Within Romans, Paul addressed an ancient human urge that can be captured by the expression, “I want to have.” In chapter 1 such desires erupted as idolatrous rebellion against God. For Paul, sin is not merely an activity that a person might step into and then out of, rather he treats it as an enslaved spiritual identity.
Grace figures predominantly in how God righteously saves us. An illustration can help us review while also preparing us to survey the next few chapters.
Imagine a young child living in a tribe inhabiting houses erected on stilts. Now visualize that child at about 3 years of age mischievously or impulsively pushing the family pet off the house platform. While there might be a sense of this being wrong, it is only after a parent says, “Do not push our pets off,” that this action becomes a disobedient transgression.
Now imagine the tribe acquires a teaching source depicting American urban living and etiquette. Everything from technology to restaurant practices is outlined. This teaching source can only convict the tribe that they are not urban. It does not empower them to be urban. With their minds they might seek to live as Americans, however their geographical and cultural realities remain tribal.
Later when the child becomes an adolescent, an urban American extends the gift of adoption to provide a new identity, new customs and resources. This young tribesman has been freed / rescued from the governing influences of his former culture. Receiving all of the necessary resources to empower an urban lifestyle, will the adoptee conform to his new identity? He needs to let go of his old self dominated by his tribal culture if he will live with his new reality.
If someone were to interpret this analogy as suggesting urban living is superior to tribal, that would completely miss the point. My purpose involves priming our minds to think about spiritual reality in terms of identity and influences in order that we might hear Paul.
In chapter 5, we learn that Adam ushered in a new reality for humanity, namely sin reigning through death. Humanity has been trapped in experiencing death because all have sinned, whether this be sinning in the same manner as Adam’s disobedience or not.
However, the gospel reveals Christ ushered in a new reality for humanity through his obedience. He made possible the reign of grace through righteousness leading to eternal life.
The greater one’s entrenchment within sin, the greater the gift. Even though sin increases grace, those in Christ should not continue in sin. The reason for this is because they have been freed from their old humanity defined by its enslavement to sin. Furthermore, they have now entered into the new reality Christ brings defined by serving righteousness. All of this occurred when they were joined to Christ’s death by being buried in baptism, followed by being raised to newness of life.
With this change came a change of masters. Freed from sin’s reign, the reign of grace enables them to serve righteousness resulting in holiness and eternal life.
Being joined to Christ’s death has not only freed them from sin but also from the governance of the Law, whose presence increased sin (3:20; 4:15; 5:13,20). The reason why they are freed from Law is so is because the Law only governs the living, whereas they have died with Christ. Thus they entered a new way of living, the way of the Spirit.
This makes it sound as though the Law is sinful. Is it? No.
While it is true that the Law identified sin through such commands as “Do not covet,” the culprit is sin which utilized the Law to awaken every type of illicit desire. Accordingly the commandment itself is holy, albeit it convicts and is powerless to impart life.
Through the rhetorical technique of prosopopiia, Paul replays the drama of someone experiencing the tortured existence of living in the flesh. The Law arrives awakening sin thus empowering death. While the Law itself is holy, it reveals what sin is thus condemning him. Although he seeks to serve God, he discovers the Law is incapable of imparting life. Rather, he sins. Who can rescue him? Jesus Christ!
Whereas the Law was weakened by the flesh, Jesus frees people from sin and death empowering them to live in the new way of the Spirit. Jesus is the means by which God enables those in Christ to fulfill the Law’s righteous requirements.
Thus people can either live in the flesh or by the Spirit. Those in the flesh cannot please God. Those who live by the Spirit are not in the flesh. They pursue the things of God and the Spirit of Christ dwells within them. Although their bodies die, they have life in the Spirit and are children of God.
Already in chapter one we learn humanity subjected creation to a futile use. In a dramatic scene, Paul now depicts the pains of birth. Creation groans to become free from its decay to share in the glorious freedom of God’s children. Those in Christ await their bodies’ redemption. Everything is not yet as it ought to be or will be, but hope inspires patiently waiting. The coming glory far outweighs the current struggle.
God’s overarching purposes rooted in love cannot be thwarted. God’s children are more than conquerors through him who loved them.
The first Romans overview was: The Gravity of Grace (3): Overview of Romans 1-5