This week, we continue our review of the book of Romans. The theme for this letter, as we have seen is “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The book of Romans lays out in a comprehensive manner the content of the gospel and answers the question “how does a holy God bring sinners into relationship with Himself?” We saw that Paul begins his treatment of the gospel in the first three chapters by establishing the necessity of the gospel. Paul argues the gospel is necessary because sinful humanity is saturated with unrighteousness that relentlessly pulls them away from God and any hope of relationship with Him. In fact, as a holy God, sinners are under His wrath. In themselves they can do nothing to change their unrighteousness or escape the wrath of God. Though they are held accountable to be right with God, they are in fact full of darkness and death. There is nothing acceptable about them to God and without the gospel, they are utterly without hope in this world and the next. The picture the Scriptures paint of the sinner is a bleak one and in spite of whatever wealth or talent or intellect they may possess, they are creatures to be pitied, not envied. We have one overriding responsibility as it relates to them—give them the only message that can bring them out of their sorry state, the gospel which alone is “the power of God for salvation.”
The second section of Romans we looked at last week progressed from 3:21-4:25. The basic content of the section is summarized in its first five verses where Paul lays out the heart of the gospel. Here Paul gets down to the nuts and bolts of the gospel. He answers five foundational questions that are part of the larger question of how God brings sinners into relationship with Himself. In answer to the question, “HOW does God make an unrighteous sinner legally righteous?” Paul’s answer is, justification. In justification, God forgives our sins but he doesn’t simply leave us there in a forgiven, but morally neutral state. He also imputes to us the very righteousness of Christ. Just as Adam’s sin has been imputed to humanity and our sin was imputed to Christ on the cross, so too, Christ’s righteousness is placed on our account and God declares us to be righteous in his sight. We have the same legal standing before Him as his Son thanks to this legal declaration of us as righteous. Justification does not, as some other elements of the gospel do, change us internally, but it takes care of our mammoth legal problem before a holy Judge. That problem is, we are filled with unrighteousness. In justification, we are forgiven of our unrighteousness and given the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Paul’s answer to the question, “WHY would God make an unrighteous sinner righteous?” is in part his love for us shown through his grace. Although there are many answers to this “why” question, one answer Paul gives in Romans five is, God loves us. The reasons for that are beyond human comprehension. Another question the gospel answers is, “What does God do with his just wrath against sinners?” Paul’s answer is found in the word “propitiation.” That is, God satisfied his just need to spend his wrath on sinners by allowing His Son to be used as the substitute target for his wrath when he became accursed for us on the cross. When Jesus took on the curse of sin that you and I deserve, God was free to vent his wrath on His perfect Son. This wrath was against all those sins he had previously passed over as well as all future wrath earned by the sins of the elect. The Father’s holy need for wrath against sinners was met when he vented his wrath against His Son on the cross.
Paul also answers the question, “what is the sinner’s role in this process of salvation?”
His answer is, as we saw, “faith.” Saving faith looks at our own miserable unrighteousness and rejects it as utterly inadequate to merit anything from God. When this faith sees the offer made by God through Christ, it eagerly snatches it up as our only hope. This faith is a gift of God, that no one may boast. Finally, this section in chapters three and four answer the question, “What was required of God to make sinners legally righteous?” The answer is, the blood of his Son. Paul calls God’s work through Christ, “redemption.” That is, he purchased those in slavery to sin out of that enslavement and the only currency acceptable to pay that ransom was the spotless blood of His Son. That is the heart of the gospel as we saw it laid out last week.
This week, we review chapters five through eight where Paul provides a third major section of this letter. Though this section is a bit harder to organize than the first two, there are enough common threads running through that, we can organize Paul’s thought around one central theme. After Paul has laid out this glorious treatment of the wonder of the gospel in section two of the letter, in section three, his aim is to show just how indestructible this saving work of God is in the life of the believer. Let’s face it, Christians living in a fallen world find much opposition here. There is the dark specter of death which hangs over each of us. Every time we go to a funeral, our faith is put to the test. Will this gospel, when I need it most at my moment of death be sufficient to deliver on its promises and take me through in triumph to the other side? If it can’t, its worthless. Then there is the power of sin which works to oppose us and dominate us and keep us from Christ. There is the law, which, though glorious in that it presents the character of God, can, when used incorrectly, place us in horrible bondage to sin.
Can this glorious hope of the gospel within a believer triumph over all those obstacles? Can this Christian life in the gospel which Paul lays out in chapters three and four triumph over the spiritual forces that daily assail it? In other words, is there real, hard, bedrock hope for the future in this gospel? Or, is it just a spiritual warm blanket, a dose of spiritual narcotic to keep us sleepy and contented? Is this power of God for salvation found in the gospel worthy of our trust for our entire lives with all its trials and difficulties? It is to those questions that this next section is addressed.
If you were to ask most committed Christians which section of Romans they are most familiar with, they would tell you, Romans five through eight, or maybe six through eight. The reason is because when we get into this conflict of the Christian life with all of its pitfalls and all of our failures, we need a place to go to give us hope. And perhaps nowhere else in Paul is so much hope given for those in the midst of striving to live like Jesus than in these chapters. That is Paul’s intention—to show the indestructibility of the hope found in this gospel—even in the face of opposition like death and sin and the law and anything else. He magnifies this hope of the gospel in chapters five through eight.
As Paul begins chapter five, he begins by listing some of the blessings of justification. Blessings like peace and perseverance and at the top of the list is hope. In the second half of chapter five, Paul answers the question, “can death and the power of death shatter the hope provided by the gospel?” Let’s face it, death is a great hurdle over which all of us must leap by faith if we believe in the gospel. Its at the moment of our death or the death of a believing loved one that we really find out if this hope in the gospel is able to sustain us. And so, Paul talks about the challenge death brings to the hope provided by the gospel. Paul does this (as Paul almost always does) in theological terms. He narrows the entire salvation process down to its two main players, Adam, who introduced sin and death into the human family and Christ who came to save us from sin and death. His main argument in this section is twofold. First, Adam’s sin horrendously messed things up in this world. In 5:17 he says, “…by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man…” Adam’s sin brought a reign of death to humanity. But, second, as powerful as that reign of death is, the second Adam, Christ has convincingly overwhelmed that reign. The second half of 5:17 says, “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” He has dethroned the power of sin in the believer’s life.
Paul points out the supremacy of Christ’s saving work over Adam and his defiling work is seen in the legacy of each man. Adam’s legacy is to leave us sinners, while Christ’s work makes us righteous before God. Think about the comparative power required for each work. Which is a greater, more powerful act—to soil and defile a clean, white shirt or blouse, or to take that grossly defiled garment and make it spotless, glowing with radiance? Which work is greater, to bend a crankshaft on a motor and ruin it or to take a bent crankshaft and straighten it so that it works perfectly? Which requires more power, for Adam to sin one time and in that sin thoroughly corrupt the fabric of humanity, or for Christ on the cross in one act, to wipe away untold trillions of sins? This power of death which Adam brought is no match for the power of redeeming grace brought by Christ and that means death and the power of death can in no way destroy the hope of the gospel in Christ. We can, with confidence look down at that believing loved one in the casket and say, “You are a victor in Christ because this is not the end of your story. Your relationship to Adam brought you death, but your relationship to Christ brings you eternal life and that life you have through the gospel swallows up death, that life has drawn the sting of death.” The reign of death has been broken by the gospel. That’s the message of the second half of chapter five.
Chapter six answers the question, “Can the reign of SIN in this life crush the hope found in the gospel?” In addition to the power of death, the power of sin also challenges our faith in the power of the gospel. Paul’s point in chapter six is, the grace of God in the gospel gives us power to live out from under the tyrannical control of sin. The church today so often forgets the fact that the death of Jesus Christ has not only freed us from the penalty of sin to condemn us, it has also liberated us from the power of sin to control us. How few Christians, when they think of the cross, appreciate the liberation from the dominating control of sin that was purchased for us there. Paul says the reason we no longer have to live under the control of sin is because when Christ died on the cross, he (verse 10) “died to sin once for all.” That is, he was transferred out of the dominion or realm of sin. His resurrection provided the proof that he had defeated sin because death, which is the sting of sin could not hold him down. Paul says in 6:5 that we who trust Christ have been “united with him…in his death, [we will] certainly be united with him in his resurrection.”
Think about what this means logically to us. What does it mean for a person who is united with the Person, Christ, who has been transferred out of the dominion where sin rules? If Christ has been forever transferred out of that realm and we are united with Christ, then where does that put us in relationship to that realm where sin has controlling power? The answer is, we don’t live there anymore. What this means to us on a practical level is, now, by the grace of God in the gospel, we have the freedom to choose NOT to sin. This is not a promise of sinless perfectionism because we are constantly discovering deeper layers of sin in our souls that must be exterminated. What it does means is when we square off and fight against a sin in the grace of God in the gospel, we can triumph over it. Sin and the desires that have been seduced by sin are not something the believer needs to submit to. Sin barks loudly at us and seeks to control us through intimidation, but it has lost any genuine power to control us. Now, we have been given the authority to be on the offensive against sin and our mission as it relates to sin is to kill it. To resist it, to mortify it, to trample it under our feet and we have been given the power to do that by virtue of our being united with Christ and our transfer out of the realm where sin dominates.
This implies a fight against sin and Paul tells us we are to fight when he says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies.” This power of sin will not go down without a fight. It has been the controlling force in our lives and it will not retreat of its own free will. We have to fight against it in the grace of God and the goal of that fight is the death of that sin in us. This battle ground against sin has as its main players, our desires. Verse 12 says, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires.” We all have desires in us that can be used for or against God. The power of sin works to seduce these desires to bring us into rebellion against God, but we as believers can, by the grace of God in the gospel, triumph over the power of sin. How is this done? There are several elements in our strategy but this is done firstly by understanding that these sins we war against are sins Christ died for. These are forgiven sins. John Piper rightly says, “You cannot fight sin successfully until you KNOW your sin is forgiven.” We must understand that any sin the believer fights against has already been defeated because it has lost its power to damn us to hell. For the genuine believer, this sin has lost its lethal power—it can in no way kill the genuine believer. We have been justified and given the righteousness of Christ and this sin cannot do ANYTHING to change that. For the false believer, that knowledge lulls them into skipping the fight altogether—“If I’m in, why do I need to fight?” They just “continue in sin that grace may abound.” But for the true believer, they love God and don’t want anything to hinder their walk with God. So this knowledge of sin’s impotence in them EMBOLDENS them, gives the ground of faith to fight and kill that sin because it hinders their intimacy with God, it keeps God from being glorified in their life they way they want. This is at the heart of that phrase, “the obedience that comes from faith.”
Another crucial strategy in our war against sin includes knowing and believing that we have been set free from sin’s power. He says in 6:18, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Therefore, we are free to (verse 19) “offer the parts of our body…in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” Many Christians do not know or believe this truth in their hearts. What happens in so many cases is the enemy comes in and loudly barks at them with temptation and he convinces them of the lie that the power of sin is greater than the pull toward righteousness. When the temptation to sin comes, we often buckle under it because we don’t exercise the faith to believe what Paul says here in chapter six about being delivered from the power of sin and enslaved to righteousness. Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” John says, “This is the victory [in this case, over the power of sin] even our faith.” This is the obedience that comes from faith—faith in the promises of what Christ has done for us and who we are in Christ as it relates to the power of sin. Paul makes clear in Romans six that the power of sin has been de-fanged in its ability to dominate our lives and attitudes. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” The believer comes fully equipped to stop the domination of sin in their life and to kill the sins that threaten to plague them.
As we move to chapter seven, Paul speaks about the triumph of hope in the gospel NOT over the rule of sin, but the rule of the law. Paul links sin and law in these two chapters because the law is to sin what gasoline is to a fire. Chapter seven, verse five says, “sinful passions [are] aroused by the law.” The law’s purpose is to show us our need for Christ. If a person is trying to be pleasing to Christ by following the law or basing their relationship with him on their performance, they are trusting in their own strength to be acceptable to God. The law comes in and, with it standard of righteousness, repeatedly points out the person’s multiple failures. Its job is to show us that it is utterly futile to try to be pleasing to God by our performance. A person under the law is like the pilot of an airplane with no gas, but with a navigator repeatedly screaming at him where he needs to go to carry out his mission. The pilot is in a perpetual tailspin, having lost control of the plane while the navigator is repeatedly telling him the way he needs to go to get to his destination hundreds of miles away. That is the picture of frustration and that is what life is like under the law. This is what Paul is describing in that section where he says in verse 18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” That is a picture of the Christian life lived under the law.
The person who is trying to be acceptable to God on the basis of their performance is trying to use the law for a purpose it was never intended. The law is an instrument of death—it points us toward our sinfulness and that is a good and holy purpose. But to try to use it to make us pleasing to God is a horrible, misguided use of the law. We are acceptable to God only on the basis of what HE has done for us in Christ, never on the basis of what we could do for Him and the law reinforces that truth when we try to please God through our performance. The law cannot defeat the power of the gospel. Indeed the law shows us the depth and horror of our sin which is an essential step in coming to God through the gospel. Without the law, a person can never be saved because the law is God’s chosen instrument to reveal their huge need for the gospel by revealing to them their gross unrighteousness. The law, when used rightly, keeps us on the track of grace and reminds us that we can never do anything to please God in ourselves. It does us a great favor by reminding us of our spiritual impotence apart from Christ.
We have seen that neither death, nor sin nor the law can diminish the hope found in the gospel. In chapter eight, Paul essentially says, “And neither can anything else break this hope that is ours through the gospel.” Paul builds up to the glorious conclusion of this section by explaining how God has made provision for the power of sin and the law to be defeated on a practical day to day level. This results in (verse four), “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met [or, “fulfilled] in us, who do not live according to the flesh.” God has provided a means through the gospel by which we can live above the domination of sin’s reign. And this way is “according to the Spirit.” The promised Holy Spirit is the power source for the believer to live above the domination of sin. Paul says it this way in 8:2, “the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.”
Think of it this way. When you are sitting in an airplane on the tarmac, you are held in bondage to the gravitational pull resulting from the law of gravity. It holds you to earth. This would be analogous to the “law of sin and death.” But when the plane begins to taxi and reaches a certain speed, another law kicks in and liberates you from the law of gravity and you rise above the ground and over come the law of gravity. This is the law of aerodynamics and when it is engaged, you are liberated from the earth-binding law of gravity. In the believer, when we refuse to trust in our own performance (the law of sin and death) and instead look to Christ in faith, the “law of the Spirit of life” kicks in and you rise above the downward pull of sin. As we bombard our mind and life with truth (truth about Christ, the Gospel, our identity in Christ and how we can relate to sin) and by the grace of God BELIEVE that truth, the truth breaks us free from the downward pull of sin. This is part of what Paul broadly speaks of in Romans 12:2 as the “renewing of your mind.”
We know from 8:17 we have a glorious inheritance in the gospel. This includes suffering. “If indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.” This tells us that not only should suffering never diminish our hope in the gospel, suffering is actually PART of the gospel. How different this is from superficial, Christianity-as-a-pleasure-cruise picture painted by so much of the church. Suffering is not an interference to our hope, it is actually part of our inheritance and, according to chapter five, actually BUILDS hope for the true believer. In 8:28, Paul tells us that for the Christian, even the most dire tribulation is nothing more a scalpel God uses to carve away all of us that doesn’t look like Jesus. Suffering and trials, rather than being destructive to the gospel, actually further part of the purpose of the gospel in a believer’s life. That is, they help conform the forgiven sinner into the image of Christ.
We know this hope of the gospel is utterly inextinguishable for the Christian. Nothing can conquer it because once God has brought you to the first step in the process, the rest is guaranteed. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” This is a package deal. That is an air-tight series of connections. What God began in your salvation process before the beginning of time when he predestined you, he will bring to its completion. Not one true believer will fall between the cracks. Not one will be missing because, as we’ll see next week, salvation is of the LORD, not man and God doesn’t know how to fail. He is sovereign and no weapon, no obstacle formed against him will prosper or succeed. The ultimate reason why the gospel’s light of hope can never be blown out is because God is the One who keeps it lit. And what He did through Christ is greater than the power of “death nor life, angels,…demons,…the present,… the future, …any powers, 39[any]…height…depth,…anything else in all creation, [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The only reason we can have an indestructible hope in the gospel is because it is God’s idea and he sovereignly superintends the process from start to finish so that He alone can receive all the glory. Next week, we look at that.
The question of application for us this week is this: Do we live as Christians who have this unquenchable, indestructible hope through the gospel of Christ? Do we walk in the fear of death or has the gospel obliterated that in us? Hebrews 2:14 speaking of Christ says, “by His death he…destroy[ed] him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” The gospel enables us to have totally transformed view of death in the life of a believer. Has the gospel brought liberty to you in your fight against the power of sin? Do you live like a person who, through Christ has been transferred out of the realm where sin dominates? Or, are you still being regularly bloodied when you face off against a problem sin in your life. The gospel has defeated the power of sin in our lives so that (6:4) “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The Christian life is a new life as it relates to sin. Sin does not have to dominate us and indeed we have been given the resources to fight and kill the sins that raise their ugly heads against us.
If you are fighting and perpetually losing the fight against sin, the problem may be that you are living under the law. You have slipped into a legalism that believes the lie that the only way you can be acceptable to God is by trying harder and harder and harder and if you just try hard enough, God will accept you. That life leads to utter futility and bondage because you are taking the law, that is intended to condemn, and instead trying to make it give you life and it will never do that. Confess your arrogance in trying to be acceptable to God by your performance and instead renounce your abilities, renounce the filthy rags of your own so called righteousness and trust wholly in what Christ has done for you. When you live the Christian life, live it by faith in the Spirit’s power in you. Humble yourselves and trust in God’s Spirit to empower you to live this new life in Christ which fulfills the law.
And if you are suffering this morning, see it through a biblical lens. Suffering is no threat to your ultimate well being or salvation, it is part of our inheritance through the gospel, part of the way we come to know Christ better. May God give us grace to believe the truth of this glorious gospel and live it out for His glory.
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