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July 30 Commentary: An Unspiritual Apostle? (Romans 7)

We are continuing the Romans Revolution and asking the question in this program, from Romans chapter 7, was Paul a carnal Christian? Would Paul the apostle make it past the average pastoral search committee today? Not only was he apparently not very good looking, he announces to these Christians at Rome that he finds himself also routinely doing what he shouldn’t do and failing to do what he should. That might not help with a pastoral search committee. On the one hand, Paul says he loves God’s law and delights in it, and yet on the other hand he often acts as though he were still enslaved to sin and death. And all of this right after his encouraging announcement in chapter 6 that in Christ we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness (sin no longer having dominion). Is he contradicting himself now? Was he in a better mood in chapter 6?

Actually, what we have going on here, it seems, is a fairly traditional rhetorical strategy employed by the rabbis: Lay out a position, then ask the question that you think objectors will most likely offer, and then show how your position stands that test. Well Paul does this all over the place, especially in Romans, and in this case, it comes on the heels of his defense of justification. Chapter 5, emphasizing the free grace of God in Christ, leads Paul to conclude: Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. So, as a good rabbi, Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And again in verse 15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” To both questions, Paul answers, “Of course not!” No one who has been baptized into Christ can still be dead in sin. All who are justified are also definitively new creatures in Christ and are being sanctified. There’s no place for defeatism, since Christ has conquered sin and death for us, but just as he anticipates that his remarks against defeatism will lead to triumphalism, he talks about how the law, despite its goodness and justice, can’t bring victory over sin’s power anymore than it could bring victory over sin’s penalty. In other words, sanctification as much as justification comes through faith alone, by grace alone, on account of Christ alone. The law can tell us where we are and where we need to go, but only the gospel can get us there. In this program, we’ll be taking a closer look at the struggle that Paul describes within himself as a spiritual biography of the normal Christian life.

Romans 7 (NIV)

An Illustration From Marriage
[1] Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? [2] For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. [3] So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. [4] So, my brothers, 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 to God. [5] For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. [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.

Struggling With Sin
[7] What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet.” [8]But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. [9] Once I was alive apart from 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.

[11] For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. [12] So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. [13] Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

[14] We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. [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] I know that nothing good lives 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 what I do is not the good I want to do; no, 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: When 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 the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. [24] What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Click here for related information to the July 30 broadcast.

July 23 Commentary: Justification and the Christian Life

When we placed our trust in Christ, we were immediately justified and immediately adopted into God’s family. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But there is also a sense in which we are being saved at the same moment that the Holy Spirit creates faith by the preaching of the gospel, the believer is truly changed and his sanctification has already begun. Justification is a once and for all declaration of right standing because of an imputed righteousness; sanctification is a progressive growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through an imparted righteousness. As living branches of the Savior’s vine we immediately begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit even though may be more aware of it than we are. Justification is an instantaneous, objective, and completed work while sanctification is progressive, subjective, and partial in this life. So as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “For even the holiest of Christians make only a small beginning in obedience in this life. Nevertheless, they begin with serious purpose to conform not only to some but to all of the commandments of God.” The Westminster Confession adds, “Even our best works, as they are wrought by us, are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.”

So the question arises: Why pursue good works at all? Why should we even be interested in sanctification? Well, from the biblical point of view, sanctification isn’t a matter of holiness as an end in and of itself. It would be selfish for us to focus our whole lives on our personal development, our personal growth, and our improvement. So the Scripture constantly points us outside of ourselves to love and serve God and our neighbor. It is for the glory of God, the enjoyment of God, and the love of our neighbor. You know, so much of our contemporary spirituality today is individualistic, private, self-centered, turned in on ourselves, how can I be happy, how can I find victory, how can I attain the higher life… Instead, biblical piety is working out the implications of what God has already done in Christ. So tonight, as the first in our series on sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit in life of the believer, we want to take a look at the framework that the Bible itself gives us for understanding this vital link between Christ’s life for us and His life in us. But first we have to get a lay of the land.

Now, categories are essential in understanding Scripture. One of the reasons we’re muddle-headed in our day is because we forget these categories that Scripture itself lay out. They’re not categories that we simply impose on the text but categories that arise naturally out of Scripture. Our first category that we’re going to focus on tonight is the indicative and the imperative in Scripture. Referring to the moods in the Greek, the indicative is a declaration of what God has done and of who we are in Christ as the result of that. It defines us. For instance, if a neighbor is going on vacation and he were to ask, “Is Fred a good person with whom to leave my pet iguana?” and Fred’s friend replies, “Well, Fred’s a veterinarian,” the reply would be indicative of Fred’s reliability. His being a vet has something to do with how well he’d take care of that pet. Similarly, when Paul asks, “Should we continue to sin that grace may abound?” his answer is, “You better not or you’ll no longer be in Christ.” No, that’s not his answer! He doesn’t answer with an imperative or a warning. He says, “Heaven forbid, how shall we who have died to sin live any longer in it?” He goes on to ask, “Do you not know that you were baptized into Christ?” It’s all in the past tense. In other words, it’s incongruous for a person who has been baptized into Christ to go on living in sin so that grace may abound. Baptism into Christ defines the believer and has given that believer an entirely new identity. It is that identity that reorients behavior. That’s simply to say that theology leads to ethics. Doctrine shapes life. Once we know who we are in Christ, the commands of Scripture begin to make sense.

Now that leads to the second category: the imperative. If the indicative tells us who we already are in Christ, the imperative instructs us in how we should therefore live out that new reality. If certain traits are expected of a vet, so too there are certain effects of being in Christ. Throughout the New Testament – the epistles, especially – we find doctrinal sections followed by ethical sections. Now in church today we turn that around. We make the ethical the really important stuff (the Christian life) and then if we have time we’ll talk about the doctrine. But not so in Scripture. You find the first section of the epistle devoted to doctrine and the second part of the epistle devoted to life. And it’s all divided by one simple conjunction: “therefore.” For instance in Romans 6 – we’ll be taking a look at this tonight – after Paul unpacks the indicative (who we already are in Christ), he turns to the practical effects. “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” You see, too often we confuse the indicative and the imperative. One way to do this is referring to steps to salvation. This confuses the law and gospel, as though faith were not sufficient for union with Christ and the reception of all his benefits – including the Holy Spirit. Another way of doing this is to reverse the order, as if one attained the status implied in the indicative by following the commands of the imperative. In other words, if you follow the ten steps to the victorious Christian life, you will be this. But the pattern of the New Testament is thoroughly consistent. First the indicative, followed by the imperative. It’s not only followed by Paul in his epistles. Peter, for instance, first tells believers that they are living stones being built up into Christ’s temple, chosen and holy because of their union with Christ (there’s your indicative), and only then does he say, “Dear friends, I urge you, therefore, as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.” Now those who reverse this order will be forever enrolled in programs and strategies for reaching the victorious life and the filling of the Spirit because they believe that the promise is held out on condition of fulfilling certain conditions, or obeying their way into the indicative, whether surrendering, yielding, letting go and letting God, or any number of approaches. Paul’s entire argument in Romans 6 rests on the fact that something has already happened. It is a defining thing, and it is not what happened in you; it is what happened for you, outside of you two thousand years ago. He doesn’t say, “If you yield your body to righteousness you will die to sin,” but rather, “for we know that our old self was crucified with him.” He doesn’t say, “Make sure that sin doesn’t master you” – as many believe that sin can master a so-called ‘carnal Christian’ — rather he says, “For sin shall not be your master, for you are not under the law but under grace.”

The objective determines the subjective. The divine announcement of what has already been done for and to the believer in Christ dictates the whole of the Christian life. As Sinclair Ferguson observes, “The determining factor of my whole existence is no longer my past; it is Christ’s past.” But in many popular approaches today, it’s the other way around. Those who sufficiently yield, surrender, and obey, they will enter into the higher life, whether that refers to sanctification or to gifts of the Holy Spirit. But for Paul, such gifts are given immediately in Christ and worked out in the believer’s life, while for many today (as in every age), these gifts are the “prize” for the believer’s success. As we’ve seen in programs we’ve done before, Pelagianism is that ancient heresy that sees Christ chiefly in terms of a resource. Human beings are basically neutral, free to choose for themselves whether they will be saved. A scheme of works-righteousness, it makes the success of God’s work depend on whether we will make use of God’s power in much the way that one might make use of an appliance. Tonight we want to take a closer look at Romans 6 and similar passages in an effort to understand the relationship between justification and sanctification – that vital link – while not confusing them. Sanctification is the subject tonight on the White Horse Inn.

Click here for related information to the July 23 broadcast.

July 16 Commentary: Shall We Then Sin?

In this particular program, we hit Romans chapter 6. In this chapter, a lot of questions converge, questions related not only to doctrine, but to questions that we often get in the Christian life about, for instance, assurance, union with Christ, baptism, a whole host of very practical questions. Paul, in his last two chapters, has been addressing the question of justification. In chapters 4 and 5, he has tried to demonstrate that the only way we can possibly possess the righteousness which God requires is if he himself gives us that righteousness – by a gift. This gift is the righteousness of none other than Jesus Christ, his son, who fulfilled all obedience for us.

Now a lot of us grew up in settings and backgrounds where we were beaten up by taboos. You were afraid of losing your salvation, or you were afraid of not getting that extra jewel in the crown or whatever. So many people got so frustrated with that theology and that way of thinking and they got rid of God’s justice altogether, and so a whole generation grew up that knew not legalism. They’re the mega-churches where you’ll never hear about sin, you’ll never hear about the law, you’ll never hear about God’s justice or judgment or his wrath. And consequently, even if you would hear about propitiation or atonement or forgiveness or justification, it wouldn’t mean very much because you have to have something to be forgiven of; you have to have something that needs propitiation; you have to have some sins that need to be pardoned, and you have to be wicked before God before you can be justified before him.

So this is our background, this is our situation when you come to Romans chapter 6 now, Paul starts to talk about our union with Christ in terms of baptism and the announcement of what he has already accomplished in Christ. Paul ends chapter 5 by saying that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In other words, grace is always outrunning and outstripping sin and its consequences. If that’s true, then – as Paul brings up in chapter 6, the beginning of his next chapter – if this is true, then why don’t we go on sinning so that we can get more grace? Isn’t that the logic? And yet Paul answers this. He says, “Shall we say, then, let’s go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin. How can we live in it any longer?” He says that we’ve been baptized into Christ, so that his death has become our death, and his resurrection has become our resurrection. Though our physical, bodily resurrection awaits the future, we are already raised in new life with Jesus Christ and seated in heavenly places with him.

We’re born into this world in union with Adam. Everything he had, we have; everything he was, we are. He earned God’s judgment for himself and for us. Had he kept from eating the forbidden fruit, he would’ve earned for himself and for all of humanity eternal life. There would’ve been no sin, no suffering, no sickness, no pain, no guilt, no death. As it happened, Adam disobeyed and we were all identified with him in the likeness of sin. His guilt was imputed to us, and his sinful, rebellious nature shaped us in the womb, even before we committed actual sins ourselves. We were baptized into Adam, into his spiritual death, dead in transgressions and sins. But, says Paul – and this was Paul’s entire argument in chapter 5 – there came a second Adam who made it to the end without disobeying God. He was sent as the new Adam, the new representative of the new humanity. Instead of being taken to the tree in the middle of the garden, this second Adam was taken to the top of a high mountain peak. We read in Matthew 4, Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Instead of feeding, he fasted. Instead of indulging his sinful nature by eating, he denied himself. Finally, the devil – the very same serpent who was in Eden – took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” But instead of easy exaltation, “You shall be like God,” as Adam was told, Jesus, who was God, nevertheless took the long road of obedience, the slow road of suffering, the rough road of sacrifice that would lead, eventually, to Calvary. In this obedience – and the other 30 years of consistent, sinless perfection – Jesus Christ merited for us what Adam failed to earn. So the guilt imputed to us through Adam was charged to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ was imputed to us. This, folks, is the difference between the biblical view of the Christian life and so many of the other programs and methods which abound in popular evangelicalism. In this story, there’s only one victorious Christian life; there’s only one “sold out Christian,” only one totally surrendered, completely consecrated servant of the Lord. This means, folks, that Christ’s life is a lot more than a moral example to you for moral living. By faith we are baptized into his obedient life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection in such a way that even though we are still sinners, we have an entirely new identity in heaven, and as a result God raises us with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms. This is our identity now, and that’s why Paul says, “Can we go on living in sin? How can we, for we have been baptized into Christ’s death and raised with him in new life.” That’s our subject in this edition of the White Horse Inn as we’re continuing our Romans Revolution.

Click here for related information to the July 16 broadcast.

July 9, 2006 Commentary: A Tale of Two Mediators

Those of us living in representative democracies know something about federal government. In fact, historians have argued that federalism in politics arose out of the so-called “federal” or “covenant” theology of the post-Reformation Christianity. The idea is that the people are represented through various officials and their decisions are legally binding on our behalf as a nation. In the feudal world of the Ancient Near East, the people were also represented through their ruler, who swore his allegiance to the Suzerain or the Great King. This was called “cutting a covenant,” because it was ratified in a blood-ritual. With this covenantal background in mind, Paul now explains how Adam was our ruling representative or mediator in the covenant of works and Christ is our mediator in the covenant of grace. Here are the verses we’ll be unpacking in this program:

Romans 5:12-21 (ESV)

“[1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

[12] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

[15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

[18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Click here for related information to the July 9 broadcast.


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