Eleven Chapters. Eleven chapters of deep, 'down in the weeds' theology, the answers to questions, problems and even accusations neatly laid out. The reason for our hope explained. The brilliant narrative of Christ's resurrection and God Eternal's consequential and irrevocable testimony that Jesus the Christ is His one and only son (Romans 1:4)! The message of God's amazing grace extended to sinful, undeserving man, culminating in this paralyzingly wonderful declaration:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Forgiveness from sin, freedom from bondage and eternal life. Dare we ask anything else?
Paul anticipates the question, the obvious question, if you think about it: "now what do I do? Knowing that I have become God's child through no effort of my own, how do I respond? Can I even respond? Can I please Him?"
Yes! The answer is, wonderfully, yes!
And so the great hinge of this wonderful book turns, and Paul takes us to and through the second act, the great THEREFORE, instructions for God's undeserving but blessed and empowered children. We emulate Christ's sacrifice by becoming living sacrifices in turn; we become bond-servants of gratitude, making our best effort for the Kingdom we serve (Romans 12:1).
How do we do that? The answer, almost eerily, brings us back to the teachings of our Lord Himself, words He uttered before He went to the cross, words about internal righteousness that made the external requirements of the law seem almost easy by comparison:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
If we're expecting a 'to-do list' - either from Paul or from Jesus - we are going to be sorely disappointed. Because why? Because external gestures of piety aren't going to cut it. Because hatred and contempt are murder in God's eyes. Because a lewd glance constitutes adultery (Matthew 5:28). Because a person who gives even his body to be burned, but doesn't have love, is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). Because God is determined not only to free us from the consequences of sin, but from the tyranny of sin.
Does the caterpillar become the butterfly by following a 10-step self-improvement program? No. Holiness, real holiness - the kind of holiness that can only come from God Himself - is something that will never be achieved from the outside in; only from the inside out:
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also!
It can never be attained by our own efforts, even (perhaps especially) after we have received the free gift of God's grace. Don't you dare try! I assure you, that way leads only to madness and frustration, it leads to despicable self-righteousness and religious cruelty. Don't do it!
Rather? We are to be transformed by the continuous renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are to submit ourselves to God's word, revealed plainly in the miracle that is scripture. We are to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, submitting to Him in humility, thankfulness, praise, warmth, peace and understanding, because those who walk by the Spirit will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). We are to emulate Christ's example of humility and service, esteeming others over our own selves (Philippians 2:3).
It begins not with what we do, but with what we think. We must change our minds. And we can, with His help!
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me!
Special thanks to @jesusislord858, @SolaScriptura99 and @sisterdawnmarie for providing your insights on Twitter, helping to make today's post happen!
It’s said that those who stand for nothing fall for everything. Is Paul preaching moral ambiguity here? Or is he saying, “because I’m not under the law, I can do whatever I want and I’m saved anyway?” Should we follow his example, and just “do whatever”?
Yes and no. Yes, we would do well to follow Paul’s example; no, we should not just “do whatever”. This isn’t what Paul is advocating. While Christians fiercely debate what it means to be “not under the law, but Grace” (see Ephesians 2:8-9), I submit that we get a glimpse in 2 Corinthians:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3:6
This passage is saying that we have been freed from the letter of the law so that we are free to abide by the spirit of the law. Practical example?
I have daughters who are not yet of an age where we need to discuss curfews. When we get there, however, my wife and I are going to have two choices: enforce the letter of the law (“you are to be home by 9:00 PM, no exceptions”) or, communicate the spirit of the law (“be home at a reasonable hour so your mother and I don’t worry”). An obedient daughter would use this freedom to do the right thing. She would often be home well before 9:00 most nights, and would ensure that she phones in if circumstances put her home later than usual. Why? Because the spirit of the law (the “why”, if you will) is so your mother and I don’t worry. As a loving and obedient daughter, she loves us and doesn’t want us to worry, so she makes sure we don’t have to.
The narrative of the Bible, taken as a whole, paints a picture in which the letter of the law (enforced by legal compulsion in Israel) fails to produce this kind of loving obedience. It achieves, in fact, quite the opposite.
Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.
The remedy? God voluntarily offers up His Son’s life to pay the price of our sins and remove the compulsion of the law, so that we may voluntarily submit to His rule in love and obedience.
Now, while there are still things that God clearly does not like and should be avoided, period, we would do well in this context to avoid viewing “right and wrong” as binary concepts. Scripture is filled with what outsiders believe to be “contradictory” teachings, not because they actually contradict, but because the right thing to do is often situational. What do I mean by this?
Think of doing the right thing in the context of playing a piano (full disclosure: I didn’t invent this concept, CS Lewis did). Is playing the key of E right or wrong? Stupid question, right? It depends on the song and the specific chord progression.
Is it wrong to lie? Most of the time, yes, but what if you were living in Nazi Germany and hiding Jews in your home; if the Gestapo came by and asked if you were harbouring Jews, would it be wrong to lie then?
There are those who would say “absolutely, a lie is a lie is a lie” and accuse me of being morally ambiguous because I suggested otherwise. But I would submit that the person who insists on such a binary approach is the morally ambiguous one. Why? Because they believe that in this situation, you’re in the wrong no matter what you do. It would be wrong to turn Jews over to the Gestapo so they can be shipped off to a death camp, but it would also be wrong to lie. In this instance, Grace may be a “get out of jail free card”, but it’s hardly liberating, is it?
However, if we take the piano approach, you always have the opportunity to do the right thing. Think about that. You can always decide to obey the Spirit of the law, the purpose of the law, the heart of the law, which is to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself. In this context, Grace does more than get you out of hell, it liberates you so you can do the right thing.
Naturally, that doesn’t mean you always will do what’s right (you’re still wrestling with the flesh, after all), but it does mean that you’re free to pursue the work of the Gospel with vigour, free from having to wrestle with ethically uncertain situations (must I decline an invitation to dinner with receptive unbelievers because they have a buddha statue in their home?) because the letter of the law is no longer a constraint.
Should we translate this into “I’m free to attend this drunken orgy because I might have an opportunity to share the Gospel”? Don’t be stupid, of course not. Why? Because:
Heavenly Father, your ways amaze us. You used your Son’s sacrifice on the cross to create a new Kingdom, one in which every single citizen is there, and obedient, not by compulsion but by choice. Who else has done such a thing? Make us fitting citizens of your Kingdom so we may continually offer you ever more fitting praise and honour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Colin McComb is a sincere and committed Christian living in Edson, Alberta.
Note carefully what Jeremiah’s saying here. Our Lord examines our hearts and minds but then judges our actions. Why is this important? Context matters.
Someone who is not the least bit tempted by something should not expect credit for his avoidance thereof. If I have plenty of money and security and feel no temptation whatsoever to steal, should I be commended for the lack of thievery in my life?
Now turn that around, do I, who have never spent a day walking in someone else’s shoes, suffering their temptations and hardships, enduring their trials, have a right to cast judgment? Depending on where someone has started, what he’s endured, his upbringing – any number of factors – it might an absolute marvel that he’s able to get through his day without becoming an utter basket case.
Now, I’ve heard a number of preachers say that you can tell a person is not really saved if he has “habitual sin” in his life. Loved ones, search your hearts. Judging others is a perverse and antithetical habitual sin that we all enjoy. While we like to piecemeal sin into bite sized portions that we can take or leave in accordance with what our egos dictate, our Lord Jesus puts his finger squarely on the offense of which we are all, every single one of us, profoundly guilty. Search your heart and tell me that you don’t instinctively, joyfully, judge others several times a day, even – especially – those you love most.
What a marvel is our Lord! Jesus sees through our theatrics and cuts right to the core of the matter. Because of this I know that He has the ability to examine our hearts and minds; and therefore, only He is qualified to cast judgement on our deeds.
Now about that habitual sin in our life. Let’s repent, pray for forgiveness, and make every effort to become wonderfully free in the name of He who died for our sin, rather than condemn us for it.
Beware the prophet who speaks peace to your sin. There is a heresy out there – fast becoming a consensus – that because we are saved by grace we are free to revel in our sin. No! What biblical prophet ever preached against repentance? Not one.
But, don’t miss the point! Is Micah, in the above verse, preaching the evils of beer and wine? Of course not! This is merely an illustrative example. What he’s saying is that this people has become so perverse, so disobedient, that they would be far more hospitable to a soothsaying liar than to a truthful prophet.
Where are these people at when this is written? They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle marked by plenty of wine and song; but, meanwhile, those in power “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance” (Micah 2:2, NIV). The people eat and drink the profits of injustice and misery; and they will not escape His terrible judgement.
We ought never to be at peace with our sin. Our flesh constantly wars against the Spirit (1 Peter 2:11, Galatians 5:17), and we must fight back. But, to war against the flesh we must be in the Spirit. To war against the flesh while in the flesh is to become a noxious white-washer of tombs; someone who foolishly subscribes to the notion that a cup cleaned only on the outside is clean enough. The Christian wars against the flesh while in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
What does this mean? We earnestly confess our sins (Romans 10:9-10, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5); we cleanse ourselves in the waters of baptism and eagerly accept the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that our cup can only be cleansed from the inside out (Matthew 23:26); and the Holy Spirit, who has entered our lives by the miracle of the Cross, is the only one who can complete this critical task. We cannot. Our work is to confess, repent, petition and pray; His work is to remake us in our Master’s likeness.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.