How you can be a free slave

One of the most famous chimpanzees of all time is one by the name of Washoe. Some soldiers picked up Washoe in West Africa. In 1966 she was adopted by two doctors who raised her almost like a child. In 1970, however, she was turned over to another pair of doctors and taken to the University of Oklahoma. Here she went through rigorous training to become the first non-human to learn American Sign Language. She learned over 140 signs! It was discovered, however, that she was just mimicking all that she had been taught. After several years the staff decided that she was able to try to conceptualize. “She is going to say what is on her heart!” the staff declared. In her safe and secure cage, well taken care of, Washoe said the first three words of her own initiative: “LET ME OUT!!!” She signed these words several times.

Even in animals, there is a desire for freedom. Given the chance most animals would leave safety for the chance for freedom. Humans long for freedom as well. We yearn to enjoy life, free from guilt and despair. We want to live significant lives. Moreover, God has created us for freedom—it is our intended destiny. Yet the great Christian paradox is that we are freed from the slavery of sin to become slaves to God. We could put it like this: True freedom is slavery to Christ. In Romans 6:15-23 Paul shares two critical facts about slavery.

 

  1. Slavery Is Inevitable (6:15-18)

In the 1970s Bob Dylan sang a song entitled, “You Gotta’ Serve Somebody!” Dylan took this song straight out of Scripture. The apostle Paul states that every person serves somebody or something. He writes, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (6:15) Paul returns to his original question in 6:1: Does grace encourage sin? Once again his response is, “May it never be!” or “What in the world are you thinking?!” (My translation) Perhaps you’re thinking, “This sounds just like 6:1. Is this a case of déjà vu?” No, not exactly. In 6:1-14 Paul explained that Christ has broken the bonds of sin that enslave us; in 6:15-23 he warns that even though we are free we can become enslaved to sin by yielding to temptation. It is not enough to be a new person and have a new position. We must cooperate daily with the Holy Spirit and give ourselves away as “slaves” to who we are. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

In 6:16 Paul issues a general statement that every person is a slave. He puts it like this: “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?” The rhetorical question, “Do you not know?” assumes that Paul’s readers understand the principle that everyone is a slave to someone or something—whether it is a person, possession, or activity. We become slaves of whomever or whatever we “present” ourselves to. Neutrality is impossible. To choose neutrality is to choose sin because it constitutes a refusal to serve God. Hence, we are either slaves of obedience or slaves of sin.

 

In the hit movie, Remember the Titans, Denzel Washington plays football coach Herman Boone. Set in 1971, the tale follows the forced integration of previously all-white T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. My favorite scene is when the bus of football players is about to leave for summer training camp. All of a sudden, arrogant, white, All-American Gerry Bertier starts giving Boone guff. Boone finally comes unglued and asks Bertier, “Who’s your daddy?” He then continues to ask the question, louder and louder, until Bertier quietly whispers, “You are.” Boone was making the point that Bertier was about to experience slavery in his final year of high school football.

 

I must ask you: “Who’s your daddy?” Let me tell you, it matters who your daddy is because 6:16 says there are only two daddies: sin and obedience. This means that there are also only two types of slaves: Slaves of sin, resulting in death, or slaves of obedience, resulting in righteousness. There is no third option.

 

Paul is saying, “I have some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news is that we are all slaves. None of us is free. We are in bondage to whatever controls our lives.” The person who can’t say no to sugar is a slave to sugar. The Christian who cannot turn off the television to read the Bible or spend time with his or her children is a slave to the tube. The person who cannot break an addiction to pornography is a slave to immorality. The person who checks his or her stock portfolio on CNBC every hour is a slave to money. We are slaves to whatever controls our lives. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: As believers, we get to choose our master! An unbeliever has no choice of masters. He is a slave to his old self, and therefore, a slave to Satan. As hard as he may try to break free, the chains of sin keep yanking him back. He can never break free. He is Satan’s indentured servant. But a Christian has been liberated to serve a new Master. We can opt for “obedience resulting in righteousness.”

 

In 6:17-18 Paul reminds his readers that they have been emancipated from slavery to sin. He even breaks out into praise. “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.” The Roman Christians were “slaves of sin,” but they had been “freed from sin” and made “slaves of righteousness.” This is an accomplished fact. At the point of conversion Paul says “[you] became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

 

Notice Paul does not refer to the “form of teaching to which was committed to you.” Rather he says “that form of teaching to which you were committed.” When you placed your faith in Christ, God instantaneously set you free from sin’s power and “committed” you to a new slavery. The Greek term translated “committed” (paradidomi) literally means “handed over,” and links back to Rom 1 where unbelievers are “given over” to sin’s slavery (1:24, 26, 28). Paul is exclaiming: As Christians we are handed over by God to a new realm of power to serve as slaves of righteousness.

 

I love how Paul breaks forth in praise to God in 6:17. He tells his readers that they “were slaves of sin.” But now they have “became obedient” to the message of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In other words, they listened to the gospel and obeyed! Consequently, Paul gets excited and expresses thanks! If you are hearing this today, it is likely that Paul would rejoice over you. You are seeking to grow in God’s Word and in obedience to Christ. I, too, honor you for any step of obedience you take. Most importantly, God is pleased with you. Please sense His pleasure. Let grace catapult you to the next level of obedience. True freedom is slavery to Christ. [Not only is slavery inevitable, Paul also inform us that . . .]

 

 

  1. Slavery Is Intentional (6:19-23)

No one becomes a slave who functions for Christ through osmosis. To be Christ’s slave requires intentional effort. In 6:19 Paul uses an analogy to help us understand slavery to righteousness. He writes, “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. 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.” Paul contrasts our former way of life with our present. Before Christ we presented our “members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness.” This means you can tell a lie, but you can’t tell just one. You tell a lie and then you tell another. Then you tell another one to cover up the second one. You tell another one to cover up the third one. One sin leads to another. Envy leads to envy leads to envy. Lust leads to lust leads to lust. Bitterness leads to bitterness leads to bitterness. Sin is like that—it is “ever-increasing wickedness” (NIV).

 

Do you remember the Lay’s potato chip commercial that challenged, “Bet you can’t eat just one?” This expression is also true for sin. “Bet you can’t do just one.” You say, “Oh yes I can. I can sin and I can quit sinning any time.” Of course, we know better, don’t we? Sin is the Lay’s potato chip of life. When it is done willfully, it is not sampled, it is indulged in. The principle is: Freedom to sin means slavery to sin.

 

Fortunately, Paul provides another option: “. . . so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (6:19b). Finally, Paul gives his first and primary command. The verb “present” (paristemi) seems to be highlighted in this section. A form of the word occurs five times in 6:13-19. In this context the word simply means “to put yourself at God’s disposal.” Paul commands us to have the same zeal for righteousness that we once had for sin. We were consumed with sin and handed over to all kinds of uncleanness and lawlessness; now we are commanded to have that same passion for Christ and His service. Paul says we are to present our members “as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” In this context, “sanctification” (hagiasmos) is “the ongoing process of being set apart for God.” It is “being changed into the likeness of Christ.” It is simply progressive holiness.

Is Paul only referring to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and self-denial? No! The concept of biblical holiness is used to describe a life of growing purity. This also includes a concern for the needy, for the unborn child, for the use of wealth. It has things to say about marriage, about being a neighbor, about property, about the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. It is an entire kingdom of righteousness. Paul intends for this to be a motivating, positive exhortation. He is attempting to emphasize the privilege of serving God because we are no longer who we used to be. To summarize: Paul explains that God did not buy Christians out of sin’s slavery to set us free in the world; rather, He bought us to be His slaves!

 

In 6:20-21 Paul reiterates that sin results in death. He does so by reminding us of our past. In 6:20 Paul explains why we should present ourselves to God. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” This verse does not mean that we were all as bad as we could be or that we were “free” (eleutheros, cf. 7:3) in the sense that God did not care what we did. It simply means that we were not “slaves of righteousness,” and we did not care one iota about righteousness. Therefore, we had no relationship with it whatsoever—we were “free” from it. In 6:21 Paul then asks the question, “Therefore what benefit [lit. “fruit”] were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.” Paul’s question is: Did your former life ever do you any good? His reply is: Absolutely not! The “benefit” or “fruit” was nothing but shame and death.

 

Maybe you remember Bill Cosby’s comedy routine about a group of co-workers who return on Monday morning talking about the great time they had drinking over the weekend. “I got knockdown drunk like a skunk, sicker than a dog, can’t remember what I said or did, and then was hung over next morning.” Cosby mocks this sad existence by asking the question: “You call that fun?” We can apply Cosby’s words to any sin in our past life: immorality, stealing, lying, fighting, gossiping. Our past life was fruitless, at best. But Paul goes further and says the “outcome” of our sin is “death” (6:21b). This use of “death” may be physical death (cf. James 1:13-15), but it is more likely that Paul is referring to present spiritual death.

 

We must always bear in mind that it is possible for a Christian to sow to the flesh and “reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). Paul’s mention of the way of death is not an idle matter; it has bearing on you and me. Our position has been changed forever—we are in Christ. Our person has also been changed forever—we are slaves of righteousness. But we are still capable of corrupting the life that God has given us. While our position is secure, our experience in life can wither and die (Rom 8:13).

 

Hear this again: If you refuse to present yourself to God, the result is death! This is serious! Paul is implying that you cannot be happy in sin! Admittedly, there is passing pleasure in sin (Heb 11:25b), but it is always insatiable and unfulfilling. Hence, the most miserable person in the world is the Christian who tries to live in sin. The Holy Spirit that lives within this believer is grieved and quenched. God loves this person too much to let him or her remain in a state of rebellion. The Spirit will chasten and rebuke and do whatever is necessary to bring the sinning saint to repentance.

 

Sin for the believer is nothing better than chocolate-covered Alpo. It may bring momentary pleasure, but the aftertaste will kill you. To go for Alpo when the choicest steak is available is foolish beyond words. Until we understand that sin is as foolish as it is wrong, we probably won’t change. Sin is insanity! It brings nothing but grief! Moreover, living for Christ far exceeds living for sin. There’s just no comparison! Luis Palau once said, “If you like sin, you’ll love holiness.” That’s what Paul is saying. If you thought sin was fun, try some holiness for a while. It’s really fun! There’s no bad aftertaste, and there’s no guilty conscience, and there’s nothing left to be remorseful about. Sin satisfies for a little while. Holiness satisfies forever.

Paul concludes this passage by arguing that following God results in holiness and eternal life (6:22-23).

Just in case we did not hear him the first time (cf. 6:18), in 6:22 Paul again tells us that we have been “freed and enslaved to God.” “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Once again Paul brings us the phrase “but now” (cf. 3:21). Paul contrasts the new way with the old (the new state we have found ourselves in by the grace of God). As a result of being “freed from sin and enslaved to God,” we derive “benefit.” We benefit our spouse, our children, our boss, our co-workers, and our church. We benefit all who know us because they would rather be around someone who is growing to be more like Christ than like Attila the Hun. But, it is also a benefit to us because slavery to God frees us to fulfill the destiny for which we were created by God. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

Paul expands this thought in the final verse of this section. In 6:23 Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I want to pause here for just a moment. We often use this text evangelistically, applying it to the unbeliever. This is well and good, for the principle is true and surely applies to the unbeliever. But, let us not overlook the fact that here Paul is applying the principle to the saint, not the sinner. He is applying the principle to the Christian, who may be toying with sin, not the unbeliever who is living in sin.

 

The very first word of 6:23, “for” (gar) is often overlooked, yet it serves to connect Paul’s thoughts from 6:20-22 (and the whole of his argument beginning at 6:15). Furthermore, in 6:23 Paul uses an interesting word for “wages” (opsonion). The word he uses refers to the daily food payment a Roman soldier would receive. So what are the death wages of sin?

 

  • Instant breakdown of fellowship with God
    • Removal of God’s hand of blessing
    • Misery of a guilty conscience
    • Loss of personal integrity
    • Strained relationships with fellow Christians
    • Reproach brought to one’s family and to the name of Christ
    • Injury to the testimony of the local church

 

Fortunately, God offers us “eternal life.” While the initial possession of eternal life comes at the moment of justification through faith in Christ (3:24; 5:18), the enjoyment or ongoing experience of that life is the fruit of godly living. In other words, “eternal life” begins as “a free gift,” and with proper use, can produce more of the same. The principle is equally true of human life. The life of the newborn infant is always the gift of his parents, but that life proceeds to grow and expand by reproducing itself in grandchildren. Life, then, produces life, but never unless first received as a gift. This holds true for natural life and eternal life. In this context, “eternal life” is the resurrection-life experience that Paul develops in 6:1-23. If we “know” (6:3, 6, 9), “consider” (6:11), “present” (6:13), and “obey” (6:15-23) we will experience the benefits of eternal life in time and in eternity. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

How can we apply this text more specifically to our lives? Consider the following suggestions:

(1) Recognize who you are in Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin. The reason that you sin is because you choose to serve your old master rather than your new one. Yet, he has no authority over your life. Imagine that you are living in an apartment under a landlord who has made your life miserable. He charges an astronomically high rent, and when you are unable to pay, he tacks on exorbitant interest that only gets you further in debt. He barges into your apartment at all hours, breathing threats, soiling your carpet, and then charging you extra for not maintaining the property! One day you open your door and find a stranger standing there. “I’m the new owner of this apartment building. I’m sorry for all you’ve experienced under the previous owner, but I want you to know you can live here—for free—as long as you want.” You are elated over the change in management.

 

Finally, you have been delivered from the clutches of the previous owner. Then one day there is a loud knocking at the door. There stands your old landlord cursing loudly and demanding you pay him the overdue rent. How should you respond? Would you pay him what he demands? Of course not! He is no longer the owner of the building. Would you attack him? Probably not, especially if he is bigger than you are. Instead you would explain to him that he no longer has any authority over you since your apartment is now under new management. If he has a complaint, he can take it up with the new owner. The old landlord may continue to bluster and threaten you, hoping he can bluff you into paying him, but he knows he has no real authority over you. He is just hoping you don’t know that. Focus on your identity in Christ. You are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

 

(2) Welcome Christian slavery. Many people wrongly assume that if they choose to live for themselves they can experience true freedom. However, this is a lie from Satan. The choice is not, “Should I retain my freedom or give it up and submit to God?” but “Should I serve sin, or should I serve God?” You may be thinking, I’m not sure I like this idea of being a slave—even if it is God’s slave. Remember, though, that slavery does not have to be a negative image. A kite is free to fly only when it is a “slave” to the string. Cut the string and the kite’s freedom to fly is severed as well. In the same way, slavery to God fully frees us to be what we were created to be. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

(3) Don’t give up in your battle with sin. I would guess that when you commit a particular sin, perhaps your besetting sin, you feel the temptation to give in or give up. The thought is: “Well, I’ve already committed the sin; I might as well continue or give up pursuing God altogether.” Yet, God wants you to turn to Him even in the midst of your sin. Confess your sin to the Lord. Keep short accounts. Press on to spiritual maturity. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there.” Don’t give up!

 

(4) Believe God has the best in store for youGod doesn’t want to deprive you of any good thing. He wants to bless you and give you every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Trust Him in this!

 

A number of years ago in Georgia, a family was driving down the road in a Volkswagen. They came across a farm that was burning down. As they passed the farm, they noticed a man, a woman, and two kids walking down the road. Yet, the car was so packed that there was no place to put the destitute family. The man then gave $50 to the farmer. The farmer thanked him, and the family went on their way. They stopped at the nearest bank to retrieve $200. Returning down the traveled road the family again stopped when meeting up with the farmer and his family. The man said, “Would you please give me the money back?” The farmer thought about it for a moment, and then gave it back. The man then combined the two gifts and gave the farmer $250.

 

This is what the Lord does in our lives. He takes what we give Him and gives us all of Himself. He always has His glory and our best in mind. We can bank on it! Since slavery is inevitable, we had better choose the right daddy. Since slavery is intentional, we had better rely upon God’s strength to present ourselves to Him. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

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Right thinking and right responding

There is an old story of a rabbi in a Russian city. Disappointed by a lack of direction and purpose, he wandered out into a chilly evening. With his hands thrust deep into his pockets, he aimlessly walked through the empty streets questioning his faith in God, the Scriptures, and his calling to ministry. The only thing colder than the Russian winter air was the chill within his soul. He was so enshrouded by his own despair that he mistakenly wandered into a Russian compound, off limits to any civilian. As he did, the silence of the evening chill was shattered by the bark of a Russian soldier. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” he yelled. “Excuse me?” replied the rabbi. I said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” After a brief moment, the rabbi, in a gracious tone so as to not provoke any further anger from the soldier, said, “How much do you get paid every day?” “What does that have to do with you?” the soldier retorted. The rabbi replied with a tone of discovery, “I will pay the equal sum if you will ask me those same two questions every day: ‘Who are you?’ and, ‘what are you doing here?’”

Let me be that Russian soldier to you as I ask you those same two questions: “Who are you?” and, “What are you doing here?” In other words, how do you view yourself? Do you see yourself primarily as a sinner or a saint? Are you a victim of the world, the flesh, and the devil, or are you victorious through Christ? What is your purpose in this life? Are you here to make a living or to experience true life? The answers to these questions and more are found in Rom 6:1-14. Paul will argue that right thinking and right responding result in right living. These fourteen verses primarily focus on why we should obey Christ. If this passage is understood and applied, it has the potential to transform our lives as we discover new confidence, purpose, and power. Paul shares two tips that will lead to transformed living from the inside out.

 

  1. Know Your Identity In Christ (6:1-10)

Paul emphasizes the importance of knowing certain truths. The implication is: Only the believer who knows, grows. Here the solution to sin and disobedience is to “know” that we have died with Christ (6:3, 6, 9). Paul begins 6:1 by saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Paul anticipates a misunderstanding. He expects an objector might say, “Let’s sin more so that God can display more grace and get more glory” (cf. 5:20). The assumption is the more I sin the more grace I will receive. We could call this preposterous mentality, “Grace Gone Wild!” Yet significantly, Paul does not retract his emphasis on grace. He does not deny what he has been teaching. He does not correct, modify, or soften what he said in Romans 1-5. He simply proceeds to demonstrate the absurdity of the objection.

 

In 6:2 Paul responds with: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Paul is aghast! He exclaims, “May it never be!” or “God forbid!” “Away with the notion!” “Perish the thought!” The answer is as obvious as whether or not one should kick a sleeping baby. Of course not! This notion was absolutely unimaginable to Paul and should be to us as well. After all, we have “died” to sin. Note the tense: We died to sin. That’s a past tense. It refers to something that has already happened, not to something that needs to happen. Paul could have penned a present or future tense verb. He also could have made use of an imperative or an exhortation. Instead, he chose a simple past tense— “died to sin.” It is a past event, an accomplished fact.

 

Paul is making the point that what happened to Jesus happened to us! So, I ask you, “Who are you?” You are a man or woman who has died to sin! The moment you believed in Christ, you died to sin. But please notice, Paul does not say that sin is dead to you; he only says that you died to sin. This does not mean that Christians cannot continue in sin. It means that Christians should not continue in sin. It is not impossible to continue in sin; it is unthinkable to continue in sin. If you’ve received the free gift of eternal life, your aim ought to be to express gratitude to God for the sacrifice of His Son. Right thinking and right responding result in right living.

 

People with a defective view of grace assume that those who have experienced God’s forgiveness would still prefer to live in sin rather than live in obedience to God. While it’s true that we are free to live in sin, why would we want to? For you and me to choose to sin makes about as much sense as choosing to crawl into a grave while we are still alive. For us to get wrapped up in immorality, greed, gossip, and bitterness is about as logical as Lazarus (Jesus’ friend in John 11) choosing to clothe himself again with those foul-smelling grave clothes. We can do it, but why would we ever want to? Anyone who says, “Now that I’m saved, I’m free to sin” has totally misunderstood his or her new identity in Christ. As my former professor, David Needham, used to say, “When a Christian sins he or she is temporarily insane!”

 

Before moving on, it is worth noting that a typical response to a clear presentation of the gospel is the objection of 6:1. Let’s face it: Grace is risky business. If you present the free gift of God’s grace clearly and simply, some people will assume that one can take advantage of salvation. Of course, we know this to be true. However, what we may not recognize is if the gospel that we share isn’t capable of this misunderstanding—we’re not preaching the gospel of the New Testament. When you share the good news, please make sure it is good news that appears too good to be true.

 

In 6:3-5, Paul expounds on the significance of the death motif. He writes: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” Paul begins this subsection with the phrase “do you not know” (6:3a). He assumes that his readers should be familiar with what he is about to say about baptism (6:3-4). So, is Paul referring to Spirit baptism or water baptism? The answer is, “Yes!” He is referring to both.” At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer into Christ. In other words, when Jesus died, you died. When Jesus was buried, you were buried. And when Jesus rose from the dead, you rose from the dead. God took what happened to Christ 2000 years ago, brought it forward, and applied it to your experience when you got saved. This is the principle of identification or “baptism.”

 

Do you drink coffee black? Do you like to add some creamer? Perhaps you add cream and sugar. In either case, you no doubt understand that once you add sugar and cream to coffee, the individual parts can’t be separated. You’ve identified your coffee with these elements. Similarly, when you placed your faith in Christ, you were inseparably identified with Him. This is one of the greatest arguments for eternal security. In a moment of time, when you believed in Christ, you received your R.I.B.S. You were Regenerated, Indwelt, Baptized, and Sealed by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work in conversion ensures that a true believer can’t lose salvation.

 

While Spirit baptism is in view, there is also great relevance to water baptism in these verses. In Paul’s day baptism was part and parcel of being a Christian. There was no thought of an unbaptized Christian. A believer was expected to be water baptized. Consequently, in some sense whenever “baptism” was mentioned in the New Testament, water baptism was either in the foreground or background. That is, when baptism was mentioned in the first century, the original readers would naturally think of water baptism. Baptism was one’s introduction or initiation into the Christian church (see Acts 2:40-41).

 

Like Spirit baptism, water baptism serves to symbolize and illustrate the believer’s identification with Christ. One is internal, the other is external. Here, in Rom 6:3-4, Paul provides the best explanation of believer’s baptism via the mode of immersion in the entire New Testament. These words visibly detail what happened invisibly when we were converted. If you have been Spirit baptized but you haven’t been water baptized, will you publicly identify with Christ today? Don’t postpone this incredibly important decision. It is the first act of discipleship (Matt 29:19). Believe in Christ and then be baptized.

 

In 6:4 Paul also states that we have been buried and resurrected with Christ. The purpose of our identification with Christ is “so we too might walk in newness of life.” The word translated “newness” (kainotes) means “extraordinary, astonishing, that which is supernatural.” Sadly, most Christians live subpar lives. There is often nothing that we do that cannot be attributed to our efforts. This will not do! When people observe you at home, school, work, or church, they should say, “Wow, now there’s an incredible man or woman!” Is there anything in your life that would indicate that you are living a supernatural life? If not, why not? Paul says, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” So, what’s holding you back? What is keeping you from supernatural living? As a Christian, you’re not called to be ordinary; you’re called to be extraordinary because of who your God is!

 

Paul continues his argument in 6:5. Since we have been “united” with Christ in His death, Paul insists that we shall be like Him in His resurrection. This is the only place in the New Testament where this word “united” (sumphutos) is used. It means “to grow together.” The Christian is “grown or fused together” with the likeness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Scholars argue whether this is a reference to a present spiritual resurrection or our future bodily resurrection. It is not either/or; it is both. Our resurrection life in the present ought to anticipate our future bodily resurrection. It is a linear progression. You must know who you are in Christ and let His power enable you to live a resurrected life in the here and now and then and there. Right thinking and right responding result in right living.

 

Now in 6:6-7, Paul further develops the significance of dying with Christ. He puts it like this: “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” Paul tells us that we must “know” that our “old self” was crucified with Christ. Please note this is not an imperative but an indicative. It is nothing we are to do, but rather is a fact to be believed. In 6:6, Paul alludes to two phrases that explain our sinful status.

(1) The “old self” refers to everything that I was in Adam. The “old self” was crucified with Christ. Hence, every morning you ought to hold a private funeral service. When you get up you should look in the mirror and declare, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20a). Remember, right thinking and right responding result in right living.

(2) The “body of sin” is the physical, unredeemed body (i.e., “the flesh”). Paul is not saying that the body is sinful. Rather, he is speaking of the sin principle that expresses itself through the body. This body of sin was not crucified; it was made of no effect.

 

But maybe you are saying, “I don’t know what Paul is talking about; my body of sin is far from powerless. If my old self was nailed to the cross and my body of sin is made of no effect, how come it seems he is still alive and kicking?” Our family likes milk so we go through one-gallon milk jugs regularly. I am usually the one responsible for rinsing these milk jugs out. Yet, regardless of how well I attempt to rinse them, they still stink a bit. Even when I think I have gotten rid of the stench, I can still smell the old milk! We are like this. Even though our “old self” has been emptied (“crucified”) and we have been made clean through the work of Christ, we still have a sinful residue (“the body of sin”/“flesh”) that will not leave us until we receive a glorified body.

Think of it this way. Your old self was so contaminated by sin that it still pervades your body so much that it reacts almost like a reflex. Even though your old self was crucified, it still reacts to sin as though it is alive. Any mortician will tell you that cadavers can do very interesting things. For example, a dead person’s hair and nails continue to grow for a period of time. Cadavers can also quiver on the table. There have even been accounts of cadavers catapulting off the table due to a muscular nerve reaction. (If I was in the room, there would be two dead people!) But these occasions never bother morticians because they realize that even when the cadaver acts alive, it is dead!

 

Paul explains what he has said in 6:6b. This verse serves as a parenthetical statement (see NET). We are no longer enslaved to sin, “for he who has died is freed from sin.” The word translated “freed” (dikaioo) here is the same word translated “justified” throughout Romans. In this context, though, the word means even more than “freed.” It is a legal word that could be literally translated “righteously released.” You no longer have to sin. Once you were shackled to sin, but now you’ve been set free! Jesus said it best: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). You can live a radically new life. Right thinking and right responding result in right living.

 

In 6:8-10 Paul moves from his emphasis on dying with Christ (6:3-4a, 6-7) to living with Christ. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” In this section Paul is saying that our death in Christ has resulted in life in Christ. Although Paul uses the future tense in 6:8 (“we shall also live with Him”), he is not primarily referring to our future bodily resurrection. The context of this passage is living a resurrected life in the present. Hence, he exhorts us to “believe” and “know” that our death took place in Christ. Despite our feelings, regardless of how discouraged or defeated we may feel, we are to place our confidence in God’s Word and accept it as true. As we do, we can live a resurrected life and look forward with anticipation to our future resurrection.

[The first tip to transformed living is: Know your identity in Christ. The second tip is . . .]

  1. Apply Your Identity In Christ (6:11-14)

Paul now explains how to put action to our knowledge. He basically says “become what you are in the process of becoming.” In 6:11 Paul writes, “Even so [you] consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Here in 6:11 Paul issues his first command in Romans 6. The word translated “consider” (logizomai) is an accounting term that means to carefully add up figures and then act on that knowledge. This imperative is in the present tense, which means it’s a command you need to obey again and again, throughout your life, sometimes several times a day. What, specifically, are you commanded to do?

 

Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God. Like a good battery, the object of “consider” has a positive as well as a negative pole: besides being dead, we are alive. Embrace this truth. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ. It is one thing to know something factually or academically. It is quite another thing to “consider,” “count,” or “reckon” it to be true. So you need to “know” that we are identified totally with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. And you need to go the second step and “consider” or “count” it to be true. All of this is a matter of faith, because I can tell you right now, there will be times when the devil whispers to you that you are still in bondage. This is when you must know that you are a new creature in Christ and count it to be true. Right thinking and right responding result in right living.

 

Several years ago a man had his finger completely cut off. He took the severed finger, held it back in place on his hand, and started his mind working. He concentrated his thoughts and energy toward that finger, thinking positively about his injury. On his way to the hospital that finger began to heal. Usually when someone cuts a finger, not to mention cutting it off, he spews out a streak of profanity and then chides himself or whoever else was involved for being so stupid. His thinking is negative; he is convinced he is going to lose his finger. But this man thought positively and his finger began to heal. When the doctor examined the man’s hand, he could not believe the finger had been completely cut off. God created our minds with incredible potential for change, but we have to think rightly. Am I advocating positive thinking or self-esteem? No! I believe in biblical thinking and Christ-esteem. This is the only way to implement lasting change. Always remember, right thinking and right responding result in right living.

In 6:12, Paul shares another command: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.” Although you died to sin, sin has not died and wants to reign in your body. Your purpose for living is to live a godly life that glorifies Christ. The moment you believed in Christ, you were given everything you need to become godly and mature, but you must labor and strive to realize this goal. In this context, this means that you must put your flesh to death. You must strangle your flesh. You must starve it. You must smother it. Don’t give it room to breathe. Cut off its lines of supply. Let it die from neglect. You are here to wage war on sin and grow to look more like Jesus every day.

Ask yourself this question: Where is Satan most likely to trip me up and get me acting like the old me?

Do you struggle with anger? Try to limit your time behind the wheel. Don’t commute a long distance to work, if you can avoid it. You are just asking for road rage! Are you a compulsive person? Don’t spend significant time at shopping malls. Limit your online shopping, or you will overspend and find yourself in debt. Do you struggle with sexual morality? Don’t use a private laptop or have an iPhone with Internet access. If you do, when you’re lonely and vulnerable you’ll succumb to porn. Are you an overly competitive adult? Don’t coach your kid’s sports team. Don’t try to play city league basketball or church league softball, either. You aren’t sanctified enough! I don’t know what your particular sin struggle is, but God doesn’t want it to reign in you. He wants King Jesus to reign!

Once you know, and have considered who you are, you are ready to take the third step: present yourself to Christ. In 6:13, Paul states that if you are going to live victoriously, you need to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” This presentation is not a one-time decision to give everything that we are and ever hope to be to the Lord (i.e., mind, body, plans, and goals). It is a daily decision to put the agenda of Jesus Christ above everything else in life. If (when) we violate our decision for any reason, we confess our sin and continue to pursue Christ with a sense of urgency and fervency. The word “instruments” (hopla) is a word used of a soldier’s weapons. You are to be a weapon that fights God’s enemies. Yes, your body is God’s weapon! Give it to Him today. If the only thing you can say is, “Lord, I am willing to be made willing,” then start there. Then give Him everything! Lord, I am giving you my eyes. I am not going to look at things that are inappropriate. Lord, I give you my tongue. I am not going to say things that grieve You. Lord, I give you my feet. I am not going to walk anywhere You would disapprove of. Lord, I give you my home, my salary, my future, my spouse and my career. Right thinking and right responding result in right living.

 

You can “present” yourself to God because 6:14 says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Surprisingly, this final verse is not an imperative: “Don’t let sin be your master.” Rather, it is a statement of fact—a divine promise: “Sin shall not be master over you.” Thus, 6:14a provides the necessary encouragement and incentive to fulfill the commands of 6:11-13. Paul then goes on to say “for you are not under law but under grace” (6:14b). I was expecting Paul to write “you are not under sin,” or “you are not under death.” But he brings up the law once again because he knows our tendency to revert to legalistic obedience to please God. We generally think that if we try to keep God’s law we will earn His favor. However, the truth is that we can’t please God through the law.

 

The Ten Commandments themselves make up less than 1% of the Old Testament Law. There are too many laws to keep. To try would cause our head to swim. Moreover, if we attempt to obey the law we will experience nothing but condemnation and defeat. Fortunately, Paul says that we are “under grace.” What a relief—what a breath of fresh air! Paul recognizes that grace gives us a sure position. Grace motivates and supplies power to live the Christian life like nothing else can. When we begin to think biblically, we will realize that sin shall not be master because we have been crucified with Christ and resurrected to new life. The three step process is: (1) Know, (2) Consider, and (3) Present.

Which “head” controls you?

Israel is known for two main bodies of water. In the north there is the Sea of Galilee, which is really a lake that is 13 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. Fishing is big in the Sea of Galilee because there are over 22 different kinds of fish. There is also vegetation and fruit on the shore. It is a beautiful body of water. Now, 60 miles to the south is the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 47 miles long and 9.5 miles wide. It is the lowest point on the entire earth. You could take Mount Everest and drop it into the Dead Sea and its peak would still be a couple of meters shy of sea level. Everyday two million gallons of water flow into the Dead Sea, but none of the water goes out. Amazingly, the Dead Sea contains 30 grams of salt per liter. Consequently, no one has ever drowned in it. There is so much salt and so many minerals that one just floats. Also, there is no life or vegetation. Even the shore is barren. Tumbleweed are the only thing you find. These two bodies of water provide a very stark contrast between that which is brimming with life and that which is exuding nothing but death.

The physical geography of Israel is a portrait of the spiritual reality of humanity. Just as there is one sea that continually breathes life and fruitfulness, there is another sea that breathes death and uselessness. In the same way, there are two classes of people: the person who is in Adam and the person who is in Christ. Of all the people who have ever lived, these two men stand out from the rest of humanity. As representative men, all of human history revolves around these two men—what they did and what flowed from what they did. If you know these two men, you will grasp the essential message of the Bible.

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul wants to compare and contrast the work of Adam with Jesus Christ so that we understand that what Jesus did was far greater than what Adam did. That’s the whole message of these verses, in a nutshell. In 5:1-11 Paul told us about the immediate results or benefits of being justified by faith. However, we also receive something greater and deeper. Romans 5:12-21 goes on to tell us that our entire position is changed! We used to be “in Adam,” but now we are “in Christ.” This is HUGE! Paul’s simple point: Grace reigns over all! In these ten verses, Paul shares two important principles, the latter of which can change your life.

  1. All Humans Are In Adam (5:12-14)

In these first three verses, Paul explains the result or consequence of Adam’s sin. Serving as our representative, Adam sinned, and his sin was applied to every person who has ever lived or will ever live. Paul summarizes and explains this thought in 5:12: “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.” The word “therefore” (dia touto) is a preposition that is frequently translated “because of this, for this reason,” which looks back at what Paul has just said or continues his argument. This means that 5:12-21 serves as a conclusion to what Paul has said in 5:1-11 and as a prelude to what he will share in chapters 6-8.

 

Paul begins to compare Adam and Christ in 5:12 (“just as . . . so”), but he breaks off his sentence at the end of 5:12. Now, you don’t have to be an English major to realize that 5:12 is not a complete sentence. Many of our English translations provide a dash so that it’s obvious Paul didn’t finish his thought. (I call these “divinely inspired rabbit trails.”) If we are to understand the flow of Paul’s argument, we must realize that 5:13-18a are a big parenthesis, and 5:12 is picked up again in 5:18b. So let’s read it that way, skipping 5:13-18a: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned . . . even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” Returning to 5:12, Paul writes that sin entered the world “through one man and spread to all men.” Twelve times in 5:12-19 Paul uses the word “one.” He uses this word repeatedly to refer to Adam and his sin and Jesus Christ and His work (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22; 45-49). Paul also uses the word “all” eight times in this section. Both of these key words provide comparisons and contrasts throughout this section.

 

Paul wraps up 5:12 with the important phrase “because all sinned.” Although there are various ways of handling this phrase, it is best to understand Paul to be saying that spiritual and physical death came to all people because when Adam sinned his sin was applied to our spiritual accounts. If Paul were thinking about the sins of all people he would have written “all sin” or “all are sinful.” The structure of Paul’s argument supports the view that Adam’s sin counted against us. Whether we like it or not, the Bible is clear that Adam was our representative head, and when he fell, we fell. You may get upset and say, “I don’t want Adam to represent me.” Well, you may not have voted for the president in the last election, but he can still send your son or daughter to war because he is your representative. You may not agree with everything your senators do, but they still represent you in congress. In case you don’t like political illustrations, let me use one from the sports world: What happens when a member of your favorite football team jumps off sides? The entire team is penalized for the one player’s infraction (i.e., sin) because that player represents a larger unit. He is not just acting for himself. This is what Paul is talking about—he is teaching the idea of representation. The consequences of Adam’s sin came to bear on all humankind.

 

You might object, “I don’t like this doctrine of representation! It’s not fair! I don’t want to be represented by Adam!” Yet the truth is, if you had been in the Garden of Eden instead of Adam, you would have committed the very same sin. As for me, I would have undoubtedly eaten the fruit almost immediately. At least Adam and Eve apparently lasted a while before partaking of the fruit. Socrates quote, “Know thyself,” applies here. I know myself too well. I know the sin that lies within me.

Moreover, the moment each of us reject the doctrine of headship or representation, we have rejected one of the most wonderful doctrines in the Bible. Although Adam was our representative, Christ was our representative as well! Not only did Adam act on our behalf, but Christ acted on our behalf, too! I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Christian complain, “It isn’t fair that Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, came to die for the sin of humankind. I don’t want to be represented by Christ!” Yes, Adam sank our spiritual ship, but God has thrown a life preserver to us. His name is Jesus! What Adam did was the worst thing that ever happened, but what Christ did was the best thing that ever happened.

In case you’re still not convinced, consider the story of the forester named Sam. Sam chopped down tress every day, and every time the boss came by he would hear Sam saying, “Ohh, Adam! Ohh, Adam! Ohh, Adam!” One day the boss asked, “Why do you moan ‘Oh, Adam!’ every time you’re out here chopping trees?” Sam replied, “Because if Adam hadn’t sinned, I wouldn’t have to do this backbreaking work, which is part of the curse.” So the boss said to Sam, “Come with me.” He took Sam to his palatial home with a tennis court, swimming pool, maid, and butler. “All this is yours, Sam,” he said. “You never have to complain again. I give all of it to you, a perfect environment.” Sam couldn’t believe it. The boss said, “Now you can have everything you’ve ever wanted, all the time. The only thing you mustn’t do is touch a little box sitting on the dining room table. Whatever you do don’t touch it!” From then on Sam played tennis every day, he swam, he had his friends over, but after a while he got a little bored. There was only one thing in the house he didn’t know about—that little box on the dining room table. For days he would walk by, checking out the box, but then he would remind himself, “You can’t touch it. Don’t touch it.” Day after day he was tempted to look. One day he finally gave in. “I’ve got to find out what’s in that box!” He went over and opened the box and out flew a little moth. He tried to catch it, but he couldn’t. When the boss came home he found the moth had escaped, he immediately sent Sam back to the forest to chop trees. The next day the boss heard him groaning, “Ohh, Sam! Ohh, Sam! Ohhh, Sam!”

You see, although Adam served as our federal representative and we have now inherited original sin, we are every bit as guilty. We are guilty sinners because Adam sinned (5:12-14), but we are also guilty sinners because we have sinned (3:23). We are condemned on both accounts. So it becomes a mute point. We can’t blame Adam alone. We need to blame ourselves. Adam and Wayne are both guilty! My guess is Wayne has committed far more sin than Adam. So, I have myself to blame.

In 5:13-14, Paul now explains the result of man’s sin even apart from the Law: “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 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.” Paul breaks off his construction and moves in a different direction. But what he says is connected with the preceding because he links it up with the conjunction “for.” Even before the Law was given (Exodus 20), sin and death exercised power over humanity (Genesis 4, 6, 19, 37-38). Sin resulted in death even before the commands of the law had defined what sin was. Even when sin goes unrecognized or unacknowledged, it still has an effect.

 

But “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” What does this mean? The word “imputed” (ellogeo) means “to charge to one’s account.” Sin is there, but it is not counted as a legal matter, liable to legal punishment. In other words, where there is no law sin is not reckoned as punishable. Adam’s sin was a transgression of an explicit command of God. God stated a one-point law, “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . In the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Adam broke a direct command when he sinned. After Adam, God gave no more explicit commands until the time of Moses. Although people sinned, their sins were legally tolerated (“not imputed”). Yet, people from the time of Adam to Moses died. Why did they die? They had not broken a command to which the death penalty was attached. The answer is that people died because they had sinned “in Adam.” They shared Adam’s punishment because he served as their representative.

 

Adam is spoken of as “a type of Him who was to come.” The word “type” or “pattern” (NIV) refers to a person, place, or thing that can be compared or contrasted with someone or something else. In this context, when we look at Adam we can see certain principles that apply to Jesus. Here are several of these “types”:

(1) Adam and Jesus were both real persons.

(2) Adam and Jesus have both served as representatives for the whole of humanity. (3) Adam and Jesus both drew the world to themselves: one for evil, one for good. (4) Adam and Jesus both affected the course of humanity through one single act. (5) Humanity follows up the work of Adam and Jesus: one with sin, the other with faith.

(6) Humanity is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.”

Before we move on, please notice a phrase in 5:14: “death reigned” (cf. 5:17). What keeps the mortuaries in business? What keeps the undertakers going? Why do cemeteries stay in business? Why is it that they never run out of customers?

The answer is simple: Death reigns.

Life insurance is based on one great theological truth: Death reigns. That’s our heritage from our spiritual father Adam. He sinned, and as a result, death now reigns on the earth. The next time you see a hearse, remember, “Death reigns.” The next time you drive past a mortuary, remember, “Death reigns.” The next time you pass a cemetery, remember, “Death reigns.” What a sobering reality!

[Is there any solution to this problem of sin? Yes! There is good news as we read on. Although all humans are in Adam, we find great and glorious news in 5:15-21]

  1. All Believers Are In Christ (5:15-21)

Paul now explains that God’s grace is readily available to every person who places his or her faith in Jesus Christ alone. The promise of eternal life is a “free gift.” In fact, the word “grace” (charis) and the related word “gift” (charisma) occur seven times in 5:15-17. Paul couldn’t have made his point more inextricably clear. Salvation is free—no strings attached! In 5:15-17 Paul contrasts the work of Adam and Christ. These three verses are some of the richest in the entire Bible: “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

 

The word “but” (alla) brings out the many contrasts between Adam and Christ. First comes the negative: “the free gift is not like the transgression” (5:15a). Adam’s “transgression” brought death to all men, and God’s “gift” brought life to all who will accept it. The principle found in this verse is that grace is more powerful than sin. Note the precious expression: “the free gift.” Justification/salvation is free, but it is not cheap. It was purchased at infinite cost (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Grace reigns over all!

 

Erwin Lutzer tells a story about a missionary who became a good friend of an Indian pearl diver. They had discussed salvation for many hours, but the Hindu could not believe that it could be a free gift. He believed that salvation could come by walking the nine hundred miles to Delhi on his knees. But the missionary said that salvation was so costly that Jesus had to buy it for us. Before he left on his pilgrimage, the Indian gave the missionary the largest and most perfect pearl he had ever seen. The pearl diver explained that his own son had lost his life in getting this pearl from the bottom of the sea. The missionary thanked him, but then insisted that he pay for it. The Hindu was offended, saying that there was no price that could be paid for a pearl that had cost him his son. Then and there the truth dawned: That is why Christians insist that no one can pay for salvation. It cost God the death of His only Son. To think we can pay for that is an insult indeed. Grace is free to us but very costly to God.

 

In 5:16 Paul introduces a fourfold contrast:

(1) “the gift” vs. “the one who sinned,”

(2) “judgment” vs. “the gift,”

(3) “one transgression” vs. “many transgressions,” and

(4) “condemnation” vs. “justification.”

The word “condemnation” refers to “the punishment following a judicial sentence.” In 5:16 we learn that the result of Adam’s sin was the condemnation of all men. But through the death of one man, the many can now experience justification. Finally, in 5:17 Paul tells us that Adam’s sin brought death into the world while Christ’s death brought life into the world. Please notice, though, that Paul states that this life is only available to “those who receive.” This passage does not teach Universalism (i.e., the belief that in the end everyone will be saved). It does the exact opposite; it clearly emphasizes the necessity of belief.

If we receive the gift of justification, Paul states that we will “reign in life” through Jesus Christ. The word “reign” (basileuo) comes from the word “king.”

In Scripture there are words that we can attach to “king”:

(1) wealth,

(2) authority,

(3) subjection, and

(4) influence.

No other person has a greater ability to influence people than the king. We have no idea the sphere of influence that we hold. Paul is calling us to live this life according to who we are in Christ. This is the goal of grace—“reign in life”—not justification, but sanctification; the goal of the Christian life is not just to get us to heaven (justification), but also to bring heaven down to earth (sanctification). So right now, in this life, we are training for reigning. God is equipping us to rule in the world to come. Grace reigns over all!

 

In 5:18-21 Paul summarizes the basic argument he began in 5:12 (“so then”). In these four verses, he makes comparisons between Adam and Christ (5:18-19), and contrasts between sin and grace (5:20-21). In 5:18-19 Paul now, finally, completes the comparison he began in 5:12. “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” In 5:18 Paul returns to the thought he began in 5:12. He begins with, “So then” (ara oun) and stresses the logical sequence. Adam provided condemnation, but Christ provided justification. In 5:18, the first “all” is literal (condemnation of all men), the second one is a figure of speech (synecdoche of whole for part). In 5:19 the first “many” is literal, and the second is a figure of speech (synecdoche of part for whole).

 

In the movie, “The Last Emperor,” a young boy is anointed as the last emperor of China and lives a life of luxury with 1000 servants at his command. One day his brother asks, “What happens when you do wrong?” The emperor answered, “When I do wrong, someone else is punished.” He then demonstrates by breaking a jar, and one of his servants is beaten. In Christianity Jesus reverses that ancient pattern. When the servants (that’s us) make a mistake, the King is punished. Instead of us being condemned eternally for our sins, Jesus is condemned. 

 

Paul concludes this paragraph in 5:20-21 by commenting on the purpose of the Law and the nature of God’s grace. “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In 5:20a Paul states, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” The Law reveals our inability to achieve God’s standard. In this context the word “increased” (pleonazo) does not mean to multiply or grow larger; it means to highlight even more.

 

One of my favorite tools for Bible study in YouVersion is a yellow highlighter. I highlight portions in my Bible so that my eyes are drawn to certain words or phrases that I want to focus on. Whenever I’m studying a particular passage I’ve highlighted, I can immediately see the text I believe is important. In the same way God’s standard of perfection is so important that He brought the Law in so our transgressions would become more obvious. The Law served to highlight our desperate need. This prepares us to admit our need for God’s grace. The Law does not decrease sin; it actually increases sin! The logical conclusion is that legalistic teaching will lead to more sin, not less sin!

 

Although I fervently teach about God’s grace, I often find myself thinking and feeling like a modern-day Pharisee. I get on my performance treadmill and try to work, work, work, somehow hoping that the Lord will love me more. Theologically, I know this is heresy. If anyone suggested this type of mindset to me, I would tell them nothing could be further from the truth: it is impossible for God to love them more than He already does. Unfortunately, I have lived with a set of high expectations for myself (and sometimes others). I have rarely, if ever, measured up to my own expectations, much less those that I have sensed God has for me. I’ve realized that I have often paralyzed myself with burdensome and cumbersome legalism.

 

I’ve even seen how this has affected my own children. My expectations for my kids are often unrealistic. There have been plenty of times when I have not allowed my boys to be boys or my girl to be less than perfect. When I do bite my lip and hold my tongue, they can often sense my internal expectations for them. It can be very overwhelming and demoralizing. Fortunately, Karen and I have been learning that works-based parenting and discipline-based parenting rarely works. What wins the day is GRACE-based parenting. When my children sense my unconditional approval of them, when I let them fail me (and God), they learn their father’s love and acceptance. They are also motivated to live a life of gratitude and respect.

 

The greatness of God’s grace leads Paul to conclude this with fervency (5:20-21). At the beginning of this section sin and death were reigning; now grace is now reigning! The phrase translated “abounded all the more” (huperperisseuo) literally means “super abounded.” Although sin had its day and “reigned in death,” grace will have the final hurrah through Christ’s righteousness. The result is “eternal life,” which here is both quantity and quality (cf. 6:23). Through the free gift of God’s grace, He empowers us to live for Him.

 

By condemning the human race through one man (Adam), God was then able to save the entire human race through one man (Jesus)! That is our passage in one sentence. Christian, you are no longer in Adam, you are in Christ. Stop swimming in the Dead Sea; move over to the Sea of Galilee. You are a new person with a high calling. Pre-Christian, if you haven’t received the gift that God has offered you, you are still in Adam. But you can receive the free gift by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When you do, you will no longer be trapped in a sea of death. You will escape the consequences of Adam and will have a life filled with greater purpose and worth.

 

The doctor said, “If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.” The doctor was talking about Alcides Moreno. By every law of physics and medicine, Moreno should have died. Moreno was a window washer in Manhattan. He rode platforms with his brother Edgar high into the sky to wash skyscrapers. From there he could look down to see the pavement far below where the people looked like ants. On December 7, 2007, catastrophe struck the Moreno family. As the brothers worked on the 47th story of a high rise, their platform collapsed, and Alcides and Edgar fell from the sky. “If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.” No, Alcides Moreno didn’t land on a passing airplane, or catch his shirt on a flagpole, or have anything else amazing happen like you see in the movies; he fell the entire forty-seven stories to the pavement below. As would be expected, his brother Edgar died from the fall, but somehow Alcides did not. He lived. For two weeks he hung on to life by a thread. Then, on Christmas Day, he spoke and reached out to touch his nurse’s face. One month later, the doctors were saying that he would probably walk again some day. If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.

 

In the beginning of the human race, Adam also fell from a great height. From sinless glory in the image of God, Adam rebelled against God and fell into sin and death and judgment, and in this terrible fall he brought with him the whole human race. But, God the Son left the heights of heaven and descended to the earth to become a man. He lived a sinless life and then willingly went to the cross to die for the sins of Adam’s fallen race. On the third day he rose again, and in His resurrection He made it possible for all to rise again and live forever. If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.

 

Today, will you remain in Adam and die, or will you believe in Jesus and live? Eternal life is a free gift, and it is available to you. Don’t let Adam’s fall (and your fall) keep you from missing out on Jesus’ great work on your behalf. Grace reigns over all! Receive God’s grace today.

God’s promises are ready to claim

Have you ever been given an empty promise? This happened to me many years ago. We responded to a marketing pitch to get a free washer and dryer by touring property at Lake Livingston Village. Our first thought was, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But we went anyway – we really needed a washer and dryer. After we toured the property, the salesman asked us purchase a parcel of land.  We told him no and he pushed harder.  He wanted us to change our income tax status to add more dependents to pay for the land.  We just stared at each other.  We finally convinced him we would not be purchasing the land and he finally gave us what we came for – except, what we got was a coupon to get a free washer and dryer FOR AN RV which we would have to pay $600 to have shipped to us. As we drove out of the Village parking lot, I made the commitment to not trust these kinds of deals ever again.

The Lake Livingston Village experiences in life can lead us to wonder if anyone can be trusted anymore. It’s natural to become skeptical, if not downright cynical. We think to ourselves, “Promises, promises, promises. Yea, I’ve heard this line before. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” We live in an era of broken promises and promise breakers. Nations sign important treaties and then break them at will.

Many couples show little regard for their wedding vows.

Children and parents break promises to one another.

Employers and employees break promises.

Even pastors and church members break promises.

In a world of so many empty promises, we can, fortunately, still trust in God. Faith in God’s promises guarantees blessing. In Rom 4:13-25, Paul provides two facts about faith.

 

  1. Faith Obtains God’s Promises (4:13-17)

In this section Paul continues to discuss justification, but he also introduces the idea of inheritance, which is the goal of salvation. He explains that justification and inheritance are both by means of faith. We’re given a free salvation in order to “inherit.” Paul begins with his basic thesis: “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” (4:13). The key term in this section is “promise.” The noun appears four times (4:13, 14, 16, 20) and the verb appears once (4:21). Paul explains (“for”) that the promise that Abraham would be heir of the world was not through the Law. Rather, the promise was “through the righteousness of faith.”

 

Gal 3:16, 19 clarifies that the seed of Abraham is Jesus. Hence, those who are Abraham’s children by faith will inherit the world and rule with Christ. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul is likely fleshing out the original prophecy. In either case, his primary goal is to make it clear that God’s promise comes through faith not through the Law. He wants us to recognize that faith and the promise are distinct. Law language says “you shall,” while promise language says, “I will.” Law language demands our obedience, but promise language demands our faith. This explains why it’s critical to distinguish between the Law and the promise. Whenever we add works or obedience to salvation we cancel out the importance of faith. Salvation is F + N = E: Faith plus nothing equals everything. Or as I stated earlier: Faith in God’s promises guarantees blessing.

 

In 4:14-15, Paul develops the negative side of his thesis. He writes, “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified. For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” If only the Jews are heirs through the Law, “faith is made void” [or “empty”]. This means that faith is canceled out when the Law is mixed with it. Paul’s point is simple: If the Law could save, there would be no need for faith. Yet, Paul has said many times throughout the first four chapters that we’re justified through faith. Verse 14 elevates faith and tears down the Law. So what benefit comes from the Law? Verse 15a succinctly explains: “for the Law brings about wrath.” As it pertains to our justification, one of the main purposes of the Law is to “bring about wrath.” This is a benefit because it forces us to acknowledge that we’re sinful and drives us to Christ. How does the Law bring about wrath? It brings about wrath by allowing us to experience consequences every time we sin.

Have you ever been pulled over by a police officer? (Come on, confession is good for the soul.) Now tell me if this has ever happened to you. A police officer pulls you over, gets out of his car, slowly makes his way up to the driver’s window, and says, “I couldn’t help but notice on my radar that you were going the speed limit. So I just wanted to pull you over and let you know how blessed the police department of this city is to have a law abiding citizen like you. Here, let me write you a thank you ticket.” Has this ever happened to you? Why not? For one simple reason: The police radar is not there to congratulate you for obeying the law. It’s there to catch you when you exceed the speed limit. It’s there to condemn you because that’s what the law does. The problem with the Law is that it doesn’t give you the power to obey it. All it can do is give you the guidelines and punish you when you have broken them. That’s what Paul means when he writes that the Law “brings about wrath.”

In 4:15b, Paul writes, “but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” He doesn’t mean that there’s no “sin” apart from the Law; rather, he is teaching that the definite form of sin translated “violation” or “transgression” (parabasis) can only exist in the face of definite, clear commandments of God for which one is responsible. What Paul means, then, is that the explicit commands of the Mosaic Law reveal sin to a much greater degree than is otherwise known and understood by men. When sin is exposed as such, the wrath of God is aroused. But where the Mosaic Law is not in force or is not known, there is no knowledge of specific sin among people, at least not to the same degree.

 

Why does Paul make this point here? It’s because he’s trying to show why it’s futile to attempt, through the Law, to obtain God’s blessing. It only winds up in wrath. The Law only reveals what great sinners we really are and obliges the wrath of God to flare up against us.

 

Perhaps you’re saying, “We’ve spent an awful lot of time on the point that a person can’t be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law, but I don’t know anyone who’s trying to be justified that way.” Well, that may be true, but I’ll bet you know many who are trying to get to heaven by some list of rules, and the principle is the same. The trouble with any system of salvation-by-law is that one never knows for sure if he or she has kept a sufficient number of laws with sufficient regularity to merit God’s favor. All systems of salvation-by-law are doomed to fail. It’s the same way with God’s law. There’s no such thing as being a “moderate” sinner. That’s like being a “little bit” pregnant. You’re either a sinner or you’re not. If you break any part of God’s law, it’s as if you’ve broken the whole thing (see James 2:10). That’s why the Law was doomed from the start.

 

Paul now develops the positive side of his thesis. He writes in 4:16-17: “For this reason [the inability and futility of the Law] it [salvation and inheritance] is by faith, in order that it[justification and inheritance] may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law [Jews], but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham [Gentiles], who is the father of us all, (as it is written, ‘A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU’ [Genesis 15:5]) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”

 

The promise of God’s great salvation and all its accompanying blessings comes as a result of grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor given to man. God gives us what we don’t deserve. Why must God’s promise be according to grace? The promise must be offered freely to all freely. The term “guaranteed” or “certain” (bebaios) means “firm,” “dependable,” “unmovable,” and is used in connection with the function of an anchor in Heb 6:19. If the promise was according to the Law, a person could only be certain of one thing, its non-fulfillment. If it’s by faith, one can be confident that the fulfillment is as guaranteed as the One who is being trusted.

 

Since the blessings of God are based upon faith and not Law, they are assured to those who are of the Law (Jews) and those who are not (Gentiles). They are assured through faith in Jesus Christ. The whole point seems to be that if the Law were the basis for salvation, only those who possessed that Law (i.e., the Jews) could be saved. And, even in the case of the Jews, there’s no salvation apart from faith because all have sinned (Rom 3:23). But if faith is the basis for salvation, then everyone is eligible. Faith in God’s promises guarantees blessing.

 

I am holding a key ring. [Display keys.] I have keys to my house, vehicles, and even my work. Faith is the key that opens the door to heaven. There’s nothing else in the world that will open that door. Furthermore, faith is also the only way of blessing. If we can trust God for salvation, we can trust Him for everything. Every blessing of God comes to the believer by way of faith. Today, if you have never exercised faith in Jesus Christ, will you believe in Him as your Savior? If you have already believed in Christ, will you continue to trust Him with your daily life? Will you consciously and continually invite Him to grow you up in Him?

[The first fact of faith is faith obtains God’s promises. Fact number two is . . .]

  1. Faith Believes God’s Promises (4:18-22)

Paul continues to demonstrate the truths of justification and a maturing faith through the story of Abraham. If you have entered into a relationship with God, like Abraham, God has granted you His unconditional love. This comes by grace, through faith. These eight verses describe the nature of faith. In 4:18, Paul writes, “In hope against hope he [Abraham] believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘so shall your descendants be.’” The phrase, “In hope against hope he believed,” means that every natural odd was against God fulfilling the promise that He made to Abraham. “Hope” (elpis) is one of Paul’s favorite words. He uses the term thirteen times in the book of Romans, which is more than in any other New Testament book. The biblical concept of “hope” is not wishful thinking; it’s a confident certainty. In spite of the odds, Abraham believed God’s promise that he would become “a father of many nations.” He had a definite promise from God and that was enough for him.

 

Paul explains the nature of Abraham’s faith further in 4:19-21. “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; 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 God had promised, He was able also to perform.” These verses demonstrate that Abraham’s faith didn’t weaken even though his physical body was progressively weakening. Paul bluntly states that Abraham and Sarah were both basically dead (4:19)!

 

In the natural realm, sexual intimacy was not even an option, much less having a baby! To put it bluntly, Abraham was impotent and Sarah was forty-five years past menopause. John Calvin summarized the matter well when he said that Abraham and Sarah were closer to the grave than to the marriage bed. Unless God did a miracle, no baby would be born.

 

What are you facing right now that is “as good as dead?”

Has God given you a promise that has yet to be fulfilled?

Has God placed a calling on your life that has yet to be realized?

Have you sensed God leading you to wait on Him for certain things that have not come to pass? Perhaps it’s marital harmony? Maybe it’s reconciliation with a wayward child?

Whatever promise, calling, or biblical desire you may have, ask God for grace to persevere in your faith with patience. Until He says “no,” He likely wants you to wait on Him and continue to trust in Him.

 

Although Abraham knew all of the overwhelming obstacles, he trusted God to do as He promised (4:20a). His faith overlooked the obstacles and focused upon the object of faith, God. This is a reminder to us that justification and spiritual growth comes when we come to the end of ourselves. In the same way, God wants those without Christ to acknowledge that they are spiritually “dead.” He wants men and women to recognize that, unless He steps in, they are without hope. This is a perfect picture of salvation. God also wants those of us who are in Christ to recognize this same truth. This means acknowledging that we are dead in and of ourselves. We need Christ in order to live the Christian life. This means that we begin to realize we can’t do it on our own.

 

If you’re like me, it’s all too easy to focus on performance more than on Jesus Christ. Yet, the Bible teaches that fruitful Christian living doesn’t come by trying; it comes by trusting Christ to express His life through us. Faith in God’s promises guarantees blessing.

 

Surprisingly, Paul states that Abraham “did not waver in unbelief” (4:20a). Yet, the Genesis account indicates that Abraham did waver in unbelief. He tried to give Sarah away twice (Gen 12:10-19; 20:1-7). He took Hagar as a surrogate solution (16:1-16). He also laughed when God reaffirmed His promise of a future seed (17:17). So how do we reconcile Paul’s statement with Genesis? It’s likely that Paul is referring to the overall character of Abraham’s faith. While Abraham had struggles like all of us, in the end he could be said to be a man who “did not waver in unbelief.” Thank God, salvation and reward do not require perfect faith, but only the proper object. This should encourage us. God is more gracious than most of us think He is. Aren’t you glad? I sure am.

 

Paul writes that Abraham “grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (4:20b). The verb translated “grew strong” (endunamoo) literally means, “to make powerful.” This verb is from the same root as the word translated “he was able” (dunatos). In other words, Abraham’s faith was empowered by contemplating God’s power! The more Abraham looked at who he was and who God was, the more empowered or “fully assured” (plerophoreo) he became that God was able to do that which He had promised. This is how we can rise above the tests and trials of our lives—by believing in an all-powerful God. Faith in God’s promises guarantees blessing.

 

Before moving on, we must ask the question: How can our faith “give glory to God”? When we believe God and take Him at His Word, we make Him look as good as He really is. In one sense, we can’t give God more glory, but we can glorify Him by showing off His greatness in our lives. We give glory to God when we trust Him to do what He has promised to do.

My three children have always enjoyed swimming. When they were young, I would generally jump in first and then beckon any of my kids to jump from the edge of the pool into my arms. I simply hold out my arms and exclaim, “Jump! I’ll catch you; I promise.” Now, let me ask you an obvious question: How can my children make me look and feel good? Answer: By trusting me and jumping into my arms. When my kids take that leap of faith they make me look strong, wise, and loving. But when they refuse to jump, shake their heads, and run away from the edge of the pool, they make me look bad. It appears like they are saying, “my daddy can’t catch me,” or “he won’t catch me,” or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do.” All three of those responses make me look bad. However, when any of my children trust me and jump, in spite of their fear, they give me glory.

Paul concludes the story of Abraham in 4:22: “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.” This is another citation from Gen 15:6. Paul referred to this same verse in 4:3. These two quotes serve as bookends. In quoting this verse, Paul brings to a conclusion all that he has said up to this point, beginning in 1:18: We are sinners and we will not be justified by works of the Law but by faith. Abraham is the classic example of this truth, and he stands as the father of all those who believe.

 

In 4:23-25 Paul concludes and summarizes everything he’s been saying since 3:21 before proceeding to a new section in 5:1. “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” When Moses was penning Genesis, I’m sure he never understood the full significance of the statement made in 15:6. This verse simply reads: “Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed that God could resurrect both his and Sarah’s bodies. We believe that God resurrected Jesus and will one day resurrect us as well. God planned from the very beginning that Abraham might be a model for the entire world and for the rest of human history. He’s the model of what biblical faith should look like.

 

Please notice in 4:25 that Jesus was “delivered over because of our transgressions.”  It was because of our sin that Jesus had to die. Yet this verse tells us that “justification” has been provided for the entire human race through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ resurrection confirms our salvation. It’s the divine guarantee that His death satisfied the payment demanded for sin. If you’ve received Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith, His resurrection is a guarantee that your salvation is secure. The resurrection assures what the cross secures.

 

I have a trivia question for all of you shoppers out there. Are you ready? What policy do Costco and Nordstrom have in common? Both companies have an unconditional return policy. This policy permits the customer to return a purchase at any time (in most cases). You might be surprised at some of the stories they recount. At Costco, for instance, customers routinely purchase a lawn mower in the spring and then return it in the winter for a full refund. Some of the customers don’t even bother cleaning up the lawnmower before bringing it back! At Nordstrom there are customers who will buy suits or formal dresses and then return those years later. This is astounding to me! It amazes me that there are customers who are brave enough to make such returns. It also amazes me that these companies continue to honor such a policy. Obviously, Costco and Nordstrom are unusual companies. In fact, they are the exception to the rule. While they do many other things well, what sets them apart from their competition is that they honor their word. The message of the Bible is that God honors His Word. He keeps His promises. He is a covenant-keeping God. In doing so, God demonstrates that He has no rivals and is set apart from His creation.

Maybe you want to purchase something somewhere which has an unconditional return policy. After purchasing our gifts, you put the receipt in a safe place in case anything went wrong with one of our purchases. Receipts are valuable, if not essential. You know how important it is to get a receipt when you make a major purchase. If there is a problem with the product or if a dispute arises about whether you actually bought the item, your receipt proves your purchase and authorizes your claim to have the problem fixed. The receipt shows that the payment for the product was made and accepted. Jesus’ resurrection serves the same purpose for us. It is God’s “receipt.” When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” on the cross (John 19:30), He was announcing that the price for sin had been paid in full. We can spend eternity in the presence of God through the death and resurrection of Christ. Right now, will you place your faith in Jesus Christ alone? Jesus Christ loves you and wants you to place your faith in His promise and work. Will you do so?

Works won’t work

The late Alex Haley, who wrote Roots, had on his office wall a unique picture of a turtle sitting atop a fence post. When someone asked him about it, Haley would say, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know that he had some help. Anytime I start thinking, ‘Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done?’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle, me, got up on that post.”

Obviously, a turtle can’t get on top of a fence post unless a hand picks it up and puts it there. If you see a turtle on top of a fencepost bragging his heart out, you know something is terribly wrong! Yet it’s so easy to boast, isn’t it? We can boast about our accomplishments, our finances, our possessions, our grades, our athletic abilities, our friends, our looks, and nearly anything else. We’re braggadocios people. Sadly, our bragging ways can creep into our spiritual lives as well.

Have you ever made critical comments about unbelievers calling them “ignorant,” stupid,” or “blind” because they have refused to trust in Christ?

Have you ever claimed that you chose Christ?

Or have you ever assumed that God chose you because you were smarter or better than others?

In Romans 3:27-4:12, Paul expounds the great theological thesis of 3:21-26. In what I called “the greatest paragraph in the Bible,” Paul expounded the guts of the gospel, but he hasn’t yet finished what he wants to say. Having shown what justification is, he now reaffirms that it is available only by faith. In 3:27-31 he states this theme, and 4:1-12 elucidates and elaborates it. In these seventeen verses, Paul explains three essential truths related to justification.

  1. Justification Excludes Pride (3:27-31)

Since salvation is by faith, there’s no place for boasting. Paul raises three questions and provides three answers in these five verses. These questions and answers begin to interpret and apply his teaching in the first three chapters and serve as an introduction to what follows. Paul’s first question and answer is found in 3:27-28: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Paul’s rhetorical question assumes that boasting is illegitimate. He says, “It is excluded” (lit. “to shut out, to make no room for”). We can’t boast about receiving something that we didn’t earn! Any boasting has been “excluded” not by a law of works but “by a law of faith.” This is a wordplay in which Paul uses the concept of “law” (nomos) to contrast works and faith. He insists that we’ve been “justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

You may recall that the word “justified” (dikaioo) means “to declare righteous.” The term comes from the courtroom of the first century. As a trial drew to a close, the judge, having heard all the evidence, would pronounce his verdict. To justify a person meant to declare they were not guilty in the eyes of the law. Yet, there’s another more contemporary way to understand the term. If you have a computer you probably know what it means to have justified margins. A “justified” margin is one that is absolutely straight from top to bottom. The computer arranges the words and spaces so that all the lines end up at exactly the same place. In that sense to justify means “to make straight that which would otherwise be crooked.” Now take those two concepts and put them together. When you trust Jesus Christ as Savior, God declares you “not guilty” of sin and “straight” instead of “crooked” in His eyes. This can only take place through faith.

Imagine your car runs out of gas in a remote area. It’s late at night and you need a ride to a gas station. Out of sheer desperation, you begin to hitchhike. Eventually, a gracious motorist picks you up. He then takes you to the gas station, buys you a gas can, fills it up, and takes you back to your car. Since its dark outside, he even stays with you until you’ve finished filling up your car. Now can you imagine telling this story to your spouse, your children, your friends, and bragging about your thumb? “My thumb sparkled like a diamond in the moonlight. The curvature of my thumb notified the motorist of my need.” That would be crazy, right?! The motorist deserves all the credit. It was his work; you merely responded.

Similarly, Jesus Christ is the basis of our justification while “faith” (pistis) is equivalent to the thumb. Faith is the instrument through which we embrace what he did as our only hope. God doesn’t justify us because we have faith. God justifies us because of what Jesus did, which we receive through faith. The only boasting is not in what I have done for Him, but in what He has done for me (see 1 Cor 1:29, 31). In Gal 6:14 Paul writes: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

In 3:29-30 Paul records the second question and answer: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.” The Jews may have thought God’s only interest was in them and that He couldn’t care less about the Gentiles. But Paul affirms that God “is one” and deals with both Jews and Gentiles on the same basis. God has worked salvation in such a way that the gospel is for everyone. Are you sharing the good news of God’s grace with people of all races or have you let barriers of age, class, color, or status creep in? Why not talk to someone outside your own circle about the good news of Christ?

The third question and answer is found in 3:31: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish [“uphold, validate”] the Law.” After reading 3:21-30, most Jews would have assumed that the Law was to be discarded. Yet, in this context, Paul states that the Law is to be upheld or validated. The reason is simple: The Law is fulfilled in the believer through the power of the Spirit. Paul will develop this point more fully in chapter 8. For the moment let’s simply note that when we trust Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us to enable and empower us daily to please God. He supernaturally lives His life in and through us.

[Now that Paul has briefly answered three pertinent questions, he transitions into chapter 4 to answer these same three questions in even greater detail. The second essential truth that Paul explains is . . .]

  1. Justification Excludes Works (4:1-8)

The Bible has always taught the doctrine of justification apart from works. Hence, Paul calls forth two examples to validate his argument. In 4:1, Paul brings up Abraham and asks the question: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” Paul is addressing the question: How did Abraham get to be righteous before God? He gives two arguments (“for”), one logical and the other biblical, concerning Abraham’s justification. Paul begins with the logical argument in 4:2. He picks up on the concept of “boasting” (cf. 3:27) and states, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Paul’s point is that even if works justified Abraham, he still couldn’t boast before God. Admittedly, Abraham was a man of great works. He kept the commandments to such an extent that the Lord called Abraham His “friend.” As a result, the three great world religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism identify Abraham with the coveted title, “friend of God.” Yet, even Abraham was saved by faith, apart from works, because it’s impossible to boast before God.

In 4:3, Paul follows up his logical argument with a biblical argument. Paul quotes Gen 15:6, which doesn’t say one word about Abraham’s good works. Rather, it says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Bear in mind, this experience of Abraham was prior to the Law of Moses by about six hundred years. The setting is rather memorable. God told Abraham that at the age of eighty-five he was about to have a child. Abraham assumed that God was kidding. He must have said, “What kind of joke is this?” “It’s no joke, Abraham. You’re going to have a son.” “Lord, you know full well, I lost that ability years ago.” “Don’t worry, just trust me and I will work a miracle on your behalf.” God took Abraham outside and said, “Look up!” Abraham looked up and God said, “Count the stars.” As Abraham began counting, God said, “Before I’m through, I will give you more descendants than the stars in the skies.” “Abraham believed God it was credited to him as righteousness.”

To believe is to be persuaded. It’s to place one’s trust in God’s promises apart from any works. In the case of Abraham and other Old Testament saints, it was to believe God’s promise of a coming Savior. While these believers didn’t understand all of the details concerning the Messiah, nor did they know His name, they certainly knew enough to believe in a coming seed that would deliver them.

Hence, Old Testament saints and New Testament saints were saved the very same way—belief in God’s promise of a Messiah. The only difference is that New Testament saints have the benefit of progressive revelation (i.e., they know the name Jesus and live on this side of the cross). Again, the issue is that faith excludes boasting because the one with the faith doesn’t do anything. Works are antithetical to faith. In 4:2-3, Paul sharply contrasts “belief” with “works.” Why? Because faith and works are opposites, like water and oil that don’t mix. To do good works is one thing; to believe God is another thing.

The key to Paul’s explanation is in the term “credited.” The verb “credited” (logizomai) occurs eight times in 4:1-12. It’s the key word in the chapter. Logizomai is an accounting term that means “to take into account or credit something to someone.” It’s what happens when you deposit money in the bank. If you bring a $1,000 check, the teller “credits” your account with one thousand dollars. Similarly, when you’re justified by faith, God puts His righteousness into your bank account!

Although you were spiritually bankrupt, now you’re a spiritual millionaire because Christ’s perfection has been placed in your account. In this verse, Paul is saying that you have a choice. You can be credited for your works, as payment for what’s owed, or you can be credited with righteousness for simply trusting God. The point of this passage turns on what you want credited to your account. Do you want God to credit you with what you’re owed according to your works or do you want Him to credit you with righteousness for your faith? The simple equation is: Belief in the promise of God plus nothing equals righteousness (B + N = R).

The next two verses exhort people not to mingle faith and works when seeking eternal life and forgiveness. In 4:4 Paul states the negative side of the principle: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” A person who “works” receives what’s due or owed, which is contrary to grace.

Imagine your current job. You’re working hard for your employer. By the end of the month you’ve worked well. Now you’re eager to collect your paycheck. But your employer seems very causal. He says, “Well, I’m not planning to give you anything. But I’ll give you a gift to keep you going.” What would you say? “What do you mean you’ll give me a gift? I don’t want a gift. I want my salary, my wages. I’ve worked hard for it. You owe it to me.” That’s Paul’s argument. When a person works, his wages aren’t credited to him as a gift. But the point is that salvation doesn’t come by way of works; it comes freely. It’s not earned; it’s free. If God justified people on the basis of their good works outweighing their bad He would owe them something. Yet, I assure you, God is no man’s debtor.

The positive side of the principle is found in 4:5: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” This is the strongest statement of justification in the Bible. The scandal of the gospel is that we’re justified by doing absolutely nothing!

Justification is effortless. It’s shockingly free. Another startling statement is found in this verse: “God justifies the ungodly!” He puts our sins on Christ’s account that He might put Christ’s righteousness on our account. What an amazing plan orchestrated by an amazing God! Salvation is a gift, not a paycheck. So don’t take credit; receive God’s credit.

In case his audience missed the point about Abraham, in 4:6-8 Paul calls another witness from the Old Testament to testify to justification through faith. According to Jewish Law, two or three witnesses settled a question. So Paul chooses David—a man after God’s heart—whom the Jews deeply respected. He wants to demonstrate that Abraham (who lived before the Law) wasn’t an exceptional case. David (a man who lived after the Law) was also declared righteous “apart from works.” In 4:6 Paul writes: “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” This verse makes it clear that the “crediting” of righteousness to David wasn’t part of what was owed him but was in spite of what was owed.

In 4:7-8 Paul quotes from Psalm 32, which is a Psalm of David. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” These verses were penned after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Although the Law existed in David’s day, David refuses to quote it or even refer to it. David finds his refuge against sin and guilt in God. He experiences the great blessing of being justified.

These two verses are not only for David, they are also for us. They teach us three valuable truths about justification.

(1) When we’re justified our “lawless deeds have been forgiven.” The word “forgiven” (aphiemi) means to “send away.” It has the idea of physical removal from one location to another. When God forgives you, He removes your sins from you and takes them so far away that you will never be able to find them again. There’s a tombstone which bears only one word on it: “FORGIVEN!” That word is more important than anything else that could be said about the person. Forgiveness is only found in Jesus Christ.

(2) When we’re justified our “sins have been covered.” The word “covered” (epikalupto) means to “cover so completely that it can never be uncovered again.”

(3) We can have confidence that the Lord will not take our sins into account. We’ve been given Christ’s righteousness.

Have you ever used System Restore on your computer or a hard reset?  I have the option of setting my computer back to a prior date. All the things I somehow messed up are put back in their original configuration. These simple steps forgive and cover my computer sins. My sins aren’t taken into account or held against me. Likewise, when God justifies you, He declares you righteous and covers all your sins past, present, and future. Now, He won’t erase all the consequences of your actions, but when it comes to your eternal status with Him, you are forgiven and declared righteous.

[After making an irrefutable case that justification excludes pride and works, Paul now explains that . . .]

  1. Justification Excludes Race (4:9-12).

At first glance you might be inclined to think that these verses are intended to prove that Abraham was saved by faith and not by works; specifically, not by the rite of circumcision. Although this is true, it’s not the main point Paul is striving to prove. The point which Paul is driving at is the universal nature of justification by faith, and that not for the Jews only, but also for Gentiles (cf. 3:29-30). Paul writes, “Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and 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.” These verses beg the question: Was Abraham saved as a Jew or as a Gentile? Was Abraham declared righteous as one who was circumcised or as uncircumcised? Of course, Abraham believed God and was declared righteous before he was circumcised.

According to Gen 15:6 (cf. Rom 4:3) Abraham was eighty-five years old when he believed God and was justified. But Abraham did not undergo circumcision until Gen 17, some fourteen years later when he was ninety-nine. Thus, long before Abraham submitted to any religious ritual or ordinance, he was saved and accepted in God’s sight.

Technically then, Abraham was saved as a Gentile and not as a Jew for he didn’t enter Judaism by circumcision, nor did he have the Law to keep. What a blow to the Jew who maintained that one couldn’t be saved without becoming a Jew by circumcision and keeping the Law!

So why did Abraham get circumcised? What’s circumcision for? If circumcision doesn’t automatically save, what’s its purpose? Paul answers that for us in Rom 4:11-12. This first half of 4:11 defines circumcision in two specific ways.

(1) Circumcision was a “sign” of new life. Circumcision isn’t the source of one’s salvation, but the sign of it. It’s a symbolic testimony to what has happened inwardly in the man who’s been justified by faith.

(2) Circumcision was a “seal” that God had given the promise and would keep it. Believers today are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit. We experience a spiritual circumcision in the heart, not just a minor physical operation, but the putting off of the old nature through the death and resurrection of Christ. The point of this section is that while circumcision is valuable, justification is available to Jew and Gentile alike through simple faith in Christ.

The outcome of all this great text is that Abraham is the “father” of all who are justified by faith (4:12). Hence, we should follow in his footsteps and exercise faith in God’s promises. We should reach new heights and be a man or a woman who will pass the baton of faith to the next generation. May we revel in the free gift of our justification and share the simple gospel with as many people as possible. May we boast in the Lord Jesus alone.

The “guts” of the Gospel

Imagine it’s Sunday morning and you’re seated in church anticipating the sermon. Suddenly, a man begins frantically canvassing the auditorium offering a life jacket to whoever would take it. Eventually, he approaches you with it. What would you do? You’d probably think he was nuts and turn it down, right? At best, you might politely accept it while yawning internally at your need for it. But, if you were on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean, you’d lunge forward and grab that same life jacket as if your life depended upon it.

We’ve spent five lessons working through a section titled “Sin” that spanned Rom 1:18-3:20. These sixty-four verses contain nothing but the bad news that we’re utterly unrighteous. Paul has constructed an airtight case that every creature that has ever lived, or will ever live, is leveled under the weight of sin. The inescapable conclusion is that we’re not only guilty; we’re absolutely helpless and hopeless. In other words, we’re born into this world enslaved to sin on a sinking ship. God holds out a life jacket to us, but until we become convinced that our plight is truly desperate we’ll never joyously and tenaciously grab hold of what’s being offered to us. The intent of God in clearly exposing our sinfulness isn’t to make us feel bad—it’s to make us feel desperate! Desperate enough to wrestle with the question of the ages: “How can a person be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2)

 

Of course, a great chasm lies between Rom 3:20 and 3:21. It’s a deep canyon, a wide gap separating our condition and God’s character. We’re sinful and God is holy. How can we bridge the gap? How can we go from one side to the other? We can’t. But this is where the good news begins: Paul informs us in 3:21-26 that God does what we cannot do. This is not only the heart of Romans; it’s likely the greatest paragraph in the entire Bible. Therefore, if we fail to understand this passage accurately, we’ll be unable to grasp the central message of the Scriptures. For it’s here that we see who we are, who God is, and what God has done for us. If there’s one passage of Scripture to become an expert on, let it be Rom 3:21-26. Before you spend lots of time looking for principles in the Bible on career success and personal affluence, before scouring the text for ideas on how to change your wife, your husband, your kids, your parents, your pastor, and your church, look at Rom 3:21-26. Meditate on it. Study it. It will change your life! In these six verses, Paul reveals three ways that God’s righteousness bridges the gap between our sin and Himself.

 

  1. God’s Righteousness Is Revealed In His Word (3:21)

Despite our inability to obey the Law, God’s salvation can be found in the Old Testament Scriptures. In 3:21 Paul writes, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” “But now,” two words made up of three letters each, serve as the hinge pin for the fate of humanity. After sixty-four verses of sin, you’re probably in need of some relief, aren’t you? How do you spell relief? Years ago, the answer was: R-O-L-A-I-D-S. But in this context it is “B-U-T N-O-W!” These two words signify that a “righteousness of God” has inaugurated a new age in world history. Unlike the first revelation of the “righteousness of God” that condemns us (cf. 1:17), this revelation frees us! In this context, the “righteousness of God” primarily refers to God’s activity in salvation; He provides righteousness for people who need it.

 

The “righteousness of God” has inaugurated a new age that is “apart from the Law.” This is only fitting because righteousness has never been able to be obtained through obedience to the Law (cf. 3:19-20). We have been so infected by sin that we cannot heal ourselves. No one can purge his or her body of cancer by eating healthy food. Shunning cancer-generating toxins is a good way to avoid contracting the disease, but once someone has it, a cure demands radical action. Unfortunately, we were born with the disease of sin. But there is another way God makes His righteousness known, and it is apart from the Law. Once again we see that God does what we cannot do.

 

The righteousness of God has been “manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” This phrase declares that God’s righteousness has been “manifested” through His Word. The root word “manifested” (phaneroo) is used back in 1:19 where Paul writes that God has made Himself “evident” to humanity through His creation. Now Paul states that God has revealed Himself through His Word. The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” is a summary term for the entire Old Testament. “The Law” referred to the first five books of Moses and “the Prophets” to everything else. The primary purpose of the entire Old Testament was to point to “the righteousness of God” that would one day be fully manifested in Christ. This very phrase was used in the theological theme of 1:16-17 where Hab 2:4 is quoted. Paul’s point is that the revelation of “the righteousness of God” isn’t some new phenomenon. Only in the death of Christ is there anything new or unique. God’s righteousness has always been revealed in His Word. Therefore, if you want to know who God is and what He’s like, you must know His Word. I cannot emphasize this enough. Many people have developed erroneous views of God based upon faulty thoughts or emotions. Often, I will hear: “Well, I think God is” or “God would never…”

 

Whenever I hear someone saying these kinds of things, I cringe. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Isa 55:8-9. So when it comes to the knowledge of God and how we can be right with Him, the Bible refers us to the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures.

 

Do you call yourself a “New Testament Christian” and avoid the Old Testament at all costs? If so, you’re missing out on God’s full revelation. Why not balance your diet of Bible reading with healthy portions of the Old Testament? My personal commitment is to alternate between the New Testament and Old Testament. This ensures that I’m always keeping the whole counsel of God’s Word before me. This also helps me to be an accurate Bible interpreter. After all, the only way to truly understand the New Testament is by knowing the Old Testament. May you and I see the promised Messiah and His plan of salvation in the Old Testament.

[Not only is God’s righteousness revealed in His Word, in 3:22-24 we’ll also see that…]

  1. God’s Righteousness Is Revealed In His Grace (3:22-24)

God’s plan of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul writes in 3:22a that “the righteousness of God” is revealed “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” He uses the noun “faith” (pistis) and the verb “believe” (pisteuo) to emphasize the sole condition of “God’s righteousness” (i.e., salvation). There are almost two hundred verses that use the words “believe” or “faith” as the sole condition of salvation. However, we must recognize that we’re saved “through” (dia) faith, not “by” faith. Faith is merely the means. What is important is the object of our faith—Jesus Christ! If we have the right object, the amount of our faith is not what is important. This means “all” are welcome who will simply believe in Christ. While Christians are often charged with being narrow and restrictive, it’s really all other religions that are narrow and restrictive. If good works are necessary to heaven, then all of us are excluded.

 

In these systems, everyone is disqualified. Under the Christian faith, “all” can come, regardless of their background and past failures. The only condition is simple belief. Let me be clear: When you come to Christ, you do not come to give, you come to receive. You do not come to try your best, you come to trust. You do not come just to be helped, but to be rescued. You do not come to be made better, you come to be made alive! God does what we cannot do.

 

Robert Chesebrough believed in his product. He’s the man who invented Vaseline. He so believed in his own product that he became his own guinea pig. He burned himself with acid and flame; he cut himself and scratched himself so often and so deeply that he bore the scars from his tests for the rest of his life. But, he proved his product worked. People only had to look at the scars from his healed wounds to see the value of his work and the extent of his belief. The gospel is looking at God’s Son and the price He paid for our sins and believing His work alone can take us to heaven.

 

It’s essential that we believe in Christ because we have a sin problem. Once again, Paul returns to the topic of sin. (Apparently, he didn’t feel that sixty-four verses [1:18-3:20] were sufficient. He enjoys waxing eloquent on the doctrine of sin.) He understands that the good news is only good news if we recognize how bad the bad news is. Although a person can be saved without fully comprehending the depth of the bad news, one can never fully appreciate the gift of salvation unless he or she has come to recognize the wickedness of sin. It is worth noting that the last part of 3:22 and all of 3:23 may be read as a parenthesis: (“for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). One can, therefore, read from 3:22b to 3:24 omitting the parenthetical thought (“for all those who believe… being justified as a gift…”).

 

Paul states in 3:22b that “there is no distinction.” This verse clearly condemns humankind—“there is no distinction”—we’re all sinners. In 3:23, the word “for” (gar) gives the reason for Paul’s insistence that there’s no distinction: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In other words, we have all committed acts of personal sin. To “fall short” (present tense) speaks of continually lacking the glory of God. The biblical concept of sin is any failure to glorify God. It’s missing what God wants in our lives. Whether you are less of a sinner than someone else is not the issue. The issue is that no matter how well you might have lived, you have fallen short of God’s standard of perfection.

 

Paul is now ready to return to good news. In 3:24 he writes that those who have believed (cf. 3:22) are “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” This is such an important verse that we must tear it apart word by word. First, let’s consider the word “justified.” Justification is the doctrine for which Romans is most famous—and rightly so. Paul uses some form of the verb “justify” fifteen times in Romans. Justification is a legal term that means “to declare righteous.” On account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are declared as good as God.

 

First: Justification is both instantaneous and irreversible. The moment we believe in Jesus Christ, we’re on the other side of judgment day. Since God always keeps His Word this declaration is eternal. In television programs such as CSI and NCIS there are people who gather what is called forensic evidence, which is used at trial in criminal cases. Forensics has to do with judicial judgment or declaration. Here, Paul shows us that in the act of justification God makes a judicial declaration about a person’s status before He makes His judgment. The person who believes in Jesus receives all the benefits of His person and work.

 

It may help if we further expose what justification is not.

(1) Justification is not forgiveness. It’s more than forgiveness. While forgiveness is part of it, it’s not all of it. If a teacher cancels out an “F” you got on an exam, that’s forgiveness. However, if your teacher declares your “F” to be an “A+” that is the equivalent of what it means to be justified.

(2) Justification is not a pardon. It’s more than a pardon. A pardon covers sins of the past. No judge has ever issued a pardon for future crimes. Justification deals with the sins of the past, present, and the future.

(3) Justification is not a return to innocence. It’s not “just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s a state of righteousness, not innocence. The fact that we’ve sinned and continue to fall short is the basis for the greatness of what God has done in justification. It’s important to know that this takes place as a transaction. It is not a process. I am not gradually being justified in the hopes that someday I will be fully justified. The death of Christ took place at a point in time, and my justification takes place at a point in time (cf. 1 Cor 6:11). God does what we cannot do.

 

Secondly, Paul goes on to write that we’re justified “as a gift.” This is one of the most astonishing truths in the entire Bible. Justification is a free gift! The word translated “gift” (dorea) can also be translated “freely” (NET; HCSB; NIV; NKJV) or “for nothing.” In John 15:25, this same word is used when it’s said that Jesus was hated “without a cause.” There was nothing in Jesus that deserved hatred, and there’s nothing in us that deserves salvation. The idea of “freely,” reaches back to Paul’s comment in 3:21 about the righteousness of God being revealed apart from the Law. We cannot do, nor are we required to do—in fact, we are forbidden to do—good works in the hope of earning salvation. Justification comes only to those who exercise naked faith (i.e., empty-handed faith).

 

One ad for the U.S. Marines Corp pictures a sword, and beneath it the words: “Earned, never given.” If you want to become a Marine, be prepared to earn that slogan through sacrifice, hardship, and training. If you get it, you deserve it. But if you want to become a Christian, you must have the exact opposite attitude, for the message of the gospel is: “Given, never earned.” You cannot save your own soul, and God will not save anyone who tries to earn salvation, but only those who will humbly receive it as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. If you get it, you absolutely didn’t deserve it.

 

Thirdly, Paul also states that our salvation is solely “by His grace.” Grace is a giant step beyond mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve (i.e., death, hell). Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve (e.g., eternal life, heaven). “Grace” (charis) means God’s undeserved favor or that which God gives us which we don’t deserve. It’s a gift that sets aside all human merit. It doesn’t simply give us a hand, it gives us a resurrection. Grace is all one-sided. I like the old acronym: Grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” The reason you and I have salvation is on account of God’s grace. It’s because of Jesus—it’s all about His person and work. God does what we cannot do.

Fourthly, Paul continues his thought by further explaining that this gift came “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The word “redemption” (apolutrosis) is a term that was used in the slave trade in Paul’s day. It pictures the release of a slave by the paying of a price. Since all people were “under” sin (cf. 3:9) and condemned by the Law (cf. 3:19-20), God the Father chose to offer a solution to our predicament. He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and pay our ransom. Christ’s person and work paid the price for our sin and the debt was canceled. We have been set free, if we will only believe.

 

A boy once captured two little birds and put them in a cage. A man saw the boy carrying the cage and asked him what he was going to do with the birds. The boy replied, “Oh, I’m going to play with them for a while and then I’m going to feed them to my cat.” The man looked at the caged birds and took pity on them. He said, “I’d like to buy the cage and the birds from you. How much do you want for them?” The boy thought for a minute and then named his price. The man paid it and the boy handed over the cage. Immediately, the man opened the cage and set the birds free. That’s what Jesus did for us. Satan had us caged up in our sin and was going to feed us into the jaws of eternal death. But Jesus Christ purchased us and set us free.

 

Romans 3:22-24 are three of the most important verses in the entire Bible. In these verses, we learned that:

God’s righteousness (i.e., His salvation) is made available to those who will simply believe (3:22a).

Salvation is faith alone in Christ alone.

Paul further expounds on salvation by explaining that we have been justified (i.e., declared righteous, 3:24).

He calls salvation a gift of grace. He even uses the picture of redemption to demonstrate that we were held captive to sin, but Jesus Christ has paid our ransom and released us from our captivity.

God does what we cannot do. In fact, He has already done the work; it is ours for the taking. [God’s righteousness has been revealed in His Word and in His grace, but now we’ll see…]

 

  1. God’s Righteousness Is Revealed In His Justice (3:25-26)

How can God maintain His justice while forgiving unjust sinners? Paul explains in 3:25: “. . . God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” [or better “through faith in His blood,” NIV]. The word “propitiation” (hilasterion) refers to the satisfaction of God’s righteous anger, so that He can now deal with us graciously. It’s a sacrifice which takes away wrath—a wrath quencher, which satisfies God’s anger.

 

Although God is merciful, gracious, and compassionate, He is also righteous, wrathful, and just. He can’t lower His righteous standard. He can’t just wink His eye with the attitude, “Boys will be boys,” or, “Let’s let bygones be bygones.” God must judge sin. He has done so by nailing every sin (past, present, and future) on His Son. Hence, God’s wrath, His holy anger, has been appeased by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Salvation is infinitely costly to the Father and the Son, but absolutely free to you and me.

 

If you still struggle with this concept, consider that God’s intolerance toward sin is like the intolerance of a surgeon who insists on sterile instruments for an operation. A surgeon’s demand for a pure operating environment is not an angry reaction to the presence of bacteria. Rather, it is an inseparable part of being a surgeon. To expose the surgeon’s scalpel to bacteria would result in contamination, and you would not get upset that your surgeon insists on absolute cleanliness in the operating room where even a speck of dirt could lead to infection. You would insist on absolute purity under those conditions. You would demand that your surgeon be completely intolerant of any impurity. If you understand a surgeon’s “wrath” against contamination in a hospital operating room, you can understand God’s wrath against sin. God is perfect and sinless in every detail, and His character demands that He deal with the slightest contamination of sin. God also knows that sin leads to total corruption and infection, so for these reasons He must judge sin.

 

In 3:25, Paul indicates that this act of propitiation was “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Although the death of Christ for the sins of humankind was planned in eternity past and prophesied in the Old Testament, it didn’t become an earthly reality until almost 2,000 years ago. Therefore, Old Testament believers were forgiven on account of what was about to happen but hadn’t happened yet. God didn’t revoke the punishment for sin, He suspended the punishment. We could say, “Old Testament justification was through faith in the promised Savior; NT justification is through faith in the provided Savior.”

 

Old Testament believers looked forward to what God would someday do;

Believers today look back at what Christ has already done.

 

Prior to the cross, Old Testament believers were in paradise “on credit” (i.e., their sins had not yet been paid historically, even though they received some of the benefits from their faith. The same thing happens when we purchase something with a credit card and enjoy possessing the purchased item, even though we have not paid for it yet). God’s righteousness was shown at the cross in that God righteously judged and punished every last sin that man has committed or will ever commit. The cross is and always will be the center point and the focal point of all history.

 

Verse 26 tells us that God provided salvation for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God the Father demonstrated His righteous character through the cross of Jesus Christ. The words “just” (dikaios) and “justifier” (dikaioo) are both renderings of the root term for righteous. God has revealed His justice through the cross. We deserved death and hell—that would have been justice. But instead of getting what we deserve, we were not given what we deserve. That is mercy!

 

But God has gone one step further as we saw in 3:24. He’s given us grace, which is receiving what we don’t deserve—the free gift of eternal life. This is the gospel! God has acted with justice by slaying His Son, but He also acted as the Justifier by allowing us to be set free from our sin by trusting in Jesus. What a God! What a Savior! There is no one else like our God! He has created and orchestrated a sovereign plan that you and I would never have come up with. To Him be the glory! God does what we cannot do.

 

But how can all this heavy-duty theology be fleshed out in our lives? Let’s review this passage and consider three applications.

(1) When we present the gospel, we must always remember to emphasize sin (1:18-3:20). Unless we recognize how bad the bad news truly is, we won’t sense a need for a Savior. The good news of the gospel (3:21-26) isn’t truly good news until we first deal with the bad news.

 

(2) We need to begin to see fellow believers as those who have been “justified” by God. I rarely think this way about others. It’s easy to see the faults and idiosyncrasies in other people. Yet this passage teaches that fellow believers have been declared righteous and are now seen by the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

(3) We must be sure to present an accurate gospel. This means we must understand the words and the central message of 3:21-26. If we do, we’ll have a proper understanding of God’s righteousness and the free gift of salvation. God does what we cannot do.

None of us is okay, okay?

Many years ago, The London Times had a correspondent who ended many of his articles with the words, “What is wrong with the world today?” Finally, in response, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the well-known Christian writer and apologist, wrote the following reply to the paper, “Dear Editor, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully Yours, G. K. Chesterton.” In those few words Chesterton beautifully summed up the Bible’s teaching concerning the central problem of the world. It’s people! More specifically, it’s what lies within us—our inner being or person. As the great theologian Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m not okay and neither are you. In short, we’re the problem in the world today. We’re our own worst enemy. As sinful as Satan is, our sin problem is so severe and all-encompassing that we’re in deep trouble all on our own. There’s no need to claim, “The Devil made me do it!” We sin quite well without him or anyone else tempting us to sin (cf. Jas 1:14). We’re disgustingly sinful in our own selves. In Romans 3:9-20, we’re faced squarely with the reality of our sin against God and other people. This text is a fitting climax to the entire section (1:18-3:20) and functions like a great baseball relief pitcher. In the eight or ninth inning, “the closer” comes in to replace whoever is pitching and promptly attempts to “put the game away” for his team. Well, Paul closes his argument here with the same kind of determination and authority. This text is the clincher, the closer, in this section of Romans. This passage, like no other, will tell us the truth about humankind. The bottom line is: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. Paul reveals three penetrating truths about humanity.

 

  1. We Are Universally Sinful (3:9)

Paul begins with a formal legal charge: All are under sin. He writes, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” In light of Paul’s previous remarks about the Jews (2:1-3:8), an objector asks whether he and his fellow Jews are better than Gentiles. Paul has affirmed that the Jew has certain “advantages” (3:2; cf. 9:4-5) that permit spiritual growth. However, here, Paul reiterates that there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles—“all are under sin.” No one is exempt from judgment, not even God’s chosen people. Paul repeats his reason for this conclusion with the phrase, “we have already charged.” This is the ongoing message he has been giving, beginning with 1:18 and continuing up to this point (i.e., that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin).

 

It’s worth noting that the preposition “under” (hupo) is a military term that means to be under the authority of someone or something else. It was used for soldiers who were under the authority of a commanding officer. In this context, it means that the human race is dominated by sin. We’re under its power. The phrase “under sin” implies that we were born sinful and then began willfully committing sin as early as three to six months! A nursing infant who is told not to bite his mother may look her in the eye and bite even harder. A crawling infant may be told by his father to stop, and she may smile and crawl all the faster away from him. We’re sinful and we’re “under” sin’s power at a very young age.

 

Furthermore, the phrase “under sin” goes beyond “original sin” and our propensity to commit certain sins. Our problem is that we are enslaved to sin. In other words, we were born in sin, intentionally sinned as quickly as possible, and have exhibited sin during the course of our lives. Again, we’re under sin’s power. It will do no good to claim goodness. We are not good; only God is good (cf. Mark 10:18). As an ancient Chinese proverb observed, “There are two good men—one is dead and the other is not yet born.” Paul’s point is simple: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. On the contrary, we are universally sinful. Thus, if you and I want to overcome the junk in our lives, we must own our sin and recognize that God has provided a solution to our sin problem.

[Not only are we universally sinful, Paul will now demonstrate a second truth about us.]

  1. We Are Totally Depraved (3:10-18)

In these nine verses, Paul indicts all people as totally depraved. Total depravity means that there’s no spiritual good in humankind that is able to commend us to God. Many people have trouble with this concept. While not denying they are sinners, many people feel that their sin isn’t bad enough to condemn them. What they don’t understand is that any sin is wholly unacceptable to God. In this section it’s as if Paul says, “Are you still not convinced? Let me show you further proof from the Old Testament.” He uses a technique called “pearl stringing,” where he quotes verse after verse to prove his point. Interestingly, Paul carefully chooses a slew of Old Testament verses directly attributed to God. So the expert witness that Paul calls to the stand—God Himself. In 3:10-18, Paul reveals three categories of sin that demonstrate our depravity.

 

The first category is: Our character is depraved. In 3:10-12 Paul states: “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’” Paul uses words like “none,” “all,” and “not even one” no fewer than seven times in the first three verses in order to make his point. Paul summarizes the fate of humanity by stating that “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10). Verse 10 is a summary statement and the following verses flesh this truth out more fully. Verses 11-12 indicate that our whole inner being is controlled by sin.

(1) Our mind is depraved (“none who understands”). We don’t spend our time trying to understand God’s thoughts or His ways. We’re more interested in football, our favorite TV show, going to a concert, shopping, or hanging out with friends. We wouldn’t choose to spend considerable time attempting to understand God’s purposes or His program. We don’t go away on personal retreats to understand God.

(2) Our heart is depraved (“none who seeks for God”). If left to our own devices, we would never seek God. While it may appear that there are some who are actually seeking hard after God people are actually running from God. No sinner seeks God; rather, God seeks sinners. If anyone seeks God, it’s only because the Holy Spirit is working in his or her heart.

(3) Our will is depraved (“none who does good”). Consequently, we don’t do good works that honor God. Rather, our works are “filthy rags” (Isa 64:6) before God. Perhaps you’re thinking about a neighbor, a coworker, or a classmate that does seemingly wonderful deeds. I would affirm that this is prevalent from a human perspective. These “good works” are beneficial to your neighborhood, your workplace, and your school. However, from a divine perspective, these works fall short of God’s standard because they haven’t been carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our mind, heart, and will are totally depraved. We’re sinful to the core.

Paul even goes so far as to state that together we have all become “useless.” Ouch! The word translated “useless” (achreioo) means “to corrupt” or “to turn sour” as milk. (Take out a gallon jug with sour milk and invite class members to smell it. Explain that this type of stench is similar to the stench of our sin.) Since the Bible speaks figuratively about God’s nostrils, there’s some precedent to say that the stench of our sin stinks to high heaven and reaches God’s nostrils. Our sin is repulsive and repugnant to Him. Indeed, I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

 

In 3:13-14, Paul shares another category: Our conversation is depraved. We betray our character by our speech. The heart blazes the way, and the mouth follows. In these two verses it’s as though humanity is given an annual physical exam. As you know when you go to the doctor for some unknown ailment he generally wants to look into your mouth. He puts one of those overgrown Popsicle sticks on your tongue and says, “Say ahhh!” Well, here God looks into the mouth of the sinner, and when we say, “Ahhh,” God says, ‘Yuk!’ Paul writes in 3:13a: “Their throat is an open grave.”

During biblical times embalming wasn’t practiced like it is today. So it goes without saying that an open grave must have reeked! In the same way, Paul is saying that the stench of man’s throat is like a rotting corpse. Interestingly, the phrase “open grave” literally means a yawning grave. I guess that means we should be careful when we yawn so that people don’t see down our throats into our decaying hearts.

 

In 3:13b-14 Paul goes on to say: “with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Our tongues are a constant source of deception. Notice the present tense: “they keep on deceiving” (3:13b). Our conversation is so totally depraved that our native language is deception. Paul states that the poison of asps is under our lips. The asp was probably the Egyptian cobra. Under its lips was a sac full of venom. When this snake was provoked pressure was placed on the poison sac, and the venom would surge through the fangs that devoured its victim. One can scarcely think of a more graphic way in which to express the pain and suffering caused by vindictive and unjust words.

How many times have you assassinated someone’s character or reputation?

How many times have you cut someone else down in order to build yourself up? How many times have you cursed or even used the Lord’s name in vain? Gulp. How many times have you expressed bitterness in your speech (3:14)?

We are all guilty.

Even as believers who’ve been given a new nature from God, we still struggle with our conversation, don’t we? I know I do. It’s easy to speak words of deception and bitterness. It’s easy to be critical. All of us are guilty of slander and gossip in some way, shape, or form. James put it well: The tongue is a “restless evil and full of deadly poison” (Jas 3:8b). Our worst enemy is our mouth! This is what makes Jesus’ words in Matt 12:36 so terrifying: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment.” I know when I stand before Jesus Christ, I will have two give an account for my speech. I’m not looking forward to this accounting one bit. It will be a sobering day indeed when I fully come to grips with how I have dishonored God in my conversation. I’m not okay, you’re not okay. I’m totally depraved.

 

The third and final category of our depravity is found in 3:15-18: Our conduct is depraved. What the mouth utters, the feet usually carry out. Paul writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (3:15-17). These verses describe America to a tee. Life is so cheap in our country today, particularly in the major cities. People kill one another over a set of car keys or a verbal insult or even a sinister look.

 

Today, there is at least one murder every twenty minutes. Furthermore, every year upwards of 50,000 people die as the direct result of someone else’s abuse of alcohol. And all that pales into insignificance when compared to the 1.2 million babies murdered every year under “freedom of choice” laws related to abortion. And if you’re innocent so far, do you still claim innocence when confronted with Jesus’ claim that murder is committed when one hates another person (Matt 5:21-22)?

 

Rom 3:17 would be an appropriate slogan for the United Nations: “The path of peace have they not known.” Indeed, we’re a warring people who constantly seek evil. Back in 1968, Will Durant wrote a book entitled, Lessons from History. In this book Durant wrote, “In the past 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war.” The search for peace goes on unabated because we don’t know the way of peace. Tragically, we’ve failed to recognize that there will be no peace until we acknowledge our sin and trust in the Prince of Peace.

What is the cause of all this violent and sinful behavior? The answer is found in 3:18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” As individuals and as a country, we have failed to fear God. Prov 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” yet we have opted for foolishness instead of wisdom. God is left out of our conversations, decisions, and life. He’s ignored. When God is ignored, the consequences of Rom 1 are set into motion: He gives us over (1:24, 26, 28). This leads to the problems that are facing our country and our world today. Once again, we are the problem. We need to point the finger at ourselves. I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

[Paul has indisputably argued that we are universally sinful and totally depraved. Now he decrees a final truth about us.]

  1. We Are Helplessly Lost (3:19-20)

Paul concludes this passage with a verdict: GUILTY! These two verses also summarize the entire section (1:18-3:20). Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law so that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:19-20). The phrase, “Now we know that” indicates that what follows has already been established as fact. The Law has a message to those under the Law (i.e., Jews), which declares that the whole world is held accountable to God. Implied here is the responsibility of Jews to relay information from the Law to the world largely via their obedience. The Jews are to be an example to the world of how to carry out the standards of the Law.

The Jewish people of Paul’s day didn’t understand that they were condemned under the Law. They knew that they sinned, but they thought they had diplomatic immunity from God’s judgment because they were Jewish. The phrase “whatever the Law says,” refers back to the Old Testament passages that Paul quoted in 3:10-18. The word translated “closed” (phrasso) is literally translated “shut up,” that every mouth may be shut up! The Law brings us up short with God every time. So much so, that when we stand before Him, we’ll be silenced! This verb evokes the image of a defendant in court, who, when given the opportunity to speak in his own defense, remains silent, overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence against him.

 

Your brain is more incredible than the most vast computer system in the world. Every experience we have and every word we speak is recorded in our brains. Concerning the judgment day I think that in the last day God is going to take our brain out of our head, put it on a table there in his court room, plug in a recorder, and punch rewind. We are going to have to sit there and listen to our brain replay everything we’ve ever done, said, and thought. The prosecuting attorney doesn’t have to say a word. Indeed, when we receive a glorified mind and body and we stand before Christ, we will be shut up.

 

In 3:20, Paul explains that the Law was given for condemnation, not justification (i.e., “to declare not guilty,” see 3:24). The Jews had distorted the purpose of the Law. It was never intended to commend a man before God, but to condemn him. Like the blood-alcohol test is designed to prove men are drunk, so the Law is designed to prove men are sinners, under the wrath of God. The Law provided a standard of righteousness, not that men could ever attain such human righteousness, but to demonstrate they’re incapable of doing so and must find a source of righteousness outside themselves. That’s the point of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. When the Law revealed man’s sin, God provided a way of sacrifice so that a man wouldn’t need to bear the condemnation of God. The Law was never given to save us, but to show us that we need a Savior.

 

The Law has been likened to a mirror. The purpose of a mirror is to reveal what is wrong with my face (e.g., gunk in the eyes, food in the teeth, messy hair, blemishes, etc.) As I carry on the activities of my day, I may somehow get dirt on my face and not even realize it. A mirror serves a wonderful purpose of showing me that I have a dirty face. It shows me that I have a problem. But the mirror cannot wash away the dirt! It makes a very poor washcloth. Likewise, God’s Law can show me that I am a guilty sinner (incapable of keeping God’s holy commandments), but it can never save me. It can only condemn me and show me that I need a Savior.

It is tempting to conclude my lesson on this negative note. However, you would be left with a sense of hopelessness and despair. While this may be Paul’s aim in 1:18-3:20, it is not the end of the story. Hence, I think it’s fitting for me to whet your appetite for the next section in Romans. In 3:21, Paul opens with the conjunction “but” (de). This three letter word that we often overlook may be the most important word in the Bible. The word “but” informs us that sin does not win the day. In a similar passage, Paul exclaims: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Eph 2:4). He utters these words after laying out total depravity (2:1-3). In both of these texts, the word “but” reminds us that God’s grace is greater than all our sin! Now that’s good news.

 

Like Paul, I have attempted to level you under the weight of your sin. I want you to feel the full brunt of your depravity. I desire for you to sense that you are hopelessly lost. If you’ve arrived at the end of yourself, there will be nowhere to turn but to Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus offers you His righteousness in exchange for your unrighteousness. If you will simply bring your sin to Jesus, He will offer you His perfection. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and the sin of the entire world. He rose from the dead to demonstrate that He is God. He simply asks you to believe in His person and in His work. The decision is yours. Will you be pardoned or punished? I urge you: Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and cross over from death to life (John 5:24).