The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Romans (page 1 of 3)

Law’s Judgment: A Look in the Mirror

With all the grace-talk in the church (rightly so), one might think God’s law is bad.  Especially since Paul wrote that we died to it, that it arouses sinful passions in us and that it leads us to death.

Here (7:7-13) Paul defends God’s law.

What then should we say? That the law is sin?” (7:7a).

Why would Paul even anticipate such a question?  Because the law, arouses passions in our sin-nature body.  So, is the law evil?

“By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (7:7b).

Paul answers emphatically: “Absolutely not!”  I see three important points in Paul’s explanation about the “good” of God’s law.

First, Paul assumes it is binding.  It stands outside ourselves as a revelation of God’s sovereign authority.  Paul doesn’t question the coveting-command’s authority.  It’s true.  It’s reality.  It’s in place as God’s decree.

Second, I think Paul chose the “You shall not covet” command, not because he had a special bent toward coveting, but because we all have a special bent toward it.  We all have, what commentator Leon Morris calls, “encompassing illicit desires of every kind”.

Third, law’s purpose is to reveal sin.  The law uncovered Paul’s inward covetousness.  When Paul read, “You shall not covet”, he realized the desire inside him was covetousness and was sin against God.  In that sense, law is like the doctor who tells us we have cancer.  It’s bad news we don’t want to hear.  But, only by hearing it, can we pursue a cure.

Paul assures sin, not law, is the “bad guy” . . .

“But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (7:8-11).

By “seizing the opportunity” Paul envisions war.  When the commandment is preached, sin uses the commandment as a base of operations and springs to life and “produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

It’s a sad fact of fallen human nature that the more we’re told something’s wrong, the more we want it.  The forbidden mysteriously pulls us to it.  Why did Eve want the forbidden fruit?  Satan tempted her—by using the prohibition to whet her appetite.

What does Paul mean, “Apart from the law sin lies dead”?  Not that there is no sin apart from the law, but that apart from the law there is no incitement of “reviving” of sin.  “I was once alive apart from the law . . . “  What past time is Paul referring to?  Perhaps when, as a boy, he knew You shall not covet”, but sin had not yet “revived.”  But the more he knew the commandment the more sin in him enticed him to covet.  That’s when he knew he lived under God’s death sentence.  “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

“ . . . but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Through Moses, Paul knew the Lord had promised, “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land” (Leviticus 25:18).  But in his experience, the commandment was the occasion for sin to spring into life inside him–and he stood condemned to death before God.

Another fact that the “bad guy” isn’t the law, but sin.  Paul writes, “ . . . sin . . . deceived me.”  It swindled him.  Duped him.  Betrayed him.  Promised him fulfillment, delivered death.

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.  Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (7:12,13).

So then, the law is not evil (7:7) but “holy”.  That is sacred, set apart for God’s purposes. And God’s commandment “holy and just . . . “.  That is, righteous, in accord with what God requires.  And it is “good”.  That is, morally good and beneficial.

This good law didn’t bring death to Paul.  Absolutely not.  It was sin, sin working through the good law so sin “might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment (which “revived” sin) might become sinful beyond measure.

Here are two purposes for God’s law, says Paul.  One, that we might recognize sin for the sin that it is.  Not a mistake.  Not a simple moral failure.  But evil before God.  And, two, that sin might become excessively sinful.  Not something small that we can “handle”.  But something that controls us and threatens our very existence.

* * *

How casually I read God’s laws!  I skim over, “You shall not murder”, because I don’t even think of it.  But then, I find Jesus saying . . .

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister,  you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5;21,22).

I don’t murder, but act in anger.  So I’m liable to God’s judgment.  Not to their faces, but in my home’s privacy I call certain business people “stupid.”  So I’m liable to hell’s fires.

No, not me!  That can’t be!  Look in the mirror of God’s law.  Look in the mirror and see yourself.  You stand hopelessly under God’s judgment.  You face the fires of hell.  You must see yourself as you are:  guilty of sin upon sin.  Gehenna, the burning garbage dump, awaits.

Except . . . for Jesus.




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Law-Dead, Spirit-Alive

I live under laws.  Traffic laws.  IRS laws.  Criminal laws.  I have to obey them or be punished.  God has laws, too.  Think Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  Or Jesus’ intensification of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27).  But Paul argues we’re not under law (6:14).  What does he mean?  What’s our relationship to God’s law?  And how should we live not “under” law?

Paul begins this text (7:1-6) with a simple question . . .

“Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?” (7:1).

The law holds no authority over a dead person.  A dead man is not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments.  Nor can the law condemn a dead man for disobedience.  Here’s Paul’s example . . .

“Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress” (7:2,3).

If her husband dies, a woman is “discharged from the law” that requires marital faithfulness.  Now “she is free from that law” to marry another man.  So what does that mean to Jewish and Gentile Roman Christians?  And to us?

“In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (7:4).

We are not “under law” because we have “died to the law”.  (This must have shocked Jewish Christians who knew that the blessed man delights in the Lord’s law and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1,2).  “Not under law” means I don’t look to law to tell me how to live.  And we’re not under law because we died to the law.

How?   “ . . . through the body of Christ.”  In some mysterious way, God identified us with, connected us with, joined us with Christ in his crucifixion.  And in that union, Paul tells his readers (and us), they (we)  died to the law.  The preacher can proclaim it over us.  He can warn us of terrifying punishment.  But, we lie there like a corpse.  It no longer defines our way of living.

God’s law still stands.  And we are still alive.  So what does Paul mean by “you have died to the law”?

A jump to 1 Corinthians 15:56 may help us better understand what this means for us.  Paul writes . . .

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

If the power of sin is the law, then the power of the law is sin.  So Paul writes,

“While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” 

The law is holy, but because of our sinful nature, God’s law has power to arouse the sinful passions of us who (apart from Christ) live under sin’s dominion.  But we died to the law; therefore, our sinful passions can’t be aroused by law to produce death in us.

But God didn’t stop by “killing” us to the law.  He “killed” us to law, so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ and bear fruit for him . . .

  “ . . . so that [we] may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

The NRS and the NIV translate the Greek word ginomy, “belong to”.  The NKJV translates it “married to”.  So I think Paul means God “killed” us to law so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ the way a wife “belongs” in a love union to her husband.  (Think that statement sexist? It’s also the way a husband “belongs” in a love union to his wife.)

God’s purpose is that we might belong to Christ as the defining power in our lives, not his law  And his ultimate purpose is  that “we may bear fruit for God.”  What does Paul mean by “fruit”?

In this context, he means righteousness.  “Fruit” is righteousness for God, righteousness that glorifies God.  This righteousness is the very same conduct (and character!) God’s law requires!  But we don’t produce this “right-ness” by struggling to live by the Ten Commandments.  Now, belonging to the resurrected Christ, he fulfills that righteousness in us . . .

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).

Later, to the Philippians (1:9-11), Paul will write . . .

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God.”

Finally, Paul explains further by striking the contrast between law-living and “the new life of the Spirit” . . .

 “ (For) While we were living in the flesh (NIV—controlled by the sinful nature), our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:5,6).

Before faith in Christ, Paul’s readers (and us) were living under the lordship of our sinful nature.  God’s law (the core being the Ten Commandments) “aroused our sinful passions”.  The result:  unrighteousness that leads to death.

But now, having “died” to the law which held us captive to our sinful passions, we are “discharged” from living under law.  The result:  we’re not slaves “under the old written code” (which is holy but without power to produce what it requires); we’re slaves “in the new life of the Spirit.”  That is, the Holy Spirit births in us the life of the resurrected Christ.  That life is a life of righteousness.  And it’s mediated to us by “the Spirit”.

* * *

I’ve never lived “under law”.  I’ve never entered into the Old Mosaic Covenant.  But I remember sitting in my Bible College “Romans and Galatians” class, when abruptly “the light came on”.  I realized I could do nothing to be justified and that the Spirit provided the power for my sanctification.  I, who grew up in the church and was preparing for ministry, had up to that moment thought I was “under law” with Christ’s sacrifice mixed in.  Without realizing it, I was like the Galatians–having started with the Spirit, I was now ending with the flesh (Galatians 3:3).

This doesn’t mean I tear down the Ten Commandments from my refrigerator and just see what the
Spirit does.  It means rather that, in this fight to live righteously in a fallen world with a still sinful nature, I’m not under law’s condemnation, law’s powerlessness, and law’s sin-arousal.  I have been united with Christ in a resurrection like his (6:5).  I can consider myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11).  I must remember I am under grace (6:14).  I must believe that I belong to him who was raised from the dead (7:4).  I can be confident that I live in the new life of the Spirit (7:6).

With that, I’m armed for the fight to bear the fruit of righteousness for God’s glory.  Bring it on!






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Not Under Law, Should We Live Lawlessly?

“FOR THE NEXT 100 MILES YOU ARE NOT UNDER TRAFFIC LAWS!”  I couldn’t believe the sign. Put the pedal to the metal!  No lurking police!

Not true, of course. But Paul’s promise is.  “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Sin is a power.  “ . . . Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin (Romans 3:10).  But it will no longer lord it over us if we have been made right with God through faith in Christ.  The reason? We are “not under law but under grace”.  Paul will elaborate in the next two chapters.  For now, he presents a question which Jewish Christians in Rome, raised “under law”, would inevitably ask . . .

“Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15a).  In Deuteronomy, Moses prepared the Israelites for the Promised Land.

“ , , ,if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:25).

But Christ ended the Mosaic era. We’re not under law any longer; we’re under grace.  Should we live lawlessly?  By no means!” (6:15b).  Why such an emphatic NO?

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?“ (6:16).

Slavery was common in Rome.  Paul’s readers would know if a man offers to be someone’s slave, he is a slave and the one to whom he offers himself is his master.

As humans, writes Paul, we have only two alternatives.  One: live under the dominion of sin leading to death-like separation from God.  Two: live under the dominion of obedience to righteousness (“you have become slaves of righteousness”—6:18) leading to righteousness in character and conduct.

The present tense of “present yourselves” (Greek, paristanete) implies an ongoing offering.  The more we present ourselves to sin, the more “dead” we are in our relationship with God.  The more we present ourselves to obedience to righteousness, the more righteous we are in character and conduct.

Paul thanks God that the freed-from-sin’s-power Romans have become “slaves of righteousness” . . .

“But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (6:17-19).

The former slaves to sin have been “entrusted” or “handed over to” a “form of teaching”.  By the mid-50’s A.D. there was a defined body of Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching.  Paul had given them over to that—to learn and to follow.  And they “have been obedient from the heart” to that teaching.  They have become “slaves of righteousness”.

Parenthetically, Paul explains he’s speaking “in human terms because of your natural limitations”.  That is, the spiritual concepts involved here are too complex for them to grasp, so Paul uses slavery as an analogy.

He continues with an exhortation:  you used to offer the members of your body to impurity and to increasing iniquity; now offer them to righteousness resulting in “sanctification”.  Sanctification is another word for holiness—a life morally set apart to God.  This “righteousness for sanctification” is a process.  Just as the Roman Christians’ iniquity grew greater and greater, so now Paul urges them toward greater and greater holiness.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23).

Still persuading the Romans not to live lawlessly even though they’re not “under law”, Paul reminds them as “slaves of sin” they were not restrained in any way by righteousness.  But “what advantage” (Greek, karpos—fruit) did they gain from the behavior they are now ashamed of?  Those things end in “death”—separation from God, ultimately eternally.

But, they have been set free from sin’s power and made slaves of God.  The fruit of that is “sanctification” and the end is “eternal life” with God

For the pay-off of sin is death, but God’s “gift” (charisma) “is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Even though eternal life  is the outcome of Christians offering themselves to righteousness, that offering is not meritorious.  The power to not present themselves to sin but to righteousness comes from God.  Sanctification–a benefit of slavery to God–is God’s work.  There the end of the whole process–eternal life–is God’s gift.

Paul means all this to move the Romans to answer “Should we sin, because we are not under law but under grace?” the same way he did–“By no means!”

* * * *

At times I’m tempted to offer myself to sin.  Anger, for instance.  In my illness, I can be an angry man.  And I agree the sin of anger is a power that I sometimes allow to rule me.  (Please don’t think I beat my wife.  Words or withdrawal–that’s how I express my anger.)

There are, of course, other sins we offer ourselves to, other sins that increasingly dominate us.  Pornography.  Lying.  Selfishness.  Slander.  How easily we presume upon God’s grace and how lightly we regard our sin!  How much we need to hear and heed Paul’s warning of sin’s enslaving power that distances us from the enjoyment of God’s presence!

And how we must consider the “fruit” of sin and the “fruit” of righteousness.  “Sanctification” sounds stuffy.  Puritanical even.  But to be set apart to righteousness–to be set apart to God–is what God created us for and what he redeemed us for through Christ.  As a man and woman were made for each other in marriage, so we through Christ are made for God.

Finally, this convicts me.  I pray a dozen times a day for the Lord to heal me.  Just as often should I pray that in my illness I might seek to behave righteously.  For the fruit of righteousness is to be set apart to God.  And the outcome of it all is eternal life.

“Lord, don’t let me put the pedal to the medal.  Keep me driving in your ways!”






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Does Grace Make Sin a Non-Issue?

The change that occurred at our conversion makes it incongruous for us to keep living in sin.  That’s my summation of Paul’s proclamation in Romans 6:1-14.

In 6:2 he tells us we died to sin.  In 6:3 that we were baptized into Christ’s death.  In 6:4 that we were buried with Christ by baptism into death.  And in 6:4 he explains God’s purpose in our death to sin with Christ:  that we might walk in newness of life.

This change at our conversion (“baptism”) makes it incongruous (inappropriate, inconsistent, not in harmony with our new character) for us to keep practicing sin.

But how can Christ’s death 2000 years ago change our relationship to the power of sin now?  It’s a mystery that Paul explains (though it remains a mystery) . . .

 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5).

“United” is the NSV’s translation of sumphotai, used of being closely associated with someone in a similar experience. For instance, two robbers were crucified together with Christ (Matthew 27:44).  They physically died with him.  We died with him spiritually to the power of sin we were under (“ . . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin”—3:9).

Furthermore,“if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 

Why does Paul use the future tense?  Why not “we are united with him in a resurrection like his”?  Because we have to apply our union with him in his resurrection, as we’ll see later in Paul’s exhortations. For now, more explanations about our death to sin with Christ . . .

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).

“ . . . our old self” (literally, “our old man”) refers to our whole being connected to Adam (5:12-21)—the person we were apart from Christ.  Then we were “enslaved to [the power of] sin.” 

In his speech before he was martyred, Stephen told how God spoke in his covenant with Abraham and said, “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years” (Acts 7:6; Genesis 15:13).  As Abraham’s descendants were enslaved to Pharaoh, so,  before Christ, we were slaves to sin.

But no longer.  Paul says not only that we died with Christ, but that “our old self was crucified.”  Just as the two robbers’ lives ended in crucifixion with Christ, so did our enslavement to sin’s power.

What does Paul mean by “ . . . the body of sin”?  Not the totality of sins added together, but our physical body through which temptation to sin comes and through which we commit sin.

But Paul writes that “ . . . our old self was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed”.  The NRS translation, in my view, is unfortunate.   The Greek katargaysthay is translated “the rulers of this age . . . . are doomed to perish” in 1 Corinthians 2:16. But Paul also uses it of a married woman who ”is released from the law of marriage” if her husband dies (Romans 7:2).  The latter sense seems favorable here.  By our connection with Christ in his death our physical body is released from the controlling power of sin. We are no longer enslaved to it.

Paul states the obvious . . .

“For whoever has died is freed from sin” (6:7).

Sin has no power over a dead man!  While Paul is speaking of a mysterious spiritual death in union with Christ, not of a physical death, we mustn’t dismiss this as spiritual symbolism or arcane theological talk.  Paul is writing of reality.  Not only were we justified by faith, the old Adam-connected person we were died.  I don’t understand how.  I can’t explain how.  But there are spiritual realities we can explain naturally.  This is one.

“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (6:8-10).

Why does Paul say, “we believe that we will also live with [Christ}?  We face the same question as we did in verse 5.  I don’t want to get in the exegetical “weeds”, but I think both there and here Paul is glancing ahead to bodily resurrection with Christ at his coming.  And that full-body resurrection “reaches back” into the present, so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk (now) in newness of life (6:4).

So what should we do with all this theology?  Here’s Paul’s practical take-away—for the church at Rome and for us . . .

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).

By “So” Paul means in the same way Christ died to sin and died to death by being raised “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.”

Armed with all this theological truth (6:1-10) we must make an objective evaluation of ourselves and think: “I am dead to the power of sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Say I’m a guy who wants to pay back someone who wrongs me.  I might do it by verbal abuse or silent withdrawal.  But something in me craves revenge.  Paul teaches me to think of myself as dead to that “something in me” (I don’t have to follow that craving, because I’m dead to its power with Christ).  And Paul teaches me to think of myself as “alive to God”.  That means I should think of myself as sensitive and responsive to God.

“Alive to God”. I picture myself intentionally hurt by my hostile neighbor.  I’m thinking I’ll just have nothing to do with him ever again.  But a presence is awakening me to the possibility of forgiving him, of praying for him and of doing something good for him.

“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).

By “Therefore” Paul means for the reason that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and you are thoughtfully considering yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God, act.

First, don’t let sin dominate you, to make you obey the passions of your mortal bodies.  Sin’s intention is domination.  But don’t let it.  In my illustration above, don’t withdraw in pay-back to your hostile neighbor.

Second, stop putting your head, hands and heart at sin’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of wrongdoing.  You can do this, because you’re dead to sin’s power.

Third, put your head, hands and heart at God’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of right-doing. You can do this, because “you have been brought from death to life”!  In other words, you once were “dead” to God and you were made “dead” to the power of sin.  But you’ve been made alive to God.  So present yourself to him to do what he says is right.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (6:14).

This is the apostle’s promise to us:  sin will no longer dominate us.  Why?  “ . . . since you are not under law”.  We are not left to “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” as justified believers in Christ.  We now live “under grace” where we’re dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

* * *

Some of us are care-less about sin.  It’s just a non-issue in our busy lives.  Besides (we presume), God’s grace is always greater.  Others of us are triumphant over sin–even commanding it, “Be gone!”  But many of us (maybe most) struggle in the trenches with a besetting sin or even a whole array of what God calls “evil”.

To us, Paul’s words offer encouragement.  Not just that we have Holy Spirit power to withstand, but that by baptism in Christ’s name we really have been changed.  If a surgeon slices us open, he won’t find the evidence.  But, united with the crucified Christ, we really did die to sin’s power.  When it flaunts itself before us, we can thoughtfully consider that we’re corpses to its enticements.  Even more, we can thoughtfully consider that we really are alive to God.  In our innermost being, an awareness of him breathes and a right response to him fairly pulses inside.

Then we can simply refuse to give ourselves to sin.  We can refuse to let our head, our hands, our hearts–any part of us–become a weapon of wrongdoing.  And we can courageously give our head, hands, hearts–any part of us–to the living God within us, so that our “members” become weapons of sin-slaying righteousness.

The trio is singing a beautiful song.  But the alto is out of tune.  That’s us if we “continue in sin”.




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Dead to Sin

                   “Not guilty!  You’re okay with me. My grace covers it all.”–God

Sounds like something out of The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament ( ).  It does capture Paul’s concept, but maybe it’s too colloquial.  Here are Paul’s words—the source of my “quote” . . .

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:18-20).

It’s not about what we do; it’s who we’re connected to.  Connected to Adam, we’re condemned sinners.  Connected by grace through faith in Christ, we’re made right with God, whose grace is always greater than our sin.

A dangerous doctrine.  If we’re justified by faith apart from works, and if God’s grace is always greater than our sin . . .

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (6:1,NRS).

Paul expects his Jewish Christian readers, especially, to raise that objection.  If my sin evokes God’s grace, and if the revelation of grace glorifies God, why shouldn’t I trespass God’s laws and sin?

Who would actually think like that?  Well, I might.  Maybe my attitude toward sin is too “soft”.  Maybe I presume God will be gracious no matter what.

Paul slams the door on that thinking—and for a startling reason . . .

“By no means!  How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (l6:2, NRS).

We died to sin!  What can Paul possibly mean?  By sin he doesn’t mean acts of sin; he means the power of sin.  Something happened to us so that sin’s power no longer dominates us: we “died to [the power of] sin”. 

The NRS’ “go on living” translates one Greek word, zaysomen.  It means “to live” or “to be alive to”.  Paul’s question is rhetorical.  Since we “died to sin”, of course we can’t still be alive to it!  Sin has no power over a dead man!

Who, though, is “we”, and when did “we”  die to sin’s power?

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ” (6:3, NRS).

“We” refers to “all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus” and “when” obviously is when we were baptized.  Commentators differ, though, on the meaning of “baptized into”.  Some argue Paul is referring to literal water baptism, others that Paul is using “baptized into” to refer to a spiritual union with Christ produced by the Holy Spirit. I think that the union is produced by the Holy Spirit, but at belief/baptism.  (I put them together because I understand the early church baptized a new believer immediately upon his faith.)

This baptism “into Christ Jesus” is a baptism “into his death”.  Paul goes on to say, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death . . . ”  Mystery here, but one whose truth we mustn’t overlook.  In our faith/baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death and buried with him.

In 44 years of pastoral ministry, I don’t remember once carting off a newly-baptized believer to be buried!  I’m being goofy—just to make an obvious point.  Paul is referring to a spiritual experience, not a physical one.  But how to explain Paul’s language?  What happened to us?  In a mysterious way the Holy Spirit “connected” us to Christ in his death and burial to cause us to “die” and be “buried” to the power of sin.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4, NRS).

God’s purpose in our spiritual union with Christ in his death and burial—and now, Paul implies, with Christ in his resurrection—is that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father . . . we too might walk in newness of life.”  That is, not under the power of sin, but in the resurrection power of God.

Therefore, justification by faith apart from works isn’t an excuse for sinning but a call to put into practice who we are in union with Christ!

This raises an important point.  The Christian faith isn’t all Bible and theological doctrines.  When I say that, I’m not demeaning the Scriptures; they are the written Word of God.  And without knowing correct theological doctrines we’re all “at sea” about what the truth is that we believe.  But both the Word and the doctrines are intended to lead us to God.  And that means experience.  In this case, the experience of a nature-change.  Once “alive” to the dominating power of sin, now through faith in Christ (proclaimed publicly through baptism) our nature becomes “dead and buried” to the dominating power of sin.

That raises a challenging question:  if true, why do we still struggle with sin?  Answer:  though this nature-change is real, we must apply it.  After discussing our nature-change in 6:5-10 (we’ll walk though that next time), Paul urges his Roman-church-readers . . .

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11) . . .

And again . . .

“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).

So. because we are dead to sin’s power and alive to God in Christ, we have to think of ourselves that way.  And we must stop offering ourselves to sin’s power, but instead offer ourselves to God to do what he declares is right.  If sin still dominates us, it’s because we’re not thinking of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, and it’s because we’re offering ourselves to sin instead of to God.

A comment should be made about the purpose of our being made “dead to sin”–“so that . . . we too might walk in newness of life.”  This translation is to be preferred to the NIV’s, so that . . .  we too might live a new life”.
” . . . newness” is the Greek kainotays and refers not only to something recent and different, but extraordinary (Friberg Greek Lexicon).

Paul teaches that we have been connected to Christ, not only in his death, but in his resurrection:  “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”.   Implication:  we have experienced the Father’s resurrecting glory in our innermost being so we might live new.  Paul will write in more detail about that in coming paragraphs.

* * *

My take-away from this text . . .

I’m dressed in a hospital gown, lying on a table in the operating room  The surgeon cuts and scrapes, removes and inserts, then sews my sliced back together.  I feel nothing.  Not even aware to what he’s doing.  Because a power from outside myself (anesthesia) has “put me out”.  That’s how I should see myself regarding sin’s power.  It can’t dominate me, because I’ve been spiritually connected with Christ in his death, “put out” to sin’s power.

My image isn’t entirely accurate.  My ultimate death to sin won’t occur until  final bodily resurrection.  And I must stop presenting myself to sin as if it’s still my master.  But, first, I must “consider” myself dead to sin.  “So, Lord, help me keep seeing myself in that embarrassing gown, lying on that operating room table, ‘put out’ to the power of sin through my connection with Christ in his death.”








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Radical Rerun

For almost two months I’ve commented on Romans 1-5.  Before launching into Romans 6-8, I need a rerun.  Just the high points.  To fix them in my mind.  Not only because Paul’s words are so profound, but because they paint a worldview sharply counter to our culture and, in some cases, even to our Christian culture.

This counter-culture theological worldview comes in the form of a letter written to a church in Rome.  We might rather expect a revelation of God to come mysteriously—maybe Paul alone in a cave when an audible voice speaks or a golden tablet appears.   But here it is in “ordinary” written correspondence, which, it is claimed, is Holy Spirit-inspired.  Mystery in everyday form!


Paul begins by boasting of the gospel ( “good news”) which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.  At the heart of the Christian faith we don’t find an encyclopedia of fine theological regulations to follow or even to simply believe.  At the heart of the faith is God’s power to save those who believe.  God’s power.  To save.  Those who believe.  Any who believes.


But why save?  Because God is revealing his wrath.  Humans have exchanged the Creator (known through his creation), and all his glory, for images of created things, including (maybe especially) of themselves.  Instead of blocking their desires, God gives them over to them—and to the consequences.  Perverted sex and gory violence are just two terrible examples.  This—God giving humans over to what they want instead of him—is God’s wrath revealed.

Even so, the day of God’s wrath is coming.  Everyone (even religious people, who refuse to admit their sin) is storing up wrath against themselves for that day.  No one is righteous.  No one truly seeks God.  It’s not just that humans sin; we are all under the power of sin.


But now, in God’s timing, we can be put right with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Anyone can.  Sounds simple.  It is.  We can be put right with God by God’s grace as a gift.  Just accept the gift!  It’s free—but not to God.  God presented his Son as a sacrifice, and his Son willingly surrender to suffer God’s wrath (to absorb it someone said) so believers could be saved from it.  Free to us—just trust that it’s true—but infinitely costly to God.


Why by faith?  Because faith makes this salvation possible for anyone.  The least likely human—the biggest sinner, the most simple-minded, the most hypocritical religious “saint”—can be put right with God.  Why by faith?  Because there’s absolutely nothing we can do to get right with God.  All our attempts to dress ourselves up in our Sunday best for God is like dressing up in dirty rags.  Why by faith?  Because if we bring nothing to the table, then we get all the good as a gift and God gets all the glory as the giver.


When we trust God, regardless of how impossible this all seems, we become a descendant of Abraham—the old guy with a barren wife.  He became a father at age 100.  And God promised him and all his descendants would one day inherit the world.  What world?  A new one.  A paradise without all the “bad stuff” of this one.  And it will be ours.


Before that day, however, being put right with God brings believers a lot of good “stuff”.  Like peace with God—not more alienation or wrath from him.  Like grace every day no matter what.  Like rejoicing in suffering, because God uses suffering for good.  Like love from God poured out into believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Like reconciliation with God through the death of his Son.  Like rescue from the coming wrath.


It all comes down to the story of two men.  Adam is the first—and was the first.  When he ate God-forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, and death entered—the consequence of disbelieving and disobeying the Creator.  Everyone is Adam’s progeny.  And everyone by nature stands under sin’s power and repeats Adam’s sin.  Everyone exchanges God for something that, at the moment, looks better.

Jesus is the second man. God’s Son who offers the free gift of right-standing with God—and that leads to eternal life.  All humans are connected by birth with Adam and his sin.  All humans can be connected to Jesus Christ and God’s grace through him by trusting this good news of God’s power to save is really true.

* * *

Turns out what I’ve written isn’t a high-points summary of Romans 1-5.  More like sailing thoughts through my mind based on those chapters.  Though it’s not a scholarly overview,  I have two hopes from them.

One, that we realize how radical is this “gospel” we’re called to trust our lives to.  Over time, it becomes so familiar to us that it seems like “the same old thing”.  Radical?  Extreme?  No.  Maybe even kind of  common-place.  This is crazier than touching an angel-written golden tablet to be made holy!  How out of step with the culture this calls us to walk!  How far beyond our imagination is this revelation of God, this dark wrath of God, this amazing grace of God!  And how incomprehensible that the death of Christ on the cross could save believers from all their sins and all God’s wrath they deserve for all believers of all times and places!!

Two, I hope my thoughts prepare us for Romans 6-8.  Because if the first chapters seem “out there”, wait . . .








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Two Men

This is the story—true story (though critics will claim it’s religious fanaticism gone further amok)—of two men.  The first, the first man (there had to be a first, right?—unless somehow “the Big Bang” explosively produced a horde).  To this first man we’re all connected; from him we all descend.  To the second man (the God-man!), some are connected.  He is the progenitor of  a new creation.

Paul introduces the first man as the means through which sin entered the world, thus explaining why humanity is estranged from God and needing the reconciliation of which he’s just written: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved (from God’s wrath) by his life” (Romans 5:10).

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(5:12).

“Therefore” is the Greek dia touto, literally “on account of this”:  “On account of this (of believers’ rescue from God’s wrath) . . . ” (5:1-11).  With “just as” Paul begins to compare the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s grace.  But he breaks it off (hence the dash ending this verse), not to pick it up until 5:18.  In other words, “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Before we get there, we should note that by “sin” Paul doesn’t mean specific acts but sin as a power (see 3:10), entered the world through that first man.  And death (as the consequence of sin—death as physical expiration and death as separation from God) entered the world through sin.

Thus, the Bible’s answer as to why we die, why we can’t conquer death, is sin against the Creator.  Adam chose to disbelieve and disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).

Consequently, claims Paul, “ . . . death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Implicitly, “all sinned” because of the Adam-connection.  But what is the connection?  Some commentators/theologians explain that Adam was “the federal head” of the race, thus representing us all in his sin and subsequent death.  Others explain that Adam’s progeny were all present in him; thus all sinned and all die.

I’ve always favored the view that says we all get Adam’s immoral “genes”.  That is, we inherit a sinful, depraved nature from our forefather and all sin and all die.  (This, I just learned is known as “the Roman Catholic view” and is held by many Wesleyans and Arminians.)  Whatever.  Choose your view.   Paul is obviously saying that we’re all connected in some way to Adam and all have sinned as he did and so death comes to us all.

” . .  .for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13).

Again, sin is more than acts of breaking God’s law.  It’s the power of evil that “was in the world . . . before the law was given.”  But sin is not marked down as a rebellious transgression against God’s law “when there is no law.”

“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come” (5:14).

Despite the absence of law-breaking (because God had not yet revealed his law) death ruled from Adam’s time to Moses’ (when God issued his law).  Humans sinned, but not “by breaking a command, as did Adam” (“You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden . . . lest you die”—Genesis 3:3).

Adam was not only the means of sin and death entering God’s creation, he also was “a pattern of the one to come.”  By “pattern” (Greek, tupos) Paul means Adam was a prophetic symbol who pictured Jesus Christ long before he came.

But in what sense was Adam a “pattern” of Christ?  Adam’s one disobedient act impacted the entire human race.  Christ’s one act of obedience impacted the “new human race”—all who would believe in him

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (5:15-19).

A pattern Adam may be, but his trespass and Christ’s gift, though alike in impact, are poles apart in results.  Paul emphasizes this with phrases like “how much more did God’s grace and gift . . . overflow to the many!”  And “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life” (5:17). 

The contrast is severe.

Connected to Adam one “dies by the trespass of the one man” (that statement seems to support the belief that somehow we are guilty for Adam’s sin); one stands condemned under God’s judgment following Adam’s “one sin”; one lives under the reign of death; one stands condemned with “all men . . . as the result of one trespass”; one lives among “the many [who] were made sinners . . . through the disobedience of the one man . . . “

Connected to Christ, one receives “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ” (that is, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross); one has “the gift” that “brought justification”; one receives “God’s abundant provision of grace and . . . the gift of righteousness (that allows one to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”; one receives “justification that brings life”; one is “made righteous”.

Actually, using “one receives” throughout my comments on 5:15-19 isn’t accurate.  Often Paul uses “the many”—“the many died by the trespass of the one man”; “the many were made sinners . . . the many will be made righteous.”  “ . . . the many” is merely stylistic.  None are not sinners (“all have sinned”—3:23).  And only “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life.”

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21).

Paul finishes this paragraph by a word about the law’s purpose and about the super-abounding nature of God’s grace in Christ.  The law doesn’t change the Adamic nature of humans; it only reveals humans’ sin and makes humans increasingly aware of it.  This what Paul means by, “The law was added so that the trespasses might increase.”  But the more sin increased (both in realization of sin and the practice of sin), God’s grace multiplied “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Despite the power of sin reigning over Adam and his progeny (all of us), God’s grace must and will reign through Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life to many.

* * *

It’s not fair!  That’s how I first respond to this two-men story.  Why should my family tree traced all the way back begin with Adam?  Why should I be connected to him, so that I’m cursed with a  bent toward sin, or am born with a sinful nature, or have Adam’s guilt imputed to me?   Why should death reign over me because of Adam?  Why should his disobedience make me a sinner?  Nobody asked my opinion.  Nobody recorded my vote.  It’s not fair.

On the other hand, look what else God has done.  He’s given me the free gift of justification.  He’s given me the free gift of righteousness so that I will reign in life.  He’s given me grace and the free gift of grace that abounds.  Even though God’s law increases my sin, God’s grace abounds all the more.  He’s given me grace that leads to eternal life.  All this because of the second man in the story.  I’m connected to him.  Not by my works, just by  grace through faith.   And that’s not fair either.  That’s grace.










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God gives generously, liberally, abundantly.  More than can fit in one blog!  So here’s the rest of the “good stuff” that comes to us justified-by-faith-in-Christ-people in Romans 5:1-11 . . .


“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us . . . ” (5:3,4a).

. . . rejoice in our sufferings” An oxymoron.  Suffering isn’t joyful.  It’s in the world because we humans exchanged the Creator’s glory for our own images.  And, in wrath, God gave us over to what we want—and the consequences. But, for the justified, God uses suffering to produce perseverance (or, endurance) in us.  Perseverance develops character—a difficult-to-interpret Greek word which moves one writer to picture a veteran soldier, no longer a boot-camp rookie, now battle-tested and toughened.  And that character produces our capacity for hope of future glory.  And, Paul writes, that hope “does not disappoint us . . . . “ –it will in no way fail to satisfy us!

“ . . .  rejoice”, again, is a verb.  (Not a state-of-being noun.)  And rejoicing ”in our sufferings” is something, says Paul, we can do because we are justified and because of what suffering-as-justified-people produces—endurance, character, and non-disappointing hope.

I’m still working on this one.  Haven’t gotten it down yet. I want healing from my physical sufferings.  Am I wrong?  Should I be praying for the ability to rejoice in my sufferings?  Apparently so.  Wouldn’t it be great to rejoice in our sufferings?  Holy Spirit, enable me!


“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5).

The reason our hope of sharing God’s glory will not end in disappointment is this:  “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul’s words recall Ezekiel’s new covenant prophecy . . .

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

In this case, Paul writes God, by the Holy Spirit, has poured out “his love” into our hearts.  By this Spirit-given love, God inaugurates our certain hope.

This love is subjective–love we sense, feel.  It bears witness with our spirit that the loving God is at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation for this love poured out and for our justification itself, however, is objective, not left to the realm of feeling . . .

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:6-8).

It was “just the right time” according to God’s timing.  “ . . . we were still powerless”, totally helpless to escape God’s wrath.  We were “ungodly”—anti-God, blasphemous, depraved.  We were “still sinners”—living in conscious opposition to God’s good will.

And “Christ died for us.”

Sure, occasionally some will die for a good person.  A soldier for his buddy, for instance.   But only Christ will die for wretched sinners.  And only God will  demonstrate his own love for us like that!


“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (5:9,10).

Paul makes a logical argument.  Since God did the more difficult thing (justifying sinners by Christ’s blood), then he can do the less difficult thing (save them from his coming wrath).  By the way, let’s make no mistake.  While God in his wrath gives God-rejecters over to their lusts, the day of his wrath still comes (2:5).  But there’s no way God will allow his wrath to touch his justified.


“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11).

Not only will the reconciled be saved from God’s future wrath, reconciliation gives us cause to rejoice now in God.  The Greek kauchauomen means “boast of with joy” or “glorify with joy”.  The key to this rejoicing in God is “reconciliation”, which Paul uses to sum up justification and all its benefits.  The Greek for “reconciliation” is katalagayn referring to the reestablishing of a personal relationship.  We who have trusted God’s justifying work through Christ now have a personal “connectedness” with God himself.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16a).   In this God, Paul writes, we rejoice.

* * *

As I admitted above, I’m still working on the rejoicing-in-suffering “stuff”.  I get what Paul’s saying.  Suffering produces perseverance in me, perseverance produces proven character, and proven character increases my capacity to hope in sharing God’s glory.  I just want to go to God’s glory with the bottom half of my body working!  So I pray, and I ask you to pray, that, trusting the good God promises to bring from it, I might rejoice in my suffering for as long as it continues.

Poured-out love is a warm fuzzy.  Well, it’s more than that, but not less.  There’s nothing like feeling loved, especially when you don’t deserve it.  And there is nothing like feeling loved by God.  I don’t feel it often.  But I know that feeling comes when I’m meditating on his Word that tells me he loves me.  (I think there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere!)

Paul seems to overdo rescue from God’s wrath.  It under girded his “Peace with God” benefit.  Now, here it is again.  Maybe it’s because he knows we underplay it.  A terrible day of God’s wrath is coming.  (Don’t you wonder how he can still withhold it when you look at the world?)  But he will shelter us from his wrath, because he’s already rescued us from it through Christ.

For me, rejoicing in God (that is, joyfully give him glory) doesn’t come automatically.  Largely this is due to my illness.  I have to meditate on his Word that tells me who he is and what he’s done.  When I do–and when I do it in an attitude of prayer thinking deeply about his Word (such as Romans 3:21-5:11) joyful praise to him comes.

And that’s when I realize again that God himself is the greatest “good stuff” of justification!




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Good Stuff from Justification (1)

What “stuff“ exactly?  Might sound greedy to ask what we get from justification.  Maybe “consequences” is more palatable.  But in Romans 5:1-11 Paul lists the “stuff” (or, “consequences” if you prefer) . . .


”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . “ (5:1).

Paul has just summarized 3:21-4:24 with these words:  “ [Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Now comes the “stuff” that follows as a consequence of being put in right-standing with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should note that this means nothing for the person who believes he’s “good” so he’s “okay” with God.  This is why 1:18-3:20 is so important.  We’ve exchanged creation-revealed knowledge of God for our idols.  Therefore, God has given us over to the lusts we want to gratify—and their consequences.  This is God’s wrath in the world’s everyday life.  But religious people have no excuse.  They do the same as the God-rejecters and won’t repent. Therefore, they are storing up wrath against themselves on the day of God’s wrath.  Conclusion:  all are sinners; all are accountable to the God of righteousness and wrath.

But “we”, who’ve trusted the crucified and resurrected Christ, “have peace with God.”  Wrath has been appeased.  The war is over.


“ . . . through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2a).

The English “gain access” comes from the Greek, prosagogen, a word used of admission into the presence of a person of high rank. The fact that Paul uses it with “into this grace in which we now stand implies continued access.  So we, who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and are now justified, have ongoing access into grace.   So there we now stand.

I picture it like this.  The most common definition of “grace” is “God’s undeserved favor.”  God’s favor is an ocean.  We’re standing in it knee-deep as gentle waves of grace wash over us again and again.  It’s another benefit of being justified by faith.


“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2b).

“ . . . rejoice” (Greek, kauchometha) obviously is a verb (unlike “peace”—above—which is a noun and, therefore, something we are given as a result of being justified).  So, rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” is something we do, says Paul, and able to do because of being in right-standing with God.

This rejoicing is specific.  It’s “in the hope of the glory of God.”  “Hope” isn’t a wish; it’s a confident expectation the future has broken into the present through Christ’s resurrection.  “ . . . in the expectation of the glory of God” captures the sense of the word.  The “glory” of God (Greek, doxa—splendor, grandeur, power) is what we fell short of (3:23) and what we exchanged for our images (1:21).  Now we rejoice because our confident expectation is to gain what we lost.

It should be noted that ”the glory of God” is more than a simple definition can contain.  If I say “God’s glory is all that he is in his splendor, grandeur and power”, we’re stepping closer.  But, in my view, “glory” is a “catch-all” word to express the inexpressible.

Why is “the glory of God” a hope in which we rejoice?  Because God’s glory will be revealed in us (8:18). This will include “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).  My imagination could soar here.  But I’ll tamp it down, so we can move on.  (You, go ahead.  It will be more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21).

* * *

We take peace with God (benefit #1 of justification above) pretty much for granted.  I think that’s because our culture has penetrated our minds, and we can’t envision God’s wrath against us.  God is love, right?  Besides wrath sounds so 18th century puritanical.  But the wrath-war has ended only because God makes us right with himself through our faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace as waves of his kindness and favor continually wash over us can be a tough image to accept, especially in times of suffering and pain.  How is this grace?  How is this undeserved love?  But like “peace with God”, “standing in grace” is a state of being for the justified, not something we have to do.  We’re standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace even if it feels like a dry desert at times.

Hopelessness is one of the worst emotions.  Many of us struggle with it as we face death, because we will die with much undone we wanted to do.  Only in the movies do we get to check-off everything on our “bucket list”.  But we who are justified have a future beyond our last breath here.  Paul calls it “the glory of God.”  I can’t define it.  But gaze at a field of wildflowers, or pounding ocean waves, or majestic mountains.  Creation is a tiny revelation of “the glory of God.”  Or read the Gospels and watch Lazarus come out at Jesus’ command, and envision Jesus suffering an agonizing, bloody death in our place.  And then read of the empty tomb and Jesus meeting Mary and showing his wounds to doubting Thomas.  Jesus is the supreme revelation of “the glory of God.”  And justification opens the floodgates of rejoicing in our future of God’s glory.

Pretty good stuff, no?  More to come next time . . .

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Got Credit

It’d be crazy, right, if my next IRA report showed a generous stranger had credited $500,000 to my account.  In Romans 4:22-25 Paul announces God has credited righteousness to us who believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for us.

That (crazy) good news falls mostly on deaf ears, though, since we presume we’re “okay” because we’re essentially “good”.

But even a cursory reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 demolishes that idea.  In 1:18-31 Paul explains how we humans suppress the truth of God by our wickedness, and how God in his wrath gives us over to the horrible consequences of our God-less choices.  In 2:1-3:8 he charges that even religious people fall short of God’s standard and face the day of God’s wrath. Finally, in 3:9-20, like a powerful prosecutor, he charges that we’re all sinners dominated by sin’s power.  “None is righteous . . . no one does good!”

But in 3:21-31, with a big “But now”, Paul transforms into an old-fashioned newspaper boy shouting “Good News” on a street corner:  we unrighteous, bad-doers can be right with God!  Not by doing good, but by believing in the crucified Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (Again, this is good news only to people who believe 1:18-3:20 correctly describes our standing before God!)

In 4:1-21 Paul opens his Jewish Bible and presents the father of the Jews, Abraham, as the classic example of righteousness-by-faith.  Now, here in 4:22-25, he applies the gospel of justification by faith to his readers in Rome, and to us.

“This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25)

“ . . .  credited” is the key word.  Paul repeats it three times in this little paragraph . . .

  • Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness”
  • “ . . . the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also”
  • “It will be credited to us who believe in him . . . “

The original Greek word is logizomaiI, an accounting term.  “Because you believe,” God says, “I’ll credit your account with righteousness.”

Paul adds further substance to this (crazy) good news by showing it’s not some New Testament oddity, but a solid Old Testament witness.  Righteousness was credited to Abraham who believed God’s promise.  That promise has been fulfilled in Christ.  The foundation for justification by faith is Christ’s death on the cross.  But, as Abraham bears witness, the promise of being right with God has always been by faith apart from works.

Here Paul adds a dynamic dimension to faith:  it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  As God gave life to Sarah’s “dead” womb to birth Isaac, so he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.  And by believing we are declared in right standing with God, though we are no more righteous than we were a minute before faith.

What, though, does Paul mean by Jesus “was raised to life for our justification”?  He means that resurrection completed Jesus’ work of putting the ungodly into right-standing with God.  Had Jesus remained in the tomb, all his claims would have been proven false.  But resurrection is a sign . . .

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here'” (Matthew 12:38-41).

Resurrection signifies Jesus’ words are true, both about himself and his work.  Therefore, resurrection “completes” his justifying work by signifying it is true.  It also adds a new dimension to justification.  It means not only that by faith we who are ungodly are declared to be in right-standing with God.  It means also that we are standing in the risen Christ.  His righteousness is ours.

* * *

For those who believe in the inherent goodness of man and that God’s okay with our being “okay”, this is only so much fanatical religious blather.  We’ve evolved out of the idea that sin is, well, sinful.  And talk about God’s wrath is likely to be met with bewilderment, at best.

I know soldiers lay down their lives for their buddies and strangers volunteer to help in hurricanes.  But how can any thinking person look at today’s world and believe man is inherently good?

What we’re offered to believe is that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sin and was raised to life for our justification.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  To believe that is to admit we’re not inherently good–and that we can’t do anything to be good enough.

And to believe, as John Bunyan (17 century Puritan preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote “he found in his heart a secret inclining to unbelief . . . Against hope, against reason, against ‘feeling’, against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.”

God of all grace, help us.








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