Friday, January 19, 2007

Romans 6:19-20

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.

V19 – Human terms: be slaves to righteousness, not sin. Paul here offers an argument to support his position, but he knows that doubts and questions will be raised in the minds of his audience when he gives it. Paul effectively says that “true freedom is slavery,” not slavery to sin, but slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. And he knows how shocking this sounds. In fact, he apologizes by saying, “I’m speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh,” because you are weak in your natural selves. Paul is telling his audience, “You were slaves of lawlessness and impurity. That’s how you were apart from Christ. Now having known the bondage of wickedness, pursue the slavery of righteousness in order to know the freedom of holiness.” Paul knows that there are limitations to this 3-part illustration, and that’s why he says that he’s speaking in human terms. Notice first the 3 parts: slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness, slavery to righteousness, freedom of holiness. The text doesn’t say, “Freedom of holiness,” but that is implied. Slavery to sin is no freedom; but slavery to Christ is the freest of freedoms.

The problem with Paul’s “human argument” is that slavery is not an institution that we would naturally desire to be under. If you were to ask 2nd or 3rd graders, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I doubt you’ll hear, “I want to be a slave.” Slavery is not something that one generally longs for. But Paul chooses this illustration in order to shock us out of the illusion that people are free apart from Christ, that true freedom is doing what ever you want to do. Paul wants his audience to understand that this illusion of freedom is not freedom at all: it’s bondage of the worst and most dire kind. Why? Because it’s our desires that control us; and it’s our natures that control our desires. So, when the Holy Spirit changes our natures, and when Christ changes our desires, only then we are free. And notice we still do what we want to do. Yet now this is freedom; before it was not. Paul says, “You were giving your lives and using your bodies as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness. You were slaves to your own wicked desires.” That’s not a very pretty picture. “But now, pursue slavery, desire bondage to righteousness, and gain freedom!”

V20 – Slaves to sin = Free from the control of righteousness. Jesus said in John 8:34, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Simply put, true freedom is not sinning. True slavery is freedom from the control of righteousness. And the text says that if we are slaves to sin (which those of us who sin apart from Christ are), then we are free from the control of righteousness (and therefore not free for righteousness). Apart from Christ we’re bound to sin. When He sets us free by justification through faith, our bondage to sin is ended. But the battle inside us between the sinful desires and the Spirit-led desires begins and continues as sanctification progresses. We have freedom from sin now, but it won’t be completely and perfectly realized until eternity. In eternity, we will have true complete and perfect freedom, because there will be no possibility of sinning. Note that God is truly free because He cannot sin.

Slavery in Romans 6 does not imply being forced against our will. It implies that our wills are enslaved. They are bound to do sin or bound to do righteousness because by nature we either see the rewards of sin or the beauty of righteousness as more attractive. So in both cases we do what we want most to do.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Romans 6:17-18

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Thanks to God that you obeyed. You have been set free from and have become slaves to righteousness. Notice first that Paul is thanking God for the conversion of these Christians. If people determine their destiny, or save themselves, either by their faith or works, why is Paul thanking God for their obedience? But if it is God’s grace that saves, if it is God Who grants the faith, the willingness and the ability to believe in Christ, then that’s a really good reason for Paul to thank God. Even in this first phrase in v17, Paul is proving that salvation is by grace alone. Do you thank God for giving you faith?

When you hear that God is sovereign and that He has guaranteed that those under grace will not be defeated by sin, do not jump to the conclusion that the battle is a charade, and nothing hangs on your choices. Don’t come to the Bible assuming that if it does not depend on what you choose ultimately, it does not depend on what you choose at all. That is man-centered, unbiblical thinking. Rather say, “Since it depends on God ultimately, there is hope that I, a dead and hardened sinner, may choose what is good and live a life pleasing to God.” Let the sovereignty of God make you hopeful that change is possible, not passive as if no change were necessary. Realize that Paul is teaching us in this chapter how to live for the glory of God, not the glory of ourselves. That is why God’s action is ultimate and ours is dependent on His. That is why God doesn’t say, “Just do it.” He says, “Because you are under grace, do it. Because you have died with Christ, don’t do it. Because you are enslaved to righteousness, do it.” “Just do it” is man-centered. Do it because “God is at work in you to do it” is God-centered. Putting it this way keeps the work of God front and center. And He gets all the glory. 1 Peter 4:11 “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised.”

God’s grace is the thing which liberates, and true liberation is found in obedience to godly desires, not in obedience to sinful desires. Paul is saying here that God’s grace brings power for obedience to God. And notice that this obedience is whole-hearted. God’s commands are good, and it’s only sin that makes us think that they are binding and cramping our style. God’s sovereignty over us as His servants is always for His glory, and not only that, but also in our best interests. By His grace, we are made able and willing to give whole-hearted obedience!

We once defined freedom not as “from obedience or obligation,” but “to obedience and for obligation.” Paul reminds us here that freedom means having the ability and willingness to obey. And if the Son sets you free (in this sense), you are free indeed. To be a child of God is to obey. If you want to be like God’s Son, which you will if the Spirit lives in you, and which is what you are as a believer, an adopted son of God, then obey. Paul is saying the freedom of grace is for obedience, and that’s what it means not be to under law, but under grace.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Romans 6:15-16

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

If you look back at Romans 6:1, you will see that it begins with a question: “Shall we continue to sin?” Now, the passage today begins with basically the same question. In v15, the question is, “Shall we sin?” Paul is coming back to this question, because he’s discussing the relationship between the free forgiveness and justification that we have in Jesus Christ and how that relates to God’s transforming work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. So he’s asking the question, once grace reigns, do we continue to live a life under the dominion and the mastery of sin? Or should we sin in order to show all the more the reign of grace? Of course not! But answering this question is Paul’s purpose for chapter 6. He’s made it clear in v1-14 that when God comes to us in His grace, He breaks not only the penalty of sin, but He breaks the power of sin. He’s going to assert that again here.

With the question Paul raises in v15, he wants you to think of what God’s grace was designed to accomplish in you? What did God intend to do in you by His grace? And this question should raise another question. What exactly does it mean to be not under law, but under grace? People give many different answers to that.

(1) People might say that it means there are no more rules. This is the "Outback Steakhouse" theology: "No rules, just right." But even at Outback, there are rules. It’s not like you don’t have to pay for your meal or wait for a table. Paul is not saying that the rules no longer exist.

(2) Some might say, “There are still rules, but in the Old Testament you had to obey the rules, and in the New Testament you don’t have to. However, you try to obey anyway because you want to.” Christians who believe that might say, “I don’t have to obey the Ten Commandments. I still try to obey, because I want to, but I don’t have to.” That’s not what Paul is saying here either. If God’s commands are to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, then they are not optional. The point of freedom for the Christian is not that godliness is optional, and we do it when we feel like it. That’s not the freedom that Paul is talking about.

(3) Others might say that our freedom from the law means we’re not under the Old Testament moral law; rather, we’re under New Testament moral principles. That’s not what Paul is saying either. God’s moral law is written on our hearts, and that law is a reflection of the very nature of God Himself. It’s what He’s like, and He wants us to be morally like Him. Now the ceremonial law has been cancelled, because it has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and the civil law of Israel it is no longer binding, though it offers principles to learn. However, the moral law is a reflection of God’s character. And the freedom that we have as Christians is not liberation from God’s character.

(4) Finally, people might say that it means we’re not under the condemnation of the law. And that’s true, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. He has talked about that, and he will talk about it again, but right now, he is not talking about our forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom from condemnation; rather he is talking about the fact that we are no longer pawns of sin anymore. We are no longer dominated by the tyrannical master of sin. We are not under the law, but under grace in this sense. 1 Corinthians 15:56 “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” God has liberated believers from the dominion and power of sin. In that sense we are not under law. We live under the reign of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The law is no longer your enemy; although it’s the source of your condemnation, it is totally unable to transform you. You live under the reign of grace where the Holy Spirit dynamically enables you to say, “How I love Your law, O Lord. I mediate on it day and night, and I long to walk in it; it’s a lamp unto my feet, and it’s a light to my path.” I’ve not only been forgiven; I’ve been transformed. I’ve not only been justified; I’m being sanctified. I have a new master. There’s a new power at work in me, not sin by the law, but grace by the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16-18 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

Thinking you are under law means that you believe law keeping is the way to have a righteousness that lets you stand before God. If we treat the law in such a way that keeping it provides the righteousness that justifies us, then we are under law. And this is true whether you trust yourself or God to enable you to keep the law. Christ will be all your righteousness or none of it. If you try to provide some of your righteousness alongside Christ’s righteousness as the ground of your justification, you nullify grace. Galatians 2:21 “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Being “under grace” means that our justification is a gift of grace on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s law keeping, Christ’s perfect obedience of faith, and nothing in us.

New Testament ethics are structured strangely to natural man. “Don’t let sin master you, because sin is not going to master you.” We come to the Bible with our man-centered bias toward self-determination. In other words, we come with the bias that if the Bible tells us to make a choice (like “don’t offer your body parts to sin”), then in the moment of that choice we, not God, have the final say. And if you come with that bias—that genuine, responsible choice means ultimate self-determination—the connection between v13, don’t yield to sin, and v14, because sin will not be master over you, will probably make no sense. But if you learn from Scripture to see the sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man in such a way that God is ultimate and decisive, then you will learn to talk about the life choices as the apostle Paul would: I choose not to let sin reign in my body, because God is at work in me and will not let sin reign in my body. Philippians 2:12-13 “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” 1 Corinthians 5:7 “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Does this make sense?

Now Paul asks another question in v16, suggesting that his audience should have already known that you’re either a slave to sin, leading to death, or to obedience, leading to righteousness, depending on which you obey. Again, we revisit the freedom/slavery issue. We live in a culture that is obsessed with freedom. Freedom is a concept that we value highly and rightly so. We should never take the freedoms that we have, which have been transferred to us and protected, for granted. But we tend to be slightly freedom obsessed. We live in a day and time where freedom means freedom from obligations. Freedom means, “Hey, I will do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it wherever I want to do it however I want to do it.” And Paul is saying, “That view of freedom is a myth. It does not exist. There is no such thing as non-obligation in life. Paul says, “We are slaves; obligation to someone or something is not an option. Yet we are free; the issue is to what or to whom we are obligated.” We are slaves to our desires, and our desires are slaves to our natures, and our natures are slaves to sin from conception. Yet we are always free to choose according to our desires. We are never bound from that. And so we must be freed from the bondage of the sin nature. Freedom from sin in this sense frees our natures, which frees our desires, which frees us. So this is freedom: being no longer bound by the sin nature. In other words, you are always free to pursue your desires, yet you are always obligated to the desires you are pursuing, whether it be sin or righteousness, Satan’s agenda or self’s-agenda or God’s agenda. You may think you’re free, but you’re bound. Paul says you are slaves of the one whom you obey. And this doesn’t sound good in our cultured ears. But keep in mind that grace binds us to Christ. Being a slave of Christ is a good thing. We will not be mistreated by Him; rather we will be cherished as co-heirs of all creation!

Paul reminds us that sin often presents itself as, “You do exactly what you want to do, just because you want to.” It seems to be ultimate freedom; it’s very enticing, seductive, and tyrannical. It may look like freedom; it may look like you’re calling the shots, but you’re not. You’re never calling the shots. Paul’s point here is that nobody is their own boss. You either serve a beneficent, generous, loving master whose commands are always for your own good, or you serve a tyrannical master, self, and Satan and sin. Everybody serves someone or something. Do you get it?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Romans 6:13-14

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

You have been brought from death to life. Sin is not your master, because of grace. Paul finishes off his list of commands in v13. First, he says, “Don’t offer you bodies to sin as tools of wickedness.” Second, he says, “Offer yourselves to God as tools of righteousness.” The body itself can become a conduit for sin to arouse evil desires. The cravings of sin, like lust, often utilize parts of the body, like the eyes, in order to entice.

Paul knows that people will use that phrase, “You’re not under law; you’re under grace,” as an excuse not to follow after the way of righteousness. And so he puts it the other way around. He says, “We present the whole of ourselves to God as tools righteousness, because we’re not under law but under grace.” He means that the law doesn’t have the power to enable us to do what we should do, but grace does. Grace gives us the power to do what the law tells us to do. And we’re not under the law or its condemnation or its opposition or its conviction, because we’re under grace. We’ve been redeemed, forgiven, and empowered. So do what the law tells you to do, because you’re not under the law, but under grace. In light of who you are, give yourself to God. Live life in the conscious gaze of God. He is witnessing everything that we do. We live “coram deo,” before the face of God, and thus we should be encouraged daily to shine for His glory.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Romans 6:12

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

The problem is that many Christians want forgiveness, but they don’t want holiness. Picture a man praying, “Lord, make me a better man. But it’s all right if You don’t, because I really like the way I am.” It may sound funny, but that is precisely the feeling of many Christians. They are perfectly happy being forgiven but not holy. They are perfectly happy being accepted, but not righteous, forgiven but not sanctified. But Paul does not consider that to even be a possibility in the Christian life. God doesn’t just save us by forgiveness; He delivers us from sin’s bondage.

And so Paul commands a second thing: be who you are. “Do not let the sin nature reign in your bodies, because that would cause you to obey the evil desires of the flesh.” There are two things to note in v12. First, it really is true that sin does not reign over us as believers. Second, believers still really do struggle with sin. Paul wouldn’t have to be saying not to let sin reign if his audience wasn’t struggling with it. Think about that. If Christians were sinless, would Paul have had to tell them “Do not let sin reign in your body”? No. So the very fact that he says that lets us know that believers struggle with sin. Since we are no longer controlled by the desires of sin, we have new desires for righteousness. And there is conflict.

Being a Christian is not making a new start in life; it’s receiving a new life to start with. One of the first ways that we know that God is doing a work of grace in our lives is that we no longer desire to live a life of sin. We desire to live a life of godliness. We desire to be like the Lord. We desire to see those things that are good and pure and beautiful. We desire after godliness. We can say with the psalmist, “How I love Your law, O Lord.” Paul is saying that one of the evidences of sin’s reign is that your desires are totally captive to sin. But when grace comes, you are liberated from that captivity to sin. New life brings a decisive break with the desires of sin, and it brings an advent of new desires for righteousness. Now we don’t always follow the new desires consistently. But thank God we don’t always follow the old desires consistently either. And that’s the evidence of God’s grace. Sin is not king any more, Paul says. Grace is.

A person will always do that which is in accordance with his greatest desire. And our desires are determined by our natures. Prior to being reborn and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we were captive to the sin nature, and thus our desires and, therefore, our deeds were sinful. Remember, everything done without faith is sin. But now, there is a battle, and we’ll see more of it in chapter 7. The battle is between the still-present sin nature and the newly present Spirit-filled nature. Thus we have conflicting desires. But notice that we have been freed from the bondage to the sin nature. Therefore, both natures inside us have laid claim to the thrones of our hearts. And we give-in to each at times. But Paul urges us to strive, by grace, to avoid yielding the thrones of our hearts to the evil desires. They cannot reign; they have been defeated by Christ. So do not obey them; instead, obey the Spirit-filled desires, which lead to righteousness. GALATIANS 5:17

Desires which were given by God to serve us—like desire for food, drink, sex, rest, friends, and approval—are attacked by sin and captured and corrupted and turned into betrayers—Judas-desires, Delilah-desires. Then these desires—now in the service of sin instead of God—lure us to obey them. When that happens we hand over our members—eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, sexual organs, voices—to serve these desires and their master, sin, and our members become weapons of unrighteousness. 1 Peter 2:11 says, “Abstain from fleshly desires which wage war against the soul.” Notice that sin is attacking through desires. We are called to keep them from being our greatest desires. “Don’t let sin reign.” We are ruled by our greatest desires. Don’t present your eyes and tongue to fulfill sinful desires. Don’t choose sin. But what is this choosing? It is preferring. To choose is essentially to prefer one thing over another thing. If God is to get glory in our choosing against sin, it must be because we regard God and what He promises as preferable. So you can describe the battle at this point in negative terms: You are dead to sin and its desires; they are no longer always preferable. Or you can describe the battle positively: You are alive to God and His ways; they are now prefer-able (able to be preferred whereas before they were not), having ended sin’s reign.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Romans 6:9-11

For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

In the Christian life, the indicative precedes the imperative. We do not obey in order to be redeemed, but rather we are redeemed enabling us to obey. In other words, our identity as Christians is established prior to our ability to obey God. And this is emphasized not only by Paul, but we find it in the Old Testament as well. Remember Exodus 20:2-3, which I brought up when we were finishing up chapter 3. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and then gave them the law.

Not once in Romans has Paul commanded his audience to do anything, until v11. Paul believed that it was more important for his audience to first understand who they were, then what God did for them, then what God did in them, and finally who God made them to be. Only then are they ready to hear and respond to His commands. And so Paul has to finish explaining justification, before he can set forth a command. In the Christian life, regardless of your soteriological theology (Calvinism / Arminianism), grace must be operative before obedience is a possibility. Christians agree on this, and Paul certainly teaches it. Paul knows that gospel obedience flows from the realization of God’s work of grace on our behalf. Paul says that in the Christian life, justification and sanctification are a package deal. As God grants forgiveness in salvation, so He breaks our bondage to sin. God’s plan of salvation is to deliver us from both sin’s penalty and its power. In justification, He forgives our sins and accepts us as righteous. And in sanctification He imparts new life to us through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and enables us to become morally like Christ. As God calls us righteous though we are not, a one-time permanent judicial declaration known as justification, so He breaks our bondage to sin and makes us righteous, a process known as sanctification. He’s not only imputed righteousness to us, He is imparting righteousness to us by His sanctifying grace.

So now, the command is to know who you are as a Christian. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.” That’s Paul’s first imperative in all of Romans. And Paul is not saying, “Try real hard to be dead to sin.” He’s saying, “You are dead to sin. It’s done. And now you’re alive to God in Christ.” It’s like a young man who has been single for a long time, and he’s finally married a wonderful bride, but he’s having a hard time remembering that he’s not single any more. And he’s doing things like making major purchases and social plans without consulting his wife. An older, godly man pulls him aside and says, “Son, you need to consider that you are married.” He is already married; he just needs to live like he is.

Finally, note simply that the assurance of our future resurrection is in the invincibility of Christ to death. Justification is the foundation of sanctification, which is the certification that we are on our way to a resurrection with Christ in union with Him. Union with Christ secures our eternal resurrection life of joy.