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



The Counsels of God and the Responsibility of Man


Introductory remarks to the Exposition to Romans

We should consider the difference between the counsels of God and the responsibility of man. The counsels of God have their accomplishment in the second Man, who is from heaven.   However, every intelligent creature has responsibility, and a believer more so than a mere child of Adam.

Purpose was before responsibility. It is a wondrous and blessed truth that God’s purpose and delight was in man – especially the Son of His love. Before the world existed, man was in God’s thoughts. Wisdom was there, and man occupied Wisdom’s (i.e. God’s) though and delight.

Human responsibility awaited the creation of a responsible creature (angels are different). This is seen in 2 Tim. 1:9, “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works [that is responsibility], but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality [incorruptibility] to light by the gospel, whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles.”

Hence when the Word became flesh, the angels acclaimed, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good pleasure [not merely goodwill] in men’ (Luke 2:14). God used the same word when He said, ‘in thee I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22) God’s purpose was thus in the second Man, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the Son of God’s love, and in those in whom His delight was associated with Him.

The purpose of God was not accomplished in the first man. That came with the second Man, who dealt with the whole question of man’s responsibility.

Let us look at the history of man:

First man was innocent. He failed, tested by the simple claim of obedience without an evil lust.   But he distrusted God, and listened to Satan. Man lost God; lust and transgression came in; man became afraid of God, and was driven out by Him. When Adam failed, no promise was made to him. No promise could be made to sinful flesh – only judgment. But the woman was told that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. That was Christ.

What prevailed afterwards was utter lawlessness: then the flood and judgment came upon the earth. God established restraint and authority in Noah, but he failed and got drunk.   Though individuals such as Abel and Enoch had been dealt with in grace, no new system of grace had set up. After the flood, man rose up in rebellion to make himself a name, but God confounded his language, nations were formed, and Satan introduced idolatry (a vague consciousness of God, deified ancestors, astrology and reincarnation). God was set aside; men put demons in His place, and clothed deified lusts with His name.

Then God called Abraham out from the world and revealed Himself, making him head of a family, both naturally and spiritually.   Grace was revealed: a free unconditional promise being given to Abraham. Abraham became the father of the faithful, this being confirmed by a figure representing the death and resurrection of Christ (Gen. 22). The promise and the seed were fully united in God’s revelations.

After this came another very important aspect of God’s dealings with the fleshly seed of Abraham – the giving of the law. It raised the question of righteousness, and required it from man.   The law provided a perfect rule for Adam’s children: blessing and life dependent on obedience. We know the result: the golden calf was made even before the tables of the law could be brought into the camp.

Finally God came into this sinful world in grace, beseeching men to be reconciled to Him. The promised son of David, son of Abraham came, and when He came, not only was there sin and lawlessness everywhere, but mercy had been rejected. The promise, and the promised One, had been despised. The tree was bad; and brought no true fruit to God. It bore only leaves, and it was judged for ever. God’s one beloved Son, was cast out and slain; God’s wedding-feast invitation was despised. God had come in grace, but Man had cast Him out in hatred. Sin was complete; man was lost.

Wicked hands had slain Christ, but it was according to the pre-determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The truth was, He had appeared at the appointed time to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.   The Lord met the consequences of man’s responsibility, bearing his sins in His own body on the tree. Propitiation was perfect; redemption was accomplished; and God was perfectly glorified in all that He is – love. In the cross of Christ (the second Man, the last Adam, the Lord from heaven), the foundation was laid in righteousness for the accomplishment of divine counsels in glorifying the redeemed,. Sins had been put away, and Christ being at the right hand of God, the righteousness of God was now on solid ground.

Thus we have these two great subjects before us: the responsibility of man and the counsels of God.


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

Darby Simplified – Freedom from Guilt and Freedom from Sin

Not only as believers are we to be free of guilt, but we are to know deliverance from the law of sin and death. We still have the flesh, its will and lusts, and in our own strength there is nothing we can do. But Christ’s death terminated that man. As a result we can be in newness of life, in the liberty of sonship. I am at liberty, because the sin I have discovered in my flesh has been condemned in the cross of Christ. Now by faith I am crucified with Him, and have a new place before God, after the cross, beyond Satan’s power, death and judgment. That place is liberty.

Fundamental Truth  – a Summary by Sosthenes on John Nelson Darby’s Article ‘Deliverance from the Law of Sin’.

To view the complete paper, click here.

 To download book (JND Collected Writings – Vol 32 Miscellaneous 1 – p323) – click here 

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby
. Not only as believers are we to be free of guilt, but we are to know deliverance from the law of sin and death. We still have the flesh, its will and lusts, and in our own strength there is nothing we can do. As a result of Christ’s death, the Christian can say, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom 8:2). As a result we can know newness of life and the liberty of sonship. I am free, because the sin I have discovered in my flesh has been condemned in the cross of Christ. By faith I am crucified with Him; I have a new place before God, beyond death, judgment and Satan’s power. That place is liberty.

Peace with God but not delivered from the Law of Sin

Some believers do not experience deliverance from the law of sin, even though they have peace with God. Deliverance from the law of sin and death cannot remain a theory.

Such persons are sure that they have been sealed; they are conscious of the Spirit’s dwelling in them, but are not delivered from that law of evil that works in the flesh. Of course there will always be conflict between the flesh. That will remain to the end, though perhaps in a more subtle form. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). If the truth of Christ is in the heart, we are aware that there is that which is not of Christ, and have sensibilities and moral feelings as to what is contrary to Him. He is the life of the new man; His grace is sufficient for us and His strength is made perfect in weakness.

The forgiven soul has liberty before God, peace and a purged conscience. In Rom. 5:2 the redeemed soul has a favour which is better than life (this grace wherein we stand).

Effect of Deliverance

Because of deliverance we have: –

  1. new relationships, and
  2. power over sin in the flesh.

Redemption brings us into a place of favour under grace, and delivered us, so we do not have to meet God in our own righteousness. This more than forgiveness and justification from guilt. It is the position of the new man. Many mix up the old man and the new. They have a true but sense of the riches of God’s grace; they enjoy forgiveness and eternal blessings. But that is not conscious sonship: in Christ, and Christ in them.

Why do we fail in practical deliverance from the law of sin? We enjoy liberty through grace, but we do not find sufficient power to resist evil. Now, the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection has closed all association with the first Adam’s place.   Law can no longer bind us: through God’s grace, we have new place and standing before God, based on redemption and divine righteousness – a place in sonship. Hence the Lord said, ‘My Father, and your Father; my God, and your God’ (John 17:20). We are in Christ before God, and, by the Holy Spirit, we know it. We know acceptance. Blessed be His name!

We are therefore in a new relationship. Death has put us out of relationship with all a living man is connected with – sin, the world, and all that is in it. That is what has happened to us if Christ is in us.

  • I look up. Christ (and I am in Him) is the very object and perfection of God’s delight, so I lack nothing; I am acceptable according to God Himself; I have nothing unacceptable.
  • I look Is all perfect? Though I earnestly love Christ, I find what displeases me, and even more so God. What is more, there is no excuse, for Christ is power as well as life.

Our responsibility as Christians is to walk here as Christ walked, manifesting the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh. The question is not acceptance, but holiness, or acceptableness. As partakers of the divine nature, His judgment is ours.

The Flesh is still there

But this leads us to the very point in question. We hate the evil, yet the flesh is still there. How far we are free from it, or how far it has still power in us? We may writhe under the cords that bind us, and yet not be able to break them and be free. We are so weak. But, being renewed, as born of God, we hate the evil, and strive to live free from it. We do not succeed. We learn that there is no good in us. We hate the evil, but it is too strong for us.

Now comes deliverance, through the working and power of the Holy Spirit, in the faith of what our blessed Lord has wrought. He not only bore our sins, redeeming us and clearing us from guilt, but He died unto sin. When Christ was made a sacrifice for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh. ‘He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21)

The hateful sin in me has been condemned in Christ’s death. So I reckon myself dead. The old man has been crucified with Christ. Of course I am not actually dead, but in faith I acknowledge this truth. The full result will be the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness, but the work has been done already.

The Old ‘I’ Gone

Up to this point, though I have been a quickened soul. as a child of Adam, I have been practically under the law. Now I have died with Christ, so as no longer to be a child of Adam. The old “I” of my corrupt and sinful nature, has died with Christ. I am delivered from the law, so that I reckon myself dead. There is no condemnation either – that was borne on the cross by the sinless One. We have not overcome ourselves: He overcame so that we might be delivered. So God pronounces, ‘Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3). Christ died and rose again; the Spirit now gives us the power of deliverance down here.

‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Cor.3:17). This liberty has a double aspect – liberty before God as a son and in Christ, and liberty from the law of sin in the flesh. I have a new place in Christ, in that I have died to the old Adam – and am now alive in Christ. Instead of dying physically, I have found a Deliverer, and I reckon myself dead, because Christ (who died) is in me as my life. The Holy Spirit gives me adoption, and the consciousness of being a son. The flesh may be still there, but I am not a debtor to it, but I am no longer a captive to the law of sin. On the contrary, Christ’s grace is sufficient for me, strength being made perfect in weakness. I am at liberty, because the sin I have discovered in my flesh has been condemned in the cross of Christ. Now by faith I am crucified with Him, and have a new place before God, after the cross, beyond Satan’s power, death and judgment. That place is liberty – liberty before God and from the law of sin. I am dead to sin, having died with Christ.

Romans does not go further than death, and Christ being our life. In Colossians, we are raised with Him, and are also dead to the world.

Christ’s work is so perfect, that we could, like the thief on the cross, go straight to paradise. But we are left here in the world, and have to do with the old man – the flesh, with Satan and with the world around. But we are free, redeemed out of the state and standing that we were in. As believers sealed with the Spirit, we are consciously sons in true liberty. But there is more still: when we have learned what it is to have died with Christ, the soul is set ‘free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom 8:2). As dead, we justified from sin – not sins.

A dead man no longer has a perverse will or evil lusts. But having the flesh we still have them. So unless we mortify the deeds of the body, an evil power is at work, giving us a bad state and weakened spiritual judgment. The flesh has does not answer to deliverance, and though we might have not lost the sense of our standing with God, and have liberty in one sense, our flesh works as if we had no spiritual power in Christ.

The Conflict

Now, in such cases, the remedy is not to deny our deliverance; Entangling our souls again in the yoke of bondage does not give us power. Slaves are not combatants, the yoke has to be broken. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Cor 3:17). Where there is liberty and spiritual power, there is also conflict. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal 5:17). Hence in Rom, 6:11, we are free, dead to sin, and alive in Christ to God.   Are we going to give ourselves to sin, or to God, to righteousness, the fruit being holiness, and the end everlasting life? (See v. 20-23). Our standing is perfect; our state no way so. How far do we live up to the life which is ours in Christ, through Christ in us? In 2 Cor. 4:10 we have, “Always bearing about in the body the dying [not the death] of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body.”

Our normal condition is to be ‘with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord’ (2 Cor. 3:18). We are changed into the same image; by faith we feed on Him in His humiliation as the bread come down from heaven; we live by Him; we abide in Him, and we grow up unto Him, who is the Head, in all things. Though the flesh is still here, the heart is elsewhere, so the flesh is inactive, it being suppressed by the dying of Jesus. A living body has its own will and acts according to it, but ‘If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.’ (Rom 8:10). Alas, we do not maintain this normal condition and God disciplines us, sometimes with a thorn in the flesh. We pass through temptations and snares, and pray constantly not to fail. But if we fail, we have an Advocate with the Father. Power is there in Christ for us; we are spiritually free. There is no excuse for failure – but we do.


A son is always a son and knows it, even though he may be a naughty, rebellious son. He can never be a slave, He is not under the law of sin, but he may be practically governed by it in his ways, because he is not profiting by the grace and power of Christ. The standard of his Christianity becomes frightfully low; he sees “no harm” in things which, in earlier times, he would have shrunk from – not because they were prohibited, but because the life and Spirit of Christ in him found no food or attraction in them. This is a sad state. The remedy, however, is not making him doubt of his adoption, but presenting the claim of Christ’s love to walk worthy of the calling wherewith he is called.

It is important to understand that deliverance in the sense of known relationship with God, is different from deliverance as having died and having been risen with Christ. In the first it is the place we are in, in the latter it is the experience of walking in power as belonging to that place. Though the flesh is in us, we seek grace and strength from Christ. We can do nothing without Him.

Deliverance from the law of sin is the normal Christian state. We know the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and the power of the Spirit of God. We have true liberty: that is based on Christ’s once dying to sin, and for sin. See Romans 6 and 8. Grace is sufficient for us; our strength made perfect in weakness (we know that); so that there is no excuse for us to sin, even though the flesh is still in us.

Until we have learned that, we do not get freedom. Freedom is the portion of every Christian taught of God. We have strength for it in looking to Christ.   The Lord is so gracious!