Just as 9:14 was an objection to what Paul had just previously said, so another anticipated objection is raised: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19). If God shows mercy and hardens whomever He wills, regardless of human effort or choice, then how can He hold human beings responsible for their choices and actions? It is very shattering to be brought to the realization that God’s will is the ultimate cause of human destiny. And yet, Paul does not allow for that reality to detract from the truth that human beings are truly responsible before God. Paul anticipates the protest against God being sovereign and yet man still responsible. Paul vigorously responds: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (9:20-21, referencing Isaiah 29:16, 45:9). Paul wonders how man-finite, frail, weak-could venture to either dictate and/or judge the infinite, mighty, great Creator. While human beings are not like inert clay pots in every aspect, God, like a potter, has complete freedom and authority to do whatever He likes with His creatures.
God’s promises have not, are not, and will not fail; they are unfolding exactly to the very ends that God has always intended. God has not promised to call every ethnic Jew to follow Jesus, but He has chosen to summon some to belong to Christ. This is always the way that God has chosen to operate. Therefore, even at present, not all ethnic Jews are recipients of God’s saving promises and that is why they have refused to believe in Jesus as Lord. At present, unbelieving Jews are like Ishmael, a physical descendant of Abraham, but not a true offspring of his. Not only are unbelieving Jews like Ishmael, they are also like Esau. Once again, Paul explains that not everyone in Abraham’s lineage is a part of the people of God. Drawing from the episode in Genesis 25, Jacob and Rebekah and their twin boys serve as a further illustration that not all Israel is Israel: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac” (9:10). In this case, there are not two different wives with sons born at different times, but only one woman whose sons are conceived at the same time.
Paul wraps up his explanation of all that God has done in Christ by the Spirit for His people, with a question: “What then shall we say to these things?” (8:31a). Looking back, not simply the stunning statements found in the immediately preceding verses (8:28-30), nor merely to the powerful promises at start of chapter eight, but more likely going back to the incredible implications expressed at the start of chapter five, Paul solicits a response from his readers. Not waiting for an answer, Paul summarizes all that he has expressed since chapter five by saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31b). God is for His people. This beautiful reality has correspondence to Paul’s declaration from chapter one: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). In between this announcement that God is against all mankind and the announcement that God is for His people, Paul has explained the Gospel as, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16).
Yielding to the command to put the remaining expressions of the flesh to death is a sure sign that we are children of God: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (8:14). Children of God have a habit of submitting to the governing authority of the Spirit in their life. So, being led by the Spirit is not so much an issue concerning guidance for the everyday decisions of life as much as it is concerns the issue of pleasing God. But in thinking about what pleases God, being led by the Spirit pertains to what to do about remaining sin as well as relying upon the enablement of the Spirit in the ongoing battle against temptation, sin, and the pull of the flesh. Being led by the Spirit is expressly the same as living according to the Spirit, that is, having an outlook on life that is determined by the Spirit. Our desires, thoughts, and acts of obedience evidence the Spirit’s presence-the cause behind our activities.
The Personal Agent for the transformation is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:2). The liberation from the Law that was expressed in chapters six through seven now comes full circle to express itself as liberation for keeping the Law. The Law of God operates either in the realm of the Spirit’s power or in the realm of “sin and death.” Because of the power of sin, the outcome of the Law’s promise of life is only death. Without the Spirit, the Law is only associated with death. But with the Spirit, there is liberation from the outcomes of sin and death. In Christ, the Spirit produces different outcomes in regard to the Law: a life of lawfulness.
Sin and the Law are separate and yet inseparable companions: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (7:8). The Law is good because it clarifies sin for the sin that it is. But a believer must die to the Law-for it could never be able to serve as a primary means of true moral and spiritual transformation. The Law certainly is inherently good in that it reveals God’s will, but the Law has no inherent power to bring about what it reveals. Such inherent powerlessness to the Law makes it a paradoxical companion to the power of sin.
Just as justification did not come through works of the Law but by grace through faith in Christ, so transformation comes, not from being under the Law, but by being under grace. Romans 6-8 will carefully explain how the covenant that revealed the Mosaic Law is inadequate as an agent of true moral and spiritual transformation. That is not to say that the Mosaic Law is bad nor that there isn’t any place for it in the Christian’s life; however, true transformation occurs by union with Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Grace does not turn people into greater sinners, with the Law is out of the way. In fact, it is completely the opposite: grace has killed the power of sin and the Law, and has made provision for a life to be lived for God.
ollowers of Christ are “dead to sin” that we “might walk in newness of life.” These realities rooted in union with Christ are transformational: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5). Therefore “we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6). In being united with Christ, in His death, we died. What we now are, is no longer what we once were. The person we once were-all that we once were as that person-before we turned to Christ, is now gone (See 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). And the result of no longer being what we once were is that our bodies no longer have to be dominated and enslaved in the former ways that sin once conditioned us and controlled us to operate. Sin no longer must be what characterizes us, for sin no longer has any real claim on us: “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (6:7). Since the power of sin has been broken in a believer’s life because of their union with Christ, one’s freedom from slavery to sin should now be reflected in the way we actually live.
The parallel between Adam and Christ, which began in verse twelve, is now completed: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:18-19). Adam’s action resulted in a universal declaration of condemnation and corruption for all the human race. However, in Christ, because of His action, a new humanity is being formed (Christ’s sacrificial death is in view here but such a sacrifice required a perfect obedience fulfilling all righteousness throughout His life). The results of Christ’s actions are not automatically granted to all of humanity, but are now available. However, it is applied only to “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (5:17). For all who receive Christ, the result is an eternal declaration of justification and righteousness. These two verses make a transition to what Paul explores in chapters six through eight. Just as Adam’s action brought a legal declaration of condemnation and a constitutive declaration of corruption, so Christ’s righteous action brings a legal declaration of justification and a constitutive declaration of righteousness. As Paul leaves the discussion on justification (legal righteousness) and soon starts the discussion on sanctification (practice of righteousness), each is grounded in Christ.
Verse 11 returns to where this chapter was started: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11). Paul returns to the theme of rejoicing that he started with in earlier verses: “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:2), and “not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” (5:3). Putting these three calls to rejoice together, especially in light of the great love of God, believers are called to be people of joy and confidence. Literally, the word that Paul uses for rejoicing here in chapter five is the same word he used in the two previous chapters: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (3:27). This is really important to note because it helps us to get the sense of what he has now been saying in Romans 5. Because of the love and full salvation that God has freely given us in His Son, there are no legitimate bounds to the joy that we express for our God. Because of what we already have as well as all that awaits us due to God’s love, there is no category for over-exaggerating the happiness that our souls express as we worship God.
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