In Christ

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:22

It is important that we know how God sees us. This can be rather difficult given our tendency to think the worst of ourselves, or to define our lives through the lens of others. One of the richest passages about identity in Scripture is Ephesians 1:7-14:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In this passage, Paul explains the many aspects of our new identity in Christ. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace; unconditionally loved and accepted; we are pure, blameless and forgiven; we have received the hope eternity with God. When we are in Christ, these aspects of our identity can never be altered by what we do.

Often, we feel the pressure to define ourselves through our jobs, financial status, successes, grades, appearance, what other people say about us and many other means.

As Christians, our true identity is in Christ. We are no longer who we were. Paul calls us saints, set apart by and for God, and invariably addresses us as those who are in Christ. He implores us to live our lives in Christ, as he also lives, saying, “I glory in Christ” (Romans 15:17). In his epistles he encourages us to be in Christ, in him, or in the Lord 160 times. What it means to be in Christ is exactly the opposite of what it means to be in ourselves. In other words, if we are not in Christ, we are only into us. It’s all about us and no one else.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So what does it mean to have our identity in Christ? It’s not just a matter of claiming Bible verses for ourselves, or starting our mornings reciting key Scripture. To have our identity in Christ means placing our confidence for life and eternity in Christ alone. To be in Christ involves being formed into the image of the Lord. It means wanting others to see Jesus when they look at us. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV) [Italics mine].

To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation in Him. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Prior to conversion, Paul knew “about” Christ merely as another man. At conversion, Paul became a new creation. The old passed away, indicating the definitive change that took place at regeneration. Paul adds, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21). Being in Christ means having His righteousness. This position is made available to us as a result of God’s grace. Because we have no righteousness of our own, this is of paramount importance in order to stand before God.

According to Scripture, we die in Adam but are born again in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). In Adam, there is condemnation; but in Christ, there is salvation. In Adam, we receive a sin nature; but in Christ, we receive a new nature. In Adam, we are cursed; but in Christ, we’re blessed. In Adam, there is wrath and death; but in Christ, there is love and life. It’s as if there are two teams in life. We each take to the field with one of them. The decisions made by the team captains affect the entire team, for better or worse. The first team is led by Adam, and the second by Jesus. We identify with Adam and share in his defeat, or we identify with Jesus and share in his victory. In other words, are we in Adam or are we in Christ?

OUR IDENTITY AS BELIEVERS

The main theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is identity formation. Union with Christ gives us a radically new identity. Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV).

The phrase “in Christ” literally changed the world and is the very essence of our identity as believers. In speaking of identity, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV). When Paul talks about the new I is he talking about who he was before Christ in combination with who he now is in Christ, or is he referring only to the new creation in Christ? Considering the words of Jesus in John 15:5, it seems he might be speaking of both. We are re-created in Christ, but we are not able to exist as a new creation apart from Him.

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of spiritual life—a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can occur. Likewise, unless there is a root of life within the believer (i.e., some core of spiritual life), growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow! This fits nicely with the analogy of vine and branches. Frankly, this is why Paul’s theology is based solely on our position in Christ. He was brilliantly able to point out the constant struggle within himself between doing that which he did not want to do and not being able to consistently do that which he wanted to do.

NEW HEART, NEW SPIRIT

We’re told in the Bible that the center of the person is the heart. Proverbs 4:23 identifies the heart as the “wellspring of life” (NIV). In our natural state of being, the heart is deceitful above all things (see Jeremiah 17:9). Born under sin, we are conditioned by the deceitfulness of a fallen world rather than by the truth of God’s Word. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (NIV). From the moment we are born again we are grafted into the vine—sanctified and set apart as children of God.

We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves to grow accordingly.

We read in Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (NIV). Biblical scholar and author F.F. Bruce says, “…the new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.” But exactly what does it mean to be a new man? Does it mean every aspect of us is changed? After all, we still look the same physically. Our voice sounds the same. We still have many of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Our DNA does not change when we become born again. Our past, although forgiven (and forgotten) by God, is still our past. We carry emotional baggage with us well into our future even as new believers.

The Natural Person

In our natural state, we must contend with flesh, mind, will, and emotions. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (NIV). The word flesh typically refers to the body, but theologically it can also refer to the learned independence that allows sin to reign in our lives. We struggle in the flesh with inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, worry, and doubt. Our mind is the seat of obsessive, recurrent, distressing thoughts and images, which are often at the root of compulsive behavior, bad habits, and addiction. Our body is the situs for migraines, allergies, asthma, arthritis, heart problems, cancer, and other physical ailments. Our emotions include depression, anxiety, bitterness, anger, resentment, and many other sensitivities.

We are spiritually dead in our natural state—separated from God. Accordingly, we tend to sin as a matter of course. We have a soul, in that we can think, feel, and choose. Our mind, and subsequently our emotions and will, are directed by our flesh, which acts completely apart from God. In our natural state, we tend to believe we are free to choose our behavior. But because we live in the flesh, we invariably walk according to the flesh. Our choices reflect the “deeds of the flesh” we read about in Galatians 5:19-21. Our actions, reactions, habits, memories, and responses are all governed by the flesh.

The Spiritual Person

When we become renewed by the Spirit, we are able to crucify our flesh by recognizing we are now dead to sin. Our mind is transformed. Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). As we present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, our body becomes a temple of God. Our soul reflects changes brought about by our spiritual rebirth. We start receiving the impetus for our behavior from the Spirit rather than from our flesh.

Remarkably, we are now free to choose not to walk according to the flesh, but to walk according to the Spirit. When we exercise our choice to live in the Spirit, our lives exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). I refer to this as the dichotomy of true freedom. Additionally, our bodies have been transformed. We have become the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We can now choose daily to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service. Our flesh is conditioned to live independently from God under the old man. Unfortunately, our flesh is still present after we’ve been born again. The difference is we’ve been given the resources to crucify the flesh and its desires daily by recognizing who we are in Christ.

BEING IN CHRIST WILL CHANGE OUR WALK

Becoming a new believer does not anoint us with magical sin-defying powers. We are still spring-loaded toward fleshly behavior. A life of fleshly habits does not just vanish. We tend to go on living according to what we know, and we don’t know much about living a Spirit-filled life. As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. We occasionally make poor choices—we’re human after all. However, we are learning daily to crucify the flesh and walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. This walk is built on relationship, not subordination.

Freedom doesn’t just lie in the exercise of choice; it ultimately lies in the consequences of those choices.

Paul defines what it means to walk by the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (NIV). Paul is quick to note what walking in the Spirit is not a license to sin. License, in this regard, is contempt for rules and regulations constituting an abuse of privilege. Amazingly, some Christians wrongly assert that walking by the Spirit and living under grace means I can do whatever I want to do. On the contrary, walking by the Spirit means we are free (from the dominion of the flesh) to live a responsible, moral life—something we were incapable of doing when we were a bond servant of sin.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I cannot overstate how important it is that we come to understand how God sees us. We must fight the tendency to define ourselves based on our past sins and transgressions, or through the lens of others. In Christ we have redemption; we have the forgiveness of sins. Additionally, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are no longer who we were. We have become saints, set apart by and for God. To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. We are literally given a new identity in Christ. It is through walking in the Spirit that we are able to deny our flesh, but we must do this daily. This is only achievable when we recognize and operate in the truth of who we are as new Christians. 

As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. This helps increase the odds that we make the right choices relative to behavior. Paul warns against the practice of sin. Because we still occupy a fleshly body, and still possess a mind, a will, and emotions—along with baggage and past experiences—we are prone to take the wide road rather than the harder, narrow road. Being in Christ is not merely about being forgiven and living under grace. It is not a license to sin. Rather, it is about living a responsible, moral life. It is about being free to choose righteousness over sin. It is about being in right relationship with God.

 

 


 

Sin’s Lost Dominion

Romans

Paul began his letter to the Romans by setting forth the theme: The righteousness of God (see Romans 1:1-17). In this letter, Paul tells us how to be right—with God, ourselves, and others. Paul also explains to us how one day God will make all of creation right. This is what is meant by restoration, the biblical meaning of which is “to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.” This type of restoration is broader in scope than the standard dictionary definition. The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure. Throughout the Bible, God blesses people for their faith and hardships by making up for their losses and giving them more than they had previously. Job comes to mind.

Romans was not written for daydreamers or religious sightseers. We have to think as we study Romans, but the rewards will be worth our effort. If we grasp the doctrinal message of Romans, we’ll have the key to understanding the rest of the Bible. Moreover, we will have the secret of successful Christian living. In fact, Paul sent this letter to believers in Rome in order to provide them with a clear declaration of Christian doctrine. We need to reexamine our commitment to Christ as we read Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Chapter 6 is a crucial part of Romans. Paul wanted believers to understand that when we’re saved, we become new creations in Christ. We are granted access to the mind of Christ. In fact, we’re told to put on the mind of Christ. It is with this in mind that Paul says believers must die to sin and live to God. He presses the importance of holiness in the first two verses of Romans 6.

Freedom From Sin’s Grasp
Sin’s Power is Broken

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV).

If God loves to forgive us and wash us in the blood of His Son, why not give Him more to forgive? If forgiveness is guaranteed, do we not have the freedom to sin as much as we desire to? Paul’s forceful answer, of course, is By no means! Such an attitude—deciding ahead of time to take advantage of the grace of God—shows that a person does not understand the seriousness of sin and its consequences. It is akin to premeditation. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. God’s forgiveness does not make sin less serious; His Son’s death for our sin shows us the dreadful seriousness of sin. It is not something to be trifled with. Accordingly, God’s mercy must not become an excuse for careless living and moral laxness.

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Paul does not explain away the free grace of the Gospel, but he shows that justification and holiness are inseparable. The very thought that sin should continue simply to ensure that grace might thrive was abhorred by Paul. He taught that true believers are dead to sin, meaning they’ve been freed from bondage through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s point was that although we cannot out-sin the grace of God, we must reckon our bodies dead to sin—we should no longer be dominated by it. After all, as Romans 6:6 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (NIV).

Buried With Him; Raised With Him

“That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! ” (Romans 6:3-6, MSG).

The above translation is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It is quite compelling. When we’re a new creation in Christ we develop a desire to become one with Him. The best way to express that underlying desire to others is through a change in character and a modification of behavior. We become willing to follow His commands. Baptism teaches the necessity of dying to sin, and being buried from all ungodly and unholy pursuits. We rise to walk with God in newness of life.

Romans 6:10 tells us, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (NIV). Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Romans, “From this we clearly see what the words of the Apostle mean. All such statements as: 1. ‘We are dead to sin,” 2. ‘We live unto God,’ etc., signify that we do not yield to our sinful passions and sin, even though sin continues in us. Nevertheless, sin remains in us until the end of our life, as we read in Galatians 5:17: ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.'” However, Luther adds, “But to hate the body of sin and to resist it, is not an easy, but a most difficult task.”

A Living Sacrifice

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourself to God as those who have brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14, NIV).

The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible footnote for Romans 6:12 says, “Having proved the sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles and that both must be redeemed alike by Christ through faith and grace, Paul now takes up the argument of the divine method of dealing with sin and the secret of a victorious holy life… the questions come up that if salvation is free and apart from works—if the more heinous the sins the more abundant the grace to pardon—then may we not go on in sin so that the grace of God may become magnified? God forbid” (p. 287).

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Luther notes in his preface to Commentary on Romans, “This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (p. 101). He states in the body of his Commentary that we are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death, we merely strive to obtain the blessings of this death and to reach our goal of glory.

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourself to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:15-18, NIV).

Paul is describing licentiousness in the above passage. Literally, a license to sin. You’ll notice Paul asks the same question he put to the Romans in verse one, just in case they didn’t get it. This time he expands on the slavery example that he mentioned in verse seven. In verses fifteen through eighteen he states that the master you choose leads either to righteousness and life or to sin and death. One way or the other, we will serve somebody. The option to live life without serving either sin or righteousness is not open to us.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, says “So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want?” (Romans 6:15, MSG). This is a rather eye-opening interpretation of Paul’s words. Since we’re free in the sanctification of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. I believe Paul’s intent is to clarify the fact that if we offer ourselves to sin it will be our last free act.

Paul is telling us the buzzword for this section of Chapter 6 is yield. It means “to place at one’s disposal, to present, to offer as a sacrifice.” The flow of Paul’s argument in Romans is to first set forth the fallen condition of all men, then the Gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is appealing to the believers in Rome to offer themselves unto God, bowing to His will for them, because of all that God has done for them. Also, it’s important to note that Paul is focusing on “living sacrifices” instead of the dead sacrifices God required under the Law of Moses (see Romans 12:1).

Sin Shall Not Reign

Paul’s point is this: “That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God” (Romans 6:12-14, MSG). Luther writes, “This is understood not only of lusting after earthly goods and temporal possessions, but also of aversion to temporal affliction and adversity. He who has Christ by faith does not desire the things of this world, no matter how greatly they may allure Him” (p. 104).

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This doesn’t mean we become unaffected by temptation just because we’re saved by grace. We are susceptible to both pleasure and displeasure. The key is to refuse to let sin reign in our lives. Again, we are not under the Law but under grace. This is true because the Law has been fulfilled by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (NIV). Luther notes Paul’s point as follows. “The apostle here meets the objection: How can anyone resist the onslaught of sin and passion? To this he replies: Sin shall not have dominion over you nor triumph over you, no matter how fiercely it may tempt and assail you, provided you do not yield to it. But he who is without faith in Christ is always dominated by sin, even when he does good…” (p. 105) [Italics added].

Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful tendencies of his heart, in actions which lead to death, or the new and spiritual obedience implanted by regeneration. Paul rejoices in verse 18: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (NIV). We have a new Master if we want to obey Him. We became enslaved to righteousness. God gave us a new Master; not a license to sin. Paul told the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (NIV). As believers, we have been purchased from the bonds of slavery to sin.

Concluding Remarks

When we accept Christ as Savior and confess our faith in Him, our past is blotted out through His atoning blood. Regardless of the nature of our offenses. Our past literally disappears from the sight of God. Psalm 103:10-12 tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV).

When we’re born again, we identify ourselves with Jesus in His crucifixion. We can honestly say, “I am crucified.” Surely, we have no nail holes in our hands and feet, no scar in our side, but in a “legal” sense, as God looks upon us, He sees us crucified with Christ. We are not only crucified with Christ in His death, we are raised up with Him in his resurrection, unto a new creation. When we die with Christ, we die to our anger and resentment. Illicit lusts and desires are dealt with. Unclean habits no longer hold power over us. But let us not forget that just because we are born again we are not incapable of sinning. It is imperative that we identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We must decide that we have been quickened—raised up together with Christ in new life. Only then will we be able to face the demonic powers of Satan. Our mantra must be Sin shall not have dominion over me because I have been raised from spiritual death with Christ.

References

Kennedy, F., Germaine, A., and Dake, Jr., F. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Luther, M. (1954). Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Martin Luther and the Righteousness of God

It was 500 years ago this year when Martin Luther took a stand against the various aspects of corruption and misguided doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, thus launching the Reformation. On the heels of my class on the History of Christianity at Colorado Christian University, I read an article in Christianity Today, January/February 2017, Vol. 61, No. 1, by David Zahl, titled, “Justify Yourself.” I find the Protestant Reformation to be a very engaging and fascinating topic, and, indeed, consider Martin Luther to be one of my heroes of the Medieval Church. It was an easy decision for me to do my final paper on Martin Luther.

Luther

Zahl, wondering whether the Reformation is over, writes, “Don’t we get the message already? Aren’t we all on the same page when it comes to salvation by grace through faith? The short answer appears to be no.” This has been true for me personally, which is why I have struggled for decades with my will versus God’s, and with forgetting that I am nowhere near equipped to ever be justified by my own actions. I consider myself somewhat of an amateur scholar of the Apostle Paul, especially of his Epistle to the Romans. I find chapters six, seven and eight of Romans to explain the very essence of the Gospel. I relate fully to Paul’s commentary on warring with the flesh, especially having spent forty years in active addiction.

LUTHER’S BREAKTHROUGH

Martin Luther had an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness. He spent a great deal of time in confession, and often worried that he might have “forgotten” something he did wrong, thereby not making a thorough confession. He believed this would put him in jeopardy of losing the reward of being completely forgiven. As a monk, he was remarkably astute. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices – going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

Though he sought by these means to love God fully, he found no consolation. He was increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. Not knowing what to do, he began pouring over the first chapter of Romans. The 17th verse was literally keeping him up at night: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” (KJV) Luther had been trained in the Medieval understanding of Paul’s phrase the righteousness of God as being shorthand for the awesome holiness of God, before which all of mankind must quake in fear. Basically, Luther understood the verse to mean, “The Gospel reveals that God punishes sinners,” which, of course, is no Gospel at all.

In his article, David Zahl writes, “Brother Martin, you see, possessed what might politely be called an overactive conscience. Today he’d likely be termed a neurotic or ‘a real handful.’ Whatever the root of his sensitivities, they had already driven him into a monastery, where he hoped a life of radical service might bring him the peace with God he craved.” Finally, on this particular day, as Luther meditated on Romans 1:17, he had an epiphany. Zahl said this is how Luther described it: “I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon, I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

As Zahl explained in his article, Luther came to realize the difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the Gospel, or that which can be earned by man (although not really!) and that which is given by God. Prior to this point in this studies, Luther regarded both God’s law and His Gospel as the same thing, and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except their degrees of perfection. Luther said, “When I realized the law was one thing, and the Gospel another, I broke through and was free.”

RADICAL DISTINCTION IN AN UNDIVIDED WORD

It’s been said many times that there’s really nothing new under the sun. What was believed hundreds of years ago is often still considered true today. I, for one, believed for many years that the Bible is divided into two halves. There is the Old Testament (the Law of God) and the New Testament (the Gospel of God). Of course, this in effect shackles the Word of God. The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is less about imposing a doctrinal straight-jacket on the Bible than about engaging a living God over the entirety of an unfolding story. If anything, reading the Bible through the eyeglasses of “law” and “Gospel” safeguards the Word from being read predominantly as an instruction manual and more as a living instrument of the Spirit that proclaims God’s work in the world on behalf of sinners in need of saving. From cover to cover, the Bible is about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

As Zahl puts it, “Indeed, the distinction between law and Gospel is a powerful explanation of how the Bible doesn’t just sit there; it reaches out and grasps us, shakes us, transforms us, frees, us – it kills us and makes us alive. Luther said, “There is no man on living Earth who knows how to distinguish rightly between the law and the Gospel. We may think  we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it.” Luther believed only the Holy Spirit knows how to make this distinction.

THE LAW

Luther believed that God has spoken to human beings and continues to speak to human beings in two words: law and Gospel. He believed these words are distinct from one another but not inseparable. The basic distinction is as follows: The law tells us what we ought to do; the Gospel tells us what God has done. The law shows us that we need to be forgiven; the Gospel announces that we have been forgiven. The law paves the way for the Gospel by revealing our predicament, and the Gospel proclaims the Good News to those struck down by the law.

What most of us think of when we think of “the law” in religious terms is, of course, the capital-L Law of God, the Oughts and Ought Nots that we find spelled out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. We automatically think of the great commandments of God: don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t worship idols, love God with all your heart. This Law shows us the true outline of holiness. And in doing so, it reveals us to be selfish, obstinate, self-centered people, fundamentally flawed, turned away from what is right, away from God Himself. Of course, the Law ultimately shows us our own mortality, for it reveals the wages of sin. (Romans 6:23)

I’m impressed by Luther’s description of the law as “a constant guest” in our conscience. Zahl puts it this way: “You might say that the little-l law is the air we breath as human beings, the default setting, the quid pro quo that characterizes our internal life and much of our external one as well.” In other words, to get approval, we have to achieve something. We have to do something. Behavior precedes belovedness: Climb the ladder, or else. Zahl makes an interesting comment that we could be walking down the street, mid-week, not giving any thought to last Sunday’s lesson at church, yet our behavior is governed by subconscious commands telling us, in much the same dogmatic fashion that was once reserved for religious commands, “Thou shalt be skinny, successful, independent, self-actualized.” We have grown accustomed to the internalized voice of a demanding parent; that feeling of never being quite enough, which drives us to the point of exhaustion.

THE GOSPEL

The second word, Gospel, means good news. News is not a command. Command comes in the imperative voice – “Do this” – and news in the indicative voice – “This has been done.” Look at it this way: We typically watch the evening news to hear what has happened or has been done. For Christians, of course, the good news is Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, taking the entirety of God’s wrath upon Himself and setting us free. The Gospel announces that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are justified by grace through faith: not by what we do, or even by who are are, but by what Christ has done and who He is. Our guilt has been atoned for, and the deepest judgment satisfied, reconciling us with the Father. While the law is conditional – a two-way street – the gift of Christ is unconditional. Like all true gifts, we have to do nothing to earn it or deserve it. His affection cannot be bought or merited. It is a free gift with no strings attached. Jesus simply gave.

Much like capital-L and little-l forms of law, there exists a corollary between the capital-G Gospel of Jesus and little-g grace in human affairs. We see this played out in our own lives  and those of others around us. When it comes to lifting the human spirit, nothing is more potent than love in the midst of deserved judgments. This is sometimes referred to as unconditional love. Grace proves, time and again, to be the force that inspires service and creativity; hope and vulnerability; new life. Biblical figures like Zachaeus and Gomer, fictional ones like Jean Valjean and Ebenezer Scrooge, and historical figures like John Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr. testify to such human qualities.

A grace-centered view of the world takes for granted that we are all severely handicapped in our ability to love one another, and that we stand a better chance of loving our neighbor when we aren’t looking to them to do or be what they cannot do or be. Christian hope, therefore, lies in not having to generate love on our own steam but in prior belovedness, expressed in sacrificial terms, and in spite of our being undeserving. This, of course, is the very definition of divine love. It is known by its tendency to seek out and care for the unlovable. The law commands that we love perfectly; the Gospel tells us that we are perfectly loved. Consider, for a moment, how “humanly” impossible it is to love in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 13 (“The Message” translation):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

One of Luther’s earliest and most important expressions came in thesis 26 of The Heidelberg Disputation (1518). He wrote, “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe in this,’ and everything is already done.” As Zahl notes, “The pressure to self-justify has been removed, and it has been replaced with freedom: the freedom to die and yet to live, to fail and yet to succeed. The freedom to love, to serve, to wait, to laugh, to cry, to sit idle, to get busy – yes, even to play.”

A Study in Romans Chapter 7

This is the second installment in a three-part Bible Study in Romans 6, 7, and 8.

Paul clarifies the relationship between the law and sin in Romans Chapter 7. The heading for Chapter 7 in Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message is Torn Between One Way and Another. Paul begins by giving us an analogy from marriage. He says in Romans 7:1, “Do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those that know the law, that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?” Paul has already argued in Chapter 6 (as we saw in Part One of this study) that we died with Christ, and we have therefore died to sin. In Chapter 7 he will argue that, in our union with Christ, we also died to the law. When we died to sin we also died to the law of Moses. In the eyes of the law, we are dead.

We have been given new life with Christ. So where does that put us?  Paul’s second point is that we are under a new authority. In verse 2, he uses the analogy of marriage, in which death can affect the legal status of the living. He says, “For example, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.” The law of marriage is binding only so long as both partners are alive. As soon as one dies, the marriage restrictions are gone. By comparison, under the old covenant, we were bound to the law. But since we died with Christ, we are released from the law, and as a result, a new union can be formed. That’s what Paul is interested in – a new union. Because a death has occurred – the death of Jesus Christ – a new relationship can be formed.

Paul applies his analogy to the law in verse 4. He says, “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Paul’s point is that death breaks the bond of the law, and a new bond is permitted. As believers, we died to the law through the death of Christ, and our allegiance is to Him rather than the law. We have to be released from the law so we can be united with Christ.

We are supposed to avoid sin, but sin is no longer defined by the laws of Moses. Rather, it is defined by the character of Christ. We are to conform to Him, and since He is not bound by the law of Moses, neither are we. We belong to the One “who was raised from the dead.” Why? To “bear fruit for God.” We are to serve Him. When we first trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we enjoyed our initial access into grace. God intends for His children to continue accessing grace day by day throughout their lives. Every time we face any matter with dependence upon the Lord Jesus, we are drawing from the bottomless ocean of God’s grace. His grace becomes our resource for living.

Paul contrasts the “before and after” again in verse 5: “For when we were in the realm of the flesh” [some translations say “sinful nature” – the Greek word is sarx], “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.” The Amplified Bible says, “When we were living in the flesh [trapped by sin], the sinful passions, which were awakened by [that which] the Law [identifies as sin], were at work in our body to bear fruit for death [since the willingness to sin led to death and separation from God].” Before Christ, our lives were dominated by our sinful nature, and our sinful desires, instead of bearing fruit for God, brought us death. But with Christ, our life need no longer be controlled by the flesh.

Paul says that our sinful passions were “aroused by the law.” As he said in Romans 5:20, the law had the ironic result of increasing our desire to sin. Before Paul develops that thought more, he makes this conclusion in verse 6: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” The law once bound us, but we have been released from it. Instead of serving God according to the law, we serve in a new way, defined by the Holy Spirit. (Paul explains that in chapter 8.)

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful?” (v. 7). If the law causes our desire for sin to increase, is the law bad? Paul says, “Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” Romans 3:20 says, “…because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (NASB) Unfortunately, that is a dangerous bit of knowledge. We tend to think that if we know what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do we will comply.

The relationship between law and sin is worse than simply giving information. Paul is saying that the law, by defining sin, told his sinful nature how to sin more.  Our sinful nature wants to violate laws. If you give it a rule, it wants to break it. So the law, by prohibiting certain things, made people do them even more, because of our perverse nature. Is Paul really talking about himself, or is he just giving a general principle, writing in the first person? Some people are troubled by the idea that Paul struggled with sin throughout his Christian life. They would like to put all that struggle in Paul’s past, but Paul was human.

In the literary flow of Romans, Paul is talking about something that happens after we come to faith in Christ. In chapter 6 he said that we died to sin, but we still have to fight it. In chapter 7, he says that we died to the law, but we are to serve Christ in the way of the Spirit. He does not want to make it sound effortless or automatic. The struggle that began before we came to faith continues even after – and indeed that’s the experience of many Christians. “For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died” (v. 8-9). When was he alive apart from the law? When he was a baby, too young to understand. But when he learned the law, the sinful nature inside of him found a way to express itself — by rebelling. Sin sprang to life, and Paul sinned. He was condemned.

The law is not the problem — it’s just that it is so easily hijacked by our sinful desires. The law didn’t cause us to take a wrong turn — it just told us where we would end up if we took it, and the perversity inside us made us take the wrong turn. Sin deceived us and put us on the pathway to death. The law isn’t the culprit — it was an unwitting accomplice. So Paul concludes in verse 12 that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” The law is holy, but it can’t make us holy. The law is about performance. Those who live by the law are left to their own resources to work up a life that measures up to the perfect standards of God. Those who daily put their faith in the Lord Jesus for the issues of life access grace for godly living.

Paul says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (v. 14) How could this be the Christian Paul, who said he died to sin and is no longer its slave? In verse 15 he describes the struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” The Message puts it this way: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” Paul wants to do good, but he ends up doing bad, and he struggles to know why. He has a converted mind that wants to do the will of God, but his flesh wants to do bad. Why? Because there is another power at work within him, that is, in his flesh.

“And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good” (v. 16). The fact that he doesn’t like his own behavior is evidence that he likes the law. “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (v. 17). The Message says, “…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes.” All the blame goes to sin, not to Paul, and that is why he can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (See Romans 8:1). Whatever bad they do is blamed on the sin within them, not on the new person they are in Christ.

It is as if Paul explains the problem by splitting himself in two — there is the old person, in the sphere of sin, and there is the new person, alive in Christ. The new person is enslaved to Christ, but the sinful nature is still enslaved to sin. Being freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness is not automatic — it involves a struggle.  Galatians 5:17 describes the same struggle: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18). Paul qualifies his statement by saying that he’s talking about the flesh, the sinful nature, not his new nature in Christ. All the good in Paul’s life comes from Christ living in him, rather than originating in himself. The good comes from the new nature, the bad comes from the old. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing” (v. 18-19). He wants to do good, but he sometimes sins. The sin within him makes him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.

Paul summarizes this issue in Romans 7:21-23 when he says, “So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members.” (Amplified) This is the nature of the struggle. Although he wants to do good, the evil within him sometimes causes him to do things that he hates. So he groans, as he says in Romans 8:23, waiting for the redemption of his body, the resurrection, and the ultimate victory over his sinful nature.

Paul describes in the Book of Romans a deep frustration—one with which all Christians can identify. The agony comes from realizing that our sinful flesh refuses to respond to the requirements of God’s Law. Those things which we despise, we find ourselves doing. No matter how much we may wish to serve God in our minds, we find ourselves sinning in our bodies. As Paul describes his frustration in Romans 7, with his mind he desires to serve God. He agrees with the Law of God and rejoices in it. He wants to do what is right, but his body will not respond. He watches, almost as a third party, as sin sends a signal to his body, and as his body responds, “What would you like to do?” Paul finds, as we do, that our fleshly body refuses to obey God. Instead, we tend to do that which we desire, rather than that which delights God.

As long as we continue under the law as a covenant, and seek to be justified solely by our own obedience, we continue to be the slave of sin in some form. Paul makes a devastating self-assessment in verse 8: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” (NLT) Paul is not saying that the believer who sins moves from being a Christian to being a non-Christian. More likely, he is saying that, in the moment of failure, sin got the upper hand. Remember Paul’s warning in Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” (NLT) He tells us to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies so that we obey its lusts. In other words, we should not sell ourselves to sin.

Paul concludes, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (NIV)

A Study in Romans Chapter 6

This is the first installment in a three-part Bible Study in Romans 6, 7, and 8.

In Romans Chapter 6, the Apostle Paul shows us that we must not continue in sin, but live in holiness. The main theme of Chapter 6 is surrender. Just because we are under grace as born-again Christians, we cannot continue to sin so that grace may abound. Paul showed us in Romans Chapter 5 that the existence of sin called out the grace of God in the form of forgiveness. Romans 5:20 says, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Chapter 5 teaches that Christ saved us while we were yet sinners.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul deals with a possible objection in the minds of some believers. If grace is so easy, why should we bother to change our ways? Whenever the Gospel is presented, this question comes up. If all our sins are so easily forgiven, why worry about sin?  Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid! Grace is no excuse to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” This is the essence of dying and living with Christ. The Christian life begins with death to sin. How shall we who are dead to sin live therein any longer? The exact translation is of the Greek verb past tense, and should be Who died to sin. It is referred to as having occurred in the past. It is my opinion that we were dead to sin even before we were born. In other words, we need not live in sin. It is up to us to accept Christ as our Savior, and to walk in His resurrection.

Paul says in verse 2 that we died to sin. How can we live in it any longer? If we want to escape death, then we should also want to escape the cause of death – sin. But more importantly, when we believe in Christ, we become new people. In the language of Romans 5, we are no longer people of Adam, but now we are people of Jesus Christ. We are to live in Him. Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not. Paul explains this in verse 3: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” We are baptized not just in the name of Jesus (such as at the time of our water baptism), we are baptized into Him and united with Him.  When we are identified with Adam, we get the death that Adam brought. When we identify with Christ, we get the righteousness and life He brought. When He died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose, we rose also. We were with Him on the cross because He represented all of us.

We should walk in the newness of life, having been united together in the likeness of the life of Jesus, crucified with Him, no longer slaves of sin, but freed from sin. How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Verse 4 says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in new life.”

We are dead to sin, but alive unto God. Verse 5 says, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of His resurrection.” Verse 6 tells us that our old man was crucified with Him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us; so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Parenthetically, Verse 7 tells us that a dead man is no longer under the bondage of sin for he is dead. Having died with Christ on the cross, we may live with Him over whom death has no dominion.

Look at Verse 8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” Alive to God, we should not let sin reign in our bodies. Rather, we should present our bodies as instruments of righteousness, for we are under grace. Verses 9 and 10 tell us that since Christ was raised from the dead, He is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. For the death He died, He died to once for all. The life He lives, He lives to God.

 Verse 11 tells us to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Verse 12 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” Here the Apostle Paul is showing sin as a reigning king or a tyrant who has captured the soul’s passions, spirit faculties, and bodily members of man, dominating his life. Let not sin work or rule in your mortal body; give it no place or grounds for working in your being. Sin does not rule or ruin; rather, sin rules and ruins.

Verse 12 also says that we should not obey the “lusts” of sin.” This indicates sin to be a real entity ruling the life of man. Sin itself has lusts other that the lusts of man. The lusts of sin are in reality the lusts of Satan. His desire to be God-like. His jealousy. The lusts of man are his own creative powers, depraved and corrupt. James 1:13-14 in the Amplified Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one. But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions).” Verse 13 tells us to not present our bodies to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but to present ourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. Verse 14 says, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”

We become slaves to whom we obey. Verse 15 says, “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Verse 16 says, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness?” Many Christians today have not learned these simple facts – that you cannot be a servant of sin and Satan and a servant of righteousness and Christ at the same time. If you commit sin, you are a servant of sin and Satan, and not a Christian. If you sin, Satan is your master and not Christ.

Verse 17 says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Verse 18 says, “Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “But thank God, though you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient with all your heart to the standard of teaching in which you were instructed, and to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you have become the servants of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in thought, purpose and action).”

Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful lusts of his heart or spiritual obedience implanted by being born again. Paul writes that he rejoiced in believers obeying the Gospel from the heart. He said believers are delivered into the Gospel in the same manner in which metal is poured into a mold. As the metal becomes a new object when melted and recast in another mold, so the believer has become a new creature. And there is a great difference in the liberty of mind and spirit that is literally opposite to the state of slavery. For prior to being born again, we were serving our master Satan, living in bondage to sin. The dominion of sin consists in willingly being slaves thereto, not in being harassed by sin as a hated power, struggling for victory. Those who now are the servants of God, once were the slaves of sin. Serving righteousness produces holiness. Serving sin produces death. Verse 23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We are told in Romans 6:11 to reckon ourselves dead to sin. The word reckon means to count, consider, or think upon. Reckoning goes one step further than knowing. As Christians, we need to continually live the truth that sin no longer has dominion over us. It is no longer our master, but Christ is. We need to know the facts stated in Romans 6:1-10. Count them as true and act accordingly. When sin tempts us, we should act as though we are indeed dead to it. We should give no response to the temptation. Certainly, the more we ignore temptation, the stronger we become.

It is true that reckoning sin as being dead in our lives is the beginning of experiencing God’s power to make sin dead and Christ alive. When I count myself dead to worry, anger, losing my temper, demanding perfection, overeating, recreational drugs or misuse of prescription drugs, excessive drinking, breaking the law, smoking, gossiping, criticism of friends or family, flirting with a wrong relationship, stealing, little white lies, self-pity, and other sin, then I will choose not to let that sin be part of my life. What sin do you have that you want to reckon dead in your life? Do you have a habit or attitude you’d like to see changed? Name it. Tell God you know it’s wrong, you know that according to the Word of God sin has been made inoperative. It is powerless to control you anymore because of the cross. Consider or count it dead from today on. It has no power to rule your life. Trusting not on your feelings, but on faith that He will help you and make your new life in Him real.

Paul says to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies in Romans 6:12. In Verse 13 he says, “Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead…” “Do not yield” means do not go on presenting or offering yourself to sin. This passage hints that we can stop sinning, and calls upon us to do that.  When we sin, the responsibility is put on our doorstep. We must refuse to put ourselves in a position where we can fall to temptation. If you deal with lust, a wrong desire for the wrong person, don’t go to movies that have sex, nudity and approve of extramarital affairs. Don’t present your eyes to see that. If you deal with gossip, and find yourself talking about others, then don’t let yourself bring up other people’s names, don’t present your ears to hear, stop information before it gets to gossip. Don’t present your tongue to spread gossip to others. If you battle with dieting and are tempted to overeat, don’t bring certain foods into your house, avoid “all you can eat” buffets, don’t present your body to be tempted. If you’re trying to give up smoking, don’t buy cigarettes, don’t hide them in the bottom drawer just in case.

Present, offer, yield yourself to God. Start living in a way that shows to yourself and others your right standing with God. Be Christ-like in what you say, think and do. And as you used to yield yourself those people, places, or things that would cause you to stumble, now put yourself in places that will build you up, be around people that will encourage your faith. The best defense is a good offense. Protect yourself by NOT doing certain things.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he knew who he was in Christ. Somehow, that precious truth which he was trying to convey has escaped the church down through the ages. The fact is, the grace of God has been misunderstood. It has been watered down to nothing more than the forgiveness of sins. God’s grace is much more than that. It carries to us His ultimate love. In the first two and a half chapters of Romans, Paul proves that no matter who we are, no matter where we were born and raised, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. No, not one. The only hope we have in dealing with the sinful flesh we live in as Christians is to keep believing in the Gospel. We know the just shall live by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Let that last sentence sink in for a minute.

Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of [Christ’s] death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”  The words planted together mean literally “to grow up together, to be formed together,” and speaks of intimate, vital union of Christ and the believer. Paul also says we are crucified with Christ. This is a past-tense verb, meaning it was already done for us at Calvary. We were crucified with Him, and we died with Him. Romans 6:7 says, “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him. The Greek word “freed” appears forty times in the New Testament. We are to reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to no longer let sin reign in our mortal bodies.

Subtle allure, persistent urges, passionate desires. Sin entices us in many ways. A thought enters our mind that we dare not acknowledge: “If I give in, I can always be forgiven.” Sound familiar? Such thinking can become an excuse for immoral practices. It indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s grace in our lives. In Romans 6:1-7, Paul explains why the idea of “sinning so that grace may increase” is unthinkable for Christians. The gift of grace does not give us the freedom to sin. One way we can interpret Romans 6:1 is that God’s grace increased because sin increased in the world. But that is not a good excuse for anyone to continue in sin.

Our lives changed completely when we became Christians. We simply have to start living the truth that our relationship with sin died with Christ. We must no longer live as sinners. Does that mean we need to be perfect? God forbid! Rather, it means we need to repent (turn away from) our former way of living. We know that our former lives ended with Christ’s death on the cross. If we died with Christ, we shall also take part in His new life. Consider your old sinful nature to be dead. Instead, live for God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Do not allow sin to control your behavior. Do not obey the wrong desires of your body.  Do not use your body to do evil deeds. Instead, give yourself to God. You have been bought with a price. You have been brought from death to life. Sin shall not be your master. The law of Moses does not rule you. God’s grace has made you free from the bondage of sin.

Mini Series to Come

I have struggled for decades with controlling my flesh. We all have been in the same dilemma. I believe the most instructive Scriptures on this matter can be found in Romans 6, 7, and 8. Many have said these three chapters are the bedrock of flesh versus Spirit. I am particularly impressed with Paul’s comment that he could not do that which he wanted to do, and said that which he did not want to do, that he did.

I am working on a three-part mini series covering these three chapters of Romans. I hope to have the first part finished and posted by Sunday, January 22nd.

God bless.