How can a man be just with God? – Romans 1-8

‘How can a man be just with God?’ (Job 9:2). This is the great question in Romans. In the first eight chapters of Romans we learn the answer. Sinners want justification.

There are two aspects of justification, so there are two parts to Romans 1 to 8.

Justification ‘from sins’ – clearing me of my old state,’ (Rom 1:1-5:11)
Justification ‘of life’ – putting me into a new place before God. (Rom 5:12-8:39)

JohnNelsonDarby

How can a man be just with God?’ (Job 9:2).  This is the great question in Romans.  In the first eight chapters of Romans we learn the answer.  Sinners want justification.

There are two aspects of justification, so there are two parts to Romans 1 to 8.

  1. Justification ‘from sins’ – clearing me of my old state,’ (Rom 1:1-5:11)
  2. Justification ‘of life’  –  putting me into a new place before God. (Rom 5:12-8:39)

 

Part 1 – Justification from Sins

Chapter 1

The first thing we see in this epistle is that it concerns God’s Son Jesus Christ’ (See v. 3).  It is not primarily about ourselves.  Romans is about the claims of Christ, the ‘author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him’ (Heb 5:9).  People have lost sight of that.

In chapter 1 we see why justification is needed:  ‘The wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness’ (v. 18).  That is wrath against the sinner, because ‘all have sinned, and come short’ (Ch. 3:23).  It does not say ‘of what we ought to be’, or ‘of the law’, but ‘of the glory of God.’  The glory of God involves the light.  In Christianity we must walk in the light, or we can have nothing to do with God.  It is as simple as that.  God is in the light; He has not hidden Himself behind a veil.  We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light, and even become ‘partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col 1:12).  Justification makes us fit for that.  Christ’s work in grace fits us for glory.

Two things are found in the first four verses: promises and revelation.

  1. People rest on promises. But the promises are fulfilled by Him. ‘For all the promises of God in him are Yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us’ (2 Cor 1:20).
  2. God’s righteousness is revealed because there was none in man. ‘Therein [i.e. in the glad tidings] is the righteousness of God revealed’ ( 17).   Faith receives God’s righteousness, whereas the law claimed righteousness from man. The gospel is the righteousness of God.

Chapters 2 & 3

In chapter 1 the righteousness of God is revealed; in chapter 2, we have the proof of this; in chapter 3, having been brought under sin, we are given righteousness.  ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets’ (v. 21).  The Lord our righteousness was witnessed in the prophets who were under law.  However, He is now manifested without (or apart from) law.  Righteousness is ‘through faith in His blood’ (v. 25).  God sits as a Judge, and man is brought before Him and found guilty.  The penalty is death. But the death of a sinful man could not glorify God.  Only the death of Christ alone glorifies Him, and through it He puts away the sins of the old man.  Now we see how God makes a new man.

Under the old system the law required man to establish his own righteousness. ‘The law entered that the offence might abound’ (ch. 5:20).  It is not that sin might abound, but the offence.  The law not only made sin more manifest, but also aggravated its character.  The authority of God was despised, not because of the offence, but because of the people’s disobedience.  In ch. 2:12, what is translated sinned ‘without law,’ is the same word (ἀνομία – anomia) as in 1 John 3:4, ‘transgression of the law’ – (KJV) or ‘lawlessness’ – (Darby and others).’  The Day of Atonement was necessary:-

  • The scape-goat – ‘Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many’  (Heb 9:28) – Part 1 above (sins)
  • The sin-offering – ‘He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb 9:26) – Part 2 (sin).

The blood of the sin-offering was sprinkled on and before the mercy-seat.  This is now the ground of God’s invitation to the sinner.  In Leviticus 16, the sins of Israel were confessed over the head of the scape-goat.  For us, Christ has died, and the blood is on the mercy-seat.  Now I will be received if I come to Jesus.  Not only has the Lord Jesus put away my sin, but He has borne all my sins, and confessed them as if they were His own: they are all gone.  My sins are forgiven: past, present and future.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4 we have, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin’ (v. 4).  A man is faultless before God if Christ has made atonement for him.  The first part of Romans, referred to above, has to do with sins and the remedy – Christ dying for our sins.  (In Part 2 below, it is sin and the remedy, my dying with Christ).  This whole work was settled on the cross, resurrection making it complete.  In this chapter it is justification by faith.  ‘If we believe in him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (v. 24).  We are justified, and Christ’s work is ratified.

Unless we see Christ in resurrection, we do not have the assurance of being justified. ‘If Christ is not risen, ye are yet in your sinsif in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable’ (1 Cor 15:17,19).

Chapter 5 v. 1-11

Chapter 5 begins, ‘Having been justified, we have peace’ (v. 1).   We get past, present, and future:

  • Justified, as to the past
  • Having peace with God, and standing in the favour of God, as to the present
  • Rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, as to the future.

What more can I want?  I may have all sorts of trouble, but what a mercy it is that God sees me as righteous!  In God’s eyes I am a righteous man.  Now I can boast in tribulation, knowing that this leads to patience, experience and hope (see v. 3).  I am not ashamed ‘because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’ (v. 5).  I can rejoice, too, in God Himself (before whom, in ch. 3:19, I was guilty, and my mouth stopped).  Not only do I know myself, but I know God as well – God in His own absolute goodness.  Knowing that everything is settled, and that I am reconciled, I have peace.  Peace is deeper than joy: I may have joy, but not yet know myself reconciled.  The prodigal had some joy when he left the far country, but he did not have peace till he met the Father, and learned what is the Father’s heart was toward him.

Foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified!  No creature power can break that chain of five golden links, for it is purely of God.

 

Part 2 – Justification ‘of Life’

Chapter 5 v. 12-21

From chapter 5:12, we come to man’s condition.  Adam ruined us all.  We are now dealing with the state of the race, not of the individual.  I have a nature away from God, and without the knowledge of the grace of God, I would be driven to despair. But grace has put away my sin.

Even if I know that my sins are forgiven, I can be extremely troubled because of the sin that is in me.  The remedy is not in the fact that Christ has died for my sins, but that I have died with Christ to sin.  I am a sinner because of Adam’s disobedience.  However by the obedience of One (Jesus) I am made righteous, with no condemnation: ‘There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (ch. 8:1).  If that is the case, can I live as I like?  ‘No’, the apostle says, ‘You have died.’  How can I live in sin if I am dead?  I am justified; I have life.

Sin is never forgiven. but condemned. ‘God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and by a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin, in the flesh’ (ch. 8:3).  Sin is got rid of by death.  If a man dies, that is the end.  Adam received a commandment, and lived so long as he obeyed it.  But from Adam to Moses there was no commandment or law, and death reigned over those who had transgressed.  We find no forgiveness there.

Chapter 6

In Romans 6, I am dead and justified from sin.  I reckon myself dead.  I have had enough of ‘I.’  Now Christ is ‘I’.  ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal 2:20).  In Romans I am cleared from what I was as a child of Adam, and get the privileges of a child of God.  I am perfectly free: what am I going to do with myself?  I was once a slave to sin: now I am to yield myself to God.

Chapter 7

In chapter 7 we have the same principle applied to law.  We have died to the law by the body of the risen Christ, so now we are connected with Him in resurrection.  We cannot have both the law and Christ. ‘We are delivered from the law, that being dead by which we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (v. 6 (Darby).  The law isn’t dead; I am dead.  The law is the jailer; I am the prisoner.  The mistake people are making is that they are killing the jailer instead of the thief.  The jailer is not dead, the thief is.

In chapters 2 and 3 we saw what a man does.  In chapter 7 we see is what he is.   Many Christians do not know what verse 7 means – ‘When I was in the flesh’.  It is my previous state.  This chapter is experimental, not just a doctrine.  We must learn the truth not merely as a theory, but experimentally.  I can say that my sins are forgiven – that is doctrine, not experience, but if I tell you something about myself, that is experience.  It is not just that I have done bad things, but I have found by experience that ‘in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing’ (v. 18).

In Romans 7 the soul learns three things:

  1. That in himself, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing ( 18).
  2. That the flesh is not himself (he is not in the flesh) – he hates it ( 15).
  3. That the flesh is too strong for him, and he cries out for deliverance. ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ ( 24).

As to the flesh, there is no question of forgiveness.  I do not forgive an offending power; I want deliverance from it.  The more spiritual I am, the more I shall see the infinite value of the cross.  I keep the cross before myself in faith, and hold it the to the flesh (because I am not in the flesh, otherwise I could not do it).  That is what ‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body’ means. (2 Cor 4:10)

I have to learn what sin is.  Christ, who has met the consequences of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, becomes the tree of life to me.  Now, in Romans 5:1-11, I learn what God is in love to the sinner.

Chapter 8

Now in Chapter 8 I learn my condition as a believer with God.  The new man in Christ Jesus is in a higher place: God is for me, and I can say, ‘Abba, Father’.

Glory is certain through the promise of God. ‘Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified’ (v. 30).  The whole chain is there, from beginning to end, and depends on His faithfulness in keeping us.

 

Summary by Sosthenes

Based on   How are we Saved? Romans 1-8Collected Writings vol. 21 (Evangelic) page 193

April 2016

 

 

Darby on Romans 1:18 to 3:20 – All have sinned – the Heathen, the Moraliser and the Jew

Judgment falls on all men:

On the heathen – Rom 1:18-32
On the moraliser – Rom 2:1-16
On the Jew – Rom 2:17-3:20

Rome

There are two great themes of the glad tidings:

  • The revelation of the Person of the Lord Jesus, the Deliverer, the Son of God claims the obedience of faith
  • The righteousness of God on the principle of faith forms the ground on which man could have a part in blessing through grace and God’s purpose.

In Rom 1:18, Paul turns to what makes this righteousness of God necessary to us: God reveals a positive righteousness on His part. ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.’ This is a most important principle. It is not governmental wrath, such as Israel suffered when taken captive to Babylon – God was still hidden behind the veil. Instead it is God Himself fully revealing Himself according to His own nature, abhorrent of evil, exercising wrath against it. God’s nature is incompatible with evil and ungodliness. Wrath was revealed from heaven; Gentile, Jew, men in every condition, come under the judgment

Judgment falls on all men:

 

The Heathen

The heathen Gentile is condemned for disregarding God’s testimony in creation (see v.19-20) and because of his not retaining God in his knowledge (v.21).   He dishonoured God by imaginatively turning the glory of the incorruptible God into images of men, birds, beasts, and reptiles. So God gave them up too: they degraded themselves in vileness as they had degraded God in idolatry. Yet they were aware of the judgment of God.

 

The Moraliser

God’s testimony in creation rendered moralisers such as Socrates inexcusable. They did the things they judged and thus incurred God’s judgment. Doing evil and judging others was not the way of escaping God’s judgment. They despised God’s mercy which would have led them to repentance, thus heaping up wrath on themselves for the day of judgment. This is not dispensational government on those near or those far off, but God revealing His judgment of evil because of who He is.

Here the light of Christianity is thrown on the grounds of judgment. When Christ is revealed, evil is dealt with. The Jews may have a special advantage, if they have sinned under law, they will be judged by law. God is God, and evil is evil, whether in a Jew or a Gentile, for there is no respect of persons with God.

As well as law and natural conscience, obedience to the truth becomes the moral test of man. Hence, in Rom 2:7-8, we have what Christianity has brought to light (glory, honour, immortality and eternal life) ; and in v. 9-10, we see tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, but glory, honour, and peace on every soul of man that does good – first to the Jew, then to the Greek.

God deals with realities: a godly Gentile was more to His delight than an ungodly Jew, despite the privileges of the latter. The doer of the law would be justified, not he who had and broke it. Conscience shows what is right and wrong, so where there was no law, conscience becomes the law to a man who not under the law of Moses, man having got the knowledge of good and evil by the fall.

Even without law, conscience knows it is wrong to murder or steal. But there is a difference: law imposes a rule by authority – God’s authority; conscience, on the other hand, takes notice of right and wrong in itself, as God does. ‘Man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:22). Hence the secrets of men’s hearts are judged: men come out such as they really are, however much they try to hide things. As a result they that had sinned without law would perish without it.

 

The Jew

From Rom 2:17-3:8, the apostle deals with the Jew. The truth is the same truth, but it the converse of what Paul had said of the Gentile. A Jew who boasted in the law and broke it was as bad as the heathen who had none: the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles through him. He was a Jew who only was so inwardly; whose heart was circumcised in spirit, not in letter; whose praise was not of men, but of God. (see v.29)

We come now to a very important principle in the ways of God: where there was no renewal of heart one was not agreeable to God, despite what the Jew pretended., As the Jew had the scriptures, ‘the oracles of God’ (Ch. 3:2), his privileges added to his responsibility. The apostle recognises the Jews’ privileges, but their unbelief would make the faith – the faithfulness of God – of no effect. God would be true if every man were a liar: He would fulfill His word. He was the more glorified through man’s unfaithfulness, He would judge the evil, otherwise He would not be able to judge the world at all. It is a general principle that man’s unrighteousness proves God’s righteousness in judgment. The Jews’ falseness made God’s faithfulness to His promises more glorious, so that he had not to find fault or reason; but simply says, ‘whose damnation is just (Ch. 3:8).’

 

All have sinned

Though the Jews had advantages, they were no better than the Gentiles.   Both were under sin. The Jew boasted that the scriptures were for him, and for him alone. So the apostle says that we know that what the law says, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (See Ps 53:1). The Gentiles were sunk in corruption and idolatry; the Jews were the privileged race, having the oracles of God, but they disbelieved. The Jew was condemned by his own plea, as the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

When tried, None without exception was righteous; none had any spiritual intelligence; none sought after God, none did good. There may be amiable characters (there are even amiable animals), but there was not a single heart seeking or fearing God. Every mouth was stopped, and all the world was guilty before God: the Gentiles were lawless and reprobate, working uncleanliness with greediness, the Jews were condemned out of their own mouths by the law in which they boasted. Sin was everywhere.

In this we have the proof of that state which gave occasion to the wrath of God revealed from heaven.

 

 A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans , with additional material from the Synopsis.

 

Darby on Romans – The First few Verses of Romans

The glad tidings have a double character:

The accomplishment of promise
The Person of the Son of God designated in power through resurrection.
That divine power, which raised Him from the dead, and proved Him to be Son of God, was manifested throughout His life in the holiness which never allowed sin to enter for an instant. He was quickened by the Spirit (lit. in Spirit), but His holiness, separation to God, was by the Spirit also. Resurrection was the public demonstration that He was the Son of God in power, having secured the victory over the full wages of sin. The opened eye would have seen the same power in the absolute and perfect holiness all through His sinless life.

Rome Paul’s Commission to preach the Glad Tidings

Paul had never been to Rome, so he is writing from the point of view of his universal mission to the Gentiles. He reasons out the gospel: the state of man, the place the law held, and the Jews’ position. :

The Lord had called him and given him a personal mission to the Gentiles. He was an apostle by God’s calling, separated to the gospel out from the whole human race.  He was directly connected with Christ in glory   He was a witness of the glorified Lord Jesus, unconnected with the Messiah down here or Jesus after the flesh in His earthly (Jewish) associations.  Paul witnessed to a Christ who had suffered death and accomplished redemption, and who was now the glorified Man, the Beginning and Head of creation.

Paul was sent forth into active service by the Holy Spirit from Antioch. ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’ (Acts 13:2)   He received his commission directly from the Lord, and was separated to the glad tidings of God by the Holy Spirit.

The glad tidings have a double character:

  1. The accomplishment of promise
  2. The Person of the Son of God designated in power through resurrection.

The divine power, which raised Him from the dead, proving Him to be Son of God, was manifested throughout His life of holiness.  He was quickened by the Spirit (lit. in Spirit), but His holiness, never allowed sin to enter for an instant. Resurrection was the public demonstration that He was the Son of God in power, having secured the victory over the full wages of sin.   The opened eye would have seen the same power in the absolute and perfect holiness all through His sinless life.

God, in His goodness, approached man in grace. God came to him. This is the true gospel of God.  He came in power and grace, into the place where sin and death reigned.  He is the Son; He has power to deliver, but above all He is the Son of God. Grace made Him a man, but resurrection proved Him to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness. There is One revealed to us in perfect grace, but who in grace has a perfect claim over our souls.

He is from God. In the Person of the Son, God accomplished His promise, and secured victory over death.  His righteousness is revealed, meeting the need of man. This is the general aspect: man’s responsibility and man’s need will follow. But we must first have the gospel as it is for God and before God, though all in grace to us.   God has Himself brought in grace and glory.

As Romans is foundational, the testimony that Christ is Son of God is resurrection, not glory. His ascension is assumed as is the church’s, but already in resurrection God had put His seal on Christ’s Person and His work, redemption having been accomplished, sin atoned for, death overcome and Satan’s stronghold brought to nothing. The whole case between man and God had been met and established  on a new ground.

In Romans some things are not gone into:

  1. The glories which result according to the counsels of God
  2. Our resurrection with Christ
  3. Union with Him (which follows our resurrection with Christ)

Individual justification, not union is the subject of Romans. The assembly is not even presented.  Christ is viewed as risen alone.  Romans does cover our death with Him, because this was necessary to close the old evil, and bring us into a state where we are capable of living with God as fully delivered.

Paul’s mission concerned obedience to the faith (not the law) and the subjection of men’s souls to the truth of the revelation of God’s Son, the risen Man, the Lord Jesus. This can only be in grace, for grace could not come without truth, for what would grace be about, and how else should God be revealed? But God is light, and God is love – we know these in grace and truth.

What marvellous grace it is to see the whole power of evil broken, destroyed, by Him, who was willing to enter into the gloomy chamber of death. In submitting to death, He took upon Himself all the weakness of mortal man,  completely and absolutely delivering him.

There was no difference between Jew and Greek.  To the Gentile it was the revelation of God in grace; to the Jew it was the fulfilment of the gospel that had been announced beforehand by the prophets.  It was now a time to secure people for His Name.

Now we have Paul’s own feelings for those in Rome.  The believers already in Rome were the called of Jesus Christ, beloved of God, and saints by His calling.  The love of Christ made those he had not even seen the objects of his heart, and precious to him.  He expresses his desire to see them. He is apostle by right, but in heart he is their servant; and with the most true and ardent brotherly love, desires to impart t some spiritual gift, but in unfeigned grace he would be comforted in their mutual faith.  He was a ‘debtor to Greeks and barbarians’ (v.14) and he was ready to preach the glad tidings to them. It was ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (v. 15). It was salvation to a sinful Jew, who had to come in in mercy, by faith, just like a Gentile.

He was not ashamed of the glad tidings; they were ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (v. 15) – simple words, but how much they contain!  It is not man acting for God, but God acting for man, in man’s favour, to deliver him from the state he was in – to save him.  How marvellous is the grace that sees the whole power of evil broken, destroyed, by Him, who was willing to enter into the gloomy chamber, taking upon Himself all man’s weakness in death,  completely and absolutely delivering him whose penalty He had borne!

Thus, in the gospel, God intervened, accomplishing a salvation which was entirely His own work.   Man came to have part in it by faith without adding anything whatsoever to it.  God be praised that it is so!  Whether for righteousness or for power,  it is a perfect divine work.  The righteousness of God is revealed on the principle of faith to faith. Nothing had to be done by man; nothing was required from man. It is on the principle of faith that it might be by grace. The object is love, God’s intrinsic nature. God’s righteousness was revealed on the principle of faith, not works. The just were to live by faith.

 A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, with additional material from JND’s Synopsis – Romans.