Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
The point of this study is difficult for most people to accept. The point is this: There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone. No human is free to do everything he or she may want to do. There is one being in the universe who is totally free, of course; that is God. But all others are limited by or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question in this area is: Who or what are you serving? Since you and I are human beings and not God, we can never be autonomous. We must either be slaves to sin or slaves to Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom.
Paul was answering objections to the doctrine of salvation by grace that were coming from two sides, just as they come to us today. On one side were Jewish traditionalists with a commitment to the Law of Moses. They argued that if law is rejected as a way of salvation, which Paul obviously was doing, immorality and all other vices inevitably follow. Paul shows that it doesn’t work that way. In fact, he shows the opposite. He shows: (1) The law does not lead to righteousness, for the simple reason that it is unable to produce righteousness in anyone. The law can only condemn. (2) Paradoxically, it is only by being delivered from the law and its condemnation, through union with Jesus Christ, that we are empowered to do what the law requires. The other objection came not from Jewish legalists, but from those who reject the law not only as a way of salvation but even as an expression of proper conduct. They say, “Since we are free from law, we can do anything we please. We are free to go on sinning. In fact, we can wallow in it. Paul answers both of these errors in this chapter of Romans. Paul writes in verse 15: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” We may ask, “Why not?”
Paul gives five sound reasons in this section: (1) Sin is slavery. The first reason Christians must not sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that sin is actually slavery, and it would be folly to be delivered from slavery only to return to it again. The difficulty here is that sin is rarely seen by us in this way, that is, in its true colors. Instead of being presented as slavery, it is usually described as the very essence of freedom (see Genesis 3). (2) Sin leads to death. The second reason we must not sin, even though we are not under law but under grace, is that sin leads to death. Paul says this several times in these verses (vv. 16, 21, 23). Again, this is not what we are usually told (again in Genesis 3). (3) Christians have been delivered from sin’s slavery. The third reason Christians are not to continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that they have been delivered by Jesus from sin’s tyranny if they are truly Christians. This is so wonderful that Paul actually breaks into“praise to God” at this point (vv. 17-18). (4) The same work that has delivered Christians from sin’s slavery has also made them slaves of God, which is true freedom. The fourth of Paul’s arguments for why Christians cannot continue in sin, even though they are not under law but under grace, is that the same act of Christ that has delivered us from sin has also made us “slaves of God: (v. 22). By His act of redemption, Jesus has purchased men and women for Himself, that is, to serve Him. (5) The end of this second desirable slavery is righteousness. This leads to Paul’s last point, the fifth reason why Christians must not continue in sin, even though they have been freed from law and are under grace. It is that the end of this second, desirable slavery to God and Jesus Christ is righteousness. True Christianity can never lead to license, the accusation refuted by Paul in this passage. Since it is liberation from sin in order to become a servant of God and of Jesus Christ, Christianity must inevitably lead to what God desires, which is righteousness.
We need to look at one more word: obedience. It occurs in verse 16 and it is amplified by the verb obey, which occurs three more times in verses 16-17. The reason Paul uses the word obedience is that it carries through the image he has been developing, namely that of being a slave either to sin or of Jesus Christ. It is the function of a slave to obey his or her master. But the use of the term goes beyond this, since obedience is an essential requirement of all who would follow Christ, and not just afterward, as if we are called first to believe and then obey. Obedience is the very essence of believing. It’s what belief is all about. There is no escaping it. Either we obey sin, which leads to death, and are enslaved by it, or we have been freed from sin to serve God. If we have been freed from sin, we will serve God. There is just no other option.
Romans 6:15-18 Reflection Questions:
What’s involved in becoming a Christian, and then living the life of God’s renewed humanity, is a change of master. How can we present ourselves to God when we still seem to be under sway of the wrong master?
Paul continues with the idea of slavery here, but exhorts his readers that they are “enslaved to God’s covenant justice.” How do these terms explain a fuller understanding of the life of the faith?
What does it mean that believers are to “become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed” (v. 17)?
I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains. There is a satisfaction laboring up a mountain to the top and then being able to see the beautiful vistas. In a sense, that is what has happened to us during our study of Romans. For more than five and a half chapters we have been laboring up the majestic mountain of doctrine concerning what God has done for us in salvation. Now, for the very first time, we have passed over the highest ridge to verses that tell what we are to do in response to God’s action. To put in other words, after many detailed studies, our tour has at last enabled us to cross from the high doctrine of justification-by-grace-through-faith to the doctrine of sanctification.
Since this is the first direct teaching about sanctification in Romans, it’s important that we understand what is being said. To do that, we need to look at this passage as a whole to see what principles about sanctification are taught. Then we need to apply those teachings in the most practical terms possible.
The principles are: (1) Sin is not dead in Christians, even in the most mature and pious Christians, but rather is something always to be struggled against. We have already said this in a variety of ways in our previous studies. (2) Sin’s hold on us is in or through our bodies. We cannot miss noticing how directly, literally, and strongly Paul emphasizes our actual physical bodies in these verses. In verse 12 he refers to our “mortal body,” that is, the body of our flesh that is dying. In verse 13 he twice refers to “the parts of” our bodies, that is, to our hands, feet, eyes, tongues and so forth. It is through these physical parts of our bodies that sin operates and through which it maintains its strong hold on us. (3) Sin can reign in or dominate our bodies. It cannot dominate or destroy that new person that I have become in Christ. That new “me” will always abhor sin and yearn for righteousness – and it will have it, because God is determined to produce the holy character of Christ is His people. But sin can certainly dominate my body. I can become a slave to its cravings. (4) Although sin can reign in or dominate our bodies, it does not need to. In other words, although it is possible for us to “offer the parts of [our] body to sin, as instruments of wickedness,” we do not need to do this. On the contrary, being now joined to Jesus Christ, we have His new life within and His power available to us. (5) This leads to the last and positive truth: As Christians, we can now offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. This is the thrust of the passage. It is what Paul is urging on us.
There are many ways to approach the subject of sanctification. Paul himself does it in several ways. But I don’t know a more practical, balanced, or down-to-earth way of speaking about how to live a holy life or grow in righteousness than the way in which Paul does it here. He has given us one easy-to-grasp principle in verse 11: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Now he tells us how to give practical expression to that great principle. It is by what we do with our bodies. What does that mean? The answers come by considering the body’s parts and their potential for doing both good and evil.
The first body part Paul mentions is the mind. If you fill your mind with products of our secular culture, you will remain secular and sinful. On the other hand, if you feed your mind on the Bible and Christian publications, train it by godly conversation, and discipline it to critique what you see and hear elsewhere by applying biblical truths to those ideas, you will grow in godliness and become increasingly useful to God. Your mind will become an instrument for righteousness. The mind is not the only part of our bodies through which we receive ideas and impressions and which must therefore be offered to God as an instrument of righteousness. We also receive impressions through our eyes and ears. These too, must be surrendered to God. The tongue is also part of the body, and what we do with it is important. James, the Lord’s brother, must have thought about this a great deal, because he says more about the tongue and its power for either good or evil than any other writer of Scripture (see James 3:5-6). Our hands and feet determine what we do and where we go. So when we are considering how we might offer the parts of our body to God as instruments of righteousness, let’s not forget them. Paul writes of using our hands profitably so we might be self-supporting and not dependant on anybody (1 Thes. 4:11-12). What about our feet? Where do your feet take you? Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
What we are actually engaged in is spiritual warfare, an ongoing battle against sin, for our own growth in grace and for the good of others. And, like all soldiers who are facing some great conflict, we are to train ourselves physically and steel our wills for the enterprise. Paul thought in these terms, sometimes speaking of a warfare in which the followers of Christ are to cloth themselves with God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-18), sometimes speaking of a race. “Fight the good fight of the faith…” he says in 1Timothy 6:12. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he says in 2 Timothy 4:7.
You have been waiting through five and a half chapters of Romans for something to do. Now you have that something. You know what it is. So do it. “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of righteousness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness.” Why should you submit to such rigorous training? It’s not because you are driven to do it. It’s because you have been liberated from sin by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and want to do it. You want to live for Him. This is why Paul ends by saying, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14).
Romans 6:12-14 Reflection Questions:
How can you improve on the use of the parts of your body to glorify God?
How is presenting or offering your limbs and organs to God different from presenting them to sin (v. 13)?
It’s a sad fact that many people perceive Christianity as being negative. It’s viewed as a series of don’ts. It is possible that some reader has taken our first studies of Romans 6 negatively, because the emphasis has been on the fact that once a person has been joined to Jesus Christ he or she can no longer go on sinning (vv. 1-2). Death and dying does sound negative, particularly to the non-Christian. If you do not know Christianity better than that, it sounds almost like “no more anything.” But that is not what real Christianity is, of course. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is sin that is negative. So to be freed from sin is to be freed to a brand new life, which is positive. As the believer identifies with Christ in His death he enters into newness of life. For the Christian, death is followed by a resurrection. And not just at the end of time! True Christianity is living out a new, joyful, abundant, resurrected life with Jesus Christ now.
In verse 5 Paul states a thesis which verses 6-10 develop. It has two parts: the first part is; “If we have been united with Him like this in His death…” and the second part is; “…we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.” Paul unfolds the first part in verses 6-7 and he explains the second part in verses 8-10. When Paul unfolds the meaning of the first part in verses 6-7, he isn’t just repeating himself. This is the point at which he is starting to talk about the Christian life, particularly the Christian’s sure victory over sin. Now when he mentions our union with Christ in His death, it is to show this frees us from sin’s tyranny.
The second half of Paul’s topical sentence in verse 5 is explained in verses 8-10, where Paul speaks of a present resurrection. Unless we take these verses together we will perceive the words “we will also live with Him” as referring to our future resurrection, when actually they refer to an experience of resurrection life here and now. Don’t misunderstand. There is a future resurrection, and the same union of the believer with Christ that we have been talking about is a guarantee of it. But that is not what these verses are about.
We have already seen in the case of Christ (Rom. 6:2). They refer to His passage from the sphere where death reigned to the sphere of the resurrection, from where He was to where He is now. In the same way, they refer to our passage – from the reign of death to the reign of grace, to a present resurrection. This is what Paul says of himself in Philippians 3:10. He means that he wants to be victorious over sin. Anyone who has been united to Christ has died to sin, is on the way to God, and can never return to his or her former sphere of existence.
Verse 11 is an exhortation, and it’s the first in the epistle. This is the first time in five and a half chapters that the apostle has urged his readers to do anything. What are they to do? The text says “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” With today’s “quick fix” offerings we may be wondering why Paul waited until the sixth chapter for the first exhortation. Was Paul not interested in the spiritual growth of the Roman Christians? Of course, he was. But he knew that there was no use rushing ahead to tell them how to live the Christian life until he had first fully instructed them on what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. This is because the work of God in Christ is foundational to everything else about Christianity. Paul wanted us to learn that, we have no more joined ourselves to Jesus in His resurrection than we have died for our own sins. If we are Christians, everything that is necessary has been done for us by God.
In verse 11 Paul says there are two things God has done that we are to count on. First, that we are dead to sin if we are Christians. It doesn’t mean that we are immune to sin or temptation. It doesn’t mean that we will not sin. It means that we are dead to the old life and cannot go back to it. The second reality Paul says we are to count on is that we are now “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This statement completes the parallel to verse 5, in which Paul said, “If we have been united with Him in His resurrection.” It explains how the earlier verse is to be taken; that we are to experience Christ’s resurrection life now. That is exactly where verse 11 has brought us. It tells us that just as we have died to sin (and must count on it), so also have we been made alive to God in Jesus Christ (and must count on that also). That is what has happened to you, if you are a Christian. You have been removed from your former state to another. Your job is to reckon it so, and to count on it.
Romans 6:5-11 Reflection Questions:
The word in verse 11 that is translated as “calculate” or “count” is a word that is used in bookkeeping, in calculating accounts, in working out profit and loss figures. What might be the purpose of Paul using this term in verse 11?
What does “being dead to your old life” mean to you?
As we begin Romans 6, we see at once that we are not entering upon a radically new section. This is because the chapter begins with a question that immediately turns us back to chapter 5. In one way or another, the entire sixth chapter is going to answer this question. Paul’s response, after he has asked the question is, “By no means!” (v.2). This expression has already occurred in a similar exchange in chapter 3, and it’s a powerful one. The Greek words literally mean “let it not be,” and they have the force of a powerful negation. They actually mean, “It is inconceivable for it to be thus” or “It is unthinkable,” – “It should not even be considered.” Some translators render the expression, “God forbid!”
By now you should be able to see that there is no possible alternative to God’s path, for those who are truly saved. The life of sin is what we have died to. There is no going back for us, any more than there could be a going back to suffer and die for sin again by our Lord. If there is no going back – if that possibility has been eliminated – there is no direction for us to go but forward! A holy life comes from knowing – I stress that word – knowing that you can’t go back, that you have died to sin and been made alive to God. The secret of sanctification is not some neat set of experiences or emotions, however meaningful or intense they may be. It is knowing what has happened to you.
What Paul says we are to know is in verses 3 and 4. But before we plunge into that we need to think about the meaning of the word baptism, since it is the key term he uses. We gain help from classical literature. The Greeks used the word baptizo from about 400 B.C. to about the second century after Christ, and in their literature baptizo always pointed to a change having taken place by some means. The main idea is that the act of “baptizing” produces a permanent change, not necessarily by immersion in water. Mark 16:16 is well known. Jesus says here: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” Scores of people have wrongly concluded from that verse that unless a person first believes in Christ and then is also immersed in water, he or she cannot be saved. But even the poorest Bible student knows that this is not true. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If baptism in water is necessary for salvation, then the believing thief who was crucified with Christ is lost.
Once we get away from the mistaken idea that baptism always refers to water baptism, the verse becomes clear. For what Jesus is saying in Mark 16:16 is that a person needs to be identified with Him to be saved. He was saying that mere intellectual assent to the doctrines of Christianity is not enough. It is necessary, to use another of His teachings, that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). This last verse is an exact parallel to what the apostle is teaching in Romans 6:3-4, for it means that a true follower of Christ has died to his past life – like a man on his way to execution. Only, in Romans 6, the man has already died and been buried (had permanently changed).It is that we have died to sin: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Union with Christ! And death to sin!
This is what baptism signifies, and in that order. The most important idea is that we have been taken out of one state and put into another. We have had an experience similar to that of the Jews after they had been brought through the Red Sea. They were joined to Moses; we are joined to Christ. Or, to put in the words of Galatians 3:27, we have been clothed with Christ. We are in Christ’s uniform. And what that means, if we look backward, is that we have died to whatever has gone before. We died to the old life when Christ transferred us to the new one. As soon as we see how these ideas go together, we see why Paul’s thoughts turned to the word baptism as a way of unfolding what he had in mind when he said: “How can we live in [sin] any longer?”
When Paul refers to our being baptized into Christ, he is not thinking chiefly of the sacrament of baptism but rather of our having been joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. The very next verses (vv. 5-7) prove this view, for in them Paul speaks explicitly of our being “united with Him in His death [and] resurrection.” This is something the Holy Spirit does. But while emphasizing this, I don’t want to miss the significance of the sacrament of baptism as a Christian’s public renunciation of his past life and a profession of his new identification with Christ.
This is not so obvious to us today perhaps, since baptism is something that generally takes place in an exclusively Christian environment and for many people means very little. But this was not so in Paul’s day. And it’s not so in many places in the world even today. In the ancient world, to be identified with Christ in baptism was a bold and risky declaration. It often put the believer’s in jeopardy. When a Christian was baptized, he was saying to the state as well as to his fellow believers that he was now a follower of Jesus Christ and that he was going to be loyal to Him regardless of the outcome. It meant “Christ before Caesar.”
Baptism was as nearly an irreversible step as a believer in Jesus Christ could take. Therefore, even though Paul is not thinking primarily about water baptism in Romans 6 – water baptism is something we do; the baptism Paul is talking about is something that has been done to us – the sacrament of baptism is nevertheless a fit public testimony to what baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit means: that we have been united to Christ and that the old life is done for us forever. That is what you professed is you have been baptized, particularly if you have been baptized as an adult. You have told the world you are not going back, that you are going forward with Jesus.
I know there are questions on many people’s minds: “But what if I do go back? What if I do sin?” Here are three points to remember: (1) It won’t work. If you are a true Christian, you cannot return to sin in the same way you were in it previously. You can sin. We do sin. But it’s not the same. If anything else, you cannot enjoy sin as you did before, and you will not even be able to do it convincingly. (2) God will stop you. God will not stop you from sinning, but He will stop you from continuing in it, and He will do it in one of two ways. Either He will make your life so miserable that you will curse the day you got into sin and beg God to get you out of it, or God will put an end to your life. Paul told the Corinthians that because they had dishonored the Lord’s Supper, God had actually taken some of them to heaven (1 Cor. 11:30). If God did it to them for that offense, He will do it to you for persistence in more sinful things. (3) If you do return to the life you lived before coming to Christ and if you are able to continue in it, you are not saved. In fact, it’s even worse than that. If you are able to go back once you have come to Christ, it means, not only that you are not saved, but that you even have been inoculated against Christianity (see Heb. 6:4-6). Those verses in Hebrews are not referring to a true believer in Christ being lost – how could they in view of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 and 8? – But rather of one who was close enough to have tasted the reality of Christ and who nevertheless turned back. It teaches that the closer you are to Christ, if you do go back, the harder it will be to come to Christ again. In some cases it will be impossible.
So don’t go back! If you have been saved by Jesus, you have been saved forever. There is nothing before you but to go on growing in righteousness!
Romans 6:1-4 Reflection Questions:
Where do you see echoes of the Exodus story in 6:1-5?
How does Paul proceed to answer the question he raises in 6:1?
What is Paul’s understanding of baptism in 6:1-5?
According to Paul’s argument in these first five verses, a believer has experienced a change of status. What is required of those with this new status?
In the previous study we have been studying the subject of God’s grace. In verse 18 Paul speaks “of one act of righteousness (God’s grace) was justification that brings life for all men.” This is what is called “justification by grace.” But I wonder if that sounds right to you. We already know about “justification by faith.” It was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther having said that it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. But if that is so, why should we speak of justification by grace? The answer is that both statements are parts of the same truth, since the justification that is received by faith alone is also by grace alone. A full statement of the doctrine would be: “Justification by the grace of God alone, received through faith alone.” Justification is an act of God as judge by which He declares us to be in right standing before Him so far as His justice is concerned. We are not just in ourselves. So the only way by which we can be declared to be in a right standing before God is on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, He bearing our punishment, and by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us by God’s grace. This grace is received through the channel of human faith, but it is nevertheless utterly grace.
This brings us to another important idea: the obedience of Jesus. Paul mentions this in verse 19, and it’s the first time he has used the word. In discussing the obedience of Christ, theologians usually distinguish between what is called the active obedience of Jesus and the passive obedience of Jesus. The active obedience of Jesus refers to His submission to and active conformity to the law of Moses. Do you remember how in Galatians 4:4-5 Jesus is described as having been “born under law, to redeem those under law?” This means that when Jesus became man He deliberately subjected Himself to the law of Moses, so that when He went to the cross to die for our sin, it might be known that He did so as a perfect sin-bearer, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). The passive obedience of Jesus Christ is something else. It refers to His submission to the cross. This is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the obedience of the one man” through which “the many will be made righteous.” Christ’s active obedience qualified Him for this role. But it was His one act of passive obedience, corresponding to Adam’s one act of disobedience that atoned for our sin and made it possible for the Father to credit Jesus’ righteousness to our account.
Let’s now explore Paul’s illustration of what grace is about and show that the drama of “God’s Grace” – Paul would call it “The Reign of Grace” – is as serious as it is real (vv. 20-21).The illustration Paul uses is of two rival kingdoms, and the way he gets into his illustration is by personifying the power of sin, on the one hand, and the power of grace, on the other. The one king’s name is Sin and his rule is death for all persons. The other king’s name is Grace and He has come to save us from sin and bring us into a realm of eternal happiness, eternal life.
This illustration tells us something about grace that we may not have considered. It tells us that grace is a power. We tend to think of grace as an attitude; and of course, it is that. But grace is more than an attitude. It is also a power that reaches out to save those who, apart from the power of grace, would perish. This means that grace is more than an offer of help. To use the illustration of the two rival kingdoms, it would be possible to say that grace is an invasion by a good and legitimate king of territory that has been usurped by another. The battle is not always visible, because this is a matter of spiritual and not physical warfare. But the attack is every bit as massive and decisive as the invasion of the beaches of Normandy by the Allied Forces at the turning point of the Second World War. The Allies threw their maximum combined weight into that encounter and won the day. In a similar way, God has thrown His weight behind grace, and grace will triumph.
What can we say about the nature of the reign of God’s grace? (1) Grace is bountiful. The first thing we can say is that the reign of grace is bountiful. This means that it is overflowing with benefits. Grace sees us staggering and comes alongside to help us and bear us up. Grace sees us destitute and pours the inexhaustible riches of Christ and the Father into our laps. Grace sees us dying and imparts eternal life. Grace says, “What do you need? Tell me. Tell me anything at all.” And then grace provides that need in accord with God’s perfect wisdom, invincible power, and ultimate supply. “Grace always gives, whereas sin always takes away.” (2) Grace is invincible. In this life it is not always true that the good triumph and the evil are defeated. Looking at this life, we might ask, “Can anything as good as grace really triumph in the end? To be sure, grace offers everything. But how can we know that in the end sin will not somehow still be there to assert its rule and snatch God’s bountiful gifts from our hands?”
Ah, but that would be possible only if we were speaking of grace in human terms. If it were only my grace or your grace that we are talking about, sin would snatch our gifts away. We could not stand against this powerful adversary. But it is not my grace or your grace that is reigning. It is the grace of God, and God is the Almighty One. Who or what can stand against God or His purposes (see Rom. 8:31-30)? We can be assured of salvation because, through Christ, we have gained permanent access by faith “into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:2). For the reign of grace there is no defeat, there can be no end. Let grace triumph in you. Yield to it. Yield to the grace of God in Christ. Open your arms to grace, and let grace draw you to the winning side.
Romans 5:18-21 Reflection Questions:
How do verses 18-21 summarize the entire letter of Romans so far?
The idea of a beautiful and good world, spoiled at one point in time by human rebellion, remains basic to all early Christian, as to all Jewish thought. The picture of humankind in a state of sin is indeed a sorry one. In what ways do verses 18-21 contradict the view of humanity that society today holds?
Think about an area of your life, your community or the world that demonstrates the brokenness of sin. What would that area look like if there was a “reign of grace” instead of a reign of death?
The paragraph to which we come now, Romans 5:15-17, is one in which Paul develops the differences between our being in Adam and our being in Christ. Paul’s point in verses 13 and 14 is that we were condemned by reason of our union with Adam, just as we have now been saved by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ. It is an important and great similarity. In verses 13 and 14 he has explained how we have “sinned in Adam.” In verses 15-17 he digresses further to explain how union with Christ is greater in its nature and effects than our original union with Adam. This study is called “Three Great Contrasts,” because of the way Paul sets out his contrasts in our verses we are studying here (vv. 15-17).
Of these three verses, the hardest to understand is verse 15, because it is least explicit. In what way is the gift of salvation in Christ not like the trespass? In what sense is the gift much more? Or, what particular contrast, the unique idea, that verse 15 introduces? The contrast is found in the first key word Paul uses, after having said that “the gift is not like the trespass.” It’s the word died. The sin of Adam brought death. It brought death to all. By contrast, the gift of God brought life to many. We must not be misled by the word “many.” When Paul writes of “the many” who died because of Adam’s transgression, he means just that: the many who died in Adam, that is, all persons. And when he writes of “the many” to whom the gift of life overflows, he also means many, for surely “many” are being saved. So what is the contrast? It’s between death, which has come upon all because of Adam, and life, which has been given to every believer in Christ.
Verse 16 carries the contrast between the effects of Adam’s sin and the effects of God’s work in Christ further, pointing out that “the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. It was hard for us to see the contrast in verse 15; however this is not true of verse 16. Here the contrast is found between the “one sin” that brought condemnation, that is, the sin of Adam in eating the forbidden tree, and the “many trespasses,” which Adam and all who followed him have committed but which are atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Since Christ died for such a vast accumulation of sins, is it any wonder that Paul marvels in Romans 5 how “judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
The third and final great contrast is in verse 17. The key to understanding this verse is to emphasize the word abundant in the phrase “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness,” and the thought that those who have been thus abundantly blessed are enabled to reign in life now through Jesus. To put it simply, the work of Christ in dying for us did not merely restore us to the position in which Adam stood before the fall, but rather carries us beyond that. So what does the phrase “reigning in life” refer to? It means that by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we are victorious now. In this way, the gift of God in Christ far surpasses the effects of Adam’s and all other transgressions.
Now we must look at just one word: grace. “Grace” occurs five times in this passage, three times in verses 15-17, which we are particularly studying here, and twice more in verses 20 and 21. In these verses Paul says that grace is of God and that it comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s free, triumphant, and overflowing. What is grace? It’s God’s favor toward the undeserving. Grace lies behind the plan of salvation, but it is also what brings that salvation to us individually and effectively. Despite all this, there are today in most of our churches probably only a small percentage of people who really believe in grace, much less appreciate it. They pay lip service to grace; they know we are “saved by grace” apart from our own good works. But there they stop. If they were to tell the truth, most would probably say that they find the topic of “grace” boring.
If we have come to this point having understood what has been taught earlier, we know what grace is and are prepared to marvel at it, as Paul himself does in this section. I want you to see the subject of grace in its broadest context, showing how the grace of God operates. There are five main categories: (1) Electing grace. As soon as we see that grace really is apart from any possible merit in its object, we understand that God is utterly sovereign in His choices. The grace of God, like God Himself, is before all other things. It is from grace that all good comes. (2) Pursuing grace. The God of grace has been called “The Hound of Heaven,” who pursues rebellious man. We may think at times that we have sought God. But as we grow in grace and increasingly learn the nature of our own sinful hearts, we discover that we have sought Him only because He first sought us. (3) Pardoning grace. This is the very core of salvation. We are more accustomed to speak of this core as justification by faith, but that is only convenient theological shorthand. What we mean when we speak of justification by faith is justification by the grace of God through faith, according to which we are moved from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance. (4) Persevering grace. The Christian life is not passive on our part. We are active in it. When Christ calls us we come running. But notice: We persevere because He perseveres. We endure to the end because the grace of God preserves us. It’s absurd to suppose that we are able to keep ourselves in grace even for a single moment. If it were up to us, in the final analysis all would be lost. Grace has brought us to where we are now, and that same grace, persevering grace, will lead us to glory. (5) Saving grace. Although salvation is usually thought of in reference to our being justified or pardoned only, salvation is actually a more embracing concept. It refers to the past: God saved us from sin’s penalty in Christ. It concerns the present: God is saving us from sin’s power now. It looks to the future: God will save us from sin’s very presence when we are given resurrection bodies and are taken into His holy presence forever. How? It is by grace, grace only.
Romans 5:15-17 Reflection Questions:
Are you “in Jesus”? If Adam, who once humanly perfect fell, what chance do you have to stand, you who are corrupted by many sins and wholly disposed to unrighteousness? Your only hope is to believe on Jesus and be joined to Him.
Reflect and journal on how God pursued you.
What are some examples of God pursuing man in Scripture?
The last ten verses of Romans 5 are a new section of the letter. They deal with mankind’s union with Adam on the one hand, a union which has led to death and condemnation and with the believer’s union with the Lord Jesus Christ on the other. This latter union leads to life and righteousness. This is a difficult section of the letter, possibly the most difficult in the entire Bible. But it’s also very important. This union with Jesus makes possible the sequence of deliverances from sin, death, and the law, and the resulting spiritual victories that Paul will unfold in the next three chapters of Romans.
Because the union with Christ is difficult to understand and the treatment of it in Romans 5:12-21 is particularly mind-stretching, let’s look at this doctrine a bit before we actually get into the verses. There are two important points to keep in mind. First, the union of the believer with Christ is one of three great unions in Scripture. The first is the union of the persons of the Godhead in the trinity. The second union is that of the two natures of Christ in one person. The Lord Jesus Christ is one person. He is not a “multiple personality.” Nevertheless, He is also God and man, possessing two natures. The third union is of believers with Christ. Perhaps we are never going to understand these unions fully, but it is important to try to gain understanding. The second point to keep in mind as we study this doctrine is that the union of the believer with Christ is not a concept that was invented by Paul; rather, it was first taught by Jesus and then built upon by the apostle. True, Jesus didn’t use the term “mystical union.” But He taught it in other words and through analogies, which are frequent in Scripture, particularly in the latter portions of the New Testament.
We must understand the believer’s union with Christ to understand verses 12-21. But, in a parallel way, in order to understand how we are “in Christ” and what that means, we need to see how we were “in Adam,” which is where the passage starts. Adam is the “man” mentioned in verse 12. The passage starts with Adam and builds from him, showing, on the one hand, how the union of the race in Adam and the union of the believers in Christ are similar and how, on the other hand, they are also quite different, the results of the first being evil and the results of the second being good. Paul has been teaching that the work of justification, righteousness has been imputed to us. But people are reluctant to accept that truth. Therefore, to help them understand and believe in the principle of imputed righteousness, Paul shows that we have already been treated on the basis of this same principle “in Adam.”
What would you say are the most important events of human history? Listing the great moments of human history can go on almost indefinitely, and be quite interesting. But important as these events may have been, they pale before the two stupendous events that the apostle Paul cites in Romans 5: the fall of the race in Adam, and the redemption of the race by the Lord Jesus Christ. These are pivotal points of history, and they overwhelm all other events because of two things: (1) the significance of what Adam and Jesus did, though what they did and the results of what they did were quite different; and (2) the people affected. Paul summarizes the importance of these events in Romans 5:18. Whenever we link these two events together, we normally stress the contrast: Adam brought death, Jesus brought life. But we need to see that although the contrast is important, the ways that Adam and Jesus are similar are also important, perhaps even more so. This is because our understanding of salvation depends upon this similarity, which Paul points out by the phrase: “Adam, who was the pattern of the one to come” (v. 14).
So, what does “pattern” mean? This means that we are not looking for a perfect correspondence between Adam and Jesus Christ. What we are looking for are the important similarities. So we ask: “How can Adam be said rightly to represent Jesus Christ? How can sinful Adam typify the sinless Son of God?” There are four important parallels: (1) Both Adam and Jesus Christ were appointed by God to be representatives for other men. (2) Both Adam and Jesus Christ became heads of particular bodies of people, a race or descendants. (3) Both Adam and Jesus Christ had covenants made with them by God. (4) Both Adam and Jesus Christ passed on to others the effects of their disobedience or obedience.
In our next study we will explore the other side of the comparison between Adam and Christ, namely, the differences between them. But before we do, we need to remind ourselves of what the comparison itself, including both the similarities and the differences, teaches about Adam and the events that surround him in Genesis. The first point is that Adam was an actual historical character, every bit as real as ourselves. There has been a tendency in recent times to dismiss Adam (as well as many parts of the Book of Genesis) as mythology. If the story of Adam is a myth, then we are going to have to find a new definition for the world! For there was an historical Adam; his story is to be taken literally. The real proof of the historicity of Adam is the parallel the apostle Paul draws between the person of Adam and the person of Christ, which we have been studying. Jesus came into our history to undo the effects of Adam’s literal transgression. Therefore, Adam himself (and his deeds) must have been historical. You don’t need an historical atonement to undo a mythological fall or a mythological transgression. All you need is another myth. But if Christ needed to be real to save us, then Adam was real too. It is because Adam was real that Christ also had to be real to make atonement.
That brings us to the second thing the comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ teaches: that the fall of the human race was also historical. It was a real event. That’s important because it involves guilt before God – true guilt, not merely imagined guilt or a feeling of guilt. We were once right with God in Adam. But we rebelled. Now we are actually falling away from God as rapidly as our depraved powers and the downward-spiraling flow of our culture will take us. Romans 1 described this decline. If we are to be saved, it must be by another historical act. The Lord Jesus Christ, who entered history precisely for that reason, must perform it.
Romans 5:12-14 Reflection Questions:
The logic of “how much more” continues in Paul’s discussion of Adam and Jesus in verses 12-17. How is the work of the one man, Jesus, far beyond the effect of the sin of the one man, Adam?
Paul uses “reign” three times in verses 12-17. What are the distinctions between the types of “reign?” Who is reigning and what does that look like?
In the studies of Romans 5 so far we have seen that the point of these verses is to assure Christians of their salvation. They are to know that they are eternally secure in Christ so that they might be able to rejoice in God fully. In this study we find the same idea. So far we have learned: (1) We can be sure of salvation because God has made peace with us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. (2) We can be assured of salvation because, through that same work of Christ, we have been brought into a new relationship with God in which we continue to stand. (3) We can be assured of salvation because of the sure and certain hope that we shall see God. (4) We can be assured of salvation because of the way we are able to react to sufferings in this life. We see God’s purposes in them and therefore rejoice in them, which unbelievers cannot do. (5) We can be assured of salvation because God sent Jesus Christ to die for us, not when we were saved people, as we are now, but when we were God’s sworn enemies. In this study Paul provides yet another argument or, what is probably more accurate to say, draws his previous arguments together (vv. 9-11).
To understand what is happening in these verses we have to realize that “saved” is used in at least three different ways in the Bible, in three different tenses. Sometimes it refers to something past (are you saved? Yes, I am.), at other times to something present (“I am being saved.”) Paul himself uses this second way in 1 Cor. 1:18. Third, you could think in future terms and answer the question by saying, “No, I am not saved yet, but I will be when Jesus returns.” It’s important to see that it is in the third sense, the future sense of salvation that Paul speaks here. He is not denying the other tenses, particularly not the first. But he is thinking of the judgment to come and is saying that because we have already been justified by God on the basis of the death of Christ, we can be certain of being saved from the outpouring of God’s wrath in the final day. We can put it like this: If God has already justified us on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death, if He has already pronounced His verdict; any verdict rendered at the final judgment will be only a confirming formality.
The last verse of our text, which also marks the end of the first half of Romans 5, says that now, having been reconciled to God, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” What exactly shall we rejoice in, if we are to “rejoice in God”? We can rejoice in any one of His attributes. Our passage suggests these: (1) God’s wisdom. Even at this point in our study we can marvel at wisdom so great as to be able to save powerless, ungodly, sinful enemies. There is also a display of God’s wisdom in the way suffering works for our good, as Paul has shown in verses 3 and 4. (2) God’s grace. We rejoice in God’s grace because, in our case, grace is favor not merely to the undeserving but to those who actually deserve the opposite. What do “enemies” deserve after all? They deserve defeat and destruction. God did not treat us that way, however. Rather, He saved us through the work of Christ. (3) God’s power. Scripture speaks of God’s power being displayed preeminently at the cross. The power of God was revealed at the cross when Satan’s power over us was broken. (4) God’s love. The only place we can learn of God’s love is at the cross. It’s when we look at the cross that we begin to understand what love is and how much God has loved us. (5) God’s immutability. We have seen immutability as something for which unregenerate men and women hate God, because He does not change in any of His attributes. But in our regenerate state we find this something to rejoice in, since it means that God will not waver in His love and favor toward us. Having loved us and having sent the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sin, God will not now somehow suddenly change His mind and cast us off. His love, grace, wisdom, and other attributes will always remain as they have been, because He is immutable.
The last verse of this section of Romans 5 says, “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” But do we rejoice? Have we actually come as far as Paul assumes we have in verse 11? Honesty compels us to admit that often we don’t rejoice in God. Why is that? Here are a number of reasons for the sake of our self-examination: (1) A failure to grasp the truth of justification by faith only. (2) A failure to meditate as we ought, that is, a failure to think about what we do know. (3) A failure to draw the necessary conclusions from the Scriptures.
I don’t know if these are your failures (if you have failed to rejoice in God) or whether there is some other hindrance in your case, as there may be. But whatever the cause, anything that keeps us from rejoicing in God is inappropriate and should be overcome by us. I challenge you to overcome it. I challenge you to think about these great truths, meditate upon them, learn how great the love, power, wisdom, and grace of God toward you are. Then glory in God, as those who have known God throughout the long ages of human history have done before you. It will make a profound difference in your life, and you will be a blessing to others.
Romans 5:9-11 Reflection Questions:
Paul constantly keeps in mind how justification or being “declared to be in the right” works out in practice. Describe the past, present, and future aspects of the work of God in verses 6-11.
Paul’s argument in verses 5-11 takes the form – familiar in various systems of logic, not least Jewish ones – of a “how much more.” If someone has struggled up a sheer rock face, against all odds, to get to the top of the mountain, they are not likely to give up when, at the top of the vertical wall, they are faced with an easy stroll on a grassy path. How does this analogy explain verses 9-11?
Romans 5:6-8 (and verse 5) speak about the love that God has for us. The greatness of this love, which is mentioned here in Romans for the very first time, is an uplifting and positive theme. Besides, it’s brought into the argument at this point to assure us that all who have been justified by faith in Christ have been saved because of God’s love for them and that nothing will ever be able to separate them from it. This is the climax to which we will also come at the end of Romans 8. Nothing could be more positive and edifying than this theme. Yet Paul’s statement of the nature, scope, and permanence of God’s love is placed against the black backdrop of human sin, and rightly so (v. 8).
Since Paul is describing the love of God against the dark background of human sin, he is saying that it is only against this background that we are able to form a true picture of how great the love of God is. In other words, if we think (as many do) that God loves us because we are somehow quite lovely or desirable, our appreciation of the love of God will be reduced by just that amount. If we think we deserve the best of everything, we will not appreciate the love we receive irrespective of our beauty, talent, or other supposedly admirable qualities. The other point is this. If we think we deserve God’s love, we cannot ever really be secure in it, because we will always be afraid that we may do something to lessen or destroy the depth of God’s love for us. It is only those who know that God has loved them in spite of their sin who can trust Him to continue to show them favor.
There are four powerful words Paul uses to describe the people God loves and has saved, three in the passage we are studying and one additional word in verse 10. They are: (1) Powerless. This word is translated a variety of ways in the Bible. Here in means an unconditional impossibility, which is one which no possible change in circumstances can alter, and it is this that describes us in our pre-converted state. (2) Ungodly. This word conveys the same idea Paul expressed at the beginning of his description of the race in its rebellion against God (Rom. 1:18). In these verses, “ungodly” and “godlessness” mean not so much that human beings are unlike God (though that is also true), but that in addition they are in a state of fierce opposition to Him. (3) Sinners. “Sinners” describes those who have fallen short of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23). It means that we have broken God’s law and in this sense is probably parallel to the word wickedness in Romans 1:18. (4) Enemies. This is the final word Paul uses to describe human beings apart from the supernatural work of God in their lives. It affirms that not only are we unable to save ourselves, are unlike and opposed to God, and are violators of His law, but we are also opposed to God in the sense that we would attack Him and destroy Him if we could, which is what many people actually tried to do when God came among them in the person of Jesus Christ!
We have seen that God loved us, not when we were lovely people who were seeking Him out and trying to obey Him, but when we were actually fighting Him and were willing to destroy Him if we could. That alone makes the measure of God’s love very great. However, we may also see the greatness of the love of God by looking at the brighter side: God’s side. Here we note that God did not merely reach out to give us a helping hand, bestowing what theologians call common grace – sending rain to the just and unjust alike for instance – but that He actually sent His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us (what is sometimes called “costly grace”). Paul points out that while a human being might be willing to give his life for a righteous or morally superior man or woman under certain circumstances, Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, which is the precise opposite of being good or righteous. When we read of the love of God in Romans 5, we learn that it was not for those who were close to Him or who loved Him that Jesus died – but for those who were opposed to God and were His enemies. It is on this basis that God commends His love to us.
Isn’t it astounding that God should need to commend His love to us? We are told in the Bible, though we should know it even without being told, that all good gifts come from God’s hands (James 1:17). It is from God that we receive life and health, food and clothing, love from and fellowship with other people, and meaningful work. These blessings should prove the love of God beyond any possibility or our doubting it. Yet we doubt it. We are insensitive to God’s love, and God finds it necessary to commend His love by reminding us of the death of His Son. So it is at the cross that we see the love of God in its fullness. What a great, great love this is!
Romans 5:6-8 Reflection Questions:
Paul constantly keeps in mind how justification or being “declared to be in the right” works out in practice. Describe the past, present and future aspects of the work of God in verses 6-11.
The fifth chapter of Romans lists the grounds on which a person who has been justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ can know that he is saved from sin and can be steadfast in that knowledge. Verses 1-2 have listed several ways a Christian can be sure of this. Verses 3-5 give one more reason. It is the way believers in Christ respond to the troubles, trials, and tribulations of this life. Christians do have tribulations, just like anybody else. Paul says that Christians respond to their trials by rejoicing in them, however strange, abnormal, or even irrational this may seem to unbelievers, and that this is itself another evidence of their salvation.
The problem of suffering is a big one, and it’s not easy to answer it in a single study or even a single book. Here we will study God’s purposes in human suffering, since there are a number of them. We will study a few of these as part of our general approach to this large topic.
Corrective suffering: The most obvious category of suffering for a Christian is what we can call corrective suffering, that is, suffering that is meant to get us back onto the path of righteousness when we have strayed from it. We have an example from family life in the spankings given to young children when they disobey and do wrong. It’s the same in the case of the divine Father and those who are His spiritual children. The author of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and punishes everyone He accepts as a son” – concluding that we should: “Endure hardship as discipline…For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb. 12:5-7). The first thing we should do when suffering comes into our lives is ask God whether or not it is intended by Him for our correction. If it is, we need to confess our wrongdoing and return to the path of righteousness.
Suffering for the glory of God: A second important reason for suffering in the lives of some Christians is God’s glory. As an example read John 9:2-3. The idea is hard for many people to accept, particularly non-Christians. But it’s not so difficult when we remember that life is short when measured by the scope of eternity and that our chief end is to glorify God – by whatever means He may choose to have us do it.
Suffering as a part of cosmic warfare: A third kind of suffering is illustrated by the story of Job from the Old Testament. The story explains a great deal (perhaps most) of the suffering some Christians endure. I can imagine that for every believer who is suffering with a particular form of cancer there is also a nonbeliever in exactly the same condition and that the Christian praises and worships God in spite of his afflictions while the unbeliever curses God and bitterly resents his fate. Here God is showing that the purpose of life lies in a right relationship to Him and not in pleasant circumstances.
Constructive suffering: The fourth purpose of God in suffering is what Paul presents in Romans 5, namely, that God uses our troubles, trials, and tribulations to form Christian character. Paul indicates that steadfast, approved character by perseverance in its turn produces hope. We see it as an assurance of what will one day be ours, though we don’t possess it yet. When we look at our sufferings, we see why we can rejoice in them. It’s because they lead to endurance, endurance to an approved character, and character to an even more steadfast hope. And all this is further evidence of our security in Christ – when we share in Christ’s sufferings and embrace them in like fashion.
According to the Bible, suffering is not harmful; on the contrary, it is a beneficial experience. It’s beneficial because it accomplishes the beneficent purposes of Almighty God. It is part of all those circumstances that work “for the good of those who love Him…” (Rom. 8:28).
Romans 5:3-5 Reflection Questions:
How does the progression that is outlined in verses 3-5 build from one point to the next?
How are verses 3-5 both difficult and hopeful for us as we live out the Christian faith in the world today?
What would the celebrating or rejoicing of verses 2-3 look like in each of the contexts talked about in these verses?