The roller coaster and you

When was the last time you were on a roller coaster? Did you want to throw up? I can think of nothing better to kick off Romans 9-11 than a terrifying and exhilarating roller coaster ride. The reason is simple: For many people these chapters contain the most terrifying and exhilarating words in the New Testament.

In 8:28-39, Paul established that: (1) God has a purpose for believers; (2) nothing can prevent that purpose from being fulfilled; and (3) no one can separate God’s people from His love. But a question remains: What about God’s chosen people—the Jews? God loved them and had a purpose for them too. Yet, Israel appears to be excluded from God’s program. Therefore, the inescapable question is: Since so many Jews appear to have become separated from the love of God, haven’t His promises and eternal purposes failed? If so, then what basis do you and I have for believing that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled? Our Christian hope is at stake! Paul addresses this concern.

In Romans 9-11, he explains Israel’s spiritual condition: past (9), present (10), and future (11). In our first installment, 9:1-13, we learn that God’s promises and plans never fail. Paul shares two essential truths about God.

1. God Is Committed To His People (9:1-5)
This opening paragraph reveals both God and Paul’s burden and passion for Israel’s salvation. We will also see the necessary balance between human responsibility (9:1-3) and divine sovereignty (9:4-5). In 9:1-2 Paul begins by expressing his sorrow. The intensity is built up by three doublings: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul appeals to his truthfulness, to his conscience, and to the Holy Spirit? Why is Paul so concerned that his recipients know that he isn’t lying? Because they would undoubtedly find it remarkable that he could love the Jews when they hated him so much. Everywhere Paul went they treated him as an enemy and a traitor. They harassed him, they threatened him, and they stirred up mobs against him.
In Acts 23:12-13, 40, Jewish zealots bound themselves with an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed him. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul states that on five different occasions he received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, adding that he was in constant danger from his own countrymen. Yet nowhere in his writings is there ever found even the hint of personal retaliation or bitterness against the Jews. On the contrary, Paul’s spirit was the same as that of Christ, who wept over the city of Jerusalem even though He knew He was about to be crucified by its leaders (see Matt 23:37).

Years ago some servants of the Salvation Army went into an extremely tough American city and after working there for several years, they said, “It just won’t work. We’ve tried everything. The gospel is just not being received here.” They telegraphed that to General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and he telegraphed back a two word message: “Try tears.” Do you have a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a classmate who doesn’t know Jesus Christ and you think you have tried everything? Well, have you tried tears? Have you asked God to break your heart for the lost?
Paul continues in 9:3 by claiming, “For I could wish [pray] that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul actually wishes he could forfeit his own salvation if it would lead to the salvation of his fellow Jews. He knows he cannot actually be separated from Christ—he just said so in 8:31-39. Yet his feelings are, nevertheless, genuine. Paul loves his people enough to go to hell for them, if that were possible. It’s difficult to fully appreciate his emotions, for he is exhibiting supernatural love. Nonetheless, we must seek to share Paul’s heartbeat.

Do we love the lost like Paul did?
Do we share his burden for souls?
Would we be willing to go to hell if someone else would be saved?
How far are we willing to go to see people believe in Christ?
What sacrifices are we willing to make?
If there’s a “secret” to evangelism, it is cultivating a heart for lost people.
Do we have a burden that others will not spend eternity in hell?

In the film, The Guardian, the viewer is taken into the world of United States Coast Guard rescue swimmers. Eighteen weeks of intense training prepares these courageous men and women for the task of jumping from helicopters to rescue those in danger at sea. The challenges they face include hypothermia and death by drowning. Why would people risk so much for strangers? The answer is found in the rescue swimmer’s motto, “So Others May Live.” May you and I share this very same mission. I challenge you to share Christ with someone this week. Don’t be bashful. Don’t be presumptuous and assume that people aren’t interested. God may use you to lead someone to faith in Christ. Today, pray that God gives you an unquenchable burden and zeal for the lost.

In 9:4-5, Paul emphasizes divine sovereignty by listing the remarkable privileges that God has given Israel. Verse 4 is arranged in two sets of three that are grammatically and conceptually parallel:

o The adoption as sons/the giving of the Law: The “adoption as sons” refers to a national adoption that has to do with a unique action on God’s part to put His special mark of ownership upon one race of people. God “adopted” Israel and gave them instructions on how to be different than their surrounding neighbors. It was an extraordinary privilege for the Jews to be God’s people and have received the very words of God.

o The glory/the temple service: The “glory” likely refers to the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness during the Exodus. Later, when the tabernacle and the Temple were built, the Levites were given the amazing privilege of temple service. Though anyone could come to worship in the Temple, only Levites (i.e., Jews) could serve the Lord there. No other nation ever received such a remarkable sign of God’s presence.

o The covenants/the promises: “The covenants” refer to the special agreements that God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants included the “promises” that God made to Israel regarding their place in His plan and His unconditional love for them despite their failures. No other nation has been so privileged.
Two other privileges are mentioned in 9:5. “The fathers” is a reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. No other nation has had such great leaders as Israel. “The Christ” was, of course, the greatest privilege ever granted to Israel. But this privilege is stated differently. The previous items are mentioned as possessions of Israel. The Messiah, on the other hand, is simply “from” Israel. Notice, however, that Paul not only identifies Christ as of the Jewish race, but also stresses His deity. Jesus is “God over all” and is “forever praised.” Because of His heavenly origin and mission, He cannot be claimed exclusively by any segment of the human race. He is the greatest gift known to humankind.

Despite the privileges God freely gave to Israel, the bulk of the nation continues to reject Jesus as their Messiah. Like Israel, many people in our lives have been blessed with great privileges. Yet, many still reject Christ. We must recognize that privileges such as information, opportunity, and blessing don’t guarantee salvation. However, privileges do guarantee accountability. Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48paraphrase). Those who have heard of Christ are responsible to believe. If you are reading this message you likely have exceptional privileges, yet you still must believe in Christ as your Savior. Today, is there anything keeping you from trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If not, I urge you to place your faith in Him alone right now. Don’t wait another minute. I’m not trying to scare you or manipulate you, but I must remind you that you are not guaranteed tomorrow. So settle the issue today once and for all. You will then come to realize that God’s promises and plans never fail.
[Not only is God is committed to His people, we will now see that . . .]
2. God Is Committed To His Sovereign Choice (9:6-13)
We have now come to the top of the roller coaster. We are about to take a hair-raising plunge that may leave you breathless. So, hang on and let’s see if we can survive the ride. First, let’s quickly define our terms. If you draw a line right in the middle of the word “sovereign,” it looks like this: “sov | reign.” Only royalty reigns and that word “sov | reign” means “reigns alone.” Only God has ultimate and absolute authority. This section begins, perhaps, the key passage in the Bible on the subject of predestination and election. Yet, these doctrines create a lot of spiritual heartburn and indigestion for many Christians, so I’m going to substitute a simple English word that means the same thing but doesn’t carry nearly so much baggage. It’s the word “choose” or “choice.” The result is the same—God chooses people before they choose Him.

Paul begins 9:6a with his thesis statement for the whole of Romans 9-11: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul begins his response to the question that was raised in 9:1-5: If Israel is God’s covenant people, to whom so many glorious privileges have been given (9:4-5), why are so few Israelites saved? Has God failed Israel? Paul responds with conviction and certainty, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” This is one of the greatest principles in the entire Bible. Things are not always as they appear to be. When it looks like God’s Word has failed us, we should repeat this verse with personal application. “Even though this situation has happened, it’s not as though God’s Word has failed me.” Always remember: God’s promises and plans never fail.

In 9:6b, Paul gives the reason “for” his thesis. He points out that God’s promises to the Jews have not failed, because God never promised to save every Jew. He puts it like this: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Paul denies that God ever intended to save all ethnic Israelites. His purpose has always been to save a remnant within Israel. Paul informs us that salvation isn’t a matter of physical descent. When he says, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” he means that being an Israelite does not automatically make one a child of God. Simply put: “Salvation is not a Jewish birthright.”

If we went downtown and observed a parade passing by with banners that read, “American Communists for the Downfall of America,” we might look at each other and say, “They’re not all Americans who are Americans.” What we would mean is that though these people may have been born in America, they are not committed to the principles upon which our government is based; they are outside of what America really stands for. Hence, whether we’re talking about Israel, America, or any other people, God is more about “grace, rather than race.”

In 9:7-13, Paul now uses two illustrations to support his thesis from 9:6. In the first illustration, Paul shows that salvation has never been based on heritage, lineage, or pedigree. In 9:7-9 he writes: “. . . nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.’” Abraham, the father of our faith, had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was a child of the flesh in the sense that he was the product of Sarah’s carnal effort to help God out. See, God had made a promise that Sarah would have a son. But it didn’t happen within Sarah’s allotted timetable, so she gave her handmaid to her husband and the handmaid bore a son. Thirteen years later Sarah herself had a son, a son of Promise, a supernatural son, and God said in 9:7, “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” God made the choice.

To demonstrate that there is a difference between ethnic and spiritual Israel, Paul reminds us that God sovereignly selected Isaac over Ishmael. Though Ishmael was also Abraham’s son, Isaac inherited the promise by grace. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, who was a “child of promise.” The ignoring of Ishmael and the calling of Isaac illustrates the fact that some have been called to salvation and others have been left as they are. The modern equivalent of this truth might be, “It is not the children of Christian parents who are Christians; it is those who have personally embraced Christ as Savior who are Christians.” God is free to choose however and however He likes—this is His prerogative. Whether I like how He operates or not, He’s God and I am not. I must allow God to be God.

You may be able to stomach this first illustration, for Isaac was the only legitimate son of Abraham and Sarah.” But Paul now provides a second illustration of God’s divine choosing that may make your stomach turn. In 9:10-13 Paul shows that salvation has never been based on personal character or works. The apostle writes: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’ Just as it is written, ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.’” Now here we have two twin sons, so both have the same mother and same father. Yet, God also made a choice between them, namely that “the older will serve the younger.” This choice was contrary to the culture of that day, which required that the older son be given priority. In fact, these verses seem contrary to our entire experience and western thought process so we must delve further into some specifics:

o God’s saving choice includes individuals (9:6-13.) Some try to argue that Paul is referring only to nations in these texts and not individuals. They support their view by showing that two of the Old Testament texts that Paul cites (Gen 25:23; Mal 1:1-5) have to do with the privileges and blessings of the line of Jacob over that of Esau. It is agreed that these two Old Testament texts do not immediately pertain to salvation. But the real question is: “How does Paul use these two Old Testament quotations to respond to the question that he raised?” His initial question in 9:6a was: Why are so few Jews saved? If Paul is referring to nations, then he is saying that the reason not all the nation of Israel is saved is that God has chosen the nation Israel. His answer is unintelligible! An appeal to the collective election of Israel (i.e., Jacob and his seed) doesn’t resolve the problem of unbelieving, lost Jews. In fact, it only fuels the question! We must also bear in mind that specific people are mentioned: Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. Clearly, the principle of divine election involved individuals before it involved nations (9:13).

Imagine that I was a multi-millionaire who was able to purchase a major league baseball team. However, I had to choose between my two favorite teams: the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. Even though I would be selecting a team, I would base my decision upon the individuals on the team. So, it truly is a matter of individual election, not corporate or national election. We should also note that the language Paul uses throughout this paragraph generally refers to the issue of eternal salvation. Hence, Paul’s use of these verses pertains to God’s sovereign election of individuals.

o God’s saving choice was predetermined before birth and before behavior (9:11, 13). Paul tells us that God differentiated between Jacob and Esau before they were born. Their destiny was predetermined. Moreover, He differentiated between them before they did anything good or evil. Hence, their behavior had nothing to do with God’s choice. Paul clearly denies the notion of God looking ahead to see faith. God’s choice was not contingent upon anything about them! God doesn’t wait to see who will believe, or choose us because He knows we will believe. As Augustine said, “God does not choose us because we believe, but in order that we may believe.” As for the seemingly problematic 9:13: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” Paul is using “hate” (miseo) as an idiom where the opposite is used to express a lesser degree. He’s simply saying that God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob. More precisely, Esau was “not chosen” as the object of God’s electing purpose. Now if this troubles you, please revaluate your thought process. We really ought to be appalled that God would love Jacob. Why in the world would God choose a scheming, conniving, lying cheat like Jacob to love? Moreover, we ought to ask: Why did God choose me and love me? Why did He send His Son to die for me while I was a sinner and His enemy (5:8)? There is only one correct answer: God was immeasurably gracious and chose me and loved me from eternity past. And, His grace is all in spite of me.

o God’s saving choice was based upon His own good pleasure (9:11). While denying that the basis of God’s predetermination is anything in people, Paul affirms what that basis is—His sovereign purpose and pleasure. In other words, the reason why God saves one and not the other is grounded in His own will. He does what He does for His own good pleasure! Now this may make you uncomfortable. We must be very careful that we aren’t deceived into thinking that God chose each one of us for salvation because of our personal attributes or works.

Perhaps you’ve always assumed that your salvation has been the result of your quest for God and your faith. I can assure you that before you were seeking to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside of you, God was drawing you to Himself. Before you exercised faith, God had chosen you and Jesus was praying for you to come to faith. It is important to acknowledge God’s ultimate role in salvation. You and I are not nearly as important as we think. Stick your finger in a glass of water. See the impression you leave. You’re not that important. God is the One who is important. In the end, this passage teaches us one very important truth: God is completely sovereign. This ought to lead us to worship our great God. God’s promises and plans never fail.
If you have had a challenging roller coaster experience, it might parallel our experience as we ride the roller coaster of Romans 9. When we don’t understand the depths of God’s truth, we ought to be able to cry out, “Jesus save me!” Save me from a small mind. Save me from putting you in a box. Save me from trying to completely understand that which can’t be understood. When we conclude our study, we ought to exclaim, “Thank you Jesus for saving me. I’m amazed that you did it. I don’t deserve it. But thank you.”


Come alive!

A radical change is expected and required when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. When no change becomes apparent, we begin to wonder if there has been a genuine conversion or if the one who was truly saved understands God’s Word concerning sanctification and discipleship.


Those who can identify with the agony of Paul in Romans 7 will rejoice with him in the ecstasy of Romans 8. Do you desire to serve God and to obey His commands and yet find it impossible to do so? If not, then you should go back to the beginning of Romans and start reading again. Either you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you fail to understand what God requires, or you do not see the futility and inadequacy of merely human effort. But if you have come to that point of despair of which Paul speaks, then you have come to the point of dependence upon God. Read on, my friend. There is more good news for you. The solution to your problem is now the topic under discussion in Romans 8.

Let us look to the Holy Spirit, of whom theses verses speak, to enlighten our minds concerning those things which we would never grasp apart from His divine illumination (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).


No Condemnation

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Paul’s condition, as described in the last half of Romans 7, was agonizing and frustrating. With his mind, he served God, but with his flesh he served the law of sin (7:25). Paul’s dilemma is two-fold. First, there is the matter of his sins, committed as a Christian. Second, there is the problem of righteousness. What can deliver him from his sins? What can enable him to be righteous? Verses 1-4 deal primarily with the first problem and briefly allude to the second, discussed more fully in verses 5-11.


Paul’s first problem was that of his sin and of the condemnation which sin brings upon sinners. The solution to the problem of sin Paul describes here may be summarized in this way: For all who are in Christ, by faith, there is no condemnation for sin, but rather the condemnation of sin in the flesh.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:1-4 is fundamental to the Christian life. The Christian need not be overcome by guilt or by fear, due to his sins. The cross of Jesus Christ is the solution from sin and its condemnation, for all who are justified by faith. The death which Christ died was for all of the sins of the one who receives His work, by faith. Pre-Christian sins and post-conversion sins are covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is no license to sin, as Paul shows in Romans 6, but it is the assurance that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ Christians have been delivered from divine condemnation. The forgiveness of sins Paul describes in Romans 3:21–4:25 applies to all the sins of the one who trusts in Christ.

There is no condemnation! What a wonderful truth to the ears of every believer. But there is more. The death of Christ has delivered us from condemnation. While our Lord’s death at Calvary delivered us from condemnation, it also delivered sin to condemnation. In Christ, God condemned sin. God condemned sin in the flesh. The flesh was sin’s stronghold. It was the “handle” which sin found by which to lay hold of us and to bring us under condemnation. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He came in the flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. And when He suffered the wrath of God and the penalty of death in the flesh, sin was condemned in the flesh. In that very realm of the flesh, in which it seemed sin could not be defeated, God overpowered sin, condemning it in the flesh. Because of Jesus Christ, we are not condemned. Because of Him, sin is condemned, and in the flesh. For the Christian, the shackles of sin are surely broken.


Paul’s first problem is that of sin and its consequences. The second problem is that of righteousness. The sin which Paul wished to avoid, he committed, in the flesh. The righteousness which Paul desired to practice, Paul avoided, due to his flesh. The problem was with his flesh. With his mind he could serve God, but in his flesh he could not produce the fruit of righteousness. If sin dominated him through his flesh, then something greater than him must empower him to live righteously in his fleshly body. The solution is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The problem was not with the Law and its requirement. The “Law is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The flesh is simply not able to achieve what the Law requires (for reasons Paul is about to spell out in 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit is able to empower us to do that which the Law required (8:4). The righteousness of God is accomplished, not by walking according to the flesh, but rather by walking according to the Spirit. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by the flesh, but it can be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. Paul is soon to explain how and why this is so.


The foundation for Christian living, living righteously, has been laid in verses 1-4. The Christian is not under condemnation because he is in Christ Jesus, who bore the penalty for all our sins. Sin is under condemnation, through the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness which the Law requires and which we find impossible to achieve, God achieves in and through the Christian, through the prompting of and power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has delivered us from the penalty and the power of sin.

Not by Means of the Flesh, but by His Spirit

The truth Paul gives in verse 4, which he explains in verses 5-11, is not new. Centuries earlier, the Lord told the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

God’s work is never accomplished by human effort but only by divine enablement. It has always been this way.

The righteousness which the Law requires cannot be realized by walking according to the flesh, but only by walking according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 are devoted to explaining and illustrating this truth, so that Christians will forsake seeking to please God by means of the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 give us two sides of one coin. Verses 5-8 explain why it is impossible to please God by means of the flesh. Verses 9-11 explain why it is possible to please God by means of His Spirit.


5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The futility of walking according to the flesh is spelled out in these verses. The conclusion to Paul’s argument, developed in verses 5-8, is stated in verse 8:


The basis for this conclusion is developed in verses 5-7. Here, Paul gives us three reasons why it is impossible for those in the flesh to please God. Let us consider each of these reasons.

First, those who are “according to the flesh” have their minds set on the flesh. They have a one-track mind. They are like an AM radio which can receive only signals on this band. FM signals are not received and cannot be. The spiritual dimension of life—that unseen realm which is only grasped by the enablement of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and which can only be believed by faith (Hebrews 11:1)—is only perceived by those who are in the realm of the Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are “according to the Spirit” have their minds tuned to the things of God and to His Spirit.175


If a Christian is walking “according to the flesh,” his mind will not be on spiritual things but only on earthly things. When Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His death on the cross, our Lord rebuked him for having his mind set on the flesh:

“Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33).

Jesus’ words here also make it evident that Peter’s fleshly mindset was a reflection of Satan’s views and values.

In verse 6 Paul gives the second reason why those who are in the flesh cannot please God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” It took me a long time to take the verb is seriously. Elsewhere Paul tells us that sin leads to death, and righteousness leads to life. Here Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is death. There is a significant difference between that which leads to death and that which is, in and of itself, death. God’s wrath is both present (Romans 1:18) and future (Romans 2:5). God’s salvation likewise has a past, present and a future dimension (Romans 5:1-11). So too death is both present and future. Death is much more than physical death. Death is separation from God. The fleshly mind is so alienated from God that those whose minds are set on the flesh are dead, alienated from God, limited only to the physical world and their distorted perception of it.


Third, those who are in the flesh are not merely ignorant of God and unaware of His existence; they are actively hostile toward God and toward His Law (verse 7). Fallen men hate God, they reject His authority, and they resist His Word:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).


Those who are unsaved are “in the flesh,” and as those in the flesh they serve Satan, in mind and body. They may not consciously serve Satan, but they do consciously seek to indulge their flesh, fulfilling its lusts. And in so doing, they reject God and rebel against Him.

No wonder it is impossible for anyone to please God by walking according to the flesh. The flesh cannot and will not comprehend the things of the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The flesh hates God and rebels against His authority and His Law. And even if unsaved men wished to do right, they could not do so.

Consider these illustrations. Serving God in the flesh is like trying to manufacture sophisticated silicon computer chips in a garbage dump, rather than in a “clean room.” Pleasing God in the flesh is as impossible as trying to train a wolf to be a sheep dog. Being righteous in the power of the flesh is like trying to teach a corpse to dance. It simply cannot be done.

Now we know why Paul was not able, in the flesh, to keep God’s Law, even though in his mind he agreed with it and desired to obey it. Now we know why those who would fulfill the requirement of the Law cannot do so by walking “according to the flesh.” Let us next turn to verses 9-11, where Paul explains why those who walk according to the Spirit can fulfill the requirement of the Law and so please God.



9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.

How different is Paul’s approach to the spiritual life from that of many today. Paul does not seek to motivate Christians by questioning their salvation or by suggesting that, by sin, they can lose it. He does not suggest that unspiritual living is the result of failing to possess the Spirit but bases his teaching on the certainty that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit. And he does not appeal to guilt or fear but to grace and assurance. Chapters 5 and 8 especially underscore this. Paul assumes that his readers are genuine Christians. If they have been justified by faith, then they have the Spirit dwelling within. If they do not possess the Spirit, then they cannot be saved. Christians, according to Paul, do not need to receive the Spirit, but to respond to the Spirit, in faith and obedience for assurance, guidance, empowerment, and a host of other ministries.


Paul, and every Christian, faces two problems as dealt with in our text: first, the problem of sin; second, the problem of righteousness. Our problem with sin is that we do it. Our problem with righteousness is that we do not, and cannot, do it. God solved the first problem by condemning sin in the flesh through the death of our Lord at Calvary. Now, in verses 9-11, Paul tells us how God has provided the solution for the second problem.


God’s Law reveals the standard of righteousness. The Law tells us what righteousness is like. The Christian agrees with the Law of God, that it is “holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our flesh. As Paul has shown in verses 5-8, the flesh cannot please God. God has provided the means for Christians to live in a way that enables them to fulfill the requirement of the Law and to please God. God’s provision—for Christians only—is the power of His Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.


The flesh is dead, because of sin. But the Spirit is alive, living within us, so that righteousness will result. The Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is the same Spirit who raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead (verse 11). Our problem, as Paul says in Romans 7:24, is “the body of this death.” Our bodies, which are dead due to sin, so far as doing that which is righteous, the Spirit will raise to life, as He raised the body of our Lord to life. And so the problem of righteousness has been solved. We cannot, by the flesh, please God and do that which is righteous. We can, by means of the Spirit, fulfill the requirement of the Law and please God.


And so the two problems (1) of sin and (2) of righteousness have been solved, by God, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for sin for all who are in Christ, by faith. Sin, on the other hand, has been condemned in the flesh. The righteousness which we could not do, because of the deadness of our fleshly bodies, God accomplishes through His Spirit, who raises dead bodies to life.

The Implications of Paul’s
Teaching in 
Romans 8:1-11

Romans 8:12-17 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

In verses 12-17 Paul applies the principles he has just taught in verses 1-11. The application to Paul’s teaching is given in verse 12. Verses 13-17 provide the support for the application.Verse 17 serves both as a conclusion to verses 12-17, as well as an introduction to Paul’s next topic, sonship, suffering, and glory, discussed in verses 18-30.

Paul gives his readers no specific commands. He lays down no rules. After all, the Law has set the standard. Those things which Paul will lay down as specific applications find their biblical basis in the Law (see Romans 13:8-10). Instead, he speaks of the Christian’s obligations. Paul’s words in verse 12 inform us that we have no obligation to serve the flesh and strongly imply that we do have an obligation to serve God in the Spirit. This reiterates what he has already taught in verse 4 and explained in verses 5-11: We shall fulfill the requirement of the Law when we walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

One thing has puzzled me as I have attempted to understand Paul’s words in verse 12: Why does he apply his teaching by speaking to his reader in terms of obligations? Why not duty? Why not obedience? Why obligations? I think I am beginning to understand what he means. We feel obligated to another only when we believe they have done something for us. “One good turn deserves another,” we say. When someone does us a favor, we feel obligated to them. When someone does us harm, we do not feel an obligation at all. Traveling overseas offers an illustration of this. When a car comes to an intersection and has to wait for a moment, a man may very well push through the crowd, get out his small array of equipment, and begin to wash your windshield. When he has finished, he hopes you will feel obligated enough to him to give him some money. We feel obligated when someone has rendered us a service.

Thus, Paul speaks of obligations. The fact is many Christians feel obligated to the flesh. This is why Paul must remind us that we have no obligation to the flesh. The flesh has done us no favors. It has acted independently of our minds, causing us to sin and to fear divine condemnation. The flesh is instrumental in our doing things of which we are now ashamed (see 6:21). We owe the flesh nothing.

Why then do we feel obligated? Why is it necessary for Paul to tell us we are not obligated to the flesh? The reason, as I understand it, is simple: even though it is not true, we feel that the flesh has performed some beneficial service for us. Let me suggest some ways Christians might come to this false conclusion.

There are those who tend toward the libertine extreme of error, supposing that God’s grace in Christ is a license to sin. They believe that once they have been justified by faith, they can continue to live as they formerly did—in sin—with no guilt or condemnation. If Christ paid the price for our sins, they reason, then why not sin all you can? The false assumption is that the pleasures of sin and the lusts of the flesh are really good. Thus, living in sin is good for the present, and the forgiveness of sins is our guarantee of heaven in the future. Those who foolishly think and behave in this way wrongly conclude that they owe the flesh something because it has been so good to them.

The legalist feels the same obligation to the flesh as does the libertine but for what seems to be the opposite reason. The legalist may sincerely believe he is avoiding sin and practicing righteousness, but he is doing so through the flesh and not through the Spirit. Legalism tries to fulfill God’s Law by means of human effort and not by walking in the Spirit. The scribes and Pharisees believed they were overcoming the flesh, but they only appeared to do so and this by means of the flesh. It is the outward appearance which the legalist judges and not the heart (see Luke 16:15). The outward appearance of righteousness may very well be the result of serving God in the flesh. I am reminded of a song I once heard: “Workin’ like the devil, servin’ the Lord.”


We do not owe the flesh anything. The flesh accomplishes nothing which is righteous. The flesh is subject to sin and to death. Whether the flesh produces self-indulgence or self-righteousness, it cannot please God. We owe it nothing. In fact, it is so hostile to the Spirit that we are obligated to put to death the deeds of the flesh. All too many Christians, including myself, are far too busy catering to the flesh rather than crucifying it.

Having summarized our obligations, both negatively and positively in verse 12, Paul goes on to support his exhortation with two arguments. The first argument is not new, but simply a summarization of what he has already said. The second argument is new to this chapter. The first argument has to do with the consequences of living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit (verse 13). The second introduces the doctrine of the Christian’s sonship (verses 14-17).

Verse 13 gives the first reason why we are obligated to the Spirit but not to the flesh. It all comes down to the consequences of following the one or the other. If you are living according to the flesh, you must die. “The mind set on the flesh is death” (8:6). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). When one chooses the path of the flesh, it is a one-way street, and its destination is death. To follow the flesh leads to death as certainly as Interstate 35 North leads to Oklahoma City and beyond. I cannot go south to Houston and be on Interstate 35 North. I cannot reach righteousness and life by living according to the flesh. This is a certainty, as evident in the word “must.” “… if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (verse 13).

Just as certainly, living by the Spirit leads to life. Paul says this in such a way that it presents us with a paradox:

If we seek to live according to the flesh, we will surely die.


If we, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live.

Paul’s point here agrees with the teaching of our Lord: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).


Paul’s words in verse 13 indicate that the Christian is to be far from passive in living out his life in the Spirit. We are not to be striving to be righteous in the strength of our flesh, but we are to be putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul’s words indicate not only a strong distinction between the flesh and the Spirit but an intense animosity. This is stated emphatically in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:16-17).


There is no peaceful co-existence with the flesh. We will either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will wage war against the deeds of the flesh which seek to dominate and destroy us. We must take this struggle seriously. We must choose sides. We dare not choose the flesh. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit. Therein is righteousness, life and peace.

There is yet another reason for our obligation to the Spirit—our sonship as those who have been justified by faith. This sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verses 14-16, the present dimension of our sonship is predominant. In verses 17ff., the future dimension of our sonship is in view.

In verse 11 Paul argued that those who are saved have the Holy Spirit living within them. Now in verse 14, Paul argues that all who are being led183 by the Spirit are God’s sons. Walking in the Spirit not only means walking in the power which the Spirit provides but walking in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit. As Paul has said elsewhere, “… it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). From our text in Romans, we know that the Holy Spirit is God’s instrument through which this work is accomplished.


Before going further, we must pause to be certain that we understand the meaning of the expression, “son of God.” What does Paul mean when he speaks of being a “son of God”? Let us consider this expression from the context of the Bible as a whole and then go on to see how Paul is using sonship in the context of Romans 8.


Luke’s genealogy of our Lord begins with Joseph,185 and it ends with Adam. The final words of the genealogy read: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Adam was “the son of God” we are told. He was the son of God in that He was the creation of God. God was, so to speak, Adam’s Father. Adam was created in the image of God and as such was commissioned to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28). By his sin, Adam rebelled against the authority of God. He could never rule over God’s creation as a reflection of His image. There would have to be another “son of God.”


Adam and Eve lost the right to rule, but they were given the promise of deliverance through a son (Genesis 3:15). With the passage of time, it became evident that God was raising up another son—the nation Israel. At the exodus, this “son” was begotten:

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.”’” (Exodus 4:22-23).

This nation, this “son,” was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Speaking of Israel’s exodus, the prophet Hosea wrote: “Out of Egypt I have called My son” (Hosea 11:1).

Paul recognized this “sonship” of Israel, and so he wrote: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons …” (Romans 9:3-4a).

The Jews had a strong sense of their sonship, but in a distorted way:

“You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God” (John 8:41).

Like Adam, the nation Israel failed to rule as God had commanded. They rebelled against God, over and over. And so God removed their right to rule. Though they claimed to be sons, they did not act like sons. There would have to be some other “son of God.”


God gave Israel a king as they requested. He gave them Saul (see 1 Samuel 8). After Saul was removed and replaced by David, the man after God’s heart, God made a covenant with David known as the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant God promised David,

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16.)

The words of verse 14, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me,” are very significant. The relationship between God and His appointed king was described as a father/son relationship. When the descendant of David was coronated, it was with the words, “Thou art My son” (see Psalm 2:7).

A king from the line of David was to be the “son of God” through whom God’s rule was to be established over the whole creation. This “son” was not to be David nor would it be Solomon. Both David and Solomon sinned, as did all of their sons who reigned on the throne of David. If there was to be a “son of God,” it would be a very special “son of God” indeed. As the Old Testament revelation continued to unfold, it became evident that this “king” who was to be God’s “son” would be a very special person. He was described as being both divine (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5) and human (“son of man,” see Daniel 7:13-14 and also Psalm 2:7-9). Whoever this “son of God” was to be, he would be a very special and unique person. And so He was.


Adam failed as a “son of God,” as did Israel and all the kings from David on. All hopes for God’s rule on the earth focused upon the coming Messiah, the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; see also Galatians 3:16), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Psalm 2:7). The “Son of God” was not to be Israel, as a nation, but Jesus of Nazareth. And so, when Jesus was brought from Egypt to Israel by His parents, Matthew cited this text from Hosea as being fulfilled by the return of our Lord from Egypt: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15, citing Hosea 11:1).

Jesus was the “Son” for whom every true believer had been waiting. It is little wonder that at His baptism the Father would speak these words: “This is My beloved Son …” (Matthew 3:17).

It is also little wonder that the temptation of our Lord resembled the testing of Israel in the wilderness or that our Lord’s responses to Satan’s solicitations should come from the Book of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Satan’s great effort in the temptation of our Lord was to divert Him from His role as the Son of God.

When Peter made his great confession, it was the confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Son of God: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

At His transfiguration, God the Father again identified Jesus as His beloved Son (Matthew 17:5). The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was unique in His identity and role as the “Son of God” through whom salvation would be accomplished and who would subdue the earth and rule over all creation.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM, AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.” And of the angels He says, “WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE.” But of the Son He says, “THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. THOU HAST LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, THY GOD, HATH ANOINTED THEE WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE THY COMPANIONS” (Hebrews 1:1-9).


Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” through whom all of God’s promised blessings are fulfilled. All who are justified by faith are joined with Him in an inseparable union (see Romans 6:3-11). By faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah, men may become sons of God:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

John answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Sonship, therefore comes to all of those who have a new birth, through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is to this sonship that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian, bears testimony:

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16).

We are God’s children, sons of God, by faith in the Son of God.


Our sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verse 17, this future dimension is introduced and is the subject of Paul’s teaching in verses 18-30. While we enter into sonship by birth—the new birth—our entrance into the future blessings of sonship comes by adoption.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:19, 23).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the “Son of God,” but His return to the earth to subdue His enemies and to rule over all creation is yet future. Our part as sons of God is future as well. Paul speaks of this future hope in Romans 8:18-25. As Paul explains in Galatians 4:1-7, there is a time when a son is kept under guardians and managers until the time comes for him to be put in authority. This process Paul refers to as adoption. When Christ returns to the earth to rule over it, we will receive our full adoption as sons and rule with Him. It is for this future dimension of sonship that we wait in hope. Our present sonship is a marvelous blessing and privilege, but there is much more to come. The blessings of our future sonship show our present sufferings in identification with Christ to be a small thing in the light of the glory yet to come.


With this survey of what it means to be a son of God, we return to our exposition of the text. Paul begins in verse 12 to make application of his teaching by speaking to the Christian concerning his obligations. The Christian is not obligated to the flesh, but he is obligated to the Spirit. In verse 13, Paul gives the first reason for our obligation to the Spirit but not the flesh: living according to the flesh leads to death; living according to the Spirit leads to death for the deeds of the flesh, but life for us.

Verses 14-17 continue the contrast between these two ways of walking. How different they are. Walking according to the Spirit is described in verse 14 in terms of being led by the Spirit. How different this is from the way of walking in the flesh. Walking according to the flesh is slavery, and its motivation is fear (verse 15). Walking according to the Spirit is not serving a slave master but obeying our Father as He leads us by His Spirit. It is not a matter of slavery but of obedience, rooted in a deep sense of love, gratitude, and thus, obligation.

How different are these two ways of walking. When we walk according to the flesh, we serve as slaves motivated by fear. We are overpowered and overrun by it. When we walk according to the Spirit, we are led. We serve our Father out of a deep sense of obligation, not fear. We owe the flesh nothing. We owe our Father everything.

As we leave Paul’s words of application in verses 12-17, let me point out that the very spirit in which Paul applies his teaching is consistent with his teaching. The Christian’s walk according to the Spirit is a walk of obedience, based upon our obligation to God, based upon His goodness and grace to us. There are no harsh words, no dictatorial commands. Paul is not a sergeant here addressing new recruits but a brother reminding us of the goodness of our Father. God’s Spirit is a gift from the Father to every Christian. He reminds us that we are sons. He leads us and empowers us so that we may act like sons to the glory of the Father.

Sonship is a glorious position with great privileges. Sonship does not come without suffering however. If we are to identify with our Lord in His future manifestation as the Son of God, we must now identify with Him in His rejection and suffering. It is this dimension of sonship to which Paul turns in verse 17. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our struggles Paul will explain in verses 18-27, matters which we will consider in our next lesson.


I must ask you: Are you a son of God? Have you become His child by faith in the Son of God? If not, why not become His son now? All you must do is acknowledge your sin, your desperate need for the forgiveness of your sins and your need for the righteousness which God requires for eternal life. That forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment of God. That righteousness is found in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness God will impute to you on the basis of faith alone, apart from any works you might do, apart from any merit of your own. To receive God’s gift of salvation in His Son is to become a son of God.

If you are a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ, this passage is foundational to your Christian life. Let me conclude by summarizing some of the major truths Paul teaches in this text and suggest some ways these truths apply to us as Christians.

(1) The Christian life is possible because our sins have been forgiven, our guilt has been removed, and God’s Spirit has been given. What was impossible for us to do as unbelievers, and even impossible for us as Christians in our own strength, is possible through the enablement of the Holy Spirit of God.

(2) The Christian life is impossible in the power of the flesh; it is possible only in the strength of the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever can only live according to the flesh by which he is enslaved. The Christian has a choice. The Christian can live in the realm of the flesh or in the realm of the Spirit. He will live in one of these two worlds. He will walk in accordance with one of these two ways—the way of the flesh or the way of the Spirit.

(3) From the Christian point of view, there is no good reason to walk according to the flesh and every reason to walk according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The one who walks according to the flesh must die. To walk in the Spirit is life and leads to life. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured that God is your Father, and the Spirit is your guide and your strength. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured of your present sonship and an even greater sonship in the future. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit, but there is no obligation to walk according to the flesh.

(4) There is no middle ground between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. We are either walking according to the Spirit, or we are walking according to the flesh. Many Christians seem to think there is some neutral ground. Jesus said it long ago: there are but two masters; we will either serve the one or the other (Matthew 6:24). We will love one and hate the other. We will live to the one and seek to put to death the other.

(5) The flesh and the Spirit share nothing in common. They are incompatible. Indeed, they are mortal enemies (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17). Why is it then that one of the key words in the Christian world today is integration? For example, many are trying to integrate psychology and theology. Why? Is there something necessary to living righteously which God has omitted either in His Word or in His provisions for us? Peter does not think so (2 Peter 1:3-4). Neither does Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17).


(6) The distinction between the Spirit and the flesh is fundamental and foundational in the Scriptures because it provides us with a biblical basis for separation. All too often we make distinctions but the wrong ones! For example, we distinguish between that which is “secular” and that which is “spiritual.” Herein lies the false assumption that those in “full-time ministry” are working at that which is spiritual while those with “merely secular” jobs are involved in that which is not spiritual. Falsely we assume that certain activities (like prayer, worship, and Bible study) are spiritual, but others (like washing dishes, changing diapers or the oil in the car) are not.


Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 says this is wrong. Consider this principle: IT IS NOT WHAT WE DO THAT MAKES SOMETHING SPIRITUAL OR FLESHLY, BUT HOW AND WHY WE DO IT.

Whether we work at preaching, painting houses, or washing dishes the issue is whether we are doing it by means of God’s Spirit or by means of the flesh.

Some of the activities which appear most spiritual are those which can be, and often are, done in the flesh. For example, prayer can be accomplished in the flesh, or in the Spirit:

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).

Follow the Ruler, not the rules

Many years ago a very tragic boating accident resulted in the loss of two lives. A family enjoying a day at the lake made a sudden turn in their boat and the daughter fell overboard. Quickly turning the boat around, the father jumped into the water to save his daughter. The father could swim, but for some unexplained reason he immediately drowned, leaving the little girl thrashing about in the water. No one on board knew how to operate the boat, and it continued to drift away as the girl struggled.

Nearby a man was fishing in a small rowboat. Seeing the accident he began to row to the scene to help in any way he could. Paralyzed from the waist down, the man’s ability to help was limited. Approaching the struggling girl, he held out an oar for her to grasp, but he could do no more because of his condition. Unable to hold on to the oar, the girl slipped beneath the surface of the water while the man watched helplessly.


Humankind is just like the drowning girl. We are overcome by sin and unable to save ourselves. The Old Testament Law, and any other system of rules, is very much like the paralyzed man attempting to rescue the girl. His intention is sincere and commendable, but he lacks the power to save her. Likewise, the Law cannot save the sinner. Neither can the Law release the Christian from his or her bondage to sin. As a matter of fact, it is the Law, which somehow sustains our bondage to sin. The solution to the problem of sin, therefore, is to be released from the Law and thus, from sin. Paul describes this release in Romans 7:1-6. He does so by explaining two great truths: (1) We have been released from the Law, and (2) we have been joined to Christ. Verse 1 serves as a principle for all that Paul will say. He then illustrates his principle in 7:2-3, and finally concludes with an application in 7:4-6. The main point of this passage is that we can try to live by rules, or we can live by a relationship. We could put it this way: Focus on the Ruler not the rules. Paul’s first great truth is . . .


  1. We Have Been Released From The Law (7:1-3)

The reason that we’re free is because we have died to the Law. In every church there are believers who are prone to abuse grace and others who are more likely to advocate legalism. In chapter 6 Paul deals with grace abusers; in chapter 7 he deals with legalists. At various times in our lives, we are guilty of both. Therefore, Paul’s words are immensely practical for us. Paul begins with a foundational principle in 7:1: “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” The question, “Or do you not know” refers back to 6:3, which is the only other place this phrase is used in the New Testament. Here, Paul asks, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”


Paul assumes that his biblically astute Jewish and Gentile readers (“brethren”) understand that they are no longer under the Law because they have died with Christ. This is especially evident in the word translated “jurisdiction” (kurieuo), which is a form of the word “lord” or “master.” Paul is saying that the Law only has mastery over us while we are alive. But since we have died with Christ to the Law, we are free indeed! As Paul says in 6:14b: we are “not under law but under grace.” We are freed from the Law by our death in Christ. One relationship is terminated, so that another may begin. The Law of Moses, or any other law, only applies to us while we are alive. Dead people are released from the Law.

Imagine someone commits a crime and the legal authorities want him for prosecution and possible imprisonment, but then the police discover that the person has died. At that point they drop all concern about trying the criminal with any charges. The police no longer bother with him because the law only has authority over him while he is alive. Again, Paul’s principle is: The Law only has authority over a person while he is alive.


In 7:2-3 Paul now illustrates the principle that we have been released from the Law. “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.” Just for your information, this illustration does not really help us in the controversial issue of divorce and remarriage. The only point that Paul is making is: Marriage is for life. Any other commitment is not Christian marriage. Too many people—including some Christians—go into marriage thinking that if it does not work out, they can always get a divorce. That “back door” mentality often leads to the break-up of the marriage. The only way to stay married is for both parties to believe that “divorce is not an option.” So if you’ve been using “the D-word: (i.e., divorce), stop it! The only D-word you should be using is death, as in “til’ death do us part.”


Okay, I’m off of my soapbox. This purpose of Paul’s illustration is to help us understand our relationship to the Law, not our relationship with our spouse. Paul indicates that a wife is bound to her husband as long as he is alive. If she chooses to marry another man while her husband is alive she commits adultery (see the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14). However, if her husband dies, she is free to remarry. The wife is not guilty of breaking the seventh commandment because death has severed her legal relationship with her husband. A death puts the wife into an entirely different status. The Law that was restricting her is entirely irrelevant. She is free to enter into another relationship without being troubled by the Law which once bound her.


Similarly, we died to the law in Christ. We are now “married” to Christ. This leaves the Christian free to pursue an entirely different kind of relationship. So I must ask you: “What is keeping you bound? Why are you staying in a legalistic relationship when Christ has set you free?” Mixing law and grace will never work. God has released you to experience and enjoy spiritual freedom. This is your emancipation declaration—your spiritual Independence Day. Focus on the Ruler not the rules.

[The first great truth we learned was, “We have been released from the Law.” Now in 7:4-6, he provides a direct application and a second great truth . . .]

  1. We Have Been Joined To Christ (7:4-6)

When we died to the Law, we were made alive to live for Christ. In 7:4 Paul writes, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Paul uses the word “therefore” (hoste) to introduce the application of his theological argument and to conclude this section with a bang! He argues that we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.” The passive verb translated “were made to die” (ethanatothete) shows that God made us to die to the Law. In Christ’s death we died! We died to the Law! The Law can never die, but we died! It is worth noting that we had to be “made to die to the Law” because our independent, performance-oriented way of life had to be broken.


Prior to conversion, men and women attempt to earn their way to heaven through the Law and other works of righteousness. Yet, this verse makes it clear that “through the body of Christ” we have died to the Law. We must, therefore, place our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and relinquish any confidence in our flesh. This is true of our salvation and our sanctification. Remember, Paul is no longer discussing salvation, as he was in 3:21-4:25. In 5:1 he began a new section on sanctification. The context then makes it clear that we are no longer under Law as believers. To put it even more radically, the key to the Christian life is not obedience to God’s standards! In true spirituality, obedience to God’s standards is the byproduct and inevitable result of something that is centrally more important. God wants to release us from a life of rules, rituals, and regulations. Focus on the Ruler not the rules.


Paul states that we were made to die to the Law for two very specific purposes: a person and a purpose. The first purpose of our death follows the clause “so that” (eis). We have died to the Law so that we “might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead” (7:4b).Paul’s point here is that our old husband (i.e., the Law) just made us behave worse! To bear a better fruit we had to marry a better husband (i.e., Christ). Paul uses the word translated “joined” (ginomai) to refer back to his analogy of marriage (7:2-3). The good news of the gospel is that we are now married to another. We have been “joined” with Christ. Paul is motivating us to experience a deepening relationship with our new husband, Jesus Christ. Jesus longs to be intimate with us.


Have you ever thought about that? Did you know that Jesus desperately desires a deep relationship with you? This is a mind-boggling realization. The God of the universe wants fellowship with you and me more than we could or would ever want fellowship with Him (even on our best spiritual day).


Not only have we been released from the Law to a Person but Paul also shares with us that we have been released for a specific purpose. Notice that we have died to the Law “in order that [hina] we might bear fruit for God” (7:4b). Paul expects us to “bear fruit for God.” Please notice, Paul doesn’t say “manufacture fruit” or “produce fruit”—he says “bear fruit.” He explicitly states that we are to “bear fruit for God.” This means our first aim is to please Him and glorify Him. The phrase “bear fruit” (karpophoreo) is used elsewhere by Paul in a positive sense only in Colossians 1:6, 10 (cf. Romans 7:5b). In this Pauline prayer to the church at Colossae, Paul challenges his readers to a life of good works. Are you flowing in good works? Are you seeking to serve? Are you striving to love those that the Lord brings to you on a daily basis? Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). When people observe your life they ought to say, “What shiny and delicious fruit! I’ve got to pluck a piece of that fruit and bite into it!”


Elsewhere the word for “fruit” (karpos) includes worship (Hebrews 13:15), giving money (Romans 15:28), and godly character (Galatians 5:22-23). As we contemplate how the Bible uses the term “fruit,” may I ask you several questions? Is your love for worshipping Jesus deepening? Do you look forward to attending church and being with God’s people, or would you rather be out of town, shopping, or watching sports? Do you offer God the fruit of your lips as you worship with His people (Hebrews 13:15)? What about giving? Rom 15 calls giving “fruit.” Giving is one of the greatest expressions of our worship. Jesus talked more about money than anything else. He devoted twice as many verses to money than to faith and prayer combined. He even had more to say about money than heaven and hell combined. Jesus spent a whopping 15% speaking about money.


If you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, are you growing in this area of stewardship? What about the most obvious expression of fruit bearing—the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Are you looking more and more like Jesus on a daily basis? If not, why not? As we will discover in Romans 8, God has predestined you to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” How are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Why not choose a particular fruit from the list of nine and cultivate this character quality? God wants us to bear fruit for His glory!

In 7:5 Paul contrasts our fruitful experience as believers with our unfruitful experience as unbelievers. He commonly reminds us that who we once were is no longer who we are. Paul writes, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” In our old life, the Law was the means of arousing our sinful passions, and the members of our body were used to “bear fruit for death.” Consequently, we certainly bore fruit, but it was deadly fruit that led to a harvest of death! Well-meaning Christians often divulge how they formerly lived wicked and immoral lives, and one almost gets the impression that they feel they are missing out now. We must emphasize the death dealing consequences of our sin and avoid glorying in our past life apart from Christ.


Paul concludes this text in 7:6 by summarizing 7:1-5: “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” Thank God for 7:6! It means that 7:5 is not the end of the story. When we are utterly hopeless and helpless, God has a wonderful habit of butting in! Paul says, “But now.” Through Christ we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held us captive.


Exercising faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is not a small matter. It is a gigantic leap from sin, death, and despair to life, newness, and power. When a person believes in Jesus Christ, he or she is taken out of this realm of sin, judgment, and Law, and is given the Holy Spirit. It is an entirely new realm, a realm “in Christ” and under grace. Where sin once abounded, now grace abounds all the more (cf. 5:20). We must grasp this fact. We have died to the Law; we are in the Spirit forever.


Let us make sure that we understand why and how we have been “released from the Law.”

(1) The why: We have been “released from the Law” as a result of Christ’s sinless life. Jesus “fulfilled the law” (Matt 5:17-18). He came “under the Law” (Gal 4:4). He kept the Mosaic Law in minute detail. He obeyed the Sabbath (but not additions to it). He kept its ritual, attended its festivals, and offered its sacrifices. He refused to criticize it when invited to. When He changed it (and He did) it was to move in the direction of a deeper and higher spirituality (Matt 5:21-48). Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly! He is the epitome of all that the Law was intended by God to be.

(2) The how: Since Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, we are released from the Law the very moment we trust in Him. It is a matter of substitution. Instead of striving and straining to keep the Law perfectly, we choose to trust in the One who did keep it perfectly.


So how do we “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter”? Paul makes it clear that the Law has been abrogated because it is too low a level for Christian spirituality. We should definitely read the Law, but when we read it, we must not say to ourselves, “How can I obey this?” Instead, we should talk to Jesus and say, “Lord, how do you want me to go beyond all this that I am reading about in the Law of Moses?” Jesus will answer and lead you through His Spirit (see 8:1-17). If we fall in love with Jesus and walk in the Spirit deliberately, we will fulfill the Law accidentally. We do not need to be “under” the letter; we can serve in the Spirit. Godliness comes indirectly by faith, by Jesus, by the Spirit. The Law cannot produce the righteousness we want; only a direct relationship with Jesus can. It is not that duty and obedience are not important. They are! It is just a matter of one’s focus and motivation.


What is the cure for seasickness?  “Don’t close your eyes; just look at the horizon.” As I began to look at the horizon and watch the setting sun, the sickness began to leave me and I was able to return to fishing.

What is your gaze fixed upon? My prayer is that it is fixed upon Jesus Christ alone. When we open our eyes to who Jesus is, we will experience true freedom and exhilaration. In the process, Jesus will also enable and empower us to live a victorious Christian life. Will you fall in love with Jesus and let Him live His life in and through you? Focus on the Ruler not the rules.



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.

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?