This Week’s Reading Schedule
Monday, May 7: Romans Overview
Tuesday, May 8: Romans 1-3
Wednesday, May 9: Romans 4-6
Thursday, May 10: Romans 7-8
Friday, May 11: Romans 9-11
Next week we will return to the Hebrew Scriptures to begin the histories with 1 and 2 Samuel.
The overall year’s plan is here.
If Romans 4 were the only chapter in the Bible, it might be possible to justify the common doctrine that a person can live however they want and go to heaven. That would be one possible interpretation of Romans 4 by itself.
But Romans 4 is part of a letter that gives a context to Paul’s argument. We have seen, and will see further, that Paul talks about faith alone when he is talking about our coming to Christ, the beginning of our faith, our "past tense" salvation. When he talks about eternal life and heaven—our "future tense" salvation—judgment according to works is mentioned.
Excursus on Faith, Works, and Semantics
To be fair, most people who teach that a Christian can go to heaven by faith alone, no matter how he lives, also teach that faith will automatically produce righteous living in a person, whether out of gratefulness or divine influence.
Practically, however, we all know that not everyone who claims faith in Christ lives righteously. I’ve met not just a few, but many, who are living in works of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21 and who expect to go to heaven despite the fact that they are completely unrepentant about their sin.
Further, in a number of churches of which I’ve been a part, church leaders justified such behavior, saying things like "They’re saved by grace not works" or "You’re not the Holy Spirit; don’t judge them."
They justify this by saying that Galatians 5:19-21, when it says that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God, really refers to "experiencing kingdom living here on earth."
This is not some fringe teaching. Everywhere that "eternal security" is taught, this bizarre interpretation of Galatians 5:19-21 (and thus 1 Cor. 6:9-11 and Eph. 5:5 as well) is taught.
This false teaching has spread so far that I sat in a Sunday school class once and listened to three couples tell my wife and I that Jesus didn’t mean it when he said that the Father wouldn’t forgive us if we didn’t forgive others (Matt. 6:15). I listened to the popular pastor and preacher, Charles Stanley, explain on the radio that there’s two kinds of forgiveness, one for experiencing God on earth and one for going to heaven, and Jesus only meant the former.
Let me make this practical for you and for me.
Romans is very clear that we enter into Christ by faith, apart from works of any kind. Even after we come into Christ, we live by his life, his grace, and his Spirit. It is "by the Spirit" that we put to death the deeds of the body.
But does this happen automatically, or do we have to make choices, some of them very hard to make?
When we get to Romans 6 and Romans 8, we will see that Paul talks about being freed from sin by the power of grace. He talks about being dead to ourselves and alive to Christ.
But we will also see that over and over we are told to put forth our own effort to be obedient to the Spirit, or in other words, to walk according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh. As Paul puts it in Galatians:
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (5:25)
This concept is not difficult to see, not even in Romans and Galatians. What is difficult in the modern age is to feel free to use apostolic terminology in expressing what the apostles say.
It is a rare church that would tolerate your teaching that God gives eternal life to those who pursue immortality by patiently continuing to do good. Yet Paul said exactly that in Romans 2:6-7.
It is a rare church that would tolerate your teaching that we are justified by works and not faith only, yet James said exactly that. It won’t matter that you explain what you mean. In modern Protestant churches, you simply are not allowed to say what James said.
It is a rare church that would tolerate your teaching that you must not grow weary in doing good if you want to reap eternal life, yet in context there is no question that Paul said exactly that.
When we learn to speak scripturally, we will learn to believe scripturally. When we have taboos against statements that can be found repeatedly in Scripture, we will never believe scripturally.
Have you ever heard that we are not to add to our faith because we are saved by faith alone? I have. Often. That is not only unscriptural, it is an exact violation of the command in 2 Pet. 1:5 to add virtue (and a lot of other things) to our faith.
Most of modern Protestantism fears tradition. You must not choose tradition over the Word of God, even if it gets you defamed, as it got Christ defamed.
You must also heed the warning that Scripture gives. You cannot relax and coast along. Like Paul, you must discipline your body daily (1 Cor. 9:27), sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8), and so obtain the prize (Php. 3:9-15).
Back to Romans 4
With all that in mind, let’s not miss what Romans 4 is giving us. What a glorious prize to obtain! That the Lord God Almighty would not impute sin to us! We can follow the faith of Abraham, who took God at his word and left his homeland, and David, who believed God so much he stood up to Goliath, and enter into a life of grace.
This is truly salvation. Formerly, we were powerless over sin and hopeless of mercy. Now, we can obtain a covenant relationship with God, in perfect standing with him, and have God continually cleanse us where we fall short.
If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from every sin. (1 Jn. 1:7)
It may seem like I’m bringing things into Romans 4, but notice that Paul says in 4:16, "It is by faith, in order that it might be in accordance with grace" (NASB).
We have learned what grace is. Grace breaks sin’s power over us (Rom. 6:14). It teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly (Tit. 2:11-12).
Grace is for everyone. It is by faith, Paul says, so that it might be by grace, so that not only those who have the Law might be justified (4:16).
Paul begins Romans 5 on the same subject he was on in Romans 4. Don’t let chapter breaks throw you off. When you start a chapter after a break of a day or two, it’s good to read the end of the chapter before so that you’re back in the context of the writer.
Through faith we obtain our introduction into grace, and it is grace which saves us (Eph. 2:8) and grace by which we stand (Rom. 5:2).
This chapter has my favorite example of the past tense/future tense dichotomy in Paul’s writings:
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv. 9-10, NASB)
Our justification apart from works is tied to Jesus’ death and blood. Our salvation from the wrath of God, in the future, at the judgment, comes through his life.
Please don’t misunderstand. While Paul and James (and the other apostles) are not afraid to use the "works" word in regard to heaven, and neither should we, our good works are the produce of Jesus Christ living his life through us. Struggle and strive on your own, without complete dependence on Jesus Christ, and you will create a whirlwind of self-effort that will suck you down into despair.
I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2:20)
Because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who by God is made wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption for us. (1 Cor. 1:30)
Eternal Life and Individual Terminology Among Apostles
Romans 5 ends by saying:
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (vv. 20b-21, NASB)
We have already seen that Paul speaks of eternal life as something that will be rewarded to us in the future. When he speaks of the life of God in us on earth, he just calls it life.
The apostle John, whose writings we have not looked at yet in this Through the Bible plan, uses eternal life differently. He speaks of eternal life as the current possession of the believer (Jn. 6:47), and he even refers to Jesus as eternal life incarnate (1 Jn. 1:1-2). We’ll talk more about the difference between the two usages when we get to John’s letters and Gospel.
For now, suffice it to say that a common mistake in interpretation that Protestants make is trying to fit John’s terminology into Paul’s letters. It doesn’t work.
Thus, when Paul says, " … grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life … ," he is giving us a progression. Grace reigns in us, displaying itself in righteousness, and resulting in eternal life.
Romans 6:22 says it almost exactly that way:
Having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification [holiness], and the outcome, eternal life. (NASB, brackets mine)
But let’s get to Romans 6:
There’s not much to say here. We’ve clarified this so much on the way here, even quoting several verses from it, that it ought to speak for itself.
First, this chapter should have put to rest all the false doctrine we talked about above.
Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (vv. 1b-2, NASB)
The first eleven verses of this chapter are something that all great saints of God have internalized. There is no other way to a life of holiness. You must understand your identification with Christ. You have died with him, you were buried in baptism, and you were raised with him to a new life that he lives through you. He is your life!
For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4).
One note about holiness:
Holiness means separation. To be holy is to be set aside for the purposes of God.
For the most part, none of us really understands what that looks like. Our ideas of holy are almost certainly all wrong. The only way for us to attain to a real holiness is to let the Spirit of God live through us. That doesn’t necessarily look clean and pristine. It might mean spending time with sinners, homosexuals, and prostitutes and being accused of being a drunk, which is what happened to Jesus.
Here in Romans 6, we really see the synergy of divine, miraculous salvation and human effort and obedience. These two verses are perhaps the best example:
Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might bedone away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. (v. 6b, NASB)
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you should obey its lusts. (v. 12, NASB)
Let me once again remind you that the difference between "free gift" and "gift" in Romans (in most translations) is that "free gift" translates charisma and "gift" translates dorima.
"Free gift" is really a redundant term. All gifts are free. So some translations render charisma as "gift of grace" because the Greek word for grace, charis, is the root word of charisma.
I like "gift of grace" because I believe the difference between the two is that a charisma is a gift that changes the recipient. The spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 are charismata (plural of charisma).
I mention all this because eternal life is called a charisma in v. 23. To me, this says that when we receive eternal life at the judgment, we will be utterly transformed. To the early Christians, those who wrote immediately after the time of the apostles, this was a central idea. They looked forward to the time when they would become immortal, which to them made them gods. (We flinch at the word "gods," but they didn’t. They referenced John 10:34-35, where Jesus says that the Scriptures "called them gods to whom the Word of God came.)
Some, though, like to use this to argue that eternal life, given out at the judgment is a "free" gift, which they argue means that God does not require us to be worthy of it.
Eternal life is a gift, given out to those who obtain grace and its fruit, holiness, and the result of holiness, which is eternal life (v. 22). This does not mean that we are not required to be worthy of it.
If a boss at a company hands out bonuses at Christmas, and the most important and beneficial employees get the highest bonuses, while troublesome employees get little or none, does this make the bonus any less a gift? It was not due. The employee could not demand it. It was freely offered, and nothing new was asked of the employee to receive it. It was free.
Eternal life is a gift, but it is given to the worthy:
You have a few names, even in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. (Rev. 3:4)
Jesus, who was the author of that letter to Sardis, apparently knew nothing about the doctrine that we cannot be worthy of eternal life.