‘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)
Part 1 – Justification from Sins
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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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 sins… if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable’ (1 Cor 15:17,19).
- 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’
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.
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.
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:
- That in himself, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing ( 18).
- That the flesh is not himself (he is not in the flesh) – he hates it ( 15).
- 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.
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