Archive for the tag “Romans”

God Gives Grace to the Humble

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.(1Pe 5:5-7 ESV)

Discussing humility is very tricky. The moment we believe we are progressing in humility, it seems that we are less humble. Yet in this passage, Peter commands us to put on humility. So how do we accomplish this tricky activity? The answer is found in two proactive behaviors that enhance our progress in humility. First is serving. This is the direct application of the opening command “clothe yourselves.” The word used in this phrase is the word used to describe Jesus when he was in the upper room himself with the uniform of a servant. He clothed himself with a towel and humbly washed their feet – including Judas! Every time we serve, if our attitude is right, we are progressing in humility. The second proactive behavior is submitting to God. Let me unpack this phrase a bit. Notice how Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. This letter was written to believers who were living in a very tumultuous period in Christian history when it was legal to persecute Christians and even kill them. In that environment, Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. Now, we might ask, as could his first century reader, if God’s hand is so mighty, why are Christians suffering so much? One perspective is to consider that God is leading believers through hardship in order to grow them in humility. This seems consistent with a passage earlier in his letter.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pe 1:6-7 ESV)

Further, this command to humble ourselves to God followed Peter’s instruction to young men to submit to their church leaders (vs. 5.) It makes sense, then, to understand the command to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God to refer, in a similar way, to submitting to the leadership of God. So, if we can get to the place where we own the perspective of receiving our hardship as an expression of God’s training and purifying process of our character, we will see his mighty hand at work much more clearly than we ever could through the eyes of pride. But that is not the end of the lesson. There is an immense provision of God in this process. Notice three.

First, God gives grace to the humble. This could not be referring to the grace of salvation, for salvation does not depend on our first being humble (see Romans 5:8). Instead, this refers to God’s gracious provision in the midst of our hardship as we serve others and submit to God. I believe that this gracious provision comes from the power of the Holy Spirit who not only gives us regeneration, but also power for daily living.

Second, God gives us the promise that he will lift us up in due time. Sometimes he lifts us up during our present life. I recently read the story of the confirmation process of Supreme Court Judge, Clarence Thomas. He tells of the total surrender of his life to the Lord and of how God gave him his grace, and then of how God literally lifted him up to confirmation. But it does not always go according to this timing. Sometimes, in fact many times, God does not lift us up till the day we put our hand in the hand of Jesus and he pulls us from this life into the next. But let’s not discount the hope that that day brings. In due time, God will lift us up.

Third, God cares for us. Along the way, the mighty God who governs the universe, cares for us; in fact, he cares about every detail of our lives. Therefore, we have the privilege of casting our cares on him. Someone asked me recently if grace was a noun or a verb. I didn’t know what to say right at that moment, but subsequently I realized that the answer is both! When we present ourselves to God (Rom 6:11) by serving others and by submitting to God’s mighty hand, he  “graces us.” He cares for us. We can rest in his grace and in his care, knowing that all of life is in his control.

So, don’t fall into the trap of not working at humility. Take proactive steps towards growing in humility – serve and submit to God. Enter into a perspective shared by Martin Luther when he said, “God created the world out of nothing; if we can become nothing, he can create something out of us.” When we learn to become nothing by serving and submitting to God, God gives grace to the humble.

The Daily Battle Against Sin

What do we do with the sinful impulses that are our daily experience? Every true believer wants to be free from sin, wants to obey God, wants to walk in the newness of his life “in Christ.” But every believer experiences a battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin?

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 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. (Rom 6:10-13 ESV)

There are two proactive behaviors that grow out of the truth that we just discussed. Remember, Jesus died to sin, once for all, referring to the cross that accomplished our justification. Therefore, as we are united with him, he not only becomes our substitute, he also becomes our representative. When he died, we died. Sin, therefore, does not reign over us by inciting condemnation and guilt.  We are free from both.

The first proactive behavior is to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That command “consider yourselves” is a discipline of the mind. The enemy will lie to us and accuse us in an attempt to convince us that the cross did not work. He will lie to us and accuse us in an attempt to get us to believe that our standing before God identifies us in Adam rather than in Christ. But we must believe the truth of God’s Word. We are justified and therefore free from the condemnation and doubt that sin incites. Therefore, there is nothing we need to do that has not already been done relative to our responsibility for sin.

Now, I would suspect that you are wondering how this discipline of the mind helps in the daily battle against the sinfulness of the still remaining sinful nature. May I suggest that it provides motivation for the second proactive behavior which follows. Paul already gave us an example in Vs. 2 when he asks

How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:2 ESV)

We might call it Christian shaming. I know that might sound offensive – but I want to put it so that we get the sense. Paul is so outraged that people might actually think it is OK to continue to sin following their justification that he confronts us in the strongest possible way. We just don’t treat sin lightly. It is serious stuff. It is the reason God sent Jesus to the cross, and that is not an event anyone should take lightly!!

Now that we are sufficiently motivated, we are ready for the second proactive behavior and it is found in Vs. 13, which is to present ourselves to God. Rather than presenting ourselves and our bodies to sin, present ourselves and our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. In other words, act like the new creature in Christ that you are. Take the necessary steps to enter into the grace that Jesus won for you and do some good works. Similar commands are all over the NT. Here are two:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10 ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (Jam 2:14-17 ESV)

So there we have it. Be who you are. But is it really that easy? Evidently not, because if it was that easy, every believer would be doing it. I’ll address this issue in my next post.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – Romans 6:2 – Part 2

Last time I surveyed what I believe is the correct understanding of this pregnant phrase from Romans 6. My conclusion was that it refers to our justification and it teaches us that the old identity in Adam is dead and it is replaced by our new identity in Christ. Therefore, we now have the great privilege of entering into our new life in Christ, free from the condemnation and guilt of sin and rejoicing in our new relationship with God through Jesus, our substitute and representative.

But there is an alternative view that suggests that by this phrase Paul is teaching that our human nature is dead. It suggests that when we place our faith in Jesus, or in a subsequent experience of a second work of grace, the old nature dies and only the new nature remains. Therefore, as we progress in disciplining our mind to accept this truth, we will progress to a life that is free from behavioral sin. But there are two problems and an unnecessary consequence with this view.

First, there is a theological problem – it does not seem to fit the biblical evidence. Dozens of times the Bible instructs us not to respond to sin. But if our human nature is dead and we, by nature, are not responsive to sin, why would God tell us not to respond to sin? Colossians 3:5-11 specifically tells us to put to death the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul tell us to do that if there are no deeds of the human nature? In Galatians 5:16-26, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is at war with the human nature. We are commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul give this command if the human nature was dead?

The second problem is an experiential problem – it does not fit the reality of the Christian experience. I realize that there has been a significant amount of ink spilled over whether Romans 7 is Paul’s present personal testimony as a believer or whether it refers to his testimony of his experience as an unbelieving Pharisee. My view is that it refers to his Christian experience, which then seems to reflect the experience of all Christians. (Although I do not hold this view because it fits experience – that is backwards hermeneutics. But that exegetical quagmire is for another post. To understand the view that it refers to his pre-Christian experience, see Romans by Douglas Moo. For evidence that it fits his present experience, see Romans by John Stott.) Listen to Paul’s testimony:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (Rom 7:14-15 ESV)

Is that your experience? It certainly is mine. But if one holds that the human nature is dead, there is the unfortunate consequence of discouragement and even doubt. Discouragement comes when we cry out to God for this second work of grace whereby our human nature dies, and it doesn’t come and doesn’t come. When we continue to be confronted with sinful impulses and works of the human nature, we feel defeated, even a complete failure as a believer. The ultimate consequence is that we might even doubt our salvation and give up on the Christian life altogether.

But this is not what the phrase “dead to sin” means at all. It means that we are justified and that our relationship with sin has changed. Rather than be discouraged, we rejoice in the grace of God that declares us not guilty and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, not because our human nature is now dead, but because the death of Jesus has paid our debt and we are free from the condemnation and guilt that sin brings!!

So what do we do with the sinful impulses that are our daily experience? Every true believer wants to be free from sin, wants to obey God, wants to walk in the newness of his life “in Christ.” But it is a constant battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin? I’ll begin that discussion in my next post.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – ROMANS 6:2? – Part 1

Recently I gave a sermon on Romans 5:20-6:14 during which I clarified what Paul meant when he told us that because of our union with Jesus, we “died to sin” (6:2). My conclusion was that this phrase, along with the other times it is found in that passage (vs. 6, 10, and 11), refers to our positional state before God. It is a justification phrase that teaches us that we are declared not guilty and thus free from guilt, condemnation, and bondage to sin. The key to this understanding of this verse is vs. 9-10, where Paul declares that Jesus died to sin:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  (Rom 6:9-10 ESV)

Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for sin. He died, once for all, to pay the penalty for sin. Therefore, the moment we trust him for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life, he not only becomes our substitute, he also becomes our representative. Therefore, when Jesus died to deal with the penalty of sin, it is faithful to the text to say that we also died to the penalty of sin. (See also Col 3:3.) That is what Romans 5:1 and 8:1 declare:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1 ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1 ESV)

Therefore, Paul is reminding us that when we become united with Christ in his death, the old identity in Adam is dead and gone. In its place we have a new identity of being “in Christ.” Perhaps an illustration will help. When a person gets married, the old identity of being single is gone. He/she can act single, but the truth is they are not. Why would anyone who is married still act single? (See vs. 2 for a similar question.) This is Paul’s response to the unthinkable suggestion that says, “Because of God’s grace, believers can live in known sin – because God’s grace abounds.” Unthinkable.

The final piece of evidence to understanding our death to sin as referring to our justification is verse 7.

For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom 6:7 ESV)

Literally this verse says, “For one who has died has been justified from sin.” That is the word used in the original language. When we are united with Jesus in his death, we are justified and that justification frees us from the grip and reign of sin. The war with God is over. There is no more condemnation. The old life of being in Adam is dead. The new life of being in Christ has begun. Therefore, according to verse 11, we must discipline our mind, we must be who we are, and:

consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11 ESV)

Now I want to address a huge misunderstanding of this truth. There is a branch of Christianity that understands this phrase to mean that at the moment of our conversion, or even at some subsequent time when one experiences a second blessing or a second work of grace, our human nature dies. It is replaced by our new nature in Christ. Therefore, if and when our human nature dies, our experience relative to behavioral sin changes. We used to be responsive to sin, but now, since our human nature is dead, we are no longer responsive to sin. Any proclivity to sin is simply a lie of the enemy, which we must deny. The illustration is given of a dead animal. If we kick a dead animal there is no response. That kick represents temptation to sin. Since our human nature is dead to sin, the temptation is like kicking a dead animal. There is no response. The expectation then is that, as we master the mental discipline of considering ourselves dead to sin (believing by faith that our human nature is dead), we will progress in living a life free from behavioral sin.

But there is a theological problem, an experiential problem, along with these problems, there is an unnecessary consequence with this view. I will outline them in my next post.

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