Romans 5-7,the Highlights

This week in our study we covered Romans chapters 5-7. No small task. But it was made easier by remembering that our goal is to lay a foundation for chapter 8, not to deeply explore every nook and cranny of 5 to 7. With this in mind, I must limit this post to the high points of our discussion. I am so glad we broke the first week of Trillia Newbell’s study into 2 weeks…

The Fruit of Peace

In chapter 5, Paul is making the case that, “since we have been justified by faith [Romans 4], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). This peace is accompanied by access to God’s grace and is the basis for our joy in our “hope of the glory of God” (5:2). The hope of which Paul writes is not simply a wish, but is a solid, steadfast, based-on-God’s-faithfulness assurance that he will keep his covenant promises to save all who believe on the name of his Son. All who have been justified by faith will always be justified by faith, because this justification is a one-time act of God that rests not on our ability, but on God’s promise. Therefore, our hope of salvation is secure and we can rest assured that God will bring to completion the good work which he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

And this brings us to sanctification: the lifelong process by which God, through the outward workings of divine providence and the inward working of the Holy Spirit, together with the efforts of his children, gradually transforms sinners into the image of his Son Jesus Christ. I love how James Boice puts it, that, “sanctification is the process of coming increasingly to see how sinful we are so that we will depend constantly on Jesus Christ.”[1] A former pastor of mine used to say that once a person is newly born again there’s good news and bad news. The good news is: when you die you will go immediately to be with Jesus and enjoy eternal joy and peace. The bad news is: it probably won’t be today. Sanctification is a lifelong process, and sisters, it’s hard.

Paul then touches on why we can rejoice even in the hard places, and though we didn’t cover this in our study I encourage you to go back and spend some time with 5:3-5. Our hope in our ultimate salvation will not be put to shame because it is anchored in the God who poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Which leads straight to the love of God, demonstrated in his sending of Jesus to die for sinners—his enemies who deserved not salvation and life, but wrath and death—and yet more cause for joy.

The next point Paul wants us to understand is the greatness and grandeur of God’s grace of forgiveness, and the masterful wisdom of the free gift of life in Christ. For the gift of grace does not merely forgive the one sin of Adam that started the whole business of humanity’s fallen nature, nor does it merely return those forgiven to Adam’s pre-fall state of innocence. The gift of grace to all those who believe in Christ forgives every sin they have ever or will ever commit (innumerable to us, but not to God) and it launches us not back to the Garden of innocence, but forward to righteousness in union with Christ. We aren’t returned to “naked and unashamed,” but propelled to “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” This is the grace abounding that reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Fruit of Holiness

In chapter 6, Paul anticipates the charge that this “free gift of grace” will lead to antinomianism—throwing off obedience to the law because we are no longer bearing the crushing weight of earning our salvation. His reply is unequivocal: “By no means!” It is unthinkable to take this gift for granted, and to do so would only mean one has misunderstood it entirely; or maybe hasn’t actually received it at all. For when we are saved we are identified with and united to Christ in an unalterable change of heart which will inevitably show forth in a change of life.

Paul makes his argument in 6:2-4 by referring to two processes with which we are familiar.

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. — Romans 6:2-4

When Paul speaks of baptism, we naturally think first of the sacrament of water baptism, and we are not entirely wrong to read it this way. Remember, the sacrament is a visible sign that points to an invisible spiritual reality. Baptism, particularly in believers’ baptism, points to an irreversible change which has been made in the Christian who is, in his baptism, declaring that he has been made new in Christ and will hereafter be identified with him. In the early church, as in many areas of the world still today, to be baptized was not a private, within-the-church-family, event, but was a public and even dangerous declaration of a permanent change of loyalties. To be baptized into Christ meant and means: no more emperor worship, no more gods on the shelf, possible shunning by family and friends, potential loss of business and livelihood, and maybe even imprisonment and/or death. It was and is a step not taken lightly, nor should it be. To become a Christian then and now and to be identified with Christ in baptism has religious, social, familial, and political implications that we in America don’t readily appreciate. But there’s more.

The word that Paul chose for baptism in this passage indicates that he is thinking of more than the sacrament. He uses the word “Baptizō,” which does mean “to immerse in liquid,” but it indicates an immersion that results in a permanent change. Now, we know that Paul is certainly not referring to Baptismal Regeneration. A Christian is saved by believing in Jesus Christ by faith through grace—not by being baptized. He writes that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” The sacrament of water baptism for a new believer (not infant baptism) is an act of the believer; it is something he or she does. Paul is writing of something that has been done to the believer; something of which the believer is a passive recipient and which changes the believer permanently.

To help us better understand what Paul is getting at here, Boice refers to other examples of the word baptizō as found in ancient texts other than the Bible. One of the most helpful uses was in, of all things, a recipe for making pickles. To make a pickle, a cucumber is immersed (baptizō) in a vinegar solution, an act by which it becomes a pickle; the vinegar has worked on the cucumber to effect a permanent change. The process is the same today. And once a cucumber is pickled, it cannot be un-pickled. Sisters, what Paul is telling us is that when the Holy Spirit works on a person’s heart—circumcising their heart and giving them the gift of faith by God’s amazing grace—this is an irreversibly permanent change. To be baptized into Christ Jesus is to be made a new person. O blessed assurance, you cannot be un-pickled!

Paul also uses the metaphor of death and burial to indicate the change that has taken place when one is justified. Death is an end, certainly, but when we want to emphasize the finality of death we often use the phrase, “dead and buried.” And that’s what Paul is doing here. When someone has died, until they are buried there is a sense in which they are still with us. But once they have been buried the finality of death truly hits us. They are dead and buried, they are not coming back, there is a forever, irreversible, permanence to burial.

This, Christian, is the point Paul is laboring to make. When you are saved, when the Holy Spirit has done his heart-work on you, you are forever, irreversibly, permanently changed from the old you who took the grace of God for granted, who despised the law, and who preferred the darkness of sin to the light and life of Christ. There is no going back to that old you. And take note that death and burial aren’t the end of the metaphor: 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. Just as God didn’t leave Jesus in the grave, neither are you left with only the death of your old self. We are buried with Christ and we are raised with him to walk in newness of life—we are made new.

He makes this point more fully in verses 5-11, emphasizing our union with Christ. But that has also been the point of being baptized into Christ and being buried and raised with him. We are identified so closely with him that it has changed us permanently. How then could we allow sin to reign in us? How then could we take God’s grace for granted? How then could the law of God not be our delight and how could we not desire to obey it? We have been freed from the dominion of sin so that we might walk in newness of life, obedient from the heart, as slaves to righteousness, bearing fruit that leads to an increasingly holier walk with God in this life and leading to the goal—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Fruit of Freedom—to Fight

We now come to chapter 7, in which Paul assures us that we have died to the unbearable yoke of trying to obey the law in order to earn salvation. Salvation has been given as a free gift, and we therefore with our newly-made hearts love and desire to obey the law out of gratitude to God and a longing to live in a way that pleases him.

However—and this is where the bad news I spoke of earlier comes in—obeying the law and living in a way that pleases God will be a lifelong battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. In many ways all three of these overlap and cooperate to trip us up and cause us to sin. But Paul is most specifically addressing indwelling sin in this chapter—our battle with the flesh. We have been freed from the penalty of sin and the power of sin, but we yet await freedom from the presence of sin which will be ours only once we reach heaven. Until that blessed day we with Paul will deeply lament our inclinations, tendencies, and choices to sin. Christians, we are not perfect, but we are forgiven. More than that, we are given the Holy Spirit and the means of grace to give us the desire and the weapons to fight against sin. If the apostle Paul found it to be a battle, we certainly will.

But take heart, the very fact that you mourn your sin is a sign that your heart has been changed by God. The very desire to obey his law is a gift of grace. That you see your secret sins looming as a threat to your peace with God shows that you have learned that sin goes deeper than the outward show and penetrates to the darkest recesses of your heart. These are signs not just of your salvation, but of increasing maturity. The good news—although it may be painful at times—is that God’s Word pierces all the way to those dark corners and will root out your sin and bring it into the light so that you may confess it to our Father, knowing that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (Heb. 4:12; 1 John 1:9).

We may continue to sin, but chapter 8 is coming. . . .

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. — Romans 8:1-2

Praise be to God!

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 2, The Reign of Grace, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992), 764.

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