7. OVERCOMING SIN
Read for This Week’s Study: Romans 6, 1 John 1:8–2:1.
Memory Text: “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
If works can’t save us, why bother with them at all? Why not just keep on sinning?
Chapter 6 is Paul’s answer to this important question. Paul here is dealing with what commonly is understood as “sanctification,” the process by which we overcome sin and, more and more, reflect the character of Christ. The word sanctification appears only twice in Romans. It appears in Romans 6:19, 22 as the Greek word hagiasmos, which means “sanctification.” In English, it appears in these two texts as the word holiness.
Does this mean that Paul has nothing to say about what commonly is understood by sanctification? Not at all.
In the Bible “to sanctify” means “to dedicate,” usually to God. Thus, to be sanctified often is presented as a past completed act. For example, “all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). The sanctified ones in this definition are the ones who are dedicated to God.
But this biblical usage of “sanctify” in no way denies the important doctrine of sanctification or the fact that sanctification is the work of a lifetime. The Bible strongly endorses this doctrine, but it generally uses other terms to describe it.
This week we’ll look at another side of salvation by faith, one that easily can be misunderstood: the promises of victory over sin in the life of one saved by Jesus.
Where Sin Abounded
In Romans 5:20, Paul makes a powerful statement: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” His point is that no matter how much sin there is or how terrible the results of sin are, God’s grace is sufficient to deal with it. What hope that should bring for each of us, especially when we’re tempted to feel that our sins are too great to be forgiven! In Romans 5:21, Paul shows that although sin has led to death, God’s grace through Jesus has defeated death and can give us eternal life.
Read Romans 6:1. What logic is Paul dealing with here, and how, in Romans 6:2–11, does he respond to that kind of thinking?
Paul follows an interesting line of argument in chapter 6 as to why a justified person should not sin. To begin with, he says that we shouldn’t sin because we have died to sin. Then he explains what he means.
Immersion in the waters of baptism represents burial. What is buried? The “old man” of sin—that is, the body committing sin, the body dominated or ruled by sin. As a result, this “body of sin” is destroyed, so that we no longer serve sin. In Romans 6 sin is personified as a master who rules over his servants. Once the “body of sin” that served sin is destroyed, sin’s mastery over it ceases. The one who rises from the watery grave comes up a new person who no longer serves sin. He or she now walks in newness of life.
Christ, having died, died once and for all, but He is now alive forevermore. So the Christian who is baptized has died to sin once and for all and should never again come under its dominion. Of course, as any baptized Christian knows, sin doesn’t just automatically disappear from our lives once we come up out of the water. Not being ruled by sin isn’t the same as not having to struggle with it.
“From this we clearly see what the words of the Apostle mean. All such statements as: 1. ‘We are dead to sin,’ 2. ‘We live unto God,’ etc., signify that we do not yield to our sinful passions and sin, even though sin continues in us. Nevertheless, sin remains in us until the end of our life, as we read Galatians 5:17: ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.’ Therefore all apostles and saints confess that sin and the sinful passions remain in us till the body is turned into ashes, and a new (glorified) body is raised up which is free from passion and sin.”—Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. 100.
When Sin Reigns
What admonition is given to us in Romans 6:12?
The word reign shows that “sin” is represented here as a king. The Greek word here translated as “reign” means literally “to be a king” or “to function as a king.” Sin is all too willing to assume the kingship of our mortal bodies and dictate our behavior.
When Paul says “let not sin . . . reign,” he implies that the justified person can choose to prevent sin’s setting itself up as king in his or her life. This is where the action of the will comes in.
“What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him.”—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 47.
The Greek word in Romans 6:12 translated as “lusts” means “desires.” These desires may be either for good things or for bad; when sin reigns, it will make us desire the bad. The desires will be strong, even irresistible if we fight against them on our own. Sin can be a cruel tyrant, one who never is satisfied but who always comes back for more. Only through faith, only through claiming the promises of victory, can we overthrow this unrelenting master.
The word therefore in Romans 6:12 is important. It goes back to that which has been said before, specifically, to that which has been said in Romans 6:10, 11. The baptized person is now living “unto God.” That is, God is the center of his or her new life. The person is serving God, doing what pleases God, and, therefore, he or she cannot serve sin at the same time. He or she is “alive unto God through Jesus Christ.”
Go back over the quote from Ellen G. White in today’s study. Notice how crucial the concept of free will is. As moral creatures we must have a free will—the power to choose right or wrong, good or evil, and Christ or the world. Over the next 24 hours, try to keep track consciously of how you are using this moral free will. What can you learn about your use, or abuse, of this sacred gift?
Not Under the Law but Under Grace
Read Romans 6:14. How are we to understand this text? Does it mean that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding on us? If not, why not?
Romans 6:14 is one of the key statements in the book of Romans. And it’s one we often hear quoted in the context of someone telling us Adventists that the Seventh-day Sabbath has been abrogated.
Yet, that’s obviously not what the text means. As we asked before, how could the moral law be done away with and sin still be a reality? The moral law is what defines sin! If you were to read all that came before in Romans, even in just chapter 6, it would be hard to see how, in the midst of all this discussion about the reality of sin, Paul would suddenly say, “The moral law—the Ten Commandments, which define sin—has been abolished.” That makes no sense.
Paul is saying to the Romans that the person living “under the law”—that is, under the Jewish economy as it was practiced in his day with all its man-made rules and regulations—will be ruled by sin. In contrast, a person living under grace will have victory over sin, because the law is written in his or her heart and God’s spirit is allowed to guide his or her steps. Accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah, being justified by Him, being baptized into His death, having the “old man” destroyed, rising to walk in newness of life—these are the things that will dethrone sin from our lives. Remember, that is the whole context in which Romans 6:14 appears—the context of the promise of victory over sin.
We should not define “under the law” too restrictively. The person who supposedly lives “under grace” but disobeys God’s law will not find grace but condemnation. “Under grace” means that through the grace of God, as revealed in Jesus, the condemnation that the law inevitably brings to sinners has been removed. Thus, now free from this condemnation of death brought by the law, we live in “newness of life,” a life characterized by and made manifest through the fact that, being dead to self, we are no longer slaves to sin.
How have you experienced the reality of a new life in Christ? What tangible evidence can you point to that reveals that which Christ has done in you? What areas are you refusing to let go, and why must you let them go?
Sin or Obedience?
Read Romans 6:16. What point is Paul making? Why is his argument very black and white here? It is either one or the other, with no middle ground. What lesson should we draw from this very clear contrast?
Paul comes back to the point again that the new life of faith does not grant liberty to sin. The life of faith makes victory over sin possible; in fact, only through faith can we have the victory that is promised us.
Having personified sin as a king ruling over his subjects, Paul now returns to the figure of sin as a master demanding obedience of his servants. Paul points out that a person has a choice of masters. He can serve sin, which leads to death, or he can serve righteousness, which leads to eternal life. Paul doesn’t leave us any middle ground or room for compromise. It’s one or the other, because in the end we face either eternal life or eternal death.
Read Romans 6:17. How does Paul expand here on what he said in Romans 6:16?
Notice how, interestingly enough, obedience is linked to correct doctrine. The Greek word for “doctrine” here means “teaching.” The Roman Christians had been taught the principles of the Christian faith, which they now obeyed. Thus, for Paul, correct doctrine, correct teaching, when obeyed “from the heart,” assisted in the Romans becoming “servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). We sometimes hear that doctrine does not matter, just as long as we show love. That’s a very simplistic expression of something that’s not so simple. As stated in an earlier lesson, Paul was very concerned about the false doctrine to which the Galatian church had succumbed. Thus, we need to be careful about statements that somehow denigrate the importance of correct teaching.
Servants of sin, servants of righteousness: the contrast is very stark. If after baptism we sin, does this mean that we are not truly saved? Read 1 John 1:8–2:1. How does this passage help us to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ and yet still be subject to falling?
Free From Sin
Keeping in mind what we have studied so far in Romans 6, read Romans 6:19–23. Summarize on the lines below the gist of what Paul is saying. Most important, ask yourself how you can make real in your life the crucial truths that Paul is addressing. Ask yourself, what issues are at stake here?
Paul’s words here show that he fully understands the fallen nature of humanity. He talks about the “infirmity of your flesh.” The Greek word for “infirmity” means also “weakness.” He knows what fallen human nature is capable of when left on its own. Thus, again, he appeals to the power of choice—the power we have to choose to surrender ourselves and our weak flesh to a new master, Jesus, who will enable us to live a righteous life.
Romans 6:23 often is quoted to show that the penalty for sin—that is, the transgression of the law—is death. Certainly sin’s penalty is death. But in addition to seeing death as sin’s penalty, we should see sin as Paul describes it in Romans 6—as a master dominating his servants, duping them by paying them off with the wages of death.
Notice, too, that in his development of the figure of the two masters, Paul calls attention to the fact that the service of one master means freedom from the service of the other. Again we see the clear choice: one or the other. There is no middle ground. At the same time, as we all know, being free from the dominion of sin doesn’t mean sinlessness, doesn’t mean we don’t struggle and at times even fall. It means instead that we are no longer dominated by sin, however much a reality it remains in our lives and however much we must claim daily the promises of victory over it.
Thus, this passage becomes a powerful appeal to anyone who is serving sin. This tyrant offers nothing but death as payment for doing shameful things; therefore, a reasonable person should desire emancipation from this tyrant. In contrast, those who serve righteousness do things that are upright and praiseworthy, not with the idea of thus earning their salvation, but as a fruit of their new experience. If they are acting in an attempt to earn salvation, they are missing the whole point of the gospel, the whole point of what salvation is, and the whole point of why they need Jesus.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Victory Appropriated,” pp. 105, 106, in Messages to Young People; “The True Motive in Service,” pp. 93–95, in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing; “Appeal to the Young,” p. 365, in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3; pp. 1074, 1075, in The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6.
“He [Jesus] did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us. Christ’s humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 123.
“At our baptism we pledged ourselves to break all connection with Satan and his agencies, and to put heart and mind and soul into the work of extending the kingdom of God. . . . The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are pledged to cooperate with sanctified human instrumentalities.” —Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075. “A profession of Christianity without corresponding faith and works will avail nothing. No man can serve two masters. The children of the wicked one are their own master’s servants; to whom they yield themselves servants to obey, his servants they are, and they cannot be the servants of God until they renounce the devil and all his works. It cannot be harmless for servants of the heavenly King to engage in the pleasures and amusements which Satan’s servants engage in, even though they often repeat that such amusements are harmless. God has revealed sacred and holy truths to separate His people from the ungodly and purify them unto Himself. Seventh-day Adventists should live out their faith.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 404.
1. Although we have all these wonderful promises of victory over sin, the fact is that we all—even as born-again Christians—are aware of just how fallen we are, of just how sinful we are, and of just how corrupt our hearts can be. Is there a contradiction here? Explain your answer.
2. In class, give a testimony as to what Christ has done in you, as to the changes you have experienced, and as to the new life you have in Him.
3. However important it is that we always remember that our salvation rests only in that which Christ has done for us, what dangers arise if we overemphasize that wonderful truth to the exclusion of the other part of the salvation: that which Jesus does in us to transform us into His image? Why do we need to understand and emphasize both these aspects of salvation?
8. WHO IS THE MAN OF ROMANS 7?
Read for This Week’s Study: Romans 7.
Memory Text: “Now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
Few chapters in the Bible have created more controversy than has Romans 7. Concerning the issues involved, The SDA Bible Commentary says: “The meaning of [Romans 7:14–25] has been one of the most discussed problems in the whole epistle. The main questions have been as to whether the description of such intense moral struggle could be autobiographical, and, if so, whether the passage refers to Paul’s experience before or after his conversion. That Paul is speaking of his own personal struggle with sin seems apparent from the simplest meaning of his words (cf. [Romans 7:7–11]; . . .). [Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 19; Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 475.] It is surely also true that he is describing a conflict that is more or less experienced by every soul confronted by and awakened to the spiritual claims of God’s holy law.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 553.
Bible students differ on whether Romans 7 was Paul’s experience before or after his conversion. Whatever position one takes, what’s important is that Jesus’ righteousness covers us and that in His righteousness we stand perfect before God, who promises to sanctify us, to give us victory over sin, and to conform us to “the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). These are the crucial points for us to know and experience as we seek to spread “the everlasting gospel” to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).
Dead to the Law
Read Romans 7:1–6. What illustration does Paul use here in order to show his readers their relationship to the law, and what point is he making with that illustration?
Paul’s illustration in Romans 7:1–6 is somewhat involved, but a careful analysis of the passage will help us to follow his reasoning.
In the overall context of the letter, Paul was dealing with the system of worship established at Sinai; that is often what he means by the word law. The Jews had difficulty grasping the fact that this system, given to them of God, should end with the coming of the Messiah. This is what Paul was dealing with—Jewish believers still not ready to abandon what had been such an important part of their lives.
In essence, Paul’s illustration is as follows: a woman is married to a man. The law binds her to him as long as he lives. During his lifetime she cannot consort with other men. But when he dies, she is free from the law that bound her to him (Rom. 7:3).
How does Paul apply the illustration of the law of marriage to the system of Judaism? Rom. 7:4, 5.
As the death of her husband delivers the woman from the law of her husband, so the death of the old life in the flesh, through Jesus Christ, delivers the Jews from the law they had been expected to keep until the Messiah fulfilled its types.
Now the Jews were free to “remarry.” They were invited to marry the risen Messiah and thus bring forth fruit to God. This illustration was one more device Paul used to convince the Jews that they were now free to abandon the ancient system.
Again, given all else that Paul and the Bible say about obedience to the Ten Commandments, it doesn’t make sense to assert here that Paul was telling these Jewish believers that the Ten Commandments were no longer binding. Those who use these texts to try to make that point—that the moral law was done away with—really don’t want to make that point anyway; what they really want to say is that only the seventh-day Sabbath is gone—not the rest of the law. To interpret Romans 7:4, 5 as teaching that the fourth commandment has been abolished or superseded or replaced with Sunday is to give them a meaning that the words were never intended to have.
Sin and the Law
If Paul is talking about the whole law system at Sinai, what about Romans 7:7, in which he specifically mentions one of the Ten Commandments? Doesn’t that refute the position taken yesterday that Paul was not talking about the abolition of the Ten Commandments?
The answer is “No.” We must keep in mind, again, that the word law for Paul is the whole system introduced at Sinai, which included the moral law but wasn’t limited to it. Hence, Paul could quote from it, as well as from any other section of the whole Jewish economy, in order to make his points. However, when the system passed away at the death of Christ, that didn’t include the moral law, which had existed even before Sinai and exists after Calvary, as well.
Read Romans 7:8–11. What is Paul saying here about the relationship between the law and sin?
God revealed Himself to the Jews, telling them in detail what was right and wrong in moral, civil, ceremonial, and health matters. He also explained the penalties for violation of the various laws. Violation of the revealed will of God is here defined as sin.
Thus, Paul explains, he would not have known if it was a sin to covet without having been informed of that fact by the “law.” Sin is the violation of the revealed will of God, and where the revealed will is unknown, there is no awareness of sin. When that revealed will is made known to a person, he or she comes to recognize that he or she is a sinner and is under condemnation and death. In this sense, the person dies.
In Paul’s line of argument here and throughout this section, he is trying to build a bridge to lead the Jews—who revere the “law”—to see Christ as its fulfillment. He is showing that the law was necessary but that its function was limited. The law was meant to show the need of salvation; it never was meant to be the means of obtaining that salvation.
“The apostle Paul, in relating his experience, presents an important truth concerning the work to be wrought in conversion. He says, ‘I was alive without the law once’—he felt no condemnation; ‘but when the commandment came,’ when the law of God was urged upon his conscience, ‘sin revived, and I died.’ Then he saw himself a sinner, condemned by the divine law. Mark, it was Paul, and not the law, that died.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1076.
In what sense have you “died” before the law? How, in that context, can you understand what Jesus has done for you by giving you a new life in Him?
The Law Is Holy
Read Romans 7:12. How do we understand this text in the context of what Paul has been discussing?
Because the Jews revered the law, Paul exalts it in every way possible. The law is good for what it does, but it can’t do what it was never meant to do—save us from sin. For that we need Jesus, because the law—whether the entire Jewish system or the moral law in particular— cannot bring salvation. Only Jesus and His righteousness, which come to us by faith, can.
What does Paul blame for his condition of “death,” and what does he exonerate? Why is that distinction important? Rom. 7:13.
In Romans 7:13, Paul is presenting the “law” in the best sense possible. He chooses to blame sin, not the law, for his terrible sinful condition; that is, his working “all manner of concupiscence [lust]” (Rom. 7:8). The law is good, for it is God’s standard of conduct, but as a sinner Paul stands condemned before it.
Why was sin so successful in showing Paul up to be a terrible sinner? Rom. 7:14, 15.
Carnal means “fleshly.” Thus, Paul needed Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ could take away the condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Only Jesus Christ could free him from slavery to sin.
Paul describes himself as “sold under sin.” He is a slave to sin. He has no freedom. He can’t do what he wants to do. He tries to do what the good law tells him to do, but sin won’t let him.
By this illustration, Paul was trying to show the Jews their need of the Messiah. He had pointed out already that victory is possible only under grace (Rom 6:14). This same thought is reemphasized in Romans 7. Living under the “law” means enslavement to sin, a merciless master.
What has been your own experience with how sin enslaves? Have you ever tried to play with sin, thinking you could control it as you wished, only to find yourself under a vicious and merciless taskmaster? Welcome to reality! Why, then, must you surrender to Jesus and die to self daily?
The Man of Romans 7
“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:16, 17). What struggle is presented here?
Using the law as a mirror, the Holy Spirit convicts a person that he or she is displeasing God by not fulfilling the requirements of the law. Through efforts to meet those requirements, the sinner shows that he or she agrees that the law is good.
What points that Paul already had made did he repeat for emphasis? Rom. 7:18–20.
To impress upon a person his or her need of Christ, the Holy Spirit often leads the person through an “old covenant” type of experience. Ellen G. White describes Israel’s experience as follows: “The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.’ Exodus 24:7. . . . Only a few weeks passed before they broke their covenant with God, and bowed down to worship a graven image. They could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant which they had broken; and now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 371, 372.
Unfortunately, by failing to renew their dedication to Christ daily, many Christians are, in effect, serving sin, however loath they may be to admit it. They rationalize that, in reality, they are undergoing the normal experience of sanctification and that they simply still have a long way to go. Thus, instead of taking known sins to Christ and asking Him for victory over them, they hide behind Romans 7, which tells them, they think, that it is impossible to do right. In reality, this chapter is saying that it is impossible to do right when a person is enslaved to sin, but victory is possible in Jesus Christ.
Are you having the victories over self and sin that Christ promises us? If not, why not? What wrong choices are you, and you alone, making?
Saved From Death
Read Romans 7:21–23. How have you experienced this same struggle in your own life, even as a Christian?
In this passage, Paul equates the law in his members (his body) with the law of sin. “With the flesh,” Paul says, he served “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). But serving sin and obeying its law means death (see Rom. 7:10, 11, 13). Hence, his body—as it functioned in obedience to sin—fittingly could be described as “the body of this death.”
The law of the mind is God’s law, God’s revelation of His will. Under conviction of the Holy Spirit, Paul consented to this law. His mind resolved to keep it, but when he tried he couldn’t because his body wanted to sin. Who hasn’t felt that same struggle? In your mind you know what you want to do, but your flesh clamors for something else.
How can we be rescued from this difficult situation in which we find ourselves? Rom. 7:24, 25.
Some have wondered why, after reaching the glorious climax in the expression “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Paul should refer once more to the struggles of the soul from which he apparently has been delivered. Some understand the expression of thanksgiving as a parenthetical exclamation. They believe that such an exclamation follows naturally the cry, “Who shall deliver?” They hold that, before proceeding with an extended discussion of the glorious deliverance (Romans 8), Paul summarizes what he has said in the preceding verses and confesses once again to the conflict against the forces of sin.
Others suggest that by “I myself ” Paul means “left to myself, leaving Christ out of the picture.” However Romans 7:24, 25 are understood, one point should remain clear: left to ourselves, without Christ, we are helpless against sin. With Christ we have a new life in Him, one in which—although self will constantly arise—the promises of victory are ours if we choose to claim them. Just as no one can breathe for you or cough for you or sneeze for you, no one can choose to surrender to Christ for you. You alone can make that choice. There’s no other way to attain for yourself the victories that are promised us in Jesus.
Further Thought: “There is no safety nor repose nor justification in transgression of the law. Man cannot hope to stand innocent before God, and at peace with Him through the merits of Christ, while he continues in sin.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 213.
“Paul desires his brethren to see that the great glory of a sin-pardoning Saviour gave significance to the entire Jewish economy. He desired them to see also that when Christ came to the world, and died as man’s sacrifice, type met antitype.
“After Christ died on the cross as a sin offering the ceremonial law could have no force. Yet it was connected with the moral law, and was glorious. The whole bore the stamp of divinity, and expressed the holiness, justice, and righteousness of God. And if the ministration of the dispensation to be done away was glorious, how much more must the reality be glorious, when Christ was revealed, giving His life-giving, sanctifying, Spirit to all who believe.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1095.
1. “In 7:25 the Apostle writes: ‘With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.’ This is the clearest passage of all, and from it we learn that one and the same (believing) person serves at the same time the Law of God and the Law of sin. He is at the same time justified and yet a sinner (simul iustus est et peccat); for he does not say: ‘My mind serves the Law of God’; nor does he say: ‘My flesh serves the Law of sin’; but he says: ‘I myself.’ That is, the whole man, one and the same person, is in this twofold servitude. For this reason he thanks God that he serves the Law of God and he pleads for mercy for serving the Law of sin. But no one can say of a carnal (unconverted) person that he serves the Law of God. The Apostle means to say: You see, it is just so as I said before: The saints (believers) are at the same time sinners while they are righteous. They are righteous, because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them. But they are sinners, inasmuch as they do not fulfill the Law, and still have sinful lusts. They are like sick people who are being treated by a physician. They are really sick, but hope and are beginning to get, or be made, well. They are about to regain their health. Such patients would suffer the greatest harm by arrogantly claiming to be well, for they would suffer a relapse that is worse (than their first illness).”—Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 114, 115. Can we agree with what Luther wrote here or not? In class, give reasons for your answers.
9. NO CONDEMNATION
Read for This Week’s Study: Rom. 8:1–17.
Memory Text: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
Romans 8 is Paul’s answer to Romans 7. In Romans 7 Paul speaks of frustration, failure, and condemnation. In Romans 8 the condemnation is gone, replaced with freedom and victory through Jesus Christ.
Paul was saying in Romans 7 that if you refuse to accept Jesus Christ, the wretched experience of Romans 7 will be yours. You will be slaves to sin, unable to do what you choose to do. In Romans 8 he says that Christ Jesus offers you deliverance from sin and the freedom to do the good that you want to do but that your flesh won’t allow.
Paul continues, explaining that this freedom was purchased at infinite cost. Christ the Son of God took on humanity. It was the only way He could relate to us, could be our perfect example, and could become the Substitute who died in our stead. He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). As a result, the righteous requirements of the law can be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4). In other words, Christ made victory over sin—as well as meeting the positive requirements of the law—possible for those who believe, not as a means of salvation but as the result of it. Obedience to law had not been, nor ever can be, a means of salvation. This was Paul’s message and Luther’s message, and it must be ours, as well.
In Jesus Christ
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). What does “no condemnation” mean? No condemnation from what? And why is this such good news?
“In Christ Jesus” is a common phrase in the Pauline writings. For a person to be “in” Christ Jesus means that he or she has accepted Christ as his or her Savior. The person trusts Him implicitly and has decided to make Christ’s way of life his or her own way. The result is a close personal union with Christ.
“In Christ Jesus” is contrasted with “in the flesh.” It also is contrasted with the experience detailed in chapter 7, where Paul describes the person under conviction before his or her surrender to Christ as carnal, meaning that he or she is a slave to sin. The person is under condemnation of death (Rom. 7:11, 13, 24). He or she serves the “law of sin” (Rom. 7:23, 25). This person is in a terrible state of wretchedness (Rom. 7:24).
But then the person surrenders to Jesus, and an immediate change is wrought in his or her standing with God. Formerly condemned as a lawbreaker, that person now stands perfect in the sight of God, stands as if he or she had never sinned, because the righteousness of Jesus Christ completely covers that person. There is no more condemnation, not because the person is faultless, sinless, or worthy of eternal life (he or she is not!) but because Jesus’ perfect life record stands in the person’s stead; thus, there is no condemnation.
But the good news doesn’t end there.
What frees a person from slavery to sin? Rom. 8:2.
“The law of the Spirit of life” here means Christ’s plan for saving humanity; in contrast with “the law of sin and death,” which was described in chapter 7 as the law by which sin ruled—the end of which was death. Christ’s law instead brings life and freedom.
“Every soul that refuses to give himself to God is under the control of another power. He is not his own. He may talk of freedom, but he is in the most abject slavery. . . . While he flatters himself that he is following the dictates of his own judgment, he obeys the will of the prince of darkness. Christ came to break the shackles of sin-slavery from the soul.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 466. Are you a slave, or are you free in Christ? How can you know for sure?
What the Law Could Not Do
However good, the “law” (the ceremonial law, the moral law, or even both) cannot do for us what we need the most, and that is to provide the means of salvation, a means of saving us from the condemnation and death that sin brings. For that, we need Jesus.
Read Romans 8:3, 4. What did Christ do that the law, by its very nature, cannot do?
God provided a remedy by “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and He “condemned sin in the flesh.” The incarnation of Christ was an important step in the plan of salvation. It is proper to exalt the Cross, but in the outworking of the plan of salvation, Christ’s life “in the likeness of sinful flesh” was extremely important, too.
As a result of what God has done in sending Christ, it is now possible for us to meet the righteous requirement of the law; that is, to do the right things that the law requires. “Under the law” (Rom. 6:14), this was impossible; “in Christ” it is now possible.
Yet, we must remember that doing what the law requires doesn’t mean keeping the law well enough to earn salvation. That’s not an option—never was. It simply means living the life that God enables us to live; it means a life of obedience, one in which we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24, NKJV), a life in which we reflect the character of Christ.
“Walk” in Romans 8:4 is an idiomatic expression signifying “to conduct oneself.” The word flesh here denotes the unregenerate person, whether before or after conviction. To walk after the flesh is to be controlled by selfish desires.
In contrast, to walk after the Spirit is to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. Only through the help of the Holy Spirit can we meet this requirement. Only in Christ Jesus is there freedom to do what the law requires. Apart from Christ, there is no such freedom. The one who is enslaved to sin finds it impossible to do the good he or she chooses to do (see Rom. 7:15, 18).
How well are you keeping the law? Putting aside any notions of earning salvation by the law, is your life one in which the “righteousness of the law” is fulfilled? If not, why not? What kind of lame excuses are you using to rationalize your behavior?
The Flesh or the Spirit
“They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5, 6). Dwell on these texts. What basic message comes through from them? What do they say to you about the way in which you are living your life?
“After,” here, is used in the sense of “according to” (Greek kata). “Mind” here means to set the mind on. One group of people sets their minds on fulfilling natural desires; the other sets their minds on the things of the Spirit, to follow His dictates. Because the mind determines actions, the two groups live and act differently.
What is the carnal mind unable to do? Rom. 8:7, 8.
To have one’s mind set on fulfilling the desires of the flesh is, in reality, to be in a state of enmity against God. One whose mind is thus set is unconcerned about doing the will of God. He or she even may be in rebellion against Him, openly flouting His law.
Paul wishes especially to emphasize that if you are apart from Christ, it is impossible to keep the law of God. Again and again Paul returns to this theme: no matter how hard one tries, apart from Christ one cannot obey the law.
Paul’s special purpose was to persuade the Jews that they needed more than their “torah” (law). By their conduct they had shown that, in spite of having the divine revelation, they were guilty of the same sins of which the Gentiles were guilty (Romans 2). The lesson of all this was that they needed the Messiah. Without Him they would be slaves of sin, unable to escape its dominion.
This was Paul’s answer to those Jews who couldn’t understand why what God had given them in the Old Testament was no longer enough for salvation. Paul admitted that what they had been doing was all good but that they also needed to accept the Messiah who had now come.
Look at your past 24 hours. Were your deeds of the Spirit or of the flesh? What does your answer tell you about yourself? If of the flesh, what changes must you make, and how can you make them?
Christ in You
Paul continues his theme, contrasting the two possibilities that people face in how they live: either according to the Spirit—that is, the Holy Spirit of God, which is promised to us—or according to their sinful and carnal natures. One leads to eternal life, the other to eternal death. There is no middle ground. Or as Jesus Himself said: “ ‘He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters’ ” (Matt. 12:30, NKJV). It’s hard to be plainer, or more black and white, than that.
Read Romans 8:9–14. What is promised to those who surrender themselves fully to Christ?
The life “in the flesh” is contrasted with life “in the Spirit.” The life “in the Spirit” is controlled by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. He is in this chapter called the Spirit of Christ, perhaps in the sense that He is a representative of Christ, and through Him Christ dwells in the believer (Rom. 8:9, 10).
In these verses, Paul returns to a figure he used in Romans 6:1–11. Figuratively, in baptism “the body of sin”—that is, the body that served sin—is destroyed. The “old man is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6). But, as in baptism, there is not only a burial but also a resurrection, so the person baptized rises to walk in the newness of life. This means to put to death the old self, a choice that we have to, of ourselves, make day by day, moment by moment. God does not destroy human freedom. Even after the old man of sin is destroyed, it still is possible to sin. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “Mortify [put to death] therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5).
Thus, after conversion there still will be a struggle against sin. The difference is that the person in whom the Spirit dwells now has divine power for victory. Furthermore, because the person has been so miraculously freed from the slave master of sin, he or she is obligated never to serve sin again.
Dwell on this idea that the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, is the same one dwelling in us if we allow Him to. Think about the power that is there for us! What keeps us from availing ourselves of it as we should?
The Spirit of Adoption
How does Paul describe the new relationship in Christ? Rom. 8:15. What hope is found in this promise for us? How do we make it real in our lives?
The new relationship is described as freedom from fear. Slaves are in bondage. They live in a state of constant fear of their master. They stand to gain nothing from their long years of service.
Not so with those who accept Jesus Christ. First, they render voluntary service. Second, they serve without fear, for “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Third, adopted as children, they become heirs to an inheritance of infinite worth.
“The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus.” —Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1077.
What gives us the assurance that God has indeed accepted us as children? Rom. 8:16.
The inward witness of the Spirit confirms our acceptance. While it is not safe to go by feeling merely, those who have followed the light of the Word to the best of their understanding will hear an inward authenticating Voice assuring them that they have been accepted as children of God. Indeed, Romans 8:17 tells us that we are heirs; that is, we are part of the family of God, and as heirs, as children, we receive a wonderful inheritance from our Father. We don’t earn it; it is given to us by virtue of our new status in God, a status granted to us through His grace, which has been made available to us because of the death of Jesus in our behalf.
How close are you to the Lord? Do you really know Him or just about Him? What changes must you make in your life in order to have a closer walk with your Creator and Redeemer? What holds you back, and why?
Further Thought: “The plan of salvation does not offer believers a life free from suffering and trial this side of the kingdom. On the contrary, it calls upon them to follow Christ in the same path of self-denial and reproach. . . . It is through such trial and persecution that the character of Christ is reproduced and revealed in His people. . . . By sharing in the sufferings of Christ we are educated and disciplined and made ready to share in the glories of the hereafter.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, pp. 568, 569.
“The chain that has been let down from the throne of God is long enough to reach to the lowest depths. Christ is able to lift the most sinful out of the pit of degradation, and to place them where they will be acknowledged as children of God, heirs with Christ to an immortal inheritance.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 229.
“One honored of all heaven came to this world to stand in human nature at the head of humanity, testifying to the fallen angels and to the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds that through the divine help which has been provided, every one may walk in the path of obedience to God’s commands. . . .
“Our ransom has been paid by our Saviour. No one need be enslaved by Satan. Christ stands before us as our all-powerful helper.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 309.
1. Read again the quotes from Ellen G. White in Friday’s study. What hope can we take from them for ourselves? More important, how can we make these promises of victory real in our own lives? Why, with so much offered to us in Christ, do we keep on falling far short of what we really could be?
2. What are practical, daily ways you can have your mind “set . . . on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5, RSV)? What does that mean? What does the Spirit desire? What do you watch, read, or think about that makes this difficult?
3. Dwell more on this idea that we are either on one side or the other in the great controversy, with no middle ground. What are the implications of that stark, cold fact? How should the realization of this important truth impact the ways in which we live and the choices we make, even in the “small” things?