A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #16 Free from the Law – Romans 7:1-6

In Romans 7 Paul expounds on his statement in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” In 6:15-23, he used the analogy of slavery to show that we will not sin under grace because we have become enslaved to God and righteousness. In chapter 7, he explains what it means to be free from the law and how this relates to breaking free from sin’s tyranny.

The theme in chapter 6 was sin; Paul uses that word 17 times there. In his mind, there was a direct correlation between sin and the law. In 1 Corinthians 15:56 he says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” So there are several parallels between chapters 6 & 7 (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 270): Believers have died to sin (6:2) and they have died to the law (7:4). We have been freed from sin (6:18, 22) and we are released from the law (7:6). We walk in newness of life (6:4) and we serve in newness of the Spirit (7:6). Our victory over sin is tied to our union with Christ in His death and resurrection (6:8-11). Our release from the law and its sin-arousing power is because we are now joined to the crucified and risen Lord (7:4).

So if we want to gain consistent victory over sin, we have to wrestle with Romans 7 as Paul explains the purpose of God’s law and our relationship to it. His thinking was radically opposed to the common Jewish views of his day. They would have said that the law was given to make us holy, but Paul says that the Law served to arouse us to sin! In chapters 1-5 Paul shows that it is impossible to be justified by keeping the law. Here he shows that it is impossible to be sanctified by keeping the law. In fact, Paul argues that the law is actually a hindrance to sanctification (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 5).

The chapter falls into three sections. In 7:1-6, Paul shows that we are no longer married to the law. A death has taken place and now we are joined to Jesus Christ so that we might bear fruit for God. But that raises the question, “Then is the law sin?” Paul answers this in 7:7-12, showing that the law is holy and good. It is we who are the problem! When our sinful nature comes into contact with the law, it does not obey. Rather, it is aroused to sin. Then in 7:13-25, he shows the ensuing battle that sinners have with the law. This is a very difficult and controversial section, as debate rages over whether the person in view is an unbeliever or a believer. I do not want to raise your hopes that I will solve this puzzle for you, but we will try to work through it as best as we can.

In our text (7:1-6), Paul first makes a general statement about the law’s jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives (7:1). Then (7:2-3) he illustrates his point by showing that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. He is not giving comprehensive teaching here about divorce and remarriage. Rather, he uses an analogy to make a point: the law has jurisdiction over the living, not over the dead. If a person dies, he is no longer under the law. Then (7:4), he applies the point, showing that we died to the law through the death of Christ. We are now “remarried” to Christ so that we might bear fruit for God. Then (7:5-6) Paul explains verse 4 negatively (7:5) and positively (7:6). We need to die to the law because it aroused our sinful passions to bear fruit for death (7:5). But in Christ we have been released from bondage to the law so that we serve God in newness of the Spirit (7:6). To summarize:

Through our union with Christ, we have died to the law so that we are free to bear fruit for God in the Spirit.

1. Through our union with Christ, we have died to the law, which only produced sin and death.

Many books have been written on what it means for us not to be under the law, so I can only give some brief guidelines here. I offer one negative and three positive thoughts to clarify what Paul means when he says that we died to the law.

A. Dying to the law does not mean that we are free from specific moral commandments.

We need to understand that we did not die to the law so that we could live lawlessly, doing whatever we please. That was the false charge that Paul’s enemies leveled against him. But Paul makes it very clear that we died to the law so that we might be joined to Christ, under His authority. Just as a woman is under the authority of her husband (according to the Bible), so we were under the authority of God’s law. But when we died to the law, it was not so that we could become free spirits. Rather, it was so that we could now be joined to Christ as our husband.

Paul’s analogy is rather confusing if you try to make it say more than he intends. In 7:2-3, the woman’s husband dies so that she is free to remarry. But in the application (7:4), it is not the husband that dies, but rather the wife dies to the law through Christ. By implication she is raised from the dead so that she can marry Christ, who died and was raised from the dead. But Paul does not intend this to be a tight allegory, where one thing consistently represents another. Rather, he is making the main point that by being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, we died to the law so that we’re legally free to be joined to Christ.

But, dying to the law does not mean that we no longer are obligated to keep specific moral commandments. As Paul states later (Rom. 8:4), the requirement of the law is now fulfilled in us as we walk according to the Spirit. Sometimes it is argued that the only command under the new covenant is love, since love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14). But this is often misapplied in a simplistic way so that “love” means whatever the person wants it to mean. For example, couples argue that it is okay to have sexual relations outside of marriage because they “love” one another. But the New Testament is abundantly clear that the sexual relationship is restricted to heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 6:9-10, 18; 7:1-9; 1 Thess. 4:2-8). Love does not mean that we are free to disregard the Bible’s moral standards.

In fact, the New Testament gives many detailed commands about love. Love speaks the truth. Love does not steal, but rather labors so as to be able to give. Love speaks wholesome, edifying words. Love is not bitter or angry. Love is kind and forgiving. Love does not engage in immorality or greed (see Eph. 4:25-5:4). Many more specific commands on other topics are given throughout the New Testament to believers who have died to the law (see Romans 12). So we would be mistaken to think that dying to the law frees us from the obligation to obey specific moral commandments. So what does it mean?

B. Dying to the law means that we are free from the demands of the law as an impersonal system for approaching God.

While salvation has always been by grace through faith, not by works, many who were under the Mosaic law wrongly thought that they could be right with God by keeping the law. It was true: Keep the law perfectly and you will live (Matt. 19:17; Gal. 3:12). The problem is, that system brought everyone who tried to live by it under a curse, because no one could keep the law perfectly (Gal. 3:10). As a Pharisee, Paul thought that he was blameless with regard to the law (Phil. 3:6), but at best he was “blameless” only in the sense of outward obedience to the ceremonies and rituals that the law prescribed. The truth was that in his heart, he was proud of his blameless obedience, and pride is the root of all sins before God. When he met Christ, Paul came to see that he was actually the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

So dying to the law means that we do not approach God by an impersonal system of performance, where we try to earn right standing with Him. That is the way of virtually every religion in the world, including many that go under the name of “Christian.” The good news is that God justifies sinners by grace through faith alone and that the core of saving faith is to know Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:5; Phil. 3:2-10). And, as I said, Paul’s point in Romans 7 is not only that we are justified by grace through faith alone, but also that we are sanctified in the same way (see Col. 2:6).

C. Dying to the law means that we are free from the condemnation of the law.

Paul says (Rom. 7:6) that the law held us in bondage. It did so by putting us under a curse because of our failure to obey it perfectly (Gal. 3:10). Peter refers to the law as “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). The law closes every mouth and makes us all accountable to God (Rom. 3:19). No one is able to be justified by keeping the law; rather, the law brings the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20) and puts us under God’s wrath (Rom. 4:15). The law increased our transgressions and held us under the reign of sin and death (Rom. 5:20-21). Attempting to be right with God by law-keeping is doomed to failure. The only benefit of the law with regard to salvation is that it shows us God’s impossible standard of holiness and thus drives us to Christ as our only hope, so that we will be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).

D. Dying to the law means that we are free from the inability of the law to produce obedience.

This is Paul’s primary focus in Romans 7:5: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” In this context, being “in the flesh” means, before we were saved, before we received the Holy Spirit. As Thomas Schreiner puts it (The Law and Its Fulfillment [Baker], p. 133), “The law apart from the Spirit does not produce obedience. The law apart from the Spirit does not save but kills.”

Paul will explain this further in 7:7-11, where he says that coveting was not a problem until he read, “You shall not covet.” That commandment triggered something in him that made him covet all over the place. The problem was not with the law, which is holy, but with his sinful flesh. We can all relate to what he is saying. I wouldn’t think about walking on the grass if it weren’t for that annoying sign that says, “Do not walk on the grass.” The commandment makes me want to walk on the grass!

So the law is not the answer to our sin problem. Trying to keep the law can never reconcile us to the holy God, because we’ve all violated His law many times over. Posting a list of God’s commandments on the refrigerator and trying to keep them by our own strength won’t work, either, because the law just incites our sinful passions. It does not quench the desire to sin. The oldness of the letter was a “ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:6, 7). We need a more powerful solution, which Paul gives in 7:4 & 6.

Paul says that we were “made to die to the law through the body of Christ” (7:4). That’s an unusual phrase, referring to Christ’s physical body. Paul is calling attention to the fact that in His human body, Jesus satisfied the demands of the law on our behalf, so that He “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). So when Jesus died to the demands of the law, we died in Him. In summary, this means: We are free from the demands of the law as an impersonal system for approaching God. We are free from the condemnation of the law. The power of the law to arouse our sinful desires is broken, because being joined to Christ, we now have the Holy Spirit to give us the power to obey.

2. Having died to the law, we are now joined to Jesus Christ, which produces fruit for God in the Spirit.

As I said, God does not free us from the law so that we can live any way that we please. Rather, He frees us from the law (7:4) so that we “might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.” Restating it in a slightly different way (7:6), this release from the law enables us to “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” So our union with the risen Savior through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit works in us to bear fruit for God. Note six things about this union or marriage to Christ:

A. Our union with Christ is a transforming relationship.

In verse 6, Paul uses the same contrast that we saw in 6:22, “But now.” It points to the great change from before we met Christ to afterwards. Before we met Him, we were in the flesh, enslaved to sin, and under the condemnation and power of the law. “But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound” (7:6). If I have broken the law and am facing a prison term, but before I go to prison I die, they aren’t going to take my corpse to prison! My death released me from the power of the law. It changed everything.

Also, our death to the law freed us to be joined in marriage to the risen Christ (7:4). This implies that we have new life in Him, because Jesus doesn’t marry a corpse. We have a new relationship of love with our Bridegroom, who gave Himself on the cross to secure us as His bride. (By the way, it’s difficult as a guy to think of myself as “married” to Jesus, but think of it corporately, not individually. The biblical analogy is that the church corporately is the bride of Christ.) Our new union with Christ changes everything.

There is one thing certain about marriage: it changes you forever! Suddenly, you are not your own. You have to think about your wife before you make plans. You have to think about what pleases her. You have to take her into account in every decision that you make. You have to work at staying close in your relationship to her. But in spite of these new responsibilities, I can say with gusto that marrying Marla changed me for the good! In the same way, being joined to Jesus Christ changes everything. It gives you new responsibilities, but it transforms you decidedly for the good.

B. Our union with Christ is a love relationship.

As I said, the phrase “through the body of Christ” points to the cross, where Jesus died a horrible death to secure us as His bride. He paid the price that the law demanded for our sin. “Christ … loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). So now we willingly submit to Him, not out of duty, but out of love.

Picture a woman married to a demanding, perfectionistic man. He’s the kind who takes a white glove and wipes it on the top of the door molding to see if it has been dusted. She lives in constant fear that she will not please him. But then (much to her relief) he dies. Sometime later, she meets a loving, kind, and caring man. They fall in love and get married. Now she still cleans the house and cooks the meals, but she does it joyfully out of love, not dutifully to meet the demands of an impossible tyrant.

The analogy breaks down, in that the law did not die. Rather, we died to it. But, we no longer have to strive in vain to meet its impossible demands as the grounds of our acceptance with God. Rather, Christ met those demands for us and we are joined to Him in love. We still live to please Him, but our whole motive has changed from duty that condemned us to love that accepts us.

C. Our union with Christ is a liberating relationship.

Before, we were bound by the law, but now we are released from its condemnation and domination (7:6). The picture is that of a prisoner who has been set free. I’ve never been in prison, but I got a feel for what it must be like when I was in boot camp. We were in captivity in every sense of the word. The Coast Guard determined our schedule, our activities, what we wore, how we looked, and what we ate. Boot camp was on an island in the Oakland Bay. From our upstairs barracks window, I could see cars stuck in rush hour traffic out on the Oakland freeway. I thought, “Those drivers are probably grumbling about the traffic, but if they only knew how free they are to be able to drive their own car wherever they want to go, they’d quit complaining!” Before Christ, we were bound by the law, but now we’re free.

D. Our union with Christ is a fruitful relationship.

The reason we are joined to Christ is so “that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4). When you compare that to 7:6, “so that we serve in newness of the Spirit,” it probably refers to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), or “the fruit of the Light,” which is “all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:9-10). If you’re not bearing fruit for God, you are not fulfilling the purpose for which He saved you.

E. Our union with Christ is a powerful relationship.

The law was impotent to help us obey, but Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us to overcome sin. To be under the law is to be “in the flesh” (7:5), which has no motivation or power to overcome sin. But the Spirit enables us to put to death the deeds of the body, so that we will live (8:13; Gal. 5:16-23).

F. Our union with Christ is a holy relationship.

I mentioned at the outset that being free from the law does not mean that we are free to disobey the moral commands of Scripture. But I mention it again as we close, because it is so often misunderstood or ignored. The word “serve” (7:6) is the same Greek word translated “enslaved to God” (6:22). So Christ frees us from the law to which we were bound, but not to do as we please. We’re freed from the law so that we can be enslaved to God in the newness of the Spirit. Being a slave of righteousness is true freedom!


Martyn Lloyd-Jones (p. 84) says, “You are either a Christian or not a Christian; you cannot be partly Christian. You are either ‘dead’ or ‘alive’; you are either ‘born’ or ‘not born’. Becoming a Christian is not a gradual process; there is nothing indeterminate about it; we either are, or we are not Christian.”

If you’re not a Christian, you are under the condemnation of the law. But if you put your trust in Christ, who bore the curse of the law, you are released from the law and joined to a loving husband so that you can bear fruit for God. That’s even better than the best of earthly marriages can be!

Why God Gave the Law (Romans 7:7-11)

Almost a quarter century ago, philosopher Allan Bloom published his best-selling The Closing of the American Mind [Simon & Schuster, 1987]. He began (p. 25):

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. These are things you don’t think about.

The chief virtue that this relativism seeks to inculcate is tolerance or openness. The main enemy of tolerance is the person who thinks that he has the truth or is right in his views. This only “led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point,” says Bloom (p. 26), “is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

Bloom later (p. 67) reports his students’ reaction to his question, “Who do you think is evil?” They immediately respond, “Hitler.” They rarely mention Stalin. A few in the early 80’s mentioned Nixon, but by the time Bloom wrote the book, Nixon was being rehabilitated. Bloom comments (ibid.),

And there it stops. They have no idea of evil; they doubt its existence. Hitler is just another abstraction, an item to fill up an empty category. Although they live in a world in which the most terrible deeds are being performed and they see brutal crime in the streets, they turn aside. Perhaps they believe that evil deeds are performed by persons who, if they got the proper therapy, would not do them again—that there are evil deeds, not evil people.

I cite Bloom because the worldview of the young people that he observed a quarter century ago is now pervasive in our society. And the worldly relativism that minimizes or even eliminates the concept of sin is not just “out there.” It has flooded into the church. Popular megachurches thrive by making the church “a safe place” for everyone, where no one will be judged and where various types of immorality are relabeled as personal preferences. The “gospel” gets retooled as a way that Jesus can help you succeed and reach your personal goals. If you want your church to grow, you should never mention anything negative, like sin. Rather, tell people how much God loves them because they are so lovable. Build their self-esteem, but never suggest that they are sinners!

But if we are not sinners, then we do not need a Savior who died to bear the penalty of our sin. More than a century ago, Charles Spurgeon lamented (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, The Early Years [Banner of Truth], p. 54), “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 151), “The biblical doctrine of sin is absolutely crucial to an understanding of the biblical doctrine of salvation. Whatever we may think, we cannot be right and clear about the way of salvation unless we are right and clear about sin.” And since Romans 7 is one of the most penetrating analyses of sin in all of Scripture, we need to understand Paul’s thought here.

In our text, Paul defends the integrity and righteousness of God’s law against critics who argued that Paul’s teaching implied that the law is sin. “May it never be,” he exclaims (7:7). He exonerates God’s law as holy, righteous, and good (7:12), while showing why God gave the law:

God gave His law to convict us of our sin and bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would flee to Christ for salvation.

Our innate self-righteousness is so entrenched that until the law strips us of it and convicts us of our sin, we will not cast ourselves totally upon Christ. Our culture adds to this by telling us that we’re not sinners. We’re not worms, for goodness sake! We’re pretty good folks. We may want to bring Jesus into our lives as a useful coach or helper in our self-improvement program. But to trust Him as our Savior, we have to see the depth of our sin as God’s law exposes it for what it is. That’s what Paul describes here.

We come here to one of the most difficult and controversial sections of Romans. In verses 7-25, Paul dramatically shifts to the first person singular, dropping it again in chapter 8. In 7:7-13, he uses the past tense, but then in 7:14-25 he shifts to the present tense. Scholars debate whether Paul is speaking autobiographically or not. At the crux of this debate is when Paul possibly could have been “alive apart from the law” (7:9). There is also much controversy over whether verses 14-25 describe Paul before he was saved, Paul as a new believer, or Paul as a mature believer. So it’s a very difficult passage, with competent, godly scholars in every camp. I do not claim infallibility as we proceed (not that I ever do)!

Paul’s main concern in this chapter is not to share his personal experience, but rather to exonerate God’s law from any hint of being evil. He uses his own experience (as I understand it) to show how the law functions to bring conviction of sin, but also how it is powerless to deliver us from sin’s grip. Rather, it drives us to Christ, who alone has the power to save (7:25); and to the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to overcome sin (8:2-4). So, let’s try to work through these verses.

1. The law is not sin, but it does reveal our sin (7:7).

Romans 7:7: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”

Paul is responding to the charge that critics would bring in reaction to 7:5: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” The Jews believed that God gave the law to give us life and make us holy, but Paul claimed that the Law aroused us to sin, resulting in death. So now he answers this charge: “Is the Law sin?”

After strongly rejecting that slur against his teaching, Paul argues that the law functions to reveal our sin to us. He uses as a personal example the tenth commandment against coveting. This shows that by “the law” Paul mainly had in mind the Ten Commandments as the embodiment of God’s requirements for holy living. Probably he picked the tenth commandment because it is the only command that explicitly condemns evil on the heart level. Jesus pointed out that the commands against murder and adultery (and, by implication, all of the commands) go deeper than the outward action. If you’re angry at your brother, you have violated the command against murder. If you lust in your heart over a woman, you have committed adultery in God’s sight (Matt. 5:21-30). But the command against coveting explicitly goes right to the heart. Coveting concerns your heart’s desires, whether you ever act on those desires or not.

When Paul says, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law,” he does not mean that he (or others) do not know sin at all apart from the law. He has already said (2:14-15) that Gentiles who do not have the law have the “work of the Law written in their hearts.” People sinned from Adam until Moses, even though they did not have the written law (5:12-14).

What Paul means is that the law, especially the tenth commandment focusing on the inward desires, nailed him so that he came to know sin as sin against God. Before his conversion, outwardly Paul was a self-righteous Pharisee. He thought that all of his deeds commended him to God. With regard to the law, he saw himself as “blameless” (Phil. 3:6). But when the Holy Spirit brought the tenth commandment about coveting home to his conscience, Paul realized that he had violated God’s holy law. At that point, he came to know sin. The commandment made it explicit: “Paul, you are a sinner!”

Like Paul before his conversion, most people think that they are basically good. Sure, they know they have their faults. Who doesn’t? They’re not perfect, but they are good. They excuse even their bad sins, just as Paul excused his violent persecution of the church. After all, it was justified because it was for a good cause.

So guys excuse a little pornography because, “After all, everyone looks at that stuff and I’m not hurting anyone. Besides, I’ve never cheated on my wife.” And they excuse their violent temper because that person had it coming and, “Hey, I didn’t hurt him; I just told him off!” People excuse all manner of sin and still think of themselves as basically good people because they have not come to know God’s law, especially the law as it confronts our evil desires. At the heart of coveting is the enthronement of self as lord.

Spurgeon (“The Soul’s Great Crisis,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 61:425) compares the sinner who thinks that he is basically good, but won’t look at God’s law, to a man who thinks he is rich and lives in a lavish manner, but refuses to look at his books. The guy lives in style. When he gets into a financial bind, he takes out a loan, and when that one comes due, he’ll meet it with another loan. He says he is all right and he convinces himself that he is all right. At the moment he’s living as if he’s all right. But does he ever get out his accounts and take stock of his real condition? No, that’s boring. We all know where that will end—the man will go bankrupt.

In the same way, Spurgeon says, we may convince ourselves that we are right with God by brushing over our faults as no big deal. We live as if we’re good people; all is well. But if we don’t examine our true condition in light of God’s law, we’re heading for eternal bankruptcy. The law reveals our sin. But Paul goes further:

2. The law provokes sinners to sin (7:8).

Romans 7:8: “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law, sin is dead.”

Paul personifies sin as an active force that uses the law to provoke us to commit acts of sin. By sin, Paul means sin as a principle and power, not just acts of sin (Lloyd-Jones, p. 120). He repeats the phrase again (7:11), “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment.” Opportunity was a word used for a military base of operations from which the army launched its campaigns. So sin takes God’s holy commandments and uses them to tempt us to violate those commands. It stirs up the rebel in us and makes us want to assert our right to do as we please.

James Boice (Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], pp. 742-743) tells a story from when he was in sixth grade. The school principal came into his classroom just before lunch and said that he had heard that some students had been bringing firecrackers to school. He went on to warn about the dangers of firecrackers and to say that anyone caught with firecrackers at school would be expelled. Well, Boice didn’t own any firecrackers and he hadn’t even thought about firecrackers. But when you get to thinking about firecrackers, it’s an intriguing subject. He then remembered that one of his friends had some.

So during his lunch break, he and a friend went by this other friend’s house, got a firecracker and returned to school. They went into a cloakroom and planned to light it and pinch it out before it exploded. But the lit fuse burned the fingers of the boy holding it. He dropped it and it exploded with a horrific bang, echoing in that old building with its high ceilings, marble floors, and plaster walls. Before the boys could stagger out of the cloakroom, the principal was out of his office, down the hall, and standing there to greet them. As Boice later sat in the principal’s office with his parents, he remembers the principal saying over and over, “I had just told them not to bring any firecrackers to school. I just can’t believe it.”

But that’s how sin operates in the hearts of rebels. It takes God’s good and right commandments and entices us to violate them. Sometimes when you read about others sinning or you see it on TV or in a movie, you think, “I’ll bet that would be fun!” You know that God forbids it, but probably He just wants to deprive you of some fun. Besides, what will it hurt to try it once? It can’t be all that bad. And, I can always get forgiven later. So our sin nature springboards off the commandment to provoke us to sin.

What does Paul mean when he says, “For apart from the Law sin is dead”? Since the fall, everyone is born in sin and is prone to sin. Before the flood, before God gave the law to Moses, the world was so sinful that we read (Gen. 6:5), “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So how can Paul say, “apart from the Law sin is dead”?

He must have meant, “Sin was comparatively dead; as far as his awareness was concerned it was dead” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 135). In other words, before God brought the law to bear on Paul’s conscience, as far as he knew, he wasn’t in sin. He saw himself as a good person. The law had not yet revived the sin that lay dormant in his heart. Apart from the law, sin seems to be dead as far as the sinner is concerned. Paul traces the process further:

3. The law, through our failures to keep it, brings us to the end of ourselves (7:9-11).

Romans 7:9-11: “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (I will have to deal with the deceptive aspect of sin in our next study.)

What does Paul mean when he says that he was “once alive apart from the Law”? This is the same apostle who said that before salvation we all were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). How could he once be alive? And when was Paul ever “apart from the Law”? He was raised from his youth up in the strictest traditions of Judaism (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5; Phil. 3:5). And, when did sin “kill” him?

As with every verse in this text, there are many opinions. Some say that verse 9 refers to Adam, since he is the only one of whom it rightly could be said that he was once alive apart from the law. Others take it to refer to Israel before the law was given. But most likely, Paul is speaking in a relative sense about his own perception of himself. Once, he thought that he was alive and doing quite well in God’s sight. He saw himself as blameless with regard to the righteousness of the law (Phil. 3:6). Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, he would have prayed (Luke 18:11-12), “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” In that sense, Paul saw himself as once alive apart from the law. He was “apart from the law” in the sense that it had not yet bore down on his conscience to convict him on the heart level.

But then “the commandment came”—“You shall not covet.” He had memorized that commandment as a child. He had recited it many times. But the Holy Spirit had not nailed him with it. Lloyd-Jones (p. 134) illustrates this with the experience that we’ve all had, where we’ve read a verse many, many times, but we’ve skipped right over it and kept going. It didn’t say anything to us. But then suddenly, it hits you. You see it as you’ve never seen it before. The commandment came to you.

Then what happens? “Sin became alive and I died” (7:9). At first, Paul thought that he was alive and sin was dead. But then, God’s law hit him and he suddenly realized that his sin was very much alive and he was dead. He saw that he was not right with God, as he formerly had thought. Rather, he was alienated from God and under His judgment. He had thought that he would get into heaven because he was a zealous Jew, and even a notch above other Jews, because he was a Pharisee. But now he realized that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor of God’s church, a violent aggressor, and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:13, 15).

The commandment promised life (7:10) to all who keep it (Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11). Paul thought that he had been keeping it blamelessly. But God shot the arrow of the commandment, “You shall not covet.” It hit Paul in the heart and killed him. Spurgeon (61:427) says, “What died in Paul was that which ought never to have lived. It was that great ‘I’ in Paul … that ‘I’ that used to say, ‘I thank thee that I am not like other men’—that ‘I’ that folded its arms in satisfied security—that ‘I’ that bent its knee in prayer, but never bowed down the heart in penitence—that ‘I’ died.”

Spurgeon goes on (pp. 427-428) to show several other respects in which Paul died. He died in that he saw he was condemned to die. He stood guilty before God. He died in that all his hopes from his past life died. His good works that he had been relying on came crashing down as worthless. He died in that all his hopes as to the future died. He realized that if his salvation depended on his future keeping the law, he was doomed. His past showed that he would be sure to break it again in the future. And, he died in that all his powers seemed to die. Formerly, he thought that he could keep the law just fine by his own strength. But now he saw that every thought, word, and desire that did not meet God’s holy standard would condemn him. And so all his hope died. He felt condemned. The rope was around his neck, as Spurgeon says elsewhere (Autobiography, 1:54).


Can you identify with Paul’s experience? Has God’s holy law hit home to your conscience so that you died to all self-righteousness? Has the law killed all your hopes that your good works will get you into heaven? If so, that’s a good thing, because Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). When you see God’s holy standard and how miserably you have violated it over and over, you then see your need for a Savior. And the best news ever is that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)!

James Boice (p. 746) tells of a time when John Gerstner, who was then retired from teaching church history at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was at a church preaching from Romans. He expounded on the law and used it to expose sin. After the service, a woman came up to him. She held up her hand with her index finger and thumb about a half-inch apart and she said, “Dr. Gerstner, you make me feel this big.”

Dr. Gerstner replied, “But madam, that’s too big. That’s much too big. Don’t you know that that much self-righteousness will take you to hell?”

God gave His law to strip us of all self-righteousness and to convict us of our sin so that we would flee to Christ to save us. Make sure that your hope for eternal life is in Christ alone!

The Utter Sinfulness of Sin (Romans 7:11-13)

In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger, founder of the famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a best-seller titled, Whatever Became of Sin? [Bantam Books]. I didn’t read that book, but the title, especially coming from a psychiatrist, who to my knowledge was not a Christian, is significant. Menninger realized almost 40 years ago that the concept of sin was vanishing from our culture. He argued (as summarized by James Boice, Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], 2:747),

In the lifetimes of many of us, sin has been redefined: first, as crime—that is, as transgression of the law of man rather than transgression of the law of God—and second, as symptoms. Since “symptoms” are caused by things external to the individual, they are seen as effects for which the offender is not responsible. Thus it happened that sin against God has been redefined (and dismissed) as the unfortunate effects of bad circumstances. And no one is to blame.

We now view many behaviors that the Bible calls “sin” as psychological or emotional issues for which therapy, not repentance, is the solution. I’ve read polls that show that even among evangelical Christians, many do not view premarital sex or homosexual behavior as sin. Churches offer anger management classes (not anger repentance classes) or groups to help you overcome your “addictions” (not sins). Sin has become a disease that we treat therapeutically, not a behavior for which we’re responsible.

Christians regularly watch Hollywood’s latest movies that are rife with filthy language, sexual scenes, and violence, without any concern that they are disobeying Scripture, which commands (Eph. 5:3-4), “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So Dr. Menninger was quite right to ask, “Whatever became of sin?”

In our text, Paul is defending himself against critics who alleged that he taught that the law is sin. Paul has been teaching that if you try to gain right standing with God by keeping the law, you are doomed to fail. The law was not given to make us right before God. To the contrary, “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “The Law brings about wrath” (4:15). “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase” (5:20). And so Paul shows (7:4) that through our union with Christ, we died to the law in order that we might bear fruit for God. We have been released from the law so that now “we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (7:6).

Paul knew that critics would react to this teaching by accusing him of saying that the law is sin. His response is (7:7), “May it never be!” The problem is not with the law. Rather, the problem is our sin. When you mix God’s holy law with our sin, it produces negative results, much like mixing two incompatible chemicals.

Verses 11 & 12 wrap up Paul’s argument that the law is not the problem; rather, sin is the problem. As we saw last time, he personifies sin as an active force. Verse 13 serves as a hinge verse, restating the argument from 7:7-12 while also introducing 7:14-25. We can sum up his thought in 7:11-13:

God’s law reveals the holiness of His commandments and the utter sinfulness of sin so that we will hate our sin.

1. God’s law reveals the holiness of His commandments.

Paul concludes (7:12), “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

By “the Law,” Paul means the law as a whole. When he repeats, “the commandment,” he may be referring to the tenth commandment against coveting that he has just mentioned (7:7), or to the moral commands. But he means that the law as a whole and every single part of it is “holy and righteous and good.” He piles up these terms to emphasize his point (in 7:7) that the law is not in any way sinful. The reason that the law is holy, righteous, and good is that it was given to us by God who is holy, righteous, and good.

God’s law is holy. God’s holiness means that He is altogether separate from us and separate from sin. Christ’s aim for His church is that “she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). Applied to us, God’s holy commandments show us how to live separately from this evil world, in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

That God’s law is righteous means that it is right or just. God Himself is the standard of what is right. Moses says of God (Deut. 32:4), “For all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” If we violate God’s moral commands, we are wrong because God is always right. His standards are not relative, changing with the culture or over time. We can’t persuade Him to bend His righteous commands to fit what we may think is right.

God’s commandments are also good because they come from God who is always good. As with righteousness, God is the final standard of what is good (Luke 18:19). This means that all of God’s commandments are for our good. To violate His commands is to bring trouble and hardship on ourselves. If we want to live the truly “good life,” then we must follow God’s good commands.

Since as new covenant believers we are not under the Law of Moses, we may wonder, “Which of the Old Testament commands apply to us? Are we obligated to keep the Ten Commandments, since Paul calls them a ‘ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones’” (2 Cor. 3:7)?

In the sense that the Ten Commandments serve as a summary of the two great commandments, to love God and love others, they are valid and binding for today. Also, all of the Ten Commandments, except for the Sabbath command, are repeated in the New Testament. The Sabbath command, as I understand it, was fulfilled in Christ (Heb. 4:1-11; Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). The exhortation to us is not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25), but we are not under that command in the legal sense of the Old Testament. (See my message, “God’s Day of Rest,” from Gen. 2:1-3, 12/17/95, on the church website for my further thoughts on this.)

So Paul wants us to be clear that God’s law is holy, righteous, and good. Being under grace does not mean living in a lawless manner (1 John 3:4; 1 Cor. 9:21).

2. God’s law reveals the utter sinfulness of sin.

Paul concludes (7:13c), “so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” As C. H. Spurgeon put it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 59:469), “[The law] was not the cure of the disease, much less the creator of it, but it was the revealer of the disease that lurked in the constitution of man.” He goes on to show that when Paul wanted to come up with a word to describe how bad sin is, he didn’t call it exceedingly black or horrible or deadly. Rather, when he wanted to find the very worst word, he called sin by its own name—it is exceedingly sinful. There is nothing as evil as sin. God gave His law for our good (Deut. 10:13), and so when we deliberately throw it off and trample it under foot, that law exposes the utter sinfulness of our sin in at least four ways:

A. Sin is utterly sinful because it is rebellion against our loving and kind Heavenly Father.

When God gave Adam and Eve the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that command was for their good, to keep them from the consequence of death (Gen. 2:16-17). We can compare it to parents who tell their little children not to run into a busy street. That command is not to deprive the children of fun, but to protect them from death. So when we sin, we rebel against the God who is loving and kind towards us. He is never mean, harsh, or cruel. Rather, sin (as Spur­geon put it in another sermon) is the monster that this verse drags to light (ibid., 19:73). We need to see sin for what it is, rebellion against our loving and kind  Heavenly Father.

B. Sin is utterly sinful because it takes a good thing and uses it to kill us.

Sin takes the good law and turns it into an instrument of death. It would be like taking a scalpel and using it to murder someone. Is the scalpel bad? No! The scalpel is a good and useful tool in the hands of a skilled physician. The sinner who used the scalpel to murder someone is the culprit. Sin takes God’s holy commandments and uses them to kill us. (Paul mentions “death” or “killed” in 7:9, 10, 11, & 13.) He means that the law brings us under God’s righteous, eternal condemnation because we have deliberately violated it over and over. So we should fight against our sin with as much effort as we would struggle against an intruder who broke into our house and was attempting to murder us.

C. Sin is utterly sinful because it involves deliberate violation of God’s good and perfect will for us.

As Paul said (4:15), “Where there is no law, there also is no violation.” This is not to say that people did not sin before the law (5:13-14), but rather to say that the law heightens the sinfulness of sin by showing that we are deliberately going against what God has commanded for our good. Our conscience may nag at us that something is wrong. But when we read the explicit command in the Bible and then go against it, we’re just thumbing our nose at God. We’re saying, “God, You don’t know what is best for me! I know better than You do, and I’m going my own way.” The commandment shows sin to be utterly sinful.

D. Sin is utterly sinful because it uses deception to kill us.

In his book and film, “Peace Child,” missionary Don Richardson told about the wicked practice of the Sawi tribe before he brought the gospel to them. They extolled deception as a virtue. They would lure an outsider into their midst as a friend, who didn’t suspect their treachery. They would treat him as a king and feed him well, but they were literally fattening him for the slaughter. At the opportune time, when the victim thought that the Sawi tribal leaders were his friends, they would sadistically smile as they killed him, and then they would eat him. And so when Richardson first told them the story of Jesus, they thought that Judas was the real hero! He used deception to kill Jesus. In the same way, sin is utterly sinful because it uses deception to kill us.

In two other places (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14) Paul uses the same verb, “deceived” (Rom. 7:11) to describe the serpent’s deception of Eve in the garden. One commentator (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T. & T. Clark], 1:352-353) shows three ways that the serpent deceived Eve. First, he distorted and misrepresented God’s commandment by drawing attention only to the negative part of it and ignoring the positive. Second, he made her believe that God would not punish disobedience with death, as He had warned. Third, he used the very commandment itself to insinuate doubts about God’s good will and to suggest the possibility that she and Adam could assert themselves in opposition to God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], pp. 155-160) lists nine ways that sin deceives us. I’ve incorporated his list into my own list of 15 ways that sin deceives us. I don’t expect you to remember all of these, but by piling them up without much comment, I want you to see how dangerous of an enemy sin really is.

(1). Sin deceives us into thinking that outward obedience alone pleases God, whereas we need to please Him on the heart level.

This was the downfall of the Pharisees. They thought that they were keeping all of God’s commandments, but Jesus rebuked them because their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6-7; Matt. 23:25). Sin deceives us so that we congratulate ourselves for our outward obedience to God, but all the while our hearts are corrupt. “Sure, I look at some porn, but at least I’ve never cheated on my wife.” “Sure, I’m bitter over what he did to me, but I haven’t killed him.” But God looks on the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

(2). Sometimes sin changes its tactics and tells us that everything is hopeless, so we might as well keep on sinning.

We wrongly conclude, “I’ve failed again and again, so there is no hope for me. I might as well just give in and go on sinning.”

(3). Sin deceives us to presume on God’s grace.

Sin tells us that it doesn’t matter whether or not we are holy. It says, “Don’t worry about your sin. It’s not hurting anyone. Besides, you can always get forgiven later.”

(4). Sin deceives us into thinking that it will bring true and lasting happiness, while holiness will bring us misery.

This is such a common ploy that you would think that we’d see right through it. But it works over and over again. “An affair will bring happiness, but being faithful to your marriage vows will make you miserable.” Related to this is the next form of deception:

(5). Sin deceives us into thinking that we have a right to happiness, while we forget that we have a responsibility to holiness.

I’ve known Christians who walk away from their marriages with the excuse, “I deserve some happiness in my life. My marriage has only brought me misery. How can this new relationship be wrong when it makes me so happy?” That’s the defense of a well-known Christian singer who divorced her husband and married another singer who divorced his wife. I recently read an article that tried to convince the readers that this sinful behavior was all right, because now she and her new husband are so happy. But what about the biblical command to be holy?

(6). Sin deceives us by getting us to discount the consequences of willful disobedience.

Satan lied to Eve (Gen. 3:4), “You surely will not die!” God would not be so mean as to impose such harsh consequences for such a minor thing as eating a piece of fruit, would He? God is loving and gracious; He won’t punish your sin!

(7). Sin deceives us into thinking that we’ve earned some free passes to sin because of all that we’ve done to serve God.

This may have been what led to David’s downfall. He was the king—didn’t that give him some extra privileges? He had written many psalms. He had fought and won many battles. Didn’t he deserve a “break”? Several years ago, a well known pastor was exposed when it came out that he “relieved the stress” of his ministry responsibilities by going to a homosexual prostitute! Talk about being deceived!

(8). Sin deceives us by getting us to swap the labels and call it something much more acceptable.

It is not adultery; it’s an affair or a fling. It’s not perversion; it’s being gay. It’s not stealing; it’s just taking what the company owes me but doesn’t pay me. I’m not angry; I just have a short fuse. It’s not gossip; I just wanted to share a prayer concern.

(9). Sin deceives us by making us think that we’re normal when we sin and to think that holy people are weird.

We look around at the world and conclude that yielding to temptation is normal. The weirdoes are those holy people who obey God. Or, we think, “I’ll bet that they’re no different than I am. They probably engage in some secret sins, but they’re hypocrites. At least I’m honest about who I am.”

(10). Sin deceives us by working by degrees, so that eventually that which would have shocked us is now accepted as normal.

When I used to paint houses, the home owner would walk in and make a big deal about the smell of the paint. But I was so used to it that I didn’t even notice. The prophet Hosea chided “Ephraim,” or Israel (Hos.7:9): “Gray hairs are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it.” Can you imagine someone going gray without being aware of it? But the prophet was using this humorous analogy to show how we drift spiritually without being aware of how far off course we really are. The first time you watch a sex scene in a movie, it shocks you. But after you’ve seen such filth a few dozen times, you just shrug it off as no big deal. When you first hear profanity, it jars you. But after being around it a while, you don’t even wince and you may even toss off a bad word or two yourself without being aware of it.

(11). Sin deceives us by making us angry at the law, feeling that God is against us when He prohibits something.

Sin gets us to believe that God and His law are unreasonable, impossible, and unjust. “Does He expect me to be perfect? Why doesn’t He give me a break now and then? He must not care about me or He wouldn’t give such unreasonable commands!”

(12). Sin deceives us by making us think very highly of ourselves.

“You’re smart enough to figure out what is best for you. You’re able to determine right and wrong without putting yourself under God’s legalistic standards. Think for yourself!”

(13). Sin tells us that the law is oppressive, keeping us from developing the gifts and talents we have within us.

“God’s moral standards are holding you back from reaching your full potential! Use the brain that God gave you! You don’t have to be restricted by that outdated book, the Bible!”

(14). Sin makes righteousness look drab and unattractive.

“You’ve only had sex with your marriage partner? How boring! You go to church every Sunday? How restrictive! What a way to mess up your weekend!”

(15). Sin deceives us by getting us to compare ourselves with other sinners, rather than to compare ourselves to God’s holy standard.

The psalmist says that sin flatters us in our own eyes (Ps. 36:2). It makes us think that we’re not so bad because we compare our relatively “minor faults” with the really bad things that others do. By comparison, we’re not so bad. But the standard is not what others do or what we do, but what God’s Word commands.

Thus God’s law reveals the holiness and goodness of His commands, along with the utter sinfulness of sin. What should our response be?

3. The practical result of understanding the holiness of God’s commands and the utter sinfulness of sin is that we should hate our own sin.

I am inferring this, since Paul doesn’t state it directly here, although he does go on (7:14-25) to show how much he hates his own propensity towards sin. But the Bible is clear: “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Ps. 97:10a). And we’re not just supposed to hate the evil in others, but first and foremost, we need to hate our own sin. Take the log out of your own eye first (Matt. 7:5). It was Paul’s hatred of his own sin that caused him to cry out (Rom. 7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”


Do you hate your own sin? Do you hate it enough to stop making excuses for it and to give serious thought and effort as to how not to sin? Sin is ugly, ugly, ugly! To watch a believer fall into sin is like watching a dog licking up its own vomit (2 Pet. 2:22). God’s Word shows us how walk in the light so that we do not fall into the mire of sin. Love the Word! Read it! Memorize it! Obey it! Don’t let sin kill you. Rather, hate your sin enough to kill it!

Who is This Wretched Man? (Romans 7:14-25, Overview)

We come now to one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Book of Romans. With the exception of certain prophetic texts, there are not many other passages in Scripture where there is such widespread difference of opinion among godly scholars as there is for Romans 7:14-25. Is Paul describing his own experience here? If so, is it his experience before he was saved, his experience as an immature believer, or his experience as a mature believer? Since Paul is in the midst of teaching us how to overcome sin in our daily experience, it’s an important text to understand. But we can’t apply it correctly until we first understand it correctly.

In this message, I want to give an overview of the various views and their main arguments. In subsequent messages I’ll work through the text in more detail. When you come to a text where so many godly men differ, it’s important to be gracious towards those who differ and acknowledge that there is no neat, tidy view that answers all the difficulties. Each view has its strengths and weaknesses, and so you have to pick which weaknesses you’re willing to live with in the view that you adopt. If someone claims to have solved all the problems, he is blind to the weaknesses of his view. If we could solve all the difficulties, then everyone would agree.

Also, when you come to a difficult text, it’s important to interpret it in light of other texts that are more clear. We need to try to harmonize and integrate this text into the flow of Paul’s unambiguous teaching elsewhere. And, as always, we need to confess our lack of understanding to the Lord and ask Him to give us insight through the Holy Spirit so that we will grow in godliness. Our aim is not just to solve the interpretive puzzle, but to become more like Jesus Christ.

The main problem that we have to grapple with here is that some statements make it sound as if Paul were not a believer, whereas other statements make it sound as if he were a believer. Among those who argue that Paul is describing the experience of an unbeliever, some say that it is the experience of a Jew under the law. Some say that it describes a man under deep conviction of sin just before his conversion. Among those who argue that it describes a believer, some argue that he is talking about the normal experience of a mature Christian, whereas others say that he is describing the experience of a new or very immature believer.

Some argue that Paul is not speaking autobiographically here, but it seems to me that he is describing himself here. He uses “I” 24 times in 7:14-25, plus “me,” “my,” or “myself” 14 times. While Paul could be using this as a literary device, the most obvious way to take it is that he is speaking of his own experience. Obviously his experience is representative of the experience of all who have struggled against sin. But we’re learning through Paul’s experience.

Also, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s main purpose is not to share this as an interesting story, but rather to establish the holiness and integrity of the law, while at the same time to show the law’s inability to deliver us from sin. To have consistent victory over sin, we must learn to rely moment by moment on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which Paul explains in chapter 8.

With that as a background, let me walk you through some of the arguments for the various views. There are a number of variants within each view which we will not have time to delve into.

Romans 7:14-25 describes an unbeliever.

This was the position of the early church fathers in the first three centuries of Christianity. Augustine held this view earlier in his Christian life, but later argued that it refers to believers. John Wesley and many in the Arminian camp hold to this view. Here are the strongest arguments for this view:

1. Paul uses language throughout the passage that could only be descriptive of an unbeliever.

This is the strongest argument for this position. In 7:14, Paul laments, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” But in 6:14, he stated as a matter of fact, “For sin shall not be master over you.” He also stated (6:17-18), “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” He reinforces this in 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Also, in 6:2, Paul said, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” But in 7:25b he says that with his flesh he is serving (the word means, “to serve as a slave”) the law of sin. In 6:6, he says that we were crucified with Christ so that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. But in 7:24 he laments, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” In 7:18 Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” How could a man indwelled by the Holy Spirit say such a thing? In 7:23 he adds that he is “a prisoner of the law of sin.” And, how could a believer who has already been redeemed by Christ cry out (7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

So the descriptions of our new position in Christ as believers in chapter 6 are totally at odds with these statements of the wretched man in chapter 7. He must still be an unbeliever.

2. The flow of the context argues for 7:14-25 being a description of unbelievers.

Almost everyone agrees that 7:7-13 describes Paul as an unbeliever. If 7:14 shifts to his experience as a believer, you would expect a disjunctive word, such as “but.” Instead, Paul uses “for,” which indicates that he is explaining further his experience as an unbeliever. This is further substantiated by his immediately stating that he is “of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” This goes back to 7:5, where Paul describes his experience as an unbeliever as being “in the flesh.”

Also, some argue that our text describes further the experience of 7:5, of the unbeliever in the flesh, whereas 8:1-17 picks up on 7:6, which describes the newness of serving in the Spirit. Also, there is the dramatic shift between the miserable experience of 7:14-25 and the “now” of 8:1 and the experience of victory that follows. Douglas Moo (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 442-451) argues that Paul presents his experience as a representative Jewish unbeliever under the law to show that the law is impotent to save anyone from their sin, thus reinforcing the argument of 7:1-13. He also is persuaded by the contrasts mentioned under the first argument.

3. In 7:14-25, there is an absence of any references to the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers, whereas in chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is mentioned frequently.

Paul makes it clear (in 8:9) that every believer is indwelled with the Holy Spirit. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. Since there is a glaring absence of any mention of the Spirit in 7:14-25, as contrasted with at least 17 references to the Spirit in chapter 8, chapter 7 must describe an unbeliever.

4. The person in 7:14-25 is not just struggling with sin but is defeated by sin.

Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that all believers struggle with sin, but that’s not what he describes in these verses. His experience in 7:14-25 is not just a struggle, but one of repeated failure, defeat, and inability to obey God. This is descriptive of an unbeliever.

There are some variations of the view that these verses describe an unbeliever. Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues for the position (also held by Godet and the Pietists, Francke and Bengel), that Paul is describing the experience of a Jew who is under deep conviction of sin, but not yet reborn. Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 390) argues that “Paul does not intend to distinguish believers from unbelievers in this text.” Rather, “Paul reflects on whether the law has the ability to transform human beings, concluding that it does not.” So Schreiner says that the passage could be describing either unbelievers or believers. Stuart Briscoe (The Communicator’s Commentary [Word], p. 147), somewhat in line with Schreiner, holds that “Paul is relating the struggles he had with the law of God before he knew Christ and which he continues to have since coming into an experience of the risen Lord.”

Romans 7:14-25 describes a mature believer.

This was the view of Augustine later in life, as already mentioned. It is also the view of Luther, Calvin, and most of the Reformers, along with Reformed men down through the centuries, such as John Owen, Charles Hodge, John Murray, James Boice, J. I. Packer, John Piper, and others. Here are the main arguments to support the view that Paul is describing the experience of a mature believer. (John Piper gives ten arguments in favor of this view, but I can only list a few.)

1. The shift to the present tense argues that Paul is speaking of his present experience as a mature believer.

As I’ve noted, Paul makes a very obvious shift from past tense verbs in 7:7-13 to present tense verbs in 7:14-25. The most natural way to understand this is that Paul is here describing his ongoing struggle against sin when he wrote this letter.

2. The context of Romans 6-8 is a discussion of sanctification in the Christian life, not of an unbeliever’s struggle with the law.

3. If 7:14-25 describes Paul’s pre-conversion experience, it is in conflict with how he describes that experience elsewhere.

In Philippians 3 and in Galatians 1, along with a couple of places in Acts, Paul portrays himself before conversion as a self-satisfied Jew, bent on persecuting the church. There is no record that he went through an intense inward conflict such as that described here.

4. Paul’s desires in these verses are those of a believer, not of an unbeliever.

He says (7:22), “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” He is seeking to obey the law, not just outwardly, but with the “inner man” (7:15-20, 22). Unbelievers may put on an outward show of obedience, but their hearts are far from God (Matt. 23; Mark 7:6-13). Unbelievers do not seek after God (Rom. 3:11) or desire to please Him (8:8). His heartfelt cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” sounds like the cry of a man who yearns for God and the new resurrection body, which will be free from sin. The closer a man draws to God, the more he sees the corruption of his old nature and the more he desires to be free from all inclination to sin.

5. The battle between the two “I’s” describes a believer, not an unbeliever.

Unbelievers only live in the flesh, but believers have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit that war against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). Every Christian who is honest acknowledges this inner struggle against sin that goes on throughout life. Paul’s lament (7:18), “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” indicates that there is more to Paul than just flesh. He has a new inner man that longs for God and His holiness, although he has not yet attained it.

There are more arguments for each side and each side has arguments to rebut the arguments of the other side. For sake of time, I cannot go through each of these. Rather, I will now give you the correct view (yeah, sure!). As I said, there are strengths and weaknesses with every view, so we have to pick a view that seems most to harmonize with other Scriptures and to have the fewest problems. I actually was pushed toward this view by reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ volume on Romans 7 where he argues that these verses describe a Jew under intense conviction of sin, just prior to conversion. (He would not be happy that his argument pushed me in this direction!)

Romans 7:14-25 describes an immature believer who has not yet learned that he is free from the law and that he has the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome sin.

Let me begin by acknowledging that the main weakness of this view is Paul’s use of the present tense. It sounds as if Paul is speaking of his current experience, not of a past experience that he had as a new believer. But Paul could be using the present tense as a vivid way of sharing his experiences as a new believer. For reasons that I will share in a moment, I cannot accept that Paul is describing his experience as a mature believer.

Also, I want to distance myself from what is called the Keswick teaching, popularized by Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life and Ian Thomas’ The Saving Life of Christ. These and other books of this persuasion teach that Romans 7 describes a “carnal” Christian who has not yet learned the secret of the “exchanged life.” When you learn the secret, “not I, but Christ,” you break through into the experience of Romans 8. It is sometimes pictured as moving from the wilderness to the Promised Land. This teaching gives the impression that once you break into the Romans 8 experience, the Christian life becomes an effortless, struggle-free, sin-free life. You never worry, you’re never ruffled by trials, and you experience perpetual joy and close fellowship with the Lord. These books convey that if you’re struggling against sin, you haven’t learned the secret of letting go and letting God. That is not my understanding of the biblical Christian life!

I understand the Christian life to be an ongoing, lifelong struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We never arrive at a place in this life where sin no longer tempts us, where trials are not a difficult burden, and where we have attained sinless perfection. Jesus Himself cried out to God with loud crying and tears (Heb. 5:7). Paul was burdened so much that he despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). He describes his Christian life as a fight, not an effortless rest (2 Tim. 4:7). The author of Hebrews commends his readers in their striving against sin, and encourages them to submit to the difficult discipline of the Lord that for the moment does not seem joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:4-11). So I’m not saying that in moving from Romans 7 to Romans 8, life becomes an effortless, ecstatic experience of perpetual victory. Even mature believers fall into sin on occasions and they always fall far short of perfection.

This means that there is always going to be some degree of the struggle expressed in Romans 7 in the Christian life, even in Romans 8. In that, I agree with those who argue that this is the experience of a mature Christian. As we grow to know God and His ways more deeply, we will always be painfully aware of how far short we fall. We will always lament our propensity toward living in the flesh and yielding to the sin that so easily besets us. There will always be the battle between the two natures. I do not agree with those who say that believers only have the new nature, or that we only sin occasionally. It is a daily battle with many setbacks.

But I disagree with those who argue that Romans 7 describes the “normal” Christian life. The man in Romans 7 is not just struggling against sin, which every Christian must do all through life, but he is consistently defeated by sin. He describes himself as “sold into bondage to sin” (7:14). He is “not practicing” what he would like to do, but is doing the very thing he hates (7:15). He wills to do good, but he does not do it (7:18). He practices the very evil that he does not want to do (7:19). He describes himself as a prisoner of the law of sin (7:23). These descriptions are contrary to 1 John 3:9, which says that believers cannot continue to sin as a normal way of life. Believers do sin, but they do not live in perpetual defeat to sin as Paul here describes. Mature believers do not continue practicing sin or living in slavery to it.

I’m sensitive to the argument that in light of chapter 6, no believer could say that he is “sold into bondage to sin” and “a prisoner of the law of sin.” As I said, that is the strongest argument that this is an unbeliever. But an unbeliever would not experience this intense hatred of his sin and inner desire to be free from it. And a mature believer would not describe himself as being in bondage to sin. Thus I think that Paul is describing his experience as a new believer, before he understood that he had died to the law and been joined in marriage to Christ and before he learned to walk by means of the Holy Spirit.

Since Paul before his conversion was a legalistic Pharisee, it’s not likely that immediately after his conversion he understood that he was dead to the law or that he now could live by the power of the Holy Spirit. He probably began his Christian experience by striving to obey the law in the flesh. After a time of trying and failing and trying again and failing again, he finally broke through to realize, “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14). He came to understand that since he was identified with Christ in His death, he was now free from the law, so that now he could serve in newness of the Spirit (7:4, 6). He grew to understand his new identity in Christ. He realized the glorious truth, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). But it probably took him a while, perhaps a few years, to work through all of this both theologically and practically in terms of his daily experience. My understanding is that he is sharing those early struggles in Romans 7:14-25.


I’ll go back and work through these verses in more detail in coming messages. But for now, let me leave you with a few practical issues to think about.

First, if you do not hate your sin and struggle against it, you need to examine whether you are saved. Those who have experienced the new birth hate their sin and they desperately want to have victory over it. If you shrug off your sin as no big deal, it is not a sign that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you. A life of ongoing repentance is the mark of the new birth.

Second, if you have trusted Christ but are defeated often by sin, so that you feel in bondage to it, there is hope for deliverance. Your defeats do not necessarily mean that you are not born again. At the same time, you need to realize how serious your sins are and that God did not save you so that you would live a defeated life. He has provided the Word, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ to help every Christian gain consistent victory over sin, beginning on the thought level. We will never be sinless in this life, but we should be sinning less as we grow to maturity in Christ. If you learn to walk in the Spirit, you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

So wherever you’re at spiritually, I want to offer you genuine hope in the Lord. If you are not saved, cry out to God: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). If you are defeated by sin, so was none other than the apostle Paul. But he learned to live in consistent victory in Christ, and so can you! Romans 8 will help point the way.

The Merry-Go-Round of Sin (Romans 7:14-20)

Have you ever felt like you were on a merry-go-round of sin, but you couldn’t figure out how to get off even though you wanted to? In that sense, it isn’t a merry-go-round, but a miserable-go-round! You hate going around and around, but you don’t know how to get off the stupid thing.

That’s what Paul describes in Romans 7:14-20 about his spiritual experience: he hates what he is doing, but he can’t stop doing it. He knows that God gave us the law; it’s spiritual and good; it’s the right thing to do. The problem is, he can’t do it. He doesn’t have the power to get off the merry-go-round of sin.

But the problem we face in trying to understand Paul (as I explained at length last week) is that it’s difficult to determine whether he is talking here about his experience before salvation or after he was saved. Some of his statements sound as if he was an unbeliever, but other statements sound as if he was a believer. And, if it refers to his experience as a believer, how then do his words about being in bondage to sin (7:14) square with what he has said in chapter 6 about being freed from sin?

My understanding is that Paul is describing his experience as an immature believer, before he came to understand that he was no longer under the law and that he could experience consistent victory over sin by relying on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I hold this view because Paul makes some statements that an unbeliever could not make. He loves God’s law and wants to keep it from the heart (7:22). He hates his own sin.

But he also makes some statements that a mature believer could not make. He is not merely describing the ongoing struggle against sin that all believers experience, but rather an experience of ongoing defeat. He was habitually practicing the very evil that he hated (7:15, 19). This does not square with a person who walks by means of the Spirit and thus does not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). It does not line up with 1 John 3:9 (and 2:3-6), that those born of God do not practice sin.

It’s reasonable to assume that after his conversion, Paul did not instantly understand his new position of being dead to the law and united to Christ (Rom. 7:1-4) or how to walk in dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4, 13). So I believe that he is describing his own frustrating experience as a new believer, before he learned these truths. And, as I also said, Paul’s main point in the context is to show that God’s law is holy, righteous, and good, but it is not able to deliver us from the power of sin.

As I also explained, I agree that the Christian life is never free from the struggles that Paul describes here. We have to do battle against indwelling sin as long as we live. But Paul is not merely describing a struggle here. Rather, he is talking about a life of consistent defeat. He’s not just describing an ongoing battle, but a losing ongoing battle! I contend that this is not the normal Christian life of a mature believer.

Rather, as we grow to understand and live in light of our new identity in Christ and to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience consistent victory over sin. We will never be sinless, but we will sin less as we grow. Also, as we grow we will come to see more and more of our inward corruption and more and more of God’s holiness, so that we lament our propensity toward sin and long for our new resurrection bodies. But we will not yield to our sinful desires as often as we did as new believers. So that is my approach to these verses.

Several commentators (F. Godet, Commentary on Romans [Kregel], p. 282, is the earliest that I could find) point out the cyclical structure of Romans 7:14-25. Each cycle begins with a fact, then gives the proof of it, and a conclusion:

First cycle (7:14-17):

Fact (7:14): “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of flesh….”

Proof: (7:15-16): “For what I am doing, I do not understand….”

Conclusion: (7:17): “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Second cycle (7:18-20):

Fact: (7:18): “For I know that nothing good dwells in me….”

Proof (7:18b-19): “For the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not….”

Conclusion (7:20): “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Third cycle (7:21-25):

Fact (7:21): “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”

Proof (7:22-23): “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in … my body….”

Conclusion (7:25): “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but … with my flesh the law of sin.”

The second and third cycles in many ways repeat the first cycle, which is why I’m describing Paul’s experience here as being on a merry-go-round of sin. He’s doing the same thing over and over, in spite of his good intentions to the contrary. He wants to stop, but he can’t. And so the overall feeling is one of powerlessness. He knows that he’s doing wrong and he wants to please God, but he’s not able to do so. Sin gets the upper hand again and again.

In this message, I will look at the first two cycles (7:14-17, 18-20), which teach us:

After the new birth, immature believers often experience a frustrating cycle of being defeated by sin because they yield to the old nature.

I’m not saying that once you understand the truths of Romans 8, you will never suffer bouts of being defeated by sin. Romans 8 does not propel you into a life of effortless, struggle-free spiritual victory. The Christian life is a continual battle and there are setbacks and at times overwhelming failures. But I do contend that Romans 7, with its perpetual defeat, pictures an immature believer, whereas Romans 8 gives us the key to consistent victory. This means that if Romans 7 describes your life right now more than Romans 8 does, there is hope! Paul was once where you’re at now. His frustrating experience teaches us three things:

1. When God saves you, He gives you a new nature, but He does not eradicate the old nature, which is corrupted by sin.

In Romans 6:6, Paul says that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” In light of that, some, such as John MacArthur, teach (The MacArthur Study Bible NASB [Nelson Bibles], p. 1670), “The believer does not have two competing natures, the old and the new; but one new nature that is still incarcerated in unredeemed flesh.” As highly as I respect John MacArthur, I strongly disagree with that statement. I think it is unhelpful and dangerous, because it minimizes the spiritual danger that resides in every believer. I don’t care whether you call it the old nature, the flesh, or indwelling sin. But there resides in every believer a strong propensity toward sin that wars against the new nature that we received through the new birth.

Then how do I explain Romans 6:6? It reflects our new position in Christ, which we must count as true in the daily battle against sin. Paul often portrays the tension between our position and our practice in the Christian life. In Colossians 3:9-10, he says that as believers we have “laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self….” But in the parallel in Ephesians 4:22-24, he commands us (almost all commentators take the infinitives as imperatives) to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit …” and “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” If we have already laid aside the old and put on the new, why does he command us to do it? The answer is, positionally it is true. But practically, we must count it as true and live in light of it.

You find the same tension between Romans 6, which emphasizes that we have died with Christ, and Romans 8:13, which commands us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Or, in Colossians 3:3, Paul says that we have died with Christ, but in 3:5 he commands us to put to death (literal translation) the members of our earthly body with regard to various sins. We’re dead, so we need to live like it by putting our flesh to death.

So the point is, conversion does not eradicate the strong desires of the flesh or work to improve the flesh. The old man is “being corrupted according to the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22). It won’t get better over time. You may have been a believer for 50 years, but you still must put off the flesh on a daily basis. That’s why the godly George Muller used to pray as an elderly man, “Lord, don’t let me become a wicked old man!” He knew that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwells nothing good (Rom. 7:18).

2. New believers are often still enslaved to sin because they yield to the old nature.

Again, while there is much controversy, with some saying that these verses describe unbelievers, while others argue that they reflect Paul’s experience as a mature believer, I contend that they describe an immature believer who is still yielding to his old nature. He has not yet learned to put on his new identity in Christ and to walk by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to resist the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

There has been a lot of confusion because of some popular teaching that Christians may be divided into those that are “carnal” and those that are “spiritual.” This teaching was popularized through the Scofield Reference Bible, Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That is Spiritual, and Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Holy Spirit” booklet. Purportedly based on 1 Corinthians 2 & 3, the teaching is that you can legitimately be a Christian through a decision to invite Christ into your life as Savior, but you’ve not yet chosen to let Him be Lord of your life. So you live with self on the throne until you learn to yield to the Holy Spirit. After that, you bounce back and forth between “carnal” and “spiritual,” depending on who is on the throne: self or the Lord.

But Scripture does not present the option of accepting Christ as your Savior, but not as your Lord. And you don’t bounce back and forth between being carnal or spiritual. Granted, there is a lifetime of growth involved in yielding every area of life and every thought to Christ. But if you are not seeking to obey Christ in every area of life, you need to examine whether He has changed your heart. All who are born of God strive to please God in every way. (See Ernest Reisinger’s booklet, What Should We Think of the Carnal Christian? [Banner of Truth], for more on this.)

It is better to say that Christians, like humans, grow through various stages: infancy, youth, and adulthood (see 1 John 2:12-14). Paul addresses the Corinthians as “infants in Christ,” who needed milk, not meat, because they were still fleshly (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Just as human babies must grow from milk to solid food, and from being fed to learning to feed themselves, and from being carried to crawling to walking, and in many more areas, the same is true spiritually. Newer believers usually yield more often to the old nature (the flesh or indwelling sin) than more mature believers do. Maturity involves learning to reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. And it involves learning by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

Here, Paul gives us a glimpse of his losing battle against sin as a babe in Christ, which he calls being “sold into bondage to sin” (7:14). Note six things about this enslavement to sin:

A. This enslavement to sin stands in complete contrast to our new identity in Christ, creating an intense internal battle.

Romans 7 stands in such stark contrast to the truths of Romans 6 that many have concluded that it describes an unbeliever. If it were not for the inner struggle, you’d look at Paul’s behavior and conclude that he is not a believer. He is in bondage to sin. He does not obey God’s law, but rather does the opposite. In other words, Paul knew that he was living in disobedience to God. But internally, this war was raging, because he knew that his behavior did not match what he was supposed to be and what he desperately wanted to be.

This means that living in continual defeat to sin does not necessarily mean that you are not saved. But if you are saved, you can’t live contentedly in sin. You will hate what you’re doing and you will fight it desperately until you gain the victory. Spiritual complacency is not a good sign! Even young believers experience this intense internal conflict.

B. This enslavement to sin causes inner turmoil, because it conflicts with the desires of the new nature.

Jonathan Edwards argued forcefully in his A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (in The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth] 1:236), “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” In other words, when God saves us, He gives us new holy desires. Edwards argues (1:239, italics his), “So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.”

We see that here. Paul wants to obey God’s law and do what is right, but he’s failing. He confesses that God’s law is good, but he’s not able to obey it. His desires for holiness are evidence that God has imparted new life to him, but his inability to do what God requires is causing this inner turmoil. If you know that you’re disobeying God, but you just shrug it off, it may mean that you’re not born again. Those born of God’s Spirit are in turmoil when they disobey Him.

C. This enslavement to sin causes mental confusion.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand” (7:15). By “understand,” Paul may mean that he does not approve of what he is doing (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans [ICC, T. & T. Clark], 1:358). Or, he may mean that he does not fully comprehend the depths of sin that are still in his heart (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 373). But it’s obvious that he is a confused man. He doesn’t understand his own behavior. Sin always clouds our minds and causes us not to think clearly.

D. This enslavement to sin does not eradicate our recognition of God’s holy standards.

Paul agrees with the Law, confessing that it is good (7:16). Even though he is defeated by sin, he still recognizes that God’s ways are right and his own ways are wrong. He isn’t disputing with the law, as if it were unfair or even wrong.

E. This enslavement to sin stems from the ongoing existence of indwelling sin, not from our new, true identity in Christ.

Paul concludes the first section (7:17), “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” We need to be careful not to fall into error over verses 17 and 20, which say essentially the same thing. Paul is not saying, “I’m not responsible for my sin. I’m just a helpless victim. I didn’t do it; sin did it!” Rather, he is acknowledging the powerful inner struggle that takes place in every believer. He’s personifying sin not as an honored guest or a paying tenant, but as an uninvited squatter who is difficult to eject (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 293). But since Paul commits the sin, he is responsible for doing it. And he is acknowledging that when he sins, he is acting against his new identity in Christ, which is his true new person. As new creatures in Christ, we are responsible to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6:11).

F. This enslavement to sin shows that indwelling sin is a powerful force that we are not able to control in and of ourselves.

You can resist sin outwardly by sheer will-power, but it will keep wearing away in your inner man until it wins. In other words, outward morality is not enough. The Pharisees were outwardly moral, but Jesus nailed them for their hypocrisy and the evil that was in their hearts (Matt. 23). You have to judge sin on the thought level. It is so powerful that Jesus graphically portrayed dealing with it as cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye (Matt. 5:29-30). To live in consistent victory over indwelling sin, we need nothing less than the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We all tend to minimize our sin, excusing it as no big deal. But these verses should show us that we’re dealing with a powerful force that is out to control and destroy us. We need more than will-power.

Thus, we all have a battle within due to the existence of the new man and the old in the same person. If we yield to the old man (the flesh, indwelling sin), it will dominate and enslave us.

3. A new believer’s enslavement to sin feels like a merry-go-round of defeat due to the inner battle between the two natures.

In large part, verses 18-20 are a repeat of verses 14-17. Paul is explaining further the conclusion of verse 17, and his conclusion in verse 20 is almost identical with his conclusion in verse 17. He’s on the merry-go-round and can’t figure out how to get off. The repetition serves to drive home the facts that sin is more powerful than human will power, that the flesh is corrupt, and that if we let it, the old nature will dominate the new, even against our desires to the contrary. So we need nothing less than the very power of God to overcome the power of indwelling sin.


There are no answers to this huge problem of indwelling sin in Romans 7:14-25, except for the brief exclamation of hope in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The answers come in chapter 8.

But in one way there is an answer here: Sometimes God lets us come to the end of ourselves so that we will be driven to trust in Him alone. By our proud fallen nature, we’re prone to trust in ourselves, first for salvation, and then for sanctification. God has to show us that we cannot save ourselves by our own righteousness or good deeds. God only saves sinners who cast themselves upon His mercy in Christ. And He has to show us that we cannot conquer sin by our own will-power and effort. If we could, we’d boast in our holiness! Peter had to learn that painful lesson by denying the Lord. We have to learn it by going through the Romans 7 merry-go-round of resolve and failure, until we learn that the victory is not in us; it’s in the Lord.

My friend, Bob Deffinbaugh, who is a pastor in the Dallas area, put it this way ( “The problem with many Christians is not their despair, like that of Paul, but their lack of it.” He goes on to point out that until we come to the end of ourselves in utter despair, we will not come to Christ, because we think that we don’t really need Him. Until we see the magnitude of our sin problem in the inner person, we’ll assure ourselves that it’s under control because we’re outwardly moral. The first step to get off the merry-go-round of sin is to cry out (7:24), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Thankfully, the answer is clear: God will set us free through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The War Within (Romans 7:21-25)

I recently saw a bumper sticker with the peace symbol around the border. It showed two children with their arms around each other. The caption was, “All the arms we need.” I said to Marla, “What planet do these people live on?” When we dwell on the new earth, when all sin is completely eradicated, we won’t need arms to defend ourselves. But as long as sin is in this world, we need arms not only to hug one another, but also to fight against enemies that seek to destroy us. As unpleasant as it is, the reality of life in this fallen world includes conflict.

That’s also true in the Christian life. We all want peaceful lives. Perhaps you came to Christ because someone told you that in Him, you would find peace. That’s true. In Christ, we experience peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Christ is the basis for peace between believers (Eph. 2:14). As much as is possible, we are to be at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18). And, in Christ we come to know a sense of inner peace, even in the face of tribulation, that we lacked before (John 16:33).

But while the Christian life is one of peace, it’s also one of constant warfare. As we serve Christ and seek to extend His kingdom, we’re at war with the evil powers of darkness (Eph. 6:10-20). We’re engaged in the battle between God’s truth and the lies of Satan that captivate the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And, as every Christian knows, there is a fierce inner battle that goes on between the flesh and the spirit, the old man and the new (Gal. 5:17). If we do not learn how to overcome the strong inner urge to gratify the flesh, sin will take us captive and enslave us. Paul describes this war within in Romans 7:14-25.

As I explained in the previous two messages, some godly scholars understand these verses to be a description of Paul as an unbelieving Jew, striving but failing to keep God’s law. Others argue that Paul is describing the ongoing battle that he was experiencing as he wrote. Even mature believers have to fight this battle against indwelling sin as long as they live.

While I agree that mature believers must fight a continual battle against indwelling sin (the flesh or the old sin nature), I disagree that such a description adequately explains these verses. Paul is not just describing a battle here, but a losing battle. He describes himself as (7:14), “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” He is not practicing what he would like to do, but rather was doing the very thing he hated (7:15, 18, 19). He was a prisoner of the law of sin (7:23). As I explained (in the last message), he was on the merry-go-round of sin and he couldn’t get off.

We looked at the first two cycles (7:14-17, 18-20) of sin and defeat. Now we come to the third time around the merry-go-round, which follows the same three-fold progression: Fact, proof, and conclusion:

Fact (7:21): “I find then the principle that evil is present in me ….”

Proof (7:22-23): “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in my members, waging war…”

Conclusion (7:25): “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

I reject the view that Paul is describing his experience as an unbeliever because he says things that are not true of unbelievers. I reject the view that he was writing primarily about his struggle as a mature believer because while mature believers struggle with sin and sometimes lose the battle, they do not live in perpetual defeat and bondage to sin.

I contend that these verses primarily describe an immature believer who has not yet come to understand that he is no longer under the law, but under grace. He has not yet learned to rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome the lusts of the flesh. (There is no mention of the Spirit here, but much is said of the Spirit in chapter 8.) But at the same time, the war that Paul describes here does go on, even for mature believers. The difference is that while sin is winning the war in chapter 7, Paul through the Holy Spirit is winning against sin in chapter 8. While we can never in this life obey God’s law perfectly, we can learn to obey God consistently. We do not have to yield repeatedly to sin, which is the frustrating cycle that Paul describes here. This third cycle teaches us:

To win the war within, we must understand the magnitude of the inner conflict so that in despair we cry out to God for deliverance.

In 7:24, Paul cries out in despair, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” His exclamation in 7:25 gives us a ray of hope, followed by a summary of the war within: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Chapter 8 goes on to unfold the deliverance that God gives us over sin through the indwelling Holy Spirit. I see three lessons in our text:

1. To win the war within, we must understand the nature and magnitude of the conflict between indwelling sin and the new man.

The Christian life is a constant battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here the focus is on the flesh. “I find” implies that this was a discovery that came to Paul after some painful failures. He discovered this truth in the school of hard knocks. Even though Paul had experienced a dramatic conversion, it didn’t immediately result in a life of consistent victory over sin. And so he portrays here the two combatants in this battle. We can picture them as boxers:

A. In this corner: The reigning champion, the old man, waging war in my members to make me a prisoner.

Paul uses several terms here to describe the evil within. While they have different nuances, they basically describe the same thing: “the law that evil is present in me” (7:21); “a different law … waging war” (7:23); “the law of sin” (7:23, 25); “the body of this death” (7:24); and, “my flesh” (7:25). All of these terms refer to the old man and its method of operation. The old man is not eradicated at conversion, but continues to be corrupted according to the lusts of deceit (Eph. 4:22). As we saw last time, positionally the old man was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with (Rom. 6:6). But practically, we have to reckon this to be true in our daily experience by putting it off (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 4:22-24). If we don’t learn to do this, the old man will make us prisoners to the law of sin (7:23). Note how the old man operates:

(1). The old man (the flesh, indwelling sin) operates according to a law.

The word translated “principle” (NASB, 7:21) is literally, “law.” Some commentators argue that it refers to God’s law (as it does in 7:22 & 25), so that in 7:21 the sense is, “I find then that in reference to [God’s] law, evil is present in me .…” While that is possible, the fact that Paul specifies “the law of God” in 7:22 indicates that he is distinguishing it from the law that he has just mentioned in 7:21.

So he is probably using “law” ironically in 7:21, both to compare and contrast the law of sin with God’s law. In this sense, it rules us and with authority tells us how to live (although wrongly!). It promises rewards if we obey it: “You’ll be happier and more fulfilled if you experience the pleasure of this sin.” It threatens us with penalties if we do not obey it: “You’ll miss out on all the fun if you don’t do what I say.” So indwelling sin is powerful. It operates as a law, commanding us, threatening us, and enticing us. (I am indebted to Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within [P & R Publishing], pp. 23-26 for some of these insights about the law of sin.)

(2). The old man operates by waging a cunning, relentless war.

Paul says (7:23), “But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war ….” The war that the old man wages is a guerilla war. It doesn’t wear red coats and come marching towards you in formation, so that you can see it coming. It uses snipers and land mines and hidden roadside bombs and civilians posing as friends when really they’re enemies. In other words, sin is subtle and cunning. It lures you into traps where you get ambushed. And it’s relentless. If it loses one battle, it doesn’t pack up and go home, conceding defeat. It keeps coming at you until it brings you down.

(3). The old man operates through our bodies.

This law operates “in the members of my body” (7:23). Paul laments “the body of this death” (7:24), which refers to his physical body that is under the curse of death. He contrasts the law of sin with “the law of my mind” (7:23).

We need to be careful here or we could fall into an error that became prevalent in the early church. Gnosticism taught that the body is inherently evil, whereas the spirit is good. This led to two different extremes. Some said that since the body is evil, we must treat it harshly by depriving ourselves of food, comfort, and physical pleasure. This is asceticism, which Paul strongly condemns (Col. 2:16-23). The other extreme was that some said that since the body is evil anyway, you might as well indulge it. What the body does is unrelated to the spirit. So you could indulge in sexual immorality, but at the same time claim that your spirit was not in sin.

Since Paul elsewhere clearly denounces these errors, we would be mistaken to take his teaching here in that way. Rather, he is saying that the law of sin works through his physical body and manifests itself in evil deeds. But it takes his entire person captive (7:23, “making me a prisoner”). In this sense, by his members, Paul means his flesh (7:18), which is the old sin nature. Temptation always begins in our minds, but it appeals to and works its way out through our bodies. Thus one strategy against sin is to make it your aim always to glorify God with your body (1 Cor. 6:20).

(4). The old man operates through strong compulsion or feelings, not through reason alone.

Sin uses reason, however faulty, to appeal to us. Satan reasoned with Eve that God surely would not impose the death penalty for eating a little piece of fruit. He also used faulty reasoning to get her to doubt God’s goodness in imposing the command. The fall brought our minds as well as our bodies into captivity to sin.

But in addition to reason, temptation always appeals to our feelings. Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans [Apollos/Eerdmans, p. 294) refers to it as “the compulsion to do evil.” It’s not purely rational. In fact, sin is usually irrational. If we were to stop and think about the consequences both for us and for others, we’d resist the temptation. Don Kistler pointed out the irrationality of sin when he astutely observed (in “Why Read the Puritans Today?” referring to Jeremiah Burroughs’ thesis in The Evil of Evils), “Sin is worse than suffering; but people will do everything they can to avoid suffering, but almost nothing to avoid sin.”

So, in the first corner, we have the reigning champion that has dominated the human race ever since the fall: the old man.

B. In the other corner: The new challenger, the inner man, joyfully concurring with the law of God.

Paul wants to do good (7:21). He says (7:22), “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” He says that with his mind he is serving the law of God (7:25). This must refer to the mind of a regenerate man. So by the inner man and my mind, Paul is referring to the new man, which through the new birth “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). Leon Morris (p. 295) calls this “the real Paul.” F. F. Bruce (Romans [IVP/Eerdmans], rev. ed., p. 146) identifies it as “the ‘new nature’ in Christ that is daily being renewed in the Creator’s image.” He adds (ibid.), “In light of 8:7-8 it is difficult to view the speaker here as other than a believer.”

One of the marks of the new birth is that God gives you new desires. You have a new love for Christ, who gave Himself on the cross for you. You love God’s Word and desire it like a newborn babe desires his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2). You long to be holy, just as Jesus is holy. You hate your own sin. You love to be with God’s people and talk about the things of God. And yet, at the same time, you know that in your flesh there is still a strong desire to do evil. In new believers, the desires of the old nature (the reigning champion) often win out over the new desires of the new nature (the new challenger) until the new believer learns how to fight.

That’s the picture of Paul here. He has a new nature that joyfully concurs with God’s law in the inner man, but he’s still dominated by the old nature. Unbelievers do not have two natures warring against each other and they do not joyfully love God’s law in their hearts. But mature believers have learned to put on the new man and put off the old, so that they experience consistent victory over sin. But before we begin to see consistent victory, we often experience frustrating defeats because of the power of the reigning champion, the old man. Let’s examine what deliverance from the old nature looks like:

2. Deliverance in this conflict consists of consistent victory over sin in this life and perfect, permanent victory in the resurrection.

In addition to Paul’s dramatic use of the present tense, one strong argument that he is describing mature believers here is that even mature believers identify with the struggle pictured here. Even after we’ve learned to overcome temptation on a consistent basis and after we’ve walked in obedience to the Lord for years, we still find ourselves sinning. We lash out in anger at our loved ones. We act selfishly with no regard for others. We see a seductive woman and lust floods into our thoughts.

But I do not see Paul describing here a lack of perfection, but rather a lack of obedience. He is not doing what he knows to be right. He is practicing what he knows to be wrong. He is failing completely. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits [Zondervan], p. 222), who argues that Paul’s cry of anguish (in 7:24) is not caused by the fact that he is in conflict against his old nature, but rather by his persistent defeat in yielding to that old nature (7:23). So let me make three observations to try to picture what deliverance looks like:

A. Deliverance does not refer to a state of sinless perfection in this life, but to consistent victory over sin.

In this life, I will never love God as completely as I should, with my entire heart, soul, mind, and strength. I will never love others as much as I love myself (Mark 12:30-31). I will always fall short of these commands. But a lack of perfection is not the same as persistent disobedience. As a new creature in Christ, by God’s Spirit, I can choose to love God by spending time with Him each day in His Word and in prayer, by gathering with His people to worship Him each week, and by honoring Him with the money He entrusts to me. I can love my wife, my children, and others in a self-sacrificing manner. The deliverance that Paul is crying out for (in 7:24) may include the perfection that will come when we get our resurrection bodies. But he wants to be freed from his present enslavement to sin (7:23). He wants to obey God consistently, even if such obedience can never be perfect in this life.

B. Deliverance from sin always creates tension with the growing awareness of your many sins and shortcomings.

There is an irony in the Christian life: As you walk more consistently in obedience to God and grow closer to the light of His holy presence, you see all the more how dirty you really are. When Isaiah saw God in His holiness, he immediately saw how sinful he was (Isa. 6:5). Paul’s cry here may have stemmed partly from this awareness of his sinful imperfection. In that sense, it’s a cry that we will continually echo as we grow in Christ.

But it seems to me that Lloyd-Jones is right when he connects Paul’s cry in this context mainly with his disobedience and defeat, not just with his imperfection (7:24 follows 7:23). Yet at the same time, growing to know Christ and obey Him more always leads to a greater awareness of how sinful you still are. Deliverance from sin’s power does not eliminate this tension of how far short you fall.

C. Deliverance from sin means consistent victory over it, but it does not eliminate the lifelong struggle against it.

After Paul’s jubilant exclamation (7:25), you’d expect him to move on to talk about victory over sin. But instead, he summarizes the war he has just described, in which with his mind he serves the law of God, but with his flesh, the law of sin. It leaves you with the feeling that sin is still consistently winning. Victory doesn’t come until chapter 8. Bishop Lightfoot (Notes on Epistles of St. Paul [Baker], p. 305) says that while Paul’s thanksgiving is out of place, he can’t endure to leave the difficulty unsolved, so he gives the solution parenthetically, even though it interrupts his argument.

But while the struggle against sin is a lifelong battle, when we do learn that we can’t win it in our own strength and when we learn to walk in the Spirit, we can experience consistent victory, which is the flavor of chapter 8. But even when we walk in the Spirit, the daily struggle against sin goes on. The war within of chapter 7 is never eradicated in this life, but the difference is, chapter 7 pictures persistent defeat, whereas chapter 8 pictures consistent triumph and victory, even in the face of severe trials. By God’s grace, we can put the defeat of chapter 7 in the past and experience the consistent victory of chapter 8.

3. To experience consistent victory over sin, we must despair over our sin and cry out to God for deliverance.

As I cited my friend Bob Deffinbaugh last week, the problem with many Christians is not their despair, like that of Paul, but their lack of it. They don’t feel the anguish of their persistent disobedience. They avoid the struggle, often by minimizing their sin as a “personality quirk” or as “just being human.” They excuse it as normal: “Everyone has his faults.”

But you will not gain consistent victory over sin until you first see God’s holy standard and realize how often you’re disobeying that standard. You must also realize, often through repeated failures, that you cannot obey God in your own strength. Then, in despair, you cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” As you search God’s Word for answers, you learn that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (8:2). You learn to walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (8:4). You begin to experience consistent victory over sin in your daily walk, beginning on the thought level.


Dwight Eisenhower once said, “War is a terrible thing. But if you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to get into it all the way.” Underestimating the power of the enemy is a sure way to lose. The war within will be with us as long as we live in these fallen bodies. It is winnable, not perfectly or permanently, but consistently. But we can’t be half-hearted. If we fully engage the battle using God’s resources, we can consistently win!

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Posted by on July 29, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #15 The Law Principle and the Gospel – Romans 7:1-6

Something in human nature makes us want to go to extremes, a weakness from which Christians are not wholly free. “Since we are saved by grace,” some argue, “we are free to live as we please,” which is the extreme of license.

“But we cannot ignore God’s Law,” others argue. “We are saved by grace, to be sure; but we must live under Law if we are to please God.” This is the extreme expression of legalism.

My greatest need is to be right with God. If I am to have that need met, three other needs must also be met. Romans 7 begins with Paul giving us this direction: the need to be forgiven, the need to be changed, and the need to win the victory over the flesh.

Paul answered the first group in Romans 6; the second group he answered in Romans 7. The word law is used twenty-three times in this chapter. In Romans 6, Paul told us how to stop doing bad things; in Romans 7 he told how not to do good things. “You were not justified by keeping the Law,” he argued, “and you cannot be sanctified by keeping the Law.”

Every growing Christian understands the experience of Romans 6 and 7. Once we learn how to “know, reckon, and yield,” we start getting victory over the habits of the flesh, and we feel we are becoming more spiritual. We set high standards and ideals for ourselves and for a while seem to attain them.

Then everything collapses! We start to see deeper into our own hearts and we discover sins that we did not know were there. God’s holy Law takes on a new power, and we wonder if we can ever do anything good! Without realizing it, we have moved into “legalism” and have learned the truth about sin, the Law, and ourselves.

What really is “legalism”? It is the belief that I can become holy and please God by obeying laws. It is measuring spirituality by a list of do’s and don’ts. The weakness of legalism is that it sees sins (plural) but not sin (the root of the trouble). It judges by the outward and not the inward. Furthermore, the legalist fails to understand the real purpose of God’s Law and the relationship between Law and grace.

These verses actually continue the discussion that Paul began in Romans 6:15, answering the question, “Shall we sin because we are not under the Law, but under grace?” He used the illustration of a master and servant to explain how the Christian should yield himself to God.

In this passage he used the illustration of a husband and wife to show that the believer has a new relationship to the Law because of his union with Jesus Christ.

7:1 The law has authority over a man only as long as he lives.NIV Paul continues his thought from 6:14, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

Obviously, the law has authority only while someone is alive—a dead body cannot be expected to follow any laws, nor can it make restitution for sins committed. Paul’s word for has authority includes the idea of the “master”—literally, “The law lords it over a person.”

Paul’s rhetorical question creates a chilling afterthought. Death brings an end to the authority of the law, but what remains is judgment. Death removes a person from the frying pan of the law, but then drops him or her into the fire of judgment. But if a person can get out from under the authority of the law without coming under the judgment of law, that would be good news!

7:2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.

The illustration is a simple one, but it has a profound application. When a man and woman marry, they are united for life. Marriage is a physical union (“They two shall be one flesh” Gen. 2:24) and can only be broken by a physical cause. One such cause is death. (Matt. 5:31-34; 19:1-12 indicate that unfaithfulness also breaks the marriage bond, but Paul does not bring this up. He is not discussing marriage and divorce; he is using marriage to illustrate a point.)

As long as they live, the husband and wife are under the authority of the law of marriage. If the woman leaves the man and marries another man, she commits adultery. But if the husband dies, she is free to remarry because she is no longer a wife. It is death that has broken the marriage relationship and set her free.

The marriage vows bind a woman to her husband while he lives. If he dies, she is free from her vows to him.

Paul uses marriage to illustrate our relationship to the law. When a spouse dies, the law of marriage no longer applies. Because we have died with Christ, the law can no longer condemn us. We rose again when Christ was resurrected, and now we belong to Christ. His Spirit enables us to produce good fruit for God. The result is that we serve God, not by trying hard to obey a set of rules, but out of renewed hearts and minds that overflow with love for him. Why do you serve God?

7:3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

If the wife leaves her husband for another man, she is called an adulteress (except for the provisions described in Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7). The Greek word for called means “to be publicly known as” or “to receive the stigma of.” If this woman is widowed, she is free to marry another man and not be an adulteress.

Again, Paul was having to put this in “human terms” (6:19), by developing an analogy from common living to emphasize his lesson. Having begun the theme of marriage, Paul wants his readers to remember that under normal circumstances any breaking of the marriage vows would be adultery. Having stated that fact, Paul explains its significance.

7:4  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Just as death breaks the bond between a husband and wife, so a believer’s “death” (death to his old self) breaks his bond with the law. The old contractual arrangement had to be completely severed before the new one could begin. This had to be as final as death.

Jewish believers could not live with a dual allegiance. They could not be under the lordship of Christ and the lordship of the law. Total commitment to Christ cannot coexist with a total commitment to the law. That would be spiritual adultery. A believer belongs fully to Christ. This happens through the body of Christ, that is, because of Christ’s death on the cross. The believer is then freed to belong to another, to Christ.

Bear fruit to God.NKJV Just as there is fruit (i.e., children) from a marriage, so there is fruit from our relationship with Christ. In 6:20-21, Paul reminded the Romans that their old life had borne fruit that was reason for shame. But now there are prospects for a harvest of good. Only by belonging to Christ can we do good works and live a life pleasing to God. This is how we serve in the new way of the Spirit (7:6).

When a person dies to the old life and belongs to Christ, a new life begins. The unbeliever’s mind is centered on his or her own personal gratification. Those who don’t follow Christ have only their own self-determination as their source of power. By contrast, God is at the center of a Christian’s life. God supplies the power for the Christian’s daily living. Believers find that their whole way of looking at the world changes when they belong to Christ.


Paul is drawing a contrast between the two states of man—without Christ and with him. Before we knew Christ we tried to rule life by obedience to the written code of the law. That was when we were in the flesh. By the flesh Paul does not mean simply the body, because a man retains a physical body to the end of the day. In man there is something which answers to the seduction of sin; and it is that part of man which provides a bridgehead for sin that Paul calls the flesh.

The flesh is human nature apart from and unaided by God. Paul says that, when our human nature was unaided by God, the law actually moved our passions to sin. What does he mean by that? More than once he has the thought that the law actually produces sin, because the very fact that a thing is forbidden lends it a certain attraction. When we had nothing but the law, we were at the mercy of sin.

Then Paul turns to the state of a man with Christ. When a man rules his life by union with Christ he rules it not by obedience to a written code of law which may actually awaken the desire to sin but by an allegiance to Jesus Christ within his spirit and his heart. Not law, but love, is the motive of his life; and the inspiration of love can make him able to do what the restraint of law was powerless to help him do.

7:5 5  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  or, “When we were in the flesh.” Paul reminds his readers that the law did little more for them than fuel their passion for sin. They were under the authority of the law, but they disobeyed it. In the New Testament, when Paul used the term flesh (sarx), translated here as sinful nature, he had two concepts in mind: (1) basic humanity, or the mortal body (see 2 Corinthians 4:11; 10:3; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:22, 24), and (2) the human tendency to be dominated by desire and sin (see 8:7; Galatians 3:3, 5:24). Here, Paul is using the second meaning.

Bear fruit for death.NRSV The only fruit produced by a life that is under the law is sin and death. Why? Because sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies.NIV

  • The law had authority, but it did not effectively control human passions.
  • Sinful passions rebel against the law, seeing it as a “to do” list rather than God’s standard to be obeyed.
  • Sinful people, unwilling to obey God, are just as unwilling to obey his law.

The law restrains us and teaches us God’s will, but it also reveals and stimulates our sinful nature. At the same time it identifies sin, it also generates sin.

Paul expands on these thoughts at length in verses 7-13.


l It temporarily satisfies our itching desires.
l It provides an instant and intense sense of power.
l Passionate wrongdoing can be intoxicating and addictive.
l It feels good to rebel.
l We easily jump to a host of wrong conclusions:
—If one cookie tastes good, the whole bag will taste better.
—If some of anything is satisfactory, then a lot of the same thing will be intensely satisfactory.
—More is always better than less.
—Wanting really isn’t different than needing.
—Nothing is wrong unless you get caught.
l Once an improper desire is seriously considered, it quickly intensifies in appeal and power.

7:6  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

This statement anticipates the spiritual solution to the problems Paul will address in this chapter. Because we have been released from the law, we no longer Wave to obey in the old way of the written code.NIV In other words, the law is not erased, but it is no longer to be obeyed on the superficial level of “works” (the way of obedience familiar to the Jews).

Nor are we freed from all responsibility to serve. God still desires our moral obedience, but we are to serve Christ out of love as our chosen master. Our focus should be on his desires, not on a list of commands. We have been released so that we can serve in the new way of the Spirit living within us, guiding us, and showing us how to please God. We are still called to serve, but our master is gracious, and we are no longer trapped by the cycle of effort, failure, and guilt.

We are delivered from Law (v. 6). This is the logical conclusion: the Law cannot exercise authority over a dead person. The Authorized Version reads as though the Law died; but Paul wrote, “We having died to that wherein we were held.” Death means deliverance (note Rom. 6:9-10).

But we were delivered that we might serve. The Christian life is not one of independence and rebellion. We died to the Law that we might be “married to Christ.” We were delivered from the Law that we might serve Christ.

This truth refutes the false accusation that Paul taught lawlessness. What is different about Christian service as opposed to our old life of sin? To begin with, the Holy Spirit of God energizes us as we seek to obey and serve the Lord. (The word spirit ought to be capitalized in Romans 7:6—”newness of Spirit.”)

Under Law, no enablement was given. God’s commandments were written on stones and read to the people. But under grace, God’s Word is written in our hearts (2 Cor. 3:1-3). We “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) and serve “in newness of Spirit.” The believer, then, is no longer under the authority of the Law.


Some people try to earn God’s approval by keeping a set of rules (e.g., obeying the Ten Commandments, attending church faithfully, or doing good works), but all they earn for their efforts is frustration and discouragement. However, because of Christ’s sacrifice, the way to God is already open—we can become his children simply by putting our faith in Christ. No longer trying to reach God by keeping rules, we can become more and more like Jesus as we live with him day by day.
Let the Holy Spirit turn your eyes away from your own performance and toward Christ. He will free you to serve him out of love and gratitude. This is living “in the new way of the Spirit.”


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Posted by on July 26, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #14 The Doctrine of Sin – Romans 7:18-20

Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (ESV)
1  “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother.
2  And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him.
3  And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it.
4  You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.

Proverbs 3:27 (ESV)
27  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 21:13 (ESV)
13  Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 (ESV)
20  Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

What are some of the problems in life that we must face and overcome? Number one on the list is sin, because nobody on earth is sinless. We are all guilty of both sins of omission (“doeth good”) and sins of commission (“sinneth not”). If we walk in the fear of God and follow His wisdom, we will be able to detect and defeat the wicked one when he comes to tempt us. Wisdom will guide us and guard us in our daily walk.

 James 4:17 (ESV)
17  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)
18  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
19  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Paul had a deep desire to do only good. The wishing to do God’s will was very much present within his redeemed being.

Paul is not saying that he was totally incapable of doing anything that was good and acceptable. He is saying that he was incapable of completely fulfilling the requirements of God’s holy law

As a believer grows in his spiritual life, he inevitably will have both an increased hatred of sin and an increased love for righteousness. As desire for holiness increases, so will sensitivity to and antipathy toward sin.

The other side of the predicament, Paul says, is that I practice the very evil that I do not wish. Again, it is important to understand that this great inner struggle with sin is not experienced by the undeveloped and childish believer but by the mature man of God.

It demonstrates the inadequacy of human resolution. To resolve to do a thing is very far from doing it. There is in human nature an essential weakness of the will. The will comes up against the problems, the difficulties, the opposition—and it fails.

Once Peter took a great resolution. “Even if I must die with you,” he said, “I will not deny you” (Matt 26:35); and yet he failed badly when it came to the point. The human will not strengthened by Christ is bound to crack.

It demonstrates the limitations of diagnosis. Paul knew quite clearly what was wrong; but he was unable to put it right. He was like a doctor who could accurately diagnose a disease but was powerless to prescribe a cure. Jesus is the one person who not only knows what is wrong, but who can also put the wrong to rights. It is not criticism he offers but help.

When we are made aware of sin, we have a clear responsibility: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 niv).

1 John 3:16-18 (ESV)
16  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
17  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
18  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Popular sitcom, he characters are arrested on a duty to rescue violation. This law requires people to act as good Samaritans, and holds citizens legally liable for their failure to act. In common parlance, a lie of omission may be referred to as “playing dumb.”

Any treatment of Christian doctrine would be incomplete if the biblical statement concerning sin were omitted. Modern Philosophy denies the existence of sin, but any such denial is part of a false philosophy. All refusal to admit the existence of sin can neither be controverted nor challenged. The Bible declares sin’s existence and the human heart displays it. Sin is not a myth, it is not a figment of the mind; sin is a fact.

The Explanation of Sin

What is sin? Dr. Charles Ryrie has given a listing of Hebrew and Greek words which describe sin. He says that in the Hebrew there are at least eight basic words. The usage of these words leads to certain conclusions about the doctrine of sin in the Old Testament.

(1) Sin was conceived of as being fundamentally disobedience to God.

(2) While disobedience involved both positive and negative ideas, the emphasis was definitely on the positive commission of wrong and not the negative omission of good. In other words, sin was not simply missing the right mark, but hitting the wrong mark.

(3) Sin may take many forms, and the Israelite was aware of the particular form which his sin did take.”

“The New Testament uses twelve basic words to describe sin. From the uses of these words several conclusions may also be drawn.

(1) There is always a clear standard against which sin is committed.

(2) Ultimately all sin is a positive rebellion against God and a transgression of His standards.

(3) Evil may assume a variety of forms.

(4) Man’s responsibility is definite and clearly understood.”

The word that is used most frequently is missing the mark. It is the most comprehensive term for explaining sin. Paul used the verb hamartano when he wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God has a high and holy standard of what is right, and so long as man follows the Divine standard he will see himself as he truly exists in God’s eyes.

The Book of Judges contains the record of 700 men in the Tribe of Benjamin, all left‑handed, and “everyone could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16). The word translated “miss” is chata, rendered “sin” in Exodus 20:20 and so translated about 200 times in our English Bible. The left‑handed marksmen in the Tribe of Benjamin rarely if ever fell short of their target. They were known as men of the sling, with a deadly accuracy which never missed the bull’s eye. On the other hand, the Bible contains no record of a man, save Jesus Christ, who never missed the moral standard of Almighty God

Every man has failed to do what he ought, therefore the term is fittingly applied to sins of omission. Every man can be charged with the sin of the Pharisees whom our Lord charged with leaving undone the things they ought to have done (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42).

The Bible says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). You see, sinning is not limited to the doing and saying things that are wrong, but it extends to our failure to do what in God’s standard is perfectly right, missing that mark, falling short of the honor and worth of Almighty God.

The Entrance of Sin

With respect to the entrance of sin in the human race we are confined to God’s revelation to us in His Word. The Word of God leaves no room for doubt in this matter of sin’s origin.

According to Scripture sin first made its appearance in the world in the angelic creation. Peter wrote, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Peter 2:4).

To this Jude adds, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

The obvious deduction is that the sin of these fallen angels was a free act on their part, arising from their dissatisfaction with the place God assigned to them when He created them. Lucifer, who became the Devil, appears to have been the leader of the rebellion (Isaiah 14:12‑14), so that the Devil and demons were not created by God as such.

They were angels who rose up in rebellion against God. Exactly how such dissatisfaction and rebellion could arise in beings whom God created is not revealed by the sacred writers. We assume that they possessed personality and freedom of will and thereby had the capability of making right or wrong choices.

The Scripture is clear in its declaration that “by one man sin entered into the world . . .” (Romans 5:12). Sin is a very real and terrible fact of human life. The problem as to its earthly origin is solved in Romans 5. It came through the sin of “one man,” Adam, and thereby “passed” to “all men.”

The Extent of Sin

The seat of sin is in man himself. Our Lord said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).

The Effects of Sin

Genuine guilt toward God arises from illumination we receive from the Bible. It appears as the result of a breakdown in man’s obedience to God and his utter dependence upon God. It is a truly genuine guilt when the sinner knows in his innermost heart that he has disobeyed God, and that all such disobedience is sin. If a person is gripped with guilt‑feelings which are a result of sin and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, there is one solution, and only one. He must turn to God, trusting the redeeming work of Christ, and he may be veritably assured of forgiveness and cleansing.

When a person feels guilty because of sin, he does so because God has disapproved of that sin. He knows he has transgressed God’s law and therefore deserves to be punished. The guilt‑feeling grows out of the fact that his fellowship with God has been marred.

Every sin is an offense against God and stands in opposition to the holiness of God. We should be thankful to God that He has provided in man’s make‑up and constitution the genuine and real guilt‑feeling whenever sin enters.

Another consequence of sin is the punishment imposed upon the sinner by God. Since sin is a capital crime against God, man is guilty of death. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that sin and death are inseparably linked together.

 “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Romans 6:23). “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (Romans 7:11). “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). The guilty sinner cannot escape the Divine sentence, “As it is appointed unto men once to die . . .” (Hebrews 9:27).

The Expiation For Sin

Expiation is the act of making satisfaction or atonement for a crime or fault. God, because of His nature, not only demands that sin be punished but He also has provided for the sinner’s restoration to fellowship with Himself. It is at this point where the death of Christ enters the scene.

God could not be satisfied until sin had been fully atoned for. The Bible teaches that by the sufferings and death of Christ, the acceptable Substitute was provided for the sin of man, thereby making His sufferings and death to be vicarious, that is, in the room and stead of the sinner.

There could be no expiation for sin apart from the sacrifice of blood, the reason being that God so declared it. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Christ was the sinner’s bleeding sacrifice. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).

Paul wrote, “One died for all” (II Corinthians 5:14). “For He hath made Him to be sin for us . . .” (II Corinthians 5:21). Peter added, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).

Expiation means that our sins were laid upon Christ. “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

The chief purpose of the Incarnation of Christ was to offer Himself a ransom for sinners. “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

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Posted by on July 22, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #13 Adam and Christ Contrasted – Romans 5:12-21

Romans 5:12-21 Adam And Christ — Tell the Lord Thank You

How is it possible for God to save sinners in the person of Jesus Christ? We understand that somehow Christ took our place on the cross, but how was such a substitution possible?

Paul answered the question in this section, and these verses are the very heart of the letter. To understand these verses a few general truths about this section need to be understood. First, note the repetition of the little word one. It is used eleven times. The key idea here is our identification with Adam and with Christ. Second, note the repetition of the word reign which is used five times. Paul saw two men—Adam and Christ—each of them reigning over a kingdom. Finally, note that the phrase much more is repeated five times. This means that in Jesus Christ we have gained much more than we ever lost in Adam!

In short, this section is a contrast of Adam and Christ. Adam was given dominion over the old creation, he sinned, and he lost his kingdom. Because of Adam’s sin, all mankind is under condemnation and death. Christ came as the King over a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By His obedience on the cross, He brought in righteousness and justification. Christ not only undid all the damage that Adam’s sin effected, but He accomplished “much more” by making us the very sons of God. Some of this “much more” Paul has already explained in Romans 5:1-11.

Skeptics sometimes ask, “Was it fair for God to condemn the whole world just because of one man’s disobedience?” The answer, of course, is that it was not only fair; but it was also wise and gracious. To begin with, if God had tested each human being individually, the result would have been the same: disobedience. But even more important, by condemning the human race through one man (Adam), God was then able to save the human race through one Man (Jesus Christ)! Each of us is racially united to Adam, so that his deed affects us. (See Heb. 7:9-10 for an example of this racial headship.) The fallen angels cannot be saved because they are not a race. They sinned individually and were judged individually. There can be no representative to take their judgment for them and save them. But because you and I were lost in Adam, our racial head, we can be saved in Christ, the Head of the new creation. God’s plan was both gracious and wise.

Our final question must be answered: how do we know that we are racially united to Adam? The answer is in Romans 5:12-14, and the argument runs like this: We know that all men die. But death is the result of disobeying the Law. There was no Law from Adam to Moses, but men still died. A general result demands a general cause. What is that cause? It can be only one thing: the disobedience of Adam. When Adam sinned, he ultimately died. All of his descendants died (Gen. 5), yet the Law had not yet been given. Conclusion: they died because of Adam’s sin. “For that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12) means “all have sinned in Adam’s sin.” Men do not die because of their own acts of sin; otherwise, babies would not die (Rom. 9:11). Men die because they are united racially to Adam, and “in Adam all men die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Having linked Jews and Gentiles through Abraham to the promises of God, Paul now shows how the gospel applies to all humankind. Paul made important points by going back to Abraham; but by going back to Adam, he will draw conclusions that affect the fate of every person.

Twice in the last paragraph Paul expressed one idea and then followed it with an equally marvelous parallel idea (from the niv): “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath,” (5:9); and “If . . . we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more . . . shall we be saved through his life!” (5:10). Here, in verses 12-21, Paul also uses a series of parallels, only this time they express ideas moving in opposite directions: “Just as sin entered the world . . . and . . . death came to all men” (5:12). . . “how much more did God’s grace and the gift . . . overflow to the many” (5:15); “For if.. death reigned through that one man, how much more will . . . righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ’ (5:17 niv); and “For just as . . . many were made sinners, so also . . . many will be made righteous” (5:19). Paul shows that all of us are affected by Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience.

5:12 Sin came into the world through one man.NRSV This one man is Adam, who sinned against God and brought alienation from God and death to all humanity (Genesis 2-3). God had warned Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Because Adam disobeyed God’s command, the judgment of both spiritual and physical death fell on him and all his descendants—death spread to all men, because all sinned.NKJV Death is the consequence of being under the power of sin. “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22 niv). It was not in God’s original plan for human beings to die, but it was the result when sin entered the world. Inevitably, the gift of life we bequeath to our children includes with it the sting of death. All human beings have two characteristics in common: They are sinners, and they will die.

5:13 Before the law was given, sin was in the world.NIV Verses 13-15 are a lengthy parenthesis to Paul’s statement beginning in verse 12. God’s law was not given until the time of Moses, so the people who lived between Adam and Moses did not have any specific laws to obey or break. Paul explains that sin is not taken into account when there is no law.NIV What Paul is saying is that the sin that was in the world was the power or force that causes people to act independently of God. All people are under the power of sin, and all people act in rebellion against God. Those sins did not count the same as Adam’s sin because they were not deliberate actions against God’s commands (as was Adam’s, see 5:12) because there were no commands. Thus, they were not taken into account. Paul continues this thought in 5:20 and in chapter 7, when he describes the law’s role in defining sin. Sin was in the world from the beginning, but it came into sharp focus when the law was given.

With this statement, Paul follows through his argument from chapter 2 regarding the pride of the Jews in their role as keepers of God’s law. The very fact that they had the law, and that it is the law that makes people accountable for sin, means that the Jews’ sin was deadly—they were certainly in as much need of redemption as the rest of the world.

5:14 Death reigned . . . even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.NIV Adam had knowingly broken a specific command (5:12). His descendants who lived prior to the time of Moses could not break any specific laws because there were none. But they still sinned, witnessed by the fact that death reigned. Adam’s descendants had sinned with Adam (5:12). Death is the result of Adam’s sin and ours, even if our sins don’t resemble Adam’s. For thousands of years, the law had not been explicitly given, and yet people died. The law was added (5:20) to help people see their sinfulness, to show them the seriousness of their offenses, and to drive them to God for mercy and pardon. This was true in Moses’ day and in Paul’s day, and it is still true today. Sin is a deep rupture between who we are and

who we were created to be. The law points out our sin and places the responsibility for it squarely on our shoulders, but it offers no remedy.

Adam . . . a pattern of the one to come.NIV Paul uses the word pattern (typos), or “type” to describe Adam’s role in history compared with Christ’s. Adam, the first man, was a counterpart of Christ, whom Paul calls “the last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45. Adam’s one act determined the character of the world; Christ’s one act determined the character of eternity. In modem terminology, we could say that Adam was a flawed prototype, but Christ was the perfect original. Just as Adam was a representative of created humanity, so is Christ the representative of the new, spiritual humanity.

5:15 The free gift is not like the trespass.NRSV The gift from God through Christ (justification) has a greater but opposite effect than the trespass of Adam and its consequences. Yet in each case, the act of one affected the lives of many.

Many died by the trespass of the one man.NIV Because of Adam’s sin, death entered the human race, and since then all people have died (with the Bible’s exceptions of Enoch and Elijah). All people will die until the end of this age.

The gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.NIV God’s gift because of his grace—salvation and eternal life—overflows to the entire human race. It is available to all, but not everyone will choose to receive it.

Every human being is born into Adam’s physical family the family line that leads to certain death. All of us reap the results of Adam’s sin. We have inherited his guilt, the tendency to sin, and God’s punishment. Because of Jesus, however, we can trade judgment for forgiveness. We can trade our sin for Jesus’ goodness. Jesus offers us the opportunity to be born into his spiritual family—the family line that begins with forgiveness and leads to eternal life. If we do nothing, we have death through Adam; but if we come to God by faith, we have life through Christ.

Adam’s offense is contrasted with Christ’s free gift (v. 15). Because of Adam’s trespass, many died; because of Christ’s obedience the grace of God abounds to many bringing life. The word “many” (literally “the many”) means the same as “all men” in Romans 5:12 and 18. Note the “much more”; for the grace of Christ brings not only physical life, but also spiritual life and abundant life. Christ did conquer death and one day will raise the bodies of all who have died “in Christ.” If He stopped there, He would only reverse the effects of Adam’s sin; but He went on to do “much more.” He gives eternal life abundantly to all who trust Him (John 10:10).

5:16 Judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.NIV God passed judgment on Adam’s one sin of disobedience. As a result, Adam and the entire human race received condemnation.

The gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.NIV Everyone since Adam has sinned, and yet Christ overcame those many trespasses and brought justification to those who accept him. The result of sin is death; the gift of God—his justifying sinners—results in reigning forever with Christ.

The effect of Adam’s sin is contrasted with the effect of Christ’s obedience (v. 16). Adam’s sin brought judgment and condemnation; but Christ’s work on the cross brings justification. When Adam sinned, he was declared unrighteous and condemned. When a sinner trusts Christ, he is justified—declared righteous in Christ.

5:17 By the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man.NIV By capitulating to sin Adam allowed the whole human race to succumb to death. Death is inescapable; it comes to every living thing. We all live close to the valley of the shadow of death. And the reign of death over creation began because of Adam’s sin.

Will those who receive.NRSV The only condition upon these wonderful provisions of grace is that we receive them by faith. God’s love and Christ’s work are for all men and women, but they are appropriated by faith.

Reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.NKJV Those who believe in Christ will become rulers, reigning in his kingdom of life, where there is no death (Revelation 1:6). What a promise this is to those who love Christ! We can reign over sin’s power, over death’s threats, and over Satan’s attacks. Eternal life is ours now and forever. Though this promise has its greatest fulfillment in the future, it also has a significant immediate impact. In Christ, death loses its sting (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We are still subject to the physical suffering and death brought by sin in the world, but we are free from the eternal spiritual separation that we would experience outside of Christ. Also, in the power and protection of Jesus Christ, we can overcome temptation (see 8:17 for more on our privileged position in Christ).

The two “reigns” are contrasted (v. 17). Because of Adam’s disobedience, death reigned. Read the “book of the generations of Adam” in Genesis 5, and note the solemn repetition of the phrase “and he died.” In Romans 5:14, Paul argued that men did not die “from Adam to Moses” for the same reason that Adam died—breaking a revealed law of God—for the Law had not yet been given. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Because sin was reigning in men’s lives (Rom. 5:21), death was also reigning (Rom. 5:14, 17).

But in Jesus Christ we enter a new kingdom: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). “Therefore being justified by faith” we are declared righteous, we have peace with God, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Note that it is we who reign! “Much more they… shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” In Adam we lost our kingship, but in Jesus Christ we reign as kings. And we reign “much more”! Our spiritual reign is far greater than Adam’s earthly reign, for we share “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17).

5:18 Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation.NIV Paul emphasizes the contrasting roles of two single agents, Adam and Christ. Adam’s sin brought condemnation on the human race. Christ’s sinless sacrifice, or as Paul writes, his one act of righteousness opened the way for justification that brings life.

5:19 By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.NRSV The same statement is made in different words: Here Adam’s trespass is called “disobedience,” and it resulted in all people becoming sinners and thus unacceptable to God. The word trespass describes the specific act of Adam’s sin, while disobedience describes its intent. The original temptation downplayed the importance of the act (see Genesis 3:1-7) and focused attention on the desired ends: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5 niv). Temptation still takes that same form, rationalizing deliberate disobedience to God in pursuit of some supposedly higher ideal. Ends and means do not justify one another. In Adam’s case, neither the ends (disobedience) nor the means (trespass) turned out to be right.

By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.NRSV Again, in contrast, here the act of righteousness is called Christ’s “obedience.” Adam’s response to temptation was “My will be done”; but Christ’s prayer to God was “Thy will be done” (Luke 22:42). Because of Christ’s obedience, those who believe will be made righteous. Becoming righteous is both an immediate standing before God and an ongoing process to be completed when he returns.

The two “one acts” are contrasted (vv. 18-19). Adam did not have to commit a series of sins. In one act God tested Adam, and he failed. It is termed an “offense” and an act of “disobedience.” The word offense means “trespass—crossing over the line.” God told Adam how far he could go, and Adam decided to go beyond the appointed limit. “Of every tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).

In contrast to “the trespass of one” is “the righteousness of one,” meaning the righteous work of Christ on the cross. In Romans 5:19 Paul calls it “the obedience of One” (see Phil. 2:5-12). Christ’s sacrifice on the cross not only made possible “justification,” but also “justification of life” (italics mine). Justification is not merely a legal term that describes our position before God (“just as if I’d never sinned”); but it results in a certain kind of life. “Justification of life” in Romans 5:18 is parallel to “be made righteous” in Romans 5:19. In other words, our justification is the result of a living union with Christ. And this union ought to result in a new kind of life, a righteous life of obedience to God. Our union with Adam made us sinners; our union with Christ enables us to “reign in life.”

5:20 Law was added so that the trespass might increase.NIV This statement is certainly not what Paul’s Jewish readers expected to hear. Paul had already explained that the law was ineffective for salvation, but now he says that rather than being an antidote for sin, it actually increases sin! Paul is winding up the argument he has been carrying on through the first five chapters of his letter. The purpose of the law for his own people, the Jews, had been to make them aware of their need for salvation; thus, their trespass was increased. Sin was present from Adam, but the giving of the law was like having a huge spotlight turned on—the sinfulness of people became all the more defined (see also Romans 7:7-13). The solution to sin was not law, but grace.

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.NIV No matter how much people sin, God’s grace is greater. There are occasions of insight in life when people realize in a new way the reality of their sinfulness. Sometimes, reflecting on the commandments reminds us of our tendency to fall. Our consciences also flare with guilt from time to time. At other times, a loving friend may confront us with a sinful act or habit. When our awareness of sin increases, we need to ask God to help us see that his grace is always greater in its capacity to forgive than our capacity to sin.

As sinners, separated from God, we see his law from below. Sometimes it seems like a ladder to be climbed to get to God. Perhaps we have repeatedly tried to climb it, only to fall to the ground every time we have advanced one or two rungs. Or perhaps the sheer height of the ladder is so overwhelming that we have never even started up. In either case, what relief we should feel to see Jesus with open arms, offering to lift us above the ladder of the law, to take us directly to God. Once Jesus lifts us into God’s presence, we are free to obey—out of love, not necessity, and through God’s power, not our own. Then we know that if we stumble, we will not fall back to the ground. Instead, we will be caught and held in Jesus’ loving arms.

5:21 As sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life.NIV Our age is characterized by sin and inevitable death; but the age to come will be characterized by grace, righteousness, and eternal life. It is common to call the ultimate struggle that is going on in the universe “the conflict between good and evil.” Paul was picturing here the outcome of the war between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of sin. Until Christ, the war appeared to be decided, because sin reigned in death. But Christ’s death and resurrection provided the decisive victory by which grace will reign. Under the reign of grace, a righteousness is declared that will bring eternal life.

This ends the first section of Paul’s letter and his explanation of the law and its relation to salvation. But the law is not set aside as old and worthless. Paul will explain, in coming chapters, the role of the law for believers.

Law and grace are contrasted (vv. 20-21). “Then Law crept in” (WMS); or, “Then the Law came in beside” (literal translation). Grace was not an addition to God’s plan; grace was a part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God dealt with Adam and Eve in grace; He dealt with the patriarchs in grace; and He dealt with the nation of Israel in grace. He gave the Law through Moses, not to replace His grace, but to reveal man’s need for grace. Law was temporary, but grace is eternal.

But as the Law made man’s sins increase, God’s grace abounded even more. God’s grace was more than adequate to deal with man’s sins. Even though sin and death still reign in this world, God’s grace is also reigning through the righteousness of Christ. The Christian’s body is subject to death and his old nature tempts him to sin; but in Jesus Christ, he can “reign in life” because he is a part of the gracious kingdom of Christ.

An Old Testament story helps us understand the conflict between these two “reigns” in the world today. God rejected Saul as the king of Israel, and anointed David. Those who trusted David eventually shared his kingdom of peace and joy. Those who trusted Saul ended in shame and defeat.

Like David, Jesus Christ is God’s anointed King. Like Saul, Satan is still free to work in this world and seek to win men’s allegiance. Sin and death are reigning in the “old creation” over which Adam was the head, but grace and righteousness are reigning in “the new creation” over which Christ is the Head. And as we yield to Him, we “reign in life.”

In Romans 5:14, Adam is called “the figure of Him that was to come.” Adam was a type, or picture, of Jesus Christ. Adam came from the earth, but Jesus is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). Adam was tested in a Garden, surrounded by beauty and love; Jesus was tempted in a wilderness, and He died on a cruel cross surrounded by hatred and ugliness. Adam was a thief, and was cast out of Paradise; but Jesus Christ turned to a thief and said, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Old Testament is “the book of the generations of Adam” (Gen. 5:1) and it ends with “a curse” (Mal. 4:6). The New Testament is “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 1:1) and it ends with “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

You cannot help being “in Adam,” for this came by your first birth over which you had no control. But you can help staying “in Adam,” for you can experience a second birth—a new birth from above—that will put you “in Christ.” This is why Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).


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Posted by on July 19, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #12 Faith Brings Peace – Romans 5:1-11

Paul introduces some difficult concepts in this chapter. He demonstrates the truth of the gospel in ways that stretch our thinking.

To begin to understand the next four chapters, it helps to keep in mind the two-sided reality of the Christian life. On the one hand, we are complete in Christ (our acceptance with him is secure); on the other hand, we are growing in Christ (we are becoming more and more like him).

At the same time, we have the status of kings and the duties of slaves. We feel both the presence of Christ and the pressure of sin. We enjoy the peace that comes from being made right with God, but we still face daily problems that help us grow.

If we remember these two sides of the Christian life, we will not grow discouraged as we face temptations and problems. Instead, we will learn to depend on the power available to us from Christ, who lives in us by the Holy Spirit.

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith.NRSV

Here he begins to describe how justification affects our relationship with God. First, there is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace anticipates Paul’s claim that we have been reconciled with God (5:10). Peace (eirene) means there is no more hostility between us and God, no sin blocking our relationship with him. More than that, a new relationship has been established, so we no longer dread the outcome of judgment but live under the protection established by God.

Peace with God is only possible through Christ, because on the cross he met the conditions required for peace. Not only was “the punishment that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5 niv) borne by him, but he also fully lived up to his given title, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The basic teaching is that through our Lord Jesus Christ peace is established between us and God, whether or not we feel it from moment to moment. In Christ we claim peace with God, even when we are experiencing turmoil.

5:2 Access . . . into this grace.NKJV

      Not only has Christ justified and reconciled us to God, but he also has given us personal access to God. The grace of God initiating our salvation is the same grace in which we stand.

The word access (prosagogein), has also been translated “introduction” (nasb), “brought us into” (tlb), “been allowed to enter” (neb).

The thought is not about possible access to God, but accomplished access to God. Having been introduced to grace, we, now . . .

Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.NIV Mankind was created for glory (more about this will be said in chapter 8) but, because of sin, had fallen “short of the glory of God” (3:23). It is God’s purpose to recreate his image, his glory, fully in us.

Because of Christ, we now hope for (anticipate, look forward to) the time when we will share Christ’s glory. This hope helps us overcome our present frustrations when we fail to be all that we want to be or all that God wants us to be.

Paul mentions three occasions for rejoicing:

  1. In the hope of the glory of God (5:2). Anticipating our future with God ought to bring moments of joy. We stand in God’s grace, and the outcome of our lives is secure in his hands.
  2. In our suffering (5:3). We are not to be glad for our suffering, but to be glad that suffering can perfect a person’s faith.
  3. In God (5:11). Our faith in Jesus Christ frees us to deeply enjoy our relationship with God. We no longer need to be haunted by thoughts of judgment; now we can reflect upon and respond to his grace.

5:3 Rejoice in our sufferings . . . suffering produces perseverance.NIV

The key was that he learned to rejoice because he knew that suffering produces perseverance—the ability to face difficulties without giving in. For Christians, suffering does not negate the reality of God’s love, but provides the occasion to affirm and apply it.

We rejoice in suffering not because we like pain or deny its tragedy, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties and Satan’s attacks to build our character. That is one of God’s loving purposes. Our problems will develop perseverance which, in turn, will strengthen our character, deepen our trust in God, and give us greater confidence about the future.

It is likely that our patience will be tested in some way every day. Rejoicing begins by thanking God for these opportunities to grow and then facing them, relying on his strength.

5:4 Perseverance, character.NIV Endurance, in turn, deepens character. The word character (dokime) includes the idea of “approved as a result of testing.” A person with this kind of character is known for his or her inward qualities rather than any outward appearances. There is a progression that begins with suffering and ends with character.

The end result of this chain reaction is hope—confidence that God is in control and will see us through. God’s work in us now, conforming us “to the likeness of his Son” (8:29), gives us a glimpse of the wonderful things he has in store for us in the future.

If we can maintain our love for Christ and see his work through all our difficulties, the result is increased faith, hope, and love. The difficulties of life are not random, meaningless, or wasted when we are trusting God.

5:5 Hope does not disappoint us.NRSV Our hope in God’s promises will never disappoint us by being unfulfilled. When our hope is in God, we are absolutely assured that he will fulfill all that he has promised—we will be resurrected to eternal life and will be with him in glory.

The first hope Paul mentioned (5:2) is one that primarily looks to the future, when we will share in God’s glory; this hope, the maturing product of a life trusting God, focuses on the more immediate experience of God’s love. So hope, for the believer in Jesus, includes a future worth rejoicing over and a present that will not disappoint either!

God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.NIV

It is the Holy Spirit who has filled our hearts with God’s love and who continues to encourage us as we hope in God.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “[God] anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

5:6 Christ died for the ungodly. Paul wants to make sure that there is no misunderstanding about who Christ actually died for—the ungodly. Nor can there be any doubt about who the ungodly are, for Paul uses the same terminology at the end of 5:8, exchanging us in place of the ungodly.

We can have hope in God because of the nature of his love. God’s plan, from the beginning, was to send his Son to die for us, at just the right time, when we were still powerlessNIV.

The right time refers to both the timing in history and the timing in God’s plan (see Galatians 4:4). In the face of our powerlessness, God was fully in control.

The events in human history did not determine the plan of salvation; the plan of salvation was designed by God to happen at just the right time.

We are saved only because God took the initiative and demonstrated his incredible grace and love by sending his own Son to take the punishment we deserved.

5:7 For a good person someone might actually dare to die.RSV The highest expression of human love is when someone gives his or her life so that another person can continue to live. People are able to understand sacrificial love, even though it is rarely practiced. This kind of sacrificial gesture is almost always dependent on a relationship that already exists between the one sacrificing (parent, friend, lover, fellow soldier) and the one benefited. People do not readily die for their enemies.

5:8 God demonstrates His own love.NKJV People do not have to hope blindly that God loves them; he has openly demonstrated it.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ did not die so that we could be made lovable; Christ died because God already loved us and wanted to bring us close to himself. No matter how lonely or alienated we feel, we have the unalterable objective fact that Christ died for us. Every time we celebrate communion, we hear the words from Jesus, “this is my body broken for you; this is my blood shed for you.”

5:9 Justified by his blood. God bases our justification on the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross (see 3:25). Because God is holy, he could not accept us by simply disregarding or ignoring our sins. Instead, those sins had to be dealt with.

And God did this through the sacrificial death of his Son. Again, this justification is God’s approval, given to us only on the basis of what Christ did. It is an acquittal that sets free all of us who were otherwise hopeless prisoners of sin.

Saved from God’s wrath.NIV Those who have been justified and pronounced righteous are also delivered from God’s wrath at the final judgment. The comparison implies that justification is a present event, while the full display of God’s wrath will come only in the future.

5:10 Enemies . . . reconciled to him through the death of his Son. Alongside the theme of justification, Paul introduces the theme of reconciliation. Our peace with God has legal as well as relational aspects.

We were enemies because we were rebels against God. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22 niv). Because of Christ’s death, we are reconciled—our proper relationship with God has been restored.

Much more. As in verse 9, Paul is using a comparison of wonder. He holds up one wonderful idea for consideration (our reconciliation with God through Christ’s death) and immediately follows with an even more wonderful thought of what Christ’s life accomplishes for us and in us.

Reconciled. Those who are reconciled are those who were once enemies of God but have now been brought into a relationship of peace with God.

There are two steps in the reconciliation process:

(1) God made the first move toward reconciliation by sending his Son to die on the cross (see 2 Corinthians 5:19),

(2) believers then accept the work Christ has done for them and thereby become reconciled to God (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). Reconciliation removes the hostility and establishes unity between believers and God.

Saved by his life.NKJV Because Christ’s death accomplished our reconciliation with God, so his life—his present resurrection life in which he intercedes for us (see Hebrews 7:25)—insures our complete and final salvation.

The love that caused Christ to die is the same love that sends the Holy Spirit to live in us and guide us every day. The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that saved us and is available to us in our daily lives. We can be assured that having begun a life with Christ, we have a reserve of power and love to call on each day for help to meet every challenge or trial. We can pray for God’s power and love as we need it.

5:11 Rejoice in God.NIV It is not enough to list the marvelous facts of our relationship with God. Knowing all that God has accomplished should cause us to be filled with joy.

Paul has already told his readers that they should rejoice in the hope of glory (5:2) and in their sufferings (5:3). Now he exclaims that they should rejoice in God.

We rejoice in God because Christ took our sins upon himself and paid the price for them with his own death, instead of punishing us with the death we deserve (see introduction to this chapter).

We have now received reconciliation.nrsv Through faith in his work, we become his friends (received reconciliation) and are no longer enemies and outcasts.


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Posted by on July 15, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #11 The Wrong Way for a Man to be Justified Romans 4:13-25

Abraham's Faith In God

(Romans 4:13-17 NIV) “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. {14} For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, {15} because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. {16} Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. {17} As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

To Abraham God made a very great and wonderful promise. He promised that he would become a great nation, and that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:2, 3). In truth, the earth would be given to him as his inheritance. Now that promise came to Abraham because of the faith that he showed towards God. It did not come because he piled up merit by doing works of the law.

It was the outgoing of God’s generous grace in answer to Abraham’s absolute faith. The promise, as Paul saw it, was dependent on two things and two things only-the free grace of God and the perfect faith of Abraham.

The Jews were still asking, “How can a man enter into the right relationship with God so that he too may inherit this great promise?” Their answer was, “He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing works which the law prescribes.” That is to say, he must do it by his own efforts. Paul saw with absolute clearness that this Jewish attitude had completely destroyed the promise. It had done so for this reason-no man can fully keep the law; therefore, if the promise depends on keeping the law, it can never be fulfilled.

Paul saw things in terms of black and white. He saw two mutually exclusive ways of trying to get into a right relationship with God. On the one hand there was dependence on human effort; on the other, dependence on divine grace. On the one hand there was the constant losing battle to obey an impossible law; on the other, there was the faith which simply takes God at his word.

On each side there were three things.

(i) On the one side there is God’s promise. There are two Greek words which mean promise. Huposchesis means a promise which is entered into upon conditions. “I promise to do this if you promise to do that.” Epaggelia means a promise made out of the goodness of someone’s heart quite unconditionally. It is epaggelia that Paul uses of the promise of God. It is as if he is saying, “God is like a human father; he promises to love his children no matter what they do.” True, he will love some of us with a love that makes him glad, and he will love some of us with a love that makes him sad; but in either case it is a love which will never let us go. It is dependent not on our merit but only on God’s own generous heart.

(ii) There is faith. Faith is the certainty that God is indeed like that. It is staking everything on his love.

(iii) There is grace. A gift of grace is always something which is unearned and undeserved. The truth is that man can never earn the love of God. He must always find his glory, not in what he can do for God, but in what God has done for him.

(i) On the other side there is law. The trouble about law has always been that it can diagnose the malady but cannot effect a cure. Law shows a man where he goes wrong, but does not help him to avoid going wrong. There is in fact, as Paul will later stress, a kind of terrible paradox in law. It is human nature that when a thing is forbidden it has a tendency to become desirable. “Stolen fruits are sweetest.” Law, therefore, can actually move a man to desire the very thing which it forbids. The essential complement of law is judgment, and, so long as a man lives in a religion whose dominant thought is law, he cannot see himself as anything other than a condemned criminal at the bar of God’s justice.

(ii) There is transgression. Whenever law is introduced, transgression follows. No one can break a law which does not exist; and no one can be condemned for breaking a law of whose existence he was ignorant. If we introduce law and stop there, if we make religion solely a matter of obeying law, life consists of one long series of transgressions waiting to be punished.

(iii) There is wrath. Think of law, think of transgression, and inevitably the next thought is wrath. Think of God in terms of law and you cannot do other than think of him in terms of outraged justice. Think of man in terms of law and you cannot do other than think of him as destined for the condemnation of God.

So Paul sets before the Romans two ways. The one is a way in which a man seeks a right relationship with God through his own efforts. It is doomed to failure. The other is a way in which a man enters by faith into a relationship with God, which by God’s grace already exists for him to come into in trust.

(4:13-16) Introduction: a man is not justified by the law and its works. The law is the wrong way for a man to seek acceptance and justification by God.

  1. The unmistakable statement: the promise is not through the law, but through faith (v.13).
  2. The argument against the law (v.14-15).
  3. The argument for faith (v.16).

The key word here is “promise.” Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise, not by obeying God’s Law; for God’s Law through Moses had not yet been given. The promise to Abraham was given purely through God’s grace. Abraham did not earn it or merit it. So today, God justifies the ungodly because they believe His gracious promise, not because they obey His Law. The Law was not given to save men, but to show men that they need to be saved (Rom. 4:15).

The fact that Abraham was justified by grace and not Law proves that salvation is for all men. Abraham is the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29). Instead of the Jew complaining because Abraham was not saved by Law, he ought to rejoice that God’s salvation is available to all men, and that Abraham has a spiritual family (all true believers) as well as a physical family (the nation of Israel). Paul saw this as a fulfillment of Genesis 17:5: “I have made thee a father of many nations.”

(4:13) Promise, The—Faith vs. Law—Righteousness—Reward: the unmistakable statement—the promise of the inheritance is not through the law, but through faith.

Note several things.

  1. The promise involves inheriting the whole world. This is clear from several facts.
  2. Canaan was the promised land, a type of heaven and a type of the new heavens and earth God is to recreate for Abraham and his seed (the believer).
  3. Abraham was promised that he would be the “father” of many nations. He is said to be the father of all believers from all nations of the earth (Romans 4:11-12). He and his seed (believers) are promised a new world when Christ returns.
  4. Christ is to inherit the world and be exalted as the Sovereign Majesty of the universe, ruling and reigning forever and ever.

Abraham and his seed (believers) are said to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. They shall all reign with Christ through all eternity.

  1. The “seed” of Abraham refers to all believers. This is clear from the promise that is said to be “sure to all the seed” (Romans 4:16). Every true believer is an heir of the promise. If a man believes, he receives the most glorious promise: he will inherit the world.
  2. God does not give the promise through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
  3. A man will not receive an inheritance in the new world because he…
  • tried to keep the law.
  • did some great works.
  • lived by good deeds.
  • was moral and very religious.
  1. A man will receive an inheritance in the new world because he…
  • believed God for righteousness, and God took his belief and counted it for righteousness.

The point is clearly seen, and it is unmistakable:

 (1) Salvation is not of works, and only by faith. It should be clear that man can contribute nothing to his salvation. It is all of God; all of grace. And let us not make one last effort of claiming any part in our salvation by supposing that faith is our work, for even this is the gift of God (cf. Eph. 2:8, 9; Acts 13:48, 16:14).

Only this week I talked with a man who felt that we must contribute something to our salvation. I told him that man’s sin is like having greasy hands. When I work on the car and have grease on my hands, everything I touch is stained with grease also. When I come in with greasy hands, my wife quickly informs me not to touch anything until my hands are clean. So man’s hands are smudged with sin and there is nothing but the blood of Christ which can cleanse them. If we try to approach God by means of the works of our hands, those works will be smudged with sin and unacceptable to God. We must do as the words of the song instruct us, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

 (2) Faith is the only way of receiving God’s blessing. Paul not only tells us that salvation is by faith, but also God’s blessings come only by faith.


Hebrews 11:8-10: “It was by faith that Abraham, when he was called, showed his obedience by going out to a place which he was going to receive as an inheritance, and he went out not knowing where he was to go. It was by faith that he sojourned in the land that had been promised to him, as though it had been a foreign land, living in tents, in the same way as did Isaac and Jacob, who were his coheirs in the promise of it. For he was waiting for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

The call of Abraham is told with dramatic simplicity in Genesis 12:1. Jewish and eastern legends gathered largely round Abraham’s name and some of them must have been known to the writer to the Hebrews.

The legends tell how Abraham was the son of Terah, commander of the armies of Nimrod. When Abraham was born a very vivid star appeared in the sky and seemed to obliterate the others. Nimrod sought to murder the infant but Abraham was concealed in a cave and his life saved. It was in that cave the first vision of God came to him. When he was a youth he came out of the cave and stood looking across the face of the desert. The sun rose in all its glory and Abraham said: “Surely the sun is God, the Creator!” So he knelt down and worshipped the sun. But when evening came, the sun sank in the west and Abraham said: “No! the author of creation cannot set!” The moon arose in the east and the stars came out. Then Abraham said: “The moon must be God and the stars his host!” So he knelt down and adored the moon. But after the night was passed, the moon sank and the sun rose again and Abraham said: “Truly these heavenly bodies are no gods, for they obey law; I will worship him who imposed the law upon them.”

The Arabs have a different legend. They tell how Abraham saw many flocks and herds and said to his mother: “Who is the lord of these?” She answered: “Your father, Terah.” “And who is the lord of Terah?” the lad Abraham asked. “Nimrod,” said his mother. “And who is the lord of Nimrod?” asked Abraham. His mother bade him be quiet and not push questions too far; but already Abraham’s thoughts were reaching out to him who is the God of all. The legends go on to tell that Terah not only worshipped twelve idols, one for each of the months, but was also a manufacturer of idols. One day Abraham was left in charge of the shop. People came in to buy idols. Abraham would ask them how old they were and they would answer perhaps fifty or sixty years of age. “Woe to a man of such an age,” said Abraham, “who adores the work of one day!” A strong and hale man of seventy came in. Abraham asked him his age and then said: “You fool to adore a god who is younger than yourself!” A woman came in with a dish of meat for the gods. Abraham took a stick and smashed all the idols but one, in whose hands he set the stick he had used. Terah returned and was angry. Abraham said: “My father, a woman brought this dish of meat for your gods; they all wanted to have it and the strongest knocked the heads off the rest, lest they should eat it all.” Terah said: “That is impossible for they are made of wood and stone.” And Abraham answered: “Let thine own ear hear what thine own mouth has spoken!”

All these legends give us a vivid picture of Abraham searching after God and dissatisfied with the idolatry of his people. So when God’s call came to him he was ready to go out into the unknown to find him! Abraham is the supreme example of faith.

(i) Abraham’s faith was the faith that was ready for adventure. God’s summons meant that he had to leave home and family and business; yet he went. He had to go out into the unknown; yet he went. In the best of us there is a certain timorousness. We wonder just what will happen to us if we take God at his word and act on his commands and promises.

Bishop Newbigin tells of the negotiations which led to the formation of the United Church of South India. He had a share in these negotiations and in the long discussions which were necessary. Things were frequently held up by cautious people who wished to know just where each step was taking them, until in the end the chairman reminded them that a Christian has no right to ask where he is going.

Most of us live a cautious life on the principle of safety first; but to live the Christian life there is necessary a certain reckless willingness to adventure. If faith can see every step of the way, it is not really faith. It is sometimes necessary for the Christian to take the way to which the voice of God is calling him without knowing what the consequences will be. Like Abraham he has to go out not knowing where he is going.

(iii) Abraham’s faith was the faith which had patience. When he reached the promised land, he was never allowed to possess it. He had to wander in it, a stranger and a tent-dweller, as the people were some day to wander in the wilderness. To Abraham God’s promise never came fully true; and yet he never abandoned his faith.

It is characteristic of the best of us that we are in a hurry. To wait is even harder than to adventure. The hardest time of all is the time in between. At the moment of decision there is the excitement and the thrill; at the moment of achievement there is the glow and glory of satisfaction; but in the intervening time there is necessary the ability to wait and work and watch when nothing seems to be happening. It is then that we are so liable to give up our hopes and lower our ideals and sink into an apathy whose dreams are dead. The man of faith is the man whose hope is flaming bright and whose effort is intensely strenuous even in the grey days when there is nothing to do but to wait.

(iii) Abraham’s faith was the faith which was looking beyond this world. The later legends believed that at the moment of his call Abraham was given a glimpse of the new Jerusalem. In the Apocalypse of Baruch God says: “I showed it to my servant by night” (4:4). In 4 Ezra the writer says: “It came to pass when they practised ungodliness before thee, that thou didst choose one from among them whose name was Abraham; him thou didst love and to him only thou didst reveal the end of the times, secretly, by night” (4:13). No man ever did anything great without a vision which enabled him to face the difficulties and discouragements of the way. To Abraham there was given the vision; and, even when his body was wandering in Palestine, his soul was at home with God. God cannot give us the vision unless we permit him; but if we wait upon him, even in earth’s desert places he will send us the vision and with it the toil and trouble of the way become all worth while.


Hebrews 11:11, 12: “It was by faith that Sarah, too, received power to conceive and to bear a son, although she was beyond the age for it, for she believed that he who gave the promise could be absolutely relied upon. So from one man, and he a man whose body had lost its vitality, there were born descendants, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, as countless as the sand upon the seashore.”

The story of the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah is told in Genesis 17:15-22; 18:9-15; 21:1-8. Its wonder is that both Abraham and Sarah were ninety years old, long past the age of begetting or bearing a child; and yet, according to the old story, that promise was made and came true.

The reaction of Abraham and Sarah to the promise of God followed a threefold course.

(i) It began with sheer incredulousness. When Abraham heard the promise he fell upon his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). When Sarah heard it she laughed within herself (Genesis 18:12). On first hearing of the promises of God, the human reaction often is that this is far too good to be true.

“How thou canst think so well of us, And be the God thou art,

Is darkness to my intellect, But sunshine to my heart.”

There is no mystery in all creation like the love of God. That he should love men and suffer and die for them is something that staggers us into sheer incredulity. That is why the Christian message is the gospel, good news; it is news so good that it is almost impossible to believe it true.

(ii) It passed into dawning realization. After the incredulity came the dawning realization that this was God who was speaking; and God cannot lie. The Jews used to lay it down as a primary law for a teacher that he must never promise his pupils what he was unwilling or unable to perform; to do so would be to accustom the pupils thus early to the broken word. When we remember that the one who makes the promise is God, there comes the realization that however astonishing that promise may be, it must none the less be true.

(iii) It culminated in the ability to believe in the impossible. That Abraham and Sarah should have a child, humanly speaking, was impossible. As Sarah said: “Who would have said that Sarah would suckle children?” (Genesis 21:7). But, by the grace and the power of God, the impossible became true. There is something here to challenge and uplift the heart of every man. Cavour said that the first essential of a statesman is “the sense of the possible.” When we listen to men planning and arguing and thinking aloud, we get the impression of a vast number of things in this world which are known to be desirable but dismissed as impossible. Men spend the greater part of their lives putting limitations on the power of God. Faith is the ability to lay hold on that grace which is sufficient for all things in such a way that the things which are humanly impossible become divinely possible. With God all things are possible, and, therefore, the word impossible has no place in the vocabulary of the Christian and of the Christian Church.


Hebrews 11:13-16: “All these died without obtaining possession of the promises. They only saw them from far away and greeted them from afar, and they admitted that they were strangers and sojourners upon the earth. Now people who speak like that make it quite clear that they are searching for a fatherland. If they were thinking of the land from which they had come out, they would have had time to return. In point of fact they were reaching out after something better, I mean, the heavenly country. It was because of that that God was not ashamed to be called their God, for he had prepared a city for them.”

None of the patriarchs entered into the full possession of the promises that God had made to Abraham. To the end of their days they were nomads, never living a settled life in a settled land. They had to be for ever moving on. Certain great permanent truths emerge from them.

(i) They lived for ever as strangers. The writer to the Hebrews uses three vivid Greek words about them.

(a) In 11:13 he calls them xenoi. Xenos is the word for a stranger and a foreigner. In the ancient world the fate of the stranger was hard. He was regarded with hatred and suspicion and contempt. In Sparta xenos was the equivalent of barbaros, barbarian. A man writes complaining that he was despised “because I am a xenos“. Another man write that, however poor a home is, it is better to live at home than epi xenes, in a foreign country. When clubs had their common meal, those who sat down to it were divided into members and xenoi. Xenos can even mean a refugee. All their lives the patriarchs were foreigners in a land that never was their own.

(b) In 11:9 he uses the word paroikein, to sojourn, of Abraham. A paroikos was a resident alien. The word is used of the Jews when they were captives in Babylon and in Egypt. A paroikos was not very much above a slave in the social scale. He had to pay an alien tax. He was always an outsider and only on payment a member of the community.

(c) In 11:13 he uses the word parepidemos. A parepidemos was a person who was staying there temporarily and who had his permanent home somewhere else. Sometimes his stay was strictly limited. A parepidemos was a man in lodgings, a man without a home in the place where life had sent him. All their lives the patriarchs were men who had no settled place that they could call home. It is to be noted that to dwell in a foreign land was a humiliating thing in ancient days; to the foreigner in any country a certain stigma attached. In the Letter of Aristeas the writer says: “It is a fine thing to live and to die in one’s native land; a foreign land brings contempt to poor men and shame to rich men, for there is the lurking suspicion that they have been exiled for the evil they have done.”

At any time it is an unhappy thing to be a stranger in a strange land, but in ancient days to this natural unhappiness there was added the bitterness of humiliation.

All their days the patriarchs were strangers in a strange land. That picture of the sojourner became a picture of the Christian life. Tertullian said of the Christian: “He knows that on earth he has a pilgrimage but that his dignity is in heaven.” Clement of Alexandria said: “We have no fatherland on earth.” Augustine said: “We are sojourners exiled from our fatherland.” It was not that the Christians were foolishly other-worldly, detaching themselves from the life and work of this world; but they always remembered that they were people on the way. There is an unwritten saying of Jesus: “The world is a bridge. The wise man will pass over it but will not build his house upon it.” The Christian regards himself as the pilgrim of eternity.

(ii) In spite of everything these men never lost their vision and their hope. However long that hope might be in coming true, its light always shone in their eyes. However long the way might be, they never stopped tramping along it. Robert Louis Stevenson said: “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” They never wearily gave up the journey; they lived in hope and died in expectation.

(iii) In spite of everything they never wished to go back. Their descendants, when they were in the desert, often wished to go back to the fleshpots of Egypt. But not the patriarchs. They had begun and it never struck them to turn back. In flying there is what is called the point of no return. When the aero-plane has reached that point it cannot go back. Its petrol supply has reached such a level that there is nothing left but to go on One of the tragedies of life is the number of people who turn back just a little too soon. One further effort, a little more waiting, a little more hoping, would make a dream come true. Immediately a Christian has set out on some enterprise sent him by God, he should feel that he has already passed the point of no return.

(iv) These men were able to go on because they were haunted by the things beyond. The man with the wanderlust is lured on by the thought of the countries he has never yet seen. The great artist or composer is driven by the thought of the performance he has never yet given and the wonder he has never yet produced. Stevenson tells of an old byreman who spent all his days amidst the muck of the byre. Someone asked him if he never got tired of it all. He answered: “He that has something ayont (beyond) need never weary.” These men had the something beyond-and so may we.

(v) Because these men were what they were, God was not ashamed to be called their God. Above all things, he is the God of the gallant adventurer. He loves the man who is ready to venture for his name. The prudent, comfort-loving man is the very opposite of God. The man who goes out into the unknown and keeps going on will in the end arrive at God.

(4:14-15) Law—Faith vs. the Law: the argument against the law. The promise of the inheritance does not come through the law.

Three facts about the law show this.

  1. Law voids faith; it erases any hope of ever receiving the promise. The reason can be simply stated: law demands perfection; law insists that it be obeyed. Law cries out, “violate and break me and you become guilty and condemned and are to be punished.”

No man can live perfectly righteous before God; no man can keep from coming short and breaking the law of God at some point. Therefore every man is a lawbreaker, imperfect and short of God’s glory, and is to be condemned and punished.

  1. If the promise of God’s inheritance is by law, then no man shall inherit the promise, for the promise is given only to the righteous; and no man is perfectly righteous. This, of course, means something. If the promise is by law, then no man has hope of ever receiving the promise, for he does not and cannot keep the law. The law erases the promise, makes it of no effect or value whatsoever.
  2. If the promise of God’s inheritance is by law, then faith is voided and has absolutely nothing to do with securing the promise. A man would have to keep his mind and eyes, and most tragic of all, his heart upon the law, for it would be the law that would determine whether or not the man received the promise. Faith would not be entering the picture; it would be voided, irrelevent, having nothing to with receiving the promise.
  3. This point is often overlooked. If the promise of God’s inheritance comes by the law, then receiving the promise would have nothing to do with faith, nothing to do with…
  • trusting the love of God.
  • learning and knowing the love of God.
  • focusing one’s mind and thoughts upon God.
  • knowing God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If God accepted us and gave us the promise of inheritance because we kept the law, then we would have to focus our lives upon the law. Believing and loving God and knowing God’s Son would have nothing to do with our salvation. The law would force us to seek God by keeping the law. Faith would have nothing to do with the promise. The law would void faith and make useless and ineffective the love of God and the Son of God.

  1. Law works wrath in three terrible ways.
  2. Law shouts out at a man, “Break me and you become guilty, condemned, and are to be punished.” Such is antagonistic and stirs and aggravates anger and wrath. When God is seen as a legalistic Person who hovers over us, watching every move we make, there is a tendency to view God as stringent, demanding, condemnatory, upset, angry, vengeful and full of wrath against us. Why? Because we fail and come short ever so often. Therefore if God is legalistic, then He is hovering over us, and not a single one of us is going to inherit the promise. We are guilty and to be judged, and we are not going to be rewarded with an inheritance. Therefore, law works wrath between God and man; it keeps a man from being acceptable to God and from ever receiving the promise of God.
  3. Law works wrath in that it keeps a man tied up in knots, under pressure and tension, and in a strain. The man who works to do the law struggles to do the right thing and guards against doing the wrong thing. He fights to avoid all the evil he can, wondering and worrying if he is ever doing enough to be acceptable to God.

Such a life is not full of love and joy and peace. There is no sense of purpose, meaning, and signifi-cance, no sense of completeness and fulfillment. Such a life is filled with uneasiness and turmoil, uncertainty and insecurity. Such a life of legalism works wrath: it keeps tension between God and man and establishes and builds a strained and uneasy relationship.

  1. Law works wrath in that it causes a man to focus his life upon the law and not upon God. His mind and attention and thoughts are…
  • upon keeping the rules, not upon trusting God.
  • upon watching where he steps, not upon drawing near God.
  • upon avoiding errors, not upon learning the truth of God.
  • upon observing certain rituals, not upon fellowshipping with God.
  • upon practicing religion, not upon worshipping God.
  1. Law means transgression. There are three reasons for this.
  2. If no law exists, there is no law to break; therefore, there is no transgression. But if there is a law, then breaking the law begins to exist; transgression becomes a reality, a living fact. Where there is no law, there is no transgression; where there is law, there is transgression. The point is this: the man who seeks God’s acceptance by keeping the law lives in a world of transgression, of breaking the law and coming short of God’s glory. The law means transgression, that a man fails and comes short of God’s acceptance; therefore, it means that the legalist is guilty and condemned and is not to receive the promise of God.
  3. When a law exists, there is an urge within man to stretch it to its limits and to break it. This is one of the paradoxes of human nature. Man has that within himself, an unregulated urge.

When a law exists, it tells a man he can go this far and no farther. He must not go beyond this limit or he becomes a lawbreaker, a transgressor (cp. a speed sign). The law actually pulls a man to go that far. It is within his nature to go to the limit, to do as much as he can. The urge within his nature even stirs him to stretch the law and to go beyond its limits.

When the law exists, there is transgression. Every man becomes guilty and is to be condemned and punished, not rewarded with the promise.

  1. When a law exists, it becomes an accuser, an antagonist. It shouts, “Break me and you become a law-breaker and are to be condemned and punished.” Now note: the law has no power to keep a person from transgressing; it can only shout: “Transgression!” The law is…
  • not a power to save, but a rule to control and condemn.
  • not a savior, but a judge.
  • This is the very problem with the law.
  • It can only accuse; it cannot deliver.
  • It can only point out sin; it cannot save from sin.
  • It can only show a man where he failed; it cannot show him how to keep from failing.
  • It can only condemn; it has no power to free.

The man who tries to live by law is left hopeless and helpless, for he transgresses and becomes a lawbreaker. He is to be condemned, never receiving the inheritance of God’s promise.

(4:16) Faith—Promise—Grace: the argument for faith. The promise of the inheritance comes through faith.

Three facts about faith show this.

  1. Faith brings grace. Grace (charis) means a gift, a free gift, a gift given without expecting anything in return. It means favor, approval, acceptance, goodwill, assistance, help, kindness—all freely given and given without expecting anything in return.

Now, who is the Savior, the Deliverer, the Subject who deserves the praise and the honor and the glory? The answer is obvious: God. God is the center of the picture. This is the very reason salvation and all its promises are by grace through faith. Grace puts God in the center. And when a man makes God the center of his life, casting himself completely upon God and putting all his faith and trust in God, God is bound to hear and answer the man. Why? Because the man is honoring God completely, and the man who honors God is always acceptable and heard by God.

Now note: when a man really believes God, his faith brings the grace of God to him. It causes him to focus upon God, to center his life upon the love of God, to see the presence of God, to secure the fellowship and companionship of God, to know the love, joy, peace, care and concern of God. Simply stated, it causes a man to seek a personal relationship with God, a relationship of trust and dependence. Such is the life of grace, the grace that is given to man by faith. It is faith that honors and praises and glorifies God, and because it does, it brings the grace of God to man.

  1. Faith makes the promise sure. This is seen in the above point. When God is honored and made the center and focus of one’s life and trust, that person can rest assured God will accept him and give him the promise of the inheritance. That man will inherit the earth.
  2. Faith assures that the promise is for everyone, that it is available to all. The promise is not given to an exclusive club of people, to an exclusive nation or race or class of people. The promise is given to all, to every person on earth. If the promise was by law, then it would be only for those who have the law and are able to keep the law. What then would happen to the heathen who do not have the law and to the handicapped who are unable to do some of the things the law commands? They could never be saved if the promise came by the law. However, when the promise is given by the grace of God through faith, no man is exempt from the inheritance. Every man can be saved and inherit the promise of eternal life in the new heavens and earth, for every man can believe and trust God (the very thing that even a human father wants of his children).

 Believing in the God who Makes Impossible Possible

Romans 4:18-25: “In hope Abraham believed beyond hope that he would become the father of many nations, as the saying had it, “So will be your seed.? He did not weaken in his faith, although he was well aware that by this time his body had lost its vitality (for he was a hundred years old), and that the womb of Sarah was without life. He did not in unfaith waver at the promise of God, but he was revitalized by his faith, and he gave glory to God, and he was firmly convinced that he who had made the promise was also able to perform it. So this faith was accounted to him as righteousness. It was not only for his sake this “it was accounted to him for righteousness” was written. It was written also for our sakes; for it will be so reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, who was delivered up for our sin and raised to bring us into a right relationship with God.”

 (Romans 4:18-25 NIV) “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” {19} Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. {20} Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, {21} being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. {22} This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” {23} The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, {24} but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. {25} He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

The last passage ended by saying that Abraham believed in the God who calls the dead into life and who brings into being even things which have no existence at all. This passage turns Paul’s thoughts to another outstanding example of Abraham’s willingness to take God at his word. The promise that all families of the earth would be blessed in his descendants was given to Abraham when he was an old man. His wife, Sarah, had always been childless; and now, when he was one hundred years old and she was ninety (Genesis 17:17), there came the promise that a son would be born to them.

It seemed, on the face of it, beyond all belief and beyond all hope of fulfilment, for he was long past the age of begetting and she long past the age of bearing a son. Yet, once again, Abraham took God at his word and once again it was this faith that was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

It was this willingness to take God at his word which put Abraham into a right relationship with him. Now the Jewish Rabbis had a saying to which Paul here refers. They said, “What is written of Abraham is written also of his children.” They meant that any promise that God made to Abraham extends to his children also.

Therefore, if Abraham’s willingness to take God at his word brought him into a right relationship with God, so it will be with us. It is not works of the law, it is this trusting faith which establishes the relationship between God and a man which ought to exist.

The essence of Abraham’s faith in this case was that he believed that God could make the impossible possible. So long as we believe that everything depends on our efforts, we are bound to be pessimists, for experience has taught the grim lesson that our own efforts can achieve very little. When we realize that it is not our effort but God’s grace and power which matter, then we become optimists, because we are bound to believe that with God nothing is impossible.

(4:18-22) Faith—Abraham: the strength of Abraham’s faith. Note two very significant lessons.

  1. Abraham’s faith was in what God said, the promise of a seed or of a son. He had nothing else to go on but God’s Word: “that which was spoken.”

The phrase “against hope believed in hope” means that Abraham was past hope, beyond all human help and any possibility of having a son. His situation was beyond hope, yet he believed God; he placed his hope in God and in what God had said.

  1. Abraham was not weak in faith despite thinking about his own physical inability. His body was “now dead”; he and Sarah were about one hundred years old. The word “dead” is a perfect participle in the Greek which means that his reproductive organs had stopped functioning and were dead forever and could never again function. Abraham could never have a son; it was not humanly possible. He and Sarah were almost one hundred years old, now sexually “dead.”

Abraham thought about the matter. The word “considered” (katanoeo) means He fixed his thoughts, his mind, his attention upon the matter. But he did not give in to the thoughts. He was not weak in faith.

Just imagine the personal relationship Abraham must have had with God! To know God so well—loving and trusting God so strongly—that God could give him an experience so meaningful that Abraham would believe the promise without even staggering in faith.

  1. Abraham was strong in faith—not staggering at the promise of God. Instead he walked about glorifying and praising God for His glorious promise. The word “staggered” (diakrino) means he did not waiver, did not vacillate, did not question God’s ability to fulfill His promise.
  2. Abraham was fully convinced of God’s ability and God’s power. He knew God could overcome the difficulty of his body being “dead,” and he believed God could and would either…
  • quicken his body, or
  • recreate his reproductive organs (Romans 4:17).

He did not know what method God would use, but he knew God was able to do what He had promised. Abraham believed God; He was fully persuaded that the promise would be fulfilled.

  1. Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness.

(4:23-25) Faith—Abraham: the recording of Abraham’s faith is for two purposes.

  1. That men might read the account. It was not recorded just to honor Abraham as a great man. It was written so that we might read and understand how we are to become acceptable to God.
  2. That men might be counted righteous by believing. It is necessary to believe two things.
  3. That God raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
  4. That Jesus died for our sins and was raised again for our justification.
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Posted by on July 12, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #10 Abraham: Father of the Faithful Romans 4:9-12

(Romans 4:9-12 NIV) “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. {10} Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! {11} And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. {12} And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

That Abraham and David (and therefore all Old Testament saints) were justified by faith apart from works was a bitter pill to swallow for the Jews. But Paul is not willing to stop here, for there is much more to be learned from the faith of Abraham. At least the Jews could console themselves in the fact that Abraham was a Jew, and not a Gentile. If Abraham was saved as a Jew, then could the Jews not insist that every man must be saved as a Jew (cf. Acts 15:1f.)? Paul strikes this hope down by showing that Abraham was declared righteous while yet a Gentile.

At first glance we might be inclined to think that verses 9-12 are intended to prove that Abraham was saved by faith and not by works; specifically, not by the rite of circumcision. Although this is true, it is not the main point Paul is striving to prove. The point which Paul is driving at is the universality of justification by faith and that it is not for the Jews only, but for Gentiles.

Was Abraham saved as a Jew or as a Gentile? Was Abraham declared righteous as one who was circumcised or as uncircumcised? Abraham, in Genesis 15:6, was declared righteous on the basis of faith fourteen years before he was circumcised (compare Genesis 15:6 with 17:24). Technically, then, Abraham was saved as a Gentile, and not as a Jew, for he did not enter Judaism by circumcision, nor did he have the Law to keep. What a blow to the Jew who maintained that one could not be saved without becoming a Jew by circumcision and keeping the Law (Acts 15:1)!

What, then, is the value of circumcision? If entrance into Judaism through circumcision does not in any way contribute to one’s justification, what good is it? Circumcision is not the source of one’s salvation, but the sign of it. It is a symbolic testimony to what has happened inwardly in the man who has been justified by faith.

The mere presence of an inspection sticker on your car does not make that car road-worthy, but it does represent in a visible fashion its road-worthiness. On the other hand, putting an inspection sticker on a car with bald tires, a faulty muffler, and no brakes will be of little help in hazardous driving conditions. Circumcision was a seal which attested to the faith of Abraham. It signified that he was righteous in the eyes of God.

The outcome of all of this is that Abraham is the ‘father’ of all who are justified by faith. He is the father of those who are justified by faith and have not been initiated into Judaism and of all believers who are also Jews. Being a Jew or a Gentile has no bearing on one’s justification, nor does the keeping of the Old Testament Laws and rituals. The only determining factor is one’s faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

To understand this passage we must understand the importance that the Jew attached to circumcision. To the Jew a man who was not circumcised was quite literally not a Jew, no matter what his parentage was. The Jewish circumcision prayer runs: “Blessed is he who sanctified his beloved from the womb, and put his ordinance upon his flesh, and sealed his offspring with the sign of the holy covenant.”

The rabbinic ordinance lays it down: “Ye shall not eat of the Passover unless the seal of Abraham be in your flesh.” If a Gentile accepted the Jewish faith, he could not enter fully into it without three things-baptism, sacrifice and circumcision.

The Jewish objector, whom Paul is answering all the time, is still fighting a rear-guard action. “Suppose I admit,” he says, “all that you say about Abraham and about the fact that it was his complete trust that gained him an entry into a right relationship with God, you will still have to agree that he was circumcised.” Paul has an unanswerable argument.

The story of Abraham’s call, and of God’s blessing on him, is in Genesis 15:6; the story of Abraham’s circumcision is in Genesis 17:10ff. He was not, in fact, circumcised until fourteen years after he had answered God’s call and entered into the unique relationship with God. Circumcision was not the gateway to his right relationship with God; it was only the sign and the seal that he had already entered into it. His being accounted righteous had nothing to do with circumcision and everything to do with his act of faith.

From this unanswerable fact Paul makes two great deductions.

(i) Abraham is not the father of those who have been circumcised; he is the father of those who make the same act of faith in God as he made. He is the father of every man in every age who takes God at his word as he did. This means that the real Jew is the man who trusts God as Abraham did, no matter what his race is. All the great promises of God are made not to the Jewish nation, but to the man who is Abraham’s descendant because he trusts God as he did. Jew has ceased to be a word which describes a nationality and has come to describe a way of life and a reaction to God. The descendants of Abraham are not the members of any particular nation, but those in every nation who belong to the family of God.

(ii) The converse is also true. A man may be a Jew of pure lineage and may be circumcised; and yet in the real sense may be no descendant of Abraham. He has no right to call Abraham his father or to claim the promises of God, unless he makes that venture of faith that Abraham made.

In one short paragraph Paul has shattered all Jewish thought. The Jew always believed that just because he was a Jew he automatically enjoyed the privilege of God’s blessings and immunity from his punishment. The proof that he was a Jew was circumcision. So literally did some of the Rabbis take this that they actually said that, if a Jew was so bad that he had to be condemned by God, there was an angel whose task it was to make him uncircumcised again before he entered into punishment.

Paul has laid down the great principle that the way to God is not through membership of any nation, not through any ordinance which makes a mark upon a man’s body; but by the faith which takes God at his word and makes everything dependent, not on man’s achievement, but solely upon God’s grace.

As we have seen, the Jews gloried in circumcision and the Law. If a Jew was to become righteous before God, he would have to be circumcised and obey the Law. Paul had already made it clear in Romans 2:12-29 that there must be an inward obedience to the Law, and a “circumcision of the heart.” Mere external observances can never save the lost sinner.

But Abraham was declared righteous when he was in the state of uncircumcision. From the Jewish point of view, Abraham was a Gentile. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27). This was more than fourteen years after the events in Genesis 15. The conclusion is obvious: circumcision had nothing to do with his justification.

Then why was circumcision given? It was a sign and a seal (Rom. 4:11). As a sign, it was evidence that he belonged to God and believed His promise. As a seal, it was a reminder to him that God had given the promise and would keep it. Believers today are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13-14). They have also experienced a spiritual circumcision in the heart (Col. 2:10-12), not just a minor physical operation, but the putting off of the old nature through the death and resurrection of Christ. Circumcision did not add to Abraham’s salvation; it merely attested to it.

Most people are religious in the sense that they keep some religious ordinances, rituals, and rules. This is both good and bad: good in the sense that rituals cause a person to think about some higher being, and bad in the sense that rituals are usually thought to be the way a person becomes acceptable to God. The present passage is as clear as can be: ritual is the wrong way for a man to seek acceptance and justification with God.

  1. Who receives the blessing of forgiveness (v.9)?
  2. Abraham was counted righteous when he believed (v.9).
  3. Abraham was counted righteous before circumcision, that is, before the ritual (v.10).
  4. Abraham received circumcision as a sign or symbol only (v.11).
  5. Abraham was chosen by God for a twofold purpose (v.11-12).

Who receives the blessing of forgiveness? The word “blessedness” or “blessing” refers back to the blessed man just discussed (Romans 4:6-8). The blessed man is the man who is justified by faith…

  • who is counted righteous without works.
  • whose sins are forgiven and covered.
  • whose sins are not counted against him.

Such a man is greatly blessed, blessed beyond imagination. But note a critical question. Is the blessing of forgiveness intended…

  • for the circumcised only, or for the uncircumcised also?
  • for the Jew only, or for the non-Jew (Gentile) also?
  • for the religious only, or for the non-religious also?
  • for the saved only, or for the unsaved also?
  • for the church member only, or for the unchurched also?
  • for the interested only, or for the disinterested also?
  • Is the blessing of forgiveness—of being justified by faith alone—for only a few people or for all people everywhere? Abraham’s experience illustrates the truth for us.

Abraham was counted righteous when he believed. His faith was “reckoned” for righteousness. The word “reckoned” (elogisthe) means to credit, to count, to deposit, to put to one’s account, to impute. Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness or credited as righteousness.

Abraham was counted righteous before the ritual, that is, before circumcision. This is a crucial point and it is clearly seen. Abraham made his decision to follow God at least fourteen years before he was circumcised. The story of Abraham believing the promises of God is a dramatic picture (cp. Genesis 15:1-6, esp. Genesis 15:5-6). Scripture clearly says, “He believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

But the story of his circumcision is two chapters and fourteen years later (Genesis 17:9f). He was counted righteous long before he underwent any ritual. His righteousness—his being accepted by God—did not depend upon a ritual; it depended upon his faith and his faith alone. God accepted Abraham and counted him righteous because he believed God and His promises.

Abraham received circumcision as a sign or symbol only. Circumcision was not the road into God’s presence; it was not what made Abraham acceptable to God. Circumcision did not confer righteousness on him; it only confirmed that he was righteous. Circumcision did not convey righteousness on him; it only bore testimony that he was righteous.

Note that circumcision was both a sign and a seal. Circumcision was…

  • a sign of celebration: it was a picture of the joy that the believer experienced in being counted righteous by God.
  • a sign of witness: the believer was testifying that he now believed and trusted God.
  • a sign of a changed life and a separated life: the believer was proclaiming that he was going to live for God, to live a righteous and pure life that was wholly separated to God.
  • people.
  • a sign pointing toward Christ’s baptism.
  • Circumcision was a seal in that it stamped God’s justification upon Abraham’s mind. Abraham had believed God, and God had counted his faith as righteousness. Circumcision was given as a seal or a stamp upon his body to remind him that God had counted him righteous through belief.

Abraham was chosen by God for a twofold purpose. Before looking at the purposes, note that Abraham is said to have a unique relationship to the world. He is seen not as a mere private individual, but as a public man, a representative man of the human race, a pivotal figure in human history. He is seen as the “father” of all who believe God, as the head of the household of faith.

God chose Abraham for two specific purposes.

  1. Abraham was chosen that he might be the “father” of all believers regardless of ritual and ordinance. Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of faith to all—all the ungodly and heathen of the world—who repent and believe Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior. No matter how uncircumcised, irreligious, immoral and unclean a person is, he has a father in the faith, a father to follow.
  1. Abraham was chosen that he might be the “father” of the circumcised, of the religious who “follow in the steps of Abraham’s faith.” The religionist cannot earn, merit, or work his way into God’s presence and righteousness. He can only trust God for the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The fact that Abraham was justified by grace and not Law proves that salvation is for all men. Abraham is the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29). Instead of the Jew complaining because Abraham was not saved by Law, he ought to rejoice that God’s salvation is available to all men, and that Abraham has a spiritual family (all true believers) as well as a physical family (the nation of Israel). Paul saw this as a fulfillment of Genesis 17:5: “I have made thee a father of many nations.”

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Posted by on July 8, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #9 The Faith that takes God at His Word: Abraham Romans 4:1-11

Romans 4:18 -Against Hope #109 - In Due Time

The Jewish Christians in Rome would have asked, “How does this doctrine of justification by faith relate to our history? Paul, you say that this doctrine is witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets. Well, what about Abraham?”

Paul accepted the challenge and explained how Abraham was saved. Abraham was called “our father,” referring primarily to the Jews’ natural and physical descent from Abraham.

Our link to Abraham and God is faith. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. But what does it mean to believe? What does it mean to have faith?

It is important that we understand what faith means. Paul called two witnesses to prove that statement: Moses (Gen. 15:6) and David (Ps. 32:1-2).

Romans 4:1-3 (ESV) What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3  For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Paul examined the experience of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15. Abraham had defeated the kings (Gen. 14) and was wondering if they would return to fight again. God appeared to him and assured him that He was his shield and “exceeding great reward.”

But the thing that Abraham wanted most was a son and heir. God had promised him a son, but as yet the promise had not been fulfilled.

It was then that God told him to look at the stars. “So shall thy seed [descendants] be!” God promised; and Abraham believed God’s promise. The Hebrew word translated believed means “to say amen.” God gave a promise, and Abraham responded with “Amen!” It was this faith that was counted for righteousness.

THE MEANS OF IT: HOW WAS ABRAHAM MADE RIGHTEOUS? Faith does not mean simply giving mental assent to a truth. Biblical faith is a deeper and more meaningful concept.

No other name in ancient Israel was more revered than Abraham. He stood at the very head of that nation of people. Everyone in Israel understood that Abraham had a proper relationship with God.

But how did Abraham come to that right relationship with God? Let us look at the answer to that question from a negative viewpoint first.

Abraham was not right with God because of his ethnic background. Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees among idolatrous worshippers when he was called by God. Many people migrated from Mesopotamia into Canaan during the five hundred year period between 2000 to 1500 B.C. Abraham was one of them.

No one claims that Abraham was righteous because he came from Mesopotamia.

Abraham was not right with God because he was perfect. Even though Abraham was a great man, and his name was revered in Israel, no one claimed he was perfect.

In 4:2, Paul says, “For if Abraham was justified  by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

If Abraham  had  been perfect. God  would  have been indebted to him. Abraham would have gloried in his perfection.

Abraham was not declared righteous because of circumcision. In Genesis 15:6 the Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.

Two chapters later in Genesis 17 the practice of circumcision as a sign or symbol of the covenant that God made with Abraham and His people was instituted. Abraham, therefore, was declared to be righteous before he was circumcised. Paul makes this point in Romans 4. How was Abraham’s righteousness reckoned? When he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? In uncircumcision.

Abraham was not righteous because he kept the law of Moses, for Abraham lived four hundred years before the law of Moses was given. He did not live under the law.

Romans 4:13 explains, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

Why was Abraham declared to be right with God? The answer is found in 4:3, where Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abraham is declared right with God because of his faith.

Our faith is in the Christ who died and rose again. It is by that faith that we accept God’s action on our behalf. It is by faith that a man is declared to be right with God.

An important question: Why faith? Why is it that if we are to be right with God it has to be by faith? The simple answer is no man can be justified in the sight of God by works of law. Law can condemn, but law cannot save.

God demonstrated in the Old Testament law that the law cannot give man the answer to sin. Under the law of Moses, animal sacrifices were offered over and over, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of animal blood to save a sinner.

Hebrews 10:14 says, “By the blood of calves and goats sin cannot be removed. But those animal sacrifices in the Old Testament accomplished two objectives. First, they showed how man is a sinner and that those animal sacrifices could never remove sin. They also pictured the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who was offered as a perfect sacrifice for sin, not over and over but one time only.

Man’s faith is to be in Christ. Even the Old Testament worthies who offered their animal sacrifices did so looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus died on the cross, His blood was shed for those who lived in the Old Testament era, as well as for us.

If being right with God cannot be by law, then it must be by faith. That is exactly what the gospel is about. We place our confidence not in our  imperfect,  sinful  self,  but  in  the  perfect, sinless Son of God. When we place faith in Him, we are justified or declared to be right with God. It is a matter of grace, unmerited favor!


If Abraham believed God, what was Abraham’s faith? If we can answer that question we will know what faith is. We will know how by faith we can be declared  righteous.

This threefold promise which God made to Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1-7. What was the promise? There will be a great nation; the nation will be given a land in which to dwell; God, in cooperation with that nation, will bring the Messiah into the world. The nation was Israel; the land was the land of Canaan; and the Messiah was Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

In the fulfillment of that threefold promise, Abraham himself never owned one foot of the Promised Land, yet God said He would give that land to his descendants. When God made the promise to Abraham, he did not have a child.

Add to this the fact that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren. Yet God kept coming to him making that promise. In Genesis 15 God said to Abraham, “Look at the stars of heaven. As they are innumerable so shall your descendants be.” Abraham believed God. Paul says in regard to Abraham’s faith in Romans 4,

In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being hilly assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform (vv. 18-21).

Eventually, God gave Abraham a son. But in Genesis 22 God startled Abraham by saying, “Abraham, I want you to offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice to Me.” The great nation is to come through Isaac, but God says, “I want you to kill Isaac.”

In chapter 2 of his book, James brought up that very event. He said, Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to   him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God (vv. 21-23).

Faith always responds to the will of God. You cannot be right with God by meritorious works. You cannot do enough  to be right with God. You are right with God by faith.

But what does faith mean? First of all, it means trust (4:18-21). Second, it means obedience (James 2:21-24). Faith that saves is faith that obeys.

Paul says in 4:23-25, “Now not for his sake onlwaiwrittentha‘iwareckoneto Him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned,  as  those  who  believe  in  Him  who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Him who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and  was  raised  because  of  our  justification.”

Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted righteousness. Romans 4:23-25 was written for our sakes because if we believe on the crucified, resurrected Lord we will be righteous too.

In Romans 4:6-8, Paul used David as a witness, quoting from one of David’s psalms of confession after his terrible sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 32:1-2).

David made two amazing statements: (1) God forgives sins and imputes righteousness apart from works; (2) God does not impute our sins.

In other words, once we are justified, our record contains Christ’s perfect righteousness and can never again contain our sins. Christians do sin, and these sins need to be forgiven if we are to have fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7); but these sins are not held against us.


Faith means to trust God to do what He says He will do—namely, save us through faith in Christ. But it is also obedience; it is obeying the commands of God. When one has biblical faith where he trusts and obeys God, he accepts Jesus’ statement:  “He  that  believes  and  is  baptized shall be saved.” It is only with manmade theological opinions that man has a problem. Biblical faith is a trusting, obedient faith. It is by that trusting, obedient faith that you can be right with God.














































































































































































































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Posted by on July 5, 2021 in Romans


Suggestions gleaned from 50 years of a joyful marriage

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Terry and I celebrate our 50th anniversary on July 2. What a fun time it has been, with a few ups-and-downs but always fascinating because we are able to make this ‘journey’ together.

The key to a successful marriage is treating your spouse as the ‘most important person in the world’ every day and putting their needs ahead of your own. But there are more specific things which must take place on a daily basis, remembering that “you earn an anniversary.”

  1. Listen
    To be truly heard is the longing  of every human heart, and your wife is no exception. It sounds simple, but  listening can be harder than it seems with so many distractions around us and within us. Set aside some time every day to look into your wife’s eyes and really listen to what she has to say. You may be surprised at what you hear. (James 1:19Matthew 11:15)
  2. Communicate
    Don’t make her guess what you are thinking or feeling. Talk.
  3. Sing  Her Praises
    Shamelessly brag about her good qualities and quietly pray about her bad ones. Her reputation is your reputation. (Proverbs 31:28-29)
  4. Pray For Her
    Praying on your wife’s behalf  not only enlists the help of the Almighty, but also puts her and her needs at the forefront of your heart and mind, right where they belong. (Philippians 4:6Matthew 18:19)
  5. Value Her Individuality
    Your wife is wonderfully unique. Don’t compare her to your mom, or your ex-wife, or your old girlfriend.  Your mom may make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, but unfavorable comparisons won’t win you brownie points.
  6. Put the Seat Down
    Perpetually raised toilet seats are a pet peeve of wives everywhere. And while you’re at it, tidy up a bit. A little consideration goes a long way. (Philippians 2:4)
  7. Throw  Your Dirty Clothes in the Hamper
    It’s likely just a few steps from wherever you are dropping them anyway. Make this a habit, and it will let your wife know your don’t consider her your personal maid.
  8. Turn  Off the T.V.
    Lay aside the video games, pocket the iPhone, and shut off the computer, as well. It is staggering how many hours we waste gazing at some sort of screen instead of  interacting with the real people in our lives. Consciously set limits on your tube-time, whatever form it takes. Use the time saved to invest in your marriage: take a walk with your wife or play a board game together instead. (Psalm 90:12)
  9. Loosen  the Purse Strings
    We all have to keep an eye on our budget, but an occasional splurge can be well worth it. Seemingly frivolous things like flowers, jewelry, and overpriced restaurants let her know that she is more valuable to you than a number in your bank account.
  10. Practice  Servant-Leadership
    All organizations have a  hierarchy. It’s impossible to function without one, but being a leader isn’t the same as being a dictator. The best role model is Jesus Christ, not Joseph Stalin. Jesus washed his disciples feet and then died on their behalf. It’s a challenge to exercise authority while maintaining a spirit of humility, but that is what being a godly leader entails. (Matthew 20:28,Philippians 2:1-8Mark 9:35)
  11. Remember that Intimacy’s a Two-Way Street
    Unfortunately, men are  notoriously selfish in the bedroom, yet are dumbfounded when their wives are less than enthusiastic in this arena. Make this area of your relationship as pleasurable for her as it is for you and it will pay huge dividends. It may mean washing the dishes or helping with the kids, so that she has energy left at the end of the day. It may mean cuddling  and candlelight, so that she can relax and let the worries on her mind drift away. If you aren’t sure where to begin, just ask her, and then listen. (1 Corinthians 7:3)
  12. Give Her Time to Herself
    Everyone needs an occasional break to rest and recharge, and this is especially important for a wife who is at home all day with young children. Yet it’s very easy to neglect this legitimate need unless you regularly and intentionally schedule time  for it. (Luke 5:16)
  13. Set Aside Couple Time
    Soak in the tub together each evening or go on a date night once a week — whatever gets the two of you alone on a regular basis. (Genesis 2:24-25)
  14. Be Careful with Female Friendships
    We all have friends and colleagues of the opposite sex, but tread cautiously. Not all affairs are physical ones. Honoring your marriage vows means remaining faithful in thought and word as well as in deed. (Matthew 5:27-28)
  15. Use Good Hygiene.
    It is amazing how meticulous guys can be prior to marriage in their attempts to impress a girl, but once they walk down the aisle, all bets are off. Clean up a little; I promise it won’t kill you.
  16. Limit the Gross Stuff
    Few women find burping nearly as hilarious as the typical guy does. Good manners are always a win. (Ephesians 5:4)
  17. Be Patient
    In whatever way this applies to you and your situation, apply it. (1 Corinthians 13:4Proverbs 14:29)
  18. Cherish  Her Children (they are your children, too)
    A mother’s bond to her children runs immeasurably deep. When you invest time or energy in them, you are investing in her as well. Kindness to them counts as kindness to her. (Malachi 4:6)
  19. Choose Her Over Hobbies and Buddies
    Invariably there will come times in your relationship when you will be forced to choose between your wife and something else that you enjoy. Always choose her.
  20. Provide for Her Needs
    This is so much more than just putting food on the table. It is all-encompassing. Whether it is physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, you name it — do your best to provide. Sometimes life’s circumstances hinder us in one area, but we can compensate in another area. Often the effort is as important as the outcome. (Galatians 6:2)
  21. Dial Down the Anger
    Your caveman instincts are handy on the battlefield, but horrible for a happy home life. Every outburst or flare-up is a relationship setback. To go forward, the first step is to stop going backwards. Learn to control your temper or it will control you, your marriage, and every other aspect of your life. Just because your wife puts up with it and your co-workers tolerate it, doesn’t make your short fuse an asset. Do whatever it takes to gain victory in this all-important struggle that has haunted man since Cain slew Abel. (Ecclesiastes 7:9,Ephesians 4:31)
  22. Cut Out the Condescension
    If you have been blessed with a quick wit, you can either be the life of the party or a pain in the neck depending on the circumstances. Condescension is anger’s younger brother. It isn’t as loud or as dramatic, but it can be equally hurtful and all the more so for its subtlety. Lay off the snide remarks, the sarcasm, and the belittling. Speak to your wife in the same way that you would speak to a respected colleague. She is, after all, your partner in the most valuable investment of your life — your family. (Ephesians 4:29Colossians 3:19)
  23. Actively Seek Your Wife’s Insights
    Value her input and give it a preferential place in your decision-making process. (Proverbs 19:2012:15)
  24. Learn to Forgive
    Freely forgive your wife’s past, present, and future offenses. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of every meaningful relationship. (Ephesians 4:32Colossians 3:13)
  25. Verbally Express Your Love
    There are lots of ways to show your love, but women still like to hear it spoken.

Obviously no list is comprehensive, and one size certainly doesn’t fit all, but hopefully this one will prompt you to compile a list of your own, tailor-made for your own wife.


Posted by on July 2, 2021 in Marriage


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #8 The Riches of Redemption Romans 3:9-10, 21-31

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ...

This year thousands of Americans will hear the much feared and dreaded diagnosis: “Cancer.” Cancer infects not only Americans but also people around the world. Suppose the newspaper headlines announce tomorrow, “A Cure Found for Cancer!” That would fill our lives with joy.

But there is another disease which is far more deadly than cancer, the disease of sin. It is a disease that infects not only a percentage of the population, but every human being. How encouraging it ought to be to each of us that a cure for this disease has been found.

In 1:16, 17, Paul announces the fundamental thesis of the entire book of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein the righteousness of God is revealed.”

According to 3:9, 10, none is righteous. We are subjects of the wrath and judgment of God. Therefore, everyone needs the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation. Paul develops the theme of good news in 3:21.


Notice that Paul begins at 3:21 with the words, “But now.” Everybody is lost. Everybody is hopeless. However, that “but now” changes everything. It is the announcement that God has given us the cure to the disease of sin.

Following this “but now” he says, “But now. . . the righteousness of God” is revealed. When we meet “the righteousness of God” in the book of Romans, let us think of God’s holiness. God is just and cannot tolerate sin. God cannot simply pretend that sin does not exist. He is too holy to wink at sin.

God keeps His integrity; His righteous character is vindicated. Let us also think of the plan God has made known to us by which lost men may be right with Him. “The righteousness of God” in Romans is God’s plan revealed in the gospel to make men right with Himself.

He says, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.” The law here is the law of Moses. When Paul talked about the religious sinner in Romans 2 and 3, he had primarily in his mind the Jews who lived under the law.

Though man tried, they could never be justified by the law because the Old Testament law demanded perfection. The law could tell one when he sinned, but the law could not do one thing to save the sinner.

It is amazing that in our day there are many people who would like to return to the Old Testament and be under the Old Testament law. The Old Testament is inspired just like the New Testament. The Old Testament is the Word of God as much as the New Testament is.

But the Old Testament was the Old Covenant. It was for people who lived before Jesus came and was given primarily for the nation of Israel.

You and I were never under the law of Moses. The law of Moses was never intended for us.

When one enters a court of law as one who has violated the law, the law will say that he should be punished. The law does not give mercy. If one is guilty, he has to bear the consequences. If one receives mercy, he receives it from the judge or the jury.

The law just tells one that he has broken the law and must be punished. The law of the Old Testament pointed to Christ, showing people their need of Christ.

In Galatians 3:24 Paul said, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” It led us to Christ. The law demonstrated the need for salvation and pointed to the Savior Jesus Christ.

Paul says that this “righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”

The law and the prophets spoke of the coming Savior. In Genesis 3:15, when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

That is the first promise of the Messiah. It demonstrates that the Messiah would be victorious over Satan. The law was pointing forward to the coming of Christ.

In the prophets, Isaiah said, But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:5, 6).

Isaiah was pointing to the coming of Jesus and the reality of the good news. Next he says, “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. . . .” (3:22).

The faithfulness of Christ made the gospel a reality. When God sent Jesus into the world, He came to do the Father’s will. What if He had chosen to do something else? God’s plan to make sinners righteous depended upon the faithfulness of Christ.

Christ came into the world, carried out God’s plan, became a man, and willingly went to the Roman cross to die. He was faithful in what God wanted Him to do. The faithfulness of Christ made it possible.

Verse 22 says, “. . . for all those who believe. . . .” The plan of God made known through Jesus Christ came unto all. “There is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22, 23).

The good news has come unto all. Why then are not all saved? Man has to accept it. The righteousness of God has come unto everybody, but it is upon only those who believe.


These verses, 3:21-23, set the stage for three key words in the Christian religion. Paul uses first of all the word justify in verse 24. He says, “Being justified as a gift by His grace.”

“Justify” means just as if I did not belong to the fallen race of Adam, just as if I had not sinned. God wants to treat me as though I had not sinned. He wants to look upon me as though I am not guilty.

God cannot pretend that I am not guilty. He has to place my guilt on somebody else. But He cannot place my guilt on another guilty part. The other party has to be a perfect party.

Jesus was the other party. We are justified, “as a gift by His grace.” It is a gift; it is an undeserved, unmerited, unearned gift.

The second word is redemption. Verse 24 says, “Being justified, as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” That is the freedom of slaves. We were enslaved in sin, but God freed us. We have been redeemed by a great price.

Third, he says, “[Jesus] whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (3:25). Propitiation means satisfaction. Do we realize that our sins outrage the holiness of God? It infuriated God’s righteousness and holiness. His holiness and righteousness were satisfied, were propitiated by the blood of Jesus. He took my guilt and placed it on Christ.


No, He did not just pretend that sin did not exist. He dealt decisively with it. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “He [Christ] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

God took our sin and placed it upon the sinless Christ, and He took the righteousness of the sinless Christ and placed it upon us. We cannot be indifferent toward God’s actions. Heaven and earth has moved to save sinners. We must not go merrily on our way as though nothing has taken place. He would have been just to have said, “Let them be lost forever. The wages of sin is death.

 God is just, but He is also merciful. To satisfy His justice Christ died in our place; to satisfy His mercy  He  is  willing  to  save  sinners.  We  can accept this righteousness, justification, redemption, and propitiation by faith. It is through faith in His blood. I do not know any word that is more misunderstood than the word faith. There are those who would have you believe that the moment you accept as true that God has acted on your behalf through Jesus that you are saved.

Such is not biblical. Many people in the first century believed that truth, but they were not saved people. The chief rulers believed on Him, but they would not confess Him because of the fear of the Jews (John 12:42). They believed, but they would not even confess Him. They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Do you believe they were saved?

James says the demons believe and tremble, but they are not saved. To be saved by faith we must have biblical faith. Is it not interesting that Paul, in 1:5 and 16:26, speaks of the obedience of faith? In Romans 6 he says, “You have obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine delivered, being then made free from sin you became the servants of righteousness” (6:17, 18). When do we become the servants of righteousness? When we obey from the heart. Having faith that obeys is not earning salvation; it is accepting salvation. We must move away from the theology of men and churches and move to the teaching of the New Testament.


How can I obey the form of doctrine so I can be made free from sin? What is the “doctrine”? It is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. That is the gospel summarized (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). We are poured into the mold of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:1-6 tells us how to do it. It says we are to die to sin as Christ died for sin. As Christ was buried, we are buried with Him in baptism. As Christ was raised, we are raised to walk in newness of life. I accept by obedient faith the free gift of God—justification,  redemption,  and  propitiation. I am made right with God when I accept His gracious gift by faith.


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Posted by on June 28, 2021 in Romans

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