Tag Archives: justification

Sin, Dominion, and Grace

 

In 2011 I was leading a youth group at a local church.  Over the course of a year or two, we addressed topical passages of Scripture,  followed by an in-depth examination of discipleship, followed finally by an exposition through the book of 1 John.  One particular evening, at the conclusion of what I would have thought was a sound, doctrinal exposition of a particular passage, a wise, thought-provoking student asked if I could give an application for the passage.  To my surprise, I hadn’t really considered the application, only the doctrinal propositions.  My focus was on accuracy, not application, as though the two were mutually exclusive.  After that humbling experience, I’ve since learned to think more about application, but not necessarily to the extent of providing it on a spoon, as I still believe the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the individual, and needed, application of Scripture.  A faithful teacher should be the conduit through which the truth flows in such a way that allows the application to be easily made, not hindered.

In Romans chapter 6, we needn’t worry about how to apply the doctrinal propositions laid out by the Apostle in verses 1-11 because it is followed up by a strong application in verses 12-14.  As is common with Paul, there is a logical consistency with his writings.  Chapter 6 is not isolated from chapter 5 (as would be expected because chapter divisions were a much later insert), but is indeed a continuation of the thought.  In the fifth chapter, Paul concludes with the familiar statement that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. This naturally leads to the question, “Shouldn’t we sin more so that grace would abound more?”  In the strongest possible language the Apostle replies, “By No Means!”  From this exclamation, chapter 6 proceeds to be a defense of why believers cannot continue in sin on the basis of grace, a defense that is centered on no longer allowing sin to reign in our lives because we are dead to it, therefore no longer slaves to it.

Doctrinally, the focus of Romans 6:1-11 is union with Christ, defined in terms of both His death and resurrection and symbolized by our baptism.  Through the union with Christ in His death, our old self or old man, was crucified with Christ such that our body of sin, literally our flesh, would be brought to nothing for the purpose of severing our slavery to sin.  Further, union with Christ in His resurrection, though already past, has a future implication of resurrection from the dead.  Because of this union, and these transactions, we are exhorted to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Out of this doctrinal proposition, we find an application with at least three parts: an exhortation, a command, and a promise.

The Exhortation

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Our application is expressly linked to the doctrinal proposition by the use of therefore, though in this particular translation it does not lead the sentence, it is nonetheless linking the sentence with what has already been said.  The first order of business in this application is a strong appeal to refuse to allow the rule of sin in our mortal bodies.  Literally, this is exhortation says “Do not let sin be king!”  There is an implied possibility here, that sin could indeed gain the upper hand and exert mastery over us, not in actuality, but in practice.  This is what we are warned against, because as king, sin rules as a taskmaster making us obey its passions, desires, and lusts in our mortal bodies.

This phrase mortal bodies is a reference to our actual, physical bodies, though historically there has been some disagreement on this matter.  It includes our hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues, mouths, sexual organs all of those members that constitute a body that will eventually die.  As we will be exhorted later, these members are not to be instruments for unrighteousness.  However, collectively they are here called our mortal body in which we are to refuse the kingship of sin.  Summarily, there is a king: sin; a subject: our mortal bodies; an obligation: obedience; the command: (sinful) lust or desire.  If we allow sin to reign, we are obliged to obey.

The Command

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.

Working out of the previous exhortation, we are carried into a command.  In order to combat the obligated obedience to sin, should it be allowed the reign, the Apostle provides a divine command in familiar Do Not language.  This mortal body, in which sin desires to set up kingship, consists of members – those which we briefly addressed above – and here we are told not to present them to the service of sin.  Our members, if in submission to sin, can become instruments for wickedness, literally weapons for war.  Which brings up a question, weapons for what and against whom?  As if it were not obvious, they become instruments of sin acting against God.  We should consider this more deeply in our war on sin.

As king, sin sounds a call to duty.  When it has set up its kingdom, it’s trumpet heralds a call for our members to report to duty, whether they be our eyes, ears, hands or otherwise, to be used as weapons of war for unrighteousness.  The heart of the Apostle’s command here is to not allow our members to answer that call, i.e., refuse an “at your service” response to sin.  This can only be accomplished if sin is not allowed to rule.

Conversely, we are to answer, “at your service” to God, commending our whole selves to Him.  Sin has the power to only bring death, whereas here we see that God not only has the power to bring from death unto life, but He has actually done it, first with Christ and then to those of us who have been united to Christ, in both a death like His and a resurrection like His, all of which is symbolized by our baptism.  This simple phrase, those who have been brought from life to death, joins our command here in the application to the doctrinal proposition from the earlier verses (6:1-11), rightly placing the command in subordination to the Gospel.  We are commanded not to answer the reveille of sin because of the Gospel, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, but more than that, because of our union with Christ.  Instead, we are to present our members as weapons of war for righteousness.  Notice here that there is not an implied change of the weapons – still our members, nor of the use – still war, but there is a change of purpose – for righteousness.

The Promise

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We now arrive at the promise, linked to the previous statements by the little word, for, followed by a declaration that “sin will have no dominion over you,” which itself is followed by the justification, “you are not under law but under grace.”  This particular promise brings up a couple of questions, or at least should.  What makes this a promise?  How can it be guaranteed?  Is it dependent upon some personal action?  Why is the law brought into view?

The first observation that needs to be made is the declaration that sin will have no dominion over you.  Clearly this statement is issuing a promise.  Given the context of the exhortation, do not let sin be king, and the command, do not answer sin’s call to duty with your weapons of war, it would appear that a promise like this is unfounded or at least disjointed.  In the previous verses we are presented with the reality that sin actually could reign, therefore the call to action not to let that happen.  Why would that action, command or exhortation, even be necessary if sin won’t have dominion over you?  In other words, why tell us not to let sin reign if there is a promise that it will not reign anyway?  It is seemingly a paradoxical statement.

Practically speaking, verses 12-13 are the working out of our salvation, with fear and trembling.  There is an exhortation and a command.  These are part and parcel of our sanctification, an ongoing and progressive, divinely-wrought, purification from sin to conform us more to the image of Christ.  In this sanctification process, we are prone to sin and could be prone to extended periods of falling into sin.  But this is not a reality based on our justification in Christ.  In other words, the preceding discourse on the gospel, by the Apostle, going back into chapter 5 (and earlier for that matter) is the grounds for the promise that sin will not have dominion.  Sin cannot have dominion because it’s rule has been broken by the death of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.  Our union with Him, by faith alone, ensures that sin’s dominion is broken.

Furthermore, in this promise we see a return to the discussion on law and grace joining us to the previous statement from Romans 5:20-21 that led to this entire discourse in the first place.  In essence, the Apostle is saying that if we were still under law, it would magnify sin in our lives thereby establishing the rule and reign of sin, not because the law was bad, but because our flesh would be stirred up by the law to sin, a point that he will elaborate on in the remainder of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7.

In essence the application of Romans 6:12-14 goes like this: Don’t let sin be king and capture your members as weapons for war.  Why?  Because it’s not an actual king anyway, nor can it be – it’s a pretender to the throne – so stop living like you’re under its rule!  The believer’s practical day-to-day sanctification is grounded in the reality of our justification – made right with God by means of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, no longer under law, but under grace.  That is the application of the doctrinal proposition.  One without the other is insufficient.  It is in this application that we must live daily in our pursuit of holiness, realizing that it is grounded on the reality of having been crucified with Christ, united with Him by faith.

Complete in Christ

“And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:10 NKJV

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae, was faced with the challenge of spiritually encouraging this relatively young church while at the same time refuting the Gnostic beliefs that had been creeping into the church.  After having just exhorted the church to beware of the philosophies of man that deviate from Christ, Paul takes the next several verses to teach them that in Christ is where the fulfillment is found.  Beginning in the verse above, Paul teaches that believers are “complete in Him,” meaning Christ.  But what does this completion mean and what does it include?

First let’s address what this completion includes, so that we can better understand how we are complete in Christ.  In the verses that follow, Paul outlines 3 specific components of this completion that is provided in Christ.  The first comes in verses 11-12, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”  There are multiple complex references in these two verses, but for our purpose, let us focus on the declaration that those who are in Christ have been circumcised “without hands.”  This refers to a circumcision of the heart, the New Testament spiritual counterpart to the Old Testament physical ritual.  Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”  We read in Romans 2:25-29:

25For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

In this passage, though complex, we can begin to understand that the physical Old Testament ritual of circumcision is of no value, unless you can obey the law perfectly.  However, spiritual circumcision performed by the hand of God is a matter of the heart, as we read in our earlier passage from Colossians.  This regenerative work of the heart is God’s action in us that becomes complete when we trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life.  We are complete in Christ through Salvation by our circumcision in Him.

We find the second piece of our completion in Christ in Colossians 2:13 ESV, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”  We who were dead in trespasses, God made alive, or as Romans 5:8 says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” and Ephesians 2:5 affirms, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”  How can we possibly be dead in our sins and made alive with Christ?  That old dead man was made alive in Christ through His death on the cross, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5 ESV Salvation through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection provided not only eternal life, but also the forgiveness of sins, our second part of completion in Christ.  God sent His Son Jesus forth to be a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:25 ESV), meaning He satisfied the legal demands of God’s justice towards us the sinner, as we read in Colossians 2:14, “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  Likewise, Jesus averted God’s wrath from us onto Himself.  The Son of God purchased for us not only the forgiveness of sins, but also forgiveness of our sinfulness and in doing so satisfied the Holy demands of God.  We are complete in Christ through Forgiveness.

Finally, we are complete in Christ through Victory“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” Colossians 2:15 ESV  We are complete in Christ through salvation, forgiveness, and now victory because the cross severed the ruling power of Satan in our lives.  He is no longer our master and sin no longer has dominion over us.  We have been set free and can stand in the place of victory because of Jesus Christ.  In Genesis 3:15, God alludes to His forthcoming plan of salvation in His declaration of the curse on Adam, Eve and speaking here to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Paul speaks to this in Romans 16:20 as he states, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” and similarly the author of Hebrews writes, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”  Jesus Christ defeated Satan and the principalities of darkness with His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection proving that He could also reign over death.  As Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Victory is ours in Christ.  Stand in it and work down from it, knowing that it has already taken place.  Completion in Christ means that through His atoning, sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection, all of the work has been done and our justification is therefore by His grace through faith.  We can’t try harder or work more to obtain a right standing with God.  We are complete in Christ.

Man’s Sinful Nature

Within the next month, and by the grace of God, my wife and I will be welcoming our first child.  Along with the stories and helpful advice that everyone has been offering, I’ve been paying more and more attention to our friend’s babies to see how they act or respond to certain situations.  Now yes, I agree that babies are adorable and I cannot wait until ours arrives, but there is something else entirely on display even in infants that often gets overlooked, namely the sinful nature of man and our willingness to sin.  For instance, a friend of ours was telling us a story about how they had walked to the edge of the driveway with their daughter and explained to her that she should not step across onto the road.  Immediately after this, the little girl (age 2) goes right up to the road, pauses, looks around and steps her toe onto the road.  Is that really any different than how we act as adults when we sin?  We go right up to the line, look around to see who’s watching and maybe at first just stick a toe over to test out the sin, but once we see it’s ok, we jump right in.  King David so beautifully illustrates this in his lament of Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” 

 

In the nature of man, even as infants, we can see 2 laws at work, doctrines for those students of Systematic Theology.  One is called the Doctrine of Original Sin and the other is the Doctrine of Imputed Sin.  The first refers to the “sinful tendencies, desires, and dispositions in our hearts with which we are all born,” as a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden and just as we read from David earlier.  The second is the guiltiness associated with Adam’s sin that has been transferred down through all men.  The Apostle Paul speaks of both of these doctrines in Romans chapter 5:12-21

 

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 For 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.

In verse 12, we see evidence of both laws, that sin entered the world through Adam, yet we can’t blame only Adam, because we too are responsible for our sins, “death spread to all men because all sinned.”  We all sin because it’s inherent in our nature.   Likewise in vs. 18-20 we find condemnation, or the declaration of guilt, came to all men through Adam’s imputed sin.  These two doctrines that we mentioned earlier provide evidence of a problem, what then is the solution, or better how do we address each? 

 

Paul’s discourse on our sinful nature is so powerful because it serves to explain to us that sin is not just something we do with actions or even decisions we make, but also each of us are sinners by nature.  Because of that nature, each of us is born guilty in the sight of God, regardless of how “good” we think we are.  And because of this guilt each of us faces condemnation before God who must be just in His judgment of sin.  But there’s good news, in fact, there’s great news, because God is not only just, but the Justifier.  (Romans 3:26) In order to solve the dilemma of Imputed sin, man needs a Savior.  Look briefly at verse 18 again, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  Guilt, conviction, and condemnation came to man through Adam, i.e. his sin was imputed to us.  However, the converse of this is that through the “one act of righteousness”, namely Christ’s death on the cross, justification became available to all men.  Believing in Jesus, trusting in Him as Savior cancels Adam’s debt of sin that has been imparted to us.

 

But we’re still left with the problem of our sinful nature, did Paul forget about this or is it too solved by our justification?  In chapter 5 of Romans, Paul details the solution for our imputed guilt by way of justification by the free gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  However, chapter 6 of Romans is all about answering the problem of our sinful nature.  In Romans 6:3-4 Paul states, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  He states again in Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  That old self is the old sinful nature that we talked about earlier that came to us through the original sin, yet if Christ is our Savior, we died with him on the cross and were buried with him, and we therefore are no longer under the bondage of the original sin within our nature.  Paul continues by giving several commands for life, namely “let not sin reign” and “Do not present your members as sin,” with the outcome leading to sanctification, an ongoing process in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives cleaning out more and more of our old nature to make us more like Christ until we are joined together in heaven.  It is by justification that the guilt of our condemnation is removed and by sanctification that our nature is progressively becoming more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.           

 

In the age of the postmodern church, no one wants to talk about sin, for fear it’s too judgmental or offensive.  Nobody wants to get to know their sin, how it works and attacks their life, and certainly no one is talking about killing sin (deeds, not flesh) in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.  But until we, as a Church, start to confront sin beginning with learning where it comes from and understanding that we don’t just do sin but we are born sinners, then our depravity will not resonate within us and our desperate need for a Savior will not be manifest in our lives.  Until this happens there will be no revival, no reformation or awakening, and no spiritual growth.  We’re at a crossroads in Church history that will require us to either get on our knees crying out in repentance of our sins or we will be forced to our knees crying for mercy.  Recognize your sins and eliminate them from your life.