Some years ago I was asked by a couple to baptize their son. The young man had requested baptism, and his parents seemed eager for him to do so. As is our practice, the one who wishes to be baptized must first be interviewed. This is to make certain that the one seeking baptism understands the gospel and has come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. It is also to make certain that this individual understands the meaning of baptism.
On this occasion, I did something I almost never do—I invited the young man’s father into my study to accompany his son as I talked with him. Usually I speak to children alone so that parents will not be tempted to prompt their child and so the child will not feel any pressure to please his parents. The mother waited for us in another room. I shall never forget that interview.
As usual, I first set out to put the boy at ease by asking him a few conversational questions, eventually coming to the critical issues. I said to him, “Suppose you were to die right now, and you found yourself at the gates of heaven. Suppose also that St. Peter happened to be the gate-keeper, and he asked you why he should let you into God’s heaven. What reason would you give Peter for letting you into heaven?”
The boy stumbled. He made a few feeble attempts to answer, but he really did not seem to have any grasp of what it meant to be saved. It was a very awkward situation. His father wanted to help his son out, and so I let him give his answer, which went something like this: “I would tell Peter that I hoped I had done enough good works and that these outnumbered my bad deeds, so that God would let me into heaven.”
At this point things became even more awkward, for I now realized that neither the boy nor his father truly understood the gospel. As simply and clearly as I could, I explained the gospel to them, much as Paul has explained it in Romans 1-3. By our works, we cannot earn God’s salvation or enter God’s heaven. Our works only condemn us; they can never save us. I told them that God has provided the way for us to get to heaven by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth. Jesus died to take our punishment on Himself and to give us His righteousness. All we need to do is to admit that we are a sinner, deserving of God’s punishment, and to believe by faith that Jesus has been punished in our place and that His righteousness is now ours.
Even though they knew I could not baptize the boy at the next baptism, to my surprise and relief neither the boy nor his father seemed upset. Instead, they appeared to be almost excited. Wondering what I would say to the mother, we returned to where she was waiting. I was searching for the right words when the husband suddenly spoke up in a way I would never have expected.
“Wow,” he said to his wife, “did we ever flunk that test,” explaining to her that neither he nor their son had been able to correctly answer the question I had asked. And then he said to his wife, “Say, let me ask you the same question, dear. If you were to die right now and find yourself at the gates of heaven, and you were asked why God should let you in, what would you say?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded confidently: “Good works!” “Wrong,” the husband blurted out, “You flunked, too! You’re wrong just like we were!”
This father had come to understand that no one gets to heaven by good works. Unfortunately, his thinking reflects that of all too many people who suppose that heaven can be gained if our good works only outweigh or outnumber our sins. This is precisely the point Paul has made in the first three chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. On the basis of one’s works, no one can be pronounced righteous by God. Our works show all of us to be under divine condemnation and deserving the penalty of death. The righteousness which we cannot earn, we can receive by faith, because of what Jesus Christ has done in behalf of sinners.
For those who have been saved, who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ, the subject of good works is still very important. If God does not save men on the basis of their works, does this mean that the deeds of the Christian do not matter? Can the Christian then live in any way he or she pleases, since we can never meet God’s standard of righteousness by our works?
The relationship between faith and works is an important one, and it is an issue which is presently causing Christians to disagree and debate among themselves. It is commonly known as the question of “lordship salvation.” The fundamental issue is the relationship between faith and good works. On the one side are those who wish to stress that justification is by faith alone, “apart from works,” just as Paul teaches (Romans 4:1-6). On the other side are those who insist that salvation is “unto good works,” just as Paul teaches (Ephesians 2:10). The fact is, both “sides” are correct, but each stresses one side of the issue more than the other.24
In Romans 6-8, Paul will turn our attention to the good works which should result from our justification. It is a very important matter we are about to consider. Let us listen well to Paul’s words on the relationship between faith and works.
We shall approach our text in the light of its context. Consider this suggested structure for the first eight chapters of Romans:
(1) Man’s sin and need for justification — Chapters 1-3a
(2) The nature of justification: its basis and its benefits — Chapters 3b-5
(3) Justification and the goal of righteousness — Chapters 6-8
God’s righteousness requires Him to condemn sinners and to reward the righteous. The problem with this is that all men are sinners, and that there is not even one who is righteous (3:10-20). In order to pour out His blessings on some and yet to remain true to His righteousness, God purposed and provided a salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s righteous anger was poured out on Him, not for His sins, but for ours. God’s righteousness, in Christ, is offered to all men who will believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.
Having shown man’s need for justification in chapters 1-3a, Paul moved on to the nature of justification in chapters 3b and 5. Justification is granted to men—reckoned to them—on the basis of faith, not works. Because of this, no man can boast in his standing before God as righteous. This “justification by faith” is the way in which God has always dealt with men. As examples, Paul spoke in chapter 4 of both Abraham and David who were justified by faith. Turning to the benefits of our justification in chapter 5, Paul gives the Christian three avenues of boasting: (1) our sure hope of “the glory of God”; (2) our hope in present tribulation; and, (3) our boasting in God through Jesus Christ.
The section we are studying in this lesson (Romans 6-8) contains three chapters. We can roughly summarize the section by chapters:
(1) The necessity of sanctification — Romans 6
(2) The impossibility of sanctification — Romans 7
(3) The certainty of sanctification — Romans 8
While this gives us a fair approximation of the flow of Paul’s argument, it is not as precise as it should be. Almost always, Paul provides us with clear structural clues to the way in which he has developed his argument. Such is the case here. The question, “What shall we say, then?” appears three times in chapters 6-8 (6:1; 7:7; 8:31). In the first two instances, his question is a misconception of Christian doctrine and practice, based upon an abuse of the truths he has just taught. In both cases, Paul’s response is a strong and immediate, “May it never be!” (6:2; 7:7). In the third instance, however, Paul himself speaks out in response to the truths he has just laid down, showing us the proper response to the provisions which God has made for our sanctification. The structure of our text can thus be summarized in this way:
(1) The necessity of personal righteousness — Romans 6:1–7:6
(2) The source of our problem and God’s solutions — Romans 7:7–8:30
(3) The appropriate response to these things — Romans 8:31-39
Identifying the message of this section, seeing how this fits into the argument of Romans thus far and how it prepares the way for what will follow will be our purpose in this lesson. We shall also try to determine exactly how Paul builds his case in chapters 6-8. We will seek to probe the application of the teaching of this section as we investigate the relationship between Paul’s teaching and our own lives.
I would hope that each of us, as we study this section, would move either from the casual view found in 6:1-2, or from the agony of chapter 7 (verses 7-24), to the confidence, joy and praise of 8:31-39. I believe this will happen as we turn our eyes from ourselves, others, and this fallen world (6:1–8:27) to God, His faithfulness, His love, His sovereignty, and His promises (8:31-39). May we find ourselves, at the end of this study, where Paul is found, exulting in God and caught up in His praises.
Paul’s emphasis in this section on the necessity of good works is not new nor did he intend it to come as a surprise. Paul has been laying a foundation for the doctrine of sanctification, beginning in chapter 1. In the introduction to this epistle, Paul told the Romans that his apostleship was not merely to evangelize sinners, but rather to bring about the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).25 Having shown that justification is not the result of works, Paul will now set out to convincingly prove that justification was intended to result in good works.
At the conclusion of Paul’s discussion about Abraham’s faith, Paul spoke of Christ’s death as being related to man’s condemnation and His resurrection as being related to man’s justification (4:25). The final words of Paul in chapter 5 again point to that “newness of life,” which is to be the result of the work of Christ:
That, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21).
Grace is seen to reign through righteousness, not through sin. Paul understood justification to result in righteousness, in good works, in the lives of those who have been justified by faith.
Paul has also prepared us for his teaching in chapters 6-8 by the questions he has previously raised. The matters which Paul now addresses have already been “put on the agenda” in the form of questions already raised. In chapter 3, Paul raised this question:
But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? (Romans 3:7-8a).
This question is now raised again (in only a slightly different form) by Paul at the beginning of chapter 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? (Romans 6:1)
Does grace give the Christian license to live any way he or she pleases? Can the Christian keep living just as they once did as an unbeliever? The response, “May it never be!,” makes short work of such folly. But Paul will press on to thoroughly document why such thinking is inconsistent with the gospel.
There is yet another question, which Paul previously brought up, which is raised again in Romans 6-8:
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:31).
This is a very important question. And the answer to it is not well understood or even believed. Many Christians have concluded, because of the abuses of the Law of Moses, and because of some New Testament teachings concerning the Law (many of which are from Paul), that the Law is now utterly useless, and perhaps even evil. In Romans 6-8 Paul will show how the Law is set aside in one way, but he will also show the continuing beneficial role of the Law in several other ways. We dare not deny Paul’s teaching here, that the Law is established, not abolished, by the gospel. Just how that is true will be seen shortly.
Having established once for all that man’s works do not contribute to his “justification by faith,” Paul now sets out to show them to be a most necessary manifestation of justification. God does not justify men only to get them to heaven or to keep them from hell. God justifies us to make us righteous, not only in principle, but in practice. God hates sin, and in His holiness He must condemn sinners. When God provided for man’s salvation, He provided not only for his justification but for his sanctification as well. The necessity of sanctification is now taken up by Paul.
Chapter 6 begins with a question and a strong response:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2).
This question suggests several things which we must note if we are to understand Paul’s teaching here:
(1) Paul is not speaking in the realm of the theoretical, but he is bringing up a real problem. The danger Paul addresses here is a real danger.
(2) There are two major possibilities of error here, as I understand it. First, there may be those who would use God’s grace as an excuse for sin.26 We know this to be a real danger (1 Peter 2:16; cp. Jude 1:4). Second, Paul has already indicated that some enemies of the gospel (probably Jews) were accusing him and others of advocating living in sin, so that grace would abound (see Romans 3:7-8).
(3) Justification does not rid the Christian of sin altogether. Justification deals with the penalty of sin, but not its power. Paul’s words here certainly suggest that Christians still have a problem with sin. We will see from chapter 7 that sin still is a problem for the Christian. Justification is not the eradication of sin.
(4) Paul’s choice of terms27 indicates more than excusing a passive or occasional falling into sin, but an active pursuit of sin, over a period of time.
(5) There is the inference here that just as unbelieving men would distort the truth of God, exchanging it for a lie, so Christians will be tempted to interpret and apply the Scriptures in such a way as to excuse their sin. (Some of us are even so clever as to distort the Scriptures in such a way as to make our sin look like obedience to God’s commands.)28
I believe Paul raises the question about remaining in sin as strongly as he does for two reasons. First, it is because Paul and others were actually accused of teaching such practice (a legalist could understandably come to such a conclusion). Paul has already alluded to such charges in 3:7-8. Second, Paul knew that either this error was already held by some or that it would soon be. There actually was a danger that some Christians would adopt this position and practice. There surely would be false teachers who would advocate such heresy in the church (see Jude 1:4).
The structure of this subsection (6:1–7:6) is indicated in at least two ways. First, it is indicated by the subject matter. Each of the three paragraphs in this segment of Scripture have a distinct subject:
(1) Baptism — Romans 6:1-14
(2) Slavery — Romans 6:15-23
(3) Marriage — Romans 7:1-6
Furthermore, each of these subjects is introduced by the same question:29
(1) “Or do you not know?” — Romans 6:3
(2) “Do you not know?” — Romans 6:16
(3) “Or do you not know?” — Romans 7:1
In Romans 6:1-14, Paul’s first argument is that living in sin is entirely inconsistent with the gospel. Living in sin is the opposite of what justification is all about. Salvation is accomplished when the Holy Spirit baptizes a person into the person and work of Christ (see 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13). By this baptism we are joined with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Water baptism is but an “acting out” of that which has already occurred in our Spirit baptism. Paul now appeals to this baptism, what it achieved, and its implications.
Our union with Jesus Christ shows us that “continuing to live in sin” is outrageous, shocking, and detestable.30 If we, in Christ, died “to sin,” how is it that we could even entertain the thought of continuing to live “in sin”? Beyond this, in Christ, we were raised to new life. Jesus, by His resurrection, was transformed. He died once, but He now lives forever in righteousness. If we are in Christ, how can we persist in living as we once did as unbelievers? Our conduct as Christians should be consistent with what took place at our conversion.31 Continuing to live in sin is inconceivable, because it is inconsistent with all that took place when we were justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul calls upon his readers to live in a way that is consistent with this reality, so that sin must no longer be allowed to reign over us. Instead we should present our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.
The second argument which Paul gives for ceasing to live in sin is found in Romans 6:15-23.32 Those who would advocate “living in sin” would do so under the banner of “liberty.” Paul refutes this error by raising the banner of “slavery.” “Freedom,” Paul argues, is a misnomer. In reality, everyone is a slave and must choose one of two masters. Unsaved men are the slaves of sin. They have no choice, though they think of themselves as free (this is a part of Satan’s deception).
One’s choice to become a slave can be either conscious or unconscious. To continue to present oneself to sin is to remain a slave to sin. Very few people choose to become drug addicts. They begin by sampling drugs, by dabbling with them. They think they are in control, but soon the drug controls (enslaves) them, and they are no longer free. So it is with sin. To dabble with sin is to become enslaved to it. And to be enslaved by sin is to put oneself on the road to death. Paul points out the two options, slavery to sin and slavery to God, with their very different destinies: death and life. Put in this light, remaining in sin is remaining a slave to sin, and pursuing death.
Paul’s third argument against “living in sin” is found in the first 6 verses of chapter 7. It is really just an extension or illustration of his previous argument, based upon the relationship between marriage and the law. A woman who is married is not free to remarry, because the law forbids it. Only death frees the woman to remarry another man. If her husband dies, she is freed by his death.
We have died, in Christ, so that we now have the freedom to choose a new master. While sin once ruled over us, it need not do so any longer. We are freed from the dominion of sin by death.33 Now, we can be joined to another—Jesus Christ. While the fruit of one’s union with sin is death, the fruit of one’s union with Christ is righteousness, resulting in life.
There is something very interesting and important about what Paul has said in verses 1-6 of chapter 7. The Law played a part in our bondage. But it was not the Law which was “put to death,” so to speak, we were put to death. The inference is an important one, for it is not the Law which is the ultimate problem; it is us. It is the weakness of our own sinful flesh. This will be taken up in the next segment of our passage.
For now, we can see that justification was never intended to serve as a license to sin. Justification has, as its goal, righteousness, which leads to eternal life. To think that one who is justified can continue to live as he used to is outrageous, inconceivable, and disgusting. Let no one dare to think such thoughts.
While the legalist is wrong in thinking that the Law is a deterrent to sin, the libertine would love to conclude that the Law is, itself, the problem. The libertine hates rules, especially God’s rules (see 8:7), and therefore he is eager to name the Law as the source of man’s problems. “If we could but pronounce the Law “evil” and could thus abolish the Law and rid ourselves of it altogether,” the libertine reasons, “what a better place this world would be.”
“Not so!,” Paul will object in Romans 7. The problem is not with the Law; the problem is with us. Romans 7:7-24 takes up the matter of the Law and the role it plays in dealing with sin in the Christian’s life. The question which Paul raises concerns whether the Law is, itself, evil. If the Law is the culprit, then we would best be rid of it. The Law of God is not evil to Paul, but “holy and righteous and good” (see 7:12). The Law34 of God, Paul has already affirmed, is not nullified by the gospel but is rather to be established by it (3:31).
Paul first affirms the goodness of the Law by pointing out its valuable role in defining and exposing sin (7:7). An x-ray is not evil because it reveals the presence of a tumor; neither is the Law evil because it points out sin in our lives. The Law performs a valuable function in this regard. Sin takes advantage of the Law and uses its own evil purposes. Sin actually uses the Law to create an appetite for sin. Sin takes the command not to covet and uses it to produce coveting of all kinds within us (7:8).
In his inner man, Paul agrees with the requirements of the Law. As a Christian, he desires to obey the Law, and he sees its demands as “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). He desperately desires to do all that the Law commands and to avoid that which it condemns. And so, as a Christian,35 Paul finds the Law to be a good thing. His problem is that while he wants to obey the Law and to meet its demands, he finds that he does not and he cannot live within the Law even though he has the desire to do so. The “spirit is willing,” so to speak, but “the flesh is weak.”
The problem which Paul (and every other Christian, as well) experienced is the problem of the weakness of the flesh. Sin is extremely powerful, and the flesh is incredibly weak. The desire to obey God’s Law can be present, while the ability to do so is not. This leads to great frustration. In contrast to the apathy of the one who would “continue in sin” (Romans 6) is the agony over sin which others experience, an agony Paul has summed up in this way:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 6:24).
As Abraham and Sarah were “dead” with respect to having a child (Romans 4:19), so the Christian is “dead” with respect to obeying God’s Law.
This is the dilemma of the Christian. Here is the root problem, the explanation for sin in the life of the Christian. The problem is not in the Law of God, but in my own weakness, the weakness of the flesh. Sin has the power to use good things, like the Law, to overpower the flesh of the Christian and to produce sin.
The dilemma of the Christian, described by Paul in Romans 7, is not unlike the dilemma of the non-Christian in Romans 1:18–3:20. Just as the unbeliever cannot produce righteousness by his own works, neither can the Christian. The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is that the Christian actually desires to please God, but is not able to do so, while the unbeliever could care less about obeying God (see 8:7-8).
The solution to the problem of the “deadness” of the Christian’s flesh is spelled out in Romans 8. What the Christian cannot do in his own strength, God does. The solution to Paul’s problem in Romans 7 is found once again, at the cross of Calvary, in the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
The first problem which Paul deals with is the problem of sin and of its guilt. Justification takes place when a lost sinner turns to God in faith, believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But what provision is there for the sins of the saint, the sins to which Paul has referred in chapter 7? Paul tells his readers the good news, that the shed blood of Jesus has paid the penalty for all the sins of the believer. There is therefore “now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Being “in Christ” means that we are obligated to live our lives differently (Romans 6:1–7:6). We will often fail to do so, and in our own strength we will always fail do so. But being “in Christ” means we have no condemnation. The Christian will still sin; he will now (for the first time) struggle with sin, but he will not be condemned.
It is indeed good news to know that when we fail, as we surely will, that our sins will be forgiven. It is great news to know as well that God has provided the power necessary for the Christian to obey Him and to produce good works. The power to do this is provided through the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:11).
Often, sin in the life of the Christian causes doubts. “How can I be a child of God and do what I do?” Another ministry of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to our union with Christ, to bear witness to the fact that we are a child of God:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:16-17).
The Holy Spirit is, among other things, a “Spirit of adoption” (8:15), who testifies to our sonship. Our “sonship” is two-fold. It is a present sonship, in that we become a child of God at the time of our conversion (8:14-17). But there is a future dimension to our “sonship,” which is spoken of as well:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:19, 22-25).
The “revelation of the sons of God” refers to that time when the kingdom of God will be established on this earth, when the earth will be transformed, and when sin will be removed (see Hosea 1:10, in context). This day is still future. And so we are, in one sense, “sons of God” now, but we will someday experience the full “sonship” which is yet to come. To this “sonship” the Holy Spirit bears testimony, from deep within us.
Because of the present “imperfection,” both in ourselves and in this fallen creation, the Holy Spirit performs yet another ministry. We, like the creation, find ourselves groaning in our own imperfection, and groaning for that perfection which is to come (8:22-23). Often, our groanings are inexpressible. We cannot even put words to them. The Holy Spirit does. He conveys these groanings to the Son, who “searches our hearts” and who intercedes for us with the Father (8:27).
And so in our own imperfection (Romans 7), and in the imperfection of this fallen world, we have God’s provisions for living in obedience to His Law, and for living in hope and joy, confident of forgiveness, of sonship, and of the certainty of His kingdom which is yet to come.
We have another comfort as well—the comfort of the character of God Himself. This is the final (and in many ways the ultimate) comfort for the Christian. It is the comfort of knowing that while we are fallen (albeit forgiven) creatures, living in a fallen world, we have a sovereign God whose plans and purposes will all be fulfilled. These plans have been formed in eternity past (“whom He foreknew,” 8:29) and they extend to eternity future (“these He also glorified,” 8:30). And these plans move on, from one stage to the next, without a hitch or a failure, and without the loss of any who are a part of that plan. All whom He foreknew, He predestined, and all He predestined, He called, and all He called, He justified, and all He justified, He glorified.
Do we live in a world which groans? Do we find ourselves fallible? We have every reason for confidence, for we are “sons of God.” His plans are not dependent on our perfection, our complete obedience, our sinlessness, to be realized. His plans include “all things,” including our collapses, including Satanic and demonic opposition (8:38), including every obstacle (8:38-39). God as easily uses opposition and failure to accomplish His purposes as He does our obedience. How, then, could we doubt the certainty of our sonship, and of all that God has purposed to accomplish? We can fail, but His purposes cannot. And since His purpose includes our glorification, we know that we shall experience “sonship” to the full, in His kingdom.
Twice before in this section, Paul has asked the question, “What then shall we say?” He then went on to suggest wrong answers, which needed to be corrected. But now, when he asks the same question, Paul gives us a response which should serve as the pattern for our response to God, for God has not changed, nor will He change. All that Paul has said of God is just as true today as it was when Paul wrote then. Let us look at the last paragraph of chapter 8, not so much as a text to study, but as an expression of the worship which God deserves, and which we should delight in rendering to Him.
Paul now draws together all of God’s provisions, along with the attributes of His sovereign power and love.36 When seen together, these attributes of God result in an undefeatable combination. God’s character is here viewed from the perspective of the saint, whose obedience is imperfect, and who lives in a fallen, chaotic, groaning world. Nevertheless, the One in whom we trust is the One who has purposed not only our salvation, but our glorification, not only our present “sonship,” but our full and final “sonship.” It is therefore impossible that God’s purposes and promises should fail. It is impossible that we, as His children, should ultimately fail to gain that which God has promised and for which He has made every provision.
The conclusion is simple and obvious. If God is on our side, who could possibly assemble against Him, and us, so as to defeat us? If God has already given up His beloved Son to save us, what will He not do, if necessary, to keep us? He has already made the ultimate sacrifice. If God does not condemn us (because of His Son), who is there who could do so? Who can separate us from God and from His love? While life will have its sufferings, its hardships, its persecutions, and its troubles, none of these will come between us and our loving God. And we will not merely endure; we will triumph, in Him. We will “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (8:37). Neither the forces of nature, nor the combined forces of heaven and hell, can separate us from the love of God. What love! What power! What confidence! What security! What grace!
There is no better place to end a study than here, on our knees, in the praise of the One who saved us, in whose love and power we endure and conquer. Let us conclude this study by taking note of some important truths.
First, let me suggest yet another summary of this text. We have already summarized the message of Romans 6-8, but allow me to suggest another summation for your consideration. It views these three chapters in terms of the impossible. In Romans 6-8, three things are impossible:
(1) It is impossible to be saved and to continue to live in sin, as we formerly did.
(2) It is impossible to be saved or to live righteously in our own strength.
(3) It is impossible for the Christian, who will sin, to be condemned, to be separated from the love of God, or to thwart the plans and purposes of God.
Second, note the expanded role which the gospel plays in Paul’s writings. Unfortunately, to many the “gospel” is the preaching of “hell-fire and damnation,” occasionally to sinners, but more often to a church full of saints (at least those who think they are saints), who hear the gospel and delight in thinking they have arrived—after all, they have accepted Jesus as their Savior. The gospel is more than a message which God uses to save lost men and women—though it is that (Romans 1:16). It is one means by which God’s righteousness is revealed to mankind and the angels (see Romans 1:17). The gospel is that standard by which Christians ought to live (Romans 6; Colossians 2:6; etc.). The gospel also is the means by which we can live as saints (Romans 8). And the gospel is our motivation for the way in which we live (Romans 1). No wonder Paul wanted to preach the gospel to the Romans, even though they were saved people. We can never understand the gospel in its fullness. Thus we find Paul continually expanding the gospel, higher and deeper, wider and longer.37 The gospel is an unfathomable wealth of truth. It is a well from which every saint may draw, from now to eternity, without ever exhausting it. Let us ever draw from it!
Third, consider the implications of our text for the doctrine and practice of the spiritual life of the believer. The spiritual life (sanctification—godly living) is not seen as the “higher path” of the few, the committed, the dedicated; it is that path which is expected of every believer. Sanctification is the expected outcome of justification. We dare not excuse ourselves from pursuing this path. If we do, we will be very much like those who say, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”
The spiritual life is not only required by God, it is enabled by Him. God does not require of His children that which He does not enable them to do. The Christian life is impossible, in the power of the flesh, but it is possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who seek to rationalize their sins with the excuse, “I’m only human,” fail to grasp or to apply Romans 8. God expects us to live supernaturally, not by our own efforts, but through His enablement. Why is it that we Christians can only think of human ways to go about the Christian life and ministry?
On the other hand, expecting God to accomplish the miraculous in and through us does not mean that we expect or demand that God do the spectacular for us or through us. Notice that while Paul speaks clearly of this power, he does not talk of “signs and wonders,” or “spectacular gifts or phenomenon,” of those manifestations of the Spirit over which Christians disagree. He speaks of the power of the Spirit manifested through those who “walk in the Spirit” (8:4). He speaks of the ministry of the Spirit in convincing us of our sonship (8:14-17), of His ministry in communicating our groanings to the Lord Jesus (8:26-27). I am not seeking to prove here that the spectacular manifestations of the Spirit cannot happen in this age, but only to show that these are not the means Paul is speaking of which enable the Christian’s walk.
We know that all who are the “sons of God” are led by His Spirit. I urge you to take note of the fact that in this chapter it is emphatically stated that this leading of the Spirit is not only into tribulation and suffering and groaning, but also through it. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not the promise of prosperity and ease, but the promise of comfort and joy in the midst of our trials.
The spiritual life is not stimulated by thoughts of insecurity (such as losing one’s salvation), but by the assurance of our security, not due to our own efforts but due to the sovereignty and love of God. It is God’s faithfulness, not our own, in which we have absolute confidence. And it is in this confidence that we can stand and serve, with absolute certainty that what He has purposed, He will complete.
Our text makes it crystal clear that while God has fully achieved our justification through Jesus Christ, and while He rightly expects and is producing our sanctification, we will not be perfect in this life, nor will the world be perfected until that future time when the kingdom of God is established on the earth. For the time being, God’s provisions enable us to live with faith, hope, and love in an imperfect world, as imperfect Christians. God’s power and character are not a promise of present prosperity nor of present perfection.
God’s provision for the spiritual life—for our sanctification—does not include a set of rules, or of formulas. While Romans 6-8 is perhaps the most thorough exposition in the New Testament on the doctrine and practice of the spiritual life, there are few “how to’s.” We are simply told that we are to “walk in the Spirit.” How this will work out in our experience is something each of us must learn as the Spirit leads and enable us.
While there will always be those legalists about, who insist that an emphasis on rules is a deterrent to sin, Paul teaches otherwise. The Law actually increased sin so that it could be defeated by Christ on the cross (5:20). While the Law does not and cannot solve the problem of sin, the Law has a valuable role to play in the life of the believer. The libertine would love to throw the Law out altogether, but this is equally wrong. The problem we have with the Law is in our own weakness. And that problem has a provision: the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, those who are “in Christ” are, on the one hand, freed from the Law (7:1-6), and on the other, freed to be able to keep the Law (see 8:4).
Finally, I want you to notice the change in focus in these three chapters. The focus was initially on man. The focus was on the obligation of men to live differently than they did before they were justified. The focus was on the utter inability of man to keep God’s Law and to live a holy life, due to the strength of sin and the weakness of his flesh. There is little that can come from this focus except frustration and distress, which is exactly what we find in Romans 7. It is only when the focus shifts to God, to His love, to His sovereignty, to His faithfulness, that we move from agony to ecstasy.
Why is it that even Christians seek joy and peace and fulfillment from within themselves? Why is it that we keep looking inward and backward (to our past and to the injustices done to us), rather than God-ward, upward, forward, to that which will surely come to pass, based upon God’s character, God’s purposes, and God’s promises? It is in God that we find justification, sanctification, and sonship. It is in God that we find confidence and joy. It is in God that we rejoice. It is in God, and God alone.
May we not step away from this text without joining Paul, one more time, in worship and adoration. To God be the glory, great things He has done, great things He will do!
24 One of the interesting features of the Book of Romans is that when there are two sides to a coin, Paul stresses both sides, and usually in close proximity. Paul, for example, makes an emphatic point in Romans that by his own works, man cannot save himself, attain righteousness, nor enter into eternal life. On the other hand, Paul will make it very clear that those who are saved are saved “unto good works”. To Paul, it is inconceivable that one would be delivered from sin and death only to return to it, like a pig to the filth of his sty.
Yet another example, which we shall take up later in our study, is the way in which Paul handles the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in relationship to man’s salvation. In Romans 9, Paul stresses the sovereignty of God in man’s salvation—specifically in relationship to the doctrine of election. Yet in Romans 10 Paul stresses human responsibility, in receiving the gospel by faith, and in proclaiming the gospel. When there are truths which must be held in tension, Paul makes this tension clear, yet without sacrificing either aspect of that truth. Our temptation, on the other hand, is to stress only one side of the issue and to oppose those who would stress the other side of that same issue. The “lordship salvation” controversy, in my opinion, is an example of this.
26 Indeed, the wording of the question would suggest something even worse. The question raised was not, “Can we continue in sin … ?”, but “Shall we continue in sin … ?” The first question implies the possibility; the second implies almost a necessity, as though one should do so.
28 It is altogether possible to serve our own interests with poured-out devotion. It is possible to serve the flesh even while engaged in the most intense sort of religious activities. The very fact that our activities are religious will sometimes disguise the presence of the rankest kind of selfishness. Signposts, A Collection of Sayings from A. W. Tozer, Compiled by Harry Verploegh (Victor Books: Wheaton, IL), p. 12.
29 Technically, only 6:3 and 7:1 contain the identical question, “Or do you not know?” In 6:16 the expression is not identical in the original expression, but it is very similar. The sense is the same, and thus I see these three questions indicating the structure of Paul’s segment.
30 The expression, “May it never be!”, is used 15 times in the New Testament. Fourteen of these 15 occurrences are found in Paul’s writings. The other is found in Luke 20:16, where the people in the temple are shocked to hear Jesus teach that the “vineyard” (Israel) will be given over to others to keep (the Gentiles), because of the sins of Israel. In 13 out of 14 of Paul’s use of the expression, it is in response to a question which Paul has raised, which takes the truth of his teaching too far, and thus needs to be corrected. Of the 14 times Paul uses this expression, 10 are found in Romans (3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11). In every instance, the expression conveys shock, horror, and dismay at what has been suggested.
31 It is interesting to note that in the New Testament Paul only seldom uses the terms employed for “repentance” (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10; 12:21; 2 Timothy 2:25). Repentance is found only one time in Romans (2:4). Nevertheless, the concept of repentance is frequently found. It very much underlies what Paul is teaching here, in Romans 6. When we were saved, we repented; we not only admitted our sin, but we turned from it. Would we now turn back to sin? “May it never be!”
32 This second proposal, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15), is only slightly different than the first, “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (6:1). How often we attempt to justify our sin by rationalizing the reasons for doing so. We keep trying to rearrange our reasons until they are convincing enough to us or others, but in the final analysis we are simply justifying what we already have determined we want to do or will do. No wonder our excuses for sin are not very original.
33 Is it not interesting how God works? On the one hand, death is the curse, the consequence of sin. Yet, in the wisdom and mercy of God, death is also the cure. Dying is therefore both the consequence of sin and the cure for sin. The latter is Paul’s point in Romans 7:1-6.
34 Technically, the commandment is holy and righteous and good. There may well be a distinction between the commandment and the Law. If so, we will take this matter up later in our series. Nevertheless, Paul is defending the Law as good, not evil.
35 Some would argue that Paul is here speaking of the experience of an unbeliever. We will deal with this matter in more detail later in this series. But, on the face of it, I find two major objections to this view. First, it does not seem to fit into the context. Paul has already dealt with sin and justification earlier. He is now speaking about sanctification. Sanctification is an issue for Christians, not unbelievers. Second, I have yet to see a verse of Scripture which speaks of the unbeliever’s love of God’s Law or of an unbeliever’s agony over his inability to live up to the Law. This agony, in my estimation, is that which only a Christian knows. One of the best evidences of one’s salvation is one’s agony over sin.
36 In Romans (see chapters 5 and 8), the love of God is that which is offered as a comfort to the Christian and linked with God’s sovereignty. It is not, in Romans, used as a motivation, a “lure”, to draw the lost. When man’s sin is in view, God’s righteousness is the attribute which is central. The righteousness of God focuses the attention of the unbeliever on his own sin and on the judgment which that sin requires. This leads to a conviction of sin which drives the sinner to Christ for forgiveness (compare John 16:7-11).
37 In Romans 5, Paul pressed justification beyond its description in chapters 1-4. He took justification back to Adam, and its benefits all the way forward to the glory of God. In chapter 8, Paul goes even further. He presses justification back to the elective choice of God in eternity past, and the ultimate goal of our salvation to our glorification in eternity future.