The Justice and Judgment of God

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The Justice and Judgment of God

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“But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? . . . By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6 Romans 3:5-6 5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who takes vengeance? (I speak as a man) 6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
American King James Version×
, NRSV).

That God is a judge who holds every human being accountable to His law is a theme repeated again and again in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul elaborates on this theme in his letter to the Romans.

To be sure that we rightly understand Paul’s reasoning, we need to remember Peter’s caution not to misread Paul’s words so as to make him seem to say something different from what he means. As Peter noted, in Paul’s letters we at times find “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16 2 Peter 3:16As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.
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).

Too often such people read into Paul’s words their own beliefs and ideas that are completely contrary to God’s Word and even Paul’s clear teaching. So it’s crucial that we carefully read what Paul actually says instead of assuming that popular opinion is always right.

Many popular beliefs about what Paul taught are so biased against the Old Testament writings that they completely miss the point of Paul’s letters.

As with his letter to the Galatians, Paul’s letter to the Romans is misinterpreted regularly by commentators on the Bible. Because of their preconceived ideas against God’s law, they misinterpret the words of Paul so as to make them seem hostile to the laws taught in God’s Word.

A major purpose for Paul’s writing to the Romans was to put an end to the problem of Christian gentiles and Jews judging one another. He wanted them to see that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and will all be judged by the same standard (Romans 14:10 Romans 14:10But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
American King James Version×
; John 5:22-24 John 5:22-24 22 For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son: 23 That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father which has sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life.
American King James Version×
).

God’s justice knows no favorites

To make his point plain, Paul explains God’s justice and how it relates to the justification of sinners, regardless of their race, culture or previous understanding of His law.

“For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:11-13 Romans 2:11-13 11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

In the final judgment, every person’s eternal destiny hinges on whether his disobedience to God’s law is forgiven because of his personal repentance and his genuine faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Redeemer. All who refuse to meet those conditions will be judged as unrepentant sinners and condemned.

In Rome some of the gentile converts (possibly only a few of the total number) were judging the Jews. Likewise, some of the Jews were judging gentile converts.

Paul wanted them to understand that, when it comes to judgment, God has no favorites. All are guilty of sin. All must repent of sin—of breaking God’s law—and be justified by Christ’s blood to receive forgiveness. There is no other path to gaining God’s favor.

So Paul explains: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4 Romans 2:1-4 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things. 2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 3 And think you this, O man, that judge them which do such things, and do the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God? 4 Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Two things stand out in these remarks. First, God requires repentance of everyone who seeks forgiveness. Second, He still judges everyone by “truth.”

Since God also judges all men without favoritism, ignorance of the law does not excuse anyone from the condemnation the law imposes for sin. Even those who have sinned in ignorance will perish (Romans 2:12 Romans 2:12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
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) if they refuse to learn the truth, if they are unwilling to quit transgressing the law.

Only sinners who repent by showing a willingness to be “doers of the law” (Romans 2:13 Romans 2:13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
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) may be justified by God’s grace. This applies to Jews and gentiles alike, without favoritism being shown to either.

To emphasize this point, Paul in the first part of the book of Romans covers three crucial aspects of how sin relates to God’s justice: (1) sin is universal and all peoples are guilty, (2) sin is caused primarily by fleshly weaknesses (see James 1:14-15 James 1:14-15 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.
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) and (3) sin’s consequence—when viewed from the point of view of the final judgment—is eternal death.

Why most Jews did not accept Jesus

By the time Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, most Jews were refusing to accept Jesus as the Messiah. His first coming was not that of the conquering king they had expected. This made Him a “stumbling block” to them (Romans 11:9 Romans 11:9And David said, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense to them:
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).

Therefore Paul is putting in place the needed background to God’s justice so he can address effectively, in chapters 9 through 11, one of the questions that originally prompted this letter. That question was, “Has God cast away His people?” His answer: “Certainly not!” (Romans 11:1 Romans 11:1I say then, Has God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
American King James Version×
).

Paul makes it plain that God has not permanently rejected the Israelites, including the Jews of that time, because they had rejected the Messiah. Nor has God abandoned any of the promises that He had made to them.

Rather, He is calling in this present age only “a remnant” of Israel as His “elect”—with the remainder staying spiritually blinded (Romans 11:5-7 Romans 11:5-7 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. 7 What then? Israel has not obtained that which he seeks for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
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). That blindness of “the rest” will not end until Christ returns.

Therefore that blindness is temporary —only a “blindness in part . . . until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25 Romans 11:25For I would not, brothers, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
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). What that means is that during this present age only a small portion of the people of Israel is now being called to repentance.

Israel’s future salvation

So Paul then quickly points out that in the future “all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer [Jesus Christ] will come out of Zion, and He will [at His second coming] turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’ ” (Romans 11:26-27 Romans 11:26-27 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.
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).

God has a time frame for leading all people to repentance and salvation. Only a relative few are being called in this present age.

Those few, chosen from all nations, will be resurrected from the dead when Christ returns to assist Him in teaching “the rest” of those who are still blinded. “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
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). God has set aside this millennial period plus the period described in Revelation 20:11-13 Revelation 20:11-13 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
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to bring the majority of “the rest” of humanity to repentance.

At that time this prophecy of Isaiah about the city of Jerusalem will become a reality: “And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed” (Isaiah 1:26-28 Isaiah 1:26-28 26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning: afterward you shall be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. 27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. 28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
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, NRSV)

Why was understanding this so important at the time Paul was writing his letter to the church in Rome? It was because an anti- Jewish attitude, which at that time was affecting the Christian gentiles in Rome but later spread to the whole world, needed to be confronted.

Paul wanted to defeat the very idea that God was rejecting His people Israel. He addressed this issue when he wrote the book of Romans. But after his death it emerged again and is known today as “replacement theology.” It is the popular notion that God has been replacing the Jews, as His covenant people, with gentile converts.

Gentiles must be “grafted” into Abraham’s family

Therefore Paul strongly rejected the idea that God is replacing the nation of Israel—including the Jews of the first century—as His covenant people. Rather, gentile converts are “grafted” into the root of Israel (Romans 11:17-19 Romans 11:17-19 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if you boast, you bore not the root, but the root you. 19 You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
American King James Version×
). The “root” or ancestor of Israel was Abraham, to whom God made the promise that the Messiah would come from his descendants.

The hope of the gentiles, therefore, lies in sharing the heritage promised to the Israelites, not in replacing them or receiving a different heritage apart from them. As Paul had explained to the Christians of Galatia: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29 Galatians 3:29And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
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).

As was explained above, a major factor in Paul’s reasoning is that during “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4 Galatians 1:4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
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), God is not calling the majority of either Jews or gentiles to repentance. So he argues that the gentile converts should not assume that their calling means that God has “cast away” the physical descendants of Israel (whether living, deceased or to be born in the future).

Most human beings, Jews and gentiles alike, will be called to repentance—for the purpose of receiving salvation—only after Christ returns. In fact, many of them will wait in their graves, with no consciousness of the passing of time, until the resurrection from the dead that Ezekiel prophesied (Ezekiel 37:1-14 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the middle of the valley which was full of bones, 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, see, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, you know. 4 Again he said to me, Prophesy on these bones, and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: 6 And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD. 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8 And when I beheld, see, the sinews and the flesh came up on them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus said the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army. 11 Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, said the LORD.
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).

Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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confirms that resurrection in the New Testament and explains that it will take place after the first thousand years of Jesus Christ’s reign on earth is ended. The ultimate and greatest fulfillment of the New Covenant prophesied in Ezekiel and other places will take place after the return of Christ. (For more details, please request or download our free booklet What Happens After Death? )

This future resurrection is one of the reasons Paul instructs the Christian gentiles not to “boast” as if they were replacing the Israelites in God’s salvation plan (Romans 11:18 Romans 11:18Boast not against the branches. But if you boast, you bore not the root, but the root you.
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). He wanted them to see why they, like the broken-off natural branches of Israel, should humbly see themselves as mercifully “grafted” into the “olive tree” of Abraham’s heirs (Romans 11:13-25 Romans 11:13-25 13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office: 14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? 16 For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if you boast, you bore not the root, but the root you. 19 You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Be not high minded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not you. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off. 23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I would not, brothers, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
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). They had no cause for boasting.

Paul also emphasizes that all past promises made to Israel will be fulfilled because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29 Romans 11:29For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
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). God never breaks His promises.

When Jesus Christ returns, the natural descendants of Israel will submit to His rule (Jeremiah 23:3-6 Jeremiah 23:3-6 3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, said the LORD. 5 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
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). At that time God will confirm the New Covenant with them as a nation, as His chosen people whom He has not rejected (Jeremiah 31:31-34 Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
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).

Also at that time, God will write His laws in their hearts and minds (verse 33), transforming them into His chosen nation of spiritually capable teachers. As a converted nation, they will be able to help Jesus Christ teach all the nations of the world how to put into practice the ways of God, including His law (Isaiah 2:3 Isaiah 2:3And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
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; Zechariah 8:22-23 Zechariah 8:22-23 22 Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. 23 Thus said the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
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). Every promise made to Israel will be fulfilled.

The rejection of Jews after Paul’s death

Why was confirming God’s faithfulness to the promises He made to Israel so important that Paul wanted all gentile converts to understand it?

History gives us the answer. Within less than a century following his death, the division that Paul had attempted to prevent between Jews and gentiles in Christianity began to take place on a massive scale.

The bulk of gentile converts—by then most were “Christians” in name only—rejected the role of Israel in God’s salvation plan and abandoned the law of God. They chose to regard themselves as the replacements of the Jews. Once that false concept became embedded in their beliefs, they became easy targets for other deceptions.

Most of those deceptions still influence the major branches of Christianity until this day (for more details, request our free booklet The Church Jesus Built ).

This transition marked the beginning of a new theological viewpoint that not only rejected the Jews but also became critical of almost everything that was perceived to be “Jewish”—including the Scriptures that we call the Old Testament. (For more on how this “replacement theology” affected Christianity after Paul’s death, be sure to read “The Corruption of Apostolic Christianity “.)

The distortion of justification through Christ

It now should be easier to understand Paul’s reason for addressing the judging problem among Christians in Rome. If they failed to correctly understand the reason for their calling, Paul knew they would soon be headed for disaster.

So he explains, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (Romans 2:1 Romans 2:1Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.
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, NRSV). Each group’s eligibility for justification was on the same basis—through Jesus Christ (Romans 2:26 Romans 2:26Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
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), not because one group was superior to the other.

In Romans 4, Paul refers to the example of Abraham, whose faith moved him to obey God (Hebrews 11:8 Hebrews 11:8By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.
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). His purpose is to help the gentile converts to realize that obeying God’s commandments is an essential part of repentance.

Paul agrees with James that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17 James 2:17Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.
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, NIV). So Paul explains how Abraham’s faith should be viewed as the basis of his obedience, rather than his obedience being the basis of his faith (Romans 4:13 Romans 4:13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
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; compare James 2:18-24 James 2:18-24 18 Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
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). Abraham understood clearly that He needed help just to be able to obey God. He did not obey God to receive faith, rather God gave Abraham faith so he could and would obey Him.

Abraham’s natural descendants through his grandson Jacob, however, did not follow his example of obedient faith. By the time of Paul, their confidence was based mostly on an inaccurate perception of their superior righteousness.

As a result, most Jews were unable to see their desperate need for justification through Christ. They were anticipating a King who would expel the Roman army and exalt them to the prominence they thought they deserved, not a Savior who could take away their sins.

So Paul explains, in Romans 5:1-17 Romans 5:1-17 1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us. 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 12 Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15 But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has abounded to many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses to justification. 17 For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
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, the benefits of being justified though faith. Those benefits include “peace with God” (verse 1), direct access to Him by faith (verse 2) and the “gift of righteousness”—made possible through a pardon for past guilt and the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Without those gracious benefits, no one can please God. So repentance, forgiveness of sins through Christ’s shed blood and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit are the essentials for becoming a righteous people.

Or, as Paul explained, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 Romans 6:4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
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).

The right response to God’s mercy

Becoming a new person, transformed by the power of God’s Spirit, is the objective Paul wanted to make the main focus of the Christians in Rome. He was trying to get them to fully comprehend that this walk in “newness of life” is accomplished by obeying God from the heart.

Only those who are forgiven on repentance and led by the Holy Spirit into the obedient way of life revealed in God’s spiritual laws and teachings will succeed in that spiritual walk. So Paul continues: “Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to him whom you obey; whether it is of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness”(Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
American King James Version×
, Modern King James Version).

Then, as a result of “having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23 Romans 6:22-23 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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).

Paul begins Romans 7 with the example of a married woman’s release from any lawful claim to her by her husband once he is dead. His death releases her from that marriage. By comparison, he explains that “you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ …” (Romans 7:4 Romans 7:4Why, my brothers, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God.
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).

Notice that Paul does not say that the law is dead. Rather, we become dead to the law on repentance. That is, the law’s claim on our life as the penalty for breaking it is considered met through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death in our place.

Paul’s point is that, like the woman released from the specific law binding her to her former husband, we through Jesus’ death may be released from the law’s specific requirement of death for past sins. As a response, “we should bear fruit to God,” in contrast to bearing “fruit to death” (Romans 7:4-5 Romans 7:4-5 4 Why, my brothers, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God. 5 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 to death.
American King James Version×
).

This release is only from the condemnation to death that the law imposes on all sinners. It is not a release from any obligation to respect and practice the righteous way of life defined by the law.

Paul summarizes it this way: “But now we have been delivered from the law [from its condemnation to death], having died to what we were held by [ condemnation for having sinned], so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter [of the law, as if we were still under its legal condemnation]” (Romans 7:6 Romans 7:6But 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.
American King James Version×
).

His point is that the right approach to obeying God after we are forgiven is to exceed the mere letter of the law (compare Matthew 5:20 Matthew 5:20For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
). We should obey it according to its intent (or spirit), not by doing only the bare minimum of what is explicitly stated. It serves us as our guide for attaining truly righteous thinking and behavior.

Bringing our fleshly weakness under control

Once he establishes that we are to walk in newness of life by resisting the temptation to sin, Paul begins to address how we can overpower the weaknesses of our fleshly nature, with its evil desires, though the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the remainder of Romans 7 Paul uses himself as an example, describing his own battle with the same fleshly desires and impulses that can tempt us to sin. He contrasts his high regard for God’s law with the pulls toward evil he has had to struggle against in his own flesh.

“So then, the law in itself is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good . Are we therefore to say that this good thing caused my death? Of course not! It was sin that killed me, and thereby sin exposed its true character: it used a good thing [the law] to bring about my death, and so, through the commandment, sin became more sinful than ever. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am not: I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:12-14 Romans 7:12-14 12 Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
American King James Version×
, REB).

This weakness within all of us, not a weakness in God’s law, is the problem that both Jews and gentiles have to acknowledge, combat and solve with the help of God’s Spirit. It is a personal battle that can be won only with the help of God’s Spirit.

Notice how plainly Paul explains this: “I discover this principle, then: that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach. In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law [the powerful pulls of the flesh], fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law [the constant pull] of sin which [without the power of God’s Spirit] controls my conduct” (Romans 7:21-23 Romans 7:21-23 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
American King James Version×
, REB).

Rescued from our sinful nature

He then asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 Romans 7:24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
American King James Version×
, NRSV). Then he answers his own question, “Thanks be to God [that rescue will come] through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 Romans 7:25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×
, NRSV). Good intentions are not enough to conquer the selfish pulls of our flesh without the assistance supplied by Jesus Christ, our High Priest (verse 25, last part).

So Paul continues: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law [the constant presence] of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 Romans 8:1-2 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
American King James Version×
).

The “law of sin and death” isn’t God’s law. Here Paul uses the Greek word for “law” in the sense of a dominating power or influence to contrast the struggle between our fleshly nature and God’s law and Spirit as to which side will exercise control over our behavior. Paul’s point is that we must receive spiritual power from God to rule over our human weaknesses:

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 Romans 8:3-4 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×
).

God’s Spirit enables us to choose and do what His law requires. With that divine help to overcome our natural, fleshly weaknesses, “the righteous requirement of the law” can now “be fulfilled in us” (verse 4).

“Freedom” to Paul was freedom from the domination of man’s fleshly nature and freedom from the condemnation to death by forgiveness of sin. He deeply believed God’s promise, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27 Ezekiel 36:27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

In his concluding remarks to the Christians in Rome, he notes and praises their obedience: “For your obedience has become known to all” (Romans 16:19 Romans 16:19For your obedience is come abroad to all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise to that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
American King James Version×
). To him it is ” obedience to the faith” which “by the prophetic Scriptures” has been “made known to all nations” (Romans 16:26 Romans 16:26But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
American King James Version×
).

Throughout his letter to the Romans, Paul never wavers in teaching that faith produces obedience to God’s Word. The main thrust of his message is always that “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8 Romans 8:7-8 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
American King James Version×
, NASB).

He wanted the Romans to understand that only a “new heart”—which is the core of the New Covenant—can enable one to obey God from the heart!

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