Issue #676 -------
September 25, 2015
Good, to forgive; Best, to forget;
Dying, we live; Living, we fret.
Robert Browning (1812-1889)
In his epistle to the Roman brethren, Paul makes a statement that has caused some degree of speculation, the understanding (or misunderstanding) of which has also led to doctrines and dogmas boldly proclaimed and perpetuated by a number of disciples of Christ. That statement is found in Romans 6:7, which reads, "For he that is dead is freed from sin" (KJV). The question that has arisen in the minds of many is: What is meant by the term "dead" in this passage? We will come back to that, but first we discover from the text that the result of this death is the blessing of being "freed from sin." The Greek word here translated as "freed" is "dikaioo," which means "to be acquitted, cleared, freed, vindicated; to be declared just and righteous; to stand approved and accepted." The point Paul makes to his brothers and sisters in Christ is that they have been cleared of sin and freed from its power over them. They are now regarded by the Father as just and righteous, and thereby accepted by Him into an intimate relationship with Him. This Greek word in Romans 6:7 is a perfect passive indicative, which means the person stands having been set free, based on a past act, from the power, guilt and consequence of sin. Dr. A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, makes note of this Greek construction and says this term means "to stand justified; set free from." That past act, that secures our freedom, is stated in the text to be DEATH. Because one has died, that one is now free. This, in fact, is one of the primary teachings of Paul in this chapter (as well as throughout this epistle). Notice the following two paragraphs from Reflections #617 ("Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality"):
Look at the context of Romans 6. Read it carefully. What is Paul talking about in this passage? Is he building a theology around baptism in water? Is he declaring this rite to be THE precise point of contact with the blood of Jesus Christ? Is this passage from the pen of Paul, as some claim, about baptism?! Far from it. Indeed, the rite of baptism in water is entirely incidental to his primary message; it is only mentioned in passing. Paul's point is: "you have been set free from sin" (vs. 18, 22); "we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (vs. 2). "Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (vs. 6-7). "Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin..." (vs. 11-13). "Sin shall not be your master" (vs. 14). As those who have been set free in Christ Jesus; as those who are washed in His blood; as those who are cleansed -- we are now called to reflect that reality in our daily lives. As recipients of His grace we are to be reflectors of His holiness. Returning to a life of sin should be unthinkable to those who are now set free from it. Thus, in this chapter, Paul twice asks: "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" (vs. 1-2). "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" (vs. 15).
By virtue of His grace and through our faith, we have received the blessing of being united with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection (vs. 5). "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" (vs. 3). What is the significance of this death? Paul gives us the answer: "The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God" (vs. 10). In our spiritual union with our Savior, we also have died to sin that we might live "in newness of life" -- i.e., lives of purity and holiness, reflecting His nature rather than our own. Paul is reminding the disciples in Rome that their baptism symbolizes this great reality, and they need to be conducting themselves according to the Great Reality they reflected in that rite. In their immersion they validated their faith in our Lord's death, burial (entombment) and resurrection, and all that His act signifies; now, in their daily lives, they need to continually reflect this reality in a visible manner to the world about them. They are ambassadors of grace, children of God, and they need to behave as such. "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (vs. 4). Paul is nowhere in this chapter saying that baptism in water SAVES us; nor does he even suggest that we "contact the blood" of the Savior in the baptistery. In our baptism we have publicly committed ourselves, in a visible profession of faith, to living lives "dead to sin" and devoted to righteousness and holiness. Baptism is an act of faith, but it is also, in some ways, a vow. In this act of faith in what He has done for us, we vow, in a very public, visible manner, to die to self and live for Him. Don't we also do the same in the wedding ceremony? A man and woman, in a very public manner, vow to die to self and live for the other! Is that ceremony (or some precise point within it) what unites this man and women in a covenant with one another before their God? Covenant takes place IN THE HEART, and that covenant was entered into before they "walked down the aisle." Yes, this public profession is important and has a place as a "point of public remembrance," but it reflects and represents a reality already present within the hearts of this man and woman prior to this ceremony. It is the same with baptism (although this statement will not sit well with the sacramentalists).
Romans 6:7 teaches us that if we are to experience the blessing of being freed from sin and regarded by the Lord as justified, if we are to be accepted by Him into a life affirming relationship, a death must occur. This is not a reference to the death of Jesus (at least not directly, although His death is certainly in the mind of the one dying), nor is it a reference to our physical death. Rather, it is a spiritual death of the old nature so that we might live in newness of life (a life in which we are Spirit filled and led). But, again, we come to the question: What is this death we are to experience, and when does it take place? Many within my own faith-heritage believe this "death" that frees us from sin occurs at the point of baptism in water. They teach that baptism itself is the precise point of our cleansing and freeing from sin, thus investing it with a sacramental power. Notice the comments of Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann on this passage from the pen of Paul: "We Christians, by virtue of our Baptism, are dead unto sin and live unto God, because the new life of God is planted into our hearts in Baptism" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 32]. He goes on: "In Baptism the believer dies with Christ. ... The new spiritual life which he has received in Baptism. ... Crucified with Christ in Baptism. ... By virtue of our Baptism, sin is removed. ... Salvation: this our Baptism has worked, effected, in us. Because the old Adam, in Baptism, has been killed. ... That is the wonderful blessing and benefit of Baptism" [ibid, p. 31]. The author always uses the upper case "B" in writing this word, for he regards this act as a holy sacrament: i.e., by this act itself one receives salvation, justification, and release from sin. Baptism itself, therefore, according to Dr. Kretzmann's view, is HOLY, for IT is what effects our union with the Lord.
The apostle Paul, however, is not elevating baptism in water, or any other human act, to the status of a salvific sacrament. Baptism is not the "death" of which Paul speaks, but merely a visible and symbolic representation of that death. If we are to benefit from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, then we too must die. Although baptism in water is a reenactment of HIS death, burial and resurrection, it is not the death of which Paul speaks in Romans 6:7. Thus, the question remains: What is that death, and when does it take place. The teaching of Paul, and of all Scripture, is that we embrace grace by faith! When I finally come to perceive the spiritual significance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and when I put my complete trust in HIS act on my behalf, by that faith I die to self and lift Him up as Lord and Savior. I do indeed reflect that faith by repentance and confession, and even by a reenactment of HIS act (by being immersed in water), but it was BY FAITH that I died to self so as to live in/for Him. All else merely reflects that inner reality. Thus, by faith I die with Him, and by faith I receive the benefit of HIS death, burial and resurrection, which is a freeing from the effects of sin. I am free; I am liberated; I am accepted, I am justified. And yes, I will SHOW this reality of salvation by grace through faith every day in countless ways, one of which is the visible reenactment in baptism of HIS redeeming act.
Adam Clarke rightly observed, "Does not this simply mean: the man who has received Christ Jesus by faith, and has been, through believing, made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, has had his old man, all his evil propensities, destroyed; so that he is not only justified freely from all sin, but wholly sanctified unto God? The context shows that this is the meaning" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 77]. The Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth Wuest concurs, pointing out that the word "dead" in our text "is aorist tense in the Greek text, namely, 'he who died,' referring to the historical fact of a believing sinner being identified with Christ in His death on the cross" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, p. 102]. David Lipscomb wrote, "The old man that followed sin was crucified through faith in Jesus" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 1, p. 117]. He then quotes the apostle Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). Earlier in that same chapter, Paul wrote, "We have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ" (Galatians 2:16). In our text (Romans 6:7), Paul indicated that we are freed/justified as a result of a "death." We died to the old man BY FAITH, and we received His declaration of freedom from sin by our faith in His redemptive act. We evidence that faith in a number of ways, one of which is baptism.
"This annulling of the power of sin is based on a recognized principle: death settles all claims. Our union with Christ in His death, which was designed to deal with sin once for all, means that we are free from the hold of sin. Its mastery is broken" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 70]. "Death annuls all obligations, breaks all ties, cancels all old scores" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 633]. The ancient Jewish rabbis stated in their writings, "When one is dead he is free from commands." We are dead to law; we are dead to legislation; we are dead to command-keeping; we are dead to sin. We are liberated; we are free. By faith we have cast off the old man of our sinful nature, and we are made alive with Christ Jesus. Paul, following his statement in Romans 6:7, spends much of the remainder of the chapter discussing the practical aspects (as seen in daily living) of this death to our old nature resulting in freedom from sin. "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Does this mean we are now perfect, and that we never sin? Of course not. In the latter part of the very next chapter (Romans 7:14f) Paul details his continuing struggle with sin. We daily stumble in our walk, but we are no longer slaves to sin, but merely victims of sin, with the good news being that we are sinners saved by grace, and in our inner man we have died to sin, even though in our flesh there is still weakness which far too often evidences itself in sinful ways. Yet, thanks be to God, for "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2). By faith we die; by faith we live! Thank God for His grace!
From a Reader in Colorado:
I am putting a check in the mail today for your new audio CD on The New Covenant Church. I'm leaving on a road trip this Saturday and would love to have the CD by Friday. I know I haven't allowed for much time, and am sorry, and I also know that you ship immediately in any case, but just thought I would bring it to your attention. My check is on the way, with extra money included, in case you need to pay more postage to expedite the package. Al, it is really not possible to express just how much your teachings have helped my family and me, especially the series on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. Thank You!!
I mailed the CD to this Christian lady first thing Monday morning, and sent it "priority mail." The postal clerk stated it would be there by Wednesday, so it will arrive in plenty of time for her road trip. Several people have told me that they like using these audio CDs (which are MP3 recordings of my adult Bible classes) for road trips and vacations: it gives them something to listen to in their cars, besides the radio, during the long hours of driving. I'm thankful that these studies have proved helpful to them in this way. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alaska:
With regard to your last Reflections (Issue #675: "Getting What They Deserve"), I have a hard time accepting any emphasis on a "they had it coming" mindset. Maybe I didn't get your point clearly, so let me draw a parallel that might help explain my feelings. Criminals who break the law need to receive the consequences of their actions, but that doesn't mean I should be any less forgiving. Someone who has committed a crime against me or mine, in my view, needs to receive the sanctions afforded by law to both protect others and deter future criminality, but in keeping with the attitude of our Lord and Master, who from the cross asked that His killers be forgiven for "they know not what they do," how can I do any less? That's an open-ended question that each must answer. That said, I have to admit that in movie scenarios I always root for the good guys so that the bad guys get what they had coming, but I'm not sure that's an appropriate spiritual response. Continued blessings to you, Al, in your multiple ministries!
Clearly, ALL have sinned and fall short of our Father's expectations, thus ALL are deserving of death. However, "in Christ Jesus" our sins and failings are covered, and we receive grace rather than "what we have coming to us." Jesus paid that price in full on the cross. On the other hand, those who willfully live lives of rebellion against God and His will, rejecting His grace, and who viciously assault the people of God and oppose His purposes, must face His wrath. Thus, in their case they have indeed received "what they deserve." That's partly why we are told the WAGES of sin is death (they earned it), but on the other hand the GIFT of grace is life (we did nothing to deserve it; the gift is unearned). Those in Christ have transcended judgment, thus it is not a matter of getting "what we deserve," but experiencing His love, mercy and grace. The former group, who willfully reject this grace, must face the consequences of their choice. The struggle in our hearts is whether or not a Christian should find any satisfaction in the fate of the wicked. Yes, we should always hope for the repentance of the rebellious, and seek to be instruments of God in pointing them to this gift of grace. Yet, when they refuse that gift, we have to acknowledge that God's dealings with them are just, and that they do indeed deserve the consequences of their willful choices. I have dealt with this inner struggle, which the above reader describes, in Reflections #486 which addresses the Christian response to the death of Osama bin Laden. I think you will find the thoughts expressed there challenging. I would also urge you to read of an incident in my own life when I had to make a difficult choice along these same lines of "who deserves what and why?" That personal illustration of this inner struggle will be found in Reflections #554 in which I discuss my role as the state appointed chaplain at an execution here in New Mexico (the only one held in the last 60+ years). This case reflects the reality that at times one may "get what he/she deserves" in this temporal realm, yet at the same time may experience spiritual acceptance by the Lord in the eternal realm (the thief on the cross is another good example; in fact, he even said, as he was dying, "We are receiving what we deserve for our deeds" -- Luke 23:41). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Arizona:
I rejoiced at what you wrote in Reflections #675 about those who hate God and His people getting the punishment they deserve. I do not recall ever having noticed that phrase in Revelation 16:6 before. Anyone who is embarrassed by the Lord's righteous wrath must look for another god. May the joy of the Lord be your strength, brother.
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Thanks for your latest Reflections ("Getting What They Deserve"). I loved your cartoon illustration! With all due respect to the Reader from Oklahoma (the next to last entry in your Readers' Reflections section), he is certainly confused. On one hand, this reader says one can be saved before "getting wet," but then he says baptism results in salvation. This is a most confusing theology, and also self-contradictory. Grace plus my obedience does not equal salvation! When did salvation become a mathematical formula?! This is the whole point of the book of Galatians, and circumcision was just one example. The truth of the matter is: the offering of Jesus on the cross was all-sufficient; nothing can be added to it, and the only adequate response (not addition) is faith from the heart. A gift can only be received, not obeyed. Note Peter's statement about Cornelius and his household: "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. ... We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are" (Acts 15:8-11). God bless you, brother.
I have often asked, "How does one obey good news (the 'gospel')?" Good news isn't obeyed, it is received. Our subsequent actions (deeds) and attitudes, which carry forward into our daily walk with Him, reflect the fact of our heartfelt embracing by faith of this glorious good news revealed to us: good news (the gospel) of what God has done for us as a free gift of His grace! I deal with this thought much more extensively in my following study: Reflections #501 ("Can We OBEY The Gospel?"). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in California:
Thanks, Al, for your article on people getting what they deserve. I have been feeling pretty imprecatory about the vandalism by many within the "Black Lives Matter" movement, about the laziness of those playing the system and living off welfare, and about those in ISIS destroying everything around them and threatening to kill (and actually murdering) anyone who doesn't worship Allah. Nice to know I'm not being "unChristian" in these feelings of disgust and anger.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I never could stay comfortable in my spirit with being glad that someone got what was coming to them. I'm not sure if it was the Spirit gently reminding me that we all fall short of perfection or if being grateful for someone else's demise simply exceeds my sensibilities. However, I also have not suffered under the hand of pure evil, as many have. Surely those that have are allowed some sense of justice being done no matter how grave that might be. It does give one pause to reflect on this emotional response. Once again, my brother, you have made me THINK!! Many blessings to you.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Not being a credentialed linguist, it still seems that language sometimes fails to fully communicate certain core concepts, especially spiritual ones. Instead of traditionally referring to Dr. Bonhoeffer's concern as "cheap grace," how about the term "cheapened grace"? Wouldn't this suggest that something most precious (i.e., the ultimate Grace: God's Riches At Christ's Expense) has been devalued or lessened? This, to me, comes closer to the concept I infer from his discussion. What might result from better understanding this concept? As believers pursue discipleship, a more mature understanding of what Jesus offers can only result in more complete responsiveness to all that the Son of Man commanded, taught, and exemplified -- a goal pursued, but never achieved this side of eternity.
Excellent point. By using the descriptive "cheapened," one focuses not on the quality of grace, but rather the action of those to whom grace is proffered. Thus, grace itself is not "cheap," but men have too often "cheapened" it. This distinction might be too subtle for some, but I think it has merit. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Your article titled "Getting What They Deserve" addressed a disquieting feeling that I have when reading some of the OT verses, especially by David and other Psalms writers. I have been bothered by the concept of a child of God calling for the punishment of others to degrees that seem beyond reasonable! For example, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children wander about and beg; and let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. Let the creditor seize all that he has; and let strangers plunder the product of his labor. Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children" (Psalm 109:9-12). Yet, the OT also teaches that children should not be held accountable for the sins of their fathers, and vice versa (Ezekiel 18). I cannot even imagine delighting in the greatest monsters of history receiving the type of punishment some believe in: i.e., eternal punishing (endless torture in fire). If we were even to see Hitler being tortured this way, we would surely say "enough!" at some point. However, I can understand eternal punishment (i.e., death).
My new book, From Ruin To Resurrection, deals with this very distinction between eternal punishing and eternal punishment. So also does my two CD set (MP3 recordings of my adult Bible class) on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. -- Al Maxey
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