In Adam or In Christ

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a theological masterpiece. It declares the good news that people who are separated from God by sin may be considered righteous in God’s sight and reconciled to him in peace.

A key word in the book of Romans is “justified.” It means to be legally cleared and declared “not guilty,” because of God’s grace. This grace is completely undeserved. It is based, not on anything we might do, but entirely upon what Christ Jesus has done on our behalf.

In the opening chapters of the book, Paul demonstrated that all people everywhere are guilty of sin and subject to sin’s penalty, death. In chapter five, Paul delves deeper into his theme and proves that the death penalty was because of the sin of the first man, Adam. Death was in the world ever after the sin of Adam and its presence is proof that it originated with him. As the head of the human race he transmitted the tendency to sin to all of his descendants. Death is the result.

“Therefore, just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). If you read Romans 5:12-21 you will see that all people are either “in” Adam, who disobeyed God and brought death into the world, or they are “in” Christ, who obeyed God and brought eternal life. Those who are in Adam are constituted as sinners. Those who are in Christ are declared righteous and given legal standing before God.

Zane Hodges explained it this way: (Jesus) is “the supreme model of obedience to God in a world where the disobedience of the first man wrought the calamitous tragedies of sin and death.” The fact is, because God judged all of the human race because of one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience, he is able to save the human race because of the righteous obedience of one Man (Jesus Christ).

Romans 5:12-21 compare and contrast Jesus and Adam. They represent two humanities, two communities. Those who by natural birth, are in Adam, are justly declared to be sinners by nature. Those who are in Christ by faith are graciously declared to be right with God and accepted. Human solidarity with Adam leads to death. Human solidarity with Christ leads to life, according to Paul.

But read on. To be in Christ is to be justified before God. The first half of Romans five gives us seven extravagant benefits of justification. The first is peace with God. “Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). Peace is the absence of conflict, friendship, acceptance.

The second blessing in Paul’s list is access, or a place to stand before God’s throne of grace. “We have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (v.2). The third is hope. This is the confident expectation that God’s glory will be revealed to us and in us (v.2). The ability to rejoice in spite of hardship is another fruit of justification. This is the development of Christian character through a mature response to trials (vv. 3-4).

The fifth benefit of justification is the love of God poured into our hearts by his Holy Spirit. The present inward ministry of the Spirit is one proof of God’s love (v. 5) Another is the death of Christ for our sins (vv.6-8). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v.8).

A sixth benefit of justification is salvation from the future judgment of God. The book of Revelation describes how the wrath of God will come upon the world because of its rebellion against God and rejection of his Son.  No true believer will have to suffer the ultimate judgment of God. Our sins were judged and paid for on the cross! “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath though him” (v. 9).

The seventh blessing of justification is reconciliation with God. We who once were far from God, separated from him by our sin, are now able to be brought into close fellowship with him through Christ. “For if, when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation” (vv. 10-11).

Are you in Christ or in Adam? To be in Christ is to be justified by faith in him. The benefits of justification enumerated here are offered as a free gift. Open your heart in faith to believe the good news that you too may be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Abraham’s Faith, and Ours

The preacher was sincere and well-intentioned. He was passionate in his presentation. He fervently appealed to his congregation to fully surrender themselves to God, to renounce the world and its attractions, and to be willing to pay the price and count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.

As I listened, I could not help but wonder whether he was calling the congregation to salvation or to discipleship. He seemed to blend the two themes together in a mishmash of duty, good works, obedience and faithfulness to Christ. It almost seemed he believed in salvation by works.

I sat there wondering: “If my obedience to Christ and good works are essential to salvation, how could I ever be sure that I am saved? How could I know if I had done enough? What good works could ever help me achieve eternal life? How could I know if I am as fully surrendered to the Lord as the preacher wants me to be?”

Then I remembered Abraham. He was the great patriarch of the Hebrew nation, He was, by any standard, an example of good works and faithfulness to God. He left his home in Chaldea in response to God’s call.  He worshipped God among the idol-worshipping Canaanites. He submitted to the rite of circumcision as a sign of his covenant faithfulness to God. He was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.

But Abraham was not justified by his good works. In his letter to the Romans, Paul used the ancient story of Abraham as an illustration of the fact that people are justified by faith alone. He quoted Genesis 15:6 to emphasize that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

“Credited” is a word taken from the business world. It is a financial term which could be used to refer to wages that are earned, or to a gift that is applied to an account freely, without a cost. Paul used the word to teach that justification before God is a gift of grace, not an earned wage. This leaves no room for boasting (v. 2).

Thus, Abraham is a pattern of faith for all of us. He believed God. That is what faith is. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the words translated “faith” and “belief” are the same word. They both mean the same thing: to take people at their word, to have confidence in the reliability of a person, an idea or a thing, to trust, to accept as true. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God and his trustworthy word.

This means that everyone who, like Abraham, believes the promise of the gospel, is pronounced righteous because of the death of Christ and his resurrection. We are told in some of Paul’s other writings that Jesus was made sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus has “become for us . . . our righteousness” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Those who believe the gospel are said to be given “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Abraham was declared righteous by faith alone. His faith was in the power and character of God, not in his own works. In the same way,  we who trust in Jesus for salvation are saved by faith, not our attempts at doing good. I am aware every day that my assurance of salvation cannot be based upon the fervency of my faith, or on the depth of my surrender, or on the extent of my obedience. All of these are faulty, and weak.

I am encouraged by what I read in Romans 4. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Salvation is either a reward for works or a gift through grace; it cannot be both. Abraham’s life is a testimony to us that people are justified by faith, not by works.

Good works and faithfulness to God are evidence of our faith to other people (James 2:14-26). The preacher’s exhortations to self-denial and faithfulness were appropriate if they were a call to obedient discipleship. The Bible teaches that there will be rewards for believers who serve Christ in this life. But if the call to obedient service is mistaken as a condition for receiving salvation, the result is confusion.

Romans 4 and the story of Abraham are in the Bible for me, and for you. We are to trust the same God who was faithful to keep his promise to Abraham. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25).

Warren Wiersbe summarized the message of Romans 4 very well. Justification is by faith, not works. It is by grace, not law. And justification is by resurrection power, not human effort.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


The Most Important Paragraph

You may have noticed that when you are reading the Bible, sometimes a chapter division seems arbitrary or out of place. Perhaps you have felt that it interrupts the flow of the discussion. Well, you may be right. It is good to remember that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original inspired text of scripture. They were added in the 13th-16th centuries by editors for the convenience of Bible readers.

Most of the time chapter and verse divisions are helpful to us in locating and remembering Bible passages. We rely upon them to help us find our way around in the Bible. Sometimes, however, we wonder why an editor put the chapter division where he put it. It feels awkward in relation to the context.

Romans chapters two and three are such a context. In chapter two, Paul has been arguing forcefully that the religious person, no matter how pious, is no better off than the untaught pagan. In chapter three the discussion continues: in the eyes of God all people are morally guilty and in need of God’s gift of righteousness. The chapter division might lead someone to think that Paul is changing the subject. He is not. The argument flows from chapter two right on into chapter three.

In Romans 3:1-8, Paul imagines a verbal opponent who wants to claim that his teaching on universal human guilt undermines God’s justice. “If we are all guilty and our sin magnifies God’s righteousness, wouldn’t he be unjust to punish us?” His imaginary debate partner might go on to say something like, “We might as well go on sinning because God looks good when he forgives us!” “No way!” Paul answers. Human sin never brings glory to God.

Paul rejects these distortions of his teaching. He calls them slanderous. He wants his readers to understand that God is both just (in judging sin) and merciful (in providing a remedy). His doctrine of universal human guilt is reasonable and consistent with scripture (Romans 3:9-20). Paul here quotes seven Old Testament scriptures to support this point. We are all sinners and guilty before a holy God.

To be sure, the apostle is not teaching that every person is a bad as he or she could possibly be. What he is saying is that sin affects us all, in every part of our being. There are no exceptions. God’s law pronounces us guilty. The law cannot deliver us. It cannot forgive us. It cannot redeem us. That is not the law’s purpose. The law upholds God’s standard of righteousness and shows us how far short if it we have fallen. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).

What Paul says next is the best news the world has ever heard. It has been suggested that Romans 3:21-26 may be the single most important paragraph ever written! It states the central theme of the book of Romans: that although we are all sinners and deserving of God’s judgment, it is possible to be declared righteous though faith in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to read these verses, to believe their truth, and to receive the free gift they offer. The gift is justification. What is that? It means to be declared righteous by the grace of God. It is more than forgiveness. It is positive acceptance, freedom from guilt, a new status credited to you freely, at no cost to you (Romans 3:24).

How is that possible? It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood”(Romans 3:25). Paul refers to this as “redemption,” a term taken from the Roman slave market. It is obtaining a release by the payment of a ransom. By his death, Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from sin’s ultimate penalty. His death satisfied the demands of God’s justice on our behalf.

The only way to receive the gift of justification is through faith in what Christ has done. Paul repeats this several times (verses 22, 25, 26 and 28). “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Someone has said that faith is simply the hand of a beggar reaching out to accept a gift from a king.

The awkward chapter division between Romans two and three was not in Paul’s original letter. It is important to understand the entire scope and range of his argument taken together. In Romans one the Gentile pagan world is guilty before God. In chapters two and three the religious Jews are also said to be guilty before God. The only solution to this universal human predicament is the good news found in Romans 3:21-31.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Hypocrisy Exposed

One of the reasons it is such a bracing experience to read the book of Romans is that Paul the apostle had no patience with hypocrisy. He exposed it with clear-eyed precision right at the beginning of his letter. Right after dealing with the moral degeneracy of Roman society in chapter one, he launched into an imaginary dialogue with people who are quick to judge the faults in others without examining their own actions and motives.

The morality police in Romans chapter two may have been arrogant philosophers who considered themselves to be morally superior to the masses. They may have been religious legalists who attempted to make themselves righteous by trying to please God, not by faith, but by religious works. They were the ones who scorned bad behavior in others but but failed to recognize it in themselves.

Just as the pagans (1:20) are without excuse, Paul says to them, “You, therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment are doing the same things” (Romans 2:1).

Paul is not speaking against judging as such, but against hypocritical judging. It is truly hypocritical to pretend to be virtuous when you do the same things you condemn in others. The fact is, when people (no matter how apparently virtuous) condemn others, they at the same time condemn themselves.

God’s standard applies to all and he knows the truth about every one of us (Romans 2:2-3). What Paul is saying is that the morally degenerate reprobate, the morally superior philosopher, and the morally righteous Jew are equally susceptible to God’s judgment which is based upon truth. The day is coming when “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”(Romans 2:5). It will apply equally to all.

Therefore, Paul is insistent that a double standard of judgment, a high bar for others and a low bar for oneself, is out of the question. God sees us as we really are and he will judge us all according to our deeds. “God will repay each person according to what they have done” (Romans 2:6). This principle is repeated throughout scripture and is a basis of God’s justice. This means that hypocrites will have no place to stand in the day of God’s righteous wrath.

In all of his writings Paul emphasizes that people are saved not by what they do but by faith in what Christ has done on the cross. He is teaching here, however, that “persistence in doing good” (2:7) is the evidence, or fruit, of sincere, genuine faith (Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-16). “Each person” (2:6), “every human being” (2:9), “everyone” (2:10) will be judged according to their deeds. God’s judgments will be perfectly fair and impartial.

The religious person who knows what the scriptures teach but does not obey them has no advantage over the person who has no knowledge of scripture. In fact the irreligious person who follows the light of conscience to do what is morally or ethically right has just as much moral awareness as the religious hypocrite (Romans 2:12-15).

In the second half of the chapter, Paul goes deeper. He has an imaginary debate with a pious person who regards himself as privileged, and is proud of it. He trusts in ancestral traditions, ceremonies, rituals and external signs of religious identification. Was Paul remembering his own past attitudes as a devout Jew before he believed in Jesus? He recognizes all these religious advantages, but then shows how if a person does not practice what he preaches, he is a hypocrite.  He is no better off than the Gentile who was not brought up with the word of God.

Someday God will judge the secrets of the hearts of all people. This will be in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16). The gospel message is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

Pastor Randy Faulkner