Category Archives: Bible passages

Romans 6:15-23 – What grace gives us

Just as Paul has taken his readers through a look at how unrighteous we are in chapters 1-3, he is now taking us through a journey of what impact grace should have on our lives in chapters 6-8 and beyond. He asked the question in 6:1, if sinning brings out the grace of God then more sinning should bring out more grace shouldn’t it? That is, let’s make God look really gracious!

Romans 6:15 asks a similar question but from a different perspective: if we are only saved by the righteousness of Jesus and not our own, then there is really no point even trying to be righteous. The point is something like: working at being good is hard work that we can’t succeed in anyway, so let’s just relax and let Jesus’ righteousness be ours by faith.

In isolation, verses 15-23 appear to be Paul preaching a pursuit of holiness in order to receive eternal life: obedience leads to righteousness which leads to eternal life! But context, context context is so important! Not only does verse 23 tell us or remind us that eternal life is a free gift, as opposed to being wages earned – but verse 22 reminds us that we have been set free from sin. Also, we cannot forget the previous 5 chapters which teach us that it is not by our works that we are saved but by the grace of God.

So, what is this passage saying if it is not about works righteousness? Verse 17 gives us a good capture of what the message is. Let me try and paraphrase that verse…

“Once upon a time it was sin and impurity and lawlessness that claimed your heart – but now, by the grace and mercy of God, you have fallen in love with His way of life.”

Now, Paul contrasts the difference between life under sin and life under God.

Life under sin which may feel like having a free spirit contains these elements: it leads to death (v16, 21, 23), makes you a slave to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness (v19), and yet free from the control of righteousness (v20).

Life under God which is described as being slaves to obedience contains these elements: it leads to righteousness (v16), it has claimed the Christians allegiance (v17), sets us free from sin (v18,22), makes us slaves to righteousness (18, 19), leads to holiness (v19, 22), makes us aware and ashamed of the life of sin (v21), results in eternal life (v22), which is a free gift (v23).

So, the positive argument is that a life of sin leads to death. And the life of someone serving God is a life with eternity in mind and with eternity as the promise.

Is there a negative? Being under sin is described in verse 20 as freedom and the life of obedience is described as slavery to righteousness (v18, 19). Well, notice that these are also both flipped around so that what appears to be freedom at first is actually also slavery to sin – so that sin has it’s rule over you. And that this righteousness that is described as slavery is actually an appealing state to someone who has died to Christ (6:4, 21). The burden of righteousness becomes the gift of freedom from sin! Where sin no longer has control over us.

What does it mean to have sin rule over us and therefore that humans are slaves to sin? Compare verse 17 and verse 19 – prior to coming to Christ, pleasing the flesh (our human desire and passions and cravings) was normal and the enjoyment of it leads to more and more sin. But once Christ has stolen your heart and your allegiance, you are free to learn what it means to live a righteous life – experiencing the liberty of holy living. See verse 21 how it describes the rejection of that past life? A vegetarian friend of mine described what it was like to give up eating meat – at first it was hard to walk past burger shops and smell what used to be so lovely to them but after a time of abstaining from meat, their bodies stopped wanting it. A single bite of a piece of flesh could be almost felt going all the way through their body. This may be the same with all foods and habits that we want to get rid of.

To those who are outside of Christ, the problem is not that they need to reform their immoral lives, the issue is that they need to hear the good news of Jesus – that his righteousness imparted to us provides more than just an eternal inheritance, it sets us free from being slaves to sin. To the outsider, being a Christian means being a good person. But to the Christian, being in Christ means experiencing the joy of obeying God, not because we need his approval, but because he has our heart and our allegiance.

The last but not least important point of the passage is the one that Paul puts plainly: which master will pay you the best results at the end of the day? Will sin? No, that leads to death. Will listening to God and responding to his word through Christ? Yes, because by grace he has set us free from the bondage of sin and death!

I am a slave to Christ. Whose slave are you?

Romans 4 – Faith like Abraham

We are studying a whole chapter this week which may seem or feel like a big chunk compared to our previous weeks. We had slowed down to consider the weight of sin and the evidence of our unrighteousness. Now we look at Paul’s scriptural evidence why it is and always has been a matter of faith that we are saved. God hasn’t changed the rules at all! In Christ, he is being completely consistent with all that he has said and promised in the Old Testament. Although it is a whole chapter, Paul’s message is simple: it has always been a matter of trust.

Before I continue I’d like to put a cheap plug in for the God’s Big Picture Plus course. If you have anyone in your growth group who is doing that course on a Sunday arvo, it would be great to ask them to share with the group how they have found it. I will run the course again, God willing, later this year or early next year. I highly recommend it. I’m confident that it is helpful to everyone who seeks to know God better and to understand righteousness given by faith in Christ.

THE THEME

The gospel is not a New Testament phenomenon but is the same message that God has always been committed to. Are you fully persuaded of God’s power to redeem you.

TOPICS COVERED IN THE TEXT

  • The full story of scripture – how the whole bible fits together.
  • What faith delivers vs what the law or works delivers.
  • What faith is.

 

OBSERVATIONS OF THE TEXT

V1 Paul turns now to Abraham, the father of all the Jews, to testify that righteousness is given by faith. God called Abraham, one man out of all the human race, to make promises to. Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:3-8. These are the promises which began the Jewish race (sons of Judah) and the promises which precede the law received by Moses.

V2 Paul picks up the language of boasting again which he brought up in 3:27. It is also in line with Paul’s aim which is to elevate the gospel of faith over the law of works as he put it in Romans 1:16 ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God’. Abraham was not labelled as righteous because of his works but because of his faith in trusting God who promised he would be the father of many.
NB: to be justified by works is not to outweigh the bad with the good but it is to always do good. One wrong makes us guilty.

V3 – ‘what does scripture say?’ Paul’s theology of salvation is not brand new. It is not a new message from the spirit but an understood message from the Old Testament scriptures. Our faith must be the same – based on a correct and intelligent reading from the word of God. Reading the bible for all it’s worth and being trained to read it better is of eternal value – not only to yourself but for those who you disciple. To teach others based on our own shallow knowledge will lead us and others astray from the truth.

‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’ – here is Paul’s bible text which he will use to teach his message – that faith stands apart from the law and this is the basis of salvation. NB: James uses the same text of scripture to talk about faith in James 2. Many would believe that James teaches that we must have faith and follow through with works. I strongly suggest that James is simply giving a strong definition of faith since having faith will affect the way we live and make decisions. Abraham’s faith meant that he would do whatever God asked of him – even if it meant the death of his one and only son. His actions didn’t make him righteous – his absolute trust in God made him righteous.

Vv6-8 – Paul now turns briefly to David and quotes psalm 32. How does psalm 32 make sense without Christ? Isn’t it because God has always demanded faith as the basis of forgiveness and righteousness? The difference that Jesus makes is that we now know how this gift of righteousness is made possible and that God remain just. Jesus said to Thomas: blessed are you because you have seen and believe. How much more for those who have not seen and yet believe’ in 20 paraphrase. This is true of us today who have not seen the risen Lord and even truer for the saints who believed prior to Jesus’ incarnation.

Vv9-12 – whether circumcised or not, righteousness is received on the basis of faith alone. Not faith plus works or religious ceremony but faith from first to last (rom 1:17).

V13 – faith brings righteousness

V15 – law brings wrath … And an awareness of sin.

V17 – notice the details of this verse : that we believe in the God who gives life to the dead. God made Abraham the father of many nations – this is his promise and gift – calling into being something that was not!

Vv18-21 – hope beyond hope. The parallel between what Abraham was asked to believe and what we Christians have been asked to believe is clear: Abraham was promised life coming out of a dead womb. We are promised life out of a dead heart.

V21 – here is the definition of faith: being fully persuaded that God has power to do what he has promised! This is where assurance of salvation becomes clear: do you believe and are you fully persuaded that God can credi you as righteous through Jesus Christ?

V24 – the gospel is not simply believing in Jesus. It is believing in the power of God to justify sinners – the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.

V25 – read this verse. Do you believe it? Every word of it? Do you believe he did that for you?! Now read Romans 10:9.

Romans 3.27-31

If you have read ahead, you may be thinking, what do I do with this passage? But do not fear – the passage break up is not a mistake!

I do hope you had a great discussion in Growth Group last week about righteousness, glory, justification, redemption and atonement. Therein lies the reason why we split this last section of chapter 3 into 2. We wanted people to have the chance to really dwell upon and ponder the wonder of salvation!

So what do you do with the tail end of the chapter?

It seems to me that this section (3:27-31) is Paul’s conclusion to his rhetorical argument with the Jews. He picks up on his criticism of their boasting from 2:17 and makes sure they know that there is no merit in them claiming merit! Their pride must be put aside and they must come to Jesus like anyone else. There is only one God and he deals with all people in the same way and he will save all people in the same way – by faith.

David Seccombe helpfully writes:
From this passage we learn somethign enormously important about faith: it is the opposite of achievement. We cannot be proud of faith. Faith is our acknowledgement that we are empty and disqualified. Faith is putting out dirty hands to receive a wonderful gift. Only the utmost perversity could make of it a virtue and a matter of pride.

You may want to ponder with your group the story of the arrogant man who goes proudly to the temple and how he is an example of what Paul is critiquing. (Luke 18:9-14)

You will want to unpack the last sentence in verse 27 – which I think is just saying that the Law never saved (see 3:20) but should have driven Jews to faith for salvation. (This will also bridge into the big idea of chapter 4 – faith!!)

You will probably need to unpack the end of verse 31 which Romans will do later. Perhaps the easy way of doing that is by opening the question to the group of “Do we have to obey the Ten Commandments?” and getting them to think about what they should uphold and what they should not uphold in the Law explained in Exodus and Leviticus and why. The answer is very complex but my simple way of thinking about it is “what does Jesus fulfil and what does Jesus intensify?” Have a Read of Matthew 5:16-end to help your thinking. I’m also happy for you to ask me a question on this as you prepare….

Finally, I am planning on making sure my group really understands and believes 3:29-30. In this age of pluralism and religious tolerance, I fear that many Christian people don’t want to stand on John 14:6 and there only being one God who saves through his one Son Jesus. All other so called God’s are just human constructs made up to help people ignore the reality that they need to trust in Jesus. (You could google the story about the one way Jesus man who lives next to the Harbour bridge – it was in the smh this week.)

I’m hoping this will lead us to prayer for those who are lost.

So in terms of structure of the night, I will probably…
1. Review 1:18-3:20 picking up on 2:17
2. Review the sermon from Sunday on 3:21-26
3. Work through the rhetorical questions one at a time (v.27,29,31) picking up on the issues above.
4. Lead to a discussion of there being only one God.
5. Pray for the lost.

I’m praying for you as you lead your groups this week. Please pray for me!