- The Law of Sin and Death (Rom_8:1-8)
- The Law of the Spirit of Life (Rom_8:9-11)
- The Law of Fulfilled Righteousness (Rom_8:12-13)
In the long history of human affairs there have been few statements more resounding than Paul's assertion: "There is there-fore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… ." Having carefully expounded the divine principle whereby God justifies sinners and frees them from all condemnation for their guilt, Paul now shows that the believer has much more to enjoy in terms of freedom from condemnation. The words "therefore now" link his "no-condemnation" statement to the subject with which the previous chapter closed, namely, the deep desire of the justified believer to be delivered from the wretched tyranny of indwelling sin. Paul is pointing out that God does not condemn his redeemed children to a life of wretchedness and defeat. Bruce suggests that the word "condemnation" in this context can mean "penal servitude" or the "punishment following sentence." The explanation of this powerful truth follows his impelling opening declaration.
It should be noted that the final phrase of verse Rom_8:1, which also appears in verse Rom_8:4, is not found in many manuscripts and is regarded by most scholars as an interpolation that anticipates the later verse.
As we have noted earlier, Paul's use of the word "law" varies considerably, and in the key statement about the "law of the Spirit of life" in verse Rom_8:2, there is a further development. In the same way that a law can be either a legal requirement or a scientific principle, so Paul sees the law sometimes as a divine requirement and other times as a spiritual principle. It is the operation of the principle of the "Spirit of life" in the believer that sets him free from the operation of the principle of "sin and death." The practical experience of deliverance from sin that dwells within is clearly related to an understanding of the dynamic interaction of the opposing principles of the "Spirit of life" and "sin and death."
The Law of Sin and Death
To understand what Paul means by the "law of sin and death" we need to note the link between "the flesh" and "sin" in his thinking. For instance, he concludes the previous chapter with the dismal words "with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin," thereby clearly identifying "the flesh" as the means whereby sin operates within the human experience. At this point, considerable confusion can arise because of Paul's habit of using "flesh" (Greek, sarx) in a number of ways. In Rom_2:28, "flesh" obviously means the tissues of the physical body; in Rom_1:3, it means natural descent; in Rom_3:20, it is a synonym for the human race, and in Rom_8:30, it refers to human nature. To add to the confusion, the translators of English editions of the Bible occasionally translated sarx words by the English word "carnal." But all is not lost if we remember that when sarx, whether translated "flesh" or "carnal," appears in contrast to God and His work in human lives, it means human nature with particular reference to its inbuilt sinfulness. Godet defines it as "the inclination to seek self-satisfaction in everything," and Bruce weighs in with "sinful propensity from Adam." The flesh is an attitude or inclination operating in complete rejection of the divine will that requires self-sacrificial submission, choosing rather the free expression of anything and everything that will bring self-gratification. It is in this flesh that the law of sin and death moves and has its being.
Anyone who reads Romans 8 should have little difficulty grasping the significance of the flesh. The law is said to be "weak through the flesh" (Rom_8:3); those who live "according to the flesh" set their minds on the "things of the flesh," which we are told is "death" (Rom_8:5-6); the fleshly mind is "enmity against God" and "is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be" (Rom_8:7); furthermore, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom_8:8). To be "in the flesh" means the same as being "in Adam," or unregenerate; to live "according to the flesh" means to live as if unregenerate after becoming regenerate. Paul's cry for deliverance is therefore a longing to be free from the discouraging tendency he has discovered in himself to live, although justified, as if he is not. He finds within himself a sinful propensity which is so powerful that he recognizes he, in himself, is incapable of breaking it; in fact, it is so pervasive that he feels as if he is "sold under sin" because his human nature is so thoroughly imbued with selfishness and self-serving. This is the law of sin and death from which he longs to be free.
Paul carefully outlines the stages of God's dealings with sinful human nature, the flesh in which the law of sin and death operates. First God gave the law which could neither make man right with God nor make him live rightly before God. This lack of ability was no reflection on the law, but rather a condemnation of human nature.
In my youth I attended a school where we had a brilliant musician on the staff. His first and only love was music, and he lived for nothing else than to make music. He longed to join our youthful voices into a choir which would perform the works of the masters. Unfortunately, he was trying to produce music through a bunch of young thugs whose interests were limited to football and rugby. The result was that he, like the law, although brilliant, was weak through our flesh! Nevertheless, by his own musical genius he did expose the total Philistinian lack of his youthful choir—a similar achievement to that of the law.
Second, God then sent "His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin" (Rom_8:3). The precision of Paul's statement should not be missed. If he had said that Christ came "in the likeness of flesh," he would have delighted the followers of docetism who taught that Christ only "appeared" to come in human form, with no physical reality about His Incarnation. On the other hand, if he had said "in sinful flesh," he would have attributed to Christ a sinful nature like ours. He could have limited his statement to "in flesh" and thus avoided both pitfalls, but he would also have avoided making a desperately important point. Christ came into our humanity and assumed our personality, but He was unique in that, while human flesh is consistently corrupt, He lived with and in our nature without in any way succumbing to the sinfulness which goes along with it. It was the inescapable fact of His sinlessness while living in the vehicle of our humanness which roundly condemned the fleshliness of our nature and the sinfulness of our lives.
Third, Christ came "for sin" (Rom_8:3)—an expression which in the Greek is found in the Septuagint as a translation of "sin offering" in Psa_40:6. Having condemned sin in the flesh by His flawless 33 years inhabiting our humanity, He then assumed our sin on the Cross, and in dying for sin, He made the most thoroughgoing denunciation of sin once and for all.
Fourth, those who are "in Christ" have identified with Him in His condemnation of sin in the flesh and in so doing have taken the first step to living free of its dominion. Those who choose rather to excuse their fleshliness by blaming it on heredity or who condone it by pointing out it is "only human" cannot begin to live in liberty. But those who intelligently take their stand in Christ not only lament their sinfulness—cry for deliverance, as did Paul—but also take great interest in the operation of the "law of the Spirit of life" which "in Christ" sets them free.
The Law of the Spirit of Life
Up until this point in Paul's painstakingly systematic presentation of the Christian gospel, the Holy Spirit has been conspicuous by His absence. In the early chapters of the epistle, He makes only two brief appearances, and in the crucial seventh chapter, He is not mentioned at all. Presumably this omission can be explained by the fact that the burden of Paul's message so far relating to the believer's sanctification has been to show the hopelessness of the spiritual experience of those who seek to do it on their own, or, as he explains it, on the basis of autos ego—"I by myself." But when the Third member of the Trinity is given His rightful place in theology and experience, the change is dramatic and radical.
The Holy Spirit is given many titles in Scripture—indeed, in the few verses before us—but there can be none more exciting than "the Spirit of life." He emanates from the Father who is the Author and sustainer of life and takes up His abode in the life of the believer, thereby banishing the spiritual deadness with which he had been plagued. Through His intervention in human affairs, dullness and deadness give way to vivacity and vitality; in Him bondage is banished and freedom reigns.
Having described in detail what it means to be "in the flesh" and to live "according to the flesh," Paul now sets out to describe the divine alternatives, which are to be "in the Spirit" and to live "according to the Spirit." "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom_8:8) either in terms of moving Him to save them because they have been good, or in terms of living such exemplary lives that He delights in watching them do it. But believers do not need to be unduly concerned about this human limitation because they are "not in the flesh but in the Spirit" (Rom_8:9) and, accordingly, have the capability of pleasing the One who has redeemed them. The proof that they are "in the Spirit" is to be found in the fact of His indwelling presence. It is apparent that Paul moves freely from one title to another when writing about the Holy Spirit. In the verses we are considering, He is called "the Spirit of God," "the Spirit of Christ," "the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead." While each of these descriptions is synonymous with the others, they all point to a different aspect of His personality and remind us of the Triune God.
The unique Christian truth dealing with the fact of God's indwelling presence was introduced to the disciples by the Lord Jesus. They were definitely unreceptive to what He had to say because He introduced the topic by telling them that He proposed leaving them and that they would be better off without Him. This unpalatable prospect was improved considerably for them when He explained. After He had left them, He said, the Comforter would come to them and make it possible for Him to live in them. With the same kind of free interchange of ideas which characterize Paul's treatment of the truth, the Lord talked about the Holy Spirit's indwelling them, His own indwelling them, and even God's taking up His abode in them. It was the indwelling of their lives which would be far superior to anything they had as yet experienced; therefore, the departure of the Lord which would precede the arrival of the Comforter was to be to their advantage. In the body of flesh which He had assumed, the Lord was subject to the limitations of time and space common to all men. As a result He could not be with Peter in Galilee and at the same time with John in Jerusalem, but when liberated from His earthly body through the Resurrection and Ascension, He would come to them in the Spirit and live in their lives, imparting to them His grace and power.
Because Christ spoke these words to His elite corps of disciples, and because of the remarkable nature of the words spoken, it would be understandable if people, on reading John's account, would assume that the indwelling presence of God was reserved for the supersaints of the apostolic group. But Paul banishes this thought to oblivion by saying, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom_8:9). In other words, the indwelling presence of Christ through the Spirit, far from being the preserve of the few, is the birthright of all believers and the authentic seal of their redeemed status.
To give the Roman Christians some idea of the significance of the divine indwelling, Paul introduces another of his favorite sets of contrasts. Whereas the human body is subject to death because of sin—a concept already developed—the spirit of man through the presence of the life-giving Spirit possesses life eternal because of justification. While the body of man is not exempt from the corruption common to the race because of Adam's sin, the spirit of man is preserved unto life through the sheer power of the indwelling Spirit. The mortal bodies of the believers which will, of course, return to the dust from which they came, will in a coming day be resurrected to a reunion with their corresponding spirit. Both the eternal preservation of the human spirit and the ultimate Resurrection of the human body are attributed to the Spirit of God. But of particular interest to us in this context is the fact that the power thus exhibited by the Spirit is the power made available to believers in the present age in order that they, through the Spirit of life, might be set free from the law of sin and death.
This description of the power of the Spirit is advanced even further when we note that His name, the Spirit of God, is introduced in the second verse of the Bible. There He is seen actively engaged in the monumental task of creation ex nihilo. It is the Spirit of creation who indwells and empowers the believer. Then Paul's careful use of the "Spirit of Christ" in verse Rom_8:9 reminds us that it is the same Spirit who indwelt Him who indwells us. Jesus, "filled with Spirit," was directed by the Spirit into the Wilderness for His personal confrontation with the Evil One. From this cosmic clash He emerged triumphant the power of the Spirit" only to meet him again on Calvary. The result was the same, as He defeated the one who holds humanity hostage to fear and death, but it was "through the eternal Spirit" that He prevailed. This same Spirit is the indwelling Comforter of the contemporary believer, the means of deliverance from the law of sin and death. In case the point of the potential power of the Spirit should escape the Roman reader, the apostle adds, for good measure, the information that it is the Spirit of the One who raised the dead Christ to the heights of glory who is alive in the believer. For the apostles there was no greater demonstration of power than the Resurrection of Christ. They were constantly referring to this act of God as the crowning achievement which justified the claims of Christ and epitomized the power of God available to mankind.
In the same way that Paul's detailed description of sin's abundance set the stage for his presentation of abounding grace, so his stark, searing description of the law of sin and death has set the stage for the understanding of the law of the Spirit of life. If the overwhelming power of indwelling sin is clearly understood, the power of the indwelling Spirit will be magnified in the believer's mind because the latter is more powerful than the former.
The Law of Fulfilled Righteousness
So far in this chapter we have examined the nature and capabilities of the two mammoth contenders for the inner workings of the believer's life and affection. It may seem to the reader that the chapter has been similar to the interminable introductions before a heavyweight championship, where the opponents glower at each other across the ring while the fans wonder if the fight will every get underway!
The fight takes place in the complex of human experience and thus must not be regarded as a fight in a vacuum. The person in whom the conflict rages is not isolated from the struggle; in fact, although both the principles at war within him are more powerful than he, without his cooperation neither can win. It is true that Paul talks of the struggle between the two laws as if the victory of the law of the Spirit of life over the law of sin and death is a foregone conclusion, but a careful reading of the text will reveal the most important role the believer plays in the struggle.
There are three things that identify this role. First, the believer must "mind" the things of the Spirit rather than those of the flesh. Second, the believer must choose to "walk" according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh. Third, the believer is required "through the Spirit" to "put to death the deeds of the body."
When the apostle talks about the mind, he means more than intellectual capability. The word he uses—phronein—-stops short of obsession but goes far beyond casual interest. In other words, Paul reminds us that, when it comes to spiritual life, everything is important and nothing is to be taken casually. There is a particular danger for Christians who have worked themselves into a comfortable, undemanding situation where they are confronted with little external challenge and have so come to terms with their own lifestyle that they see little or no necessity for deepening of the spiritual life. Without realizing it, they may have ceased to be ambitious for the things of the Spirit and may have lapsed into a kind of spiritual neutrality which in reality is an ambition for the comfort of the fleshly and an identification with the purely natural.
My younger son, who plays basketball for his high school, came back from practice recently so tired that he went straight to bed. Next morning when I asked how he could be so out of shape halfway through the season, he said, "We are in great shape, but the coach said we had won so many games so easily that we were becoming casual and sloppy in our play and that unless we got our act together we would be beaten by teams far inferior to us." In other words, the young ball players had forgotten to "mind" the essentials of the game and had slipped into an attitude that spelled danger.
The options available to the believer are spelled out clearly. Either we aspire toward the things of the Spirit or those of the flesh. Without a clear understanding of both and the ability to identify each, there is a distinct possibility that the flesh will take over because the secular environment in which we live is dominated by selfish interest and governed by fleshly concerns. The impact of advertising in modern society is a perfect example of this. The modern approach is to make surveys of human thought patterns that clearly identify the hidden longings and aspirations of the average person. Then clever means of presenting painless answers to these longings are developed and presented in such attractive forms that the person subjected to the advertising may unwittingly become totally governed by fleshly attitudes. The principles of the Spirit do not, of course, find their way into most television commercials. The average believer may very well spend more time absorbing commercials than epistles and be exposed to more sales pitches that aim to boost his ego than spiritual principles that promote the Spirit. His aspirations quite understandably may be tarnished without his realizing what has been happening. The mind set on the flesh leads inevitably to estrangement to God and alienation from His Spirit, which is another way of describing spiritual death and deadness. The unbeliever who lives in this way is dead, but the believer who minds the flesh while possessing new life exhibits nothing but dullness and deadness. This is particularly sad when we remember that the human heart longs constantly for life and peace—qualities that are promised by most competitors for human attention but that are delivered exclusively by the Spirit of God. The believer is therefore presented with options that require choices so basic that they operate at the deepest level of desire and ambition, aspiration and intention.
It is worth noting that, although Paul regards the "things" of both flesh and Spirit of the utmost importance, he does not outline what they are. But from the context it would appear that he was thinking of the presence of the Spirit in the believer, which, when borne constantly in mind, has a most salutary impact on the individual's thought processes. The contrast between the holiness of the Holy Spirit and the things that so easily captivate the believer's thinking is underlined when it has become increasingly normal for the believer to concentrate on the Spirit's presence. No doubt Paul's presentation of the power of the Spirit can be seen as an indication of another effect to be minded. The downward pull of sin and surrounding sinfulness can become such a debilitating force in the believer's life that he may become so defeated that he settles for being a defeatist. But if he is in tune with the power of the indwelling Spirit, this attitude will quickly be banished and replaced by one of positive anticipation that the powerful Spirit will be a factor in daily living. Like the two men who looked through prison bars, those who concentrate on the things of the flesh will see mud while those who mind the things of the Spirit will see the stars.
The "walk" according to the Spirit is a most natural development from minding the things of the Spirit. It means to make definite decisions based on the intelligent appreciation of the Spirit. It is helpful to remember that there is an obvious difference between taking a step and going for a walk. While Christian experience involves taking some massive steps occasionally, the normal Christian experience is the product of a succession of relatively unimportant steps that require varying degrees of decision. When the Holy Spirit reminds me of the unholiness of a particular pursuit I am contemplating, I may choose to disregard His prompting and take a step in the opposite direction. This will, of course, lead to bondage to the flesh and the law of sin and death. But a step of obedience taken in response to the Spirit's prompting will lead to a right decision which in turn will produce a walk in the Spirit. It should not be assumed that the believer will have to concentrate exclusively on "spiritual things" to the exclusion of other legitimate aspects of life. But if the right attitude is nurtured, there will be an unconscious sense of rest in the Spirit which will only become obvious when the pressure of decision becomes imperative. In the same way that a person standing still is not conscious of breathing, the person who is warmly embracing the life of the Spirit will not be concentrating exclusively on Him. But if that person who has been standing still begins to climb twenty flights of steps at a rapid pace he will think of nothing else but breathing. Just so, when the believer is confronted with the old fleshly attractions and the inward response to them, he will become excruciatingly conscious of the step he must take in order to walk after the Spirit.
The negative side of this walk is suggested by the expression "through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body" (Rom_8:9). The decision to do something is inextricably bound up in the decision not to do the opposite. This then may require a courageous act of self-denial that is so difficult that the believer feels incapable of doing it even though he knows it is right. The balanced truth that Paul presents is that we "through the Spirit" perform the necessary spiritual surgery. God knows that it would be an exercise in futility to tell us to put to death these deeds. That is why He insists that we take action through the Spirit. The extreme opposite approach to that of the dedicated self-denier is that of those who "leave it to the Spirit" to do the necessary decision-making. It is as out of order to expect the Spirit to do what we have been told to do as it is to endeavor to do what only God can do. But when the believer cultivates the attitude of the Spirit, takes steps to follow His objective teaching and subjective prompting, and through His power says a loud "no" to the temptations to which the flesh readily and enthusiastically responds, he will then experimentally discover the liberation from the law of sin and death.
Some years ago in California, after I had tried hard to explain this principle to a group of people, I was somewhat discouraged to hear one man say, "Now you've really confused me." When asked if I would have time to talk to him privately, we discovered that the only time I had available was the time he usually spent flying his light aircraft, so he asked me to go and talk and fly. I agreed without any great enthusiasm. To me flying is nothing more than the means of getting from A to B quicker than it should naturally take.
When we arrived at his plane, I feigned horror at its flimsy construction and refused to get on board. He was most perturbed, particularly when I expressed doubt that such a contraption was capable of bearing my weight, let alone lifting it in the air. With great concern, he explained to me that the law of aerodynamics which was stronger than the law of gravity could set me free from earth. But I said that he was only confusing me, until he asked me tentatively if I was "kidding him." I assured him I was, and then as we took off, I explained that in the same way that the law of aerodynamics in the plane was setting us free from the law of gravity on earth, so the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus was setting us free from the law of sin and death. He said that made sense, so I pretended to open the door of the plane as we flew high over Los Angeles, and when he remonstrated, I assured him that I would not fall because of the law which set me free from gravity! By this time he was in tune with my teaching method and said, "Now you are reminding me that it is as important to abide in Christ to derive the benefits of His life as it is to stay in the plane to be set free from falling."
The quality of life related in the believer through the power of the Spirit is called "the righteousness of the law." But notice that this life is not the product of frustrated self-effort; rather it is the result of human response to the divine Spirit.
Living in the Spirit
Living in the Good of the Family (Rom_8:14-17)
Living in the Midst of Futility (Rom_8:18-22)
Living in the Light of the Futurity (Rom_8:23-27)
During the last three weeks I have traveled extensively. While this has not helped the production of this manuscript it has given me many opportunities for meeting and observing people. In the Bahamas, I spent time with some fine young pastors who, in addition to their pastoral duties, had full-time jobs and also found it necessary to spend considerable time fishing and diving to supplement their rather meager diets. Under the window of my hotel in Guatemala City I saw pitiful beggars wrapped in rags and old newspapers, trying to keep themselves warm in the cool night air. In Hong Kong I visited refugees from North Vietnam crowded into their transit camps right next to the busy airstrip of the International Airport. On the way home, I stopped off in Honolulu and joined the crowds of well-fed, well-dressed, well-heeled vacationers on Waikiki Beach.
If I were given the choice of being a beggar in Guatemala, a refugee in Hong Kong, a struggling pastor in Nassau, a vacationer in Waikiki, or continuing what I have been doing for years, I would have to admit that the choice would not be terribly difficult! Like most people, I would prefer to live a life of fullness rather than deprivation, of liberty rather than bondage, of purpose rather than aimlessness. The same is true of spiritual life. Sadly, it is possible to see those of us who are "living in the Spirit" behaving more like refugees, beggars, or vacationers than as if we appreciated the fullness of life intended for us. Living in the Spirit as we ought involves:—
Living in the Good of the Family
It is quite clear from Paul's use of the words, "sons," "chil-dren," "heirs," "joint heirs," and "Abba, Father" that he is thinking of the life of the believer in terms of the divine family relationship. In his epistle to the Galatians, the apostle made a clear distinction between sons—huioi—and children—nepioi. The former he regarded as mature young people who had entered into the benefits due them upon attaining their majority; the latter as children, or infants, who, while members of the family, as minors had not entered into the full benefits of family status. It is open to question whether Paul intends the same distinction in this passage, but there is no doubt about the reality of being both a child of God and a son of God in the sense that the child enjoys the life of the father and the son enjoys his resources. Both are perfectly true of the believer as a member of the family of God.
As is common with all families, life in the family involves many privileges and responsibilities. Sons of God are "led by the Spirit of God" (Rom_8:14). This is both an obligation on the part of the son and an evidence of his sonship. The professed son of God who lives in careless indifference to the Spirit or in open defiance of the Spirit is at best a living contradiction and at worst a spiritual impostor. It is unfortunate that such an important aspect of spiritual experience has been so seriously devalued that "to be led" has become, in common usage, an excuse for impulsive behavior, a rationale for lack of careful preparation, or a substantiation for bizarre decisions.
When we bear in mind that the identical expression is used of the Lord Jesus with reference to His experience in the wilderness, we will realize that to be "led by the Spirit" is to come under His control and to be alert to His promptings. The leading of the Spirit which Christ experienced came to Him because He was filled with "the power of the Spirit" (Luk_4:14). The idea of Spirit control and domination is brought out clearly by Paul's use of the Greek word agontai, which Godet describes as a "notion of holy violence," adding by way of clarification, "the Spirit drags the man where the flesh would fain not go."
The leading of the Spirit can be experienced in both positive and negative forms, as Paul knew from his own experience. When he and Silas were traveling in the Roman provinces, they tried hard to enter Asia, but the Holy Spirit thwarted their efforts. They then turned their attention to Bithynia only to discover "… the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to enter" (Act_16:6-7, NIV). But despite the obvious feelings of frustration, they continued to work and explore possibilities until the famous vision of the man from Macedonia.
When they accepted this call as from the Spirit, everything quickly fell into place and they arrived in the place of God's choosing to fulfill the task of reaching the people for Christ. It is important that the sons of God learn so to order their lives in commitment to and dependence upon the Holy Spirit that they can respond to each circumstance they have surrendered to Him, whether it be positive or negative, and interpret it as the leading of the Spirit. Once the son of God is clear about the details and intent of the Spirit's direction, it remains only for him to respond in glad obedience.
Having pointed out the necessity for obedience on the part of those led by the Spirit, Paul hastens to add in verse Rom_8:15 that this does not mean we have "received the spirit of bondage again to fear." There is a marked difference between the experience of one who is bound by malevolent forces leading into all manner of activities that engender phobias and paranoia and the experience of one who because he is a son gladly accepts the responsibilities of sonship, which of necessity, include submission to authority and acceptance of roles. It should be noted that the order of the words is not intended to imply that for the second time we have received a spirit of bondage as if God had already done this to us once, but rather that sons of God do not find themselves in bondage that will lead them into the old paths of fear and trepidation. The "again" relates to "fear," not to "receive."
This means that, in addition to a sense of leading, the believer enjoys a great sense of liberty as a son of God. Paul expressed similar sentiments to his spiritual son Timothy. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2Ti_1:7). While he does not enumerate the fears to which the Romans were susceptible, they were no doubt similar to those with which Timothy struggled. His natural inclination to timidity, his reticence to proclaim the gospel boldly, and his temptation to disassociate himself from Paul the prisoner were all products of natural fears which bound him and from which the Spirit of God longed to release him. Timothy, like all sons of God, was being called to decide whether his life would be ruled by his fears or whether his fears would be overruled by his response to the Spirit's leading.
As we saw in the previous chapter, the apostle is not at all inhibited in his varied use of names for the Holy Spirit. In a manner reminiscent of the Old Testament writers' richly varied use of the names of God to bring into focus different aspects of His nature and work, Paul switches quickly and easily from "Spirit of God" to "Spirit of Christ" to "Spirit of adoption." That he is simply underlining an aspect of the Spirit's ministry rather than introducing another spirit is clear when we note that in a similar passage in Galatians he writes, "God sent the Spirit of His Son" (Gal_4:6). The Spirit of adoption is, therefore, clearly identified as the Holy Spirit who, among His many ministries, has a ministry of adoption. Bruce remarks that "the term 'adoption' may smack somewhat of artificiality in our ears," but goes on to show that, in the first century, adoption, far from suggesting inferiority of position in comparison to that of the naturally born child, was actually a means of putting the one not naturally so born into a position of great status and privilege. When it was borne in mind that the one so honored owed his privilege to the choice of the adopting parent, the adopted one, instead of feeling inferior, regarded himself as deeply privileged. Similar sentiments were once expressed to me by a beautiful teenage girl who said, "My sister was born to Mummy and Daddy in the normal way, but I was chosen to be a member of their family, and that to me is special!"
How the adoption process works and exactly what the Spirit does to make us sons of God is a mystery we shall not unravel this side of glory. But the wonder of the relationship can be enjoyed even though the mechanics may well be hidden from our view. This delightful sense of wonder at the relationship is expressed best by cries of loving appreciation which spring to the believer's lips and flow from his heart. Paul expresses this in language which at first sight seems most inappropriate—"Abba, Father" (Rom_8:15).
It is a matter of considerable interest that a few words have survived the passage of time and the tender attention of translators and remain today in our language in their original form. The Hebrew "Amen," the Greek "anathema," and the Aramaic "maranatha," for instance, are found in close proximity in 1Co_16:22-24. "Abba," another of these words, had its roots in the Hebrew ab, "father," and developed into the Aramaic abba, an affectionate expression similar to our "daddy." This word was in common usage in our Lord's time and was, in fact, the word He used to address His Father in the agonizing prayer in Gethsemane. That this word, which Jews did not use to address God, became a common word in the vocabulary of the Christian church is an indication that the early believers knew it was the Lord's affectionate form of address for His Father, and they adopted it for themselves because they were adopted into a position of intimacy with Him. To pray "Abba" is, therefore, to express unashamedly and joyfully an endearment born of love.
The picture of life in the Spirit begins to emerge here. Through His ministry we can see there is leading, liberating, and loving, but, in addition, the apostle speaks of the learning experience we may have through Him. This learning experience is related to the interplay of the human spirit with the indwelling Holy Spirit. In much the same way that the female ovum, unfertilized, cannot reach its potential, so the human spirit without the penetration of the Holy Spirit is limited to an experience of partial fulfillment and unrealized potential. But as in the case of the ovum penetrated by the sperm, so the human spirit becomes alive with the aliveness of the Spirit and not only reproduces something totally new, but also provides the opportunity for full development and function of the human spirit. This penetrating ministry called by Paul "the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit," has to do with the impregnating of the human spirit with the realization of all that is involved in being "children of God."
Paul's use of the Greek word summarturein appears to differentiate between the Spirit's witnessing to our spirit in the sense of His being active and the human spirit totally passive, and the Spirit's witnessing with, suggesting the cooperative activity of both Holy and human spirit. The objective of the exercise is, of course, the development of status-consciousness. This will be based on the assurance of relationship—a delightful ministry of the Spirit with our spirits which results in an invigorating sense of well-being. It will no doubt also include the fostering of filial pride and the development of family spirit. But, in addition, when we consider the remarkable resilience of the human spirit without the Holy Spirit as seen in the lives of refugees struggling against all odds for survival, or the remarkable creativity of the human spirit in works of beauty and grandeur, we see the glorious potential of the spirits of the sons of God. As they are fused with the power and majesty of the Spirit of God, the result can be great and magnificent acts and activities that will bring great glory to the Father, who, like His earthly counterparts, takes great delight in seeing His children "doing well."
The logical mind of the apostle moves quickly from the idea of "sons" to the idea of "heirs." While it is true that earthly fathers die and leave their resources to their children, and God Himself will never die, and therefore there must be some limit on the analogy, there is a beautiful thought here in the believer's expectation that he will share in the inheritance that Peter called "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1Pe_1:4).
But it would appear that this concept was too vague for Paul, so he adds that as heirs of God we are "joint heirs with Christ." While we must conjecture concerning our inheritance, we are left in no doubt about Christ's—He will be clothed with the glory that was His before the worlds were created. This means that in some way we will not only see His glory but share in it too. The glory is His, of course, by right, but will be ours by grace. The young lady whom I mentioned earlier as having been adopted lived in a beautiful home provided for her by a loving father who was a high-ranking business executive. She said to me, "Isn't it wonderful that I share in all the beautiful things Daddy provides just as much as my sister who was born to these things?" She had learned the lesson of sharing through grace the glory of those whose it is by right—a lesson the Spirit of God works hard to teach those whom He indwells.
When Charles, Prince of Wales, met the press after his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer, a nineteen-year-old kindergarten teacher, he remarked that he thought "she was very brave consenting to take me on!" There was a laugh among the reporters, but Lady Diana only smiled for she had already tasted something of the suffering that goes with the glory, having been hounded everywhere she went by newshounds and curious sightseers. There is always a costly side to glory, and the Christian disciple's experience with Christ is no exception, as Paul reminds us in verse Rom_8:17 : "If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together."
Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle showed that receiving the glory is a process that takes place over a long period on earth and reaches its culmination in heaven. He explained that "we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory" (2Co_3:18). This transforming process is a metamorphosis not unlike the remarkable process whereby an ugly chrysalis rolls back its unattractive covering to reveal a butterfly in all its fragile, colorful beauty. But the rolling back of that outer skin must be painful, and there is no shortcut for the believer under construction, who must cooperate with the Spirit in laying aside all that is contrary to the glory of the Lord in his life. Living in the Spirit, for all its blessings, includes the basic liability of suffering, from which there is no escape—a lesson Ananias was commissioned to teach the apostle on the day of his conversion. For the Lord determined to "show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Act_9:16, NIV).
Living in the Midst of Futility
The connection between the sufferings of Christ and His glorification suggested in the phrase "we suffer with Him that we may be glorified together" is obvious. But Paul introduces another aspect of human suffering which comes as a complete surprise. He tells us that the creation is suffering too and we with it.
Paul, with the characteristic understatement he reserved for his own sufferings, says they "are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed"—a statement with echoes of his remark to the Corinthians about his "light affliction" (see 2Co_4:16-18). We should not assume that Paul was blessed with either a high pain threshold or a slightly masochistic side to his personality but rather that he had carefully looked at his sufferings as an integral part of the glorification process and, accordingly, well worthwhile. This attitude is particularly refreshing in light of the contemporary assumption that we should be free from pain and should be guaranteed pleasantness.
The Christian has the opportunity to view suffering in a much more realistic light than many of his contemporaries because he not only understands the sufferings of Christ but also has keen insights into the suffering creation. He sees mankind as a victim of the travail of earth in flood and earthquake, storm and avalanche, but, more important, sees mankind as a cause of much of creation's agony. When Paul says "creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him…" it is often assumed, by the capitalizing of "him," that God has been responsible for creation's downfall. But there are scholars who believe the "him" should more adequately be interpreted as "mankind"—in other words, mankind was responsible for the fallenness of creation which introduced death along with his own death and disintegration with his own disintegration.
This process has been maintained and exacerbated by man's actions in abusing the creation in many ways. Environmentalists have documented countless examples of man's irresponsible actions that have precipitated innumerable crises in every area of the created order. Indeed, there is no doubt that man's fallenness has done much to subject creation to all manner of disorder, imbalance, abuse, and extermination. Whether Paul means God or man at this point is a matter of interpretation, but there is no doubt that it was because of man's sin that God cursed the ground originally and it is because of man's continued sinning that so much is wrong in God's creation.
There is a glorious note of triumph in Paul's anticipation of new order in the created world. In the same way that man's fall has dragged creation downhill, so man's glorification will not only end that trend but introduce an era in which the new heaven and new earth will demonstrate the glory of God as clearly as will redeemed humanity.
When I spent some time in Southern Africa, I thought I had never seen a more bountifully endowed part of God's creation. Mineral wealth, animal and plant life, landscape and seascape were breathtaking in their variety and beauty. Yet at the same time it was impossible to overlook the fact that the vast mineral resources were a matter for political concern and maneuvering, that some of the wildlife was in danger of extermination because of illegal and unscrupulous hunters, that the fair land was becoming the terrain of the guerrilla fighter and in some areas industrial pollution threatened the survival of some unique species of flora and fauna. My unashamed delight at God's profligate blessing of the area was tinged with a sense of shame for every evidence of our mishandling. Yet my shame turned to joy as I remembered Paul's words that when the sons of God come into the fullness of their redemption so also the creation will be liberated and restored to full untrammeled and untainted perfection. I'm already anxious to visit the new earth equivalent of Southern Africa—it will be fabulous!
Living in the Light of the Futurity
Having digressed to talk about the suffering creation and its expectations of full restoration, Paul returns to his consideration of the suffering Christian and his reasonable expectation.
Christian and creation share two things—they groan together and they anticipate together. Christian groaning should not be confused with childish moaning and selfish grumbling—something which Paul obviously condemns by his positive attitude to his own suffering. The Christian's groaning is related to his new insight into man's fallenness and is as much a sorrowing after what man has lost in terms of God-ordained potential as a sorrowing from a sense of personal deprivation.
But there is also a sense in which the believer is painfully aware of his limitations, both spiritual and physical, and looks away to the time when he will be emancipated from all that hinders and mars. This is particularly true when he considers his experience of the Holy Spirit and recognizes it has only just begun. However much the Spirit has accomplished in his life, he knows it is only "firstfruits." This expression comes from the Old Testament principle of the offering of the first sheaf of wheat or the firstborn lamb, both as an expression of thanksgiving and also a statement of anticipation. No farmer would be satisfied with one sheaf, but he would rejoice in the first one knowing it was just that—the first of many. In the same way, the Holy Spirit as experienced on earth gives a kind of foretaste of what is in store. Knowing this, the believer tends to get a little homesick for glory at times and the inner groaning starts!
The physical limitations that so many believers suffer are also a cause of groaning, not from the point of view of dissatisfaction but from the perspective that in the new heaven and new earth believers will be equipped with new bodies. We do not have much information about the bodies in which we will live eternally, but there is some clue in the body the Risen Lord inhabited before the Ascension, particularly when we remember that we are promised a "body like His glorious body." It would be unwise to venture too far into the realm of conjecture. Perhaps the safest position we should take about "the adoption, the redemption of our body" (Rom_8:23), is that the new body will be as ideally suited to the new environment as our old bodies have been fitted for the present environment. I marvel at the versatility and intricacy of the human body and often breathe the psalmist's words with awe, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made." This being the case, I have no alternative but to believe that the One who designed my body for earth in such a superb way will design a body for the new situation that will be as intricately suitable. Those believers who struggle with tiredness, like the young missionary who just took me round the ghettoes of Nassau, and who feel, as he does, that there is so much to be done and so little energy with which to do it, rejoice in the thought of bodies that will not tire out. Those whose aching limbs and arthritic joints hobble them all day and keep them awake at night can be forgiven for groaning with delight at the thought of no more pain, no more doctors' bills, and no more parts that keep wearing out.
Paul insists that this is all part of our salvation and is a legitimate expectation of the believer. "We were saved in this hope" (Rom_8:24) and therefore we persevere because when we see we stop hoping, but when we don't see we simply keep on keeping on with patience and perseverance because God has promised.
Continuing with this theme, Paul adds the startling information that there is more groaning than we imagine:
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. (Rom_8:26-27)
There is some question whether "weaknesses" should be in the plural or the singular. If the former is correct, we should understand it to cover the full range of human weakness; if the latter, it probably refers to what Paul calls our inability to ask correctly or even know what we should ask at any one time. This experience seems to be close to that of the Lord when He prayed "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour?" (Joh_12:27). The sense of uncertainty was only momentary for Him but for us may be extensive and troublesome. But there is comfort in knowing that even the unspoken prayer of the unformed opinion springing from the uninformed mind is valid when prompted by the Spirit who steps in and invests the sigh with significance and the tear with meaning. Moreover, the One "who searches the hearts"—a title both charming and chilling depending on what is going on in the heart—knows what the Spirit is doing in His ministry of intercession and puts His approval upon it because it is in line with the will of God. When we begin to consider these things, we are in the realm of the mystical, an area fraught with delight and danger, and we do well to move with care and reverence, rejoicing in the scope of God's provision for us in our weakness.
Living in the Spirit, therefore, introduces us to a relationship of infinite intimacy with the Father; it draws us into a family of gigantic proportions; it grants us insight into the condition of our natural environment; and it urges us to look forward to the consummation of our redemption when with new bodies we live gloriously in the new heaven and new earth, in the meantime depending on the Spirit to be the Intercessor of our hearts as surely as the Risen Lord is our Intercessor in the throne room of heaven.
What Shall We Say?
We Are More Than Convinced (Rom_8:28-31)
We Are More Than Conquerors (Rom_8:31-37)
We Are More Than Confident (Rom_8:38-39)
There are two ways of looking at stained glass windows. Either you can examine each odd shaped piece of colored glass individually and inspect the way they are fastened together, or you can stand in a quiet church and let the sun shine through all the pieces and bring the whole to life in glorious detail. So far, we have looked at the epistle in the former manner, but now as we approach the conclusion of the doctrinal section we step back with the apostle and bathe ourselves in the glorious glow of the full picture of God's great salvation.
The pieces examined one by one are God's foreknowledge, predestination, call, justification, and glorification, and they all fit together to form what is sometimes called the "plan of salvation." The end result is "the good" to which God is directing His children, and those who are conscious of this plan know what they "shall say to these things."
We Are More Than Convinced
In the beginning God said, "Let us make man in our image…" (Gen_1:26), but man fell, became something considerably less than he was created, and began to reproduce "after his image" (Gen_5:3). This fallen image was at best a poverty-stricken likeness of the original image, and humanity continued in this vein until Christ came—"the express image of [God's] person" (Heb_1:3). The Father's objective in Christ's coming was that we might "be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."
To know the overall plan of salvation and to realize God's eternal intent produces a deep sense of conviction. Believers increasingly appreciate the ongoing nature of God's craftsmanship in their lives. Even when some of the pieces appear to be too dark or odd-shaped, they "know" that God is fitting lives together which will in eternity resemble His Son. While the finishing date is reserved for the age to come, the process is under way in this pres-ent age, and "those who love God" have been given a preview of the finished article to encourage them while they live in the age of construction.
There is little doubt that Rom_8:28 has become a favorite verse of contemporary Christians, but care is needed in its application. It must only be applied to those who clearly exhibit a deep sense of the call of God in their lives, demonstrating a love for God by a life of obedience. Neither is it to be seen as grounds for believing that "everything will come out in the wash" because God has committed Himself to sorting out the mess of our lives and relieving us of the consequences of our actions. It is eternal rather than temporal good which God has in mind. He works "according to His pur-pose," which is far grander than the alleviation of the unpleasantness of the present or a guarantee of plain sailing under cloudless skies in the foreseeable future. He is in the "good" business of making redeemed sinners like their elder brother, the Lord Jesus, and even a cursory glance at the way the Father exposed the Son to the realities of life and death should be sufficient to remind us that we can expect the same kind of processes to work in our lives with the identical and ultimate result—conformity to Him.
Paul's listing of the pieces which God has fitted together is really a summary of the Epistle so far, even though he has not previously used some of the terms that appear at this point. First, there is the foreknowledge of God. There would appear to be no difficulty in the statement that God "foreknew" (Rom_8:29), but careful reading will show that Paul is concerned with the "whom" of His foreknowledge, not the "what." That God knows in advance what is going to happen poses little problem to most people, although some wonder why He let it happen when He knew in advance what would transpire.
But the question that has occupied many believing minds for centuries is "Does Paul mean simply that God knew in advance who would respond to Him or did He know them in advance in the sense that they had a special relationship with Him from a past eternity?" Calvin has no doubt: "The foreknowledge of God here mentioned by Paul is not mere prescience, as some inexperienced people foolishly imagine, but adoption by which He has always distinguished His children from the reprobate." John Wesley evidently would be regarded by Calvin as a member of the category of "inexperienced people" for he "foolishly imagine(d) 'foreknowledge' meant that 'God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.'" Time and space preclude us from pursuing this fascinating subject, which is dealt with thoroughly in Godet, as the editor, Talbot W. Chambers, takes the unusual step of writing a special appendix in an attempt to rebut "the learned author." Whatever conclusions we may reach in this matter, it should be obvious that nothing in the foreknowing of God can deny the necessity for human responsibility and nothing that man can do will ever detract from the omnipotence of God.
"Whom He foreknew, He also predestined" leads us to examine the second piece of stained glass. To "predestine" means literally "to prehorizon" or "to define in advance the limits." This God did in determining that those who are redeemed shall experience salvation to the ultimate in that they will be "like Jesus." While there is debate as to whether "foreknowledge" refers exclusively to God's knowledge, there is no question that "predestine" speaks of the divine will. This predestination is not a predestination to faith but a decision on God's part that glory will be the ultimate of salvation. If my wife invites a friend for dinner and determines that roast beef will be the main course, this fact in no way infringes on the friend's freedom to accept or reject the invitation, but it does preclude her from choosing to eat roast lamb or turkey. The call of God to respond in faith and repentance to the gospel brings the human will into center stage, but the divine will has already determined what the final result will be.
The third piece we must look at is the call of God, for "whom He predestined, these He also called." "To call" (kaleo) can mean "to name" or "to invite," or, when used in connection with divine/human experience, "to summon." The context shows God's call refers to the way He, having determined that people through faith in Christ should finally become like Him, intervenes in their affairs and reveals this truth to them. No more dramatic example of this is needed than that of the apostle himself, who, on the road to Damascus, was "apprehended" by God and "called by grace." There is ample evidence that God has not limited Himself to any one method of "calling." We can never escape the sense of mystery involved in His workings, and, accordingly, the whole area should be treated with the greatest reverence.
Paul spent considerable time in the earlier part of the epistle dealing with "justification." This is the next piece he introduces, so it is not necessary for us to spend further time considering it here except to note that "justified" and "glorified" are both in the past tense and suggest that we should look forward to glorification with the same confidence that we look back to "justification." This can only be done by seeing it in the perspective of the Eternal One who from His special vantage point looks down the annals of time and sees them telescoped into a moment called "now." There is a special joy in knowing the design of God, and in recognizing the sense in which we are already completed in Him. This allows even the most discouraged saint to speak confidently about God's good purposes even in the midst of a "groaning" situation.
We Are More Than Conquerors
At this stage of the epistle, Paul emerges in a new light. So far we have sat at the feet of the learned teacher and been spectators as he presented his diatribes. His brilliance has dazzled us and his grasp of truth and its orderly presentation have led us along in the train of his thought. But now the preacher takes the podium, and he is looking for response. What are we going to say? What is our attitude going to be? With the rapidity of a machine gun, he fires his questions at us, and we find ourselves being challenged to face the implications of what we have been taught.
As we have seen, Paul was particularly fond of Abraham, and it appears that another part of the Abraham story is in his mind when he speaks in verse Rom_8:32 of the Father "who did not spare His own Son." These words closely follow the LXX (Septuagint) account of Genesis 22 where the Lord put Abraham to the test by requiring him to sacrifice Isaac. Paul appears to be saying that in the same way that Abraham's commitment to the Lord was exhibited by his readiness to give even his son, so the Father's commitment to the human race was clearly expressed in His readiness to give His only Son. This being the case, it is reasonable for believers to assume that God, having given the greatest, will not fail "to give us all things" (Rom_8:32), for what could God give that would approach the cost of Calvary? This is the first piece of evidence that God is "for us."
He is on our side in another sense in that He has already justified us. This rules out the possibility of anyone being able to bring charges against us before His throne. If the one before whom we are guilty has pronounced us not guilty, what is there to fear from any accusation?
Some years ago a young lady, the wife of a missionary, told a hushed congregation about the way she had robbed her employer of thousands of dollars of merchandise while she was a student in Bible school. She had admitted her sin, sought his forgiveness, learned to paint so effectively that her earnings from painting paid off the debt and led her employer to Christ. When someone asked how she could be so open about her past, she threw her arms wide and with a great smile said, "When all is forgiven, there is nothing to hide, and where there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear."
The "elect" referred to in verse Rom_8:33 are, of course, those who have been foreknown, predestined, called, and justified in order that they might arrive at the final status of brethren like the Firstborn. As all judgment has been committed by the Father into the hands of the Son, He alone is the One who may condemn us. The likelihood of this disappears completely when we remember that He is the One who died for us, rose again, and sits at the Father's right hand. Having gone to all that trouble to bring us redemption, there is no thought of His condemning those He died to forgive! When Jesus talked to the woman accused of adultery and gave her accusers the privilege of stoning her provided they themselves were without sin, she remained unstoned. Her adversaries quickly left the scene, and Jesus with rare irony asked, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" (Joh_8:10). If Christ, the Judge, refuses to condemn us, who can be against us?
There is an added joy in remembering the activity in which our Lord is engaged at the Father's right hand: He "makes intercession" for us (Rom_8:34). This means that while the Holy Spirit is the Father's advocate pleading His case to us, the Risen Lord is our advocate pleading our case to the Father. So in His capacity as both Judge and Advocate there is no possibility of His condemning us, and no one can throw the first stone because of their own sin!
Turning his attention from judges and advocates, Paul addresses the mighty forces of circumstance that confronted the believers of his day. He asks with the same intensity, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom_8:35). The word "separate" is also translated "put asunder" in Christ's famous statement about the permanence of the marriage bond and man's responsibility not to separate husband and wife. It is interesting that he chose to personalize tribulation, persecution, sword, etc., when he asked, "Who shall separate us?" But this did not hide the reality of these things from those to whom the letter was addressed. They were to suffer "tribulation" (literally, pressure) that would lead to a martyr's death for many.
"Distress" translates a Greek word related to the "narrow" of the famous "broad way" and "narrow gate" of which Christ spoke. The word developed the sense of compression and graphically speaks of the inner constriction felt by those who come under external tribulation. "Persecution" is something with which the early Christians were familiar; in fact, there was a sense in which persecution had been a major contributory factor in the spread of the gospel because the persecuted believers took the opportunity to spread the Good News wherever the fury of their oppressors drove them. Paul's autobiographical passages show that he was personally acquainted with "famine, nakedness, and peril," and his chilling reference to the "sword" reminds us not only that the blood of martyrs was to flow freely in Rome, but also that the apostle himself would eventually pay the supreme sacrifice.
While the literary merit of this glorious passage of Scripture is plain to see, we should not allow its magnificence to blind us to the reality of the situations outlined and the ringing certainty with which Paul speaks of the continuation of the love of Christ to us. Neither should we overlook the challenging tone he uses, as if to dare all the forces of individuals and governments to rob his readers of the greatest of all treasures—the love of Christ.
Quoting the psalmist's similar sentiments to remind his readers that there is nothing new about the persecution of the righteous, he then makes the stirring assertion that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." Oppression and persecution are so distasteful to the human spirit that they produce a reflex action for survival at all costs. But Paul does not talk about God aiding those who wish to escape so that they can be delivered from all these things; but rather he is concerned that we should triumph in these things. This should not lead to a mindless masochism but to the development of confidence and courage through conviction. The consciousness of the love of Christ and the knowledge of the presence and power of the loved One both in the heart and before the throne make it possible to triumph through Him to such an extent that Paul uses a rare Greek word for the only time in Scripture to describe the experience. We are "super-conquerors"! Paul feels that there are many conquerors and innumerable exploits, but he sets the believers apart from these men and their courageous actions.
We Are More Than Confident
Having challenged sin, sword, and society to do their worst, Paul now directs his attention to the abundant spiritual forces with which he was personally familiar.
His message is the same—there is nothing that can possibly affect the eternal purposes of God or the undying love of Christ. Even death cannot rob the believer, because to be "absent from the body" is to be "present with the Lord." For years Paul had shown scant regard for his own safety simply because he lived in the tension of not knowing whether he preferred to live or die. Living to him was "Christ" but to die was "gain." Life with all its pain and problem held no terrors for him for the same reason nothing could change the immutable purpose of God. The "principalities and powers" were probably different ranks of angelic powers with whom he was undoubtedly more familiar than we in our contemporary world. Whether he refers to fallen angels or, as Barclay suggests, to unfallen angels who, as the rabbis believed "were grudgingly hostile to men," cannot be stated with certainty. But whoever they are and whatever they do, they cannot affect the love of Christ. Broadening the scope of his thought, Paul includes in a grand sweep everything in the present age and the age to come, which, of course, covers everything not covered!
It is interesting that "height [and] depth" are included in the list of adversaries the believer is called upon to face. To the Greeks "height" was more than just a spatial measurement. It contained the idea of loftiness and eminence; hence, power and authority. The term was used in astrological vocabulary and was related to the popular concept that man's fate was in the "heights" or the stars. Similarly, "depth" not only referred to deep places and things, but also contained the idea of profundity and mystery. It was also closely related to astrological thought. No doubt there were people in the church at Rome whose lives at one time had been governed by the dread of unseen and unknown powers. To them, as well as to those in our day who suffer from similar misunderstandings, the apostle affirms that no power, real or imaginary, can touch their relationship to Christ. Neither shall "any other created thing." The scope of this phrase is boundless, but it has been pointed out that it could be translated "any other creation"—"other" being the Greek heteros, which means another of a completely different kind. Paul may have been addressing the fascinating possibility of the existence of other worlds and other peoples. Whether there are such creations we do not know, but, more important, we do not worry, because, if they exist, and if they are more powerful than we (two monumental "ifs"!), they cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So we arrive at the grand climax of Paul's systematic treatment of the gospel, and we note that, appropriately, it concludes with the words "our Lord." It is the reigning and ruling Lordship of Christ that is fundamental to our salvation, but it is the personal aspect of His Lordship, making Him "ours," that brings salvation from the realm of theological possibility into the hearts of men and women in life-transforming power. It was this message that Paul preached and that our world still needs to hear.
Romans Chapter 7
What About the Law?
- The Believer's Release from the Law (Rom_7:1-6)
- The Believer's Respect for the Law (Rom_7:7)
- The Believer's Revelation Through the Law (Rom_7:8-13)
- The Believer's Relationship to the Law (Rom_7:14-25)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, told his students, "Often when didactic speech fails to enlighten our hearers we may make them see our meaning by opening a window and letting in the pleasant light of analogy." The ministry of the Lord Jesus was liberally sprinkled with apt illustrations which arrested the attention of His hearers and drove the message home to their hearts, but the apostle Paul didn't use many windows! Therefore, his illustration of the woman whose husband died is particularly welcome, even though his application is somewhat convoluted.
In the previous chapter we noted that the striking phrase "we died to sin" was the center of the apostle's argument, but now we are introduced to the added fact that we "have become dead to the law."
The Believer's Release from the Law
In Paul's teaching there is a clear connection between "the law" and sin. He told the Roman believers, "Sin shall not have dominion over you for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom_6:14). The person living "under law" is dominated by sin; therefore, if there is to be any realistic release from sin, there must be a corresponding release from the law. That this is all part of the divine provision Paul now seeks to explain through his rare illustration.
Assuming that the Roman believers, both Jew and Greek, were familiar with the law—presumably the Mosaic Law—Paul reminds them that the law has jurisdiction over a man only during his lifetime. For instance, in the marriage contract a wife is required to be faithful to her husband all his life. If she fails in this regard, she is called an adulteress, but as soon as her husband dies, she is free to remarry without there being any suggestion of impropriety. She is "released from the law of her husband."
Paul's application of the illustration is not altogether straightforward, but his obvious point is that, in the same way a widow is no longer under any legal obligation to her late husband, so the believer who was formerly married to the law is under no obligation to the law as a means of justification once the law dies. The problem with Paul's illustration is that the picture does not fit, because in real life the law does not die but the believer dies to the law. His point is clear nevertheless.
Those people who see their hope of being justified centered in their relationship to the law do not have happy marriages to the law. Married as they are to a law which is perfect, inflexible, demanding, and all-encompassing, they are soon driven to despair by their own incapability, in the same way that tender young brides have been known to be destroyed by domineering husbands whose rectitude was matched only by their insensitivity. Paul outlined something of the pressures experienced by the brides of the law when he wrote, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal_3:10).
If we may take the marriage analogy a little further, we can imagine what it must be like for a bride to be confronted each day by a husband who has a list of things which must be done thoroughly and perfectly. She must continue to do them; she must not only think about doing them but actually perform them. No half measures will be tolerated; no concessions to weakness will be made. There will be no excuses, no explanations will be asked for or given, and failure in every case will result in the unfortunate bride being cursed for her ineptitude and incompetence. To add insult to injury, the enraged husband will then proceed to live in total inflexible adherence to his own impossible demands, humiliating the bride even more.
It is no surprise when the frustrated bride, living under such pressure, lashes out in anger and fear—or as Paul says, "The passions of sins which [are] aroused by the law… bear fruit to death" (Rom_7:5). This does not mean that Mr. Law is breaking his own rules or encouraging his wife to engage in lawless activity. On the contrary, his exemplary behavior is a witness to the perfection of his own demands but also to the imperfection of her abilities. The resultant breakdown of relationship reaches its culmination when upon the death of Mr. Law the bride breathes more sighs of relief than she sheds tears of remorse. No longer must she embark each morning on an impossible task, knowing full well that she must face each evening the inevitable condemnation of Mr. Perfection. She is free!
No doubt in the church at Rome there were many people who had endeavored to keep the demands of the law, seeking thereby to earn the blessing of God. Yet they were conscious that if their blessing depended on their meticulous fulfillment, their failure promised their ultimate condemnation. Through the presentation of the gospel, however, they had learned that through the death and Resurrection of Christ they had been forgiven and reconciled to God, and, at the same time, "by the body of Christ" (Rom_7:4) they had been released from the law as a means of reconciliation. Like the bereaved bride of the illustration, they had greeted this death with more relief than grief. In fact, they had rejoiced in their liberty to the extent they had used it to be "married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead" (Rom_7:4).
Warming to his theme of marriage as an example, Paul goes on to talk about the "fruit" of the union between the believer and the risen Lord. The previous marriage had been "childless" because of the impotence of the law to reproduce anything but the "fruit to death" (Rom_7:5) in a person devoid of the life of God. In complete contrast, the new marriage between the living Lord and the loving disciple has the glorious potential of bearing "fruit to God" (Rom_7:4). In much the same way that grandparents keenly await the arrival of grandchildren who are the product of the blended lives of their child and spouse, so the Father awaits the reproduction of a new quality of life in the believer which is the result of the life of the risen Lord being blended with that of the believer.
Another stark contrast is seen in the attitude of the believer when compared to that of the person living under the law. Life under the law is a never-ending list of rules and regulations which produce a never-ending stream of fears and frustrations. But marriage to Christ is a relationship of love which freely submits and obeys with delight. The former attitude, described by Paul as "oldness of the letter" (Rom_7:6), is often cold and resentful; the latter, which he calls "newness of the Spirit," is fresh and spontaneous.
Any parent of a teenage boy will remember the days when rules and regulations about scrubbing teeth, combing hair, and washing necks were in force. No doubt they will also recall the remarkable day when, instead of dragging the reluctant adolescent to the scene of ablution, they found that a transformation of attitude had taken place which required new rules limiting the amount of time he could spend in the bathroom. Where once it was a battle to apply a comb to the hair, now it was a battle to be able to afford the exotic shampoos necessary for a young man who was in love for the first time. That is the difference between oldness of letter and newness of Spirit!
The Believer's Revelation Through the Law
In addition to revealing the presence of sin in his life, Paul shows how the law exacerbated indwelling sin and gave him the inestimable gift of seeing himself in reality.
For centuries, considerable debate has gone on concerning the exact time in Paul's experience to which he is referring. His testimony is that at one point in his life he was "alive" because he was not living under the restraints of the law, but this state of affairs came to an abrupt end when he became answerable to the law. Everything changed and he died. One possible explanation is that Paul was referring to the blissful experience of his youth before his bar mitzvah. Prior to becoming a "son of the law," he lived happily in his ignorance both of the demands of the law and the sin within the heart of man. But when he became a responsible member of Jewish society and an earnest seeker after righteousness through the law, he found that the law, instead of leading him to life as promised, was taking him deeper into death.
The age-old statement concerning the law, "This do and you shall live," shows that "life" is available only when the "doing" is being done. Paul found the doing of the law more than he was capable of performing, and so, instead of raising him to the exhilarating experience of the presence of God, it took him farther down the road to despair and dismay. The more he longed for perfection, the more he lacked in performance, and the more sinful he recognized himself to be, the more "holy and just and good" the law became in his eyes.
Perhaps one of humanity's greatest needs is to recognize that sin is "exceedingly sinful." Paul sees the law as particularly helpful in this regard, because sin took something as wholesome and perfect as the law and made it the means for sin to become rampant. What could be more beautiful than the possibility of human relationships of the highest order and what better way of protecting and promoting these relationships than through instructions to honor father and mother, to abstain from adultery, to refrain from misleading through lies, and to respect other people's dignity by rejoicing in what they have rather than lusting for it ourselves? But it is in the area of human relationships that sin is seen in its worst form as lying and cheating, fornicating and killing, robbing and destroying, and it is through the pure law of God that this sin is brought out into the open. Such is the nature of sin, whether in the heart of the unredeemed or in the life of the believer.
The Believer's Relationship to the Law
Before looking into the remaining verses of this chapter, it should be pointed out that considerable disagreement exists between Bible students as to the application of this passage. If Paul is referring to his pre-Christian experience, then, of course, the passage is applicable to unbelievers. But if he is relating his struggles after his conversion to Christ, then what he has to say relates to believers. This writer takes the view that Paul is relating the struggles he had with the law of God before he knew Christ and which he continues to have since coming into an experience of the risen Lord. Without going into the pros and cons of the differing positions, none of which is totally conclusive, it should be clear that all earnest people, whether regenerate or unregenerate, find that there has been no final resolution of their intrinsic sinfulness. This is particularly true of those who have so despaired of their sin that they have turned in repentance and faith to Christ and found forgiveness in Him. This state of being forgiven has motivated them to great aspirations after holiness of life. But as many have found to their sorrow, the closer they come to the light the more the cracks and flaws show. One hymn writer expressed the thought beautifully: "Those who fain would serve Thee best, Are conscious most of wrong within."
It is not uncommon for believers to be unsure about their relationship to the law. On the one hand, they have learned that they have died to the law, that they are not under law but under grace and that they should live as free people. On the other hand, they hear Paul extoling the virtues of the law, calling it "holy, just, and good" and describing it as "spiritual," and they feel a little uneasy about disregarding it all together. The dilemma should be resolved when we remember that God's law reflects the purity of His character and outlines the standards of behavior that He regards as normative. The flaw of the law is that it cannot bring anyone to regeneration, and to die to the law means to die to all efforts to be justified by keeping it. This does not mean, however, that the law is any less true or that God regards it as less important. It still reflects God's nature and continues to outline His standards and, therefore, is relevant to the believer.
The believer who holds the law of God in high regard will, like Paul, find himself in something of a battle. One part of him will give assent to the goodness of the law, but another part of him will rebel against it. In response to the principles of God outlined in the law, one part of the believer will aspire to great deeds, but another part will pull him back from achieving them. Challenged by the law to be done with lesser things, the believer may resolve to change his ways only to find that, like the dog which returns to its vomit, he goes back to do again the things he loathes. Paul, in three great cycles, establishes this to be his own experience and draws some important conclusions. First, the law is good; second, he is bad. (To use the words of the Lord Jesus, he finds that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.") Third, he attributes his failure to the presence of sin dwelling in his members.
Stated in the simplest terms, Paul is describing the sad experience of many a person who believes that the principle "thou shalt not commit adultery" is "holy and just and good" but still has a terrible struggle with adulterous thoughts. Or the person who firmly believes that "thou shalt not covet" is a "spiritual" statement and agrees with it wholeheartedly but has great feelings of resentment toward the person appointed to the position she wanted for her husband (and herself!). They both "delight in the law of God according to the inward man," but, unfortunately, they are discovering that the law which could not bring anyone justification cannot bring anyone sanctification either. The law pointed out sin in the unbeliever to bring them to repentance, and it goes on pointing out "sin that dwells" in the believer in order that they may look for ongoing deliverance.
Paul was certainly longing for some kind of release from what he called "the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom_7:23). He said:
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. (Rom_7:24-25)
The picture of the battle of the soul is clearly sketched by Paul as he carefully chooses words with military connotations. He describes sin as "warring" against the law of his mind with the result that he is brought into "captivity." It is fitting that he continues the theme by using the expression commonly employed by soldiers wounded in battle and in need of help when he writes, "Who will deliver me?" No doubt he feels that he has been badly wounded in his struggle against sin and desperately needs help. The phrase "body of death" in verse Rom_7:24 is clearly related to "the body of sin" (Rom_6:6) and does not mean that the body is dead any more than the earlier phrase meant the body was sinful. His meaning is that the body, through its susceptibility to the power of sin, can be the instrument of sinful acts which lead eventually to death, and such is his burden that he longs to be released from the bondage. Some commentators, like Calvin, interpreted this to mean a desire to die and be through with sin once and for all, but this hardly seems to fit in with the next things Paul teaches. It would be wiser to see Paul's heartfelt cry as a longing for a fuller life rather than for a quicker death.
His response to his own query is as powerful as it is brief. "Thank God," he says, "through Jesus Christ" deliverance from the ongoing power of sin will be experienced. Without amplifying this electrifying statement, which he will deal with in the next chapter, Paul tempers his exultant cry of promised victory with a balanced reminder: the war is not over and the battle will continue, but with the certainty of victory instead of the inevitability of defeat. The ongoing conflict will feature a mind that serves the law of God and the flesh that serves the law of sin. Without the intervention of the living Christ through His Spirit in the life of the believer, it would be "no contest." But through His power, the law which was powerless can be fulfilled as the power of sin is conquered from day to day.
Romans Chapter 6
Should Saints Sin?
- Saints' Relationship to Sin (Rom_6:1-7)
- Saints' Relationship to Christ (Rom_6:8-10)
- Saints' Relationship to Temptation (Rom_6:11-14)
- Saints' Relationship to Righteousness (Rom_6:15-23)
Richard Lovelace was right when he wrote in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life: "Three aberrations from the biblical teaching on justification—cheap grace, legalism, and moralism—still dominate the church today." Moralism is the approach to Christianity that concentrates on the teaching of Christ as moral imperative to be addressed to society without adequate emphasis on the necessity for repentance and faith leading to justification. On the other hand, there are churches that have adopted "legalism" as their approach to Christian experience. Based on a deep commitment to justification by faith and a serious attempt to live as if justified and conscious of the danger of spiritual infiltration or infection, considerable effort has gone into the manufacture of disciplines, rules, and regulations designed to isolate the believer from all that would hinder or mar his spiritual progress. Unfortunately, the emphasis has often switched from Christ to the rules and from the enjoyment of life in Him to a debilitating experience under the load of auxiliary matters the believer is called to shoulder. "Cheap grace," the term coined by the German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, refers to the sad attitude, displayed in varying degrees of openness, which says, in effect, "I've been forgiven and I will go on being forgiven whatever I do, so I can do whatever I wish." Paul appears to be addressing this type of thinking.
Saints' Relationship to Christ
Paul starts his explanation of the believer's death to sin by reminding him of the historical facts of Christ's earthly experience, namely, His death, burial, and Resurrection. Then Paul shows that through baptism the believer is united to Christ and, therefore, is a participant in the experience of Christ. Thus the believer through baptism has died, been buried, and raised again "with Him."
Strange as this may sound to modern ears, there was no problem in understanding this teaching among the people Paul was addressing in Rome. The Jews among them were thoroughly familiar with the rite of baptism through which Gentile proselytes were required to pass before they could be regarded as members of the Jewish fraternity. The initiates were carefully prepared for baptism, then undressed completely and placed in water so that every part of their body was in contact with the water. Then they were required to make confession of their faith in Christ. After receiving instruction from those chosen to officiate at the ceremony, they emerged from the water "new men" in the eyes of the Jewish people. So great was their transformation that everything related to their former life was regarded as an irrelevance and a totally new start was in order. Some rabbis even taught that the new life was so radical that even former family relationships no longer existed and the proselytes were free to marry their own sister or mother if they wished. In the modern church, understanding of the rite of baptism has gone through many changes and has been the subject of numerous debates. But it should be remembered that for the early Christians who came from either a Jewish background or involvement with pagan religions which had their own initiation ceremonies, the act of baptism was a serious step taken by a convinced adult to declare his allegiance to Christ whatever the cost and, also, to announce the termination of his old life and the initiation of the new.
As Christian theology has developed, one section of the church has seen baptism as a sacrament while a second section regards it as a symbol. For the former group baptism conveys grace to the baptized person. Taken to its extreme, this approach can obviate the necessity for repentance and faith and elevate baptism to the lofty status of the means of salvation. On the other hand, those who regard baptism as a symbol of spiritual reality may decide that as rites are relatively unimportant when compared to reality, the rite can be dispensed with without losing any spiritual benefit. This position has been adopted by such groups as the Salvation Army. In their book The Water That Divides Bridges and Phypers make the helpful comment, "To the New Testament writers there is no problem. Baptism is integral to the salvation process, of value in itself, bringing with it the full blessing of God. Now, of course, faith saves and in asserting that baptism is a sacrament as well as a symbol, there is no suggestion that Christians should return to the crudely superstitious position of the Middle Ages."
In apostolic times, baptism was administered immediately on confession of faith in Christ. But in later years the practice was modified for various reasons. According to the Didache, a second-century document of early church procedures, the believers were required to "rehearse" their understanding of basic Christian truths before being baptized "in living water." They were also told, "If you have not living water, baptize in other water; and, if thou canst not in cold, in warm. If you have neither, pour water thrice on the head in the Name… ." Apart from showing how far modern baptism may have moved from the rugged days of cold running water to warm, placid fonts or baptistries, this excerpt also shows that the normal procedure in the early days was for the believers to be immersed. This would be not only a sacrament whereby the believers entered into the merits of their faith relationship with the living Christ but also a striking symbol of the significance of that relationship. As they stepped into the water, they demonstrated the fact that they were "in Christ"; as they were immersed, they showed they were "buried with Him"; and as they emerged from the water, they graphically portrayed their understanding of being "raised with Him" before walking from the site of their baptism and showing they were baptized to "walk in newness of life" (Rom_6:4).
Having established the reality of being identified with Christ in death and Resurrection through baptism, Paul proceeds to show the significance of Christ's death, and accordingly, the significance of our relationship to Him.
The key expression in this section is "He died to sin once for all." In Paul's thinking we are related to Christ, through baptism, and in that relationship we are in some way sharing in His death and Resurrection. If in His death He died to sin, then we, in Him, died to sin. Therefore, the simplest way to understand what it means to have "died to sin" is to find out what it means that "He died to sin once for all."
When Christ entered the world He came from the glory of heaven sinless, spotless, undefiled, and separate from sin. Immediately upon entering human society, He was confronted on every hand by sin's power and presence. For thirty-three years He lived among the carnage and wreckage of sin. When He went to the Cross, He assumed our sin and bore the wrath of God against our sin; in fact, the apostle says that the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us" (2Co_5:20). Having come from an environment where sinlessness was normative to a situation where sin is pervasive, and having taken on His sinless self the load of a race's sin, it comes as no surprise to us that He cried exultantly from the Cross at the end of His ministry, "Finished!" and promptly bowed His head and dismissed His spirit. It was all over for Him. The nightmare of sin, the horrors of death and hell, the pernicious tyranny of sin's hold on people had been dealt with, and He could go to the grave anticipating His Resurrection with joy and delight.
In the same way, believers, united to Christ, can exult in the fact that all that must be done about their sin has been done in Christ. They, too, can cry "finished" and breathe a sigh of relief because for them the nightmare of unanswered sin is over and the tyranny of unconquerable sin is broken. But in the same way that Christ did not stay dead but rose to a newness of life to be lived unto the Father, we are raised too! While He was in His body, the Son had an obligation to deal with the sin problem, but when, after death, He arose, having finished with sin, His total concentration was once more upon the Father. In the same way, believers who were previously preoccupied with the remorseless grip of sin on their lives can now concentrate on what they have and who they are in Christ and, accordingly, live new lives.
Paul, who was never less than practical even when at his most theological, outlined three specific results of this divine transaction on our behalf. He said, "Our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer serve sin."
Some people have assumed that the "old man" is the sinful nature which, because the Bible says it has been crucified, must be dead and, therefore, no longer operative. When confronted with the obvious unpalatable truth that "it may be dead but it won't lie down," they have tried to make their theology fit their experience or vice versa by many unsatisfactory methods which have produced either nervous breakdowns or blatant hypocrisy. We should not assume that the "old man" is anything more than "the man of old" or the pre-regenerate person. A friend of mine always refers to his life as A.D. and B.C. B.C. is the "old man"; A.D. is the regenerate man raised in Christ. The person you were "before Christ" has been judged, condemned, sentenced, executed, buried, and finished with forever. The new man lives.
But, in addition, there has been a powerful impact on the "body of sin" which Paul says in verse Rom_6:6 has been "done away with." Some commentators translate "body" as "mass" and agree with Calvin that "man, when left to his own nature is a mass of sin." Others see no necessity to regard "body" as anything other than the human body which, while not sinful of itself, is very clearly the instrument of sin. Paul states that this body which is so susceptible to sin's domination before union with Christ has, through Him, been placed in a position where this domination might no longer be the norm.
This leads to the third practical fact, namely, that believers "should no longer serve sin" (Rom_6:6). Now that the "man of old" has been dealt with in Christ and the new man has, accordingly, been shown that the sin which previously controlled his physical body has been dealt with, he should recognize that he is no longer at the mercy of sin, or, literally, "a slave of sin." In fact, he has been "freed from sin" or "justified from sin." As we have seen previously, "justification" has a legal connotation. But in this context Paul appears to be broadening the use of the word. In the same way that a man who has been exonerated in a court of law has the freedom to walk out of court and take a cab to his home, so the "justified" believer, in addition to his technical justification, has the practical freedom to walk away from the dominating power of sin in his life. To begin to understand this is to see how far those who believe they are saved to live as they wish have strayed from the truth of the all-encompassing gospel.
Saints' Relationship to Temptation
In all honesty we have to admit that Paul, so far, has probably raised more questions than he has answered, and this commentator concedes that he has done little to help! But all is not lost, as this section clearly shows.
In the light of all that has been said, the apostle now applies the truth by outlining a path of action that believers must take. The operative words are: "reckon," "let," and "present."
First the believer must do some reckoning. We have already been introduced to this word and seen that it means to "place to someone's account." The Greek word is related to logos, which means, among other things, "reason." Paul requires believers to reason through what he has been teaching concerning the believer's relationship to sin and to Christ and then to place to their own account or apply to their own lives that which they have intellectually grasped. He stipulates two things: first, that we are "dead to sin," and, second, that we are "alive to God" but only "in Christ Jesus."
When Neil Armstrong stepped out of "Eagle" onto the moon's surface on July 20, 1969, and said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," he entered an environment in which it was impossible for him to survive apart from his space suit and its support systems. But because of the capabilities of his unnatural environment—the space suit—and his identification with it, he was able to regard himself as dead to his inhospitable surroundings and alive to his experience of walking around the moon. So the believer must understand that "in Christ" he is no longer totally at the mercy of the inhospitable environment of sin but is alive to all the power and life of God Himself.
When this is appreciated, the believer must make some decisions to "let not sin reign in your mortal body" (Rom_6:12). There is nothing very mysterious about this instruction. It means saying "no" in no uncertain terms! Whenever a believer "obeys" the passions of his body and succumbs to temptation, he sins, but he is not obliged to succumb and he does not have to sin. The old Puritans used to say, "God does not take away our ability to sin; He gives us the power not to sin." If television sets were made without on/off switches and we were chained to our seats in front of them and our eyes were held open by mechanical means, we would have no option but to watch everything on the screen. But we all have the option to watch or not to watch. It requires a choice to turn off the set. "In Christ" we have been given the "off" switch—the ability to say "no" and the instructions to do it.
Paul becomes even more specific when he gives instructions concerning individual members of the body. We sin when we "yield" or "present" our tongue to say the wrong word, our hand when we take something that does not belong to us, our sexual organs when we commit adultery, our minds when we harbor uncharitable thoughts. When we take sin seriously, we begin to see how sin cannot operate in our bodies without our giving over a particular member of the body for a specific sin. If the believer is adequately aware of this, he can begin to say "no" to a temptation, not only in a general sense but in the very specific sense of refusing to present the member necessary for the committing of sin. It is important to recognize that Paul gives both a positive and a negative side of this action. When we refuse to present the member as an instrument of unrighteousness, we may feel that we are left in a vacuum, so we need to remember to present the newly redundant member to an action that will further the work of God. When my tongue is required by the old sinful propensity within to engage in critical conversation half the battle is won when I refuse to participate, but the other half is won when I take the opportunity to say something helpful and positive instead.
This way the apostle says, "Sin shall not 'lord it over' you," because believers are living in the benevolent atmosphere of the grace of God, which, in addition to bringing justification from sin, also brings to the sinner the means of no longer sinning.
When as a young teenager I was drafted into the Royal Marines during the Korean War, I came under the control of a particularly imposing regimental sergeant major, who strode around the barracks leaving a train of tough men quaking in their boots. I didn't realize how dominant this man had become in my life until the day I was released from the Marines. Clutching my papers in one hand, I was luxuriating in my new-found freedom to the extent of putting the other hand in my pocket, slouching a little, and whistling—sins so heinous that if they had been observed by the R.S.M., they would have landed me in all kinds of trouble! Then I saw him striding toward me. On an impulse I sprang into the posture of a Marine until I realized that I had died to him—he and I no longer had a relationship. He was not dead, and neither was I, but as far as his domination of my life was concerned, it was all a matter of history. So I did some reckoning, decided not to yield to his tyranny, and demonstrated it by refusing to yield my arms to swinging high and my feet to marching as if on parade, and my back to ramrod stiffness. Instead I presented my feet, hands, back to my new-found freedom as a former Marine—and he couldn't do a thing about it!
Saints' Relationship to Righteousness
People from a Jewish background who held the law in high esteem were particularly nervous about Paul's insistence that "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified" (Gal_2:16). They believed that Paul's teaching that people cannot fulfill the law for justification would encourage them to disregard the law, to claim to be justified by faith, and then because they accepted no law to embark on a life of lawlessness and sinfulness. To this Paul gives another vehement response and proceeds to show that, far from being lawless, justified believers who were formerly nothing more than "servants of sin" become the "servants of righteousness." He makes the obvious, but no less powerful point, that "to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves" (Rom_6:16). Those who revered the law and failed, as did everyone, to keep it, were in their breaking of the law exhibiting their "slavery" to sin. But those who through the grace of God had become united with Christ had been made "free from sin" and had traded their slavery to sin for a slavery to Christ and the righteousness for which He stands.
Bruce paraphrases Paul's thought as follows: "A slave's former owner has no more authority over him if he becomes someone else's property. This is what has happened to you. You have passed from the service of sin into the service of God: your business now is to do what God desires not what sin dictates."
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