Romans 8 – Part Two

Although this is entitled “Romans 8 – Part Two” it’s really part two of our lightning-fast overview of Romans 1-7, which is important if we’re going to understand Romans 8 when we get to it on Monday. You really need to read yesterday’s post first.

By the end of chapter three we saw Paul arrive at the conclusion that all have sinned, and all are justified freely by faith, removing any grounds for one ethnic group to boast over against another.

Jews and Gentiles justified by faith – just like their father, Abraham

In chapter 4 Paul continues this argument by using the well-chosen example of Abraham: well-chosen because Abraham was not only justified by faith (not works of the law), but he was also the father of Jews and Gentiles. He’s a unifying figure, representing both groups in the Roman church:

Romans 4:11-12 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Peace with God and the hope of glory – through Jesus’ obedience

In chapter 5, Paul talks about the result of our justification by faith in Jesus:

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

That is, as a result of being justified we’ve received peace with God and the hope of sharing in his glory (a theme that gets picked up in chapter 8.)

How did this happen? It’s a bit like how sin and death entered the human experience – through the disobedience of one man (Adam). Except it’s in reverse: the obedience of one man (Jesus) brought justification and life to those who believe. In response to human sin, didn’t give the judgement it deserved, instead meeting it with even more grace:

Romans 5:20b-21 But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So can we go on sinning, then?

Paul then takes some time out (all of chapter 6) to address a potential misunderstanding. If we’re not saved by works, but it’s the gift of God; and if every time we sin, God in his mercy gives more grace… Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  (6:1)

The answer to that is “no” in the strongest possible way. We’ve been set free from being slaves to sin, so we should no longer live like that:

Romans 6:6-7 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Romans 6:11-12 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

Romans 6:17-18 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

But how is this supposed to work? We know that Jesus has taken the punishment we deserved, so God can now declare us “not guilty” (even though we are). But, going forward, how are we able to live differently, when throughout history we’ve demonstrated our complete inability to do what we know is right?

Does the law help us do what is right?

If you’re still looking for the Jewish law to do that, think again. We already saw how no-one was able to keep it! Even though it had the potential to show us how to live rightly, in practice it just opened the door to more sin:

Romans 7:7-10 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

What’s Paul going on about? When my eldest son was about two years old, I was looking after him at the church office while I was also preparing for a  youth meeting. He was having a great time running in and out of the foyer, interacting with some of the high-schoolers. I had to go to a different room for a while, so I asked a couple of them to watch him. But I thought I’d better give him some clear directions, as the road wasn’t all that far away from the front door. So I told him he could go anywhere in the foyer, but don’t go past that line (at the front door). Up until that point, he was running around without a care in the world. But suddenly he stopped, and started shuffling his feet closer and closer to that line, checking back over his shoulder for my reaction. As soon as The Commandment was given, his entire focus was on crossing the line. And pretty soon, he stepped over it. (The only way the story could be any more appropriate is if I’d told him he could eat the fruit of any tree in the foyer, except…)

The law could have been used to restrain us from sin. But because of our rebellious hearts, all it did was give us new ideas of how to sin. In the end, the law simply showed us the extent of our sin:

Romans 7:13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Dead to sin – and dead to the law

But the good news is that God has provided another way. As well as dying to sin (chapter 6), we have also died to the law:

Romans 7:4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

We have a new way, apart from the law, by which we can do what’s right – something Paul introduces in verse 6:

Romans 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

This is the topic Paul takes up, at length, in chapter 8: living by the Spirit, which is the path to life.

But before he gets there, he reminds us again of the extent of the problem to which the Spirit is the answer. Echoing Adam’s experience (of knowing God’s requirements but failing to keep them), Paul writes:

Romans 7:15-25 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.   21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Left to our own devices, we’re unable to please God. We’re unable to do what our own consciences tell us is right, let alone obey God’s commandments. That’s the “wretched” nature of our predicament.We know what’s right, but can’t consistently do it.

But the good news – which we’ll get to on Monday – is this: God has delivered us through Jesus, so that we can now live by the Spirit!

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