ollowers of Christ are “dead to sin” that we “might walk in newness of life.” These realities rooted in union with Christ are transformational: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5). Therefore “we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6). In being united with Christ, in His death, we died. What we now are, is no longer what we once were. The person we once were-all that we once were as that person-before we turned to Christ, is now gone (See 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). And the result of no longer being what we once were is that our bodies no longer have to be dominated and enslaved in the former ways that sin once conditioned us and controlled us to operate. Sin no longer must be what characterizes us, for sin no longer has any real claim on us: “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (6:7). Since the power of sin has been broken in a believer’s life because of their union with Christ, one’s freedom from slavery to sin should now be reflected in the way we actually live.
The parallel between Adam and Christ, which began in verse twelve, is now completed: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:18-19). Adam’s action resulted in a universal declaration of condemnation and corruption for all the human race. However, in Christ, because of His action, a new humanity is being formed (Christ’s sacrificial death is in view here but such a sacrifice required a perfect obedience fulfilling all righteousness throughout His life). The results of Christ’s actions are not automatically granted to all of humanity, but are now available. However, it is applied only to “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (5:17). For all who receive Christ, the result is an eternal declaration of justification and righteousness. These two verses make a transition to what Paul explores in chapters six through eight. Just as Adam’s action brought a legal declaration of condemnation and a constitutive declaration of corruption, so Christ’s righteous action brings a legal declaration of justification and a constitutive declaration of righteousness. As Paul leaves the discussion on justification (legal righteousness) and soon starts the discussion on sanctification (practice of righteousness), each is grounded in Christ.
Verse 11 returns to where this chapter was started: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11). Paul returns to the theme of rejoicing that he started with in earlier verses: “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:2), and “not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” (5:3). Putting these three calls to rejoice together, especially in light of the great love of God, believers are called to be people of joy and confidence. Literally, the word that Paul uses for rejoicing here in chapter five is the same word he used in the two previous chapters: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (3:27). This is really important to note because it helps us to get the sense of what he has now been saying in Romans 5. Because of the love and full salvation that God has freely given us in His Son, there are no legitimate bounds to the joy that we express for our God. Because of what we already have as well as all that awaits us due to God’s love, there is no category for over-exaggerating the happiness that our souls express as we worship God.
Whereas 4:1-12 contrasted works of the Law with faith, in showing how Abraham had no basis to boast before God as well as how he is the father of all who believe regardless of circumcision, 4:13-25 makes a slight shift. The basic point, however, is still the same: justification is through faith and Abraham is the father of all who believe. Now, the new twist that is being added is a contrast between law and promise. Promise is the term that pulls 4:13-25 together (vv. 13, 14, 16, 20, and 21), as it still stresses that Abraham was justified through faith.
This propitiatory, redemptive work to justify believing sinners was necessary to “show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (3:25). Throughout the Old Covenant, God did not truly punish sins with the full severity that He promised. And yet, He also promised forgiveness. The blood of bulls and goats were not adequate sacrifices to commend either the faithfulness or justice of God’s character. In mercy, God overlooked sin with much patience. And yet, to show that He is in fact upright, God needed to, at some point, truly respond to sin with an appropriate response of wrath. Christ’s punishment at the Cross was that moment in all its finality and decisiveness. The sacrifice of Jesus displayed “his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). In Christ Jesus, God not only upholds His own standard of justice (all who commit sin must die), but He can now accept sinners as righteous (through His declaration). In Christ, God condemned sin by substituting Christ for sinners. That is, as Paul once again underscores, any sinner “who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
The reason why the Jews are no better off is their shared condition: “both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (3:9). Mankind certainly is guilty before God due to their sinful choices. But Paul means something more than choices by the phrase “under sin.” It certainly includes sins or sinful actions and choices, but Paul is saying that sin is a condition-through and through-shared by all mankind. Sin is a hostile power whose dominion has its grips on all. Paul had said in chapter 1-on three occasions (1:24,26, 28)-that God had given mankind over. As a part of His present judgment for mankind’s rebellion against Him, God has given mankind over to a condition of bondage to sinfulness. It is a just consequence of unbelief toward God.
The top advantage that circumcised Jews possessed was their Scriptures. The Scriptures were a treasury of Words from God which provided them with the instructions, directives, warnings, promises and assurances that they were God’s special people called to be His special representatives before all the nations by how they lived in relationship with God through loving obedience (see Exodus 19:5-6). But while they had the Written Word, they did not truly believe in it. The chief problem with the Gentiles started with their commitment to “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). The general revelation that God gave to them through the created world was aggressively ignored and actively hidden. Such suppression of the truth meant that the Gentiles were “without excuse” (1:20). The Jews had a further level of revelation from God, which was in written form as it came together to become the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. These Scriptures provided Israel with deeper revelation concerning God’s character, His promises for their present and future, His past and present work on their behalf, the covenant stipulations of being in relationship with Him and their calling before the nations. But sadly, the Jews had their own expression of suppressing the truth, which Paul, for now, alludes to by simply stating: “What if some were unfaithful?” (3:3).
But Paul now moves to expose the sinful condition of the Jews: “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (2:1b). The standard that the Jews used to affirm the condemnation of the Gentiles turns out to be the very standard that the Jews themselves violated. While they had received the standard in written form, they faired little better in obeying it. The very criteria that established Gentile condemnation over failure to comply also condemned the Jews. On one level, a distinction can be made between the Gentiles, who disregarded obedience to God’s Law and even openly encouraged such disobedience, and the Jews, who clearly spoke against disregarding God’s Law. But in the final analysis, the actual compliance of the Jews in regard to obeying God’s Law was largely just a matter of pretending. Paul rhetorically asks: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (2:3). It certainly is a good thing to verbally agree with God’s Law, but the real test is actual obedience. Paul exposed the pretending hearts of his fellow Jews.
With the fact established that God’s wrath is presently being revealed, Romans 1:24-32 builds on this further and explains the particular way that God has set His judgment upon mankind. As we look more carefully at this segment, we can best detect the manner of God’s wrath being presently expressed by noticing a phrase that is repeated three times in 1:24-32. Three times it is stated “God gave them over” (1:24, 26, 28). In response to mankind’s posture against Him, God remands him over or consigns him to destructive consequences. While a final day of judgment is still to come (2:5), a preliminary judgment is already put in operation. By an act of God, mankind is shackled “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (1:24), “to dishonorable passions” (1:26), and “to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28). God has presently handed mankind over to a sinful course that will result in them dishonoring their bodies and debasing their minds.
Romans 1:18-23 states that God’s wrath is earned, while Romans 1:24-32 will show how God’s wrath, at present, is expressed. Romans 1:18 opens with a major shift from the introductory matters that Paul has expressed in the first seventeen verses. Paul announces: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). Speaking of the Gospel, Paul had just said that, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (1:17). But now the righteousness of God that is revealed in the Gospel is being contrasted with the wrath of God that is also presently being revealed. Before more details about the good news of the Gospel is provided, Paul interrupts with some dire and devastating news about God’s wrath against sinners.
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