The Message of the Gospel | Romans 1-8
Brian Hedges | October 6, 2019
This morning we’re going to look at the greatest letter that has ever been written. We’re going to look at Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you have been around at Redeemer Church for awhile, this is actually the fourth segment of sermons in a long series on Romans. We’ve kind of been working our way very slowly through Romans over a number of years, interspersing it with other parts of Scripture.
One reason I do that is because I think it’s important for us to have a healthy and a balanced diet of God’s word, so in any given year I like for us to try to get into the Old Testament, get into one of the Gospels, and then get into the letters as well. This year already we’ve been in the Gospel of Luke together; we have been in the book of Genesis, looking at the life of Abraham; and the book of Proverbs here most recently; and now we come back to one of the letters.
The letter of Romans is a special letter. I think it’s one of the most beloved of all Paul’s letters. I’ve often thought of the desert island scenario—if I could have only two or three books of the Bible on the desert island, what would those books be? I’m pretty sure Romans would be one of those books. Thankfully, we don’t have to choose, but certainly Romans is a book that is close to the hearts of all believers.
This is one of those books that God has used dramatically in church history. You may remember that St. Augustine was converted when he was in a garden and he heard the voice of a child say, “Take it and read, take it and read.” He picked up a scroll that happened to be the book of Romans, he read Romans 13, and he was saved; he was converted, transformed, became probably the greatest Christian theologian in the first millennium of the church after Paul himself, and had an indelible impact on Western civilization for 1500 years.
Then it was Martin Luther, who was a German Catholic theology professor. He’s haunted by the justice of God, the righteousness of God, he feels condemnation and guilt. It was almost a neurosis for him, and he says that he was “beating importunately on those words, ‘the righteousness of God,’” in Romans 1. He suddenly understood the righteousness that God provides through Jesus Christ, the gift of righteousness, the provision of righteousness. He said that paradise was opened up to him, he walked through the very gates of paradise, he was born again.
Then we can think of John Wesley and Aldersgate Street Chapel. Wesley was the early Methodist minister, of course, and he was already a preacher, but he was really legalistic, he was unsuccessful as an evangelist, he had no assurance of salvation. He was just a miserable person. He heard someone read the preface to the letter of Romans that Luther wrote, and when he heard those words, he said his heart was “strangely warmed,” and he felt himself to be born again.
God has used Romans again and again and again. We could also think of the story of Robert Haldane, who was a professor in Switzerland. He started teaching a group of Bible students every week, meeting with them in his dorm, teaching them through Romans. None of them were saved, they were all lost, and he began teaching them Romans. They were converted, and then a revival broke out in that day in Switzerland. It was called Haldane’s Revival, and some of the greatest evangelical scholars of the 19th century came out of that revival.
God has used Romans again and again and again in church history, and my hope and desire is that God will use Romans in our lives as well.
Now, this is what’s happened. We have actually been through Romans 1-8, and we’ve been through Romans 8 several times. A few years ago I was thinking, “Okay, it’s time to come to Romans 9-11, but I need to go through Romans 8 again first,” so we did six weeks on Romans 8. Most of those sermons are online.
I have to tell you, I’m coming to Romans 9-11 in this series, and again I feel like we just need to go through the whole letter again. What I’m going to try to do is to do it one Sunday, one sermon. So this morning, Romans 1-8, we’re going to do a jet tour and just try to see the main contours of this letter, up until Romans 9, and then we’re going to spend the next six or eight weeks or so working through Romans 9-11.
Here’s what I want you to see, first of all. I want you to understand something of the structure and the argument of this letter. I was really helped—there’s actually a new commentary by a guy named David Peterson. This commentary is just two years old. Peterson shows how there is this alternation that happens in Romans, where you have sections of the letter, following the opening, following the greeting and everything in 1:1-17. Following that, you have kind of an alternation between explanation of the gospel or exposition of the gospel on one hand, and then defense of the gospel on other. (You don’t have to write all this down; if you want this, I can send you the notes later.)
Essentially, this is what you have. You’ll have Paul say something that explains the gospel, that gives some insight and clarity into the nature of the gospel, what the gospel is; perhaps the need for the gospel, as we’re going to see in 1:18-32. But then he will almost immediately turn around and he’ll begin to defend the gospel against certain kinds of objections, especially objections from Jewish people who might be reading this letter.
Now, there are reasons within the church of Rome why he’s doing this. It’s probably a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles. He wants this church to be unified in the gospel, so what he’s doing is he’s explaining the gospel and then he’s defending the gospel. He’s explaining the gospel and he’s defending the gospel. That’s the pattern through the body of the letter of Romans.
Now, just the first application point for us is simply this, just to understand that this should be the pattern for our own witness to the gospel, as well. We should regularly be engaged in both explaining the gospel but also ready to defend the gospel against doubts and objections and concerns that people might have. There’s a place for both evangelism, the positive proclamation of the gospel, on the one hand; and also for apologetics, defending the gospel, on the other. The particular objections we work through today are not exactly the same as those that Paul did in the letter to Romans, although there is some overlap, but the basic model here is helpful for us.
What you find in these alternating sections in Romans is that in the sections of explanation of the gospel Paul is particularly Christ-centered, and is going again and again and again to the person and the work of Jesus Christ, what Christ has done for us in the cross, our union with Christ, our security in Christ, these great gospel realities. He’s just exultant and triumphant in those parts of the letter.
Then, in the defensive parts of the letter, the defending sections, he’s actually going to the Old Testament, and he’ll be digging into the Old Testament and quoting lots of Old Testament passages. Essentially, what Paul is trying to show is that the gospel itself is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. You will see this pattern as you read through this letter.
Of course, we don’t have time to cover nearly all of this this morning. Most of what I’m going to say is going to fall from that left-hand column, the explanation of the gospel, and I just want to hit a few of the key passages, to give us a basic exposition of the gospel, the message of the gospel itself. I want us to understand that and understand essentially Paul’s argument up to this point, kind of on a broad-brush level.
We’re going to do this by looking at three things. Here’s the outline for this morning. First of all, the judgment we deserve; then secondly, the righteousness that God provides; then thirdly, the privileges that this brings.
I. The Judgment We Deserve
II. The Righteousness God Provides
III. The Privileges This Brings
Let me just begin by reading Paul’s thesis statement for the letter. This is kind of the key to the whole letter, chapter 1:16-17. This is right at the end of his introduction, his opening. Listen to what Paul says.
He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Right there, you see why he’s regularly returning to the Jewish objections to the gospel. Then in verse 17 he says, “For in it [that is, in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
That’s essentially the theme of this letter, the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel of Christ for those who believe. Let’s look at this basic outline of the letter from chapters 1 to chapter 8.
I. The Judgment We Deserve
First of all, the judgment we deserve. This is really the theme that Paul deals with from chapter 1:18 down to chapter 3:20. You have about two chapters’ worth of argument here that the entire world is under judgment. The first thing that Paul says is that God’s wrath is revealed against our sin. Look at Romans 1:18. He says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
This is really interesting, because Paul has just said (we just read it, chapter 1:16-17) that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, and then in verse 18 he says, “For the wrath of God is revealed…” Why does he do that?
I think the reason he does that is because we can’t really understand the provision of God’s righteousness for us through Christ and through the gospel, we cannot understand the saving righteousness of God, until we understand what it is we need to be saved from, what we need to be delivered from, until we understand that we are under the condemnation of God. So Paul begins with the wrath of God. He shows us that because our sin, because of our ungodliness, our lack of worship and love for God, our wickedness, as well as our unrighteousness, our transgressions of God’s law—because of that, we are under God’s wrath. We are under God’s judgment. We deserve God’s judgment.
This is perhaps one of the most controversial things, to say in our world today that anyone could be under the judgment of God. But the reality is that I think almost any person with some kind of moral sanity believes that there should be some kind of judgment in the world. When we think about a Hitler, when we think about Cambodia, when we think about Rwanda, when we think about child abuse, when we think about the slave trade, human trafficking—when we think about the grave injustices of the world, everyone would say that those people need to be punished, right? We recognize that. Even secular people recognize that, at least on the temporal level, that there should be some kind of punishment for crimes that are committed against humanity.
Now, what I think a lot of people miss is that the greatest crimes we ever commit are not just the crimes we commit against human beings, though those are great, because we’re sinning against people who have dignity and value, they’re created in the image of God. But our greatest sins are actually sins against God himself, the Creator, because God is infinitely more worthy of our love and our obedience and our adoration. In fact, that’s why he commands us to worship him. The essence of all sin is the refusal to worship God.
John Stott, in his excellent commentary on Romans, says, “Scripture identifies the essence of sin as ungodliness. God’s complaint is that we do not seek him at all, making his glory our supreme concern, that we have not set him before us, that there is no room for him in our thoughts, and that we do not love him with all of our powers. Sin is the revolt of the self against God, the dethronement of God with a view to the enthronement of oneself. Ultimately, sin is self-deification, the reckless determination to occupy the throne which belongs to God alone.”
Every time you and I sin, what we are essentially saying is, “God, get off the throne; I want to be god. I want to have control. I want to be lord, I want to call the shots.” We are creatures who live in revolt of the Creator, and we trade on his glory.
Look at how Paul describes this sin in verses 21 and 23 (we’re still in chapter 1). He says that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
He’s saying that there is this dark exchange where we trade on the glory of God. God in his glorious perfections, God in all of his glory and majesty, who not only deserves to be worshipped but for whom to worship it is for us the very summit of satisfaction, it’s the reason we were made, it’s the purpose for which we were planned; we were created for this, to know God, to love him, to glorify and enjoy him forever! Instead of worshipping God, we worship and serve the Creator. We trade on his glory. We trade that which is infinitely valuable for Monopoly money, that which has no value at all. Because of it, the Scripture says God will judge sin.
Then Paul goes into defense mode in chapter 2, and essentially what he’s saying is that God is going to judge both Jews and Gentiles. It’s not just those dirty, pagan Gentiles that are sinners; it’s also the people who were most privileged of all, who had the law of God. They had the word of God, they had the promises of God. They had so much from the Old Testament! Yet, even having the law of God, they disobeyed God.
Romans 2:1 begins, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
Here you have the ultimate condemnation on self-righteous religion. What is true for the Jew is true for every religious person who, rather than depending on God’s mercy given in Christ, depends on their own works righteousness, their obedience to the law, as the basis for their acceptance with God.
The problem is, none of us obey the law perfectly. The problem is, none of us, left to ourselves, are rightly inclined to God. We don’t love God and we certainly don’t love other people, and therefore, even though we hold onto the law and we say, “This is how you should live,” we don’t live that way ourselves. Paul condemns it. God condemns it, and he will judge both Jew and Gentile.
Romans 2:12 says, “For all who have sinned without the law [that’s the Gentiles] will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” There is a day of reckoning coming. Romans as well as many other passages of Scripture say this unequivocally, that there will come a day where God will judge all men. He will judge us according to our works, he will judge with perfect equity and righteousness. Every person will stand before God in judgment. No one will be exempt. We will give an account to God.
Someone once used this as an illustration. It’s a little bit antiquated now, but he said just imagine that you went through life with a tape recorder hanging around your neck that recorded every single word you said, and that was it. That’s all that you were judged on the basis, was everything you said. How many of us would stand for even a day?
I remember hearing a somewhat humorous story a few years ago, and it was a pastor that I knew who had this terrible experience that thankfully I’ve never had. He had loaned a cassette tape to some church members at his church. It was a tape of a sermon. When he received it back, he discovered that the church members had inadvertently pressed “record,” and they didn’t realize they were recording themselves, and guess who they were talking about? They were talking about the pastor!
So this pastor (he was kind of an unusual guy) just went straight over to their house, popped the cassette tape in, pressed play, and just watched their faces as they were mortified at what they had experienced.
Well, something far, far worse, humiliating and mortifying, will happen on the day of judgment, when we will recount, and it will be recounted for us our works, our deeds, our words, our thoughts; all that we have done. We’ll stand before God in judgment. It’s a terrifying reality, and Paul wants us to feel the weight of that judgment. It’s necessary for us to see our need for Christ.
So Paul’s great conclusion—I’m skipping over a lot, but Paul’s great conclusion here, given at the end of this segment, chapter 3:19-20, is that no one can be justified through works of the law. Look at Romans 3:19-20. He says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
I think no one understood this better in church history than John Bunyan, the great author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. There are several times in that allegory where he makes reference to the law in some way or another.
You remember that Christian is carrying this burden on his back. He wants to be released of the burden of his guilt and of his sin as he makes his journey to the Celestial City. Before he loses the burden, he tries to go to Mount Sinai. That’s the mountain where God had given the ten commandments to Israel. Do you remember this?
He goes to Mount Sinai, and from a distance it looks like this is a mountain he can climb, but when he gets to it he sees that this is a mountain that is actually towering over him, and it’s so tall, it’s so steep; in fact, it’s slanting over him, hanging over his head, this black, terrible mountain. It’s so terrible that he realizes that there is absolutely no way he could scale this mountain to ever lose his burden.
That’s something that every single one of us has to reckon with, we have to understand. Through the works of the law, by keeping the ten commandments, you can’t be justified. You can’t save yourself. You can’t deliver yourself from the burden of sin by obeying the law of God.
There’s another place where Christian and Faithful are actually talking about their experiences, and faithful beings to recount an experience he had where this man comes up to him on the road, and this man just starts beating him. He beats him down to the ground!
Faithful comes to himself again and he asks him, “Why do you do this? Why have you served me so?” he says.
The man says, “It’s because of your secret inclining to Adam the first,” looking back to our first father, Adam. “With that,” he says, “he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backwards.”
So he’s laying there at his feet, and he comes to himself again and he cries out for mercy. “Have mercy on me!” This is what the man says. He says, “‘I know not how to show mercy,’ and with that he knocked me down again.”
Christian tells him who the man is: it’s Moses. It’s the law of God. That’s what the law of God does. The law just knocks you down again. It knocks you down to the ground, it takes the feet out from under you, because it shows you your sin. That’s what Paul says, isn’t it? Through the law comes the knowledge of sin. You’ll never be able to stand before God on the basis of your own righteousness through the works of the law.
That’s the bad news, the judgment we deserve. But the good news of the gospel is that God provides righteousness!
II. The Righteousness God Provides
That leads us to the second point. God provides righteousness, and he provides righteousness apart from the law. Look at Romans 3:21. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” So what Paul is saying here is that this is a righteousness that does not come through law-keeping, it comes apart from the law, but the Old Testament Scriptures, the law and the prophets, have been pointing to this all along. This gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
This righteousness God provides apart from the law, and he provides it through the cross of Jesus Christ. He provides it through the cross. Look at verse 23. Paul says that “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Again, he’s talking about Jew and Gentile; we are all condemned, right? Then in verse 24 he says, “...and are justified [that is, we are declared righteous before God, accepted by God] by his grace as a gift…” How? “...through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood…”
Now, that’s a lot of “-ation” words. Redemption, propitiation, justification. Lots of these theological words. Essentially, what Paul is saying is this: he’s saying that God has declared us to be righteous before him, and he’s done this through the crucifixion of Jesus, because when Jesus died on the cross he died to atone for our sins. He died to pay for our sins. That’s what propitiation means. He died to pay for our sins! He died to bear the judgment! He died to take the wrath that we deserved. He took that wrath through shedding his blood. “...whom God put forward as a propitiation,” an atoning sacrifice, “by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Why did God do this? Verse 25: “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Years ago I read a story about this man who was a chief in a tribe. I believe this was a nomadic tribe in ancient Russian, very similar to a Native American tribe. So it’s a small tribal community, and there was a chief who was renowned for his justice. He ruled the tribe with absolute justice, with equity. He was a good man, he was a just man, he was a righteous man. He was severe against crime, but because he was so severe there was often great peace and prosperity in the tribe.
One day, they noticed that things started missing. There was a rash of thefts. Someone was stealing within the tribe. Things were disappearing. So the chief proscribed a penalty: “When the thief is caught, he will receive ten lashes.” It just went on and on and on, so he kept raising the penalty for this crime. When the person is caught, it will be 20 lashes, it’ll be 30 lashes, it’ll be 40 lashes. It eventually got to the point that it would be a death penalty. When this thief was finally caught, the person would be killed.
Then the day came when they caught the thief, and it turned out to be the chief’s mother. She’s this frail old woman. He loved his mother. Everybody knew that he loved his mother, so everybody wondered, “Will the chief be true to his justice or, out of his love for his mom, will he show mercy?”
When the day came for the penalty, for the execution to take place, everybody wondered what he would do. Then came the moment where the whip was raised, and at that moment, at the very last, the chief raised his hand. He said, “Stop!”
Then he went over to his mother, whose back was bared, tied to this post, and he wrapped his strong shoulders around her, and dropped his hand. He took the punishment himself, and in doing so he satisfied both his justice and his love.
Now, that’s a very poor illustration for the magnitude of both the justice and the mercy that has been demonstrated through the cross of Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, the Son of God, God incarnate, he died on the cross—when he did so, he bore the wrath of God against our sin. He bore the judgment we deserve. The day of judgment fell right there in history on him! He took it. He took that wrath, he took that judgment, he took that punishment, and in doing so he declared at one and the same time that God is just and he will not wink at sin, and he declared that God is merciful and gracious, and he loves sinners. He loves sinners. He loves them so much that he’s willing to bear that penalty himself.
I wonder, have you found relief for your own conscience, freedom from guilt, so that you know that you can stand before God on the day of judgment and not be condemned? This is how. It’s by trusting in what Christ has done on the cross. This righteousness that God provides comes apart from the law, it comes through the cross, and it is received through faith.
Romans 3:22-23, “...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then, again (we’ve already read it), in verse 25, God put Christ forward “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” It’s through faith that we are justified. Then verse 26, “It was to show [God’s] righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier,” he might be righteous and the one who declares those righteous who believe in Jesus, who have faith in Jesus. That’s the argument here of Romans 3.
In chapter 4, Paul deals with an objection. He defends the gospel against a Jewish objection. He does that by appealing to two people, David and Abraham, and especially Abraham, showing that Abraham and David were both justified. They were both justified, and they were justified apart from works; Abraham, because he was declared righteous. Righteousness was credited to him, Genesis 15, before he received circumcision. So it’s not through the ceremonial works of the law. And David, because in Psalm 32 David, after having committed adultery with Bathsheba, declares, “Blessed are those whose deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” It’s through faith.
Here are the key verses in Romans 4:4-6. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.”
Righteousness apart from works! For those who believe, even the ungodly, in your ungodliness. Now, it doesn’t mean you stay ungodly, because we’re going to see in a moment that one of the privileges this brings is freedom from sin. But in the moment when you believe in Christ you have nothing to commend you, and you are saved solely through the mercy of God, the gift of God.
I love those words of Augustus Toplady, the great old hymn-writer. He said,
“A debtor to mercy alone
Of covenant mercy I sing.
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.”
Listen to this:
“There terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do.” Why?
“My Savior’s obedience and love
Hides all my transgressions from view.”
Believer, this is the good news. Do you trust in Jesus Christ? Do you trust in what Jesus did on the cross? God doesn’t see your sins anymore! He sees you in Christ. He sees the righteousness, the blood, the obedience of Jesus Christ.
Do you know how Christian lost that burden in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the burden he couldn’t lose at Mount Sinai? You know how he lost it? He lost it when he came to the cross and he looked there at Christ bleeding on the cross, and the burden rolled off his back into an empty tomb!
Do you know how Faithful was recovered after being beaten down by Moses? He said another man came to him, and he said it was a man who had holes in his hands and a wound in his side, and that man lifted him up and showed him mercy.
That’s what Christ does for us. Christ does what Moses could not do. God through Christ does what the law could not do. He pardons our sins, he declares us righteous, and then he gives us amazing gospel privileges.
III. The Privileges This Brings
That leads us to the last point, the privileges this brings. Let me show you four, four privileges that belong to every Christian.
(1) Number one, peace with God. Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have peace with God! That means we’re reconciled to him, it means we’re on friendly terms with him, it means that we can have absolute confidence and assurance that God receives us, that he accepts us, that he forgives us. The cross shows us that. It shows us God’s love for us. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. “Peace with conscience, peace with God / We obtain through Jesus’ blood.” That’s the first blessing, privilege that we get.
(2) Here’s the second: we get freedom. We get peace and we get freedom, freedom from sin and the law, and we get it through the reign of grace. Notice how Paul says this. Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…”
Isn’t that interesting language? We have access into grace on which we stand. We now stand on grace. Then Paul says something else about grace at the end of the chapter, Romans 5:20-21. He says, “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death—” get that language. Sin reigned. Sin was the master. Sin was this tyrant ruling over our lives. Sin reigned in death. Even as sin reigned in death, “grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Here’s the idea. When you believe in Christ you not only get peace with God, but you enter into a new realm. You enter in a new kingdom. You enter into this new kingdom where there’s a new reign and the Lord over this kingdom is not sin reigning through death; the Lord over this kingdom is grace reigning through righteousness. You stand in grace, you stand on grace, you’re in an atmosphere of grace, you’re under the rule of grace, you’re under the reign of grace, and the reign of grace brings freedom into our lives.
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.”
That’s Paul’s argument, now, in chapters 6 and 7. He’s shown that we are saved through the gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ, but that gift of righteousness not only credits us with righteousness so that we stand before God pardoned and accepted before him, that gift also unites us to Jesus Christ. It unites us to him, so united to Jesus Christ we are one with him in his death and in his resurrection, which means we are freed from the power of sin. That’s the whole argument of Romans 6.
He’s just said that “where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,” and then he raises an objection in Romans 6:1. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Again, he’s anticipating a Jewish objection to the gospel. The objection is this: “Paul, if you’re saying that we’re saved solely by grace, if you’re saying that we’re not saved through the law, we’re not saved through our works, we’re saved through this gift of righteousness, this free gift of righteousness, through Jesus Christ alone; well, if that’s true, let’s just sin all we want! Where sin abounded, grace abounded. Let’s keep on sinning.”
Paul raises the objection. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” he says. “May it never be.” It’s the strongest expression. It’s almost as if he’s swearing. The old King James gets the sentiment right. “God forbid!” May it never be! Perish the thought! Away with this thought that grace could be a license for sin.
Why do we not keep on sinning if we’re saved by grace? Here’s why. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
The argument of Romans 6 is that when Jesus died on the cross he defeated sin’s power. He defeated it! He slew it! He slew the power of sin and of death, and you and I, if we are united to Christ, we are united to him not only in justification but in sanctification. We are united to him not only in a way that declares us righteous before God, but also in a way that begins to make us righteous, that begins to change our lives, that begins to free us from the rule of sin. In fact, it does free us. If you are a Christian, you are definitively freed from sin. You’re free. The calling of the Christian life is to learn how to live in that freedom, to work it out.
In fact, the first three commands in the entire letter of Romans happen in chapter 6. No commands for five chapters, and then in chapter 6:11 he begins to give us commands. Look at Romans 6:11-14.
He says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That’s the very first thing he tells the Christians to do: consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
Then he says in verse 12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…” Why? You’re not under the reign of sin anymore, you’re under the reign of grace. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” Verse 13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Here’s the point to get. This freedom—freedom from sin, freedom from the law (that’s chapter 7, we don’t have time to go there—this freedom comes with salvation. It comes with salvation.
John MacArthur’s written a great book called Our Sufficiency in Christ, and in this book he tells the story of a man who was not a wealthy man, but he always dreamed of going on a cruise. So he saved his money, scrimped and saved, pulling money together, saving months on end, even years on end, so he could finally pay for the cruise. He finally bought the ticket, but he didn’t have any money for food, so he thought, “Well that’s alright. I’m going to be on a cruise. I’ll just take a lot of sandwiches.”
So he packed a suitcase full of peanut butter sandwiches. He gets on the cruise, and every day he’s eating his peanut butter sandwiches and he’s watching the other people on the cruise have these nice, luscious, delicious meals; I mean, these full-spread, nine-course meals. And day after day he’s on the cruise he’s just getting miserable. He’s on the cruise, but he’s eating these peanut butter sandwiches, getting sick of them, he’s so tired of them. He starts getting desperate.
Finally, a porter comes by and he can’t take it any longer. He grabs the porter and says, “What can I do for some of that food? I’ll wash dishes, I’ll swab the decks, I’ll do whatever you need me to do; I’m just sick of peanut butter sandwiches. Can I have some of the food?”
The porter looked at him and said, “Sir, the food comes with the cruise.” He could have been eating it all along!
In the same way, freedom comes with salvation. There are a lot of Christians going around looking for something extra, something beyond Jesus, beyond the Spirit, beyond grace, in order to free them from their sin. The gospel comes and says it all comes with Jesus. It’s a package deal. If you get Jesus, you get sanctification, you get freedom, you get holiness, because you’re united to him. “Jesus and all in him is mine,” as Wesley puts it. You get freedom.
(3) Not only do you get freedom, you also get hope. You get hope through the indwelling Spirit.
Thomas Schreiner in his commentary actually says that hope is the unifying theme of chapters 5 through 8. Indeed, when you look at chapter 5, if begins with a note of hope. We’ve already the first couple of verses, but let me continue in chapter 5:2. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,” and notice this, “and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that,” he says, “but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,” why? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The indwelling Spirit brings hope into the life of the Christian. When you get into Romans 8, Paul picks up this theme again. He answers the objections in chapters 6 and 7 and he picks up the theme of hope again by talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Let me just give you a couple of verses (I’m almost done).
In Romans 8:9 he tells us that every believer has the Spirit. “You, however,” he says, “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is the mark of the believer, that he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Then, in chapter 8:15-17 (the argument goes verses 15-27) he’s showing that because of the Spirit dwelling in our hearts we are shown to be children of God, and we are shown to be heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, and we’re waiting for an inheritance. Verse 15, “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
What Paul is saying is that if you have the Spirit in your heart and in your life you have the down payment of your inheritance, you have the Spirit working in your heart, the Spirit working in your life, the Spirit crying out to God, “Abba! Father!” If you have the Spirit, then you are an heir and you get the inheritance. The inheritance is future glory. It’s glorification.
In fact, as he develops the thought, it’s not just glorification on a personal level, its glorification in the whole cosmic realm. The idea is this, that as sin corrupted the creation, the good creation, and caused it to fall into futility and decay, the creation now is eagerly waiting for the day when everything will be restored, and it will happen in what Paul calls the revealing of the sons of God and the redemption of our bodies.
There’s going to come a day when this whole universe will be created anew, a new heavens and a new earth, and you will be created anew, made like Jesus Christ, to live forever in an embodied universe. You’re not just going to float around like a spirit forever up in clouds in heaven—that’s not what we’re looking for. Your body’s going to be resurrected! You’re going to be made like Jesus Christ and his glorious body, and you are going to live in a world made new. That’s our hope, the hope of glory. The Spirit in our hearts is the one who gives us this hope.
(4) Finally, our security in God’s love. This is what you have in chapter 8:28-39. I’m just going to end by reading it. It’s a good place to end, and it get us right up to chapter 9:1, where we come back next week. As I read it, just notice this—all I’ll do is point it out as we read, that Paul asks five questions. He asks five questions. They are what John Stott calls “five undeniable affirmations.” He’s asking these rhetorical questions that are just pressing home to us the absolute security that we have in God’s love through Jesus Christ.
Question number one. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Number two. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Number three. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Number four. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Number five. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are secure in Christ.
Brother or sister in Christ, do you know what it is to live in the privileges of the gospel, to live at peace with God, to live in the freedom that comes through the reign of grace, to live in the hope of glory, to know that you are secure in God’s love? This is your birthright.
My friend, this morning, if you’re not a Christian, if you’re not a believer in Christ—maybe you’re religious, maybe you’re moral, maybe you’ve tried to live a good life all your life, but maybe for the first time this morning you’ve recognized that if you’re really judged against the standard of God’s law, that every word you speak you will give an account of, you know that you’ll fail the test. Maybe for the first time this morning you’ve felt some trembling, you’ve felt some fear of, “What will it be like to stand before God on the day of judgment?” I have good news for you. The day of judgment has already come for Jesus Christ and for every person who is united to Christ by faith.
That means that if you trust in Jesus this morning, if you believe in him with all your heart, you trust in him, God will forgive all your sins, he will accept you as righteous in his sight, he will bring you into the freedom, into the life of hope and of peace of blessing that we’ve described, he will change your life. You will be a new creation.
So I encourage you, I invite you this morning to believe in Christ, look to Christ, and may all of us this morning embrace the gospel as if for the first time, trust in what God has done for us through his Son and through the Spirit, as we rejoice and hope in the glory of God. Let’s pray.
Merciful, heavenly Father, thank you so much for your grace that rescues us from judgment, your grace that gives us the free gift of righteousness, grace that unites us to Jesus Christ through faith, and gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell our hearts. Thank you for this wonderful letter of Romans, the riches that it holds for us. May we rejoice in what we’ve learned today.
I pray that as we continue in the study of this letter in the weeks to come that you would give us new understanding into your purpose, your sovereign, saving purpose in the world, as well as the responsibility and call that you’ve placed on our lives as followers of Christ.
Lord, as we come to the table this morning, may we come with faith. As we take the bread and the juice, may we do so with hungry hearts that are ready to receive and feed on Jesus Christ himself, who is the bread of life. May we come trusting all that he is and all that he has done for us. May the confession of our heart be with that old hymn-writer:
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
Would you meet with us this morning through the ministry of your Holy Spirit? Be glorified as we continue to worship you. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.