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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Slaves of Righteousness

Part 19 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:15-23

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (v. 22). 

Oh Really?

What is freedom? Some people think that being free is to be autonomous (i.e., free to make one’s own decisions). Maybe you’ve heard someone brag, “Nobody tells me what to do! I do whatever I want to do!”

“Non-Christians often pride themselves on being free, in contrast to Christians, who in their estimation have lost their human autonomy by bowing the knee to Christ.” [1] But this “freedom” is an illusion. No one is really autonomous—even the person who says, “Nobody tells me what to do!” According to the apostle Paul, everyone is a slave. 

Are We Free to Sin?

In verse 15 Paul brings up a question similar to the question found in verse 1: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” [2] “In both vv. 1 and 15 Paul asks whether the grace of God should lead to sin. However, in 6:1 it is a question of sinning in order to gain more grace, while in 6:15 it is a question of sinning because of grace.” [3]

Paul’s answer to both questions is the same: “By no means!” We have been given freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. God’s grace has changed our hearts. We don’t want to be free to sin; we want to be free to obey God’s commands.

Whose Slave Are You?

Paul writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (v. 16). “Either people are under the power of sin, or they are under the power of God. The question is not, then, whether one will have a master, but which master one will serve.” [4]  Everyone is a slave—either a slave of sin or a slave of God. 

What does it mean to be a slave of sin? Sin is described in the Bible as missing the target (like missing the target on a dart board). The target is God’s will for our lives. Sin is not only doing things we should do (i.e., sins of commission); it’s also not doing things we should do (i.e., sins of omission). Two commands sum up what we should and shouldn’t do (i.e., God’s will): (1) love God with all your heart and (2) love your neighbour as yourself. To love someone, there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do.

When we fail to love, what’s the reason? We have a default setting (like a computer); it’s self-centeredness, which is the essence of sin. A me-centered life (i.e., serving yourself) might seem free (i.e., autonomous), but it’s actually slavery to sin (i.e., missing the target—the way God intends for us to live, true freedom).

Paul goes on to say, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (vv. 17-18).

A Slave of Righteousness Is Not Really a Slave

Paul says, “I am speaking in human terms, because of you natural limitations” (v. 19a). “The illustration from slavery is inadequate because the relationship believers have with God is shorn of all the negative elements present in slavery.” [5]

Paul continues, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification [i.e., holiness]” (v. 19b). Part of becoming a Christian is making Jesus the Lord of our lives.

A slave or righteousness is not really a slave. Notice the word “present” (i.e., offer). It’s a choice. It’s something we want to do. When we remember God’s grace, we want to please him.

The End

In verses 21-23, Paul contrasts slavery to sin and slavery to God. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (vv. 21-22).

“When” the Roman believers were “slaves of sin” their lives produced “fruit” that brought shame, and the end of that kind of life is “death” (i.e., eternal death, separation from God in hell).

“Now” that they have become “slaves of God,” their lives are producing “fruit” that is bringing sanctification, and the end of this kind of life is “eternal life.” “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23).


[1] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 212.
[2] Paul brings up this question because of what he wrote in verse 14: “You are not under law but under grace.”
[3] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 398.
[4] Ibid., p. 396.
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 333.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Become What You Are Becoming

Part 18 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:6-14

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (v. 13). 

What Is Freedom? 

What is freedom? Many people think that freedom is being able to do whatever you want to do. But that’s not true freedom.

Think about the rich and famous people in this world—people who have the ability to do whatever they want to do. If someone with the ability to do whatever he wants to do, chooses to live that way, he will end up being a miserable person.

We see many rich and famous people turning to alcohol and drugs—which allow them to escape life. Some even end up committing suicide. Why would these people want to escape life—or even end their lives? You’d think they’d be the happiest people on earth. Don’t they have the lives we all want? Apparently not.

Freedom should lead to happiness. But doing whatever you want to do doesn’t bring happiness. That kind of life, as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it, is “a chasing after the wind” (Eccles. 1:14).

So what is freedom? It could be said that a bicycle wheel is free to spin on its axle. It could also be said that a bicycle is free when it becomes separated from the axle and rolls down a hill. I would say that a bicycle wheel is free when it spins in the way it was designed to spin—on its axle. That’s true freedom for a bicycle tire. [1]

Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). And then he said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). True freedom—the kind of freedom Jesus was talking about—is freedom to live to live as God intended us to live.

This kind of life is not “a chasing after the wind.” It’s finding what we’re really searching for. It’s living life as we were meant to live it.

Set Free!

In verse 1, Paul brings up a question that is sometimes asked: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1). Paul says, “By no means!” (v. 2). The ultimate insult to God is to say, “God, I’m going to live however I want to live, and you’re going to keep on forgiving me.”

Paul writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2). Later, he says, “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). The believer is united with Christ—in his death and resurrection (vv. 3-4). [2]

This union with Christ happened when we put our faith in Christ. To be precise, Paul says this happened at baptism (“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus,” v. 3). In verses 3-4, baptism stands for the “conversion-initiation experience,” [3] which includes faith in Christ, repentance of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and baptism (which in Paul’s day normally took place immediately after conversion).

Our union with Christ has set us free from sin (i.e., the power of sin). Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). We are now able to “walk in newness of life” (v. 4). [4]

The Indicative and the Imperative

“Romans 6 is the classic biblical text on the importance of relating the ‘indicative’ of what God has done for us with the ‘imperative’ of what we are to do.” [5]

We are to become what we are becoming. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). God has freed us from the penalty and power of win. One day he’ll free us from the presence of sin.

We have a new peace. We have a new hope. We have a new desire (i.e., a desire to please God).

No Longer Slaves?

So we’re no longer slaves, right? Not exactly. If we go back to the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see that he describes himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (1:1). In the original Greek, “servant” is doulos, which means “slave.” We say that Jesus is our Lord, which means “master.”

We have a new master: “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (v. 13). [6] But this slavery is actually freedom.

Paul writes, “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14). To live “under law” was to live in the time before Christ died for our sins. God’s law was written on tablets of stone, telling us what we must do and not do. To live “under grace” is to live now—in the time since Christ died for us. God’s law is written on our hearts, giving us the desire to obey God’s law. The Holy Spirit gives us the desire. God’s law is obeyed when we love. And “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).

Obeying God can be doing whatever we want to do.


[1] This illustration was inspired by a similar illustration found in Tom Taylor’s book Paradoxy (p. 104).
[2] I must admit that some of what Paul says about being united with Christ is difficult to understand. But this shouldn’t be unexpected since the apostle Peter writes, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).
[3] Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 260.
[4] This doesn’t mean that we won’t sin. Paul says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (v. 12).
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 390.
[6] Of course, the NT also says we’re children of God: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7).
[7] “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).