Apostolic Logic: (Once More) How Shall We Then Live?

Text: Romans 6:1-16

Introduction:  Most of you will recognize that the question stated above comes directly from the title of the well-known book written by the late Francis Schaeffer. The Then is the operative word. Schaeffer was specifically pointing to the truth as expressed in the teachings of the Protestant Reformers.[1] Since we serve a sovereign God who has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world we ought to live in that light. But there is another important part of this little syllogism. Before the then there must be an if. The then is the second step that presupposes a proper understanding of the if (the first step). Thus the syllogistic steps would look like this: if this then that. By way of review, there are three major features in this chapter.

I.          The Apostle Raise Two Questions and Builds His Argument Around His Answers:

A.        The First Question:  Opens the chapter by asking, “What shall we say then?” The Apostle is responding to his critics and their criticism of his “Law-free justification” (cf. 2:1-3, 17-24; 4:1; 9:1-3, 6, 14, 19, 30; 11:1, 11). “What was their criticism? It was not just that Paul’s gospel of justification by grace through faith without works seemed to make the doing of good works otiose. Worse than that, it seemed to stimulate people to sin more than ever. For if, in his understanding of Israel’s story, the law led to an increase of sin, and sin led to an increase of grace (5:20f.), then logically, in our story too, we should increase our sinning in order to give God the chance to increase His gracious forgiving. They put it in the form of a question: Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increassin, e?  They were implying that Paul’s gospel of free grace actually encouraged lawlessness and put a premium on sin, because it promised sinners the best of both worlds; they could indulge themselves freely in this world, without any fear of forfeiting the next.”[2]

B.        The Second Question (v. 15):  Builds upon Paul’s answer to the first and asks, “What then?” In each case the Apostle seeks to remind the Romans of something that should be very obvious, “Do you not know …?” (v. 3 and again in v. 16). In other words, this constitutes a mild rebuke. They should not be in the dark about these matters. There is substantial evidence that what Paul is referring to here is the practice of requiring all candidates for baptism to be thoroughly catechized. As Bishop Barnett notes, “Romans 6 is a window into the practices of the early Christians in regard to ‘initiation’ into the faith. First, this passage reveals that baptism was accompanied by instruction. Paul speaks of the ‘pattern of teaching (TUPOS DIDACHES) to which [believers] were handed over’ (v. 17). At the end of the letter he warns the Romans to note those who oppose ‘the teaching’ (DIDACHE) which they have ‘learned’. This is consistent with extensive evidence in the New Testament that new believers were carefully instructed at the time of baptism. Such formulated instruction before baptism must have been widespread since Paul merely assumes the practice in Rome.”[3] The Gk. word KATECHEO means “to teach”. We find the Apostle using language to convey this important practice. He speaks of the saving story of salvation (Rom 2:16; 16:25; I Cor. 15:1. Another title by which he designates the same faith—is “the preaching” or “the preaching of Jesus Christ” cf. Rom 16:25; I Cor. 1: 21). Yet another, and more general, descriptive term is “the faith (an objective genitive)” and the related verb. Thus in Col. 2:7 he admonishes his readers to “be established in the faith as you have been taught it”; in Gal. 1:23 he reports the churches as saying that “the man who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once ravaged”; and in Eph. 4:5 he clinches his argument about the unity of the body by pointing out that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Finally, it is with an eye to the Gospel as the Church’s witness that he speaks so frequently (cf. I Thess. 1:6; II Thess. 3:1; I Cor. 14:36; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 1:14). Of “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord”. “In contradiction to the view that the Apostle Paul was a daring doctrinal innovator, virtually the inventor of Catholic theology, all the evidence goes to prove that he had a healthy regard for the objective body of teaching authoritatively handed down in the Church.”[4] The suggestion has sometimes been made that texts like these merely prove that the faith was tending to assume a hard-and-fast outline towards the end of the first century. The Apostle Paul himself, however, is a witness to the fact that the process was at work at a much earlier stage. Remonstrating with the Galatians (Gal. 3:1), he reminds them that before their eyes Jesus Christ had been “openly set forth crucified”. In II Thess. 2:15 he exhorts his correspondents to “hold fast to the traditions which you have been taught.” (The latter verb hints that he has doctrine in mind), and in Rom. 6:17 he speaks explicitly of “the pattern of doctrine” to which they have been committed. The expression points to a body of truth i.e., a theological framework. In I Cor. 11:23 and I Cor. 15:3 the same idea of tradition passed down and received. (cf. II Tim. 2:1, 2)

II.         There are Two Theological Themes that Occur Frequently in Romans 1-6:  Sin and Death. Paul’s repeated emphasis on sin has primarily to do, not with individual sins (note the singular) but with Adam’s sin (5:12-21). Death, throughout this section in Romans speaks of eternal (and not physical) death (note the contrast between “eternal life” and “death” in 6:23 and 5:21).

III.        Paul’s Language and Imagery:  He depicts the relationship a slave has to a master and underscores the great transition from Satan’s Kingdom to Christ’s (cf. also Col. 1:13; I Pet. 2:9). The emphasis is on the status of the new slavery; from bondage to liberty. The point the Apostle is drawing home revolves around the believer’s Union with Christ in His death and resurrection. It is here that Paul’s logic is irrefutable:

A.        We Receive Forgiveness of Sins Through Christ:

B.        This Reception Involves Being United to Christ:

C.        The Christ to Whom We are United, Died to Sin:

D.        Since We are United to Him, We Also have Died to Sin:

E.        If We have Died to Sin, We Cannot Continue Living in It:

F.         Therefore, We Cannot Continue in Sin that Grace May Increase:  Shedd put it best when he wrote, “The Apostle Paul teaches, with great cogency and earnestness, that trust in Christ’s atoning blood is incompatible with self-indulgence and increasing depravity. The two things are heterogeneous, and cannot exist together. The proof of this is derived: (1.) From the unity of the believer with Christ, in respect to Christ’s work of atonement, verses 1-14; and (2.) From the nature of the human will and of voluntary agency, verses 15-22.”[5]

Conclusion:  This chapter of Romans has been the source out of which all sorts of misguided concepts of the “higher” Christian life or “second blessing” teaching claim support. One of the results has been a professed misunderstanding of Paul’s language. Views have imported into the text that reflect decidedly alien concepts, the likes of which never occurred to the Apostle. J. Gresham Machen, a first-rank NT scholar who devoted most of his life to the study of Paul[6] makes this very perceptive observation, “Those who discard theology in the interests of experience are inclined to make use of a personal way of talking and thinking about God to which they have no right.”[7] What Machen is objecting to also concerned the late Martin Lloyd-Jones. Listen carefully to his words, “Let me emphasize this again. This is not something subjective or experimental; the Apostle is not thinking of that here. That is where many go wrong in their exposition of this chapter; they persist in regarding it from the experimental standpoint. It is one of the chapters constantly used in ‘holiness meetings’ and in addresses on sanctification, for that reason.

But that is not what the Apostle is dealing with here; he is dealing with the grand objective fact. It is not something we feel, but something that is true of us, equally true of us is that we sinned in Adam. You do not ‘feel’ that you sinned in Adam; you believe it because God’s Word tells you that it is true. We can see the results and the consequences as they become evident experimentally. In exactly the same way, at this point Paul is simply concerned about the fact, the great objective fact, that because of this union with Him, when Christ died to sin we died to sin with Him. This is the point, it seems to me, that is missed by so many, not only in this chapter but in so much Christian thinking. Take, for instance, our hymnbooks. It is extremely difficult to find appropriate hymns to illustrate this theme we are discussing. Our hymns tend to be so subjective. I went through the entire section of hymns on the Christian Church in Congregational Praise and I found that, as is the case with other hymnbooks, they simply deal with the fellowship that we enjoy in the Church, the fellowship we enjoy with one another. It is almost impossible to find hymns that bring out this great doctrine of our union with Christ, and our position in Him. We are so subjective that we miss this glorious truth, this objective truth, this great thing that has happened outside us – our position. This is very sad, but nevertheless true.”[8] Both Machen and Lloyd-Jones have put their finger on a problem that needs to be addressed, which is, the tremendous degree to which outside factors control or determine how we approach the Bible.

Noted Church historian Mark Noll’s recent editorial critique on a popular book[9] that reflects the kind of cultural assimilation that often goes completely unnoticed. This slim novel recounts what happens when a hard-driving young businessman accepts an invitation for dinner with Jesus Christ. In the market it may become another book that—like Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life”—crosses over to sell as well at Barnes & Noble as in religious stores. In substance it raises important questions about how contemporary American life is shaping conceptions of the Christian faith. The book is not the first of its kind (and will no doubt be followed by a host of others). A few years back Lee Strobel, of Willow Creek fame, gave us this hubristic title, What Would Jesus Say to: Rush Limbaugh, Madonna, Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan, Bart Simpson, Donald Trump, Murphy Brown, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Mother Teresa, David Letterman and You! (Zondervan, 1994). In Gregory’s book the Jesus who meets the young businessman is calm and empathetic. “He had an average build,” the businessman-narrator tells us. “His suit wasn’t Armani, but it wasn’t Discount Warehouse either.” Over the course of a lingering dinner at an Italian restaurant Jesus offers his new, and skeptical, friend what amounts to nothing more than Gregory’s own theological truncated understanding of the gospel. Less traditional is the book’s answer to a question that the medieval philosopher-theologian Anselm of Canterbury asked in the title of his 1098 volume: “Why did God Become a Man?”

To David Gregory the answer is clear and worth repeating; so that individuals could have “a personal relationship” with God; he wanted to build a “relationship” of “trust” with humans; Jesus, more than anything, wants “to have a relationship” with individuals. In traditional Christianity, teaching about a personal relationship with Christ is common but usually hedged about with other, more demanding themes. Catholics, Orthodox and some older Protestant communions hold that membership in a church is an intrinsic feature of any relationship with God. In “Dinner,” by contrast, the church is mentioned only as an institution that formalized and then obscured Christ’s true mission. Like Strobel, Gregory’s Jesus is very non-judgmental and only wants “a personal, intimate relationship” that is designed to empower the individual to be all they can be. Noll asks why this particular book, that underscores the very popular concept of “relationship” being the dominant theme in popular Evangelicalism. “So why does a popular book like Dinner—as well as so much popular American Christianity—feature a personal relationship with God so prominently? The answer probably lies in the adaptive character of the Christian faith. Students of worldwide Christianity have noted that in every region where Christianity takes root it has adjusted to the values of local culture.

So it is, as well, in a modern America marked by the increasing demands of work, strain between the generations, political acrimony, international uncertainty and peripatetic lifestyles. Into such a culture a Christian message stressing the possibility of an enduring—and often less demanding—personal relationship with the loving Creator of the universe sounds very appealing. But does such an adaptation retain enough of historic Christianity’s other dimension? Or does dinner with a perfect stranger fit a little to conveniently into our lives?”[10] We are better served to pursue the Apostles’ line of reasoning and grasp the significance of the theological truths he so powerfully taught. Thus, Machen (a far better guide than Strobel or Gregory) could properly accent this theme by pointing out ,“But in reality it depends upon the whole rich content of God’s revelation of Himself in the salvation, which He has provided through His Son. At any rate, pure feeling, if it ever exists, is non-moral; what makes our relation to another person, whether a human friend or the eternal God, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge which we have of the character of that person. The experience of the real mystic, then, as distinguished from that experience of direct contact with God in the depths of the soul which is popularly called mysticism—the latter being of course a part of all vital religion—is not Christian experience; for Christian experience is a thoroughly personal thing; the Christian holds fellowship with a Person whom he knows.”[11]

References:

 


[1] Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality (Tyndale, 1971) is, in my opinion, a classic. It also deals with this theme.

 

[2] J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: The Bible Speaks Today (IVP, 1994), p. 166.

 

[3] The Book of Acts refers to the apostles’ “teaching” (DIDACHE – 2:42; 5:28) and other New Testament writings refer to “teaching” (DIDACHE – II John 9) or “doctrine” (DIDASKALIA – Rom. 12:7; 15:4) and “the confession” (HOMOLOGIA – Heb. 3:1; 10:23). In time these teaching “outlines” assumed a “trinitarian” shape from which early versions of the “Apostles’” and “Nicene” creeds developed, both of which were originally used at baptismal services and only later became church creeds. Cf. Paul Barnett, Romans: The Revelation of God’s Righteousness (Christian Focus, 2003), p. 134.

 

[4] J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (Longmans, 1960), p. 10.

 

[5] W. G. T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on Romans (rpt. Klock & Klock, 1979), P. 145.

 

[6] Machen’s major work was his The Origin of Paul’s Religion (McMillian, 1921).

 

[7] J. G. Machen, What Is Faith? (rpt. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 36.

 

[8] David Gregory, Dinner With a Perfect Stranger (Doubleday, 2005).

 

[9] M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of chapter 6, The New Man (Zondervan, 1973), p. 43.

 

[10] M. Noll, “An Intimate Dinner” Wall Street Journal (Aug. 19, 2005).

 

[11] Machen, What Is Faith? p. 37.

Romans: An Expositional Commentary

by R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sprouls sermons at St. Andrews Chapel are the foundation of these never-before-published expositions on Pauls epistle to the Romans.

Chrysostom had it read aloud to him once a week. Augustine, Luther, and Wesley all came to assured faith through its impact. The Reformers saw it as the God-given key to understanding the whole of Scripture.

Throughout church history the study of the book of Romans has been pivotal to understanding Christian life and doctrine. Convinced that Pauls fullest, grandest, most comprehensive statement of the gospel is just as vital today, R. C. Sproul delivered nearly sixty sermons on Romans from October 2005 to April 2007 at St. Andrews Chapel, where he has pastored for more than a decade. These never-before-published, passage-by-passage expositions will enrich any study of this weighty epistle.

Endorsements:

“‘R. C. Sproul,’ someone said to me in the 1970s, ‘is the finest communicator in the Reformed world.’ Now, three decades later, his skills honed by long practice, his understanding deepened by years of prayer, meditation, and testing (as Martin Luther counseled), R. C. shares the fruit of what has become perhaps his greatest love: feeding and nourishing his own congregation at St. Andrew’s from the Word of God and building them up in faith and fellowship and in Christian living and serving. The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary will be welcomed throughout the world. It promises to have all R. C.’s hallmarks: clarity and liveliness, humor and pathos, always expressed in application to the mind, will, and affections. R. C.’s ability to focus on the ‘the big picture,’ his genius of never saying too much, leaving his hearers satisfied yet wanting more, never making the Word dull, are all present in these expositions. They are his gift to the wider church. May they nourish God’s people well and serve as models of the kind of ministry for which we continue to hunger.” Sinclair B. Ferguson (Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina)

“R. C. Sproul, well-known as a master theologian and extraordinary communicator, now shows that he is a powerful, insightful, helpful expository preacher. This collection of sermons is of great value for churches and Christians everywhere.” W. Robert Godfrey (President, Westminster Seminary California)

“R. C. Sproul is the premier theologian of our day, an extraordinary instrument in the hand of the Lord. Possessed with penetrating insight into the text of Scripture, Dr. Sproul is a gifted expositor and world-class teacher, endowed with a strategic grasp and command of the inspired Word. Since stepping into the pulpit of St. Andrew’s and committing himself to the weekly discipline of biblical exposition, this noted preacher has demonstrated a rare ability to explicate and apply God’s Word. I wholeheartedly recommend the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary to all who long to know the truth better and experience it more deeply in a life-changing fashion. Here is an indispensable tool for digging deeper into God’s Word. This is a must-read for every Christian.” Steven J. Lawson(Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama)

Click here to download a sample chapter of this book.

Hardback; 520 pages

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