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)


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 7 – Released from the Law

That law as applied to the inward man.
That in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing (18)
That the old man has died so we can say, ‘When we were in the flesh’ (5).
That it is not I; (because I hate sin having being renewed); It is then sin in me
That it is too strong for me.
So I stop trying to be better, and look for a Deliverer instead. The Deliverer is Jesus. Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

RomeIn Romans 7 we have the distinction between a soul under law, and a soul in life with a risen Christ. We have the soul’s experience being quickened and renewed in its desires and delights, but not knowing deliverance. It does not understand that it has died with Christ, and is now connected with another – Christ risen from the dead. The description of the deliverance follows, and we have the condition of the delivered soul in Romans 8.

Having been crucified with Christ, we are free from law. The law has power over a man as long as he lives. This is illustrated by the case of marriage, and the law or bond of husband and wife, which lasts evidently as long as one lives, and no longer; the survivor is free to be to another when the other is dead.

We are delivered, being dead to the law, by the body of Christ. (See v.4). Death puts an end to our legal obligations, but of course we have not died actually: Christ has died for us.   Now we are united to Him in resurrection, so we can bear fruit to God in the power of life.

Because Christ has died, we do not stand before God as Adam’s children. We can therefore say, ‘when we were in the flesh’ (v.5); clearly we could not say that if we were still in it. When we were in the flesh, and hence the law, our sinful acts brought forth fruit unto death. If a child is told that something is forbidden, he or she is apt to desire it even more. A disobedient child only pushes harder against the obstacle opposed to him. This leads to actual sin unto death.

Romans 6 gave us the doctrine of our old man being crucified with Christ. Romans 7 gives are connection as children of Adam with law and our But deliverance from it. As life in which we were connected with the law has ended, the bond which attached us to that life does not exist any more. Instead, we are connected with a risen Christ, serving in the newness of spirit, not in the legal oldness of letter. We cannot have two husbands at once.   Christ, not the law, is now our life and husband, and we have power to bring forth fruit to God, something that the sinful flesh could never have. We just cannot have the law and Christ together.

The law does not condemn our nature or treat us as lost, but it does make us conscious of our state – what we are. Was it the fault of the law, that sin had dominion over us? No, it was sin and lust, and these things were condemned by the law. Sin deceived us, and killed us. The law said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ (v. 9) We may not be criminals – we have not murdered, stolen, or committed adultery; but who of us has never lusted, or coveted? If we claimed not to have lusted, we would be saying that we were not children of Adam. It is important to stress that we are not speaking of sinful acts, but of our sinful state; not forgiveness of sins, but of deliverance from sin. It is not what we have done, but what we are. We discover the sinful source in us – that there is no good there – a humbling discovery! We cannot make a child of Adam good, he has to be born again.

Because of the law, we have the knowledge of sin: without it, sin was dead. When the commandment came, I felt my guilt, and death came upon my conscience. I was a living child of Adam, unconscious of sin, but when the law of God forbade lust, my conscience was affected, and I died under its judgment. Whereas the law said to me, ‘Do this and thou shalt live’ (Luke 10:28), I took up the law, thinking I had power to be good and righteous by it. I could not, as sin showed itself to be in opposition to, and in transgression of, God’s holy, just, and good will. So the law killed me.

We now have the expression ‘οἴδαμεν γὰρ – We know’ (v.14). This is a technical expression for the Christian’s knowledge. I have learnt:

  1. That law as applied to the inward man.
  2. That in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing (18)
  3. That the old man has died so we can say, ‘When we were in the flesh’ (5).
  4. That it is not I; (because I hate sin having being renewed); It is then sin in me
  5. That it is too strong for me.

I cannot do what I want to do – indeed, I do not know how to do it. I desire to do what is right, but good never comes. That is not the Christian state.

But I have light from God. The law is spiritual but I am carnal, a slave to (or sold under) sin. I consent to the law that it is good; I have knowledge of sin, but I do what I hate.

But, thank God for His grace: I have a new man, a new life, and I can treat sin as a stranger, even though it dwells in me. Now the renewed man comes out – the positive will to do good – I delight in the law of God in the inner man – that is more than consent. But still I have no power: I cannot do good. There is another law in my members, a constantly operating power of evil bringing me into captivity, even though against my will.

Poor wretched man! But (immense advantage) I know it. I know my real state: I know there is no good in my flesh, and that I have no power. I am just like the poor man at the pool of Bethesda: he desired to be healed, but did not have the strength to get healed. (See John 5). So I stop trying to be better, and look for a Deliverer instead. The Deliverer is Jesus. Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The difference in me is immense. The power of the flesh has broken, and I have no thought of being in the flesh before God. Even though the evil flesh is still there, I am not in Romans 7 any longer. Christ has set me free. ‘So, then, I myself with the mind serve the law of God; with the flesh, the law of sin(v.25). This leads me to Rom 8:1, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ Romans 8 develops this further.

A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans

Darby on Romans 6 – Dead to Sin, Alive to God

Walking in the path of obedience to Him, the soul is delivered evil – will and lust – which is not obedience. We grow in the knowledge of God and in intimacy with Him. We cannot do this in our own will. But we live more in His things, and that is holiness: that is more than obedience. But that is the gift of God. The path to it is the path of obedience and holiness, but itself is the gift of God. Death is the wages of sin; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. The gift of God is nothing less than eternal life. God gives it to us.

RomeIn Romans 6 we have the practical consequence of deliverance from sin. in the first part of the epistle (Rom. 1:18; to 5:11) we read nothing as to practical conduct. The guilty sinner is cleared, but nothing is said as to our consequential conduct. The conclusion of Romans 5 is that by one Man’s obedience we have been made righteous, and that, by having part in Christ’s death, we have part in this righteousness.

But having part in death (that is, dying) is, of course, not the way to live. How shall we who are dead to sin live in it any longer?  By our profession of Christianity, we are baptised unto His death, the old man being judged and crucified. Now as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father (God’s power), so our life is to be a new resurrected one.

Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin’ (v.6). This means that sin as a whole is annulled or rendered powerless: it has closed its existence. ‘He that is dead is justified from sin’ (v.7). Here it is not here sins or guilt: a dead man may have to answer for his sins, but he cannot sin: he does not have evil lusts nor a perverse will. However for us, the power of death has been destroyed by the resurrection of Christ. He came to take our place as sinners and deal with the question of sin: He died to sin, once for all. On the cross sin was the question – He was made sin. Now He is risen; He dies no more; death does not have dominion any longer. Now He lives and lives to God, sin having been done with for ever, to the glory of God

In His life down here Jesus served God perfectly. He lived by the Father, having Him always before His mind. Before He died on the cross, He had to do with sin – though He was sinless.   Sin was all around Him: it grieved Him; He was a Man of sorrows because of it, and He had to be made sin for us. In love He manifested God; as Man come to do God’s will, when fully proved to be the sinless One Himself – who knew no sin, he hath made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). But now He has done with it for ever. Now He is risen into a new state as Man: in thought, object, and life, He lives to God. Now everything serves God’s glory. Though the flesh is always the same, the life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies (see 2 Cor 4:10). This is what the true Christian state is.

So we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God through Him, our old man being crucified with Him. We are not physically dead, but have a new and free life, alive to God, not through Adam, but through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is not that we never sin or lust; but we do not let sin obey its lust: we walk in the power of a new life. Instead of being slaves to sin, we hold the reins, and yield our members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Sin does not have dominion over us any longer, because we are not under law, but under grace. Being under law leaves us under the dominion of sin. What we need is freedom from the bondage of sin; for the law forbids sins, but gives us neither the life nor power to obey it. But under grace we have the power, sin having no dominion over us. The power comes from on high, so we are set really free, and can give ourselves to God willingly and freely. Shall we sin because we are not under a law which forbids it, and which curses us if I do it? God forbid!

Now Paul returns to the Gentile condition. If we yield ourselves to sin, we are its slaves. Even without law, death and the consequent judgment of God, were the appointed wages of sin.   But now we are alive to God, and that must involve obedience. Christ was the obedient Man: His Father’s will was the motive of everything He did. He lived by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. (See Deut 8:3). His path was practical righteousness, and He was the pattern of it. So the apostle thanks God that, whereas they had been slaves of sin, they had obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine that had been delivered to them (v.17).

It is the obedience of faith. As we receive the word of God into our hearts, we are linked with the life-giving God. It is the true life of Christ, the obedient Man. As free from sin, we yield ourselves to obey, becoming ‘slaves’ to righteousness. [Note that JND uses the word ‘slave’ here, whereas in the Darby Bible he uses the word ‘bondman’. A ‘slave’ is someone bought and owned by another. A ‘bondman’ on the other hand, is someone who was a slave, been given the opportunity for freedom, and has decided to remain for life in the service of their Master.]* Hence it is true liberty: we were fruitlessly wasting our members as slaves to uncleanness and lawlessness. Now we freely yield our members to be slaves to righteousness. The blessed result is holiness, our hearts separated to God, knowing Him, the soul brought into His image. ‘And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him’ (Col 3:10).

This is the general doctrine: Christ having died, we reckon ourselves dead as if we had died. We have died – we have been crucified with Him, and, as Christians, we do not consider the flesh to be alive any more. I speak of all that has happened to Christ as if it had happened to me, because He is become my life, and I live by Him. I am a son whose father had not only paid his debts, but made him a partner in a business. He speaks of ‘our capital, our connections,’ though the son brought nothing into the business, everything having been done and acquired beforehand. We have therefore a living association with the Lord. It is neither ascension, nor union, nor resurrection with Him, but the death of the old man, and a new life in Christ with freedom from being slaves to sin. This is the full answer to the allegation that, having righteousness in Him, we have license to sin. Instead of sin reigning in our mortal bodies, having dominion over us, we enjoy subsisting power.

Walking in the path of obedience to Him, the soul is delivered evil – will and lust – which is not obedience. We grow in the knowledge of God and in intimacy with Him. We cannot do this in our own will. But we live more in His things, and that is holiness: that is more than obedience. But that is the gift of God. The path to it is the path of obedience and holiness, but itself is the gift of God. Death is the wages of sin; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. The gift of God is nothing less than eternal life. God gives it to us.

A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s  Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans

* Acknowledgments to ‘Underground Theologian’