The Abused Blessings of a Corrupt Church

Lesson 33: Romans 9:3-4

The Abused Blessings of a Corrupt Church

by Bob Burridge ©2011

In chapters 9 through 11 in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the true nature of the church. This section of Romans presents a very different view of the church than the popular one both then and now.

When Paul became a Christian, he left behind the confusion of God’s word he had come to accept as a Pharisee. Some of his former Rabbi friends thought he had turned against God’s ancient church, but that was far from the truth. It was his love for the true church that troubled him so much. He called them back to what God had originally revealed about the coming Messiah.

He grieved deeply over their abandonment of the truth. The first 3 verses of Roman 9 say, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

Paul cared deeply for the family of God, and for the reputation of his Heavenly Father. He was calling Israel back to the terms and promises of the ancient Covenant.

Israel had been entrusted with great privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant for the time of the coming of Messiah. By the time Messiah actually came, she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her.

Paul got very specific about the advantages God had entrusted to his ancient church in the next two verses.

Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

1. The first thing he mentions that God had
entrusted to them was their adoption as sons.

The Israelites were adopted as the special people of God and pronounced to be his children. For example, God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ ” (Exodus 4:22)

They were chosen as God’s family, by grace, above all the other nations. In Deuteronomy 14:2 it says, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

This did not mean that each Israelite was redeemed to new life and forgiven for his sins. The Covenant of God with the nation was external as a way of revealing his Sovereign glory. By circumcision each person identified himself with Jehovah and in a special way represented God in this world.

Some took on that covenant sign as if it meant far more. They assumed that simply by being a member of the ancient form of the church God would be bound to bless them, save them by their profession of his name only. However, they changed what God said, and by complex rules justified ways that offended God. They were rebellious children. As his family outwardly, they were specially held accountable.

This is one of the key ideas in understanding the whole Bible. It is central to understanding this next section of the book of Romans.

God establishes an outward church representing his blessings of grace. This outward organization of professing believers and their families is called the Visible Church. It is what we can see of God gathering a people to himself. It is the outward form God set up.

There is also an Invisible Church. This is made up only of those truly redeemed by Christ. These are those he saves from sin by the death of Jesus in their place. Since only God knows for sure who these are, and we cannot judge this without error, to us the boundaries of that membership must remain un-seeable, invisible. God gathers these saved ones into his visible church to live as a spiritual family, and there to represent him in the world.

All who are truly redeemed are commanded to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the church. There is no biblical justification for believers refusing to be a part of the visible church. There is no biblical justification for thinking that all members of the visible church are redeemed.

The New Testament church continues that covenant body of believers. There is a new sign commanded to mark them out in the name of the Triune God. The sign of purification in the Old Testament has been fulfilled as it took the form of what we call “Baptism”. All who are baptized are marked outwardly as the children of God. God seals them as participants in his covenant. This does not mean that all who are baptized into the church are redeemed individuals. We must avoid confidence in the mere outward form of Baptism.

All Israelites were called to be part of God’s covenant nation, but not all Israel is true Israel (Romans 9:6). The members of the covenant are both those who receive its blessings, and those who receive its curses. A church is only honoring to God if it church honors God’s word and ways. The majority of Israel had abandoned its true spiritual family obligations in Paul’s day. There are those churches today which are a false family too.

Being called outwardly the sons of God is a wonderful privilege. However, we need to be legitimately adopted children of God, born again spiritually so that our profession is not just outward, but comes from a converted heart. We show evidence of this transformation by caring for the rest of the family, and respecting the truths our Father has entrusted to us.

2. God had given glory to Israel.

Jehovah had shown his glorious presence in the midst of his chosen people. He appeared on Mt. Sinai, showed himself as their protector in the fire and the cloud, and revealed his glory which filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2).

The glory of Israel was the glory of God which was shown among them. His presence distinguished them from all other nations. Deuteronomy 4:33-36 says, “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.”

Sadly, they turned his glory into something abstract and magical. They took comfort in the outward appearances, but ignored the spiritual realities they represented.

God’s glorious presence among us in the church today is shown in a different way. It is no longer shown in voices from heaven, pillars of fire, and clouds. It is shown in three basic ways. God is seen among us in the pure preaching of the Bible which is his holy word. He is seen in the elements of the Sacraments when rightly administered. And he is seen in the lives of his redeemed people as taught, led and comforted by the faithful shepherding of church leaders ordained to represent Christ’s headship.

The corrupted forms of the church today abuse these advantages. The Bible is used by some only as a source book for arguments, or as a book of inspirational stories and quotes. The sacraments are either reduced to mere symbols, or elevated to magical ceremonies. The church authority structure is modified to fit various political theories and business models. The glory of God’s presence is therefore obscured and turned into a mockery.

Being privileged to bear these signs of God’s glory among us, we need to make sure we preserve them faithfully to the honor of our Heavenly Father.

3. God made the Covenants with Israel.

The word “covenant” in the Old Testament is the ancient word berit (ברית). It means a solemn set of promises imposed by a Sovereign Lord upon the threat of death. There was always a symbolic shedding of blood when a covenant was ratified. It symbolized the just punishment deserved by covenant breakers.

God’s covenant to redeem some from the fallen human race was special. He would come as Messiah to suffer the punishment in place of his people. This is called the Covenant of Grace. There is only one such covenant in Scripture. God made it known in stages, each time revealing more about his plan, each time ratifying it with those he chose to bring it to his people: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, then finally Jesus Christ and his Apostles. In each case it was the same Covenant of Grace, but an ever-clearer picture of Redemption.

Nothing more clearly marked out Israel as special to Jehovah than that in her era she was the special object of God’s gracious covenant promises. The Christian Church is the present form of that same covenant. We live in the predicted age of the Messiah’s Kingdom as promised and described by God through his prophets.

Israel had confused the meaning of God’s Covenant. She assumed that the outward advantages of living under God’s protection as a nation were all the covenant was about. However, the outward form was to illustrate what God does for individuals by grace. Being in the visible covenant nation of Israel no more removed a person’s guilt before God, than does being a member in the visible Christian Church today.

Those today who bear the covenant sign of Baptism, and who come under the care of the shepherds in a local church, and yet do not come to trust in Christ alone as their Savior and Living Lord, bring disgrace upon Jehovah and his covenant. They bring further condemnation down upon themselves.

As Covenant Children of God we need to restore the ancient promises and duties. We should trust in the amazing Grace that is ours by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

4. God had entrusted Israel with his written law.

The term used here is not just a reference to law in the narrow sense of rules and punishments. It encompasses all that God has revealed to us as a standard by which everything we believe and do is to be tested. These principles are not just to be looked upon as mere literature. Anyone from any nation could get a copy of the written word of God.

This verse has to do with God’s act of giving a revelation which was unique to Israel. God gave his word to his people through the prophets, and by his own hand on Sinai. Though they were the nation God trusted to guard his word, they had added their own ideas and corrupted its teachings.

The church today is also entrusted with the Bible as God’s revealed truth. Bibles are more available today than at any other time in history. They are sold in astounding numbers, and are electronically available free for home computers, smart phones, and tablets.

The church as a whole has not guarded God’s word as he has commanded. Some new translations change the text to fit man’s own ideas of what he thinks it ought to say. One current trend is to take out the male language about God so that he might be our Mother God as well as our Father. This misses the whole point of why male language is used, or why maleness even exists. They re-word the commandments to permit homosexuality, promiscuity, and divorce.

In many churches the preaching of the word is neglected. Instead of a systematic teaching from the Scriptures there are only brief homilies on morals, self-esteem, personal psychology, or social problems. At the other extreme the only message some hear preached week after week is how to be born again and do evangelism.

God has given his people a written word to love and obey. We need to learn and re-affirm the full range of teachings given to us in God’s word.

5. The services were entrusted to Israel.

The word translated here as “services” is latreia (λατρεια). It means the forms of worship God commands. By his word, God has always regulated how his is to be worshiped. Israel had desecrated the forms and attitudes God called for in gathered times of worship as a congregation. The Lord did not just prescribe what was to be done outwardly in the Temple. He made it clear in his word that only certain practices and motives please him when his people gather for worship at the call of the Elders.

The Jews had misrepresented the Sacrifice as a means of removing sin without a Savior. The creeds of Israel’s faith were no longer the biblical teachings, but the doctrines of Rabbis. The tithes and offerings were supplemented with other means of getting money for the ancient church. Their prayers had become proud declarations, instead of humble confessions of gratitude. Israel had so confused worship, that the temple itself would be destroyed in God’s judgment. The final destruction of this desecrated structure took place by the Roman armies in 70 AD during the ministry of the chosen Apostles.

Today the corrupted form of the visible church has turned worship into a time of entertainment, morality lectures, and mystical sights, sounds, and experiences. The goal is to get more people to come, instead of to give God glory in the ways he asks. Instead of the mandated reading of God’s word, prayer, psalms, creeds, sacraments, collections, benedictions, calls to worship, the leadership of Elders, and an atmosphere of holy respect, their worship includes new inventions added to the elements given in God’s word. Some of the new elements are outrageous. They have been known to bring in mimes, magicians, clowns, dance troupes, skits, film-clips, and pyrotechnics. Some do not even know that the Bible has a lot to say about the elements of worship. The current ignorance of God’s word is no excuse.

As those who are given the form God calls for in worship, our duty is to maintain the services God has given. Otherwise we will be like the popular, but unfaithful nation of ancient Israel.

6. God gave the promises to Israel.

There were many promises specially made by God to the Jews, particularly the ones about the coming Messiah.
The word “Christ” is our Western form of the Greek word Christos (χριστος) which means “anointed”. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is Mashiakh (משיח). In the time just before Paul, they had killed this Anointed One who was the greatest promise of all. In spite of the promises, they rebelled again and again to the disgrace of the God who blessed them.

Similarly, many in the church today redefine the promises made to them. They replace them with things they wish were true, things borrowed from paganism, humanism, and from a terribly uninformed reading of the Bible. Instead of God’s word about forgiveness of sin, inner peace, and the future hope of glory, people flock to hear a gospel that promises health, wealth, and fun. Gone from many churches is the gospel message of God’s amazing grace.

What God has promised is better than all the health, wealth, and emotional experiences one could imagine. Like unfaithful Israel, we need to return to the promises God has actually given us, and again behold the superior value of what our Creator said are the most important things.

7. Israel had the ancient fathers as their heritage.

It was from the Covenant People of the time before Christ that we have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, all those ancestors who are the spiritual teachers of us all. Paul was reminding the faithless Jews of the blessed heritage God had given them. Tragically, just as their ungodly predecessors persecuted the Prophets, they were now persecuting the Christians, those continuing to put their whole trust in the promised Messiah.

We have a wonderful heritage as God’s people. We need to treasure that history.

8. And from Israel came the Christ, God’s Messiah.

This promised Savior came from the Jews. He was an Israelite according to the flesh, yet they turned from this great honor and crucified him. He was not only an Israelite as to his fleshly nature. He was also God by nature.

Romans 9:5b, “… who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

These words strongly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ as the Sovereign Lord over all. No other interpretation of this fits the grammar, the flow of the context, or the argument Paul is laying out for them here.

Many who call themselves the Christian church today do not believe Jesus was the eternal God. They have stripped him of his deity, and made him a mere example of kindness, and a lonely martyr.

God had richly blessed ancient Israel with wonderful advantages, but she had traded them for superficial substitutes. The time had come for Israel as a people to give an accounting before God. Paul was not teaching that God was abandoning his true people. He was warning the corrupted ones in Israel that they had rejected God’s promised Messiah. He was calling them back to the principles and promises they had abandoned. As a nation they had drifted far from what they were called to be, so they were soon to lose that national privilege. The true church within the corrupted nation would grow beyond racial and national boundaries to include believers from all groups of people.

The churches today also have great advantages. To them is entrusted wonderful blessings as the called out visible body of Christ. But to those who bear the name of Christ’s church in vain, to those who re-write the promises to fit their own self-centered dreams, to those who would rather be comfortable than faithful, to them is promised the just and certain wrath of God.

We are called to represent God’s covenant family as those transformed by Christ. What kind of children are we in God’s family? Do we live to honor him? or to dishonor his name? The health of the church as a body is the health of the parts of that body. Each of us in our daily lives must appreciate, guard, restore, and represent the truths God has revealed to us in his word. We must strive in the power of our now Resurrected Savior to bring this gospel to those who are still in darkness. We ought to live as those who no longer belong to themselves, but to the Savior who bought them with the price of his own life.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

Lesson 32: Romans 9:1-5

The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

by Bob Burridge ©2011

While I was pastoring a church here in Florida, I took a sad phone. Unfortunately it was not all that unusual. A woman was looking for help from a church. She asked how our denomination (the PCA) differed from other Presbyterian denominations. I wasn’t sure at that point if she was concerned about certain issues, or if she just saw different designations in the phone book.

At first I gave her a rather simple answer. I explained that we have great respect for the Bible’s authority and teachings. I told her that we hold to the conviction that it is God’s word filled with encouragement and help for the lost through the work of Christ. We try to follow what God tells us there about what we should believe, and how we ought to worship and live. Then I added that by grace alone God forgives things we have done in the past, and makes us his children by his unfailing love and infinite power made possible by only one thing, the death of Jesus as our Savior.

She said she didn’t care about any of that. All she wanted to know was did we have a large budget and active committees. She said she wanted a church to care for her financially, particularly for a family member’s psychological care.

When I explained about pastoral care, the biblical counseling we offer, and the importance of a church family, she politely said that was not what she needed, and that she would keep looking. That ended the call. She was not interested in what the Bible had to say. She wanted material benefits. That is what she thought the church was all about. She reflected a tragic fact about what is often seen as “Christianity” today. The biblical concept of the church is to a large degree lost.

Confusion about how God deals with his people has existed in every era of human history since the fall in Eden. We see this sad distortion of God’s promises in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. It is tragically there today. Many churches which call themselves “Christian” simply are not according to how God himself defines it in his written word.

Four Kinds of Confusion

There are basically four major ways in which what is commonly called the church often becomes confused about itself. The same ancient errors Paul was addressing among the four sects of Jews in his era, are reflected in the world today. This is the focus of the section of Romans we now come to in this series of studies, chapters 9-11.

The first group is like the ancient sect called the Saducees.
Today, most of the large denominations believe the Bible is a flawed book. They say that we can find encouraging ideas in the Scriptures anyway. They see Jesus as just a great teacher, leader, and example of love, but not as God who took on human flesh to pay the price of sin for his people. They believe that social action and community involvement make up the real gospel. They see our belief in salvation as nothing more than bigotry and superstition. To them the most evil doctrines are those that teach that God holds us accountable for our sins, and that trust in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

This is classic religious liberalism and post-modernism. They worship a god who is not much more than an undefinable cosmic force. They put their faith in the physical sciences, psychology, sociology, and politics, yet throw in enough mysticism to keep the congregations feeling they have spiritual help.

I remember talking with a young man studying for the ministry in one of the large main-line denominations. He said he did not believe there was a real God, but he would talk about God to his congregation because most people need that kind of belief to face their struggles.

These humanistic churches believe that man is the center of all values and concerns, not God. They empty religion of any real truth and spiritual life. Yet for some reason they like to call themselves “Christians.” They confuse the watching world, and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

A second group today is like the Pharisees.
They believe that man determines his own future by his choices and decisions. They see God as a beggar for our souls, pleading to make his work on the cross successful. They emotionally sing about the Holy Spirit, but to be consistent they ought to be singing about their own permission which is really why they believe God blesses some and not others. To them grace is a good word, but its meaning has been lost, because it goes against what they would rather believe about themselves and about God.

They are moralists, mystics, religious humanists believing that man dictates to his Creator. Yet they claim they are the true Christians. They confuse the watching world with a message that makes them feel in charge of their eternal future.

Today many openly reject most of what is revealed in the Old Testament by saying it was just for the Jews. That makes it easier for them to deny the plain meaning of the New Testament texts that go against their theology. They ignore the fact that Jesus, the Apostles, and the New Testament writers all quoted the Old Testament as God’s support for their teachings. To them it is as if God regretted his first attempts to reveal himself, so he instituted a new body of believers. They see the New Testament as one more attempt by God to succeed with lost mankind.

Some recent fundamentalist groups have gone way beyond the fundamentals. Like the Pharisees they make up long lists of sins, even longer than what God reveals in the Bible. Personal decisions and abstinence from a list of things forbidden replace the fruit of the Holy Spirit as evidences of regeneration. They have lost the idea of true religion as James describes it. Instead of hearts transformed by grace into being humble servants submitting to God’s revealed principles and provisions, they live for emotional mysticism set in motion by man’s own choices and material self-denials. They do not believe in a God who is the Sovereign Lord over all.

The third group is like the ancient cult of the Essenes.
They are the isolationists who will not submit to the church authority God himself places over them. They look to independent Bible studies, radio or TV preachers, and books for their spiritual guidance. They see membership in a local church as optional, or even hypocritical. They quickly and ignorantly dismiss biblical church order as mere “denominationalism”. They are left to disobey the many commands in the New Testament which require believers to respect and submit to Elders ordained to shepherd God’s church (Hebrews 13:17).

When they do come together to form churches, they use the methods of democratic-socialism. They water down the biblical offices to make them mere servants of the majority.

While saying they have “no creed but the Bible”, they have many man-made dogmas about the end times, what they consider worldliness, how to dress, and the arts, none of which are supported by a study of the Bible alone. Instead of being the salt of the earth, they fail to become involved in the world around them. They leave the movie industry to Hollywood, government to Washington, schools to the state, and TV to the Gallup polls.They form a closed culture, and just pull back ignoring the world as much as they can.

They are like the Essenes of Jesus time who went off into monastic desert camps. They are isolated cells calling people to come in, but then avoiding their duty to the world. Yet many see these extreme separatists as being Christians. They confuse the watching world about what Christianity is really about.

A fourth group is like the ancient Zealots.
Some have become violent revolutionaries. They become impatient with God’s timing and take the law into their own hands. They disobey police and defy the courts in illegal public demonstrations. They show anger and hatred but little mercy, no real humble repentance or trust in God’s grace. Some even set off bombs to kill unbelievers. They desecrate God’s holy law.

They justify breaking good laws because they want to protest bad ones. They will not represent the fruit of the Spirit toward those they perceive as the enemy. They will not even love their neighbor if the neighbor’s needs might inconvenience them. They judge others without biblical authority and reduce the glory of Christ’s kingdom to mere material victories limited to this fleeting world of our present age.

Yet these too are represented by the media and others as being “Christians”. They confuse the watching world and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

Many churches today are like those of the Jewish nation in the time of the first century.
Jesus contended with the popular preachers and the successful synagogues of his day. The Apostles were condemned, beaten, jailed and put to death by those who claimed to be the chosen people of God.

There are Super-Churches, growing in leaps and bounds. Tragically, many of them abandon God’s ways, trading them for what appeals to the values of those who will increase their numbers and budgets. They have the means to provide the programs and fun activities so many prefer over the true teachings of the word of God. They quote many portions of the Bible, but use them in ways that compromise their true message. They strongly appeal to expectations rather than to real spiritual needs. They are not super in honor or obedience when compared with God’s word. They are super in only one way, they are Super-ficial.

What is the True Church?

This next section of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 9-11) deals with this problem directly. What is the true church? What is wrong with what most people think of as the church? What can we do to redeem the name of Christ from the disgrace of those who distort his church? What importance is the church to be in the lives of individual Christians and their families in very real daily struggles?

In Paul’s time Israel had fallen into a spiritually diseased condition. Though the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots had all twisted God’s truth in serious ways, there were also those who still hoped in a suffering Messiah who would redeem men from sin. They understood the message of the Bible as it was intended. They were scattered throughout the Jewish world, and were not very popular. It was these faithful Jews who were rapidly becoming Christians forming the early church.

The rest of the Jews strongly criticized Paul as he corrected their distorted views. Paul was originally a Pharisee,
a Jew by birth, and a rabbi by training. When he discovered that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the large majority of the Jews thought he had rejected all that God had said before. This was far from the truth.

He was rejecting the artificial teachings of a superficial church. He rejected their twisting of the law and prophets which led to their cultish ideas and ways. He had discovered by God’s grace, the fulfillment of the ancient promises in Christ. Real Judaism had been lost by the majority. Paul had found it again. More accurately, it had laid hold of Paul by the work of God’s marvelous grace.

In the first 5 chapters of Romans Paul showed that according to Scripture all were lost, and in need of redemption, Gentiles and Jews alike. He explained how the human race had fallen when Adam, who represented them, sinned.

He then showed that the only hope of being restored to fellowship with God was that the promised Messiah had come as a perfect Redeemer, that he died representing those God promised to bless, that in their place he satisfied all that God’s justice demanded. He found that aside from these ancient promise, there was no other way to be made right with God.

In chapters 6 through 8 Paul explained how Jesus Christ gives victory in the believer’s continuing struggle with sin. It is not by the works of the priests and the keeping of the law, but by spiritual transformation of the soul by grace. Real spiritual change produces repentance, a true faith, and a desire to live in God’s ways.

This did not mean that Paul was now an enemy of the Jews. Far from it. He was calling them away from their corruptions back to the original promises. He wanted an end to the confusing sects and their distorted denominationalism. He wanted them to understand his passion for them to become Christians, followers of the promised Messiah.

Paul was struggling with a sincere and deep grief in his heart over their condition. He was about to tell them something very hard for them to accept. Their distorted ways were bringing down the condemnation of God. They were confusing the world about what God’s Covenant was all about. Soon God was going to end their national privilege.

Paul’s Sorrow for the State of the Church

Romans 9:1, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,”

He begins this section of the book with a series of affirmations. The Jews needed to hear the truth. They needed to understand that there was something they had been missing, something good, something that could re-unite them around the gospel promise of a gracious covenant.

Paul wanted them to know how personal his compassion for them was.

Romans 9:2-3, “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

Paul uses the Greek word anathema (αναθεμα) which is here translated “accursed”. Literally it means something separated from something. The most common use in the Bible is of something condemned and rejected as offensive.

Paul is not saying that he really expected to redeem them by his becoming accursed by Christ. The original grammar here sets up an hypothetical condition: If it was possible for him to give up the greatest blessings God gave him, he would do it for the Jews, because of his deep concern for them as God’s covenant people.

Words should not be pressed beyond their obvious intended use. It would be foolish to think that Paul actually considered such an exchange to be possible. The plain meaning is sufficient when taken for just what it says and no more.

God’s blessings had been corrupted by the covenant people

Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

Israel had been entrusted with great national privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant to prepare the world for the coming of Messiah. However, by the time Messiah came she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her. [We will look into the specifics of these blessings in our next studies.]

The same is sadly true of many who call themselves the Christians today. They promote a different gospel and a different God. They hold forth beliefs, agendas, and values other than what is revealed in Scripture by God. Yet this is what the media, educators, our neighbors, and the world at large think of as Christianity. This is tragic! The message is so confused.

What did Paul do in this situation? The masses of Jews had totally distorted the message and the worship of God. Did he get depressed and give up? Did he learn to live comfortably with the unbelief of the Saducees? Did he give-in to the Pharisee’s man made rules and dogmas that implied man’s ability to manipulate God? Did he withdraw like the Essenes to create a little community wrapped up only in itself? Did he turn to revolution and join up with the Zealots?

There is a better way. He told the truth with great compassion and persistence. That is what we need to do too. We need to work on reforming God’s church. It is not enough to guard our own worship, feed our own family spiritually, make correct statements about morality and spiritual birth. We must represent the transforming work of Christ with true compassion to the lost, to our neighbors, families, co-workers, and to others who are part of the family of the Redeemed at large.

If God calls his people his “family”, there must be similarities with our earthly families. We manage our homes to protect against things that will do harm to our loved ones . We do not defend germs that might creep in. We try to keep things clean and healthy. We guide chidren as they grow up, rather than let them take dangerous or foolish chances. We do not allow guests to bring illegal things into our homes. Similarly we should love the church so much that we do our best to guard against wrong beliefs about the Bible, or having teachers who have a poor understanding of God’s word and ways. We should not tolerate clearly sinful behaviors that go uncorrected.

The church is Christ’s family. It is to be organized and run for the benefit of the children he loves. It is to preserve the dignity of God, and the principles he teaches us as the Father of our spiritual family.

The True Church in Romans 9-11

In these next studies in Romans 9 through 11 we will see a view of the church which is very different from the one that most see today, perhaps different from what we ourselves expect to find.

Our goal and duty is to come to God’s word ready to be taught, ready to abandon every idea not found in his written testimony. We should be ready to faithfully trust in, and to boldly obey what ever we find in our Bibles, ready to improve our understanding of the wonderful message we have for the world.

Our job is to lead others to the shelter of the faithful church of Christ. That is where God promises to administer true peace and comfort to his children.

Our own little children do not need candy for food, lies to built their dreams upon, or pain killers instead of doctors to make them feel healthy when symptoms come. Neither do people need churches with entertainment instead of worship, false but comfortable doctrines, or promises that cater to their feelings only. They do not need churches considered to be good simply because they have big budgets and big committees. They need a gospel with a big Savior and a church that humbly trusts in him.

We do not help hurting sinners with promise God has never made. They need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We cruelly deceive the lost struggling soul if we offer deadly pacifying substitutes. People may want to be entertained, but they need the blessings of the Covenant of Grace.

Let us make Christ’s church what God wants a church to be. We are commissioned to diligently call others to join us in a restored worship of Christ as a faithful and thankful family of God, upholding one another in the promises which cannot fail.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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No Worthy Enemy

Lesson 31: Romans 8:31-39

No Worthy Enemy

by Bob Burridge ©2011

We often become separated from the things we come to rely upon here in this world. I remember one day — and its indelibly imprinted on my mind forever — when I got the message that my house had been destroyed by a tornado. I almost lost, in that same moment, my wife, my greatest treasure in all this earth. That morning when I left for a meeting all was well. In a single moment, less than a minute I’m told, the structure that my family counted upon for protection was irretrievably twisted and crumpled. Just as quickly people lose their jobs, their investments, even their loved ones.

We know that we can be separated from anything in this world at any time. In the Book of Job we see a man who learned that lesson most tragically. Someone experiences losses like that somewhere every day.

We can only find true comfort in our losses when we learn to value what we have as first belonging to God, and then only ours as a management opportunity for the true owner’s glory. We who trust in Christ are not our own either. We belong to our Savior who gave himself to redeem us.

In the last study we saw God’s promise in the golden chain of Romans 8:29-30. There are those our Creator has foreknown as his own by eternal grace. He predestined them all to become conformed to the character of Christ. These are the ones he calls by his Holy Spirit, and justifies. All those he justifies he will also, most certainly, glorify.

While we struggle through daily challenges, personal lapses into sin, and occasional tragic losses, we are quite aware that there are things, forces, actions, and people that at times separate us from the things we think of as our own.

When we suffer losses, and know that we are not as holy as we ought to be, it is a common worry that somehow we will be cut off from the care and promises of our God. But this cannot be. There can be nothing, no enemy, able to destroy or to nullify the work of God to redeem his eternally loved children.

Paul shows us how illogical it is to imagine this loss.

Romans 8:31, “What then shall we say to these things?
If God is for us, who can be against us?”

First he shows us the main point he is trying to make. Since God is for us — no one, no force, no enemy, can be successful against us.

Then the Apostle shows us why such supposed enemies would stand no chance.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

God demonstrated his love by sending the Son to die for those he has determined to redeem. He did that while they were yet sinners (5:8). Once the price is paid and they have become his own children, how much more would we expect him to care for them. Why would he send his son to die to give them life, then not also provide for the life he gives them in the Savior?

When people buy complex things like cars, copy machines, or computers they expect good support from the manufacturer to keep them in working condition, at least for the first few years of use. It would not be much of a company if it left its customers to figure things out and fix them on their own. God, the perfect supplier, always guarantees his workmanship. Those he redeems, he supplies with all they need as he advances them toward glory.

No one could lack what is needed to complete what God has begun in him. It is plainly impossible. Jesus Christ paid the infinitely huge price to redeem his beloved ones through his suffering to remove their guilt. Certainly his continuing care would not be withheld.

No accusation can stand up against those redeemed.

Romans 8:33, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

Since God is our judge, and has already declared us to be forgiven in Christ, who in all the universe could charge us with any remaining crime against God? There is no remaining guilt to condemn us.

See the list of evidences Paul gives to prove his case:
1. We are God’s elect.
This is what he had just explained in the previous verses. If we are known beforehand as his own children, loved by grace for all eternity, and predestined to be made more and more like Christ, then our security is a forgone conclusion. All true believers are as surely glorified, as the mind of God is sure.

2. God our Father is the one who has justified us.
He has declared us righteous in Christ who lived a perfect life in our place, and died an infinite death as our substitute. If the judge says we are innocent, then nothing can be charged against us. Any such accusation must be false, and have no legal foundation. However, the judge does not simply set justice aside. He satisfied justice by becoming our substitute. The penalty was paid. As the Lord said to Isaiah (43:25) “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”

The next four reasons for our confidence before the judge, rest in the detail of the work of Christ:

3. The death of Jesus fully satisfied the demands of justice for our sins.
Any condemnation would be unjust since the debt is paid in full. The court scene at the great day of judgment will not be to weigh evidence and argue the case. The verdict is already, eternally, known. If the wages of sin is death, and death has been served out to the only one appointed and able to represent us in the eternal plan of God, then the final disposition of the case is not in question. All that is left in that last day is the revealing of the verdict and the entry to glory for all those redeemed by the Savior.

4. The resurrection of Jesus proves that the curse is removed.
The sting of death is gone. Resurrection was not simply to demonstrate the power to bring life back to the dead. It demonstrated that the penalty of death was paid in full.

5. His power and glory are displayed again in the session of Jesus.
He sat down at the Father’s right hand in his ascension. Jesus never lost his power and glory, but he laid aside the full display of them while he accomplished his mission on earth. In his session in glory, he resumed the radiance of all that he is eternally. The rituals of the Old Testament were representations of the real removing of sin. The priests made sacrifices and sprinkled blood on the altar repeatedly, but Jesus did it once for all. He fulfilled the images of the past. Then he sat down showing that the work of atonement for sin was completed. Hebrews 10:12 describes Jesus’ work saying, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,”

6. The intercession of Jesus continually applies the atonement.
His righteousness is ever credited to the believer’s account. No sin remains on the books. Nothing waits for us or the church to remove it. Jesus in heaven is ever testifying to his completed work on our behalf.

It is this work of Christ that gives us confidence. It’s not any thing we do, nor any attitude we develop. Salvation is the amazing union of justice and mercy. By mercy, the Savior of God’s people met the demands of divine justice completely. The greatest dread for anyone is to face God for the consequences of his sins. If that sin is removed, its consequences paid, then nothing should make us afraid of judgment.

So who can charge us or condemn us? Why should we worry that our sins somehow remain and make us unworthy? No one can find a single fault or sin in any of God’s children that is not paid for in Christ.

Paul next shows how secure we are in our fellowship with God.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

The point is that no one, nothing, can cut us off from our Lord who has loved us. No power or calamity on earth can do that.

Separations are major factors in our lives. There are the separations from loved ones and friends, from our belongings when thieves take them, or from our high maintenance possessions when we can no longer afford to keep them. We may be come separated from homes and possessions that give way to fire, storms, earthquakes or mudslides. There is also the separation of soul from the body when we die. The greatest separation is of a person’s soul from God. Those loved by Christ from all eternity and by the infallible determination of God, cannot be separated from the Savior by any created thing or circumstance.

Paul lists a few examples to remind us of some causes for our outward struggles: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword. These certainly disrupt our earthly lives. But they cannot disrupt our fellowship with Christ.

Persecutions come because the world hates the message we represent.

Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22 to illustrate:

Romans 8:36, “As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ “

Even in the Old Testament, the Jews were hated and persecuted for God’s sake. Yes, some were even put to death for their faith. The world was glad to see them die. It is true also of the church in this era after Christ came. The early believers were accused of all sorts of wicked things by an angry world. They cried “The Christians to the lions!” The church today is accused of closed minded bigotry and prejudice for simply holding to what the Bible says. We are called “haters of individual freedom of expression,” “hypocrites,” “old fashioned,” and many other inaccurate labels which come from the real prejudice of those intolerant of those who believe the Bible.

The world may tolerate or even love religion — as long as it doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable, as long as it doesn’t bring them face-to-face with a Sovereign Creator and their need for redemption.

Paul’s point here is to encourage us and give us understanding and patience. We horribly fool ourselves if we expect to be exempt from trials, hatred, and prejudice, or if we think that our suffering is because we are not worthy of God’s love. No one is worthy. Every blessing anyone enjoys is not because they are more sincere, more diligent, or more deserving. All blessing and peacefulness in this life is ours only as a gift of God’s mercy.

We stand in good company when we are hated for Christ’s sake, or when we struggle as imperfect humans in a world belonging to a perfectly holy God.

We are not to give up in despair.

Romans 8:37, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

What an amazing conclusion to draw! Not only do we endure and survive our losses and agonies. Not only do we in the end come out the victors. We are more than conquerors in Christ!

We can live above our earthly losses because we see them as part of a secret but good plan of God for our eternal benefit. We know that our sufferings strengthen us here, lift our eyes above the temporal to heaven, and prepare us for our eternal stay in glory. Instead of being discouraged by our sins, we are humbled to know they are paid for.

Pastor Gordon Girod writes, “How can I be certain that I am a child of God, and that He will never let me go? Have you ever wept for your sin? Have you ever felt deeply and agonizingly that you have failed your God? You see, it is only that man, that woman, who in the agony of their guilt before God – not once but a thousand times – have sought forgiveness, who can know with certainty that God will not allow them to be lifted from the hollow of His hand.” (Pg. 90 in The Deeper Faith)

The Paul lists the most feared powers imaginable.

Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We can have the same confidence Paul had when he said, “I am persuaded.” God implants a faith, a confidence, in us. It is not perfectly developed in this life, but it is there none-the-less. We know God’s promise is sufficient and trustworthy. What can separate us from the love of God?

  • not death – the great separator that thrusts all men into judgment. Jesus was already judged in our place.
  • not life – all the dangers and difficulties we face in life which some see as more unwelcome than death are no threat to the one redeemed in Christ.
  • not angels – no spirit beings of any sort can harm us.
  • not principalities – all that rule in this world, or in the invisible spirit world, are unworthy of our fears.
  • not things present – the trials, and afflictions we see striking around us in this fallen world.
  • not things to come – not even the unseen troubles of tomorrow which we worry about today.
  • not powers – those with strong abilities.
  • neither height nor depth – the highest or lowest danger is nothing before the Almighty God.
  • not any created thing – this encompasses all that is! Nothing is left out.

Nothing can prevail against us: no army, demon, devil, circumstance, or temptation. God is our Shield, our Fortress, our Captain, our King — our Father.

Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

Dr. Haldane writes, “Nothing does happen, nothing can happen, which, from eternity, He hath not appointed and foreseen, and over which He hath not complete control.” (P. 425)

The Apostle Peter assures us in 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

When we see tragedy closing in on us, when it grips our own lives, when we imagine our own sins to be so large that we wonder if God could love us at all, we are foolish to go to the counselor who helps us blame others, to our list of excuses, to our hiding place to anguish in despair and doubt. We go to the word of God with all its wonderful promises, and to the quiet place of prayer. There we remember the golden chain of assurance with which our God secures us by the promise of his own word. There we are reminded of the amazing grace by which we are kept by the hand of God.

Those who speak of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints need to remember that it is not that some have such a good grip on God that they persevere, but that God has such a grip on all his tottering children that he will not let them go. God perseveres with us, so that we will persevere to the end.

There is nothing in all the created universe, nothing in ourselves, nothing in the angry world around us or in the invisible realm of spirits, that can nullify the work of Christ for his people.

The Psalmist wrote, in Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Jesus himself said, John 10:28-29< "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." (The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Secured by the Golden Chain

Lesson 30: Romans 8:29-30

Secured by the Golden Chain

by Bob Burridge ©2011

The book of Romans tells about God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his people. It shows an amazing plan that was accomplished by Christ, and is applied by the Holy Spirit. As Christians we are thankful for being forgiven and having our souls set free, but an agonizing struggle continues with the stubborn remains of sin in our lives. We live in a world full of lies, anger, and tragedy. Yet through it all, God lays out a way of life for his children, a way of Christian optimism. It is not the self-deceiving wishful thinking of the world’s optimism. It is based upon revealed reality: the unfailing and perfect promise of God.

Our last study was Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

The “good” promised is not earthly riches, freedom from disease, or safety from crime. It is not that you will never lose a loved one, or have to endure some horrible experiences. There is while we endure these things hard times, an amazing inner peace from Christ that surfaces when we most need it. Also, there is the future hope Paul had just been writing about, our inheritance in glory.

God tells us that everything works together to produce this good. Our Sovereign God uses even our sufferings, weaknesses, and failings to help us grow in Christ. This makes us spiritually stronger here, and prepares us for our place in glory. This consolation through our times of suffering is not promised to everybody. This verse only assures it to those who love God, and are called according to his purpose.

In the next two verses Paul shows how sure that promise is. Romans 8:29 and 30 describe what is often called “The Golden Chain”.

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

There are five links in this chain. They show an unbreakable connection that secures us to God’s blessing eternally. This certainty is anchored on one end in the eternal love and decree of God. It is attached at the other end to the promise of glory forever. The chain can never be broken. Each link is forged from the promises of God. This makes the chain infinitely secure. It binds each of God’s children to an infallible future, eternal glorification in Christ.

The chain begins with its anchor in God’s eternal decree.

29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

It all begins in God’s foreknowledge of those he promises to glorify. The word “to foreknow” is a verb formed from the Greek root word prognosis (προγνοσις); We use it as a medical term. A prognosis tells a patient in advance how his condition will progress. However, there are different kinds of foreknowing in the Bible.

Sometimes it means simply knowing about something in advance. That can’t be what it means here. It would make no sense. God knows all things in advance. He knows all people in advance, but all people are not predestined to become like Christ. They are not all justified by Christ headed for glory in the last day. Paul did not write, “because of what God foreknew he predestined…” He wrote, “for whom he foreknew he predestined”

Besides, it would make no sense that God looked ahead to see what happens in time to decide what he should eternally purpose to happen. God knows all things eternally and unchangeably. There cannot be a time when God made up his mind based upon things that could only happen after his creation of the world.

What would God look for to decide who to predestine to Christ? Would he look ahead to see their faith? That could not be. In Acts 13:48 it says ” as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Therefore faith is the result of God’s appointment. It cannot be its cause. The cause cannot be based upon the result, or the result would be the cause. This would contradict Acts 13:48, and would make humans the determiners of the mind of God.

Would God look ahead to see their good works? That could not be either. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. ” Again, our works are the result of God’s preparing us before hand in Christ, not its cause.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God “… saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”

The meaning here obviously includes some kind of selection of certain ones only. God is often said to specially know his people in a way different than the way knows all others.

John 10:14 , “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”

1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”

Romans 11:2, “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. …” This is a special reference to Israel, God’s chosen nation before the time of Christ. Here his foreknowledge is defined as that special relationship that marked them out from other nations.

Matthew 7:23, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Certainly this verse does not mean that God was ignorant of the existence of unbelievers. It cannot mean that the all knowing God discovers that some existed he did not know about. It can only mean one thing. God has specially known some people in a way that makes them his own. Those who are not his own he does not know in this special way.

This first link in the chain means that God set his heart to know some specially as His own. He did this from the beginning, before anyone had done good or evil.

This means that God’s “foreknowing” is his loving us and choosing us by grace alone. That is how God has always expressed himself toward his people. In Jeremiah 31:3 the LORD said, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”

Those God has known specially beforehand he has predestined. Predestination is another of those words that people struggle with. I have heard Christians say that their church does not believe in predestination. How can that be? Here it is in our Bibles. The word appears in many other verses too. Most likely those who deny this statement of Scripture redefine the word to allow for certain assumptions they have made.

The word verse clearly means that God made a determination about the people he foreknew as his own. The purpose of this predestination is that his people would be conformed to the image of Christ.

Humans were originally created in the image of God to represent him in the world. When Adam sinned that image was badly marred in us all. Instead of subduing all things for God’s glory, humans began abusing things for their own pleasure. In this fallen condition they ignore the Creator’s glory and purpose in all things. Their power is used to advance their own agenda and interests instead of the Kingdom of God. Their morality, sense of justice, and concept of truth, are based upon standards contrary to those God has revealed to us.

God purposed that through Christ those he foreknew would be restored to being able to show God’s image to the world. Our predestination is not only to get us to heaven, or to make us believe. It is so that we might progress in holy living, shaped by the model of Jesus. In 1 Peter 1:1-2 the Apostle spoke of God’s foreknowledge and choosing with reference to how he makes them obedient. Peter addressed his letter , “… To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

God brings his decree into the individual’s life by a special calling.

Romans 8:30a, “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; …”

This is the third link in the chain. All those God has foreknown as his own, and predestined to be like Christ He calls to himself so that this sanctifying change will take place in them.

There are two distinct types of calling mentioned in God’s word. One kind of calling in Scripture is not just to those predestined to life in Christ. Jesus said, “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The call Jesus spoke about there was the outward call that invites individuals to become believers. He makes it clear that God has not chosen all those who are invited in this way. The outward invitation saves no one, and is not the link in this golden chain. So the call here is the one by which those who are chosen beforehand are assured to also be justified.

In Romans 1-3 we saw that no fallen human can respond to the gospel call on his own. Men love to be religious, and to do things that improve their opinion of themselves. They will not admit they are offensive to God, or that their only hope to be avoid condemnation in the judgment is the death of Jesus in their place, and the grace of a sovereign God who alone can change them. As Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

There is also this special call internally by the Spirit. It changes a person’s standing with God. When the Holy Spirit calls inwardly the person most gratefully comes. God in this special calling transforms the heart. He gives the person spiritual life, and the ability to know and to trust the words of God. This is “regeneration”. It is what the Bible means when it speaks of being “born again.”

When the Spirit gives us life, we can no more resist this call than a creature could resist his own creation.

The next link in the chain is justification.

Romans 8:30b. ” … whom He called, these He also justified; …”

“Justified” is a legal term. It is a declaration of innocence by a court. In this case it is the judgment of God that through Christ our debt is fully paid. This is the great theme around which Paul builds the whole book of Romans. In 1:17 he quoted Habakkuk 2:4 that “the just shall live by his faith”

God’s own holy nature makes it impossible for him to set aside guilt without its deserved punishment. That is what Jesus came to do for those God had foreknown as his own. When those called by the Spirit are justified, the work of Jesus Christ is applied to them. The righteousness of Jesus is credited to the sinner, and the sinner’s guilt is considered paid for by the Savior.

When the offense is removed, it removes the moral barrier between them and God. They are restored to fellowship with him, and are promised his blessing forever.

Then there is the final link in the chain.

Romans 8:30c, “… and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

This is the great hope, the consolation that keeps us looking ahead while we struggle here. One day the work of God in our hearts will be completed. We who have been called to the Savior by grace will be received into eternal glory. We will be changed, in body and soul, to live in the presence of the Lord forever.

This is so certain, that Paul puts it in the past tense as if it is already a “done deal”. God who sees the end from the beginning assures us that our final blessing is assured. No believer will come short of this final blessing.

This is an unbreakable chain. Its links are more precious than gold. Who are those who are to be glorified? those same ones God has justified. Who are those God justifies? Those same ones he has called to himself. Who does God call? Those same ones he has predestined to become like his Son. Who does God predestine in this way? Those same ones foreknown by him from the beginning.

It is all by grace. Nothing of our own merit enters into it at all. There is nothing that should make us proud or secure in ourselves. The undeserved love of God has set us free through Christ. That is the plain truth of it.

Titus 3:5 says, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”

Have you experienced that call of God on your heart? Has his Spirit convicted you of your hopeless condition, and humbled you before your maker? Has he filled you with awe at the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ to redeem those totally unworthy? Has he stirred you to trust in that work of the Savior? Do you want to learn to be like him?

If so, that middle link assures you of that to which it is attached on both sides. You can be certain that God has loved you for all eternity. You would not experience those dispositions in your heart if you had not been called inwardly by the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of Jesus Christ brings new life to what was spiritually dead. It assures you that in God’s eyes you are now justified, and one day will be received into glory to live forever in the house of the Lord.

When you struggle with hard times, face tragedy and disappointments, When you falter and sin against the God you love — hang on to this golden chain. It is anchored in the ancient love of God on the one end of the chain, and is tethered on the other end to the promises of eternal glory. It assures you that what our heavenly Father brings us through works toward what is truly good. It helps you mature into the spiritual child God is making you to be, and it fits you for your place in eternal glory.

There is no suffering of this present world that can cast even a dim shadow when we stand in the light of this astounding promise. To hold on to your doubts you must assume the absurd, that God fails to justify those he predestined and called to be made like Christ. God himself rules out the possibility that anyone who is justified by his grace could fail to be ultimately glorified.

Dr. Haldane commented on this verse saying, “It is impossible to find words which could more forcibly and precisely express the indissoluble connection that subsists between all the parts of this series, or show that they are the same individuals that are spoken of throughout.”

From commencement to consummation, the promise of God stands sure. No greater consolation to the struggling believer is imaginable.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Good End of All Things

Lesson 29: Romans 8:28

The Good End of All Things

by Bob Burridge ©2011

When things do not go well, people often try to find comfort by looking for something good in the situation. There was an old song I remember hearing a lot when I was very little, “Look for the Silver Lining”. It was my parent’s favorite song. Optimism has always been a popular attitude. Stories of “Pollyanna” and “Little Orphan Annie” have been favorites to tell children. Even when things look gloomy, something in our human nature hates to see naked tragedy. We instinctively try to dress it up in more attractive attire.

Often the trials mount up, the hard times linger on, or catastrophe crushes the spirit. The clothing we use to dress up our calamities just doesn’t seem to fit any more. The ugly nakedness of adversity shows through. Optimism fades into doubt and pessimistic gloom. People ask in discouraged frustration, ” What good could possibly come of this?”

This is the troubled world in which we are called to live. God has not left his children to live here in false hopes or in dismal gloom.

In the last section of his letter to the Romans, Paul talked about how believers long for the glory that lies ahead for them. All our sufferings here, and all that’s in the sin laden world we live in, are eclipsed by the glories promised in which we hope. Creation itself looks to be set free from the way man abuses God’s world for self glory. We long for the day when we will inherit the promises of eternal glory. The Holy Spirit in us encourages us along as we agonize toward that day.

Paul assures us that there is
a Christian optimism for his children.

This optimism is not just self deception or wishful thinking. It is based upon an unfailing reality.

Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

What Paul teaches us here is something he says “we know …” It’s not just an empty hope that things will work out — somehow. It’s not just a selective blindness to reality. It’s a certainty that comes to our hearts by the testimony of God’s Spirit testifying in us by the written promises in God’s word. Since it is based upon the assurances of God himself it cannot fail.

This is not something new he gives us here. It’s something we already know from what God has told us. This is a reminder of what we can rely upon when times get tough. Though we groan, we know that everything is under the control of our Heavenly Father.

The good he is promising here is made clear in the context. It’s not just some theoretical “good” that has nothing to do with us personally. It is the future glory Paul has just been writing about. It’s the inheritance that all believers will receive as heirs with Christ. All our trials and disappointments fit us for our life in eternity and the perfect blessings of God.

There are benefits for us in this life too. Our Lord lets us go through tough times to make us grow in holiness, and in humble dependence upon our Heavenly Father.

Everything works together to produce this good. Specifically here, Paul is speaking of the hard times we face in this life. The theme of this passage is enduring through the groanings and anxieties of our fallen world. Paul tells us plainly that nothing is excluded. All of life is a complex and intricate pattern displaying the plan of God. But it’s our afflictions that particularly contribute to our growth and benefit.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-5 “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Paul suffered some type of physical problem he called his “thorn in the flesh”. Many have debated what that was. We don’t know for sure. Paul prayed repeatedly to be cured of it, but God said it was needful for him to suffer with it to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

It’s hard to imagine any suffering greater than what Job went through. In one sudden moment his whole life changed. He got news that invasions and disasters had wiped out all he had: his servants, his oxen, sheep and camels. A storm collapsed the house where his children were eating and all were killed. Later he was stricken with a horrible disease that caused intensely painful boils all over his body. By it Job learned a classic lesson that is basic to all human struggles. Though we may not understand tragedies as they occur, we dare not question God. Job, as far as we know, never learned about the great spiritual battle behind the scenes. But he did learn from God that there is comfort for believers as they endure great suffering.

It’s not just the afflictions. All things are orchestrated together by God in concert for good. The absolute sovereignty of God is one of the clearest, most direct teachings of Scripture. Aside from our human philosophies, assumptions, and prejudices, it is undisputed that nothing but the decree of God directs events in the course of time.

God uses even evil and our sins to promote his holy and wonderful plan. He used the ancient rebellion of Satan to display his justice against evil. He used the fall of man in Adam to show his grace in the plan of salvation. He used the wicked men who crucified Jesus to accomplish the atonement

By the goodness and power of him who brings light out of darkness, God overrules the evil of our sins and produces exactly what he had eternally intended. Even from his own children’s rebellion, he draws out benefits for those saved by grace.

Far from condoning or excusing sin, God, by means of it, exposes how deplorable it is. He shows us what is in our own hearts aside from his restraint. He shows us what we deserve if it was not for the forgiveness we have in the Savior. He reminds us how much we need to depend upon him in all things. He stirs us to prayer and vigilance all through the day. He keeps us humble in our reliance upon his mercies, presence, and power.

David learned by his own sins and sufferings. He wrote in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.”

God’s care is an amazing orchestration of the most minute incident into the symphony of eternal glory.

Children have a hard time seeing the wisdom of the lessons they need to learn. Homework seems like a cruel punishment. It takes up their time and it’s intended to be challenging. However, without struggling through it our brains will not learn to think logically, we will not know the lessons of history to avoid mistakes of the past, we will not know how to communicate our ideas to others, we will not have the facts we need to make good decisions and be good in our life’s callings.

No one likes to have to go through surgery, suffer the bruises of learning to walk or ride a bike, go through the agony of losing a ball game or of apologizing to someone we offended. Yet, all those things help us to grow into what we need to be.

God our Heavenly Father brings us through very trying times. It’s hard to know why we get diseases, why loved ones die, why we lose our jobs, have our homes destroyed in calamities, or are injured in accidents. It’s hard to see criminals lose in our society, and to see people lie and seem to get away with it.

God uses all these things to make us grow into what will make us stronger and more humble. He uses them to best fit us for eternity. When that day comes, when the promised inheritance is ours to enjoy fully, when we move into the house of God to dwell forever, we will see how well he has prepared us.

This good is not assured to everyone.

The good is directed to a specific group: those who love God, and are called by him.

Those outside of Christ have no such promise from God. The world must therefore either live in resigned despair, or in unfounded optimism. It must convince itself without promise, that “all things work out for the best.” For the sinner not redeemed in Christ, all things work toward his eternal damnation. That is not an easy concept for us to accept with our limited understanding and yet flawed appreciation for the larger picture of things. As difficult as it may be to comprehend, it is clearly true according to what God tells us in his word.

On the other hand, for those in Christ, there is great promise and hope. They are called “The loved of God.” Those of the world believe they love God, but the god they love is a false god. He is not the Sovereign and Holy Creator. To them, god is not offended and is not bound by his holy nature to punish sin forever. To them, the Savior is just a good teacher or example, not a substitute for what they deserve. To them, their choices and determinations control all things. They cannot accept the full kingship of the King of kings. To love a false god is to offend the True God.

The believer in Christ has the love of the True God implanted into his heart. To them God has made a solemn promise that cannot fail. All things work in one complex plan for good. To battle the temptations of this world and to escape the despair of false optimism, we must love God as enabled by the work of Jesus Christ.

The concept of “good” itself is understood differently when we see things as they really are. At each phase of his creation God looked at what he had made and said it was “good”. The light was good, the seas and dry land were good. The vegetation, appearing of the sun, moon and stars was good. The same with the animals and humans he made to populate his new world. It would be self-centered to think that he meant only that it was good for us. It was good to him primarily. That is, it exactly conformed to what pleased him as Creator.

The good promised here is both good for us as God’s children, and good in the great plan of our Heavenly Father. All things are part of a wonderful plan that displays and declares the Creator’s glory. We cannot know how it all fits together, but we know that it does. One day we may be privileged to see what is not revealed to our finite minds at this time.

God’s children are also
“the called according to his purpose”

This is not a promise to all those invited outwardly to follow Christ. It means those called inwardly by his Holy Spirit, those called from all eternity to be part of God’s family. God’s eternal decree cannot fail or fall short of all it intends to accomplish. God decrees not only the faith he gives them in this life through the work of Christ. He also decrees their glory forever in him. Paul extends this promise beyond question in the next section of this chapter of Romans (Romans 8:29-30).

The unbeliever and the believer respond very differently to calamity.

Wicked King Saul faced challenges which he answered sinfully, disobediently. He tried to wrench blessings from the hand of God by his own efforts. He suffered in this life without comfort, and died without hope.

In contrast with Saul, King David, when he faced temptation, and even when he sinned, came in humble repentance and faith in God’s promises. He found forgiveness, comfort and hope. David was able to pray in Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.”

In Psalm 27 he began, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 73:21-28 expresses this contrast between those without hope and the believer.

Thus my heart was grieved, And I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, That I may declare all Your works.

If the God of creation, who rules all the heavens and the earth, is our Lord in Christ, then what can be lacking for our absolute and complete security both now and forever? If God’s decree is certain and sure, and by grace we are a part of that perfect decree, then all things will work together in our lives for good.

This coordination toward good ought not to lead us to carelessness in living. It is our love for God and our call in his eternal purpose that makes us his. Our duty in the midst of all adversity, calamity, and tragedy is two-fold:

1. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and might. We must not let the love of the things in this world distract us from our true hope, or let temptation bring our belonging to Christ into question.

2. We are to obey that eternal calling to be a part of the purpose of God all the way to glory.

Do you want more of the confidence in times of trial and comfort in seasons of adversity? Take this verse to heart — keep it in your mind often. Dwell upon its promise until it becomes a part of the way you think every moment of every day. God assures us that all things work together for good. It’s a fact. Be reminded of, and practiced in, what you know already from what God has said.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans


Lesson 28: Romans 8:18-27


by Bob Burridge ©2011

In my study I have an old time-worn teddy bear sitting on a shelf along with my books. When I was little more than a year old I named him “Mike.” We have no idea where I got that name. We didn’t know anyone named Mike. Today he looks a bit thin and limp. I don’t know where the long lost stuffing has ended up, and like his owner — he has a lot of hair missing. I dimly remember clinging to him in those lonely times when children feel alone. In a child’s way, Mike became a symbol of that need we all have for something secure.

Of course it was my family, not Mike, that actually guided me through the difficulties of growing up. As I got older my family expanded to take in my wife and two children. We stood together through those challenges that come along in God’s providence.

Nothing we cling to in this world around us is perfect and infallible. We imperfect people often need to give comfort as well as receive it. Mike was just a stuffed toy. Our family members, friends, and we ourselves are mere humans saved and kept by God’s grace alone. Through these flawed but important earthly channels God displays his care for us, and sees us through. It ought to be to him and to his promises that we look for security and unfailing comfort in times of need.

We live in a world that often makes us very much aware of that deep need for security and comfort. It is a place full of changes. The things we rely upon and take for granted today may be gone tomorrow. Sometimes tragedy seems to close in around us like a dark cloud. We feel empty and isolated. Our plans for our futures may suddenly change taking us down paths we had never imagined. Familiar things are taken away needing to be replaced with new things. As a pastor I stood by many of the people in my congregation through times like those. They stood by my family and I when we faced deep losses too.

Living here means needing to find ways of coping, dealing with changes, handling daily disappointments in ourselves, in our friends, and in our community.

Tough and uncertain times make us aware of how much we need comfort and security based upon something that is certain to always be there reliably. Our Lord has given us a hope that is so great that nothing in this fleetingly short life can dim its promises. If only we could, in those hard times, fix our eyes effectively upon that for which all this is preparing us.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians
he directed them to that hope.

Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

What we suffer through in this life is brief compared with eternity. In that day there will be no more losses, no tragedies, no unwelcome changes. Infinite and eternal blessings will dwarf our present struggles.

God encourages us with a glimpse of what lies ahead. He has often done that for his people. Israel was able to see fruit from the land of Canaan which was brought back by the spies. It was to encourage them while they were still in the wilderness with memories of Egyptian slavery. Many missed the message and doubted God’s promise represented by the fruit. Those who believed pressed on until the land became theirs. The Disciples saw the transfiguration of Jesus Christ as a foretaste of glory. That prepared them to face the trying years of ministry ahead.

Paul could say “I consider …” as he began this verse because he had suffered so much personally. The Lord privileged him to see a bit of the glory that lies ahead for us all.

In Christ, and through God’s word, we can see in advance the fruit of the “heavenly Canaan.” It is encouraging to think upon the divine promises when we face times of trouble. If we become so focused on our own sufferings that we hardly see our Lord’s promises, we miss the consolations that outweigh the discomforts of this life.

With our eyes fixed upon this hope, it helps us to keep things in perspective here. It helps us understand that our loving Father is preparing us to live with him forever. The pains we go through help us grow into the image of Christ. They are to discipline us when we get out of line before our foolishness and doubts cause us greater harm that we anticipate.

The hope of glory helps us keep our values straight too. If we treasure these material, temporary things too much we forget the greater value of the treasure laid up for us in heaven forever. We need to remember that this is not our Canaan. It is not our land of rest. Even the best things here are only a foretaste of the glories that will be ours forever. When tempted by the fleeting things of this world, we should remember to say to them, “No. It’s just not worth it.”

Moses gave up the glories of Egypt, the “pleasures of sin for a season”, because he looked at the outcome of all things, the reward that was ahead (Hebrews 11:25-26). Even King David, when he looked to this world as his standard, was confused by the temporal prosperity wicked. But he saw their end and the future glory of God’s people (see for example Psalm 37:9-22).

When we look to God’s promises, we find that consolation that bears us through. Not only will we behold his glory when all things are completed at our final day of reward, we all so will be the redeemed testimonies to all the inteligent creatures of God. In us and unto us God’s wonders and grand attributes will be displayed in richer detail than we can anticipate in this life.

Creation itself longs for the day when it will be set free.

Romans 8:19-22, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

The “creation” Paul speaks of here icludes the material world of things and animals. It is not specifically speaking of men, angels, or a combination of them. We know that rocks, roaches, and rain have no emotions or consciousness of suffering. The expressions here are figurative and poetical. They are a “personification,” a common figure of speech where things are described with human characteristics to help us understand through terms with which we are familiar. God often does this in his word.

Isaiah 55:12, “… The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Jeremiah 12:4, “How long will the land mourn …?”

Isaiah 49:13, “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

The mountains cannot literally shout for joy. The trees have no hands to clap. The land does not actually weep in mournful cries. However, there is an anticipation in creation itself related to the hope that awaits us.

When God made all things, he declared them “good” — suited to what he made them to be. When Adam sinned a curse came upon all the earth. It became subjected to “futility” or “vanity.”

When God created Man, he gave him dominion over all that was made. He was to represent the rule of the Creator, the Sovereign King. Man’s job was to subdue all things for God’s glory. When mankind became corrupt, humans abused their dominion. The things God made became tools of sin and self indulgence. Creation was used to serve evil instead of good. Dr. Haldane says about the created things mentioned in this verse, “they have become subservient to the criminal pleasures of man and are the victims of his oppressive cruelty.”

There is a hope of deliverance for creation. The things God made groan anticipating the revealing of the sons of God. The “groaning” should not be thought of as a vocal moaning as we use the word today. The word here has to do with the emotion of agonizing.

The Greek word is stenatzo (στεναζω). It comes from the root word stenos (στενος) which means “something narrow or constricted”. We use “Stenosis” today as a medical term. Stenosis of the heart’s mitral valve is a hardening or narrowing of the opening of a valve in the heart that restricts the flow of blood into the left ventricle.

The word picture Paul uses is of agonizing to squeeze through a narrow opening. Creation groans in its agonizing struggle through these times of sinful abuse by man.

The suffering of the soul as it strains to get through hard times is a spiritual stenosis. It is compared with the straining pains of childbirth in verse 22. The process of child labor is hard and agonizing, but there is a promise that helps the mother endure it — the birth of that baby.

Creation has a promise too. One day its misuse by fallen man will end. Those who are the sons of God will be completed into the likeness of Christ. The heavens and earth will be renewed and set free of that abuse to declare fully the glory of the Creator.

There is a deep longing with in us too
as we look toward that day of promise.

Romans 8:23-25, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

God’s redeemed children also groan toward the promise of full salvation. Salvation includes all the benefits of our redemption in Christ. In one sense all believers in Christ are already saved. They are immediately delivered from their guilt and bondage to corruption. In another sense all believers are being saved. They are being sanctified more and more as they are set free from the ways of sin which remain in this life. In another sense all believers are yet to be saved. When we are raised up at the coming again of Jesus Christ we will be delivered from all the workings of corruption, and transformed into glory. Then we will be free from all sin and suffering. It is in this sense that the Bible says “he that endures to the end shall be saved.”

Hope is at the center of this whole passage. It is the focal point. Hope has to do with things yet future, things net yet seen by us. It is meaningless to speak of hope in things we already have. It points toward wonderful things yet to be enjoyed.

In this way Hope is contrasted with faith. By faith we believe God’s promises. By hope we expect to receive the good things God has promised. The object of faith is the promise that is present with us now. The object of hope is future and unseen, it is the reward yet unrealized.

Therefore faith is the foundation for hope and precedes it. Faith is a convincing certainty. Hope is a comforting expectation.

Paul says, “in hope we have been saved.” Some translations say we are “saved by hope”. That is not as accurate. Hope is not the way of salvation. It is the fruit of it, and the promise of its final results. Faith, not hope, is the means of our laying hold of the promise of Christ. It is by means of this faith that we are justified.

Only those who are redeemed can have this strong expectation of things yet to come. God does not implant true faith in the hearts of the lost. Without that foundation, hope becomes just wishful thinking, a vain vision of possibilities. To the believer, hope is founded upon the word of God himself. This hope is called an “anchor for the soul.” Through storms of doubt and tragedy it keeps us from drifting from the things promised.

Hope also generates patience in us (verse 25). By it we persevere through the trials and the agonies of this present life.

To confirm the promised blessings, he produces in us certain “first fruits”. Paul’s readers would have known the historic meaning of that term. Jews were required to bring the first fruits of harvest to God as a thank offering. It meant several things. On the one hand it was a way of showing faith in God as the giver of all things. On the other hand it was God’s pledge that the rest of the harvest was yet to come. The spiritual fruit produced in us is a pledge of what God promises to complete in us one day.

The Holy Spirit also helps us anticipate
the glory that is ours to come.

Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Spirit helps our weaknesses while we are yet not in full possession of what lies ahead. He intercedes in groanings too deep for words. Groanings, as we have already shown, are not sounds. They are agonizings and longings. Those who look here for support that the Spirit stirs us to pray in special prayer languages, in the tongues of angels, not only misunderstand the passage, they miss the promise given to us here.

It does not mean that the Holy Spirit prays for us as Jesus does. Jesus is our intercessor in heaven. He represents our needs to the Father. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor here, in our hearts. He moves us to pray as we ought. He affirms the truth of God’s promises in us, and causes us to call out to our Heavenly Father.

God searches our hearts. In our fallen condition we do not know what is best for us, or how our needs are best met. David said, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4).

When we are confused about the will of God, the Spirit in us knows. He is God! He is omniscient and alone knows perfectly the decreed outcome of all things, and the holy way to those ends. He brings to pass that for which he leads us to pray. The Holy Spirit always works in perfect harmony with the will of the Father. 1 John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

This is our great expectation. While we agonize here through the struggles of life in this world, we have a great hope.

The focus of our heart is Paul’s great concern for us here. If we mind earthly things, what we gain here, what we feel at the moment, then our struggle will be hard, agonizing, uncertain, and unrewarding. If we mind God’s promises when we think about what lies ahead, and live for the things yet to come, when we obey the ways of God, and hope in his certain rewards, then we will have strength to endure all the way to the end.

Turn your eyes to the hope that is yet to be realized in us as the children of God. Hope in the things promised, and think about them a lot. This will carry you through the toughest of times. It will bear you through and ease the burden of what you face in this relatively short and fleeting moment.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Who Is Your Father?

Lesson 27: Romans 8:14-17

Who Is Your Father?

by Bob Burridge ©2011

The scene in John 8 must have been quite dramatic. Hostile Jews stood around Jesus hearing his words but not understanding him. They claimed to be children of God, but would not face the fact that they needed to be set free from sin and guilt. They had corrupted God’s word, and made excuses for living to serve their self-interests. They trusted in their heritage, as if that was all God’s promise considered (John 8:39a). They proudly said to Jesus, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus made it clear that God never defined his people as those merely descended from someone God had blessed. His covenant with Abraham did not promise forgiveness and eternal life for all those born into the line of the covenant family. Jesus said to them in John 8:239b-41a, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

This only confused them more. Is he saying that Abraham isn’t our ancestor? that we’re not Jews? Does Jesus mean that we are illegitimate children of some Gentile? They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father — God” (John 8:41b). They were so sure that they were the true sons of God, but it was based upon misunderstandings.

Jesus showed them that their claim did not fit the way they lived. He said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” (John 8:42-43)

They really thought they were God’s children, but Jesus exposed the hard truth; “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

Jesus did not cater to their confused beliefs. Claim what ever they will, Satan was their spiritual father, not the God of Abraham. They behaved like the one who wanted God’s glory for himself, who obscured God’s truth. They shared the desires, values and goals of the Devil.

The Apostle John later wrote about this same truth in his first Epistle (1 John 3:10), “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

Today, DNA testing has given us a powerful tool for identifying a person’s real physical father. A child may have been made to believe that a person is his father who is not. DNA profiles rule out all pretenders, and show the child’s true parent. Many cases of paternity, and of baby switching by hospitals, have been solved this way.

So then, how do we test for spiritual sonship? How can we know if we are truly Sons of God? Some believe all people are sons of God, but that is contrary to the revealed facts of Scripture. Many believe themselves to be specially God’s true children, but they have no grounds for that belief.

Who really are the sons of God?

Romans 8:14-17, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

Being a child is a creation principle set up to demonstrate the relationship between God and his people. It is far more than just being born to a parent physically. It ought to imply a special relationship. There should be a special love and affection of the parents toward their children. It includes special privileges that go along with being part of a family. It means that children take after their parents in some ways. They have or develop many of the same habits and dispositions.

Those who are made into members of God’s family enjoy all these special advantages. God has a special love for his true children. He redeems them and keeps them. God cares for them specially, and promises blessings both in this life and in the life to come. At their new birth, God begins the process of improving holiness in them. They begin to take on the characteristics of God, their Father. They grow in love, mercy, patience, gentleness, holiness, and faith.

There are certain characteristics that identify the true sons of God. These charcteristics are not causes of sonship. They are evidences of it. Paul brings this up here in Romans to assure the believers. Though they struggle with overcoming the inner remains of sin, there is a promise from God: If someone is truly God’s child, they should have no reason for doubts about their salvation, or terror as they look to the day of God’s final judgment.

Being God’s child is the most wonderful assurance of hope in all the universe. The evidences in this text are unmistakable marks that show a person that his sonship is genuine.

1st – There is a walk that characterizes the sons of God.

Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

It is not our walk or our life that makes us children of God. It is our true sonship that produces our walk.

They are the Sons of God who are led by the Holy Spirit, those who are governed by him in their living. His word tells what a godly walk is like. It tells us what kind of living pleases God. It is the Holy Spirit in us (as explained in 8:9-11) that produces that walk.

The Spirit does not work in God’s children to get them to walk in a more godly way against their desires. The Spirit changes their desires by regenerating them through the work of Christ. He does not just externally hold them back from sins they love and would rather do. He takes away the love for sinning, and makes them truly want to honor God. Though this love and devotion is never perfect in this life, it is an unmistakable longing the Spirit puts in them. The Spirit enlightens their understanding of spiritual things revealed in the word. Inwardly he guides his people into all truth, and produces in them behaviors and attitudes which the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Those who see this spiritual inclination in their living, are the sons of God. Those in whom these things are absent have no assurance of sonship.

2nd – The sons of God have a different motivation for obedience.

Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ “

The sons of God are those who are delivered from fear into confident dependence upon God. Their inner disposition is not moved by the workings of dread about their standing before their Creator.

Before God’s grace is applied there is a slavish anxiety in the soul. It believes that its future must be deserved, that it must be earned. The fallen heart looks at God’s law not as a revealing of an insurmountable need, but as a formula for becoming a child of God.

The lost struggle against impossible odds. God’s law demands a perfection no one can produce. It is plain from their own conscience that they are guilty before a holy God. They also have a love for sin itself. They would rather put their own desires first, than to deny themselves things God forbids. Over their heads hangs an inevitable apprehension of eternal punishment. To suppress this often denied awareness, they must live in self deception.

For the child of God there is a different motive for obedience. In place of that awful dread and personal cravings for immediate pleasures, there is a sense of adoption into the family of a loving and caring God. God’s sons want to live to please God out of gratitude. They understand that Jesus Christ paid their awful debt of guilt and has forgiven them. They know that they have been set free from sin’s blindness and slavery. They want to do what pleases God for his sake, not just for their own benefits.

What changes them is the spirit of adoption. Where once they were sons of Satan, they are now transformed inwardly, and given a new love. As sons they know their Heavenly Father hears them so they cry out to him saying, “Abba! Father!”

There are two words in the original text. The first is Abba (אבא) which is Aramaic, the common language of the Jews at that time. The second word is pataer (πατηρ), the Greek word for “father.” Both words mean the same thing. Each meaningful specially to the readers, each in his own language. We in English call him by the word “Father.” Contrary to some popular commentaries, neither word is demeaning or informal. Both these words openly confess true sonship and family confidence.

Just as a child cries out to his father for help and comfort in times of need, we who are born again, adopted into the covenant family, call out to our Heavenly Father in confidence and expected blessing.

No child in this life is all he ought to be. Even the sons of God struggle with imperfect faith and imperfect obedience. This is the struggle Paul had been explaining in the previous chapter (Romans 7). In Galatians 5:17 Paul summarizes this battle, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” There is a desire and effort daily to be putting their sins to death, and to be coming alive more and more, growing into the life of Christ. They are the sons of God who persevere in that struggle and will not give up.

3rd – There is an inner testimony from God that we are his children.

Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”

This is something more direct that just watching our lives for evidences alone. Even before much progress is made, when we are fresh from the womb of the Holy Spirit, the youngest child of God has a spiritual awareness of the touch of grace on his heart.

Dr. Charles Hodge, as great a Bible scholar as he was, said, “How this is done we cannot fully understand, any more than we can understand the mode in which he produces any other effect in our mind. The fact is clearly asserted here, as well as in other passages.”

The unregenerated person cannot understand it at all. Even the true child of God, in his imperfect soul sees this testimony only dimly, but it is there none-the-less.

The Holy Spirit bears testimony directly with our own spirit to confirm this sonship with God. Hosea 2:23 speaks of this direct testimony of God to our spirit, “Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘ You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ ”

The Apostle Paul said in Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The Apostle John explains this in his first Epistle (5:10-12), “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

And in 1John 2:20 he said, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”

This inward testimony is far from mystical visions and private revelations. Though it comes inwardly from the Spirit to the regenerated soul, it never imparts information beyond what God has preserved for us in the Bible. It convinces us by an enriched awareness, and by working the evidences of faith and obedience in our hearts. We would not know what our faith should be place in, and what standards we should honor and obey, if it was not for the recorded principles and promises from God in our Bibles.

In our yet unglorified minds this testimony is not understood without defects. There is nothing wrong or weak in the witness of the Spirit, but there is weakness in us. Moments of questioning and faltering should not be seen as proofs against true sonship. In moments of doubt, we dare not trust our own judgment or imperfect minds. Instead we cry out to our Father holding to his infallible promise. Paul explained in his First Letter to the Corinthians, 2:4-5, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The results of this amazing doctrine are very practical and filled with promise.

These sons of God are also heirs with Christ.

Romans 8:17, “and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

What is earned for us by our Lord Jesus Christ has become our promised inheritance. Galatians 3:29, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

The promised inheritance of the saints is not like an earthly estate. It is not valued in goods that become outdated or that wear out in time. It is not a title or honor that lasts for a term, then is passed on to the next generation. There is no worldly inheritance that is of the same nature as that which is ours in Christ. It is an eternal heritage in glory which will always be precious and good.

This verse also mentions our suffering with him. The single Greek word translated as “that” or “in order that” by some translations is hina (ἱνα). It does not mean that our being glorified is “caused by” or “earned by” our suffering. Our heritage is ours by God’s grace. There is no suffering that can help out or add even a little to the work of Christ for us. All the good things we gain or hope for are ours by the finished work of Christ alone.

It means that by going through the ordinary and sometimes special sorrows and pains of this life, we are refined and made more mature spiritually, preparing us for our stay in glory. It is to set us into the right order for living as glorified saints forever.

This refining process is described by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”

Suffering in this life through various trials, far from making us doubt our sonship, ought to confirm the process of the Father’s work in his sons as he prepares them for glory. He chastises the children he loves because it is best for them. The writer of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3 when in Hebrews 12:5-6 he wrote, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’ ”

The work of the Holy Spirit leads us to walk in the ways of holiness, purifies our motives to want to obey God out of gratitude and love, and confirms the Spirit’s presence to us inwardly proving our sonship. By these actions he removes all reasons for doubt that we are truly God’s sons.

It is important that we do not get things turned around. It is God who produces these things in us. If we see our obedience, gratitude, and confidence as things we do to move God, then we turn assurance into uncertainty, and blessing into a burden.

When we struggle in the weakness of our flesh, when we doubt our salvation, the remedy is not found by looking more and more at ourselves, neither inwardly nor outwardly. Though there are evidences there which are certain and irrefutable, there is a problem in our confident grasp of them. We ought instead to turn our attention to the foundation of our assurance, the promises of God. The words of the Bible are what the Spirit uses to assure our hearts that we are his.

There’s a wonderful summary of this in the Westminster Confession, chapter 18, Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation. I highly recommend you carefully read and study this section. Look up the Scriptures cited in the full version. The last paragraph leaves us with these words,

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Spirit Within

Lesson 26: Romans 8:9-11

The Spirit Within

by Bob Burridge ©2011

The person who has an honest understanding of himself, and a true understanding of God, knows that he is far from all he ought to be. Only those who are willingly blind to their own covetings and shortcomings, or who have a very low view of God and his holiness, dare to think they deserve his blessings, or have merited his forgiveness.

It is impossible to live in a way that consistently pleases God. Of course you cannot please him at all if you have not first known Christ as your Redeemer. But our new birth is just the beginning. Those who have come to know his forgiveness and restoration often become frustrated over the agony of their moral failures. When we love God so much, and are so very thankful to him, it hurts all the more when we fail to live as Christ would live in our situation.

God has promised a most amazing provision for his children.

The same Spirit that gives us life is also given to be an indwelling presence in us. In the midst of Paul’s lesson on the importance of holy living in this Epistle to the Romans, he makes reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people.

Romans 8:9-11, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

What is this indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

A good start in answering that question is to rule out a few common misunderstandings of it.

Indwelling is not that the Holy Spirit comes into some place where he had not been before. God is everywhere, always. He fills all space in the universe he created. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

There is no place where any person of the Trinity is ever absent. He is there inside and all around the believer and the worst infidel or pagan. He is just as present in heaven as he is in hell according to this Psalm and other texts. It is true that in Heaven God specially shows his glory. In Hell he specially shows his justice and wrath. In the Lord’s Supper he specially shows his work as Redeemer. In the heart of a good parent he shows his love and tenderness. Though he manifests himself differently in different places, he is altogether present in all of them all the time.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit begins when a person is redeemed. It is first seen when the person acts in faith to show life implanted by the grace of God. The Spirit does not come in where he had not been before. However, he begins to show himself in new and special ways. That is what indwelling is all about. Indwelling does not tell us where the Holy Spirit is. It refers to that special blessing and relationship a child of God bears with his Lord.

Therefore, the Spirit’s indwelling cannot be something unique to the New Testament church. We see many of the same things attributed to the Holy Spirit being produced in believers before the time of Christ that we see in the church after Pentecost. There is clear evidence that the same indwelling Spirit blessed the Old Testament believers.

In Numbers 27:18 Joshua was called, “a man in whom is the Spirit”. Psalm 143:10 testifies to the desire of the Psalmist, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” There are many other references to the work of the Spirit in the lives of Old Testament believers.

Just as in the New Testament church, believers before Jesus experienced Spirit given understanding, enablement to special callings, ability to desire and to do good, an assurance of God’s grace and blessing, comfort in hard situations, and a hope of eternal glory. Without the Holy Spirit’s special work in the heart of the believer these things would always be impossible.

After Pentecost there is a new and special relationship of the believer with God. Jesus sent the Spirit to be a special comforter to his church after he left. Instead of ministering through human priests and blood sacrifices, believers by the Spirit know directly of the work of Jesus Christ. Our Savior is the archetype High Priest, the Lamb of God. Pentecost was the expansion of this special relationship. It was not the beginning of “indwelling”. That has always been the treasure of believers.

The Spirit’s indwelling produces valuable qualities in the believer.

The Holy Spirit maintains and upholds the life given to us in regeneration.

He gives us spiritual understanding. Earlier in this epistle Paul reminded us that the fallen human race is devoid of spiritual understanding. Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” Paul was quoting from the Old Testament Book of Psalms. This is a tragic principle that has existed since the fall of man in Adam.

The indwelling Spirit gives that spiritual understanding which we otherwise could not have. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 Paul wrote, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Jesus Christ, working by the Spirit which he puts in us when he saves us, enlightens our minds. In Ephesians 3:17-19 the Apostle wrote, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The Holy Spirit enables believers to do what God calls them to do. These are often called the “fillings” of the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit strengthens us inwardly and helps us as we pray for his enablement. Just as too much wine influences a person’s judgment and behavior, so also the Holy Spirit influences the believer’s judgment and behavior. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” and Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit … ” (compare with Acts 2:13, “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine.’ “).

The filling of the Holy Spirit enables believers to specific tasks God calls them to do. In Exodus 28:3 it says, “So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments”, and Exodus 31:3 where God says of Bezalel, “And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” In Deuteronomy 34:9 it speaks of Joshua who was filled with the “spirit of wisdom” to lead the people. In Micah 3:8 the Prophet writes, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD, And of justice and might, To declare to Jacob his transgression And to Israel his sin.”

Paul said in Ephesians 3:16, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,” and in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

Any success that honors God with our talent in being salesmen, managers, teachers, parents, spouses, programmers, Deacons, Elders, students, builders, fixers, or servants is provided to us by the work of the Spirit in us. This is why David feared when he sinned with Bathsheba, and had her husband killed, and then lied to cover it up. He had seen God abandon Saul, the king before him. So David humbly confessed and prayed in Psalm 51:10-12, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” David did not want to lose that enablement of the Spirit that made him able to rule God’s people as their king. He saw that happen to Saul.

Of course it is the work of God that makes even the heathen able to succeed in his work. That is the condemning tragedy of it all. They take what God gives, but fail to honor him with it. Our ability to do these jobs in a God pleasing way is specially a result of the indwelling Spirit. So Paul warned Timothy about the talent and opportunities God had given him. In 2 Timothy 1:14 he wrote, “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

The Spirit also begins the process of making us holy in practice and thought. This is the continuing work of sanctification. It is the indwelling Spirit who helps us to live a holy life. This is the point Paul is making in our present text. The indwelling work of the Spirit is the opposite of being “in the flesh.”

Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

It is the work of Jesus Christ as our Savior on the cross that removes our guilt before God by paying for what we deserve. It is that continuing special work of the Holy Spirit that infuses us with life, and makes us able to honor God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. It proves that our sonship with God is genuine. Rather than seeing our joy as being fulfilled only in the flesh, the physical realm we can see and feel, we see the spiritual side of things. We know we are not merely living beings, we are creatures of a living God.

These qualities generate wonderful treasures of blessing.

These are the things all people seek, but can never find in any other way. This is why they make up all sorts of strange cults and religions. This is why people flock to psychiatrists and psychologists, yet find no cure for their problems. It is why some resort to mind altering drugs and indulge in immoral life styles. They want some kind of assurance, comfort, and hope.

Only the indwelling Spirit gives us true assurance of God at work in our lives. He assures his people of sonship and of salvation. Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, “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!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

When we see our Creator producing the evidences of understanding, godly enablement, and thankful obedience in us, there can be no doubt that we are his. Even the deep grief we experience when we sin is proof that we are changed by grace. 1 John 4:13 says, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

The indwelling Spirit is the seal of genuineness from God. It assures us that we are his. The indwelling Spirit produces comfort and assurance in the heart of the believer. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Paul said, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” In that same epistle in 5:5 he wrote, “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” In writing in Galatians 4:6 he said that it is the Spirit in us that makes us cry out as children saying, “Abba! Father!”

The Psalms are filled with verses about the peace and comfort God the Spirit brings to his children. In Psalm 23:2 it says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” Psalm 139:7-10 shows that it is the Holy Spirit that brings that contentment. There the Psalmist writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

As the church spread in the days of the Apostles, Acts 9:31 shows us the source of comfort. It says, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”

The indwelling Spirit gives us an eternal hope that cannot fall short or ever fail. This is Paul’s other main point in this portion of scripture.

Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

The Holy Spirit is the conveyer of spiritual life from God. A life that is eternal. He is the down-payment of the promise that we will live in the house of the Lord forever. Notice the confidence we have which Paul explained in his letter to the churches in Ephesus.

Ephesians 1:13-14, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

It is the Holy Spirit who assures us of the promise that even our physical bodies will be glorified one day.

The presence of the Holy Spirit ministers the Love of God which is sent into our hearts. In Romans 5:5 Paul said, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

So, do you lack understanding of God’s word? Do you long for his enablement to the jobs he calls you to do? Do you do all things with right motives to give God all the glory? Do you strive for holiness in your life instead of looking to forbidden things for satisfaction? Do you long for assurance, comfort, and a true hope that is not just an empty wish? You need to look no further than the promises of God’s word about the Holy Spirit. You need no deep intellectual insights, or manipulations of your emotions.

Step 1 – Make sure you are in Christ. Trust in no other hope, nothing in yourself, in your church, in your deeds or intentions. Trust in the life and death of the one True Savior as promised from the beginning.

Step 2 – Rest in God’s promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. You need no special skills, no other resolutions or strength. Humbly seek that which is confirmed in the Word of God to his children.

If the Spirit dwells in you, you lack for no other enablement. Live for him, serve him, love him with all of your heart. The God who promised cannot fail. These treasures of assurance, comfort, and hope are yours.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Life of the Soul Set Free

Lesson 25: Romans 8:1-13

The Life of the Soul Set Free

One day each of us, every human without exception, will stand before the Judgment Seat of our Creator. It will not be like the courtrooms we are familiar with here on earth. It will not be a time of making decisions, or presenting arguments. It will be a time of revealing eternal determinations. In that day you will stand before the perfectly Holy God who made you.

As we have seen in the first chapters of Romans, the charges if read aloud would be something like this: “You are a descendant of Adam. Along with all others naturally descended from him and represented by him there in Eden, you have inherited inexcusable guilt. This corruption which was yours since conception has produced a sinful life. Perhaps you have not been perceived as wicked in the eyes of other humans. Likely you have not all lived a life of civil crimes, open blasphemy, or blatant immorality. But your life has failed to honor God as you should have. As Romans 3:23 declares, ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ ”

Based upon God’s revealed moral principles you must be condemned forever. Anything less would be injustice.

The gavel is raised. As it falls you know only one verdict would be fair: Guilty as charged! Only one sentence would be consistent with God’s pure character: Death for eternity! That death sentence is not mere annihilation. It will not be some comic book or Hollywood version of hell. It will be an unrelenting torment, and an unending separation from God’s comfort and joy forever.

However — when the judges gavel falls, what an astounding judgment stuns the court! He says, “You are in Christ Jesus, therefore there is now no condemnation!”

This is what Paul tells us clearly in Romans Chapter 8:1-4.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The word “law” is not only used to describe sets of rules in God’s word. Another common way the word is used is to describe a principle at work. We use it this way today for principles we see at work like “the law of gravity” or “the law of supply and demand.” Here in verse 2, it identifies two principles that operate in the hearts of men: the Principle of the Spirit of Life, and the Principle of Sin and Death.

The principle that originally condemns
us is the law of sin and death.

The standard by which we will be judged is God’s Moral law. This law is as a set of moral principles which emerge from the Creator’s nature as it relates to his created world. The Moral law of God is summarized in the 10 Commandments, but is not limited to those representative situations. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:21-30, the sins pointed out here begin in the heart. Even personal hatred and extramarital lust violate the principles of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments. The standard is not only high, it demands absolute perfection. Since we inherit the guilt of Adam and a corrupt nature, no one can measure up.

Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”

James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Therefore God’s Law justly condemns us. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” This is not just threatening us with physical death. It includes eternal spiritual death, which is separation from God’s blessing forever. The principle that condemns the children of Adam is that sin resides in, infects, and is at work in every heart, and that this offense demands a death sentence that never ends.

How then can we be found innocent when are all equally guilty? Certainly neither the Law of God, nor the principle of sin and death have the power to remove guilt. Paul says the Law is weak according to the flesh. Our depraved nature is unable to obey the law of God. This “fleshly life” of ours is out of touch with God. We are cut off from the flow of spiritual life which comes from our Creator to those who stand innocently before him. The law therefore can never be a way of salvation for the guilty.

Deliverance was never the purpose of the Law. The commandments were not given to redeem anyone. They were given both to expose our sin nature, and to prove our just condemnation. Their continuing benefit is as a guide only for those already redeemed so that they can know how to live in a way that honors God.

The other principle is the one that liberates us:
the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

This is what sets us free from that condemning principle. Jesus Christ laid down his life for his own people, paying the debt of sin in their place. As the “Second Adam” he represented those given to him by the Father. In their place he lived a perfectly holy life, and died an infinitely horrible death. For the believer who stands before God’s bench of justice, Jesus paid his eternal sentence in full, and has given him the benefits of his own righteousness.

This is how those justly accused are judged to be not guilty. There can be no other way. If it was not for this gospel, this good message, no one would escape his deserved and just damnation.

When Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law for you, he set you free. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those redeemed by our Savior.

This is an astounding truth! When the gavel of the divine Judge falls he declares, “Not guilty.” Though we know we deserve nothing but the fires of hell forever, in Christ we are awarded an unending place of residence in God’s glorious city.

Our sentence is served. The capitol punishment of our guilt was carried out at Calvary. Now, nothing can be alleged against us that is not already paid for in Christ. There is no sin that can condemn those set free in the Savior.

A redeemed soul is also a changed soul.

Far from this assurance of grace leaving us to become casual about sin, it has exactly the opposite effect. Christ not only set us free from condemnation, he also delivers us from our inability to do good. A redeemed soul will be a converted soul. The new life will show up in its manner of living.

Some have wondered why Paul tells us to “put to death” (“mortify” in some translations) the the deeds of the body (“the flesh” in some translations) if we have been crucified with Christ. The “old man” is dead as he said in Romans 6:6, yet in Ephesians 4:22 Paul tells us to put off this “old man.” Is he not already dead? Then in Colossians 3:9 Paul tells them not to lie since they have put off the “old man.”

There are two senses in which our relationship with sin being addressed. On the one hand we are judicially declared innocent and holy in Jesus Christ. Our guilt is credited to him who paid its penalty. The perfect Righteousness of our Savior is credited to us who do not deserve it. The “old man”, our old relationship with sin as our master, is declared to be dead. Paul has been showing us in this section of Romans that this does not mean that we never sin again. The ways of the old relationship continue to need eradication. Notice that in Ephesians 4:22 Paul qualifies his comment about putting off the old man by saying, “concerning your former conduct”. The old relationship is gone. We are set free. The habits and former influences of that old relationship now need to be brought into conformity with our new relationship. The “new man” is to be conforming his life, not just his thinking or legal standing, to the ways God has revealed for his children to live.

Not all fallen humans will be declared innocent on the basis of the work of Christ. The promise is for those not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This does not mean that forgiveness is earned by the way we live. That is contrary to everything Paul had said so far. There is no justification by our works.

What it does mean is this: the defendant standing before the bar of God’s justice does not plead his own merits. He pleads only the merits of Christ. In this life on earth, he finds assurance and confidence when he sees his life changed by Christ. Those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh can know that the Savior has set them free. As we will see, Chapter 8 of this Epistle to the Romans is centered upon how we can be assured that we belong to Christ.

So then, how do we know when we are redeemed? Paul clears up what it means to be walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh. The person’s true mind set is exposed by specific attitudes and behaviors. The mind includes the whole disposition of the person: his thoughts, intentions, and choices. He is either inclined to evil or to good.

In the language Paul used in the last chapter (Romans 7), either a person remains under the mastery of law which condemns him, or he is set free from that condemnation to become a servant of righteousness in Christ.

Now, here in Chapter 8, Paul continues in verses 5-13.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

The lost person’s mind is inclined to the flesh alone. That is, he honors the body as a thing with no spiritual dimensions. Those not declared innocent in Christ are identified by these things:

  • The mind set on the flesh is death. (8:6)
    Such a person remains unredeemed and under the just condemnation of God’s law. His moral offense causes him to be forever separated from God’s blessing and forgiveness. Without this flow of spiritual life, his attitudes and behaviors are those of a dead soul.
  • The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. (8:7a)
    Instead of living for the glory of his Creator, he measures all things by how it will benefit himself. He is the enemy of God, though he may claim to be godly and good.
  • The mind set on the flesh is not subject to Law. It cannot be. (8:7b)
    Paul has already supported the fact that the lost soul is depraved. Not one of us honors the commandments God has revealed as he intended them. The nature of the fallen heart redefines morality to meet its own self-centered standards. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The whole concept of moral inability is confirmed here. As Olshausen said, “No man can free himself from himself.”
  • The mind set on the flesh cannot please God. (8:8)
    God is not pleased with any actions or thoughts which come from a creature-serving heart. Instead of acting with respect to what God has revealed as good, it acts upon what promotes his own interest. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please (God)…”

Upon those minded toward the flesh, the Judge’s gavel falls with a guilty verdict. But those graciously declared innocent in Christ have a different set of mind:

  • The mind set upon the Spirit is life and peace. (8:6)
    Where once we were dead, Christ has made us alive, reunited with God. As those whose offense is removed, they have peace instead of turmoil. Instead of being the enemies of God, they are his allies, they are citizens of his own Kingdom, his dear children. They are guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The mortal puts on immortality in Christ — he has hope in the resurrection of the body, as well as in the benefits of regeneration in this life.
  • The mind set upon the Spirit is empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (8:9,11)
    The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an astounding promise that goes beyond the scope of this study. The basic benefit is that the believer has a special enablement in living for God’s glory. The presence of that Spirit will be seen in his life.
  • The mind set on the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. (8:10)
    Righteousness is innocence before the law. It is not our own righteousness that makes us alive, but the gift of Christ’s righteousness.

Those declared holy in Christ by grace are not only justified, they also begin to grow in personal holiness. That is what we call subjective sanctification. The life implanted progresses as it more and more makes us conform to the ways of our Savior, and die more and more to the false pleasures of sin. While this holiness is a process never completed in this life, is for now imperfect, and there are sad lapses at times, nevertheless it is always moving forward — if the person is truly reborn in Christ.

This leaves us with some serious work to do in our lives.

This is not a burdensome obligation to which we must resign ourselves. It is our joyful privilege and benefit to do. Though we are set free from the law’s condemnation and are enabled to truly love God, the remains of sin in our lives gives us a constant duty. We are to be putting off the ways of mere flesh-mindedness, and to be abandoning the things that offend God. We are to put on the ways of the Spirit, to dress ourselves in honorable living.

As Paul wrote to the believers in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Our great privilege as those who are promised to be judged “innocent” through Christ, is that we are forgiven and made to be sons of God. Our great duty is to be mortifying the ways of the flesh as those who are truly members of the family of God.

How serious are you about this? Imagine that you were struggling with a horrible degeneration of your body. Medical test revealed that your body was strangely allergic to a specific type of food. The doctor said that if you just stopped your intake of that particular substance you will recover fully. That would be good news! You would go home, and clear out your house of the things that were harming you. You would make sure you provided yourself with a supply of safe foods. When hunger cravings come along, you would have planned to have no supply of the harmful foods available in your cupboard. Instead, you would stock up on the good nourishments that would not harm your body

God is telling us through his law that believers are still infected by the presence of sin. It will not condemn them to hell. They are set free from guilt, and declared righteous in Christ. However, sin will continue to put up a battle in their lives. If they have no concern for waging war with continuing sin, they have cause for alarm. Since no one is justified who is not also being sanctified, an apathy for holiness brings to question that person’s true salvation in Christ.

Is your mind set upon the things of the flesh? Or are you at war with sin in your life? Are you compelled to becoming more Christ-like?

Get rid of all those things that injure your soul, things that tempt you to sin. Clear away the opportunities for them from your schedule. Cut off the bridges to things that dishonor God. Remove them as if they were poisons destroying your real enjoyment of life. Mortify the deeds of the flesh and make no room for them. Show that you are a child of God. Get busy setting your plans and efforts to encouraging what will promote life. Put off the old man and put on the new. Stock up on those things which will promote godliness. Replace the things that tend toward sin. Build up your Christian friendships and work in the church. Attend all its worship services. Strive to obey with all the resources God has given you.

Only as evidence is shown that you belong to Christ, can you be confident of acquittal before the Judgment seat of Christ in that last day.

The Apostle John warns us in this same way. In 1 John 2:15-17 he wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

If you are not sure of your how you stand, if you fear that you might still love your sin too much, then make it right today. Come to Christ in humble confession. This is always appropriate for all of us. Call out to him who alone makes you alive by his death. As Peter warns us in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

As those resting in Christ there is this continuing duty: search out and strip away all the opportunities of sin. Show the evidence of a soul set free. When that day comes, when that gavel comes down with an unappealable verdict, you can know that you will hear the words, “Not guilty by reason of the finished work of Jesus Christ.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Our War with Sin

Lesson 24: Romans 7:13-25

No one has to be told that all humans have an on-going struggle with sin.

Our own experience, and the direct statements of the Bible, confirm that even the redeemed in Christ struggle with the continuing influence of a fallen nature. This struggle leads some to doubt their salvation and fall into discouragement. It makes some give up the battle in their war with sin. It instigates others to devise strange remedies of mystical awakenings and insights as if sin could be conquered by just the right attitude, experience, or knowledge.

These are tragic errors. They mislead and hurt people who care about their Savior. So Paul deals with this problem in these middle chapters of his Letter to the Romans. There is a right way to engage the enemy of sin as the war wages on.

Paul had just explained that before he was regenerated by God’s grace, he had lived superficially. He thought he was able to keep the law well enough to earn God’s blessings. Of course, only a very shallow view of God’s law could lead to a conclusion like that. He saw himself as very much alive spiritually and innocent before God. He was completely blind to the sin that condemned him and made all his pious deeds worthless.

Then something revolutionary happened in his soul. The Holy Spirit came and changed his heart. The Spirit used the law of God to show Paul that he was not as good as he supposed. Sin was thriving in places he had not expected to find it. Not only was it wrong to steal or to commit adultery, the law now showed him it was wrong even to covet such things. With his spiritually opened eyes he saw the inner spiritual nature of the law of God. What he thought was proof that he was spiritually alive proved the opposite. So when the law came in its real meaning sin revived and he found himself to be spiritually dead.

The Holy Spirit made the gospel known to him. Once he saw his own depravity he could appreciate the wonders of the work of Jesus Christ. He realized that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah who died in place of his people to remove their guilt and to restore them to fellowship with God.

The law took on a whole new meaning for him. Instead of thinking of it as a way to earn his way to blessing, he saw it as God’s guide for showing his thankfulness for his salvation by grace alone. He found that the law was never a way to life. Instead, its moral principles were, are, and always will be the way of life for those redeemed by the work of the Savior.

Paul begins this next section of Romans 7 with a question:

Romans 7:13, “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.”

The law works a wonderful achievement in the sinner touched by God the Holy Spirit. He is humbled before God to see things as they really are. He sees the depth of his own sin and is driven in repentance to the Savior. He sees that Jesus Christ fulfilled all that which the laws of sacrificial worship promised. He paid the debt of sin in the sinner’s place. There, by trusting in this work of the Redeemer alone, the rescued sinner finds great comfort and peace as the weight of his guilt is lifted. The law is not the cause of death. It exposes a death that was there all along. It reveals the true state of things, and becomes the backdrop against which the redeemed behold the full grandeur of grace. God’s law not only reveals our sin, it also provides a continuing guide for grateful and victorious Christian living.

Paul explains the struggle that is so real to every believer.

Romans 7:14-23, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

This can be a difficult passage if not taken in the context of the flow of Paul’s reasoning. Its basic meaning is very simple and obvious. Paul is dealing with our agonizingly familiar struggle with sin. However, some want to take it in a less self-condemning way. They invent ways to explain away the personal conflict we all face as the redeemed children of God.

Some suggest that Paul is only talking about the struggle of unbelievers. Since he uses himself as an example, they imagine he is speaking of his life before he was a Christian. But the unbeliever never struggles against sin in the way described here.

In the previous section (6:1-7:12) Paul explained how the felt about sin before the Lord changed him. Back then he was a leader among the Pharisees. He saw no spiritual problem in his life. He imagined himself to be spiritually alive and morally good. It was not until the Spirit opened his eyes by the law that he realized sin was the enemy within. It is only the regenerated believer who struggles in this way against sin. The unbeliever has no inner love for the law of God. Therefore this section cannot possibly refer to the struggle of the unbeliever

Others suggest that Paul is speaking of different classes of believers. They imagine that there are some believers who know Christ as Savior, but not as Lord. They invent a system where a person can be cleansed from the guilt of sin, but not changed within. To them this section is only speaking of those “carnal” christians who have not yet discovered the secret of moving up to being “spiritual Christians”.

The Bible never speaks of different classes of believers. Either you are redeemed by Christ and changed, or you are not. All who are redeemed struggle with sin in this life, and each progresses differently, but no one gets a special rank that elevates him above the others. Only the spiritually proud would imagine themselves to be a special class within the body of Christ.

When Paul says he is “carnal”, and calls the Corinthians “carnal” in his letter to them, he is not saying they need to get some second work of grace. He is simply saying what we all know to be true: though we are born again, and released from our condemnation, we still struggle with the remains of sin. There is no simple and quick solution to our struggle. Instead of trying to explain away the battle, we need to learn how to fight battle.

Paul shows us that there are two opposing principles at work.

1. the principle of righteousness
The believer is assured that the guilt of his sin is paid for by Christ. He understands that his guilt is deserved and very real, but it is paid for. By his life and death, Jesus took on the penalty the believer deserved so that he could be forgiven without violating justice. The holy life of Jesus is credited to the believer so that God views him as holy. The believer wants to thank God for that grace by living an obedient life. Once fellowship with God is restored by Christ, an inner change takes place. Sin is no longer defended. The believer begins to want to live obediently. This engenders a love for the law and a desire to honor God by it. Clearly Paul shows that inwardly he wants to do what is right. There is now a principle of righteousness at work in him. Though he does evil, he doesn’t desire to be a sinner (verse 19). In verse 22 Paul wrote, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.”

God’s law is spiritual. It is applied by the Holy Spirit to the inner part of man. In contrast, Paul still struggles with the former ways of sin.

2. the principle of evil
There is another principle at work, the principle of evil present with him (7:21). Though the believer wants to do right he finds that he does not always do it. The remains and habits of sin are not gone and are hard to overcome. Paul sees himself caught in a struggle, a true spiritual war (7:23). The war is not just against the world around him. He finds that it is also in his own heart. The believer, though redeemed and regenerated, is in one sense in bondage to sin (7:23). The imperfection of our souls will never be removed until we are united with Christ in eternal glory.

Obviously there are different ways in which we are in “bondage” here.

The scope of captivity or bondage is always specific. It rarely includes everything imaginable. For example, Israel was in “bondage” in Egypt. However, even as slaves they were free to pray. God used their prayers to end their slavery through his deliverance by Moses. Their bondage was only outward. Satan is said to be bound in this age in Revelation 20:1-3. That does not mean he is inactive. Far from that! He is only said to be locked up in bondage so that he will no longer deceive the Gentiles (Revelation 20:3). When the Gentiles started becoming the main part of the church, it proved that Satan no longer held them in his deception as a whole group. So also, the bondage Paul speaks of here and in the previous section is limited. Therefore in one sense we are free from bondage to sin. In another sense we are still bound to sin.

In the last section Paul said that we are set free from bondage to sin. He did not mean that we are now free from ever sinning again. That much is obvious. He was making it clear that we are no longer under sin as our master in two specific ways:

1. We are free from the condemnation of sin as demanded by God’s justice. The law demands that sinners die. This death is not just physical. It includes spiritual death, total separation from fellowship with the Creator forever. Jesus paid that infinitely large price in place of his people. Believers are set free from the horrors of damnation which they deserve. They are no longer bound to the legal penalties of sin because those debts have been paid.

2. We are also set free from the disposition that always inclines the lost person away from honoring God. In our lost condition we are unable to do anything truly good. No unredeemed person is motivated by a love of God and directed to live for their Creator’s true glory. In Christ we are set free from that evil master, and bound to a love for righteousness. We are made able to do truly good things for God’s glory. Obedience is not for self-benefit. It is done humbly out of love for the Redeemer. We never contribute to our redemption. Jesus alone does that. In this sense we are no longer in bondage to sin as our master.

Here, just a few verses later, Paul says we are in bondage to sin. He obviously means it in a different sense. In this section he is not talking about the legal debt of sin, or the spiritual deadness of our captive heart. Here he is talking about the on-going influence of sin in our lives. Clearly no one can claim that we are totally set free from ever sinning by trusting in Jesus Christ as his Savior. The Apostle John put it this way in 1 John 1:8-10, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

Since sin is our continuing enemy, we better know how to fight the battle!

We need to fight sin as those who trust in the power and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The unbeliever fights against the consequences of his sins, not against the sins themselves. He wants to avoid the bad outcome, but not because it is wrong and offends God. He knows that if he steals he might go to jail, but he fails to see it as stealing when he keeps extra money he gets because of a mistake at the checkout counter. He knows he should never murder because of the bad results if he gets caught. However he justifies his hatred of people he sees as annoying. He is willing to kill unborn babies rather than control his sexual urges. He knows that if he is unfaithful to his wife he might get thrown out of the house, not be able to visit his children, or have to pay alimony. He avoids abusing alcohol and drugs because it might cost him his job. He knows that if he lies people might not trust him anymore. If he believes he can keep out of trouble or get away with it, he will gladly mislead and deceive. He knows he should worship and go to church because he fears hell and damnation, but he wants worship to be entertaining, worth his time, and for the sermon to stay away from pointing out sin and responsibility too clearly.

The reason he is so hypocritical is that the undredeemed person is still in bandage to the guilt of his sins, and his disposition remains inclined toward self-interests over the glory of the true God. The unbeliever has not only the principle of evil in him, but in place of the principle of righteousness he has a principle of unrighteousness. He battles sin only so that things will go well for him in conscience and for personal gain.

The believer looks on the battle with sin very differently. He wants to do right because he knows that sin offends the God who has redeemed him. The principle of unrighteousness has been replaced with the principle of righteousness. When he sins he grieves because he knows that his loving Shepherd is grieved. As Paul explains here, he has learned to “… delight in the law of God according to the inward man,” (7:22). He wants to do good for God’s glory, not for harps, halos, or a home in the clouds. His sin bothers him greatly. He confesses it most sincerely, and by the power of his risen Lord he works hard to overcome it.

These are important promises for the believer. He has the power of the living Savior at work in him to enable him to do what is truly God honoring. He has the assurance that when he sins, his guilt is paid for. In light of the enormity of the Redeemer’s work on his behalf, grace overwhelms him. He knows he does not receive the penalty he deserves. He knows by God’s own promise in the Scriptures, that while he battles all his life to overcome sin, yet he cannot lose the forgiveness and new birth he has by God’s grace.

The remains of sin are not the chains of sin.

Of course there will not always be a steady and clear day by day improvement. Sometimes he will sin most disappointingly and grievously. To him, the inner-sins seem so much more offensive as he matures spiritually. His awareness of his sin increases. However, in the overall view of things, he is growing in Christ.

How is it that in 7:17 Paul says, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”? Obviously he is not excusing his sin as if he wasn’t to blame, or that another person in him did it. He is expressing that inner battle we all know when we come to love God’s moral principles, but are humbly convicted about our lapses into sin. Paul is saying here that he is not altogether behind it. While he sins most willingly, yet part of him is deeply upset by it for God’s sake. So it is not the whole person that is running after sin as it was before his redemption. It’s that sin part in him, his yet unsanctified remains of sin, that drive him to do wrong.

Finally Paul cries out in agony, but not in despair.

Romans 7:24-25, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

He finds relief, comfort, and hope in the promise of his living Savior.

The battle with sin is not a mystical clash of impersonal forces that pull us against our will. It is a simple matter of us who are yet imperfect fighting with all we can to grow in Christ. We draw from the power of our Creator, having been restored to fellowship with him by the righteousness imputed to us from our Savor.

This is truly a war. The enemy is not only out there trying to bring us down. He lies within. It is a battle we each will fight all our lives. There is no easy escape. We have all the weapons we need to wage the war, and we have the power of Christ which ensures us that the war is already won.

One day the moral struggles of this life will be over. We will enjoy complete victory. For the rest of eternity that struggle with sin will be over. Heaven is far more than a tranquil resort for harp loving cloud dwellers. That pagan view of glory has little appeal to the true believer.

What God promises is far far better. One day each of us will know what it is like to no longer be at battle with indwelling sin! There will be no more habits of evil to overcome or to fight off. We will struggle no more with offenses from which to repent.We will know no more weeping because we have grieve our God. We will live in a sin-free state in the glorious presence of God for all eternity.

Meanwhile, never lose heart. By using all the means God has given you, keep up the battle resting by the power of Christ which alone enables his children to progress toward the Savior’s likeness, and to be dying more and more to sin’s presence.

by Bob Burridge ©2011

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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