Yes, here we are back again discussing obedience, especially as it is described in Romans. In Romans 2, Paul pits a reality of obedience against the perception of obedience. And that’s nothing new, is it? After all, we can go way back in the OT during the totally unexpected choosing of a scrawny younger brother by the name of David, where Samuel declared that while man looks on the outward, God looks on the heart. In the same way, Jesus regarded an old woman’s meager gift far outweighed the lavish displays by the rich. The son who said No, I won’t do it to his father was the one who actually did his will, rather than the son who said, I’m on it, dad! The Bible is filled with such accounts, which of course we’ll recognize because they’re written in the Scriptures, but we’ll also ignore when they’re happening right in front of us. It’s all about the outward appearance, isn’t it?
you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? Romans 2:21-23
You therefore who do not know what you’re talking about, you who make confidence assertions, do you not … and he filled in the blanks with the appropriate questions regarding their total lack of doing what they told others to do. They were judged by the actual obedience of those who fulfilled the requirement of the Law because it had been written upon their hearts.
Here is that perception as described in Romans 2:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts
Jim let’s stop right there for a moment. Someone reading this might be saying to themself something like “hey, I thought the WORK of the Law was to reveal sin and to condemn it?” Is THIS the WORK of the law that is written in my heart?” Should I be walking in condemnation if so?”
Good question, Adam. Now, I think everybody who is familiar with me and my stance on Law versus Grace knows that I’m always warning believers about the devastating effects of trying to live by the Law. The distinction here, however, is found in the phrase “written on the heart.” Consider the promise of the Lord in one of my favorite passages, Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
You see, the work of the Law written on the heart describes an inward reality by which a person would actually fulfill the essence of the Law, which is love. And I’m not talking about some kind of fleeting romantic or errotic emotion, but about the real stuff — although, even our temporary feelings of infatuation have convinced us that if there was such a thing as true, everlasting love it would change the world. Even the religious men who pursued Jesus like a pack of hyenas with their constant probing and testing for any point of weakness by which they might attack, even their mouths were shut when confronted by the proposition of how love would change everything they had built for themselves through the Law. Let’s consider one of those encounters. Adam, again, if you would…
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34
Until we understand why Jesus’ quoting a passage from the Law of Moses would have stopped these professional religious men in their tracks, we’d better get used to the constant confusion that confronts every time we see a NT reference to the Law. I know as Grace-believers we want to get a better handle on the distinctions between Law and Grace, but I’m telling you that we’ve so often set ourselves up for confusion and failure by doing so.
Jim, why is that?
Simple. It’s because we’re trying to categorize Grace and Law according to the same elemental principles used by the religious men of the Law. We want the same cut-and-dried format that’s been sought after by the intellect. Why else do Biblical scholars ignorantly continue to strive for what they believe is the Biblical approach to study and insight of God’s word? You know, Order on order, line on line? Adam, how about reading the passage in Isaiah?
He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” and, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen. So the word of the LORD to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there,” that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive. Isaiah 28:12-13
What I’m saying is that even Grace believers can and have fallen into the very same bondage that has snared religious people all throughout history. Adam, I know it might seem as if I’ve gone way off on a tangent from your original question about the work of the Law, and how it might seem that it has to imply walking in condemnation. But it’s at this very point that we need to understand that the problem is not with the Law itself, but with the weakness of the flesh. Otherwise, we’re going to find ourselves balking at or running from any mention of the Law, even to the point avoiding any contact whatsoever! Hey, been there, done that!
What I want you to see in all of this is that if we’re counting on some kind of grace-formula or set of grace teachings to ensure our grace-walk, we’re going to fall into the same mentality that has turned grace into something else all throughout history. The work of the Law that has been written on the heart describes the very reality of the Spirit of God that now works within those who belong to Christ.
So, let’s look a bit more at how in Romans 2, Paul was exposing the outward perception against an inwardly reality.
So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul brought these things up in the early part of the letter to reveal the condemnation of the fleshly religious mind of those who were of the Law.
When you say “condemnation,” you mean that the religious mind had no TRUE standing before God right?
I’m glad you asked about this condemnation, for it has become so entrenched in our thinking through religious perception. In answer to your question, yes, the religious mind did not have a true standing before God … but there’s more to it than that. What I’m saying is that the stated condemnation is intertwined within the perception of the fleshly mind. Consider another statement that Paul made in Romans 3.
And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
According to the usual Christian perception, this comes across as if Paul said, Those who slander us deserve to go to hell! Doesn’t it? But what is this condemnation … especially in view of the fact that Paul never once brought up the issue of hell anywhere in Romans? The condemnation is connected to the bondage of those who live under Law. It is just in the sense that it is a fitting penalty. The Greek word is endikos, translated righteous, just and it comes from a word that suggests this rightness or justice is self-evident. It’s a principle of justice. Here’s that same just condemnation as Paul described in Galatians:
For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Galatians 3:10-12
We’re talking about the very same principle of having to sleep in the bed one makes for himself. The condemnation of the fleshly mind describes the customized bondage a man creates for himself. While the legal mind seems to be building prisons for others to live in, he is at the same time hedging himself in with every pronouncement he makes against others. Even in the world it is understood that it’s easier to keep your story straight if you tell the truth, and this bears out in the complex systems of bondage that people unwittingly create for themselves. All men eventually create a straight-jacket for themselves from which there is no escape.
Anyhow, regarding how Paul exposed the condemnation of the fleshly religious mind, he did it by exposing the lie of the self-righteous man by those who were the least likely to have any chance of obedience.
Least likely ? So you must be referring to Gentiles then?!
Now, to Romans 6:15-23 This is the passage that ends with the famous verse that makes up what evangelists call “The Romans Road,” which is how the religious mind has learned to separate and categorize “salvation” in such a way as to cause believers to overlook the full expression.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let’s face it, how else have we learned to view this verse, except as one of the progressive points of God’s Plan of Salvation? Whether or not this particular verse ends up making sense to you by time we’ve finished this audio is less important to me than having your apple cart turned upside down. I’d rather leave you totally confused as to the meaning of this verse than to leave it sitting comfortably within a plan-of-salvation framework. Know this: My intention is not to cause you doubt as to whether or not your salvation will continue after your body is buried in the ground (or burned up), rather that your attention is drawn to the reality of our living salvation in Christ that is not dependent upon the condition of our bodies. I hope you’re hearing me in this.
Jim, lots of folks do indeed see this as some sort of salvation or “preach the gospel” verse. But, maybe you could just say a few words about what exactly this “wage of sin” is? Could this be simply the demand for death that sin requires?
I will be addressing this verse more as we continue on here, so I want our listeners to be expecting that. However, you’ve got it spot-on with the simplicity that sin demands death. We’ve got this verse so isolated from what it means for us to live in freedom right now that it doesn’t seem to compute. Sin leads to death, sin IS death. Now, that might cause somebody’s legalistic formulas to get all stirred up, but in Christ, this is the prelude to true freedom! Like I said, more on that later. :)
Consider Colossians 3:1-4 … without forcing it into a framework of heaven. Just see it for what it is as you are now living in this world as an alien … one who is not of this earth. You see, the truth transcends the destiny question, for it leaves us in total confidence regarding everything about life.
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
While we try so hard to force statements like these into the temporal perspective, they find their reality outside of the temporal world. And so our real life is found outside the elemental world and the things of this world. There should be no question regarding our continued confidence as this world passes away (and our bodies with it) because our true life is not bound to it. Anyhow, back to Romans 6
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (v15)
This is a similar question to what’s found in Romans 6:1 that says,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
The question is really no different, except in relation to the fleshly mind’s objection to the building reality of God’s grace in Christ. You see, the more grace is revealed to us, the more the flesh objects. The religious system would have you believe that these “What shall we say then…” questions are Paul’s way of cautioning us against too much grace … as if Paul was making sure Christians wouldn’t get carried away by grace and start sinning because of it.
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (v16)
A simple statement … and one that the fleshly religious mind hangs upon as it continues reading with its blinders firmly attached.
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (v17-18)
The religious mind can read this verse over and over … and still not hear the simple reality that has changed everything regarding true life and obedience for those in Christ. But thanks be to God that though you WERE slaves of sin, you BECAME OBEDIENT FROM THE HEART …. and HAVING BEEN FREED FROM SIN, YOU BECAME SLAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Blindness and deception is the only thing that keeps people from seeing this simple reality.
I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. (v19)
If this illustration represents human terms then we should not be straining so hard to make more of it than what is on the surface. The reality of our true life is far beyond the illustration.
For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (v19-20)
As we are not bound to every possible ramification one can make from Paul’s illustration, we cannot force doubt back into the confidence we have as those who are alive from the dead. In other words, those who speculate about what might happen if a believer ceases to present himself as a slave of righteousness is only a manipulation of the fleshly mind. Paul’s words were designed to urge those who are alive from the dead to not only see themselves as alive from the dead, but also to present themselves before God as such. The reality of this presentation takes a mere intellectual perspective and moves it into the realm of living truth, where we as living ones in Christ recognize that we in fact stand before God and are encouraged to boldly take our place in God’s presence without any hesitation.
Now, what this has to do with obedience is that we can cease from the groveling position of those who crawl before God as beggars, for we stand eternally before him as those who are children of obedience. This is a far cry from what we’ve been taught in the religious system, is it not?
Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. (v21)
Consider the repeated simplicity demanded by the outcome of death. Just as Paul has told them over and over again, death is a final answer to all the propositions of the flesh and the sin that is inherent in it.
The things of which you are now ashamed. What has changed to make us ashamed of the former things that defined our previous existence in the temporal world? How about the life of God within us?
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
BUT NOW HAVING BEEN FREED FROM SIN AND ENSLAVED TO GOD! Forced into the religious framework, these verses have been turned into lifeless doctrines that only produce arguments and speculations regarding “sanctification” and “eternal life.”
Somehow, believers have been deceived into tripping all over the details of the religious mind so that they have difficulty recognizing the most profound simplicity of what it is to have been made freed from sin in Christ, as well as having been enslaved to God. And do not let the fact slip your consideration that our having been made obedient is just as certain as our having been made free from sin and made alive to God.
Adam, let’s kick back and forth on the ramifications of having been made slaves of God and righteousness rather than the former state of being slaves of sin.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v23)
For years, I had learned to gloss over this verse with an I’ve-already-settled-that-issue perspective. In view of the whole passage, though, I have difficulty seeing it as I used to. how I ever let this verse get pulled out of context so as to force the truth of eternal life into the framework of the heaven versus hell scenario. Eternal life in this context refers to the whole reality of our right now salvation that is defined by our having been freed from sin and made alive to God and righteousness.
Remember, obedience is all in the hearing.