Differences That Ought Not Divide

Lesson 53: Romans 14

Differences That Ought Not Divide

by Bob Burridge ©2012

There is a device in many of our churches that was once considered a tool of Satan. It was thought to belong to the world of evil and ungodliness. Many considered it a compromise to be around such a thing, much less bring it into worship. There were churches divided over it. Some left churches because of it. I am speaking of this device we call a “piano.”

There was a time when it was identified with the dance halls, the saloons, and gambling rooms. When it was played, minds were thought to be corrupted and turned away from Christ.

There was nothing evil about the piano in itself. Clearly, it was being abused by many in ungodly ways. Until that association could be changed, many wise Christian leaders thought it wise to keep from using the piano because of its reputation. While it makes a nice instrument to accompany the singing of praise to God in worship, and there was nothing forbidden about it in God’s word, yet it was nothing over which we should divide a church. Worship went along well without it. When the piano’s tainted image faded, and it emerged into the mainstream of our culture, it became the central instrument for worship in many conservative congregations.

Now that this perception has changed, other musical debates go on as we try to worship and live God-honoring, responsible lives in changing cultures. There are other issues that effect churches in the same way.

On the one hand, there are those who with great caution avoid many trends because of the connections they have in the minds of some with ungodly practices, and with people who live openly rebellious and flagrantly sinful lives. This caution often goes beyond their own choices. People begin questioning the salvation of those who do not make the same distinctions.

On the other hand, there are those who see nothing wrong with new cultural practices. They freely embrace them, and flaunt their liberty deeply offending other dear Christians.

Obviously either direction can be taken to a sinful extreme which can tear apart the family of God here on earth. That is exactly what the great Enemy of our Faith would love to see happen.

There were similar problems in the early church. There was confusion about certain practices that were common in their culture. It was not that God’s word was unclear. The problem was in the imperfect way we humans use God’s word, and apply it to situations that effect us personally. Often our upbringing or culture produce convictions and traditions which are neither consistent with, nor derived from God’s word. Therefore, some are bound to set the moral boundaries at different places than others.

The members of Christ’s church will not always agree on everything in this life. So it is very important that we know not only the boundaries God sets in his word, and the liberty we have to move within those boundaries. We also need to know how to get along with other imperfect Christians as we mature together in Christ.

In Romans 14, Paul deals with two classes of disputes that were causing tension at that time. He did not bring them up only to show us which side was right. His primary purpose was to show us how to deal with other believers who differ with us over such things.

First, some of the Roman Christians considered it wrong to eat meat or to drink wine. Paul refers to them as vegetarians in verse 2. As Gentiles came into the church some had been brought up with pagan customs. Some, influenced by the popular Neo-Pythagorean movement abstained from many things. For others in the Roman culture it was common to eat meat and to drink wine that had been consecrated to idols. This was a special problem that Corinth struggled with too.

Some of the believers who were Jews came from a strict Pharisaical upbringing. They abstained from eating certain types of meats as God commanded to Moses. Vegetarianism, or abstaining from all wine, was contrary to the law of God. Nevertheless, there were some vegetarian Jews among the sect of the Essenes. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived at that time, said there were vegetarian Jews in Rome at that time.

The second issue was that some Roman believers celebrated special religious days other than the weekly Lord’s Day. Some Gentiles continued many cultural holidays that were part of their pagan upbringing. Some Jews continued the ritual Jewish holidays that prefigured Christ’s coming. They understood that the meaning of the days had been fulfilled in Jesus, but they believed they were still to be required.

Paul did not tell us here exactly which of these views were the problem in Rome. His main concern in this letter was to show how we ought to treat those with whom we differ. It was causing open disagreements and tensions in the body of Christ. In spite of their differences, the people involved were all true believers. Both sides of the issues understood that the work of Christ had fulfilled what the law foreshadowed.

So who was right about these issues? In the first two verses Paul calls these vegetarians and abstainers weak in faith.

The dietary laws of God’s word had ended with the coming of Christ. Under the law given to Moses, God restricted the diet of the Jews to only certain foods. This was done only for a limited time to illustrate the purity we must have in holiness. That limitation was done away when Jesus came and completed what the ritual laws illustrated. Jesus pronounced all foods to be acceptable. After recording this lesson by Jesus, Mark 7:19 summarized that Jesus had declared all foods clean.

Peter learned by direct revelation from God, that the old dietary laws of Moses no longer applied. Luke tells us in Acts 10 that God offered to Peter foods formerly forbidden. God said, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” When Peter refused, the Lord said, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

Paul made this same point when writing to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, and others. Later in his ministry he wrote to two Pastors of churches about this issue. To Timothy he said, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Then to Titus he wrote, “To the pure all things are pure.”

God also put an end to the holy days established under Moses. The weekly Creation Sabbath of ceasing work after six days of labor continued always. It did not start with Moses, but in the time of Adam in Eden. Such ordinances are about God’s Sovereignty and Creatorship, not about redemption, so they continue in the Christian church. But the many other sabbaths of 7 weeks, 7 months, 7 years, 7 sabbath years, and the special feast and rest days given under the Levitical laws, were only temporary. They were redemptive and represented the rest Christ would bring to our souls in delivering us by his atonement. So when Jesus completed his work, those days ceased to serve a purpose.

Paul explained this many times because it was an important change in God’s requirements. In Galatians 4:9-10 he warns them not to become enslaved all over again to “… observe days and months and seasons and years.” In Colossians 2:16-17 he wrote, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”

God’s law never did forbid the eating of meat or the drinking of wine in moderation. So if God’s law never required these strict limits, man made regulations certainly should not. The customs of pagans and of the Jewish cults were wrong from the start. This does not rule out personal choices to abstain, but we should not imply that it is a moral issue that others should comply with as well.

There were admittedly hard transitions to be made for both formerly pagan Gentiles and faithful Jews. They had been brought up believing that certain things were required or forbidden. Now in Christ, the Jewish believers were learning that the former ways they had known all their lives were fulfilled and no longer binding. Both Pagans and Jews had to give up some things in their cultures, traditions, and customs. It is seldom easy to reject past practices and convictions, nor should it be easy, until we are sure of what God has said.

Those who insisted upon limiting diet, and keeping the holy days, were wrong. They were immature in understanding the full scope of what God had revealed and accomplished. They did not yet fully understand Messiah’s finished work. Paul called them weak.

How should we deal with believers who differ about such things?

Romans 14:1-3, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

The weak must be accepted, received by us in a loving manner. When there are issues that are not clearly understood by everyone in the same way, it should be a time to study the issue together rather than to pass judgments about one another and draw hasty conclusions.

The person who eats something others abstain from should not despise (or look down upon) the abstainer. In this case, the abstainer must not judge (or condemn) the eater. Both groups were weak to the extent that they were judging one another, rather than attempting to show respect and work through the differences.

The burden falls upon the stronger ones in the faith, those allegedly better instructed in the word, and more spiritually mature. They must be patient and loving toward those who are weak in the faith, who need instruction and encouragement.

Paul’s reasoning begins with mutual submission to God as our master. God has accepted both groups as his children in Christ. They are all called our “brothers” in verses 10, 13, 15 and 21. They are those for whom Christ died (verse 15).

If we are all servants of the Lord, who are we to judge one another?

Romans 14:4Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

Both groups are redeemed to stand before God as those made holy in Christ. In their own understanding and conscience they follow rules they believe honor the Lord. We ought to judge the truthfulness and rightness of all things by comparing them with God’s word, but we do not have the right to be judges of one another in their standing before our Lord. Help them with their Theology, but do not unwisely presume that since they do not see things clearly yet, they therefore must not be a true child of God.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Each must be convinced in his own heart comparing what he believes and does with God’s word. Day-Observers, Meat-eaters, Abstainers, Vegetarians, each was giving thanks to God to the degree that he knew what God had actually said. Until they understand otherwise, they should be respected for the godly intent placed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

No one should be asked to violate his own conscience. No one should be constrained by another to indulge in what he feels is wrong. Nor should he be constrained to abstain from what God has not condemned.

I often think of Jiminy Cricket, that little character in the Disney version of the movie Pinocchio. He often advised, “Let you conscience be your guide.” Of course Jiminy was not a Theologian, and I doubt that he was familiar with Romans 14. But there is a lot of wisdom in that simple statement. Earlier in Romans 2:15 we read about the reality of the conscience which leaves everyone without excuse before his Creator.

Notice that Jiminy did not say that our conscience must be our standard. Conscience makes our standard of truth and morality press down upon our souls. It is an unrelenting guide.

The Bible alone tells us what is allowable, and what pleases God. The conscience is a powerful attribute which makes humans special in God’s creation. It is irrational, and Martin Luther said dangerous, to go against one’s conscience.

So the conscience does not stand by itself. It rests upon what God said in the Bible. A poorly informed conscience can make us feel guilty when we are not, or make us feel comfortable when we ought to be alarmed about our behavior. The heart must be redeemed for the conscience to again rest upon the right foundation. So a well informed conscience comes from learning what the Bible says is right.

This is why we need to be patient with other believers when they are informed differently. Until the Bible is rightly understood, we need to act with love and consideration as we help others learn.

When Paul calls for patience, acceptance and tolerance, it is not a tolerance that excuses sin because of immaturity. The matters he is taking up here are not things directly forbidden or required by God. We need to make allowances for one another’s spiritual growth.

Both our living and dying is to be done for the Lord.

Romans 14:7-12, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

It is God’s job to judge the heart, not ours. Our duty is to help other believers to grow in Christ. The dangerously immature confuse God’s prerogatives with their own.

But there is a judgment we ought to make,
that is the one we make about ourselves .

Romans 14:13-16, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;”

We are not set free to cause a brother to stumble over such matters. It would be sad to hurt one redeemed by Christ, a dear brother, just for the sake of feeling free to eat some food or drink some drink. If you destroy a brother because of material things, you are not walking in love. Things that perish are not worth such harm. Never turn a good thing into an occasion for evil. We have a wonderful liberation in Christ. This good liberty should not be abused.

Though the problem in Corinth was different, the principle was the same. In 1 Corinthians 8:4 Paul showed that there was nothing inherently wrong with food sacrificed to idols. There he wrote, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.”

If, however, we ignore the impression given by us as we exercise our liberty, we are being most immature. It is a serious sin to fail in considering the weakness of other believers. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, “… there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

Our work as a redeemed family is to build up, not to tear down.

In this next section, Paul reminds us what God’s kingdom is all about.

Romans 14:17-20, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.”

Material pleasures are never worth the damage their satisfaction can bring about in tearing down God’s work. The “work” spoken of here is the individual believer. Our redemption makes us a “work of God’s grace.” Each is a building of God (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:9-17). So even things God declares as clean, are used for evil when abused in a way that offends a believer.

We live among those who still stumble at some practices .

Romans 14:21-22, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”

Abstinence from good things is not the way taught in Scripture for overcoming sin or for gaining spiritual maturity. Johannes G. Vos cautioned us saying, “a matter must be regard as indifferent until proven to be sinful, not vice verse. A man is regarded as innocent until proved guilty. Nothing could be more false and dangerous than the contention of some religious teachers that a matter must be regarded as sinful until proved to be indifferent. When there is any doubt that a matter is sinful in itself, it must be left to the individual conscience. If the teaching of Scripture about a particular matter appears to be doubtful or obscure, or even seems to be contradictory, this is all the more reason for church assemblies not to make authoritative pronouncements or laws about such a matter. What God has not clearly revealed, let the church not presume to determine.”

Similarly Paul wrote in Colossians 2:20-23, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

God recommends voluntarily abstaining from uncommanded matters for the sake of the weaker brother. If meat troubles other believers, then when they are around you — don’t eat meat (1 Corinthians 8:13). However, you should not imply that you support the idea that meat eating is sinful. That would be hypocrisy and deceit. It would violate your conscience and misrepresent God’s truth.

There are some regions and cultures where it is considered worldly and sinful to wear jewelry, even a wedding ring. Others see wedding rings as an important declaration of marital fidelity. But there are no wedding rings mentioned in the Bible. Each culture may have a different way of communicating faithfulness to what God has said and commanded. Without compromising clear moral principles and mandates stated in the Bible, we need to try to understand why certain unspecified things become important to some people.

Issues like these are mere customs and traditions. God’s word does not make them moral issues, nor should we as we mature in our understanding of what the Bible says.

When a person believes God forbids something
he must not be constrained to violate his conscience,
until he better understands Scripture.

Romans 14:23, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Faith is not just a blind or irrational leap in the dark to accept something as true without evidence. That is the world’s definition. Biblically, faith is that confidence God puts into our hearts to trust in what he has actually revealed. When we act contrary to what God has revealed, we show a lack of trust (lack of faith) in his assurances.

Our duty is prayerfully to improve our understanding of what God has or has not said in his written word. As we all study hard together to clear things up we must be patient and encouraging. There will always be some imperfection in our understanding and behavior. The fruit of the Spirit is not accuracy, precision, correctness and consistency. We certainly want to be all those things to the degree God enables us, but the fruit of the Spirit in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Right after listing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul said in verses 5:26-6:6, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

It takes time to grow and to mature. We want others to be patient with us when we struggle with our understanding and compliance. It takes a godly patience while we live with and work with those around us while they grow, too.

Few of us remember the earliest years of our lives when we were just beginning to grow up physically. Of those pre-language years our brains are not able to remember much more than some vague images. We rarely would remember how hard a struggle it must have been to get a spoon into our open mouths while still balancing food on it. We don’t remember trying to learn the meanings of the words explained to us by smiling adults bent over us repeating them again and again pointing this way and that. I cannot recall learning how to walk, and being convinced that it really has advantages over crawling which seemed to get the job done quite well up to that point. We likely will remember for the rest of our lives the challenge of learning to ride a bike or drive a car. How patient our teachers and parents had to be.

I will never forget the first moment I drove a car. It was in Driver’s Ed. class at Largo High School in 1964. The class was out on its first driving trip and we had pulled off the road on East Bay Drive. We were a few blocks from the school, just east of Missouri Avenue. I was called to the driver’s seat where I nervously belted myself in. I did all the things I read about: checked the mirror, the seat belt, adjusted the seat, and checked for traffic. Then the moment of truth came. This would be the first time I would push my foot down on the gas and get a car moving. I held the break pedal down as I slipped the car into gear. Then I took my foot off the break and wanting to look confident I stepped on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward throwing us all against the back of the seats. Then just as fast we were all thrown forward as the teacher stepped on the break on his side of the car keeping us from smashing into what ever was dead ahead. He looked at me with fire in his eyes (perhaps a little terror too) and said, “What are you trying to do? Kill us all?!”

I had a lot to learn, but I didn’t give up. Eventually, after a few exciting moments under my dad’s attempts to teach me, and a few more tense adventures with my Driver’s Ed. teacher, I learned to drive a car.

It takes time to get all the ideas together, to coordinate muscles, and to get the feel and control needed for the more precise skills. It takes patience for the teachers to help those who are trying to learn and to grow.

Our spiritual growth does not come all at once either. Not only do we need to get the basic facts worked out, we also need to get the Holy Spirit’s fruit to be flourishing in our lives to where they help us all work together as a spiritual family. That is how our discipleship to Christ is evidenced to the world. It is not recognized by our theological accuracy and traditions. It is not proven by the cultural things we don’t do, or what we allow. Jesus said it is by how we love our brothers in the faith (John 13:35).

Do you show the same persistence and patience toward others that your Lord shows with you? Do you set aside your own unimportant comforts, pastimes and traditions, so you can help with the needs of those struggling to grow in Christ around you? That is the point of this chapter. We should be patient examples of loving encouragement in the church.

(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

Changing Clothes

Lesson 52: Romans 13:11-14

Changing Clothes

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Long ago, in 386 AD, in Milan, Northern Italy, a 32 year old man sat in tears in a garden. He had been well educated, but much of it was forced upon him by beatings. When he left home to study Rhetoric in Carthage, he lived the way many do once they are out of the house and on their own. He lived for his own good pleasures for the moment. His mother Monica, was a Christian and deeply grieved over her son’s disregard for God’s ways.

In trying to find satisfaction he dug into the philosophers to satisfy his mind. He lived with a woman and had a son with her, though they were not married. His sinful ways, far from satisfying him, came to deeply convict him of his lostness though still mixed with a bit of insincerity. He remembered praying, “Give me chastity and self-restraint — only not yet.”

In time his way of life tore at his heart. He found it hard to go on any longer that way. But he was filled with questions — how could he really change? How long would this go on? “How long? How long?”, he repeated.

Broken and devastated by his life he wept in that garden, knowing his life was an offense to God. With bitter tears overtaking him he threw himself to the ground under a fig tree.

He became aware of a sound coming from a neighboring house. It was a child’s voice repeating the Latin words, “Tolle, lege, tolle, lege,” which means “take up, read, take up, read.” He didn’t know if it was some child’s poem or a game they were playing, but it turned his mind to a book he had been reading. He put it down back in the garden where earlier he had been talking with a friend. His tears let up for the moment. With anticipation he ran back to that bench and opened the book. He had been reading the Book of Romans.

It opened to Romans 13 and his eyes focused first on verses 13 and 14 where he read, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

When he later wrote about this moment he said, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

He ran to find his friend and told him of this calm God had put into his heart. He found a new trust in God who Sovereignly had redeemed him by Christ alone.

He then ran to tell his mother Monica who had been praying earnestly for him every day. In his record of this he said that she “leaped for joy” at the conversion of her son. Then he told his girlfriend he could no longer live with her unmarried. He determined to live as becomes one redeemed by so great a love. His mother did not live long after his conversion, but she died at peace.

His life was only beginning. He became the Bishop of Hippo, the greatest of the Church Fathers. We know him today as St. Augustine.

He struggled hard to build his life and faith upon the teachings of Scripture alone. He prayerfully interpreted and applied the texts of the Bible by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not by combining it with the questionable logic and observations of man, church, or philosophy. He laid the foundation for the Reformation that took place over a thousand years after his death.

Augustine understood that all humans fell into sin by representation in the fall of Adam, that they all are therefore totally depraved, that salvation was an act of grace alone extended to the undeserving elect of God, and that the grace of God was irresistible.

He understood that the only reliable foundation for truth and belief was the Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, and that man’s reason alone could only lead to probabilities, not to reliable truth.

Augustine was the first to articulate what today we call Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and Presuppositional Apologetics. It was his writings which alerted Martin Luther to the errors of Rome, and led John Calvin to see an clarify what God had revealed to us in his word. His life turned upon these words from our text today, powerful words of God.

Paul had just made the point in the last section that love is the fulfilling of God’s law. The next few verses continue that thought.

Romans 13:11-14, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Paul uses the imagery of night and day.

He tells us that the night is over, and the daytime has started, so it’s time to wake up from our sleep. To understand Paul’s point we need to know what the night is in this context. We need to know what day is at hand? We need to understand how our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

Night is often used in the Bible to describe the darkness of sin that encloses us. Day is often used for the relief from that night, our victory over sin and its darkness.

The word “salvation” means deliverance from some kind of danger. It may be either salvation from physical harm, or of the soul from condemnation. The Bible uses the same word to refer to many types of deliverance. The outward delivering of people or nations from physical harm takes place by God’s providence and sovereign care. The deliverance of the soul comes in several stages.

First, we see the beginning of our salvation in the ancient and eternal decree of God who knew his own before creation itself. Then in the unfolding of history, the salvation of God’s people from sin’s guilt was secured by Jesus in his earthly work which was completed on the cross. Individuals are delivered applicationally by the work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their regeneration.

However, though they are delivered at that moment from the dominion of sin, from it’s guilt and penalty, they are not yet fully delivered from sin’s influence in their lives. There is a daily deliverance as individuals overcome sin and grow in holiness to become more and more like Christ. This continuing salvation from the presence of sin will one day be completed in the presence of Jesus when this life is over.

So which salvation is Paul talking about here? Which is “nearer than when we first believed,” and corresponds to the night becoming day?

It cannot be the dawn of the era of salvation coming to the Gentiles as some suggest. That idea does not fit Paul’s theme here as he talks about putting off the works of darkness in our lives. It is also strained to fit that in with this deliverance being nearer than when an individual was regenerated and first believed.

It cannot be a reference to the individual salvation of Christians when they become born again. Paul and his readers had experienced that already. The salvation of regeneration was not just closer than when they first believed. It was completed when they first believed.

The promise of our continuing victory over sin is the deliverance that seems to fit best here. We should be growing spiritually and becoming more and more conformed to the ways that honor our Creator and Savior. The fulness of our deliverance when this life is over is secured by his promise. The darkness of our past sinful ways must be set aside. We need to dress in our work clothes and get busy with the spiritual work given to us by our Redeemer. An analogy is being drawn with our common experience of getting up to get ready for the work we must do each day to provide and maintain the things we need to stay alive.

Paul wrote of being saved more and more from sin’s effects in Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”

He calls his readers to wake up out of their moral laziness. It’s time for work. Others are up and about all around us, and we have a job to do for Christ. It is not right for us to keep sleeping on, and living in our dream world of false pleasures.

When we neglect our duty of growing in Christ we are ineffective in our work of advancing God’s Kingdom. If we have no interest in loving the principles he calls upon us to respect and obey, it shows that we have no real love for Christ as he really is. This was Paul’s point in the previous section of this chapter.

Peter warned about this duty in 2 Peter 3. In verse 11 he wrote, “… what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” Then in verse 14 he said, “… be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”

He tells us to take off the clothing of our former ways.

Romans 13:12-13, “… Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”

But wait! Is there something wrong with the text here? Put off revelry? drunkenness? lewdness? lust? strife? envy? Isn’t he writing to Christian believers in the church at Rome? Yes — he certainly is.

Make no mistake. The church is not made up of people perfected in holiness. Though they are redeemed by grace, and declared holy in Christ, there is still a lot of growing to do to conform personally to his perfect holiness.

The Christian life is a process, not just a one-time event. Salvation from hell happens all at once when we come to Christ, but salvation from the effects of sin is a daily battle here in this life. As we put on the right clothing, we are told to take off the inappropriate outfit.

Paul gives a list summarizing some of the clothes appropriate for the night, the darkness of sin, clothes that ought to be removed as we wake up to get busy with the day work of the believer.

1. Do not be engaged in revelry.
In our lost condition, the soul enjoys careless and wild living. The believer should put off those things which cater to impure and unbridled passions.

Our parties, get-togethers and evening outings should honor Christ, and remain within the bounds of moral behavior and honorable conduct. We must never put ourselves into places where we will confuse our love for God’s law, or become tempted to indulge in conversation, humor, or immoralities that grieve our Lord.

2. Do not be involved in drunkenness.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs darkens the mind. It dulls the wits and judgment. Its results have destroyed individuals and families. To become intoxicated or “high” is inappropriate for those claiming to live for Christ’s glory.

Proverbs 23:30 warns us not to be among “… those who linger long at the wine.” When that which we take in begins to cloud our thinking, its final effects can be deadly. In verses 32-33 it says, “At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.”

3. Don’t be taken in by lewdness and lust.
Sexual sins strike at the heart of what God establishes as the family. The 7th commandment does not only warn spouses against sexual infidelity. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that God’s word forbids even sexual fantasies and impure thoughts. All sexual pleasures outside of marriage are dishonorable to Christ and defy God’s law.

Today, sexual activity is no longer seen by many as a moral issue. The believer should not let this cultural attitude effect his life. The temptations of pornography in its many forms, sensual humor, open sex, and homosexuality, are destroying lives and weakening communities.

The person who engages in sex in any way outside of a biblical marriage is a danger to the church. Proverbs 23:27-28 warns, “For a harlot is a deep pit, And a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, And increases the unfaithful among men.”

Like a deep pit, such sexual addictions are hard escape. The believer must do the hard thing and change out of those garments. Otherwise the person will suffer deep pain in the soul, and undermine the foundation of society. Such things offend the eyes of God, the One whom we say we love.

4. Do not be identified with strife and envy.
We live in a world of tension. Law suits, arguments, hatred, jealousy, coveting, and envy are found everywhere. The Christian has no justification for giving in to such things.

Proverbs 23:29 continues the discussion about the dangers of sexual immorality and overindulgence in wine. It points out the tragedy it brings into the lives of all those effected by moral rebellion, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?”

These are not the ways of the child of the living God. However, Scripture shows that believers are not immune to these kinds of activities.

Today, society calls these victimless crimes. They say it is no one else’s business how we party, drink , use drugs, or have sex. We are taught that jealousy and envy are the secrets of getting ahead, that man was made to party and indulge his urges. They tell us that these are personal and private matters. They condemn us as unworthy of respect, if we question what they call alternate life styles. Real moral conviction has become like leprosy to many in today’s society. However, God in his Bible does not call them alternate ways of life. God calls them sin. They are the deeds of darkness.

They may be the trendy and seasonal fashions of the world, but they are not to be clothing for the children of God to be wearing around. Real joy and satisfaction are not found in sinful behaviors.

Paul tells us to replace those old outfits
with ones that please God.

Romans 13:12, “… let us put on the armor of light.”

The Lord does not just tell us what we should not wear. We are not to be just nothing, to do nothing, and to desire nothing. Once we put off the evil, we are to put on the wardrobe that pleases God. We should be clothed in Christ which should show in our attitudes and attributes. We put on our work clothes and get busy living for our Redeemer’s glory.

Of course he is not talking about fashion and fabrics here. He means we are to conduct ourselves in a modest, decent, and becoming manner. As we go out to do the work of the day, we ought to be clothed in the good moral attire that humbly demonstrates Christ at work in us to do what we freely admit we cannot do, and would not do on our own.

The Bible often represents the attributes of godliness in terms of clothing we put on.
Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Ephesians 6:14-18 describes the armor of God we wear in battle with evil. It says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”

The items of clothing are sometimes different in each account. Each biblical writer uses them to illustrate different things. What we are to put on are these: salvation, the righteousness of Christ, faith, hope, love, God’s word, the truth, the Gospel, and prayer. This is the uniform of those who live in the daytime when we go out to work for the Lord. This is the armor of light. We need to put on the whole wardrobe, the things of Christ. We have no need to dig out the old costumes of foolish and hurtful living.

Since Jesus was perfect God as well as perfect man, and since he is our perfect example, we are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must read about Him, learn about Him. We must set our goal to be like Him, but not by imagining that the ability and power to do so comes from ourselves. We draw upon his promises that when we truly long to be like Jesus, he shows his love at work in our hearts, and moves us to strongly desire to overcome our sinful ways.

Paul says about the same thing in Ephesians 4:22-24, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

These characteristics are the only proper clothing for God’s children. All other outfits are but filthy rags, mere fig leaves needing to be replaced by God’s provision.

We should not make any provision for the flesh regarding its lusts. Do not keep the old outfit hanging in the back of the closet. Don’t set up occasions where you are likely to lapse into problems you have struggled with before. Don’t go to the parties and places where there will be immoral themes that will entice you. Don’t put yourself in sexually tempting situations or indulge them in your mind as if just imagining them was exempted. Jesus made it clear that the sins of the heart are contrary to the moral principles God built into his universe.

When you get out of those old patterns of life and thought, don’t be like Lot’s wife. Don’t look back. Make sure you are not leaving that foot in the door to keep it from closing all the way. Don’t leave open any provision for breaking God’s law.

Don’t involve yourself in the envy and contentious ways of the world. If success requires you to be rude, covetous, and ruthless, then what good it is? The world has its own rewards, but they are like cancer in the soul.

Instead, make provisions for righteous living. Make a plan in advance for when you are lonely, depressed, or driven by impure urges. Know what you will try to do and where you will go to avoid being taken in by temptations. Go to those you know are redeemed by God’s grace and who can pray with you and encourage you to honor what is good and right.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” This is the positive remedy God gives us in his word. When we put on the clothes of christian virtue, and become engaged in them, there is no nakedness of the soul needing the other filthy garments that insult God.

If Christ is loved and his ways known and practiced, as Archbishop Leighton once said, “What need you go a-begging elsewhere?”

This text in Romans is the one that changed the licentious Augustine. One of his most famous prayers to God is, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”

This is one of those duties for the believer. God says “take off” the evil, and “put on” Christ. It is not to be a passive change where we excuse our sins and lazy attitudes because we are unable to do that which is good on our own. We are told in these places to get busy and do what God tells us to do. These are among those “ought statements” in the Bible.

This is an area which often confuses believers. How can we strive to be obedient to God when we are told that we can do nothing good. Are we to wait to see Christ force us to do good things? That would be contrary to the facts of Scripture. We are told to do things for God’s glory. The Bible speaks of good actions of the Apostles and disciples, that they are really the doers of what they do. When we dismiss our lack of effort on the grounds that we are unable, we neglect the command and promise of God that by the power of the Risen Redeemer his rescued children are brought back into fellowship with God and made able to glorify him.

Yes, Jesus is the cause within us for our good desires, words and deeds. But we are not like an avatar in a computer game, or a robot programmed and controlled to do things it has no real desire to do. We are real persons who are made to love God and to desire his glory. Though it is always imperfect, it is that life put into us by grace that makes us able to live again spiritually. These are liberating “oughts”. God gets all the glory but we rejoice that we are made to be willing tools in his loving hands.

Christ-likeness cannot be put on until Christ is in the heart. “Clothes don’t make the man” as they say. But for the person to say Christ is inside, and for it not to show, is inconsistent with the promises God makes to us who are redeemed by his grace.

Do as did that future great Christian, while he fell wailing with tears in the garden. Stop the deeds that destroy. Put on Christ. Make no provisions for lusts. God’s promises have changed many before. He can change you and your loved ones too.

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

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Transformed Minds

Lesson 45: Romans 12:1-2

Transformed Minds

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In my earliest days of school I had little interest in Math, English, History, or Geography. Even mediocre grades on my report cards failed to stir me to put in more time on them. I worked enough to pass tests and move on to the next grade. I didn’t want those subjects to take time away from my true love which was Science. I read avidly about electricity, chemistry, astronomy, biology and other fields of that subject because I had a driving fascination to understand how things worked. I took things apart rendering them never to go together again. I wanted to know what was inside. I dismantled radios, TV sets, door bells and a few unfortunate insects.

No one made me do all that. There were no threats of tests of punishments if I didn’t pursue my curiosity. I spent that time and effort because of my amazement that such things existed and worked as they did. It wasn’t until later in life when I began to appreciate the benefits of Math, History and English that my overall school performance came to match my grasp of science.

Most teachers will tell you that an inner motive will always make a better student than external threats and pressures. When I was a teacher I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to present my classes with problems that would intrigue them rather than to just schedule deadlines, or threaten them with bad grades. Of course, not every student became motivated so easily. But those who did learned a lot more than what was in the text books. They even seemed to love doing it.

God constituted us humans to be motivated by inner desires in our relationship with our Creator. In our fallen estate, even though redeemed, our motives are imperfect. It is often the fear of immediate personal consequences that keeps us paying attention to what is right, and striving to put it into practice.

In moments of terror we may be motivated to cry out for mercy and divine help. The stark reality of the eternal consequences of our foolish actions and evil thoughts should certainly motivate us to desire a way of escape from the fires of hell. That kind of motive is part of why we to turn to the Savior for forgiveness, but we need a deeper cause in our hearts to hold our devotion every day, during the ordinary times that dominate our lives. We have such a motive, one that is greater than the threats of immediate discomforts or the deserved fires of a future hell.

As Paul begins the second half of the book of Romans, he turns to how we ought to live. The first 11 chapters build the groundwork for the greatest stimulus to godliness there is.

Paul begins chapter 12 by laying out
the right motive for godly living.

Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

All Paul had said before this should stir the Christian to do what is right. In chapters 1-11 he outlined the doctrines of grace. There he showed that God is sovereign over all things, and is perfectly holy. He explained the work of Christ in redeeming some lost humans from their sin. This was an amazing act of mercy. No one deserved anything but condemnation to eternal punishment, but God had chosen some to be vessels of mercy. For them he came as Savior to redeem them. He obeyed in their place, and met the demands of justice in their place.

Their salvation was not because of works they had done, motives that were pure, or because of things that were foreseen that they would do. It was by God’s grace alone. He loved them as his own before the foundation of the world, before they had done anything good or bad.

This grace of God is our strong incentive to be living for him. This is the “therefore” of the first verse in chapter 12. Since God’s mercies are as described in these first 11 chapters, therefore the Apostles urges the Romans to live in a certain holy way.

This is far different than the best motives imagined by the world’s false religions. Fallen heart tends to think we will obey better if we think we need to earn forgiveness, but God’s message is the opposite. We will obey better if we realize that we deserve wrath, but receive mercy instead. Gratitude, not merit, is the gospel motive for obedience.

The Heidelberg Catechism gives three things we need to appreciate to be happy in life and death.
1. “the greatness of my sin and misery” – by that we realize how much we owe to our Savior.
2. “how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery” – this work of grace redeems the undeserving through the sufferings and death of Christ.
3. “how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” – we ought to be thankful for this amazing grace.

When we only obey out of fear of the consequences, we obey to the minimum. As long as we can avoid bad results, we will do as little as possible. If we study in school only to avoid a failing grade we will lean only enough to get by. But when we study because we are excited to find out interesting things, we will learn all we can.

A child motivated to avoid spankings or other punishments will learn to keep from getting caught. When he does wrong he will lie or deceive mom and dad. When he learns to drive he will keep a closer eye on where the police may be, than he does on the speedometer. When he goes into business he will say what ever he needs to advance himself.

A child develops a different attitude when motivated by a genuine love for his parents. This child sees their deep care and faithful tenderness, rather than just the punishments. He pays attention to the sacrifices made for him and the pain his rebellion causes them. A child like this behaves out of gratitude and devotion, rather than by coercion.

As children of God, we will best stir our hearts to overcome sin and temptation when we occupy our minds with the amazing goodness and grace of God.

John Calvin said that iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled into love towards God by the doctrine which has been laid down. Calvin’s pastoral heart is seen in his application of this verse, “by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness …”

If we would be more dedicated children of God, we will spend a good amount of time learning about and thinking about our Heavenly Father.

We should present our bodies a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice. He speaks of our bodies here. Christian living is not just a spiritual thing that remains unseen. If it is real it will make our outward physical lives different too. Our whole person, body as well as soul, will become involved in holiness.

Our involvement is called a “sacrifice“. This certainly would have reminded Paul’s original readers of the Old Testament system. There were two kinds of sacrifices in the period before the Cross.

1. Some sacrifices were to show how God would send Messiah to make atonement for sin. They involved the killing of animals, the shedding of their blood, showing that sin required death, and that a coming Savior would be the Lamb of God. The Temple sacrifices did not actually remove sin. They provided an act by which the believers showed their faith that God’s provision would satisfy their guild for them. When Jesus satisfied for sin, no more sacrifices would be acceptable to God.

This cannot be what Paul was referring to here. To imagine the somehow our bodies, our lives, atone for sin by some personal suffering or sacrifice would be to deny the work of Jesus Christ.

2. But there was another kind of Old Testament sacrifice that exactly fits what Paul meant here. Those sacrifices were to show a believer’s gratitude for God’s mercies to him. These various meal offerings and thank offerings were a response of the redeemed heart. Since we are redeemed from the spiritual death of sin, we must be living sacrifices showing our thankfulness to God for his mercies.

Hebrews 13:15-16 repeats how as a sacrifice of thanks we give praise to God continually, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

This is how we show thankfulness to God in our bodies. By speaking to God our gratitude, and by doing good to represent him on earth.

We are to be a “living” sacrifice, that is a sacrifice that continues and grows as our we give our daily energies to serving our Lord. Earlier in Romans 6:13 Paul had already explained this, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Peter said about the same thing in 1 Peter 2:5 , “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Our Lord gives us life to enable us to live obediently within his covenant. In Christ we show our gratitude by learning to walk daily in newness of life.

We are to be a “holy” sacrifice. The basic idea of the word holy is to be consecrated to God, marked out for him. We now live as those who gladly belong to him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “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.”

We are to be an “acceptable” sacrifice. Our living must be well pleasing to God, according to his standards. Paul explained about this quality of our lives as we live for him, by living like him. In Ephesians 5:1-2 he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

This obedience is our “reasonable service“. The word for “reasonable” here is logikae (λογικη) from which we get our English word, “logic”. It is rational or reasonable service to show the involvement of our souls, our hearts and minds, along with our bodies. This is the idea. We serve God as whole persons, willingly and thankfully. Some translate this as “spiritual service” in that it involves not just outward acts, but the devotion of our hearts.

This is a “service“. This is a word use specially of the act of worship to God, latreia (λατρεια). Our living for God is a humble response to his mercies, a devoted praise, worship, for his goodness to us.

In the days of the Early Reformers there were some wanting to update the worship of God just as there are today. They introduced methods not revealed in God’s word as proper worship acts which are pleasing to him. John Calvin’s words are exactly fitting in warning the modern churches of today. He explained it this way, It is “… as though he had said, ‘Offer yourselves a sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshipers.’ ” This was the Genevan reformer’s theme to his congregation.

Calvin went on to say, “If then only God is rightly worshiped when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word.”

The second thing must follow.
Our lives must be different as Christians.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We must not be conformed to this world. By “the world” Paul means here the attitudes and values of fallen mankind. Society’s morals and beliefs about God are not compatible with the true Christian’s heart. 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Of course this does not mean that we must be cultural misfits. He is not telling us to speak with 17th century English, or to wear 1st century robes and sandals. He is not asking us to repudiate computers, wrinkle free fabrics, or automobiles. Nor is he asking us to refuse to be aware of modern literature, or to avoid taking a stand on political issues. We are not to act like space aliens who have no point of contact with the world in which we are called to live.

Quite the contrary we are to be effective communicators to this world. We are to live in it boldly trying to bring our part of it under his lordship. But we are to do it without compromising one point of God’s word and ways.

Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The change is a fundamental one. It is permanent and real, not just adding new ideas to the corrupted ones. When a person is redeemed by God’s grace his heart is changed. He is spiritually born again. The regenerated mind is then set in motion. If it is really alive it will grow. This is the duty part that is the evidence that the change in us is not just religious zeal. It shows that the Holy Spirit has quickened what was dead.

There is a purpose in this transformation of our minds. It is to prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. The proof here is not some logical argument to convince a doubter. It is a term that means to demonstrate the truth and rightness of something. If we claim that the gospel changes lives, but there is no change in us, then we live a lie. If we are transformed, we demonstrate God’s plan, his will in action.

The same word is used in another place where it is often translated differently. In Ephesians 5 we are told to walk as children of light (5:8). Then in verse 10 the NASB says, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The NKJV translates it, “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” The KJV translates it as “proving what is acceptable unto the LORD”

The word translated as “trying to learn” or “finding out” is dokimazo(δοκιμαζω), just as it is here in Romans 12:2. It means to demonstrate as true what God reveals in his word as acceptable to him. The old King James comes closest to this meaning with its use of the English word, “prove”. We are to present the evidence, the data God reveals, as pleasing to him. We are to demonstrate the truth of it in our lives.

Transformed lives must show what is the good, acceptable, and perfect way that is pleasing to God. It is the way of confession: that we are lost sinners without hope except as we are redeemed by Christ. It is the way of profession: that the work of Jesus accomplished all that is needed to make us right with God. It is the way of obedience: that the transformation he performs in us makes us alive and drives us to holy living.

Holy living emerges from the heart transformed by the work of God’s grace. Right Christianity must include right living. Theology is not good if it does not move us to please God in our hearts and lives.

Our primary purpose in being created and redeemed is not simply to be accurate. Even Satan likely knows the facts about God and his creation better than any of us. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This has to do with our attitudes, our thoughts, our motives, our values, our actions and words.

In the next chapters of Romans Paul lays out God’s standards for what a godly life is like. He writes about our unity as a church family, our life as citizens in a nation, living by love, dealing with those who differ with us, dealing with questionable social practices, and counseling one another in discouraging times.

If by sovereign grace the Holy God has saved us unworthy fallen sinners, then we must live in obedience moved by gratitude that flows from a changed heart. The way we accomplish this is to learn to appreciate the mercies of God and the grace that saved us. We are to respond with gratitude that shows the reality of that work in our hearts. We must live as those belonging to him by grace. Gratitude for God’s mercy is the most perfect and wonderful motive for a person’s life.

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

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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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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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God’s Good Law

Lesson 23: Romans 7:1-12

God’s law is not appreciated by fallen man.

The corrupted moral nature we inherit from Adam makes us long to be free from moral obligations, and free from our feelings of guilt.

Some who abhor the idea of answering to some higher authority than their own desires make fun of the moral laws of Scripture. They ridicule the God of the Bible. They believe they are naturally smarter than believers because of what they see as superior assumptions about the way things are and came to be. By convincing themselves that they are more intelligent, they dismiss the moral principles they dislike.

When they get caught breaking a law, they point out how many others have violated it too as if that should excuse them. They might cite special circumstances that exempt them from compliance, or they put the blame on others implying that they were the ones who instigated them and got them in trouble. Shifting blame, and excusing immoral behavior are tactics as old as the Garden of Eden.

This is how the Bible describes the spiritually dead heart. The lost find it hard to show real respect for the law that condemns him. Today we hear a lot about the decline of the “rule of law” in our world. Even the unbeliever can see to a certain degree that a relativistic view of ethics does not work. When humans replace God’s absolute standard with his own attempts to adjust morality to fit varying situations, it creates divisions and anger among people with no foundation for settling differences or ensuring a safe society.

Even some who call themselves “Christians” look for ways to explain away God’s law. Some quote verses taken out of their context to imply that the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the principle of Grace have eliminated God’s moral principles. They use an unbiblical concept of what they call “love” as if it now replaces the commandments of God. Many treat biblical law as if it was just a Jewish concept with little importance to us today. They see it as the opposite of the gospel message. On the extreme there are those who claim that being a Christian is just a change of belief which involves no change of life.

From what they say, you would think they believe God made a mistake by giving his law, and in time he came to regret it. Hopefully no one would go that far. Such a concept makes God an error-prone deity who has to learn by his mistakes. This would be nothing less than horrible blasphemy.

These desperate attempts to escape our obligation to God’s commandments are tragic. They cannot be supported with Scripture taken in its true context. Those who are taken in by them live with an obscured view of God and of how his world works.

Romans 7 helps us understand the continuing
value for God’s law when it is rightly understood.

To explain this important benefit Paul takes us through a few steps. He wants us to understand that though God’s law is not and never has been a way to life, it is and always must be the way of life.

There is a sense in which believers are released from God’s law. Paul had been telling the Roman Christians about being set free from the mastery of sin. In Romans 6:14 he wrote, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” In Romans 7 he is dealing with some clarifying issues.

First Paul clarifies a general legal principle:

Romans 7:1, “Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?”

The word translated as “dominion” by this translation is rendered by others with the word “jurisdiction”. The word in the original text is related to the word kurios (κυριος) which is usually translated as “lord”. It carries the idea of authority. In the legal sense, it is the jurisdiction a court has over citizens in its district.

Death releases a person from legal relationships. Law is only designed in its most general sense to deal with the living. The greatest penalty law can impose is execution. If a person is already dead, then the law’s harshest demand has already been met.

Paul then gave an illustration no one would disagree with who knows the Bible.

Romans 7:2-3, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.”

1. According to God’s law Marriage is a bond for life.
Marriage is introduced in Genesis 2 where Adam and Eve are said to have become “one flesh”. The union of two into one flesh is to last as long as the two live. Death is the only moral means of ending a marriage in God’s sight. It cannot be ended by simply declaring it over. God is said in Malachi 2:16 to be abhorred by divorce. This is why in the traditional marriage vow we promise before God, “till death us do part.”

If the woman has another man while her spouse is alive, she is called an “adulteress.” The Bible demanded the execution of anyone who violated marriage by sexual infidelity. Since infidelity caused the execution of one partner, the marriage was ended by death. The innocent party was no longer bound because the condition of the vow had been met, “till death us do part.”

In the teachings of Jesus we see that in a society where execution is not practiced for adultery, a divorce of the innocent spouse is permitted (Matthew 19:9). It is as if the offender was put to death as God demands.

2. When death ends one legal relationship, it makes way for a new relationship.
If a spouse is dead, the living partner is free to be joined to another. Once the conditions of a legal bond are met, the bond is no longer in effect. Only then can a new bond be acceptable.

Paul used this principle, to explain the
bondage of our soul by the law of God.

Romans 7:4-6, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”

It can get a little confusing in this section if we fail to follow the flow of thought. Paul is trying to explain a complex idea. To make his point he sometimes speaks of bondage in one sense, and at other times in another. In one sense the sinner is bound to sin, in another it is the law that binds him.

This bondage was explained in detail in the first few chapters of Romans. Adam represented all humans. When he sinned, his guilt and corruption passed on to all his natural descendents. Everyone since Adam is separated from God and is called “spiritually dead.” This “spiritual death” makes them unable to do anything truly good in God’s eyes (Romans 3:10-12). They take God’s glory for themselves. They do what is forbidden. They neglect what is commanded. God’s law both reveals the crime, and demands the sentence. The result is eternal separation from God. That is how the law binds the sinner to sin as his master.

Only by fulfilling the demand of the law can anyone be released from its sentence. God’s justice demands eternal suffering and death, since all have sinned. The suffering and death of Jesus in the sinner’s place releases him from his bondage to sin. Christ satisfies the law’s legal demands, so the person represented is “delivered from the law” in that sense.

Verse 5 shows that our bondage to sin is exposed by our unlawful behavior. Sin is more than just guilt inherited from Adam. It is also a fallen disposition. The corrupted nature puts self ahead of God. It influences the motives that lay behind what may appear to us to be good deeds. When people sin they reveal their sinful passions. They look for perverted ways too satisfy human needs. The law is what defines and exposes sin. It is what condemns the person to the just punishment of death.

Since it is the inner work of new life that sets the sinner free from death by Christ, he is not only released from the old master, he is at the same time joined to a new master. The new lord is righteousness. It both declares the sinner to be innocent by the righteousness of Christ which is credited to him, and it enables him to do what is truly good. The good he does is rendered possible by his restored fellowship with God in Christ.

Verse 6 shows that through the death of Jesus we are set free from our former bondage. The Savior met the demand of death for his people. Instead of the foolish and vain hope of being saved by keeping the outward letter of the law, the redeemed person comes to understand that nothing he can do will remove his guilt. When the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work he learns that his guilt has been fully removed by Jesus as his Substitute. He is made able to do what is truly good, and is bound to a new master altogether.

Though the Holy Spirit is clearly at work in the application of the work of the Messiah, many translators do not capitalize the word “spirit” in verse 6 (KJV, ASV for example). They see the contrast in the last part of this verse as between the words “letter” and “spirit.” The “letter” [grammatos (γράμματος)] is the law, the written expression of the spiritual [pneumatos (πνεύματος)] reality behind it which is fulfilled in the now finished atoning work of Christ.

The main point in this passage is that we are released from one bondage to be joined to another. Just as the fallen human is exposed by God’s law as a sinner, the law also lays out the kind of behavior that ought to be seen in the Christian. We are set free from sin to be bound to righteousness. Moral and godly living is the goal. The moral principles of God’s law remain binding, but not in the sense of condemnation of or dominion over the redeemed sinner. It is not the law that is put to death. It is our old relationship to it. That was the message Jesus was conveying in Matthew 5:17.

The law of God must be treasured, not despised.

Romans 7:7-11, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”

Some might foolishly reason this way. If the law is what obligates us to a standard we cannot obey, and it condemns us inescapably, then is the law an evil thing? Is the law sin? That is the reasoning of the fallen heart. It wants to find fault with the judgments of God’s law.

Paul adds his answer immediately with an emphatic, “No!” Do not let such an idea even be considered! The opposite is true. The law has a very good and important purpose in God’s plan.

The revealed moral law of God exposes sin for what it is in our lives. Paul uses the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet,” to prove his point. It is not just the outward act that makes a thing sinful. It is also the inward greed and coveting that is in itself sinful. We would not know that even our motives and attitudes can condemn us if God had not revealed it to us. It was by God’s law that Paul learned about his corrupt nature and his need for redeeming grace.

Paul was a Pharisee before he was regenerated by grace. He imagined that he was good in God’s sight, spiritually alive, and had done nothing seriously wrong. When the Holy Spirit made him realize the inner truth of the 10th commandment, he realized that where he once saw life, there was really death.

Paul’s experience is like that of everyone else. The sinner is blinded and prejudiced against true justice. He finds fault in the system, in his circumstances, or in others, but not ultimately in himself. He adds up all the good he believes he has done, and imagines that it must count for something in God’s estimation. He fails to see that even his good deeds flow from a corrupt nature. He steals God’s glory and is discontent with God’s provisions. As the Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…”

God has given us his law. He graciously sends his Holy Spirit to apply the life-giving work of Christ. By these works of grace we are informed, convinced, and humbled before a Holy God. The law by which Paul thought he could earn God’s blessing, actually condemned him. It drove him to repentance and faith in his only hope, the Redeemer Jesus Christ.

By the new knowledge and life implanted in him, the law became a blessing not a curse. What he once imagined as his way to life, that way which frustrated him, became the rule of life, by which he could show God how much he loved him.

God’s law, therefore, is a good thing!

Paul concludes this section in verse 12.

Romans 7:12, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”

Being released from the law’s condemnation, Paul learned that his freedom meant being bound to another master, righteousness. The law had served its good purpose, and now had become his guide to living thankfully.

So many today claim that Jesus said that God’s law is now replaced by love. To that we answer, “No!” To use Paul’s expression, “Let it not be!” One of the most tragic of modern deceptions is that Christ ended the moral law of God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

Later Jesus was asked which is the great commandment in the Law? Far from putting down the law, Jesus quoted from the law! First he quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, which comes right after the listing of the 10 Commandments. In Matthew 22:37-38 he said, “… ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

Then Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18. In Matthew 22:39 he said, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

After that, Jesus explained that these two words of the law are a summary of the whole of the law. In Matthew 22:40 he said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus saw the principle of love imbedded in the law. The law of God defines what love is all about. He used love as a summary of the law, not as a replacement of it.

Psalm 119 tells us that believers learn to love the law of God. The law is not a mean principle. It is one that is graciously given for our benefit. It shows us the high moral nature of our Creator. It convicts us of our depravity. It exposes what a great debt we owe to our Savior, and helps us appreciate the amazing love with which he loves his people.

Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have those who love Your law …”
Psalm 119:174, “… Your law is my delight.”

Now that we are set free from the old master, we are bound to the new one. The law no longer condemns us or dominates over us as those who remain under the slavery of sin.

The law now guides us as to how those redeemed by grace are to live for God’s glory. Therefore the Christian must keep the moral law of God in the very center of his thoughts. The law gives content to the wisdom presented in verses like Philippians 4:8. Without God’s moral revelations in his law, the terms there would remain undefined.

The Christian walk is not marked out by an attitude of self-pride, or moral arrogance. It is marked by humble obedience. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That saying of Jesus was taken from the Old Testament law also. Five times in the books of Moses God identifies his people as those who love him and keep his commandments.

What once seemed a demanding and condemning set of rules, becomes a welcomed teacher. We use God’s law in evangelism. It is the tool God gives us for convincing the suffering and lost of their need for a Savior. We use God’s law as a guide for society. By it we know what will bring God’s blessing upon a nation and community. We use God’s law as a rule of life. By it we can know how to honor our God, and show him our sincere thankfulness for his grace.

Learn the commandments of God. Teach them to your children. Talk about them in your home. Bring them up in daily conversation. Use them to help the discouraged and depressed of heart diagnose the real cause of their misery. Use them to counsel your friends in Christ as they make decisions. List the promises and benefits of the Law laid out in Psalm 119. Do all you can to treasure and benefit rightly from the wonderful gift of God’s law.

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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Serving the Right Master

Serving the Right Master

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 22: Romans 6:15-23

The world has known its share of cruel masters. They have taken advantage of their workers and have driven them to sickness and death. They have often physically abused them, sexually defiled them, and treated them with inhumane cruelty as if it was their right.

Sometimes it was in the context of racial slavery where certain classes were subjugated as animals and bought as if they were mere possessions. Sometimes it was in the workplace where workers were driven into debt to the management and held in fear for their lives. Sometimes it was the enslavement of children who were forced to work against their will and considered easy prey to greedy and callused opportunists.

There is also a cruel master that enslaves all the descendents of Adam. We are all born into a state of moral bondage that deceives us into obedience. It rewards us with unsatisfying promises, and ultimately pays off in eternal damnation. When the mind itself is held in moral chains, it does not realize its own disadvantage. The lost soul knows only the false promises of its master’s lies. It comes to crave more of the unsatisfying practices which only enslave him more. Living in that awful condition, fallen man lashes out in hateful vengeance at others, or he sinks deeper and deeper in to the quicksand of depression and despondence. Sometimes he imagines deliverances which are mere fantasies. They disappoint him all the more.

That is the slavery Paul describes in the first part of Romans chapter 6. But the message of Scripture tells of a way out, an effective liberation for the bound soul. The chains of moral bondage are broken in only one way, by the effectual work of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died, he acted as a substitute for God’s people. He paid the debt that justice demanded for their sin and for the guilt they inherited from Adam. When the Holy Spirit applies that atonement to the individual, he is set free! The bondage of sin is ended and he is united to a new master, righteousness. Romans 6:6, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”

We are told to live in the reality of this promise.

Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

In that last verse, when Paul says we are not “under law,” he does not mean that God’s good law is cruel, or that we are free from obeying God’s law. No! The law was graciously revealed so we can know how to please God once enabled to do so when regenerated by grace. The law reveals our sin and our bondage to it as descendents of Adam. It shows us how much our Savior endured in paying the penalty in place of his people. When God’s grace delivers us by the work of Christ, the condemnation revealed by the law is gone since the penalty was satisfied by our Savior. We now serve a new master. We are set free!

The delivered believer still struggles with the remains of sin. Paul asks his next question to correct a horrible excuse some might suggest.

Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”

It is obvious as we read the New Testament that though we are not “under law” but are “under grace”, we are not now free to sin without any concern. Doing things contrary to God’s revealed moral principles offends our Creator, and does harm to our representing him as those made in his image. What Paul is saying here in the context is that we are delivered from the cruel mastery of sin, and have by grace come under a new mastery: the mastery of Christ and of Righteousness.

The same Savior who redeems us and pays for our guilt, also restores us to fellowship with God from whom we draw true spiritual life. When we are renewed this way, our moral desires are changed. Believers are no longer comfortable in their sins. The illusions and false promises are gone. We see sin for what it is; a horrible offense to God, and a wicked master who only destroys his blind servants.

What can be said about looking for such excuses to sin?

Romans 6:16-18, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

If the soul is really made alive, it will be seen in the person’s attitudes and behaviors. What you obey reveals who your master really is. This is the test the Apostle John gives in 1 John 2:3-6.

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

No one can stop sinning altogether in this life, but the believer is troubled by his sin. Since righteousness is his new master, sin weighs on the true Christian’s heart. It brings him to repentance and humbles him before God. He calls upon God to strengthen him to overcome sin. He uses the means God gives him in the battle to grow in his obedience. He isn’t going to be asking “How can I excuse my sin?” He will be concerned more with asking, “How can I overcome my sin?”

This leaves us with a clear duty.

Romans 6:19, “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

Now that you are under a new master (the righteousness received through Christ) you need to be presenting the members of your body to serve holiness.

In the same manner that before you used you hands, feet, mouth and heart to serve sin, now you are to employ all you have to honor the one who redeemed you by grace. Just as in your past life of planning sinful opportunities, you need to plan for righteousness, spend time doing it, longing for, looking for, the next opportunity. Now that you are bound to serve your new master, Paul is saying that you must put forth your energy to use your hands, feet, mouth, and hearts to serve righteousness.

It is easy to get confused here. Many confuse what God does, with what we are called to do. One of the most destructive deceptions is the “Let go, and let God” mentality. It often makes holiness into a mystical state where we are just passive observers waiting for God to make us do what we should, rather than striving to live for his glory in all things. People sometimes excuse spiritual laziness with the deplorable excuse, “the only really important thing is to be born again.” In contrast with that, Jesus called us to “disciple all men”, to “teach them all he commanded.” We are called to live holy lives, to “be holy as he is holy,” not just to have forgiven lives.

Those taken in by this view believe they should not be concerned about doing good works or obeying law, since we are saved by grace and not by earning eternal life by the law. This is a total misunderstanding of the work of grace.

First of all, our hearts are changed by God’s work of grace alone, and not by our works. In fact law was never a means by which anyone could earn salvation from his fallen condition.

However, it is also true that after we are regenerated by grace we are made able to obey. We are commanded to do so. We are not only declared to be innocent by Christ’s righteousness being credited to us. We are also told to conform our lives to his righteousness. If we are saved from condemnation, our hearts are changed by becoming bound to a new master. We will not feel comfortable about our sins any more. The true believer is not the one looking for excuses, but the one looking for ways to change out of gratitude and love for his Redeemer.

Not striving with all our might to be holy is not Biblical. It is typical of the spiritual laziness of our apathetic world. It minimizes the offense of continuing sins, and looks for something to stop them without much personal effort or sacrifice. If the sins continue, they see it as God’s will for their lives and dismiss the issue from their minds. “No pressure Christianity” is a destructive illusion.

This kind of thinking turns the grace of God into a license to sin. Jude 4 warns about such dangerous influences in the church, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is the very problem Paul was dealing with here in Romans 6. Saving grace does not liberate us to sin, or to have a careless attitude about our offenses to God. It’s just the opposite. Grace liberates us from bondage to sin so that now, by the power of Christ living in us, we have the strength to overcome our sins and to be progressing in holiness for God’s glory and honor.

Gardens are beautiful places when they produce lush, healthy plants. We know that God makes the seeds germinate and grow. He provides the sunshine and rain. If that is all that is required for a nice garden, they would fill up our lawns and fields. God produces gardens by means of gardeners. He told Adam to cultivate the land and to work to bring forth the fruit of the earth.

The gardener cannot make seeds germinate, grow and produce fruit. His job is to dig up and aerate the soil, plan for good sun exposure, irrigation and drainage. He may have to add nutrients to the soil and protect the plants from freezes or insects. The gardener cannot cause the fruit to be produced. God does not do the work of the gardener. He created us to carry out that work here on earth to demonstrate what he is.

In our spiritual lives, we cannot regenerate or empower spiritually dead souls. However, God has ordained to use means to accomplish his plan. He calls us to pray, to be instructed out of his word, and to strive to obey. He warns us to flee temptation and to pursue holiness. To accomplish this we draw from the power we have promised to us in Christ. We are enabled by changed hearts. God calls us to consider ourselves to be dead to the mastery of sin. We do this by resting upon the work Christ did as our substitute. This is not just an idea to simply inspire us emotionally. It is a God-revealed fact we need to relay upon. By grace he makes a change in the condition of our moral nature.

Our rewards will differ,
depending upon the master we serve

Romans 6:20-23, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Those who remain as slaves of sin earn its just reward: eternal death. The Bible is filled with alarming descriptions of the pains of eternal hell and unending separation from God. It also points out how our present spiritual death is at the root of pain and depression. Sin is no real rewarder of men. It is a lying employer who gives out death as its paycheck. The temporary pleasures of sin only produce shame and continuing isolation from their Creator. The anticipated rewards of sinful pleasures are lies. What we earn is not what is deceptively promised by our tempter, nor what is expected by the lost human soul.

When we become slaves to righteousness, we are given the gift of life. This wonderful slavery spoken of in verse 22 is the only real freedom. Those who serve righteousness as their master learn of the satisfaction that can be found in honorable things. Loving, God-centered obedience of the redeemed soul is not only found in the peace and strength promised for here and now, it is also ours in the eternal union with God in glory.

Paul puts it quite bluntly in verse 23. When we sin, we earn a wage. The paycheck is death. When we are in Christ Jesus, we are given a gracious gift which is not earned. The paycheck is eternal life. This eternal life works in us now to change our attitudes about sin and holiness. We demonstrate the truth of it by striving to be obedient to that which pleases God in all things.

What a wonderful master we serve! Psalm 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.”

As we grow in Christ,
sin ought to be detested, not defended.

When we continue in sin, we show an immature understanding of two things:
1. We fail to appreciate the deep offense of sin in the eyes of God. When the Bible’s description of sin is seen as a mere set of religious rules for earning salvation, the whole point has been missed. God gives us his word, his law, so that we might understand how offensive some things are to the Creator who made all things to reveal his nature and glory.

When we begin to comprehend how God is disgusted by our transgressions, we will have a new motive to stop sinning. We strive to obey not merely to avoid consequences for ourselves, but more importantly to show gratitude and love for our God. When the prophet Isaiah became aware of his sin, he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5)

2. We fail to appreciate the wonder and power of what Christ has accomplished. He did not just die as an example to us, or to inspire us to religious living. He died to actually satisfy divine justice in our place, taking that awful offense upon himself. He died to set us free so that we can become bound to a Master of Righteousness and life.

When we justify certain sins (as if we are set free from moral law to do what we please) we pervert grace into license, and cast doubt that we have been liberated to serve a new master. We live in a world where even so called “Christians” steal God’s Sabbath Day for themselves, and excuse it by imagining that the 4th Commandment given as Creation was completed has somehow expired. Many take the tithe of their income which God commands to be brought to the Elders, and they spend it themselves, making excuses by doing some good things with it. Many abandon marriage as the only moral setting for sex and family. Many kill their unborn to avoid unwanted responsibilities. They lie to serve themselves, and cheat to become rich and powerful. They cultivate the attitudes of the world. These are the socially “accepted” sins. The list in Galatians 5:19-21 includes the sins of sexual impurity, improper worship, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, envy and such things.

In the next verses (Galatians 5:22-23) God commands that we cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

The Bible calls all these things “sin.” The wage is death. They deeply offend God and cast doubt that the soul is converted and bound to a new master.

These are our enemies. They are not the way to success as the world pretends. Do not give place to them! Do not let their cruel mastery continue another moment! If you try to pull against the chains of cruel oppression in your own strength, it will only gives you sore wrists. Come to Christ if you have not been set free. He will give you a new master.

Once you are liberated in Christ, trust in and act upon the promises God has given. You have the power in Christ to really progress out of sin and into holiness. It is not just a promise to some select few fortunate believers. It is a promise of grace to all who are in Christ. You are liberated! Live that way!

Keep striving in prayer, trusting in the change God promised he has made in you. Never let sin become less than the greatest enemy in your life. Make holiness your greatest goal.

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

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Set Free from Bondage

Set Free from Bondage

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 21: Romans 6:1-14

Sometimes it seems impossible for us to overcome our weaknesses. Just when we think we have dodged an old recurring fault and avoided another collision with disaster, — WHAM! It seems to come out from some blind spot and hits us head on!

We all know what it’s like to keep falling into the same temptation over and over again. We make a firm resolution, only to go back on it after a few days. Sometimes it seems we have made some serious progress, only to slide back again and undo it all. We know the Bible speaks of overcoming sin, and of being sanctified in Christ. Yet we often wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” It’s obvious that we are not free from the influence of sin.

No one is fully sanctified in this life. Before our glorification someday in heaven, sin is always going to be present in some form. But the Bible assures us that we don not have to become despondent and just accept moral failure. We do not have to resign ourselves to the idea that sin is just too powerful to fight. There is no sin, no habit, no force so powerful, that we cannot be progressing out of it through the power of Christ in us.

There is hope for the Christian. It is not something so profound that only the wise can find it. It is not something so hidden that you need to search deep into your soul or trek to remote places to discover it.

Today, bewildered and gullible masses of people seek hidden truths and mystical experiences. They go from special conference to special conference, they listen to all the slick promises and promotions of one religious salesman after another. They get their hopes up with some new secret or insight, only to be dashed to despair once more when it doesn’t meet their expectations. Then they run off to find another guru to follow, another secret to deliver them.

God has told us that it should not be this way. The promise is a simple one, made clear in the gospel itself. As my wise seminary professor said, “The secret to a victorious and holy Christian life is — there is no secret!”

Paul had explained as he began Romans chapter 6, that the victory lies in our being dead to sin. He started by raising a question in verse 1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Then in verse 2 he summarized his answer in a very direct statement, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

He had just made the point in chapter 5 verse 20 that grace shows itself by overcoming our sin, “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”

To help us better understand about this grace and its benefits, he imagined someone asking this question, “So then, shouldn’t we just keep on sinning, so that God’s grace can be seen all the more at work in delivering us?”

In his answer to this question Paul is showing that someone redeemed by Christ is not going to be looking for ways to continue living in sin. A true believer should not raise a question like that, because God not only forgives him, he also makes a real change in him. He is dead to sin!

As we summarized in our last study, we are born not just to be born. We are born so that we might live in Christ, and be growing in holiness. Those who claim to be in Christ, but do not grow in holiness, and who have little interest in holiness, have cause to be alarmed and to wonder if they are redeemed at all. They ought to come to Christ in humble repentance, trusting in his suffering and death in their place. They must make certain that they hope wholly in that gospel promise of grace.

Just as certainly as grace regenerates and produces faith in the work of Christ, it also begins the process of sanctification and renews the conscience to want to do what is right.

Paul continued by showing that we are dead
to the mastery of sin by our union with Christ.

Romans 6:3-5, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,”

In God’s word “death” is not about something ceasing to exist. It is most fundamentally a separation. Physical death is when our bodies stop working and become separated from our souls. Spiritual death is when a person fallen in Adam is separated from God.

When we are dead to sin, we are in some way separated from it. We are not separated from the power of sin. It is still present and evident in our lives. We are not separated merely from the penalty of sin. There is more here than that. We are separated from sin in its role as master over our lives.

Romans 6:6 “… that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
Romans 6:9 “… Death no longer has dominion over Him.”
Romans 6:12 “… do not let sin reign in your mortal body …”
Romans 6:14 “For sin shall not have dominion over you, …”

As believers, we are identified with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. Baptism as it is mentioned here is not only a symbol of how God purifies us by removing the guilt of our sin. It also represents how we are united with that which is holy by having the pollution and offense removed that separated us from God.

The penalty of sin is death, both physical and spiritual. Jesus died as a substitute for his people. He endured the penalty in the place of those he loved eternally. When we are united with him in his death, the guilt of sin is removed because it is paid for. Notice how Paul says “we are buried with Him through baptism into death” in verses 3 and 4, then he says we are “united together in the likeness of His death” in verse 5. He is not talking about water baptism here, but the union represented by it.

When separation from God is ended, the believer is adopted as a child of God. So by our union with Christ our separation from God is ended. We are separated from the lordship of sin. It is in this way that we are dead to sin. We are separated from its mastery in our lives.

We are also united with Christ by his resurrection. Now, clothed in his righteousness and transformed, there is a living relationship with Christ. We are made able to walk in newness of life.

Paul goes on to explain this freedom from our old master.

Romans 6:6-10, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

The old self is crucified with Christ. That does not mean we become a different person than we were before. It does mean that we have a whole new foundation for our lives. Instead of serving sin, and foolishly believing we can find happiness and contentment in things that offend our Creator, we are united with the One from whom our sin had separated us.

This means we are bound to a new master, and that implies a duty.

Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

Our duty is to consider ourselves to be dead to sin, and alive to God. We ought to be living in recognition of this truth. This is the real promise of this passage. It is not just an attitude that imagines this to be true. It is the recognition of a reality implanted in us by the Holy Spirit.

We put this into practice by directing the members of our body to serve our new master, righteousness. Disobedience will not be completely gone in this life. We must be constantly vigilant. God’s promise is that the sinful remains of that former mastery can now be successfully combated.

Paul expanded more on this in his letter to the Galatians.

In Galatians 5:19 he described our old bondage, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are:” Then he lists 4 categories of sin in verses 19-21, “… adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

1. Sensual sins – Galatians 5:19 “… adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, …”
The Greek text used by the King James Version includes the word “adultery” here. It is left out in those translations based upon editions of the text where more surviving manuscripts were used. The sin of adultery would be included in the more general word translate as “fornication”. That word (porneia, πορνεία) is a very broad term for sexual sins.

Another way people sin sensually is by taking illegal drugs. They try to get a momentary sensation of feeling at peace in ways God has not prescribed. The believer needs to trust God by staying with what is right in order to find satisfaction sexually and in other areas of life. We must obey his revealed ways and not give our members over to unrighteousness.

2. Worship sins – Galatians 5:20a “… idolatry, sorcery …”
The fallen heart is drawn to innovations in worship. To him, worship is judged by how it makes the worshiper feel, instead of what God asks for from his children. The true believer wants to worship God in ways he knows please his Savior, not ways that just please himself, or advance his own cause. The Bible should be our guide so that we know what God tells us is to be included in worship, both what we do and our attitude while doing those things.

3. Relationship sins – Galatians 5:20b-21a, “… hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,”
These sins have to do with how we treat God and others. They are attitudes we need to openly combat as Christians. They are the remains of the old bondage to sin and have no place in our redeemed lives.

Again there are some minor textual differences in the Greek manuscripts available when the King James Version was translated. Aside from using some singular nouns instead of plural ones, the early Greek editions add “murders” to the list. Certainly that is consistent with what the Scriptures teach.

4. Sins of Immoderation – Galatians 5:21b, “… drunkenness, revelries …”
The tendency to overstep wise boundaries is part of our old ways. Abandonment of good judgment only destroys us, and offends God.

Paul then reminds the Galatians, “… and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The point is that those set free from bondage to sin should be working to overcome these types of behaviors and attitudes. If we are practicing them, if we keep engaging in them, if we are making excuses for them, it should alarm us. It may be an indication that we are not set free from the dominance of sin at all, and are in need of that new birth in Christ. Even the believer will fall into these sins at times, but he will become concerned about it,
and want to overcome the temptations. That is when he must remember the victory Christ has earned for him, and has implanted in him.

Instead of these offensive things, we must be making the members of our body into servants of righteousness. The new ways which we need to strengthen, are those of a soul alive and in union with God. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 then lists the fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit implanted in us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Galatians 5:24-25 goes on to make the same application and challenge as Romans 6. It says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Since we are now made spiritually alive, we have the power of Christ in us to overcome the remains of sin and its habits which we battle daily.

We are to be active in engaging the
living power of Christ at work in us.

In the language Paul used in telling the Colossians this same truth, we are to put on these new attitudes and behaviors. Notice how similar Colossians 3:5-10 is to the way Paul explains it in both Roman 6 and Galatians 5.

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him”

These are “ought” statements. God enables us in Christ, and calls us, commands us, to obey. This means we need to mobilize our whole lives to make them honoring to God.

In Romans 6:14 Paul gives us a further way to see the reason why sin should not be our master, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

We need to understand how we are “under grace” and not “under law”. Paul has been talking about being “under the dominion” of either sin or righteousness. So while “under law” may mean other things in other places, here it seems to have to do with sin as our master. There is a reason why Paul changed “being under sin or righteousness” into “being under law or grace.” Paul is bringing his whole argument together and unites his themes.

He made a reference to law in the previous chapter. There in Romans 5:13 he said, “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Paul’s argument there is that since sin was imputed before the giving of the Law of Moses, therefore law itself must have been in the world from the beginning. The moral principles are a reflection of the Creator’s eternal, perfect, and unchangeable nature.

Since he calls us to stop sinning and do what God’s law tells us to do, he cannot mean that we are now set free from what the law requires. The law is presented not as a way to be saved, but as that which defines sin and determines its penalty. So to be alive to sin, is to be condemned by the law.

Since God’s grace through the death of Christ is what makes us righteous, to be under the mastery of righteousness, means to come under the power of grace.

Paul is not saying that at one time humans were obligated to obey God’s law, and now they are not. That could never be. We are always commanded to do what is right in God’s eyes. Rather he is saying that once we were under the condemnation of law, and sin was our master, but now we are forgiven by grace so that righteousness becomes our master.

This is a message of great promise and hope.

If we are united with Christ by grace, then we have spiritual life and the ability to be conquering sin. There ought to be progress in our lives. There must be obedience in our lives, evidence of Christ at work.

We need to keep Galatians 5 and Colossians 3 in mind. They give us a list of things to be working on. By the power of the risen Christ in us, we can advance victoriously.

When we sin, instead of looking at our failures as if we were still in bondage to them, we need to remind ourselves of this promise. We need to reckon, consider, ourselves to be dead to sin, and separated from its mastery. We ought to consider ourselves to be alive to God as slaves to the mastery of righteousness. We need to remove every opportunity for sinning, and press on to improve holiness. We need to come to Christ in humble prayer expecting our living Savior to deliver us.

We are not irretrievably bound to keep falling into sin as if it was our master. We are to recognize righteousness as our caring master.

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

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Born to Live

Born to Live

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 20: Romans 6:1-14

We are not just born to be born. We are born to live. It is monstrous to think that a parent would want children just to give birth to them. The whole idea is to love them, to care for them, and to help them grow up. It is equally unthinkable that God’s great goal for believers is only that they be born again. The whole of Scripture teaches that the “new birth” is to create God-honoring people. Even spiritually, we are born not just to be born. We are born to live.

The first five chapters of the book of Romans summarize how lost humans are justified. Every human (Jew and Gentile, educated and fool, slave and master) is totally fallen in sin, and depraved to the core of his being. It rules out the fantasy that anyone lost in sin could do anything truly good in God’s eyes. No natural descendent of Adam can grasp the actual truth about God, or rightly appreciate what he has done and made.

All who do what is truly good, or who trust in God’s promises, do so because God enables them by his mercy. The true children of God are those restored to fellowship with their Creator. Their separation of spiritual death ended when they were made alive spiritually having had their debt of sin paid if full by the work of Jesus Christ. He satisfied divine justice in their place.

In chapters six through eight Paul turns his attention to the results of this new birth. Now that a person is made spiritually alive, he is to live in Christ by becoming more like him morally. We call this “sanctification.”

The Shorter Catechism defines sanctification in its answer to question 35.

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

There is one sense in which all true believers are holy already in Christ.

All Christians are declared “sanctified” in Christ. This is the judicial part of Sanctification. God declares us to be holy because he imputes the holiness of Christ to us. Sixty one times believers are called “saints” (holy ones) in the New Testament. In several places believers are directly said to be sanctified when they are born again.

1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”
Hebrews 10:10, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

This does not mean they were free from sin and had become perfectly holy in their attitudes and behavior. These verses only have to do with the fact that the holiness of Christ is credited to them judicially.

There is another sense in which we are not yet sanctified.

We need to be growing in holy behavior and thoughts, and overcoming our habits of sin. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 the Apostle wrote, “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ ” Here, Peter used the same word for “being holy” as the other verses referring to our having been sanctified.

This kind of “progressive sanctification” is what Paul is talking about in this next section of Romans. This is what the catechism is describing in question 35. The work of the Christian life is to be growing to be more and more holy, and less and less influenced by the corruption of sin.

As Paul develops this idea in Romans six through seven,
he brings up four questions.

Paul uses these questions to correct common confusions about our battle with sin.
Question 1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1)
Question 2, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15)
Question 3, “Is the Law sin?” (7:7)
Question 4, “Has then what is good become death to me?” (7:13)

This section follows Paul’s telling about how God delivers us by grace from our deserved condemnation. Salvation has nothing to do with what we have done. It is based solely upon what Christ has done. It is not even our choice or decision that makes us believers. It is the change produced in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that makes undeserving sinners into humble believers. Grace is what enables us to repent, and to believe.

So then Paul raises a question that might come up in the confused mind.

Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

This is a common reaction of those who are confused about the biblical doctrine of grace. Their thinking goes this way, “If our behavior doesn’t cause God to save us, and if our wickedness becomes a backdrop that demonstrates the wonders of grace, then why stop sinning? Shouldn’t we keep on sinning so that grace will be displayed all the more?”

Paul immediately dismisses the idea implied by this question.

Romans 6:2, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

He uses a very strong expression here. He does not say “God forbid” as some earlier versions have it. Those words are in no Greek manuscript. They are not a direct translation. The words in Greek are mae genoito (μὴ γένοιτο). They literally mean, “let it not be!” It is like saying, “don’t even think such a thing!”

Then he gives his reason, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

But how is it that the believer is “dead to sin?”

We are certainly not dead to the influence of sin as some dare to imagine. Biblical examples and direct statement of Scripture show that we still get taken in by temptations, and need to be growing to become more holy. Those who teach some form of Perfectionism violate these clear statements of God’s word.

Some would speculate that we are merely dead to the penalty of sin, as if we can now sin without guilt or consequences. It is true that the power and penalty of sin is death, and that this is removed in Christ. But Paul is speaking of sinning less, not of getting punished less for it. It disproves his own point if Paul meant that we can now comfortably continue in sin with no concern for its consequences.

Some others teach that we should just think of ourselves as dead to sin, even though we are really not dead to it. Paul is not commanding that we live in some kind of mystical delusion. There is no hope or truth in that. There is much more here, something anchored in reality, a change in our nature. It is not something that simply “ought” to be, but something that “is.” We are in fact dead to sin.

These theories do not make much sense when you consider the context, and the point being made. These ideas have only been suggested to avoid what the Bible does in fact mean. Some of these interpretations imply that sin is not such a serious problem any more, that we need not concern ourselves over it much, it has been taken care of.

Other theories imply that we have the ability within ourselves to overcome sin. This reduces sin to our wrong attitude, rather than it being a real enemy. It shifts the burden onto the sinner. This produces depression and discouragement because it just isn’t so.

In this section of Romans Paul clarifies how our relationship with sin has changed. We do not need psychological theories of sin, or creative theological complexities to understand God’s promise. As the Apostle concludes his answer to this first question, he wrote;

Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you,”

The point Paul is making here is that we are dead to sin in a very specific way. We are dead to it as our master. Our former bondage to sin is a thing of the past. It no longer controls our moral inclinations.

Death in Scripture is primarily a “separation.” When a person dies physically, his body and soul are separated. When a person is spiritually dead, he is separated from fellowship with God. When we are dead to sin’s mastery (which is the context here) we are free from it’s blindness and dictatorship. If we are separated from the mastery of sin, then being alive in Christ in this chapter must mean coming under his mastery instead. The separation of the lost sinner from true righteousness has ended.

We will see how that is done more in our next study of this section. It is clear in this passage, that since we are dead to sin by being united with Christ in his death, and since we are now alive in him as our new master, there is a real hope and promise that we can make progress in overcoming sin.

This conquest does not rest in our own strength or determination. It does rest in a real promise and method given to us in Scripture. It explains our frustrations and failures to grow spiritually when we try any other way.

Being dead to sin directly answers the question in verse one. Those who are dead to sin are dead to it because they are alive in Christ. Those who are alive in Christ will not be looking for ways to excuse their sin. A person asking if he should sin all the more so that grace might abound, shows that he has not known the work of grace upon his heart at all.

The question raised is not a problem with the doctrine of grace. It is a problem with the sinner. Instead of the fear that grace would make us careless about sin, the change worked by grace makes us all the more concerned about our sin.

When the true believer sins he does not try to find a way to deny that it is wrong. He grieves before God that he failed his Redeemer. He humbly repents. He wants to overcome it. He finds comfort in the awesome suffering and death of Christ in his place. Though in this life he never fully eliminates sin, he is no longer bound to it as his lord and master.

The believer still sins to be sure. So how is it accurate for Paul to say, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” John’s first epistle helps us understand the situation.

1 John 3:6, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.”
1 John 3:9, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”

Both of these verses, and the references by Paul in Romans 6, use forms of the Greek verbs that indicate a continuing or habitual practice. It is more accurate to translate it that the believer is “not continuously sinning.” There are other ways in Greek to say that a person does not sin at all. A person born of God cannot be sinning in this way; not as his way of life, not as that which rules him as his master.

So then, why do believers struggle so much against sin in this life? Though we are not under bondage to sin, we are not yet fully sanctified in this life.

There is a sin principle that is very much active in us.

Though we are not kept from ever sinning again, the living child of God is in the process of growing in sanctification. We are born not just to be born, but so that we might live in Christ, growing in holiness. It is part of what glorifies God in his church. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.

Romans 5:16, “… the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.”
Romans 5:20, “… where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,”

However, it is not true that this should motivate us intentionally to sin more. Those reasoning that way really show no interest in seeing grace abound. It is just an excuse to cover up the serious offensiveness of sin.

Explaining this, and helping us discover the victory over sin which we have in Christ, is Paul’s purpose in Romans 6-8. That victory over our daily sins and sinful desires is the theme of this section. We need a more biblical understanding of the triumph that is ours in Christ.

The problem that challenges us is to know and understand the promise of God. We should no longer be deceived by an imagined false bondage to sin. Our growth in holiness should demonstrate God’s power in his maturing children.

We love to see our babies grow up into mature adults. That is every parent’s dream. We mark down when they first sit up on their own, when they first walk and talk. We remember that first day of school, the first date, the first job they have. We remember their struggles, their failures, the times we have with them of laughing and grieving together. No, we are not born just to be born. We are born to live. We are also redeemed in Christ not just to be redeemed by a moment of birth. God gives us life so that we might live for him! What a tragic life that is content to be merely born. It is also tragic when a Christian is content to simply be redeemed but has no evidence of growing up into mature Christ-likeness.

Sin is joyfully conquerable in Christ, not just in theory, but in truth and in practice. The Apostle John wrote this promise for us in the first chapter of his Gospel account,

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

If you have no interest in growing in holiness, then you have cause to question if you are alive in Christ. In contrast with this, if you have an interest in holiness, and admit that it is a winnable struggle for you, then there is great hope in this promise of God. Our next studies will show how Paul develops this lesson for us.

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

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