It is not until we realize our own sinfulness that we realize the need we have for a savior. In the late 300’s A.D. a North African young man was troubled by his struggle with sin and the emptiness he felt. He tried various philosophies yet they did not fill the void. It was during this struggle that he read Romans 13:13-14 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. This passage changed his life forever. This man would become one of the greatest church leaders and western philosophers in History. So what brought about this change for St. Augustine? The Book of Romans!
Paul begins his Romans discourse by diagnosing the real problem with all of humanity. All people are cut off from God because of sin and are subject to his judgment and eternal punishment. He states that all of humanity has an idea of God but instead of worshiping the Creator of the Universe, people prefer to worship the creation! Romans 1:21-22Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
The idolatry of humanity warped their minds and sexual practices. Romans 1:26-28 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.
Thus in order for us to better understand our position and In order to talk about the good news of the gospel Paul felt it was necessary to talk about the bad news first. Paul wanted to stress the dark and tragic state of humanity. Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Genesis 3:1-19 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
When sin entered the world it was total and affected every aspect of human life. Sin has made us dead to the things of God, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Sin eternally separated us from God and made us enemies with God and subjected us to his wrath!
There was a movie around 2004 called “the Villiage” that described the struggle to create a “perfect” community in a fallen world. The movie described a puritan like village set in the eighteenth century. There are clear moral boundaries, respect, no crime, and an Amish like innocence to life. Later in the movie we discover it is not an eighteenth century community, but instead an isolated social experiment set in contemporary society. Each of the elders of the community has a story of how an evil world had changed their lives. So they created this community as a society better than the one that hurt them. They believed that sin/evil could be controlled and forgotten through constructing a community not corrupted by the modern world. The younger generation did not know about the outside world, and that helped maintain their innocence or so they thought. Yet one day a young man tried to kill another man, because of jealousy. One can only imagine the shock of the elders who thought they had created the perfect community. They thought they had rid themselves of the evils of society but in the end the village never managed to escape evil and violence. Where is sin located? In the human heart! James 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Sin is not something out there in the fallen world, but something that is within each of us.
In our culture today we tend to get confused about what sin really is, we label certain behaviors as sinful murder, adultery, etc. and other things as merely flaws or personal struggles. Pride, envy, smoking, drinking, ect. However sin is missing the mark it is interesting that one of the words for sin in the New Testament is the Greek word hamartia, which originally meant “to miss the mark.” It was first used to describe archers whose arrows missed the target. It does not matter if you miss by a yard or a millimeter you still missed the mark. Although “missing the mark” does not exhaust the meaning of sin in Scripture, it offers an important perspective on transgression. Sin is not only crossing the line and breaking God’s law (such as in stealing when theft is forbidden), but it is also the failure to do all that the Lord requires. No matter how obedient we have been to God, we always lack something. Nothing we do is ever good enough to fully meet His requirements. All sin must be judged by a holly God!
Paul widens the net to not only include the pagan cultures but also those in the religious culture. Paul wants to make it clear that sinfulness and God’s wrath is not just for “evil” pagans but also for the Jews who do not follow Gods law. Even if they outwardly follow the rules, they still have sin in their hearts. Once again they still miss the mark! No one can stand blameless before a Holy God. Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.
Therefore the truth is we are all guilty of sin. We all deserve the death penalty! Yet God loved us so much he provided a way for us to be found not guilty! He sent his son to die on the cross that if we would accept that He died for us, was resurrected from the grave, and sought his forgiveness, that we could enter into Gods kingdom!
Paul uses the legal description of justification to describe what Jesus did for us on the cross. Rom 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Through the crucifixion Christ has paid the penalty for all of humanities sin. Christ took on the wrath that fallen humanity deserved, and as a result, those who place their faith in Christ are justified before God. Justification is God’s pardon to us but we only receive it by faith in what Jesus did on our behalf!
Theologians describe Christ’s sacrifice as penal Substitutionary atonement. Penal because a penalty must be paid for sin. Substitutionary, because Christ is the substitute sacrifice in our place. Atonement as Christ’s death is what pays the price for our sins. Thus because of what Jesus did a person is declared not guilty and has a right standing with God.
The discussion of sin, wrath, atonement, and justification can be difficult for contemporary audiences. Understanding the crucifixion of Jesus is difficult because it is so violent and brutal. Why couldn’t God just forgive sinful humanity out of love without the death of Jesus? The answer is that God is Just. We live in a culture that is very sensitive to the idea of justice for those who have been wronged.
In ancient times, just like today, people believed they could merit salvation and acceptance of God by doing good works. Contemporary audiences believe they are going to heaven because they are good people and give to the church and charities. But Abraham and David both admitted their wrong doing and had faith in God as their only hope for deliverance. It is only through faith in Jesus that righteousness and acceptance can happen. For pagans and Jews in Paul’s time it didn’t matter how many laws you kept or what nice things you did, none of it could ever bring salvation from sin.
What’s wrong with earning salvation? It would at least make people act nice right? When we try to earn salvation by doing good works, we attempt gain salvation quid pro quo. In other words we do something nice and we feel God is obligated to do something for us in return. When we try to earn our salvation by good works we are trying to place God in our debt! Thus God is no longer seen as the Holy God who deserves our praise but as a commodity to be hustled. But God is a debtor to no one!
Paul has already stated that we are condemned and corrupted by sin. There is no way of working your way to salvation with God Rom 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: So the idea of working out a deal (this for that) with God is off the table. God is Holy and Just, he does not compromise with sin; if he did he would not be a Just and Holy God! Those who strive to earn salvation place their trust (faith) in the works they perform, instead of the finished work Jesus Christ provided. Can’t you see that faith in works is no different than faith in idols?
Reality is it is not about who does good works and who does not. It is about who puts their faith and trust in Jesus and who does not. Salvation is a free gift to all given by a loving God.
We as Christians have been sanctified by God and are being transformed by the Holy Spirit! As Christians we are justified before God, our sins are not counted against us, we have a right relationship with God! We have been given eternal life, in Christian lingo we call this “being saved” or “Born again”. But what about the sin that remains in the life of a Christian? Paul explains that we should not use the grace of God to continue in sin. Having described the justification of the Believer Paul now moves to the sanctification of the believer.
Theologians have described sanctification as “a separation to God” Sanctification begins when we accept Christ, and God sets us apart as his children. However, God continues to transform the believer from the inside out to lives that reflect Christ to the world. This is sanctification.
One issue that Christians have for centuries debated is the question between grace and Morals in the Christian life. Paul posed the question in Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? This poses a significant challenge for Churches as they disciple new believers in our fallen world. But we must avoid two extremes. Antinomianism the belief that the Law is not applicable to us today, that only faith is necessary for salvation. Thus it does not matter how you live your life. And the other extreme is legalism, a belief that one is only saved by moral works! Paul clearly discourages both of these views!
Paul uses two illustrations with regards to sanctification: baptism and slavery. Baptism shows how a Christian has died to sin and risen to new life and is therefore united with Christ. Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? A person’s old life ruled by the power of sin is dead. We are no longer slaves to sin, but unto righteousness. A slave is subject to his master and sin was our master before we came to Christ. Romans 6:18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Sanctification is a life long process of growth it is not an easy process. It relies on trust, community, and an ongoing work of the Spirit. The Spirit renews and transforms believers from the inside out. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave now lives inside each and every believer. Rom 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Sanctification is not behavior management where one simply changes bad behavior. Sanctification is a transformation of a person at the core. It is not just changing behavior, God changes our thoughts, emotions, and habits. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we put sin to death. Rom 8:12-13 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
To illustrate this think of a glass of chocolate milk. You can have chocolate in milk and yet not have chocolate milk. Now compare the milk to a person and the chocolate to the spirit you get when you receive Christ as your savior. If you pour the chocolate into the milk and let it set it stays on the bottom. A person receives the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus and are justified before God. Now if you take the milk with the chocolate and stir it you have chocolate milk. The stirring is the believer allowing the Holy Spirit to change and transform the soul. Through prayer, reading scripture, confession of sins, and other spiritual disciplines this transformation occurs. This is sanctification!