The Promise Realized
Let us quickly review five of the seven passages that attempt to summarize the content of the Bible. Seven passages that contain enough information, so that in an emergency situation like the one described in this book, a Christian could convert a non-believer and keep faith alive until death. The five summary passages chosen so far are:
- Genesis 1:1 – Creation
- Genesis 3:1-24 – God's promise to fallen man
- Genesis 11:27-12:7 – The person of the promise – historical
- Isaiah 53:1-12 – The person of the promise – spiritual
- John 3:14-16 – The promise revealed
Romans 6:1-14 — The Promise Realized
This passage is not actually part of the gospel message but rather a defense of the way God's promise to man was realized and worked out in a believer's life. Before examining it more closely, it is helpful to review the reasons why Paul had to actually provide this information.
Satan Attacks the Promise
We need to remember that it all began with a lie. The promise from God to send a Savior was made because Eve believed Satan's first lie.
"You surely will not die!" Genesis 3:4 – Satan seduced the woman with the promise of knowledge and an elevated position equal to God based on the false notion (on a lie) that not only had God lied to her about the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He did so out of selfishness (i.e. He did not want Adam and Eve to attain their full potential).
It is interesting to note that what the serpent (Satan) suggested, that Eve was missing out on knowledge and an elevated position, was similar to the things that he himself had, because of sinful pride, aspired to and for which he had been cast down by God:
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."
- Isaiah 14:14
"Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor."
- Ezekiel 28:17
His lie led to the fall of Adam and Eve, but in His judgment on them, God included a promise that the seed of woman (a person born of a woman without the participation of a man) would destroy the evil one thus freeing mankind from sin – Genesis 3:15).
Satan had seriously damaged man and the creation, but with His promise, God had limited that damage and set into motion the plan to ultimately redeem mankind. Because of this Satan now focused his efforts on the delay or the destruction of God's promise because its completion meant his own annihilation.
The history of the Jewish nation in the Old Testament: their wars, setbacks, times of glory as well as periods of wickedness and descent into idolatry, all of these tell the story of Satan's attempts to delay or destroy the people who were carrying forth God's promise of eventual salvation.
Once Jesus arrived (the promise born as a man), Satan continued in his lies to discredit or destroy Jesus Himself. From the temptations in the desert to His death on the cross, Jesus was subjected to unrelenting attacks by Satan and those he influenced. The resurrection of Jesus was the clear sign that Satan had failed, but this did not deter him from continuing his assault on Christ and those who believed in Him.
Not long after the gospel was preached and the church established, the pattern of obstruction and attempt to undermine began once again. We see Satan's aggression in many instances:
- The Apostles arrested, beaten and threatened not to preach the gospel – Acts 4-5
- The killing of Stephen – Acts 7
- General persecution of the church by the Jews – Acts 9
- Persecution and arrest of Paul – Acts 21-27
- General persecution of the church by the Romans – II Timothy 4:6
And yet, despite all of this, the church flourished and grew throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, to the point that today 2.4 billion people, 33% of the world's population, are believers.
The attacks on the church continue to this day as well. It is estimated that nearly 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution for their faith (opendoorsusa.org). This oppression occurs in mostly Muslim countries.
However, Satan's most dangerous attack is not against people or the buildings where they meet, but against what Christians teach and live by, God's word. This was the target of the first lie in the garden as the devil first cast doubt on what God had spoken.
"Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?'"
- Genesis 3:1b
This strategy continued throughout the history of the Jewish nation with false prophets and idolaters crediting their words and teachings as coming from God, when in reality they were doing Satan's work.
- From King Ahab's false prophets – I Kings 22:10-28
- To the prophets of Baal – Jeremiah 2:8
- Also evident in the New Testament: Bar-Jesus (Elymas) – Acts 13:6-12
The false prophets and teachers even infiltrated the church in an attempt to destroy it from within.
As far as Satan is concerned, destroying or compromising God's word in some way will succeed in stopping everything else because the promise is embodied, empowered and fully realized in and through God's word. In other words, destroy the Word and you destroy Christianity and everything it supports.
In the first century, the Bible mentions two groups that seriously threatened the unity and the spiritual peace possessed by churches of that era:
- Judaizers, whose false teachings were directed primarily at Gentile converts to Christianity.
- Gnostic teachers, whose false doctrines influenced all believers.
The Judaizers basically taught that you had to become a Jew before you could become a Christian, and if you were a Christian you were required to keep various parts of the Law of Moses. This required circumcision and the obeying of food laws and other ordinances not given by Jesus or the Apostles.
The Gnostic teachers taught that they had a superior gospel and if disciples followed them, they would be privy to their "hidden" or secret gospel and its practices that included restrictions on food and marriage. The idea here was that those following these leaders would no longer receive the teachings of Paul, a genuine Apostle chosen by Jesus!
When reading Paul's instruction in Romans 6:1-14, we recognize that he is responding to the two lies that were circling around the gospel at this critical time in the church's development, falsehoods that endangered the stability of young churches. One threatened to change how to respond to the gospel and the other actually tried to change the gospel itself!
Our sixth passage, Romans 6:1-14, destroys these two attempts to change or compromise and thus destroy the gospel's content or as Paul refers to it in Romans 1:16, the gospel's power.
Passage #6 — Romans 6:1-14
In this particular section of Romans, Paul is responding to a supposed question about the efficiency of God's grace and one's attitude regarding God's mercy.
His answer indicates that the question seemed to be the following, "If God's grace ever expands to cover sin at every level of gravity, why not sin all the more in order to cause more of God's grace to be manifested?"
The question demonstrates a nice bit of sophistry (false argument) as well as a misunderstanding of how both sin and grace work in real life and not just a play on words in a religious debate.
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.
- Romans 6:1-7
First, Paul repeats and rejects the premise of the question (more sin producing more grace). In his reply, he points to the response believers make to the preaching of the gospel: repentance and baptism.
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Peter describes what those who believed in Jesus were to do in order to express their faith, Paul explains the meaning of what they were to do in response to the gospel.
The Judaizers, who insisted that conversion was not complete without circumcision, were attaching salvation to a symbol that tied a person to the people who carried the promise forward until the appearance of Jesus Christ who was sent to fulfill the promise. That symbol and ceremony (circumcision) was no longer necessary or relevant because the task it represented was complete (the task: a people faithfully carrying the promise forward until the Savior came, and circumcision being the symbol that one belonged to that covenant people).
Paul explains that the new symbol and ceremony, baptism (immersion in water), now expresses a more complete truth received and activated by faith. In baptism, we receive the blessings realized by the coming of the promise brought into this world by the Jewish people through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that through baptism, a believer re-enacts the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He points out, however, that our symbolic physical death, burial and resurrection in the waters of baptism has, not symbolic but actual spiritual results that circumcision only pointed to but could never accomplish.
The original problem that the promise of God was sent to fix was the issue of sin. Since Adam, all were guilty of sin and condemned to eternal separation from God because of it (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
Even if man was aware of the effects of sin, he was helpless to avoid its consequences because his weakened spiritual nature could not overcome sin completely thus freeing him from its power, effect and consequences (Romans 3:9-12). Add to this mix the efforts of Satan to constantly lead the world into sinful behavior and thwart all sincere efforts to obey God and live righteously. The result was a world that knew what sin was and its consequences but helpless to eliminate or make restitution for it.
The good news that Paul preached and was explaining here was that Jesus offered His perfect sinless life through His death on the cross as a payment for the moral debt owed to God by sinful men and women. Once the debt was paid for and confirmed (i.e. the offering was acceptable to God: the resurrection – Romans 1:4), God now had a way to deal with sin that would bestow on imperfect people the gift and privilege of being united with Him once again. That manner, made possible by Jesus' cross, was a forgiveness received by faith, not a forgiveness produced by man's restitution… This was the GOOD NEWS!
Sins were forgiven in the waters of baptism because this is where the believing sinner expressed his faith in Jesus Christ.
- Faith was not expressed in circumcision as the Judaizers argued.
- Faith was not expressed in perfect obedience as the legalists and Pharisees claimed.
- Faith was not expressed in the discovery of secret knowledge or loyalty to certain church leaders as the Gnostic teachers taught.
- Faith was not expressed in severe treatment of the body, rejection of marriage and the making of vows as the ascetics then and now promote.
Since Pentecost Sunday when Peter preached the gospel for the first time after Jesus ascended into heaven, faith in Jesus Christ is the basis of our salvation which consists of:
- Forgiveness for sins so that we can become acceptable and thus able to come before God.
- We receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so we can live a faithful life in this world and after death be united with the Father and Jesus forever. The Holy Spirit joins with our spirit to enable these things (II Timothy 2:11-12a).
This section, among other things, was the teaching and response to every effort to change the gospel in any way. Paul explained what God's "promise," carried by the Jews, fulfilled and realized by Jesus and proclaimed by the Apostles, consisted of. He further taught how those who understood and believed the gospel were to respond, and described the very real blessings that those who responded faithfully would receive.
The second part of this section answers the question about sin and grace.
8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
- Romans 6:8-14
In this passage, Paul explains the true role of God's grace in a believer's life. Grace is not some kind of spiritual free pass that enables one to indulge in sin without guilt or consequences, as the question suggested.
In verse 14, Paul summarizes the entire passage by saying that we, Christians, are not under Law, meaning we are not judged by the Law (we are forgiven for all the offenses we committed in violation of the Law); in addition, we are not motivated or affected by the Law either. The purpose of the Law was to reveal sin and the punishment due for sin (Romans 3:19-20). As Christians we have been forgiven for all of our sins and consequently will not face condemnation nor punishment (Romans 8:1). This is how we are "not under Law."
Being under grace, on the other hand, meant that we are affected and empowered by grace.
A. Affected by grace
- It was God's grace that moved Him to make and send the promise (Romans 3:24).
- It was God's grace that offered salvation based on faith instead of Law (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- It is God's grace that moves God to bless us in this life with physical as well as all the blessings in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 1:3).
- It is God's grace that offers eternal life with Him and Jesus who sacrificed His life for us (Romans 5:21).
B. Empowered by grace
Unlike those who saw grace as something to be exploited for personal gratification, Paul explains that the opposite is true. God's grace exploits us to God's glory by enabling us to do the following:
- Walk or live in a new way (vs. 4).
- Break free from the grip or slavery to sin (vs. 6).
- Be naturally drawn to God rather than naturally drawn to sin (vs. 11).
- Willingly offer ourselves to God in worship and ministry (vs. 13).
- Live in freedom, protected and motivated by God's grace rather than feeling guilty and dreading death and judgment (I Corinthians 15:9-10).
Throughout history, human misery has largely been caused by three lies from Satan.
Lie #1 – God is a liar. Believing this lie broke the union between man and God.
Lie #2 – Satan is God. This lie perpetuated man's focus on himself and what Satan controls in this world. This lie perpetuates the darkness wherever it is believed.
Lie #3 – Jesus is not God. Whether it is outright rejection of Jesus as God, or the undermining of His word, this lie is constantly mutating and altering its form and its source (e.g. sometimes atheist college professors, sometimes clergymen, sometimes politicians). The end goal is always the same, to deny Jesus His rightful position as the divine Son of God made man with all authority in heaven and on earth, and to discredit or change the promise made to mankind by God by altering His word or giving it a different meaning.
No matter how one summarizes the Bible (seven passages or seven hundred passages), the end result should always be the same. God the Father sent His divine Son to take on a human body in order to offer His life in death as a payment for the sins of mankind. Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and express their faith in repentance and baptism will be forgiven, they will receive the Holy Spirit and will have the guarantee of eternal life.
We should note that Satan's plan of attack is simple:
DESTROY THE MESSAGE = DESTROY THE CHURCH