Holiness and Victory Over Sin #12
by Karl Kemp 9/20/2011 / Bible Studies
Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you. We ask you to show us anywhere and everywhere that we are misunderstanding the gospel. We want to rightly divide your Word; we want to understand it; we want to live it; for your full glory and for our full good. We ask in Jesus' name with thanksgiving. Amen!
We discussed Rom. 5:1-17 in the last broadcast. Today we'll start with verse 18 and finish the chapter. What we say today builds on the last article. I'll quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Frequently I'll make comments in the middle of quotations using [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.
Romans 5:18. "So then as through one transgression [Adam's] there resulted condemnation to all men [We were all born under Adam and under the penalty for his sin. That penalty - that condemnation - included spiritual death and bondage to sin.], even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." There is widespread agreement that the "one act of righteousness" refers to the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. He went to the cross bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties to save us and to overthrow the devil and his kingdom. He bore our sins with the guilt and the penalties, very much including the sin of Adam with the penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin, so we could be forgiven and get out from under those penalties. Forgiveness is provided because He bore our sins with the guilt. The new birth and victory over sin are provided because He bore our sins with the penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin.
"even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." For one thing, the "justification of LIFE" overthrows the "condemnation" of spiritual DEATH and bondage to sin. Those who submit to God's new-covenant plan of salvation by faith receive the "justification of life." They are justified by God, using the word justified in the very full sense we have discussed already; that is, we are declared righteous; spiritual death and bondage to sin are dethroned; we are born again; and we are made righteous by the imparted righteousness of God. We have the "justification of LIFE." We are born again and have spiritual life; now the Spirit of LIFE dwells within us. We have righteousness and holiness; now the Righteous, Holy Spirit dwells within us, and He enables us to walk in the very righteousness and holiness of God.
Christ died for all, and salvation is offered to all, but many reject God's offer of salvation. We must submit to God's new-covenant plan of salvation with repentance and faith to be saved.
Romans 5:19. "For as through the one man's disobedience the many WERE MADE SINNERS [As we have discussed, Adam's disobedience resulted in the spiritual death and bondage to sin of all his descendants - we "were made sinners."], even so through the obedience of the One [the Lord Jesus Christ, the last Adam] the many WILL BE MADE RIGHTEOUS." The obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ certainly includes His atoning death here, but it need not be limited to that "one act of righteousness." His whole life was one of obedience - He never sinned! "even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." We are born again and made righteous with the imparted righteousness of God; the very Righteous, Holy Spirit dwells within us. He enables us to be righteous and holy as we walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis through faith, a faith that is based on God's Word.
Some Christians believe that the words "will be made righteous" here mean only that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us and that we are forgiven and have a right standing with God. I believe that viewpoint is a serious misunderstanding of the gospel, and that it significantly distorts the gospel. Adam's DISOBEDIENCE resulted in the DISOBEDIENCE of his descendants; we "were made sinners." The last Adam's OBEDIENCE results in the OBEDIENCE and righteousness of those who become united with Him through new-covenant salvation. "And He Himself bore our sins [with the guilt and the penalties] in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed" (1 Pet. 2:24).
Romans 5:20. "The Law [the Mosaic Law] came in so that the transgression would increase...." The Mosaic Law intensified the sin problem. For one thing, it was more serious to transgress God's commandments, after they had been given, than it was to sin against tradition or conscience. Also, the Law tended to arouse the desire for forbidden fruit. I'll read several cross-references that will help us understand what the apostle Paul meant about the Law increasing transgression. Romans 4:15, "for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there is no violation." Romans 5:13, "for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (We have already discussed this verse.) Romans 7:5, "For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law [the Mosaic Law] were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death." Romans 7:8, 9, 11, "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law [the Mosaic Law] sin was dead. (9) And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came sin became alive and I died.... ... (11) for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (We will discuss Romans chapter 7 verse-by-verse when we finish Romans chapter 5.) And I'll quote one last cross-reference that deals with the Mosaic Law's increasing transgression for man in the flesh (for man in spiritual death), 1 Corinthians 15:56, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law."
Now I'll start to read Rom. 5:20 again, "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase...." What good could come from transgression increasing? For one thing, God used the Law to help people see that they were sinners in desperate need of new-covenant salvation. Most people are very slow to see their sin, but God used the Law to help force sin out in the open, so that we could see our need for the Savior. See Rom. 7:13 where Paul shows that through the Mosaic Law sin became "utterly sinful." As Paul shows throughout Romans chapter 7, man in the flesh, man in spiritual death, man who has been sold into bondage to sin, cannot be saved by the Mosaic Law. We must be saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, including the believers from Old Testament days.
Now I'll read all of Rom. 5:20, "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." The saving grace of God in Christ abounded to fully solve the sin problem. Spiritual death and bondage to sin have been dethroned and God manifests His righteousness in the hearts and lives of Christians as they walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis by faith (a faith that is based on God's Word). And, eventually, the saving grace of God in Christ will take us to a place much higher than what Adam had before the fall.
Romans 5:21. "so that, as sin reigned in death [As we have seen, all of Adam's descendants were born into spiritual death and in bondage to sin - sin reigned in the realm of spiritual death.], even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life [or, unto eternal life; or, resulting in eternal life] through Jesus Christ our Lord." The saving grace of Christ reigns in the hearts and lives of Christians as we walk by faith, and spiritual death and sin are under our feet. Where the saving grace of Christ reigns, the righteousness of God is manifested in the hearts and lives of Christians. We can also say that the righteousness of God reigns instead of sin reigning. I'll read Rom. 6:18, "and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." And now that the sin problem has been solved, and the righteousness of God is manifested and reigns in our hearts and lives, we are ready to stand before God, and we will inherit the fullness of eternal life at the end of this age. We are born again now, but when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, we will be glorified and inherit the fullness of eternal life. What a salvation plan! What a Savior!
I'll read one last verse that is an important cross-reference for Rom. 5:21, Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace." Now, instead of sin reigning in spiritual death, the saving grace of God in Christ reigns in our hearts and lives, and the righteousness of God is manifested in our hearts and lives. The Mosaic Law (or any other law) could not dethrone spiritual death and sin and make us righteous with the imparted righteousness of God. In fact, as we have seen, the Mosaic Law intensified the sin problem.
I'm going to read a paragraph from my book that I have under Rom. 5:19, We need to take very seriously the effects of Adam's sin (the fall of man); however, we must also see that men still have a free will to some extent, and (in general) they are responsible before God for their actions, including their priorities, attitudes, motives, etc. All will be judged according to what they believe and what they do, according to their works (see, for example, Matt. 16:27; 25:1-46; Rom. 1:18-3:20; 14:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12, 13; 22:11, 12). I doubt that Adam's sin will even be mentioned at OUR judgment. Each person is especially responsible to repent and submit to God and receive His offer of salvation in Christ Jesus (see, for example, John 3:16-21; 6:29; 14:6; Acts 4:12)."
That concludes our verse-by-verse discussion of Romans chapter 5; now we'll go on to a verse-by-verse study of Romans chapter 7, which is another very important chapter that deals extensively with the topic of holiness and victory over sin. First I'm going to turn to my paper titled, "The Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 and Righteousness and Holiness: This Paper Deals Extensively with the Interpretation of Romans Chapter 7 by the Early (before AD 500) Christian Writers, and it Includes Many Excerpts from These Writers." An abbreviated version of the paper is located on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). You could get a copy of the original version of the paper by contacting me.
I'm going to read most of the lengthy introduction of this paper. This paper builds on and supplements the verse-by-verse study of Romans chapter 7 on pages 104-116 of my book. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of rightly understanding Romans chapter 7.
Many evangelical Christians in our day (about half) understand Romans chapter 7 to teach that Christians cannot walk with the victory over sin during this present age. This widespread viewpoint has done great damage to the Body of Christ, obviously undercutting faith for victory over sin to one degree or another. But victory over sin can only come by grace THROUGH FAITH, through Christ's atoning death and resurrection, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
At the outset of this paper, I want to make it clear that I know that there are many sincere, godly Christians who (from my point of view) misinterpret Romans chapter 7. It's not hard for some to misinterpret this passage when this has been the dominant view in certain segments of the Body of Christ for hundreds of years. Another factor that has lent itself to a misinterpretation of this passage is the low level of righteousness and holiness that has often existed in much of the church. I don't want to be perceived as attacking, or insulting, or showing disrespect for other Christians. I want to do everything I can do to promote true unity in the Body of Christ (but unity in the truth, especially the truth of the Christian basics; and unity in righteousness and holiness, not unity in sin), and I want this paper to be a blessing to the Body of Christ.
Some Christians, because they have so many other things right, and because they really are trying to make God and His will top priority, haven't been affected too much by their wrong interpretation of Rom. 7:14-25. Nevertheless, it stands true that the misinterpretation of this passage has done tremendous damage to the cause of righteousness and holiness in the Body of Christ. I believe it's time for many Christians to prayerfully reconsider their interpretation of Romans chapter 7. It's my prayer that this paper will help some toward that end.
The most common view of evangelical Christians in our day regarding righteousness and holiness is that the most we can hope for is to be progressively sanctified, thereby decreasing the amount of sin as time goes by, but never gaining the victory over sin as long as we live in this world. A major source for this inadequate viewpoint, which doesn't permit Christians to have faith for victory over sin, is the misinterpretation of Romans chapter 7. It's true that Christians must continue to grow throughout their lives in Christ, but the New Testament typically speaks of Christians being sanctified, abiding in a state of holiness, not of holiness being an elusive goal that is never reached in this life. I'm not talking about some way out absolute perfection; I'm talking about Christians, including Christians young in the faith, walking according to God's Word and by His Spirit in a reasonable way, and living for God as His born-again children in faithfulness, by His sufficient grace through faith.
Tremendous damage to the cause of righteousness and holiness in the Body of Christ has also come through the widespread misinterpretation of 1 John 1:8. Based on my studies, some eighty to ninety percent of Christians (including evangelicals) understand 1 John 1:8 to teach that Christians cannot stop sinning in this life. More misinterpret 1 John 1:8 than Romans 7:14-25, but the misinterpretation of Romans chapter 7 is quite a bit more serious since it spells out the Christian's supposed bondage to sin in much more powerful terms. Galatians 5:17 is another verse that has often been misinterpreted, but it hasn't caused as much damage as the misinterpretations of Romans chapter 7 and 1 John 1:8. These verses are all discussed in my book, starting on page 194. We have already discussed Gal. 5:17 in these articles, and we will discuss 1 John 1:8 in some detail.
Many Christians who do not understand Romans chapter 7 to teach that Christians cannot quit sinning in this life have, nevertheless, been significantly influenced by the wrong interpretation of these verses, since it has been such a powerful force in lowering the Christian standard from any idea even close to walking in the righteousness and holiness of God. One manifestation of this fact is that whenever any Christians (like John Wesley or Charles Finney, for example) came on the scene teaching victory over sin in Christ, they were attacked with Rom. 7:14-25 and 1 John 1:8. A major, widespread capitulation to sin (to one degree or another) has taken place. The most widespread viewpoint, even among evangelicals, is that it is totally unrealistic, and unbiblical, to think of Christians not sinning. Based on what I have read of the writings of the ancient Christian church, we have lowered the standard for righteous living substantially below their standard. The quotations included in this paper from ancient Christian writers should suffice to demonstrate that point. The standard we must follow, of course, is the biblical standard; but we must understand what God's Word actually says.
One of the major manifestations of the fact that something is wrong with our present standard of righteousness and holiness is that we so seldom hear the words repent and repentance in the Body of Christ in our day. I'm speaking of repentance at the time of conversion, and of repentance for Christians. Coupled with this is the major problem of the out-of-balance teaching about God. We hear so much about His love, but we don't hear much about what the Bible says about His wrath. It's no wonder there is so little fear of God in so many Christians in our day, but the Bible, very much including the New Testament, makes it clear that it is necessary for us to have a proper fear of God. We should be afraid to sin against Him.
We don't need more condemnation in the Body of Christ, and thank God for forgiveness, but we do need more transformation to the righteousness and holiness of God. We must be open and honest before God to recognize and acknowledge our sin; we must be quick to repent; and we must make victory over all sin (by God's grace) a top priority item - God knows our hearts. Anything that God considers to be sin in our life is a serious matter; but on the other hand, we seriously confuse the issue when we call things sin that God doesn't consider to be sin (and this happens quite a bit).
We desperately need to make righteousness and holiness a top priority item, but we must understand that we receive and walk in God's righteousness and holiness by grace through faith (a faith based on God and His Word, His Word rightly divided), otherwise we'll just be striving in the flesh. We need all the grace that God has made available to us to defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil with his demons, including the grace that comes through other Christians. We don't need excuses for sin derived from misinterpretations of God's Word; that certainly will not work for good. It may make a person feel a little better about themselves for a while, but the heart/conscience of true Christians will never be satisfied while sin continues in us, or in the church - at least not if the Bible says what I think it says - and I'm sure that it does.
As a Christian young in the faith, I was often confronted with Romans chapter 7 by Christians sincerely trying to help me. I was frequently informed that I must be misunderstanding Romans chapter 6 and Romans chapter 8 (and other passages of Scripture) if I thought that the apostle Paul was actually saying that Christians are called to walk with the victory over all sin. They told me that Romans chapter 7 proves that it can't be so. I could not begin to count all the times I have been told that Romans chapter 7 proves that Christians cannot stop sinning throughout the last forty years. Many Christians believe it is deception and even heresy for Christians to believe they could ever stop sinning during this age. They are saying this, at least the primary reason sincere, Bible-believing Christians are saying this, because they believe it goes against the Bible (Romans chapter 7; 1 John 1:8; and Gal. 5:17, for example).
We often hear that all Christians sin daily in thought, in word, and in deed. But is this what the Bible really teaches? I don't think so! Back then (starting in 1964) I got motivated to (prayerfully) study the entire topic of righteousness, holiness, and victory over sin, very much including the interpretation of Romans chapter 7. I have been studying this topic more than any other ever since. What I have found is good news, very good news! What I am sharing in this paper is good news, very good news!
The key issue is whether the apostle Paul was speaking as a non-Christian or a Christian in Rom. 7:14-25. Was he speaking as a Christian when he said, for example, "For the good I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish" (Rom. 7:19)? It is significant, for one thing, that the dominant viewpoint of the early Christian writers up until the time the very influential Augustine changed his viewpoint (about AD 410), was that Paul was not speaking as a Christian in this passage. He was speaking for unregenerate mankind (those not born again). This was Augustine's earlier viewpoint, but in his later, anti-Pelagian years, he came to favor the viewpoint that Paul was speaking as a Christian in Rom. 7:14-25. Augustine had intense conflict with Pelagius in his later years.
It is very significant, however, that Augustine made a very substantial qualification to this interpretation. He said that if this passage deals with Christians, it speaks only of Christians having wrong thoughts and desires, which the Christians resist and fight against by the grace of God in Christ, not of Christians actually sinning. Even though the later viewpoint of Augustine was clearly wrong - Paul was not speaking as a Christian in this passage, and this qualification doesn't begin to fit what Paul said in this passage - if the Christians who believe this passage deals with Christians included this qualification, their interpretation would not hinder Christians from walking with the victory over sin.
Augustine mentioned that he was influenced by other Christian writers in coming to his new viewpoint. The three Christian writers that I am aware of who were early enough to have influenced Augustine all included the very substantial qualification that Augustine included. Methodius (about AD 260-311) probably was one of the writers who influenced Augustine; he was the earliest Christian writer that I am aware of who understood Rom. 7:14-25 to deal with Christians, and he clearly included the qualification. Not only did he include the qualification, but the excerpts from him in this paper also demonstrate that Methodius was strong on victory over sin for Christians. The only other two Christian writers who understood Rom. 7:14-25 to deal with Christians, who were early enough to have influenced Augustine that I am aware of, were Epiphanius (about AD 315-403) and Gregory of Nazianzus (about AD 329-390). They both included the qualification. Even though those brethren from long ago substantially qualified their interpretation that Rom. 7:14-25 was dealing with Christians, they (and especially Augustine, because of his great influence) opened a door that should not have been opened, and it was bound to happen that some would find it rather easy to drop the qualification, or greatly modify it. Many doors must be kept shut; you open them a little and eventually end up being shocked and overwhelmed with what comes into your tent/house/life.
There may be some Christians in our day who understand Rom. 7:14-25 to refer to Christians who include the important qualification that Augustine included, but I'm not aware of any. I'll repeat the qualification. These early Christian writers said that these verses speak of Christians having wrong thoughts and desires, which they resist and fight against by the grace of God in Christ, not of Christians actually sinning. I should mention that some Christians in our day believe it is sin for Christians to have wrong thoughts and desires. It's quite clear that these things are undesirable; they're part of the old man that hasn't been annihilated yet, and won't be annihilated until Jesus returns and we are glorified. But I believe the New Testament makes it clear that wrong thoughts and desires, when resisted and fought against by Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit, are not sin. They are part of the Christian's warfare, which we are supposed to win by God's sufficient grace. We win by not sinning. See Rom. 6:11-14; 8:4, 12-14; and Gal. 5:16, 17, for example. (We have already discussed these verses in these articles.) These verses speak of Christians not sinning as they, by the Holy Spirit, deny the old man the opportunity to manifest itself in sin. The wrong desires and thoughts of the old man may be there on occasion; that is the cause for the warfare spoken of in Gal. 5:17, for example; but that in itself doesn't constitute sin.
Some Christians believe that the Lord Jesus Christ taught that if a Christian has a lustful thought, he has already committed a serious sin, even the sin of adultery. I believe that is a serious misunderstanding of what the Lord said. We are about out of time, but let's take a quick look at what the Lord said in Matt. 5:27, 28. I'll read from the New King James Version, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus was speaking here of a man who looks at a woman to lust for her, for the purpose of lusting for her. That is very different than a Christian having a lustful thought and turning his head rather than look at a woman with lust, very different indeed. I should also mention that Jesus spoke the words of Matt. 5:27, 28 in a context where He was making the important point that He had not come to lower the standard of righteousness that God had established under the old covenant, but rather to raise the standard through His saving work.
We'll come back to the interpretation of Romans chapter 7 in the next article. We thank you Holy Father for the truth. We want to know the full truth, the balanced truth of what your Word teaches.
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.