O lambe of God, which took’ our sinne
which could not stick to thee
O let it not return to us againe,
But Patient and Physition being free
As sinne is nothing, let it nowhere be.
In the epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul formulates a systematic teaching of “the Gospel of God (1:1) in its universal application “to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). His desire is that the believers in Rome fully understand that in this gospel the righteousness of God is not only revealed but that it holds “the power of God for salvation” (1:16-17). This gospel not only delivers sinful man from the wrath of God (1:18; 2:2), it also delivers him from sin’s powerful grasp. This power that frees us from sin and grants us the experience of righteous living is called sanctification.
In Romans 1-5, Paul writes on man’s fundamental need of divine forgiveness termed justification. The basis of justification is the “obedience of the one”, namely Jesus Christ. In chapters 6-8, Paul turns to the subject of sanctification using 5:21 as the hinge. Here grace is introduced in its capacity to overcome sin’s powerful and tenacious grasp in order that righteousness might maintain the ascendancy over decay and death. Within the context of this verse the apostle lays out the major points regarding his teaching on sanctification as follows:
1. Decay and death evidence the reality of sin: “as sin reigned in death”.
2. The power of God’s grace to overcome sin is evidenced through the righteousness of God displayed in the believer’s life: “even so grace might reign through righteousness”.
3. This righteousness possesses a timeless quality resulting in eternal life: “to eternal life”.
4. The reign of grace is bestowed and maintained through the mediation of Jesus Christ: “through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
Without Jesus, death reigns. It is exclusively in the Lordship of Christ that grace reigns, sanctification is realized, and death is dead.
With 5:21 as the writer’s hinge, the framework of sanctification is established in the below outline:
1. Freedom from sin: “He who has died is freed from sin” (6:7).
2. Freedom from the law: “Now we have been released from the Law (7:6).
3. Freedom from condemnation: “There is therefore now no condemnation” (8:1).
Concerning each of the three points above, this liberty achieved through sanctification is experienced only on the basis of one’s position “with Christ,” “through Jesus Christ,” and “in Christ” (6:8; 7:25; 8:1). Outside of Christ, there is no liberty (6:16; 7:5; 8:7).
In view of the “super-abundance” of grace, the apostle poses two rhetorical questions. The first question examines our attitude towards the grace of God as it is given to us and the second question examines our response.
In Rom 6:1, he presents his first question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” His focus here is on sin as the encroaching influence and reigning power over one’s life. My paraphrase: “Having obtained divine forgiveness, shall we remain under an attitude of submission to the demands of sin, in order that grace may be vindicated as sufficient for the forgiveness of all men’s sin?” The obvious answer is “No”. “How is it possible for us…who have been separated once for all from the sinful nature, any longer to live in it?” The first work of sanctification is to entirely sever all connection between the believer and sin’s power to rule over him.
Absolute freedom from sin is achieved by God’s power (1:16) joining the believer into union with Christ’s redemptive work: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death” (v.3). In the apostle Paul’s mind, Christ is pre-eminent to the work of sanctification. Without Jesus Christ, there is no sanctification. Being baptized into his death, the sinner, as a believer, is immersed into the process of Christ’s redemptive work.
“We have been buried with him” (v.4).
“We have become united with him…in his death” (v.5).
“Our old self was crucified with him” (v.6; Gal 2:20).
“We have died with Christ” (v.11).
The redemptive process includes the resurrection as well as the Cross. In being joined into his death, we are also joined into his life, which applies the glory of Christ’s righteousness to us:
“As Christ was raised…We too might walk in newness of life” (v.4).
“We shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection” (v.5).
“Our body of sin might be done away with” (v.6).
“We shall also live with him” (v.8).
The result of being joined into the whole redemptive process of Christ is complete severance from sin’s power to rule over the whole of one’s life:
“Our body of sin might be done away with” (v.6)
“We should no longer be slaves to sin” (v.6)
“He who has died is freed from sin” (v.7)
“Consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (v.11)
In Rom 6:10-11, Paul sums up Christ’s present position towards sin and relationship with God. In this context, the utter absurdity of being joined into Jesus’ death and resurrection while simultaneously being under the dominion of sin is clearly implied. “He died to sin – he lives to God.” Having transferred sin’s claim upon us to himself through the Cross, Jesus rendered sin powerless. Furthermore, by the power of his resurrected life, Jesus secures his own inviolable rights of divine supremacy over the life of the believer against sin’s pressing claims and influences.
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God.” As Jesus is dead to sin and alive to God, in the same way we are to view our relationship with sin and God. It is a view taken in the sphere of faith resting in the whole process of Christ’s redemptive work upon the Cross. It is faith understood not as an act required in order that we may be in fact dead to sin and alive to God, but faith as resting upon Christ who has made our freedom from sin and life in God a fact.
A life dominated by sin is inconsistent with fellowship in Christ. “Therefore, do not let sin reign” (v.12-14). Whatever causes a believer may attaches to his breaches of obedience, it is not because he is a slave to sin. The Cross of Christ rules out such a consideration. The reign of grace through righteousness proclaims the believer absolutely free from sin.
Paul’s phrase, “in Christ”, would remind us that this freedom is secured by God’s power and not by any human effort. It is as the believer centers his faith in the power that issues from the Cross of Christ that such freedom is actually experienced.
In Ro 6:15, the apostle’s makes his second rhetorical question: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” My paraphrase: “Shall we now, as recipients of grace, deliberately sin with impunity because we are no longer subject to the law?” Since justification by faith removes us from the judgment of law, which includes both the Mosaic Law and the law of conscience, the relevancy of law itself is questioned. Does my obligation to obey the law cease now that I am under grace? The response from the apostle is an emphatic no. Freedom from the law does not constitute freedom from obedience. The relevancy of the law in the life of the believer is found in its capacity, under grace, to sanction the inward and outward movements of righteousness. Seen against this backdrop of the law is obedience to God approved as such. The irrelevancy of the law is twofold, being found in its inability to impart and secure the righteousness of God to men outside of grace and its powerlessness, under grace, to condemn the believer.
Furthermore, although grace empowers the believer to obey by virtue of his absolute freedom from sin, it does not negate the liability to commit sin. Therefore, the necessity for the believer to choose what grace empowers him to do is explicit: “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness” (v.19). In verse 22, the believer’s position in Christ is reaffirmed: “now having been freed from sin.” Concomitant is the believer’s total commitment and loyalty to God: “and enslaved to God.” A believer freed from sin, yet deliberately sinning, especially in full knowledge of his sinning, is an anomaly. It is doubtful whether such can be the case (v.16). The habit of deliberately sinning only confirms one’s enslavement to sin ultimately leading in eternal ruin: “sin pays its servants; the wage is death.” Sinning is bondage, not by compulsion, but by choice.
Sanctification does not mean that obedience is automatic; neither does it support the idea of self-effort, which nullifies the Cross the basis for righteousness. Utter dependence upon “the free gift of God” and union with “Christ Jesus [as] our Lord” are matters of choice. Choice is the arrow. The archer who intends to get a bull’s eye aims for it. Under grace, the life of “righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (v.19) is not a question of possibility or strength, but of aim.
Having corrected the misconception that the law is irrelevant, Paul the apostle now discusses the law’s jurisdiction (7:1-6), the law’s hostility (7:7-14), and the law’s impotency (7:15-25). The key point in properly understanding this chapter is stated in verse one: “the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives.” Paul’s view of the law here is in its powerlessness to condemn the believer.
The metaphor of the widow illustrates the law’s powerlessness against the believer. As the death of one’s husband frees the spouse from any obligation to him and enables her to marry again without incurring condemnation, so the believer is likewise free from the law’s authority to condemn him for disobedience because of his death and union with Christ. The law exercises no authority whatsoever to either justify or condemn: “You were made to die to the law through the body of Christ (v.4); “we have been released from the law, having died to that (i.e. the law) by which we were bound” (v.6).
The absolute separation from the law makes it entirely appropriate and in line with the Divine justice for God to “[join us] to another, to [Christ] who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit (i.e. live righteously) to God” (v.4).
Has the law been abrogated because it is inherently sinful, being hostile to a sanctified life (v.10)? Again, Paul’s no is emphatic: “the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (v.12). Under the jurisdiction of the law, which is spiritual being of divine origin, the hostility lies not in the law itself but in the fallen nature of mankind. The law (1) reveals mans sinfulness whenever he transgresses God’s revealed will (v.7); (2) aggravates the sinful impulse already at work in the sinner by means of its focus upon the disobedience with the result that transgressions are multiplied, that is, with respect to the condemnation by the constant reminder of one’s constant disobedience (v.8); (3) sentences the sinner to death (v.9-11); and (4) shuts one up to the guilt accrued through sin without any means of escape (v.13).
It’s impotency for a righteous lifestyle is stressed in 7:15-25. Though difficulties arise in attempting to properly understand the intended meaning of the text, it should be remembered that the apostle is writing in the context of the law’s jurisdiction and what it means to be under it. Under the jurisdiction of the law, sanctification is an outright impossibility. Both man’s sinful nature and the law’s inherent inability to impart any means whatsoever to obey, render attempts to live in righteousness under the law futile. Under the law, self-efforts are in vain (v.15), good intentions prove fruitless (v.19), and even religious convictions are unable to grasp the necessary power for sanctified living (v.22). The more one looks to the law for consolation, the more he receives condemnation. The tragedy of failure lies in the sinful condition of man outside God’s grace (v.14):
“I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (v.17).
“Sin indwells me” (v.19).
“evil is present in me” (v.21)
By such admissions, the apostle vindicates the law. Mankind is confirmed in his wretchedness (v24a; 6:15-23). Only in Jesus Christ is the sinner’s hope for deliverance from sin’s tyranny found (v.24b-25a).
Chapter 8: Freedom from Condemnation, v.1
Having obtained freedom from sin and the law, condemnation is removed (v.1, 31-34). The condemnation referred to is not limited to the guilt of sin or the Day of Judgment, but includes the idea of being abandoned to sin’s dominion by the act of God’s judgment. God justifies in order that he may sanctify, that the “righteousness of God” would be not only an inherent possession, but also the dominant experience of every believer. This double sword – possession and experience – confirms and secures the believer’s freedom from any condemnation. This freedom is premised upon the redemptive process of the Cross of Christ.
The work of sanctification, joining the believer into the experience of the whole process of Christ’s redemption, is accomplished through the agency of the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the [condemnation of the] law of sin and death (i.e. the irrevocable principle that sin enslaves to more sin and leads to death). Sin’s reign over and through our inherent fallen nature keeps us in the throes of condemnation. The law confirms our nature as fallen, establishing the justice of such condemnation. However, upon the Cross God exacted judgment of sin without violating the law, thereby releasing us from sin’s reign, the law’s jurisdiction, and the condemnation to divine retribution ensuing from both (v.3).
The crowning purpose of sanctification is to secure the fulfillment of the divine will as it is expressed in and sanctioned by the law. Through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, the life that expresses God’s will gives no occasion for condemnation. However, the cooperation of the believer in harmony with the Spirit is essential if the experience of sanctification is to be real, maintained, and secured (v.4, 12-14).
Evidently, by no means do those outside of Divine grace fulfill the requirements of the law. Their energies are derived from their absorption on things that pertain to and satisfy their fallen nature. Their opposition to God is confirmed and sustained by sin’s dominion over them. Harmony with God in any way is absolutely impossible as long as the sinner remains “in the flesh,” that is, outside of grace. The only course available to such a one is the condemnation imposed by the law.
Therefore, the fulfillment of what the law requires is accomplished neither outside of Christ nor within the scope of one’s own energies. Only “in the Spirit” wherein “Christ is in you” is the righteousness of God realized. The certain failure of self-effort and self-dependence is clearly reiterated: “the body is dead because of sin” (v.7-8).
Yet, overcoming sin in every area of the believer’s inward and outward life is possible by virtue of the indwelling Spirit of God, realized through his cooperation with the Spirit’s guidance and participation in the Spirit’s power. Thus, is also given the believer’s assurance and evidence of his position as a child of God (v.9-14).
As believers, our lives are not to be compared with those under sin’s reign and outside the realm of grace. We bear upon our souls the pledge of sonship, the “Spirit of adoption,” which cancels out all and every form of condemnation so we may boldly cry out, “Abba, father,” through all the vicissitudes of life (v.15-17).
The work of sanctification threads its way beyond this mortal tapestry weaving garments of immortality. Sanctification leads us to where suffering is swallowed up into everlasting bliss (v.18-25), utter helplessness gives way to accomplishments that leap over into eternity (v.26-30), and dark clouds of alienation dissipate in the blaze of a timeless love (v.31-39).
. John Booty, ed., John Donne, “A Litanie XXVIII”, lines 248-252 (Mahwah: Paulist Press), 94.
. Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the NASB.
. Wuest Expanded NT:“But where the sin was augmented, the grace superabounded…”
. 2 Cor 5:21.
. Rom 11:18,20; 16:25.
. Rom 1:16.
. Rom 2:12-15.
. Rom 6:23, New Testament in Modern English, J.B. Phillips.
. Ro 1:24,26,28.
. Rom 8:2, cf. 6:2