Teaching on God’s Character and Sinful Traits
CHARACTER [Gk dokimḗ] (Rom. 5:4); AV EXPERIENCE; NEB “proof that we have stood the test,” “this proof.” The Greek noun dokimḗ is derived from the adjective dókimos, “approved,” “tried and true,” “genuine,” and thus connotes successful endurance of testing. In Rom. 5:4 dokimḗ is an intermediate step in a process of development. The renderings “approvedness” (RV) and “proof” (NEB), though basically sound, tend to obscure the flow of thought. Also, the verbal idea (katergázetai, “work out,” “effect,” v 3) is probably best represented by the Eng. “develops” or “builds,” so either “experience” or “character” seems more appropriate with the idea of the verb. Their use in this context complies with current usage, for persons with character or experience are reliable and trustworthy, having stood the test.
See TDNT, II, sv dovcimob ctl. (Grundmann).
Mark of Christian Virtue. In 2 Peter 1:6 endurance (hypomonē) appears between self-control and godliness in a list of Christian virtues. It is synonymous here with patience (makrothymia), which is much more common in these lists, especially in Paul’s letters (2 Cor 6:4; Gal 5:2; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 3:10). In this sense the idea has to do with controlling anger toward others out of love for them (1 Cor 13:4). Patient endurance, among other Christian virtues, reflects the nature of God renewing the Christian into his own character (1 Pet 1:3–4).
Mark of God’s Character. Since patient endurance in the Christian reflects the nature of God, it stands to reason that God’s own character is said to exemplify this trait. 2 Peter, which defends God’s character from the attack of second-generation teachers who mock God’s promise that he will return to judge and condemn this sinful world, extols the enduring patience of God (2 Pet 3:9, 15) to explain why God might seem “slow in keeping his promise” to come in judgment upon humanity. God’s patient endurance provides for many more people the opportunity for salvation. This is consistent with Paul’s use of “endurance” (makrothymia) in Romans 2:4 and Romans 9:22. God’s long-suffering nature toward Israel and humanity is a major OT theme.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
It is difficult to clearly distinguish between the attributes and the nature of God. It is maintained by some that such a division ought not to be made; that these qualities of God which we call attributes are in reality part of His nature and essence. Whether this be exactly so or not, our purpose in speaking of the attributes of God is for convenience in the study of the doctrine of God.
It has been customary to divide the attributes of God into two classes: the natural, and the moral. The natural attributes are omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity; the moral attributes: holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, mercy and loving-kindness, and love.
1. The Natural Attributes
A. THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD
God is a Spirit, and as such has knowledge. He is a perfect Spirit, and as such has perfect knowledge. By omniscience is meant that God knows all things and is absolutely perfect in knowledge.
(1) Scriptures Setting Forth the Fact of God’s Omniscience
In general: Job 11:7, 8–;“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” Job’s friends professed to have discovered the reason for his affliction, for, forsooth, had they not found out the secrets of the divine wisdom unto perfection? No, such is beyond their human, finite ken. Isa. 40:28—“There is no searching of his understanding.” Israel’s captive condition might lead to loss of trust and faith in God. But Israel has not seen all God’s plans—no man has. Job 37:16—“The wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge.” Could Job explain the wonders of the natural phenomena around him? Much less the purposes and judgments of God. Psa. 147:5—“His understanding is infinite.” Of His understanding there is no number, no computation. Israel is not lost sight of. He who can number and name and call the stars is able also to call each of the Jews by name even out of captivity. His knowledge is not to be measured by ours. 1 John 3:20—“God knoweth all things.” Our hearts may pass over certain things, and fail to see some things that should be confessed. God, however, sees all things. Rom. 11:33—“How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out.” The mysterious purposes and decrees of God touching man and his salvation are beyond all human comprehension.
In detail, and by way of illustration:
(aa) His Knowledge is Absolutely Comprehensive.
Prov. 15:3—“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.” How could He reward and punish otherwise? Not one single thing occurring in any place escapes His knowledge. 5:21—“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.” We may have habits hidden from our fellow creatures, but not from God.
(bb) God Has a Perfect Knowledge of All that is in Nature.
Psa. 147:4—“He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.” Man cannot (Gen. 15:5). How, then, can Israel say, “My way is hid from the Lord”? Cf. Isa. 40:26, 27. Matt. 10: 29—“One … sparrow shall not fall to the ground without your Father.” Much less would one of His children who perchance might be killed for His name’s sake fall without His knowledge.
(cc) God Has a Perfect Knowledge of All that Transpires in Human Experience.
Prov. 5:21—“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.” All a man’s doings are weighed by God. How this should affect his conduct! Psa. 139:2, 3—“Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” Before our thoughts are fully developed, our unspoken sentences, the rising feeling in our hearts, our activity, our resting, all that we do from day to day is known and sifted by God. v. 4—“There is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.” Not only thoughts and purposes, but words spoken, idle, good, or bad. Exod. 3:7—“I have seen the affliction … heard the cry: know the sorrows of my people which are in Egypt.” The tears and grief which they dared not show to their taskmasters, God saw and noted. Did God know of their trouble in Egypt? It seemed to them as though He did not. But He did. Matt. 10:29, 30—“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” What minute knowledge is this! Exod. 3:19—“And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.” Here is intimate knowledge as to what a single individual will do. Isa. 48:18—“O that thou hadst harkened to my commandments! then had thy peace have been as a river,” etc. God knows what our lives would have been if only we had acted and decided differently.
(dd) God Has a Perfect Knowledge of All that Transpires in Human History.
With what precision are national changes and destinies foretold and depicted in Dan. 2 and 8! Acts 15:18—“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world [ages].” In the context surrounding this verse are clearly set forth the religious changes that were to characterize the generations to come, the which have been so far literally, though not fully, fulfilled.
(ee) God Knows from All Eternity to All Eternity What Will Take Place.
The omniscience of God is adduced as the proof that He alone is God, especially as contrasted with the gods (idols) of the heathen: Isa. 48:5-8—“I have even from the beginning declared it unto thee; before it came to pass I showed it thee.… I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things,” etc. 46:9, 10—“I am God … declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Here God is announcing to His prophets things that are to occur in the future which it is impossible for the human understanding to know or reach. There is no past, present, future with God. Everything is one great living present. We are like a man standing by a river in a low place, and who, consequently, can see that part of the river only that passes by him; but he who is aloof in the air may see the whole course of the river, how it rises, and how it runs. Thus is it with God.
(2) Certain Problems in Connection with the Doctrine of the Omniscience of God
How the divine intelligence can comprehend so vast and multitudinous and exhaustless a number of things must forever surpass our comprehension. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). “There is no searching of his understanding; it is beyond human computation.” We must expect, therefore, to stand amazed in the presence of such matchless wisdom, and find problems in connection therewith which must for the time, at least, remain unsolved.
Again, we must not confound the foreknowledge of God with His foreordination. The two things are, in a sense, distinct. The fact that God foreknows a thing makes that thing certain but not necessary. His foreordination is based upon His foreknowledge. Pharaoh was responsible for the hardening of his heart even though that hardening process was foreknown and foretold by God. The actions of men are considered certain but not necessary by reason of the divine foreknowledge.
B. THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD
The omnipotence of God is that attribute by which He can bring to pass everything which He wills. God’s power admits of no bounds or limitations. God’s declaration of His intention is the pledge of the thing intended being carried out. “Hath he said, and shall he not do it?”
(1) Scriptural Declaration of the Fact; In General:
Job 42:2 (R. V.)—“I know that thou canst do everything [all things], and that no purpose of thine can be restrained.” The mighty review of all God’s works as it passes before Job (context) brings forth this confession: “There is no resisting thy might, and there is no purpose thou canst not carry out.” Gen. 18:14—“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” What had ceased to be possible by natural means comes to pass by supernatural means.
(2) Scriptural Declaration of the Fact; In Detail:
(aa) In the World of Nature
Gen. 1:1-3—“God created the heaven and the earth. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” Thus “he spake and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast.” He does not need even to give His hand to the work; His word is sufficient. Psa. 107:25-29—“He raiseth the stormy wind … he maketh the storm calm.” “Even the winds and the sea obey him.” God’s slightest word, once uttered, is a standing law to which all nature must absolutely conform. Nahum 1:5, 6—“The mountains quake at him … the hills melt … the earth is burned at his presence … the rocks are thrown down by him.” If such is His power how shall Assyria withstand it? This is God’s comforting message to Israel. Everything in the sky, in sea, on earth is absolutely subject to His control.
(bb) In the Experience of Mankind
How wonderfully this is illustrated in the experience of Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. 4; and in the conversion of Saul, Acts 9; as well as in the case of Pharaoh, Exod. 4:11. James 4:12-15—“ … For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.” All human actions, whether present or future, are dependent upon the will and power of God. These things are in God’s, not in man’s, power. See also the parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:16-21.
(cc) The Heavenly Inhabitants are Subject to His Will and Word.
Dan. 4:35 (R. V.)—“He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven.” Heb. 1:14—“Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
(dd) Even Satan is Under the Control of God.
Satan has no power over any of God’s children saving as God permits him to have. This fact is clearly established in the case of Job (1:12 and 2:6), and Peter (Luke 22:31, 32), in which we are told that Satan had petitioned God that he might sift the self-righteous patriarch and the impulsive apostle. Finally Satan is to be forever bound with a great chain (Rev. 20:2). God can set a bar to the malignity of Satan just as he can set a bar to the waves of the sea.
C. THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD
By the omnipresence of God is meant that God is everywhere present. This attribute is closely connected with the omniscience and omnipotence of God, for if God is everywhere present He is everywhere active and possesses full knowledge of all that transpires in every place.
This does not mean that God is everywhere present in a bodily sense, nor even in the same sense; for there is a sense in which He may be in heaven, His dwelling place, in which He cannot be said to be elsewhere. We must guard against the pantheistic idea which claims that God is everything, while maintaining the Scriptural doctrine that He is everywhere present in all things. Pantheism emphasizes the omnipresent activity of God, but denies His personality. Those holding the doctrine of pantheism make loud claims to philosophic ability and high intellectual training, but is it not remarkable that it is in connection with this very phase of the doctrine of God that the Apostle Paul says “they became fools”? (Rom.1.) God is everywhere and in every place; His center is everywhere; His circumference nowhere. But this presence is a spiritual and not a material presence; yet it is a real presence.
(1) Scriptural Statement of the Fact
Jer. 23:23, 24—“Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” Did the false prophets think that they could hide their secret crimes from God? Or that He could not pursue them into foreign countries? Or that He knew what was transpiring in heaven only and not upon the earth, and even in its most distant corners? It was false for them to thus delude themselves—their sins would be detected and punished (Psa. 10:1-14).
Psa. 139:7-12—“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence,” etc. How wondrously the attributes of God are grouped in this psalm. In vv. 1-6— the psalmist speaks of the omniscience of God: God knows him through and through. In vv. 13-19 it is the omnipotence of God which overwhelms the psalmist. The omnipresence of God is set forth in vv. 7-12. The psalmist realizes that he is never out of the sight of God any more than he is outside of the range of His knowledge and power. God is in heaven; “Hell is naked before Him”; souls in the intermediate state are fully known to Him (cf. Job 26:2; Jonah 2:2); the darkness is as the light to Him. Job 22:12-14—“Is not God in the height of heaven? … Can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not,” etc. All agreed that God displayed His presence in the heaven, but Job had inferred from this that God could not know and did not take notice of such actions of men as were hidden behind the intervening clouds. Not that Job was atheistic; no, but probably denied to God the attribute of omnipresence and omniscience. Acts 17:24-28—“For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Without His upholding hand we must perish; God is our nearest environment. From these and many other scriptures we are clearly taught that God is everywhere present and acting; there is no place where God is not.
This does not mean that God is everywhere present in the same sense. For we are told that He is in heaven, His dwelling place (1 Kings 8:30); that Christ is at His right hand in heaven (Eph. 1:20); that God’s throne is in heaven (Rev. 21:2; Isa. 66:1).
We may summarize the doctrine of the Trinity thus: God the Father is specially manifested in heaven; God the Son has been specially manifested on the earth; God the Spirit is manifested everywhere.
Just as the soul is present in every part of the body so God is present in every part of the world.
(2) Some Practical Inferences from This Doctrine
First, of Comfort: The nearness of God to the believer. “Speak to Him then for He listens. And spirit with spirit can meet; Closer is He than breathing, And nearer than hands or feet.” “God is never so far off, As even to be near; He is within. Our spirit is the home He holds most dear. To think of Him as by our side is almost as untrue, As to remove His shrine beyond those skies of starry blue.”—Faber. The omnipresence is not only a detective truth—it is protective also. After dwelling on this great and awful attribute in Psalm 139, the psalmist, in vv. 17, 18, exclaims: “How precious are thy thoughts to me … when I awake, I am still with thee.” By this is meant that God stands by our side to help, and as One who loves and understands us (Matt. 28:20).
Second, of Warning: “As in the Roman empire the whole world was one great prison to a malefactor, and in his flight to the most distant lands the emperor could track him, so under the government of God no sinner can escape the eye of the judge.” Thus the omnipresence of God is detective as well as protective. “Thou God seest me,” should serve as warning to keep us from sin.
D. THE ETERNITY AND IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
The word “eternal” is used in two senses in the Bible: figuratively, as denoting existence which may have a beginning, but will have no end, e. g., angels, the human soul; literally, denoting an existence which has neither beginning nor ending, like that of God. Time has past, present, future; eternity has not. Eternity is infinite duration without any beginning, end, or limit—an ever abiding present. We can conceive of it only as duration indefinitely extended from the present moment in two directions—as to the past and as to the future. “One of the deaf and dumb pupils in the institution of Paris, being desired to express his idea of the eternity of the Deity, replied: ‘It is duration, without beginning or end; existence, without bounds or dimension; present, without past or future. His eternity is youth, without infancy or old age; life, without birth or death; today, without yesterday or tomorrow.’ ”
By the immutability of God is meant that God’s nature is absolutely unchangeable. It is not possible that He should possess one attribute at one time that He does not possess at another. Nor can there be any change in the Deity for better or for worse. God remains forever the same. He is without beginning and without end; the self-existent “I am”; He remains forever the same, and unchangeable.
(1) Scriptural Statement of the Fact: The Eternity of God
Hab. 1:12—“Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One?” Chaldea had threatened to annihilate Israel. The prophet cannot believe it possible, for has not God eternal purposes for Israel? Is He not holy? How, then, can evil triumph? Psa. 90:2—“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Short and transitory is the life of man; with God it is otherwise. The perishable nature of man is here compared with the imperishable nature of God. Psa. 102:24-27—“I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old thou hast laid the foundations of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” With the perishable nature of the whole material creation the psalmist contrasts the imperishable nature of God. Exod. 3:14—“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM.” The past, present and future lie in these words for the name of Jehovah. Rev. 1:8—“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
(2) Scriptural Statement of the Immutability of God:
Mal. 3:6—“I am the Lord, I change not.” Man’s hope lies in that fact, as the context here shows. Man had changed in his life and purpose toward God, and if God, like man, had changed, man would have been destroyed. James 1:17—“The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” There is no change—in the sense of the degree or intensity of light such as is manifested in the heavenly bodies. Such lights are constantly varying and changing; not so with God. There is no inherent, indwelling, possible change in God. 1 Sam. 15:29—“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” From these scriptures we assert that God, in His nature and character, is absolutely without change.
Does God Repent?
What, then, shall we say with regard to such scriptures as Jonah 3:10 and Gen. 6:6—“And God repented of the evil, that he said he would do unto them.” “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” In reply we may say that God does not change, but threatens that men may change. “The repentant attitude in God does not involve any real change in the character and purposes of God. He ever hates the sin and ever pities and loves the sinner; that is so both before and after the sinner’s repentance. Divine repentance is therefore the same principle acting differently in altered circumstances. If the prospect of punishment answers the same purpose as that intended by the punishment itself, then there is no inconsistency in its remission, for punishment is not an end, it is only a means to goodness, to the reign of the law of righteousness.” When God appears to be displeased with anything, or orders it differently from what we expected, we say, after the manner of men, that He repents. God’s attitude towards the Ninevites had not changed, but they had changed; and because they had changed from sin unto righteousness, God’s attitude towards them and His intended dealings with them as sinners must of necessity change, while, of course, God’s character had in no wise changed with respect to these people, although His dealings with them had. So that we may say that God’s character never changes, but His dealings with men change as they change from ungodliness to godliness and from disobedience unto obedience. “God’s immutability is not that of the stone, that has no internal experience, but rather that of the column of mercury that rises and falls with every change in the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere. When a man bicycling against the wind turns about and goes with the wind instead of going against it, the wind seems to change, although it is blowing just as it was before.”—Strong.
2. The Moral Attributes
A. THE HOLINESS OF GOD
If there is any difference in importance in the attributes of God, that of His holiness seems to occupy the first place. It is, to say the least, the one attribute which God would have His people remember Him by more than any other. In the visions of Himself which God granted men in the Scriptures the thing that stood out most prominent was the divine holiness. This is clearly seen by referring to the visions of Moses, Job, and Isaiah. Some thirty times does the Prophet Isaiah speak of Jehovah as “the Holy One,” thus indicating what feature of those beatific visions had most impressed him.
The holiness of God is the message of the entire Old Testament. To the prophets God was the absolutely Holy One; the One with eyes too pure to behold evil; the One swift to punish iniquity. In taking a photograph, the part of the body which we desire most to see is not the hands or feet, but the face. So is it with our vision of God. He desires us to see not His hand and finger, denoting His power and skill, nor even His throne as indicating His majesty. It is His holiness by which He desires to be remembered as that is the attribute which most glorifies Him. Let us bear this fact in mind as we study this attribute of the divine nature. It is just this vision of God that we need today when the tendency to deny the reality or the awfulness of sin is so prevalent. Our view of the necessity of the atonement will depend very largely upon our view of the holiness of God. Light views of God and His holiness will produce light views of sin and the atonement.
(1) Scriptural Statements Setting Forth the Fact of God’s Holiness
Isa. 57:15—“Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place.” Psa. 99:9—“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill: for the Lord our God is holy.” Hab. 1:13—“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” 1 Pet. 1:15, 16—“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Because it is written, Be ye holy: for I am holy.” God’s personal name is holy. John 17:11—“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” Christ here contemplates the Father as the Holy One, as the source and agent of that which He desires for His disciples, namely, holiness of heart and life, being kept from the evil of this world.
Is it not remarkable that this attribute of holiness is ascribed to each of the three persons of the Trinity? God the Father is the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 41:14); God the Son is the Holy One (Acts 3:14); God the Spirit is called the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).
(2) The Scriptural Meaning of Holiness as Applied to God
Job 34:10—“Be it far from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty that he should commit iniquity.” An evil God, one that could commit evil would be a contradiction in terms, an impossible, inconceivable idea. Job seemed to doubt that the principle on which the universe was conducted was one of absolute equity. He must know that God is free from all evil-doing. However hidden the meaning of His dealings, He is always just. God never did, never will do wrong to any of His creatures; He will never punish wrongly. Men may, yea, often do; God never does. Lev. 11:43–45—“Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the Lord your God; ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. … Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” This means that God is absolutely clean and pure and free from all defilement.
The construction of the Tabernacle, with its holy and most holy place into which the high priest alone entered once a year; the Ten Commandments, with their moral categories; the laws of clean and unclean animals and things—all these speak to us in unmistakable terms as to what is meant by holiness as applied to God.
Two things, by way of definition, may be inferred from these Scriptures: first, negatively, that God is entirely apart from all that is evil and from all that defiles both in Himself and in relation to all His creatures; second, and positively, by the holiness of God is meant the consummate holiness, perfection, purity, and absolute sanctity of His nature. There is absolutely nothing unholy in Him. So the Apostle John declares: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
(3) The Manifestation of God’s Holiness
Prov. 15:9, 26—“The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord. The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord.” God hates sin, and is its uncompromising foe. Sin is a vile and detestable thing to God. Isa. 59:1, 2—“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Israel’s sin had raised a partition wall. The infinite distance between the sinner and God is because of sin. The sinner and God are at opposite poles of the moral universe. This in answer to Israel’s charge of God’s inability. From these two scriptures it is clear that God’s holiness manifests itself in the hatred of sin and the separation of the sinner from Himself.
Herein lies the need of the atonement, whereby this awful distance is bridged over. This is the lesson taught by the construction of the Tabernacle as to the division into the holy place and the most holy place.
Prov. 15:9—“But he loveth him that followeth after righteousness.” John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc. Here God’s holiness is seen in that He loves righteousness in the life of His children to such a degree that He gave His only begotten Son to secure it. The Cross shows how much God loves holiness. The Cross stands for God’s holiness before even His love. For Christ died not merely for our sins, but in order that He might provide us with that righteousness of life which God loves. “He died that we might be forgiven; he died to make us good.” Do we love holiness to the extent of sacrificing for it?
For other manifestations see under Righteousness and Justice of God.
(4) Practical Deductions from the Doctrine of God’s Holiness
First, we should approach God with “reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). In the story of Moses’ approach to the burning bush, the smiting of the men at Bethshemesh, the boundary set about Mt. Sinai, we are taught to feel our own unworthiness. There is too much hilarity in our approach unto God. Eccl. 5:1–3 inculcates great care in our address to God.
Second, we shall have right views of sin when we get right views of God’s holiness. Isaiah, the holiest man in all Israel, was cast down at the sight of his own sin after he had seen the vision of God’s holiness. The same thing is true of Job (40:3–5; 42:4–5). We confess sin in such easy and familiar terms that it has almost lost its terror for us.
Third, that approach to a holy God must be through the merits of Christ, and on the ground of a righteousness which is Christ’s and which naturally we do not possess. Herein lies the need of the atonement.
B. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE OF GOD
In a certain sense these attributes are but the manifestation of God’s holiness. It is holiness as manifested in dealing with the sons of men. Holiness has to do more particularly with the character of God in itself, while in righteousness and justice that character is expressed in the dealings of God with men. Three things may be said in the consideration of the righteousness and justice of God: first, there is the imposing of righteousness, laws and demands, which may be called legislative holiness, and may be known as the righteousness of God; second, there is the executing of the penalties attached to those laws, which may be called judicial holiness; third, there is the sense in which the attributes of the righteousness and justice of God may be regarded as the actual carrying out of the holy nature of God in the government of the world. So that in the righteousness of God we have His love of holiness, and in the justice of God, His hatred of sin.
Again righteousness, as here used, has reference to the very nature of God as He is in Himself—that attribute which leads God always to do right. Justice, as an attribute of God, is devoid of all passion or caprice; it is vindicative, not vindictive. And so the righteousness and justice of the God of Israel were made to stand out prominently as contrasted with the caprice of the heathen gods.
(1) Scriptural Statement of the Fact
Psa. 116: 5—“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.” The context here shows that it is because of this fact that God listens to men, and because, having promised to hear, He is bound to keep His promises. Ezra 9:15—“O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous.” Here the righteousness of Jehovah is acknowledged in the punishment of Israel’s sins. Thou art just, and thou hast brought us into the state in which we are today. Psa. 145:17—“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” This is evident in the rewards He gives to the upright, in lifting up the lowly, and in abundantly blessing the good, pure, and true. Jer. 12:l—“Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee.” That is to say, “If I were to bring a charge against Thee I should not be able to convict Thee of injustice, even though I be painfully exercised over the mysteries of Thy providence.”
These scriptures clearly set forth not only the fact that God is righteous and just, but also define these attributes. Here we are told that God, in His government of the world, does always that which is suitable, straight, and right.
(2) How the Righteousness and Justice of God are Revealed
In two ways: first, in punishing the wicked: retributive justice; second, in rewarding the righteous: remunerative justice.
(aa) In the Punishment of the Wicked
Psa. 11:4–7—“The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous; but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest. This shall be the portion of their cup.” This is David’s reply to his timid advisers. Saul may reign upon the earth and do wickedly, but God reigns from heaven and will do right. He sees who does right and who does wrong. And there is that in His nature which recoils from the evil that He sees, and will lead Him ultimately to punish it. There is such a thing as the wrath of God. It is here described. Whatever awful thing the description in this verse may mean for the wicked, God grant that we may never know. In Exod. 9:23–27 we have the account of the plague of hail, following which are these words: “And Pharaoh sent … for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” Pharaoh here acknowledges the perfect justice of God in punishing him for his sin and rebellion. He knew that he had deserved it all, even though cavillers today say there was injustice with God in His treatment of Pharaoh. Pharaoh himself certainly did not think so. Dan. 9:12–14 and Rev. 16:5, 6 bring out the same thought. How careful sinners ought to be not to fall into the hands of the righteous Judge! No sinner at last will be able to say, “I did not deserve this punishment.”
(bb) In Forgiving the Sins of the Penitent
1 John 1:9 (R. V.)—“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Ordinarily, the forgiveness of sin is associated with the mercy, love, and compassion of God, and not with His righteousness and justice. This verse assures us that if we confess our sins, the righteousness and justice of God are our guarantee for forgiveness—God cannot but forgive and cleanse us from all sin.
(cc) In Keeping His Word and Promise to His Children
Neh. 9:7, 8—“Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram … and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites … to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous.” We need to recall the tremendous obstacles which stood in the way of the fulfillment of this promise, and yet we should remember the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. When God gives His word, and makes a promise, naught in heaven, on earth, or in hell can make that promise void. His righteousness is the guarantee of its fulfillment.
(dd) In Showing Himself to Be the Vindicator of His People from All Their Enemies
Psa. 129:1–4—“Many a time have they afflicted me … yet they have not prevailed against me. The Lord is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.” Sooner or later, God’s people will triumph gloriously as David triumphed over Saul. Even in this life God will give us rest from our enemies; and there shall assuredly come a day when we shall be “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
(ee) In the Rewarding of the Righteous
Heb. 6:10—“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered unto the saints, and do minister.” Those who had shown their faith by their works would not now be allowed to lose that faith. The very idea of divine justice implies that the use of this grace, thus evidenced, will be rewarded, not only by continuance in grace, but their final perseverance and reward. 2 Tim. 4:8—“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.” The righteous Judge will not allow the faithful believer to go unrewarded. He is not like the unrighteous judges of Rome and the Athenian games. Here we are not always rewarded, but some time we shall receive full reward for all the good that we have done. The righteousness of God is the guarantee of all this.
C. THE MERCY AND LOVING-KINDNESS OF GOD
By these attributes is meant, in general, the kindness, goodness, and compassion of God, the love of God in its relation to both the obedient and the disobedient sons of men. The dew drops on the thistle as well as on the rose.
More specifically: Mercy is usually exercised in connection with guilt; it is that attribute of God which leads Him to seek the welfare, both temporal and spiritual, of sinners, even though at the cost of great sacrifice on His part. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us. … God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 5:8.)
Loving-kindness is that attribute of God which leads Him to bestow upon His obedient children His constant and choice blessing. “He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32.)
(1) Scriptural Statement of the Fact
Psa. 103:8—“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” For, instead of inflicting pain, poverty, death—which are the wages of sin—God has spared our lives, given us health, increased our blessings and comforts, and given us the life of the ages. Deut. 4:31—“(For the Lord thy God is a merciful God); he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers.” God is ready to accept the penitence of Israel, even now, if only it be sincere. Israel will return and find God only because He is merciful and does not let go of her. It is His mercy that forbids His permanently forsaking His people. Psa. 86:15—“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” It was because God had so declared Himself to be of this nature that David felt justified in feeling that God would not utterly forsake him in his time of great stress and need. The most striking illustration of the mercy and loving-kindness of God is set forth in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). Here we have not only the welcome awaiting the wanderer, but also the longing for his return on the part of the anxious and loving father.
(2) How the Mercy and Loving-Kindness of God are Manifested
In general: We must not forget that God is absolutely sovereign in the bestowal of His blessings—“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy” (Rom. 9:18). We should also remember that God wills to have mercy on all His creatures—“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all them that call upon thee” (Psa. 86:5).
(aa) Mercy—Towards Sinners in Particular
Luke 6:36—“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” Matt. 5: 45—“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” Here even the impenitent and hard-hearted are the recipients of God’s mercy; all sinners, even the impenitent are included in the sweep of His mercy.
Isa. 55:7—“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord: and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” God’s mercy is a holy mercy; it will by no means protect sin, but anxiously awaits to pardon it. God’s mercy is a city of refuge for the penitent, but by no means a sanctuary for the presumptuous. See Prov. 28:13, and Psa. 51:1. God’s mercy is here seen in pardoning the sin of those who do truly repent. We speak about “trusting in the mercy of the Lord.” Let us forsake sin and then trust in the mercy of the Lord and we shall find pardon.
2 Pet. 3:9—“The Lord … is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Neh. 9:31—“Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.” Here is mercy manifested in forbearance with sinners. If God should have dealt with them in justice they would have been cut off long before. Think of the evil, the impurity, the sin that God must see. How it must disgust Him. Then remember that He could crush it all in a moment. Yet He does not. He pleads; He sacrifices to show His love for sinners. Surely it is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, and because His compassions fail not. Yet, beware lest we abuse this goodness, for our God is also a consuming fire. “Behold, the goodness and the severity of God.” The mercy of God is here shown in His loving forbearance with sinners.
(bb) Loving-Kindness Towards the Saints, in Particular
Psa. 32:10—“But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.” The very act of trust on the part of the believer moves the heart of God to protect him just as in the case of a parent and his child. The moment I throw myself on God I am enveloped in His mercy—mercy is my environment, like a fiery wall it surrounds me, without a break through which an evil can creep. Resistance surrounds us with “sorrow”; but trust surrounds us with “mercy.” In the center of that circle of mercy sits and rests the trusting soul.
Phil. 2:27—“For indeed he was sick nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Here God’s loving-kindness is seen in healing up His sick children. Yet remember that “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy.” Not every sick child of God is raised. Psa. 6:2, 4—“Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me.… Deliver my soul for thy mercies’ sake.” The psalmist asks God to illustrate His mercy in restoring to him his spiritual health. From these scriptures we see that the mercy of God is revealed in healing His children of bodily and spiritual sickness.
Psa. 21:7—“For the king trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.” David feels that, because he trusts in the mercy of the Lord, his throne, whatever may dash against it, is perfectly secure. Is not this true also of the believer’s eternal security? More to the mercy of God than to the perseverance of the saints is to be attributed the eternal security of the believer. “He will hold me fast.”
D. THE LOVE OF GOD
Christianity is really the only religion that sets forth the Supreme Being as love. The gods of the heathen are angry, hateful beings, and are in constant need of appeasing.
(1) Scriptural Statements of the Fact
1 John 4:8–16—“God is love.” “God is light”; “God is Spirit”; “God is love.” Spirit and light are expressions of God’s essential nature. Love is the expression of His personality corresponding to His nature. It is the nature of God to love. He dwells always in the atmosphere of love. Just how to define or describe the love of God may be difficult if not impossible. It appears from certain scriptures (1 John 3:16; John 3:16) that the love of God is of such a nature that it betokens a constant interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of His creatures as to lead Him to make sacrifices beyond human conception to reveal that love.
(2) The Objects of God’s Love
(aa) Jesus Christ, God’s Only-Begotten Son, is the Special Object of His Love.
Matt. 3:17—“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Also Matt. 17:5; Luke 20:13. Jesus Christ shares the love of the Father in a unique sense, just as He is His Son in a unique sense. He is especially “My chosen.” “The One in whom my soul delighteth,” “My beloved Son”—literally: the Son of mine, the beloved. And we can readily understand how that He who did the will of God perfectly should thus become the special object of the Father’s love. Of course, if the love of God is eternal, as is the nature of God, which must be the case, then, that love must have had an eternal object to love. So Christ, in addressing the Father, says: “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”
(bb) Believers in His Son, Jesus Christ, are Special Objects of God’s Love.
John 16:27—“For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” l4:21–23—“He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father. … If a man love me … my Father will love him.” 17:23—“And hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” Do we really believe these words? We are not on the outskirts of God’s love, but in its very midst. There stands Christ right in the very midst of that circle of the Father’s love; then He draws us to that spot, and, as it were, disappears, leaving us standing there bathed in the same loving-kindness of the Father in which He Himself had basked.
(cc) God Loves the World of Sinners and Ungodly Men.
John 3:16—“For God so loved the world” was a startling truth to Nicodemus in his narrow exclusivism. God loved not the Jew only, but also the Gentile; not a part of the world of men, but every man in it, irrespective of his moral character. For “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is wonderful when we begin to realize what a world in sin is. The love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind. God desires the salvation of all men (1 Tim. 2:4).
(3) How the Love of God Reveals Itself
(aa) In Making Infinite Sacrifice for the Salvation of Men
1 John 4:9, 10—“In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love is more than compassion; it hides not itself as compassion may do, but displays itself actively in behalf of its object. The Cross of Calvary is the highest expression of the love of God for sinful man. He gave not only a Son, but His only Son, His well-beloved.
(bb) In Bestowing Full and Complete Pardon on the Penitent
Isa. 38:17—“Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” Literally, “Thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction.” God had taken the bitterness out of his life and given him the gracious forgiveness of his sins, by putting them far away from Him. Eph. 2:4, 5—“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,” etc. Verses 1–3 of this chapter show the race rushing headlong to inevitable ruin. “But” reverses the picture; when all help for man fails, then God steps in, and by His mercy, which springs from “His great love,” redeems fallen man, and gives him not only pardon, but a position in His heavenly kingdom by the side of Jesus Christ. All this was “for,” or, perhaps better, “in order to satisfy His great love.” Love led Him to do it.
(cc) In Remembering His Children in All the Varying Circumstances of Life
Isa. 63:9—“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” Here is retrospection on the part of the prophet. He thinks of all the oppressions of Israel, and recalls how God’s interests have been bound up with theirs. He was not their adversary; He was their sympathetic, loving friend. He suffered with them. Isa. 49:15, 16—“Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” It was the custom those days to trace upon the palms of the hands the outlines of any object of affection; hence a man engraved the name of his god. So God could not act without being reminded of Israel. God is always mindful of His own. Saul of Tarsus learned this truth on the way to Damascus.
JUST [Heb mišpāṭ (Job 35:2; Ps. 9:4 [MT 5]; 117:7; Prov. 16:11; Jer. 10:24; etc.), šālēm (Prov. 11:1), ṣaddîq (Ezr. 9:15; Job 12:4; 27:17; Ps. 145:17), ṣeḏeq (Lev. 19:36; Dt. 25:15; Job 31:6; Ps. 17:1; etc.); Gk díkaios (Mt. 1:19; Lk. 1:17; 14:14; Jn. 5:30; Acts 22:14; 24:15; Rom. 7:12; etc.), éndikos (Rom. 3:8; He. 2:2)]; JUSTICE [Heb mišpāṭ (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 23:6; Dt. 10:18; 16:19; 24:17; 1 S. 8:3; etc.), ṣeḏeq (Dt. 16:20); Gk dikaiosýne (Acts 24:25; Rom. 3:5; He. 11:33), díkē; (Acts 28:4), krísis (Mt. 12:18; Lk. 11:42; etc.)]; JUSTLY [Heb ṣaddîq (2 S. 23:3), ṣeḏeq (Isa. 59:4); Gk dikaíōs (Lk. 23:41; 1 Pet. 2:23), díkaios (Col. 4:1)]; AV also RIGHTEOUS (Ezr. 9:15; Ps. 145:17; etc.), “even” (Job 31:6), “right” (Job 35:2; Ps. 9:4 [MT 5]; 17:1), “judgment” (Ps. 111:17; 119:121; 145:17), etc.; NEB also TRUE (Lev. 19:36), “correct” (Dt. 25:15; Ps. 11:1), RIGHTEOUS (Job 27:17; Ps. 145:17; Acts 22:14), “punish you as you deserve” (Jer. 30:11; 46:28), “act without principle” (Ezk. 18:25f; 33:17), etc. The AV translates mišpāṭ as “judgment” 294 times, but the RSV most frequently translates mišpāṭ as “justice” in distinction from ṣeḏeq or ṣƒḏāqâ as “righteousness.” In any case, the Hebrew terms are often interchangeable, as the famous parallelism of Am. 5:24 demonstrates. Moreover, the terms righteousness and justice (in either order), whether referring to God or to man, are frequently combined for emphasis (Gen. 18:19; 1 K. 10:9; 2 Ch. 9:8; Ps. 89:14 [MT 15]; 119:121; Prov. 2:9; Isa. 9:7 [MT 6]; 56:1; 59:9, 14; Jer. 22:15; 23:5; Ezk. 45:9).
I. General Usage
In Judaism (especially Proverbs) as elsewhere, wisdom literature abounds in common definitions and descriptions of the “just” or “righteous” person. Further, what makes weights and measures “just” (Lev. 19:35f; Dt. 25:13–16; Prov. 11:1; 16:11; Ezk. 45:9f; Am. 8:5) is common knowledge among Israel’s neighbors.
The famous list of virtues in Phil. 4:8, though used in a specifically Christian context, comes from Hellenistic popular philosophy, and presupposes common agreement about what is “just.” Christians may well “have respect … for everything that is humanly true and good” (K. Barth, comm on Philippians [Engtr 1962], p 124). The distinction between the just and the unjust on whom God sends rain may also be a matter of common understanding (Mt. 5:45). Pilate’s wife, with no theological intention, allegedly described Jesus as “that just man” (Mt. 27:19; RSV “righteous”).
II. God’s Character
The people of God not only appropriate common views of justice and righteousness, but contribute distinctive understandings based on the character of God, who is uniquely “just” (RSV “righteous”; Neh. 9:33; Ps. 7:9 [MT 10]; Isa. 45:21; Zeph. 3:5). It is unthinkable that God would pervert either justice or what is right (Job 8:3).
The major point is that God’s justice is no abstraction at odds with an equally abstract mercy. To the contrary, as the description “a righteous God and a Savior” implies (Isa. 45:21), God’s justice seeks concretely to express His mercy and to accomplish His salvation (Jgs. 5:11; Ps. 7:17 [MT 18]; 35:23f; 51:14 [MT 16]; 71:15; 103:17; Isa. 46:13; 51:5f). The expected Messiah, accordingly, will judge not by the usual criteria (empirical data perceived by his eyes and ears) but by righteousness (ṣeḏeq, Isa. 11:4). “Righteousness and justice [ṣeḏeq ûmišpāṭ] are the foundation of thy throne” (Ps. 89:14 [MT 15]). Steadfast love, faithfulness, and righteousness characterize God (Ps. 85:10–13 [MT 11–14]).
In the NT God’s justice remains bound to His mercy. Paul insists, for instance, that God’s justice is not shaken when the sinner, whose wickedness demonstrates “the justice of God” (AV “righteousness”), is forgiven (Rom. 3:5). This position is essential to Paul’s thesis that God, who is not unjust (Rom. 9:14), has not rejected His people Israel for being disobedient and contrary (10:21–11:1; Munck, p. 57). Later writers described God as One who “judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23), who is “faithful and just” when He forgives us (1 Jn. 1:9), and whose ways are “just and true” (Rev. 15:3).
Jesus is described as righteous, just, “the Just One” (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 Jn. 2:1; 3:7; cf. Jn. 5:30). The Lukan texts may well reflect the suffering servant song of Isa. 52:13–53:12 (so I. H. Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian , p. 171).
III. Consequent Expectations for Social and Economic Justice
These characteristics of God do not appear in isolation from His people, who mature and build on the basis of God’s actions on their behalf. He commands: “You shall have just balances, just weights …” because “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:36). Because God gave them the land, His people “shall not pervert justice” (Dt. 16:18–20; 24:17f). The reason, the basis, for keeping God’s justice and doing His righteousness is that God’s salvation and deliverance are on the way (Isa. 56:1).
Thus the kind of justice that accords with God’s character is, accordingly, dynamic rather than static, creative rather than codified, realistic rather than idealistic. It is neither merely forensic, nor merely religious, for it is covenantal justice. It rightly orders the relation of people to God, and thereby to one another. What is the good? That is the same as to ask: “What does the Lord require of you?” The answer is: “To do justice, and to love kindness [ḥeseḏ], and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). By these requirements God’s goodness is structured into the social order. (Who God is, for instance, affects our daily uses of balances and weights [Prov. 11:1].) The justice that God inaugurates remains restless so long as the poor are oppressed, the needy crushed, and justice turned to wormwood (Am. 4:1; 5:7). “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Am. 5:24).
It is equally true that when a people distance themselves from God, a true prophet must write of them: “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us” (Isa. 59:9; cf. 59:2). That is, God’s justice already exists, and it cannot be ignored and denied with impunity (Isa. 1:17–20; Hos. 2:19; 4:1; Am. 5:15).
It is remarkable, in view of greatly changed political circumstances, that this theme of God’s social and economic justice was not lost within the early Church. It is not that social justice became less important to God in NT times, but rather that the Church was in a very different situation from that of tribal amphictyony or theocratic monarchy. “Masters, treat your slaves justly” (Col. 4:1) is not merely an appeal to common sensibilities about slaves, but also a reminder “that you also have a Master in heaven” (4:1b). “Justice [krísis] and mercy and faith” remain more essential to the law than tithing (Mt. 23:23). Luke’s commitment to “the people of the land” is in the same tradition. NT apocalyptic writings abound in this understanding of justice, even if not in the same terminology (Mt. 24–25; Mk. 13; Lk. 21:8–36).
IV. Norm for Persons in Authority
From the Yahwist (early 10th cent b.c.) comes a persistent norm for kings and, implicitly, others in authority (P. Ellis, The Yahwist , pp. 203f): the way of the Lord can be kept, and His promises received, only by actually doing “righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). God made Solomon king “that you may execute justice and righteousness” (1 K. 10:9 par 2 Ch. 9:8). Only “with justice and with righteousness” will the Davidic kingdom be upheld, according to Isaiah’s ideal (9:7). Ps. 72:1 refers to the same model: “Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son.”
It is by this norm that a monarch’s misconduct was measured. What makes a king, wrote Jeremiah, is not successful competition with other rulers for more luxury (a reference to Jehoiakin’s use of slave labor to build a new palace), but only doing “justice and righteousness” (Jer. 22:15; cf. J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB, 1965], pp. 142, 144f; cf. also 23:5). Micah puts to “the heads of Jacob” and “rulers of the house of Israel” the rhetorical question: “Is it not for you to know justice?” Judged by that standard they have, on the contrary, cannibalized their own subjects (Mic. 3:1–3).
Similarly, Luke emphasizes a triple woe (11:42–44) descending on Pharisees who neglected “justice and the love of God.” Roman officials appear, through Luke’s eyes, to have been more committed to justice than were those particular Jewish authorities who condemned “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Lk. 23:47; F. W. Danker, NT Witnesses for Preaching: Luke [Proclamation comms, 1976], pp. 64–67).
V. Just Persons
Several persons are “just” in that they have upheld God’s justice within the covenant community. Mary’s husband Joseph is “a just man” in this sense (Mt. 1:19). Both the piety and actions of Joseph from Arimathea mark him off as “a good and righteous [AV “just”] man” (Lk. 23:50). Another such person is “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation” (Acts 10:22). There is also “righteous Lot” (2 Pet. 2:7).
VI. Acts 28:4
After Paul was shipwrecked on his journey to Rome and he and his company landed on Malta, he was bitten by a viper. The natives inferred that he must have been a murderer and that, though he escaped from the sea, “justice” (Gk díkē, AV “vengeance”) would not allow him to live. “Justice” here is not an abstract principle, but a goddess (cf. NEB “divine justice”) who personified justice, according to Schrenk (TDNT, II, 181). F. F. Bruce (comm on Acts [2nd ed 1952; repr 1970], p. 471) suggests that Luke has replaced a Maltese deity by díke̱, just as he substituted Zeus and Hermes for the Lycaonian deities in 14:12 (cf. E. Haenchen, comm on Acts [Engtr 1971], p. 713 n 5).
Bibliography.—J. Bright, Kingdom of God (1953), pp. 59–70; R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (1979), pp. 275-79; V. P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (1968), pp. 81–92; J. Munck, Christ and Israel (Engtr 1967), pp. 55–60; E. F. Scott, Epistles of Paul to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Moffatt’s NT comms, 1930), pp. 81f; R. B. Y. Scott, Relevance of the Prophets (1954), pp. 158–179; TDNT, 11, sv δίχη χτλ. (Quell, Schrenk).
UNGODLINESS (see GODLINESS) ♦ characteristics of: Ps 36:1; Jud 15–16, 18 ♦ examples of the ungodly: Is 32:6; 2 Pe 2:5–6 ♦ prayer to plead one’s case against an ungodly nation: Ps 43:1 ♦ wrath of God against ungodliness: Ro 1:18 ♦ justification of the ungodly through faith: Ro 4:5 ♦ Christ’s death for the ungodly: Ro 5:6 ♦ removal of ungodliness from Jacob (i.e., the nation Israel) through Messiah the Deliverer: Ro 11:26 ♦ the law made for the ungodly and not for the righteous: 1 Ti 1:9 ♦ promotion of ungodliness through worldly and empty chatter: 2 Ti 2:16 ♦ instruction of grace to deny ungodliness and to live godly: Tit 2:12 ♦ judgment of God upon ungodliness: 2 Pe 2:5–6; 3:7; Jud 14–15
Various terms are used in Scripture to describe sin. The most common term in both the Old and New Testaments means to miss the mark, i.e., the righteous standard of God. That such failure is more than mere weakness is seen in other terms that signify rebellion and willful violation of the holy. The basic nature of sin is revealed in the first human sin (Genesis 3). There its essence has been interpreted primarily as unbelief seen in the rejection of God’s word or pride in choosing to be as God. Both of these concepts (unbelief and pride) are central to the essence of all sin, which may thus be defined as the willful choosing to be autonomous rather than living by faith under God. Sin results in alienation and separation from God, who is the only source of true human life. The result is death, which is not only viewed as the natural result of sin, but even more as the judgment of God. The full awfulness of sin’s effect is revealed at the cross, where Jesus suffers the wrath of God in the abandonment of the Father for human sin.
The effect of Adam’s sin has come to all humans as his descendants, so that all mankind is burdened with sin from birth. This sinful state is usually identified as “original sin” (cf. Ro 3:23; 5:12–19). The death of Christ for human sin and His sinless life of perfect fellowship with the Father are accounted to those who by faith are joined to Him thus overcoming the alienation of sin.
nature of ♦ general: Jn 16:8–9; Ro 14:23; Heb 3:13; 1 Jo 3:4 ♦ sinful deeds (see also personal sin) ♦ sinful disposition (see also FLESH): Mt 7:17–18; Ro 6:12; 7:20–23; Ga 5:17, 24
terms for ♦ transgression: Le 16:21; Ps 32:1, 5; Hos 6:7; Ro 5:17; Eph 2:5 ♦ iniquity: Ex 34:7; Ps 38:4; 51:2, 9; 103:3 ♦ wickedness: Ge 6:5; 2 Ti 2:19 ♦ rebellion: Ps 78:17; Is 63:10; Da 9:5; 1 Ti 1:9 ♦ evil: Ge 8:21; Ps 5:4; 34:14; Pr 8:13; Ro 7:19; 1 Th 5:22; 2 Ti 3:13 ♦ impurity: Le 16:16; Eph 5:3; 1 Th 4:7 ♦ disobedience: Jos 22:22; Eph 2:2 ♦ wrongdoing: 1 Sa 24:11 ♦ guilt: Is 1:4 ♦ unrighteousness: 1 Jo 1:9 ♦ ungodliness: Tit 2:12 ♦ lawlessness: 1 Jo 3:4 ♦ faults: Ps 19:12 ♦ corruption: 2 Pe 2:19 ♦ lust of the heart: Mt 5:28; Ro 1:24 ♦ degrading passions: Ro 1:26
origin of ♦ not God: Job 34:10; Jam 1:13 ♦ angelic origin: Ge 3:1; Jn 8:44; 1 Jo 3:8; Jud 6 ♦ within humanity: Ge 3:1–7; 2 Co 11:3
original sin ♦ inception with Adam: Ge 3:1–7; 1 Co 15:22 ♦ universality: Ge 8:21; Ps 51:5; Je 17:9; Jn 3:6; Ro 5:12–14
personal sin (see also forms of)
universality: 1 Ki 8:46; Pr 20:9; Ro 3:10–12, 23; 7:18; 8:7; Eph 2:3; 4:18–19; Tit 1:15
effect of ♦ death (see also DEATH): Ge 2:17; Pr 11:19; Ro 6:21, 23; 1 Co 15:56; Eph 2:1; 1 Ti 5:6; Re 21:8 ♦ exclusion from the kingdom of God: 1 Co 6:9–10; Ga 5:19–21; Eph 5:5; Re 21:27; 22:14 ♦ alienation from God: Is 59:2 ♦ toil and sorrow: Ge 3:16–19; Ps 32:10 ♦ Physical illness: Ps 32:3; 38:3 ♦ lack of peace: Is 48:22; 57:20–21 ♦ other consequences: Pr 13:21; Ga 6:7–8; 1 Pe 2:11
degrees of: Nu 15:29–31; Lu 7:41–47; 12:47–48; Jn 19:11
unpardonable sin: Mt 12:31; Heb 10:26; 1 Jo 5:16–17
divine response towards (see also HOLY) ♦ grief: Eph 4:30 ♦ anger: Jn 3:36 ♦ hatred: Ps 5:5; Pr 6:16–19 ♦ punishment: Ge 3:15–19; Am 3:2 ♦ commission of Son as substitute: Jn 3:16; Ro 5:8; 1 Jo 4:10 ♦ punishment paid in Christ’s death: Ro 4:25; 2 Co 5:21; Eph 1:7; Col 2:13–14; Heb 9:22; 10:4; 1 Jo 1:7 (see also ATONEMENT, CHRIST and REDEMPTION) ♦ forgiveness: Ps 103:8–12; Is 38:17; Je 31:34; Ro 4:5–8; 1 Jo 1:9 (see also FORGIVENESS)
believers and sin
consequences of sin ♦ discipline (see also DISCIPLINE): Heb 12:6 ♦ inner conflict (see also GUILT): 1 Pe 2:11 ♦ demonic torment: 1 Co 5:5; 1 Ti 1:18–19 ♦ Satanic opportunity: Eph 4:26–27 ♦ physical death: 1 Co 11:32 ♦ physical symptoms of guilt: Ps 32:3–4; 38:2–8 ♦ lack of knowledge of God’s will: Ro 12:1–2 ♦ hindered prayer: Ps 66:18; 1 Pe 3:7 ♦ Vulnerability to false teaching: 2 Ti 3:6
posture towards sin ♦ confess it (see also CONFESSION): Pr 28:13; 1 Jo 1:9 ♦ turn from it (see also REPENTANCE): Ps 34:14; 2 Ti 2:22 ♦ hate it: Ps 97:10; Ro 12:9 ♦ put it off: Heb 12:1 ♦ resist it (see also SELF-DENIAL): Ga 5:16; Eph 6:12–13; Heb 12:4
forms of (see also various sins listed, e.g., ADULTERY, BLASPHEMY, COVETOUSNESS)
sin1 (sɪn) n 1 Theol. a transgression of God’s known will or any principle or law regarded as embodying this. b the condition of estrangement from God arising from such transgression. See also actual sin (actual sin n Christianity. any sin that a person commits of his own free will and for which he is personally responsible.)
original sin; mortal sin n Christianity. a sin regarded as involving total loss of grace. original sin (n a state of sin held to be innate in mankind as the descendants of Adam)
venial sin (a sin regarded as involving only a partial loss of grace.) 2 any serious offence, as against a religious or moral principle. 3 any offence against a principle or standard. 4 live in sin Informal. (of an unmarried couple) to live together. ◆ vb (intr) sins, sinning or sinned 5 Theol. to commit a sin. 6 (usually foll by against) to commit an offence (against a person, principle, etc.). [Old English synn; related to Old Norse synth, Old High German suntea sin, Latin sons guilty] ▶ Èsinner n
sinful (Èsɪnfʊl) adj 1 having committed or tending to commit sin: a sinful person 2 characterized by or being a sin: a sinful act ▶ Èsinfully adv ▶ Èsinfulness n
We All Struggle
All believers struggle with sin. In fact, some believers think that they cannot help but sin.2 However, when one looks at Romans 6, he discovers that sin’s power is not omnipotent and that sin need no longer be his master. None of us will become sinless this side of glorification, but each of us should be sinning less and less often. Romans 6 is our Emancipation Proclamation.
Romans 6:1 says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” This question arises because in the previous few verses it was demonstrated that the more we sin, the more God shows us His grace. We want God’s grace in abundance, but it is absurd to assume we should obtain it by sinning all the more.3 Verse 2 responds, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” And yet there are many believers who have placed their faith in Christ, received forgiveness for their sins, been baptized with the Holy Spirit, are indwelt permanently by the Holy Spirit, have an inheritance in heaven, and who sin like they are brothers of the devil.
When I was ministering to young people, I tried to explain this passage to one
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of the college students in my youth group. He was more honest than most, and he responded in exasperation, “Sometimes I can’t help but sin. The temptation is too strong. I have to give in.” I tried to point him to the verses that say otherwise, but he argued, “I know what is true in my own life, and for me it just didn’t work.” Many of us feel the same way. Many of us are dominated by the sin which indwells us.4
Yes, sin is enticing. The fish that looks at the worm on the end of the fisherman’s hook thinks that the bait is delicious. It may taste good for a moment, but there is a hidden barb. Sin is that way. It catches one off guard and enslaves. It prevents proper fellowship with the Father. But Romans 6 declares that we are free from slavery to sin.5 A proper understanding of this passage is essential for living in victory over sin.
Free At Last
Romans 6:1–14 can be divided easily into three sections. The first point is that there is something that we ought to know. It is repeated three times in the first 9 verses. Verses 3, 6, and 9 all imply our knowledge is faulty. We may have learned a lot since we were saved, but if we are defeated by sin, then we have forgotten an important truth. We need to be reminded.
The second major point is that there is something we must consider (verse 11). We may have heard certain truths, but they are worthless until we count them to be true and act accordingly. And the third point is that there is something we must present (verse 13). Without this presentation the previous truths will make little difference.
We must know that our old self was crucified with Christ. We must consider ourselves to be dead to sin. And we must present the members of our body as instruments of righteousness to God.
What Do I Know?
The passage begins in verse 1 with the concept that we ought not continue to sin. This theme continues throughout. Verse 2 asks how it is that we could still be living in sin,
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since we have died to it.6 Verse 6 says we should no longer be slaves to sin. Verse 7 says we are free from sin. Verse 9 says death is no longer master over Christ. Verse 12 says not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies. And verse 13 says not to go on presenting the members of our body to sin. One cannot read these verses without realizing that sin is still a major problem in the life of many believers. But the point is that our lifestyle should be different now that we are saved. Victory over sin is explained in this passage. We would do well to understand it and live it.
The first thing to discover is that we have spiritually died to our old way of life. We have died to sin.7 Our slavery to sin has been broken by death. When I pledged my eternal fidelity to my bride on our wedding day, it was with only one exception: till death do us part. Once one of us dies, the other is free to remarry. It is the same with sin. The only way out is by death. Sin did not die. The enticement of sin is still alive. But we died to sin. We may ask, “When did I die to sin? I don’t remember dying to sin.” At the moment one places his faith in Christ, he was spiritually identified with Christ’s crucifixion and died to sin.8 Verse 3 says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?” Christ killed our old way of life. Ezekiel 36 tells us he placed a new heart within us. We are new creatures. We might respond that we do not feel dead to sin. Sin still seems to be very much alive in us. Sin still has an enticement, but its mastery is gone. Its power is gone. One could still give in, but one does not have to any longer. Before we were saved we were obligated to sin. There was nothing that we could do to please God. When an unbeliever performs righteous deeds according to the world’s
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standards, he cannot please God. Only that which is done for Christ’s sake and for His glory pleases the Father.
No More Sweet Tooth
Sin ought not appeal to us with the same strength that it once did.9 We should be able to see right through sin and recognize it for what it is: unnecessary rebellion. We should be able to see past the attractive bait to the barb on the end of the hook. We should be able to respond to the pull of our new heart toward God. We should have a propensity and a desire to serve Him, and only Him. Sin still has some enticement, but its sugar coating should be gone. We still could give in to sin, but we no longer are obligated to, and that is the difference.
The result is that we ought to be walking in newness of life (verse 4). “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Believers should now have a tremendous desire to serve God. We should be hungering and thirsting after righteousness. When we do sin, our guilt should be more intense than ever before. The Holy Spirit indwells each believer personally, guiding us in our sanctification. To be baptized into Christ Jesus is to be baptized into His death.10 Just as He died to pay for sin, we die to the power of sin. At the moment of salvation we are changed forever. And then, just as Christ was raised from the dead demonstrating His power of life, so we too were raised to walk in newness of life.11
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Verse 5 declares our unity with Christ in both death and resurrection.12 We participated spiritually with Christ in His death and resurrection.13 “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” Since Christ is alive today, we know that He has given us His life.14 The spiritual infusion of new life not only guarantees our future life with Him in heaven, but it also liberates us from the power of sin here and now.
Verse 6 continues with the thought that we need to be reminded what is true about our spiritual life. “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” When Christ died, our old self, or old man, died with Him. This is speaking of our old way of life, that is, our propensity to sin.15 The way we used to live is dead
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and gone. That lifestyle of sin was crucified with him.16 Why? It was that our body of sin might be done away with. Why does he speak of our fleshly body?17 It is because this body is the instrument that we use to sin. We use our mind, and we play it out through our body. Our body of sin has been done away with.18 The trap of the fleshly nature is broken. At one point we had no choice but to sin. But praise God, according to verse 7, he who has died is free from sin. We should no longer be slaves to sin.19
In the history of our country Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and the Civil War was fought to secure their right of freedom. But in great irony, when the war was over, some of the freed slaves chose to stay behind on the plantations of their former owners. They were free to go, but they felt more secure in their old environment. It was like a habit. It must have been frightening to move out into a new life. It would have been difficult to go somewhere else. And so some stayed behind on the plantations.
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Romans 6 is our Emancipation Proclamation. We are told here that we are free to stop sinning and go on for the Lord. We no longer are slaves to sin. Sin is no longer master over us. If someone objects and says that the enticement of sin seems too strong to resist, theologically speaking we have no excuse.
Verses 8–10 continue the thought of our identification with Christ by expressing just how permanent our union is. If Christ died only once, then we need to die only once to sin. If Christ is raised permanently from the dead, then our new life and power in Christ is permanent. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” These verses make it clear that Christ’s death was directed toward sin. Specifically, Christ died to sin once for all. When we identified with Him spiritually at the moment of regeneration, we too died to sin once for all (vv. 3–5). And these verses also make clear the ramification of this death. Since Christ died to sin, death no longer is master over Him. Christ’s life is resurrection life, and he will never die again. The wages of sin is death, but death no longer has mastery over the one who has died to it.
But Christ’s death to sin is only half the story. He also arose from the dead and lives to God. And we know that since we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection. This means that not only have we died to sin, but we have been raised to walk in newness of life. The life we now live, we live to God. The practical application of our identification with Christ is that we live lives pleasing to God.
Some have misunderstood this chapter to mean that the believer should no longer struggle with sin now that he has died to it. But these verses make it clear that sin has not died, but rather we have died to it. And furthermore, the issue at hand is sin’s mastery. Believers will still be tempted by sin. But sin shall no longer be master over us. And this condition is permanent. Just as Christ died once for all, never to die again, so we have permanently been liberated from sin’s mastery. And just as Christ now lives His life to God, so we should follow in His steps.
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Take Him At His Word
In the first section of this chapter, we have seen that many believers are living defeated lives unnecessarily because their knowledge is faulty. They need to be reminded of the power and life that was given to them at the moment of regeneration. Now in the second section, verse 11, we find a transition from mere cognitive knowledge to practical application. The key word in this section is “consider.” Paul writes, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
At first appearance, this verse may seem to be a hedge.20 We may misinterpret this verse as a softening of the theological truth of our death to sin. Paul has just spent 10 verses telling us that we died to sin, and now in verse 11 he tells us to pretend it to be so. What can he mean by “consider yourselves to be dead to sin?” Didn’t he just tell us we already are? In actuality, the word “consider” is a strong word. It does not mean “pretend it to be true,” but rather it connotes that we must wake up and realize that what he has been teaching is true. We have been acting as if it were not true. “Consider” is an accounting term which means “count it to be true because it is true.”21 Verse 11 is the action verse. He has just given the theology in the previous verses, and he is now telling us to act upon what we know to be true. It is as if he is saying, “Now do it.”
If I were told that $1000 had been placed in my checking account, the money would be useless to me unless I believed this to be true and actually used it. Verse 11 is telling us to use what has been given to us. God has freed us from slavery to sin, so we should now walk in newness of life. We are alive to God, having been placed “in Christ.”22 We are free to obey Him. So we should do it.
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Baby elephants are restrained by tying one of their legs with a thick rope attached to a long stake driven into the ground. The baby elephant pulls and pulls, but cannot get away. And we all know that elephants never forget. After countless attempts at escape, the elephant gives up and resigns itself to being restrained. That is why adult elephants need only be held with small ropes and short stakes. They learned long ago that it is futile to try to escape. So they do not even try. They just stand there. They could easily break the rope if they tried, but they never forget what they learned when they were young. It is the same with us. Some of us as believers have mistakenly assumed that we have to sin. We have the impression that temptation is so strong that we cannot resist. We learned to sin when we were young, and it has become a habit. Verse 11 is telling us that we can obey God. The rope to our old habits is thin and easily broken. A small tug is all we need to escape. We can obey. We are free to obey. The Holy Spirit who indwells us will help us obey.
We have seen in the first section of this chapter that our knowledge is faulty and needs correction. We saw in the second section that we are to act upon this knowledge and take God at His word. And now in the third section beginning with verse 12, we will see that there is a positive presentation that needs to be made.
What Do I Do?
Verse 12 begins with an application of verse 11. It says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” The impression is that many believers continue to struggle with sin and their old way of life to the degree that sin is king and the believer is a slave to the lusts of his flesh. Because of the theology of the first 10 verses and the admonition of verse 11, this verse tells us clearly to stop the reign of sin in our lives.23 Sin no longer need control us. The power of sin is gone. We do not need to succumb to the lusts of the flesh. We can resist successfully.
Giving Myself Away
But just as important as knowing about our identification with Christ, and considering it to be true, is the third step: presenting ourselves to God as those alive
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from the dead. Verse 13 says, “And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Why would He ask me to yield or present the members of my body to Him?24 This injunction sounds a lot like the presentation of Romans 12:1–2.25 There Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, which is our spiritual service of worship. This permanent presentation results in a daily renewing of our minds, so that we will not be conformed to this world.26 But what does He mean by making a presentation of our bodies?
In essence, what He is asking me to do is to make the decision to place myself in His care.27 It is a decision that says ahead of time, long before the temptation is there, that when the time comes, I will obey.28
No Thank You
There is a campaign from the government to prevent our children from ever taking drugs. They are teaching our children to make the decision far in advance so that when the time comes, they will, “Just say NO!” In the same manner, verse 13 tells us that there should be a standing rule in our life that we will obey God. We should not agonize over every temptation trying to decide what we should do. We should have already presented the members of our body to righteousness so that we know in advance what the answer will be. There is no great question. Of course I will obey, what else? You expected me to sin? I don’t have to sin. This is speaking of a
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presentation, a decision, a choice we make ahead of time that we will serve God and not serve sin.29
This presentation is not to be made daily. The grammar of the passage indicates that this should be a standing decision that we made long ago.30 It should occur only once. Perhaps we will need to renew it from time to time, following a time of backsliding.31 But this presentation should be permanent.
Interestingly, it is verse 11 that should be practiced on a daily basis. Moment by moment we should be considering ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Verse 14 summarizes our condition. It declares, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” We are not under the law, which produces guilt and slavery to a code of obedience. But instead, we are under grace.32 We are given the resurrection power of Christ to obey. And sin shall no longer be master over us.33
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In Other Words
This is a prevalent theme in Paul’s theology. We can see how he developed the same theology using different concepts by comparing his other letters. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” Our identification with Christ in His crucifixion is as clear here as it was in Romans 6. But the summary of how to live as a believer is expressed in different terms. Since I died with Christ to my old way of life, and Christ now lives in me, I now live by faith in the Son of God. The key to obedience in this passage is described as living by faith.34
Ephesians 4:22–24 expresses the same theology with different concepts. “That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” The picture here is of taking off our old clothes and leaving them behind.35 Then we put on our new clothes, symbolizing the conscious decision to live in accordance with the new life. We should have laid aside our old man once and for all. We should have put on the new man once and for all.36 But the renewing of our mind is a continual process that should take place daily. We should cleanse our minds daily with the Word of God and allow
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it to purify our lifestyle. We should let the Word of God permeate every part of our being and our mind will be renewed.37
Again in Colossians 3 we see the same theology expressed in different terms. “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above . . . . Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. . . . Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead . . . . Put them all aside . . . since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge.” In verse 5 we are instructed to once and for all put to death our earthly members.38 We are to once and for all put them aside (v. 8).39 But we need to continually seek the things above, concentrating, or focusing our mind on God’s eternal values (vv. 1–2).
We can see that Paul expressed the same truth in numerous ways. At the moment of salvation we identified with Christ spiritually so that we have died to our old way of life and we have been raised to walk in newness of life. We are no longer slaves to sin, and we are free to live by faith and obey God. We must make a standing decision that we are going to obey, and then we must renew our minds and live according to what we know is true.
A Magical Formula?
There is a danger in treating these steps as a magical formula to solve the struggle with sin. Some have mistakenly assumed that if they only “know, consider and present”
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that they will no longer be frustrated by sin. But the mere following of such steps is not the thrust of the teaching.
The Key Is Obedience
The key to all these passages is obedience. We see this clearly in Romans 6:16–18. Paul declares that we must be slaves to someone. If it is not Christ, then it is sin. “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” We can see from this verse that the bottom line of the presentation is obedience to God.40 The believer can choose his master. Paul says that our obedience makes us slaves of righteousness. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Filling For Power
What Paul is driving at is that we need to obey God and forsake our old way of life of sin. Obedience is not only the key to pleasing God, but it also is necessary in order to have the Holy Spirit’s power available for success. Without the Spirit’s power, obedience is extremely difficult. In order to receive the Spirit’s power, we must be filled with the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is actually the issue of control.41 The degree to which we are controlled by the Spirit is the degree to which we are filled. And the key to allowing the Spirit to control us is to obey. The Spirit will fill us when we obey.
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Someone might respond that we are in a “Catch 22” situation. He might point out that if the Spirit fills us we will obey, but the Spirit will not fill us unless we obey. In a sense, the objection is well-founded.
Making It Easy On Ourselves
The temptation process can be described as the fork in a road. We can choose to go left and sin, or go right and obey. According to Romans 6 we are free to obey. We could choose to rebel if we wanted, but we have the liberty to obey. If we make the mental decision to obey, at that point the Spirit will fill us and give us the power to carry out our decision and find the way of escape. More than mere freedom to obey, we also have the propensity to obey because of the orientation of the new heart that God has placed within us. And furthermore, we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit prompting us to obey. When we have successfully passed the first temptation, we have the continued filling of the Spirit to give us the power to continue to obey. When the next temptation comes, the Spirit is already controlling us, so it is easier to obey this time.42 Everything is going for us. We have the standing decision we made to obey God, we have the new heart within us, we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit, and we have the Spirit in control. When we walk by the Spirit in this manner, we do not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). This is a lifestyle obedience.
But it is quite a different story if we choose to rebel. If we convince ourselves that God cannot be trusted anymore and that we must take care of ourselves, then we choose the left fork in the road and sin. Now the Spirit is not filling us, so His influence in our lives is greatly diminished. When we come to the second temptation, we are already in the habit of rebelling, so the chances are increased that we will choose to sin again. And thus begins a pattern of disobedience. The initial choice to obey is crucial. If you obey, it will become easier and easier to obey. If you disobey, it will become harder and harder to please God.43 Romans 6 is the key to getting off to a good start. It is the passage that proclaims our freedom from the slavery to sin.
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The initial presentation is crucial for our success over the practice of sin. Rather than ending in death, we can see the Spirit working in sanctifying us, making us more like Christ. Verse 19 says, “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.44 For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Before we were saved it was impossible for us to please God. Verse 20 says, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” There was no future in that lifestyle. We were heading for death. Verse 21 says, “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.”
But our ultimate goal is found in Verse 22. “But having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Before we were saved we were slaves to sin, but now we have been freed. We have a new master now. We are enslaved to God. The benefit is that He is working in us to make us more and more like His Son. And ultimately, He will glorify us and we will live eternally with Him. The contrast could not be greater. The outcome of sin is death. But God gives us eternal life as free gift in Christ. Verse 23 forms the conclusion, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
AV Authorized (King James) Version
NEB New English Bible
RV Revised Version (ERV or ASV)
v verse(s); versus
TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols., Eng. tr. 1964–1976)
sv sub voce (vocibus), under the word(s)
OT Old Testament
MT Mas(s)oretic Text (See TEXT AND MSS OF THE OT)
AV Authorized (King James) Version
NEB New English Bible
RSV Revised Standard Version
comm commentary, commentaries
Engtr English translation
p papyrus (used only with superscript number of the papyrus); Priestly Code (See CRITICISM II.D.5)
NT New (Neues, Nouveau) Testament
cent century, centuries
par (and) parallel passage(s)
AB Anchor Bible
comms commentary, commentaries
TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols., Eng. tr. 1964–1976)
ed editor, edition, edited (by), editors, editions
n north; note(s)
2 2. “Many Christians have a basic desire to live a holy life, but have come to believe they simply cannot do it. They struggled for years with particular sins or deficiencies of character. While not living in gross sin, they have more or less given up ever attaining a life of holiness and have settled down to a life of moral mediocrity with which neither they nor God are pleased. The promise of Romans 6:6–7 seems impossibly beyond them. The strong command of Scripture to live a consistently holy life only frustrates them.” Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 52.
3 3. Hendriksen captures the flavor of their reasoning when he writes, “If works mean so little, why perform them at all? Besides, if grace is everything, why not sin flagrantly, lustfully, in order to give grace the opportunity to operate?” William Hendriksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 194.
4 4. The word for sin, ἁμαρτία (hamartia), is used 16 times in the noun form and once in the verb form in Romans 6. When it is used in the singular, it usually describes sin as a state of sinfulness, or sin as a ruling power, rather than an individual act of sin. The context of Romans 5 and 7 confirms this. Thus, the sin problem spoken of in Romans 6 is not so much individual sins, as it is the indwelling principle of sinfulness which leads men to rebel against God’s standard of righteousness.
5 5. “What he does present here is not the impossibility of committing a single sin, but the impossibility of continuing in a life dominated by sin.” Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 10:68.
6 6. “Paul is saying that death and life are incompatible. It is impossible to be dead and alive at the same time. So a Christian can’t be living in sin when he has died to it. All who come to Christ make a break with sin, a definite act that took place in the past at the moment of salvation.” John MacArthur, Freedom from Sin (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 16.
7 7. “What the apostle has in view is the once-for-all definitive breach with sin which constitutes the identity of the believer. A believer cannot therefore live in sin; if a man lives in sin he is not a believer. If we view sin as a realm or sphere then the believer no longer lives in that realm or sphere. The believer died to sin once and he has been translated to another realm.” John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NIC (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), I:213.
8 8. The fundamental idea of baptism is identification. We have shared spiritually in Christ’s death by identification with Him through our baptism with the Spirit. The fundamental idea of death is separation. Christ’s death provided substitutionary atonement for sin. He took the penalty of sin and broke its power. As believers we are separated from the penalty and power of sin and reconciled to God.
9 9. “Paul is here concerned to insist that justification has inescapable moral implications, that our righteous status before God involves an absolute obligation to seek righteousness of life, that to imagine that we can ‘receive righteousness in Christ without at the same time laying hold on sanctification’ (Calvin) is a profane absurdity.” C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), I: 295.
10 10. “Paul expresses in the most decisive and emphatic way the truth of our having died with Christ; for burial is the seal set to the fact of death--it is when a man’s relatives and friends leave his body in a grave and return home without him that the fact that he no longer shares their life is exposed with inescapable conclusiveness. So the death which we died in baptism was a death ratified and sealed by burial, an altogether unambiguous death.” Cranfield, Romans, I:304.
11 11. “Paul used ‘newness’ of life to refer to a new quality or kind of life, not ‘new’ in terms of chronology. Righteousness now becomes the pattern for believers as opposed to the past, which was characterized by habitual sin. Sin may manifest itself from time to time in the believer’s life, but it will not characterize his new life-style.” MacArthur, Freedom from Sin, 22–23.
12 12. The picture is of the believer being grafted into Christ. “No term could more adequately convey the intimacy of the union involved. It is not that this relationship is conceived of as a process of growth progressively realized. The terms of the clause in question and the context do not allow for this notion. The death of Christ was not a process and neither is our conformity to his death a process. We are in the condition of having become conformed to his death. But ‘grown together’ points to the closeness of our relation to him in his death.” Murray, Romans, 218.
13 13. The word “likeness” does not mean identical. The believer’s death to sin is a spiritual identification resembling Christ’s death and no more. It was made possible by His death. The believer is dead to sin because of his spiritual participation in Christ’s death conquering sin. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1980), 399.
14 14. “Both Ephesians and Colossians state that our being raised with Christ is past; our present text, however, uses a future tense (ἐσόμεθα [esometha], “we shall be”) of the event. Although it is possible that the reference here is to the eschatological future, or to the moral life, the flow of the text suggests that we should view ἐσόμεθα (“we shall be”) as a “logical” future--union with Christ in his resurrection follows logically and inevitably upon union with him in death.” Douglas J. Moo, “Law, Works of the Law, and Legalism in Paul,” Westminster Theological Journal, 45 (Spring, 1983): 216.
15 15. The “old self” refers to the unregenerate man, and especially to his lifestyle. It is to be distinguished from the flesh. The “old self” no longer exists in the believer, whereas the flesh continues to influence the believer, though its mastery has been nullified. The believer is not both “old self” and “new self.” John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), 212–16. “This does not mean that the believer lives untroubled by the possibility of sinning . . . . But it is another vivid way of saying that the power of sin is broken in the believer. To come to Christ means the complete end of a whole way of life. There may be slips, but they are uncharacteristic.” Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 251. This is not to say there is no longer a struggle with sin. I concur with Stott that “the old nature is still alive and active in regenerate believers.” John R. W. Stott, Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5–8 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1966), 40.
16 16. The “old self” was crucified once and for all with Christ. There is no process in which the “old self” is gradually crucified. Crucifixion is a single, once for all act. Murray, Romans, 220.
17 17. “Body” refers to one’s physical body and not to the person as a whole. Gundry writes, “The σω’μα ([so ̄ ma], “body”) denotes the physical body, roughly synonymous with “flesh” in the neutral sense. It forms that part of man in and through which he lives and acts in the world. It becomes the base of operations for sin in the unbeliever, for the Holy Spirit in the believer. Barring prior occurrence of the parousia, the σω’μα (“body”) will die. That is the lingering effect of sin even in the believer. But it will also be resurrected. That is its ultimate end, a major proof of its worth and necessity to wholeness of human being, and the reason for its sanctification now.” Robert H. Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology (New York: Cambridge Press, 1976), 50. I do not think Stott’s view goes far enough: “Now ‘the sinful body’ or ‘the body of sin’ (AV) is not the human body. This body is not sinful in itself. It means rather the sinful nature which belongs to the body.” Stott, Men Made New, 44.
18 18. The idea of our body of sin “being done away with” is the concept of rendering it powerless to dominate us (Hebrews 2:14). Our physical body which was under the domination of sin has been rendered inactive so that it can no longer remain a stronghold for the indwelling principle of sin. That is not to say that the physical body has no power, only that it is rendered powerless to the control of sin. The believer can still be enticed by sin, but its reign of tyranny has been broken so that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
19 19. The concept of being freed from sin is judicial in nature. Murray writes, “‘Justified from sin’ will have to bear the forensic meaning in view of the forensic import of the word ‘justify.’ But since the context deals with deliverance from the power of sin the thought is, no doubt, that of being ‘quit’ of sin. The decisive break with the reigning power of sin is viewed after the analogy of the kind of dismissal which a judge gives when an arraigned person is justified. Sin has no further claim upon the person who is thus vindicated. This judicial aspect from which deliverance from the power of sin is to be viewed needs to be appreciated. It shows that the forensic is present, not only in justification but also in that which lies at the basis of sanctification.” Murray, Romans, 222.
20 20. “Consider” is not a hedge word implying that we have not really died to sin. Ladd responds to this objection by writing, “One cannot consider himself dead with Christ unless he has actually died and been crucified with Christ, but because this has happened, it can be put into practice in daily experience.” George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 474. Cranfield agrees, “The verb λογίζεσθαι [logizesthai, “consider”], as used here denotes not a pretending (‘as if’), nor a mere ideal, but a deliberate and sober judgment on the basis of the gospel.” Cranfield, Romans, I:315.
21 21. “Consider” speaks of the resulting evaluation from having taken the preceding facts into account. Eichler writes, “The concept implies an activity of the reason which, starting with ascertainable facts, draws a conclusion, especially a mathematical one or one appertaining to business, where calculations are essential.” Johannes Eichler, “Think,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 3:823.
22 22. “We are in Christ, inasmuch as God accepts Christ’s death as having been died for us and His risen life as being lived for us; for this means that in God’s sight we died in His death, that is we died in Him, and were raised up in His resurrection, that is, in Him, and now live in Him.” Cranfield, Romans, I:316.
23 23. The grammar suggests the translation, “Stop allowing sin to continue to reign in your mortal body.”
24 24. “Members” originally referred to one’s limbs, but it came to include any natural capacity. Cranfield, Romans, I:317.
25 25. “To ‘yield’ means to present for service . . . as one ‘alive from the dead,’ ‘a living sacrifice’ (12:1).” James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), 113.
26 26. “A Christian is called upon to make a definite yielding of his life to God to make possible its full blessing and usefulness just as he was called upon to believe in order to be saved. The familiar exhortation found in Romans 12:1, to ‘present’ ourselves to God, is the same word in the aorist tense, again a definite act of yielding to God.” John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 3rd ed. (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham, 1958), 197–98.
27 27. “Believers are to present themselves to God as those alive from the dead. Here the whole personality is in view.” Murray, Romans, 228.
28 28. “What Paul is saying then is this, ‘Do not continue to put your bodily parts at the disposal of sin, as weapons of wickedness. Stop doing this; and instead, right now, completely and decisively, put yourselves at God’s disposal. Offer yourselves to him!” Hendriksen, Romans, 202.
29 29. “Sin is conceived of as a master at whose disposal we place these members in order that they may be instruments to promote unrighteousness. The exhortation is to the effect that we are not to go on placing our physical organs at the disposal of sin for the furtherance of such an end. The positive counterpart is that we are to present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead and our members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Murray, Romans, 228.
30 30. “The tense that is used in this instance indicates the once-for-allness of the dedication involved in the presentation of ourselves and of our members. We are regarded as presenting ourselves and our members once for all to God for His service and the promotion of righteousness.” Murray, Romans, 228.
31 31. Moo does not want to make too much of the aorist tense of this verb, but he is realistic when he writes, “In conjunction with the prohibition in the present tense (“stop presenting”), an “ingressive” idea is probably best--as you stop presenting yourselves to sin, begin presenting yourselves to God. Such a transition may take place many times in the life of the believer (although Paul would no doubt hope that only one such committal would be necessary).” Douglas J. Moo, “Law, Works of the Law, and Legalism in Paul,” Westminster Theological Journal, 45 (Spring, 1983): 220.
32 32. Because we are under grace, we have the power of the Spirit to serve God. Hendriksen writes, “Grace dethrones sin. It destroys sin’s lordship and enables the believer to offer himself, and whatever pertains to him, in loving service to God! The child of God is able to do this because he is not under law but under grace.” Hendriksen, Romans, 203.
33 33. “Though sin will still have a hold upon them until they die, they will henceforth, as subjects of Christ over whom He has decisively reasserted His authority, be free to fight against sin’s usurped power, and to demonstrate their true allegiance.” Cranfield, Romans, I:319.
34 34. “Yet Christ does not operate automatically in a believer’s life; it is a matter of living the new life by faith in the Son of God. It is then faith and not works or legal obedience that releases divine power to live a Christian life.” Donald K. Campbell, “Galatians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, eds. New Testament Edition. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 596.
35 35. “In God’s purpose all the old, filthy, sin-infected garments in which ‘the old man’ was clad went into the discard also as utterly unbefitting the life of the new sphere into which the believer was translated.” Ruth Paxson, The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1939), 108.
36 36. “Paul’s whole argument in ‘put off the old man’ and ‘put on the new man’ is based on the presence of these two natures within the Christian and the necessity of a choice being made as to which is to have the mastery of the life.” Ruth Paxson, The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1939), 109.
37 37. “But the change from indicative to imperative as between Colossians and Ephesians may have a further explanation. Colossians was sent to established Christians, whose baptism had signified the putting off of their old ways; if Ephesians is addressed to new Christians on the occasion of their baptism, the imperative ‘put off...put on’ would be very much in order.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and the Ephesians, NIC (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 358.
38 38. “The practice of reckoning dead finds an excellent illustration in the gardener’s practice of grafting. Once the graft has been made on the old stock the gardener is careful to snip off any shoot from the old stock that may appear. So, in the believer’s life, since he has now been grafted into the Last Adam and His new life, he must by the Spirit put to death any products of the old life that may appear.” S. Lewis Johnson, “Christian Apparel,” Bibliotheca Sacra (January 1964): 24.
39 39. “In the Colossian injunction the aorist tense points to a decisive initial act which introduces a settled attitude.” Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, WBC (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982), 176.
40 40. “The apostle shows in this verse that there are only two alignments in the ethico-religious realm and that the criterion of our alignment is that to which we render obedience, whether it be ‘sin unto death’ or ‘obedience unto righteousness. . . . The emphasis upon obedience shows that obedience to God is the criterion of our devotion to Him and that the principle of righteousness is to present ourselves to God as servants unto obedience.” Murray, Romans, 231.
41 41. “It is not a question of securing more of the presence of God but of entering into the reality of His presence and yielding to all the control and ministry for which He has come to indwell. While in this age it is impossible to be filled with the Holy Spirit unless permanently indwelt, it is a sad reflection on the spiritual state of many Christians that though their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit they are not yielded to Him and know nothing of the great blessings which His unhindered ministry would bring . . . . It is, of course, impossible for any Christian to be filled with the Spirit by simply willing it. The Scriptural conditions for this fullness of the Spirit are revealed. It is the responsibility of the Christian to meet these conditions of yieldedness . . . . No Christian can be said to be in the will of God unless he is filled with the Spirit.” Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 192, 194.
42 42. “This states the universal law that a man becomes the moral subject of what he does. If he yields to sin that sin gets a grip upon him. If he lies once, not only is he likely to lie again, but that lie has him in its power . . . . It is also true that acts of obedience tend to a habit and enslave their doer in the comfortable bonds of righteousness.” Stifler, Romans , 114.
43 43. “Sin has a tendency to enslave the sinner. The first time he lies, he may be horrified; the second time, only somewhat shaken; the third time lying seems far more natural and easy. At last the sin of telling untruths has him in its grasp. For other sins the story is similar. At last this person is living in sin, has become enslaved to it.” Hendriksen, Romans, 204.
44 44. Paul is not using “flesh” here in the physical sense referring to the body. His remark about the “weakness of the flesh” leads us to conclude that he is using “flesh” in the sense of the weak human nature seen in contrast to God.