Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit's Groaning

Part 3 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:26-27

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (v. 26). 

It's Not Easy to Pray

It’s not easy to pray. Anyone who says it’s easy to pray is either lying or isn’t normal. Why isn’t it easy to pray?

  • Prayer requires time. 
  • Prayer requires discipline. No one accidentally falls into the habit of daily prayer.
  • Prayer requires focus. 
  • We often don’t know what to pray for. The Bible tells us to pray “according to the will of God,” but what do we do when we’re not sure what God’s will is? Should we pray for deliverance from our troubles or for strength to endure them? 

Why should we bother to pray when we don’t know what to pray for?

The Spirit Helps Us

When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us. “The Spirit [who “dwells in” believers (v. 11)] helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). [1]

Notice that Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He doesn’t say “you.” Paul is admitting that even he didn’t always know what to pray for. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells about a time when he asked for something that wasn’t the will of God. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.]

How does the Spirit help us? He “intercedes [i.e., prays] for us” (v. 26). And how does he intercede for us? He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). One way to understand these “groanings” is that they are our groanings. “They are inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God.” [2] But our groanings also become the Spirit’s groanings. He takes them to the Father and “translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.” [3]

Your Will Be Done

The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the model for our prayers. We naturally want the easier path (deliverance from the trouble rather than strength through the trouble). It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. Jesus prayed—while being “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33)—that the “cup” (a metaphor for the wrath of God) would be removed from him. But in the end, he said, “Yet not I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Is that your desire? Do you desire to do the will of the God who endured the cross?

Hope in Prayer

Verse 26 begins with the word “Likewise.” As our hope helps us in times of trouble, the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.

If we truly desire to do the will of God, we don’t have to fear that we might ask for the wrong thing. The Spirit intercedes for us.


[1] The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. There is only one God, but each Person of the Trinity is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Should we not believe in the Trinity because we can’t understand it? No! We shouldn’t expect to understand with our finite minds everything about God. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Even the most brilliant human mind is finite.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 446.
[3] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our Groaning

Part 2 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:23-25

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (v. 23). 


The apostle Paul says that we (i.e., believers) “groan inwardly” (v. 23). Did you groan about something this past week?

  • We groan about the never-ending tasks of life.
  • We groan about our physical struggles (e.g., tiredness, weight gain, sickness, pain).
  • We groan about our relational problems (e.g., failed marriages).
  • We groan about our spiritual failures (e.g., not loving others as ourselves). 

We don’t groan because we have no hope. We groan because we do have hope. How can hope cause us to groan?

Our Hope

Paul writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).

We “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The “firstfruits” are the beginning of the harvest, and they also cause the farmer to anticipate a greater harvest. Paul is saying that because we’ve received the Holy Spirit, we now look forward to even greater blessings. And since we are looking forward to a life that is so much better, we groan when we go through the struggles of this life.

An elderly person who was once a great athlete must inwardly groan when he struggles to walk up the stairs. He groans when he looks back. We groan when we look forward—not because we don’t have hope, but because we do have hope.

When Paul talks about our “hope,” he’s not talking about the normal kind of hope (i.e., wishful thinking)—“I hope I win a million dollars.” Our hope isn’t wishful thinking because it’s guaranteed by the word and power of God.

What’s our hope? “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” But didn’t Paul say in verse 15 that we already children of God? Yes, we have already been adopted into God’s family, but we do not yet enjoy all of the blessings of adoption. We are living in the period between justification and glorification (v. 30).

Paul is thinking specifically about “the redemption of our bodies.” [Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.] When Christ returns our bodies will raised (if he comes after we die) and transformed. “The redemption of our bodies” is not only freedom from our physical struggles, but also freedom from our spiritual struggles. (Do we groan about both?) “In this hope we were saved” (v. 24a).

There needs to be a balance in our lives between thankfulness (for our present blessings) and groaning (as we look forward to our future blessings).

How Should We Wait?

“Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (v. 24b). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

We are waiting for a day when we will no longer groan. This is our hope. How should we wait for the day when our groaning will cease?

1. We are to wait with excitement (“we wait eagerly,” v. 23). 

Are you waiting for some big event, counting down the days? My kids often ask, “How many days until…?” We count down the days when were excited. What God has planned for our future is something to get excited about!

2. We are to wait with endurance (“we wait for it with patience,” v. 25). 

Paul isn’t talking about just killing time. He’s talking about holding on to hope despite suffering and difficulties. It’s not like waiting to see the dentist for a checkup. It’s like waiting to see the dentist because you have a terrible toothache. But remember, we’re not just waiting for the end of all our problems. We’re waiting for a future so glorious that we can’t even begin to imagine it.

We Are Far Too Easily Pleased

Are we really longing for this day?

C. S. Lewis writes,
…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Creation's Groaning

Part 1 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:18-30

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (v. 18). 

Series Introduction

For the remainder of our journey through the book of Romans, I’m going to do things a bit differently. From here on out, I’m going to make each section of Romans into its own little series of sermons. So I’m beginning a four-part series on Romans 8:18-30. And I’m calling this series From Groaning to Glory.

Notice the word “groaning” in verse 22, the word “groan” in verse 23, and the word “groanings” in verse 26. And also notice the word “glorified” at the end of verse 30. From groaning to glory.

Present Suffering, Future Glory

Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). Is Paul saying that our suffering is insignificant?

Paul isn’t saying that people don’t experience great suffering. I'm sure you can think of someone (maybe it's yourself) who is going through a time of great suffering. And we know that there are many others who are going through similar kinds of suffering--or even worse.

Notice that verse 18 begins with the word “For.” What Paul says in verse 18 is connected to what he said in verse 17: we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

In verse 17, Paul is talking about persecution. In verse 18, he’s talking about all kinds of suffering. We suffer because of our “human frailty,” which includes both our physical and moral frailty. [1]

Paul doesn’t pretend that a person’s problems disappear when he or she becomes a follower of Christ. Actually, he often writes in his letters about how following Christ caused him to experience suffering. [2]

Paul suffered greatly. People today suffer greatly. Paul isn’t saying that our suffering is insignificant. What he is saying is that the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. So if our suffering is great, imagine how great the glory will be!

Eager Longing

Paul says that the glory will be so great that even “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). Paul personifies [3] creation. [4]

He says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (vv. 20-21).

Who subjected creation to futility? It was God. Creation was “subjected to futility” because of humanity’s sin. [Read Genesis 3:17-19.] This world is not what it was made to be. But notice that he subjected creation to futility “in hope”—in hope that one day creation will “be set free from its bondage to corruption.” God says that he will “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isa. 57:17; cf. Rev. 21:1).

We won’t forget about the old heavens and earth, but we won’t miss it (like my parents miss their old washing machine, even though they now have a new and “better” one). [Read Revelation 21:1-5; 22:3.] Paul is talking about the world we want to live in—a world where “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3), a world free from futility and frustration.

In The House at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh is asked, “What do you like doing best in the world?” Pooh starts to answer, and then he stops and thinks because “although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” That’s true. Usually the anticipation is better than the experience. The experience often doesn’t live up to our expectations. And, of course, every experience is only temporary.

What do you long for? What we really long for, we won’t find in this world. C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” [5] We were made for another world.

Do You Have Hope? 

In verse 22, Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I haven’t experienced childbirth (obviously), but I’ve observed it. I was present for the birth of my four children. What I know is that the pain of childbirth is great, but it’s nothing compared to the joy of having a newborn baby. That’s what keeps a woman going during the pain of childbirth.

In this world, there is great suffering. But the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. Imagine how great the glory will be!

One thing we need during times of suffering is hope. Do you have hope?


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 237.
[2] In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Once I was stoned” (2 Cor. 11:25; cf. Acts 14:19).
[3] This is common in the Bible. For example, Psalm 65:13 says that the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys “shout and sing together for joy.”
[4] “Creation” refers to “all of subhuman creation: plants, animals, rocks, and so on” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 266).
[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's So Great About Being a Child of God?

Part 26 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:14-17

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (v. 15). 

My Dad! 

There’s a viral video in which a group of girls are bragging about their dads.

One girl says, “My daddy has a gold tooth!”

One of the girls is impressed: “Wow, a gold tooth?”

Not to be outdone, another girl turns to the first girl and says, “My dad has diabetes.”

We who are Christians say that God is our Father. And the Bible actually encourages us to boast about “our Father in heaven”: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). So what’s so great about being a child of God?

What It Means to Be a Child of God

In these verses, Paul gives us two reasons why it’s an amazing privilege to be a child of God—to have God as our Father.

1. A child of God has been adopted by God. 

In verse 14, Paul says, “All who led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Later, he writes, “We have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” To be adopted by God means to be chosen by God. God has chosen us to be his children.

Why do verses 14 and 15 say that we are “sons,” not “sons and daughters”? Is Paul excluding women? No! The reason why Paul uses the word “sons” has to do with the culture of his day. In that culture, a childless adult would adopt a male child to be his heir. So an adopted child would have been a son.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). And then he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). In other words, all of us—both male and female—are equal in God’s family. No one is more or less a child of God than anyone else!

To be adopted by God also means to be loved by God. In verses 15 and 16, Paul writes, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (cf. Gal. 4:6). Our relationship with God is not a relationship of fear; it’s a relationship of love.

Paul says that we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Paul’s original letter would have read Abba! Pater! The word Abba—which, by the way, has nothing to do with a Swedish pop group—is Aramaic, and the word Pater is Greek. Both words mean “Father.”

Jesus spoke Aramaic, so “Abba” is what Jesus called God. In Mark 14:36, Jesus address God as “Abba, Father.” When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he taught them to address God in the same way: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

Once God adopts us, we never have to fear that God will one day return us to the orphanage. He will never disown us. He will never kick us out of his family. We are permanently in God’s family. Nothing can or will change that. As Paul says later in Romans 8, “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

2. A child of God is an heir of God. 

In verse 17, Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

What does it mean to be “an heir of God”? What is our inheritance? Our inheritance includes many things, but the greatest treasure of our inheritance is God himself. “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6). We were made for God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the “chief end of man” is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

We are “fellow heirs with Christ.” Jesus became like us (v. 3) so that we could become like him (v. 29). The Son died on a cross so that I could become a son! “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 8:10).

Am I Really God's Child?

How do I know if I’m really a child of God? Am I really God’s child? Is God really my Father? If God is my Father, I will resemble him. How can I resemble God?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells them, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2). To be an imitator of God is to be like him in our character and in our actions.

Jesus “loved us and gave himself up for us.” The Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Look at 17: “if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We aren’t to desire suffering, but are you willing to suffer in order to remain faithful to God? God was willing to suffer for us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How Do I know if the Holy Spirit Lives in Me?

Part 25 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:5-13

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (v. 9). 

If in Fact

The apostle Paul says that there are two—only two—categories of people in this world. There are people who are “in the flesh,” and there are people who are “in the Spirit.”

Now this isn’t like if you’re left-handed or right-handed. The consequences of being “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit” are much higher!

  • “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (v. 8).
  • “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (v. 13). 

Paul says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (v. 9a). But that’s not the end of the sentence. The next word is “if”: “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (v. 9b). There’s a lot riding on whether or not the Holy Spirit is living in us!

How do I know if the Holy Spirit lives in me? Let me ask you this: What’s your mind set on? 

What's Your Mind Set On?

In verse 5, Paul writes, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” To set the mind on something is to desire something. We either desire “the things of the flesh” or “the things of the Spirit.”

What is the “flesh”? It’s “our fallen, ego-centric human nature” [1] To live “according to the flesh” is to live a life that’s all about me.

To “live according to the Spirit” is to live a different kind of life. The Holy Spirit transforms our mind. We have a new desire—a desire to please God. We desire “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Verse 4 tells us that Jesus died so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” “In us” could mean “for us” (i.e., justification) or “by us” (i.e., sanctification). Jesus didn’t die only for our justification. He also died for our sanctification. “Holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement.” [2]

What are you setting your mind on? [Read James 4:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17.] Are your values and pursuits any different from those of the world? What we set our minds on will affect the way we live.

Is Grace Just About Getting?

We are justified by grace. Justification is a gift from God. But is grace just about getting? What about giving? Do we say, “God, you have given me so much, but I’m not gonna give anything to you”?

There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). But verse 13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). That’s a warning.
Neither the “indicative”—what God has done for us in Christ—nor the “imperative”—what we are commanded to do—can be eliminated. Nor can they be severed from one another; they are inextricably connected. The point of that connection in this passage is the Spirit. The same Spirit that “set us free from the law of sin and death” has taken up residence within us, producing in us that “mind-set” which tends toward the doing of God’s will and resists the ways of the flesh. [3] 
“We are debtors” (v. 12). Giving back to God isn’t optional. But God isn’t saying, “If you don’t pay me back, I’m going to take away everything I’ve given you.” First of all, we can never pay God back. Secondly, anyone who has the Holy Spirit will never argue that we don’t owe God our lives.


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 222.
[2] Ibid., p. 221.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 495.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Justification and Sanctification

Part 24 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:1-4

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (v. 2). 

Justification and Sanctification

Two important biblical words are “justification” and “sanctification.” What do they mean?

Justification is the declaring of a person to be righteous (i.e., not guilty). (It’s like when we say, “His actions were justified.” In other words, the person is not guilty of wrongdoing.)

Sanctification is moral transformation (i.e., Christlikeness, holiness). Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of life,” v. 2). This is why he is called the Holy Spirit. (It's not that he's more holy than the Father and the Son.)

What's the Connection?

Many commentators believe that 8:1 is about justification (“no condemnation”) and 8:2 is about sanctification. [1] What’s the connection between verses 1 and 2?

Notice that verse 2 begins with “For,” which means “because.” John Piper points out that “because” can be used two ways. It can be used to provide evidence of something or state the cause of something. [2]

If I say, "I am tired because I’m yawning,” I'm saying that my yawning is evidence of being tired. But if I say, “I am tired because I didn’t get much sleep,” I'm saying that my not getting much sleep is the cause of being tired.

Is sanctification the cause of justification, or is sanctification the evidence of justification?

Sanctification isn’t the cause of justification. If it was, we could never achieve (or keep) the status of “no condemnation.” Sanctification is the evidence of justification.

God Has Done What the Law Couldn't Do

If it’s impossible for us to get rid of our guilt, how is it possible? “God has done what the law [i.e., the Mosaic law], weakened by the flesh [i.e., our sinfulness], could not do” (v. 3a). The purpose of the law was not to justify us: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). [3]

God has done what the law couldn’t do: make a way for us to be justified. How?

  • The Father sent the Son (“By sending his own Son,” v. 3b). 
  • The Son became human (“in the likeness of sinful flesh,” v. 3c). “His humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously.” [4]
  • The Son became an offering for our sin (“for sin,” v. 3d). 
  • The penalty for our sin was paid by the Son on the cross (“he condemned sin in the flesh,” v. 3e). “In the flesh” refers to the body of Jesus. “Believers are no longer ‘condemned’ (v. 1) because in Christ sin has been ‘condemned.’” [5]
  • Now our justification and sanctification are possible (“in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” v. 4a). [6]

Believers are described as people “who walk [i.e., live] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (v. 4b). This is sanctification—the evidence of our justification and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

To live “according to the flesh” is to live a me-centered life. To live “according to the Spirit” is to live differently—to be like Christ.

There Is "No Condemnation," But There Is Obligation

“No condemnation” means no condemnation. There’s no fine print; there are no exceptions. There is absolute security for the believer.

But Jesus died on the cross not only for both our justification; he also died for our sanctification. “Holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement.” [7]

Being satisfied with only justification (and not bothering with sanctification) is like being given a free Hawaiian vacation but never leaving your hotel room.


[1] The two occurrences of “law” in verse 2 mean “power” or “principle” (cf. Rom. 3:27).
[2] John Piper, “Set Free by the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” (sermon)
[3] The law isn’t bad. Telling someone that apples won’t cure tiredness doesn’t mean that apples are bad.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 219.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 477.
[6] The fulfillment of the “righteous requirement of the law” can be seen as referring to our justification or our sanctification. Perhaps it refers to both.
[7] Stott, p. 221.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

No Condemnation!

Part 23 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:1, 13

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (v. 1). 

A Heck of a Story!

I remember watching the NFL Network’s Super Bowl LI edition of Sound FX. The Patriots are losing 28-3 in the middle of the third quarter. A Patriots’ victory appears highly unlikely. But one thing that stood out to me was Patriot’s wide receiver Julian Edelman telling teammates, “It’s gonna be a [heck] of a story!”

Edelman ended up being right. Super Bowl LI did become “a [heck] of a story” for the Patriots. They ended up winning the game 34-28. The Patriots’ 25-point comeback is the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul says that every single one of us is a sinner. We have broken God’s law. We are guilty. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to take away our guilt.

It looks very bad for us. But “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (5:20, NIV). The gospel is an amazing story!

Security and Warning

We are free from condemnation. But does that mean we’re free from obligation (i.e., obeying God’s commands)? Look at verse 13: “If you live according to the flesh you will die [eternally], but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live [eternally].”

According to verses 1 and 13, there is—for the believer—freedom from condemnation, but there isn’t freedom from obligation.

  • Does “no condemnation” mean that we are absolutely secure in Christ? 
  • Does the warning “If you live according to the flesh you will die” mean that we have to “earn our keep”? 

Freedom from Condemnation Yes!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

  • “Condemnation” is “the opposite of justification.” [1]
  • “Now” refers to the new era that began when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
  • “Therefore” points back to what Paul has been saying about God’s grace. 
  • How can we be free from condemnation? God “condemned sin in the flesh” (v. 3). “The flesh” refers to Christ’s body. 
  • It doesn’t say, “No condemnation unless….” We don’t have to fear that any sin will ever condemn us! “Who is to condemn?” (v. 34). 
  • “To insist on feeling guilty is but another way of insisting on helping God with our salvation. How deeply imbedded in human nature is the influence of works-righteousness!” [2]

Freedom from Obligation? No!

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13).
[How does] the need to put sin away from us relate to the promise of verse 1? Calvinists and Arminians are agreed that the believer must progress in the battle against sin if he or she is to attain eternal life. But the Arminian believes that a regenerate person might, indeed, be so lured by the flesh that he or she fails to progress in the Christian life. At some point, then, that person might cease to be “in Christ.” Thus, the promise of verse 1 no longer applies to that person. The Calvinist, by contrast, believes that the influence of the Spirit in a believer’s life is so dominant that he or she can never reach the point of falling permanently into a lifestyle of sin and so forfeit the promise of “no condemnation.” [3]
“Security without responsibility breeds passivity, but responsibility without security leads to anxiety.” We need balance! [4]


[1] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 274.
[2] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, p. 174.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 258.
[4] Ibid.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The War Within Us

Part 22 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 7:13-25

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh the law of sin (vv. 24-25). 

Who Is the "Wretched Man"?

Romans 7 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible. Is the “wretched man” (v. 23) pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul?

  • “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (v. 14). 
  • “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (v. 22). 
Can a Christian really call himself a “wretched man”? 

Grace and Law

Let’s go back to 5:20-21: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What Paul says in those two verses leads him to bring up four questions. The answer to all four questions is no.

  • “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). 
  • “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). 
  • “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” (7:7). The law reveals our sin (e.g., coveting) and our sinfulness (i.e., rebelliousness).
  • “Did that which is good [i.e., the law], then, bring death to me?” (7:13). Sin is the problem, not the law. 

Is the "Wretched Man" Really Post-Conversion Paul?

Is the “wretched man” pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul? There are strong arguments for both views, but I favour the latter view. Why?

  • Paul shifts from the past tense to the present tense. 
  • Paul is referring to occasions of sin. We know by experience that it’s a struggle to not sin. “We all stumble in many ways [e.g., sinful words]” (James 3:2). 
  • Pre-conversion Paul didn’t see himself as a “wretched man.” 
  • A believer has an inner desire to do God’s will. “I delight in the law of God in my inner being” (v. 22). But because our sinfulness, we have a divided will. 
  • In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:7). 
  • If Romans 7 is describing the experience of a believer, it lines up well with what Paul says in 8:23: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirt, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We eagerly await total victory. 

What a Wretched Man I Am!

What is a “wretched” person? A miserable or vile person—a bad person.

The law shows us the holiness of God and the ugliness of our sin. But the cross shows us the grace of God and our value to God. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). What a wretched man I am! But what a loved man I am!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Does Not Being "Under Law" Mean?

Part 21 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:14b

You are not under law but under grace (v. 14b). 

Not Under Law

Romans 6:14 says, “You are not under law but under grace.” When the apostle Paul writes, “You are not under law,” he’s addressing the believers in Rome. But the same thing can also be said of us today: we (i.e., believers) are not under law. What does that mean?

Picking and Choosing?

Christians are often accused of being inconsistent. It’s often said, “Christians pick and choose which rules in the Bible to obey.”

  • Did you eat any shellfish this week? Leviticus 11:9 says not to eat “anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales.” 
  • Did you do any work on Saturday? Saturday is the Sabbath, and the Fourth Commandment says, “On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work” (Exod. 20:9-10). 
  • Are you wearing an article of clothing that’s a blend of two different fabrics? Leviticus 19:19 says, “[You shall not] wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” 

Under What Law?

Imagine someone from another country accusing us Canadians of not obeying all of Canada’s laws. The person says, “I have a book that lists several laws that you’re not obeying.” You ask to look at the book and discover that it was published in 1972. Many of the laws that existed in 1972 have been repealed. We could say that we’re not under those laws.

When Paul says, “You are not under law,” what does he mean by “law”? He’s talking about the law of Moses (i.e., the Torah). This law—which included the Ten Commandments—was given by God through Moses to the nation of Israel.

Free to Do Whatever?

Does this mean we’re free to do whatever we want to do? Paul brings up this question in 6:15: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Paul says, “By no means!”

We aren’t under the law of Moses, but we are under a different law: the law of Christ. [Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-21.] Paul says that he’s not “under the law” (v. 20), but he also says he’s not “outside the law of God” (v. 21). In other words, Paul isn’t under the law of Moses, but that doesn’t mean he’s not under any law. He’s “under the law of Christ” (v. 21).

The Law of Christ

What is the law of Christ? Douglas Moo says that the law of Christ is “the example of Jesus and the commands he and his apostles issue as a guide to the Spirit-filled life (Romans, p. 222).”

When we read the NT, we come across Jesus and the apostles saying that some of the commands of the law of Moses no longer need to be obeyed. For example, Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Mark 7:18-19). Then Mark adds, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (v. 19).

Jesus said that the law of Moses could be summed up by stating two of its commands:

  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). 

The law of Christ includes these two commands. [Read Romans 13:8-10.] The law of Christ also includes nine of the Ten Commandments. (The Fourth Commandment is no longer in effect: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath,” Col. 2:16.)

Why All Those "Strange" Rules?

Have you ever wondering why the law of Moses included all of those “strange” rules? Let’s think specifically about what the law says about being “clean” and “unclean.” I believe God wanted to show us that entering the presence of a holy God shouldn’t be thought of as an easy thing to do.

Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system in the law of Moses. He gave his life to take away our “uncleanness.” His blood makes us “clean.” “We have confidence to enter [the presence of God] by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

Not Picking and Choosing

We’re not picking and choosing which rules in the Bible to obey. In a way, Jesus picked and chose which rules we are to obey. We obey the law of Christ.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The New Way

Part 20 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 7:1-6

We serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (v. 6). 

Don't Do That!

There’s a local gas station that has signs posted everywhere saying what you can’t do. Signs like that stimulate rebellion within us. People often view the Bible like that—just a list of things we can’t do. To those people, God’s commands hold no appeal.

But the apostle Paul says that we can go from viewing God’s commands as things we must do to viewing them as things we want to do. How does that happen?

Released from the Law

Paul writes, “Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?” (v. 1). The “law” is the Mosaic law—the law that was given by God to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.

Then Paul presents an analogy in which a married woman is like us (i.e., believers) and her husband is like the law: “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” (v. 2). And “if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (v. 3). [1]

Paul says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law” (v. 4). [2] How did this happen? We died to the law “through the body of Christ” (v. 4)—through Christ’s death on the cross. We “now belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead” (v. 4). “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive” (v. 6).

What’s the big deal about being “released from the law”?

Going from Under Law to Under Grace

What Paul is saying here goes back to what he said in 6:14: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Let’s trace the history of how we went from being “under law” to being “under grace.” The Bible is broken up into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. “Testament” is another word for “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement between God and man. [3] Being “under law” means living under the old covenant. Being “under grace” means living under the new covenant.

  • God gave the law to Israel and promised, “If you obey my commands, you will be blessed.” (Read Exodus 24:3-8.) The Israelites said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod. 24:3). This was the old covenant. Of course, the Israelites failed to do what they said they’d do. 
  • Through the prophets, God promised a new covenant. (Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27.)
  • The new covenant is based on the blood of Jesus. During the Last Supper, he announced, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Under the new covenant, God promises, “If you put your faith in Christ, your will be blessed. Your sins will be forgiven [4]; you will know God [5]; you will give given the Holy Spirit [6]; and you will have my law written on your heart.” [7]

Now “we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (v. 6). When God changes our hearts by his grace and the Holy Spirit coming to live within us, God’s commands are no longer merely things we must do; God’s commands become things we want to do. Obedience is not to be an external thing (i.e., a demand); obedience is to be an internal thing (i.e., a desire from a changed heart). 

They Shall Be My People

Wayne Grudem states that “at the heart of all of [God’s covenants] is the promise, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” [8] God wants us to be with him and to know him. 

In the apostle John’s vision of the heavenly city, God says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself with be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). This promise will be fulfilled because of the blood of Jesus. 

Doesn’t a God like this deserve to be loved with all our hearts? Don’t his wise and good commands deserve to be viewed as things we desire to do, not merely as demands we must do?

[1] The point of this passage is not to teach about divorce and remarriage. My personal belief is that divorce is permitted in certain situations (Matt. 19:9).
[2] The main point of the analogy is that “one’s relationship to the law is changed when death occurs” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 349).
[3] Wayne Grudem defines a covenant as “an unchangeable, divinely imposes legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship” (Systematic Theology, p. 515).
[4] Jeremiah 31:34
[5] Jeremiah 31:34
[6] Ezekiel 36:27
[7] Jeremiah 31:33
[8] Systematic Theology, p. 515.