The book of Romans addresses the conduct of those who, at an early date, turned from God and His Way of Life. The first chapter shows the way of life that is the opposite of Christian living.
Beginning in verse 18 Paul writes:
God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all the sin and evil of the people whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known. God punishes them, because what can be known about God is plain to them, for God himself made it plain. Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. So those people have no excuse at all! (Rom. 1:18-20 Today’s English Version)
What happened to these men who were without excuse?
And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other. They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever! Amen. Because they do this, God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing. (Rom. 1:24-27 TEV)
Here is the result of rejection of God:
Because those people refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do. They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice. They gossip and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent, proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others. They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death. Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them. (Rom. 1:28-32 TEV) Clearly, this is not how Christians are to behave. We shall see from Paul’s Epistles what is expected of us.
The Apostle Paul supposedly separated Christianity from its Jewish cocoon and from the need to keep the Law of God-that is, to do any works. But when Paul spoke of Christian living, he made it clear that keeping the Law of God is an absolute necessity. It is this fact that makes practical the keeping of God’s Commandments. Christian-living principles are found throughout all of Paul’s epistles, and an examination of them may be beneficial.
Let us note what Paul wrote in Romans 2:6. Paul said that God will render to every man according to his deeds. “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath” (vv. 7-8). Now this begs two questions: 1) How do we define well-doing and unrighteousness, and 2) who determines these? The answer is God, of course. He alone determined righteousness and unrighteousness in eons of time past. Righteousness is commandment keeping (Ps. 119:172), and unrighteousness is the absence of commandment keeping. “All unrighteousness is sin . . . ” (1 John 5:17). “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). So what Paul said in Romans 2:6-8 is that man will be judged on whether or not he keeps the Law of God-the Ten Commandments! The first four of those commandments teach us how to love God, the last six how to love our fellow man. Both of these aspects require works.
Some confuse what Paul stated in Romans 3:20. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” This is assumed to mean that Christians need not obey the Law of God. Yet Paul wrote in Romans 2:13: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Is there a contradiction here? Of course not! Paul simply states in these texts that law keeping does not justify, that is, wipe the guilty slate clean. Why? Because the only thing that can possibly justify any man is the shed blood of Christ. His sacrifice for us, with our repentance and the accepting of that sacrifice, erases past sins. Paul spoke of this justification when he said of Christ, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past…” (Rom. 3:25). When we repent, our past sins are forgiven as we stop practicing sin. From that time on we become a doer of the law (Rom. 2:13). This is why Paul wrote in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” His answer? “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). Sin no longer has a claim over our lives. Grace is not a condition that permits lawlessness. Grace is God’s free, undeserved, unmerited pardon. One under grace keeps the Commandments of God. Christian living means applying God’s Commandments to all situations in our daily lives.
One who carefully reads Romans 6:3-7 could never assume that the Apostle Paul freed Christians from the obligation to keep the Command-ments of God. This passage demonstrates the purpose of baptism and what it represents. As Christ was literally crucified and put to death, we must do the same figuratively. Immersion under the water represents the death and burial of the old man. Emersion from the water represents the resurrection of the new man. As a result, the old man-the man with carnal, human nature-is figuratively put to death and given the Holy Spirit, which enables him to live a godly life. Paul states: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof ” (Rom. 6:11-12). Remember, sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), and upon our repentance and baptism it no longer has a claim over our lives (Rom 6: 23). So Paul writes: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (v. 15). “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (vv. 17-18). This entire section of Scripture plainly states that Christians must keep the Commandments of God and apply them to Christian living.
One of man’s basic transgressions is the violation of the tenth commandment-that is, coveting. Paul addresses this issue in Romans 7. “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:5-6). The law of which Paul speaks in chapter 7,verse 5 is the law of sin and death, not the Ten Commandments. In Romans 8:2, Paul says that the law of the Spirit (the gift of the Holy Spirit) has freed us from the law of sin and death (that has a claim on our lives). As noted in chapter 7, verse 6, true Christians have been delivered from the law of sin and death. Christians are able to live according to the spiritual intent of the law as was outlined by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. During the Old Testament period the Holy Spirit was not given, and it was impossible for men to live by the spiritual intent of the law. Paul says that the purpose of the law was to point out sin, and that this law was a holy law. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet . . . . Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:7,12).
Paul then described in Romans 7:14-25 the struggle he faced to overcome the pull of human nature. He explained how he desired to keep the spiritual intent of the law in his mind, but found this difficult. Ever in the forefront, throughout this chapter, was Paul’s desire to keep the Commandments of God. He knew he had to have God’s help, and that he must rely on Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-25). Then in Chapter 8 Paul characterized the true sons of God. He wrote, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit . . . . For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:4, 14). Remember, righteousness is keeping the Ten Commandments (Ps. 119:172), and in order to be righteous these must be applied in our daily lives.
The major reason the Jews failed to attain the true righteousness of God is because they rejected Christ as the Savior. The reason: They attempted to be righteous by their own works. Paul wrote: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3). What is the righteousness of God? Paul explains: “For Christ is the [purpose, aim] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Much is stated in Paul’s Epistles the Jews misunderstood the purpose of the sacrifices. They tried to be righteous by relying on these instead of on Christ-the one true sacrifice Who alone could atone for the sins of the world. In the book of Hebrews Paul wrote: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). “But this man [Christ], after he had offered one sacrificefor sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14). What does this mean for us? It means that upon accepting Christ’s sacrifice for sins, followed by repentance and baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual intent of the law can be fulfilled in the life of true Christians. This is an illustration of Paul’s teaching on Christian living.
The Apostle Paul described the election of grace that Christians are privileged to enjoy, but made it clear that this privilege carries an obligation. Paul compared it to what happened to Elijah. Elijah complained to the Lord: “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life” (Rom. 11:3). And what did God answer? “But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal” (v. 4). Then Paul draws the parallel to Christians. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (v. 5). This is God’s blessing and favor in receiving justification and receiving the gratuities of God.
But what is the obligation?
Paul said that because of unbelief the Israelites were cut off from the spiritual promises of God. Then he warned: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off ” (Rom. 11:22). What is this goodness? In this context it means moral goodness, integrity. Paul says it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Gal. 5:22). The same thing is stated in Ephesians 5:9. “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” In brief, Christians must walk worthy of the election given them and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. And who is a recipient of the Holy Spirit? “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy [Spirit], whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).