The integral pieces within nature depicts for the world the different nuances of the Gospel. Theologians call this general revelation. The idea of general revelation is defined by “observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God’s existence and His laws that He has placed inside every person.”1 The apostle Paul alludes to this idea by stating: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 ESV). It must be exceptionally clear that creation communicates an intelligent creator that has authored the different phases, structures, and nuances of the created world. What the idea is insinuating is that the author “behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, and has purposes, and prefers one thing to another.”2 This mind has orchestrated the world to communicate a powerful message surrounding the infinite love, mercy, and joy in the Creator Himself which is meant to be poured out onto creation — namely humanity. The different dynamics within creation which consist of death, life, and fruitfulness speaks to the cross of Christ and the new life rooted in His atoning work. In comprehending the justifying work of Christ and the adoption through His blood the identity of believers should be cemented in the fruitful work of Christ’s imputed righteousness. The atoning work of the cross and the new life of the resurrection is the apex to which believers should hinge their pursuit toward holy living in glorifying God.
From first century Christianity until now the greatest danger for many believers is the notion that Christians have the ability to abuse the grace of God. That the mercy of Christ gives believers a license to sin and an ability to pursue their own sinful desires while obtaining a “get out of hell free” card. Yet, biblically speaking, those who would attempt to abuse the grace of Christ would be individuals who would have to questions their own salvation. Biblical salvation is not only rooted in the work of Christ on the cross but the work of the Spirit to transform and “put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9 – 10 ESV). The transformed life should sprout forth greater fruit which would indicate a sanctified version of the self. The apostle Paul imposes the question, rhetorically, which he anticipates his readers, the church of Rome, are contemplating by asking: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1 ESV). There may have been an unspoken understanding that due to the infinite mercies of God an individual could continue to habitually, intentionally, and shamelessly sin yet obtain justification for their wicked actions. For the sake of having God’s grace abound “men are not only free to sin but are obligated to sin.”3 Paul uses the Greek word epimeno which means “to continue.” This definition carries the notion of a habitual persistence in a particular sin. It must be understood for the sake of sanctification that “Paul was not speaking of a believer’s occasional falling into sin, as every Christian does at times because of the weakness and imperfection of the flesh. He was speaking of intentional, willful sinning as an established pattern of life.”4 The apostle Paul anticipates this skewed notion and addresses the abuse of God’s grace by promoting the pursuit of death which will give way to spiritual life.
Pursuit of Death:
“2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2 ESV
Paul’s quick and aggressive response is meant to point out the reality that in Christ believers have disowned the bondages of sin and have embraced the true spiritual life. Ultimately that believers are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV). The pursuit of the crucified work of Christ was meant to put to death the old self “in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6 ESV). In Paul’s theological understanding it is illogical to disown sin then bring it back and establish a relationship with it. To disown is to cut ties with or to burn the relational bridge. In Paul’s mind when a person confesses union with Christ “their former existence came to an end; a new life began.”5 To this end Paul reminds his readers of their baptism in which their pursuit was to be “buried therefore with Him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4 ESV). Death to sin was the aim to the embrace of the cross. For it was understood by Paul that “one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:7 ESV). Therefore “death pays all debts, so those who have died with Christ have the slate wiped clean, and are ready to begin their new life with Christ freed from the entail of the past.”6 Yet it is imperative that the necessity is founded in Christ because the reality is “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV) and outside of His infinite might humanity would have no power to secure life after the payment.
Yet it must come to the forefront that in context the “old self,” as referenced in verse 6, is the continued thought flowing from the previous chapter. In Romans 5 Paul connects the notion that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 ESV). The apostle Paul correlates the effects of sin through Adam with the implementation of grace in the work and person of Jesus Christ. The relationship between Adam and Jesus is played out in understanding that “by the one man’s (Adam) disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 ESV). This is the epitome of what theologians call imputation which refers to the meaning of “to think of as belonging to someone, and therefore to cause it to belong to that person.”7 Dr. John MacArthur communicates imputation well by saying:
The guilt of Adam’s disobedience was imputed to all his descendants. They were thus made sinners — in the sense that they became legally guilty in God’s sight. In the same way, but with the exact opposite effect, Christ’s obedience causes those who believe in Him to be made righteous in God’s sight. The consequence of His perfect obedience — an unblemished, impeccable righteousness — is imputed to their account, making them legally righteous.8
In emphasizing this idea of the “old self” (Romans 6:6 ESV) or rather the flesh, which Paul alludes to throughout the book of Romans, there is a unique pursuit after one’s own death in order to obtain the life sought out in Christ. The crucifixion of the “old self” in Christ was a means that “the body of sin might be brought to nothing” (Romans 6:6 ESV). So, in Paul’s theological understanding to disown sin through the crucifixion of Christ was to empty or put to death the effects of its nature. Again, to disown sin and then aggressively pursue sin would be contradictory in the interpretation of the work and person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul supports the notion of disownment to sin by alluding to the blood of Christ as the agent which allows the believer to be “set free” (Romans 6:7 ESV) and for death to “no longer [have] dominion over” (Romans 6:9 ESV) the saints.
New Life with Christ:
“4 We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 ESV
Though the crucifixion of Christ is instrumental in the life of a believer, the hope that secures the Christian faith is the power of the resurrection. The cross, and ultimately death, is only a means to receive the newness of life in Christ. So to merely talk about death to sin without new life in Christ would be to miss the entire point of the Gospel. To this end Paul cements his stance against habitual sin that would abound the grace of Christ. In Paul’s argument all the phrases attached to death are only a means to maneuver the reader to the reality of life in Christ. For example Paul uses connecting phrases such as “in order that” (v. 4), “we shall certainly” (v. 5), “in order” (v. 6), “also” (v. 8), and “but” (v. 10). Throughout his argument Paul is contrasting both death and life against each other and is causing the audience to solidify their position. There is no riding the fence in this discussion.
Yet the emphasis of life, in accordance to Paul’s argument, is an embrace to holy living. The cling to the baptism of death was signified “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Notice that the holiness to which Paul alludes to is not a passive righteousness rather an active practice. The implications here is that prior to Christ there was a pattern of living that was contrary Gospel-centric living. Through the work of Christ the pattern of living shifts and aligns to the fulfillment of Jesus. Consequently leading to the understanding that “Christ’s resurrection life was the certain consequence of His death as the sacrifice for our sin, so the believer’s holy life in Christ is the certain consequence of his death to sin in Christ.”9 Therefore to “walk in newness” is “the new mode or quality of life which results from the impartation of Christ’s risen power to the believer.”10 This is congruent with the teachings of Christ that He “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Not necessarily a quantity of life –though that is granted — but a quality of life.
Furthermore it must be prescribed that the holy living will be executed imperfectly on this side of eternity. This reality is implied when Paul states: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV). The Greek term logizomai, which is translated into “consider,” is a word “used metaphorically in the sense of fully affirming a truth, of having unreserved inner confidence in the reality of what the mind acknowledges.”11 Paul seems to be suggesting, which is played out in the next chapter of Romans, that the reality of this “newness,” at times, will be difficult to understand and grasp. Yet it is imperative for believers to lean into the truth of God even when the evil one makes accusation that would communicate otherwise. To this end it is essential to cling to the reality that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV) who speaks on our behalf. Therefore, “the remarkable reality reflected here is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ — that God saves sinners through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus — justifies us but it also sanctifies us.”12 In being cemented in this Gospel truth we must understand that we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [we] have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15 ESV). In knowing that, we take hope that in “those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order the He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV). Because we are being conformed into the likeness of Christ we are “to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:8 ESV).
General revelation gives us a depiction of the beauty and majesty of the Gospel message which fuels the identity of God’s people. It was as though in God’s infinite wisdom when He was forming the wonders of the world He imprinted Himself into the fabric of creation to speak to us. So, we should not be alarmed at the nuances to which we find in the schemes of nature. Just as when a plant is to sprout forth it must taste death within its form. Just as the caterpillar is to embrace transformation are they to embody stillness. Just as a predator hunts its prey to maintain survival within the animal world. Jesus exemplified this type of understanding and teaching by saying: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV). These types of analogies were not meant to speak into the Gospel rather, in God’s foresight, God incorporated the Gospel into creation to articulate to the consciousness of humanity the nuances of God’s love for the world. So it is with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that what “is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42 ESV). All these analogies play as a shadow to the Gospel which is given forth to solidify our identity in the work and person of Jesus Christ.
1 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 123.
2 CS Lewis.Mere Christianity (New York: Harper One, 1980), 22.
3 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1 – 8 (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 314.
4 Ibid., 316.
5 FF Bruce. Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 129.
6 Ibid., 131.
7 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 495.
8 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1 – 8 (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 307.
9 Ibid., 322.
10 FF Bruce. Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 130.
11 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1 – 8 (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 334.
12 Matt Chandler and Jared Owens. The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 209 – 210.