TRUE EVANGELISM! Paul’s Presentation of The First Five Steps of The Soul-Winner in Romans; by ArchBischof Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
Paul’s Presentation of The First Five Steps of The Soul-Winner in Romans
Bernard E. Northrup Th. D.
The translation of the Biblical text is the Author’s unless otherwise noted
Bernard E. Northrup
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A NOTE TO THE READER
A NOTE INTENDED ONLY FOR THE SCHOLARS
A. Paul’s Focus on the Gospel
B. Paul’s message to believers.
C. Paul’s concern for his own people, the nation of Israel
D. Paul’s own example of soulwinning techniques
E. Paul introduces the gospel in Romans 1:15–16
THE FIRST STEP OF THE SOULWINNER: Exposing Man’s Total Lack of Righteousness Before God (Rom. 1:15–3:20)
A. An Introductory Preview of Paul’s presentation of the Gospel
B. A Brief Survey of Paul’s Presentation of the Gospel
1. Mankind’s twofold opportunity to know God rejected
2. God’s remarkable provision of His own righteousness to the unrighteous
3. Man’s utter inability to participate in the saving of himself by works
4. The Savior’s work on the cross in bearing the penalty for our sins
5. The Divine transaction of transferring our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us
C. Paul’s explanation of a major achievement of the gospel
1. The gospel should produce a twofold means of revealing God’s righteousness to the world (Rom. 1:16–17)
2. The gospel is a means of revealing the righteousness of God
3. The life of the justified believer also should be a means of revealing the righteousness God (1:17b)
DID YOU KNOW THAT GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD …
4. God’s wrath revealed against all unrighteousness (1:15–32)
a. The theme of the gospel: God’s righteousness (1:16)
b. Its revelation by the gospel’s requirements (1:17a)
c. Its ultimate revelation through lives of believers (1:17c)
d. The Real nature of the Gospel which Paul Preached
A WORD TO THE JEWISH EVANGELIST
5. The way that God’s revelation of Himself to mankind through natural revelation unveils what God is like.
a. Man already is condemned by his rejection of natural revelation (1:18–20)
b. Mankind’s departure from natural revelation (1:21–23)
c. God’s resignation of the sinful race to its own way (1:24–32).
D. The Plight of the Self-righteous Jew (2:1–3:8)
1. God’s judgment of the self-righteous with the reprobate (2:1–29)
a. The self-righteous condemned with the reprobate (2:1).
b. God’s judgment is according to truth and works on the basis of the gospel (2:2–16)
c. The folly of Israel in depending upon the law for righteousness (2:17–20)
d. Israel’s utter failure to practice what they preached (2:21–29).
2. God demonstrates that all mankind is under condemnation and lacks righteousness before Him (3:1–20).
a. Israel’s complaint of lack of advantage in being placed on a level with the lost Gentile (3:1–4).
b. The rejection of Israel’s attempt to justify their unrighteousness (3:5–8)
c. The placing of both Jew and Gentile equally under sin (3:9–19).
d. The conclusion that the entire race is guilty before God (3:20).
THE SECOND STEP OF THE SOUL WINNER: Revealing God’s amazing gift of His own righteousness (3:21–26)
A. Righteousness from God provided through faith in Christ (3:21–24).
1. The source of that righteousness is from God Himself
2 This righteousness is not based upon keeping the Mosaic law
3. The character of that righteousness which is acceptable to God
4. The God given witnesses concerning this true righteousness (3:21c)
5. The true basis for receiving this righteousness from God (3:22).
a. That righteousness is received from God Himself alone
b. That righteousness is received by faith in Jesus Christ alone
6. The extent of Hia provision of righteousness (3:22–23).
a. It is for all who believe because there is no distinction
b. Because of mankind’s fall in Adam’s sin (3:23)
7. The manner of receiving God’s righteousness (3:24)
a. “Being justified freely.”
b. Being justified freely by grace through His redemption
8. God’s method of providing this true righteousness which mankind so solely has needed since the fall of the race in the garden Eden
a. By justification based upon Christ’s death (3:24c–25a)
b. By propitiation through faith in His blood (3:25a)
B. This provision of His own righteousness is God’s means of making His forgiveness available to mankind, past and present (3:25–26).
1. Christ’s death was the basis for the justification of the repentant Old Testament sinner (3:25)
2. Christ’s death also is the basis for God’s justification of the New Testament believer (v. 3:26).
C. The rejection of man’s boasting concerning works achieving self-righteousness (3:27–28).
THE THIRD STEP OF THE SOUL WINNER: How a person receives this gift of God’s righteousness (3:27–4:25)
A. This gift is never received by good works but only by means of faith (3:27–4:8)
1. The rejection of man’s boasting of his works for salvation. (3:27)
2. The fact that justification before God is only by means of faith (3:28)
3. The inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s program of justification by means of faith alone (3:29–30)
4. Paul’s denial that salvation by faith alone would make the law to be void, asserting that this actually fulfills the law (3:31).
5. The principle of imputating of righteousness by faith apart from works illustrated (4:1–8)
a. By demonstrating how Abraham was counted righteous (4:15)
b. By explaining how David was forgiven his sin and was counted to be righteous (4:6–8)
B. Justification is never received by any ceremony which has been performed on him but only by means of his own faith (4:9–12)
1. Questioning the function of the ritual (4:9–10)
2. The timing of the ritual of Abraham’s circumcision: The ritual followed Abraham’s reception of God’s righteousness when he believed God’s promise (4:10b–11a)
3. In that sense Abraham is father of all believers. (4:11c–12)
C. Being counted righteous in God’s court is never received by keeping the law but only by faith (4:13–25)
1. In the same way that Abraham’s promise of heirship was not by law for it was before the law was given (4:13).
2. If law keeping made one an heir, then faith would be made void (4:14–15)
3. Thus the counting of God’s righteousness to the sinner is of faith and only as a free gift (4:16–23)
THE SOUL-WINNER’S FOURTH STEP: Explaining how Christ has provided His own Righteousness to us (5:1–21)
THE POEM: EVANGELIST
A. Christ’s work on the cross, God’s altar, brings us grace and peace (5:1–5)
1. Our position: justified by faith. (5:1–5)
2. The provisions of our position when justified by faith (5:1b)
3. Our response to the love of God (5:2b–5)
B. Because of God’s love, Christ died in our own place, satisfying the wrath of God against us (5:6–8).
1. The basis for our justification: Christ’s death for the ungodly (5:6–8)
2. The deliverance from wrath that justification brings is through Christ (5:9).
C. The satisfaction of judgment brought by Christ’s death in our place saves us from the wrath of God (5:10a)
D. Christ’s present life assures us of reconciliation to God and of our ultimate salvation (5:10b–11)
E. Christ’s obedience delivers us from condemnation in Adam (5:12–21)
1. The plight of all mankind “in Adam” (5:12–14)
a. In Adam all mankind came to have the sin nature and face the death which it brings to every man (5:12)
b. In Adam all mankind participated in Adam’s act and sinned because we were Adam (5:12c)
F. Christ’s grace brings righteousness and eternal life to those who believe (5:20–21)
THE SOUL WINNER’S CRUCIAL FIFTH STEP: Explaining God’s means of transferring our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us (6:1–10)
A. The prophetic background for the great transaction
B. Our obligation as believers to live above bondage to the sin nature (6:1–2)
C. The reason for that obligation: The transfer of our sins to Christ and of Christ’s death to us as believers through being baptized into Him (6:3–10)
1. Because we have been placed in Christ, we been crucified in Him (6:3)
2. Because we have been placed in Christ, we have been buried with Him (6:4a)
3. Because we have been placed in Christ, we have been resurrected from death with Him (6:4b).
D. Which baptism? What does this baptism accomplish?
E. Is it possible for water baptism alone to accomplish all (or any) of these things found in this passage? No!
1. Examining “the baptism that saves us” (1 Pet. 3:20–21)
2. The introduction to the explanation of our new obligation to live as resurrected believers in the resurrected Christ (6:5–10)
A NOTE TO THE READER
This is a book which expresses the serious concerns of the writer for the deterioration of the church resulting from the common practice of preaching of “another gospel” which falls short of the pattern established by Paul. I see a remarkable lack of attention given by the church to the principles and approaches to evangelism which are displayed by the Apostle Paul and which are presented by him in the Book of Romans. We live in a period of church history when the deterioration of the church causes it to careen onward toward carnality and worldliness at a frightening pace. I lay much of the blame for this at the door of the multitudes of personal witnesses, evangelists and pastors who, ignoring Paul’s soul-winning techniques, shortchange the lost by adding to or subtracting from the gospel which, according to Paul, is the only gospel which can save the lost.
Extra-Biblical theological presuppositions and misunderstandings of key Biblical texts appear to be the origin of the well accepted practice of preaching “another gospel” which often innocently permeates whole denominations, local churches and evangelistic ministries. Distractions by the world system with its false philosophies often color the thinking, both of the evangelist and the seeker. This sorely hinders the lost from fully understanding the Biblical gospel message which could bring them salvation. Often these hinderances result in “aborted believers” who never have had the opportunity of breathing their first breath as a real believer. Having never really had the opportunity of hearing an accurate and complete presentation of the gospel, they never have arrived at “saving faith.” It often is true that the “hearer of the gospel” never really understood his lost estate nor what was required, either on the part of God or of himself, for him to be saved. As a result, many in our local churches have gone through the motions of coming forward during a fervent “altar call” (after a service which contained no gospel), have been baptized, often on the spot, without really understanding or accepting the finished work of Christ in their place. Paul addresses this very real possibility of the “aborted believer” who never actually comes to real generation by the Holy Spirit into God’s family in 1 Corinthians 15. It is obvious that this problem of the failure of the supposed convert to understand the gospel was one of Paul’s serious concerns. It obviously was a concern that he had even for those who had heard his own preaching of the gospel. He expresses this concern in these words, “… Unless you have believed without really understanding …” (1 Cor. 15:2).* (There are several Greek words, all translated “in vain” in the King James Version 1 Corinthians 15. Each has its own distinct meaning).
The book of Romans is a remarkable book. When carefully studied, Romans 1:16–6:10 will be seen to present the pattern and the elements of the evangelistic outreach which Paul used when presenting the gospel. Furthermore, Romans 6:10–6:23 perfectly sets forth that which he considered to be an essential message for grounding the new believer so that he or she might become a useful servant-priest in the temple which is Christ’s body, the Church. This latter section of the book strongly suggests another real source of the problem causing the disintegration of the church in our day. Many heavy hearted, newly born believers who actually have understood the gospel and who have accepted Christ as their Savior, literally are dumped as foundlings at the doorstep of the Church without any spiritual training whatsoever by the one who won them to Christ. That actually happened to me when I was led to Christ, but, thank God, other more mature believers saw my need and led me on to maturity. How strange that the soul-winner, who has shown enough concern for a lost person to help to bring him or her to the new birth, often shows not the slightest concern for the newborn believer’s first spiritual meal nor for that new believer’s long struggle to spiritual maturity! Untaught in the truths of the last half of the book of Romans, these foundlings are left to go all of their lives in the tattered rags of their past estate. Far too often they never learn how to put off the rags of their old lives. Though robed in Christ’s righteousness, they never learn how to apparel themselves in robes of personal righteousness. With proper discipling, either by the soul winner or by a coworker in the field of discipleship, they could have learned to obey God’s instruction to His children: “You be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).* Another major reason for the invasion of the church by sin, carnality and worldliness is the fact that the Church has become overpopulated with the believers who are described in Hebrews 5:11–14. These are believers who still are utterly immature, having never “… exercised their senses to discern between good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Many who really are believers are unaware of their three very real spiritual enemies, the world system, the flesh including their old sin nature, and the Devil. Indeed, some have even been taught that they do not even have a sin nature!
It is a rare church today which does not have an entrenched body of worldings and carnal believers. Defeat by the third enemy, Satan, is so common, and yet we do not even have a word to describe the believer who is caught in the snare of that great enemy of the Lord and of His children. Here too great damage to believers has been done by those who teach that Satan, as a defeated enemy, has had his fangs pulled and only has a great roar with which to frighten us! Carnality, or defeat by our internal enemy, the sin nature, is the resulting mode of life for multitudes who erroniously have been taught that the believer no longer has a sin nature. While this was taught years ago by those who continually sought “sinless perfection,” today this utterly erronious doctrine is taught in many churches that never would have dreamed of following such heresy. This position is held and is taught in spite of the fact that Paul three times in Romans 7 specifically referred to “… the sin nature which is indwelling me”* as the cause of his own spiritual defeat before he understood the ministry and empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Indeed, it appears from Romans 7 that Paul’s failure in his early spiritual life to recognize that he still had an indwelling sin nature in the days following his Damascus Road experience actually became the occasion for the accusation of his conscience of sin by the Mosaic law. After all, the Mosaic Law inescapably was a permanent part of the consciousness of this former Pharisee. Even decades later John the Apostle, when he wrote First John, found it necessary to warn believers: “Stop loving the world system [ruled by Satan] with self-sacrificing, devoted love, and the things which are in the world system. If any man love the world system with self-sacrificing, devoted love, love for the Father is not in him …” (1 Jn. 2:15–16).* Such a command in the present imperative requires that we recognize that there are worldly believers who have not escaped the destructive attack of that enemy.
But perhaps the problem which outrages the church in many cases is the fact that the individual involved actually is a secret unbeliever. He may be one of the many in the church who have received only a digested version of the gospel, never really understanding either of two crucial truths,
1. that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Lord incarnate or
2. that Christ no longer lies in a Judean tomb.
Paul specifically insists that “… If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Eternal Lord and will believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9–10).* This book, “TRUE EVANGELISM! Paul’s Presentation of the First Five Steps of the Soul-winner,” is written in the hope that many who never really have heard the gospel according to Paul may now hear it from you and come to believe with genuine, saving faith.
Bernard E. Northrup Th.D. February, 1996
A NOTE INTENDED ONLY FOR THE SCHOLARS
The translation text often agrees with the New King James Version. This translation does a great service for the English reader in modernizing pronouns and the Elizabethean English of the King James Version which obscures the meaning to many readers today. At the same time it carefully avoids departing from the sense of the original. It also has the advantage of not following the Egyptian Greek manuscript sources although major deviations of these manuscripts from the Majority Text are noted. The value of these manuscripts, though being represented in several collated Greek New Testaments and in most modern English translations as being the closest representation of the original Greek manuscripts, because of their great antiquity, this is as very questionable conclusion. These manuscripts were copied and used in an area where Gnostic and Greek philosophy greatly influenced the Church of North Africa. I have come to the conclusion that, in some cases, variant readings found these manuscripts actually are serious deviations from the original manuscripts. The several Egyptian manuscripts which collectively are called “the Alexandrian tradition,” between themselves display remarkable disagreement in their texts when closely examined. They by no means present a united testimony concerning the original form of the Biblical text. In some of the New Testament books I have found in one single book these Egyptian manuscripts may disagree with each other about a textual reading anywhere from 10 to 100 times! Worse yet, the readings of some Biblical verses in our translations where translators have followed these few Egyptian copies of the originals are supported by no more than two readings from Egyptian manuscripts and are never found in the more than 5,000 other Greek manuscript copies. Yet these Alexandrian readings are presented as having the best support as representing the original manuscripts!
I have studied the Textual Criticism of the Greek manuscripts for nearly half a century. I conclude that these Egyptian manuscripts testify by their many variations among themselves that the Alexandrian textual tradition actually has suffered much at the hand of scribes. An examination of the theological writings of the early church fathers who lived in Egypt will suggest that these serious variations found in the Alexandrian Greek texts are variants caused by the theological misunderstandings which are common in that area. I no longer consider the Alexandrian textual tradition to be an authoritative representation of the Greek originals as Wescott and Hort did and as many translators still do. I speculate that there definitely are times when this obvious textual disagreement between these few Egyptian manuscripts results from Gnostic traditions and the influence and the prevalence of Greek philosophy which is recognizable to scholars in the writings of the early Egyptian/Greek church fathers. These greatly influenced the Greek speaking church in Egypt and, to my amazement, still influence the translators of our numerous modern translations of the New Testament.
This textual corruption evident in the Egyptian manuscripts argues powerfully for a return to the Majority text as a more trustworthy basis for identifying the original Greek text. The New King James Version notes variations in Majority textual tradition which are supported by a multitude of Greek manuscripts. Often the translation found in “True Evangelism” closely follows the NKJV, a translation which I appreciate because it does follow the Majority Greek Text rather than following the Alexandrian Text of Egypt. Often for clarity, or where I feel that an important factor in the Greek text needs to be emphasized, I supply my own translation and understanding of the Greek text. I indicate this by an asterisk (*) following the Scriptural reference. Explanatory phrases which I have added to a Scriptural verse are in brackets and are not in bold type as Scripture is otherwise. Where I wish to stress a phrase, I have placed it in italics. This does not mean that this text has been supplied by the translator.
The first half book of Romans is a complete statement of the gospel. This is a book which explains our desperate, lost condition and the fact that our ascended Savior is able to save all who come to God by Him.
A. Paul’s Focus on the Gospel
The word “gospel” occurs repeatedly in the book of Romans. It is found fifteen times in the following verses: 1:1, 2, 1:9, 1:15, 1:16, 1:17; 2:16, 10:15, 10:16, 11:28, 15:16, 15:19, 15:20, 15:29 and 16:25. The impact of this fact will be felt when the reader scans these verses in a single reading.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, a called Apostle, separated to the gospel of God, which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures …” (1:1–2).
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers …” (1:9).
“So as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness …” (1:16–17).
“… Their thoughts accusing or else excusing them in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (2:15–16).
“And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says: Lord, who has believed that which we heard?” (10:15–16).*
“Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (11:28).
“… That I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:16).
“… I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient—in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation …” (15:17–20).
“But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (15:29).
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, acording to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the truth …” (16:25–26).
Two of these passages give us a very concise statement of what is contained in the gospel and what is to be accomplished by a proper understanding of the message of the book of Romans about the gospel. It is obvious from the book of Galatians that there were those in Paul’s day who did not fully understand the gospel. He says:
“I marvel that so quickly you are turning from the One who called you in the grace of Christ unto another gospel [of a different kind], which is not another [of the same kind]. But there are certain ones who are troubling you and who are wanting to change the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel out of heaven preaches a gospel to you which is different than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. As we before have said, and even now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel different than that which you received, let him be cursed” (Gal. 1:6–9).
The problem still is present in the church. Many hear that, as a prerequisite to receiving salvation, it is necessary for one to be baptized, to take the Lord’s supper, to join a certain church, to “commit yourself to Christ!” (whatever that unBiblical expression means!), to “make Jesus your Lord and Master!” or any number or other human prerequisites. They are told that, apart from presenting this prerequisite to salvation, one actually is not saved even though he or she has accepted the work which God’s perfect substitute, the Messiah, has accomplished.
All of these humanly required stepping stones prior to the receiving of salvation have one thing in common. However well meaning may be the misinterpretation of Scripture which introduced the error, all pervert the message of the Word of God which, without exception, presents salvation as a free gift. There are no humanly manipulated strings whatsoever attached to it. It is a message which allows nothing to be added to it.
The major purpose which Paul displays in Romans 1:16–6:10 is to set forth, precisely and step by step, the five key elements of that message which he called “the gospel.” As a result, the first half of this great book gives us the specific details of that which properly is called “the gospel.” It leaves no doubt about how a man is to respond to these specific elements of the gospel. Indeed Paul in this section, while explaining the elements of the gospel message, carefully spells out that which is not involved in the gospel. He corrects many of the errors which even today in Christendom are mistakenly peddled in place of or as part of the gospel. Paul’s full explanation of the gospel requires our rejection of those elements which often are presented as absolute prerequsities for salvation. These man-made elements, according to Paul, cannot and do not enable God to provide His free grace as the only means whereby a man or woman may be saved. Indeed, Paul shows that the presence of these human additives, intermixed with or added to the gospel, pollutes and negates the message of the gospel concerning God’s work of grace which provides redemption freely. As we have seen in Galatians 1:6–8, Paul actually calls down “anathema,” an Aramaic curse, on all who “… pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7) by adding to it or by taking away from it or by preaching “… a gospel of a different kind” (Gal 1:9) than the one that he had preached to them.
The final element of the gospel which Paul presented to the Romans in 6:1–10 is the most neglected and one of the most mis-represented portions of the gospel which saves the lost. It contains a precise explanation of the means that God used to accomplish the remarkable work of counting the death of the Messiah to be the repentant sinner’s death, whether he be Jew or Gentile. He explains the specific legal method by which God counts the Messiah’s burial to be the believer’s own death in payment for sin. Yes, he even explains how God is able to count the resurrection of the long promised Messiah to be the believer’s own resurrection the moment that he accepts Christ. This crucial information, which is directly linked to the fact that Christ arose from the dead and came forth from His tomb after three days and nights, requires the soul-winner to be certain that he has presented the resurrection of Christ as part of his gospel presentation. Already I have mentioned just how important that fact is to the repentant sinner. He says: “… That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Eternal Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”* Just why that is so important to the seeker will be explained by Paul in Romans 6:1–10 and in chapter 10. In that second half of the book, in Romans 9–11, Paul will return to and will reemphasize a crucial subject which he already has introduced in chapters 2–4. That subject is the difficulty that many Jews have in accepting the Messiah and the message of the gospel. Once again he will explain crucial elements of the gospel which must be accepted by Jew or Gentile for one to receive salvation. It is obvious that Paul felt that it was crucial that he (and we) convey an absolutely clear understanding of the message which he calls “the gospel.” This study is an examination of the specifics of that message in the book of Romans, in the desire that those who are seeking to help the lost to find the Savior will present all of the gospel without adding or subtracting anything whatsoever to its simple message.
It seems that many religious teachers have never figured out precisely how a perfectly righteous God is able to resolve the problem of a man’s sin and save him from the eternal consequences of the fact that he was born a sinner and still is a sinner. Somehow they have never seemed to realize that God, because of His perfect righteousness, simply cannot and will not tip the imaginary balance scales in the favor of the sinner. In an amazing way, man loads that imaginary balance scale of judgment with multiple reasons explaining to God why He should save him or some other man or woman. Mankind does not seem to understand that, if God were to act like so many judges do today, forgiving guilt and its responsibility without a just basis for cleansing the record of the sinner, then He would do no less than involve Himself in that guilt and in the penalty which the sinner must bear.
Somehow many of the world’s religions have assumed that God is a kindly old gentleman who is so tenderhearted toward the sinner that He is willing and able to receive any pittance which the sinner offers to Him as the basis for that person’s salvation. As a consequence, there are many religions which teach man to struggle through life, isolating himself from happiness and from anything providing pleasure, in order that he may win an escape from the person that he really is and from the responsibility which that brings. A horde of religious acts are saddled on grieving sinners with the solemn promise that by keeping these works, the sinner somehow will gain favor before a holy God. Sinners are led to believe that by these works they may gain the favor of God and release from the judgment which they deserve. Romans 1–6 explains that such an approach to salvation is part of the broad way which leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13). Or, just as bad, many teach that God’s work through Christ on the cross was not quite adequate to achieve a man’s salvation without certain vital works which the sinner must contribute.
The first half of the book of Romans corrects this crucial error which actually diverts the sinner from God’s wonderful and absolutely free saving grace which He has provided for mankind freely as a gift. It deals clearly with the technical, legal means by which God has made this provision available for fallen man without impugning God’s own righteousness. God is perfectly just. In His perfect righteousness He will not make one step which would make Him unjust in order to save fallen man. He will not accept any work which a person may offer to Him as a basis for the sinner’s salvation. The first half of the book of Romans is a treasure in that it resolves this otherwise insolvable problem. It explains precisely how God is able to save fallen mankind without Himself becoming guilty by forgiving man without a just basis for doing so. And you may be sure that however God would work out the complex problem of saving those of fallen mankind who do respond to His free gift, it will be done in complete justice. While multitudes have tried to provide a means for God to forgive them, Paul in Romans very clearly explains that there actually is only one way by which a person can be saved. It is the way which has been provided by God as a free gift on the basis of the finished work of the Messiah.
B. Paul’s message to believers
The Book of Romans not only contains repeated references to the gospel but it also is clear that Paul, as He was writing to the Roman church, was seeking to build up those who already had become believers in their faith, obedience and service to the Lord. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote the Roman epistle. He did not know most of the hordes of people who lived there. Primarily he was writing to a people who already had become saints, that is, a people set apart through their faith in Christ. Now it must be clear that these “saints” to whom he addresses the book in chapter one are not people who have been so appointed by other people or so honored by a church. These are people who have been made “saints” by God through His work on their behalf. That is to say, they are a people who have been “set apart” in holiness by an act of God Himself. He so calls them in Romans 1:7 when he says: “… to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints!”* Notice that the infinitive, “to be,” has been supplied in most translations. That immediately implies to many readers that one distant day in the future also may possibly become saints. The supplying of the infinitive, “to be” actually obscures the message which develops in the following chapters about what God does for the one who believes.
The person who has responded to the gracious gift of God which is provided through the gospel actually has been set apart, made a saint positionally, by God’s free gift of His own holiness which He has given to them through Christ. It is something which is done by God and not by any church. Indeed, it is something which already has been done by God to everyone who is a believer. From that moment when he believes, the believer has been provided with a righteousness which enables him to appear in the presence of God without instant judgment and expulsion. We must remember the words of the prophet Habakkuk. He says of God, “You have purer eyes than to look upon evil and You cannot look upon iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). In that great step of providing His own righteousness to the sinner, God already has made every believer positionally to be one who has been “set apart,” “a saint” in Christ Jesus. Becoming a believer who is set apart on a practical basis by his own every day life before God is the theme of the last half of the book of Romans. Paul will explain that this positional righteousness, the believer’s standing at the moment of the new birth, actually is the righteousness of a member of the Godhead. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ through Whom God has procured salvation for mankind. The thought of Romans 1:7 then is that God Himself designates those as saints who positionally have been set apart, who have been robed in His own righteousness. These are God’s beloved ones who have accepted His Holy Son and thus are accepted in His Son.
In the last half of Romans, the subject of the book, “DISCIPLESHIP: The Final Five Steps of the Soul-winner,” Paul admonishes these believers about how they should not turn back to the slavery to their sin natures which had dominated their lives from birth and which still was a very real factor in their lives. He appeals to them on the basis of their resurrection in Christ Jesus to go on and to become slaves of righteousness. He shows that this only is possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit Who now indwells them. He explains that the Holy Spirit has one primary focus in His relationship to all believers whom He indwells. He seeks to lead them into maturity out of childhood in the family of God. He strives to help them as believers to become mature sons of God. After explaining something of coming events in prophecy, Paul explains that our exalted position in the body of Christ requires us as believer priests to use the spiritual gifts which the Lord has given to us. We are to use these gifts as ministers of Christ in every relationship.
C. Paul’s concern for his own people
It is obvious that, while Paul was writing to these believers in Rome, he at the same time continually displays a great concern for his own wayward people, the people of the nation of Israel. It is clear that he also writes to help them to overcome some of their errant ideas about how a man may become righteous before God. These are ideas which actually are keeping them from receiving the righteousness which God Himself would provide. As a result, the reader can observe two elements in the book. The initial theme of the book, which continues to show up throughout the book, is directed through these saints in Rome who have believed. It concerns their own ministry which they should have among the Jews who were depending upon their own devices for salvation.
At the same time, Paul does not neglect explaining to the believers in Rome the ministry which they should be having among lost Gentiles in Rome and elsewhere. As a result, the Book of Romans contains a message which helps all mankind to see the failure of any approach to God through legalism and ceremonies or by any other man made means. It is an approach which helps the Jew to see exactly where God’s chosen people have failed to become righteous before God when they depended upon their own works and refused the righteousness which God Himself had provided through their Messiah. It explains why they must follow God’s own approach which He had prepared for them if ever they would become righteous before God. That involves turning to their Messiah, Yeshua HaMeshiach. In a sense the discussion of this introductory section of this book gives a rough outline of the contents of first section of the Book of Romans. But this material is not chronologically developed with all of the discussion pointed to Israel or to the lost Gentiles to be found in a single section. It will be found scattered throughout the Book of Romans.
D. Paul’s own example of soulwinning techniques
Therefore it may be seen that Romans is a book which remarkably sets forth the pattern which the Apostle Paul followed in winning men to Christ. The book of Romans provides an invaluable guide for the believer today so that he too can lead a person out of the darkness of unbelief and out of one’s useless efforts at autosoterism or self-saving. This is not a fact which is immediately obvious as one begins the study of that great book. And yet, as the believer begins studying his way through the book of Romans carefully, considering the impact of each of the book’s sections, it becomes obvious that the Book of Romans is a book which in its beginning chapters revolves around the Apostle’s own method of leading a man to Christ. We who long to lead others to Christ will find five crucial but remarkably clear steps of the soulwinning approach which Paul embedded in the book of Romans. These plainly set forth the message and the approach which Paul followed in presenting the good news of salvation to an unbeliever.
Once this is grasped, it becomes obvious that we also must follow this pattern when we undertake the responsibility of leading a person to Christ. Otherwise it is likely that we would fail to present the complete, unadulterated and uncomplicated gospel message to him. Otherwise there always is the possibility that we may leave a person in that sad situation of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15:2. There he obviously grieves over the troubling realization that not all who had heard the gospel had appropriated the benefits of its message because they had not altogether understood it. He speaks of the full message of the gospel “By which also you are being saved, if you continue to keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you believed without due and reasonable consideration.”*
The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest men who ever lived. While he is little recognized for his great contribution to the western world in history books, the impact of his ministry of spreading Christianity from Jerusalem through Asia Minor and on into Europe has had an impact on civilization beyond anything that one can clearly evaluate. His ministry began at Damascus after his conversion while on the way to persecute those who believed in the Lord Jesus. His powerful witness swept across Asia Minor, soon reaching the gates of the Hellespont near Constantinople, now Istanbul, the capital of Turkey. It was not long before God called him to cross over that narrow stream which drained the Black Sea to carry the message of the cross into southern Europe. And it was not many years before the Lord had burdened this choice servant for the people of the capital of the great Roman Empire. One of the several ways that he was led by God to minister to this people, and particularly to those who lived in the capital, Rome, was through the writing of the great epistle to the Romans. It is a book which is uniquely rich in its doctrinal content and in the scope of its message. This book alone focuses on explaining the nature and content of the saving good news which we call the gospel, defining it in careful detail. Indeed, this Epistle to the Romans is the only book in the Bible which dedicates so much space to the five major elements which make up the good news of redeeming grace.
E. Paul first introduces the gospel in Romans 1:15–16
“So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are Rome also, for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”*
It is at this point where Paul first mentions the gospel that he begins to develop the theme of the gospel and to state its content. The word “evangelism” appears in this section as well. It is found in the Greek verb in Paul’s statement, “I am ready to preach the gospel …” (i.e. to announce the good news). He not only wanted to preach this message to these at Rome but to others elsewhere. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The Jews especially needed to recognize that, even though they were a special people who in the past had been greatly blessed by God, they had to come to God on His own terms and through the means which He Himself had provided. That is, they had to come to Him through His Messiah, the One Who was named before His human birth, “The Eternal Lord will save.” They were the people who had received the Word of God (Rom. 9:4). Paul says in an earlier chapter that they were depending upon that fact, but that they needed to know that they had the same spiritual needs as the Gentiles. Both needed to come by means of the good news, the gospel.
Paul simply summarizes the nature of the gospel, without developing all of its details, in 1 Cor. 15:1–8 in the statement that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He died that death in place of our own deserved death for our sins. He further explains that the gospel includes the fact that Christ was buried. In a way which the Apostle will explain later in Romans 6, we were buried in Christ when He was buried. When He lay in Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb, we too, in the sight of God, lay in that cool, dark tomb below Calvary. When Christ rose from the dead we who have believed in Him arose from the dead in Him.
As a result of our positional resurrection in Christ, Paul develops an entirely new theme in the later section of Romans which begins in chapter six. He explains that we who have risen with Christ should begin acting like it. We should live resurrection kinds of lives. There are many who preach about the crucified life but you will notice that so often references to our having been crucified are in the perfect tense. This is something which took place in the past with continuing results in the present. The identification of Bernard Northrup with Christ when He was placed on the cross counts me to have been crucified in Christ Jesus, and therefore as also having been buried and then raised from the dead after three days and nights with Him in Joseph’s tomb. The believer who has the privilege of stepping into that tomb which is cut below Mount Calvary, because of his position “in Christ Jesus,” can say: “I lay right there for three days and nights “in Christ Jesus” nearly 2,000 years ago!”
As a result, we as resurrected saints are obligated to live, not a crucified life but rather an entirely different life, a resurrection kind of life. That great theme begins to develop in chapter six as Paul explains the ongoing responsibility of the new believer. But it also implies the responsibility of the one who has led that person to Christ of directing him or her to a life of dependence upon the Holy Spirit in order that the new believer may actually begin to make Christ his Lord and Master and to live the kind of life that God desires. As a result there still are five steps in the last half of Romans which Paul presents to the one who has helped another to find Christ. It is clear that he felt that the soul-winner must also take these steps before his responsibilities to the new believer are fulfilled. These steps which relate to the founding of the new believer in his new faith and instructing him concerning how he may serve his Savior. They will be considered in volume two.
I have given the outline of Paul’s approach to soul-winning in the table of contents. The student will find it helpful to refer to it regularly. It will enable one easily to follow the remarkable logic of the Apostle Paul, the world’s greatest church planter who wrote the book of Romans. It will help the reader to grasp his logic and the content of his great message as he unfolds the Biblical methodology of preparing the soil, of sowing the right seed to produce the right kind of fruit, and of nurturing the young growth to fruitfulness. One of the problems which believers face in attempting to be a witness to others is the difficulty which they may have in simply organizing and presenting the gospel message.
What is the gospel? Years ago Dr. Charles Ryrie, my theology professor in college and later in Seminary, asked the class to state the gospel in 25 words. Not nearly all of the class succeeded in giving a Biblical answer. Could you? What elements should be included as one attempts to share his faith with an unsaved friend? What should be the proper order in telling your friend that he or she has a sin problem that stands in the way of a right relationship with God? How do I explain just what God has done for each of us through the cross? How do I explain precisely how He applies the work of Christ to the one who does believe? These two books on The Ten Steps of the Soulwinner trace precisely how the Apostle Paul handled these problems in his own extended presentation of the gospel in the great book of Romans. And Paul is by far the best teacher to answer accurately these questions which should trouble the prospective soul-winner.
It is fairly obvious then that Paul wrote the book of Romans to a group of people whom he did not personally know for the most part. For that reason, he proceeds through his explanation of the gospel very carefully. But Paul faced another problem as an absentee Soulwinner. He was just as concerned that his written ministry in the book of Romans should produce the transformation of life which is to be expected from the one who has come to saving faith in Christ as a product of the gospel. Because this study of Romans 1:17–6:10 seeks only to follow the steps which Paul used in presenting the gospel to those at Rome, it should be of great help to the believer who desires to know where to begin and how to proceed in presenting the gospel to an unbeliever.
It should be obvious then that these studies of Paul’s techniques of soul-winning are not merely a rehash of “the Romans Road” method of choosing verses which are particularly useful for winning someone to Christ. While that approach has been honored by the multitudes who have come to an understanding of the Savior and of His cross work on our behalf, the approach does not even give consideration to Paul’s methodology as a soul-winner. This study seeks to set forth that methodology in a bird’s eye view of the book which examines carefully the flow of Paul’s message to the citizenry of the great, wicked city of Rome.
THE FIRST STEP OF THE SOULWINNER: Exposing Man’s Total Lack of Righteousness Before God (Rom. 1:15–3:20)
A. An Introduction to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel
How many steps does it take to lead a person to Christ? That is not an easy question, for there is so much that enters into the receptiveness of the counselee which may hinder him from grasping the details of the gospel. Or on the other hand the primary Soul-winner, the Holy Spirit, already may have prepared him and enabled him to grasp and respond to the gospel readily. For that matter, no single passage in Scripture gives a final answer to the question. Indeed, I suspect that the answer is one which must be answered by the Holy Spirit as the one who is witnessing cooperates with the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing that man or woman to Christ. This seems to be suggested by Christ’s words in that great Upper Room Discourse. In it He marvelously prepared the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit after His own resurrection and departure for heaven 40 days later. In part He said: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who will go out from the presence of the Father, He will testify of me; and you also shall bear witness …” (Jn. 15:26–27).*
Not every student of the Scriptures will agree with me on the number of steps the soul-winner should take or how many steps can be found in the New Testament passages which deal with that matter. But the student should recognize from the book of Romans that he is not arguing with me but with the Apostle Paul when he sets forth the ten steps that he took in soul-winning in this great book. Of all the mines where one may search out precious jewels for the soul-winner, none more than Romans presents such a broad spectrum of glittering jewels which may well come to be set in the soul-winner’s crown. “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3). No other passage presents the broad scope of truths so necessary for the soul-winner to present with such clarity and detail. Unquestionably the Apostle Paul organizes, and presents in the correct order, the crucial message which a soul-winner should know and should present to a prospective recipient of the grace of God.
B. A Brief Survey of Paul’s Presentation of the Gospel
Here is a brief survey of Paul’s presentation of his initial explanation of the nature of the gospel in Romans 1–6. The Apostle clearly demonstrates through his own presentation to the Roman people that there are five major elements which must be included when a soul-winner seeks to present the gospel to the lost. I am afraid that the little wordless book, which so often used in witnessing to children, omits some of these major elements. Many gospel tracts are guilty of the same error and present a truncated form of the gospel. We who have the responsibility of sharing the good news to the lost, and that responsibility surely falls on all believers, should be concerned with recognizing what these five steps are. Only then can we carefully follow the pattern of this godly evangelist/church planter of the first century when he shared the gospel with others. Paul shows that there are five essential elements which should be included in the presentation of the gospel to the lost. Only when he has clearly set forth those elements which should be included in the gospel message will Paul turn to develop the explanation of the life which the one who believes should live. Only at Romans 6:10 does he begin to unfold the transforming effect of the gospel on the life of the believer in order that the believer may show forth the character of Christ in his daily walk.
1. Mankind’s opportunity to know of God through natural revelation rejected
Romans 1, which begins Paul’s explanation of the gospel, points out how most men ignore and reject the testimony of natural revelation. It is a passage which portrays the remarkable development of the corruption of the human race as clearly as any other passage in the Bible. Paul begins his explanation of this theme by pointing to the fact that man for the most part has rejected natural revelation instead of responding to it as I did as a 19 year old sailor. He speaks of the fact that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness (1:18). What truth? It is the truth that may be known about God which has been manifest to them from the creation of the world (1:18–23). The things which God has made are a testimony to man about God. There are things which one may know about God as a result of the things which He has made.
Because of my interest in creation studies I frequently come into contact with those who have studied in the fields of science, biology, geology, astronomy and chemistry. These men handle the evidence of natural revelation, rarely recognizing that it is evidence which could tell them what God is like. Romans 1:20 teaches that these men could have learned about the Creator’s invisible attributes from the creation of the world for these characteristics of the Creator clearly are seen by the things which He made! And yet they close their eyes. That which they could know about God they reject, attempting to follow naturalistic, atheistic explanations of the universe as they try to understand how these things came to pass apart from the hand of an Infinite Being. Time and chance, two old Greek gods, actuallybecome the gods which, in their eyes, have produced the creation. As a result, these “scientists” have a totally different gospel which has no “good news” in it whatsoever. It says: “Man is just one of the higher animals!” It is a “good news” which never has saved anyone but has led multitudes blindly to judgment. As the result of their rejection of natural revelation, verse 20 closes assuring of their judgment for “… they are without excuse!”
God has given to all of the world of mankind the revelation which is available through the observation of the heavens, the earth and all within them. This could bring mankind, as it brought me, to the point of recognizing that there is a God and of recognizing the fact that they have a desperate need for God. Now this does not mean that natural revelation, such as the beauty of the trees, the intricacies of a human body or the eye of the fish ever can save us. Robert P. Tristram Coffin described his troubled thoughts in poetry as he considered the eye of a dead fish, concluding that surely there must be a creator. Natural revelation can lead us to God and, as in my case, to a desperate appeal: “Lord, save me!” But that cry, based only upon the impact of natural revelation, cannot by itself save one. As a result, the Creator, Who had touched my heart through natural revelation, led me through scores of decisions and over many thousands of miles to someone who did understand the gospel and who was willing to share it with me in order that I might actually be saved. By the way, That young lady who shared the gospel with me and I recently were honored at our 50th wedding anniversary just a year after my 51st spiritual birthday!
I believe that God never fails when the pagan in the darkest jungles of Papua New Guinea looks to the things which God has created and recognizes that there had to be someone who created them. When he asks out of his deep spiritual darkness for the Creator to give him further light, I believe that God will bring someone who will begin the process of bringing the Word of God and the opportunity to that person to be saved. And who knows, it may be that you are the very means that He has designated to reach that person with the good news, the gospel, so that he might be saved.
2. God’s remarkable provision of His own righteousness to the unrighteous
In brief, Paul’s second step in developing the gospel message as he wrote to Rome was to show the lost that God has indeed moved to meet the sinner’s desperate need. The sinner who is willing to recognize that he has nothing with which to present himself to God but his need will come to understand God’s grace and provision in Christ. This fact that God wonderfully has provided for man’s need is revealed in the latter part of the third chapter. God has made it possible for the sinner’s debt to be paid and for His own righteousness to be placed on the accounts of the sinner. As a result, the one who had deserved death for his sins now in some amazing way finds himself robed in God’s own righteousness. And Paul also briefly introduces in this sectionthe fact that this transfer of divine righteousness to the sinner is in some way accomplished through Jesus Christ.
3. Man’s utter inability to participate in the saving of himself by works
It is inherent in the nature of man to conclude that there is some work which he must do in order to receive the grace of God. This offering by man takes many forms. Many attempt to add works or law keeping to God’s free grace. Others physically or mentally will punish themselves for their own sins, never really finding the only solution. Still others add a work performed upon themselves by someone else. Some depend on their baptism, whether it was performed on them as an infant or as an adult. Others make the Lord’s supper a means of imparting grace from the hand of another man, not understanding that it is only God’s grace that can benefit them. Still others require the one coming to Christ to go through a special, contrite act of repentance or of yieldedness. All of these human requirements which are added to the simple reception of the absolutely free grace of God are a violation of the gospel which Paul preached. And that message is a major theme of the book of Galatians. The soul-winner who is making the horrible mistake of complicating the simplicity of the gospel and its provision of free salvation needs to reread Galatians 1:6–12 more carefully with personal application to himself. This third step in Paul’s explanation of the gospel to the Romans focuses on this very area, an aspect of the gospel which is greatly misunderstood.
Paul will tell us in Romans 9–11, a section which largely deals with the future of the nation of Israel, that the great mistake of God’s chosen people, Israel, has been to attempt to become righteous before God by their own efforts. This is an error which is not practiced by the nation of Israel alone. It is shared by multitudes of Gentiles as well with the result that they, by their own efforts, fail to obtain that provision of righteousness which God freely has made available through His Son, the Messiah. He is the One Who had been promised to Israel for centuries in the Old Testament. This third step of Paul’s explanation of the gospel corrects this error of one’s attempt to save himself or to add anything whatsoever to God’s perfect plan of salvation. It shows precisely how the obtaining of a righteousness which prepares one for a worthy standing before the Lord is not a matter of self effort at all. This righteousness which God has provided is only received by faith alone.
4. The Savior’s work on the cross in bearing the penalty for our sins
It is only then that the Apostle really explains the means whereby God can forgive our sins and count the forgiven sinner to be righteous. He explains that it is through Christ’s work on the cross, of taking our own place and of bearing the full penalty for our sins, that God has provided His righteousness to the one who believes. In this fourth step of the great Biblical soul-winner, Paul, explains how the work of the promised Messiah provides grace and peace for the one who believes. That work alone satisfies the wrath of God against those who stand condemned with Adam, the fountain head of the race. He explains that this condemnation is for our rebellion against God when we were yet in the loins of our ancestor Adam in the garden. That work also satisfies the wrath of God against us for the sins which we have commited in our lives. Paul explains the fact that Christ did not remain in death but, resurrected from the dead, He is alive. He announces that this makes it possible for the resurrected Christ to provide complete and ultimate salvation to the one who comes to God through Him. He explains how the Messiah brought that righteousness which fallen man did not have and with it the provision of eternal life to those who believe.
5. The Divine transaction of transferring our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us
But precisely how does the court of God make it possible for God to transfer the believer’s sins to the Savior? How His own righteousness transferred and applied to the one who by faith accepts the finished work of Christ as applicable to himself? This amazing and absolutely necessary dual transaction is not really explained until the final section of Paul’s great presentation of the work of how God saves the lost sinner who comes to Him through Christ. The fifth step of the soul-winner is almost entirely neglected in the presentation of the gospel by evangelists today. It explains precisely how God has transferred the believer’s sins to the Savior when he believes in order that He might pay fully for them through His death on the cross. It also explains precisely how the Savior’s righteousness is transferred to the one who believes at that very same moment. He makes it clear that it is through this means that He gives the believer a righteous standing before a holy God.
Paul relates this transferrence of our sins to Christ and of His righteousness to us as a crucial ministry of the Holy Spirit which unites the new believer to the body of Christ that he explains elsewhere in his writings. As a result of that transferrence, God now looks on that new believer just as if he actually had been nailed to that cross on Golgotha nearly 2,000 years ago. God views the believer as having died, as been buried and then as having been resurrected with his Savior. He looks upon that believer and He sees the righteousness of Christ enrobing him! That ministry of the Holy Spirit, which takes place precisely at the moment that one believes so that all of these things may be counted true of the believer, is a vital part of one’s salvation. “For by means of one Spirit were [an aorist tense, looking at the event which had happened to all of the believers in Corinth and, for that matter, to every believer since,] we all baptized into one body …” (1 Cor. 12:13).* As a result Paul could say to all who had believed: “Now you are the body of Christ and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12:27).*
A reader should always examine the table of contents of the book which is before him. Often a brief consideration of the table of contents will speed the reader’s process of comprehension. The table of contents in this case will reveal that there are five major areas which the soul-winner should cover in presenting the gospel. These are five crucial steps which he must cover if the individual whom he is attempting to reach for Christ is to come to the light of faith in Christ. These first five steps of the soul-winner set forth the desperate plight of mankind individually and collectively. They utterly close the door to the individual who has any aspirations to autosoterism, the unattainable art of saving oneself. To the one who has not availed himself of the grace of Christ, this seems to set forth a scene that is utterly dismal, hopeless and dark. But at the same time, these soul-winning steps which Paul explains are filled with a marvelous light. It is in the darkness of one’s lost estate that the man who finds that he has no righteousness of his own that is acceptable to the Lord nonetheless discovers that he can receive from God a righteousness standing. In that righteousness he may enter without rebuke into the glorious presence of the Lord of Glory.
This dark scene which stands at the beginning of Paul’s explanation of the saving gospel of Christ has caused many to attempt to place a message at the beginning of the gospel presentation to soften the gospel and make it more appealing and more acceptable to the lost. Thus one often hears the gospel presentation begin in this way. “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” No matter how hard one tries to fit that message into the Pauline approach of presenting the gospel in the Pauline manner which is found here in Romans, he will not find a place in Paul’s great soulwinning handbook for that aberration from the gospel message. The Spirit of God knew what He was doing when He directed Paul to present the gospel as it is found in Romans. That should become obvious immediately in the next section.
C. INTRODUCTION TO THE SECTION: Paul’s explanation of a major achievement of the gospel
1. Paul’s explanation that the gospel should produce a twofold means of revealing God’s righteousness to the world (Rom 1:16–17)
This painful but initial part of the gospel message will be seen to be absolutely essential and properly placed at the beginning of the exposition of the grace of God which one presents to the lost. That is what will be seen in the larger setting of Romans 1:15–6:10. Man’s failure in the light of the righteousness of God is the introduction to the remarkable fact that the Lord has made available His own righteousness to the man who comes to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. The remarkable fact of the gospel, when properly presented, is the truth that the man who has no righteousness of his own can in some wonderful way become righteousness. The reason is that God in His kindness has chosen to share His own righteousness with the man who believes! And yet, in the process of elevating a lost and fallen man to the position where he stands righteous before God, the Righteous One has in no way compromised His own righteousness! The act of providing righteousness to fallen man, coupled with the act of applying that righteousness to man, has in no way changed the Righteous One who resolved man’s sin problem in the first place.
In order for man to know that, he needs to know what God is like. It is very common for the man made religions of the world to bring God down to man’s level and simply think of Him as a very big man, even troubled with all of the sinner’s failings and shortcomings. But the gospel has a very clear message which erases all such imaginary concepts of what God is like. And the very first truth which the gospel presents is the truth of what God actually is like, that He is perfectly righteous. It points to the fact that God is perfectly righteous in requiring the sinner to respond to His gift of grace by faith alone. Then it points to the fact that the one who responds by faith, receiving salvation, must live a life of faith from that point on.
Verse 17 is a summary of the message of the entire book of Romans. This first portion of the verse focuses upon the way that God’s righteousness is demonstrated through the requirements of the gospel. It is the theme of the first half of the book, chapters 12:15–16:10 (cf. 1:17a). It is the theme of this first volume, TRUE EVANGELISM! Paul’s Presentation of the First Five Steps of the Soul-winner. The second part of verse 17 focuses on the way the believer’s life, properly lived, demonstrates to a lost world that God is righteous. That is the theme of volume two, TRUE DISCIPLESHIP! Paul’s Presentation of the Final Five Steps of the Soul-winner.
2. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God! (1:16–17)
The glorious truth with which the Apostle Paul opens his research into man’s awful need immediately turns to scrutinize what God actually is like. The unsaved man’s imaginary stand before God pales into insignificance when he actually realizes what the God before whom he stands really is like. And Paul shows that there are two ways that a man can learn the fact that God is very different from man, that He actually is a perfectly righteous, holy God. And as we have seen, he explains that there are two ways that a fallen man may recognize that God is not at all like himself. The sinner needs to recognize that God is a being who is perfect in all of His ways, who demands that those who have offended Him by their actions and by their lives must somehow pay for those actions.
So often man’s courts fall far short of righteousness today. Rather than requiring man to pay for the things that he has done against fellow man, the court in effect says:
“You have been a bad, bad boy! Nevertheless I think that you could straighten out your life if you were given another chance. I think that we will simply slap you on your hands and pat you on the back. We will send you forth unscathed by justice to do what ever you want to, even if it brings you back here into this court.”
No, God is not an unjust judge who shares the penalty with the guilty one. The first thing that the sinner must recognize about God is that He is a God Who is perfectly righteous. He demands that the guilty one be judged. He cannot simply forgive because the sinner has said “I’m sorry, Lord.” In God’s court crime must be paid for by the sinner or at least by someone who steps into his place and takes his punishment for him. And the gospel, the message which Paul preached wherever he went (1:16), the good news that provides salvation to “… everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile” (v. 16), is a message which reveals precisely what God is like. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed …” (v. 17).
But Paul says that there are actually two ways that the gospel reveals to fallen man that God is righteous. That truth is unfolded in verse 17 which actually is the key to the entire book. He says of the gospel that “… Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the one who has been justified shall continue to live by means of faith.”* But how does this statement unfold two ways by which a man may come to recognize that God is righteous? The answer is discovered in the phrase, “… from faith to faith.…” But what does that mean? Paul has been speaking in verse 16 of the fact that the gospel is the power of God to everyone who believes. In an amazing way this reveals the righteousness of God. God requires that the man who comes to him must believe something in order to receive this righteousness of God. Just what that something is will be revealed later in the book of Romans. But it is obvious that God is requiring a response to something that He Himself has done for mankind. He requires man to respond in faith to that which He Himself has done, that is, by believing the gospel, “the good news” which relates to the sinner’s need. Paul will unfold what that “good news” is in the chapters which immediately follow. It is there that the sinner will begin to understand the great things that God, of His own self, has done for fallen mankind. As a result, God can count the one who believes to have received righteousness which actually qualifies him to enter into His presence without being judged.
3. The life of the justified believer should be a means of revealing the righteousness God (1:17b)
There is a second way in which the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, a way which too often is missing when the soul-winner attempts to present the “good news” to the lost. Indeed, it is this means of unfolding the truth that God is righteous which most often attracts the unsaved man to the Lord. It helps him to see in contrast that he actually has spiritual needs which he cannot meet by himself and by his own efforts. This second way in which the gospel reveals God’s righteousness is stated in the last half of Romans 1:17. It is the counterpart of the first statement of the verse. “For therein [in and by means of the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.”
This second means of revealing God’s righteousness is by the transformed life of the believer. Not only does the message of the good news that God has done something to meet the need of the unbeliever display the fact that God is righteous, but the believer, the product of that good news displays that God is righteous through his righteous life. This is a marvelously effective means of attracting the unsaved man to the Lord. He comes to appreciate the good news of the gospel when he recognizes that his acquaintance has been transformed and really is altogether different, inside as well as outside. The believer becomes recognizable as one who has been transformed by his acceptance of “the good news” of what God has done for fallen mankind. Actually this last half of verse 17 provides the divine outline of the last half of the book of Romans just as the first half of the verse provides the outline for the first half of the book. That is why I say that this is the key verse of the book of Romans. In chapters 1 through part of chapter 6 Paul will unfold just what is that good news which meets the sinner’s need. From the second part of chapter 6 through most of the rest of the book of Romans Paul focuses upon the transformation of the life of the believer so that he really may become a showpiece of the gospel, attracting the lost to the Lord. But Paul also displays a concern that the believer’s life may begin to display the characteristics of the One who has given Himself to bring the one who believes up out of the desperate plight of sin and condemnation in which he lies.
That man can in no way enter into the process of making himself righteous soon becomes the focal point of the Apostle’s message in Romans four. Every device of man which he has brought forth as a means of becoming righteous is set aside. That faith alone is the means of accessing this glorious state is hammered home repeatedly by the great Soulwinner.
As a result, in the fourth step of his great presentation of the steps of the soul-winner, Paul tells the man how this provision of righteousness has been made possible through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Whereas chapter three had only opened the door in this regard, chapter four focuses upon the person who had done the work of opening the door so that the sinner’s sins may be resolved and so that the righteousness of the Savior may bring about his justification. It now becomes clear that the work of the one man, Jesus Christ, is the focal point of redemption, just as the one man, Adam, was the focal point for mankind’s universal state of condemnation.
Just how this Person and His work was made relevant to the sinner is the theme of the fifth step which must be taken by the Soulwinner. It is essential for the sinner to understand something of the remarkable legal transaction which takes place in the courts of Heaven. It is a part of the gospel which must not be omitted. The very real transaction affecting the believing sinner is set forth very precisely by the Apostle in the early part of chapter six. There Paul explains the means whereby the Godhead is able to reckon the death of the God Man as the death of the believing sinner. That explanation also includes the remarkable basis whereby the righteousness of the Savior now can be reckoned to the account of the one who is coming to the cross in understanding faith. While Paul does not give a detailed explanation of this point in this book, he makes it clear that the baptism which accomplishes this union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection is not water baptism. He also makes it clear that this is an event which must occur at the moment of the new birth for one to move from the category of being an unsaved sinner to the category of being one who has been reckoned on God’s books positionally as a justified saint.
The best way to examine the subject, “What should I tell a man as I begin to try to lead him to Christ?” is to examine the approach which the Apostle Paul used as he sought to stir hard Roman hearts to consider the Lord Jesus Christ and what He had done for them. Of all of the books of the Bible, Romans most clearly sets forth the full details of that pattern which we should follow in seeking to lead a man to Christ. Many have used what has been called “the Roman Road,” a collection of verses from the book of Romans dealing with God’s provision of grace that is arranged to help a person see his lost estate and God’s marvelous solution. The book of Romans is extremely useful in this regard for showing a man the steps that he must take in coming to the Lord Jesus. It is so easy to turn from verse to verse in this great book and to show an individual what he needs to know. But it is also easy to shortchange the gospel, leaving out important elements of Paul’s presentation. There is a reason for the remarkable collection of salvation verses found in this great book that rarely is recognized. The book of Romans, more than any other book of the Bible was written to show lost man his sad condition and to make clear to him what he must to do receive what God has done so that his lost condition may be corrected.
In recent months I have been entranced with a remarkable series of statements which the Apostle John made in the little Epistle of First John. In it the writer has made a series of statements about God’s loving the world and sending His only Son into the world to accomplish many things for the lost. I have put it together in a little tract which brings together all of John’s statements about the love of God and its benefits to us.
DID YOU KNOW THAT GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE SENT HIS SON …?
I. … SO THAT WE MIGHT LIVE THROUGH HIM? “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
II. … SO THAT HE MIGHT PAY THE PRICE OF OUR SINS? “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the redemption price that He paid] for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
III. … SO THAT HE MIGHT BE THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD? “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
IV. … SO THAT HE MIGHT GIVE US ETERNAL LIFE IN HIS SON? “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:11–12).
V. … SO THAT WE MIGHT UNDERSTAND, KNOW GOD AND HAVE ETERNAL LIFE? “And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an under-standing, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
VI. … SO THAT WE MIGHT BECOME CHRISTLIKE CHILDREN OF GOD? “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.… We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1–2).
There is much stress upon the love of God in John’s statements above, and yet it is clear that this is not John’s only emphasis or even his initial emphasis as he spoke of the nature of the gospel. There is a chain of truths which are woven into the text in such a way that it appears that we have before us at least part of the pattern which the beloved John used in his work of winning men to Jesus Christ. John began with the lost estate of fallen man just as Paul begins there in Romans. Both show mankind their need. Perhaps you will remember that in First John 4 the Apostle tells us that “God so loved the world that He sent His Son that we might live through Him” (v. 9). In the work of the cross our God was meeting the awful, desperate need of mankind. What that need was also is clearly taught in First John. Man has a sin problem and God was dealing with the sin problem of humanity when He sent His Son into the world. It also is found in First John 4 that “God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10). The price that was paid for our sins was the death of Christ! Similarly Paul says that “the wages of the sin nature are death …” (Rom. 6:23)* There is a message in Romans to those who already are believers. Paul speaks to them in Romans 8 about how they should go on and mature out of childhood as believers to become mature sons of God. Similarly John repeatedly teaches in his epistles that we are to go on in our spiritual lives. That is his thrust in 1 John 1:8–10.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
It is quite obvious that John and Paul had the same matter in mind, the concern on the part of God that mankind’s sins should be paid for without mankind having to die for those sins. Therefore it is appropriate that we believers who have the responsibility of sharing the gospel with the lost should do it in the Biblical manner. The message begins with man’s need.
4. God’s wrath revealed against all unrighteousness (1:15–32)
a. The major theme of the gospel: God’s righteousness (1:16)
The gospel as it is found in the book of Romans begins exactly at that point. It first considers the sin of man. Romans 1:15–17 begins to set the stage for that truth that God already has made that provision which man so desperately needed, the payment for his sins. Now the gospel as we meet it at this point in Romans very clearly is a specific entity in the mind of the Apostle. He says:
“… For I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith unto faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ “
b. Its initial revelation by means of the gospel’s requirements (1:17a)
In verse 15 Paul has expressed his earnest desire to preach the gospel in Rome. In verse 16 he expresses his utter confidence in the gospel as “the power of God unto salvation,” whether it be preached to the Jew or to the Gentile. In verse 17 Paul explains that the gospel is a remarkable means of displaying the fact that God is perfectly righteous. “In it [in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith.…” Now as I said earlier, the divine outline of the book of Romans lies right here where Paul first begins to discuss the gospel. Paul has said that “The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation” (1:16). In verse 17 he continues: “… for therein is the righteousness of God revealed.”
This is an amazing thing! The gospel shows the righteousness of God! But how does the gospel display the righteousness of God? Paul explains. “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” Now I may be wrong but I am inclined strongly to feel that the first phrase here, “… from faith …” refers back to the faith which is required for the reception of the gospel, the good news. That God requires the one coming to him to believe the gospel concerning Christ and all that He has done demonstrates that God is righteous! Not only has He provided in Christ the means of salvation to a lost world but He also has required one to believe this good news if he would have the salvation which Christ provides.
It is clear that the gospel, the means which God has provided so that a man may be saved, demonstrates that God has found a way to save one who believes without compromising His own righteousness in the process. That God requires the unsaved man to approach Him in this way and in this way alone demonstrates that God indeed is righteous. There is no other way for a man to become righteous except through the way that God has provided, that is, through the finished, earthly work of Jesus the Messiah when He died in our place and for our sins. And the faith which is required of us when we approach Him for salvation is a tacit admission that God is righteous. There is no other way that we can come in our own righteousness or by any righteous act to satisfy the judgment which He requires for our sin. “For the wages of sin are death …” (Rom. 6:23).
The book of Romans in chapter 10 clearly shows that this is precisely the problem which stands in the way of the Jew today. As a nation and individually the scattered people of Israel are attempting to establish their own righteousness before God and are refusing the righteousness which would come to them through their believing in the person and work of their Messiah. The first statement focuses upon the remarkable fact that God has found a means whereby a man can receive salvation from God by his act of believing faith. That requirement which stands chronologically before the salvation of every man is a means of demonstrating that God is righteous. In a later section of the book Paul will explain that God cannot and will not accept any other inadequate approach of man attempting to establish his own righteousness as equal or at least acceptable to a holy God. No, man’s feeble and inadequate attempts at earning salvation never can be accepted by a righteous God. This demonstrates the fact that He is indeed righteous. That he requires man simply to accept that fact, and the fact that God alone has been able to make a provision for fallen mankind which would be able to save all who would come by faith to Him, also demonstrates the righteousness of God.
c. Its ultimate revelation through believer’s who live by means of faith (1:17c)
I also conclude that the second “faith” found in Romans 1:17, “… to faith …,” looks forward to the life which the believer lives as a means of revealing the righteousness of God. Paul says: “… to faith, as it is written, ‘the [justified one] shall [continue to] live by [means of his daily] faith.”* That is precisely the meaning of this phrase in Habakkuk 2:4 where God promises that true believers in Jerusalem would continue to live by means of their faithfulness when the Babylonian army would invade and would slaughter and carry many off into captivity. Today he believer is the gospel’s product. Now that he has saving faith, he is to live his life by daily faith in such a way that it demonstrates to the unsaved that God is righteous. The product of the gospel, the true believer, should be a means of displaying to the world that God is righteous!
I am sure that at sometime you have heard a statement like this. “Many of the lost among whom we move never see anything of what Jesus Christ is like except as they see Him reflected in the transformation of our lives as believers.” This is what Romans 1:17b is talking about. Indeed, that is the thrust of the last half of the book of Romans. But that is not where Paul’s discussion of the nature and effect of the gospel begins. It begins with man’s need.
d. THE REAL NATURE OF THE GOSPEL WHICH PAUL PREACHED
Paul has said in Romans 1:15–16 that “… the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” But what is the gospel? That is a question which Paul will answer in great detail in the early chapters of the book of Romans. Undoubtedly the most concise statement of the details of the gospel is found in First Corinthians 15:1–8.
“Moreover, brothers, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached unto you, unless you have believed without full understanding. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen of Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James, then by all of the apostles. Then last of all he was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”*
In this remarkable statement Paul has answered the question which stumped many students in Dr. Charles Ryrie’s Soteriology class years ago. Paul already has reminded the Corinthian believers that the gospel was the essence of Paul’s preaching to them in his original contact with this needy city of Corinth. In an earlier chapter he already has emphasized this fact. He has said:
“And I, brothers, when I came to you, did not come with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1–2).
Secondly, Paul has reminded the Corinthian believers that they have made a profession of faith in the facts of that gospel and in the work performed by the Savior as described in the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1). Thirdly, he has assured them that their acceptance of the basic truths of the gospel had brought about their salvation unless they had believed without an adequate understanding of its message and meaning. What a warning this is to those who merely have externally reacted to the hearing of the gospel without due consideration and comprehension of its significance! (15:2). It is helpful for the English reader to recognize that Paul has used three totally different Greek words with distinctly different meanings, all of which are translated “in vain” in the King James Version. These three words occur in First Corinthians 15:2, 14 and 17. The word that he has used in verse 2 suggests the possibility that some of the congregation in Corinth may have only given a cursory, mental assent on their hearing of the gospel without full understanding and without real heart response. Finally, Paul has shown the Corinthians that the gospel which he preached was the very same one which he himself had received in the beginning (v. 3).
Now Paul actually defines the gospel here in 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 as he reemphasizes the truth that he had conveyed to the Corinthians when he had come to them in the first place. He divides that message into four essential elements.
1. The basic truth of the gospel is the truth that “Christ died for our sins …” in complete accord with the Old Testament prophecies which anticipated that great work (v. 3). This substitutionary sacrifice of the Savior is a cornerstone of Old Testament prophecy.
2. The second truth is “… that He was buried …” (v.3). And why is this so important? The answer lies in the fact that false teaching was arising even in that day which denied that the Lord Jesus ever had become incarnate or that the He was “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). An errant attitude on the part of some concerning the sinfulness of a human body had produced this error. False teachers had concluded that, since man sinned with his body, then the body was sinful. Therefore the Christ could not have come in human flesh. Thus they taught that the Christ was only a spirit being, a phantom who appeared to have a physical, human body but actually did not. Others taught that God came upon the human, Jesus, during His life on earth but had departed from Him on the cross.
There are several other variations into error which obscured, and still may obscure for many, that work which was accomplished by the Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
3. As the third key element of the gospel message, it is important to note that Paul taught that “Christ … was buried.” In complete fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises concerning God’s Son, Who was to be born as David’s son (2 Sam. 7:14 ff.), He died and was buried. Isaiah had prophesied of Him. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s announcements that He would be led as a sheep to the slaughter and would make His grave with the wicked, Israel’s Messiah, Christ the God Man, went to the cross, died and was buried.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:7–9).
4. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 the fourth truth of the gospel which Paul preached is “… that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4b). This also was prophesied by Isaiah. After prophesying concerning the death of the Messiah, Isaiah speaks of the prolonging of Messiah’s days. This undoubtedly is a veiled prophecy of the resurrection of the Messiah after His death for the sins of mankind.
“He shall see His seed. He shall prolong His days and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.… Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the spoil with the strong because He poured out His soul unto death and He was numbered with the transgressors and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:10b, 12).
It amazes me to see how few of those who are witnessing or are preaching for their Lord today, seeking to share the gospel with the lost, are careful to observe this very significant part of the gospel message. Yet the Apostle Paul clearly held the resurrection to be a vital part of the gospel as can be seen from this passage. Does not Paul explicitly say in Romans 10:9–10 “… that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Eternal Lord, and will believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”? Paul considered belief in the resurrection to be vital to the gospel so that it might accomplish one’s salvation.
A fifth vital element found in First Corinthians 15:1–9 is the fact that the resurrection was not some secret thing which we must simply take by faith without any evidence. 1 Corinthians 15:5–9 mentions six different individuals or groups that observed the resurrected Christ and who confirm that He did indeed arise from the dead. He was seen by Peter, by the twelve, by more than five hundred believers, many of whom still were alive when First Corinthians was written, again by all of the apostles and finally by Paul himself on the Damascus Road.
A Word to the Jewish Evangelist
Note that it is impossible to hold the position taught in Judaism today that this chapter is talking about the sufferings of the nation of Israel. Let the one who is seeking to help a Jew to see his spiritual plight carefully examine the following material. The passage is speaking of an individual who was stricken and who died “… for the transgressions of My people.…” Furthermore it will be seen in Isaiah 53:11 that this “Righteous Servant” would justify many in this death. One of the major problems which a Jew has in understanding this great section of Isaiah beginning at chapter 40 is the fact that nation of Israel repeatedly has been called the Lord’s servant. But it is clear from Isaiah 42 that this servant was a disobedient, blind and deaf servant (Isa. 42:18–25).
“Hear, you deaf ones, and look, you blind ones, that you may see who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger whom I have sent? Who is blind as he who is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe, opening the ears, but he does not hear. The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable. But this is a people [underlining mine], robbed and plundered. All of them are snared in holes and they are hidden in prison houses. They are for a prey, and no one delivers; For plunder, and no one says, ‘Restore!’ Who among all of you will give ear to this? Who will listen and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the Eternal Lord, He against whom we have sinned? [underlining mine to show that this really is speaking of the failing servant, the nation of Israel]. For they would not walk in His ways, nor were they obedient to His law. Therefore He has poured on them [a singular, as often in Hebrew, is used for a plural] the fury of His anger and the strength of battle; it has set him [i.e. the nation] on fire all around, yet he [the nation] did not know, and it burned him [i.e. the nation of Israel], yet they [a plural] did not take it to heart.”*
It is because the nation of Israel had failed in its relationship with the Lord and in its testimony to the Gentiles (Isa. 48:20–21) that another Servant would be appointed. He is the Messiah, the future, unfailing, replacement Servant of the Eternal Lord Who one day would suffer, when it would be true that “… for the transgressions of My people He was stricken …,” when it would “… please the LORD to bruise Him” and “… put Him to grief …” and “make His soul an offering for sin …” (Isa. 53:8–10). This suffering servant of the Eternal Lord was to be commissioned with a ministry for the nation of Israel “… as a covenant to the people …” [i.e. the nation of Israel] and one which even reached to provide “… light to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6). It is He who speaks to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 48.
“Come near to Me; hear this. I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me. Thus says the Eternal Lord, Your Redeemer, even the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Eternal Lord your God Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you be the way you should go. Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isa. 48:16–18).
Notice several crucial points.
1. Messiah is eternal.
2. Messiah would be sent by the Eternal Lord and by His Spirit.
3. Messiah, the Holy One, would become their Redeemer.
4. Messiah had given to the nation of Israel their commandments.
5. Messiah is Israel’s Rabbi or teacher.
6. Messiah could have given the nation of Israel peace and righteousness.
7. Israel had refused to heed Messiah’s commandments.
If the student of the Word will be careful in his research, he will recognize that this future, unfailing, replacement Servant of the Eternal Lord would find that His initial commission of re-gathering the nation of Israel would not be accomplished when He attempted to do that. He would be re-commissioned for the time to a greater ministry and only later would fulfill the promises concerning the re-gathering of the nation of Israel. He addresses the Gentiles and explains how His initial commission to regather Israel has been postponed and how He has been re-commissioned to be the light of the Gentiles as promised in Isaiah 42:6.
“Listen, O coastlands, to Me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! the Eternal Lord has called me from the womb; From the matrix of my mother He has made mention of My name.” [This has reference to the angelic communication with Joseph, His adopting father, concerning the name that should be given to the Messiah in His human birth. See Matthew 1:21–23].
“And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft. In His quiver He has hidden Me. And He said to Me: ‘You are My Servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified’ “ (Isa. 49:3).*
It is clear from the immediately following context that the nation of Israel is not being addressed here by the name “Israel,” but rather the Messiah. It is He Who was commissioned to regather that nation according to verses 5–6. The ancient meaning of the name given to Jacob in Genesis 32:28, “Prince with God,” is the meaning here. Here it is being applied to the ideal Israelite, the Messiah, whose initial commission had been to regather the nation of Israel. He speaks to the Gentiles of His failure to regather Jacob back to the Eternal Lord. And then this “Prince with God” is re-commissioned by the Eternal Lord.
“And now, the Eternal Lord, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him so that Israel is gathered to Him, says, ‘Yet will I be honorable in the eyes of the LORD and My God will be My strength.’ For He has proceeded to say: ‘Your being My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel was a light thing. For I will give You as a light of Gentiles to be My salvation to the end of the earth’ “ (Isa. 49:6–7).*
Surely the context of Isaiah 53 makes it very obvious that the Suffering Servant there is not the nation of Israel. It is the One whose re-gathering of the nation of Israel was refused by that nation. The Servant there is not the nation of Israel for it is impossible to hold either that the nation of Israel was righteous or that, in death, the nation would “… justify many” (Isa. 53:11).
It must be seen then that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is directly linked to our sins. “Christ died for our sins.” It was not that some awful tragedy occurred, as if an accident of history struck the Son of Man, or that somehow man succeeded in stepping ahead of the will of God. God had sent His Son into the world to die for man’s sins. According to the book of Revelation, that death which Christ died was part of the plan of God from eternity. John was led to speak of the Messiah as “… The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
It is very clear that God’s concern for man’s fallen state began in His heart long before He had even created us. That astounding truth is borne out in other passages as well. I do not fully understand that. My human mind is stretched to its limits attempting to comprehend that which is stated in Revelation 13:8. There are many implications in the plan of God which are beyond me but I still believe it for God’s Word tells me that it was so. Even so, we must recognize that the death of the Messiah in place of the sinner took him through the loss of physical life on the cross for us as He bore the judgment of God on our behalf. It took Him into the grave where His body lay for three days and three nights in our place. It took Him even to sheol (hell) where we ourselves fully deserved to spend eternity. According to Acts 2:25–31, David in one of the great Messianic Psalms, Psalm 16, foretold that fact 1,000 years before the event actually happened.
“Therefore My heart is glad and My glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope for you will not leave My soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show Me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa. 16:9–11).
It is obvious that the Psalm also foretold the fact that the Messiah would arise from sheol to reenter the path of life, and then ascending to the right hand of the Father in heaven. There He would return to the joys of communion which He had known from eternity. According to the great book of Hebrews, the Messiah is even now seated at the right hand of the Father, saving to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him (Heb. 7:24–25).
But to return to Romans 1:16 and the Apostle’s great statement about the work of the gospel, one finds Paul saying: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” This is not the first time that Paul has mentioned the gospel in this book. Already he has said that he has been made responsible both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the civilized and the uncivilized, to the wise and to the unwise, to carry to them the gospel of Christ. He therefore determined in this way: “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel …” (Rom. 1:14–15). Paul had been longing to carry the good news of the gospel unto the great city of Rome but the Lord deliberately had delayed him from going there. I believe that the Lord did this so that the Apostle would write this great epistle on the doctrine of salvation. It is the key source of information on Paul’s approach to soul-winning and to the soul-winner’s continuing sense of responsibility to the believers of this pagan city and unto us. It is an epistle in which the Apostle Paul sets forth more clearly and more precisely what God has done in the work of Jesus than may be found in any other part of the Bible. In this wonderful way, we who today treasure this great book of Romans profit marvelously from that hindrance which had kept Paul from preaching the gospel in Rome until later in his life. The purpose of this study on Paul’s development and use of the gospel is so that the reader may join the ranks of those who seek to sow the seed of the gospel in the most Biblical (and therefore the most effective) manner possible.
5. The way that God’s revelation of Himself to mankind through natural revelation unveils what God is like
As has been seen above, the gospel message itself is a means of revealing that God is righteous. How is that? How does the sinner who is examining the gospel, the good news, discover that God is infinitely more righteous than he himself is? By means of the standards which it reveals as part of the requirements which God has for salvation! (1:18–32). You see, the gospel begins with the truth that a man must be as righteous as God Himself in order to enter into His presence and find himself accepted before God. And the gospel which Paul preached and which we should also preach reveals this amazing requirement by showing the utter failure of all mankind to meet that standard. This is the significance of Paul’s statements in Romans 1:18–20.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness all unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.”
But there also is another means of revealing what God is like that is mentioned in this following context. It is what theologians have called “natural revelation.” You see, man also can learn much about what God is like through an examination of nature around him. Indeed, there is sufficient revealed about God in this vast form of revelation that man is held responsible. He must respond to it and to turn to seek God. As I have said, God soon will provide for that person the gospel which alone can save. The rest of Romans 1 is devoted to the awful deterioration of the human race because it has largely turned away even from this universal form of revelation concerning God. It also sets forth the wrath of God which can only come up on those who have rejected the knowledge of God which was available to them.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God has been manifest in them for God has showed it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhood, so that they are without excuse” (1:18–20). *
The rest of chapter one is filled with evidence that the heart of man is exceedingly wicked. It explains that man has turned from those things which he could know about God to the worship of man-like images made by his own hands and even to the worship of the very creatures which God had made. It speaks of mankind’s descent to follow every vile way, even to the worshipping of their own bodies and misusing them to satisfy their base affections.
“… Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness in the lusts of their hearts to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:21–25).
Paul shows that the degradation of the human race has resulted in all kinds of unrighteousness since men are unwilling even to retain God in their knowledge. He shows that the result is a completely self-centered, anti-social way of life which ignores its terrible effect on the rest of society and fully deserves the judgment of God which it will receive.
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful, who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (1:28–32).
One does not need to listen to the morning or evening news or read the newspaper very long before he is faced with the realization that this attitude toward God, toward fellowman, toward mate and toward self prevails in our decadent society. This remarkable picture of the fallen nature of mankind is why the Apostle Paul begins to present the gospel with the fact that man totally lacks righteousness of himself before God. A man or woman must recognize the helplessness of his estate before God before he can understand why the only hope that he has is found in the work which God has done on his behalf. Not everyone tries to introduce the gospel in this way. But this is the Biblical way. Paul begins by nailing our shoes to the floor and by showing that there is no way possible for us even to approach God. We are under the wrath of God and we simply are defenseless. The theme of the gospel picks up in the book in chapter 1:15 where Paul speaks of his own readiness to come and to speak to them.
a. Man already is condemned by his rejection of natural revelation (1:18–20)
God does not always begin to speak to an unbeliever through the witness of the transformed life of someone who already has believed. He already has provided a testimony which is almost entirely rejected by man today. Those who follow a uniformitarian, evolutionary explanation of the origins of the heavens and earth and all life on earth already have rejected a universal testimony which God has given about Himself. Again notice the impact of Romans 1:18–20.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible things [His invisible attributes], are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhood, so that they are without excuse.”
The passage reveals that mankind could have learned much about God through natural revelation even though they did not have the written Word of God through which He could speak to them. That which was true centuries ago of untaught people in remote places is no less true of those today among those who are highly enlightened and who consider themselves scientists, the repository of all knowledge about earth and its universe’s history. Mankind today rejects the very evidences which were designed to help us to recognize that God is the Creator and to understand what He is like in many ways. As a result, many distort the message brought by the evidence and wrongly proclaim the message, “There is no God!” The truth is found in the following great testimony. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse of the atmosphere [and everything in it] shows His handiwork” (Psa. 19:1).
This testimony of God’s creation is not a form of revelation which will save a man but it does turn people to the Lord. Paul in Romans One is echoing David’s thoughts in Psalm 19. There the Psalmist speaks of the worldwide testimony of natural revelation in verses 1–6. Then he turns to the Word of God in verses 7–11 to show that its testimony alone is that which turns a person from a life of sin to the Lord.
I myself am an example of how that happens. I was saved as a result of God’s work of speaking to me through natural revelation. He used a great silver rainbow at night over fifty one years ago to awaken me to my need of Him. In 1943 and 1944 I used to lie on the grass on the scanty lawn behind my barracks on the island of Maui at night, resting after a hard day of working on Navy Grumman Hellcats and Chance Vought Corsairs on the fighter line of our land based Carrier Aircraft Service Unit. One night to my amazement I watched an amazing heavenly phenomenon. The clouds, driven by the warm, humid westerly trade winds, climbed the volcanoes on the northern end of Maui and there begin to rain. The beautiful Maui full moon shining through the falling mist produced a great silver rainbow. It was there that conviction of my lost estate came over my soul. I responded that very night with the tearful cry: “Lord, save me!”
Now God never has been in the business of saving people simply by means of nighttime rainbows, although in that case He did use that means to awaken me to my desperate need. In the more than half a century that has followed that event I have never seen a another rainbow at night. Surely that one was displayed that night in October just for my benefit. Were it possible for God to answer a lost man’s cry for salvation simply on the basis of a silver rainbow, earth would have been encircled with rainbows every day since creation! No, I needed to know about the work of a member of the Godhead. I needed to know how His work on the cross of Calvary opened the door for me to receive God’s free gift of salvation. In response to my prayer He led me all of the way from Hawaii to Chicago through scores of decisions that otherwise would have made me miss a crucial, one evening only connection. But God brought me there at precisely the right time so that I might meet someone very special who was prepared to explain to me that work of Christ which I needed to know about.
She explained to me how Christ’s work on the cross was God’s special provision for my spiritual need. I had met her at the head of the stairs of the Christian Businessmen’s Servicemen’s Center on the first night that I was in Chicago for the purpose of beginning an advanced course in Aviation Engine Mechanics training. God had led me through a multitude of decisions, delays, and sidetracks, timing my arrival at the head of those stairs to be there on the one night that she would ever be there. She had been recommended by her pastor to the Serviceman’s Center to work in the evenings as a hostess, but she was there that one night only to explain that she was attending Moody’s night school program after working all day at First National Bank. Her life was further complicated in that she was directing the Young People’s program at her church and in organizing and her work of planning the meetings that the church held at several missions in the Chicago area. She had arrived that night only for the purpose of telling the director that she could not possibly do the work for which she had been recommended. Mr. Wheatley had begged her to stay that one night because the Servicemen’s Center had been depending upon her presence. As a result, she finally had sent her brother and girl friend on to Moody Church to a Youth For Christ meeting and had stayed. Thank God, she stayed by His appointment for my sake!
I marvel at the grace and at the might of God! For my sake the winds were laden with moisture and blew from just the right direction so that the rainfall might be illuminated just right by that great silver moon. It was in precisely the right part of the heavens! He in His grace then had led me through a multitude of decisions affecting me so that I might arrive at the head of those stairs at precisely the right time. He had moved the Navy to give me my papers so that I had left the Islands days before my 18 months normally expected were up. He moved me to choose to go on my first Navy leave when I arrived at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay rather than to take my leave after finishing my advance mechanic’s training in southeastern Chicago. He arranged for me to be bumped from the flight which I had scheduled from Seattle to Chicago as my leave drew to a close. At the same time He already had moved me to recognize the possibility of that happening with the result that I deliberately had arrived in Seattle three days early. He then arranged the trip across the northern states in a pokey old railroad car that had 8 berths, a pot belly stove and a kitchen in one end. It was He who arranged that I should not be able to find a room that night, December 2, 1944 there in Chicago.
And undoubtedly it was the Lord who led someone at one of the large hotels in the loop of downtown Chicago to suggest that I try the Christian Businessmen’s Serviceman’s Center, that they might help me to find a room for the night. He who brings each star forth by number (Isaiah 40) brought both of us together just at the right time so that Nita could begin explaining the gospel to a lost and heavy hearted sailor. She did not know that this actually was the responsibility of the men at the Center, but then that too was of the Lord. My heart was ready when finally she quietly was notified that she was not supposed to try to lead servicemen to the Lord. After her careful witness, it took no more than fifteen minutes with Mr. Wheatley, while she and another girl were praying in the bathroom for me that I might open my heart to Christ. At that point I received all that the Lord had provided for me in His death to take away my sins. You may wonder about this girl Nita. Right. I knew a good thing when I saw it! In December of 1995 she and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary! When God gives, He fills the cup full and running over!
Now notice that God led me all of the way from Hawaii to Illinois in order for me to hear God’s solution to my sin problem to which I was so sensitive far out in the Pacific. God always hears the heart cry of a person who has been made sensitive to the shambles of his or her life and who cries out to Him for His help. He in His great kindness will send someone to that person (or that person to someone) who can give him or her the rest of the message which is needed for salvation to become that person’s possession.
I had not fully understood the consequence of my sinfulness for my own life in the 19 years that I had been wandering along, apart from God. I had thought, before He began to bring conviction on my heart, that there was nothing in my life which might make me a stranger to God and to His life. I can so plainly remember the day when, as a 12 year old boy, I quoted Psalm 23:1 to my mother’s amazement. I had seen it on the back of a Sunday School Quarterly that at one time lay on the little 6 volt radio in our front room. The words, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” sounded good to me. Indeed the few words that I had understood when I had attended Turkey Creek Sunday School for a time had sounded good but I really had not understood them.
Actually I was not the Lord’s sheep, neither was He my Shepherd for I had not asked Him to be part of His sheep fold. How kind He had been when He spared my life when I had walked through the 12 foot propeller of a Navy Vought Corsair on the flight deck of the Enterprise, CV-6, just before the pilot hit the starter switch. How kind He was when He held that pilot’s thumb and later called me into that fold to make me one of His sheep! But until then I needed to know what every man needs to know, that I had no righteousness in myself or in any of my works which could possibly satisfy a righteous God.
b. Mankind’s departure from the witness of natural revelation. (1:21–23)
Although mankind seldom recognizes it, we already are condemned by our rejection of a form of revelation which God gives to every man on the face of the earth. Paul explains in these verses the fact that mankind always has had a witness which has been provided by God. He is speaking of natural revelation, the revelation that comes to all men through the great and continual testimony of God’s creation. But man has turned from that which they could have known about the true God to provide gods of their own.
“Because that, although they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful: but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things” (1:21–24).
Surely here Paul is referring to those early centuries of the human race.
c. God’s resignation of the sinful race to its own way. (1:24–32)
Paul’s description of the awful perversion of mankind which fills Romans 1:21 through 32 is the direct result of mankind’s rejection of the testimony which He has given to them through natural revelation. It is a perversion which debases the race and leads it into all kinds of false religion and self centered preoccupation and sexual corruption which simply leads all of Adam’s offspring farther and farther away from God.
Yes, the passage shows the awful corruption of the human race that results from mankind’s turning away from that which may be known about God through natural revelation. Man according to verse 23 refuses to glorify Him as God, to acknowledge that He is the Creator. They refuse to be thankful and become vain in their imaginations. Their foolish hearts are darkened, professing themselves to be wise, the Ph.D.’s become fools. That is precisely what Paul is saying! These change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, to birds, four footed creatures and creeping things. As you go out into the world you will meet people who to one degree or another actually are worshipping these things rather than the true and living God. The adoring title that so often is given to our planet, that so often is heard in ecologist circles, “mother earth,” is but an expression of a long-standing tendency of man to worship the created above the Creator. One can meet people who have turned to all manner of uncleanness because they have rejected that which they could have known about God. In effect they have turned to the worship of their own bodies. The satisfaction of their own lusts becomes the driving force of their lives.
The first thing that the lost person needs to know to prepare him for salvation is the fact that he is totally and wholly without any righteousness before God, no matter how good he has been in their own eyes or how hard they have striven to please God in his lives. It may seem strange to us, in a world which we see as stained and ruled by sin, to find it necessary to explain to an unsaved man that he is a sinner. But the very first step that an unsaved man must take toward the Lord and toward the obtaining of salvation from the Lord is for him to recognize this fact: “I am a sinner!” In other words, Paul simply strips the whole world of any claim to a standing before God which would enable them to be received before Him. But such an approach would seem to leave man without any avenue of approach to God if the whole world stands guilty of sin before Him. That is precisely Paul’s point! Apart from the recognition of that fact, the lost rarely will recognize that they have need for God to help them to resolve their insoluble problem of lacking righteousness which is acceptable to God and which would permit one to stand accepted before Him. And the soul-winner must recognize that the fact that we all are hopeless, helpless sinners is Paul’s major emphasis of the first section of the book of Romans, 1:18–3:20. He repeatedly says in many ways: “Man has no righteousness of his own in which to stand before God!”
D. The Plight of the Self-righteous Jew. (2:1–3:8)
Some will say: “Hah! We are not like that!” Some will say: “Hah! You Gentiles! You deserve to be judged! But we are not like that!” God deals in chapter 2 with the religious in that day when Paul wrote these words. He begins to show us how he dealt with this problem. Indeed, Paul continues to deal with the Jew throughout the rest of this letter to the Romans. While writing this letter, Paul is helping the Roman Christians to see how to minister to those who think that they are above those gentiles and that they have a righteousness which will qualify them to satisfy God.
Yes, you will meet many people in the world who think that they have a righteousness which will please God. I met two of them on a narrow trail high in the Himalayas. They had bones from tombs strung around their necks. Their clothing was matted and their faces all grotesquely painted. They thought that by isolating themselves from all of their families and friends, from all that they loved, they were gaining righteousness which somehow would benefit them someday. I saw many whose religious inclinations caused them to wear saffron robes and carry begging bowls, thinking that somehow they could reach a place so that eventually they would satify God. There are many people who fall into this pattern which is described in chapter two. They are those who think that they can provide their own self-righteousness and thereby satisfy the righteous demands of God. One of the things that the soul-winner needs to develop as he is trying to help the lost man to see that he does not have righteousness worthy of the presence of a Holy God is the gentle ability to show him that he can do nothing to please his Creator. Nothing that he can offer to God can prepare him to stand in a holy and just God’s presence. This is the ultimate test. “Can you walk into the presence of God as you are now?” The answer must be “No” if the truth is admitted.
It helps to remember a story from the book of Esther. The queen needed to come unbidden into the presence of king Xerxes and plead for the lives of her own Jewish people. Had not the king extended his golden scepter to her, she would have been killed. Just as she had to be accepted by the King as one who was invited at that moment to come into the King’s presence, even so one must be accepted as one worthy to be in the Lord’s presence. God will not extend His golden scepter to anyone who has not come to Him through the avenue that He Himself has provided, that is, by means of His own Son. It is not difficult to see that Paul in chapter two was seeking to open the eyes of the religiously proud and self sufficient to this fact. They were and are those who are confident that they have lived their life on a much higher plane than “those filthy people who are so graphically described in chapter one!”
Have you noticed that Paul has neglected to open his presentation of the gospel with “God loves you! He has a wonderful plan for your life!” Surely you have noticed that such an approach is nowhere to be found in Paul’s introduction of the gospel as he wrote to the Roman believers. There is not a trace of this approach which seeks to soften the harsh truth that no man is qualified in any way to stand in the presence of God in his own righteousness. And this should tell you something. That approach so often used to day in witnessing does not introduce the gospel with anything which the unsaved man needs to know. The unsaved man needs to know that he has absolutely no righteous standing in the presence of God. And that is precisely the approach to the need of fallen man which Paul is using here in the beginning of the book of Romans. First of all he has pinned us Gentiles down with our backs to the ground. And then in chapter two he has turned to the self-righteous to show them that they have precisely the same problem. Now the Jew would scoff at the Gentile. Look at chapter 2 verse one. They would scoff at the Gentiles and say: “Well! We are much better than they are!” Paul says: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things” (2:1).
I am sure that these words did not set very well with Paul’s own people. “Oh, Paul, perhaps you should have said: ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life!’ ” But he did not. He said: “You, my brethren, are busted! You have no future before God in your present state.” In the rest of chapter two Paul sets aside every thing that one of his own people might think to bring as proof of his own self-righteousness. And as you examine Romans 1:16–3:20, you will find a continuing, positive emphasis upon the wonderful truth that God alone is righteous. Before Him man is utterly without hope of saving himself or of presenting himself worthily before this Holy God.
Today we can go into any number of our courts in this land and find judgment being made which is according to falsehood. Judges and juries continually are bringing decisions based upon a false basis. People are being excused of their crimes because of some trite “legal” twist which is injected into the proceedings. Our lawyers so often have become those who have sought to skirt and even pervert the law in order to win their cases. Often they actually work to prevent the commandment of the law of our land from being fulfilled. In a real sense that is parallel to what is found here in Romans 2. Paul’s own people of the flesh knew the law. That was not the problem. They thought that they had found ways of getting around the law but God says in verse 6 that He is going to “… render to every man according to his deeds.” When the final judgment in Revelation 20:11–15 takes place, you will see that precisely that is the way that unsaved man will be judged. All of the unjust of all ages will be resurrected to stand before the One who could have been their Savior at that time. The sea will give the dead whose bodies have disintegrated in it.
“I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened. And another book was opened which is the book of life and the dead were judged according to their works by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).
Of key importance is the phrase, “… according to their works.” The truth is that the man who would offer God his works should be honest with himself. His works are not of a nature that they ever will save him. His works are actually going to be the basis for his judgment in that last day. “The sea gave up the dead which were in it and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them.…” I think that now John is referring not to the body but to the soul and spirit of man which had gone to hell. Those who have been kept there will be resurrected! And they will stand before God, explicitly before Christ “… and they were judged, every man according to their works …” and they will be cast into their eternal destination.
Often I hear “evangelists” say to the lost: “You are going to burn in hell forever and ever!” That is not true! This very passage shows that hell is going to be emptied one of these days and its occupants will be cast into the lake of fire! That, not hell, is the eternal destiny of the lost. Hell is only a temporary place of judgment which will be emptied when God is ready to empty it. But that doesn’t mean that he is ready to forgive those who have gone there. They will go into eternal judgment in the lake of fire. They will in their eternal judgment be in the same place as the Devil and his angels in their eternal punishment. I am alluding to Revelation 20:10 which speaks of the judgment of the fallen angels. Indeed the sinner must come to know that, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so is God’s righteousness higher than anything that man could possibly offer the Creator as a basis for the forgiveness of his own sins and for admission into God’s presence. God Himself must extend the royal scepter entirely apart from anything that the one who comes to Him may offer.
1. God’s judgment of the self-righteous with the reprobate (2:1–29)
a. The self-righteous ones are condemned with the reprobate (2:1)
Those of mankind who have turned to one of man’s many man made religions must learn that the righteousness of God requires righteousness on their part which is far greater than that achieved by any follower of man made religions. So often these scoff at the poor pagan, little realizing that they are no better than those in the eyes of a righteous God. It assures even the most religious that they will come under the judgment of God. Paul does this by showing that even those who attempt to gain righteousness by trying to keep the Old Testament Law and its standards are falling short of the righteousness of God. In Romans 2 Paul speaks directly to the nation of Israel to illustrate the problem, for they of all people would have been most likely to be self-satisfied and complacent with the conclusion that their works were fully meeting God’s demands. The Jew lives in the great danger of attempting to establish a level of righteousness by means of his own works will satisfy God. God says the things of Romans 2 to those who would be satisfied with that kind of self-salvation or autosoterism and would give their own conduct as a defense of themselves.
Of course there are many, both Jews and Gentiles who will say: “Oh, I am not like that! I am not a fornicator. I do not do wickedness and am not malicious like those who are described in Romans 1. I do not practice murder, debate or deceit. I am not a bad person!” Here in chapter 2 and verse 1 Paul begins to show that those who set up that kind of a defense for themselves actually are in the same boat as those people who really do those horrible things. He explains why in verse one. “Therefore you are inexcusable, oh man, whoever you are who judges, for wherein you judge another you condemn yourself, for you who are judging are doing the same things.”
b. God’s judgment is according to truth and man’s works without respect for person or race on the basis of the gospel (2:2–16)
Paul precisely demonstrates that God’s judgment will not follow the debased system of judgment found in so many of man’s courts. “… We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things” (2:3). He attempts to awaken man to the evidences of God’s great goodness and long-suffering as evidenced in His wonderful providence and in the fact that He has not destroyed rebellious man long ago.
“And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things [that have been mentioned in chapter 1], and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering: not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (2:3–4).
God in effect says “Do you think that you who are judging those who are doing those things, when you are doing the same things, are you going to escape judgment?” The answer, “No!” follows through in the entire chapter as Paul shows that the Jew and Gentile, the righteous one and the wicked one, face the same judgment. As I have said, Paul is very much emphasizing a ministry to Israel in this book. In chapter 2 Paul actually is speaking to the nation of Israel who would mock the waywardness of the Gentile. But at the same time he speaks with major overtones which affect the Gentile as well. While many of Israel would speak of the Gentile as being like those who are described in chapter 1, yet Paul says that they themselves are guilty of the same things. He promises those who exalt themselves that “… there is no partiality with God” (2:11). After all, it is “… not the hearers of the law who are just in the sight of God but the doers of the law will be justified” (2:13). And Paul makes it very plain in the next chapter that there is no one who succeeds in being justified by the works of the law. God will show no respect of persons “… in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (2:16).
c. The folly of Israel in depending upon the law for righteousness (2:17–20)
This section unquestionably demonstrates that Paul was not simply writing the book of Romans to the Gentile majority in that great city. It powerfully deals with the waywardness of the nation of Israel and with their folly of thinking that, because of their privileged position as the chosen people, they could get away with disobeying and dishonoring God by breaking the law. Israel was foolish. They depended upon the Mosaic law for their righteousness. Yet they chose to break the law. Paul sets forth eleven different things in this passage on which the Jews were depending.
“Indeed, you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law” (2:17–20).
The entire passage speaks of these who held themselves to be righteous but they themselves were doing the very things that they condemned. This is stated in verses 21 and following.
“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say,” Do not commit adultery, “do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (2:21–23).
Oh yes, these were problems troubling the lives of these who were certain that their righteousness was sufficient to prepare them for the presence of a Holy God. But things easily were forgotten. Remember the account of the woman who was taken in adultery and brought before Jesus.
“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act’. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say? This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her. ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’ “ (Jn. 8:3–11).
The men who had dragged her before the Lord Jesus simply melted away when the eyes of the Lord lifted from the sand before her where he was writing. Before His gaze their own consciences abruptly were exposed. Perhaps it had something to do with that which He had written in the sand. Perhaps it was one look into His penetrating eyes that made it clear to all involved that they were guilty of the very thing of which they accused her. But certainly His words burned their way through the shield which they had built around their consciences over the years as they had hidden away in their minds the fact that they also were breakers of the Mosaic law. They quickly left because they recognized that, according to the law, they deserved the same judgment that they were demanding for that woman. In this passage Paul is echoing the sharp thrust of the words of the Lord Jesus as he seeks to break through the crust of pride which conceals the truth in the hearts of those who were self-righteous.
In verse 24 Paul alludes to a passage in Ezekiel 36:20. “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you!” It is worthwhile to examine the context which Paul was quoting. I have often preached through Ezekiel 34–36 in prophetic conferences. It is a passage which anticipates Israel’s present return in unbelief to the land of Israel. In Ezekiel 35 the prophet describes the disposition of the Arabs who would be occupying the land when that return began to take place. At verse 16 of Ezekiel 36 God begins through Ezekiel to explain how He would deal with the nation at that day when they would return to their land in unbelief.
“Moreover the word of the Eternal Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the Eternal Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land. ‘But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: ‘I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst, and the nations shall know that I am the Eternal Lord,’ says the Lord God, ‘when I am hallowed in you before their eyes” (Ezek. 36:17–23).
Now it is crucial that one remembers the context. This passage could only be fulfilled at a time when a people who were directly related to Mt. Seir (Petra) were occupying that land which they now want to call “Palestine.” Neither are there any Philistines living today (from which the name “Palestine” is derived), nor are any of the Arab peoples truly Palestinians. This is a name choice for the land which avoids the memory that this land was the land of Israel, having been in the hands of Jacob’s descendants for many centuries before their exile by the Lord. It was crucial that these Arab peoples had to occupy the temple site as described in Ezekiel 36:3 before this return in unbelief could take place. It was necessary for an amalgamation of peoples who were joined to those from ancient Petra to have occupied as their own, these lands which the Eternal Lord had given to the people of Israel for an eternal inheritance (Ezek. 36:4–5). Furthermore the prophetic statement of Ezekiel concerning the thoughtless way that the Arab peoples would treat the land had to be fulfilled before that return in unbelief could take place. For Ezekiel has spoken of the way that they would abuse
“… the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the valleys, the desolate wastes, and the cities that have been forsaken, which became plunder and mockery to the rest of the nations all around …” (Ezek. 36:4).
Long ago I read a book by a botanist who had been appointed to survey the land of Jordan by the Jordanian king of that time. I still remember vividly the first sentence of the book long after I have forgotten the names of the king, the book and the author. He said: “Jordan is the world’s greatest man made desert.” It must be recognized that before the turn of the century this included all of the land of Israel which was entirely in Arab hands. Ezekiel spoke of the anger of the Lord and of His
“… burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave My land to themselves as a possession, with wholehearted joy and spiteful minds, in order to plunder its open country” (Ezek. 36:5).
In this same passage, which could not possibly have been fulfilled at any time prior to the present return, the prophet is led to say for the Lord:
“Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds” (Ezek. 36:17–19).
This scattering of the people of Israel throughout the nations of the world was very effective. I have recognized this in my many contacts with people from East India. I cannot return to help these people to have the Word of God in their own languages because of my new metal aorta valve replacing a tired bicuspid valve. Because of that, my blood thinness must be carefully regulated so the valve will not clog. In the Himalayas or on the fringes of the Sahara Desert is no safe place to have that done!
In my last work among the tribal peoples of East India, as we met in the high foothills of the Himalayas to check new Bible translation work for these peoples, I worked with some very interesting pastor/translators. These are men who had been to English speaking Bible Colleges or Bible Institutes years ago when missionaries were allowed in their area. Today these men preach from an English Bible translation because English became the trade language of India which bridges the 600 to 1,200 languages and dialects of India’s 800,000,000 people. Since most of these tribal peoples of East India do not have Bibles in their own languages, their pastors translate as they preach to their congregations, and most of their congregations cannot read English, the trade language. We met so I could check the accuracy of their written translation work (which we in Bibles International had helped them to produce) against the original languages of the Old and New Testaments. As they were back-translating their translation work into English so that I could cross check that against the original Biblical languages for accuracy, a fascinating fact about the dispersion of the nation of Israel came to light. We were checking chapter 23 of the book of Leviticus, a passage which describes the way that Israel was to keep the Feasts of the Eternal Lord. We were checking the section which describes how Israel kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread after Passover. Suddenly Mani Singh of the Manipuri tribe spoke up. “Uncle, (their address of respect for me),” this feast of unleavened bread! We in our tribe have exactly the same ceremony every springtime! Every spring we carefully search out every fragment of leavened bread from our houses in a special ceremony. “And quickly two other representatives from the Paite and the Tedim Chin tribes of East India and Burma spoke up saying that the same was true in their tribes.
I responded: “Do you know what you have just told me? Within your veins flows the blood of the peoples of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Your ancestors were deported by the Assyrians sometime between 745 and 721 B.C. and were scattered far to the east. A faint memory of your Jewish customs still is being retained here in spite of the fact that your deported ancestors have intermarried with the peoples of the mountains of East India. You have Jewish blood flowing in your veins. You are part of the so called ‘lost 10 tribes of Israel!’ One day when the Lord returns to earth seven years after the rapture to establish the long promised Messianic kingdom on earth, He will send his angels to regather those surviving members of your tribes who have not already accepted Christ as your Savior. You who are Christians already will be with Christ as a result of the rapture seven years earlier!” It was a very interesting time to watch understanding of their heritage begin to flow through the minds of these godly mountain pastors who now are faithful servants of their Messiah and dear friends of mine!
That which I found in India acknowledges precisely what God did. He says: “So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds” (Ezek. 36:19). And now we finally arrive in Ezekiel at the reason why I have turned here to this passage. “And when they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of His land” (v. 20). This anticipates the arrogant pride which characterized these physical descendants of Father Abraham as they were thrust out among the nations. “Don’t touch me, you polluted Gentile dog! I am a Jew!” “Well, then, what are you doing here in my land?” “Ah, God has cast His people out of their land!” God’s reaction to that exclusivistic attitude which both scorned the poor Gentile and placed the blame for the exile on God is found in the phrase, “… they profaned my holy name!”
That attitude is exactly what Paul is referring to here in Romans. In Romans 2:24 he says: For “… the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written.…” Unquestionably Paul is referring back to the Eternal Lord’s words spoken to Israel long ago through the prophet Ezekiel. And this theme of Israel’s unjustifiable pride and self-sufficiency which he has introduced here is a theme with which Paul will deal powerfully in chapter four of Romans. He will say that circumcision profits only if you will keep the Mosaic law. But if you are a law breaker, circumcision is not only worthless; it is made to be uncircumcision! And of course the Jew touts his circumcision as an sign that he is someone special!
d. Israel’s utter failure to practice what they preached (2:21–29)
The Apostle seeks to remove the veil of darkness from the eyes of his own Jewish people who were in Rome by showing them that their boast in the law and their confidence in God’s approval of them and of their ways wholly is negated by their actual conduct. “You who make your boast of the law, do you dishonor God through law breaking? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you …” (2:23–24). At this point in his development of his argument Paul clearly sets aside those who conduct themselves in this manner as not even qualifying to be called a Jew. The emptiness of ceremony and practice on the part of the religious man dramatically is set forth in Paul’s rejection of that great sign of the covenant in which the men of Israel prided themselves.
“… He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that [true] circumcision which is merely outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly and [true] circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God” (2:29).
Paul will repeat the thought later in chapter 9 as he is developing a key section on the future of the nation. There he says:
“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.… He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her believed, who was not my beloved.’ And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:6–8, 25–26).
Circumcision that is valid is that which is of the heart affecting one’s conduct and not merely following the letter of the law through a physical, external act. Deuteronomy 10:16–21 is that passage and explanation of circumcision which Paul has in mind. In this passage the Lord is saying something very relevant through Moses.
“Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Eternal Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. You shall fear the Eternal Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.”
What does “stiff-necked” mean in verse 16? How was this command to affect the Jew? The answer lies in verse 19. “Love the stranger!” And in verse 20 he commands: “… Fear the Eternal Lord your God; you shall serve Him and to Him you shall hold fast and take oaths in His name!” The prophet Jeremiah develops the same thought. In Jeremiah 4:4 the prophet is led to say: “Circumcise yourselves to the Eternal Lord. Take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem lest my fury come like fire and burn that none can quench it.”
Strangely enough, Israel never consistently remembered these exhortations in the Old Testament. It is always possible to explain that sort of thing away and callous the heart and conscience. That is exactly what happened.
But the proud, religious Gentile needs to remember that neither is one a Christian who is one only outwardly. There must be a change in the heart. The reader will find much emphasis on this theme as he comes to examine Paul’s emphasis upon the conduct of the believer, the product of the gospel which he develops in the latter section of the book. Every man and woman needs to know the next step which the soul-winner should take so that he or she too may know what can be done to deliver them from the oppression of the voice of their inner consciousness. That inner voice keeps reminding them that they have a need that they cannot meet by themselves in their own strength or by their own ingenuity. Paul now turns to explain the conclusion of this first step of soulwinning. It is not only the Jew who comes under the condemnation of this passage. The Gentile need not think that he has escaped its condemnation for the Apostle now shows that every man faces the same inner problem. They do not have righteousness.
2. God demonstrates that all mankind is under condemnation and lacks righteousness before Him (3:1–20)
a. Israel’s complaint of lack of advantage in being placed on a level with the lost Gentile (3:1–4)
Already Paul has shown the utter bankrupcy of the Gentiles in Romans one. He now in chapter two has left the legalistic but unrighteous Jew exposed in the blinding glare of reality. In the first great section of chapter three, the first twenty verses, he brings both of them together under the same inescapable condemnation. That which he has said about the Gentiles he also says about the Jew. In this section of the book Paul shows that all mankind is in the same boat and it is not the ark which saved Noah and his family! All mankind is under condemnation.
First of all the Jew begins by objecting. “Well then, where is the advantage of being a Jew? What profit is my circumcision?” “What advantage then does the Jew have? Or what profit is there in the rite of circumcision?” (3:1). He answers the question himself, showing that the Jew had the remarkable trust of the Word of God placed in his hands (v. 2). Once again he acts as the devil’s advocate by stating an argument which a keen Jewish mind might have raised. “… What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief disannul faith in God?” (3:3). Again he responds using a theological argument which speaks of the truthfulness of God. He quotes David as he agonizes over his own great sin with Bathsheba: “That You [God] might be justified in that which You say and that You [God] might overcome when someone judges You [God]” (3:4). And once again Paul picks up the argument of the Jew who is seeking to justify himself before God, even though the argument is a tacit confession of the failure of the one raising the argument.
b. The rejection of Israel’s attempt to justify their unrighteousness (3:5–8)
In a sense Paul has played “the devil’s advocate” and raised the very questions which would have been troubling the Jew after the astonishing section which closes chapter two. And Paul, who actually has raised the question for the his own people, now gives the answer. “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God!” (3:2). You will find that Paul redevelops this train of thought again in chapter nine. There he begins dealing with a section on prophecy concerning the future of the nation of Israel. This subject of prophecy is something that the Soulwinner should teach a new believer. In Romans 9–11 Paul is focusing on the future of the nation of Israel in particular though not fully. He shows that there were great things that had come to the nation of Israel and yet they missed the boat. Some would say, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3). Paul’s response to such an idea is framed as strongly as it is possible in the Greek language. “Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome them when You are judged” (Rom. 3:4). Yes, men judge God! Then Paul’s verbal adversaries respond: “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?” (Rom. 5a). When a jeweler wants to sell a young man a beautiful diamond to present to his girl friend, he places it on black velvet and shines a light upon it so that the contrast of the black velvet which absorbs the light brings out the beauty of the stone. That is the kind of an argument which is being framed here. “If the black cloth of our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, then what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who takes vengeance upon us sinners?”
Paul is of course arguing as a “devil’s advocate.” He is taking the other man’s position and setting it forth so he can correct it. Thus he says: “I speak as a man!” “God forbid, for then how will God judge the world?” (Rom. 3:6). Now, even though it is true that our unrighteousness makes it all the easier to see the fact that God is righteous, that does not justify us. It simply shows that God is righteous. That is part of the argument of the first chapter. God’s judgment of the unrighteous shows what He is like. He is righteous! That fact is exactly that which the unsaved man must recognize if ever he would learn to discard his own feeble efforts at attaining righteousness which would be acceptable in God’s eyes. God is not a man, is not brought down to our level like the Greeks brought their gods down to their levels, doing the wicked things that man do. No, God is perfectly righteous and he will deal with every man in perfect justice. The Jew would think in this way. “The fact that we are unrighteous demonstrates the righteousness of God. Then would God be unjust to judge us? Would He take vengeance on us? If our being bad produces something good, isn’t that good?” You will find this theme being developed in chapter 6 also. The question which opens chapter 6 says: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in [the control of] the sin nature in order that grace may abound?” Once again Paul strongly objects to the idea with the Greek way of saying: “Absolutely not!” This is the kind of an argument that some might use. “When I live my life in the gutter, its contrast with God and His ways shows how righteous God really is!” And thus the sinner’s question: “Is God just when I show how righteous he is?” Later in the book we will find that the believer’s righteous life actually is a means of showing the sinner just how righteous God is by the transformation of that believer’s life when he believed. But had the sinner been successful in arguing in that way, he would be saying that God would not be just in judging the world for its wickedness. And note that the question of the sinner actually is a tacit confession of his own failure to live in a way that is acceptable to God.
c. The placing of both Jew and Gentile equally under sin (3:9–19)
In chapter 3 Paul has brought his argument concerning the sinfulness of mankind to a climax. He shows that every man on the face of the earth lacks righteousness before the holy God. In verses 9–12 He focuses on all mankind, regardless of whether he be speaking to Jew or to Gentile. It doesn’t matter where in the world the evangelist goes when carrying out Christ’s great commission of evangelism, this section will be valuable to him. Much of it comes out of Isaiah 58 and some of it from Psalm 14 and from other Psalms. Paul shows that both Jew and Gentile are all under sin. He says that he has
“… Previously charged both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They are all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one” (3:9–12).
It does not matter who they are or how religious men are, all fall in the same pit, having no righteousness and are worthy of God’s judgment. “There is none righteous, no not one.” Verse 19 closes: “… in order that all the world may become guilty before God.” Remember that according to Paul in Romans 3:9 he clearly is talking about every man whether he is a Jew or a Gentiles. Verses 13–18 leaves no doubt whatsoever about the dreadful condition of lost man. Paul is describing the way that each one of us appears in the eyes of a holy God. It is the righteousness of God which places all under condemnation because His righteousness is infinitely above that of any man. And apart from that kind of righteousness it is impossible for a man to approach the presence of God and find acceptance by an infinitely holy God. Paul defines the actual state of both Jew and Gentile, indeed all mankind, in the following verses.
“They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb. With their tongues they have practiced deceit. The poison of asps in under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:12–18).
As I said, this comes largely from a passage in Isaiah 59:6–8. This is in a fascinating context which may well stand you in good stead in some of the opportunities for soul winning which the Eternal Lord may give to you. The chapter opens:
“Behold, the Eternal Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1). [i.e., Don’t blame God if you are not saved!] But your iniquities have separated you from your God and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear. The reason is that your hands are defiled with the blood [Yes, there is an article there in the original text and it points directly back to the death of the Messiah in Isaiah 53!]. “and your fingers [are defiled] with iniquity” (Isa. 59:2). *
This chapter closely follows a very important chapter, Isaiah 53. As Isaiah addresses the nation of Israel in this continuing context, to whose blood do you suppose Isaiah is referring? Yes! It is the blood of the Messiah whom they had led “… as a lamb to the slaughter …” (Isa. 53:7), when “… the Eternal Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). Isaiah plainly associates the death and resurrection of the Messiah in Isaiah 53 with the Lord’s supply of His own righteousness to those who would turn to Him. He quotes the Lord as saying: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Eternal Lord for their righteousness is from me,’ says the Eternal Lord” (Isa. 54:17).
Isaiah continues his address to that nation which, after His resurrection, had rejected the free bread and free wine which He had offered to them (Isa. 55:1–4). Isaiah quotes their words of rejection of the offer of Messiah’s free gift of salvation in this way: ” ‘Come,’ one says, ‘I will bring wine, and we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, and much more abundant’ “ (Isa. 56:12). Isaiah continues to describe the nation which has refused the Eternal Lord’s way to righteousness through the Messiah in the same way that Paul one day would speak of the emptiness of Israel’s attempt to supply righteousness for themselves. In a remarkably graphic way he pictures those in the nation of Israel in their attempt to cover themselves with their own righteousnesses, having rejected the righteousness provided by the Messiah. He describes their efforts at self-righteousness as like one’s attempting to make clothing for himself out of spider’s webs.
“… They weave the spider’s web.… Their webs will not become garments, nor will they cover themselves with their works; Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whosoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isa. 59:5–8).
Isaiah’s words about Israel’s attempts to weave for themselves garments of their own righteousness out of spider’s webs reminds me of the fairy tale about the foolish king who longed for more wonderful and more unusual garments. The story tells of two men who came to town and promised the king that they would weave the most beautiful garments in the world for him. It turned out that no one could see the cloth or the clothes when they were finished but the king’s citizens didn’t dare to say anything. Finally when the king in his new clothes went on parade one little boy piped up asking the question that was on everyone’s minds: “Why isn’t the king wearing any clothes?” For centuries now God’s ancient people have sought to come before Him wearing spider web garments of righteousness. But this is also true of any Gentile who is depending upon his own righteousness as a means of erasing or counterbalancing the sins of his life.
It is inescapable that the Apostle Paul thoroughly understood this passage in Isaiah which spoke so clearly of the misguided way in which he himself had walked before his Damascus Road experience. But without doubt he is including every Gentile, no matter how righteous and no matter what religion he practices, as he expands on that great passage. All are under sin! He says:
“… We have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb. With their tongues they have practiced deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:9–18).
Paul is not merely showing how bereft of righteousness are his own people, Israel. He is drawing an accurate portrait of the heart of all mankind. The most self-righteous Hindu or Moslem or the so called Christian who is depending upon his righteous acts is under the same condemnation. It is impossible for him to provide that whereby he cancels all of the debits which the true and living God sees in his life. This is an accurate portrait of humanity. We live in a day when one hears people offer to meet the spiritual needs of others in various ways: “Come to me. Let me read your palm. Let me counsel you concerning your life or your future and find peace.” Or they will promise a glorious future if only a certain code of ethics and religious practices are followed. It is a lie. The only peace that can come to a man must come through the Messiah and through that which He has done in our place and for our sins.
d. The conclusion that the entire race is guilty before God (3:20)
Paul closes this great section with a conclusion which shows the real contribution that Mosaic law keeping has for a man. While this particularly relates to the nation of Israel, the real contribution of Israel’s failure at law keeping affects every man and provides a lesson for him. The result of their failure in keeping the Mosaic law is that
“… Every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). The law shows that “… no flesh will be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20).
Many have thought that law keeping was a means of salvation but it is clear from Paul’s words that attempts at law keeping simply reveal sin. Paul brings this theme up again in chapter 7 where he shows that even an individual who has been born again and is therefore married to Christ is helpless in his attempt to keep the Mosaic law. In what a dreadful plight is the man who is without Christ! “There is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way!” (3:11–12). It does not matter who it is or how religious a person is, all fall into the same pit, having no righteousness in which to stand before God. And verse 19 closes showing that the witness of Israel’s failure is that “All the whole world may become guilty before God.” Why then was the law even given? Paul explains in Galatians 3:
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise was made, and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.… Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.… But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us [the Jewish people] to Christ, [the promised Messiah] that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:19, 21, 23–24).*
Paul has said that the Mosaic law shows that “No flesh will be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (3:20). Whereas many have thought that law keeping was a means of salvation, law keeping actually reveals man’s sin and failure to himself. It was designed to force a person to recognize that the solution to his sinful nature and the sins which that inner force has produced in one’s life can never be resolved by one’s own efforts. Surely there is some help for mankind somewhere! How can the man who recognizes that everything about him and about his conduct estranges him from the presence of a Holy God ever find relief from this dreadful situation? There is a solution, but it is a solution provided by God Himself. It is found in the next step of the Soulwinner, the unfolding of the fact that the very God who is offended by man’s character and by his sins has indeed done something to help man out of his dreadful plight.
Key statement: If the soul-winner would follow the Biblical pattern set by the Apostle Paul in Romans, he must make sure that the unsaved fully understands his desperate plight. Apart from that recognition the one who needs God’s grace may never understand his need at all. Present man’s lost, helpless and hopeless estate!
THE SECOND STEP OF THE SOUL WINNER: Revealing God’s amazing gift of His own righteousness (3:21–26)
Paul in the previous section of Romans has shattered every man’s every hope of arriving in God’s presence with a righteousness that is adequate for him to stand accepted before God’s great bar of justice. He has shown that the Gentile has turned away from natural revelation, that form of revelation which every man on earth has. He has painted in dark colors the awful moral degeneracy of all who have rejected that which they could have learned about God from that revelation found in nature. He also has shown that those who depend upon their own acts to clothe themselves in acceptable righteousness are utterly bereft of any righteousness that is acceptable with God. The Jews who, of all people, should have been able to present that wherein he might be counted just before God has been shown to stand under the same condemnation as the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul has shown that the law, that very body of revelation which Israel had received from the Lord, condemns them for their sins and that it thereby condemns the whole world. God now announces that the gift of His own righteousness, made through the price which was paid by Christ on our behalf, is the means whereby He is able to provide righteousness to fallen mankind. In this amazing section of the book of Romans which follows that dismal section which placed every man under condemnation, one can find hope. That hope is found in an amazing revelation about God’s own solution of the problem of mankind. Through Paul God now announces that He Himself has provided that which every man needs. There is hope for God offers to those who are without hope a way out of their dilemma. God now announces in Romans 3:21–26 that the gift of His own righteousness is available to all mankind. It is a gift which has been provided by means of Jesus Christ. He has become the means of providing that righteousness which mankind so desperately needs to fallen mankind.
Notice carefully that the Apostle at this point has not even yet turned to present the wonderful love of God for the sinner. The emphasis is still upon the perfect righteousness of the Lord even though the truth now is being presented that God has found a way of sharing this righteousness with fallen man. Neither should the soul-winner present the love of God in this second step which he takes as he seeks to lead a person to Christ. Rather he should recognize that Paul has turned to a very significant legal point at this stage. He does that which every Soulwinner should do when presenting the gospel. He shows that God is not a doting old grandpa Who, because of His great love for the sinner, forgives all of the offenses of the sinner against Him without a just basis. It is crucial that the sinner knows that man is alienated from God by man’s own sin. Indeed, the sinner is condemned because of sin. The Judge cannot possibly compromise His own righteousness by simply forgiving man’s sin.
But the sinner’s case before the Judge of the universe is not hopeless. The Judge Himself has, by some means which Paul has not yet explained, found a way to provide that righteousness which the defendant does not have and cannot of himself obtain. As I have said, the immediately following context reveals that this means is through God’s own Divine Son who has become a part of mankind by entering the human race in much the same way that all men do. The Judge of all mankind, the Lord Himself, has provided a means whereby He can count the sinner who falls short of the glory of God to be as righteous as He is. Only later does it become obvious to the reader that it has been the love of God which has motivated Him to make this amazing provision of righteousness to the sinner.
One must remember that the gospel is a means of revealing the righteousness of God. It may have seemed strange that the first step in revealing the righteousness of God as found in Romans 1:15–3:20 was to display God’s perfect righteousness before the awful blackness of the heart of the human race. But the Divine Jeweler does this to display the most exquisite gem ever given to a loved one. He has placed the gem on a piece of black velvet under brilliant light. The result is that the contrast enables the sinner better to see the brilliance of the gift which God offers and to appreciate its true value.
That is exactly what God leads Paul to do in the first great section of the book of Romans. He has begun by displaying the righteousness of God against the uniformly black setting of the complete lack of righteousness of every member of the human race. He has focused our interest upon God’s standards of righteousness by showing first of all that every man has rejected that which he could have known about God through the testimony of the things which God has made. He also has shown that no man really can keep the Mosaic law and that the law has shown that man is utterly bereft of any hope of gaining access into God’s presence through his own activities. There is no hope that he can present his own righteousness to gain acceptance before God. All of the whole world has been shown to be under the judgment of God. Apart from some miraculous means of his obtaining that kind of righteousness which God has, he can only face eternal judgment. And that is precisely where the next step of the soulwinner’s presentation of the gospel should lead. God Himself has provided the solution. Man’s responsibility is to respond to that solution.
A. Righteousness from God provided through faith in Christ (3:21–24)
Most commonly the theme of the love of God is found dominating our discussion about the nature of the gospel and the salvation which it brings. This is not necessarily wrong, but it is a theme which must be developed at the right time and in the right place when the soul-winner is presenting the gospel to a lost person. Already we have noted that “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, in order that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9).* We have observed John presenting the truth: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).*
A thoughtful examination of the great book of Romans will soon demonstrate that John’s approach to the gospel develops this truth with a different but not a contradictory emphasis from the way that Paul presents it in the book of Romans. This approach to the gospel which Paul makes is the theme of this chapter. Paul’s emphasis upon the righteousness of God has been placed at the very beginning of his expanded statement of the nature of the gospel which fills Romans 1:15–6:5. The fact that Paul placed this truth in the opening verses of his discussion of the expanded statement of the gospel in Romans 1:17. suggests that it is a truth which must dominate our presentation of the gospel to the lost. And what is that truth again? It is this. “… In the gospel, God’s righteousness is revealed, righteousness from [the new believer’s initial saving] faith to faith [for living the daily believer’s life], as it is written, the justified one shall continue to live by means of faith [i.e. live a life of daily faith].“*
In this second step of Paul’s presentation of the gospel, the righteousness of God is the key thought. And that fact does not in any way contradict what John has said in the verses above. It was the righteousness of God which was offended by sin in the garden and then by every sin which has followed in Adam’s offspring. It was the righteousness of God which demanded payment for the offenses. It was the righteousness of God which made it impossible for God simply to forgive fallen, sinful man without the fulfillment of the penalty which His righteousness demanded. But on the other hand, it was the love of God which sought satisfaction of the righteousness of God without contradiction of it, without lessening its standards, without diminishing the punishment of man’s sins which that righteousness required. Yea, in “… His salvation … love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psa. 85:9–10). And in this second step which the Soulwinner must take, it is absolutely essential that the sinner come to realize that God Himself has taken that step, the amazing step of providing His own righteousness to meet the need of those who have absolutely no righteousness of their own in which to stand before Him.
1. The source of that righteousness is from God Himself
The translation of Romans 3:21 through 24 can either obscure or unveil that great act of God in providing His own righteousness for the sinner. My own studies of well over 45 years of the original text of this verse force me to conclude that the verse says this:
“But now righteousness [both] of and from God, apart from the law has been made known, being witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, even righteousness from God which is by means of faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all of them that believe. For there is no difference for all sinned [a point action aorist verb which looks at the single act of all humanity in the garden] and fall short of the glory of God, being counted to be righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”*
The passage is announcing God’s own solution to the desperate problem of mankind’s total lack of a righteousness. It is a solution which meets the need of the man who has rejected the testimony of nature about Him concerning what God is like. It meets the need of the Gentile who has no cause whatsoever for thinking that he can have a righteous standing before God. It meets the need of all who have attempted to gain righteousness before God by struggling to keep the deeds of the Mosaic law, only to find that it condemned them at every turn. The passage announces the astonishing fact that, in some way God Himself has made the provision of His own righteousness to needy man so that man can stand in His presence. That means of His providing to us His righteousness has up to this point only been hinted at in the phrase, “… redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24). This second step of the soul-winner is an announcement that God has made the wonderful provision of His own righteousness, righteousness which comes from God Himself and actually is His own righteousness, and it is applied to the one who is willing to receive this gracious gift from God. Above in my translation of verses 21–24 it will be noticed that I have underlined the preposition “from” in the phrase “righteousness of and from God.” In the Greek language the preposition implied by the form of the genitive/ablative noun Theou, could be translated either “of God” or “from God.” Context alone determines for the translator which is more appropriate. But in this particular context both translations remarkably fit this passage. The righteousness which is being supplied to fallen man is God’s own righteousness, righteousness from God. It will be seen that this righteousness has been made available to man wholly comes from God who now has made it possible for His own righteousness to be transferred to fallen man.
The preceding and following contexts are an important factor in interpreting this sentence. In the passage Paul has been discussing man’s total failure in his attempt to establish his own righteousness as something acceptable to God. This righteousness of God Himself is, by the kind grace of God, being transferred from God to the sinner who believes and is being applied to the believer’s account in verses 21–24. For this reason the ablative sense, “from,” also is appropriate in Romans 3:21.
2 This righteousness is not based upon keeping the Mosaic law
This truth, already taught so powerfully in the previous section, is reinforced by Paul’s words, “… apart from the law” (3:21). Paul will spend the entire fourth chapter of Romans explaining that no aspect of law keeping, whether it be obedience to its commandments or the practice of its ceremonies, is able to make the sinner righteous before God. The sinner needs righteousness which man himself is totally unable to provide. From whence then comes a righteousness which is acceptable before God? It is the very righteousness of God which is provided from God which is made available to the one who believes “… through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
This word “redemption” is a very important word. It speaks of delivering someone from the slave market by paying the price which is demanded. The four African tribes in the land of Chad with which I have worked as I have checked the accuracy of their new Bible translations all have a similar word to translate the word “redemption.” It means “to cut the cord.” Now that is meaningless to us until we recognize the background of its use among these peoples. In the days when slavers would come into their area, capturing people to be sold as slaves, they were treated almost like animals. A heavy cord was tied closely about the neck of the slave. The other end of the rope was drawn down between the legs where it was tied so short that the captive was pulled into a stooped position so he or she could not possibly run away. If there was someone in the tribe who had enough possessions to pay the slaver for the release of a loved one, then the slaver would “cut the cord” and release the captive. What a descriptive word to use for the work of the Redeemer who has “cut the cord” which bound the slaves of sin and released them because of His love! How could anyone who has had such a redemption price paid for them fail to respond in love to the One who has for them “cut the cord” by paying redemption’s price by Himself!
3. The character of that righteousness which is acceptable to God
The sinner must recognize that the only righteousness which is acceptable with God is a righteousness equal to that which God Himself possesses. 2 Corinthians 5:21 summarizes what God has done in order that the sinner can have that kind of righteousness without compromising His own righteousness. “He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”* This righteousness which is from God is the righteousness of God Himself. Paul will explain precisely how God accomplishes this as he continues to develop this full statement of the gospel in the early chapters of Romans.
4. The God given witnesses concerning this true righteousness (3:21c)
The last clause of this verse, “… being witnessed by the Law and the prophets,” is a brief explanation stating that the Old Testament confirms that fact that God alone is the source of all righteousness. This truth is most concisely stated in Isaiah 54:17. “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me, says the Eternal Lord” Somehow Israel long ago lost this crucial truth and began attempting to establish their own righteousness. Paul will develop this fact powerfully in Romans 10–11. The message that he brings there concerning his own people is a message which harmonizes perfectly with his closing statements in Romans 2:1–3:20. He says this in Romans 10:3. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” While so many Gentiles will scoff at Israel’s failure through their attempting to establish their own righteousness, there are multitudes more of Gentiles than Jews who are attempting to follow that approach to the Lord.
5. The true basis for receiving this righteousness from God (3:22)
Paul has just said in Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed.…” He now explains that this righteousness is “… Even the righteousness of God, [the righteousness which a man receives] through faith in Jesus Christ.…”*
a. That righteousness is received from God Himself alone
In his statement in these verses Paul has made it clear that every man, no matter how “holy” and “upright” he or others may consider himself, can only hope to have an acceptable standing by accepting it as a free gift from the Lord. But he also has made it clear that there is only one way in which that free gift of righteousness is given by God.
b. That righteousness is received by faith in Jesus Christ alone
Here for the first time the Apostle begins to introduce the remarkable avenue through which a man can receive a righteous standing before God. It is “… through faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul has not yet explained what it is about Jesus Christ that a man must believe. Neither has he begun to explain what it is that Jesus Christ has done in which a man must trust which makes it possible for a person to receive this righteousness which is from God and is that righteousness of God Himself. But it is at this point in his presentation that Paul begins to narrow the field of what a man must do so that his focus is turned specifically to Jesus Christ. It is only through this approach that a man can become righteous and attain a position acceptable before God. That which Christ has done in order to deliver the sinner from his sad state is presented in Romans 5–6. But for whom is this provision available? Who may receive this righteousness of God, this righteousness from God, which Paul has announced as the provision of God?
6. The extent of the provision of this righteousness (3:22–23)
a. It is for all who believe because there is no distinction
Paul now announces the availability of this righteousness of God which has been provided by God. This is a righteousness from God which may be received “… through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference …” (Rom. 3:22b–23a). To the Jew the phrase “… to all and on all …” would have great significance. It could only mean to him that by some means God was making this provision of His own righteousness available to those who were outside of the nation of Israel and outside of the covenants, who were not a part of the covenant people to whom the promises had been given. Paul uses such language in Romans 9:3–5.
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adult son placing, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”*
But what does this mean to the poor Gentile who has been shown his debased position before God in the previous section of Romans? Ah, it means that by some miraculous provision of God, he can enter a right relationship with the Lord in the same way that has been established for the people of Israel!
b. Because of mankind’s fall in Adam’s sin (3:23)
In the close of verse 22 Paul has repeated the truth which he previously has taught, the truth that both Jew and Gentile face the same problem. Apart from the provision of God’s righteousness, both are facing condemnation before God. But whereas Paul has emphasized the sins which are obviously displayed in the lives of both Jews and Gentiles in chapters 1:16 through 3:20, he now turns to the source of that sin in each human being. He refers to the fact that each human being was present in our first ancestor and that all of us collectively fell in Adam when he disobeyed the Creator’s first commandments. This is a truth which Paul will develop more fully in chapter five. Most students of Romans miss what Paul is saying here in verse 23 and in Romans 5:12 because most Bible translators have ignored verb tenses and have made both verses refer to the acts of sin which have continued to stain the human race. The translation of the point of action aorist tense in the references to sin in these two verse as if the verbs were perfect tenses referring to a previous past event or event series which have continuing results in the present causes the confusion. But Romans 3:23 is referring to the fact that all of Adam’s seed were present in and part of that first man when he and all of his seed rebelled and disobeyed in the garden. Verse 23 should read:
“… for all sinned [in the single act of Adam’s sin] and fall short of the glory of God.…” The same truth is taught in Romans 5:12. “Therefore, even as through one man (Adam) the sin nature entered the world, and death through the sin nature, even so death spread through to all men because all sinned.”*
In these statements Paul has explained why every man is a sinner from birth and inevitably commits acts of sin in his life. He has a nature within him which he has inherited from his first ancestor, Adam. Paul has explained precisely why every man dies. The sin nature has passed through the race from that day when, as Adam’s seed, we participated in Adam’s act in the garden. The ultimate consequence of that fact is that the sentence passed upon Adam there in the garden falls upon the seed of Adam and all die. And in explaining that fact, he has shown how completely untenable is the position taught by some which say that the believer does not have a sin nature. I ask then, “Why do believers die?” They die because “… through one Man [Adam], the sin nature entered into the world and death through the sin nature, even so death spread through to all men because all sinned [in the single act of all created mankind in the garden].”*
Both Jew and Gentile face the same judgment apart from the mercy of God which is shown in the fact that He has provided a means of paying for that consequence of our sin in Adam and at the same time of transferring His own righteousness to the believing sinner. And it is only at this point, when Paul has shown man’s utter condemnation because of his own acts of sin and because of his participation in the original rebellion of man that he finally begins to unveil the wonderful means by which God achieves the divine transaction of resolving our twofold problem. He now explains how God is able in a perfectly just manner to count the sinner to have paid for his many acts of sin. And in following chapters he will explain precisely how God resolves man’s problem of having a sin nature which he as the seed of Adam inherited. He also will explain how God has resolved man’s problem that he inevitably faces both physical and eternal death because of his sin nature.
7. The manner of receiving God’s righteousness (3:24)
a. “Being justified freely.…”
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for the sinner to understand about God’s means of providing salvation is the fact that there is nothing which the sinner can do. There is no payment of any kind which he can make to bring about his salvation. It is a characteristic of mankind to turn to a religion which tells man that he must do something in order to earn deliverance from his sinful self. Many turn to various forms of self-abnegation and humiliation in order to pay for their sins. Some have gone into the desert for years, isolating themselves and punishing themselves in a vain attempt to control their bent toward sin and to gain favor before God. Some lash themselves, even crucify themselves, while seeking escape from their recognition of their own sinfulness and their unpreparedness to meet a holy God.
Paul sets aside all such approaches as vain. His statements about the means whereby a man can become righteous in God’s sight are absolutely exclusivistic. They set aside as worthless every approach which man in his own religions has devised as a means of approaching God. He has set forth in this section of the book of Romans a statement which absolutely devastates every attempt of man at elevating himself in righteousness. He shows that this is utterly vain. He simply denies this approach which is included in every religion of mankind. He shows that a man’s attempt to establish his own righteousness before God is as ineffective as attempting to lift himself off of the ground by pulling on his own bootstraps.
Paul has set forth these powerful truths which the sinner must come to recognize.
1. No man ever is counted to be righteous by his own deeds of obedience to any law which he may seek to follow (Rom. 3:20).
2. God has revealed His own righteousness as His own provision to meet man’s need (Rom. 3:21).
3. That righteousness of and from God alone is made available to the sinner who will place his faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22a).
4. That righteousness of and from God is available to every man on the face of the earth who will believe without distinction as to his race (Rom. 3:22b).
5. That provision of God’s own righteousness is necessary because every man on the face of the earth is equally guilty before God of that rebellion which took place in the garden of Eden. The basis for this universal guilt is the fact that each individual of the human race (apart from Christ in His humanity) was there in the loins of Adam participating in that original rebellion of mankind when the fountainhead of the race sinned by disobeying God’s specific command (Rom. 3:23a and 5:12).
6. As a consequence, every member of the human race, every descendant of Adam (apart from Christ, Who was protected from this in birth), falls short of the glory of God. This is the reason why no human being is capable of presenting himself faultless before the glorious and holy God who is his judge (Rom. 3:23b).
7. But because of the grace of God, every man can be justified freely without presenting any offering of any kind because of the redemption which is available in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24).
It is clear then that God led Paul to teach that salvation is free. It is not something which a man can purchase. It is not something which any man on the face of the earth can ever expect to deserve because of his own activities. On the contrary, because of these activities, he can only expect judgment from God. The only way that a man can be counted to be just, clothed in an acceptable righteousness before God in God’s court, is for him to receive the free gift of righteousness from God. Only in this way can he become justified freely through the free gift of God which in some way is related to Jesus Christ. The explanation of that follows in the book of Romans. And it also is clear that this free gift of God’s own righteousness is only made available to fallen mankind by one unique means and by that means alone.
While this exclusivistic statement by Paul galls the self-righteous religionist to the extreme, it none the less contains within it the solution to the problem which the religionist clearly recognizes. An examination of the world’s man-made religions will reveal that mankind’s continual attempts to establish their own righteousness before God is a tacit confession of man’s desperate need of that which no man has. And Paul’s careful explanation of the approach which God has made toward resolving man’s universal lack of righteousness actually contains within itself the only solution to man’s greatest need, a righteous standing before a holy God.
b. Being justified freely by His grace through Christ’s redemption
For centuries mankind has listened to the lie which Satan told in the garden. They have concluded that there is something which they can do in order to become like God. “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4). Even today the Mormon is taught that, by doing certain things, he will one day become like God and have his own world to rule. Multitudes in many different religions are taught that, by following some man’s teachings or a special code of ethics or commandments, a person will become righteous so that he can stand uncondemned before a holy God. Pierson says:
“Prof. Max Muller, in addressing the British and Foreign Bible Society, declared … that ‘the one key-note of all these so-called sacred books is Salvation by works. Our own Holy Bible is from the beginning to the end a protest against this doctrine.”
Even today the Catholic is taught that through his suffering in purgatory he finally will cleanse away his sins and allow him entry into God’s holy presence. In reality that is a slander against the Savior. One who has lived under this teaching needs to recognize that this doctrine teaches that the work of the Savior is in some way deficient since the sinner yet must pay for his own sins in purgatory. The doctrine is as far from the truth as is the concept that there is a purgatory. The idea that there is a purgatory in which believers must suffer to be cleansed from their sins is a teaching which totally misunderstands what the Word of God says about Sheol (in the Old Testament, Hades (in the New Testament] or “hell.” The truth is that after the death of the Messiah, he did go to that place of torment in our place and awaited His resurrection for three days and nights. Psalms 40 and 41 contain David’s prophetic presentation of the prayers that the Messiah, David’s greater Son, would pray after bearing our sins. The truth also is revealed by that holy and perfectly righteous God through the Apostle Paul states that the attainment of a godlike standing in acceptable righteousness is achieved in only one way. It is only available to the sinner who recognizes his utter helplessness to escape the judgment bar of a holy God. It is only available to the sinner who will acknowledge his fallen state and will accept God’s means of resolving his problem, that is by “… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” (v. 24). The word “justified” refers to God’s act of counting a man to be just or righteous. The word “grace” refers to the fact that this act of God is accomplished without any price being charged to the sinner. How that is to be achieved becomes the major subject of Paul for many verses that follow.
8. God’s method of providing this true righteousness which mankind needed since the fall of the race in the garden
a. By justification which is based upon Christ’s death (3:24c–25a)
One must not fail to notice the remarkable truth which is conveyed by Paul’s statement, “… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). This exoneration of the sinner from the punishment which he deserves for his sin nature and for the sins which it has brought in his life is a free gift. It is brought through God’s wonderful, gracious act of providing a way of escape. It is not a way of escape from the sentence of judgment which in any way complicates or involves the Holy Judge with the guilt of the sinner by His provision of forgiveness without His having a just basis. No. The sinner is counted to be just by the Holy Judge only because He has a just basis for the act of forgiveness and elevation in righteousness in “… the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” At this point the Apostle begins to turn toward an explanation of that which Christ has done which makes it possible for God freely to forgive the sinner who comes believing in Christ Jesus.
That final phrase of verse 24, “in Christ Jesus,” is crucial. The Apostle has used it about 100 times in his epistles, very frequently speaking of the means by which God makes available to fallen man His own righteousness. While this truth will not be more fully developed by Paul until the fifth step of the soul-winner in Romans 6:1–10, it is this position “in Christ Jesus” which makes this transference of God’s own righteousness to the believer possible. Indeed it is this position “in Christ Jesus” which makes it possible to count the sinner’s sin and sin nature to have been judged upon that cross on which Christ died.
“But now [the] righteousness of God apart from the law has been revealed, being witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, even [the] righteousness of/from God, through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (3:21–22). *
Both verses 21 and 22 tell us the fact that God finally has made known to mankind the long promised basis for His provision of His own righteousness to mankind. David was depending upon that provision when in Psalm 51 he pleaded for God’s tender mercies, for washing from his iniquity, for the hiding of God’s face from his own sins, for the provision of a clean heart and a right spirit so that he might once again show forth the Lord’s righteousness and praise. And he well understood that no provision of the Mosaic law could achieve that cleansing. In the same way Paul announces that this righteousness from God which is provided for mankind has been manifested or made known wholly apart from the deeds of the Mosaic law (3:21). It only is provided “… through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
It is crucial that we recognize from verse 22 that this righteousness which God provides from Himself comes to man “… by faith in Jesus Christ.” Several English translations leave room for confusion in the mind of the reader by translating this phrase, “… by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The proper name, “Jesus Christ,” is in the genitive case in Greek. This either can mean that it refers to the faith which Jesus Christ had or it can refer to our faith in Jesus Christ. The context requires that the genitive is not a subjective genitive referring to Christ’s faith. It is an objective genitive which means that our faith is placed in Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus Christ is the object of the faith of the believer by which the believer attains the righteousness of God through believing. Verse 26 clearly shows that this is indeed the sense of the passage for it speaks of God as “… the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
b. By propitiation through faith in His blood (3:25a)
Verse 25 confirms that conclusion in that it speaks of the fact that the price that Jesus Christ paid is applied “… through faith in his blood.” Jesus Christ is the One who has paid the redemption price to release each one of us from the slave market of sin. And God has set Him forth as a sacrifice to pay the price for sin by His blood, through faith in Him. When one understands that Christ has “cut the cord” by paying the price demanded for our release from the bonds of sin, how foolish it is for him to continue sitting on the ground with his head bowed while waiting to be driven to the coast to board the slave ship! And yet, that is precisely what a man does when he refuses to acknowledge that the price for his own redemption has been paid at the cost of the blood of the Redeemer. At least four of the central African tribes on whose New Testaments I have worked use a word or phrase for redemption which means “to cut the cord.” They knew what it meant for someone to pay the redemption price to the slaver and have him “cut the cord” of a loved one that he or she might be released from slavery. They are the Sara Kaba Dem, the Sara Majengay, the Day and the Ngahm tribes. This truth presents a wonderful message about God, the vindication of His own righteousness concerning the way that He has shared His own righteousness.
B. This provision of His own righteousness is God’s means of making His forgiveness available to mankind, past and present (3:25–26)
1. Christ’s death was the basis for the justification of the repentant Old Testament sinner. (3:25)
Paul explains in verse 25 that Jesus Christ has been set forth to be the price that was paid for Old Testament sins. He speaks of Christ Jesus, “Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” New Testament teaching requiring one to believe in Jesus as the Messiah to become righteous is a great stumbling block for the Jew. It is logical for him to will say in his heart: “But what about those in the Tenach, the Old Testament, whom God called righteous? They certainly did not understand that Jesus would be the Messiah. They did not understand what the New Testament teaches about Messiah becoming God’s own sin offering. There is no way that those who lived before the times of Jesus could have grasped its teaching that a man only becomes righteous through faith in the Messiah.”
Here in verse 25 Paul explains precisely how an Old Testament believer was counted to be righteous. And he makes it very clear that, even though a man like David did not understand how God could cleanse him from his acts of sin, God nevertheless based His forgiveness of David entirely upon the act which God’s own Son, Who also is David’s son, would provide. His work would contain within it provision for the saints of the centuries which preceded the birth and death of the Messiah as well as those of us who have lived since His death. His death paid the price. His death was the sacrificial death which enabled God to deal in grace with the Old Testament sinner like David who came to God asking for forgiveness. Paul actually will use David as an illustration of this principle in Romans 4:6–8, where he quotes David’s own words in Psalm 32:1–2.
“… Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”
The provision of the substitutionary sacrifice by Christ is the idea which is involved in the word “propitiation.” The word is used in more than one way in the New Testament. In 1 John 2:2 the word is used to speak of the sacrifice which was placed on the altar so that the judgment for sin which was due to the sinner fell upon that substitutionary sacrifice. “And He Himself [the Messiah] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” It is clear that in some wonderful way this payment of the redemption price by Christ is “… to demonstrate His [God’s] righteousness concerning the forbearance of God for the remission of sins that were previously committed [by man before the time of the cross]” (3:25–26).*
Verse 26 reveals a glorious truth. The sacrifice which Christ Jesus made provides the means whereby God is shown to have been just in His dealings with the sins of repentant Old Testament sinners. That is what is meant by Paul’s statement. Christ’s sacrifice demonstrates that God, in His anticipation of the fulfillment of His plan concerning the future death of Christ, moved with perfect justice in forgiving someone like David when he prayed as he did in Psalm 51. David knew that he did not have any kind of a sacrifice which he could offer to God which would justify God in forgiving his sin and in restoring him to fellowship. Yet he prayed this prayer of faith to a just God Who would somehow have a way to fulfill this humble prayer.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Psa. 51:1–4).
When David prayed for forgiveness and for restoration, God responded to that prayer, forgiving David of his sin without Himself becoming guilty of doing something for which He had no just basis. The death of Christ, which was still future at that time, provided that just basis. Now this remarkable statement which is found in verses 25 and 26 will be of particular interest to the nation of Israel and to those who are concerned with understanding precisely how God was able to forgive sins in the past when He as yet had no just basis. They had the sacrifices which provided an atonement, a temporary covering for sin, but these did no more than that. It was shown to be temporary and only partial in as much as the offerings for the day of Atonement had to be repeated annually. These sacrifices could not remove or take away the sinner’s sin. “… In those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:3–4). It was necessary that God Himself should provide that means whereby He justly could remove their sins and its guilt from the Old Testament sinner. And He did just that. In anticipation of that great event, the Prophet John the Baptizer cried out when he first looked upon the Messiah at the river Jordan. And the cry of that prophet of God made it clear that he was at that moment looking upon the One Who would provide that just basis for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind.
“… Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of Whom I said, After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me. I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water” (Jn 1:29–31).
The death of Christ provides a demonstration of the fact that God was righteous when He forgave a repentant sinner before a satisfactory sacrificial basis had even been provided. In effect, God had heard the accusations of the old Adversary concerning this matter. Satan, the accuser of the brethren who even today has access into the presence of God (Rev. 12:9), undoubtedly pointed his finger at God. “God, You are not righteous in forgiving David of his sins! You have no just basis!” But surely God had responded by saying: “Just wait! I will provide the just basis in my own time.” And that time was the day of the cross. In our courts today I am afraid that the judges often take upon themselves the guilt of the defendant when they ignore the laws of their state or nation and forgive the sinner without a just basis. God never has and never will do that. He always from the beginning of time on earth has had a just basis for counting a man to be just in His court and that basis is found in the sacrificial death of Christ in our place.
2. Christ’s death also is the basis for God’s justification of the New Testament believer (v. 26)
But what about God’s forgiveness of the sins of the believer today? Can God be just in counting a man to be just who has been a sinner in this generation, long alienated from God by his sins? Oh yes! Christ’s death also made provision for that as well. It declared to the old Adversary, who gladly would have accused God of being an unjust judge in forgiving our sins, that God has a perfectly righteous basis for His action. Paul speaks of the Messiah’s death as the means whereby God was now able “To demonstrate at the present time His [God’s] righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 26).
And by the way, the phrase “… at the present time” not only refers to the fact that God’s righteousness is demonstrated in the present when He justifies the believer. It stands in contrast with the phrase, “previously committed” in verse 25. At the present time, today, God has a just basis for forgiving our sins. Thus John can say: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Now John happens to be talking about the sins of believers but it also is true that God is faithful and certainly just when He forgives the repentant, unsaved sinner who pleads the work of Christ as payment for his own sins. Yes, God has a just basis for forgiving the sin of the man who comes to Him through faith in the finished sacrificial work of Christ Jesus! The penalty for man’s sin is directly mentioned in Romans 6:23. “The wages of sin is death.…” It is obvious that the penalty had to be paid. But God in His grace has made it possible for His own Son to pay that payment for us in His death on the cross.
C. The rejection of man’s boasting concerning works achieving self-righteousness (3:27–28)
The Apostle now requires the reader to recognize an inescapable conclusion. Man’s works, no matter how spectacular and how impressive they have been before men, give him absolutely no basis for boasting concerning the means by which he has achieved a presentation of himself clothed in his own righteousness before God. It does not matter how great a cathedral a man may build for God, that cannot be counted as part of the payment procuring salvation for him.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:27–28).
This last point which Paul makes is a transition. It links these great truths which he has developed in chapter three to their logical conclusion in chapter 4. That chapter is based directly upon the truths explained in chapter 3 and especially in verses 27–28. These verses set the stage for the declarations which Paul will make in the next chapter. There he will set aside every approach of man which seeks to achieve self-righteousness a just standing before a holy God. The explanation of this truth is the next important step of the Soulwinner.
THE THIRD STEP OF THE SOUL WINNER: How a person receives this gift of God’s righteousness (3:27–4:25)
The Apostle Paul already has taken two key steps as he has begun presenting crucial material which must be included in a soul-winning contact. He has shown that rebellion is present in the heart of every member of the human race and that this is true whether the individual is a Jew or a Gentile. He has explained that, as a result, every member of the race stands condemned by God without hope of any righteous standing. Therefore he or she cannot expect to appear before God deserving anything but judgment for his sins. But against this black backdrop of sin and expected judgment, Paul then makes a marvelous revelation. God in His wonderful mercy has made the provision of His own righteousness, available to anyone who will believe in Jesus Christ, because of the redemptive work which Christ has done. This same redemptive work which Christ has provided as a sin offering has been the basis whereby God has been able to forgive the Old Testament believer who came to Him confessing his sin. And this redemptive work now is the basis whereby God, without compromising His own holiness, is able to save the repentant sinner who believes in Christ and who turns to Him to buy him out of the slave market of sin where he lives.
It is sad but true that the major obstacle which most people face, which holds them from receiving God’s gift of eternal life, is the fact that one only can receive Christ’s redemptive work by faith as a gift. This is a gift which in no way is deserved but can only be given and received as an absolutely free gift. Somehow it is the desperate longing of the human heart to provide that which the sinner feels is necessary for him to provide to counteract the fact that he falls short of the glory of God (3:23). Somehow it seems far too simple for the sinner to receive righteousness as a free gift. It is crucial that the Soul winner explains that God is absolutely, unchangeably righteous! He cannot accept any offering or any work by man as payment for his sin in order that the man might attain a righteous standing before God.
A. This gift is never received by good works but only by means of faith (3:27–4:8)
Multitudes of religious people make the dreadful mistake of concluding that their good works in some wonderful way will counterbalance those deeds which they have done which are worthy of judgment by God. For many centuries this particularly has been a problem for the nation of Israel. Later in chapter 10 Paul will explain how
“… They, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes” (Rom. 10:3–4).
But this problem is not just a problem which afflicts the Jew alone. Multitudes of Gentiles are caught in the same trap of attempting to provide some element of self-righteousness. This prevents them from receiving God’s free gift of salvation which allows no supplemental payment to be made by man. When a person ignores the fact that God has provided His own righteousness through the Messiah, Christ Jesus, he attempts to some degree to satisfy God with his own acts which he wrongly assumes will meet the righteous standards of God. As a result, he remains in his lost estate. Indeed the product of this attitude is something like a boast. “I am able to live on such a level of righteousness so that God must accept me in His presence.”
1. The rejection of man’s boasting of his works for salvation. (3:27)
Paul utterly rejects such erroneous thinking which assumes that man can achieve a level of righteousness equal and therefore satisfactory to God. He speaks to those who would like to infuse the gospel with a religious mishmash which requires the sinner to keep the deeds of the Mosaic law, making that a vital part of that which is necessary for one to be saved. Paul says to these: “No, No! A man is counted to be just in God’s court of law entirely and alone by faith and wholly apart from any dependence upon the deeds of the law to establish one’s own righteousness.” “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (3:27–28).
2. Justification before God is only by means of faith (3:28)
Paul at this point in his presentation of the third step of the Soulwinner begins to drive this truth home which his own people for the most part did not then and still do not understand. Salvation only comes to a man by means of faith. God only justifies a man on the basis of his faith in the finished work of Christ. He echoes that which he had said in verse 21 where he revealed that the righteousness of God which comes from God to the believer only comes by means of the believer’s faith and wholly apart from the deeds of the law. In his day, just as it is true today in some circles, there were those who wanted the Gentiles to follow Jewish practices when they came to Christ. But Paul shows that God is the God of both Jew and Gentile and that both are saved by faith and by faith alone. No act such as circumcision or baptism can be attached to the believer’s faith as a requirement for salvation. Both Jew and Gentile are saved by faith and by faith alone (3:29–30).
To some this would appear to annul the law through faith. But Paul contradicts that idea. The law still serves a very important function in setting forth in a clear manner the righteous demands of God. He says: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (3:31).* Later in chapter 7 Paul will show that the law even has a good purpose in the life of the believer. In Romans 13 he shows that the believer who is living in self-sacrificing love in his relationship to others is living in complete fulfillment of that portion of the Mosaic law which spoke of one’s relationship to others. He explains:
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:8–10).
In his own case it was the Mosaic law which announced to Paul that he, in his new life as one now married to Christ, still was falling short of God’s holy standards for his conduct. But, as Paul has said and will say again, the keeping of the Mosaic law is not the means of meeting those righteous standards of life which the Lord expects of us. Indeed, Paul will show that the law does not have any power which could enable a believer to live in a way that could please God.
Having stated so clearly that “… a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law,” (3:28), Paul now turns to show the Jew that since it is by faith that one receives righteousness from God, the Gentiles also are included among those for whom God’s gift of righteousness is provided.
3. The inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s program of justification by faith alone (3:29–30)
Having stated that “… a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law,” Paul assures that self-righteous nation that justification is not for the Jews alone but rather that God’s provision through the Messiah is so extensive that even the despised Gentile dogs are included. He says:
“Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (3:29–30).
The Jew must understand then that there is room for believing Gentiles within the body of those who are justified by faith and faith alone. Obviously it does not matter before God whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile or whether he has been given the rite of circumcision as a child or not. Justification is by faith alone.
4. Paul’s denial that salvation by faith alone would make the law to be void, asserting that this actually fulfills the law (3:31)
Paul’s earlier explanation that one can only become righteous by faith and not by law keeping unavoidably would have raised an objection in the mind of a legalist. “Surely what you are proposing about free righteousness renders the law void and worthless!” No, Paul explains, in reality God’s means of providing righteousness to the man who believes actually fulfills the purpose of the law. The Mosaic law never was given as a means whereby a man could become righteous. In man’s attempts at keeping the Mosaic law he should have come to the recognition that such an approach was impossible. It should have thrown a man upon the mercy of God. A man’s failure to keep the Mosaic law, which is a fact that is universally true, should have evoked a cry from the sensitive sinner’s lips. And it would have been a cry like that which arose from the lips of David after he was forced to face his terrible sins against Urijah and with Bathsheba.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psa. 51:1–2; 7–10).
David did not plead with God on the basis of his keeping of the Mosaic law. In fact he had broken that law. That was the very thing which so smote his tender conscience. No, the law and any attempt at keeping its commandments did not deliver David. It condemned him. It forced him to cry out for the mercy of God for forgiveness and it was a cry for which David had absolutely no basis in himself. He recognized that only God could create in him a clean heart and cleanse him from the horrible stains which now lay across his life. What had the Mosaic law accomplished? It had driven David to God with the recognition that God alone could do anything about his sinful state. He alone could cleanse his heart and restore him to fellowship. How indeed could God forgive David for his sin? Romans 3:22 through 25 contains the answer.
“For there is no difference; for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as the price that was paid for sin by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.”*
The Mosaic law had condemned David for his sin. It drove him to cry out for mercy and for forgiveness. That mercy and forgiveness was graciously given to David even though David’s descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ, had not yet left His glorious throne above, had not yet joined the ranks of David’s heirs, though without a sin nature because of His miraculous virgin birth, and had not yet died for David’s sin. The Eternal God, fully knowing precisely what He would provide through the redemptive work of the Messiah, was able to cover David’s sins and forgive him, restoring him to fellowship on the basis of that which His human descendant, the Messiah, would do centuries later. And God was just in doing just that. Yes, the major purpose of the Mosaic law was established in that God required faith on the part of the sinner for Him to forgive that which the Mosaic law condemned in him. “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31).
5. The imputation of righteousness by faith apart from works illustrated (4:1–8)
a. By demonstrating how Abraham was counted righteous. (4:15)
Paul immediately turns to the Old Testament to establish the fact that, even under the Old Testament economy, the Lord’s saints were dealt with directly on the basis of their faith and not on the basis of their works. To demonstrate that a man’s works provides no basis for God to declare him righteous, Paul now chooses two Old Testament believers and examines the means whereby God declared these great men to be righteous.
What about Abraham, the Father of the Jewish nation? Was he counted righteous by the efforts of his own flesh? (4:1–2). Was he counted to be just by God on the basis of his own works? No. He asks:
“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness’ “ (4:1–3).
Paul has answered the question by quoting Genesis 15:6 which should read: “And he believed the Lord; and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”* If the Scripture had said that Abraham were justified by works, then Abraham would have had that wherein he might have gloried, but not before God. After all, it was not by works that Abraham had been counted righteous before God. It was God alone Who would be supplying the works necessary for Abraham’s salvation. But as we have seen, that was entirely through the work of Christ. All that Abraham could supply was faith in the spoken word of God. “Abraham believed God …” and God counted that and that alone for righteousness! Six times in this little section the word “works” will appear. It is very plain that Paul is driving home the truth that salvation is never by good works but it is only by faith that a man is saved.
On the basis of that observation Paul states this significant conclusion.
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (4:3–4).
It is obvious then that Abraham, who lived many years before the Mosaic Law was instituted in the wilderness, was saved in exactly the same way in which men are saved today. He was saved by faith and not at all by works. But his faith was placed in the revelation that God gave to him verbally.
b. By explaining how David was forgiven his sin and was counted righteous (4:6–8)
The same is true of David and of the salvation that he obtained. That which had been true of Abraham who lived before the law is true of those who lived after the Mosaic Law had been imposed upon the Jewish people.
“Even as David also described the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness without works, saying: ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin’ “ (4:6–8).
Already we have considered Psalm 51 and its description of David’s agony over his sin. We have observed his painful plea for forgiveness based solely upon the mercy of God. Chronologically Psalm 32, from which Paul quotes in Romans 4:7, is a Psalm which follows Psalm 51 in David’s life. In Psalm 51 the agony of David’s soul has been bared as he has reflected upon all that had come into his heart and into his relationship with God. He recognized that his sin with Bathsheba and his command which brought about the death of her husband to hide his own sin had broken his fellowship with God completely. But beyond that, he recognized that what he had done had been sin directly against God Himself. As a result he recognized that his ministry to others as the king appointed by the Lord over them effectually was blocked and brought to a halt. Thus he prayed: “Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with Your free Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will be converted to You” (Psa. 51:12–13).
Now at this point in Romans 4 Paul turns to Psalm 32:1–2. It is obvious that David was not offering any good works to the Lord when he pled for forgiveness. He says: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Eternal Lord,’ and ‘You forgave the iniquity of my sin’ “ (Psa. 32:5). In the same Psalm he shows that the forgiveness which he received was entirely on the basis of God’s mercy. That in turn was directly based upon David’s faith. “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Eternal Lord, mercy shall surround him” (Psa. 32:10). It is inescapable that forgiveness of sin and God’s provision of righteousness is entirely based upon a man’s faith in the Lord Jesus.
In spite of that obvious fact, there are many ploys by which man attempts to avoid the heavenly gate over which is written “Let only those enter who believe!” Now Paul turns to show the emptiness of assuming that something that a person may have done or that something which may have been done to them prepares them to enter that gate.
B. Justification is never received by any ceremony which has been performed on him but only by means of his own faith (4:9–12)
1. Questioning the function of the ritual (4:9–10)
In Romans 4:9–12 the ritual which Paul discusses is one which is exceedingly important to every Jew. The rite of circumcision, the removal of the sheath of foreskin on the sexual organ of every male, is practiced upon every male child born in Israel. It was given to Abraham after he had taken the great step of faith which he did take when the Lord promised him that the offspring of this childless man would become more numerous than he possibly could count.
“And behold, the word of the Eternal Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one [his servant, Eliezer of Damascus] shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said: ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Eternal Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:4–6).
It was only after this great step of faith which brought righteousness to Abraham from God that the Lord instructed him concerning the ceremony of circumcision which he and the male members of his family were to practice. In Genesis 17:1–14 the Lord expanded the covenant which He had been making with Abraham. He promised Abraham that through His covenant with Abraham He would multiply the offspring of Abraham exceedingly and he would become the father of many nations. He would have kings among his descendants! As a sign of the covenant which the Lord was making with him, this instruction concerning the circumcision of all male children was given.
“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations; he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Gen. 17:10–14).
It is easy to see why this rite which was practiced upon every child became a crucial part of the lives of the people of Israel. Indeed, the rite which was given before the Mosaic law and only after Abraham had been counted righteous through his faith eventually was given more significance than it was supposed to have. The rite had been given as a sign of the covenant which the Lord had established with Abraham when he believed. But ultimately the rite replaced the act of faith. It became easy for Abraham’s descendants to trust in their circumcision instead of placing their faith in the Lord who had established the covenant of which it was only a sign.
How this mistake is like that which is made by so many Gentiles! Baptism by immersion in water was given to be an outward testimony to the world that one has believed and has received the righteousness of God by faith. But this rite in many circles has become the step which saves the one on whom the rite is performed. It is performed on infants in a diluted form by a dab of water on the forehead with the assumption that these now are in the Church, the body of Christ and are saved or at least are prepared to be saved by this rite.
This crucial chapter in the book of Romans is written by Paul to explain that no rite performed by man upon man is able to transfer the righteousness of God to a human being. That act of transferring the righteousness of God is one which is performed by the Lord alone and only on the basis of the recipient’s faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. This will be explained by Paul in following chapters. Because Paul so strongly emphasizes that the only way in which one can receive the righteousness of God as a gift from God is by believing, we can only conclude that salvation absolutely is not on the basis of works. And it does not matter whether the works are performed upon the individual or if they are the works performed by that individual. So many people are confused on this point and have worked all of their lives trying to convince God that they are good enough for Him to allow them in heaven. But He says to such ones: “Sorry, access to heaven is only by means of your faith in Christ Jesus!”
But then the Jew will say: “But I have been circumcised!” (Remember that this book has a strong Jewish flavor and that it seeks to meet the problems which the Jew has with God’s treatment of salvation). Beginning at verse nine the Apostle hammers home the words “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” nine times. There are many in the Jewish religion who are kept from saving faith today by the fact that they have been circumcised. They conclude: “I am saved because through circumcision I have been placed into a covenant relationship with God!” It is true that in the Old Testament the covenant relationship of the Jew was important, but even then circumcision did not save an individual. One must remember the many thousands of unbelievers who perished in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness! It was faith and faith alone which placed them in right relations with God just as it was in the life of Abraham. Multitudes in the Old Testament who had been through the ceremonies were excluded from the blessing of God because they had never entered into that faith relationship with God. Jeremiah says:
“… Among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait as he that sets snares; they set a trap. They catch men.… Shall I not visit for these things? says the Eternal Lord? Shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (Jer. 5:26, 29).
How similar this problem is to one found in many churches today! So many say: “Well, I was baptized as an infant. I am a member of the church. I am saved!” Let this be known. No act that can be performed upon you and no act that you can do yourself will ever prepare you for heaven. Romans 4 strongly emphasizes that fact. Abraham was counted righteous by God before he was circumcised!
“Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:9–10).
That act of circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham’s salvation! Indeed Abraham’s circumcision was only an indication of the fact that Abraham had believed God and was being obedient to his command as a believer.
2. The timing of the ritual of Abraham’s circumcision: The ritual followed Abraham’s reception of God’s righteousness when he believed God’s promise (4:10b–11a)
Paul is very careful to drive home to the readers of the book of Romans the fact that Abraham was circumcised only after he believed.
[Abraham received God’s righteousness] “… Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised …” (4:10b–11b). *
No, Abraham’s circumcision had nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham’s becoming righteous. That entirely was based upon his faith in God’s promise. Neither does infant baptism or church membership or any other ceremony or relationship save one! Paul is cutting out the dead wood of presumptions concerning how one may be saved. His explanation of the worthlessness of that act which one person performs upon another in Jewish ceremony is the perfect illustration of the fact that no ceremony which one person performs upon another is of any value in obtaining righteousness before God. And this should be a part of every soul-winner’s presentation of the gospel, for many who come forward in a service or who respond to a soul-winner’s personal invitation still are trusting in some work of man to complete the work of God.
Many years ago, on a young man’s profession of faith in Christ, I as a young interim pastor baptized him. As we were in the change room after the baptism he turned to me and said: “Now I am sure!” At that point I no longer was sure that the lad actually had saving faith in Christ for he obviously was depending upon water baptism as an important corollary to faith for salvation. I have always regretted that I never again had an opportunity to see that young man again to help him to understand the error of his dependence upon a human act for salvation.
3. In that sense Abraham is father of all believers. (4:11c–12)
Now Paul explains that Abraham’s act of faith, by which he received the righteousness of God, sets the pattern for all who believe today. We also are to believe and then, as a result of our faith in Christ, we in a similar way will receive the righteousness of God from God Himself. Thus Abraham is counted the father of all those who believe, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, because they follow the pattern of receiving righteousness through having placed faith in God’s Word. He explains
“… that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision [in other words, who are not only Jews], but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (4:11b–12).
C. Being counted righteous in God’s court is never received by keeping the law but only by faith (4:13–25)
1. In the same way that Abraham’s promise of heirship was not by law for it was before the law was given (4:13)
Paul strongly has argued that Abraham’s faith came before Abraham was given circumcision as the seal of the covenant which the Lord was establishing with him. Paul also shows that the same is true of the promise which God gave to Abraham that he and his seed would be heirs of the world. That promise, like the covenant sign of circumcision, was given centuries before God gave the Law through Moses. God had said to Abraham:
” ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession, and I will be their God’ “ (Gen. 17:1b–8).
It is obvious that these promises were not based upon any framework of human conduct like the Mosaic law for these promises were given in Genesis 17 while the Law was not given until Abraham’s descendants were at mount Sinai as described in Exodus 19.
2. If law keeping made one an heir, then faith would be made void (4:14–15)
The reception of righteousness from God by Abraham and by his seed has been explained to be only by faith and not by the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Paul now explains that if it were possible for one to become righteous by keeping the Mosaic law, then the way that God had made Abraham righteous through faith would loose its meaning and simply would become void. “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:14–15).
All that had been promised to Abram and to his seed as a result of his faith now would be set aside. When one seeks by keeping a set of rules to accomplish that which only can be accomplished by faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work which has been mentioned in Romans 3, he renders void the correct, God given approach to receiving God’s own righteousness by faith.
3. Thus the counting of God’s righteousness to the sinner is of faith and only as a free gift. (4:16–23)
Beginning at verse 15 Paul has begun emphasizing the word “law.” He concludes this section plainly saying that salvation never is by law keeping but it is only received by faith. Notice the contrast between Romans 4:15 and 16.
15 “Because the law brings about wrath, for where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it [the obtaining of righteousness from God] is by faith in order that it might be by grace [a free gift from God] to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham who is the father of us all.”*
The sinner could only fail to keep the law. The only thing that possibly could happen as a result was the bringing of God’s wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic law made the sinner aware that he always failed to live on a standard that would please God. It forced him to cast himself upon the grace and mercy of God. As we have seen, David in Psalms 51 and 32 is the perfect example. The Law was never intended to make a man righteous. It was designed to make him aware of the fact that he was not righteous! It caused him to depend upon the provision of God of an animal substitute which bore the penalty of his sin in place of him on the altar.
The same is true for the sinner today, although the perfect substitute, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, rather than an animal sacrifice, is the one upon whom the penalty of our sin has fallen. It is that to which Paul has referred in Romans 3. He has spoken of the fact that every man sinned in that first act of rebellion in our ancestor in the garden (3:23). But he has introduced the glorious truth that God has provided a perfect solution to our sinful condition. He explains that all may be
“… justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation, [that is, as the perfect substitute price that was paid for our sin] by His blood …” (3:24–25a). *
It is to this divine provision that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”* And Paul has shown that this perfect substitute, this redemption, and this gift of God’s righteousness is only available “… through faith” (3:25b). And this is precisely the truth which Paul is driving home to his readers in Romans 4:16.
“Therefore it [the believer’s reception of the righteousness of God)] is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”*
It is important to notice how often the word “faith” rings out through this chapter. That word and other words for believing are found in the following verses.
1. “… Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (v.3).
2. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [to him] for righteousness” (v.5).
3. “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham for righteousness” (v.9).
4. “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also” (v.11).
5. “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (v.13).
6. “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect …” (v.14).
7. “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all …” (v.16).
8. (“As it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, Who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (v.17).
9. “… Who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be” (v.18).
10. “… And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb …” (v.19).
11. “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (v.20).
12. “… And being fully convinced [fully persuaded] that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (v.21).
13. “Now [it was written] also for us: It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him Who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead …” (v.24).
These verses should have a box drawn about them in the soul-winner’s Bible so that they will stand out before the eyes of the one who needs to reject any system of saving himself through good works or whatever and take the step of faith in accepting God’s provision of the finished work of Christ. In this passage there is great emphasis placed upon the fact that Abraham was made righteous by God because of his faith, believing implicitly that which God said to him. Verse 16 closes with the statement that Abraham stands as the father of all who have similar faith. “As it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’ in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, Who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (4:17). Paul points to the audacity of Abraham’s faith. After all, he was 99 years old when the promise was given that he would have offspring. But Abraham,
“… contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead [since he was about a hundred years old], and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was able to perform. And therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness” (4:18–22).
In the light of Paul’s argument it is inescapable that it was only on the basis of Abraham’s faith that righteousness was imputed to him. But Paul says that this truth to which he has turned in Genesis concerning God’s imputation [reckoning righteousness to his account] was not for Abraham’s sake alone (4:23). As God dealt in this way with the father of all who believe, that which was said in Genesis 15:6 was
“… for us also, to whom it [God’s own righteousness] shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, Who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification” (4:24–25).
It is worthy of note that this is the first time that Paul has introduced this theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A careful study of Paul’s teaching will show that Paul makes the resurrection of Jesus Christ after His work on the cross a vital element of the gospel. The resurrection is included in that which we must believe in order to receive salvation. Paul says that in Romans 10:9–10. He speaks of
“… the word of faith which we preach, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as LORD [that is, if you acknowledge that Jesus is the Eternal Lord], and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame,’ for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Eternal Lord shall be saved.’ “
How often those who call themselves “soul-winners” have left out this vital part of the gospel, the resurrection! The soul-winner needs to listen to the anticipation of the Messiah as, in sheol, He awaited His resurrection. “… Many will see it [My resurrection out of the noisy pit], and will begin to fear and will trust in the Eternal Lord” (Psa. 40:3).
I have heard an evangelist try to win people to faith in Christ for as long as a week without his ever mentioning the crucial facts that Christ not only died for the sinner’s sin but also that He does not lie in a Judaean tomb, having been raised from the dead. He preached with fire and fervor about how hot hell was and about how certain it was that the sinner was going to go there. Then and only in his invitation did he encourage sinners to come forward and receive Christ as their Savior. Never once in the series of messages did he explain the sinner’s need for a righteousness which could qualify him to stand in the presence of a holy God. Never once did he clearly identify Jesus as the Divine One Who was sent from heaven to die as man in man’s stead. Never once did he announce that God actually had made provision for the lost sinner by making available to the sinner His own righteousness through the work of His Son, the Messiah. Never once did he explain how Christ had resolved the universal problem of the descendants of Adam by dying in the place of all mankind because of His great love and the need to satisfy the perfect righteousness of God. And never once did he show what the one who does believe in the finished work of Christ now has in the way of peace with God and perfect access into the grace which had been provided. Neither did he describe the joy that would come upon one’s reception of that wonderful hope of the glory of God.
While “the evangelist” preached long about how hot hell was and about how a man earnestly should long and should seek to escape its flames, he totally neglected these vital elements of the gospel: 1. The fact that we have a risen Christ Who has paid the awful price of death in our place and for our sin. 2. The fact that our crucified Christ is our risen Savior Who now is seated in heaven. As a result, He is the only Savior for He alone is “… able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
This crucial truth is important for the soul-winner to understand and to present to a lost soul. The next two chapters in Romans will develop just how important a factor the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a key element of the gospel, the good news which brings about the deliverance of a believer from his offenses and provides the basis for our justification. In chapter six the careful reader will discover that it is only in the resurrection of the Savior that the one believes can be counted to have paid for his own sins on the cross and raised from the dead in the Savior.
It is exceedingly important for the soul-winner to recognize that in Romans 10:9 Paul is not demanding that the new believer instantly submit to the entire will of Christ as his lord and master if he really would be saved. Ah, there is the ugly head rearing up, suggesting the necessity of man’s adding works, of adding something that he must do before he can be saved! I insist that very few of the multitudes who have believed have even come close to that yieldedness which is seen in the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Normally that state of yieldedness is an experience which the mature believer can only acknowledge as a process that may take years to take place. Indeed, I believe that is precisely the meaning which Paul intended to be understood by his words in Philippians three. The Greek word for “Lord” which Paul uses here in Romans 10:9 does refer in some contexts to one’s human or Divine master. But this Greek word, kurios, also is the Greek word which translates the great covenant name, YHWH, “the Eternal Lord,” in numerous New Testament quotations from the Old Testament. An examination of the context in which Paul uses in here in Romans 10:9–10 makes it inescapable that we recognize that Paul is insisting that a cursory knowledge of the identity of the Savior, such as only recognizing Him as a perfect man, even a God sent man, is inadequate. The one who is seeking to be saved must come to understand that the man Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One long promised, always translated “Christ” in the New Testament. He must recognize that in prophecy He repeatedly is called Jehovah, the Eternal Lord, in the Old Testament and that He is the member of the triune Godhead who willingly arose from His throne in glory in order to become man and become mankind’s sinbearer.
I have told you that years ago I heard an evangelist tell a tear jerking story about an indigent who dreamed his way through a preaching service in a rescue mission. Then he weaved up the aisle and responded to the invitation by saying: “I don’t know who dis Jesus is but I want to become one of his gang.” Do you suppose that the evangelist had done his proper work? Had he really finished his work as an evangelist and actually had led a soul to Christ when that man came forward? Or had he only succeeded in chalking up another “conversion,” one that fell far short of giving him a jewel in his Soul-winner’s crown in glory? I greatly fear that the one who had been counted as a convert still wanders lost through the streets of some great city if he even is alive today. I have always thought that the Lord’s tally of the number who have come to Christ under our ministry will be much more accurate than any list of converts that we could ever keep.
This then is the reason for Paul’s emphatic conclusion to chapter 4. The righteousness of God can only be imputed or counted as it is applied by God Himself to our account “… If we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:24–25). It is clear then that the third step, up which the soul-winner must lead a poor, lost soul, is to help that person to realize that there is absolutely nothing that he or any one else can do to prepare him for the blessings of God’s reception in His court of law. Only that which God Himself has done can transform a sinner to become a person who is counted righteous by the Judge Himself. The emphasis upon the word “faith” in 3:27–4:25 must be drilled into the thinking of the seeker. It is only by faith in the finished work of Christ that he or she may be included among those whom God has counted to be righteous. How that is accomplished in God’s court still lies ahead in another chapter.
THE SOUL-WINNER’S FOURTH STEP: Explaining how Christ has provided His own Righteousness to us (5:1–21)
The soul-winner needs to recognize that it is at this point in the book of Romans that Paul returns to the explanation of the means by which God has provided His own righteousness to man in his lost estate. It is not enough when the soul-winner gets a person to say “Yes, I will accept Christ as my Savior” or “Yes, I want to commit myself to Christ.” (The soul-winner should note that this last phrase is far from harmonizing with that which God requires of the one who is coming to Christ. It avoids recognizing the substitutionary work of the Savior. Unless that person understands who Christ is and what God has done for him through the work of Christ on the cross, it is not likely that he actually gets saved in responding to that invitation. This also should include understanding of what salvation brings to him).
I have long been troubled of heart as I have felt a deep concern for those who did come forward at the fiery urging of the evangelist that I mentioned in the last chapter. Did the counselors who sat down with them really meet their needs? Was the gospel actually explained to the unsaved after they came forward to the counseling rooms (since it was not in the sermons)? Or did those who came forward only hear inadequate fragments after the manner of the messages of “the evangelist?” Is this perhaps one reason why there are so many “secret unbelievers” on the rolls of the churches of our land? Have these folks ever really heard the gospel clearly and had the opportunity of believing the good news which saves? Indeed, have they ever really understood the gospel at all? As recently as yesterday I heard a pastor, not my own, a man of many years experience attempting to preach the gospel but utterly omitting the fact that he was referring to a resurrected Savior.
Evangelist! How sweet the name
Of him who heralds saving grace!
How lovely on the mountain tops
The feet of him who bears the news
That Christ Who died, now lives to save!
Evangelist! Give not the name
To him who damns to Christless hell
The trembling soul who longs to fly
Its burning flame, betrayed by him
Who failed to preach this saving grace!
Evangelist! Reserve the name
For him whose message rings so clear:
“Christ died for you!” He paid the price,
That spotless Lamb, for all your sin!
Christ rose that you might live! (Ben)
Most people actually have very little or no idea of all that happened at Calvary when the Savior took our place to satisfy the righteousness of God. Chapter 5 begins to unfold the nature of the work of Christ in our behalf and what it accomplished for us. This should immediately remind the soul-winner of the truths that began to be unfolded in the latter part of chapter 3. There Paul began to speak of the fact that God’s righteousness has been made available. Of course it has been made available through Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.
A. Christ’s work on the cross, God’s altar, brings us grace and peace (5:1–5)
1. Our position: justified by faith (5:1–5)
Among the essential truths which a newcomer to the Lord must know is that when he is justified by faith in Christ, the old enmity which once was in his heart toward God now has been erased. That peace with God and that peace within for which fallen man so often longs now is available as the provision of peace with God is appropriated when one accepts Christ.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, Who has made both (Jew and Gentile) one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both [Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2:13–18).*
While Paul clearly is emphasizing that enmity which is removed between Jew and Gentile in this passage, it also is clear that through the cross of Christ the enmity which we had toward God is erased. As a result we who are believers now have access into God’s presence. And as a result the means now is available whereby the believer actually can begin enjoying internal peace. That truth will be developed and explained by the Apostle more fully in Romans eight.
This removal of the animosity of the unsaved toward God is the theme with which Paul begins his discussion of the fourth step of the Soul-winner. Later in Romans 8:6–8 Paul will even more emphatically point out this enmity which the unsaved man has toward God. It is an enmity which absolutely prevents him from offering anything in the way of works or ceremony to God as a means of making himself righteous before God. There he describes the unconquerable state of the mind of the unsaved man in its total enmity toward God, wholly inclined and destined toward death.
“For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. So then those who are in flesh [the sphere of existence of the unbeliever] cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:6–8)*
The sweet message of Romans 5 lies against the dark and gloomy background of the earlier chapters of the book of Romans. Those chapters describe the awful consequences which man faces because of his sinful nature and the many acts of sin which that produces in his life. Paul now takes up again the theme of the believer’s being counted to be righteous in God’s court because of the awful price that Christ paid for him on the cross. He suddenly turns the gloomy scene which the sinner faced into a cause for peace and great rejoicing in the expectation of what lies ahead for him. “Therefore, having been justified by faith …,” the phrase which opens chapter 5 states our wonderful position which the believer enjoys when he has believed in the Savior.
2. The provisions of our position when we are justified by faith (5:1b)
“Therefore, having been justified by faith [already] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also [already] we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:1–2). *
Be aware that in this verse many translations make the mistake of following the Alexandrian text, a very limited and very often contradictory Greek textual source from Egypt. As I have pored over the many erratic, variant readings of the less than a half a dozen Egyptian manuscripts and have compared them in most of the New Testament books, I have found that they continually disagree among themselves, indeed often many scores of times in a single book of the Bible. In these documents the truth that we believers who are in Christ Jesus already have peace with God since when we have believed in Christ, is changed into a command that we should have peace with God. In following this textual tradition these translations take away Paul’s presentation of this peace with God which results from our faith. These translations make the verses into an encouragement for the justified believer to begin living in peace with God and to begin rejoicing in what God has done. This approach totally ignores the flow of the argument of the book. Paul does not begin exhorting believers to respond to the grace of God and to begin a life pleasing to God until he reaches well into the second great section of the book at chapter 8. There he speaks of the need of grounding and discipling the new believer in his faith. There he begins to call upon us to enjoy a proper relationship to the Holy Spirit so that we indeed can enjoy peace. Indeed, the chapter clearly indicates that the enmity already has been erased between the believer and God because he is dwelling in the sphere of the Spirit (Rom 8:9).
3. Our response to the love of God (5:2b–5)
The truth taught here in Romans 5:1–2a, preserved in the Majority Greek text, is twofold.
1. As a result of the great work of Christ which provides, the sole basis for our justification, we now do have peace with God.
2. We have complete access by faith into the position which that grace provides and in which we stand. Later the Soul-winner will want to introduce the new believer into one of the great aspects of this access which we have by faith. It includes access into the very presence of Christ, our great High Priest, so that we can come to Him at any moment in prayer (Heb. 4:14–16).
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14–16).
This fact transforms the attitude of the believer toward the life circumstances which still surround him. It changes his response to his trials. This truth will be further developed by Paul in chapter 8.
“We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation produces patience and patience produces experience and experience produces hope, and hope does not make one ashamed because the love of/for God has been abundantly poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given unto us” (5:3–5).*
If we take the Greek word normally translated “of God,” to be a subjective genitive, then it would refer to God’s love for us which, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, has been poured out in our hearts. On the other hand, the form could be taken to be an objective genitive. In that case the word would say in English that the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches a new believer to love God with an undying love. But how did all of these wonderful things which are now our present possessions come to be given to us? How was it done? Now Paul finally considers that it is time to begin explaining the means whereby the dreadful plight of the sinner is resolved by God.
B. Because of God’s love, Christ died in our own place, satisfying the wrath of God against us (5:6–8)
1. The basis for our justification: Christ’s death for the ungodly. (5:6–8)
One of the most glorious truths which ever will cross the mind of man is this. “… When we were yet without strength [in other words, when we still were unsaved] in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). Notice that the death of Christ for the ungodly now becomes a reoccurring theme in this passage. It is found again in verse 8. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were sinners, undone and without hope before a holy God. Yet the love of God and His desire to satisfy the demand of His own righteousness without destroying those whom He loved, brought forth the free and gracious provision of a means of redemption for us. We had no cause for hope that God would help us out of our impossible predicament, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die” (5:7).
But Someone did die! And it was not another sinner whose death would have made no difference in resolving our sin problem and its death sentence. It was One Who was spotless, Who “… knew no sin …” (2 Cor. 5:21), Who “… was … without sin” (Heb. 4:15) … In Psalm 41 He says of Himself through the pen of His human ancestor, David, while awaiting His own resurrection: “As for me, You will uphold me in My integrity, and will set me before your face forever” (Psa. 41:12). The word translated “integrity” here is the word which was used of the Passover lamb which had to be spotless and perfect in every way before it could be sacrificed on Passover night (cf. Exo. 12:5–6). And it was God’s spotless lamb, the Lord Jesus, who died in our place long ago. “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
2. The deliverance from wrath that justification brings is through Christ (5:9)
This theme of the death of Christ on our behalf reoccurs again in verse 9. The wrath which we deserved as sinners before a holy God now is resolved through the death of Christ. Paul says: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” It is clear that justification, or being counted righteous in God’s holy court of law, is a present possession since the event already has taken place in the past. He says: “… having now been justified by His blood.…” But it also is clear that this event which is past for the believer also brings results which still are future. “… We shall be saved from wrath through Him.” The question of our eternal destiny forever has been settled. The believer does not have to wait for the judgment seat of Christ or for the great white throne to find out if God’s wrath yet awaits him. He need never fear that at someday in the future he still will face the wrath of God. In the justification which Christ obtained, which He paid for with His own blood, God forever assures us of the fact that “… we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
C. The satisfaction of judgment brought by Christ’s death in our place saves us from the wrath of God (5:10a)
Ah, here is one of the many results of the death of Christ. “But God commended His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We are saved from wrath through Him. And surely the sinner must come to recognize that, in his fallen state, he fully deserves the wrath of God. But an essential part of the gospel presentation should include the fact that, because Christ’s death took upon Himself the wrath of God which we deserved, it now is no longer is due us. The enmity of which Romans 8:6–8 speaks is gone because “… you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9–10). How that is possible will be explained later by Paul. The very next part of Romans 5:10 presents yet another of the results of the death of Christ.
D. Christ’s present life assures us of reconciliation to God and of our ultimate salvation. (5:10b–11)
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved through the fact that He lives” (5:10).* Once again Paul is returning to the glorious theme of the resurrection of Christ He is living! And because Christ lives, we can be saved. We too may live! Now the Apostle in this verse is paralleling the benefits of the death of Christ for us with the wonderful benefits of the fact that Christ has been resurrected and now lives in heaven. Because He is there, He is “… able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
Above all, one should understand that Paul is not saying that the life which Jesus lived here on earth was a means of saving us. The author is referring to the present life of the Lord Jesus Who now is ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because He now is living and ministering on our behalf as our great high priest that He can save us. This present session and ministry of the Messiah is prophesied in Psalm 110:1 and 4.
“The Eternal Lord said unto my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ … The Lord has sworn and will not relent. ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
As a result of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, we who are believers have great cause for joy in what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ Who has brought us back from our alienation from God into a state of being reconciled. Reconciliation to God means that we are brought back into an amiable relationship with God. By the way, the Bible never even hints that God is reconciled to us. Rather it is we who are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of verse 11 where the Greek noun for “reconciliation” is wrongly translated “atonement” in the King James Version. The Old Testament word which is translated “atonement” is a word which speaks of the covering of the believer’s sin which the substitutionary animal provided. It is not properly used of Christ’s work which took away sin. Compare the words of John the Baptist when he first looked upon Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Paul is referring to that glorious state achieved by God Himself when He brought us back into right relationship with Himself. Romans 5:11 says “And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
This theme is explained by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church.
“And all things are of God Who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–19).
Having developed several of the results of the work of Christ, Paul now turns to specifics to show just how Christ accomplished in Himself the work which enables a believer to enter a joyful relationship with God.
E. Christ’s obedience delivers us from condemnation in Adam (5:12–21)
1. The plight of all mankind in Adam (5:12–14)
a. In Adam all received the sin nature and the death it brings (5:12)
One of the painful facts of life which the unsaved man must face is the fact that the entire human race which has been generated by our father Adam has been stained with that original rebellion of Adam in the garden. Most people never realize that all “mankind” was created when Adam was formed out of the dust of the ground and was breathed into life to become a living soul “And the Eternal Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7). God had said: “Let us make mankind in our image.… Male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26).* But not only was Eve was in Adam at the time of his creation; all of those who are Adam’s descendants were in Adam at that time. The Hebrew word “Adam” is used with the article seven times in chapter six to refer to all mankind, the entire human race as it existed at that time.
That is to say that the entire human race was in the garden in our ancestor Adam. That is the meaning of Genesis 1:26. “Then God said: ‘Let us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; Let them have dominion over the fish in the sea, over the birds of the air …”* At that time when Adam was in the garden, we were Adam just as the child which has not yet been conceived is yet in the loins of its father today. It is crucial to understand that the one act of Adam stained the entire human race only because we were in Adam at that time. The rebellion which was in our father there in the garden has been present in every offspring that ever has been born since then. That is what Paul is referring to in Romans 5:12 when he says:
“Wherefore, just as by one man the sin nature entered into the world and through the sin nature, the death [which every man dies] even so death spread through to all men because all sinned” [in Adam’s or “mankind’s” single act].*
I have supplied the word “nature” where the Greek article occurs with the word harmartia, “sin” but not without justification. Our English translations ignore the fact that Paul very carefully distinguishes between acts of sin and the nature within man which produces those acts. He does so in this great passage explaining the internal enemy of the believer, his sin nature, by adding the Greek article to the word hamartia wherever it is found in the singular in Romans 5:12–8:4. This forgotten contribution of the Greek language was recognized by Wuest more than a generation ago. This passage contains Paul’s careful explanation of why it is impossible for a believer to be victorious over acts of sin in his life by means of his own strength. It is a section which sets the stage for Paul’s invaluable explanation of the precious provision which God has made to enable the believer to live victoriously above the demands of his old sin nature which he gained in the sin in the garden. That discussion is a major focus of Romans 8. In Romans 5:12–8:4, every time that Paul uses the word “sin” in the singular with the article, it clearly refers to the nature which indwells us. Thereby he gives the explanation of the cause for the agony of his own soul as he wrestled with acts of sin in his life as a believer after he died to the Mosaic law through his death in Christ on the cross.
Paul strikes a death blow at the grievous and dreadfully misleading error of those who teach that a believer no longer has a sin nature. Paul plainly identifies the major source of sin in his own life as well as in ours as “… The sin nature which is indwelling me.”* (7:17 and 20). He calls this “… the sin nature which is existing in my members”* (7:23). He carefully uses the article with the word for “sin,” he hamartia, in the singular to distinguish that he is talking about that old nature.
To deny this fact is to leave the believer without a grasp of the crucial fact that he has three great, mortal enemies, the world, the flesh (which includes the sin nature) and the Devil. It is a position which strongly tends to leave the believer helpless before these enemies of his spiritual life and service. Failing to recognize the existence and power of even one of these three enemies can only result in a defeated life.
Paul uses the definite article twice here in 5:12 to explain how it is that every person in mankind has this nature which generates our acts of sin and rebellion against God since it indwells us. He does this a total of 30 times from Romans 5:12 through 8:3. Where Paul is discussing acts of sin he does not use the article. The expositor readily can recognize the only exception where the noun is in the plural (4:7) for there the plural noun and article clearly are referring to acts of sin in a man’s life. Where he refers to the sin nature, which came under judgment which fell on the whole human race when we yet were in the loins of Adam, he uses the article to distinguish his meaning. The sin nature entered the world there in the garden in the act of the human race as it existed in that one man. The believer who doubts this presentation needs to consider that physical death of all between Adam and Moses clearly is not linked to these individual’s personal sins but is linked to the fact that each had a sin nature (Rom 5:13–14). And precisely the same factor causes a believer’s physical body to die today. Every man, believer or unbeliever, has a sin nature which produces death in him. Enoch is a special case (Heb. 11:5). Perhaps the reader who is confused about this crucial issue will find it helpful to see all of these references to the sin nature brought together in a single narrative. Paul says these things about the fact that each of us has a sin nature.
“Therefore, even as through one man the sin nature entered into the world [of mankind], and the death [i.e. the physical death which directly is the result of man’s sin nature. cf. Rom 8:2 where the sin nature and the death which it brings also are mentioned, again both having the article.] through the sin nature, even so death passed through unto all men in as much as all sinned” [an aorist, indicating a punctiliar, single act in Adam in the disobedience in the garden] (5:12).
“Moreover the [Mosaic] law entered in order that the transgressions might abound. And where the sin nature abounded, grace abounded much more, in order that, even as the sin nature reigned as king in the death [which the sin nature brings], even so the grace [which God provided to Old Testament believers] reigned as king through righteousness [as explained in Romans 3:25] unto life eternal through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord” (5:20–21).
“What shall we therefore say? Shall we continue to remain in the sin nature [under the rule of the sin nature] in order that the grace [previously mentioned in 5:21] might abound? Absolutely not! How shall we who died with reference to the sin nature continue to live any longer in it” [i.e., under its control]? (6:1–2).
“Knowing this, that our old man also was crucified [in the death Christ Jesus died for us] in order that the body of the sin nature might be rendered ineffective in order that we no longer should be slaves of the sin nature. The reason is that the one having died has been set free from the sin nature [i.e., from its rule over the believer as his king] (6:6–7). The reason is that the death that He [the Messiah] died, He died with reference to the sin nature [which we all have] once for all. But the life which He [the Messiah] lives, He continues to live with reference to God. Even so all of you reckon it on your accounts that you all on the one hand are dead with reference to the sin nature but living with reference to God in [the Messiah,] Christ Jesus our Lord. Stop continuing to allow the [your] sin nature to rule as king in your mortal bodies with the result that you should obey it in its lusts. Neither should you continue to present your members to the sin nature as tools of wickedness, but on the contrary, once for all present yourselves to God as those who are living out from among the dead ones and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (6:10–13).
“Thanks be to God that [even though] all of you were bond slaves of the sin nature, you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine unto which you were delivered. And having been freed [as a slave] from the sin nature, all of you became bond slaves of righteousness” (6:17–18).
“For when you were bondservants of the sin nature, you were all free from [having any] righteousness (6:20).
“But now, having been set free from [the rule over you as king] of the sin nature and having become bondservants to God, all of you have your fruit unto holiness and the end, life eternal. The reason is that the wages which the sin nature gives is death, but the gracious gift of God is life eternal in [the Messiah], Christ Jesus our [Eternal] Lord” (6:22–23).
What shall we therefore say? Is the [Mosaic] law sin? Absolutely not! But on the contrary, I was not knowing by experience the sin nature except through law. For I would not have known [that my heart harbored] covetousness except the law said ‘You shall not covet.’ But the sin nature, taking an occasion through the commandment, brought about in me every kind of evil desire. For apart from the [Mosaic] law sin [as an act] was dead. Now I was living without the law then [after coming to Christ], but with the coming of the commandment, the sin nature revived and I died [i.e. it pointed me out as worthy of death]. And the commandment, which was [to bring] life, this was unto death. The reason was that the sin nature, finding an occasion through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” [figuratively] (7:7–11)
“… The sin nature, in order that it might appear to be sinful, through that good thing [the Mosaic law] was working death in me in order that through the commandment the sin nature might come to be [to my understanding] exceedingly sinful. For we know intuitively that the law is spiritual but I am carnal, having been sold under the sin nature” (7:13–14).
“And now it is no longer I [the new man and nature] who am working this out, but on the contrary, it is the sin nature which is indwelling me” (7:17).
“Now if I work out and do that which I [the new man and new nature] do not want to do, it is not I [the new man and the new nature] who am working out this thing but the sin nature which is indwelling me” (7:20).
“Now I recognize another principle in my members continually warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of the sin nature which is existing in my members” (7:23). “Therefore there now is no condemnation [by the Mosaic law of which alone Paul has been speaking] to those who are in the Messiah, Christ Jesus, [that is,] to those who are not continually walking according to [the desires of their] flesh but on the contrary continually are walking according to the [Holy] Spirit. The reason is that the law of the [Holy] Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of the sin nature and the death [which it inevitably brings].… His [God’s] Son condemned the sin nature in the flesh in order that the righteous standard of the [Mosaic] law might be fulfilled in us, that is in those [believers] who are not continuing to walk according to [the] flesh but on the contrary according to the [Holy] Spirit”* (8:1–4).
It should be obvious that the presence in every believer of a wicked sin nature is a dominant theme of Paul’s discussion which is preparing the new believer to realize his helplessness of himself and in his own strength. Some have mocked the idea that a believer has two equally powerful natures residing within him and warring against each other. That is a concept which utterly is foreign to Scriptural teaching about the relationship if the two natures in the believer. Always it is clear that the old nature is far more powerful than the new nature of the believer. With that devastating truth the Scriptures also teach that the new nature of the believer never can overcome of himself and of his own strength his old nature.
But that is precisely the point of Romans 8. The believer does not have to fight this battle in his own strength. There is One Who has been give to the believer Who will enable the believer to gain victory over his old sin nature when that believer depends upon and walks in the strength which is given to him by this member of the Godhead. And that member of the Godhead Who indwells every believer and is willing and ready to empower the believer to overcome his old nature and to enable the believer to accomplish that walk is the Holy Spirit. The very same power which raised Jesus from the dead dwells in every believer and, as Romans 8:11 says, is able to develop the resurrection life in that believer in his mortal body. Paul has given a powerful explanation of the problem that every believer faces of living a spiritual life which is well pleasing to God. Only by refusing to accept or by completely misunderstanding Paul’s explanation, or by deliberately setting one’s own word above the Word of God, can one hold that the believer no longer has his old sin nature within him as one of his three mortal enemies. I now turn to examine this material which I have quoted above in greater detail.
b. In Adam all participated in Adam and sinned because we were Adam (5:12c)
Romans 5:12 also says that every human being on the face of the earth is born with that sin nature which he received while in Adam. As a result, physical death is the end of the physical life of every human being. That distinction which Paul carefully makes throughout this key section of Romans to distinguish between acts of sin and the nature which produces those acts of sin has been lost in every English translation of which I know. I follow the original text closely in this translation.
“Therefore, even as through one man the sin nature entered into the world [of mankind], and the [resulting] death through the sin nature, even so death passed through unto all men in as much as all sinned” [an aorist, indicating a punctiliar, single act in Adam in the disobedience in the garden] (5:12).
In the conclusion of Romans 5:12 there is another reference to our sin in Adam. This usually is obscured by translations and by commentaries which erroneously reject the truth stated here that the human race sinned in Adam in the garden. These make the phrase “… for all sinned”* [an aorist, point action verb] appear to refer to our individual acts of sin by translating it “… for all have sinned” as if the verb were a perfect tense. In this way the punctilliar verb no longer speaks of the single act in the garden but erroneously is made to speak of the multitudes of sinful acts of which each mature sinner is guilty. The tense chosen by Paul clearly shows that this is not what he intended for the reader to understand. The same error can be found in Romans 3:23 which reads in translations, “For all have sinned.…” It should read: “For all sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.”*
The fact that I was in the loins of Adam, that I indeed was Adam, helps me to understand why from birth I have been a sinner in my conduct. The fact that Romans teaches without question that I still, even after receiving my salvation, have “… the sin nature indwelling me,” helps me to understand how easily I am led into disobedience and into sin even today. It also gives understanding of the reason why so many Christian leaders succumb to a life of sin.
David recognized this universal bent toward a life of sin and rebellion when he was confessing his sin with Bathsheba. He says: “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5). David was not casting an aspersion on his mother’s purity in this statement. Rather he is speaking of the fact that, even while his body was being formed in the womb of his mother, iniquity already was present, inherent in him because of his connection with his ancestor, the fountainhead of the race. He is acknowledging that from the time of his conception sin was an inevitable presence in his life, a presence which led to the sin which he was confessing before the Lord in Psalm 51. And we can understand, through Paul’s carefully guarded exposing of the sin nature in the believer’s life precisely why David fell into his great sin. He, like each one of us, was born with the sin nature which had been part of mankind since all mankind in Adam rebelled in the garden.
In Paul’s writings this problem of the source of sin which is found in every human being is referred to by the expressions “the sin nature” and “the flesh.” The expression, “the sin nature,” usually escapes our attention when we are reading in Romans for translators do not recognize that in Romans 5:12–8:4 As I have indicated, Paul very carefully distinguishes between sin as an act by omitting the article whereas when he refers to the nature which generates the acts of sin he uses the article as here in Romans 5:12 in he
As seen above, Paul uses this latter construction 30 times in this passage. Because the recognition of this phenomenon is so important in showing the origin of sin in our lives, I will repeat myself once again and list them. He
hamartia is used by Paul to identify the sin nature, the source of our sin in Romans 5:12a, 12b, 20, 21; 6:1, 2, 6, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23; 7:7, 8, 9, 11, 13a, 13c, 14, 17, 20, 23; 8:2 and 3. The strong concentration of this construction must be recognized in chapters 6, 7 and 8. The reason for this will be explained later but it relates to the fact that the sin nature has dominated our lives since birth since in indwells every man, woman and child on earth. That even includes believers who are instructed concerning how they may conquer their old sin nature and begin living the kind of a resurrection life which should be expected in one who has been raised from the dead. This is a major subject in the last half of the book.
As proof that all who lived from Adam until Moses had a sin nature, Paul now shows that there were acts of sin in the world which were not being judged since there was no codified law. Nevertheless the proof of the presence of the sin nature which had been producing these acts of sin was the fact that all men died between Adam and Moses.
“For until the law sin [as individual acts] was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him Who was to come” (Rom. 5:13–14).*
Apparently the only exception was Enoch whose translation from earth to heaven is noted in Genesis 5 and Hebrews 11. Many also will include Elijah. All mankind died even though they were not repeating the act of rebellion in which the whole human race had participated in the loins of Adam. [Particularly note verse 14).
Because of Adam’s effect on the whole human race in his transgression Paul uses him as “… the figure of Him that was to come” (v. 14). Paul clearly is indicating that, in some way, there is a close parallel between Christ and Adam. In his statement there is a hint that God would give someone who would provide the solution needed by the descendants of Adam. And Paul at this point begins to contrast that which Adam had done and that which His counterpart, Jesus Christ, has done. Whereas Adam had brought an offense, in Christ a free gift was brought. Whereas Adam’s act had brought the death of many (all mankind),
“But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense [Adam’s act] many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has abounded unto many” (5:15). *
Whereas the guilt and penalty that was brought on the whole human race had come by means of that one act of Adam in the garden, the gift which came through that one man, Jesus Christ, counteracted that one act and its consequences. The reason was that whereas “… the judgment was by one [Adam] to condemnation, … the free gift [by the one man, Messiah], is of many offenses [by mankind] unto justification” (5:16).* Whereas that one act of Adam brought death upon the entire human race so that it reigns over mankind, “Much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (5:17).
Notice that this is the third time of the four times that Paul has used the expression “much more” in this passage. This is what he has said:
1. “We who had been enemies were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. “Much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by the fact that He is living” (5:10).*
2. How great is the contrast between that which received through Adam and that which one may receive through Jesus Christ!
“But not as the offense [in Adam], so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one [Adam] many be dead, much more the grace of God and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has abounded unto many” (5:15).*
3. The contrast between Adam’s offense and the death which resulted now is contrasted with the life which now is available to the one who benefits from the free gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ! “For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (5:17).
4. The plight of man was great as a result of our sin in Adam in the garden. The fact that all have died is evidence of the universality of this problem. And the Mosaic law had made that plight obvious for no man was able to keep the standards of God in his own strength.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered in order that the offense might abound [i.e., become obvious to man]. But where the sin nature abounded, grace did much more abound” (5:19–20).
How much more we believers have received than we had in our former, unsaved state! And how much we have to offer to the poor lost sinner who still is in that sad state! How the grace of God has provided! What great things it can accomplish if we are faithful in proclaiming the good news to the lost!
How great is the solution to the plight of man! How great is the free gift which Jesus Christ has provided to all who will believe, to those “… which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness!” (v. 17). It should be made obvious to the lost sinner that he, now under the condemnation of sin and death can receive, through Jesus Christ, justification of life and eternal life as a free gift! But there is even more! Whereas
“… By the offense of one [Adam], judgment came upon all mankind to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of One [Jesus Christ], the free gift came upon all mankind unto justification of life” (5:18).
Whereas Adam’s transgression and disobedience had brought all of his offspring into the dreadful plight of sin, “… So by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous” (5:18). It is obvious that Jesus Christ has made a provision that somehow man’s lack of righteousness might by solved. Precisely how that was done in God’s court of law without involving God in an unjust act is explained in the next step of the soul-winner.
F. Christ’s grace brings righteousness and eternal life to those who believe (5:20–21)
How great was the accomplishment of the Second Man, Christ! It is obvious that He has totally reversed the shambles which were upon the human race as a result of that which happened to all of us at the fountain head of the race. That created righteousness which Adam originally had, in which mankind might have stood before God, was totally absent. Only the grace of God, looking forward to the wonderful work of Christ, made provision for those of Old Testament days. But that same provision, described in 3:24–26, has met our need as well.
1. “… Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.…”
2. “… To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Whereas in Old Testament days “… The law had entered in order that the offense might abound …,” Paul speaks of how God’s abounding grace overcomes the dilemma of man, the abounding power and the sinfulness of every man’s sin nature. In other words sin had to be made obvious to the sinner and made known to him in order that he might know that he did have a sin nature which was generating the acts of sin. God in grace reversed that problem in His boundless grace.
“But where the sin nature abounded, grace did much more abound, that as the sin nature had reigned as king unto death, even so might grace reign as king through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ” (5:20–21).*
In Adam death!
In Christ grace!
In Adam condemnation!
In Christ justification!
In Adam the sin nature and the death it brought reigned in everyman’s life!
In Christ the believer can receive the gift of righteousness which will reign in his life!
In Adam only offense and condemnation!
In Christ righteousness and justification unto life!
In Adam made a sinner!
In Christ made righteous!
In Adam the sin nature reigned unto death!
In Christ grace through righteousness reigns unto eternal life!
But how does one get to be “in Christ” in order to have all of these things applied to his heavenly record? How does God accomplish the tremendous transference of our sin to the Savior and His righteousness to the sinner? Does God simply say to the trusting sinner, “Well, I think that I will forgive you. Somehow the fact that Christ died should enable me to count you perfectly righteous.”? No, God’s court of law is the only court of law which moves precisely according to perfect righteousness. God has indeed provided the necessary step for the one who comes in faith to have his sins all transferred to the Savior and to be paid for in His death.
Years ago I knew a man who had been a convicted criminal of one of the gangs of Cisero, Illinois. He was not convicted by the state until after he accepted Christ as his Savior in Marquette Manor Baptist Church, the very church in Chicago were I was baptized by Pastor Odegard in 1945. His heart first was convicted of his sinfulness and of his need of the Savior when he heard his little girl praying for his salvation. Surely he also had felt a softening of his hard heart by means of the transformation of his wife after she previously had found Christ and had broken her drug habit. The transformation of his life when he was saved brought the conviction that he must turn himself in to the police and confess his wrong doings. He then was sentenced to prison. But in prison he proved to be such a remarkable model prisoner that eventually they called him into the warden’s office and burned his records before him, releasing him to a very fruitful life of service to His Lord.
God has provided a far more just means whereby the sentence of death under which the sinner long stood can be counted as fully paid The prisoner can be led forth without further record of that which had offended God. The guilty prisoner literally is raised from the dead after the death sentence has been passed upon him “in Christ Jesus.” Yes, and God has provided a means whereby the one who comes in faith can have the very righteousness of the Savior transferred to him so that he has a righteous standing before the Lord. And The fifth step of the Soulwinner is an essential step because it shows precisely how all of this is accomplished in God’s wonderful, perfectly just court of law. While many are confused and misrepresent this fifth step, there can be no question but that Paul considered it to be a crucial, final step in the presentation of the gospel message to a lost world.
THE SOUL WINNER’S CRUCIAL FIFTH STEP: Explaining God’s means of transferring our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us. (6:1–10)
It is obvious from chapter five that Christ has done something wonderful to resolve the problem of the sin nature which mankind received in Adam, the fountain head of the race. It was that act of rebellion in the garden which had brought the sentence of death upon all mankind (5:12–17). It had brought judgment and condemnation to all as they were made sinners (5:18–19). But in face of the abundance of the activities of the sin nature which reigned over man unto death, the provision had made for “… grace to reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20–21). It also is clear that this grace, the free gift that had been given to us, was given with the expectation that we would begin to live righteous lives as the sin nature came under judgment. That becomes the introduction to Paul’s explanation of the soul-winner’s crucial fifth step in Chapter 6:1–10. There the Apostle will explain how the divine transaction actually has taken place. It also becomes the transition to the sixth step of soulwinning which introduces the unfinished work of the soul-winner after he has won a person to Christ. That Divine transaction of which Paul will speak in chapter 6 is precisely set forth by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For He [God] has made Him [Christ] Who knew no sin to be sin for us in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”*
For many it will be difficult to recognize that Messiah, from eternity past, was designated by the Godhead as the One who would become a substitutionary sacrifice to bear the penalty for mankind’s sin. That truth is well presented in Psalm 40, one of David’s great prophetic Psalms. Psalm 40 is a Psalm which is quoted and interpreted in Hebrews 10:5–7. The quotation clearly identifies the words of verses 5–8 of the Psalm as the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews says:
“Therefore, At the time of His coming into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the scroll it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.”*
It is a remarkable fact which must be noticed by interpreters of Psalm 40 that Hebrews 10:5 actually explains the time when these words were spoken by Messiah. It says, and I am adding to the text of verse 6 in the Psalm that which is interpreted in Hebrews: “At the time of His coming into the world He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My two ears You have opened.’ “* (In Hebrews this latter phrase is interpreted: “A body You have given me”).
The text clearly is speaking about the incarnation, that day when through the normal channels of birth, the Savior would enter the world of humanity as a perfect human being without divesting anything whatsoever of His Godhood. He arose from His throne and said these words as He was heading toward his birth on earth and ultimately toward the cross. “Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require” [i.e., These sacrifices were an inadequate and only temporary means of dealing with mankind’s sin. Compare Hebrews 10:2–4]. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I come [i.e. the Messiah was coming to make provision of a perfect substitute for man’s sin, the death of a perfect, sinless human being who would in place of and for mankind’s sin]. In the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.’ “*
When reading this in the book of Hebrews one might think that this is talking about the book of Psalms where this was first written. But when you are reading the same thing in the Book of Psalms, where then do you look for that scroll? I think that you have to look all of the way back into eternity to the time of the decree by the Godhead in council. Note a reference to that great decree which encompasses all between the eternities which is found in Psalm 2:7. “I will declare the decree: The Eternal Lord has said unto me, ‘You are my Son. This day [that is, at the time of that declaration in eternity past when the decree was made] I have become Your Father.’ “ And it must be recognized that the one speaking here in Psalm 2:7 only can be the Messiah, the Son of God. He is identified in Hebrews 1:5 as the one to whom these things were said by the Heavenly Father.
A. The prophetic background for the great transaction
Psalm 40 is remarkable, both in its scope of prophetic elements and in the places to which the prophet David is led by the Holy Spirit to carry the readers. Now consider Psalm 40:12, only four verses away from Christ’s words which we already have considered in the Psalm 40. He there says: “For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me so that I am not able to look up; They are more than the hairs of my head. Therefore my heart failed me.” Now you should surely know the three statements found in the New Testament: “In Him was no sin.” “He did no sin.” “He knew no sin.” This cannot be talking about Christ’s sin. This is talking about our sin which He took upon Himself, which He here confesses as if they were His very own. Indeed, they were His very own for He took all of them upon Himself as if they were His own sins and died for them. He is referring to the sins of the whole world but especially to the sins of those who by God were placed “in Christ Jesus” by an act of the Godhead in His death upon the cross. Christ has taken our sins as if they were His own and He has borne them on the cross. “My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up. They are more than the hairs of my head!” (Psa. 40:12).
Some may object that these are not the words of the Messiah at all. But the Psalm begins with an agonizing cry which should have been translated in the present tense. It is a cry that would be delivered from hell where the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, went in our place. The present tense of the first verb with a strongly intensifying infinitive absolute from the same root is followed by a series of verbs that could only be translated in the future to accord with the fact that the Psalm contains Messiah’s own words.
“Earnestly, longingly I am waiting for the Eternal Lord; and He will incline to me and will hear my cry. He also will bring me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and will set my feet upon a rock, and will establish my steps. Many will see [my resurrection] and will fear and will trust in the Eternal Lord” (Psa. 40:1–3).*
The verb forms which open this Psalm in verse one are far more intense than they are represented in any English translation. Indeed, I feel that they are the most intense and agonizing expressions that can be found in the Word of God! By the context of the last verses of the Psalm they must be interpreted as future in time and not past. And the interpreter of the Psalm must be careful to recognize that, after Messiah’s reviewing of His departure from heaven (40:5–8), He reviews His ministry on earth (40:9–10). Then He returns to request the Lord’s mercies during this time when the multitude of our sins are upon Him (40:11–12), asking now for the deliverance which would shame those evil spirits who were mocking Him in His great time of trial and would be the cause for rejoicing of those who would receive the salvation which had purchased for us (40:13–16). Listen to this again, you evangelists. The Savior speaks of His coming resurrection from Sheol and announces that His resurrection will be the basis for the many who come to Him seeking to be saved. “Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Eternal Lord. Blessed is that man who makes the Eternal Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies!” (Psa. 40:3b–4). The Psalm closes precisely where it began but with the Messiah now asking that His resurrection from that horrible pit where He went for us should not be delayed (40:17). I am confident that this is a Psalm which, in its Christological meaning, is a Psalm which the Messiah spoke out of Hell as He waited for His resurrection. That resurrection would be the proof that the Father had accepted His provision for mankind (Psa. 41:10–11).
Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea an important part of the gospel? Oh yes! As long ago as in the days of David it was prophesied that the resurrection of the Messiah would be the factor which would cause that “Many will see it and will fear and will trust in the Eternal Lord” (Psa. 40:3b). David wrote the words that David’s greater Son would cry centuries later just as Peter interprets Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 in Acts 2:25–36. He specifically says that David was not speaking about himself but about the Lord Jesus. He quotes the words of Psalm 16 as the words of the Messiah as He looks across death and hell in the garden, anticipating the day of His resurrection. Of that He says:
“For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show Me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of Joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore!” (Psa. 16:10–11).*
There are eight very important factors which should speak both to a Jew and to a Gentile concerning the certainty of the resurrection of David’s greater Son who is identified as the Messiah, the chief character of the Psalm, in Acts 2:25–36.
1. Messiah would go to sheol or hell in His ministry of His goodness “… for the saints who are in the earth [the Old Testament believers] and the excellent ones [I believe that this expression alludes to the New Testament Church] in whom is all My delight” (Psa 16:2–3).* I also conclude that Psalm 102:19–20 contain a reference to the church in the second reason given to the Messiah for the delay of His kingdom. The Eternal Lord says that He has looked down from heaven with concern about those believers who already were confined [in Sheol awaiting the sin offering which could take away their sins]. He also was concerned about providing a means “… to release those yet appointed to death” (Psa. 102:20b). I conclude that this refers to those who would die after Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection which is strongly alluded to in the Psalm. The final reason for the delay of Messiah’s kingdom which is given by the Eternal Lord is the need for the great covenant name, YHWH, “the Eternal Lord,” to have a proper exposition and have its full meaning when the King would have gathered together the peoples and kingdoms of the earth in the kingdom after His resurrection (Psa. 102:21–22).
1. Messiah would not stay in Sheol or hell for the Eternal Lord would not leave him there.
2. Messiah’s physical body would not decay during the time that His soul and spirit were separated from His body in death.
3. Messiah would be resurrected out of Sheol.
4. Messiah would ascend into the Eternal Lord’s local presence after His resurrection.
5. Messiah there would have fullness of joy in the Eternal Lord’s local presence.
6. There Messiah would take His rightful place at the right hand of the Eternal Lord.
7. There Messiah would enjoy unending pleasures (as we also will when in His presence).
Psalm 40 also should prove to be very useful in Jewish evangelism. And Psalm 41 is very much like it. I understand that the Messiah is speaking about Himself as the Psalm opens. He is the one whom the LORD will deliver in His time of great trouble. The nature of that time of trouble begins to unfold in verse 4 where He says: “… Lord, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.” But as the interpreter continues to study the Psalm it becomes very obvious that it is not His own sin of which He speaks. It is not His sin which He is confessing. He is confessing my sin and indeed “… the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). There is a very significant clue in verse 9 that this is indeed a Psalm which ultimately must be understood to be the words of Christ. He says: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Of whom is Christ speaking in these words? (And this is a very important question to ask in many places in the Scripture). It is Judas. In John 13:18 Christ identifies Judas as the one of whom the Psalm speaks. Christ says: “I do not speak concerning all of you [disciples]. I know whom I have chosen but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ “
In the same Psalm in the verses immediately before Psalm 41:9 you will find that there are those who were sure that “… He will rise up no more!” (v. 8). Now listen to Christ’s words as He asks for His resurrection. “But You, oh Eternal Lord, be merciful to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.” (v. 10). Ah, He died for our sins after Judas lifted up his heel against him! Then Messiah says that His resurrection will prove that God had accepted the redemptive work that He had finished. “By this I will know that You are well pleased with me, because my enemy will not triumph over me” (v. 11). Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15. “If Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, then we of all men are most miserable” because that fact would prove that God did not approve either of Christ or of what He had done. But Christ says here in Psalm 41:12 and 13,
“I know that it will not be that way.” “As for me, You will uphold me in my integrity, and will set me before Your face forever. Blessed be the Eternal Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.”
You must be aware of the nature of His claim in verse 12. When Christ says that “… You will uphold me in my integrity …” He is maintaining his absolute spotlessness. This word translated “integrity” is used of the sacrificial lamb used in the Passover ceremony.
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight” (Exo. 12:5–6).
The lamb had to be shut up for three days and three nights before Passover. It had to be examined, scrutinized carefully so that it would be a lamb without blemish. And the One, Who here in Psalm 41:4, has just confessed sin says “… You will uphold Me in My spotlessness and set Me before Your face forever!” Oh, what a great God we have! And what a wonderful Savior! This could refer to no other person in the human race but to the one who was perfect God and perfect man!
The same truth is found so clearly for those who will not refuse to believe that great prophecy of the Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection in Isaiah 53:1–12.
“Who would have believed the report that we heard? [Note Rom. 10:14–18 where the phrase is used of Israel’s hearing of the report of the gospel but not believing]. And to whom was the arm of the Eternal Lord [i.e., the Messiah] revealed? For He [the Messiah] grew up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He [the Messiah] had no form or comeliness; and when we saw Him, there was no beauty that we should desire Him. He [the Messiah] was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He [the Messiah] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He [the Messiah] was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we were healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Eternal Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He [the Messiah] was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He [the Messiah] was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people [Israel] He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Eternal Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His [Messiah’s] soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Eternal Lord will prosper in His [Messiah’s] hand. He shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied. By His knowledge My [God’s] righteous Servant [Messiah] will justify many, for He has borne their iniquities. Therefore I [God] will divide Him [the Messiah] a portion with the great, and He [the Messiah] will divide the spoil with the strong, because He [the Messiah] poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors. And He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”*
How powerfully the Old Testament sets forth the fact that the Messiah, when He would come to earth, would become a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the many! And how clearly Jesus who is called Christ, the Messiah, fulfilled to the minutest detail those prophecies concerning the fact that He would bear our sins.
Now there clearly are two aspects to this work which Christ did.
1. In the first place God made Christ to be sin for us.
2. In the second place (and the goal of the first aspect) God worked out a means whereby we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ. Both of these achievements are accomplished in and explained by the final phrase, “in Him,” for that is borne out in many important passages of Scripture. By a positioning of the one who believes “in Christ Jesus,” as the phrase often is presented in Paul’s writings, the sinless One was made sin for us. In the same way, that positioning of the believer “in Him” enables us to “… be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
The precise means by which this divine transaction would be accomplished will not be revealed by Paul until he leads us into the exquisite revelation of Chapter 6:1–10. Surely such a transaction must bring great responsibilities on the person who has believed in Christ and has had this great Divine transaction take place on him! Indeed that is so, and it is the subject which introduces chapter 6. One thing is clear. Somehow the completion of this great, twofold transaction requires that we be placed “in Christ Jesus.” One cannot read the Epistles of Paul without meeting that phrase repeatedly. One may find “in Him,” “in the Beloved,” “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus.” Now not every time that you meet the phrase “in Christ Jesus” or its equivalent is it a reference to this position which somehow will resolve our sin problem. For example you will read of believing in Christ. But that is obviously not this important use of the phrase which occurs upwards of 100 times in Paul’s writings. But a careful examination of the context of the phrase will soon enable you to recognize these. This is a very important concept. It is time now to turn to Romans 6:1–10 to see how a man is placed “in Christ Jesus” and something of what that accomplishes for the sinner.
B. Our obligation as believers to live above bondage to the sin nature (6:1–2)
Chapter 6 begins then, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in the sin nature that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we that are dead to the sin nature live any longer therein?” (6:1–2). This remarkable challenge both looks back at the achievements of Christ which are described in chapter 5 and looks forward to the theme of the rest of the book, that which is expected of us because of our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. We who have the privilege of having “… grace reign as king through righteousness” in our lives unto eternal life, shall we continue to allow our sin nature to rule over our lives and dominate our earthly activities? Shall we allow our sin nature to reign as king over us now that we are believers? “Certainly not!” Paul uses the strongest possible negative in the Greek language to express his horror at the very idea that, by continuing to allow the sin nature to dominate our lives, we would bring honor to the Lord by displaying His wonderful grace more often. But he also says something else which should puzzle the believer and cause him to research the meaning of Paul’s statement, “How shall we that are dead to the sin nature live any longer therein?”
What can Paul possibly mean? How is it that “… we are dead to the sin nature?” It is regrettable that the doctrines which are taught to many believers in Pentecostal churches makes it impossible for them to answer that question accurately. And yet the answer to that question lies in the following verses.
Notice that, whereas Paul has spoken of the terrible consequence of Adam’s sin in our lives today and of the remarkable deliverance of these consequences by the death of Christ in our place, he now is turning to initiate a totally new theme which later will dominate the second great section of the book of Romans. He begins his transition to this new theme by showing that what Christ has done for us obligates the believer to begin living on a wholly new plane of life. He displays a wonderful concern lest his teaching up to this point might be misunderstood and some believers might foolishly think that, by giving the Lord many opportunities to forgive their sins, they would be helping Him to display His grace! Paul immediately turns to explain the answer to the question, “How shall we that are dead to the sin nature live any longer therein?” I can only ask: “What is this? How did I die with reference to my old sin nature?” So Paul’s explanation immediately follows.
C. The reason for that obligation: The transfer of our sins to Christ and of Christ’s death to us as believers through Spirit baptism (6:3–10)
Paul promptly gives the correct answer to that question, “How shall we that are dead to the sin nature live any longer therein?” He shows us that such a course of action as a believer is wholly unreasonable. The verse utterly contradicts the misrepresentation of many who say that the doctrine of eternal security simply gives license to the believer to live as he pleases. To live in such a way ignores a great ministry which has been performed upon every believer at the moment of salvation. Paul asks of us: “Do you not know that so many of us [and we should note the limiting factor there for he does not refer to everyone] as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into the death of Him”? (6:3). This work which caused us to be “… baptized into Christ Jesus” doesn’t extend to the whole world to include the unsaved, even though Christ’s death according to 1 John 2:2 was for the sins of the whole world. It is only speaking of a certain group of people who have been “… baptized into Christ Jesus.” It speaks only of those who have been “baptized into the death of Him.”* There is an article of previous reference here which refers back to the death which Christ died which Paul has just mentioned. The article of previous reference tells the reader that the speaker or writer is indicating that he is speaking again about something which already has been mentioned.
Pierson says of Romans 6, “In this sixth chapter of Romans seven significant statements are noticeable, and upon them hangs the whole argument and turns:”
1. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; that is, He was divinely quickened or made alive, so that His resurrection was a miracle.
2. We, as believers, are planted together with Him in the likeness of His resurrection; that is, we share in the very power of God which raised Him from the dead.
3. Our old man is crucified with Him; that, the former sinful nature is judicially regarded as crucified, dead, buried, and left in the tomb of Christ …
4. That the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin; that is, the power of sin as our master is practically [i.e. positionally] broken, and we are released.
5. We believe that we shall also live with Him. Surely, we are not to refer this only to our final resurrection, His resurrection, onward, forevermore, our life is one with His.
6. Death has no more dominion over Him, and so we in Him are delivered from all that dominion of sin which implied in death as its judicial penalty. Compare verse 14.
7. In that He lives, He lives unto God; and to us also God is to be the source, channel, and goal of our new life, and so we are to manifest our unity with Him.
This teaching is so wonderful that it would be incredible were it not found in the inspired Scripture, and thus sealed with the authority of the Divine Teacher. It manifestly is a revelation from God, for it never would have entered into the heart of any mere man, untaught of God, to conceive it.
Paul now is explaining precisely how God’s court of law has resolved the problem. We have been baptized into Jesus Christ and therefore are counted to have been baptized into His death. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (6:3). And that explanation resolves another problem of interpretation in this wonderful book of Romans. Have you noticed that the Holy Spirit has been mentioned only once this far in the book of Romans? Paul has alluded to the ministry of the Holy Spirit spreading abroad God’s love (if a subjective genitive) or developing our love for God (if an objective genitive) in the lives of believers in Romans 5:5. “And hope does not make one ashamed because the love of [or “for”] God has been abundantly poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.”
There is only one baptism which unites us with Christ in His person and work. It is amazing and utterly regrettable that those who talk most about the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually know least about what actually is accomplished by this crucial work of salvation. And it is but one of four great ministries of the Holy Spirit which inescapably must take place the moment that one believes.
1. The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who performs the work of regeneration or our being born again. These are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself.
“Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.… Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ “ (Jn 3:3, 5–7).
2. A second ministry by the Holy Spirit which absolutely is required at the moment that one believes in Christ is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The believer is joined together with all other believers into a holy shrine or inner sanctuary, a Holy Place where the Holy Spirit dwells.
“Don’t all of you know that all of you are a holy temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in all of you? If anyone corrupts the holy temple of God, God will corrupt this person. For all of you are the holy temple of God Who is in you all” (1 Cor 3:16–17).*
At the moment that one believes, he or she becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit collectively and individually as the Holy Spirit enters into believers so that the believers individually and collectively become a holy, inner sanctuary.
“Or do all of you not know that the body [singular] of each one of you is a holy temple of the Holy Spirit who is in all of you, which all of you have from God, and you all do not belong to yourselves, for all of you have been bought with a price. Therefore all of you glorify God in your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). *
I deliberately have emphasized the plural pronouns which are found in this passage. It is difficult to be certain whether the passage is addressing all believers and thus referring to the fact that together we become a holy dwelling place of the Holy Spirit as does 1 Corinthians 3:16–17. Or is there a particular emphasis upon the individuals who make up the temple which is His body? The use of the singular “the body” usually is interpreted as indicating that each believer individually is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Surely that is the intent of Romans 8:9–11.
“But you all are not ‘in flesh’ but on the contrary ‘in Spirit’ since the Spirit of God indwells in all of you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit from Christ [understanding the fixed form Christos to be in the ablative or source case], this one does not belong to Him. But if [or” since “] Christ is in you all, on the one hand the body [i.e. your individual body] is dead because of sin but on the other hand the [i.e.,” your “individual] spirit is alive because of righteousness. And since the Spirit of the One having raised Jesus out of the dead ones is dwelling in you all, the One having raised Christ Jesus out of the dead ones also will make alive the mortal bodies of all of you through His Spirit Who is indwelling you all.”*
I want to assure you that though I appear to be speaking “Missourian” I do so here only to point out the plural pronouns which are in the original Greek text. But the plurals here appear only to be indicating that it is true of every believer that he has the Holy Spirit. The last verse strongly indicates that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in each of the believers was able to supply resurrection power to the believer in this life. As a result the believer would be able to fulfill the requirement that we should live the resurrection life which so strongly is laid upon us earlier in chapter six. There in verses 11–13 Paul demands that we recognize that we have been resurrected from the dead positionally in Christ and that we should begin living in the light of that.
“So also all of you count it on your books that you yourselves on the one hand are dead to the sin nature but on the other hand are living to God in Christ Jesus. Stop allowing the sin nature to reign as king in the mortal body which each of you possesses so that you should obey its lusts. Stop continuing to present your members to be instruments of unrighteousness to the sin nature, but on the contrary present yourselves once for all to God even as being alive out from the dead ones and all of you present once for all your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”*
3. The third universal ministry of the Holy Spirit is one that is mentioned only three times. It is the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit which acts as the guarantee, the down payment, assuring that what God has sealed, that is, the believer, is not lost. Discussion of this important universal ministry of the Holy Spirit is found in these three key passages.
“In Him you also trusted, on hearing the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in Whom also, on believing, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14).
It is crucial that the interpreter recognize that the underlined verbs represent simultaneous participles in the Greek text. There is no passage of time between the point of action indicated by these aorist participles and their main verbs. The sealing of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment that one hears, understands and believes the gospel. There is no believer who is not “in Christ Jesus” and who has not been sealed in Christ Jesus by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The sealing of the Holy Spirit indicates that the Holy Spirit has been given the responsibility by God of being the seal, the guarantee that the believer, the possession of God which has been purchased by the Savior in His death, burial and resurrection will be delivered safely to its eternal destiny.
The second text which speaks of the sealing of the Holy Spirit is Ephesians 4:30. “And stop grieving the Holy Spirit of God by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The present imperative indicates that the action already is going on and is to be stopped. It also indicates that the sealing work of the Holy Spirit clearly is not interrupted when the believer falls into sin. He is grieved. It further indicates that the Holy Spirit takes full responsibility for delivering the true believer to the day of the redemption of his body. Compare Romans 8:23. “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adult Son placing [at the time of] the redemption of our body.”*
The third passage which speaks of this third universal ministry of the Holy Spirit is 2 Corinthians 1:21–22. “Now He Who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” Here again the work of the Holy Spirit in guaranteeing our safe conduct is a crucial part of the discussion. Many have rejected this work of the Holy Spirit in their theology because of what they have seen in the lives of professing believers. It must be realized that there are two possible explanations when one sees a professing believer in gross sin. He may be only a professing and not a possessing believer, never having really understood the gospel or having accepted a gospel which is under Paul’s anathema (Gal. 1:8) because it either is incomplete or has added to it man’s requirements beyond the actual gospel message. Or the professing believer actually may be a true believer who has fully understood the gospel who is grieving the Holy Spirit by his conduct. We who observe are required by John to pray for a brother who is being defeated by one of his enemies.
“If anyone sees his brother sinning [any] sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He [God] will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is [are different kinds of acts of] sin not leading to death” (1 Jn 5:16–17).
Romans 8:13 directly speaks of the danger which a believer faces when he persists in walking according to the flesh, refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to direct his life and to help him overcome his enemy, the flesh.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you continue to live according to the flesh, you are about to die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
But there is an unanswered question left by these statements in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 concerning all believers together being a holy temple unto the Lord. How is it that we believers are joined to each other to become a holy temple for the Lord? How do we get to be joined to Christ in such a way that we are considered to be “in Christ Jesus?” That question introduces one of the most misunderstood parts of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today. That ministry is the fourth universal ministry of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Why do I insist that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a ministry which is applied universally to every one who believes, and even beyond that, that this ministry occurs precisely at the moment that one believes? After all, that position is totally contradictory to a crucial part of the distinctive doctrines of the Pentecostal churches. The disagreement lies in the fact that years ago ill taught and confused early leaders of the Pentecostal movement misused the term “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” to describe the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit. That error in terminology continues to trouble that movement even today, leading to all kinds of imaginative theological errors. That misuse of the term has been followed throughout the movement with much resulting confusion. It is so easy to hold incorrect doctrine because a respected teacher has taught it. The word of man thus becomes the basis for theology rather than a careful, unbiased exegesis of the Word of God.
This latter ministry of the filling of the Holy Spirit is not one of the universal ministries of the Holy Spirit for by no means do all believers go on in their spiritual lives to be filled and controlled by the One Whom the Father and the Son sent into the world after the departure of Christ to heaven to function in His present service as High Priest (Psa. 110:4, Heb. 7:24–27). The filling ministry of the Holy Spirit is the only ministry of the Holy Spirit concerning which believers receive a command in God’s Word. That command is found in Ephesians 5:18. “And do not be drunk with wine wherein is wantonness, but on the contrary be being continually kept filled by the [Holy] Spirit.”* Notice that it was and is possible for a believer to be involved in as gross a sin as drunkenness and yet be a true believer! Nevertheless, this is not to be used as an excuse for profligate living. It is wrong. It will receive discipline from the Holy Spirit Who continually is working to empower the believer unto a life that will honor Christ.
“You have not resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.… Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:4–9).
Obviously the professing believer who goes on in gross sin without receiving discipline from the Lord for his ways really is not a true believer but only an illegitimate and not a real Son of God. Perhaps the problem he has results from the fact that he still is an unsaved person who long ago was shortchanged. A defective gospel was presented to him and he is deluded into thinking that he really was saved when he accepted an incomplete or a man made gospel addition. On the other hand, he may be a true believer who is utterly defeated by his three spiritual enemies because he never has been taught how to walk in fellowship and under the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As a result, he faces more and more serious judgment until the Lord chooses to take him home unless he is properly instructed in spiritual matters by a full fledged Soulwinner who is concerned about his life as a new believer.
I am not at all saying that a Pentecostal believer is not saved simply because he has not been correctly taught that he was placed into Christ Jesus at the moment of the new birth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am afraid that the great majority of true believers have not understood at the moment that they were saved that their being placed in Christ Jesus is essential to their salvation. They do not realize that this is the only way that God can count them as having paid for their sins in the death of Christ on the cross is for Him to be able to reckon that they were “in Christ Jesus” when He was crucified. They do not realize that the only possible way that God could count them to be as righteous as He is so that they can enter into His presence without judgment is for them to be placed in Christ Jesus at the new birth. And that is precisely what the Holy Spirit does for each one who truly understands the gospel and believes. As a result of the Pentecostal’s confusion of terminology, not realizing when speaking of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he actually is thinking of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Pentecostal errantly seeks the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a post-salvation experience. In so doing, he contradicts that which the Bible really teaches about the timing of that event and about the results of that event. It is an error like the mistake of assuming that the thunder caused the lightening bolt. It is the error of ignoring the explicit teaching of the Word of God. It is impossible to conceive of a believer who has not been placed “in Christ Jesus” at the moment of the new birth for “In Him—
1. we have redemption through His blood,
2. the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace …” (Eph 1:7).
Can one truly be a born again believer if he has not been redeemed? Or can he really be saved if he has not received the forgiveness of sins? Certainly not! But, thanks be to God, when he really accepted the finished work of the resurrected God Man in his place and for his sins, The Holy Spirit performed His fourth universal ministry which inescapably must be performed upon every new believer and immediately placed that believer “in Christ Jesus” so that he might have “… redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
The significance of this great act which is performed on every one who comes to Christ lies in a more careful examination of that which the Scriptures teach really happens when one is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Surely 1 Corinthians 12:12–27 is the key passage on the subject, but there are scores of other passages which also cast light upon precisely what happens when one is baptized by the Holy Spirit. The key passage says:
“For even as the [human] body is one and has many members, and all of the members of the [human] body, being many, are one body, even so also is the Christ. For it is indeed true that by means of one Spirit we [believers] all were [an point action aorist] baptized into one body, whether [we were] Jews or Greeks, whether [we were] slaves or free men, and we all were given to drink by means of one Spirit”*
Paul continues to compare the physical, human body with that body of Christ into which the Holy Spirit already has baptized all who truly are believers. He shows our responsibility as members of the body of Christ into which we were baptized by the Holy Spirit to minister to one another. He establishes the pattern in that, as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are to meet each other’s needs after the same manner in which the parts of the human body minister to the needs of all other parts of the body. Then in verse 27 Paul explains the object of his metaphor. “And you all are body of Christ and individually [part by part] are members.”*
What then does this say concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit? It reveals that this is the very ministry of the Holy Spirit which unites us with Christ in order that we may be counted to have been crucified with Christ, buried with Christ and raised from the dead in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:3–5). It says that this ministry is an essential part of our salvation. Without the baptism of the Holy Spirit we would not even have salvation.
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Observe from verse 4 that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the basis for the requirement that we believers who have been resurrected with Christ should begin to act like it. We who have been identified with the resurrection of Christ through Spirit baptism should conduct our lives just after the manner in which we would if we already had gone through physical resurrection.
Most believers are unaware that the Upper Room Discourse, which is about one fourth of the Gospel of John, largely is devoted to Christ’s preparation of the disciples and of those who would be won by them for the fact that, on Christ’s departure for heaven, the Holy Spirit would become the key member of the Trinity ministering to believers on earth. Christ in His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17 prays to the Father five times concerning this crucial event which must occur at the beginning of every believer’s life in Christ from the moment that he believes. That event is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Below is a tabulation of the list of Christ’s requests of the Father concerning that which must happen to every believer. It is a list of requests which can only be fulfilled through the fourth great universal ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
1. He prays that all those given to Him by the Father might be one even as the Father and the Son are one. “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (Jn 17:11).
2. He extends His concern for the Apostles to include all who would believe. Again His prayer focuses on the need that all believers should be one. And it is crucial to recognize the error of the ecumenists who have attempted to fulfill this prayer by getting all church members and more, saved or unsaved, into one great, worldwide, humanly fashioned organization. The fact that Christ asks for the Father to accomplish this work of bringing all believers into this particular unity demonstrates that the fulfillment of this prayer could only be accomplished by a member of the Godhead and most certainly not by any human organization. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You …” (Jn. 17:20–21a).
3. Christ’s prayer continues and in the same breath He expands the nature of His prayer to show that the unity of all believers for which He is praying actually is a unity which in some way joins all believers to the Godhead “… that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:21b).
4. Christ reiterates this remarkable request in the very next portion of His prayer. This remarkable request is that we believers should in some way be given a unity that is somewhat like the unity of the Godhead Itself. “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one” (Jn. 17:22).
5. We can see that, as a result of this great prayer, all that happens to a person upon believing is made possible through this amazing ministry of the Holy Spirit for which Christ prayed. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:23).
How many times does Christ have to pray for all believers to have a unity in one person of the Godhead? Only once. And yet He prays for that unity five times with a remarkable focus on the fact that this unity would make all believers “… perfect in One!” How does this happen? In what person are we all made perfect? What act, which only could be performed by a member of the Godhead in response to this great prayer, could bring about the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer? The answer is stated plainly in Galatians 3:26–28.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This passage absolutely is not talking about water baptism. Now it is inescapable that someone reading this immediately will think of water baptism when reading the phrase, “… For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” But since when has water baptism erased ethnic background? Since when has the distinction between male and female been erased when a believer comes up out of the baptismal pool? Since when has water baptism placed all believers “… in Christ Jesus?” The only possible answer is “Never!” It is physically impossible for that which a man does in water baptism to accomplish these things.
Indeed, to hold such a position that this refers to water baptism rejects the clear testimony of Scripture concerning the way that the High Priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus concerning our unity is accomplished by God. And it must be remembered that Christ prayed to the Father for a divine act to be accomplished. Only that could have accomplished His request that the Father make all believers one in a unity which is like the unity of the Father and the Son. Only that could have accomplished a unity which makes all believers “… perfect in one” (Jn 17:20–23). Water baptism should be practiced as a testimony to the world that a person has been crucified, buried and resurrected in Christ Jesus. It should say to other believers and to the world, “I now intend to begin living a resurrection kind of life to show all that in Christ Jesus I have been raised from the dead! In my death in Him my sins were all forgiven!”
Already we have considered one of the clearest statements of Scripture which answers the question, “How do all believers become one?” It also answers the question, “How do I get to be ‘in Christ Jesus’ so that His death positionally can be counted to be my death, so that His burial positionally can be counted to be my burial and so that His resurrection can be counted to be my resurrection from the dead after my sins have been paid for?” After all, that is precisely what 2 Corinthians 5:21 indicates has happened to every believer. It indicates that, in some wonderful way, God has made it possible for Christ to die in our places and for our sins, having been made sin for us. But it also indicates another absolutely important part of God’s work in making us acceptable in His presence. “For He [God] made Him [Christ] Who knew no sin to be sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”*
The last two words of this verse are absolutely crucial. They show that the major element of Christ’s prayer in John 17 has been fulfilled! We who are God’s children, who have come to Christ receiving His work on our behalf to be our own, have been placed in Christ Jesus! It indicates that the entire Divine transaction of transferring our sins to Christ to bear them as His own, along with making it possible for His righteousness to be transferred to us in our positional resurrection with Him, depends upon the two words, “… in Him.” Our position, prayed for by Christ in the upper room, is the sole basis for this twofold work accomplished by God. And how did we who are believers get to be “… in Him?” The answer lies in a passage which already has been considered. I repeat it for emphasis and that its relationship to Christ’s great prayer might be recognized.
“For as the [human] body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.… Now you are the body of Christ and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:12–13, 27).
Apart from the one direct reference to the Holy Spirit in the first section of Romans in chapter 5:5, one must turn to the second section to find extensive and open, unveiled discussion of the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Why? The answer lies in the fact that the first section of the book focuses upon the work of the Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, and upon the great work which He has done to bring about the redemption and reconciliation of man to God. While the discussion of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in baptizing us into the body of Christ is crucial for the Soulwinner to understand, Paul clearly avoided going into the specific details of how we got into the body of Christ in his final step of presenting the gospel. This great truth about the work of the Holy Spirit which actually made it possible for God to count our sins to have been paid for on the cross is meat for the more mature believer. Likewise, this great means by which God is able to transfer the righteousness of the Godhead in Christ to our accounts is meant for the research of the mature believer. Paul speaks of his own careful separation of these deeper truths from the gospel message which he preached to the lost. He reserved deeper truths for the studies which he presented to the mature believer. This he says in 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 and 6.
“And I, brethren, when I [first] came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or wisdom declaring the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.… However, we [do] speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”
The second section of the book of Romans is where Paul turns toward those whom he seeks to help to be mature believers. He focuses upon the life of the reconciled believer and the daily and continual work of the Holy Spirit. He explains that the Holy Spirit is seeking the refashioning us into the image of Christ and into effective representatives of the Christ here on earth. Perhaps you remember Romans 1:17 and its second great statement concerning the work of the gospel in revealing the righteousness of God. “… from faith to faith, as it is written, the justified one shall live by means of faith.”* The product of the gospel, the justified believer, is to be a means of displaying the righteousness of God!
How then could a believer possibly think that by continuing to live the old life which he lived before salvation possibly could bring glory to God or in any way display His righteousness? There is a remarkable little Psalm which strongly hints that the way that we act as believers in our relationships toward each other strongly affects the way that others are attracted to or repelled from Christ, our great High Priest. Psalm 133:1–2 says:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.…”
As I see church squabbles and the rifting of Christian brothers and sisters from each other in a total absence of unity in local churches, I often think the thoughts of the Psalmist. Once the beautiful fragrance of the holy anointing oil (Exo. 30:22–33) spread throughout all of the camp of Israel when Moses anointed Aaron into his ministry as high priest. In a very unusual sense, we believers today in the Church have the wonderful privilege of causing a similar fragrance to spread throughout all of the world when we “… dwell together in unity.” It is as though we had poured that holy anointing oil of old upon the head of our wonderful High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. But so often the stench of rottenness is associated with Him rather than the fragrance of our righteous lives. We must remember and honor the One whom we should love and should worship with such intense desire that it affects our every relationship. He Himself summarized that which is expected of us in Matthew 22:37–39.
“You shall love the Eternal Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Anything less deprives Christ of something beautiful which we could have given to Him, that is the sweet savor, the fragrance of Christ found in believer’s lives (2 Cor. 2:17). But what is it which places us under such an obligation that we should turn from allowing our old sin natures to rule us as kings (Rom. 6:12) rather than becoming loving and devoted servants of the One who saved us? Ah, it is our position in Christ Jesus. Now this section is the first time that Paul has introduced the remarkable truth that colors so much of his writings, that from the very moment that a person believes, he is united with the Savior.
A search of a little book like Ephesians will quickly reveal what Paul meant when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:6, “However, we [do] speak wisdom among those who are mature.…” He further explains that statement in 1 Corinthians 2:9–13 how these things of God’s wisdom were hidden from men like Isaiah but now are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. He says:
” ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who know Him’ [Isa. 64:4] [in the blessings which come to believers today now that Messiah has died and has arisen from the dead]. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us from God.”*
By searching through Paul’s writings to churches that he had planted, it is easy to see how he taught his converts and how he teaches us just how important is for a believer to have been placed in Christ Jesus. By scanning the references to this position in the little book of Ephesians, one can assemble this remarkable statement and begin to recognize the tremendous riches which are ours “in Christ Jesus.” I have somewhat paraphrased the series of quotations to connect them for convenience in presentation.
“You faithful ones in Christ Jesus …”(1:1),
“… you have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ” (1:3),“chosen in Him” (1:4),
“made accepted in the Beloved” (1:6),
“in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of the transgressions” (1:7),
“destined to be gathered unto Him in His kingdom in Him” (1:10–11), “in Whom you were sealed upon believing” (1:13–14),
“in Whom we now are seated in heaven so that we may always display His grace” (2:6–7),
“in Whom we, formerly aliens, are now brought near through His blood” (2:13),
“in Whose body we, like the Jew, are reconciled through His cross” (2:16),
“in Whom we altogether are builded into a holy temple” (2:21),
“an habitation of God through the Spirit” (2:22),
“in Whom we now display the wisdom of God according to His purpose” (3:11),
“in Whom we have boldness and access” (3:12),
“in Whom we are to bring glory to God” (3:21),
“in Whom we are to grow as our head” (4:15),
“in Whom you are taught the truth that we are to put on the new man in godliness” (4:21–25),
“in Whom you are to be strengthened [by His Spirit] to overcome your enemies” (Eph. 6:10–16).*
It is unimaginable that a believer should somehow miss out on the glorious privilege of being “in Christ Jesus!” Even from the book of Ephesians one can see that such a person would not have the multitude of spiritual blessings which are heaped upon the newly born believer! Indeed, he would not even be saved. This plainly is set forth in Ephesians 1:7. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Surely no one who has come to Christ would dare to say that, because he has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ Jesus, he still does not have redemption or the forgiveness of sins! Yet there are multitudes of confused believers who maintain that the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not come until sometime after salvation as “a second blessing.” If that were so, then there would be a time between when one accepts Christ and that supposed “second blessing” when the believer still would not have either redemption or the forgiveness of sins. That is nonsense theology for two very major reasons!
1. Has not Paul just blessed God in Ephesians 1:3 because He already had given to us every spiritual blessing? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The so called “second blessing” was one of the very first blessings that we received when we believed for it was that which united us with Christ!
2. It is utterly impossible for one to receive the benefits of salvation without first having been placed in Christ Jesus! It is time for some to revise their theology under the guidelines of Scripture rather than under the teaching of misguided leaders.
The Epistle to the Colossians adds other amazing statements which help us to see the necessity of the believer having been placed in Christ Jesus at the moment of his redemption. The first of these reechoes and amplifies that which I have just said.
“The Father … has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12–14).*
“You have been made complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power, in Whom you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with Him through faith in the operation of God who has raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He together with Him has made you alive, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:10–13).*
It is because of our position in Christ Jesus that Paul is able to say in Galatians:
“I have been crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).*
But how did that amazing transaction of such great profit to the one believing ever take place? Paul explains and his explanation will not please everyone even as my explanation of the teaching of Scripture concerning the means by which the Divine transaction takes place will not please everyone. Nevertheless the fifth step of the Soulwinner, if we follow the pattern set by that great, Biblical soul-winner who evangelized the Middle East and Southern Europe, is to be followed.
1. Because we have been placed in Christ, we been crucified in Him (6:3)
The rhetorical question and Paul’s own response which introduced chapter 6 of the book of Romans made it clear that in some way we who are believers have died to the sin nature. He has said: “How shall we that are dead to the sin nature live any longer therein?” (v. 2). Verse 3 contains Paul’s explanation of the means by which we are considered by God to have died. “Do you not know that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?”
2. Because we have been placed in Christ, we have been buried with Him (6:4a)
Paul continues enumerating the remarkable results of this baptism of which he has begun speaking. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death …” (6:4a). In some remarkable way we who are believers are accounted to have been placed in Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb when Christ’s body was lovingly laid there by his friends just before the holy day. What is this that Paul is saying? He is saying that, in God’s eyes, one day long ago you as a believer were wrapped in swaddling clothes and your head laid on a little stone pillow. Your feet were thrust into a little area that had been quickly chiseled out because the Christ was taller than Joseph for whom the tomb had been intended. And you lay there in the limestone tomb that was carved into the deposits of that great judgment of sin, the retreating Noahic flood long before for three days and three nights. Yes, I believe that the limestone which had been carved out into the garden tomb came from that source. Can you fathom that? Here you have the debris of God’s great judgment long before in mankind’s history and you are the debris for which God’s judgment fell on Christ on the cross! You died in Christ Jesus! You were buried in Christ Jesus! Yes, “That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father …” even so were we raised up.
How can that be? What baptism is this of which Paul is speaking which accomplishes such otherwise impossible things? How can it be that I, while I still am alive am considered by God to have been raised up from the dead? It is the same baptism of which the Apostle Peter speaks in 1 Peter 3:20–21. The passage likens our passage through the great judgment of the cross in Christ to that passage of Noah and his family when they went through the great judgment of the Noahic flood which fell on the early world. They passed through that judgment because they were in a place of safety. That judgment fell on the ark but, in their place of safety within the ark, they were protected from the death which that judgment brought. It is so also for those who believe today. We positionally are placed in our ark of safety, the Lord Jesus, as He bears the full judgment of God upon the sinful human race. The judgment fell on Him and we who were “in Christ Jesus” passed through the judgment, passed through the punishment of death for our sins, went to the grave and stepped forth out of that judgment alive in Christ Jesus. Peter draws this parallel in his words:
“… The ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water [the nature of that Noahic flood judgment]. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism, (not the removal of the filth of the flesh [i.e. not by a washing with water in water baptism] but the answer of a good conscience toward God), [that is], through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20–21).*
Yes, it is by means of the work of the Holy Spirit that we who have responded to the invitation of the gospel, have fled from the judgment of our sin to our ark of safety “in Christ Jesus,” that we are saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When He stepped forth from that tomb in the garden alive, evidence was given that God had accepted His substitution in place of the judgment that should have fallen upon us as sinners. This is the implication of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church.
“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:12–22).
Only the work of the Holy Spirit could accomplish that great bonding with the Savior which could result in the resurrection of all in Christ Jesus to life. And we have that resurrection positionally the moment that the Holy Spirit places us “in Christ Jesus.” And we at the same time have complete assurance of the day in the future when He will call believers who have died forth from their graves into practical or actual resurrection.
3. Because we have been placed in Christ, were resurrected with Him (6:4b)
And now Paul goes even farther in this startling revelation of all that has happened to the one who believes. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (6:4c).
What is this? Only two chapters before this Paul so emphatically has declared that no ceremony which one man may perform upon another has any merit in gaining righteousness. He has said that “… all sinned [a point action aorist, not a perfect tense] and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” (Rom. 3:23–24). He has rejected the ceremony of circumcision as a ceremony which has nothing to do with one’s salvation (4:9–12). And the same is true of water baptism by any mode, even though it has been depended upon as the means of resolving one’s problem of sin and the means of providing a righteous standing before God. It never accomplishes these things. It does not accomplish our crucifixion with Christ. It does not make it a fact that positionally we have been buried with Christ or resurrected with Christ.
Even when one is immersed in water symbolizing Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, that of itself does not save. This is a ceremony which is performed upon the believer who desires to testify by this symbolic death, burial and resurrection that he as a new believer now is going to live his life on an entirely different plane than it was lived before he was saved. One of the greatest demonstrations of this means of testimony by a believer that I have ever seen was given by a church in the city of Sarh in Chad, Africa. There were about 50 converts who wanted to be baptized in order to display their intent to begin living a godly life before their city. On the day for their baptism all met at the church robed in a long white garment. They went singing through the dusty streets of Sarh while they walked over a mile to the river where they would be baptized. How wonderfully they sang as they marched to the river! After their baptism they returned by the same route, still singing with great joy as a testimony to the Muslims and pagans of the city.
But was this baptism able to place these believers “in Christ Jesus?” No! No ceremony performed by man upon man can possibly accomplish this which must be an act of a member of the Godhead. The constant emphasis of Paul in chapters 3–5 has been that salvation is by faith and by faith alone. Water baptism does not have any part whatsoever in achieving a person’s salvation. That is a work of God alone. And that work already has been done upon the one who is a believer or he would not even be saved.
D. A review for the last time: Is this water baptism or Spirit baptism? What does this baptism accomplish?
Surely it is obvious now that it is the baptism which is performed by the Holy Spirit of which Paul is speaking. It is that which places us in Jesus Christ, transferring our sin and guilt to the perfect Savior even while providing for the sinner who has come to Him in faith a perfect standing in God’s own righteousness. After all, that is precisely what has been accomplished by God in some way that is not fully explained in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For He [God]
1. has made Him [Christ] Who knew no sin to be sin for us.…
2. in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
There is only one baptism which could possibly accomplish this remarkable double transference of sin and righteousness. That is the baptism which is performed by the Holy Spirit. That baptism is described by Paul as accomplishing this in another of his epistles.
“For as the [human] body is one and has many members, and all of the members of that one body, being many, are one body, even so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were [an aorist or punctiliar tense] we all baptized into one body, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, whether we are bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.… Now you all are body of Christ [the absence of the article in the original strongly emphasizes the quality, emphasizing the nature of the relationship] and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:12–13, 27).*
It is obvious from the above passage that it is the Spirit of God who unites the believer with Christ in such a way that God looks upon the believer as one of the members of Christ’s body. And it is clear from the context that it is this act of the Holy Spirit which results in the distribution of spiritual gifts individually to each believer. This is the meaning of “severally” in the KJV in 1 Cor. 12:11. He divides according to His own will and not by our desire to each of the believers the different spiritual gifts as He divides them in the local church to the individual members of the body of Christ.
A weak translation of 1 Corinthians 12:31 causes many believers to think that they can desire and choose their spiritual gift. But that text actually says: “All of you [in the local church] be earnestly zealous [for the use of] the [best] spiritual gifts [in your local church].“ This exhortation must be understood in the light of Paul’s listing in importance of order most of the spiritual gifts which still were extant in the church in its fifth decade. The same is true of 1 Corinthians 14:1 which should read: “All of you pursue love, and all of you be zealous for [the use of] spiritual gifts, but especially that all of you [in the church] may promote the use of prophecy [in the church].“ This statement by Paul must be understood in the light of Paul’s own clear statement in 1 Corinthians 13
Prophecy formed an important element of the worship and teaching service of the early church before the Word of God was completed. But Paul clearly instructs the local church that it is not to expect any of the temporary revelatory forms to continue to be present after the Word of God was completed. He states this fact by contrasting three revelatory gifts which were to be used with self-sacrificing love in that time in which Paul wrote. Whereas self-sacrificing love always seeks only the best for the one to whom it ministered and always would be present in the future, the individuals who had been given these three temporary forms of revelation were not always thoughtful about how their gifts were being ministered for the benefit of the rest of the church. See 1 Corinthians 14:12).
While many will seek to avoid the implications of Paul’s words in various ways, early church history plainly bears out the fact that Paul’s words were accurate. These forms of revelation were abolished by the Lord. He no longer used them to communicate with mankind after the Word of God was completed at about the end of the first century a.d. Prophecy, tongues and the gift of special knowledge no longer were present in the church after the first century.
“Love never falls on its face. But whether there are [spiritual gifts of] prophecies, they will become inoperative [they will be abolished]; whether there are [spiritual gifts of] tongues, they will cease; whether there is [the spiritual gift of special] knowledge, [all three were temporary, revelatory gifts], it will become inoperative [it will be abolished]. For we [in 63 A.D.] know out of part [i.e. with only a partial grasp of the yet incomplete revelation of the New Testament at that time] and we prophesy out of part [i.e. with imperfect and incomplete knowledge and information]. But when that element [of revelation from God, the Bible, in the neuter gender and thus not a reference to Christ and His coming] which has reached its designed end is come, then that which is out of part will be done away [that will be abolished].”*
The word which I have translated “they will become inoperative” [or abolished], which describes what will happen to this form of oral revelation, actually is found four times in these immediate verses. It is here in 1 Corinthians 13:8 twice telling what will happen to the gifts of prophecy and special knowledge. It is used in verse 10 to show that, after the revelation of the Word of God is completed, there absolutely will be no more use for these temporary, oral forms of revelation which, in a limited way, met the need of God’s people until they had the complete Word of God. Then it is used in verse 11 in Paul’s illustration to help God’s people understand the principle of no longer using that which was outmoded and unnecessary. Paul describes how he thought and spoke when still a babbling babe (neepios), announcing that, having become a man, he put away and no longer used those ways of childhood.
“When I was being a babbling babe, I used to speak as a babbling babe; I used to think as a babbling babe; I used to reason as a babbling babe. But when I have become as man, I have put away [no longer using] the things of the babbling babe” (1 Cor. 13:11).*
For this very clear and thoroughly Biblical reason, one should not misunderstand the meaning of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:1. One is wasting his or her time today seeking to have the spiritual gift of tongues or prophecy. Those temporary, oral forms of revelation have been put away by the Lord Himself for His Revelation is complete. Not one of them is a sign that a believer has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To say so is to go far beyond what Scripture reveals about the purpose and indications that one has received the fourth universal ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The implication of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is that each believer in Christ Jesus, as a result of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit which places the one believing in the Christ, is that we all are one body in Christ. We should be functioning for the benefit of the rest of the body of Christ and for the Christ Himself. This is the implication of Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It is impossible to think of a true believer who has not been united to all other believers by being joined together in the body of Christ. That union can only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit which has been mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13. It also is mentioned here in Galatians 3:27. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The time when that happens to a believer is clearly set forth by Paul in the context. In that context he is particularly emphasizing what happened when he or one of his fellow Jews placed his faith in Jesus Christ
“… in order that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. The reason is that you are all the sons [the Greek word huioi] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:24–26).*
One must follow the order which Paul sets forth here. It must be recognized that this is not a chronological order because of the significant result of being baptizing into Christ. It is obvious that this involves being placed in Christ Jesus in union with all other believers and in union with Christ. Since union with Christ is required in order for one to be in Him, and since being in Him is that which produces “… redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7), the relationship must be logical and not chronological.
1. It accomplishes positional death to the sin nature (but not real or practical removal of the sin nature from our lives before the redemption of our bodies (6:2).
2. It places the one is believing in Jesus Christ (6:3).
3. It thereby unites the one believing with the death of Jesus Christ (6:3).
4. Thus the one believing is counted to have been buried with Christ (6:4).
5. Moreover the one believing is counted by God to have been resurrected in Christ when He rose from the dead (6:4b).
6. Our old man was crucified with Christ in order that the sin nature might be annulled and in order to free us from our life as a slave to the acts of sin which it would bring into our lives (6:6–7).
7. It places on our account that we died in Christ to our sin nature (6:11).
8. It places on our account that we who have believed now are risen in God’s sight and are alive through Christ (6:11).
9. As a result of the fact that Christ has been raised from the dead, we who died with Christ will live with Him (6:8).
According to 2 Corinthians 5:17 our position in Christ makes us part of the new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, (a new creation); old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”* This then is a part of what happens when one believes.
1. Faith in Christ Jesus results in one becoming a child of God (Gal. 3:24–26).
2. The putting on of Christ through being baptized into Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27).
3. The joining of all believers together, making all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
It is this work of the Holy Spirit which wholly complements the finished work of the Savior by making it possible for God to reckon Christ’s death as the death of the believer. That is to say that when Christ died on the cross, He was bearing the sins of all mankind. That is precisely what John says. “… He is the propitation for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). That is precisely what the Savior was praying about in that great prophecy concerning Christ’s meditations in death, Psalm 40.
“… Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve Me for innumerable evils have compassed Me about: My iniquities [our iniquities which He now had taken upon Himself as if He Himself were the sinner] have taken hold upon Me so that I was not able to look up; they were more than the hairs of my head. Therefore my heart has failed Me” (Psa. 40:11–12).
It is because God anticipated our complete union with Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Christ was able to die on Golgotha just as if the sins for which He died were His very own. That they were not in any way His own is explicitly taught in 2 Corinthians 5:21 in the phrase “… Who knew no sin.” Elsewhere in the New Testament one may find that “He did no sin” and “In Him was no sin.” The sin for which Christ died was our sin. That act made it possible that God to place all who believed both in His own family as children of God and also in Christ Jesus. It made it possible for our sins might be laid on Christ and to His account. And one should note that Paul says in Romans 6:6 “… that our old man was crucified with Him.” [The punctiliar aorist tense is used here].
But that is not the whole story. This baptism also identifies us with the burial of Christ. Paul says: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into the death.…” (Rom. 6:4a). The article of previous reference is indeed present in the original text and has reference back to the death of Christ which has just been mentioned in the close of the previous verse. The baptism of the Holy Spirit allows God to place on our accounts that we not only have died but that we were buried in Joseph’s tomb. Those of us who have had the privilege of visiting that tomb in the garden outside of the city wall should remember that our visit there was only the second time that, in God’s sight, we had been there. The point is, as God is concerned, that we who have believed in Christ fully have paid for our sins and have lain in death for those three days and three nights with our Savior.
Surely we have seen here the reason for first two elements of the carefully related description of the gospel which Paul preached, which is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1–9.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received and wherein you stand; by which also you are being saved if you are keeping in memory what I preached unto you unless you have believed without due consideration. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received”, how that:
1. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …”
2. “and that He was buried.…” [Because we have been baptized into Christ, we] “… have been resurrected from death in Him” (6:4). But there is another vital element in the gospel which, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, must be presented to the lost sinner. It is this:]
3. “… And that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”* [And that is the vital element which the Apostle next presents in Romans 6:4b, 5 and 11].
“Therefore we are buried with Him by Spirit baptism into the death [which Christ died] that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.… Reckon [You count it on your books] also yourselves on the one hand to be dead indeed unto the sin [nature] but on the other hand living to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Because we are in Christ Jesus as a result of our having been baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, God looks upon us as believers who, with Christ, have stepped forth from Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb when that stone rolled away from the door on Resurrection Sunday! And it also is clear that, as a result of this great and wonderful position which we have as resurrected saints, God actually expects us to begin living that which we could only refer to as “the resurrection life!” Glory! What a great salvation this is which our God has made possible for the lonely, sin sick sinner who longs for some way by which he may come to have a standing before God which will be acceptable! We who have believed have that! And each member of the Godhead has played an extremely significant role in providing that salvation for us! Notice that in this very context we are told that “… Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (6:4). Note again Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.…” This is reemphasized by Paul in Romans 6:6 in his words: “… Our old man was crucified with Him.…” And do not fail to recognize the key role which is played by the Holy Spirit in His work of placing us in Christ in order that all that Christ had done upon the cross might be reckoned to the one who believes. Yes, and all that Christ is in His righteousness, yes, that too, is reckoned by God through this great work of the Holy Spirit which unites the members of the body of Christ together with each other and with the head of the body, Christ Himself. “For He [God] has made Him [Christ], Who knew no sin, to be sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!” (2 Cor. 5:21).
E. Is it possible for water baptism alone to accomplish all (or any) of these things found in this passage? No!
1. Examining “the baptism that saves us.” (1 Pet. 3:20–21)
A text which speaks of baptism and of its effects upon the believer is 1 Peter 3:20–21. The misunderstanding of its message becomes a part of the syndrome found in many churches which insist upon adding an act of man to the finished work of Christ in order for an individual to be saved.
“There is an antitype [to the 8 souls of Noah’s family who were saved through the outpouring judgment of water] which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, [that is, not a washing by water] but the answer of a good conscience toward God), [that is,] through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
To the casual reader this text appears to say that water baptism actually is a required part of our salvation and that it is essential in order for one to be saved. Many years ago I was interim pastor of a small church in the Bay Area. One of the individuals who “accepted the Lord” during the year that I ministered there was a young man from the south. After some weeks he was one of several that I baptized at that time, for I had no doubt about the validity of his testimony concerning his faith in Christ. After I had baptized him, we were in the change room dressing to rejoin the congregation. He made a comment that made me realize that teaching which he previously had received had complicated his statement of faith. It caused him to trust in the act which I had just performed as a vital part of his salvation. He said: “Well, now I am sure!” At that point I immediately no longer was sure that he really had made the step of faith which saves. My doubt in his salvation grew as I considered what he had done. He had assumed that there is something which a man can do, some ceremony which one may perform upon a man, which, when omitted, leaves the finished work of Christ on his behalf unfinished. In the light of Paul’s words in Galatians 1:6–9 and of his absolute rejection of the works of man as a part of our salvation in the rest of that book and in Romans 4,
I have always had a heavy spot in my heart for that young man for I had no further opportunity to clarify the nature of the gospel to his confused mind. Paul says:
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel [of a different kind], which is not another [of the same kind], but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6–9).
What is this “different kind” of good news which some preach from 1 Peter 3:18–21? It is the conclusion that water baptism in some inexplicable way “… now saves us.” But there are three key factors which must be observed in this passage which contradict this conclusion. Peter says:
“For Christ also once for all suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, the just [One] for the unjust [ones] in order that He might bring us to God, being put to death on the one hand in [His] flesh but made alive on the other hand in [His human] spirit, in which He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine long-suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which [ark] a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (di hudatos)” [that is, passing through the judgment of the Noahic flood, which was by means of water, unscathed, although the judgment which was by means of water. Certainly Peter’s meaning is not that Noah and his family were saved by means of water but through the judgment of water.] “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), [that is,] through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”*
In his consideration of 1 Peter 3:21 the student of the text must recognize the parallel in what Peter says here with that which he said in verse 20. Just as the 8 souls in Noah’s ark passed through the judgment which fell upon the ark. their place of safety, even so the believer passes through the judgment in which the wrath of God upon the sinner is poured out upon the sinner. That judgment is poured out upon the believer on the cross. But that wrath of God falls upon the believer in a perfect place of safety which the Lord has provided, even as the ark was provided for that purpose for Noah and his family. That place of safety for the one who comes to Christ for salvation is “in Christ Jesus.” As Paul so clearly has stated in Romans 6:1–10, there is a baptism which places one “in Christ Jesus” so that, as far as God is concerned, those believers have died “in Christ Jesus” because when we were “… baptized into Christ Jesus, [we were] baptized into His death” (Rom. 6:3). He has been buried “in Christ Jesus” because “… we were buried with Him through baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4). But above all, the one who comes to Christ to find in Him that place of safety from judgment also is raised from the dead “in Christ Jesus.”
Can this be referring in any way to water baptism? Is a man actually capable of performing such a great act upon another person? No. It is God who directed Noah and his family to enter the ark of safety and it was God who safely, securely closed the door so that the outpouring of His judgment would not harm those who were in the place of safety which He Himself had provided. “… And the Eternal Lord shut them in” (Gen. 7:16). No human being is able to shut the door of safety for a believer’s salvation through the act of immersing that believer in water. That act should be a pictorial testimonial to the world that the believer already has passed through the divinely accomplished experience of being placed “in Christ Jesus” and thus of having died for his sins in the death of Christ. The act of true water baptism, immersion, also portrays the fact that the believer already has been in death because he has been placed “in Christ Jesus” by the work of the Holy Spirit at the moment that he believed. And the act of water baptism also portrays the fact that “in Christ Jesus” this believer has been resurrected from the dead after the wrath of God has been poured out upon his substitute, his ark of safety, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the act of water baptism also should always be a testimony to the world that the resurrected believer now is determined, by the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to live the kind of a resurrected life which should characterize one who has passed through the judgment of the cross into the new life which the believer now possesses “in Christ Jesus.”
Does Peter confirm that interpretation in his discussion in 1 Peter 3:18–22? Indeed he does.
1. The baptism which now saves us is like that which happened to the eight souls in Noah’s ark. They were saved through (dia] water, passing through its judgment while that judgment fell upon their place of safety. In verse 21 he makes it plain that the antitype of, that is the counterpart of, Noah and his family passing unscathed through the judgment of the great flood is not immersing one in water.
2. The baptism “… which now saves us … [is] not the removal [or putting away] of the filth of the flesh.” This is an obvious reference to being placed in water which is used for the cleansing of the body. But it cannot possibly be the means of removing the believer’s sins.
3. The baptism that now saves us takes place at the moment that a repentant sinner accepts the finished work of Christ as God’s provision for his own death which he deserved. That is accomplished only at the moment of the believer’s “… answer of a good conscience toward God …,” that is, at the moment that he accepts Christ.
4. And this baptism to which Peter refers actually is brought to completion “… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). It is important to note that only the baptism of the Holy Spirit places the believer “in Christ Jesus” so that the one who believes actually becomes positionally involved in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter’s reference to the present location and ministry of Jesus Christ should remind the new believer of Paul’s glorious explanation of all that has happened to the new believer.
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.… But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.…” (Eph. 2:1, 4–6).
While I have been stressing that the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of the new birth is the actual means by which God accomplishes the transference of our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us, the soul-winner should recognize that I have explained the means only so the soul-winner can understand it. This detail about this marvelous work of the Holy Spirit should not be brought into this fifth step of the soul-winner. You will notice from a careful study of Romans 6 that Paul only explained that God, in some wonderful and unexplained way, had provided a means whereby the divine transference of our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us was accomplished. Paul leaves the actual explanation of this great work of the Holy Spirit, without which salvation would be unfinished, incomplete and worthless, to be explained to the maturing believer. It would only confuse the prospective believer if the details of all that is accomplished by the baptism of the Holy Spirit were explained in detail to the one whom the soul-winner is seeking to lead to Christ.
Therefore I strongly urge the soul-winner to limit his explanation of the fifth step of the soul-winner to a simple explanation of the remarkable fact that God has a way whereby we are considered to have been baptized into Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. This means enables God to reckon the one who believes to have died in Christ on the cross. It enables God to reckon the believer to have gone through the three days and nights in which his soul and spirit were separated from his body in death. It enables God to reckon the one who believes fully to have paid for his sins in his perfect substitute and thus to have been raised from the dead. But it is essential, if we would present the gospel in the fullness in which Paul presented it, that we do include this explanation of how God can deal with us in mercy without Himself becoming a sinner by forgiving us without a just basis.
2. Introducing our new obligation to live as resurrected believers (6:5–10)
We have noticed above that our position in Christ expects a response in our practice. Because we have in Christ died unto the sin nature, we no longer should allow it to be our king. Because we have been resurrected in Christ, we should begin seeking to live a resurrected life. We should begin having the outlook of the open tomb!
“… Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.… Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:4b–5, 11).
This new attitude of life which we as believers should have in response to our glorified position is the subject of the second section of this continuing discourse on The Full Ten Steps of the soul-winner.