congregation in Rome. He desired to preach the Gospel there as much as anywhere, but imparting spiritual gifts to them and obtaining some fruit from them were high on his priority list. “For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine… in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:11-12)
The fruit Paul hoped to receive from them is the same that he had been collecting throughout the Gentile community of Churches. At the time of his writing, Paul was likely at Corinth collecting the last of the monies designated for the support of the Jerusalem saints. “Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.” (Romans 15:28) It was not too much for those who had received spiritual things to minister to others in material things, and Paul hoped to be helped on his way by the saints in Rome.
Paul’s second goal in Rome was to impart spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts would serve two purposes: first, they would establish the Roman congregation, and second, those gifts would enable the congregation to encouraged Paul in return. (Romans 1:11-12) We conclude therefore that the spiritual gifts to which Paul referred are those granted through the laying on of an apostle’s hands and which comprise the list of I Corinthians 12:7-10, including: wisdom, knowledge faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, and interpretation. With such talents at their disposal, the congregation in Rome would be firmly established and much better equipped with divine direction and the promotion / preservation of sound doctrine.
Though Paul was eager to impart spiritual gifts to the Roman saints, some gifts were already in their possession. Another catalog appears in this very letter in Chapter 12:6-8; it lists: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy among those gifts given by the Holy Spirit according to His will. If one were to describe this list in contrast to that of I Corinthians 12, he might say that the Roman gifts were non-miraculous. However, this would not be strictly accurate. Though the Roman list doesn’t include such sensational abilities as healing, tongues, etc., notice that the source of that grace is supernatural. “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly…” (Romans 12:6) Even if those gifts might seem mundane, they had been allotted by God with a measure of faith, and that is the very definition of miraculous.
Paul did eventually arrive in Rome at the hands of the Roman government. A prisoner in his own rented quarters for two full years, he welcomed all who came to him. (Acts 28:30) It is safe to assume the Roman Church was among those visitors, and that Paul was finally able to impart the gifts which required his apostolic hands. What an encouragement it must have been to Paul the aged to hear the Word from those who had received the gifts and to be, “encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:12)
It was Paul’s prayerful hope that he might finally succeed in traveling to Rome (as he had often planned) and strengthen the Church there, impart spiritual gifts, and be encouraged by their faith and generosity. (Romans 1:9-13) But most important of all, he adds, “Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:15)
Certainly, the Roman saints had already heard the Gospel. It was their obedience to that good news which caused them to be saints in the first place. Why then was Paul so eager to preach the message of Christ to the Church in Rome? If Paul was to impart spiritual gifts, then we may presume no other apostles had been there previously. Thus Paul could provide the elect in Rome with two pillars for the support of their faith: the miraculous gifts of I Corinthians 12, and his personal witness concerning Christ. It was for this purpose he had been set aside from his mother’s womb and to that end he was commissioned, adding, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” (Romans 1:14)
The issue of responsibility echoes in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as well. “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. “ (I Corinthians 9:16-17) Paul had been entrusted with the preaching of the Gospel - a charge he took seriously. Greeks, barbarians (uneducated non-Greeks), the wise, and foolish alike heard the word of the Cross through his efforts on the Lord’s behalf, and God-willing, Rome would hear it from his mouth also.
At this point, with the initial pleasantries out of the way, Paul’s letter turns to focus on the task at hand - a defense of the Gospel he has been chosen to preach “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.“ (Romans 1:16) It is necessary here that we pause in our consideration of that Gospel treatise and step back in order to view its greater scope. Romans is a marvelous letter of interwoven principles and we must consider the forest before we can deal properly with the trees.
Paul’s opening argument is the twofold revelation of God’s wrath and righteousness and it dominates the first eleven chapters. Faith through the Gospel is the mechanism God uses to demonstrate His righteousness (Romans 1:17) and conversely man’s unbelief reveals His wrath. Paul develops the principle by drawing extensively upon his background in the Jewish Law to establish universal guilt before God and the hope of righteousness offered through Christ. As we shall see, it is a stunning paradigm through which to view the world.
Chapters 5 through 8 outline the means of redemption through faith in Christ. We learn from these chapters the mechanism of mankind’s slavery to sin, and more importantly, how to be freed from it. Practical application of that righteousness follows. From chapter 12 onward, Paul’s focus is sharpened to define the relationships with our fellow man. Instructions are given for fellow saints, Jews, Gentiles, and even government. Righteousness through faith is on trial, and Paul makes his case.
Paul set the tone for his letter to the Romans with this bold statement. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) Righteousness on the basis of faith through the Gospel is the overall theme and Paul is eager to make its defense. Before we can continue, however, we must first confirm our definitions. When the Scriptures speak of the Gospel, to what do they refer? The Greek, “euaggelion” (translated as Gospel) itself means “good news,” but its usage is more specific.
The Bible defines it most clearly for us in I Corinthians 15. Beginning in verse one, Paul reminds the Corinthians that it was the Gospel he preached and which they received, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (I Corinthians 15:3-5) The Gospel therefore may be understood as the death, burial, and observed resurrection of Christ; its implications however, are far broader. Other terms used synonymously with gospel add to our understanding. It is called the word of the cross, (I Corinthians 1:17-18) and is equated with the power of God, the wisdom of God, (I Corinthians 1:24) and His calling. (II Thessalonians 2:14)
The scribes, debaters, and wise men of every era have endeavored to know God. They have sought Him in the stars above and in the earth below. And though they find evidence of eternal power and divine nature in His handiwork, the natural world does not identify its intelligent designer. The world’s wisdom cannot bridge the gap between creator and creation. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21) God has encouraged man to seek Him - to grope for Him - though He is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:27) But man alone cannot reach God; God must reach for him.
The Gospel message preached may seem as foolishness to the wise of the world. Where would they search to find the creator? Certainly He would not be found as a man. In a stable, or on a cross is the last place one might expect to find God. The Gospel report therefore appears preposterous to many, thus Isaiah asks, “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:38)
To those who recognize Christ as Lord, the Gospel is the window to knowing God; it is the Lord’s call to mankind. “And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Thessalonians 2:14) And through the Gospel, we call on God in return, “for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13) The same death, burial, and resurrection through which we come to know God are the very steps we must take to answer that call. When those conditions are met, the Gospel is indeed, “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:16-17)
1871 witnessed the arrival of a seminal work. It was then that Darwin published the logical conclusion of his earlier effort, On the Origin of Species (1859). If evolution through natural selection was true for the animal kingdom, how could mankind be excluded? The Descent of Man (1871) is Darwin’s application of that theory to the highest of all species simultaneously denying divine authorship in man’s creation and divine character to his potential. It also provides the perfect title for our discussion today.
Last week we considered how the knowledge of God received through the Gospel is the manifestation of God’s righteousness which was revealed first through Christ and continues to be manifested through us. First Christ, then us, from faith to faith, the knowledge of God changes those who have it so that by faith they live righteously. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)
There is a profound and fundamental relationship that exists between man’s knowledge of God and his condition. Faith’s effects reach far further than our modern culture would like to admit. Reason, purpose, fulfillment, truth, goodness, even science and technological progress are all the children of a belief in God. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and the expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died; it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it… We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.” - Lewis, Miracles, 1947. Still, many deny that the knowledge of God is the basis for man’s upward mobility. The underlying cultural assumption of a Creator is so ubiquitous that it may go unnoticed, but consider what results when that knowledge is lost, and the connection becomes undeniable.
Psalm 135 is an excellent example of both ends of this spectrum. It begins with praise to God for His goodness and power over creation and the nations, but at verse 15 its focus shifts to contrast the Almighty with the idol imposters. The gold and silver figures have mouths, eyes, and ears, but none are of any use. And just like the objects of their worship, “Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.” (Psalms 135:18)
One of the major themes in Romans is this contrast between the knowledge of God and its rejection. Righteousness is revealed through the former, and wrath through the latter. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) When the truth of God is suppressed, the result is His wrath, yet the wrath that we see is not vengeful, or even particularly personal. The wrath we observe in Romans appears more like the trouble one might find themselves in from ignoring the laws that govern traffic or gravity.
God takes no pleasure in the prosecution of those who reject Him, He simply grants them precisely what they have demanded. If they wish to drive in the oncoming lane, He allows them to do so. They have refused to acknowledge God, and they shall have their wish, for without the fear of God, a peculiar regression occurs, or, we might say the descent of man. “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed” (II Peter 2:12) See also, Jude 1:10.
Without excuse. That’s how Paul described mankind in reference to their knowledge of God. Thus, the lot of us are spiritually culpable toward the Almighty. The apostle then went on to describe just how the human race has arrived in that condition. The second half of Romans’ first chapter does not describe three separate stages of descent from the knowledge of God but rather one decision and its consequences described three times. Three elements are present in each iteration: man’s rejection of the knowledge of God, God’s concession to man’s decision, and the effects of that choice. We will save the last two for future discussion and focus our attention for today on the first element - man’s rejection of the knowledge of God.
Mankind ought to have known better. “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.“ (Romans 1:19-20) Two pieces of evidence make God’s existence undeniable. His eternal power and divine nature are seen and understood through the creation and from within man himself. First let’s consider His power.
Scientists tell us that the observable universe is just shy of 100 billion light years from one side to the other with perhaps as many as twice that number of galaxies. Popular guesses as to how many planetary systems like our solar system exist range from 1 to 3 trillion. Yet in all that space, many can find no room for God. We are told that energy and matter are merely self-existing. The components of creation that are more readily accessible - the grandeur of a mountain range or the breadth of a sunset - testify to that eternal power which can only hint at the nature of the divine.
The creation is filled with clues about the nature of its designer just as a painting bears the hallmarks of its artist. Rational order reigns among the cosmos directing the paths of the heavenly bodies and alluding to their painter. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24) The God who made all things does not need a temple made for Him, and as the giver of all things, He needs nothing. However, the most revealing facet of God’s work comes from His magnum opus - man himself.
A study of man is central to understanding the divine nature. “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.” (Acts 17:29) Man has conscience, demands meaning, seeks purpose, and envisions the world and himself as they could be. Those are not traits arising from the natural world; man is made in the image of his creator. (Genesis 1:26) Therefore, “… that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” (Romans 1:19)
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks…” (Romans 1:21) In spite of the natural world and its silent witness to God’s eternal power and divine nature, mankind has a perplexing penchant toward willful blindness. Paul accused humanity not of ignorance, for the apostle said, “they knew God,” but of a calculated refusal to honor His as such. Even the cumulative wisdom gained through man’s experience proved insufficient to raise the eyes of those under natural law to its source.
The first small symptom of man’s decision to reject the knowledge of God initially appears disproportionate to its ultimate mortal conclusion. They simply didn’t give thanks. (Romans 1:21) The use of “please and thank you” are not as strenuously required in society as they once were. The result is a generation of half-ferrel children that either point-grunt-pout or grab-scream-smash. Unwilling to acknowledge any power over themselves, the tiny savages are unfit for society either on earth or in heaven. They are however, not very distant from the tree which bore them. The tiny saps are only a smaller version of their godless culture, for when a culture stops giving thanks, the very recognition of God as the creator and giver of all good things is under attack. Think on that next “Turkey Day.”
In addition to an ungrateful heart, mankind in his rebellion took the next necessary step. “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25) Notice that here also mankind was no victim in the events that led to his depravity. They were not deceived as Eve was in the garden (I Timothy 2:14) It was they, said Paul, who actively exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
Lying is especially insidious. The lot of liars are to be thrown in with their ilk of cowardly, unbelieving, murderous, sexually immoral, sorcerers and idolaters in the lake of fire. (Revelation 21:8) But why do we find the venial half-truth in the company of such cardinal sins? Ah, but consider for a moment what it is to lie.
A lie is an alternate world view. It is an artificial construct in competition with reality that justifies and even sometimes demands the liar act as they normally should not. It requires a higher mind to lie - one that is capable of faith when used correctly, but capable also of deceit when that which does not exist can be imagined and called into being. “Did you finish your homework?” “Yes.” “May I see it?” “Umm, No.” “Why not?” “The dog ate my homework.”
Three elements are easily identified in the above example. First is the creation of a voracious homework-eating dog in conflict with reality. Second, the political necessity of another to cover the first deception. But third and more dangerous is the effect that the lie has on the liar. This temporary suspension of rational thought is willful madness, the crux of temptation, and the core of evil.
Paul’s third accusation of godless mankind is that they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer. (Romans 1:28) God divides mankind into three groups: those who know God, those who are ignorant yet God-fearing, and heathendom. They are easily represented by the Jews entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2), ill-informed yet believing Gentiles who do instinctively the things of the Law (Romans 2:14), and the pagan peoples before whose eyes there is no fear of God (Romans 3:18) respectively. The last group are the focus of verse 28. Their refusal to acknowledge God is deliberate and celebrated.
For those who refuse to honor God by giving thanks, even what they know of God is removed, and that will be our subject next week. Man will either recognize the God who is or worship an invention of his own design. The former leads to righteousness, the latter to wrath.
Actions have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are deliberate and sometimes they are the unintended results of rash decisions. Like actions, beliefs also have consequences. Occasionally their ramifications are considered, but often ideas are accepted or not just as rashly with little or no thought to their ultimate outcome. Cumulatively, ideas form beliefs and a philosophical world view which alters not only the way we perceive the world, but also how we react to it. The results of ideas and their corresponding beliefs are therefore profound. Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with a careful consideration of one idea in particular and its consequences - the ancient but once again fashionable notion that there is no God. Last week we discussed man’s rejection of God’s existence in favor of self-deception. Today we will consider the result of that decision.
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:21-22) If… as some suppose, there is no God, what are the logical conclusions of that belief? Paul reminded the Ephesians that the Gentiles, “… walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18) As a result of their hardened hearts and willful ignorance toward God, their minds became futile and their understanding darkened. Peter also contrasts those who believe in God with the ignorant whose traditional way of life was futility. (I Peter 1:18) Are futility and foolishness the inevitable results of rejecting the knowledge of God?
Imagine that you came across a puzzle dumped in a jumbled heap. Without a belief that all the pieces fit together, who would attempt to solve it? A presumption of order must be made before any serious inquiry can be undertaken. Mankind’s puzzle is the natural world whose facts are strewn across the table of his experience. Without a presumption of intelligent rational design, it is senseless to attempt to find order in chaos. Only a rational Creator explains an understandable creation. Without Him, nature is incomprehensible and science is politicized - reduced to speculation and superstition.
Jesus said, “The lamp of your body is your eye; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. “Then watch out that the light in you may not be darkness.” (Luke 11:34-35) If our ability to perceive (the eye) is compromised, everything else is affected, and foolish speculations like evolutionary theory abound. Its own proponents have no explanation for its major tenets: the origin of the universe, the creation of life, or the mechanism of speciation. Yet we are expected to believe such superstition with religious fervor. A darkened understanding has caused man not only to cease searching for God, but has also led to a regression from timeless tested moral principles. Thus, a moral compass no longer exists in their darkened heart Theft is institutionalized in the name of equity and lying becomes a necessary means to a utopian end. Even self-evident truths like gender must be ignored to facilitate the rejection of God.
“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God…” (Psalm 14:1) When belief in God is expelled, it does not simply leave a vacuum in the heart of man. Futility and foolishness rush in to fill the void as another lie must hurry to cover the first. Depravity results and is the topic for next week.
Jesus taught the people that their heavenly Father gives what is good to those who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11) Thus to those who seek salvation and righteousness through faith in the gospel, He gives without remorse. ”… for it [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…” (Romans 1:17) But what does He give to those who choose evil? In answer to their ungodliness and unrighteousness, heaven meets their demands with wrath. (Romans 1:18)
Today we consider the third step in that process which began when mankind summarily rejected the knowledge of God. After their “liberation” from faith, humanity attempted to fill the void left in heaven with futile speculations and an image of creation rather than its Creator. The result was that man became like those things he worshipped, and heaven consented to his devolution with the words, “God gave them over”.
Three times in our passage this phrase is used. God gave them over to: “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:24) “degrading passions” (Romans 1:26) and “a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28). As a result, their bodies were dishonored, (Romans 1:24) they practiced homosexuality, (Romans 1:26-27) and committed those crimes both improper and worthy of death. (Romans 1:28-32) Through unnatural use, the bodies which God had created to be an expression of Christ and the Church instead imitated the indiscriminate creatures of the natural world.
It was symptomatic of a deeper disorder, for in all things they suppressed the moral restraint that comes with the knowledge of God and went with reckless abandon in pursuit of vice. The penalty was soon to follow. The self-destructive behavior that Paul enumerates: unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, etc. is its own reward and the temporal punishment for their insolence - the due penalty of their error. (Romans 1:27)
A similar list of sins is found in II Peter 2:10-22, but this time it applies to those who confess God with their lips yet deny Him with their lives. The false prophets demonstrate the same lack of reverence for heavenly authority. “and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties,” (II Peter 2:10). Only their desires matter; they have been reduced to the objects of their worship. “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime…” (II Peter 2:12-13) The only remnant of their knowledge of God is the thrill of sin in open defiance to His law. Of those who do not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, “There is none righteous, not even one…There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10,18)
God still holds out hope for mankind. “…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) if perhaps the patience and kindness of God might lead them to repentance. (Romans 2:4) However, no culture or individual, ancient or modern, can reject God and escape the consequences of their decision. But understand clearly, that it was their decision. God has given them precisely what they asked for. They refused to honor God, and God honored their choice. Man is free to believe what he chooses but not from the results of that choice. Those who recognize God through their faith receive what they request - life, and those who deny God likewise are given what they have demanded - wrath.
“For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) Words, Jesus said, come from the overflow of the heart. (vMatthew 12:34) Thus the words of an honest and true heart bear witness to the good treasure within, just as spoken deceit and malice reveal a trove of evil. Actions too expose the workings of the inner man. Like words, these can be made to give one appearance or another when crafted deliberately, but the spontaneous word or deed remains unbridled and is therefore the best indicator of what truly lies within the sequestered confines of the heart.
It was their words that gave them away. Like a skillful lawyer, Paul used their testimony as evidence. “Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Romans 2:1) The things to which the apostle refers are the list of improper capital crimes rounding out the previous chapter: unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, etc. They are the result of denying the knowledge of God, but knowledge alone - even agreement - is insufficient if separated from obedience.
“And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:3) Agreement with the law is no defense against it. If I acknowledge the justice and necessity of the law, it will be of little value when speaking to the highway patrolman. Even more, if I accuse others of breaking that law, how shall I escape punishment for the same infraction? My words in support of the law against my neighbor will be the evidence of my own just conviction, and yet it seems that man has a tendency to confuse hearing with action.
Israel formerly had good news preached to them, yet failed to enter the promised land because of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:6) What had gone wrong? They heard the message, but faith and therefore action were missing. It’s easy to see in retrospect why Israel failed to obtain their inheritance, but their lesson is for us. (Hebrews 4:1)
We might also claim to have heard good news. After all, the Gospel preached to Abraham was to bless all those of faith who would follow in his steps. “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” (Galatians 3:9) But what if action does not follow?
Paul warned the Romans saints, and those who read their letter that knowledge - even agreement - is not synonymous with faithful obedience. Remember his description of that condition outside of Christ in agreement with the Law and confessing it as good, though still doing the very evil he abhorred. (Romans 7:16-18) It might seem odd to think that someone could attempt to justify themselves simply by their hearing and agreement with the law, but it may not be so foreign. Just as it was a temptation for the Jew to place his trust in his knowledge of the law, though not keep it, it is equally easy to place our trust in an understanding of the law of faith without working out that salvation. Simply knowing the truth is not a replacement for acting on it. Some denominations consider themselves “faith only,” and we look with frustration on that doctrine that denies action as the completion of their confession, but is it any different to agree in word with the new covenant without supplying the deeds as well? The illustration given in Romans 1 of a people who agree with the Lord in principle but do not walk by it can be applied just as easily to a modern audience. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)
Why not just destroy the world now? If God already knows how it’s all going to end, why not just light it up and be done with it? I’ve entertained this question on several occasions, and the Scripture provides the answer in the form of a parable. The workers asked their master, “‘…Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ “But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:28-30) In this analogy, the workers are angels and they pose the same question to the Lord. Should we just end it now and gather humanity for judgment? The Lord’s response reveals the reason for His respite. Some of the wheat (the righteous) would be taken unintentionally. Instead, He advises that both should be allowed to grow together until the harvest. This provides the time necessary for the wheat to show its true nature and differentiate itself from the tares (the wicked). Compassion - not laziness - is the reason for God’s delay.
Paul tested the Romans with a rhetorical question along the same lines. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) When we think of God’s kindness, we usually associate that with His provision or grace, but the love of God is also seen through what He does not do. In this case His kindness, forbearance and patience are the demonstration of His love, and as such should lead the stubborn to repentance.
Peter also answers the scoffer and skeptic who ignorantly mistake God’s patience for a lack of ability or resolve. After all, they taunt, it’s been a long time and the Lord still hasn’t returned. But they forget that it is not God’s intention that any should be lost. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9)
That day will most certainly come having been guaranteed to all men through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (Acts 17:31) For if the Lord can make good on the promise of resurrection, He clearly has the authority to fulfill His pledge to return and judge mankind. The Roman letter reminds us that just such a day is coming when He “will render to every man according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:6) And if every man is to be repaid according to his deeds, each man ought to consider what kind of return he is accumulating.
Two investment accounts are contrasted; both are earning a return payable upon Jesus’ arrival. To those of stubborn and unrepentant heart, the selfishly ambitious and disobedient, there will be wrath and indignation a plenty. However, to those who persevere in goodness, their search for glory, honor and immortality will be satisfied. (Romans 2:7)
Incidentally, the Lord encourages glory seekers - at least those who seek glory appropriately. He warns against the selfishly ambitious, or those who would take glory for themselves. The Lord desires instead that we should seek glory from Him by His terms. Just as the Galatians were told, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9) so the Word of God reminds us also that to pursue glory, honor, and immortality from the Lord through doing good is a reward worth reaching for.
When God spoke to Moses atop Mt Sinai’s lofty peak, He introduced Himself to Israel’s redeemer as the God of compassion and grace. However, the Almighty was quick to add, “…He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:7) Just as much as God is a God of love, He is also the source of justice.
Paul said plainly, “For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:11) No one (not even Moses) is able to sneak one past the Lord and escape the consequence of his actions. For God is not mocked, a man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:9) The most humble Moses - in a fit of frustration - broke faith with the Lord at the waters of Meribah, (Deuteronomy 32:51) and he would regret it the rest of his life. The price of his indiscretion was steep; he would view the land of promise, but he could not enter.
At first, it seems that God’s character is self contradicting. How can a loving God also be just and punish those He loves? Is it fair to show compassion to some and not others or would it be impartial to treat them all the same? What is fair?
Sin creates a debt to be paid. An eye is the price of an eye and a tooth satisfies the loss of a tooth. Justice is paying what you owe. But God has introduced a twist. Through vicarious sacrifice, the obligation for sin can be paid by another willing soul. In this way the debt - and therefore justice - is satisfied, yet the one who committed the crime is shown mercy. It is in the cross that grace and justice meet.
But what about all of life’s imbalances? Surely it cannot be said that God is impartial if such great disparity exists among all peoples. Do the poor have the same opportunity as the rich? The country of your birth, the family through which you came, even your physical and personality traits afford us differing aptitudes from one another. Is it fair?
The Scriptures concede that some have advantages over others. “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect…” (Romans 3:1-2) Knowing the Law, and its author is indeed an advantage just like multiplication flash cards are a help to students learning to multiply. But having the flash cards does not make you a better math student. Using them does. Unfortunately the will to use them is not bound up in the cards themselves any more than the will to keep the law may be found in it, and there are numerous examples of folks from both groups acting contrary to what we would anticipate based solely upon their advantages or lack thereof. Individual choice then, is the true determiner of destiny and the proof of God’s level playing field. But remember, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:48)
Finally, it is worth noting that not only is God concerned about being impartial - He is also quite concerned about communicating that to us. Psalm 51:4 is quoted in Romans referring to the Lord, “… that You might be justified in Your words, and might prevail when You are judged” (Romans 3:4) God has presented His program for mankind’s scrutiny, and appealed to his reason by demonstrating through Jesus Christ the righteousness of God for man to see and choose.
Paul reminded his Roman readers that God shows no partiality. That’s true for the Jew who might be tempted to trust in his hearing of the Law rather than keeping it to save him from wrath and indignation. But it’s also true for the Gentile who might think that ignorance of the Law could be used to avoid responsibility as well. Nope. Whether they sinned without the Law or under it, they are without excuse. (Romans 2:12) Having already dealt with his Jewish audience, Paul turns his attention to the hypothetical Gentile.
Can the Gentiles truly claim to be without Law? Certainly there are many who have never heard the Gospel and many more perhaps who do not know the Law as delivered in the 10 commandments. These do not have the Law as such, but even without it they, “…are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15) Notice that even without Moses to guide them, the work of the Law is nevertheless present within them. Put another way, if they are truly without Law, why do they show its effects? The evidence of the Law at work is found in their instinctive actions, their hearts, their consciences, and their thoughts.
How do Gentiles know the commandments without reading them? What a blow to Sunday School children everywhere who worked hard to memorize those rules for life only to find out now, that their heathen neighbors know them instinctively! Let’s step back for a moment and consider the nature of the commandments. Do the statutes engraved on stone bring the commandments into existence? Certainly not. We are reminded that death (the effect of the Law) reigned from Adam until Moses. (Romans 5:14) If death was in the world prior to Moses, then the commandments through which it came were also. Therefore, what Moses delivered in stone did not create anything new, it simply revealed the law that was already present and at work, much like Newton did not create gravity, he simply revealed the nature of what had always been true. The commandments therefore are not arbitrary.
This is important to stress for modern man has supposedly liberated himself from the laws of religion. It would be easier to free himself from gravity! The same laws have governed mankind from the beginning. We have previously discussed the effect on civilization when the knowledge of God is suppressed or rejected. A descent into mayhem is the inevitable result. (Romans 1) Thus, the first commandment is, “I am the LORD your God…“You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3) Like the first, all the other commandments can be deduced by the astute observer of human behavior. They are not in that sense strictly the property of the Judeo-Christian faith, anymore than gravity is owned by Newton. They are codified natural law visible and understandable to anyone - even Gentiles.
Before we can finish with this topic, we must discuss the troublesome conscience. It is troublesome for those who would have us believe that man can be without the Law. In the first place, everyone has a conscience. Whether they will admit it or not, all mankind knows what is right and wrong - a fact that becomes clear whenever they are wronged. Their indignant protest over unjust treatment belies their attestations to the contrary.
Nor - as some might suppose - does the conscience trace its origin to the evolutionary necessity of social cooperation. If anything, such cooperation weakens the strong and strengthens the weak, diminishing their fitness for survival. Since Adam and Eve, the knowledge of right and wrong has been a part of the human race hard-wired into the conscience and confirmed through experience. No one is without the Law of God nor free from its work in them.
Slowly but surely, Paul has removed every excuse from mankind; humanity is responsible to God. Some may claim, “I didn’t know about God.” But no one can truly feign ignorance of the Creator or His eternal power and divine nature. (Romans 1:19-20) Others might object, “I didn’t know God’s commandments.” But Paul eliminates that argument as well, since he points out that the work of the Law is already present within them instinctively. (Romans 2:14-15)
However, those who are acquainted with Moses are no better, for we see that the hearing of the Law is of no value if not accompanied by obedience. “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Romans 2:12) In effect there are only those two groups into which men might fall. However, the Spirit thought it necessary to focus our attention on one variation. Within the category of those beneath the Law exists a subset who know the Law and enthusiastically approve it but do not keep it. The next several paragraphs of Pauls’ letter are directed to those who boast in God, bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law while breaking it - hypocrites. (Romans 2:17, 23)
When Stephen concluded his scathing indictment of the Jewish Sanhedrin, he addressed his comments to, “you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:53) How could that be? Those men were the self-appointed heirs of Moses comfortably seated in his place. (Matthew 23:2) If anyone was zealous for the Law, it was them. They concerned themselves with fasting, tithes, Sabbaths, feasts, priests, and sacrifice. Surely their enthusiasm for the Law counted for something. Indeed it did - accountability.
If anyone should have recognized the coming of the prophets and the Righteous One, it was them. (Acts 7:52) They thought of themselves just as Paul describes: guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors of the foolish and teachers of the immature. (Romans 2:19-20) Yet in a strange paradox, their zeal for the Law blinded them to both its intent and its Legislator. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7) They were the embodiment of the parable son who claimed to do his father’s will, but who did not go into the vineyard.” (Matthew 21:28-31)
Such a claim is very dangerous, for it offers the appearance of obedience in place of the real thing and thereby promotes self deceit. Thus the hypocrite is more dangerous to himself for his issues cannot be clearly addressed and more dangerous to others since God is dishonored in their eyes. “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24)
God has always been concerned about the honor of His name, that is, His reputation. The passage Paul quotes in Ezekiel 36:24 is drawn from Ezekiel 36 where God describes what He will do with and to His people for the sake of His name among the Gentiles. And Malachi agrees, “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)
God is not concerned about His ego but rather the fate of the foolish, and immature, the blind and those in darkness. If they see the guides and teachers stealing, committing adultery and robbing temples, it would place an obstacle before them in their search for God. The Law should be precisely that. It should guide the blind, and illuminate those in darkness. It should correct the foolish and teach the immature as the embodiment of knowledge and truth. Teach others the Law, but let it instruct you also.
Peter was right when he described Paul’s writings as sometimes difficult to understand. (II Peter 3:16) Paul moved fluently between the Jewish, Gentile, and Christian mind, perfectly at home with the Law and its imagery, and familiar with the philosophy of his day, yet firmly founded on the freedom of faith. He was, therefore, the perfect instrument to bring to light the truths of each in making the case for Christianity - the precise purpose for the book of Romans. Today’s topic of circumcision is a prime example of Paul’s mental multiculturalism since he examined the issue from the Jewish, Gentile, and Christian perspective. The rite of circumcision may not be of value any longer, but understanding its spiritual importance is the rule of our New Covenant.
The practice of circumcision - the surgical removal of the foreskin - has its Jewish origin with Abraham. Over time it came to be synonymous with the Jewish faith and Law, though technically the practice precedes both Jews in general and the Law of Moses. It was easy therefore, for the Jews to equate circumcision with obedience and ultimately righteousness. If one is circumcised, they assumed, then he must be faithful and thus righteous in the eyes of God. Not so. In Paul’s Roman letter, he patiently addressed those baseless claims to righteousness including: ignorance of the Law, bearing the name “Jew”, and even promoting the Law as a substitute for keeping it. None of those will justify the man, and neither will circumcision.
“For indeed circumcision is of value” said Paul, “if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:25) Like every other commandment, keeping one does not compensate for breaking another. So circumcision is of value only if every other commandment is kept also. Conversely, if even one commandment is broken, the full weight of the Law comes crashing down on the guilty. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10) Far from being a means of justification for the Jew, circumcision is only one in the long list of commandments that must all be kept to avoid condemnation. By contrast, the Gentile who keeps the Law of conscience would do better than the Jew who observes circumcision but neglects the others. (Romans 2:27)
The inner man is the focus of God’s attention, and physical circumcision, like judaism, was intended to teach a greater spiritual lesson. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (Romans 2:28-29) The sign of Judaism was circumcision, and the sign of spiritual Israel is circumcision of the heart. “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism…” (Colossians 1:11-12) What circumcision was to the Old Covenant, baptism is to the New.
Before leaving this topic, it is worth mentioning that the same temptation faced by the Jew to place his confidence in physical circumcision is also met by new covenant saints who might have a tendency to put confidence in the flesh concerning baptism. We might ask with Paul, “If you are a transgressor of the Law of faith, will not your baptism be regarded as un-baptism?” If immersion is outward only, and the heart remains uncircumcised, of what value is baptism? Therefore, Abraham’s children by faith live by a different rule. “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:15-16)
Try as he may, man can offer no objections to the righteous judgment of God. The one who claims ignorance of the Law as an excuse is equally guilty with him who knows it since both have the Law instinctively though neither keep it. Agreement with the Law - even teaching the same - is no better, for in so doing the one who instructs others is exposed if he does not fulfill its requirements. Not even the letter of the Law and circumcision can compensate for neglecting the other provisions of the Law. (Romans 1-2)
But if all of that is true as Paul suggests, what good is it to have the Law at all? One can almost see the Jew who read Paul’s Roman letter throwing up his hands in frustration. “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” The Lord answers, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:1-2)
If the Jews were profited by their knowledge of the Law, why didn’t it result in their righteousness? Was their heritage of any real benefit if having the Law didn’t help them keep it? The answer is yes! “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12) The Law is very good at its intended purpose, but it was never intended to justify mankind. (Romans 3:20) The commandments were designed instead to reveal sin, and this they did very well.
Two results are worth our consideration. First, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) The commandments’ purpose is to leave mankind without excuse and therefore in search of a savior, as Paul cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) It is no surprise then, that the Jews who sought justification through the Law would find only disappointment since the Law was not designed for that purpose. But the Law did more than just condemn.
The Law also provided a glimpse into the nature of God. Its statutes and commands, are the voice of God’s justice, mercy, and righteousness. One cannot know the Law without learning also about the Legislator. Jesus spoke of both when He said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39) Jesus, not the Law, is the source of life. The Scriptures - which in Jesus’ day consisted of the Law and the prophets - spoke about Him. Thus the Jew was benefited by his knowledge of the commandment and its source. But then why didn’t he keep it?
The question being asked is the Jewish version of a broader one. To what degree are men simply the product of their environment? Can a child depart from his training when he is old? Our observations in life and the record of the Scriptures agree that many children who grow up with what seems to be every advantage, often go astray. The preacher’s kid phenomenon is all too prevalent. But the reverse is also true. Sometimes the most unlikely soul reaches out to God without any apparent training, education, or encouragement leaving us to conclude that environment alone does not determine their lives’ trajectory. Otherwise, how could they exercise free will?
We find then that training or its absence can help or hinder the soul just as information about cars might help the shopper make an informed decision when browsing the used lot. But that information alone is not solely responsible for their decision. If it were, everyone would drive Honda sedans. :) The will, subject to its passions and desires has the final say in the decision-making process.
Is it an advantage to know the Law? Certainly! But that knowledge alone cannot force someone to live by it. Our efforts then must be focused on the inner man and the desires of the heart if we are to control the will.
Even the oracles of God proved insufficient to produce faithfulness in the Jewish nation in general. The advantage of the Law did not profit most of those who heard, resulting in a broken covenant with God. But who was to blame? Was the Jew’s failure to believe the effect of a flawed contract or their own shortcoming? “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” (Romans 3:3) God provides the unequivocal answer: “May it never be!” (Romans 3:4)
Before the honest court of a candid mind there can be only one conclusion. If a breech of contract has taken place, the Lord is not at fault. Paul quotes David’s psalm of confession to prove the point. “…That You might be justified in Your words, and might prevail when You are judged.” (Romans 3:4, Psalm 51:4) Like Job who foolishly argued with the Lord’s judgment, the humbled king of Israel admitted his guilt and God’s righteousness. The Jew - and Gentile alike - are likewise compelled to acknowledge God’s justice even in light of their failures exposed by the Law.
Well then, if my failures glorify God, I shall redouble my efforts and fail with gusto that the Lord may be glorified all the more! God forbid. God’s righteousness might be contrasted with man’s sin, but such sin certainly does not glorify God. “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?” (Romans 3:7) Paul makes the point that God’s judgment of man is just therefore our disobedience does not accrue to his glory. Otherwise, how could God inflict wrath? (Romans 3:5)
Imagine a child who lies. The little fibber might become convicted and even acknowledge the error. The parental adage to “tell the truth the first time, every time” would be proven right, but no glory to the parent would result. If it did, and the parent received praise for the failure of their children, then to punish them for it would create a terrible incentive for parents to discipline their children for the sake of their own respect. Sadly, I have witnessed dysfunctional homes in which the parents publicly berated the children’s failures and/or immaturity to make themselves appear wise by comparison. Such judgments are unjust.
Any sin that man might commit is the result of his own decisions. He is ultimately responsible for his choices and thus God is justified in judgment. Man is not the victim of a system he cannot satisfy, neither is he compelled to sin by his nature or environment. The only one responsible for man’s sin is man.
The idea that God might somehow benefit from man’s sin seems absurd, and so it is. However, the notion is alive and well and perhaps even growing in popularity among modern “christendom”. It appears fashionable among protestant circles to celebrate our depravity as a means to glorify God for His ever abounding mercy. This is certainly appropriate in the case of our initial conversion, for we were formerly disobedient children of wrath and yet God’s rich mercy and great love gave us life in spite of our condition. (Ephesians 2:3-5) However, indulging fleshly lusts is not supposed to follow us into our new walk of faith. God is not glorified by perpetual sin and corresponding grace. Rather, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Those who claim their righteousness is but filthy rags dishonor the God who purchased them, washed them, and clothed them with Christ. When they wear their mournful repentance like a badge of honor they bring no glory to God whose rightful service and will is “that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2)
Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin. That may sound like reason to despair, but there is hope for mankind. The Law - which condemns all who break it - was never intended to produce righteousness; God would accomplish that goal by another means. Before we discuss the mechanism for that righteousness (point 2 of Romans), let us consider Paul’s conclusion to the first. There are no shortcuts around the Law. All mankind, Jew and Greek alike, must confront the Law in either stone or conscience. Without exception, the Law identifies sin and condemns the sinner. According to the Law, “…there is none righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) for the Law has no power to identify the righteous man only to convict the guilty.
For those of Calvinist persuasion, Romans chapter three seems to provide ample evidence of its most precious doctrine - total depravity. Indeed it would hardly seem possible to conclude otherwise. “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11) Man is without the understanding of God and perhaps more importantly, neither does he seek for Him.
However, there is a problem with this general interpretation, for Romans then focuses our attention on two exceptions to that rule: Christ and Abraham. Of the latter specifically we read, “… and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) The father of the faithful both sought for God (Hebrews 11:10) and found righteousness. Therefore the statement that none are righteous and no one seeks for God must refer to a sub group of the whole rather than applying to every soul of man. But where is the evidence?
The case against man seems airtight. One indictment after another is leveled against him; he is: useless, devoid of good, speaking words of death, and quick to violence. The evidence Romans cites in this passage is an amalgamation of several Old Testament passages from the Psalms. They are: Psalm 14, 5, 140, 10, and 36. Each contain a description of man’s sinful condition, but three add something else. Psalm 14:1 reads: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God…’” In Psalm 10 we find, “… All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”. And finally Psalm 36 includes the words, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Psalm 36:1, Romans 3:18) The refusal to acknowledge God is stated in three Psalms emphatically and the concept is implicit in the other two. Thus we conclude that the deplorable list of Romans 3 is not a blanket condemnation of mankind in total depravity, but rather a description of the depravity that results when man rejects the knowledge of God, and becomes a fool in his heart.
Like a master orator, Paul told us what he was going to tell us, then he told us, then he told us what he told us. He began in chapter one by explaining what happens when man rejects the knowledge of God and the resulting descent into depravity. Because of their refusal to honor Him as God, futile speculation and foolishness were the inevitable consequence. They chose to worship the creature rather than the Creator resulting in darkened hearts and degraded passions. “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mine, to do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28) In chapter two he removed any and all excuses from the condemnation of the Law. And finally his case rests with the conclusion of chapter three verses 1-19 which picture the depth of man’s descent, “… that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)
What would the world be like without the Law? Paul used the better part of three chapters to describe its work in Jew and Gentile alike. Indeed, the Law (of stone or conscience) is so ubiquitous that it might be hard to conceive of life without it. But what if… there were no Law?
The Law was never designed to justify anything, thus anyone who seeks justification through the Law will be sorely disappointed “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) The purpose of the commandments, rather, was to identify sin and the sinner. Justification cannot come through the Law, but the knowledge of sin does.
There are a couple examples of just such a world without the Law - most notably the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve initially enjoyed blissful ignorance free from the knowledge of good and evil and unhindered by the Law of that tree. I wonder if, in that time of innocence, there was ever an unkind word between them? Do you suppose either of our first parents took from the other what did not belong to them? Or is it possible that there was ever dishonesty in that first relationship? Forgive me the conjecture, but it seems unlikely that the first sin was the failure at the tree. It was however, the first sin that broke the one commandment they were given, “…You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.” (Genesis 3:3) The one and only command they knew had been broken, and with it came the Law of sin and death.
A similar scenario is closer to our own experience. Paul described his own account in chapter seven writing, “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died;” (Romans 7:9) The covetous commandment Paul alludes to was present long before he was born, therefore the coming of the Law to which Paul refers was not its Mosaic entrance into the world but its entrance into Paul’s life personally. In doing so it killed him spiritually. However, more relevant to our discussion is Paul’s condition prior to the coming of the Law. The apostle writes that before the coming of the Law, he was alive apart from it. Does that mean that young Saul of Tarsus never sinned before he heard the Law and understood his responsibility? Certainly Saul the toddler would have behaved as all toddlers do, regularly violating the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th (hatred), 8th, 9th and 10th of those sacred commandments. But like Adam and Eve prior to the tree, children break the commandments with impunity without the knowledge of sin, for, “… where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Romans 4:15)
We find then that sin alone is not sufficient to condemn the man, for outside the presence of the Law, sin is powerless to effect the death it usually produces. (James 1:15) “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (I Corinthians 15:56) To better illustrate, let’s consider traffic lights. Contrary to popular belief, running traffic lights does not result in a fine, or increased insurance rates. It is, in fact, quite harmless by itself. I know this from experience.
When I delivered newspapers, I became accustomed to flashing red lights in the early morning before the street lights changed to their normal cycle. Once while driving with Jen, I pulled up to one of those lights during the day, and as was my habit in the wee hours, looked both ways and proceeded. She was shocked I had run the red light. However, only in the presence of the Law does the violation have any power when the officer in blue cites the statute identifying both Law and law breaker. Just so, it is not the traffic light which levies a fine, but the lawful judge who sits in condemnation. Without the law, one might fail to stop in ignorance and yet remain innocent. I have no idea how many others times I ran the light because my conscience is clean. :) “for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13)
In our previous discussion we considered what the world would look like without the Law. In the absence of the commandment, there would be no condemnation, for sin apart from the law is not imputed (Romans 5:12-14). Sin itself would be powerless to effect death (I Corinthians 15:56), and there would be no knowledge of sin. “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
Today we will apply what we’ve learned about the Law - and its absence - to Christians who are no longer under its jurisdiction. The Bible leaves no ambiguity here. “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound…” (Romans 7:6) See also Galatians 2:19. Indeed as righteous men we have been set free from the Law of sin and death (Romans 8:1) that was made for the lawless and rebellious, the ungodly and sinners (I Timothy 1:9). Thus the child of God exists in a world surrounded by Law which does not apply to him. “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law” ( I Corinthians 9:20) The result is a paradox - that in a world ruled by the Law of sin, the saint who is free from that Law has no knowledge of sin - that is to say he maintains a clean conscience.
The value of a clean conscience cannot be overstated, but perhaps it is best understood by contrast. What does a guilty conscience create? Far from being a way to avoid sin, guilt derived from the Law has the opposite effect, for, “the Law came in that the transgression might increase…” (Romans 5:20).
Many within the ranks of “christen-dumb” mistakenly assume that guilt is the way to avoid sin. They suppose that if they are sufficiently guilty then the weight of that guilt will cause them to change their behavior and live righteously. They could not be more deceived! Guilt has its place; the knowledge of sin is the appropriate result of the Law and ought to lead the sinner to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) However, it ought not remain his counselor thereafter for rather than empowering the saint to live victoriously, the guilt that comes from Law has the opposite effect of arousing the sinful passions he is attempting to avoid. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Romans 7:5) Note that it was the Law that aroused the sinful passions, for when the Law said, “Thou shall not covet” it produced the very coveting it forbade. (Romans 7:7-8)
When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit they were changed. Their sin, in the presence of that single first Law condemned the couple and introduced the knowledge of sin into the world. “Who told you that you were naked?” asked the Lord. (Genesis 3:11) They had, of course, been naked from the day they were created but through the Law of sin they understood shame for the first time. The consciousness of sin - guilt - had been born into the world.
That consciousness has ruled the world from that day to this. However, in Christ the present man and woman can return to a state of innocence (though not ignorance). The Law could never restore mankind since it is the instrument of his condemnation. “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year” (Hebrews 10:3) But a greater covenant is able. Sacrifices for sin cease to be offered, (Hebrews 10:18) because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, no longer have consciousness of sins. (Hebrews 10:2)
In Romans chapter one, two things are revealed: 1) God’s righteousness through the gospel by faith (Romans 1:17) and 2) God’s wrath through suppression of that gospel. In its absence the Law reigns supreme in its jurisdiction of sin and death. The previous chapters - though necessary and pertinent - reveal the relationship of the Law to condemnation but can be a little tedious. However, having presented the required contrasting backdrop, we may now turn our attention to the glory of faith in Christ, and I am so eager to discuss the treasures of those principles in the coming weeks! The Law - holy, righteous, and good only succeeded in bringing sin to our attention and making all the world accountable to God. (Romans 3:19-20) “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21)
The significance of today’s text is so easily overlooked, but four times in this excerpt the concept of revelation underscore its importance with these words: “manifested” vs 21, “public display” vs 25, and “demonstrate” vs 25 & 26. What has been revealed is nothing less than the righteousness of God through faith, but how has it been shown to man?
Verse 21 tells us that the manifestation of righteousness has been witnessed by the Law and the prophets. That is to say that the OT Scriptures anticipated the coming of that righteousness. But to what righteousness did they speak? “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39) Jesus said the testimony of the Scriptures speaks of Him, and so it does. The Gospel in the Old Testament is the anticipation of God’s righteousness revealed. “For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…” (Romans 1:17)
In verse 25, the revelation of that righteousness is described as the public display of Jesus who by faith offered His blood as a propitiation, “…this was to demonstrate His righteousness.” (Romans 3:25) Likewise verse 26 tells us the demonstration of that righteousness took place, “at the present time”. In short, all the references to the revealing of God’s righteousness converge in the person of Christ and the message of the Gospel.
So what? Jesus reveals God’s righteousness. Is that news? It certainly is! Ask anyone, “Was Jesus righteous?” and they’ll respond with near unanimous agreement. Then follow up, “How do you know?”. In almost every case the answer will be some variation of, “Jesus never sinned.” While it is true of course that Christ was tempted as we are yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), it is imperative that we understand it was not His sinlessness that reckoned the Messiah righteous. Rather, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28) Keeping the Law (sinlessness) does not a righteous man make even if that man is the Son of God. Instead it is faith that justifies the man and that is what the Gospel of Christ reveals. God’s righteousness was revealed in Jesus Christ through faith (vs 22) when He offered His blood through faith (vs 25) to become the justifier of those follow Him through faith (vs 26).
Since the beginning, there has only been one criteria for righteousness, and that is faith. Occasionally folks wrongly assume that the Law was the means of justification throughout the Old Testament, and that faith serves as its replacement to identify the righteous in the New. On the contrary, Hebrews makes it clear that faith was the means by which even the men of old gained approval (Hebrews 11:1-2), and cites the evidence of Abel through Moses as confirmation. The Spirit summarizes, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us…” (Hebrews 11:39-40) Their faith was the basis for their approval, and provides a pattern for all who follow after, but something better was coming.
The record of that cloud of witnesses is impressive, “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions” etc. (Hebrews 11:33) However, the Lord had bigger plans for the Messiah. His faith would topple the kingdom of darkness, obtain the promise of the Holy Spirit, and render powerless the prowling Devil. Thus, Christ is the greatest revelation of faith and therefore righteousness, for through His faith - not the Law, not His Jewish heritage, not circumcision, but faith as the Son of God - Jesus overcame the world and fulfilled the Law. (I John 5:4)
Jesus cautioned the Jews that composed His mountain-side audience from drawing the wrong conclusion. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Though He contrasted righteousness with the commandments given to the ancients, the Law would remain, every letter and stroke, fulfilled in Christ. But how did the teacher from Nazareth expect the Law to be fulfilled?
Some goals simply cannot be achieved through commandment as pictured in the family photo. For some reason children are reluctant to stand together for 12 seconds and be photographed with clean clothes and smiling faces. Enter the command: “Smile.” This natural resistance is typically met first with mother’s pleas. “Don’t you want the picture to turn out nice - smile for Mommy” The child couldn’t care less about what graces the mantle’s shelf and obeys with feigned happiness, bearing teeth as if for the dentist. Mother quickly becomes exasperated and Dad intervenes with commanding authority. “Stand still and SMILE” The order comes with the inherent threat of punishment, and the little ones begin to cry. “SMILE!” The exercise concludes with either tear-stained cheeks and red eyes preserved on film forever or dad packing the tripod away in mumbled frustration - again. The commandment cannot produce joy.
Righteousness similarly cannot be commanded, or Israel would have attained it. “but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith…” (Romans 9:30-31) It is faith that produces righteousness, thus a failure to be righteous reveals a failure of faith. Note how the act of disobedience is characterized by God in Moses’ case. “you broke faith with Me… because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:51) Striking the rock was the effect, but broken faith was the cause.
Our faith is of the same kind as Christ since He is after all its author and perfecter. The faith that we are sons of God produces a practicing righteousness through which the Law is not eliminated, but fulfilled. “in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 3:4) “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! One the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31).
God is just and justifier. (Romans 3:26) Through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, God has revealed to the world the righteousness that comes on the basis of faith. His propitiation by blood allowed the Almighty to pass over the previous sins of mankind without violation of His just nature, for sin must not go unpunished. Thus the Lord is just. However, since redemption is a gift by His grace, He is also justifier. But if both of those roles have been filled, what part does man play in the salvation process? His participation is a vital element, but boasting is excluded. “By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” (Romans 3:27)
The Law of faith has forbidden boasting just as we read in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Since works to obtain salvation are eliminated by the Law of faith, boasting also is disqualified. Nothing is to be done per se; faith produces a request rather than works and wages. If there is any work on our part in obtaining salvation, it is summed up this way. “Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29)
In the salvation process, there can be no doubt that God does the heavy lifting. Paul is therefore reluctant, even unwilling to boast. (II Corinthians 11:30) He knew that though he and others planted and watered, ultimately it was God who caused the growth. (I Corinthians 3:6) However, something in man is reluctant to leave well enough alone. Perhaps it is the boastful pride of life about which John spoke (I John 2:16) that requires man’s effort as if he were something more than the receiver of God’s grace.
That need is pictured so well in Naaman the Aramean of II Kings 5. The leprous commander of Aram’s army was initially unwilling to be cleansed if he could not contribute “some great thing”. Why? All he had to do was ask by immersing himself 7 times in the Jordan to be clean, yet his heart protested. He was turning the motorcade back to Aram when a servant intervened. “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (II Kings 5:13) Was it not to his advantage to receive cleansing just for the asking? Indeed it was. But to be restored to health merely by the grace of God meant boasting was excluded. The same reasoning applies to circumcision and earrings.
Diamond earrings (I’m told) are quite stylish. But isn’t jewelry made of cubic zirconia just as sparkly? Besides, only a trained eye can tell the difference between the valuable gem and the synthetic imitation anyway. So why not save the money and get 2 or 3 times the bling? The answer is because anyone can do that. Diamonds as jewelry aren’t expensive because they’re desirable; they’re desirable because they’re expensive. It represents “some great thing” which not everyone can afford.
Similarly, grace through faith was too cheap for the Galatians to accept without adding circumcision to the price. Without the works of the Law, anyone - even the Gentiles - could afford salvation and Jewish boasting in the Law would be for naught. (Romans 2:17) “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. God is the God of Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised - there is only One and only He may boast. (Romans 3:29-30) But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:13-14)
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28) Paul’s defense of righteousness of the basis of faith began by demonstrating the failure of the Law to produce that righteousness. Three chapters later, the apostle points to Jesus’ triumph as God’s authoritative demonstration of righteousness apart from law. However, another example is also worthy of our consideration. Welcome, Abraham.
If, as some maintain, the condemnation of chapter three is a categorical indictment of all mankind, then the person of Abraham poses a problem, for we read in vs 11, “…There is none who seeks for God.” With the help of Hebrews, we understand that seeking for God was precisely what Abraham was doing. “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) But even more troublesome for those folks is the Scripture’s recognition that Abraham was a righteous man, for they claim, there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:9) “For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3)
Abraham’s example is especially helpful to us, for in him we see righteousness isolated from many of the issues that accompany later righteous men, such as: the Law, circumcision, or Jewish heritage. We can be sure that Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of keeping the Law’s commandments, for there were none! Galatians reminds us that the Law came 430 years after Abraham. Thus any righteousness on Abraham’s account was not the result of Law.
Even circumcision, which later came to be synonymous with the commandments, does not account for Abraham’s righteous state, for we read that, “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised…” (Romans 4:11) Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of circumcision; he was already righteous. Rather, circumcision was the result of that righteousness. (More on this in a few weeks.)
Not even his Jewish heritage, to which the men of Jesus’ day so often appealed, could reckon the first patriarch righteous, because Abraham was not a Jew. His father, Terah, was a Chaldean living in Ur (Genesis 11:28) And like his brother, Nahor who was born there, Abraham claims the Mesopotamians as his country and relatives. (Genesis 24:4,10) Abraham was no Jew. He belongs instead to that group of Gentiles who pursued and attained the righteousness which is by faith. (Romans 9:30)
Now we can answer Paul’s question. “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” (Romans 4:1) The answer is righteousness by faith. Abraham was not justified by the works of the Law, circumcision, or heritage; he cannot boast in those. He did not work and labor beneath the commandments, but rather believed in Him who justifies the ungodly, and his faith was reckoned as righteousness. (Romans 4:5)
For all those reasons, Abraham is an excellent example of the covenant of faith and therefore the template for believers in any age, for we conclude that faith has always been the only means to righteousness. Remember the list of faithful heroes from Hebrews 11? They span nearly 5000 years on the page of history from Abel to Daniel. Their lives were lived before the Law, at Sinai and thereafter. They are sons, prophets, patriarchs, judges, mothers, builders, law givers, soldiers, and much more, but they have this in common. “And all these, having gained approval through their faith,…” (Hebrews 11:39)
On September 6th, 1522 a single Spanish vessel laden with spices returned to port. The Victoria - with less than 20 crew - was all that remained of the small five-ship flotilla that began the trip three years before. Their cargo was nothing to boast about, but how they attained it is still a marvel. Though their captain did not live to see the journey completed, Ferdinand Magellan is still remembered as the man who proved the world was round, and that you could go east by sailing west.
In an odd way, Abraham is much like the famous Portuguese explorer, since the father of the faithful’s achievement is as much about the route he took as the place he arrived. Righteousness was the patriarch’s destination, and faith - not law - was the course he chose. Rather than seeking righteousness as most do through the commandments, Abraham charted another course. “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6)
Even though Abraham proved that righteousness can be found by faith, the tendency to seek that destination by law is so strong that many choose not to follow in his steps. But stranger still is mankind’s penchant to return to works even after being justified. If boasting in works of the Law is excluded in the attaining of righteousness (Romans 3:27), how could anyone think they ought to be a part of its maintenance? The man was justified by faith, will he be perfected by Law? Though the proposition seems absurd, it was precisely the issue over which the churches of Galatia stumbled. Paul asked them rhetorically, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
Of course no one (including the Galatians) would view their own efforts as a rejection of Christ’s sacrifice. They simply assumed that the grace they had received through faith would allow them to keep the law as they had always pursued it. Fast forward 2000 years and not much has changed. Though it’s easy to recognize circumcision and Sabbath keeping as elements of the law that add nothing to grace, it is just as easy to revert to human nature and seek to justify ourselves through familiar means like guilt, confession, or even communion.
Guilt is a useful and appropriate emotion that should spur one to repentance, but guilt contorted into penance as a sacrifice for sin is wrong headed and leads only to the very slavery to sin they’re attempting to avoid. In that regard, communion too, though right and good, can be misunderstood as our sacrifice for sin instead of a reminder that our sins in Christ are already forgiven. If the old sacrifices were ineffective as a reminder of sin year by year, how much less if they must be revisited week by week! (Hebrews 10:13) Even confession might be misconstrued as a sacrifice for sin if one believes that apart from it they are outside of Christ. Thus we find intent is just as important as the thing itself. “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5)
There is and can only be one sacrifice for sin - Jesus Christ. Through Him we draw near to God initially, and because of Him we maintain that relationship since, “where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18) Our participation therefore is limited to the asking for and responding to, that grace - not the earning of.
Our complete forgiveness is described so well by David. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.” (Romans 4:7) This quotation from Psalm 32 reassures the child of God that any and all sins of his past are truly forgiven, but the next line gives even greater hope. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (Romans 4:8) The forgiveness of yesterday’s sins is good, but grace for tomorrow is even better! What a blessing indeed to know that all our sins: past, present, and future are already forgiven through Christ’s single sacrifice for those reckoned righteous apart from works!
Some things must be given and received; they simply cannot be earned without destroying the gift itself. Love, respect, honor, appreciation, submission, all fall under this umbrella. To demand them or to pay for them would twist and pervert those good gifts into something else entirely. So it is with righteousness. What was reckoned to Abraham was not the result of his insistence or his efforts, rather, “…Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
To make the point to a Jewish and Gentile readership, Paul enlists Abraham again to clarify the distinction between blessing and wage. “Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:9) “Not while circumcised,” he answers, “but while uncircumcised and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised…” (Romans 4:10-11) Abraham was righteous without circumcision which was itself a sign of his existing faith.
Without doubt the patriarch was considered righteous when he looked to the stars as the heavenly witnesses to God’s promise of descendants. “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) More than 13 years before circumcision in chapter 17, Abraham is already righteous as a blessing not a wage.
The above verses are not difficult to understand, but we must take a little time here to address a particularly troublesome misuse of those Scriptures. For some opposed to baptism as the means of their appeal to God for a good conscience and thus the threshold of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, these verses seem to offer the proof text they’re looking for. Allow me first to present their argument, and then we shall unravel the knot together.
Their assertions are these: 1) Abraham was righteous prior to circumcision. 2) Circumcision is the OT foreshadow of NT baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12) 3) Therefore, we are righteous prior to baptism. 4) Circumcision was just a seal/sign of preexisting righteousness. 5) Thus also, baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. My, what a mess we have stumbled into!
In response, others have offered several anemic counter arguments. Their claims mostly fall into one of these three categories: A) Abraham’s example doesn’t apply to the NT. B) Abraham’s righteousness/ faith is not the same as ours or C) Acts 2:38 says differently. None of these are valid.
If Abraham’s example has no NT application, why is He cited continually throughout it? On the contrary, it is precisely because his faith is the same as ours (Romans 4:16) that the patriarch is an outstanding example for us to follow. And the fact that other Scriptures (like Acts 2) make conflicting claims is to say either the Word is internally inconsistent or our understanding is inaccurate. The latter is the case.
The real confusion begins when Abraham is used as a foreshadow of Christians. If we accept this premise, then we must reach the conclusion that baptism follows salvation. This is inaccurate. Paul is clear to define Abraham’s relative position to us as father. He is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11), of the circumcised and uncircumcised (4:12), and of us all (4:16). He is not therefore the foreshadow of Christians, but of Christ to whom Abraham’s promises were truly given. (Galatians 3:16). With this understanding, everything else falls into place.
Abraham and circumcision is the foreshadow of Christ and baptism. The first is the shadow; the second is the substance. (Colossians 2:17) Thus, what was said of Abraham can be said of Christ. Both Abraham and his seed were righteous on the basis of their faith (Romans 3:22, 4:3). Abraham was righteous prior to circumcision (Romans 4:10), and Christ was righteous before baptism. John said as much when his cousin arrived at the Jordan and he protested the water for repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ case. (Matthew 3:13-17) Abraham received circumcision as a seal of that righteousness, just as Christ’s baptism proved Him to be heaven’s “beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Any who came after Abraham were circumcised to be a participant in his covenant, and any who follow after Christ must receive immersion (spiritual circumcision) to be a sharer in His covenant.
The Scriptures always work.
Abraham was more than the father of the Jewish nation. Though Israel rightly claim him as their patriarch, the wanderer from Ur was the beginning of something much larger - a fact which Romans confirms. “and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them” (Romans 4:11) As a man who was considered righteous prior to circumcision, Abraham is the pattern for the Gentiles who would ultimately follow in his believing steps while uncircumcised. But more than that, Abraham is the pattern for “all who believe without being circumcised”. Thus both Jew and Gentile look to Abraham the uncircumcised as the common template of their faith.
However, he is also, “the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:12) Abraham left a pattern of circumcision to be followed just like his example of faith. One might assume that such a tradition was for Jews only, but Paul implies that anyone who follows the path of faithful Abraham does so in the steps of circumcision. He is after all, the Father of circumcision not only to those of circumcision.
The circumcision that is for Jew and Gentile alike is immersion. As we discussed last week, NT baptism is the answer to OT circumcision cutting away the fleshly nature from the heart of man. (Colossians 2:11-12) Abraham’s example sets the precedent of circumcision (immersion) for all who follow after, Jew and Gentile alike. Thus, the believing Gentiles, have just as much claim to the forebear of the faithful as their Jewish counterparts.
In response, others have offered several anemic counter arguments. Their claims mostly fall into one of these three categories: A) Abraham’s example doesn’t apply to the NT. B) Abraham’s righteousness/ faith is not the same as ours or C) Acts 2:38 says differently. None of these are valid.
That brings us to the question of Abraham’s descendants. If he is the father of the faithful and of circumcision, where are his children? When the Lord promised that Abraham’s heirs would be innumerable like the stars of heaven, it was not hyperbole. (Genesis 15:5) Before Isaac, Abraham had a son named Ishmael. And later, after Sarah’s death, Abraham took other wives and had many other children. At least 6 more sons were born to him through his wife, Keturah, and still others through his concubines. (Genesis 25:1-2,6) However, “neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” (Romans 9:7-8) Of all the nations who could claim Abraham as their natural father, only Isaac was considered the heir of God’s promise. In fact only one of Isaac’s twin sons would be approved and the other excluded. To say that Abraham’s blessing followed lines of lineage is to ignore the vast majority of his descendants. Tracing one’s paternity back to Abraham does not a heir of Abraham make. “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:15-16).
How did Abraham, the father of the faithful, receive his promised inheritance? Abraham would be blessed but not for his lawful obedience. Faith formed the fabric of their relationship, and on that basis Abraham received a promise that would change the world. “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)
After leaving Ur, Abraham (then Abram) arrived in Canaan and passed through the inhabited land. “And the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7) Later, famine in Canaan caused Abram to take his considerable possessions to Egypt. Upon his return to Canaan, he camped at the same site as before near Bethel and the altar he had made there. And again the Lord confirmed His promise. “for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.” (Genesis 13:15) All that Abram saw, everywhere he set his foot was his possession. By virtue of God’s promise he was the heir of the world.
In his Roman letter, Paul draws upon Abraham’s history to make an important point: Abraham received the promise through faith rather than through keeping the Law. This conclusion can be easily drawn since the pledge of inheritance came to Abraham over four centuries before the Law was delivered through Moses. Abraham knew nothing of clean and unclean foods, priestly service or tabernacle regulation. Just so, the righteousness of faith - not the commandments are the means by which we share in God’s promises. But Paul goes a step farther.
“For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” (Romans 4:14) Since the promise was given on the basis of faith, to grant the inheritance through Law would be to break that previous promise. Imagine it this way. What if after Abraham had looked over Canaan as his own promised inheritance that the Lord should then add conditions to that promise and require Abraham to keep the Law as well in order to receive it? In essence, the additional terms would break God’s previous promise. “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.” (Galatians 3:17-18)
We cannot pass by this point without noting that Abraham was not the lone recipient of that promise by faith, for Paul said, “the promise to Abraham or to his descendants…” (Romans 4:13) However, the Greek word rendered here as “descendants” or “seed” is not plural but singular. It refers to one descendant. Again Galatians adds to our understanding of the Roman passage, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
Abraham is the stand in for Christ in this OT foreshadow of NT substance. The covenant of faith was pictured through Abraham, but the reality was confirmed in Jesus who stands to inherit the world through the promise of faith. “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.” (Psalms 2:7-8) The true heir of the world is Christ and just as Abraham waited to receive it through his descendants so the promise to our Lord will be fulfilled through His faithful descendants in the Church.
I have a desk drawer with paper bank checks that I will probably never use. Gone are the days of waiting in the grocery line for everyone to find their checkbook and a working pen, scribble out the appropriate amount in numerals and English, and complete the note with an indistinguishable flourish on the signature line. I do not pine for days gone by; I am happy to be out of Walmart that much faster, but the paper check is useful to us today in our discussion of just how God worked with Abraham.
“For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16) Today I hope to contrast two different kinds of arrangements: contracts and promises. Contracts are usually a business relationship. Each party agrees to certain rights, responsibilities and penalties negotiated in advance. The Law was such an arrangement between God and Israel. If the nation remained faithful, blessing would follow. If they fell away, punishment would result. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” (Galatians 3:10)
The second pact we must consider is a promise. It differs from contracts in that a promise is a unilateral decision. That is to say the promise does not have an “if” clause, as in, I will do this if you do that. A promise is simply a pledge of what one has chosen to do. If there were any conditions, they have already been met. Marriage is such an arrangement. When we take our nuptials, we do not swear to love, car, etc. in sickness and health, good times and bad if they deserve it. Rather, the wedding vows we make are unilateral promises that regardless of (often in spite of) the circumstances, we commit to act as a good husband or wife. Therefore, because promises are unconditional, their fulfillment is as certain as the word of the one who made it. There can be no breech of contract, for there are no terms to violate. “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Romans 4:15) The result is great confidence.
Abraham is the object of the initial promise, but the Lord wants that confidence to extend past the initial recipient of the promise to its descendants as well. “For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16) The promise to Abraham was the promise of a kingdom. By God’s word Abraham was designated heir of the world (Romans 4:13) and a father of many nations. (Romans 4:17) And God ultimately fulfilled that promise to Abraham, to his seed, and to his children, “…in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee” (Acts 13:33) Hebrews puts it this way. “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Hebrews 6:13) Hebrew’s writer is emphatic that God’s unchangeable promise should provide us strong encouragement. (Romans 4:18)
Like a bank check, the Lord’s promise was written on His own good name; He swore by Himself. (Hebrews 6:13) The note was given to Abraham, but the one to redeem that promise was Christ who received the kingdom to which we now belong. Be confident in God’s promise!
We know Abraham as the father of all the faithful, (Romans 4:16) however the patriarch didn’t begin that way. When the Lord spoke to Abraham, “as it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you’…” (Romans 4:17, Genesis 17:4) the heir of the world had no heir of his own. Eliezer of Damascus, a house-born servant, had been first in the line of inheritance, but he was displaced by Ishmael, the son of Abraham through Hagar. However, when Ishmael was about 13, he was sent away along with his mother. Later, Abraham (then a spry 99) was reminded of God's promise to make him the father of many nations, (Genesis 17:4-5) but with Ishmael gone, he again had no heir! Even so, Abraham believed God’s previous promise that, like the innumerable stars, “So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5, Romans 4:18)
Two obstacles stood in the way of Abraham’s faith; the first was death. Abraham considered himself and his wife well beyond any possibility of child bearing. Abraham was 99 and Sarah 89 when the time finally came. Not only were they advanced in years, they had been unsuccessful in their efforts to have a child for their entire married life. Nevertheless, Abraham did not waver. “And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19)
The second obstacle may have been even more difficult to overcome; the Bible describes it this way - “that which does not exist.” (Romans 4:17) To Abraham it appeared as though there was no path forward. Where was the promised heir? From where would he come? How would God fulfill His promise? “O Lord God” he asked, “how may I know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:8) To his credit, Abraham’s faith did not waver in spite of the fact that no evidence of God’s plan was forthcoming. Abraham had only God’s promise and His faithful history in hope against hope. He had no heir, nor any plan for receiving one, “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Romans 4:20-22)
We would be remiss to laud Abraham as the father of the faithful without for a moment considering their mother. When Abram left Ur, Sarai left also. When he traveled to Haran, Egypt and Canaan, Sarai went too. And when Abraham received God’s promise of a child, it was Sarah who carried Isaac to term. Though Sarah laughed (as did Abraham), she believed and submitted herself to God’s will, for, like her husband, “…she considered Him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11) For this reason, Sarah was similarly blessed. “And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:16) If Abraham as heir of the world was promised a kingdom, then Sarah surely is its queen. Like free Jerusalem above, she is the mother of the faithful. (Galatians 4:22-31)
Throughout all their hardships, tests, and trials, Abraham and Sarah remained faithful and they received what God had promised. But belief must come first. “In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations…” (Romans 4:18 emph. added) Like Abraham and Sarah, before we can become, we must believe.
The result of Abraham’s faith was perhaps even greater than he expected. When the first of all patriarchs heard the news that he would be the father of many nations, he did not doubt. In spite of his age and that of Sarah, his wife, “… he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong if faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Romans 4:20-21) Abraham trusted in God’s promise but he received something more. “Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:22) In addition to an heir and kingdom, Abraham was reckoned righteous.
Unbeknownst to Abraham, the Lord’s purpose reached farther. The events of Abraham’s life, his marriage to Sarah and Hagar, his two sons, his travels, all serve God’s greater purpose as foreshadows of spiritual truths. The New Testament (especially Romans 4, Galatians 3-4, Hebrews 11 and others) confirm God’s purpose for Abraham’s life extended far beyond his 150 years in that they use his history as the basis for new covenant conclusions. “Now not for his sake only was it written, that [righteousness] was reckoned to him, but for our sake also to whom it will be reckoned…” (Romans 4:23-24) What did it profit Abraham that his life and times were preserved through oral tradition and finally penned presumably by Moses four centuries later? Of course it serves him not at all, however, it is of great use to us. Like so much of the OT, “These things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (I Corinthians 10:11)
What conclusions might we draw from Abraham’s experience? The faith of Abraham that resulted in righteousness faced two obstacles: death and nonexistence. The former was the veritable condition of Abraham and Sarah’s bodies, the latter was the condition of his heir. Thus Abraham arrived at two conclusions: God gives life to the dead, and calls into being what does not exist. (Romans 4:17)
The New Testament claims that to believe what Abraham believed is to receive what Abraham received. “Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:23)
Like the father of our faith, we conclude that God’s promises are true based on the evidence of what we have seen and reason to believe what we have not seen. Abraham had witnessed the faithfulness of God throughout his life before receiving God’s seemingly impossible promise, and on that basis Abraham reasoned his way to faith. When challenged to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham knew God’s promise and “considered.” “he considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:19)
Our faith is in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead - the appearance of our justification. Like our father Abraham, we reason. We begin from the available evidence of verifiable Scripture, history, and human observation, to conclude/consider that Jesus’ resurrection is authentic and believable. If that is true, then we must also accept the conclusion that as Christ was raised so we too might walk in newness of life. “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11) The result of belief in God’s promise is righteousness.
“Therefore having been justified by faith… we can discuss what that means! Paul spends the first 4 chapters of the Roman letter making the case for justification by faith - and faith alone. All are condemned by the Law whether they have it written on stone or conscience. All have failed to satisfy the Law whether they labor beneath it, approve of it, or teach it to others. And all must look elsewhere in search of righteousness.
Abraham, a gentile, was considered righteous, though not on the basis of law, rather the wanderer from Ur was reckoned righteous on the basis of faith. Like Christ, his promised heir, the two form the basis of our understanding of faith-based righteousness. The result is, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Mankind’s relationship with Heaven has always been tenuous at best. The strain was apparent from the beginning when God breathed His frustration. “Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh…” (Genesis 6:3) That animus continued beyond the flood with fleshly man, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8) But something greater was coming.
Through faith and the justification it produces, we have something previously unavailable - peace with God. The fleshly mind has been replaced, and the spiritual man is reconciled to God. Thus a harmony which could not endure before is now the norm and the child of faith is at peace with God who reconciled us to Himself, “…through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:16)
Justification without grace is like hitting the lottery; without a change in his habits, the poor sap who won often ends up worse than before. Indeed if we were not introduced to grace, the justification jackpot might be wasted or worse, for justification/ forgiveness outside of an environment of grace only begets more forgiveness since the slavery to sin in the form of guilt remains.
Grace is different than the atonement pictured in the Law. That previous mercy came at a cost paid repeatedly. For every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2) and forgiveness came at the cost of blood. (Hebrews 9:22) Do the crime - pay the fine. In contrast, the grace of the New Covenant looks forward. Christ has already been sacrificed, and there will not be another. No further sacrifice is necessary from Him or from us to atone for sins of the past or future. With the issue of sin behind us, the one who was introduced by faith and now stands in that grace, having once been cleansed, no longer has consciousness of sins. (Hebrews 10:2) Grace through faith cleanses the guilty conscience and the subsequent slavery to sin is broken.
Finally, Paul writes that our faith causes us to exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2) Apart from Jesus’ resurrection what hope can there be? Petty dreams and false aspirations pale when compared to the hope offered through Christ, for if God raised Christ from the dead then he can and will raise us also. “you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (I Peter 1:21) Our faith and hope rest on the resurrection and glorification of Christ, who, as a forerunner for us entered within the veil and has become our anchor and our hope. (Hebrews 6:29-20)
Sharing in the glory of God is a hope worthy of exultation, but Paul turns our attention to another reason to exult that is not quite so self-evident. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations…” (Romans 5:3) Like James, who encourages the saints to, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2) the co-author of Romans emphasizes the proper attitude of joy toward the trials that must inevitably confront the Christian living in hope by faith. But the Scriptures do not command joy without reason.
Knowledge of the outcome is what produces joy in the midst of trial. James continues, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:3) and Paul echoes, “… knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance.” (Romans 5:3) Indeed, one cannot develop “hupomoné,” the Greek word used by both writers for “patient endurance,” any other way. Though slick ad campaigns for advanced fitness equipment and breakthrough sports supplements abound, the old adage remains true - no pain, no gain.
The journey that ends in hope begins with faith. Without a belief in the ultimate outcome, no one would begin the voyage much less make the sacrifices necessary to push through adversity. Thus Paul again sets our minds on things above. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) It is faith that compels the intrepid explorer, to leave behind the grey Azores and the Gates of Hercules in search of a new world armed only with sexton, compass, and clock. And tribulation is soon to follow, that fire through which faith must pass to be transformed into a hope that will not disappoint.
Smooth seas, they say, never a good sailor made. This landlubber cannot comment on the stuff of good sailors, but if perseverance, proven character and hope are sea-worthy qualities, then I agree they cannot be produced apart from diversity. “…knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4) Even Jesus learned obedience through the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8) It would be foolish to think that we should learn it any other way. Therefore, “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.” (I Peter 4:13)
After weathering a few storms, the once-fresh cheek of the sailor has taken on a swarthy confidence. He understands what must be done in times of crisis and is therefore unafraid to meet them. He has continued to keep the course and looking back upon his charted progress finds that he has acquired something else along the way. The daily ploddings have resulted in daily plottings. The map of his journey that once contained only open seas now begins to show the progress of his journey and he looks back upon the record of proven character.
As proven character - that track record of our inner man - stretches back ever farther, we begin to look more expectantly to the horizon for the realization of our goal. The man in the lookout strains to see what the captain knows must soon be found. Surely we must be close to the end of this odyssey! Will today be the day the first sight of our destination rises above the empty horizon? Through proven character, hope has been produced. Thus Paul could write expectantly, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” Set your course, friends, and do not fear the wind and waves they are the path to hope.
God is a careful planner. The Alpha and Omega who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) knows the times and epochs like He knows the seasons. He causes the constellations to appear on cue (Job 38:32) and sends rain in springtime. (Zechariah 10:1) However, and more importantly, He also knew when the Messiah needed to appear. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
Neither too early nor late, Christ appeared, “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4) But why didn’t Jesus come sooner? Why not meet Adam and Eve as the two were being shown Eden’s door?
Before the Messiah could accomplish His mission, it was necessary to educate mankind as to its significance. The Law would become their tutor to lead them to Christ (Galatians 3:24) by teaching the standard of justice, righteousness and the cost for sin. Having learned from the Law, only then could the people relate to the Messiah as the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sin of the world. The time had finally come for the Christ to be revealed - “while we were helpless.”
When the time was right, Jesus appeared, but something else appeared also. Prior to the coming of Christ, God had shown His love to man primarily through His provision and protection. Like the parent of a young child, discipline/training was the form love had to take. But at the right time, when mankind had been revealed as utterly helpless through the Law and his own failed attempts, Christ appeared - and died. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Never before had God made such an overture of love toward mankind, and indeed, none greater could be made, for true love is marked by sacrifice for the sake of those who cannot repay.
“Love your enemies,” said Jesus, “and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) He added that even the world loves those who love them in return, but to perfect love and thus, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” requires a selfless love that seeks the good of one’s enemies. That is the measure of God’s love. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10)
It’s the “shall be saved” part that gets me. Christ died for our sins “while we were yet sinners” and “enemies” in the hope that we “shall be saved.” It’s sobering to consider that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, no one had yet become a Christian. The prospect that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon those men and women was still just a promise. In the same way that, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone…” (John 12:24) Jesus’ death was required first… before any fruit could be borne.
We tend to think of faith as a uniquely human trait - a necessity borne out of weakness. After all, how could God have faith, if He has the power to bring about His purpose? Yet we note that God always preserves man’s sovereignty, never violating his right to choose. The Almighty invites; He does not compel. Thus the word of reconciliation is not a command. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:20) Like the Lord before us who in love, “believes all things” we likewise surrender our lives and die daily in the belief that those who are still hostile towards God may yet be saved.
There is no escaping the necessity of death. Even the Messiah, from the moment He entered the world, moved inevitably toward the mortal conclusion of His earthly ministry. The justice of God demanded that a death be made for the sins of mankind. However, it was God’s mercy that allowed another’s death on man’s behalf. But it was God’s love which required that death on our account to be His own. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.“ (Romans 5:10) The Savior’s death was necessary; it satisfied the requirement of the Law for sin (Galatians 2:19), established the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:16), and most importantly for our discussion today - set the stage for resurrection.
For a moment let’s consider Paul’s invitation to view the death of Christ in contrast with His resurrection. As soon as those two elements are separated, we begin to see the significance of each, for without the resurrection, Christ’s death would be powerless to redeem mankind. “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17) Jesus’ death paid the necessary price for sin, but apart from the resurrection, that sacrifice would remain ineffective. Note that Jesus’ role as savior and the source of forgiveness is fulfilled from the exalted position of God’s right hand. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)
Even our appeal for grace through immersion is based on the truth of Christ’s resurrection. “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21) Indeed, what would be the point of our uniting with Him in the likeness of His death if not to share also in the resurrection? (Romans 6:4) Therefore, when Jesus finally exclaimed, “it is finished.” and yielded up His spirit, (John 19:30) the act of grace was only getting started.
What followed the cross is best described for us through the invaluable images of the Mosaic system which was itself an imperfect earthly copy of heavenly things. “…just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.” (Hebrews 8:5) All the tabernacle and its accoutrements were tangible examples of heavenly things. Thus we see the role of Jesus portrayed by the High Priest who took the blood of the sacrifice into the holy place and offered it there for the sins of Israel. Hebrews again offers insight. “…through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12)
Our passage from Romans today emphasizes the role of Christ in glory as the living rather than the dead Savior. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10) Though the price for sin has been paid, Jesus part is far from finished. “Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
Would someone dare to die for hostile sinners? Jesus did. But how much more would they be willing to give their life for those who loved in return? “Much more” then is the measure of Christ’s grace toward us who once were hostile but have now been reconciled through His death to be saved by His life.
Patient zero. In a way that’s how the Scriptures might describe Adam and his relationship toward sin. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) Like a true pandemic, the malady of sin and condemnation spread from one to another until, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) But Adam was the beginning - he was the door; through him sin entered the world bringing spiritual death to all our race in its wake.
But like our father, I must protest. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) Technically Adam wasn’t the first to sin, as instant replay confirms. “… she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6) This seems to raise more questions.
If Eve was first to sin, why does Adam get the blame? Some have suggested that because Genesis 3:6 says Eve gave “to her husband with her” that Adam was on site when his wife was tempted and did nothing to prevent her, thus making her sin his fault. I personally find this un-compelling, firstly because “with her” might refer just as easily to their shared home in the garden in general and not necessarily at her side. And secondly, God only attributes sin to those that commit it. I propose another explanation.
What if God’s covenant was with Adam rather than Eve? It was Adam, after all, with whom God made arrangements. (Genesis 2:15-17) Eve’s disobedience may have nullified her right to remain in the garden, but since Adam’s name was on the lease, his tenancy would have continued. Eve’s actions were also different than her husband’s since she was duped by the Devil. “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (I Timothy 2:14) But when Adam shared in the fruit, the contract was no longer viable. Eden was lost, the covenant was broken, sin was in the world, and eviction was unavoidable. Eve may have beaten him to the fruit, but it was Adam’s actions that opened the door to sin and death.
Through Adam’s sin, something else entered the world - the knowledge of good and evil. The New Testament describes it as the consciousness of sin, but we would normally use the term “guilt.” The process works like this for anyone outside of Christ: when a sin is committed, the Law acts to convict the sinner. “…for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) The result is guilt and spiritual death. “…when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died” (Romans 7:9) That guilt separates man from God and binds the sinner as a slave to his actions. Before eating of that fruit, whatever transgressions might have been committed in the garden went unnoticed, “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” (Romans 4:15) and again, “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13) Once that law was broken however, there could be no excuse. Our parents were naked and ashamed in the knowledge of sin.
Like a cancer, sin began to spread. Innocence lost cannot be restored through the Law, and those who followed Adam were born into a world in which the law of conscience reigned unchallenged. In the footsteps of their father, they also sinned, and his condition became their own, “and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— “ (Romans 5:12) Adam opened the door to sin and death, but the death of all men was caused by their sin, not Adam’s. His example showed the way, but each individual dies when he chooses to follow in Adam’s steps. When a man does what Adam did, he gets what Adam got. And so it is with Christ, but that will be our discussion for next week. :)
The Scriptures never cease to amaze me. Rather than a random collection of separate elements, the Word is a functional system of interconnected and interdependent parts that resemble the workings of a watch much more than an art gallery. Even the Genesis record of Adam is connected to the New Testament by divine design. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” (Romans 5:14) Adam is a type, that is a foreshadow and hint of what, or who, is to come, and Christ is the answer.
In many ways the two follow the same pattern. Both are brought to life and given authority and dominion over their respective creations - Adam over the natural world and Christ over the spiritual. (Colossians 2:15-18) However, when we consider the function of the two Adams we find that they are not similar but opposite. Christ is the antithesis of Adam, unravelling the knot of sin and death first tied in the Garden. “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (I Corinthians 15:45) The effects of one transgression give us insight into the significance of one act of righteousness, but before we can unpackage that, we must deal with a little misunderstanding.
This section of Romans is often used by those of Calvinist persuasion as a proof text for their beloved total depravity - that wretched doctrine that reduces man to a helpless victim of Adam’s sin and thus incapable of seeking God. To that end they cite the first half of vss 15-19. Space constraints make it impossible to quote them all here, but happily for us, all 5 verses follow the same pattern. Read them now - I’ll wait. Good. Now let’s examine vs 19 as typical of the group. The first half reads, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” Indeed it would seem Calvin’s cousins have a strong case, but two problems make their interpretation unworkable.
The first is they must avoid vs 12 which places the responsibility for spiritual death squarely on the shoulders of the individual not Adam. “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all [individuals] sinned” (Romans 5:12) Adam opened the door to sin, but death came to all because all sinned.
The second obstacle is the other half of the verses they reference. Again Romans 5:19 is representative of the group. “…through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” What makes this troubling for our determinist friends is that the second half of each verse is joined to the first by a “For as… even so” mechanism. The point of all five verses is that universal death came through Adam, and in the same way universal life has come through Christ. If one, then the other. Therefore if we assert that Adam’s sin has resulted in universal death without man’s participation, then we must also accept that universal life through Christ has been given to all men without their knowledge or consent. They must conclude that all men are saved. Since we know that some will certainly be lost, this approach is unworkable.
Then what is to be done with the verses in question? Beginning from verse 5:12, the answer becomes clear. If all died because all sinned, then the condemnation of all men resulted when they followed in Adam’s steps. When they did what Adam did, they got what Adam got. And in just the same way, justification of life results to all men when they follow Christ’s example and get what He got. Christ’s example is the topic of chapter six which we will discuss in two weeks after we deal with the end of sin’s reign next time.
Like the enduring reign of a despotic dynasty the rule of sin and death remained unbroken. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses…” (Romans 5:14) The co-regents Sin and Death came to power when the first Law was broken in the garden, and through the Law they continued their mortal rule for, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (I Corinthians 15:56) You see, it is the Law that kills; sin is simply the catalyst. “for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment deceived me, and through it [the commandment] killed me.” (Romans 7:11) The letter of the Law is therefore, the ministry of death, (II Corinthians 3:6-7) and once possessed of power it is not readily relinquished.
The dominion of death quickly spread, “…even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” (Romans 5:14) With the knowledge of sin in the world, transgression actually increased (Romans 5:20) as the Law expanded to condemn all sin not just the offense of Adam. The conscience had been awakened, the commandment had come, sin was alive, and mankind died in spirit. (Romans 7:9) But a new dynasty was on the horizon.
Just as Adam introduced the poison of sin and death into the world, the second Adam would be its antidote, but what a strange place to find a cure. Romans tells us that, “…on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.” (Romans 5:16) One might not naturally look for justification among many transgressions, yet that is precisely where it was to be found.
In order to attain that justification for mankind, Christ’s perfect life was necessary, but not by itself. The Savior did not die in that pristine condition in which He lived, untouched by sin. Rather, Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Peter records the same paradox when he writes, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24) Jesus didn’t die apart from sin, rather He became sin so that when He died, sin died with Him. “For the death that He died, He died to sin…” (Romans 6:10) Likewise, it was “…through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14) For an illustration, think Samson who gave himself up in the death of his enemies.
The Law is the problem. Because the Law was given by God and is itself, “holy righteous and good,” (Romans 7:12) the commandments cannot simply be ignored or broken with impunity. It is God’s Law, and it must be satisfied. Thus any severing from the Law must be done lawfully. Paul says it best to the Galatians. “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19)
Jesus placed the Law in an impossible position. That immutable standard was supposed to condemn sin, but how should it operate in Jesus’ case? The sin of the world was upon Him, yet He Himself was righteous and blameless. Like inspector Javert, the Law was in a legal conundrum. It could not justly condemn what is good and right without contradicting itself. On the other hand, it cannot leave sin unpunished. Justification is the answer. Thus “…through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Romans 5:18) Through Christ the dynasty of sin and death has been replaced by a new rule: the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. “that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
With the death of Christ, the reign of sin came to an end. The just price for sin had been paid, the requirement of the Law was satisfied, but what to do about Christ? The commandments could not condemn the innocent, nor could they ignore the transgressions of mankind. Therefore rather than condemnation, justification was the result by a new Law. “the Law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2) Over those who are outside of Christ the ministry of death continues to exercise its mortal rule, but those governed by His Law of grace have escaped that jurisdiction.
The Christian no longer answers to the Law of commandments. Like Paul we died to that Law (Galatians 2:19) thus, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (I Corinthians 10:23) The child of God is not principally motivated by a mandate to avoid sin, but rather the doing of right, for after all, if one edifies their neighbor, he has already fulfilled the Law. (Romans 13:8) Without two tablets of stone chained to his ankle, the saint is free to love and serve God, but does that mean he is oblivious to sin?
Not at all! The conscience - which now is clean in Christ - is even more sensitive to any blight that could mar our relationship with the Savior. However, such issues are quickly dealt with in honest conversation with the Lord, and no lingering guilt remains to drag the Christian down. “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (I Corinthians 4:4) What liberty there is under the rule of grace!
What liberty indeed! In fact the shift in policy from the Old to the New Covenant is so fundamental that it is often overlooked. Many Christians sadly assume that the administration of grace is just another version of the previous rule of law. They live as though the law still required a commensurate sacrifice of suitable repentance and confession for every infraction. They operate as if grace were retroactive like its predecessor. Au contraire.
Jesus’ sacrifice is the only sacrifice for sin. “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,” (Hebrews 10:12) It covers the sins of all the righteous men who went before Him (Hebrews 9:15) and it is the propitiation for every sin committed after Him. There will never be another. So it is with us also. When we are immersed into Christ, every past sin is blotted out, any present sins are erased, but more importantly, every future sin is also truly forgiven and thus any offering (sacrifice) for sin is rendered unnecessary. “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18)
Having been introduced to the conditions of proactive forgiveness, the fleshly minded man may muse. If my future sins have been forgiven, what’s to prevent me from taking advantage of that grace? After all, if the credit card has been prepaid, why not use it? If sin causes grace to abound, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” A literary dope slap follows: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” [You moron!] (Romans 6:1-2 emphasis added) Christ’s death and sacrifice was given that we might enjoy freedom from sin not freedom to sin. We died with Christ so as to be emancipated from the slavery of sin, unfettered from the commandments and loosed of the weight of guilt. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
Don’t you know? Paul assumed that his readers were already aware of the significance of baptism since they had been immersed themselves. He writes, “…How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:2-3) Even so, the Spirit considered it prudent to remind the saints in Rome of what all Christians ought not forget.
Baptism does not neatly fall into a single category. Like everything Christians do, the rite of immersion is not simply physical or spiritual but both. Notice how the Scriptures carefully identify each of its component parts. “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience…” (I Peter 3:21) Immersion into Christ is both a physical removal of fleshly dirt and a spiritual appeal to God. Hebrews confirms baptism’s dual nature adding, “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22) Here our spiritual hearts are sprinkled clean, and our physical bodies are washed. Baptism is both physical and spiritual, and lacking either element it ceases to be baptism. Both are worthy of our consideration.
Immersion into Christ is often understood as a symbolic gesture - and that is true enough though not as most assume. Folks tend to think what they see is the “real thing” and anything invisible must therefore be symbolic. In this case however, just the opposite is true. “…for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18) Contrary to our intuition, the unseen element of baptism is the eternal, lasting and therefore, if you will, the more “real.” It is the outward action of water immersion - the removal of dirt from the flesh - that forms the symbolic representation of the unseen spiritual truth. Yet even the symbol in this case has value.
Opponents of baptism as the door to salvation often object to the need for water immersion. They claim it’s faith alone which saves, (Ephesians 2:8-9) thus action ought to be excluded from the process. In so doing, they violate the Word of God which makes it clear that baptism in Jesus’ name requires water, (Acts 10:47) and deny the important purpose of that act. The measure of faith is always action. How would one know if their faith was sufficient? Ask, seek, and knock. (Matthew 7:7-8) He who seeks finds, the door is opened to him who knocks, and the one who asks in baptism receives salvation. The second purpose of that bodily washing is to provide insight into the unseen.
Just like the proverbial iceberg, the part of baptism you can’t see far outweighs what you can. The action of lowering the body, burying that body in water, and raising it again does little for the outer man, but Paul leaves no doubt as to its inner effect. “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Our immersion doesn’t merely symbolize our unity with Christ, it is the means by which that unity is accomplished. In Romans 6:4-8 those who are baptized into Christ are described as: “buried with Him, united with Him, crucified with Him, dying with Christ, and living with Him.” Thus there can be no doubt, it is through baptism that we are “with Him” In immersion the external symbolizes the genuine spiritual miracle when we are truly united to Christ, joined to His death, connected to His burial, and coupled in His resurrection. And having followed in His footsteps, we receive what Christ received - justification and life.
Shall grace increase as the result of continual sin? The apostle answers himself in typical pauline fashion. “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2) Dying to sin and living in it - are incompatible in God’s view and what follows ought to make it so in ours as well. The Scriptures describe the immersed saint’s relationship to sin as: no longer slaves of sin, freed from sin, and dead to sin in verses 4-11. Instead he walks in newness of life, in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection, living a life with Christ to God.
Clearly, the Lord’s view of those in Christ is a far cry from what is typically promoted in christen-dumb. The idea that Christians remain enslaved sinners, though saved by grace, is a lie that ought to be denounced. Some have offered a subtle variation on that theme which seems to allow both sin and righteousness to share mastery over the child of God. They claim that though we remain wretched sin-riddled junkies, the Lord chooses to see us as righteous in spite of our true nature. They claim that our new life and freedom from sin in Christ exists only in the mind of God. One might argue that the Lord’s perspective is the only one that matters, but we shall see just how far God has gone to confirm the truth of our position in Christ.
Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection were public events - so public in fact that two men unwittingly asked the Lord, “…Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (Luke 24:18) Years later Paul spoke to King Agrippa and reminded him of the Gospel saying, “this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26) But something more than Jesus’ physical ordeal was on display.
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) Jesus died condemned by Israel and Rome, but even heaven itself had turned away from the accused. Yet upon His resurrection, Jesus did not pine for the fellowship He once enjoyed with the Father. Like His life it had been restored - a fact to which more than 500 who saw Jesus alive after His sufferings, (I Corinthians 15:6) could testify. Spiritual death, burial, and resurrection were on display.
When we are joined to Christ in immersion, we are “baptized into His death,” “buried with Him through baptism,” and united with Him “in the likeness of His resurrection.” Baptism is our spiritual death, burial, and resurrection in one.
However, someone will ask. “How do you know that you’re really changed? You went down dry and came up wet. Did anything beyond the obvious occur? Certainly. Though the transformation from darkness into light is imperceptible to the human eye, the cross of Jesus is not. The public demonstration of God’s power over death both spiritual and physical through His resurrection is therefore the proof of God’s work on our behalf. Thus Paul prayed that Christians “…might know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)
Jesus’ resurrection could have been accomplished quietly. The tomb could have remained sealed without angelic announcement or public appearance of the Lord, but God chose instead to make it a public, undeniable event that we might know the power used to raise Christ is likewise used to raise us in immersion. “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) If, as some suppose, that our immersion transformation is merely symbolic and exists only in the mind of God, then Jesus’ resurrection is also, since to deny its application in us is to deny that power in Christ.
When Jesus taught the multitudes from the hillside, He spoke of a principle which extends beyond money. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other...” (Matthew 6:24) The Lord’s observation about mammon is true also when it comes to our spiritual loyalty and is especially applicable in our discussion of Romans 6. One of two authorities must necessarily rule over us, but which one is up to us.
Sin and death were our master. The long arm of the Law identified us as sinners and condemned all who fell short of the glory of God. However, the death of Christ broke those chains so that just as death is no longer master over Him, (Romans 6:9) “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) Grace now has jurisdiction over those who died to the Law, and directs those so freed to present themselves for obedience to a new master. Here the words of Joshua gain renewed significance. “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12) The mortal body, the flesh, is the place where our choice becomes evident. It is the proving ground for thoughts and intentions of the heart and the ballot box into which our vote for master is cast. However, another will is already at work here. The carnal desires for comfort and pleasure (the lusts of the flesh) are continually at odds with the desire of the spirit and vise versa. (Romans 8:5-7) The child of faith must contend with the lusts of the flesh that yet remain in the body (Romans 6:12) and put those deeds to death. “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) The struggle is real.
“Two approaches to the conflict are equally disturbing. The first denies that the body can be brought to heel. Modern gnostics entrenched in false humility advocate that the flesh is inherently and irredeemably corrupt and must simply be tolerated until the Lord’s return. They deny the clear instruction that sin is no longer to be master over you by making a division between flesh and spirit thus allowing the first to continue in its wretched state and insulating the second from its corruption.
The other ignores the issue of sin at all. It simply denies the weakness of the flesh by admitting only what is “by faith.” If - as the Scripture says - I am dead to sin, then no sin exists. Neither deals with the issues at hand nor proves effective in dealing with them. Only an approach that deals with sin in view of our potential in Christ produces effective results, and this will be our topic in upcoming chapters.
The Lord desires and expects that we should be righteous in mind and body. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Corinthians 7:1) Perfect holiness is the standard to which the Scriptures call us and define as clean in flesh and spirit. Some give lip service to the Word of God and say, “I’ll try”, but like the courteously disobedient son in Jesus’ parable, they do not act. “Which of the two” Jesus asked, “did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:31) Actions still speak louder than words. “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?“ (Romans 6:16) Action - not desire - is the test for obedience.
”If you are Abraham’s children” said Jesus, “do the deeds of Abraham.” (John 8:39) In a rather heated exchange with the religious leaders of His day, the Lord took the hypocrites to task by revealing their genuine allegiance. Though they claimed to be Abraham’s heirs, their actions betrayed their true loyalty. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father…” (John 8:44) Actions - not words, thoughts, or intentions - are the measure of the heart.
Paul also considered action as the test of devotion. “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Two masters continually compete for our attention. Sin and obedience invite our submission, but the child of God has been freed from sin through obedience to a new master. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)
The Scripture identifies two elements of that obedience which freed us from sin and attached us to Christ. Obedience must be, 1) from the heart and 2) in accordance with that form of teaching. Today, we will consider the second.
It’s not obedience to do something other than instructed. If I tell my son to clean his room, and instead he washes the car, though his intentions might be good, he was not obedient. Teaching or instruction requires that obedience take a specified form. That teaching in our case was the Gospel - the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ - and it is obeyed through the form of immersion in which we likewise die, are buried and raised in Christ. (Romans 6:3-4) When someone hears the Gospel but responds with anything other than baptism, it’s not obedience. Like washing the car, asking Jesus into their heart or teaching Sunday school may be well intentioned, but they do not constitute obedience. And to be clear, it neither frees them from the slavery of sin nor places them under the administration of grace.
Alright, but what if my son cleans his room, not as a result of my instruction, but simply because he grows tired of living in squalor, or - strangely - it becomes popular. He has done a good thing, but does it qualify as obedience? Though I might agree with his decision, his actions are not in response to my direction, and therefore they are not obedience. The disciples Paul met in Acts 19 are a good example of such a disconnect. They had been immersed, plunged in obedience to John’s instruction, but not according to that form of gospel teaching about Jesus. “And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” They had done the right thing, but for the wrong reason. What then was to be done? “And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)
Finally we must consider the role of truth in acceptable obedience. “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls…” (I Peter 1:22) Biblical obedience of the kind that purifies the soul comes only as the result of truth. Obedience to what is false is ineffective regardless of the attitude or action. Only the truth of the Gospel obeyed in the form of immersion, can purify the soul. The role of our heart in attitudes and motives will be our topic next week.
The Lord has always been chiefly concerned about the heart. In Isaiah’s day it was not the honor of their lips that He desired but the nearness of their hearts. (Isaiah 29:13) 700 years later apparently little had changed when John arrived to turn back the hearts of Israel (Luke 1:17) since Isaiah’s description was still appropriate. (Matthew 15:8) Paul also used the messianic prophet to characterize the hearts of his unwilling hearers. Because of their closed eyes and stopped ears, “the heart of this people has become dull…” he quoted, so that they did not, “understand with their heart and return and I should heal them.” (Acts 28:27) A change of heart is fundamental to the conversion process, and thus it is relevant to our discussion of Romans. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)
The heart is that inner reservoir from which words and deeds flow. (Mt 15:18) Thus if something is “from the heart” it is the genuine reflection of motive without guile or deception just as our service to God ought to be. “not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Eph 6:6) But this is where things get sticky.
Sometimes the heart (one’s true motive) is difficult to determine, and this begs the question, what if our obedience is born from wrong motives? Does such deception - either conscious or unconscious - nullify our obedience? More specifically, do ulterior motives void baptism? Knowing the heart can be difficult since, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) This in turn raises several more questions to the surface. Can I truly know my heart or if I have been deceived by it? And if not, how can I really be confident in salvation? If you’ve had those doubts, take courage; God wants you to know with certainty.
The ready answer to our riddle appears convincing at first; let actions be the test for motive. After all, that’s how God tests the heart. “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10) But which actions reveal the heart? Paul impugned the motives of some who even preached the Gospel saying, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will” (Philippians 1:15) Selfish ambition rather than love filled the heart, but to the outward observer (and perhaps themselves) they would have appeared genuine. Therefore, if both fresh and bitter water spring from the same fountain, (James 3:10-12) how are we to know the nature of its source?
The answer comes in consistency. When inspecting a tree’s fruit, one bad apple does not make the whole tree bad, any more than a single good apple makes the entire tree good. It’s not a single sin that severs one from grace, but to “go on sinning willfully” removes the sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:26) Therefore when we consider motives, actions are the test of the heart, but we must consider them in aggregate.
The Lord takes an active role in this process so that the heart becomes known to us. ”Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15) God reveals our hearts to us one choice at a time eventually producing clear evidence of the inner man as day after day the picture of the heart becomes increasingly clear. Make the right choice today, be confident, and take courage.
Genuine obedience to sound teaching has resulted in a change of state. “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18) The chains of a guilty conscience were broken in immersion, and we were joined as bondservants (servants by choice) to Christ. “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.” (Romans 7:22)
Slavery is everywhere, for he who will not rule himself, must be ruled by others. That’s true in politics, religion, economics, and even personal relationships. To be unruly is not synonymous with liberty, but instead only cedes that right of determination to another. The body too is slavish by nature. “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh…” (Romans 6:19) The human terms of slavery describe the nature of the body as a weak partner to a willing spirit. Its desire for comfort and pleasure would rarely rouse it from the couch were it not for an empty stomach. It requires direction - inspiration - from another source, that is the spirit or inner man. “but I buffet my body and make it my slave…” (I Corinthians 9:27)
Make no mistake, the spirit has authority over the flesh. Like an ox, the body is a useful servant, but it never volunteers to do more than what is commanded. Such direction must come from the mind. Indeed, Paul writes, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6) It is the mindset that determines the course our bodies take, leading either to death or life and peace. If our attention is continually focused on sin through a guilty conscience, the result is further sin. But if our mind dwells on what is honorable, right, pure, etc. (Philippians 4:8) then we direct our members on a different course toward sanctification. “…For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:19)
Like the ox the body must be trained. This is arduous at first for the creature will resist the yoke and spurn the plow. However, with time, even the slovenly can be domesticated. The ox is not diminished in this role, for the natural state is not his best state. Rather, the once-stubborn beast is glorified through what he can accomplish in partnership with his God. He submits himself and the fruits of his labor overflow.
Paul said that lawlessness results in further lawlessness, and righteousness results in sanctification. (Romans 6:19) It is worth noting that everything - even lawlessness and righteousness - reproduces according to its kind. Flora and fauna alike from the beginning have only produced more of the same; their seed, God said, is in them. (Genesis 1:11) The Lord would later use that ready metaphor to describe the perpetuating nature of behavior. We know well that whatever a man sows, this he will also reap, (Galatians 6:7) but the cycle doesn’t end there, for their seed is in them. The fruit that we reap from our deeds contains the seed that is easily sown again, either to the flesh yielding corruption or to the spirit and eternal life, and thus the cycle is perpetuated, lawlessness returning lawlessness or righteousness bearing sanctification. It’s nearly as true to say that whatever a man reaps, this he will also sow.
This is where the spirit must take control of the body and make the deliberate effort to sow to the spirit rather than to the flesh. Our conscious mind must be made focus on the image of Christ if the body is to follow, but be assured that if you are diligent to set your mind on things above, the outcome will indeed be life and peace.
On occasion a little reminder of the past is a healthy thing, just as one might stop from time to time and look back down the trail for some perspective on how far they’ve come. In describing our conversion to Christ, the Scriptures likewise allow us a backward glance to confirm our forward direction. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” (Romans 6:20)
Why did you become a Christian in the first place? You were then free in regard to righteousness and therefore under no compulsion to confess Christ as Lord. No previous promise or contract forced you to repent or appeal to God for a clean conscience through immersion. When you were as yet outside of Christ, you were under no righteous obligation at all. Perhaps our reasons for leaving the jurisdiction of sin and death would serve as good reminders of why we should remain with Christ.
People tend to remember the past as they choose, filtering their memories through the medium of their current frame of mind. But Ecclesiastes’ preacher agrees with Billy Joel, the good old days weren’t always good. Thus we are warned, “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Nevertheless, the tendency to pine for days gone by is easily indulged. Even Israel upon their exodus from Egypt soon looked back with inexplicable fondness toward that land of bondage. “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,” (Numbers 11:5) How quickly they had forgotten the reason for their departure! Similarly, when challenged to grow in faith by putting on the new self, the child of God is tempted to embrace a false memory of their former manner of life which led to deceitful corruption. (Ephesians 4:22) What exactly was so good about the past we’ve left behind?
Paul asks the same question of his Roman readers. “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.” (Romans 6:21) If we are to reminisce over bygone days, let us do so with a clear head and honest heart. The “things” to which the Spirit refers in vs 21 are sin. They are a cause for shame and lead to death, and objective honest souls will remember that life beneath the thumb of sin was no picnic. Sure, there were some good times, for sin has its passing pleasures, (Hebrews 11:25) but hollow thrills and momentary gratification inevitably sober up to the hangover of remorse.
The good ole days were the reason we chose to be joined to Christ in the first place, but sometimes folks think they can retain portions of the old while embracing the freedom of the new. This unworkable sentiment has the appearance of wisdom but leads to ruin and is all too common. The Galatians were thus tempted to cling to the trappings of Judaism while being justified by grace. Israel tried to bring Egypt with them into the wilderness and modern Christians occasionally attempt to keep one foot in the world while placing the other in Christ, but understand you cannot separate obedience from its consequence.
If we are obedient to sin, the natural result is death. Conversely in Christ the result of our affiliation is eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) The Lord encourages us to remember that we became obedient to the Gospel for that very reason. Sin and guilt was a hopeless servitude. Eternal life lies onward and upward. Leave the rest behind.
There was once an attractive and intelligent young woman. Yes, we’re still talking about Romans, and yes, this is a true story. Though the circumstances that led to her marriage are vague, she soon found herself a nuptial prisoner. Mr Right turned out to be so wrong, and any stars that might once have glimmered in her eyes had long been replaced by the flat disillusionment of her reality. Her fool-of-a-husband was both harsh and evil, but like it or not, she was bound to him.
Though it might seem odd, Paul uses the picture of dysfunctional marriage to describe our condition as indentured to the Law. If you were an Israelite woman of the Old Testament, there were few options for dissolving a marriage. Men had the prerogative to provide a writ of divorce, (Deuteronomy 24:1-2) but women apparently did not. By Jesus’ day that had changed, (Mark 10:12) but Romans reads as if the Law remained unaltered. Her only hope for release - if we may call it that - was his death. “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.” (Romans 7:2) Paul is not encouraging spousal homicide, but the fact remains that our vows only extend to, “as long as you both shall live.” If death did us part, she is no longer under the jurisdiction of that law. (Romans 7:1)
The tyrant husband that Paul refers to is sin. Consider the arrangement. In the metaphor of marriage, the husband and wife are joined together by the lawful covenant, and children bearing the image of the father are the usual result. However, in this scenario, we are the unfortunate bride wed to the sins of our past. The law rightly joins us together, condemns the sin, and demands death as sin’s rightful wages (see front cover). Not only are we bound to our past transgressions, we are also encouraged to continue in them. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Romans 7:5) Our deeds of the flesh sadly bore the image of sin.
But if her husband dies… If only there were some way to expunge the record of sin, then we would be free from our slavery to it. Praise God, in Christ there is freedom! “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19) When we were immersed into Christ, that is precisely what happened. The old man of sin to which we were lawfully bound has died leaving us free from his despotism and free therefore to be joined to another. “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
With our sinful husband out of the way, we are free to seek another. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) Now married to Christ, we are bound to our beloved by a new covenant of grace and the result of that union is fruit for God. In the newness of the Spirit, our deeds bear a resemblance to the glory of our Lord.
Things also worked out for that young woman. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, acted wisely when she recognized David as king, and he noticed her discretion. Not long afterward, Nabal died and David wasted no time at all in sending a retinue to collect the beautiful widow. As for her part, Abigail arose and went to David and became his wife. You can read the whole of her story in I Samuel 25.
It’s easy to assume that birds flocked together must be of common feather, but it isn’t always true. Consider these two suspects often seen in tandem: Sin and the Law. Indeed it seems they cannot be found separately since, “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” (Romans 5:13) and, with the entrance of the Law, transgression actually increased! (Romans 5:20) It was the Law, as we discussed last week, that joined us to the old man of sin, and which aroused sinful passions to work in us bearing fruit for death. (Romans 7:5) We might therefore ask with Paul, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” The Spirit answers, “May it never be!…” (Romans 7:7)
The Law can be compared to the officials at a basketball game. Usually, referees remain invisible, their watchful eyes silently overseeing the field of play, but if a violation is committed, they shed their meek demeanor and boldly assert their authority. A shrill whistle brings all to a stop; a transgression has been committed, by YOU number 13, and it must be paid for. The Law identifies the commandment broken and the one who broke it, joining the two via legal indictment. But the ref’s didn’t commit the foul, they simply identified the error. In the same way the Law is not sin itself but merely the means of identification, for we read, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…” (Romans 7:7)
Actually, the Law is on our side. “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12) There’s nothing wrong with the statutes given by God; like their legislator, they are wholly good. And yet even such righteous edicts could not reign in the desires of the flesh. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” (Galatians 3:21) They functioned more like a temporary restraining order than a code of conduct. Good as they are, the ordinances of God engraved on stone had to be administered through the flesh, and thus they could never reach the heart. In the flesh therefore we find both the limit of the Law’s effectiveness and its Achilles heel.
“To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15) To the twisted fleshly heart even that which is wholesome can likewise be twisted to further pollute the defiled. Thus the fleshly mind upon hearing the commandment is inflamed. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Romans 7:5) Paul illustrates from his personal experience. “…for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” (Romans 7:7)
Sin is sneaky. Hebrews calls it deceitful. (Hebrews 3:13) Sin uses even the Law as a vector to corrupt the soul. “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind…” (Romans 7:8) When Saul of Tarsus heard the tenth commandment, the ambitious young man was drawn to the very thing he ought not to covet. You see, with the law comes the presumption that its hearers wish to break it. Remember the “law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious…” (I Timothy 1:9) Since the righteous do not need to be restrained, why give the commandment? “You shall not covet” implies that everyone wishes to do so. Thus the Law subtly communicates the assumption of a fleshly mind. The result is a dangerous snare that cinched upon Saul and killed him.
Until now Paul’s dissertation on the nature of sin, the law, and justification by faith have been limited to sterile academic principles. Together with the apostle we have considered the plight of mankind and his struggle with conscience alone. Ruin rather than righteousness was the result. In chapter two we concluded that simply having the Law was not sufficient to make one righteous; it must be kept. Thus neither Jew nor Gentile could escape condemnation for having the Law the former did not keep it, and possessing the Law of conscience the latter were not exempt. The Law - in command or conscience - identifies sin in all its forms and indicts the guilty, “…for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
Then righteousness dawned. The faith that justified Abraham in chapter four was ultimately revealed through Jesus Christ who became the antidote for sin and thus the means of our reconciliation. “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) When we follow Him through faith in immersion, we too receive newness of life and are therefore dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
All of these elements may certainly be understood intellectually, but they are not experienced so neatly. Living through each phase of that progression comes with its own challenges, heartaches and joys. So to illustrate what he wrote in principle, Paul uses his own personal story as an example for us of what such a journey would look like in practice. “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment come, sin became alive, and I died.” (Romans 7:9) So begins Paul’s story and ours.
Two elements here are worth our attention: “alive without the Law,” and “when the commandment came.” Let’s discuss the second first. When did the commandment come? Paul says there was a time in his life before the commandment, but how can that be since “do not covet” predated Paul by nearly 15 centuries?! In that case we must conclude that the Law certainly existed, it just didn’t apply to Saul at that time. Does that mean young Saul did not know about coveting, since he says, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “you shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7) If that’s true, then no one could know about sin apart from the commandment. But this is clearly not the case. Human experience reveals both coveting and its harmful consequences, therefore Saul was not ignorant about coveting. Then what knowledge did the Law reveal? The Law doesn’t indict all foolishness, it only reveals what is in violation to the Law of God. The commandment came when Saul realized that the coveting he had observed was in violation of God’s Law shackling the young Pharisee to the guilt of a coveter.
Before the commandment came, Paul described his condition as alive apart from the Law. It is self-evident that the life and death to which he refers must be spiritual. Thus there was a time of innocence prior to sin’s knowledge that he was in fellowship with God and with the coming of the Law that fellowship was broken. Paul uses his own story to illustrate that, “apart from the Law, sin is dead.” (Romans 7:8) The ignorant bliss of living without the knowledge of sin was replaced by guilt, and the result was death.
It is important to note that there are many who would consider Paul and his fellow man sinners by birth. This calvinist nonsense is a totally depraved doctrine that disguises a license to sin beneath a facade of humility. Paul is clear; before he was aware of his responsibilities toward God, sin could not affect his death in the absence of the Law. However, once that Law came there was no escape. Even Paul was bound to sin just as we also were.
The text of today’s devotion is particularly significant and therefore controversial. Two ideological groups claim the passage as their own and build doctrines upon their proprietary interpretations. But more than that, this passage is a crossroads in the Word of God, and it reveals the hearts of those who come to it. It is not hyperbole to say one path leads to life and another to death. Much is at stake here if we fail to divide the Scriptures rightly. Take a moment now and carefully read verses Romans 7:14-25.
“For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Romans 7:14) Bondage indeed! Paul describes a slavery from which the tormented soul cannot free itself. Two forces are at odds with one another: the mind and the flesh. The inner man wishes to do good and reject sin, however, the outer man (the flesh) is enslaved to the very sin the mind opposes and resists any effort to do right. The crushing conflict is vexing to the apostle who ultimately cries out in frustration, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) On this both groups can agree.
The division comes over a simple question. Is Paul referring in verses 14-25 to his life before Christ or after? Some argue that the slavery he describes is the inherent lot of all men born into sin regardless of their relationship to Christ. They would have us believe that from the womb (or shortly thereafter) the sin intrinsic to our race exercised its influence and made us all the slaves of a corrupt fleshly nature. In their view, that bondage extends to the saints as well and reflects the nature of the Christian’s struggle against sin. They note correctly that Paul uses the present tense when discussing that slavery, and they conclude his is a description of the hopeless struggle he himself and Christians in general face to live righteously.
At first, that view might seem to have some merit. Certainly the child of God must contend with temptation. Jesus Himself said as much when He prayed we might not fall into it. (Mark 14:38) And the Scriptures concur that our struggle against sin is real. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17) It might even appear to the believer that the odds are stacked against him in a world steeped in the lusts of the flesh and eyes, especially if he has a history of failure. But the question at hand is neither if sin exists in the world, nor is it whether we ought to resist temptation. The issue we must solve is whether the Christian has choice and thus the ability to overcome.
If Paul is referring in these verses to his life as a Christian, then slavery, bondage, and imprisonment to sin are what we should expect as new creatures in Christ. If however, he refers instead to his experience prior to his conversion, then the wretched picture he paints of abject servitude is not of us currently but of what we once were outside of Christ.
Several verses in this passage provide conclusive evidence that we are not enslaved as some believe, and we will consider those next week. However, it is appropriate to reflect for a moment on the slavery to which Paul refers. To struggle with sin and guilt without hope of release or overcoming those temptations is an unbearable weight. Like Sisyphus of Greek fame who was given the eternal task of pushing an enchanted boulder up a hill only to have his efforts undone when the stone inevitably rolled back to the bottom again, I remember what it was like to strive against sin only to find myself again at the bottom of shameful disappointment desperately trying to find the motivation to make another doomed attempt. But no longer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” (Romans 7:25)
Does the Bible have inconsistencies? By this I mean are there apparent contradictions within the body of the text? The answer, of course, is that there are many issues that seem at odds with one another throughout the Scriptures. Differences in recording styles, variation in subject matter and misunderstandings of the message account for many such discrepancies. For example, the number reported might be rounded in one account and more exactly defined in another. One author may emphasize a certain issue like faith while a second finds it necessary to underscore the importance of action. Or someone might assume to “call on the name of the Lord” is different from immersion into Christ and set the terms against each other.
For those who have already concluded that the Word of God is true (as we must assume for our discussion) the task at hand is to reconcile our understanding to the truth of the Bible. However, the observed conflict in the text has a purpose. When two paths of interpretation diverge, a choice must be made, and through this process Scripture reveals the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. (Hebrews 4:12) Such is our task today in Romans 7:14-25 concerning three apparent contradictions.
The first contradiction to consider is the theme of jurisdiction repeated several times. Most notably in verse 14 Paul asserts “…I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” Romans 7:23 agrees describing the apostle as “… a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” And again in Romans 7:24-25, “… who will set me free from the body of this death?” through which Paul was enslaved to serve, “with my flesh the law of sin.” There can be no doubt; Paul is decidedly under the jurisdiction of the law, sin, and death through the flesh.
Yet how can this be? Paul was emphatic that our loyalty is changed in Christ. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” (Romans 6:12) Note that the obligation to sin has ceased. He added, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 7:14,18) The Christian no longer labors beneath the oppression of sin and the law. “having been freed from sin” (Romans 6:18,22)
Our second item of contention is the practice which must inevitably follow the obligation. If I am obliged to sin, then habitual sin must result. Our passage this week certainly seems to indicate that sin is the unavoidable consequence of the jurisdiction law exercises over us. The bondage Paul described (Romans 7:14) produced a practice of the same. “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” (Romans 7:19) Is the child of God doomed to sin? May it never be!
That’s how Paul answered the question of continued sin in Romans 6:1. As Christians we are dead to it, thus we ought not live in it. The change of obligation has resulted in a change of behavior, “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13) Those instructions to avoid the bad and do the good are precisely what Paul claims he is incapable of doing in Romans 7:15,19)
Our final incongruency appears in Romans 7:18. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…” (Romans 7:18) Indeed the only thing Paul recognizes as dwelling in him is sin. (Romans 7:20) Has he forgotten about the Holy Spirit? “…but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) The Spirit dwells in you, (Romans 8:9) and gives life to the mortal body. (Romans 8:11) It is the Spirit that identifies the child of God and is the focus of chapter 8. These things cannot all be true of Paul simultaneously. Two solutions readily present themselves, and they are the focus of our discussion next week.
Today we shall resolve the three contradictions discussed last week. They are the issues of: jurisdiction, practice, and what dwells within. It is evident and generally accepted that Romans is in stark disagreement on these three points. Chapter 6 claims Paul is free from sin, (Romans 6:11,18, 22, etc.) does not continue in sin, (Romans 6:1-2,13) and Romans 8:9-11 make it clear that the Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God. Conversely, chapter 7 claims continued bondage to sin (Romans 7:14), that produces the practice thereof (Romans 7:15,19) and an absence of the Spirit (Romans 7:18) What is not generally agreed upon is how those issues ought to be resolved. The Scriptures have brought us to a crossroads of interpretation and we must divide them rightly; that is our task today.
Two solutions stand ready to resolve the tension of those verses in conflict; let’s discuss the most popular first. Perhaps the two conditions refer to different parts of the same believer… A division between spirit and flesh might be just the ticket. The spirit of the man lays claim to those verses that describe freedom, righteousness, and fellowship with God. That leaves the flesh as owner of those lines which tell of slavery, continued sin, and separation from God. Viola! Problem solved.
This solution initially seems to work, and most denominations have adopted this view. They emphasize our position of freedom in Christ, but give an understanding nod to the sins the flesh cannot overcome. Though they might argue with the nomenclature, they are in fact modern-day gnostics who believe as their predecessors nearly 2 millennia ago.
However, in the fifteenth century gnosticism found a new name under which to hide. Calvinism is a variation on that ancient theme. Like its ancestor, Calvinism imparts slavery to a sinful flesh and condemns man as irredeemably corrupt. Only by the work of God can the reprobate even gain consciousness of his sinful state and desire to change. But in the end the solution is the same. The spirit is free, justified and redeemed, though the flesh continues in shackled debauchery.
However, closer inspection reveals a problem. Paul’s descriptions of the freedom from sin are applied to the flesh. If the gnostics were right, then those verses of freedom should apply to the spirit, yet we see in Romans 6:12-13 that it is the mortal body which is free from sin. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” (Romans 6:12)
Our second possible solution leaves the believer in one piece. Instead of separating flesh from spirit, what if Paul speaks of the whole believer but refers to different stages of their life. Might not slavery to sin, its practice, and broken fellowship with God be the description of the man prior to conversion, while the picture of freedom, choice, and unity with God refer to his life thereafter? Opponents of this view are quick to point out that Paul is speaking in present tense when describing that slavery. “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Romans 7:14) Yet they overlook the introduction to that passage which firmly sets the timeframe in the past. “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died.” (Romans 7:9) Freedom is the condition of the child of God, with which the rest of the Scriptures agree. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
We have found our solution, but it is not readily accepted by all. That’s because the consequences of endorsement are not merely academic but personal. If one agrees that Paul advocates a practicing freedom from sin then he must also accept responsibility for overcoming them. On the other hand, if one is inclined to continue in sin, then considering the body and spirit as falling under separate jurisdictions has its advantages. Some will eagerly accept the freedom to “…cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Corinthians 7:1) while others will hide behind, “the good that I wish, I do not do. but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” (Romans 7:19) In both cases, the Scriptures test the hearts of men and reveal their motives.
Today’s devotion from Romans 8 will be a good one. At least that’s the long-running joke in the Missoula congregation. Because so many major themes meet in this chapter, whenever Romans 8 is mentioned, we joke that it was a good Bible study. All jesting aside, this chapter is the pinnacle of Pauls’ letter, and the conclusion of the issues of the Law, sin, and righteousness by faith. The rest of the epistle is devoted to using that tremendous freedom in relationship to the Jews, government, and our fellow saints.
Paul has brought the reader along a reasoned examination of the law and justification through faith. In one final look over his shoulder at what once was, the apostle asks, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) The answer comes to him and to us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
When Jesus was initially arrested, there was much debate about jurisdiction. Ultimately the four courts of Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod argued whose problem Jesus was before the Roman governor was finally forced to act. This was crucial since blasphemy in the Sanhedrin (a capital offense) was of no concern whatsoever to the Romans. “… Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” (John 19:6-7) Our point is that it matters in which court one is tried.
If you or I were tried in sin’s court of Law, there would be no hope. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Case closed. If however, we have been transferred to another higher court - that of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus - those sins are no longer admissible as evidence, and the guilty verdict is overturned.
The phrase “in Christ” denotes such an appeal has been granted. When we were immersed, we made our “appeal” to God for a clean conscience. (I Peter 3:21) Having thus been “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27) our legal jurisdiction was changed. Our resulting standing before the court of heaven is now described this way for those “in Christ”: “Saints in Christ” (Philippians 1:1), “Created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10) “in Christ Jesus you… have been brought near” (Ephesians 2:13) and “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2).
Upon our watery death to the old man of sin, the Law of sin lost any jurisdiction it once exercised. Therefore there can be no condemnation since condemnation is the exclusive purview of the law. On what grounds might the saint now be indicted and who has standing before the Almighty to bring such a charge? “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?…” (Romans 8:33-34)
Who is the one who condemns? The emphatic answer is no one - not even you. You are not permitted to replace the accuser of our brethren who has been thrown down (Revelation 12:10) from that highest court, nor are you allowed to sit as judge over your brethren. “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brothe qr, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge…” (James 4:11-12) and it ain’t you.
However, that protection extends to yourself as well. When looking for reason to accuse, Paul did not investigate even himself. “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.” (I Corinthians 4:3) For those in Christ, there is no condemnation.
Early in our nation’s history, there was a need for law. The Declaration had proclaimed our independence, but how would the new country administer itself? The Continental Congress answered that question in 1777 with the Articles of Confederation. Four years later the plan had been ratified by all the states and it became the guiding document for our young nation. But there was a problem; the Articles proved ineffective to govern the states. The weakness of that law required a change and the Constitutional Convention responded with the document that still (somewhat) directs our laws today.
Similarly, the Law of Moses proved inadequate. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did…” (Romans 8:3) The declaration against sin could never overcome the iniquity it condemned. In the words of Peter it was, “…a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” (Acts 15:10) No matter how diligently one attended to the commandments, sin still found a way through. A new law was required. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” (Hebrews 8:7)
Why did the Law fail? Was its weakness found in Moses or the laws he delivered? Neither. Moses was a faithful servant, (Hebrews 3:5) and “…the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12) Even so the divinely inscribed tablets proved weak and useless to perfect those who lived by them. (Hebrews 7:18) But why?
Hebrews provides invaluable insight into the structure of the Law, its nature, and thus a clue to its fundamental weakness. Though it seems backwards to us at first, the writer is emphatic that the priesthood is the basis for the Law rather than the other way around. “…for on the basis of it [the priesthood] the people received the Law… For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. (Hebrews 7:11-12) After all, it was Moses that brought the tablets not the tablets which produced the first priest. Once ordained, the Law appoints successive priests but the first priest establishes the Law.
The Law of Moses therefore was based on the priesthood available to administer it. Its commandments and sacrifices were limited to the cleansing of the flesh (Hebrews 9:13) since a fleshly priesthood is unsuited to any other, and thus we find the inherent weakness of the law. A physical priesthood cannot administer a spiritual law and thus cannot reach the conscience of the inner man.
Though it required “…sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin,” God did what the Law could not; He condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3) That is to say, in a body like ours, Jesus overcame sin. For a discussion of how Christ accomplished such a feat see the previous devotions from Romans chapter 3. However, for today we are concerned primarily with the result of that victory - “that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
The impotence of the flesh has been replaced by the power of the Spirit. No longer administering a law of flesh with its inherent weaknesses, our High Priest oversees a spiritual law that cleanses the conscience thus freeing the child of God from the slavery to sin through guilt. As a liberated saint you may therefore live to God the new life you now possesses (Romans 6:10) not “… presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13) And thus the requirement of the law to be blameless is ultimately fulfilled.
When Jesus conquered sin in the flesh, He did so not only for Himself but also for all who would follow in His steps. “…He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…” The requirement of the Law is as simple as it is difficult - to live without breaking its commandments. The Law requires nothing less than perfect obedience. What is not so readily apparent is just how the regenerated saint now free to do right is to accomplish that task. The Scriptures continue, “…who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
Our walk/life is the result of an underlying mindset manifesting in everyday decisions. A fleshly mindset produces a fleshly walk and ultimately death, while a mind set on the Spirit produces a walk of life and peace. The Corinthians provide a useful picture of the former. Paul indicted them as men of flesh and cited the existence of jealousy and strife as proof of his conclusion. (I Corinthians 3:1-3) Their selfish (fleshly) mindset was at the root of the problems they faced. Different values caused them to appraise the world differently than a spiritual man and the result was strife between the brethren and with God.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:16-17) In this tug of war either the selfish desires overpower the desires of the Spirit, or the spiritual focus drags the lusts of the flesh across the line of choice, but it can’t be both. Just as the Lord chastised Peter for conflating the two (Matthew 16:23) we would do well to heed that warning and set our interests on God’s interests.
That process begins with choice. “Set your mind” Paul instructs his Colossian audience, “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) The implication for Christians of all epochs is that such a setting of the mind is possible. Some of you will remember days when the official time could be ascertained through a phone call. Before cell phones, setting one’s watch meant calling the number of an automated recording which would give official time “at the beep.” Much like a clock, the mind can have a tendency to run a little off without regular checks. If left to its own, the incremental discrepancies compound to give an increasingly inaccurate picture. Regular synchronization of our mindset to the Lord’s standard ensures that our mind remains set where it belongs.
But how ought we to go about it? Again, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians provides us valuable insight. Spiritual thoughts and spiritual words found in the Scriptures teach the fleshly man to value things appropriately. (I Corinthians 2:12-13) No wonder the assemblies of the saints are so important, for every facet of the event has the effect of setting our minds on spiritual things.
If the mind is set on the Spirit, the commandments will take care of themselves. Often when folks read Jesus’ contrast between the laws as received through Moses and the fulfillment He delivered in Matthew 5, they become discouraged thinking the already high bar has been raised impossibly higher. However, when we change from the fleshly/selfish mindset to one that seeks the good of our neighbor and our God, the commandments are no longer burdensome; they even become unnecessary. Jesus didn’t make the commandments more difficult, He outlined how they could be kept! Be assured those who are in the flesh cannot please God, and those who are setting their minds on the Spirit can do no other.
What does it mean to be in flesh or in spirit? One might propose after a precursory look in the mirror that we are all in flesh. Another could opine that if one feels especially close to God or spiritually motivated then he is “in the spirit.” However, our text is not so easily resolved with over simplifications or emotional babble. “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you..” (Romans 8:8-9) At issue today is our orientation toward God denoted by the terms, “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”.
Sometimes when the Scriptures use the phrase “in the Spirit” they refer to an experience beyond the physical body entirely. Such is the case when John the Revelator finds himself before the throne of heaven. (Revelation 4:2) However, this cannot be the case for our text written to those reading Paul’s letter on parchment not by vision or revelation. Furthermore, he adds that the determining factor for being “in the spirit” is being indwelt by that Spirit. “However, you are… in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…” All Christians are therefore “in the Spirit” since they received the Spirit when they believed in immersion. (Acts 19:2-3) Thus we conclude that “in the Spirit” is used differently here than an out-of-body experience.
The same reasoning applies for Romans’ use of the term “flesh.” Sometimes it refers to the physical frame as in Romans 1:3, 2:28, & 4:1, but other times it means the body of sin. See Romans 7:5. Yet the context of our passage leaves no room for ambiguity. “However, you are not in the flesh…” cannot refer to the physical body, otherwise Paul would be writing to ghosts. In addition he explains, “And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:10) Here too a physical body does not fit the context. “Body” in this verse is the part of man that dies because of sin. That can only refer to the body of chapter 6 also called the old self and the body of sin (Romans 6:6).
With the terminology clearly defined, we can begin to unpack the profound meaning of the passage. The two terms describe separate states of belonging. If you’re in one, you’re not in the other. This is consistent with Paul’s running theme of jurisdiction. We were slaves to sin, but now we belong to Christ. (Romans 6:18-22) Or again, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2) The child of God has therefore moved from the natural plane to the spiritual. If that sounds a little wacky, let me explain.
Imagine that I owned two homes in different states each governed by the laws thereof. One was my primary residence, and the other I simply maintained. However, what if I should move from one to the other and make it my new legal residence? When we became Christians, we were raised with Christ to heavenly places and our address changed from merely physical to spiritual. Our primary residence is now a spiritual one, thus we are described as spiritual rather than natural men. (I Corinthians 1:14-15) We worship from our new address, “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) and our mind must therefore be set on spiritual things. “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
What does it mean to be a Christian? Though folks may provide many answers, the most literal definition is found in the word itself - Christ-ian. I live in Missoula, MT. As such I am a Missoulian. When we add the suffix “ian” to a word, we denote ownership. So fundamentally a Christian is one who belongs to Christ. With this in view, our text for today takes on greater significance. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)
In the greater context of Romans, Paul is continuing the theme of freedom in Christ through a changed jurisdiction. Once, you belonged to the domain of darkness, but now you have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13) As a subject of that kingdom, you belong to Christ (I Corinthians 3:23) and, “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) The Holy Spirit now dwells in you, thus you are in the Spirit and considered a Christian. (Romans 8:9)
It is the Holy Spirit dwelling within God’s children that defines them as His own. Paul writes, “…you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13) The Greek word sphragízo is translated into English as “sealed,” but the meaning is largely lost on us Americans. It means to seal with a signet ring… to attest ownership or validation. It is the ancient equivalent of writing your name on your belongings. According to Ephesians, the Holy Spirit is God’s seal set into those who are His own. The same word is used in Chapter 4 for the same purpose. (Ephesians 4:30) And II Corinthians adds, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (II Corinthians 1:21-22)
Today, upon meeting someone of religious persuasion, one might ask, “Are you a Christian?” However, when Paul found himself in the same situation, he posed the question somewhat differently. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) He asked the dozen or so men from Ephesus.
The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and it’s unlikely these men would have been familiar with the term. The religion of Christ was commonly called The Way (Acts 19:9, 24:22) or thought of as a Jewish sect, but Paul wanted to know if they had indeed received the Spirit when they believed in immersion. Upon investigation it was discovered that they were in fact disciples of John the Baptist - John-ites if you will. When they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5) to receive not only the forgiveness of their sins, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) they could then truly be called Christ-ians.
The topic of ownership came up during Jesus’ ministry when some Pharisees and Herodians sought to trap Him with a question about taxes. The Lord used a coin to answer with a question of His own. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (Matthew 22:20) Looking down at the denarius they answered, “Caesar’s.” Perhaps we ought to ask the same questions to determine what belongs to God.
Whose likeness do we bear? “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29) Even now we are being transformed into the very image of God. (II Corinthians 3:18) And whose inscription is etched on us? “You are our letter, written in our hearts… not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (II Corinthians 3:2-3)
“If Christ is in you…” That truly is the question. If Christ is in you, you are pleasing to God, you have come under the jurisdiction of the Spirit, and may truly be called a Christian. (Romans 8:8-9) Yet Paul’s inspired text goes on to add, “And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:10) The apostle assumes for the sake of instruction that his readers are in fact Christians to better illustrate their position as such. Hypothetically, two things are true and are the focus of our discussion today: 1) the body is dead and 2) the spirit is alive. First, the dead body.
Frankly, with all the deaths and resurrections in body and spirit the terminology can be a little confusing, but a little careful reading resolves the problem. Notice that for those who are Christians (if Christ is in you) the body is dead because of sin. The coroner’s report did not cite drowning, poison, or trauma; sin was the cause of the body’s demise. Now we can rule out the natural flesh and blood as the body in question, since sin does not cause the earthly body to die. Therefore the “body” to which vs 10 refers must be the flesh as described in the previous verses (Romans 8:8-9) also called the old self and the body of sin in Rom 6:6. For those in Christ, praise God, the body of sin has been put to death. The controlling factor for us is Spirit.
The old man of sin may be dead, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10) Over and over again the Scriptures use the Spirit as synonymous with life. Adam was just a body until the breath of life entered him. The words for breath and spirit are related in Hebrew and even more so in Greek. Thus we see the same principle in the New Testament that the body without the spirit is dead. (James 2:26) Jesus called the Spirit, living water in John 7:39, and Paul says, “the Spirit gives life” in II Corinthians 3:6.
Jesus was speaking of Himself when He taught in the Capernaum synagogue. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54) Christ is the source of eternal life for all those who share in Him, but to move His listeners away from the cannibalistic metaphor, the Savior continued the thought, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63) The skin and bone flesh does not profit from the words of Spirit; its 70 or so years are not prolonged by hearing words of life. The natural body lives, dies, is buried, and will be forgotten. After all, perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 15:50) However, Jesus promised, “I will raise him up on the last day.”
The promise of resurrection is one on which we have set our hope. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.” (Romans 8:11) Life through the Spirit endures beyond the grave. The mortal body will no longer be mortal but will be raised imperishable, powerful, and glorious. (I Corinthians 15:39-50)
That resurrection had come under attack at Corinth through a doctrine with much larger ramifications. Specifically, it was claimed that there is no resurrection from the dead. (I Corinthians 15:12) Paul points out the logical conclusion. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised” (I Corinthians 15:13) His point is that either Christ AND we are raised, or neither resurrection has or will occur. As it is for Christ, so it must also be for us. But how can Paul make such a statement? Romans provides the answer. The same Spirit who raised Jesus dwells in you. (Romans 8:11) If that Spirit can raise Jesus’ body, can He not also raise yours?
The Spirit has taken considerable time and trouble to ensure that we who are in Christ understand the issue of jurisdiction. Nearly three chapters of Romans are devoted to the idea, and it seemed prudent to take a more broad view of those chapters today as we come to the culmination of that discussion. “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)
The Lord has used several approaches to communicate the same idea. In chapter 6 He described our state in simple human terms. The words: master, reign, slave, freed, and obedience convey the spiritual truth of our new position as summarized in verse 22. “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)
That might have been sufficient, but God thought it best to add another layer of explanation in the form of a marriage metaphor. In chapter 7 He spoke of lawful jurisdiction in terms of a hopeless woman bound to her husband to personify the struggle of flesh and spirit. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4)
In addition and most personally of all, Paul recounts his own individual struggle under the jurisdiction of sin and the Law. This time the bondage he describes is not from outside but within his very heart. Sin indwells him along with the desire to do good, but any doing is woefully absent. Evil is present within, and it has imprisoned him with the shackles of his own body. “but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:23) Yet in Christ there is hope, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:2)
Finally our belonging to Christ is expressed in terms of location. No longer residing in the flesh but in the Spirit, we are encouraged to set our minds accordingly. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9a) The difference of flesh and spirit could not be more significant for to set one’s mind on the former is death and to focus on the latter is life and peace.
I can find no better analogy to the contest of flesh and spirit than that which Israel affords. Everything which we have claimed thus far about our own change of state can be said about Israel upon her expulsion from Egypt. The language of slavery is certainly appropriate to describe their plight, for they were set free from bondage. Their location was changed. Even the concept of marriage is aptly applied for God made a covenant with Israel when He brought them out from the house of bondage. (Jeremiah 34:13) Yet they seemed unwilling to recognize the transition, and insisted on living as though they remained in Egypt - and they died.
Their bodies were scattered about through the wilderness. (Numbers 14:32, Hebrews 3:17, I Corinthians 10:5) They did not die of privation, exposure, or age, rather sin was the cause of their demise. For forty years, grumbling (rebellion), immorality, and idolatry plagued them throughout their journey until those elements were cast aside. The older generation who would not see the promised land are a powerful representation of our old man of sin who must be replaced by the new man in Christ.
It’s easy to look at Israel’s example and wonder at their unbelief. How could they have failed to notice the dramatic transition they had undergone and live accordingly? And yet, the Spirit devotes the better part of three chapters of Romans to the same cause. It is imperative that Christians understand their new position in Christ as obliged to the Spirit, putting the flesh to death. (Romans 8:12-13)
The importance of the Spirit in the lives of Christians simply cannot be overstated. In just Romans 8 alone, our partnership with God’s Spirit is described as: the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2), walking by Spirit (Romans 8:4), mind set on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6), in the Spirit (Romans 8:9), Spirit dwelling in you (Romans 8:9-11), alive through the Spirit (Romans 8:11) denying the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit (Romans 8:13) - and our topic for today - led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14). Phew! But the list continues: we are adopted by the Spirit, (Romans 8:15), the Spirit bears witness with our spirit (Romans 8:16), given the first fruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23), Spirit helps our weakness (Romans 8:26), and interceded for by the Spirit (Romans 8:26). What a list! One might well ask if there is anything we do without the Spirit?! The answer is no.
However, our topic for today is found within that verse which introduces the concept of sonship. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.“ (Romans 8:14) As we shall see, motive is the key. The preceding verses give us a tremendous picture of what it looks like to be led by the Spirit. Our minds are set on the Spirit, therefore we act/walk accordingly by denying the desires of flesh and pursuing the desires of Christ in us. Galatians agrees in chapter 5:16-25 (Galatians 5:16-25) that we walk, live and are led by the Spirit which causes us to bear the fruit thereof in our lives. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18) Notice the change in motive. Rather than being led by the Law, saints are directed by Spirit.
But someone will certainly ask, what about those folks who speak of the Spirit’s leading to do one thing or another such as taking a better job or buying a sports car? It seems that the Spirit is blamed for all sorts of nonsense from an inaudible whisper to a weight laid upon one’s heart. Can such leading be trusted?
To be forthright, the Scriptures do speak of direct leading on occasion. It seems that Simeon was directed in the Spirit to see the Lord’s Christ in Luke 2:27, Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness in Matthew 4:1, and the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot” (Acts 8:29). However, the leading described in Romans 8 is synonymous with mindset. It’s the attitude or motive which is in line with the Spirit, and therefore results in the fulfillment of the Law and more importantly - pleasing God. (Romans 8:8)
I think the Spirit’s leading can best be described in terms of marriage. That’s appropriate since we are one spirit with Him just as in marriage the two will become one flesh. (I Corinthians 6:16-17) The interest of husband and wife should be to please the other. (I Corinthians 7:33-34) Sometimes pleasing our spouses includes doing what they ask explicitly. If your wife asks you to take out the trash, doing so will please her. And since that is our aim, we happily remove the garbage. In Christianity also, there are those things which we know please the Lord because He has expressed it in His Word. Thus to please Him, we happily comply, since we are, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) Therefore, when confronted by a choice without Biblical precedent, we consider the character and goals of our heavenly husband and choose what we believe would best please Him - led by His Spirit.
The same desire to please should also be present in the father/son relationship. No longer under law, those led by the Spirit are God’s sons. (Romans 8:14) Jesus described it this way. “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29) Notice that Jesus is not alone and is motivated by the desire to please His Father. In the same way our love for the Father moves us to act in a way that pleases Him, since we are His sons.
Sons of God is one of the most prevalent and powerful themes of the New Testament. The subject is introduced with the coming of Jesus, developed through the example of His ministry, and punctuated by His resurrection/ascension inheritance. The Scriptures continually refer to that first born son as the prototype for all those sons who would follow, using the same exalted title in reference to us - Sons of God. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
These spirit-led sons of God are motivated by a desire to please their Father just as Jesus first exemplified. “I can do nothing on My own initiative… I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30) Even the sons of the evil one are evident by the same token; they want to do the desires of their father. (John 8:44)
This desire to please is illustrated beautifully by Jesus’ parable of two sons. Both were given the same instruction: “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” (Matthew 21:28) The first initially agreed, but later he did not go. The second in contrast said, “I will not” but afterwards regretted it and went. What was the difference between the two? Motive. The first gave slavish lip service to his obligation, but the desire to please his father was lacking when it came time to fulfill his pledge. On the other hand, his brother regretted his initial disobedience, repented, and worked to please his father. The first was a child of Law, the second, a son of grace.
Nowhere is this division of heirs more visible than the children of Abraham. Galatians reminds us that, “it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.” (Galatians 4:22) Ishmael and Isaac inherited the condition of their mothers. Hagar was a bondwoman and thus her son was born of flesh. Sarah, instead was free and mother to the child of promise. Those two covenants produced very different offspring, and only one would inherit the blessing. The children of slavery bound by law are not permitted to be heirs with the sons of faith. “So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:31)
Romans echoes the same sentiment. “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) The spirit that animates and inspires us is not one of fear or obligation, but rather love and faith. These are the true sons of God who rightly call Him their Father. Like Him, they are born of spirit - not flesh. (John 3:6) And it is that Spirit who bears witness to their sonship. (Romans 8:16)
True sons, like Isaac, are heirs indeed. “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17) Our adoption into Christ does not make us merely second class sons. We are children of God, and as such, fellow heirs to the glory of Christ. But beware, for just as Ishmael was cast out and Israel broken off for their unbelief (Romans 11:20) so too we must be cautious to fall into the same example of hardened hearts. The cure? Motive. Our Father asks us today to go work in the vineyard. How will we answer? Jesus summarized the parable when He asked which son did his father’s will. We might ask a similar question. Which son loved his father?
Children, heirs, and fellow heirs with Christ - that’s how the Scriptures describe us… if. In the Roman letter, Paul turns our attention to consider the revelation of God’s sons. Much of the passage is devoted to the resurrection and the hope realized therein. However, there is another way in which the true sons of God are revealed. Indeed one might say if they are not revealed in this way, neither will they be revealed when Christ returns. Our focus for next week will be the revelation of His sons at the second coming, but first… if.
“and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17) The Spirit brings us to the logical conclusion which began with the profound claim that we are under the Spirit’s jurisdiction. If we share His Spirit, then we are children. If children, then heirs. If heirs, then co-heirs with Christ… if. The final point in this reasoned argument depends on one very significant hypothetical assumption - “if indeed we suffer with Him.”
The prize before us is great indeed. Romanticized visions of heaven and our eternal reward abound, but since we are co-heirs with Christ, one need look no farther than the example of Christ to understand the imperishable, undefiled, unfading heavenly inheritance (I Peter 1:4). What did Christ inherit?
Hebrews provides this great insight. “…When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:3-4) The name inherited by Christ upon His exaltation to majesty is not a name in the way we usually think of one today, but rather as a title. It conveys the position and authority of its holder. Thus, the verses which follow describe Jesus’ exalted position as worshipfully enthroned above the angels at God’s right hand. (Hebrews 1:5-13) Such glory is appropriate since He made purification of sins. To use the language of Philippians, it was His humility demonstrated through the cross that earned Him the right to such glory. (Philippians 2:8-11) See also Hebrews 2:9-10.
In like fashion our inheritance of glory is reserved for those who have also suffered. “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (I Peter 5:10) The cost of glory is sacrifice, but the return is more than worth the price. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) Paul writes similarly to the Corinthians. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (II Corinthians 4:17)
It is important to note that the suffering inherent to the temporal is not undertaken for the sake of selfish glory. Nor is our motive at odds with our love for the Lord. The glory and recognition we seek comes from Him. To seek after glory therefore is to long for the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
God’s sons are revealed through suffering on behalf of their Father long before they are clothed with glory. Our claim also as sons of God must be authenticated by action Even the centurion could not help but exclaim upon witnessing the Lord’s death, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
If God really loved us, He would have created a world without suffering. That sophomoric argument was once presented to me by some shady Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was their contention that God never intended for man to suffer, and that an Eden-like setting remains His goal even now. However, even a cursory examination of the question reveals the near-sighted position as unworkable. The wish to eliminate suffering from the world would, by the same token, rid us of every virtue. What would become of courage without fear of pain or loss? Where would mercy be in the absence of being wronged? A painless life sounds like an admirable ideal, but the world it would create - one without virtue or choice - would be bleak indeed.
Suffering has always been an integral part of the plan of God, and even the Messiah would not escape. Isaiah writes of Him saying, “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief…” (Isaiah 53:10) And like our Savior, we too are prepared for glory through what we endure. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (II Corinthians 4:17)
In today’s Romans passage, Paul oddly equates the sufferings of this present time with a trial intimately familiar to roughly half of humanity - childbirth. “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves…” (Romans 8:22-23) Following Paul’s analogy, creation is the womb from which the sons of God long to be revealed. The natural world conceals the true nature of those glorious offspring behind flesh and blood, but when the Lord appears and Christians are changed in the twinkling of an eye into conformity with the glory of their Lord, there will be no mistaking them for anything but His sons. “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:43)
One often hears the saints lament on the condition of the world in which they live, and truly there is much to lament. We will be gracious and consider most of such talk as anxious groaning, longing for the redemption of the body. (Romans 8:22) However, when we pause and think about the alternative, what would we prefer? The world is the perfect environment in which to develop God’s sons. How can the man be made in the image of God without the trials inherent to this life? How might he learn to refuse evil and choose good without the temptation this world affords or develop a faith in what he cannot see? Consider it all joy, brethren, the testing of your faith (James 1:3) is the proper working of the world preparing you for a glorious birth.
The present system is not a permanent one. Just like the womb cannot hold a child indefinitely, the creation itself eagerly awaits that day of liberation. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21) For the time being, creation is subjected to futility much like our earthly bodies which were made from dust and to dust they shall certainly return. The creation will come to nothing, but the revelation/preparation of God’s sons will remain. In the same way, Paul reminds us not to be discouraged. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:17) One day, the creation will have completed its purpose of preparing the children of light, and it too will be set free from the futility of its task into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Like an expectant mother at 42 weeks in the middle of July, the creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God. It is strange to think of the natural world as the womb from which God’s sons will emerge, but the creation is the perfect environment for their preparation, since it produces faith. Once they have been brought to term and set free into glory, the labor of the present heavens and earth will be complete. It makes you think differently about the term “mother nature” doesn’t it?
Paul describes the current state of creation as futile slavery to corruption. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21) Since the garden, the world has been yoked to that futile corruption along with those inside it. There is nothing new under the sun, said Solomon; all is futility. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-5) Even man’s rise from the dust is in vain, since to dust he must return. (Genesis 3:19) The outer man cannot escape the inherent decay of time imposed on the world, but the inner man - unfettered by such temporal restraints - is being renewed day by day. (II Corinthians 4:16)
Both the natural world and the sons of God groan beneath the strain of their shared burden. Creation “…groans and suffers the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22) and “…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23) However, just as they have labored together they will also be joined in rejoicing when, “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
The sons of God await a glorious resurrection that, “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:21) The same power used to subject the natural world will be used to set it free when the saints are raised and glorified with their common Creator. Indeed just as we will be released from this body, perishable, weak, and natural, into the freedom of a new body of glory and power, imperishable, the creation also will be renewed.
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17) The prophet repeats the phrase in the following chapter, and one might chalk it up to symbolic language, but both Peter and John quote his figure of speech with reference to the future. “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:13, also Revelation 21:1)
This last point of today’s devotion is - I must confess - perplexing. At issue here is the will of creation. When Paul speaks of the present heavens and earth he ascribes to it a will of its own. Phrases like “the anxious longing of creation” seem to recognize an inherent intelligence and desire. How could the world be subjected to futility against its own will (Romans 8:20) if it has none? I can offer no definite answer.
Modern deconstructionism would have us believe that the natural world is understandable merely as the sum of its individual parts like the cogs and levers of a complex machine. But is it something more? Perhaps the Lord was just personifying nature when He said, the morning stars sang together. (Job 38:7) It could be simply metaphor to say, “…The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) Or perhaps nature itself is temporarily constrained to silent recognition of the eternal power and divine nature of its Author and His sons.
Not one, but two topics are the focus of today’s devotion. We might treat them singly, but like a binary star, they can hardly be found in the Scriptures apart from one another. The twin themes are adoption and redemption. “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23) Here both terms are used to describe the revelation of God’s sons by resurrection. In similar fashion we find the pair again in Paul’s letter to Ephesus. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself… In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace,” (Ephesians 1:5,7 - see also Ephesians 1:14) In addition, the orbits of adoption/redemption converge again in Galatians 4, and Colossians 1. It seems wherever we find one, the other is never far away.
Our word “redemption” is synonymous with the Greek apolutrósis, meaning, “a release effected by payment of ransom;” literally it means to buy back. Biblical terms like ransom and propitiation relate similar ideas of purchased freedom, but there is more to redemption than a simple sale.
The Old Testament book of Ruth illustrates this well. To summarize, the land that once belonged to Ruth’s mother-in-law was in need of redemption. After the death of her husband, the property seems to have been stuck in some unclaimed probate limbo. Boaz, a close relative, chose to redeem the land and return it to the family officially, but to do so also meant taking Ruth as his wife. The point here is that redemption was often not just a simple purchase, it meant buying back and returning something to the family to which it belonged. No wonder the concept of adoption is so closely related.
Paul speaks of our adoption/redemption as a future event. “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24) Ephesians 4:30 also describes our redemption in future terms as does the Lord Himself. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
However, sometimes the Word uses past tense to frame the same issues. For example, Colossians 1:14 reads, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Redemption here is defined as forgiveness of sins which kingdom members already possess. Similarly Galatians cites adoption and redemption as having already occurred. “in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5-6) See also Hebrews 9:12 and Romans 3:24. Why then do we eagerly await an adoption/redemption that has already taken place? Does the Bible refer to our adoption/redemption as past or future? Yes!
The Christian is somewhat divided. While our outer man is decaying, the inner man is being renewed. (II Corinthians 4:16) And though we have been raised up and seated with Christ in heavenly places, (Ephesians 2:6) our body remains firmly tethered to the ground. Therefore, since we already possess the first fruits of the Spirit, we groan for the completion of that process, “…waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23) The adoption papers have already been filed, the redemption fee has been paid, and we are already His sons. All that remains now is for the Lord to come and pick up His children.
Upon entering into Christ and receiving His Spirit within us, we are inspired to think, act, and judge as He would since we have received the mind of Christ and appraise everything through that spiritual lens. “But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man… But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:15-16) Even our prayers are effected by the Spirit within us.
“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) What does Paul mean by saying “in the same way?” Just three verses earlier, the apostle described another Spirit-caused groaning. “having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves” (Romans 8:23) The Spirit of God within us desires the will of God. Thus He longs for the redemption of the body by resurrection and the conforming of our lives to the Father’s will, and He intercedes for us to that end.
That intercession is necessary because of what Romans 8:26 calls weakness, that is, we do not know how to pray as we should. Well how should we pray? Jesus taught His disciples to pray “in this way” when He gave them the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9) If we offer that prayer, would our weakness be corrected - unfortunately, no. The weakness from which we suffer is inherent to the flesh. We do not know God’s plan. We know the principles by which the Lord makes decisions: justice, mercy, and righteousness etc, but we are often blind to the way He chooses to carry them out. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
A common example of this conundrum happens when folks request prayers for their ill loved one. But how are we to know what to ask for? Would the gospel be served better by their continued illness or even death? Might the family reconsider the gospel in light of their loss? There are too many variables for us to consider and without God’s wisdom, and we cannot say what is ultimately best. This causes us to trust the Lord in the knowledge that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In many cases all we can pray is what Jesus suggested and exemplified, “Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6:10, Matthew 26:42)
Such an ambiguous request is not a problem for the Spirit that dwells within us, since His intercession is according to God’s will. “and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27) Our Father knows our needs and what is best for us and the kingdom. “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? … how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
I’m thankful that it is not necessary that I should know God’s will in order to ask for and receive it. Consider the alternative. If God were constrained to act in the way we have prayed or not at all, His will might never be done. Furthermore, I for one, am grateful that the Lord did not grant all my past requests, for in my ignorance and immaturity I asked the Lord for what would have been a mistake. Thus the reverse of Jesus’ statement is also true; if we ask for a stone, our Father gives the a loaf instead. For this and more information on prayer, request the pamphlet “Teach us to Pray.”
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:33) Who indeed?! Who can advise the God who made heaven and earth and all that is in them? Who can understand His judgments or plumb His ways? While we may not be privy to the route He is taking, the Lord’s destination is no secret. Therefore, we trust in His guidance for, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
The knowledge that all things can be and are used by God can be difficult to translate into confidence that my personal circumstances likewise are influenced and directed into conformity with His will. Certainly there are no visible signs that would persuade the scoffer or skeptic that my steps are in fact directed by the Lord. Thus any such confidence must be the result of faith, and to develop that faith, the Lord has given us the Scriptures. Consider then these examples and take courage.
If anything could hinder the progress of the Gospel, certainly prison bars might pose a formidable obstacle. However, Paul’s ministry proves just the opposite. The apostle himself admitted, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12) The circumstance to which he refers is his imprisonment in the cause of Christ. But though a Roman cell could hold Paul, the Gospel was not restrained. The result was the governor’s palace guard and everyone else had heard the Gospel (Philippians 1:13) and most of the brethren were emboldened to speak the Word without fear. (Philippians 1:14) Like Joseph in Egypt, Paul could say that while some might have meant his imprisonment for evil, “…God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result…” (Genesis 50:20) Paul asked for deliverance through the prayers of the Philippian saints, but God was already causing all things to work together for good.
God used the enemies of Christ who acted in ignorance with their rulers to crucify the Messiah. According to the Spirit speaking through Peter, their disobedience was the fulfillment of God’s plan as announced beforehand. See also Acts 2:23. God used it for good.
When famine struck the region, the saints in and around Jerusalem were in trouble. God could have provided for them with ravens as He did for Elijah, but instead He used the generosity of the saints from Antioch. This resulted in the two congregations coming closer together and John Mark joined Saul and Barnabas in Antioch. If fact it worked so well God used a similar circumstance later to tie the Gentile congregations to their Jewish brethren.
Those who love God and are called according to His purpose enjoy a confidence that all things really are working according to His will. Covid, tragedy, evil men, inflation, wokeness, Ukraine, banking, and even politics are not beyond the Lord’s influence to use for His own purpose. Therefore, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) We pray for His will and accept our circumstances as His answer. Take courage - everything is going according to plan!
There is great confidence - even liberty - in knowing that God is working all things together to accomplish his will. The child of God can take comfort knowing that God’s greater purpose is being worked out even now. Though the details of that plan are revealed to us as we experience them, God’s ultimate destination is not a secret. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29)
It has been God’s purpose from the beginning that His people would be conformed to the image of His Son - the image of glory. Even before Adam took his first breath, the Almighty revealed His intention when He announced, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26) God did in fact create the first family in His image, (Genesis 1:27) but His work was not completed in the garden. If it had been, there would be no reason for that work to continue through the new covenant, conforming many brethren to the image of His Son.
“And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 2:14) The Gospel is defined as Jesus’ death, burial, and ultimate resurrection/ascension, (I Corinthians 15:1-5) and it is God’s necessary upgrade from the creation process begun in the garden. On the sixth day, God gave man glory and dominion among the physical heaven and earth as the creature uniquely like God possessing body, soul, and spirit. However, Adam and those who followed have unanimously failed to live up to that exalted potential for, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The Gospel is God’s “call” to mankind and the means of a new creation. (II Corinthians 5:17) Through it the way to God and glory is revealed. For “whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30) The Gospel of glory is more than anything Adam enjoyed, for though he possessed a spirit, he could not bring it into conformity with the spirit of His Creator and His Son. (Romans 8:29)
Through the Gospel then, Christ is the necessary bridge to God's purpose of glorifying the saints. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10) Jesus was the first to undergo that process, but He is certainly not the last. His suffering paved the way that others might follow. (Romans 8:17-18)
The astute reader will notice that the Scriptures we have considered speak of glory as both present and future. The Romans 8:29 passage cited above uses the past tense “glorified,” to describe the saints, yet verses 17 & 18 look forward in the context of resurrection to the glory that is to be revealed to us. Can we be both glorified and waiting for such glory? The example of Christ would seem to suggest just that.
According to Peter, Jesus was glorified when He was transfigured on the mountain. “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased” (II Peter 1:17) The same statement granted Him honor at His immersion. (Mark 1:11) But the fulfillment of that glory would not come until He was raised and seated in heaven. “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” (John 17:4-5) Likewise, we have received the glory of being call His sons, and we await for its fulfillment in glorious resurrection.
Imagine his surprise when the prophet’s servant went out early and returned to his master with the news that a great army of the Arameans - complete with horse and chariot - had surrounded the city of Dothan under cover of darkness. “… Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha’s answer must have equally surprised him. “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (II Kings 6:15-16) Then Elisha prayed, and the servant’s eyes were opened. What he saw would have surprised him most of all, for the one who is counted with the Lord is never outnumbered.
Paul poses a similar question in today’s excerpt from Romans. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31) The things to which the apostle refers is the plan of God carried out through His Son Jesus Christ beginning when we were predestined, progressing through the calling of the Gospel, and our justification through His blood, and culminating in our glorification with Christ by faith and finally by sight. Indeed, what shall we say to these things? God’s plan precedes mankind, is accomplished through His miraculous intervention and can be explained only by His love. Thus it begs the question, “If God is for us, who is against us?” If God intends to bring many sons to glory, who can thwart His purpose? Indeed, anyone attempting to stymie the progress of the child of God must necessarily find themselves fighting against God Himself. As the Arameans learned, this is not wise.
The question is one of perspective. Once the servant’s eyes were opened, his perspective changed, and he saw the utter impotence of the hostile force arrayed against the prophet. Jesus shared just such an outlook. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) What can man do…?
Momentary light affliction is how worldly trials and tribulations appear from heaven’s vantage point. (II Corinthians 4:17) Though difficult in the moment, suffering is best described as intimidation. “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” (I Peter 3:14) But why such confidence? “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (I Peter 3:12) If God is for us… who can be against us?
Just how far will the Lord go to achieve His goal of glorifying the saints by conforming them to the image of His Son? The Almighty has already answered that question. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) God has already proven the full measure of His devotion by delivering up Jesus Christ. If He would not spare His own Son that we might be glorified, is there anything else more dear He might withhold?
No - He has freely given us all things. All the resources of Heaven are accessible and allocated to the pursuit of His purpose, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (II Peter 1:3) Everything pertaining to life and godliness has been allotted to us, and His precious promises ensure we have become partakers of His divine nature, (II Peter 1:4) What more could the Lord possibly provide to bring many sons to glory? Our part is to apply all diligence in that pursuit.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” (Job 1:6) That day marked the beginning of Job’s troubles but adds tremendously to our insight concerning the role of our adversary. As the angelic realm stood before the Lord, Satan too made his appearance. The Lord inquired of the tempter about his comings and goings and then asked, “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8) The devil responded with a spate of indictments against the god-fearing. It would take three tests to vindicate Job’s good name and his righteousness based on faith from those malicious accusations, but the incident reveals something more. The Devil is limited in two ways: First, he may tempt mankind only to the degree the Lord allows (I Corinthians 10:13) and second, he has no power of his own to condemn.
The second point is the one that deserves our attention today. Satan cannot condemn apart from the Law of God. Like a dirty, no-good lawyer, the Devil can make accusations, but ultimately it is the power of the Law that condemns. The tempter therefore tries to coax mankind into eating the fruit and then stands back to watch the righteous judgment of God bring about death.
It was this very penchant for accusation that brought him to heaven’s throne on one most-significant occasion. The prophet Zechariah recounts his vision of that day. “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” (Zechariah 3:1) Joshua was the name of the high priest in Zechariah’s day, (Zechariah 6:11) but he surely was not standing before the Lord in glory. Zechariah’s vision is symbolic of the Messiah. (Zechariah 3:8) The name Yehoshua in Hebrew becomes Joshua in English. If it’s brought into Greek and then English the result is Jesus.
Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 8:1) and what Zechariah saw was a depiction of Yehoshua/Joshua/ Jesus before the throne of heaven. Draped in the filthy garments of our iniquities is no condition to stand before the Lord, but it is a fitting representation of Jesus’ state bearing the sins of the world. By His own admission, the Son of God was separated from the Father at His death and this would have afforded the Devil the singular opportunity to turn the Law against the Lawgiver and condemn the judge Himself. Instead, the Lord commanded that Joshua’s iniquity be taken away and he be given clean robes befitting his office. (Zechariah 3:4-5) It was the last time the Devil would stand in heaven’s court to accuse.
At Jesus’ ascension to glory there was war in heaven. (Revelation 12:7-10) The Devil and his ilk were thrown down from that exalted plane prompting this jubilant announcement. “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.” (Revelation 12:10) With the price for sins paid by Jesus’ blood, there could be no more condemnation of His brethren. The accuser lost any standing he once had in heaven’s court, and he can no longer impeach God’s people. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;” (Romans 8:33) If God is the one who justifies, who can indict?
That statement is true for our adversary, and it is true for us. If the Devil is not allowed to bring a charge against God’s elect, how could we? James cautions Christians from using the Law against their brethren, (James 4:11-12) but the same warning ought to restrain the saints from using the law against themselves. We would not think of bringing up our brother’s past to accuse him. We must leave ours in the past as well.
Judge, jury and… justifier. That’s how God describes His relationship to the saints in the court of heaven. After all, if God is the one who justifies, who can accuse? (Romans 8:33) Last week we discussed the ramifications of Jesus’ ascension and our subsequent justification. To be specific, the accuser of our brethren, the Devil, has been thrown down and no longer has standing to bring an indictment before the Lord. Today, a second question reaffirms the first. “who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34)
To intercede means to speak on behalf of another, that is, to broker conversation between two parties. This implies that the intercessor must have access to both. Thus it was necessary for Christ to die, to be raised, and remain in the presence of God at His right hand. This arrangement is pictured beautifully in the Old Testament through the office of the High Priest who offered gifts and sacrifices (interceded) with God on behalf of the people. Likewise, “…we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Hebrews 8:1-2)
As our merciful and faithful intercessor, Christ speaks on our behalf according to the will of God with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26-27) It is fitting therefore that the Holy Spirit is identified as our helper/counselor (paracletos) in John 14 & 15, for as such He advocates and speaks for us before the throne. One might ask then, what does our intercessor say? The word “intercessor” has a significant etymology. The Greek ἐντυγχάνω (en-toong-khan'-o) is the intensified version of the verb that means “to strike, or hit the bulls-eye.” If that sounds familiar, it should. It is the antonym of the verb which means to miss the target translated as sin. Quite literally then, Christ’s intercession is His witness that we do indeed hit the mark. If I may paraphrase, Jesus testifies that in whatever we may have fallen short, it has been corrected through Him.
With Christ as our intercessor, who could condemn? Jesus is more than our advocate in heaven, He is also our judge. “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son… and He gave Him [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22,27, see also Acts 17:31) That’s a pretty sweet arrangement; our defense attorney also sits on the bench. In this scenario, there can be no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
All of this is very well and good, but it lacks a certain human quality. To put it in perspective, I find no better metaphor than the instance John records of Jesus in the role of both advocate and judge. A woman had been brought before Him for trial. She had been caught in the very act of adultery, and her accusers - armed with the Law - stood ready to condemn. They set her in the midst and demanded a verdict of the Teacher, “What then do You say?” (John 8:5) What Jesus wrote on the ground is a mystery, but His judgment was clear. One by one her accusers lost standing before the makeshift court until she was alone with her intercessor. “…Woman,” asked the savior, “where are they? Did no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”] (John 8:10)
If no one can bring a charge, and no one can condemn, what would separate the believer from the love of Christ? Almost nothing. Having escaped the condemnation of the Law, and with Christ as his intercessor, the child of God’s relationship with the Lord is unassailable. Paul asks for rhetorical effect, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…” (Romans 8:35) The apostle’s final question on the subject should give us confidence mixed with caution.
Some misunderstand this passage to mean that once a sinner becomes a saint, he or she can never be lost. However, this once-saved, always-saved view fails to consider passages like Galatians 5:4 which state the opposite case in no uncertain terms. “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” One cannot be severed from Christ or fall from grace without having first been joined to Him and made a sharer of that grace. Nevertheless, many cling tenaciously to the popular myth when in fact the truth of the matter is better.
As is so often the case, marriage is an invaluable teaching tool. The problems that destroy marriages do not come from without but within. Certainly circumstances can make that relationship much more difficult, but in the final analysis, it’s only when those external difficulties become internalized that the vows for better or worse are in jeopardy. So also in Christianity, the real struggles are within; external circumstances merely bring existing weaknesses to light. In fact we find that when good marriages are tested by hardship, trials often bring man and wife closer together.
The particular challenges to which Paul refers are the trials caused by, “…tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Romans 8:35) It’s worth noting here that these challenges are not a recent development. God’s people have been dealing with such obstacles from the beginning. Stephen asked, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?…” (Acts 7:52) Jesus added that righteous blood had been shed from Abel to Zechariah, (Luke 11:51) and James agrees, citing the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as examples of suffering and patience. (James 5:10)
The case of Judas highlights both the security for those who love the Lord and the danger for those who don’t. “…Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one.” (John 18:9) This OT prophecy of Jesus’ ministry is referenced after Judas’ betrayal. Note that it does not say, “no one was lost,” but rather, “I lost not one”. Judas made his decision to part from Christ; Jesus didn’t lose him. A similar promise is extended to those who follow in the footsteps of the twelve, “and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28) Nothing can separate us from Christ against our will.
In light of all the hardships faced by the saints, Paul remained confident. “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Christians don’t merely endure their trials; they conquer overwhelmingly! Like our predecessors who through weakness were made strong, (Hebrews 11:34) God’s power is perfected through the weakness of our physical bodies vulnerable to harm. Thus we can be content, “…with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:10)
How many of our brethren overcame the world and were ushered into glory through the doors of such weakness? We find then that it is not such a bad thing to be considered as sheep for slaughter, (Romans 8:36) since our Lord was also described as a condemned sheep as our Passover lamb. (I Corinthians 5:7) Through His weakness there is power. “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.” (II Corinthians 13:4) Take courage little sheep. Nothing, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
One of the most tragic divorces in the Scriptures is not of star-crossed lovers or childhood sweethearts torn apart. It is rather the story of a man wholly devoted to his nation. Saul of Tarsus was such a man. He did not take a wife (I Corinthians 9:6) but was betrothed instead to the Law. As a third generation Pharisee, young Saul had been promised to the faith of his fathers, which he pursued with a boundless zeal for his ancestral traditions that can only be described as love. However, when Saul met Jesus of Nazareth on the Damascus road, all that would change. Speaking of his heritage, the apostle later wrote, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)
Saul returned to Damascus from Arabia, “and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the son of God.’” (Acts 9:20) Where else would he go but to his Jewish brethren; surely they would listen. I imagine that Saul spoke to the Jews in Damascus with the same naive zeal that sometimes characterizes new Christians. They often assume that everyone else will hear the Gospel with a good heart and obey if only they hear it in the right way. Saul would be disappointed by his Jewish kinsmen in Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, Salamis, Pisidian Antioch, and on and on. Instead of acceptance, his message was generally met with rejection and hostility. His anguish can still be heard in the Roman letter. “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3)
Avoidable tragedies are especially grievous. We accept that some sorrows could not have been foreseen and are thus simply a part of life, but senseless calamity due to neglect or inattention is harder to swallow. How frustrating it must have been for Paul to helplessly observe the overall refusal of his countrymen - the very nation who should have been first to receive the Messiah. After all, their advantage was great in every respect, (Romans 3:1-2) but being entrusted with the oracles of God is not the same as giving heed to them.
The Jewish birthright is remarkable. Those who claim Abraham as their father also share, “… the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Romans 9:4) In short, they had everything, and the Lord says as much through Isaiah, “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?…” (Isaiah 5:4) Even in their rejection the Lord did not take from them His irrevocable gifts. (Romans 11:28-29)
Paul wasn’t alone in his efforts to turn the Jewish nation back to God. John the Baptist had limited success restoring the hearts of the children to the fathers. Jesus also called for them, but just as they did not listen to John, the parables of the Messiah fell on deaf ears. The disciples in turn found themselves before the Sanhedrin, but the elders of Israel would not be taught by those uneducated and untrained men (Acts 4:13) any more than they listened to Stephen later, though his face appeared as that of an angel. (Acts 6:15) Paul was perhaps God’s last attempt to turn Israel from her self-destruction. His address to that august body in Acts 23 occurred about 60 AD - a mere six years before the Romans destroyed it for good.
Paul grieved over his country. They had been born by miracle, preserved by providence and blessed from heaven, yet they would not listen. I cannot help but notice the parallels between that nation and our own and their unnecessary demise. It is fitting to mourn for our countrymen according to the flesh and our common nation. His love for his brethren motivated Paul; may it spur us to action also.
If history were to consider the nation of Israel, it might appear an abysmal failure - a ragtag tribe of shepherds always at odds with the rest of the world. From Egypt until their ultimate demise at Roman hands, their story is characterized by defeat.
What then has become of all the promises given to Israel through the prophets? Pledges of restoration and glory, of good times, prosperity and peace seem to go unfulfilled. Paul answers the unspoken question. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed…” (Romans 9:6) The elephant in the room was the large scale rejection of the Messiah by those who should have been first to embrace the hope of Israel. Like their leaders - the Pharisees and lawyers - the nation had rejected God’s purpose for themselves. (Luke 7:30)
If the success of God’s Word is measured by the nation of Israel, then the Word of God has indeed failed. However, the Scriptures make a clarification concerning the term Israel. “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans 9:6)
Hold it right there! The skeptic cries foul. You can’t just re-interpret failed prophesy to give the appearance of veracity. Israel is Israel. True enough - we will readily admit that such fraudulent foretelling happens all too often. On the other hand, what if it could be proven that the OT itself defines Israel as something other than the geo-political power. If that were possible, then accepting Pauls’ explanation for the obvious failure of his physical nation would be completely reasonable.
In short, the prophecies of Israel are inextricably tied to prophesies of her king. Ezekiel provides a great example. The prophet describes the gathering of Israel and restoration of God’s people on their own land like the sheep of a gracious shepherd. It is that shepherd which warrants our attention. “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David… and My servant David will be prince among them…” (Ezekiel 34:23-24) By Ezekiel’s day, David had been dead for over 4 centuries. He does not anticipate the shepherd king’s resurrection and restoration to the throne, but the promised king of his line - Jesus. (see also Acts 2:29-33) We must note that Jesus claimed, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Thus His nation - Israel - was never strictly a physical one. A careful look at Israel’s past confirms our suspicions.
Who is Israel? The name itself is derived from their father, Jacob, but the title applies to those whose God is the Lord. If it were simply a matter of heritage, what about Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn? Where is Esau who sold his birthright? What has become of the ten northern tribes lost to the Assyrian empire or the majority of Judah who elected to remain in Babylon when Zerubbabel led the faithful back to their land? In reality, most of Abraham and Jacob’s descendants rejected the Lord and therefore ceased to be Israel.
With this the New Testament agrees, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7) It was not their ancestry that caused Rahab or Ruth to be counted among Israel; it was their faith that made them God’s people, just as it does for us. “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” (Romans 9:8)
Has the Word of God failed? Certainly not. You are the evidence that God has fulfilled His promise to Israel, and confirmed His Word. Isaiah 55 is a rich passage that deals with the issues of restoration, covenant, king, Gentiles, and God’s compassion, but verse 11 says it best. “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
God’s will is sovereign. You’ll hear that phrase tossed about somewhat in religious circles to mean that God’s will nullifies our own, and if someone were quickly reading today’s Romans passage it might appear just that way. “For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
The Holy Spirit was sure to remind the readers of the Roman letter that the Word of God had not failed. (Romans 9:6) Though Israel generally rejected them, the promises of God were not broken because of their unbelief. As proof of this assertion, God cites the case of Isaac and Ishmael to confirm that the blessing was not pledged to all heirs according to flesh, but rather to those of faith. Again the Old Testament provides a case study.
Consider Jacob and Esau, two boys with everything in common. The twin sons of Isaac shared a birthday, parents, and home life, yet they took very different paths. Jacob would become a man of faith, earning a place in Hebrews 11, though his elder brother, Esau, rejected the same spiritual birthright. But why? “for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” (Romans 9:11-12)
It’s tempting here to jump to conclusions about what the Scriptures mean and assume that since God’s choice was clear even before the boys were born that their decisions were made for them. This idea is often referred to as election or predestination and goes roughly like this. God unilaterally chose Jacob, therefore the life of Isaac’s younger son was charmed from the start. Though they seemed his own, Jacob’s decisions were really the result of God’s unseen hand choosing for him. Conversely, since God didn’t choose Esau, he was incapable of doing good and pleasing the Lord. This is false.
Many read Romans 9:12-13 as though they imply favor simply on a whim. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If this were so, there would be no need for God to search the hearts of men. Rather, God considered the choices these two boys - still within their mother's womb - would make and by that foreknowledge He determined which would warrant His love and His wrath. The Bible says the same of us, “…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood…” (I Peter 1:1-2)
Esau proved to be a selfish natural man, who cared less for his birthright as firstborn son than he did for soup. (Genesis 25:29-34, and Hebrews 12:16) Thus Esau chose as God knew he would, and the Scripture was fulfilled. By contrast, Jacob chose to follow the Lord, but his choices also did not surprise omniscient God. His decisions to value the blessing of his father and grandfather only validated God’s foreknowledge of the child still within the womb of his mother.
Finally, if God were choosing on our behalf, none would be lost since, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) Thus we recognize that God’s choice and ours coexist. And that is next week’s topic.
God’s will is sovereign. You’ll hear that phrase tossed about somewhat in religious circles to mean that God’s will nullifies our own, and if someone were quickly reading today’s Romans passage it might appear just that way. “For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
Though it is certainly true that God has the right to do what He chooses, He limits His control to the boundary of our will. In addition He allows us the same power over our decisions - our sovereign will, and limits that authority to each of us. I cannot bend the Lord to my will, and He refuses to violate my freedom to choose. Man cannot change God's terms, nor can he coerce the Lord into granting mercy by his own efforts (to will or to run). Thus to say God’s will is sovereign means that God alone has the authority to set the rules by which we interact with Him. This kind of arrangement is well-illustrated by a shop keeper selling his wares. The owner sets the prices on his merchandise, and hangs out his shingle. If I enter his shop, I have no right to change his prices. The items belong to him; I can choose to purchase on his terms or leave empty-handed. Both parties retain their sovereign will. This is the same relationship described in II Corinthians 5.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:20) All the elements are present here. Notice that God has set the parameters through which we might be reconciled. Only through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ does He grant salvation. However, our choice is also involved. If it were otherwise, it would be pointless to entreat the lost on His behalf that they might be reconciled to Him. However, if both parties agree to the terms, then - and only then - does the salvation transaction take place.
However, some may still object. Why does God have the sole right to set the terms of salvation? And furthermore if God hardens the hearts of some, how can He justly have mercy on others since, “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Romans 9:18) Paul anticipates their objection and makes it for them. “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Romans 9:19) We will come back to this issue next week in the discussion about Pharaoh to understand better how God hardens the heart, but for now we will hear Paul’s rebuttal.
“On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?” (Romans 9:20) What if God didn’t allow for our will whatsoever? Would that be unjust or unfair? The Spirit reminds us that we are His handiwork. Like clay in the hands of the potter, we have no right to demand anything. If God chose to destroy what He created, would that not be His prerogative? We did not make ourselves; we belong completely to Him and exist for His good pleasure. However, we may praise the Lord that He HAS extended to us the right to choose for ourselves thus giving us a seat at the table.
It is truly remarkable to me that our creator has willingly placed Himself in the position of negotiating with the clay. He has both lowered Himself (Hebrews 2:7) to make His appeal to man, and raised humanity above the whole of creation by granting them the right to choose. Like the king who chooses a wife - not a slave but a partner by choice - He extends His invitation and honors our decision.
Last week we considered God’s sovereign will and ours. But the skeptic will ask, how can I exercise my will if God is actively shaping my decisions, for we read of Pharaoh, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Romans 9:18) Verse 18 appears to suggest that mercy and hardening are irresistible acts of God. The verse is clear that these effects are the work of God, yet it does not speak to the issue of how God has mercy for one and hardens another. That is the question we must consider today. Romans 9:17 begins with the words concerning Pharaoh taken from Exodus. Let us consider his story.
Pharaoh was not impressed. By God's command, Moses spoke through his brother Aaron and informed Egypt's king that roughly 2,000,000 slaves would like a vacation. It may come as a surprise to you that Moses did not initially demand the Israelite’s release but only about a week’s absence to sacrifice to the Lord. They told Pharaoh, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (Exodus 5:3) Not surprisingly Pharaoh resisted and remained unwilling even in the face of the minor miracles of Moses’ staff and leprosy. Even when the Nile was turned to blood, the King of Egypt refused. But something significant had happened.
God had given Pharaoh a choice. He could have submitted to the Lord, but he chose instead to resist, and his heart was hardened. “Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 7:13) Frogs followed, but as soon as they were heaped in piles, the result was the same - Pharaoh again hardened his heart. (Exodus 8:15) Gnats were next, and these were so troublesome that Pharaoh sought a compromise in country. “…I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away…” (Exodus 8:28) Moses refused, Pharaoh’s promised release vanished just as quickly as the gnats, and again his heart was hardened. (Exodus 8:32) The process continued through livestock disease, boils, and hail; with each passing plague Pharaoh’s heart became harder. Finally the threat of locusts brought the king back to the negotiation table. He said, “…Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?” (Exodus 10:8) Moses demanded all the people with all their livestock must leave, but Pharaoh would release only the men. A hardened Pharaoh withdrew his offer, and the locusts descended.
Tangible darkness fell across the land for three days, and Pharaoh called for Moses to cut a deal. “…Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.” (Exodus 10:24) Moses refused - not a hoof would be left behind. The leader of God’s people offered this preposterous reason. “…until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD.” (Exodus 10:26) What an insult! To Pharaoh’s mind he had made yet another concession, and Moses, immoveable, mocked him. The king’s heart grew harder still.
Finally the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt broke the stalemate. Pharaoh granted Moses’ demands, (Exodus 12:32) but even this was short-lived. Egypt pursued Israel to the banks of the Red Sea, and then unexplainably followed them in. “And as for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17)
God prepared a vessel of wrath for destruction, (Romans 9:22) but He did so through Pharaoh’s own choices. Similarly God places decisions before us every day. If we submit to the Lord, our hearts remain pliable, but if we reject His will they harden a little. With every choice - like every touch of the potter - the vessel is formed. Whether it takes the shape of wrath or mercy depends on us.
The Lord sent Jeremiah the prophet down to the potter’s house, where he was making something on the wheel. “But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter: so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.” Then God asked the prophet, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?…” (Jeremiah 18:4-6)
Paul asks the same question of those who would object to the Lord’s intervention in the affairs of men. “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?” (Romans 9:21) The answer of course is yes. “…We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) Like the potter, the Lord has a right to do what He wishes with the clay.
The Almighty sculpts each of us, carefully working each vessel. The clay likewise has a part, receiving or resisting His touch. No one is beyond His influence or immune to His hand. Even Pharaoh, the preeminent ruler of his day, was fashioned by the Lord to serve His purpose. Though the king chose to resist God’s will, nevertheless, he became the demonstration of His power and the proclamation of His name. (Romans 9:17)
In a large house there are many vessels, some to honor and some to dishonor, (II Timothy 2:20) but each serves the master’s purpose. God also makes vessels of every kind. “Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (II Timothy 2:21) It is the Lord’s intention to produce vessels formed by righteousness, faith, love and peace. Indeed, from the beginning it was God’s stated purpose to make man in Our image and according to Our likeness. (Genesis 1:26)
That process wasn’t finished on the sixth day of creation but rather just begun. Not until the new covenant provided a new heart within man could God’s vision of a suitable vessel in the image of His Son be realized. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29) The result is a work of love that bears the image of its maker stamped into each finished piece.
Only such a vessel is appropriate for the use God intended. “…Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body.” (I Corinthians 6:13) God designed our bodies for the expressed purpose of holding His Holy Spirit. The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ is a treasure indeed. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…” (II Corinthians 4:7) But God’s glorious purpose doesn’t stop there.
Like a true masterpiece that elicits honor from men, Christians glorify their maker. When the world sees your good works they will glorify your Father who is in heaven, (Matthew 5:16) but at the Lord’s return, He intends to be glorified again, “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” (II Thessalonians 1:10)
On that day, even the wicked will bring glory to God. “And He shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces…” (Revelation 2:27, also Psalm 2:9) Their begrudging admission that Jesus is Lord will come from every rebellious mouth and every unbending knee. (Philippians 2:10-11) The potter will be glorified through all his work. Both vessels of wrath prepared for destruction and those of mercy prepared for glory, will honor the Lord as their Maker. (Romans 9:22-23)
God is a creator; it’s in His nature. Aristotle believed that all created things were traceable to four causes; the last of which is (appropriately) the final cause which we may refer to as the why. It is the reason that something was created. In God’s case, He is in the business of making vessels for the purpose of glory and the why is love. He does not desire that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) A potter - like every other artisan - is judged by what he creates, and the Lord will be glorified through each vessel He turns in His hand, both good and bad.
The Lord’s design is readily seen in the working of those vessels of mercy, but what of those pieces that refuse His touch and reject His purpose for themselves? God uses them also in the preparation of His people. Indeed the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:3) and persecutions and afflictions deem those worthy who endure them. (II Thessalonians 1:5) Thus, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,” (Romans 9:22-23) Note that it is for the sake of the vessels of glory that the others are allowed to endure, just like the tares of Jesus’ parable are permitted to remain for the good of the wheat. (Matthew 13:28-30)
Just as the Lord can showcase His handiwork through any vessel, He also is not limited to the Jews. “even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’” (Romans 9:24-25) The NASB uses upper case to denote an Old Testament quotation, and this one comes from Israel’s prophet, Hosea.
Were it not for Roman’s inspired commentary, we would be hard pressed to conclude Hosea was referring to the Gentiles in about 740 BC. However, what sounds like a restoration promise to the ten tribes, is really an announcement that the Gentiles will one day be God’s people - beloved and belonging to Him as the legitimate sons of the living God.
The nation of Israel rejected the Lord for other gods. Like Hosea’s disreputable bride, Gomer, Israel had been unfaithful and the result was divorce from the Lord who loved them. (Jeremiah 3:8) Yet even in this, God’s purpose would not be thwarted for He looked to a greater union - the Church - comprised of Jew and Gentile.
Like unwilling vessels, the Lord would nevertheless, use the Jewish nation to accomplish His purpose. Through them He introduced the Messiah to the world, and provided the Church with a template for its form. Physical Israel was entrusted with the covenants, and the Law, though its purpose of leading all men to Christ (Galatians 3:24) would not be fulfilled in their age. They were the keepers of the priesthood and custodians of the Scripture. But when they refused to follow the Savior, and God could do nothing else with the Jewish nation, He destroyed it. And in their stead, “it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:26)
”The words of the Lord are pure words” wrote David. “How pure” you ask? “…as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.” (Psalm 12:6) The process of heating metal to remove impurities is an ancient art, but the process also might well describe the way in which God has worked with mankind generally and Israel in particular. Though the process is intense, the material that remains is of better quality than what began, and it is that precious remnant that is the topic of our discussion today. “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE AS THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 9:27)
Romans echoes the words of Isaiah 10:20-22 to describe what God has done with His people. It wasn’t the only time the prophet to Judah spoke of a remnant. Romans 11 also speaks of the remnant’s return. Other prophets too announced the return of God’s people as a remnant under the banner of the Messiah. Jeremiah is especially poetic. “Then I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture…” (Jeremiah 23:3, 8) Micah too picks up the theme. “…I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold…” (Micah 2:12, 5:8) Israel’s memory was not forgotten, yet no historical return is ever recorded. Some suppose that the 1947 establishment of the Jewish state might be the fulfillment of God’s word, but the New Testament describes another plan.
Last week we discussed how the Gentiles are prophetically referred to as Israel, for the ten tribes of that name were taken away and assimilated into the nations. Therefore when God calls His people from Gentiles also (Romans 9:24) it is as if ancient Israel, lost among the peoples, was responding to His invitation.
However, not all are willing, but the remnant will be saved. “And just as Isaiah foretold, “EXCEPT THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME AS SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.” (Romans 9:29 from Isaiah 1:9)
The same sentiment is repeated in Romans 11 quoting Elijah. The self-pitying prophet thought himself alone. Indeed it seemed as if every man in Israel had turned to the worship of Baal, but the Lord reminded Elijah and us that He had preserved for Himself a remnant. Seven thousand remained true and, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” (Romans 11:5)
The refining process of expansion and contraction has been used by God from the beginning. In the days of the flood, only a faithful remnant rode out the storm. Later, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed but the faithful were spared. Only two made it through the refining wilderness, but Joshua and Caleb were men of faith. The process is repeated over and over again as the Lord removes the dross to reveal the faithful. “that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:7)
God keeps His seed corn - a faithful remnant from which a new harvest of righteousness can grow. The Lord is just, executing His judgments but preserving the innocent, “just as Isaiah foretold, ‘Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.’” (Romans 9:29) In this case the physical Jew was the target of that judgment.
Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia describing Jewish estrangement from the Lord. Allegorically he said, “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (Galatians 4:25) The bondwoman, Hagar, is the Jewish nation personified, thus the judgment due her is theirs also. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Galatians 4:30) See also Romans 11:19-20. We as children of promise are Isaac’s brethren. Our common heritage is not of flesh but faith.
What a paradox! That a remnant including Gentiles would be considered righteous and the Jews forsaken is a surprise indeed. How could the nations have beaten the Jews at their own game? The answer is that they played it very differently.
For the Jew, righteousness was always a contest of self-restraint under the law. To their way of thinking, keeping the commandments made one righteous. “but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.” (Romans 9:31) Like happiness and rainbows, righteousness is never found through direct pursuit. It can’t be “achieved” since there is always another law to keep before the commandments can be satisfied. The more one chases that ethereal goal, the farther it flees.
Notice the Gentiles pursued righteousness by a different course, for they attained righteousness, “even the righteousness which is by faith” (Romans 9:30) The key words here are, “by faith”. In contrast to their lawful counterparts, Gentiles landed on another means to righteousness, for if a man has faith, that faith is sufficient to deem one righteous - no law-keeping necessary.
However, the example of a faithful Gentile upheld by Romans is none other than Abraham. You will remember that Abraham was no Jew, for none existed when Abraham lived! No, we remember that Abraham was a Gentile - a Chaldean from Ur. (Genesis 15:7)
In chapter four we discussed at length his contribution to our understanding of faith and justification. Here again we find him useful. As a Gentile, what made Abraham righteous? Was it the Law, circumcision, or living without sin? It could not be the Law, for the father of the faithful lived long before Moses brought the commandments down from Sinai. Circumcision also proves unworkable since Abraham was reckoned righteous before that command was given. (Romans 4:10) Was Abraham without sin? Certainly not. Thus we find that Abraham, a Gentile, “attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.” (Romans 9:31)
Sometimes the harder we try, the less effective we are. Though it seems counter-intuitive, that’s particularly true when it comes to the pursuit of righteousness. Since righteous folks don’t sin, most assume that if one avoids sin, then he must be righteous. Thus they prioritize the fruit over the tree - the outcome over the process - and both are destroyed.
Jesus taught His disciples, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33) The Savior is not interested in horticulture but a harvest of righteousness. To achieve that, one must focus on the process not the result. How ridiculous it would be to find an orchard owner attempting to circumvent the process by attaching fruit to his lifeless branches!
In their fervor to be righteous, the Jews neglected its very source. If I may continue the fruit analogy, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Physical Israel had certainly pursued righteousness, but they did so as if it could be found through the law, and thus they made Christ their adversary. “but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:31-32)
The stone which became an offense to them was anticipated by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Paul identified Him. By inspiration, Romans combines two citations from the son of Amoz (Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16) to describe the Christ. What was it that so offended the Jews and caused them to stumble? Certainly Jesus did not conform to their expectations of the Messiah, but it’s doubtful that even if He had, they would have been eager to relinquish their influence and acknowledge His supremacy. No, Romans writes that it was the transition from works to faith that caused the Jews to stumble. Notice that he who believes in Him (the stone) will not be disappointed. (Romans 9:33)
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense…” (Romans 9:33) Zion is a reference to the heavenly realm where Jesus sits as executor of a new covenant. (Hebrews 12:22-24) Therefore it is the changing of the system that they could not accept. That new administration of faith with Christ as its head has replaced the obsolete system of Law. Jesus warned them it would be difficult to hear, (John 6:62) but a departure from what they understood and the welcoming of Christ as Lord was a stone they were unwilling to move. Thus they proved disobedient to the word. (I Peter 2:8)
It happened to the Jews just as Jesus anticipated, “…the stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone…” (Matthew 21:42) The bedrock truth about Jesus forms the foundation of the Church (Matthew 16:16-18) and continues to cause some to stumble. “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matthew 21:44)
Paul’s heart was broken for his brethren according to the flesh. Despite his best efforts, the Pharisee-turned-apostle was unable to sway them en masse, though he lamented, “my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” (Romans 10:1) The problem was certainly not a lack of zeal, for the Jews were passionate in their pursuit of righteousness — according to the Law. Unfortunately, an abundance of zeal cannot remedy a lack of knowledge.
“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) Paul could speak from experience since he himself was once in their shoes. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. ” (Acts 22:3) Ironically, Paul’s misdirected zeal resulted in the persecution of the very God he claimed to serve.
For most of the Jews, their zeal for God did not result in the persecution of Christians, but a dogged adherence to the Law. They believed that in the commandments there was life. The anonymous young ruler who came to Jesus is a typical specimen, and I wonder if Saul of Tarsus had personally met the Savior if their interaction might have been similar. “Teacher” he asked, “what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
Obtaining eternal life through one’s own agency is an attractive proposition to some. Anyone successful would certainly have something to boast about. (Romans 4:2) In any case, the prospect of earned righteousness appealed to the Jews. “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3)
Naaman provides us with a poignant example of that very conflict between submission to God’s grace and the appeal of self-made righteousness. The leprous captain of the Aramean army traveled to Israel to seek out the prophet in hopes of a cure. However, he was taken aback by Elisha’s prescription. “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times…” (II Kings 5:10) Furious, Naaman prepared to leave until one of his cooler-headed servants intervened. “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?” How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (II Kings 5:13) Pride was the obstacle then, in Paul’s day, and now.
The Jews Paul referred to in Romans are not very different from the rest of mankind; the same conflict between submission to God and the boastful pride of life is present in most. But the appeal of self-made righteousness masks the underlying deficiency produced by following the commandments. Even the young ruler admitted, “… what am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20) Always approaching righteousness but never arriving, the followers of the Law are cursed with never-ending servitude. The answer is found in Christ and is our topic for next week.
It is said that the Greek philosopher Zeno of the 5th century BC proposed a race between Achilles and a tortoise. At first glance the smart money would be on Achilles, but Zeno thought otherwise. To keep it interesting, he gave the tortoise a head start, and the race began. Swift as the wind, the son of Peleus quickly caught up to where the tortoise had been. However, in the time it took Achilles to reach the tortoise’ previous spot, the tortoise had moved some lesser distance ahead. Still trailing therefore, the Greek soldier closed that distance only to find that the tortoise had again moved a little farther - and on, and on, and on. No matter how fast Achilles runs, the time it takes him to move to where the tortoise was allows his shelled competitor to retain the lead. Zeno’s paradox makes it impossible for Achilles to ever catch the tortoise. Though the distance between them is always diminishing, the goal remains forever out of reach.
If Achilles pursued righteousness according to the Law, it would have been a similar disappointment, for that standard is impossible to catch. “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.” (Romans 10:5) That is to say, if one looks to the Law for justification, he must live by the commandments - but which one? If I kept the commandments yesterday, am I righteous? No, for righteousness depends on keeping the next commandment. Therefore, because there’s always another commandment to be kept, the Law can never be truly satisfied. Paul said again, “However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” (Galatians 3:12)
Even if Homer’s hero worked diligently to learn and implement the commandments, if he relinquished the hedonistic way of life inherited from his forefathers, and if he became an upstanding citizen who walked orderly keeping the Law, he still would not have attained that elusive goal of righteousness. Even if he lived a perfect day without sin, doing what thou shalt and avoiding what thou shalt not, righteousness according to Law would remain beyond his grasp, because - like the tortoise - the Law’s required obedience would have moved one day farther.
By contrast, faith does what the Law could not. “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) Thus Romans, James and Galatians agree, “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 3:6)
The Lord considers the man of faith as righteous not on the basis of what he must do, but because of what he has believed. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:5) Therefore, when someone develops faith in God, as demonstrated through repentance, confession, and immersion, they have come to Christ, and the race to righteousness is at its end. Never bet against a tortoise.
Truer words were never spoken. “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Our confidence depends entirely on Christ, for through faith - not the works of the Law - we have been justified. But have you ever wondered what might be required if someone were to attempt the impossible feat of self-justification?
Perhaps a grand gesture would suffice, but neither acts of self-privation, tests of endurance or courageous deeds impress the Lord. However, should someone desire to achieve justification on his own merit, the Scriptures describe the simple two-step plan.
These steps are not arbitrary. God’s just character requires that before forgiveness can take place, a sacrifice for sin must be paid in satisfaction of the debt. Thus we find that the OT offerings are more than simple rites peculiar to Judaism; they are a copy of the deeper transcendent spiritual reality and therefore a roadmap to obtain justification. Remember, Moses was warned, “…See that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5) Therefore, the regulations for sacrifice that he implemented are temporal copies of spiritual realities. Through the Day of Atonement in particular, the spiritual process of justification is revealed for man to see.
For a more complete treatment of the subject see Leviticus 16, but for our purpose today a short summary will suffice. Once a year the high priest would offer atonement sacrifices first for himself, and then for the people. A bull and then a goat were killed at the altar. Then the high priest took their blood behind the veil and into the tabernacle’s most holy place where it was sprinkled on the mercy seat (the lid) of the Ark of the Covenant. This annual ritual made atonement for Israel’s sins and - more importantly - laid the foundation for our high priest. (Hebrews 9:24-26)
And that’s it - just two simple steps: the death of the sacrifice and the offering of that blood. But where can a blameless sacrifice be found? No one on earth can fill the role, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Thus we must look to Christ. “…Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is to bring Christ down) (Romans 10:6) If one were to earn his salvation, the first task is to bring Christ down - not only to earth in the form of a man - but still farther down to death itself. Then an even greater work must follow.
With the sacrifice made and the life given, it must now be offered in the true holy place. But who can stand before the Lord to present the ransom for sin? Again we must look to Christ. “who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)” (Romans 10:7) If putting the Lord to death wasn’t difficult enough, raising Him certainly would be. And yet this is precisely what the Lord has done. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11-12) When we consider just what is required to achieve salvation by one’s own efforts, the task is staggering. Praise God that He did what we could not.
In contrast with the truly herculean effort required to obtain redemption on one’s own merit, Paul reminded his Roman readers that salvation by faith isn’t far away at all, but quite within man’s grasp. “what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.” (Romans 10:8) No quest to heaven or hades need be made, for redemption has already come through Jesus Christ who both descended from heaven to death and ascended back to glory to obtain eternal redemption. (Romans 10:6-7) In the case of the Romans, the message of Christ found them! The word of faith carried to Corinth by Paul and preached by him and his companions was the very message that must be believed - that Jesus is Lord.
When the word of faith is preached, it falls upon the hearts of those who hear it. As in the parable, some hearts are hard, but others receive it, and their belief in the gospel produces confession. However, here we must pause a moment. In modern vernacular, the term confession is used most commonly as an admission of sin. This is certainly appropriate in some contexts, (see I John 1:9) but not how Paul uses it here.
“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9) The admission God desires is not one of sinfulness, but that Christ is Lord. Such an admission is a central part of the salvation process and a prerequisite for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus said as much to the twelve. “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. “But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) How could it be otherwise? If we appeal to Christ for mercy as king, is it not fitting that He require our oath of fealty?
Making such confession - though it is an act - cannot be confused with any attempt to earn one’s own salvation. As we have already discussed, that venture is far beyond our earthly grasp. But to say that confession is faith alone is not accurate either. Rather we find that confession is the byproduct of faith - that the word of faith produces action in the form of confession - and until such action is present, it reveals a lack of faith.
Confession is a necessary part of the salvation process, because it is central to the life of the Christian. As disciples of Christ, our public admission that Jesus is Lord does not end with our entrance to the kingdom. We claim Christ before family and friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and in our social media presence. We are not ashamed of Jesus or His words, lest He also be ashamed of us when He comes in His glory. (Luke 9:26) There are no closet Christians.
Some protest. “My confession is my lifestyle,” they say, “and when others see my virtuous character they will know something’s different and inquire.” This is not piety but cowardice. Change your fb status, ask those within your sphere to study the Bible with you, and be counted as a Christian. “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore also we speak” (II Corinthians 4:13)
Isaiah’s words ring true long after his day. “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:11) The faithful confession of Jesus as Lord that flows from a righteous heart produces a salvation without distinction, “for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
When Isaiah and Joel (the initial author of verse thirteen) first penned the Lord’s words centuries before their fulfillment, they could hardly have imagined the scope of their pronouncement - a time when, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:12) But what does it mean to call on Him?
Calling on Him or calling on the name of the Lord are synonymous terms as demonstrated in today’s Romans passage. They are, however, too often misunderstood or misinterpreted in keeping with modern convention. In short, “the name of the Lord” is not a reference to pronunciation but position. (see Acts 4:7-12) Our term “title” is a useful equivalent. When we refer to someone by their title, we are referring to their official capacity to do, act, grant, etc. Thus when someone appeals to Judge Judy it is to her official capacity that they make their request. Likewise, to call upon His name does not mean that someone utters “Jesus” in his native tongue, but that he appeals to the authority of Jesus in His elevated position as Lord and Christ from which He grants repentance and forgiveness of sin. (Acts 5:31)
Calling on God’s name is nothing new; folks have been calling on God since the days of Adam’s son Seth when, “…men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” (Genesis 4:26) Other notable Old Testament callers include Abraham (Genesis 12:8) and even Elijah atop Mt Carmel. (I Kings 18:24) In both cases the patriarch and the prophet appealed to God to accomplish the purpose for which He had brought them there. They built altars to the Lord then, but how does one call upon God now?
There is another call the Scriptures describe - God’s call to mankind through the Gospel. “And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 2:14, see also II Timothy 1:9-10) God calls us through the good news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and it is through the same mechanism that we call back to Him.
Peter first told his Pentecost listeners that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) But in the same address, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Did Peter have a change of heart when he prescribed immersion for the forgiveness of sin instead of calling, or was he defining how subscribers to a new covenant would make their appeal to God, in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Lord Himself anticipated such a call when He told His disciples that all authority belonged to Him - notice Jesus’ emphasis on position/title - and on that basis to baptize, “…in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19) Thus Saul was instructed by the divinely appointed Ananias to, “…Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16) Today, if anyone wishes to make their appeal to God, he must reciprocate God’s Gospel call through baptism’s death, burial, and resurrection which saves you as an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 3:21)
A thousand years before his descendant would reveal God’s intent, David wrote, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18) That call was made to mankind through the Gospel, (II Thessalonians 2:14) and by becoming obedient to it in immersion, we make our call - appealing back to God. In fact, Christians are identified in the Scriptures by that call. Paul addressed the Corinthians believers as, “…those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (I Corinthians 1:2)
However, such a call is predicated on belief for the apostle asks rhetorically, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?…” (Romans 10:14) Calling (or immersion) without belief is like driving a car with no engine. You may be doing all the right things, but there’s still no movement. The faith that Jesus is Lord is the combustion that drives repentance, confession, and ultimately the calling through immersion that results in salvation. Without that faith, action alone is nothing more than dead works. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)
But wait! “…And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14) Belief is not spontaneous; it comes as the result of hearing the Gospel. Therefore it follows that if one never hears the good news, he cannot believe. Hearing then is just as essential to salvation as calling since one cannot obey a Gospel he’s never heard. Paul reminded the Galatian brethren that the authentic Gospel had come to them the same way. “…did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2) A heart that has become dull blunts the ears as well; (Matthew 13:15) thus Jesus often challenged his audience, “he who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9)
But wait! “…how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14) In God’s wisdom, He has ordained that His Word would exist in a symbiotic relationship with man. Like information that moves through a mechanism of reception, decoding and transmission, God’s Word requires a host. That partnership was evident in Corinth where Paul said, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:5-6) For this reason Paul longed to preach where the Gospel had not yet reached (Romans 15:20-21) for without a preacher they cannot hear, believe, and call.
But wait! “…how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15) Every goer needs a sender. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church in Antioch, and later he took wages from some congregations to serve others. (II Corinthians 11:8, Philippians 4:15-16) Many others like the Corinthians were diligent to send Paul with their prayers as partners with those who shared the word. The Gospel depends on such people as you to send, go, and preach that others may call.
Seven centuries before Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s words, the messianic prophet spoke of a day when Zion and the holy city would be restored from captivity and secure in their king, “Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; Loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.” (Isaiah 52:2) When Isaiah speaks Judah is not enslaved at all, but her time is coming. Approximately 100 years from that writing, the Babylonians would raze the city to the ground and deport its inhabitants, thus the prophet looks to their restoration. A coming king - the Lord’s Bare Arm - will comfort and redeem His people and all nations. (Isaiah 52:9-10) The following verses identify the coming king precisely as we might expect and the allusion to Christ in Romans 10:14 is unmistakable. But here we have a problem.
Isaiah looks to the Messiah to redeem Israel from their captivity - yet Jesus did no such thing. The Romans occupied Jerusalem at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, and they continued to do so at the end - a conundrum. Two options present themselves; either Isaiah looked to another high and exalted servant (Romans 10:13) or Jesus did in fact redeem mankind, but from a different kind of slavery.
Imagine the joy upon hearing the news of one’s own emancipation; elation hardly seems a sufficient description. Just as the messenger is often held accountable for the bad news he brings, the opposite is also true, and the one who announces good things is correspondingly received with gratitude - so much gratitude in fact that to the oppressed, the announcement of liberty might well resemble the dulcet tones of angelic voices. This is - of course - hyperbole, but it isn’t too far off. Paul uses the same literary device to describe the reception one might give to the bearers of good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15)
Sadly something is lost in the rendering of this verse which might just as well be translated, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel.” This solves our earlier conundrum, since the Gospel is certainly the good news of freedom from sin through Christ, and He is the one to bring it to mankind. “but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:43 ESV)
Even Nahum, the prophet who announced Nineveh’s destruction, echoes Isaiah’s sentiment. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace!…” (Nahum 1:15) Like Isaiah, Nahum also looks to a time when God’s people are set free from their entanglements and the shackles of idolatry (Nahum 1:13-14)
When the prophets looked ahead to the good news of peace and liberty, they were ascribed to the Messiah, but the Gospel is not limited to Christ. The good news about the kingdom has become our message to the world as well. “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers” (Acts 13:32) My, what beautiful feet you have!
The beautiful feet of those who bear glad tidings are a welcome sight to both Jew and Greek in search of salvation. “However, they did not all heed the glad tidings for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” (Romans 10:16) The ‘77 NASB uses the term “glad tidings” which has been updated in newer editions to read “good news” but another reading would be more appropriate. In the 76 instances where the Greek, “euangeliō” appears in the New Testament, it is rendered “gospel” 75 times. Only once in Romans 10 (for reasons I cannot imagine) is it worded “glad tidings.” Thus the good news that went unheeded to Isaiah’s dismay is the Gospel message.
Hearing is no substitute for doing. The Law didn’t justify its hearers, (Romans 2:13) nor did the words of Jesus benefit those who neglected to act on them. The rains, floods, and wind burst against all houses alike, but only those built on the rock through action remained. (Matthew 7:24-27) Hebrew’s warning is even more clear. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” (Hebrews 4:2) Here also, the Greek word presented as “good news” could equally be translated “Gospel”, but the gospel is powerless in the absence of action. Hearing must lead to believing which in turn must produce action. In this case those who believe, call upon the name of the Lord and are saved. “For whoever will call - not hear only - upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
There is no salvation apart from calling upon the Lord ie. making an appeal on the basis of His station. We discussed that call several weeks ago and defined it Scripturally as nothing other than baptism. For those therefore who call upon Him in immersion, salvation is the Lord’s response, but others will object.
It seems there is no shortage of explanations proffered in an attempt to justify the sinner through any means other than immersion. Their objections are dealt with easily enough, but let us consider what would happen if the Lord conceded that requirement just as they demand. If the requirement for baptism were removed, and only belief, confession, and repentance remained, would it satisfy the masses? I contend that when God draws a line for salvation, it is not the location of the line to which many truly object, but the drawing of any line at all. It isn’t the width of the broad or narrow gates that they protest but that someone else has set the posts and they must submit.
Isaiah writes about God’s call. “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.” (Isaiah 55:7) In addition to thinking they can set the terms of their relationship with God, some wrongly assume that God will wait for them indefinitely. If you don’t have time to make your appeal of God, don’t worry, there’s always tomorrow. Though tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, to anyone, neither can one assume that the Lord’s offer will remain open forever. Just as He has the authority to extend the invitation, so He has the authority to end the offer at His coming. The door of salvation through calling in immersion closes with our death. If you haven’t made yours, call today!
Before Isaac had become a man, the Lord spoke to his father, Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (Genesis 22:2) What followed was one of the greatest tests and demonstrations of genuine faith. Abraham’s example is extremely helpful to us today as we investigate Paul’s statement about the nature and source of faith. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.“ (Romans 10:17)
Hebrews famously defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) If I may paraphrase, that is to say that faith is the belief or confidence in the unseen that begins with evidence and culminates in action. Let’s start at the beginning with evidence.
What is to be believed? The word of Christ is Paul’s answer and another way to say “the Gospel”. It is the Gospel that provides the facts to be believed and the challenge to accept them. This is important because a dangerous notion has arisen which claims that all “faiths” are equal. This is false. Beliefs - even those genuinely held - are not valid simply because they are believed, nor are claims made false by one’s refusal to accept them. The heart in either case is not an objective test for the validity of one’s convictions. Thus we are warned about philosophy and human tradition - empty deceptions through which the genuine believer may be taken captive. (Colossians 2:8) This should be obvious, but the religious world is seldom encumbered by the obvious.
Abraham heard the Gospel, and on that basis he believed. “And the Scripture… preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” (Galatians 3:8) It was later revealed to the patriarch that Isaac would be the conduit for that promise. Hebrews quotes Genesis 21:12 that, “…In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” (Hebrews 11:18)
Abraham had a difficult choice to make. On the one hand, he had God’s promise of descendants through Isaac, and on the other, God’s command to kill his only heir. What happened next is faith. God did not explain His plan to Abraham, rather, the father of the faithful considered. “He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:19)
The Greek work converted to English as considered is “logisamenos” from the root logos from which we derive the term logic. It means therefore to reason to a logical conclusion. But what could Abraham conclude? Attempting to reconcile the statements, Abraham reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead, and he acted on that faith.
Likewise, we too hear the Gospel, the word of Christ. For us the cryptic promise given to Abraham has been revealed through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, yet a choice of faith remains. If that is true, then what is the considered conclusion? “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
“Who has believed our report?” asks the prophet. Isaiah seems surprised by the lack of faith. Since faith comes from hearing, perhaps the problem is an absence of the message. “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they?” Paul answers - indeed they have; ‘their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18)
Whose voice? As proof of his assertion that all men have sufficiently heard, Paul cites David’s nineteenth Psalm. Verse four is featured in our passage from Romans today, but the context of verse one is necessary to its understanding. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1) Though silent, even day and night testify to the glory of God like the whole of the natural world. No one can claim ignorance of the Creator who has observed His eternal power and divine nature in what He has created. Thus, all mankind are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
As if the evidence of God found in the natural world were insufficient, the Lord has appealed to man through His people Israel. Canaan was a good land, but it was also strategically placed. The small parcel of land that was ancient Israel was also the crossroads between the regions of Asia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. As people moved and traded, the fame of Yahweh spread.
However, even this passive exposure to the truth of God was augmented by the Lord’s direct involvement. From Babel onward, every civilization dealt with the God. In their case He confused the languages, but Egypt learned about the primacy of God in another way. Ten plagues decimated the country and left no doubt that the Hebrew’s God was superior. To the Assyrians, the Lord’s voice sounded like that of Jonah, His prophet. They heeded His warning unlike the Babylonians who followed them. A hand writing on the wall of the palace announced the destruction of that great city. To the Persians - like their predecessors - Daniel became a counselor and a reminder of Israel’s God, but his words would outlive him. The prophet wrote extensively about the Greek kings that would follow and even looked ahead to the Roman empire where another witness would arise. In Rome the presence of Christians and their message of the one true God throughout the known world was apparent. Can the world claim ignorance of the Lord?
Jesus also anticipated the world-wide spread of the Gospel message. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matthew 24:14) Unfortunately, when most read this passage they incorrectly assign “the end” to the glorious return of Christ. However, the end to which Jesus referred was the end of the Jewish nation. The whole world would hear the Gospel - how the Jews had rejected their king and thus earned their judgment which Jesus called the tribulation. That occurred in 70 AD, therefore we can conclude that by then the Gospel was already preached to the world. Man has never suffered from a lack of evidence - only a lack of faith.
“But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they?…” (Romans 10:19) Paul plays the role of Jewish apologist. How could God’s traditional people have missed the Gospel if its influence was spread throughout the world? (Romans 10:16) Perhaps they just didn’t get the message. No, they were well informed; the adoption, glory, covenants, Law, temple service and promises all belonged to them, (Romans 9:5) but God had a larger plan.
“I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.” (Romans 10:19) Those words were spoken first not by Paul, but Moses. In Deuteronomy 32:21 the quintessential leader of Israel recounted the history of Jewish disobedience and spoke of a day when the Lord would use another nation to incite them to jealousy and anger.
Remember Jacob and Esau? (Genesis 27-28) Esau was the eldest and therefore in line for the blessing promised to his grandfather, Abraham. However, Esau found little value in a promise that had not provided even a foot of ground either to Abraham or his son Isaac. When Esau’s younger brother, Jacob expressed interest in the birthright, Esau sold it for the meager price of a bowl of chow. Life continued largely unchanged until it was time for the blessing to be transferred. Through sleight of hand, Jacob received what he had already purchased, but Esau was enraged. He begged and demanded that his father, Isaac bless him also, but it was too late. Esau was immoral and godless so that “even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance…” (Hebrews 12:17)
The story of Isaac’s sons would be repeated much later when Israel, poised to inherit the kingdom, balked. They rejected the Messiah, punished the apostles, and oppressed their disciples. They renounced their birthright, and as a result, God gave it to a more deserving nation. “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
How could the Gospel be given to the Gentiles? Those unholy heathens - led to and by their dumb idols - did not know God. Yet Paul reminds us of Isaiah 65:2, “…I was found by those who sought me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)
People have a knack for finding what they’re looking for, even if they can’t name it. The Gentiles who found their way to God - and there are many examples even in the Old Testament - may not have known they were seeking Yahweh, but they knew who they were looking for. They sought Him as Creator, Divine Nature, Father, or even an Unknown God, (Acts 17:23-29) but the honest wise man, scribe and debater of the age in search of truth, rationality, beauty, and goodness are all seeking to know HIM.
Like Jacob, Gentiles have become the unlikely heirs to a promise initially pledged to another. What then of the inheritance is left for the physical nation of Israel? “But as for Israel He says, ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” (Romans 10:21)
Though the Jewish nation ultimately rejected God’s offer of the kingdom, their refusal was certainly not for lack of God’s effort. “But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” (Romans 10:21) Moses recounted Israel’s stubborn history in Deuteronomy 9 and summarized it this way, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:24) Asaph the psalmist also characterized Israel’s history in similar terms: “How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert!” (Psalm 78:40)
The New Testament continues the theme when Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” (Acts 7:51) And Paul reminded the Jews in Antioch not to continue like their unbelieving fathers, about whom it was said, “Behold you scoffers, and marvel and perish…” (Acts 13:41) In short, Israel was a train wreck of disbelief punctuated by the periodic spark of faith.
It was not God who rejected Israel, but Israel who rejected Him. “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!…” (Romans 11:10) If God had categorically forsaken Israel, then Paul would have been among their number for he writes, “… I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1) Paul is not rejected or denied entry into the kingdom of God because of his Jewish heritage, thus we must conclude God has not rejected all Israel. Remember the Church was entirely Jewish prior to Acts 10 and the house of Cornelius. Rather God gave Israel a choice: each individual must select the narrow gate of faith in the Messiah or the broad path of disbelief. The bulk of the Jewish nation rejected the Christ (John 1:11) but others did not; Paul called them the remnant, reminiscent of Elijah’s day.
The bodies of Baal’s prophets were not yet cold when Ahab, king of Israel, reported it to the nation’s true leader. Jezebel was incensed and sent word to the prophet responsible. “..So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” (I Kings 19:2) With less than 24 hours to live, and surrounded by Israel’s idolatry, Elijah began to despair. “I alone am left.” But the prophet was mistaken.
God spoke to Elijah at Mount Horeb, and revealed His plan for dealing with the likes of Ahab and Jezebel, but more importantly, He also let Elijah in on a little secret. “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (I Kings 19:18) Unbeknownst to Elijah, 7000 had neither bowed nor worshiped before the cursed idol. Even in the midst of their national rejection of God, a remnant had remained faithful. In Paul’s day and ours, God preserved a remnant of the faithful - believers in the Christ.
Paul gives hope to his readers that God has not rejected His people completely. “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” (Romans 11:5) Though the Jewish nation rejected their rightful king, the Lord was pleased to preserve for Himself a remnant of faithful Israel to whom He extended the Gospel invitation.
So much of the Roman letter is built on the issue of choice. From the first chapter, God presented mankind with a choice - either accept the knowledge of God and be made in His image or reject that knowledge and be corrupted. The former is the revelation of God’s righteousness and the latter His wrath. That theme runs unbroken through the whole of the epistle, and Paul plays the refrain again here. “What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7) The bulk of Israel did not attain righteousness (Romans 9:30-31) but those who were chosen did.
As in chapter 9, God’s choice and man’s are intertwined; neither is independent of the other. For righteousness to result, God sets the terms (in this case - faith) and man must accept. If man refuses, a hardened heart is only the beginning.
It is that hardened heart that Paul describes using Isaiah’s words. “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not down to this very day.” (Romans 11:8 from Isaiah 29:10) A spirit of deep sleep describes the willfully blind who stagger because their eyes (the prophets) are shut. They cannot see God’s word, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me…” (Isaiah 29:13)
In doing so, those who reject God’s offer don’t simply remain neutral - rather they follow the path of digression pictured in Romans 1. They refuse to be transformed into God’s likeness and thus take on the image of the amoral creation; they are not ambivalent toward God - they become His enemy, and He becomes theirs.
“Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them.” (Romans 11:9) The passage here is cited from Psalm 69. Though David wrote the words, it is the voice of the Messiah that speaks. “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. May their table before them become a snare…” (Psalms 69:21-22) Bygones will not simply be bygones, the Lord has become their adversary.
The Christ in prophecy does not seek forgiveness on their behalf, but justice. “May they be blotted out of the book of life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous.” (Psalms 69:28) But how can this be since Jesus Himself asked that their sins be forgiven on account of, “they know not what they do”? (Luke 23:34) Even Peter claimed the Jewish authorities acted out of ignorance when they crucified the Holy and Righteous One.(Acts 3:17)
The soldiers certainly and the Jews possibly could claim some ignorance in their part in Jesus’ death, but they could not do so thereafter. The persistent message of the apostles was one the Jewish rulers heard well. They were outraged that Jerusalem was filled with the teaching that brought Jesus’ blood upon them. The choice had come. They could either submit to God or reject Him and be hardened. If they yielded to His will, they were added to the righteousness remnant, if not, their hearts were calloused, their eyes darkened, and their backs bent forever. (Romans 11:10)
I am often amazed that God not only anticipates man’s failure, but also incorporates, - in some cases as a necessary component - humanities’ shortcomings to accomplish His purpose. Consider Jonah’s disobedience. The prophet’s refusal to preach to the people of Ninevah set in motion a chain of events that landed Jonah in the belly of the great fish. Yet it was this sign - the sign of resurrection - to which Jesus credited Assyrian repentance. (Matthew 12:40) God certainly knew what the prophet would do when He commissioned him and assimilated his actions into the Lord’s greater plan. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
The Scriptures are replete with similar examples, but it is the Jewish rejection of the Messiah that concerns us today. Of Jewish disobedience Paul asks, “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” (Romans 11:11) It was not God’s intent that the Jewish nation be cut off irreparably. Their stumble was not a complete fall. Rather, like Jonah, Jewish refusal was always anticipated by the Lord and integrated into His larger strategy: the inclusion of the Gentiles.
Scheming parents will recognize this tactic immediately. If one child is reluctant to do a task, offer the job and its reward to another. When done correctly, the first rascal will be jealous of the second and desire to be included. Manipulative? Sure - just good godly parenting. :) Think pouty older son when his prodigal brother returns. (Luke 15:22-32)
Nowhere is this more clear than Paul’s message to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch. After they saw the crowds that he and Barnabas were drawing, the Jews began to contradict and blaspheme. The duo were undeterred and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46) Amazingly, God used the Jewish nation to draw the Gentiles, and when the nations began to seek Christ, He opened the door to them as well. This He used in turn to make the reluctant Jews jealous and draw any stragglers of Israel that might still be saved.
But what if those once-rebellious Jews might repent at the example of their Gentile cousins? “Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” (Romans 11:12) That is to say, if the Gentiles benefitted from Jewish disobedience, just think how they would be blessed by their participation! Again Paul is a prime example. He counts his Jewish heritage as rubbish in light of justification (Philippians 3:8-9), yet that heritage forms the indispensable foundation of his ministry to Jew and Gentile alike. Thus, to win his countrymen would be a blessing to the Gentiles and his ministry as well. (Romans 11:13)
Jewish rejection did not thwart the Lord’s plan, and neither does yours. Our former lives outside of Christ were not wasted; those experiences and the character they formed in us make us the people God can use to accomplish His purpose.
Paul’s concern is neither baking nor horticulture, though they are useful metaphors in today’s devotion from Romans. “And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too.” (Romans 11:16) The apostle’s illustrations are comparatively insignificant next to the principle they communicate: things tend to continue as they were begun. We have similar idioms in our culture as well. We might observe that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or that so-and-so is just a chip off the old block. Jesus noted also that, “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles…” (Matthew 6:16) but however you say it, the truth is the same - the nature of a thing is largely determined by its source.
In this case that source is none other than Christ. He is the first lump of dough and the holy root to which the rest of us have been added, just as Jesus, Himself taught. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In fact, our Romans text for today is really Paul’s application of that earlier lesson in the context of Jews and Gentiles. If Christ is the source, then the results belong to Him as well.
Being offered the Gospel is heady stuff, and Paul warns his Gentile audience to beware of arrogance on three fronts. 1) They have been joined to Christ. This is cause for rejoicing not boasting, for “it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18) Our unity with Christ is hardly something for which we can take credit. 2) Branches were broken off to make room for them. It’s true of course that the Jews were separated from God and this opened the door to the Gentiles, but notice Paul identifies the reason for Jewish severance, “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief…” (Romans 11:20) Jewish unbelief - not Gentile exceptionalism - was the cause of their separation. 3) Contrary to nature, an exception has been made for the Gentiles. This would seem to suggest that the nations are worthy of such accommodations by their own virtue. The Jews are the natural branches, and just as they can be added in again, so the unnatural branches can be removed. Both stand (and fall) on the basis of their faith, not their initial relationship to Christ.
Often people are grateful for the Lord’s mercy and kindness, but less excited for His justice; Paul encourages us to look at both. “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22) But how can God be both the picture of grace and mercy and severity at the same time? Note that it is not God that changes from one instance to the other. The Lord is the same; it is the individual who is different one to the next. God’s standard doesn’t change, from Jew, to Gentile, and to you. If He finds faith, mercy and kindness are the result. However, without faith, severity is His -
God's desire is truly that all men should be saved. Paul reminded his Roman readers that even the Jews who had denied the Messiah, “… if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to grab them in again.” (Romans 11:23) The Jewish nation by and large had chosen unbelief and as a result found themselves as branches broken - severed from the root of Christ. However, God was not finished with them. “For I do not want you, brethren to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written… “ (Romans 11:25-26) In spite of their disobedience, the Jewish nation was not rejected by the Lord for it was His intent that they should be grafted in again. The obstacle was the Jewish heart. The grace they sought was obtained by some through faith, but the majority were hardened. (Romans 11:7,25)
Because of that, Paul cautioned his readers against judging the Jews too harshly. Imagine the paradigm-shattering proposition it must have been to reorient their world view around the person of Jesus of Nazareth - Messiah. I have seen similar resistance when the incredulous mind of the skeptic is confronted with the evidence of creation after having been accustomed only to a steady diet of material darwinian atheism. They recoil from the idea, unable even to imagine that so much of what they have believed has been in error. Their first instinct is to shake their head and dismiss even the possibility that such a claim could be true; such was the hardened Jewish heart, and (I suspect) the condition of one Saul of Tarsus.
Just as the calvinist doctrine of once-saved-always-saved is at odds with the Scripture, its opposite is no more accurate, yet once-lost-always-lost has its appeal. The discouraged runner tells himself he can’t win thus he is absolved of the responsibility to try. Folks have confessed to me that they have strayed too far from the Lord ever to be brought back, but this is nothing more than self-serving bologna.
In truth they lost the desire to be saved despite their assertions to the opposite. Certainly there are those who cross the line of no return, (see Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10), but that line is determined by choice. God is neither unwilling nor unable to save them.
As proof of the Lord’s good will toward Israel, Paul paraphrased Isaiah 59:20-21. “…the deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob, and this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26-27) If Israel was lost, it was not because the Lord refused to take them back, only their own decision could keep them from the covenant God promised to the fathers.
In the same way, we ought to be reminded that God’s door is always open, and He has made provision for us - whether Jew or Gentile - to remove ungodliness. God is able to graft you in again.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33) When Paul considers what the Lord has done, the apostle is in awe. The missionary to the Gentiles could no more have predicted how the Lord would draw both Jew and Gentile to Himself than he could have answered for Job about the establishment of the earth and its inhabitants. (Job 39) How deep and rich indeed are the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Man often misunderstands God’s wisdom. Though the gospel appears as foolishness to mankind, it is the revelation of God’s wisdom and power. (I Corinthians 1:20-25) So also, God’s efforts to ransom Jews and Gentiles may appear confused, but the Lord has a plan that He might show mercy to all.
Throughout Israel’s history the Lord made allowance for the alien and the sojourner. The prophets were sometimes sent to the surrounding nations, and even the Passover feast made provision for any foreigner who might find themselves in Israel on the fourteenth day of the first month. (Numbers 9:14) God was not attempting to keep Israel a secret, rather He used the nation as a beacon to draw the Gentiles.
In an ironic twist, when Israel turned their backs on the Savior, the door swung open to the Gentiles, and the tables turned. Rather than being on the outside as before, the Gentiles now found themselves in the favored position previously occupied by their Jewish counterparts. Therefore, God began to use the Gentiles to draw the Jews to accomplish His greater purpose. “and thus all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:25)
The term “all Israel” might be interpreted two ways. First, perhaps “all Israel” speaks of the combined population of faithful Jew and Gentile. Second, it’s also possible that the term refers to the total Jewish contingent comprised of those who embraced Christianity early and those who later needed some coaxing. Both are true. Paul uses unmistakeable language in Galatians to make the first point, (Galatians 5:15-16) but the context in Romans 11 seems to indicate the latter. In either case God’s goal is to show mercy to all.
The Jewish position is conflicting. “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28). On the one hand, the Jews made themselves enemies of the Gospel, but on the other, it remained theirs to claim. God’s pledge to the patriarchs was unchanged even if Israel generally rejected their birthright. Even now there is room in the plan of God to accept any and all who call upon the name of the Lord. God still uses the rejection of some as a door of opportunity for another. What a testament it is to the compassion and planning of our God. “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
To him be the glory forever. God certainly is worthy of praise; His wisdom and knowledge cannot be plumbed; His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways unfathomable. (Romans 11:31-36) Though all of these are true, it is not for these reasons primarily that mankind is obliged to serve the God who “from through and to” are all things. Rather, it is His mercy which invites our service in response. "I urge you therefore brethren by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1) God would certainly be within His rights to demand service from mankind, however, rather than compel, He chooses to invite - not through force but instead by his mercy.
As is often the case, a working knowledge of the Old Testament is invaluable to understanding the New. What constitutes an acceptable sacrifice to God? The Law instructs, "Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be acceptable for you" (Leviticus 22:20) No matter the sacrifice, whether grain or goat, bull or bird, each had to be without blemish. Only the best was fit for the Lord, thus Malachi was right to chastise the people for their imperfect gifts. “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?…” (Malachi 1:8) However, in contrast with Moses’ instructions, Paul describes our sacrifices not as dead - but alive.
A living sacrifice would seem to be a contradiction, yet it perfectly describes the Christians’ condition. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) A death has indeed taken place, but rather than offer the corrupted carcass of the old, it is the new life that is offered in service to God - one without blemish, animated by faith.
Students of the Word familiar with this passage will remember that Romans 12:1 does not include the phrase "of worship". It should end, “…which is your spiritual service”. In their efforts to clarify the passage, translators actually muddied the water and inserted what they believed to be necessary by implication.
Simply put, service and sacrifice describe actions toward God. Worship, on the other hand, is best described as the attitude of submission from which action flows. Think of it in marriage terms. A wife loves her husband which produces an attitude of affectionate submission. From this source actions proceed. Similarly, our affectionate reverence “Proskuneó” for the Lord naturally produces good deeds from willing hearts. Although the term “worship" is absent from the Greek, the idea is certainly not, for without a submissive heart of worship, our service would amount only to the hypocritical ritual Isaiah and Jesus condemned. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13)
Thankfully the days of dead sacrifices and burnt offerings that never really pleased the Lord have passed. “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.” (Hebrews 10:5, Psalm 40:6) Those lifeless sacrifices offered without their consent have been replaced by a living body, the body of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:10) This is not another limp carcass, for he says, “Behold, I have come to do Your will” (Hebrews 10:7,9) Not once, but twice the passage sets the active role of Christ in contrast with the passive sacrifices He replaced. Like our Lord, we offer our bodies - our lives - as living and holy sacrifices (Romans 12:1) with which He is pleased. To that end the Scriptures admonish the New Testament saint to offer what is truly acceptable to God. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
People are in a constant state of change, and Paul provides two options: conformed or transformed. A little Greek is necessary here to determine the Scripture’s intent, but it’s worth the effort. The word rendered as “conformed” in our passage is the Greek, “sysxēmatízō” which means to assume a similar outward form. It appears only twice in the NT, here and in I Peter 1:14, where Peter warns his readers, “do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance” It is not the word used in Romans 8:29 translated as, “conformed to the image of His Son” The word used in Romans 12:2 implies an superficial external change.
“Transformed,” on the other hand, is drastically different. It comes from “metamorphousthe” (the root of our word, metamorphosis) and means a change in keeping with the inner reality - a sort of external confirmation of what’s inside. The word is used here in Romans and II Corinthians 3:18 to describe the Christian’s ongoing change. Its only other appearances are the gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration. Hmmm…
How can the child of God offer their lives as acceptable sacrifices? By refusing to be externally conformed to the world and instead be changed from the inside out. Such a change results in proving the will of God, because this is where the rubber meets the road. But how do we prove God’s will that it should be tested or confirmed?
You are the proof of God’s will. Verse 1 says your bodies (your lives) are acceptable, and verse 2 says the same about the proof of God’s will; it too is good acceptable and perfect. They refer to the same thing - your life. When you deliberately engage in the transformation process and renew the mind, you confirm the will of God by demonstrating its purpose… a living and holy sacrifice.
Paul exhorted the saints in Rome to live up to the will of God - good, acceptable, and perfect - yet in the next breath, the apostle warns them not to become conceited. “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) A similar warning to the Galatians restrains the spiritually immature from the fall which pride precedes. “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
I suppose the danger is inherent to mankind, but the temptation to think too much of oneself can be compounded in the mind of the immature when they begin to grasp our new potential in Christ. In Him, we are considered righteous, pure, and perfect, thus, if not accompanied by a modicum of maturity in the child of God, that status can go to their head.
On the other hand, without the ability to judge one’s own maturity accurately, it is impossible to genuinely pursue that potential. The problem of course is that the spiritually immature are often the last to realize it. The trick is to understand the honest difference between potential and practice.
Faith is a measure of spiritual maturity - perhaps the only measure. Paul uses faith to gauge the growth of the brethren who ate or abstained from meat purchased in the marketplace. “Now accept the one who is weak in faith…” (Romans 14:1) Then he speaks to those who are strong in faith both here and later when encouraging those with strength to use it appropriately. “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) However, to say that faith is mere confidence would be a mistake.
Here we must make a distinction. Notice that the weak in faith from chapter 14 were no less confident in their position than those who ate all things. It wasn’t their lack of conviction that caused their faith to be weak; quite the contrary - it was their errant understanding. Thus we see that faith has three components: understanding, belief, and action. Abraham possessed all three and grew strong in his faith, (Romans 4:20) just as we are encouraged to do likewise, “being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed…” (Colossians 2:7) See also II Corinthians 10:15. As our faith grows, so does our ability to be effective in the kingdom, but use sound judgment to appropriately assess that spiritual maturity. The voice of others more mature than ourselves can also provide the necessary objective perspective. Then use the talents God has given you according to the proportion of your faith.
Etched into much of our money, and emblazoned on our country’s Great Seal is the Latin phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning, “from many, one”. This paradox is a fitting motto for states united beneath a single flag, but it also describes something of the essence of the Church.
Faith is an individual affair, yet the church is a corporate entity. Corporate is an appropriate term - not in the sense of tax status, but its Latin and Biblical meaning, “form into a body”. “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. “ (Romans 12:4-5)
Individual members - it sounds like a contradiction, but the conflicting terms perfectly describe the functional unity of separate pieces. There is no end to the metaphors we might use to describe the arrangement, but it is the essence of team and forms the pattern for such societal institutions as family and community. Maybe add Gal 4 their own load.
I despise musicals. However, the 1962 movie starring Robert Preston is a rare exception. In “The Music Man” the River City library houses a unique arrangement. The town patriarch bequeathed the building to the town, but he left all the books to her (the lonely librarian). The result is that both need the other.
Each part of the body shares a similar need with the others; they cannot exist on their own, and each has something the others need. “And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (I Corinthians 12:21-22) I have often observed that immature Christians have a tendency to believe that all their brethren ought to be like themselves or their mentor. Each part of the body is measured against the idealized eye as if the whole body should be an eye. But, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?…” (I Corinthians 12:17)
The gifts listed in our Romans context are not the sensational gifts that I Corinthians describes. However, they are no less miraculous. God is just as much the giver of one as the other. In both cases no one gift - much like no one person - can stand alone complete without the others.
Ironically, it is only in the corporate body that the true individual nature of each specific part is valued and developed. Thus to “find oneself” that one ought to look first to the needs of the congregation. Some suppose they already know their aptitudes, and the hammers see only nails around them. Instead, consider what needs you can meet. The path of service is the way to find your place in the body. Like Moses you might be surprised what the Lord has in mind. In the meantime, esteem those who work for their work’s sake. (I Thessalonians 5:13)
It’s a common question, and an important one - where do I fit in the kingdom of God? What’s my gift? What did God make me to do? It can be frustrating to feel unused - willing yet idle. I know I should be doing something, I just don’t know what! Hopefully, today we can put some of those concerns to rest.
“And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly…” (Romans 12:6) Each of us have gifts; they were given to us by God, and He expects them to be used. Paul’s list in Romans does not claim to be exhaustive, nevertheless it provides us with a helpful assortment of ways one might be of service to the Lord and our neighbor. The seven or so manifestations of God’s grace listed here provide us with a place to start. The first is prophecy.
Prophets would have been indispensable in the NT churches. They were present in Antioch (Acts 13:1) and in Caesarea (Acts 21:9), but determining their function is more tricky. Were these prophets simple proclaimers of God’s Word like modern preachers, or were they speaking by divine inspiration?
The Greek, prophéteia, from which “prophet” is derived, means simply, to clarify beforehand, and when the context provides us with some clue, it is always in the classic sense of those receiving divine insight of future events, but this mention in Romans gives me pause.
The other gifts in our text today are not the unmistakeable outward gifts that Paul mentions in I Corinthians 12, though prophecy appears on both lists. While it is unfair to characterize them as such, one might refer to the gifts in Romans 12 as non-miraculous - in which case we might have reason to suspect that the kind of prophecy referred to here is of the garden variety preacher type. In either case God still uses ordinary folks to proclaim His Word and we need not depend on the miraculous gift since, “we have the prophetic word made more sure…” (II Peter 1:19)
Some folks have a gift to understand, connect, and communicate God’s Word in a way that informs and motivates the hearer and we are indebted to God for their special contribution. Practice will develop that aptitude, and the steward of God’s grace must work with the talent he’s been given. If that’s you, use it with all the faith you have.
All too often folks focus on their gift - or what they perceive their gift to be - and then look for an avenue to use it. If I am a gifted speaker, then I must speak. And if I don’t recognize serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, etc as my gift, then those must be someone else’s responsibility.
Though circumstances may not determine my gift, they certainly should dictate my actions. Preaching at someone who needs to be served or led is of little to no value. The needs of the folks around us must dictate our actions - not what we think we’re best suited for. In the process we may find other aptitudes for service which we did not anticipate.
Service with a smile. Paul isn’t talking about customer relations, but the apostle does expect some Christians have a special function within the body for which they have been especially fitted - service. “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly… if service, in his serving…” (Romans 12:6-7)
Before we venture any farther, we must prevent some possible confusion. Service is our topic for today, but the Greek New Testament uses at least four words that all appear as “service” in English: latreuo - service to God leitourgia - formal sacred service, douleuo - servitude, and our focus today, diakonos - generic service. Isn’t that fascinating?! Alright, Greek vocabulary may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the distinctions are worth our brief consideration. The first two terms describe the service that a priest might render at the temple. Douleuo is the service a slave owes his master (we might call it servitude). But the service of Romans 12:7 is just the garden variety of diakanos - gettin’ it done.
Paul was gettin’ it done when he prepared and presented the financial gift to the saints in Judea (II Corinthians 9:1,12 & 13), and the Macedonian churches desired to share in that diakonos (II Corinthians 8:4). There are plenty of examples of the term, but perhaps our best definition isn’t found in a dictionary, but in the seven men who did the job. These were, “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:2) to whom the apostles delegated the daily serving of food. Their job was as ordinary as it was necessary, but their efforts multiplied the reach of the Gospel.
Later, Paul gave instructions on the appointment of men who provide service to the Church in an official capacity. Our word deacon is derived from diakonos and was applied to those trustworthy souls in I Timothy 3. Tychicus is another man whose service to the kingdom went neither unnoticed or unappreciated; in Colossians 4:7 and Ephesians 6:21, Paul mentions his useful service. Even Phoebe gained Paul’s gratitude for her service in the Church at Cenchrea, toward the saints, and Paul himself.
It may not seem like it, but the Lord’s Church requires a great deal of maintenance. As with any endeavor there are always a ton of seemingly little things, that if left unattended, become much bigger problems. I am personally very thankful for the people who have been willing to step into whatever role was necessary in order to keep the Church functioning. The folks who pay the bills, clean the building, help in school, mow the grass, paint the walls, stream the assembly, build desks, prepare Communion, fix the vacuums, teach kid’s Bible class, provide meals, watch youngsters, organize pitch-ins, lead kid’s fellowship, repair chairs, etc. are invaluable in the real-world working of the Church. Thank you! Like the Church in Thyatira whose love, faith and perseverance did not eclipse their service (Revelation 2:19) every cup of cold water keeps its reward.
Teachers have class! Uugghh. Perhaps it makes up for their sense of humor. :) In his list of God-given talents, Paul includes teaching among that group of aptitudes which God provided for the growth and development of the Church. (Romans 12:6-7) Some folks just seem to have a knack for simplifying the complex and making lofty subject matter obtainable to the rest of us. Teaching gave us Readin’ Ritin’ and ‘Rithmatic, but mankind needs higher instruction.
Before we proceed, we must clarify what the NT means by teacher. Everyone ought to be able to teach the Gospel. After all, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” is a part of the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:20) However, James cautions those who would be teachers, warning, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) James is not limiting the Gospel message to a professional clergy, rather he informs us of two important points: there is an office of teacher in contrast with teaching in general, and it comes with some additional responsibility.
When he was still known as Saul, the exile from Jerusalem was recruited to Antioch. Considerable numbers had been brought to the Lord there through Barnabas’ efforts, and he needed others to help him teach those new disciples. (Acts 11:24-26) Saul was the perfect fit, and together with the prophets and other teachers in Antioch, he began to fulfill the role God had ordained for him. (Acts 13:1) Saul (and others there) had become a recognized teacher in the congregation, something he mentions to Timothy as well. (II Timothy 1:11).
Now to James’ stricter judgment. First let us put to rest any ideas that the Lord makes it more difficult for teachers to obtain eternal life. The bar of salvation is not raised for those who teach - but the consequences are. Jesus said the one who teaches others poorly is least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19), but the stakes are more clearly defined in I Corinthians 3. There Paul describes the Church as a building and cautions those who labor in it as builders. “But let each man be careful how he builds upon it… fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:10-15)
The test of a good teacher is his students. Just as the test of every parent is their children. If they have done their job well, their work will stand the test of time and tribulation. If not, the penalty for building poorly is watching what you’ve built turn to ash. Be careful how you build. False teaching fails under stress, so do it right. Reject strange doctrines and mere speculation - stick to what you know. (I Timothy 1:3-7) Avoid controversial questions and disputes for their own sake and anything that does not agree with the sound words of the Lord Jesus (I Tim 6:3) Bad teachers should be silenced otherwise they will upset whole families for the own gain. (Titus 1:10-11)
Teaching is a skill. Like the other gifts in our Roman’s passage, some folks take to it naturally, while others have to work harder to develop the ability. If you think teaching might be your thing, give it a whirl. Be available when the opportunity arises, and be thoroughly prepared in order to teach correctly.
I knew teaching wasn’t for me, but when the need arose, I made myself available. Turns out, 25 years later, I’m still at it, and I enjoy it more all the time.