August 13, 2022 - Romans Chapters 4-7

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Today we continue our journey through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, where Paul systematically lays out the Gospel he preaches for a church he’s never met before. As we saw last time, in his first 3 chapters, Paul proves that all of us are sinners who need a Savior, Jews and non-Jews alike. In Romans 3:20, Paul argues that no one can be justified (put right with God) by deeds of the Law (doing what the Law requires). Therefore we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth to be a propitiation (atoning sacrifice)” to be received “through faith in his blood.” In verse 28, Paul nails it: “We conclude that a person is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law.”


In chapter 4, Paul proceeds to back up his outrageous claim by pointing to the examples of Abraham and David. Paul points out, “If Abraham were justified (put right with God) by works, he hath whereof to glory,” meaning, Abraham can boast about how much more he did than others have done. But Paul says he can’t. stead, Paul quotes Genesis 15:7: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”


Now, here’s the kicker. Verse 4 says, “Now to him that worketh is the reward reckoned not of grace, but of debt.” So if we can reach God by doing good works, we’re putting God in debt to us; God owes us our reward. Trust me: no one can put God in debt to us! But Paul says in verse 5 that “to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Did you catch that? That’s outrageous! God is the one who justifies the ungodly. God justifies those who do nothing to deserve it, by their faith alone.


Paul then gives us David as the perfect example. None of the good that David did could bail him out. David deserved an eternity without God. So Paul quotes Psalm 32, where David tells how overwhelmed he was to find that God had “put away” his sin, as the prophet Nathan made clear: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! Blessed is the one to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” To “impute” means “to reckon on the account books.” Although we are sinners, God reckons us on the account books as if we’d never sinned.


Through the rest of chapter 4, Paul shows how God saves both Jew and non-Jew the same way, by faith, not by how well we obey God’s law. Paul teaches that Abraham was saved before he was ever circumcised, the same way a non-Jew would be saved. Abraham was saved when he believed God's promise to multiply his seed. Paul says at the end of chapter 4 that God imputes righteousness to us if/when “we believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”


In chapter 5, Paul teaches that Jesus reverses the effects of Adam’s curse on the entire human race. Jesus is Adam in reverse, a second Adam who comes to reverse all the damage done by the first Adam. Paul begins by saying that since we are put right with God by faith, we have peace with God, a peace we could never have before. We also have privileged access to God, unlike our first ancestors, who were cast out of the Garden and kept out by a flaming sword. We also have a standing in grace. What that means is that we no longer have to walk on eggshells around God, unlike Adam and Eve, who had to cover themselves and hide themselves because of their sin. Instead, our standing with God is secure, because it’s based not on how good we are, but on what Christ has done for us. Paul says we also have the hope of sharing the glory of God, a glory we lost, but now stand to regain because of what Christ has done for us.


Paul says in verse 8, “But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners (while we were still God’s enemies), Christ died for us.” Paul says it’s hard enough to find someone who will die for a good person. But who can you find who is willing to die for an enemy? That’s what makes God’s self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ so amazing! God is the One who shows us how to love our enemies. God does not hate us. We are the ones who declared war on God by our sin. We are the ones who have built the walls to keep out God. Jesus is the One who tears those walls down, the One who gave his life for those who were still at war with him. By his supreme act of self-sacrificial love, God in the flesh has turned enemies into friends. We have now been reconciled with a God who never stopped loving us.


The impact of what Jesus has done is as universal and as far-reaching as Adam’s curse. Paul lays it out for us. Paul says in verse 18 that one man’s sin led to condemnation for us all; while one man’s act of righteousness brought acquittal and life for all who believe (God will force this gift on no one). Paul says that by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, but by one man’s obedience, many were made righteous. By one man death came into the world; by one man comes resurrection.


One sinless human, the new Adam, was able to undo all the damage done by the first Adam! Jesus was born into the world with a clean slate. He was the first and only person since Adam who was not born in bondage to sin. Like Adam back in the Garden, Jesus had the power to say No to sin. Like Adam, Jesus was tempted to the limit, but Jesus obeyed, using the same powers and equipment that Adam had. Jesus’ lifetime of obedience as the Second Adam makes him the One and only person who can reverse Adam’s curse.


See how Jesus turns Adam on his head (so to speak). See how one man is able, by his sinless life, to make an entire race of sinners into souls who are holy and pure and spotless! Verse 17 says that Christ has made it possible for us to reign as kings and queens, all because of Christ’s amazing free gift.


Verse 20 says, “Law came in, so that the offense might abound.” If we make laws, we usually make more outlaws. That’s what happened. Yet even this worked to God’s advantage. God’s law reveals the full magnitude of sin. But it also reveals the full magnitude of how great God’s undeserved mercy is. It’s incredible how one act of sin was enough to condemn us all, but after billions of sins, one act of righteousness was enough to give us life with God forever.


Jesus Christ is Adam in reverse. He has come to undo all the damage done by the first Adam, by obeying where Adam went wrong. Jesus has already revolutionized our relationship with God. He has brought about a glorious reconciliation. He has brought us peace with God, privileged access to God, a standing in grace, the promise of sharing God’s glory. All that remains is for us to behold that day when death and decay are swallowed up by new life. We haven’t seen it yet. But the contract has been signed, the price has been paid, and we’re just waiting for the day when God’s new creation arrives, that day when the last trace of Adam’s curse (death) will be gone forever.


But if salvation is free, does that mean we are free to live like the devil? Can we place our faith in Christ, sin as much as we want to, and still be saved? Paul tackles this very question at the beginning of chapter 6: “Shall we continue in sin, so that grace may abound?” (Should we keep on sinning, so that God can show more and more love by forgiving us?)


Paul’s answer is, “Absolutely not! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” Paul says, it’s crazy to think of folks who have been set free from sin, still wallowing around in the mud as if they were happy with their sin. No, being saved from sin brings with it a desire to turn from sin, a desire that makes such a lawless attitude next to impossible.


Jesus has freed us forever from the guilt and power of sin. He has put us right with God, just as if we’d never sinned. God now sees us as holy. But it doesn’t quite match up with the way we live, does it? Because Christ has made us righteous before God, we want to bring our behavior into line with our position in Christ. Jesus cleaned up our record. What we want to do now is clean up our lives. God says we’re holy now. We want our lives to reflect that reality in practice. We want our lives to glorify God.


There are 2 major reasons why we will want to clean up our act. One reason is because no one wants to be a living contradiction. None of us is truly comfortable with hypocrisy. We hate hypocrisy in others because we can’t stand it in ourselves. “Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds.” The other reason we know we need to clean up our act is because we know it’s the only healthy way to live. Sin is the cause of all of our self-inflicted misery. Rooting out sin is our ticket to wholeness.


Getting right with God is only the first step in our journey as believers. From then on, life is an on-going process of getting our act together with our faith. The fancy word for this process is “sanctification.” Just as we have been made holy in God’s sight through the sacrifice of Christ, so we want to become holy in the way we live. Are we ever going to reach perfection in this life? I would say No. Those who think we can attain perfection, do not seem to have a realistic grasp of the depths of human sin. Sin is like weeds. We’ll never finish pulling them out of our lawn, but we can sure keep from planting more of them!


Paul tells his readers that our old self (our old human nature, “the flesh”) has been crucified with Christ. It has been nailed to a cross. Paul says that we have likewise been buried with Christ in baptism, so that just as Christ has been raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life. Baptism is a burial ceremony for our old self, which has already been put to death, so that we may be raised to a new life of freedom from the power of sin. (Baptism by immersion dramatically preserves that image of being buried and raised with Christ.)


According to verse 11, the fact that we have been buried and raised with Christ means that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Being dead to sin means that sin no longer has the power to order us around. (Ever try giving orders to a dead body?) We are to live with ears that are open to God’s voice, and deaf to the commands of our old human nature. Which is easier said than done.


Because all of this is true, Paul urges his readers, don’t let sin occupy the throne of your life. Don’t let sin rule your life! Paul goes on here to use the image of slavery. Paul says, our lives will be controlled by whomever we surrender ourselves to as obedient slaves. (Such an illustration was so disgusting to his 1st century readers that Paul apologizes for using it. I can’t think of a better illustration!)


Paul’s advice to us is that because Christ has broken the power of sin, we who belong to Christ have the power to choose our master. We have the power to choose whom we will serve, who’s gonna rule our lives. In our struggle with sin, a defeatist attitude plays right into the hands of the Evil One. We often give young people the impression that they are powerless to control their romantic urges. But what would happen if we showed the same defeatist attitude toward drugs, cheating, and theft? (“We know there’s no way you can keep from taking drugs.”) What would that do to our young people’s resolve? Defeatism is a non-starter. The Good News is that we who have placed our faith in Christ have been set free from bondage to our sinful desires. The nerve of temptation has been cut. We now have the power to say No to sin, if we so choose, a power we never had before.


Verse 14 says, “Sin will have no power/dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” The fact that we are saved, not by how well we obey God’s laws, but by God’s amazing grace, inspires us with a much more effective motivation for obedience than we ever had before. Why else should we want to live a holy life? Should we obey simply to appease a demanding God? Should we obey to keep from going to hell? What could be more miserable than a performance-based relationship with God, an eternal no-win situation, forever walking on eggshells? No wonder so many people who live this way give up trying entirely and cry, “What’s the use?” Being “under law” is a miserable way to live.


God’s amazing grace is the supreme inspiration to live a holy life. Whenever I get sick and tired of trying to do God’s will, I always need to go back and remember: “Why am I doing this?” I always need to go back and recover my excitement about the love Jesus showed us at the cross, a love I never can and never will deserve, a love he gives not because of how good I am, but how badly I need it. Being not “under law” but “under grace” sets us free to live for God, not out of guilt or grudging obligation, but out of an overwhelming sense of love.


Sanctification – getting our act together – is a lifelong response to the incredible mercy shown to us in Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we want to become more like Jesus. Because God now sees us as holy and without sin on our record, we want to BECOME holy in the way we live out what we believe.


Saying No to our stubborn desires is easier said than done. And nobody captures this struggle more convincingly than St. Paul in Romans 7. Paul confesses that the process of rooting out sin is an exasperating effort. He writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Here’s a guy who has walked in our shoes. When I first read these words as a young teenager, I said to myself, “Wow! I can relate to this guy! He knows where I’ve been. He’s been there himself!” Romans 7 is so true-to-life, some have questioned whether it was really Paul who wrote these words.


How could a guy who sounds so weak, be a real hero of faith? Is Paul talking about what’s going on in his life right now, or is this a flashback to his pre-Christian past? And what is the sin or sins that Paul finds it so hard to resist? Some have speculated that Paul was fighting the same problem he condemns in Romans 1, same-sex desire. It’s possible. It is more likely that Paul is struggling with unfulfilled desire for the opposite sex as a single man. Who knows? All we know is that the struggle Paul describes sounds an awful lot like ours.


Despite all that he said in his last chapter, Paul finds himself powerless to exercise human willpower against the evils Paul hates. He finds that his spirit desires to do what is right, but his old human nature (which he calls “the flesh”) refuses to cooperate. In verse 21, Paul says, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (We call this law “Murphy’s Law”, a law that says, “Thou shalt do the opposite of what God desires.”)


Paul finds that the desires of his new heart are locked in combat with the desires of his old human nature that still dwells within him. In verse 23, Paul calls it a “war”, a vicious civil war going on inside his soul, a war he’s finding next to impossible to win by his own willpower.


Practically all of us can relate to Paul’s struggle with the desires of his old sinful nature. Whether it’s food, alcohol, tobacco, pain killers, or whether it’s gossip, anger, or other temptations, each of us has been flabbergasted by our inability to do what we know is right, and/or resist what we know is wrong.


Does Paul have any answers for us in our struggle? At first, the answer appears to be No. Paul is so frustrated by the way he is held captive to the power of sin, that in verse 24 he cries, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Here’s a guy who’s at the end of his rope, a guy who is fresh out of answers.


But then suddenly Paul cries, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Thanks be to God for what? What’d he find? What is the answer Paul has stumbled across in his search for freedom? Paul has discovered that willpower does NOT come from within. It only comes from above. Whenever we try to resist sin on our own willpower, what we get is exactly what Paul describes in Romans 7: a human nature that refuses to cooperate. We’ll talk more about what Paul has to say about this next time on Biblical Words and World.