Pastor’s Bible Reading Notes – Feb 11/18

Introduction: The Christian faith is not merely a matter of looking back to the Birth of Christ. Yes, Christianity is historical, and it is founded on the reality of God “invading” space and time to be born in our flesh. But faith in Jesus Christ also impacts our day-to-day experience, and gives us firm confidence for whatever we face in the future. This is the practical impact of Romans 6-8 and our overview of these chapters in this week’s Bible notes.

 

Mon/Tues: read Romans 8:1 and Romans 6:12-18. How God saves us from the condemnation of sin in Romans 8:1 is what He does in Romans 6. He has delivered us from the dominion and rule of sin, as well as from its guilt and penalty. The result is that we are now under God’s grace (Romans 6:14), and no longer enslaved to the rebellious desire to sin. This is why Paul breaks out with words of thanksgiving in Romans 6:17-18: because we who are joined to Christ by faith are now under the “rule of grace” and able to live obediently as servants of God and His righteousness. Sin is dethroned! We are now in God’s gracious hand for Him to guide us as His willing servants!

 

That’s great, you may say. But why does Paul need so many words to explain this freedom from sin in Romans 6:1-23? Also, why does the Apostle need to return to what God has done to deliver us from sin’s power in Romans 8:7-9? Also, why does Paul have to labor in Romans 7:14-25, using words of personal anguish to describe his struggle with sin? If God has defeated sin in us and removed our guilt, so that now “grace rules over us” in Romans 5:21 and Romans 6:14, why so many additional words about sin in the Christian’s life? Why not just declare victory and move on to the victorious love of God towards us in Romans 8:18-39? Why so much about sin in Romans 6 & 7?

 

The answer is surely because the Roman Christians needed to be reminded of the importance of persevering in the faith, and to hear the sober reality that this struggle in sanctification is indeed life-long! Moreover, they needed to hear Paul’s shocked question in Romans 6:1, to wake them up to the danger of a superficial view of sin and a cheap view of grace: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

 

And is this question not important in our day? Very rarely do we hear the pulpits in our land speak about sin or the Christian’s struggle with it. Even more rare it is to hear about the danger of sin, and the need to flee for refuge in Christ from the wrath to come! People are very rarely driven to confess with Paul in the words of Romans 7:24: “Wretched man (or woman) that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?…”! People love to hear sermons about self-improvement, but less so sermons about self-abasement! ‘Amazing Grace’ is a popular hymn, but many fail to notice that what makes that grace ‘amazing’ – is that it “saves a wretch like me.”

 

Meditate and Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, exalted to the right hand of your Father, we believe you ascended in order to pour out the Holy Spirit upon your church, and to send that Holy Spirit into the world in order to convict men of “sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8-11). Please send that convicting Spirit afresh upon our land, and even upon your church. Out of your sovereign good pleasure, cause us again to hunger and thirst for your righteousness, and drive us into the depths of your Law, so that we might know the blessing of a deep and abiding sense of our sinfulness, which will make our salvation all the sweeter. Amen.

 

Wed/Thurs: read Romans 6:1-14 and Colossians 1:13-14. How then are we to appreciate what Paul writes about the struggle of believers in their sin? How can God give us both the humble honesty to admit that our struggle with sin is a constant “war” and yet to boldly face sin day in and day out? The straight-forward answer is that we must reckon with the indicatives or facts of the Gospel every time we struggle with its imperatives. Take for example the imperatives which fill Romans 6:12-14: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God…” We may be tempted to say:  How can I accept these imperatives? I have tried to obey them in fighting against sin, and my heart quails when I see my sinful failures compared to these rugged commands! Well, dear brother or sister, take heart from the indicative in Romans 6:14 that rules over all our failures: “Sin does not and will not have dominion over us….”

 

Why? Because God has rescued us from living under that evil kingdom and “delivered us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13-14) – a Kingdom of grace, as Romans 6:14 concludes!

So, then, dear believer, when we sin now as Christians, it is grievous – but neither sin nor Satan can ever throw us overboard in the Christian life! We may stumble and fall in sin, as we sail on the ship of God’s grace (to use Charles Spurgeon’s picture), but we can never be lost overboard under the waves of death and sin which flooded our lives before! Christ is our Captain, and we will not be lost!

 

Meditate and Pray: Lord Jesus, thank you that there is an absolute security for us because of your protective Hand. When we sin, oh we grieve your Spirit within us, and our hearts break because of our sin. But thank you that your response is to say to us exactly what you said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32, in order to make sure that his (and our) faith won’t fail:

 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 

Friday: read Romans 6:12-14. When it comes to the lofty commands requiring us to reckon ourselves “dead to sin but alive to Christ Jesus,” it is so important to appreciate that the indicatives of the Gospel precede the imperatives! For example, Professor John Murray, in his great commentary on Romans, reminds us that,

 

The force of the imperative can be understood only in the light of the relation of the indicative to the imperative“Let not sin reign” – this is the imperative. And it flows from the indicative (“Sin does not have the dominion”). It is only because sin does not reign that it can be said, “Therefore let not sin reign.”

 

Meditate and Pray: Our faith rests on what God has done – the indicative facts of the Gospel! Because God has broken the dominion of sin in our lives, Paul can say with a certainty tied to God’s decisive breaking of sin’s hold on us – “Sin will not have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14). Our future is secure, and God’s sanctifying work in us will succeed, because we are now subjects of His Kingdom of grace!

 

Sat/Sun: read Romans 6:1-14. We sum up Romans 6 by citing God’s prior activity as the foundation of our holiness and freedom from the reign of sin. God has crucified us with His Son, (Romans 6:3-4), thereby putting to death our sin natures and breaking sin’s reign in our minds and hearts. Only then does he command us in verse 12 that we are not to let sin “reign in our mortal bodies.”

 

But you may wonder about Paul’s use of the picture of baptism in Romans 6:1-4. Is it when we are baptized that God crucifies our old sin nature? Is Paul actually saying in the last analysis that it is something we do in being baptized that provides us with the power and ability to resist sin and increase in holiness? In fact, there are dear brother and sisters whose view of baptism traces itself to this passage. There are churches that teach that one must be immersed in order to properly conform to Paul’s words about being “buried in baptism” here in Romans 6:3-4. Is Romans 6, then, about our commitment to God in baptism, as the motive for our efforts to live holy lives, or is it a baptism which God performs spiritually to rescue us Himself from the power of sin? An important question! We believe the answer is that Romans 6:1-11 is about our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, and not about mode of baptism. Listen to Rev. Bill Harrell in comments from 1995 on Romans 6:3-4:

 

“Focusing on Romans 6:3-4, the Apostle Paul is not in any way referring to the mode of baptism. In verse 3 the element into which we are baptized is not water but Christ Himself, and in verse 4 it is His tomb. Water has not served as a tomb for any but unbelievers in Scripture (e.g., the world in Noah’s day, and Pharaoh’s army). What the Apostle is speaking about is our multi-faceted union with Christ, as symbolized by our being baptized into His name.”

 

Meditate and Pray: It is the name of our triune God (Mt. 28:19), not the element of water which is emphasized. The fact of our being cleansed in God’s sight results not from our being drowned, but from our union with Christ by faith, whereby the cleansing power of His death and resurrection is applied to us by His Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice that God’s baptism of us spiritually brings us life and not death! Amen!