Completed by the Spirit Part 12: Not of the Letter, But of the Spirit

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the 12th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
If an exter­nal code is the antithe­sis of a life in the Spirit (as we noted in our previous install­ment), what is the expres­sion of a life in the Spirit? Love. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
That love, that love from God via the Holy Spirit given to dwell in us is, as Paul tells us, the ful­fill­ing of the law:

[8] Owe no one any­thing, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has ful­filled the law. [9] For the com­mand­ments, “You shall not com­mit adul­tery, You shall not mur­der, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other com­mand­ment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neigh­bor; there­fore love is the ful­fill­ing of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)

There are those, espe­cially from the camp that Graeme Goldswor­thy char­ac­ter­izes as “evan­gel­i­cal Judaism,”[1] who will turn verse 10 on its head and say that Paul is telling us that the way we achieve love is through obe­di­ence to the law.
For exam­ple, Vin­cent Che­ung writes, “The real bib­li­cal def­i­n­i­tion of love, that is, the love that the Bible com­mands us to have, is defined by obe­di­ence to the law in all of our rela­tion­ships (Romans 13:9–10) – and this includes the com­mands that it makes to both the mind and the body.”[2] Fur­ther­more, Che­ung makes the auda­cious state­ment that God’s love is demon­strated by “prac­ti­cal benev­o­lence” and that the love of the Chris­t­ian should be one of  “accu­rate obe­di­ence.”[3] “In other words,” Che­ung oddly asserts, “you walk in love by obey­ing all these com­mand­ments.”[4]
That sort of legal­ism, Goldswor­thy tells us, has at its base “an asser­tion of our con­trol over our rela­tion­ship with God. It is a soft-pedaling of the great­ness of God’s grace to sin­ners. On the sur­face it may appear to be an exalt­ing of the law, how­ever the law is under­stood. Yet when we under­stand the nature of legal­ism, we find that the oppo­site is true.”[5]
If we are to be like Christ – if we indeed are to have the love poured out by Him, and if as Paul promises we will be rid of sin – then to sug­gest that love is obtained by fol­low­ing an exter­nal code, rather than it being some­thing intrin­sic to our onto­log­i­cal state, is absurd.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 13: Love Poured Into Us

[1] Graeme Goldswor­thy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneu­tics (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­sity Press, 2006), 171.
[2] Vin­cent Che­ung, The Ser­mon on the Mount (Boston: self-published, 2004), 159. In an over-the-top style, Che­ung also crit­i­cizes D. A. Car­son in this sec­tion, writ­ing that Carson’s state­ment that love requires more than actions (cf. 1 Cor 13:3) is “a sur­pris­ingly ama­teur­ish inference. …”
[3] Ibid., 160–1. Che­ung also advo­cates hat­ing non-believers as God hated Esau.
[4] Ibid., 90. Che­ung makes the state­ment: “Imme­di­ately after my con­ver­sion, I stopped lying alto­gether.” This con­tra­dic­tion of 1 John 1:10ff nec­es­sar­ily brings the author’s verac­ity into question.
[5] Goldswor­thy, 171.

Recommended: Why I Believe In Believer’s Baptism

Review: Courtesy Edwin Trefger

Kingdom Through Covenant
Kingdom Through Covenant
Justin Tay­lor of Cross­way recently had an inter­view on The Gospel Coali­tion web­site with Dr. Stephen J. Wellum of South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary on cre­dobap­tism. I agree with the way that Dr. Wellum lays out the case, and he does it very well: suc­cinctly and completely.
After explain­ing that pae­dobap­tist Reformed the­ol­ogy “flat­tens out” the covenants and wrongly — and per­haps sim­plis­ti­cally — equates Old Covenant Israel with the New Covenant church, Tay­lor asks, “What does that have to do with baptism?” Wellum responds:

Every­thing. Under the old covenant, one could make a dis­tinc­tion between the phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual seed of Abra­ham (the locus of the covenant com­mu­nity is dif­fer­ent from the locus of the elect). Under the old covenant, both “seeds” (phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual) received the covenant sign of cir­cum­ci­sion and both were viewed as full covenant mem­bers in the national sense, even though it was only the rem­nant who were the true spir­i­tual seed of Abra­ham. But this kind of dis­tinc­tion is not legit­i­mate under the new covenant where the locus of the covenant com­mu­nity and the elect are the same. In other words, one can­not speak of a “rem­nant” in the new covenant com­mu­nity, like one could under the old covenant. All those who are “in Christ” are a regen­er­ate peo­ple, and as such it is only they who may receive the sign of the covenant, namely baptism.

You can read the com­plete inter­view at The Gospel Coali­tion web­site: Why I am a Cre­dobap­tist.
Wellum and co-author Peter J. Gen­try have a book com­ing out next June (cover shown above) which could be a ground­break­ing ref­er­ence: King­dom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Under­stand­ing of the Covenants. [Linked: This Mystery]

A Bruised Reed

Mike Adams
Mike Adams
Suffering deepens and enriches our experience of grace in ways that can only happen by suffering.  Oftentimes suffering is the tool that God uses to stir up a passion for Jesus and the gospel that has grown cold.  I don’t need to suffer to understand and believe the gospel, but I’ve noticed a pattern in myself and in others close to me with similar experiences in their own gospel wakening, where suffering in some form is what God brought into our lives to gently awaken us to the sweet aroma of the gospel and a renewed passion for the beauty of Jesus.  Sometimes he brings us back to our first love by the tough things we go through and the ugly things he lets us see in ourselves.  But even then, he is gentle and compassionate.  Look at this description of Jesus from Isaiah.

…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

Sometimes God bruises us to give us eyes to see things and a heart to love things that had we not been bruised, we would never perceive and understand from the heart.  Sometimes he bruises us to deepen our love for him and our compassion for others. Our bruising gentles us down and magnifies Jesus in us. But even in our bruising, he is kind, compassionate, and gentle.  Isaiah’s description of Jesus is comforting because in my bruised condition, he will never break or destroy me.  There are times when my wick may be dimly lit and little more than a faint flicker, but he’ll not put it out.  He takes this bruised reed and smoldering wick and fans it into a new flame that is unlike the old one.  I like what Jared Wilson said about this in his book, Gospel Wakefulness,

Puritan writer Richard Sibbes captures the sanctifying work of gospel wakefulness well in his classic book The Bruised Reed when he writes: Let us remember that grace is increased, in the exercise of it, not by virtue of the exercise itself, but as Christ by his Spirit flows into the soul and brings us nearer to himself, the fountain, so instilling such comfort that the heart is further enlarged. Sibbes is not talking about conversion in this instance…. He is writing within the context of depressions like grief or pain or despondency, so what he is referring to is how God works in and through our “bruising” to bring us closer to him, to make us more dependent on him, and to “enlarge our heart.” That is a good phrase for gospel wakefulness. In conversion we receive a new heart, a resurrected heart. As we abide in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit of that new heart results in qualities dead hearts do not produce—things like kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, patience, etc. Our hearts get larger. They suffer what Thomas Chalmers calls “an expulsive power of a new affection.” In the gospel wakefulness God often grants in and through moments of intense bruising, our hearts undergo a growth spurt! Maybe, like the Grinch who didn’t really understand Christmas at first, our heart grows three sizes in one day.

Those moments of intense bruising do lead to a growth spurt of the heart as it is captured in new ways by the grace of God and a deepened experience and interaction with the gospel.  These are things only God can do as Jared Wilson reminds us,

Really, there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and be utterly awed. But neither of these things are things you can really do. They are things only God can do for you….For many of us, Jesus won’t be our absolute treasure until we are out of options.

From my experience, he is right. When we are bruised by grace, gentled down by suffering, and our hearts are enlarged with a renewed affection for Christ and the gospel, the only thing I lose is another piece of my ugly pride. It’s a win-win!

Is it possible that God is trying to stir up revival by a gentling of us? Is it possible that the only thing really ruined is human pride and self-confidence?  -Jack Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader

(Visit Mike’s blog!)

Glory in the Gospel: Galatians 6:14

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Introduction: Connection with the previous verses: in the Greek text this verse begins with a “but”. The false teachers boasted in ritual, but Paul boasted in Christ. Or they were seeking to avoid persecution because of the cross, but Paul gloried in the cross. “Cross of Christ” always refers to our Lord’s redemptive work, which he accomplished by dying on the cross. It refers to the historical fact plus the proper Biblical interpretation of the event (Mk 15:32; 1 Cor 1:17; Gal 6:12, 14; Ph 3:18). This is the good news or gospel! Christ did everything that was needed for our salvation and acceptance with God. We should remember what the cross meant in Paul’s day. “It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16); even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism: arbori infelici suspendito, ‘hang him on the unlucky tree’ (Cicero, ibid. 13).” [Bruce, p. 271] Exposition: How can we glory or boast in the gospel that centers on the cross of Christ? How should the cross change us?
I.            This is a very strange boast in the view of people apart from God’s grace.
A.            In their view the cross of Christ seems irrelevant to the needs of people.

1.            “What can the death of a Jewish man do for me?”

2.            The answer is, “Who exactly was the One who died? And what was the purpose of his death?” The person who died is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his purpose was the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.

B.            It is also strange to them because the cross of Christ speaks of the wrath of God.

1.            The Bible interprets the cross of Christ as a propitiation, the turning aside of or satisfaction of the wrath of God. The Father was willing to show mercy, so he freely gave his Son, who was willing to make satisfaction that God’s justice might be satisfied for all who repent and believe the good news. And the Spirit joyfully makes this good news known through his word.

2.            However, the person apart from God’s grace does not have room in his thoughts for the God who is angry at sinners. The best known and most hated sermon in American history is Jonathan Edwards’ message “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. But the cross tells us the way to be right with the holy God because his righteous wrath is satisfied.

C.            The cross of Christ opposes human pride, and this intensifies the strangeness of the gospel to sinners.

1.            All of human religions make a place for human works, for a person’s contribution to some degree.

2.            The cross of Christ proclaims that a person cannot do anything to save himself or herself. “You must rely on God alone to save you because of Christ’s atoning work.”

3.            It opposes human pride in another way, for it says to every generation of mankind, “You must be saved in this way.” The contemporary individual is no better than primitive man, and modern or postmodern people do not like to hear this!

II.            We ought to understand why Paul gloried in the cross of Christ.
A.            For Paul to glory only in the cross of Christ required a radical break with his past (2 Cor 11:2f; Ph 3:4-6f).

1.            He had to break with his religious heritage.

2.            He had to break with his own religious achievements.

Comment: To make such a break required a great change in his thinking. This happened when the Lord Jesus Christ saved him on the Damascus Road.
Illustration: You can’t win a war with an army that is committed to the cause of your enemy. The church is weak today because many of its apparent soldiers are in agreement with the enemy rather than the Lord Christ.
B.            The significance of the cross of Christ in the plan of God. Four key terms:

1.            Sacrifice – the answer to our guilt. Eph 5:2

2.            Propitiation – the answer to God’s wrath. Rm 3:25

3.            Redemption – the answer to our bondage to sin and Satan. Eph 1:7

4.            Reconciliation – the answer to God’s alienation from us. Col 1:21-22

C.            We should then realize the significance of the cross of Christ to the Christian way of worship and life.

1.            We are not Christians at all, in the true meaning of the word “Christian”, if we are not glorying in the cross of Christ alone as the basis of our hope.

Apply: There are only two possible attitudes. You either despise the cross and what it means, or you glory in it. You cannot remain neutral. You must choose.

2.            We cannot evangelize unless we preach the cross of Christ. In one sense it is true that people are not becoming Christians, because they do not understand the cross of Christ.

3.            Every teaching that we hold must be in conformity with the cross (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5).

III.            The cross of Christ, in which Paul gloried, had a transforming effect on his relationship with the world.
A.            The meaning of “world” in this verse

1.            The term has various usages in the Scriptures. We must grasp the intent of a Biblical writer in his use of a particular word from the context.

a.            The universe – Jn 17:5; Ac 17:24; Ph 2:15

b.            The planet earth – Jn 21:25; Mt 13:38; 26:13

c.            The general public – Jn 7:4; Rm 1:8

d.            Wicked people – Jn 7:7; 12:31; 14:17; 15:19; 16:11

e.            All people as accountable to God – Rm 3:6, 19

f.            Ethical (the corrupt condition of people) – Jn 3:19; Rm 12:2; 1 Cor 7:31; Js 1:27

g.            Ethnical (both Jews and Gentiles) – Jn 4:42; 12:19

2.            How the term “world” is used here.

a.            “It designates present sensible things, viewed as exercising a malignant influence over the minds of men—directly opposed to the influence which future and spiritual things should exert over them.” [Brown]

b.            The values of mankind which are contrary to the Lord and his ways—the love of fame, wealth, and pleasure, and human pride in self-sufficiency. The world loves these things and hates holiness and grace.

B.            The transformation of the believer’s relationship with the world through the cross of Christ

1.            The world was crucified to Paul.

a.            Before his conversion, he was very much a partisan of the world (Ph 3:4-6). But after conversion, his view became radically different.

b.            The doctrine of the cross of Christ, which Paul understood and believed and which the Holy Spirit made real in his experience, caused this change of thinking about the world.

c.            How this works: Since Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice to rescue his people from eternal wrath and to secure for them eternal happiness, they begin to realize the importance of the world to come over this present evil world. It teaches us there are things more to be dreaded than earthly suffering, and that there things more to be desired than the pleasures of this world.

2.            Paul was crucified to the world. There was a time when he was highly esteemed by the world. But now, because of his view of the cross of Christ, the world had a different attitude toward him. It saw that he no longer belonged to it as he once did. Before his conversion to Christ, he had been a valued member of Jewish society, but after in their opinion he was a fool or a madman, a destroyer of all that was precious to them.

Comment: Someone once say, “Try to become like Jesus and the world will admire you. But if you become like him, it will hate you.”
1.            Why does Paul speak of this two-sided crucifixion? It is to stress the radical break between the Christian and the world. The believer now views the world as the realm of death and evil. By the gospel of Christ, he has discovered where real life and holiness is to be found.
2.            The worldly person, apart from God’s grace, views true Christianity as repulsive. Why should he like something that pronounces the death sentence on all that he loves? Yet the believer in Jesus Christ loves the cross and glories in the message of the gospel, because this is our salvation!
3.            Those who have experienced this two-sided crucifixion should have no concern for either the smiles or the frowns of the world. We died to that realm through the cross of Christ! Therefore, we do not need to be concerned about how they evaluate us.

Completed by the Spirit Part 11: Not of the Letter, But of the Spirit

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the 11th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

There is one more pas­sage in which Paul speaks against the law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, and that is 2 Corinthi­ans 3. It is per­haps the most spe­cific com­par­i­son between a law of let­ters and of the Spirit – the γράμμα/πνε̣̣ῦμα antithesis.

[1] Are we begin­ning to com­mend our­selves again? Or do we need, as some do, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to you, or from you? [2] You your­selves are our let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, writ­ten on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a let­ter from Christ deliv­ered by us, writ­ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the liv­ing God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

[4] Such is the con­fi­dence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are suf­fi­cient in our­selves to claim any­thing as com­ing from us, but our suf­fi­ciency is from God, [6] who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:1–6)

Verse 6, the com­par­i­son between the let­ter and the Spirit, is often used to con­trast the inef­fec­tive­ness of the Mosaic law against the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. And indeed, the con­text of the fol­low­ing verses in which the “min­istry of death, carved in let­ters on stone,” clearly refer­ring to the tablets given at Sinai as opposed to the min­istry of the Spirit, sug­gests a com­par­i­son between the Deca­logue and the Holy Spirit given to believers.

New Covenant Morality In Paul

But the letter/Spirit antithe­sis actu­ally goes fur­ther. It is not only the Deca­logue – the law which is indeed “holy and right­eous and good” (Rom 7:12) accord­ing to Paul – which is inef­fec­tive. It is any exter­nal code, any exter­nal effort what­so­ever that does not rely upon the Spirit of God for transformation.
T. J. Dei­dun advances that propo­si­tion in his dis­cus­sion of 2 Corinthi­ans 3:

Now we may safely pre­sup­pose that Paul did not arrive at the con­clu­sion that the γράμμα ‘kills’ by way of anthro­po­log­i­cal reflec­tion on the effect that law has on man. It is the [C]hristian expe­ri­ence of the life-giving Spirit as escha­to­log­i­cal new­ness that enables Paul to see that only the Spirit brings life and hence only the ‘new cre­ation’ effected by the Spirit can bring man from death to life and from sin to [jus­ti­fi­ca­tion]. The pri­mary datum of [C]hristian expe­ri­ence is not that the γράμμα ‘kills’ (that is a sub­se­quent infer­ence) but that the Spirit (and only the Spirit) [gives life].[1]

It is impor­tant to note that nei­ther Dei­dun, nor this author, are advo­cat­ing for a moral­ity that is devoid of any exter­nal imper­a­tives. Those imper­a­tives – grounded in the indica­tive of the believer’s posi­tion in Christ and as a tem­ple for His Spirit – are indeed nec­es­sary on this side of glory while we remain imper­fect. Indeed, Dei­dun remarks, “even in the [C]hristian econ­omy exter­nal imper­a­tives are to be seen chiefly as a sign of imper­fect lib­er­a­tion. …”[2] As our series con­tin­ues, we shall see how Paul uses imper­a­tives, com­mands and exhor­ta­tions in coop­er­a­tion with the Spirit to encour­age our growth in holiness.
But those imper­a­tives are not the exter­nal code of a for­mer covenant that failed to pro­duce right­eous­ness. It is that exter­nal code of death that pro­duced sin in the flesh of the unre­gen­er­ate Paul. It is that exter­nal code of death that was given to increase trans­gres­sion until Christ came. It is that exter­nal code of death that the Judaiz­ers wanted to impose upon the Gala­tians who had been run­ning well and now were stumbling.
And it is that exter­nal code of death that is the antithe­sis of a life in the Spirit.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 12: Love is the Ful­fill­ing of the Law

[1] T. J. Dei­dun, New Covenant Moral­ity in Paul (Rome: Editrice Pon­tif­ico Isti­tuto Bib­lico, 1981, 2006), 206. Eng­lish is sub­sti­tuted in the brack­ets the author’s Greek for clarity.
[2] Ibid., 209.

Sampling Tom Holland's "Romans, The Divine Marriage"

CMC highly recommends this work to those of you who are laboring towards a biblical understanding of the New Covenant. It’s a “must” read! Douglas Moo, the author of the highly acclaimed “The Epistle to the Romans” provided the following endorsement.

As the subtitle indicates, Tom Holland’s Romans is truly both biblical and theological, as the letter is set firmly in its unfolding canonical context. Holland shows how Romans contributes to our understanding of God’s covenant arrangement with humankind. The commentary digs deeply into current scholarship on the Old Testament roots of Paul’s teaching, yet presents its conclusions in accessible language. — Douglas Moo, Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

The following extract is an excursus from Romans: The Divine Marriage by Dr Tom Holland. It is published by Wypf and Stock, 2011. Reviews can be seen at The extract may be circulated as long as it is acknowledged in any use that is made of it but it remains copyright of the author.

Sin in the theology of Paul

Paul has much to say about humankind’s sinful condition. His understanding has huge implications for how Christians understand the Bible’s teaching on the state of man, i.e., how he stands before God and how he relates to the rest of creation. The following discussion is an attempt to highlight the danger of absorbing ideas from the culture which Paul would have never owned, particularly about sin, and reading them back into Scripture. These non-Hebraic thought-streams have become so embedded in Western Christian thinking that we unintentionally misrepresent what Paul and the other Scripture writers actually teach.[1]

OT background of NT sarx (NIV translation: “sinful nature”)

The Greek word σὰρξ (sarx) is used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew םָשָר (bāsār), the accepted English translation of both sarx and bāsār being “flesh.” It requires a close study of each OT passage in which the term is found to understand how it should be interpreted because it has a number of meanings. This brief OT survey will attempt to show the various ways in which the term was used by the OT writers.

The use of “flesh” to describe a covenant relationship

An important use of “flesh,” is found in the latter part of Gen 2:23-24, where we find Adam saying of Eve: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” The writer of Genesis continues: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Here, “flesh,” implies the covenant relationship a man has with his wife. She was “one flesh” with him. The provision of this relationship was Yahweh’s response to Adam’s loneliness and frailty. Despite it being a holy relationship (it was approved by God before the fall), it did not change the creaturely vulnerability of man.

The use of “flesh” to describe human frailty

The condition of human frailty is also called “flesh” in the OT. It is found in the writings of prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel. Isaiah, with his lofty view of Yahweh, emphasized that flesh was weak compared to the might of God. He paints a powerful picture of man’s frailty: “all men (flesh) are like grass … the grass withers and the flowers fall” (Isa 40:6). The prophet Ezekiel promised that the great gift of the new covenant would be a “heart of flesh” which would replace a “heart of stone” (Ezek 36:26-27). Clearly, Ezekiel does not liken “flesh” to sin but to a heart dependent on God.

The use of “flesh” as a term for mankind

Isaiah indicates that “flesh,” can have another meaning, which the NIV translates “mankind”: “all mankind (‘flesh’) will come and bow down before me” (Isa 66:23). He says that, in the day of Yahweh: “all mankind (‘flesh’) will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isa 49:26). Furthermore, the prophet Joel promised that Yahweh would pour out his Spirit on all people (flesh) (Joel 2:28).

The use of “flesh” as a term for the physical body

In Gen 17, the term “flesh,” was used for man’s flesh, that is, his body. So, Abraham and the males in his household were to be “circumcised in the flesh” (Gen 17:14). In the OT, “flesh,” is also used for animals. When the Flood was predicted, “all flesh” was to be destroyed. This judgment was particularized when God said he would destroy “every creature (‘flesh’) that has the breath of life in it” (Gen 6:17). After the Flood, it was recorded that “every living thing (‘flesh’) that moved on the earth perished – birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures (‘flesh’) that swarm over the earth, and all mankind” (Gen 7:21). Here, we see man grouped under the comprehensive description of “all flesh” which ranges from insects to man. Further, “everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” (v.22). We can see from this the narrower use of “flesh,” restricting it to creatures that were air-breathing, that is, sustained by the breath of life. (cf. Gen 9:16; Job 34:15; Ps 136:25).
In conclusion, “flesh” can be interpreted in a number of ways in the OT, depending on context. It is very important to note there is no suggestion in the OT that “flesh” is in any way sinful or unclean. This is the very opposite to Greek understanding, which holds to a dualistic existence: spirit is pure and matter is evil. It would be easy to be influenced by Greek ideas and begin to think that flesh/body is evil, but this is something a Jew would never do. This assertion is supported by the fact that the blessing of the new covenant was the giving of a “heart of flesh” to his people by God (Ezek 36:26-27), and it was this that brought them near to him. On occasions, priests or people had to wash their bodies because of uncleanness. However, this was ceremonial uncleanness and not moral impurity (Lev 15:10). There is no more guilt in a dirty man than there is in an unclean garment that needs to be washed to fulfill ceremonial requirements. Dirtiness would only become the occasion of sin if the person refused to undergo the prescribed cleansing, for then he would be rejecting the command of Yahweh.
A special case?
There is an OT text which, while it does not contain the word bāsār, is deeply significant for OT support of the traditional Christian doctrine of sin. This text comes from David’s writings. In Ps 51:5, he writes: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (KJV). This well-known rendering of David’s statement has since been modified by translators. As a result, it fails to convey the proper meaning of the text. The NIV translates it as: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” The NAS has: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” The NET version has: “Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me.” Clearly, such a text has to be evaluated and the translators’ preferences considered. If it is speaking of being conceived in sin, then it is suggesting that David could not help his actions because of the sinful nature with which he was born. This is a major departure from what the rest of the OT teaches and what we know Jews throughout history have held to. The statement is intended to contrast the truthfulness of God with the deceitfulness of David. In fact, “the Psalms and the OT in general speak less in terms of ‘being’ (ontology) than in terms of experience and history (existence).”[2] David is not speaking about his nature but the social/spiritual environment into which he was born. This condition, which we shall see ties into what Paul has to say about being “in Adam,” does not deny David’s sinfulness but understands it in the framework of OT thinking.
So, what does David mean when he says he was “conceived in sin”? Scholars have noted the term ~xy (yḥm) “to be hot, rut, conceive”[3] describes raw sexual passion or sexual intercourse. It must be noted that David is not speaking of his own behavior but his mother’s, for she conceived him “in sin” (KJV). In an attempt to resolve the use of this term (a term not normally used for conception), some have gone so far as to say the statement relates to adultery on the part of David’s mother. This leaves us with a quandary, because there is no suggestion David describes his Jewish home-life as being anything other than normal and stable, albeit with typical sibling tensions.
Can there be another explanation for this offensive language? The fact is that David speaks of having two mothers, and it is important that we recognize the one to whom he is referring in this psalm. The idea of Zion being a mother is found throughout the OT (Isa 3:16; 37:22; 62:11; Jer 4:31; Lam 1:6; Mic 1:13; 4:10), and the idea of Zion “bearing” children is also found (Ps 87:5). Admittedly, Ps 87 is not David’s composition–but psalm 9 is attributed to him, and in that psalm he writes: “that I may declare your praises in the gates of the Daughter of Zion and there rejoice in your salvation” (Ps 9:14).
So could David be saying that, because he was born into a community which constantly broke Yahweh’s commandments, he was set on the path of disobedience and sin? Is this why his conception is described as being “in sin”? It would certainly make sense of his use of ~xy “to be hot, rut, conceive” because Zion/Israel is repeatedly called a “harlot,” going after other gods and leaving her husband (Isa 1:21; Jer 5:7; Ezek 16:28). In addition, there were many children of Zion who were described as being illegitimate (Hos 1:2; 2:4).
This line of reasoning is supported by the text of Ps 51:18, where David pleads: “In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.” The psalm recognizes Israel’s sin, and, in a typically Semitic way, David confesses the sin of his people of which his own is a part. Forgiveness is not solely for himself but also for his wayward people, and it results in the rebuilding of the walls of Zion–the protection of Yahweh’s inheritance. In other words, being born “in sin” is a reference to the type of community into which David was born, and he is conscious that his behavior has followed the national characteristic of unfaithfulness to Yahweh. Such an understanding is in complete harmony with the rest of the OT Scriptures and has stayed totally within a Jewish framework.
To summarize the OT’s teaching on “flesh,” we can note that the term is morally neutral, speaking of man’s creaturely existence and frailty. There is no lexicographical evidence to suggest that the term carried any negative moral connotation.

A major conundrum

That “flesh,” is a morally neutral term is a vitally important point. In Christian thinking, “flesh,” normally implies a condition of sinfulness in an individual. If the OT does not use it in this way, and it is widely accepted that Jews do not see their physical existence as in any way impure, then we have to ask if Jesus, a Jew, ever used “flesh” in our Hellenized Christian way. The answer has to be negative. The founder of Christianity, who lived and ministered entirely within the Jewish nation, shared that same understanding of “flesh”–an understanding based on the Jewish Scriptures.
If this assertion is true, and few would doubt it, then the question has to be asked: “where did the idea that “flesh” is sinful come from?” Did Paul introduce this concept into the church’s understanding and teaching? If he has done this, he has added something very un -Jewish and, therefore, very different from what Jesus himself taught. If the understanding did not come from Paul, where did it originate?
The OT use of “flesh” outlined above is the complex background to Paul’s Jewish thinking. If, after his conversion, he stayed within its framework, this semantic domain has to be consulted when interpreting his writings. However, if Paul moved into Hellenism–where “flesh” is intrinsically evil – we must interpret his letters accordingly. We have to make a decision as to whether Paul and the NT writers continued in the restricted stream of OT thought or whether they “advanced out,” absorbing Greek ideas. Certainly, these Greek ideas would have been familiar to the growing number of Gentile converts in the early church.
If we find that the OT understanding continues, it would have been necessary for the early church to have devised a program of careful instruction for the Gentile converts in order to bring their understanding in line with Jewish thought. This would not have been as formidable a task as might at first appear, for, in the early years of the church, almost all of the teachers were Jews. Indeed, we must remember that Gentile converts were being filtered into congregations which were mostly Jewish. They would have been taught from the LXX, and, finding that their understanding of the term sarx clashed with that of the Jewish community, would have been taught its “true” meaning by their Jewish brethren. If this did not happen, a Gentile takeover would have occurred causing serious problems for the Jewish majority and the church’s apostolic theology in its formative days.
The use of “flesh” in the NT: A caution
The translators of most English versions try to help their readers understand the term “flesh” by rendering it in ways they think appropriate. This seems reasonable, but, unfortunately, the translations often contradict the contexts in which the term is found. To translate “flesh” as “sinful nature” (as in the Romans passage under consideration) does not normally convey what Paul was writing but, instead, misrepresents him on a vitally important issue.[4]

The use of “flesh” in the Gospels

Of all the references to “flesh” in the Synoptics, only one statement (recorded by Matthew and Mark [Matt 26:41; Mark 14:38]) appears to be a possible reference to the human body. However, this is debatable as the phrase: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” could imply the frailty of the human condition, where man without God is limited to his creaturely resources. Certainly, this interpretation is in agreement with one of the Jewish meanings of “flesh” and reflects the “heart of flesh” in Ezekiel. This meaning conveys an awareness of creaturely weakness and dependency upon God.
Another possible reference to “flesh” as “body” is in John 6:51-56. Since it is a controversial passage which is difficult to expound (it is the key text in support of the doctrine of transubstantiation, i.e., the changing of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ), it would be easy to ignore. To do so would leave a weakness in the argument being presented. I will, therefore, suggest another possible interpretation.
In his Gospel, John repeatedly shows that Jesus was misunderstood. In chapter 1, the Jews failed to perceive the identity of the Son of God (John 1:10-11). In chapter 2, they thought he was referring to the temple of Herod when he said the temple would be destroyed and raised in three days (John 2:19-22). In chapter 3, Nicodemus misunderstood the nature of the second birth (John 3:3-9). In chapter 4, the Samaritan woman failed to understand the nature of living water (John 4:15) and in chapter 5, the Jews misunderstood the message of the Scriptures (John 5:39-40). When we come to chapter 6, the Jews were offended when Jesus said that unless they ate his flesh, there would be no life in them (John 6:53). Their thinking would have been consistent with OT ideas of “flesh” so they assumed that Jesus was referring to his body, a meaning that is in the OT semantic domain for bāsār. They misunderstood his words because they took them literally! Jesus was not speaking of his body any more than the “temple” of chapter 2 was a reference to the building in Jerusalem. So, how can we understand Jesus’ use of “flesh”?
The time of the statement was Passover (John 6:4), and Jesus was reminding the Jews that the manna sent down from heaven sustained their ancestors as they journeyed to the promised land. Now, God has sent living bread for people to eat, to sustain them until the last day when they will be raised up (John 6:40). Jesus is saying that believers must partake of him by faith, in order to be sustained on life’s journey. In the context of a relationship between himself and his needy people, his use of “flesh” reflects the way its used in Gen 2:24–it refers to the inaugural statement of marriage. This original marriage in Genesis foreshadowed the divine marriage of Yahweh and his people at Sinai, which, as we have seen earlier, was the purpose of the Passover and is the theme being traced in this commentary.[5] The concept of the divine marriage had already been introduced by John. He recorded that Jesus attended the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee in order to typify the forthcoming new relationship between Yahweh and his people.[6] John the Baptist bore witness that he was the friend of the bridegroom, and that, having heard his voice, he rejoiced (John 3:29).[7] It was no coincidence Jesus’ statement was made near the time of the celebration of the Jewish Passover–a motif which is ongoing in John’s Gospel.[8] If this understanding of “flesh” is correct, i.e., it is covenantal and speaks of the marriage relationship between Christ and his people, then the statement is only sacramental in that it is speaks of the “mystic” union between Christ and his bride. In other words, it carries the same significance as Paul’s understanding of what it means to be “in Christ” and nothing more.

Paul’s use of “flesh”

As I have already stated, we have to decide if the teaching on “flesh” in the NT reflects the OT understanding or whether it widens to embrace Greek language and culture. Many scholars believe Paul was influenced by Greek thought, and that this was reflected in his teaching.[9] Certainly, as noted, a growing number of converts to the Gospel were Greek-speaking Gentiles, and it would seem reasonable for Paul to adapt his message to make it more “Gentile-friendly.”
However, we have seen in the Greek understanding of “flesh” that it was sinful because all material things were considered evil. If the assumption is correct that Paul adapted his message, we should find evidence that Paul uses “flesh” in this Greek way. However, when we look closely at his letters, we find that he does not introduce this meaning but continues to make use of its multi-faceted, OT perspective.

Paul’s use of “flesh” to describe a covenant relationship

We have seen that the term “flesh” in the OT can refer to a covenant relationship, e.g., in the creation account. Paul uses this meaning when writing of the Jews, the covenant people of God. He makes it clear that he puts no confidence in this covenant relationship (“flesh”), despite his own pedigree and achievements as a Jew: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the ‘flesh’ – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:3-7).
Paul is not saying that his background and ambition to be a faultless Jew were sinful in themselves. Rather he is saying now that he is in Christ, he recognizes that before his conversion, he had been in Adam and living outside of God’s kingdom and covenant relationship. Everything he did, including the meticulous practice of his religion, was an expression of his separation from God. When he says “the acts of the sinful nature (flesh) are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21a), he includes his own failings. His “noble achievements” in trying to destroy the church before his conversion, dragging men and women off to prison and breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples (Acts 8:3; 9:1), would surely have qualified for acts of “hatred,” “jealousy,” “selfish ambition,” and “fits of rage.” These and other acts of the “flesh,” were evidence that Paul was in the wrong kingdom or the wrong covenant, i.e., that he was “in the flesh.”
Again, Paul makes use of the covenantal OT perspective of “flesh” when he states that being “in the flesh” is the same as being “in Adam.” Both terms describe the condition of being unregenerate and disobedient to God’s word (cf. Rom 5:12ff.; Gal 3:10ff.). Paul says: “those controlled by the sinful nature (‘flesh’) cannot please God” (Rom 8:8). He is not writing with an individualistic Greek understanding of the spirit of a man being polluted by his sinful body (“flesh”) but of the solidarity of mankind with Adam. In other words, unredeemed mankind is “in Adam,” and controlled by Satan. These unredeemed members of the human race form the “body of Sin.”[10] The picture is of a covenant community, which is outside of the kingdom of God.
This is made plain in Rom 8:9, where Paul tells the Romans that they are not controlled by the sinful nature (“flesh”) but by the Spirit, “if the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul appears to be saying that those who are in Christ are not controlled by Satan but by the Holy Spirit. To be “in the Spirit” is to be “in Christ” where no confidence is placed in human ability or attainment, but all confidence is placed in Christ (cf. Rom 6:5-11; 8:4-8).
In Rom 7:5, Paul speaks of being “in the flesh” as a past experience: “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature (flesh), the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” Since nothing acted to control them, the “sinful passions” had free reign to steer them into even greater rebellion against God, producing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), leading to “fruit for death.”
All this is made clear when Paul’s statements concerning “flesh” and “Spirit,” when “lust” and “sin” are considered.[11] The Mosaic law was powerless in that it was “weakened by the flesh” because man, in Adam, was under the law of Sin (or Satan). Therefore, while man was in this covenant relationship with Satan, he could not respond to God’s demands or claims. However, God rescued him from this relationship by “sending his own Son in the flesh (‘likeness of sinful man’ [NIV]) to be a sin offering” (Rom 8:3). “And so he condemned sin in the flesh (‘sinful man’ [NIV]) in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh (‘sinful nature’ [NIV]), but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh (‘sinful nature’ [NIV]) have their minds set on the things of the flesh (‘what that nature desires’ [NIV]); but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (8:3b-5).[12]
In the Corinthian letter, Paul implies that Sin[13] is related to man’s weakness. He draws on the OT covenantal meaning of “flesh,” insinuating that believers, because of being in the “flesh” can be enticed back into darkness and bound by the power of Satan. He actively encourages the Corinthian believers not to trust in their own abilities, gifts, wisdom and influence (1 Cor 1:18-25). In their folly, they concede to temptation and begin to boast of their prowess. They are in danger of turning from Christ and substituting other gods in place of him. Paul develops this line of thinking later, especially in Rom 8:1-13; 10:1-22; 11:17-34. The implication is that there is an attempt by Satan to re-establish the relationship he had with them when they were part of the kingdom of darkness (that is, part of “fallen flesh”) and Sin (Satan) was their “husband.” Acting “in the flesh” causes man to trust in his own abilities and to secure his salvation without taking God’s claims to heart. In this sense, Sin and flesh are related. This OT concept is not compatible with Hellenistic ideas. For Paul, a Jew, the issue is essentially relational: living in the flesh was living as though he was still in Adam and serving the purposes of the kingdom to which he has succumbed.[14]

Paul’s use of “flesh” to describe human frailty

On occasions, Paul uses the term “flesh” to speak of man’s creaturely limitations, reflecting another OT usage: “No one (‘flesh’) will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Rom 3:20), and Christ came “in the likeness of sinful man (‘flesh’) to be a sin offering” (Rom 8:3). Clearly, Paul is not saying that Christ shared our sin but that he shared our creaturely limitations.
In Gal 2:20, Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body (flesh), I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Here, Paul acknowledges that he continues to live in a state of weakness. In his earthly body, he is in the “flesh.”
When writing to the Corinthians, Paul was aware there were some who no longer realized their limitations! They prided themselves in their intellectual gifts and oratorical powers. They no longer felt a need to depend on God. So, Paul tells them: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards (flesh); not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor 1:26-29).

Paul’s use of “flesh” as a term for humankind

Surprisingly, when Paul uses “flesh” to speak of man, at first glance, it seems that he never uses the term to speak of humankind as a corporate entity but to refer to the individual person. This emphasizes his argument that each individual, Jew or Gentile, will be treated in the same way by God: “Therefore no one (‘flesh’) will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom3:20), and “no one (‘flesh’) may boast before him” (1 Cor 1:29). However, it could be argued that “no flesh” is distinguishing between Jew and Gentile rather than individuals, in which case the argument continues to be corporate and the texts are not exceptions to what has been said above.

Paul’s use of “flesh” as a term for the physical body

Paul was aware that the OT concept of “flesh” could refer to the bodies of men and beasts, and we find him employing this in 1 Cor 15, where he differentiates between man’s flesh and that of animals: “All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (1 Cor 15:39). Apart from this one mention of animal “flesh,” Paul reserves the term for man and his experience, and follows the LXX in using kre,aj (kreas) for animal meat (Rom 14:21; 1 Cor 8:13).
In Rom 12, Paul urges the believers in Rome to: “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (v.1). He is not suggesting their sinful bodies[15] can be changed, but he is calling the believers to respond to the claims of God by changing their attitudes as they submit to the word of God. The result will be that the church becomes “a living sacrifice,” offered to God in the city of Rome. In the statement: parasth/sai ta. sw,mata u`mw/n qusi,an zw/san a`gi,an euva,reston tw/| qew/| “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” it is only “your bodies” (ta sōmata hymōn) which is plural. In other words, the NIV’s “living sacrifices” should be translated “a living sacrifice,” making it a corporate offering. This is made explicit when Paul goes on to tell the church: “Do not conform (mh. suschmati,zesqe [mē syschēmatizesthe], pl.) any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (metamorfou/sqe [metamorphousthe], pl.) by the renewing of your mind (tou/ noo,j [tou noos], sing., literally ‘of the mind’). Then you (u`ma/j [hymas], pl.) will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). Paul’s argument is typically Semitic. Conceptually, he thinks in corporate terms, and these ideas are very much part of the OT understanding of “flesh.” The key point to note is that if Paul had adopted a Hellenistic understanding of man (i.e., his body is sinful), he could not have appealed to the believers in Rome to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. A sacrifice has to be clean and holy–an impossible requirement within Hellenistic dualism.
There are other examples of Paul using the term “flesh” to describe man’s physical make-up. In speaking of Christ, he says: “who as to his flesh (‘human nature,’ [NIV]) was a descendant of David” (Rom 1:3). When speaking of circumcision, he speaks about it being “in the flesh” (Rom 2:28; Eph 2:11 [“body,” NIV]). He speaks of the necessity of remaining “in the flesh” (Phil 1:24 [“body,” NIV]) and of his sufferings “in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7; Gal 4:13, 14 [“illness,” NIV]; Col 1:24). Finally, Christ suffered “in the flesh” (Eph 2:15; Col 1:22 [“physical body,” NIV]).

Paul – a Jew

The difference between a Hebraic reading of Paul and a Hellenistic reading ought to be clear. The latter assumes that “flesh” is sinful, physical, and rebellious. However, the OT uses “flesh” in a way that is diametrically opposed to such a reading. The term is morally neutral and its meaning has to be decided from its context.

In conclusion, our study has shown that Paul followed the OT understanding when using the term “flesh.”[16] He made use of its wide variety of meanings and applied the term in differing contexts to support what he was teaching. He made particular use of the term when writing of the frailty of man as well as of his solidarity to his representative head, Adam. What Paul did not do was use “flesh” in the Greek way and so teach the Roman church it was intrinsically sinful.
We can draw two conclusions from this study. First–and more importantly–Paul did not embrace Greek thinking on “flesh,” but stayed within the OT framework. Second, a well-developed program for educating Gentile believers, who were steeped in Greek ideas, would have been a necessity in the early church.

Hellenism and Christian thought

In the light of all this, we must recognize that the Hellenistic meaning of “flesh” has dominated Christian thinking.[17] If we claim this was the way that Paul thought and taught,[18] then we have to acknowledge that he introduced ideas and teachings into Christian thinking which are at variance with those of the Lord Jesus, who, as a Jew, was reared on the OT. If this is the position we come to accept, then we have to designate Christianity as the religion of the Apostle Paul, who has hijacked Jesus and repackaged him for the Gentile world.
If, however, we accept that the multitude of OT quotations and allusions in Paul’s letters, along with his dependence on OT theological structures, demonstrate that he was as much a Jew as was Jesus, then we have to do everything in our power to avoid translating “flesh” in a way that suggests our physical condition is “sinful,” i.e., believers have sinful “natures” which have permanently tainted their physical, fleshly bodies. This leads us to reflect on the biblical doctrines of sin and the fall to rediscover the distinctive roots of Jewish-Christian understanding.


If I am correct in claiming that the NT meaning of “flesh” has Jewish roots and that there is a need to be alert to Hellenistic influences in Western Christian understanding of the doctrine, then we need to ask if the doctrine of sin has been influenced by Hellenism in any significant way. The normal Western Christian understanding of sin is something like this: “acts which break the laws of the OT.” This is an understandable definition, but it is not entirely in tune with Scripture.
To construct a doctrine of sin which emphasizes wrong actions rather than wrong relationships is akin to a builder failing to examine the foundation before building a superstructure. For most people, the belief is that wrong actions (sins) come from indwelling sin or man’s sinful nature. Such an understanding of sin allows Hellenistic dualism to filter unchallenged into our understanding, leading us away from biblical thinking.
A typical dualistic approach sees that for everything good there is a corresponding evil. In terms of anthropology, man is seen as having two natures: one that is good and the other that is evil. If such an understanding of man takes control of our theology, we will find great difficulty in reconciling it with what the Bible says about the believer and humankind in general. We will have departed from the holistic, OT understanding of man which holds that his being is indivisible. The Hebraic view of man has no place for the dualism of the Greeks who see man as being tripartite: body, soul, and spirit.[19]
What, then, is sin? The OT sets out its stall very clearly. Hosea, commenting on Adam’s disobedience, says: “Like Adam, they have broken the covenant … they were unfaithful to me there” (Hos 6:7). Hosea lays the charge at Israel’s door that she is being unfaithful to Yahweh, who is likened to her husband. She is playing the prostitute, taking other lovers (gods) and breaking her covenant relationship with God. This, says Hosea, is what happened in Eden.[20] Adam rejected God’s good and pure love for him and, in its place; he embraced the lies of the serpent. He went after another god, putting him before the God who made him.
In other words, sin is essentially relational.[21] Breaking God’s law is the symptom of the problem. Man has declared himself to be a lover (a covenant partner) of the one who is at war with Yahweh. This imagery continually appears throughout the OT, sin is betrayal. It is rejecting Yahweh and the espousal of other gods. Thus, Adam was not merely disobeying Yahweh but forming a new relationship with God’s adversary. In NT terms, at the time of the fall, Adam entered into a relationship with Satan himself.[22]
This relational definition of sin is found throughout the OT. In Deut 5:9, God said to Israel: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”
In Deut 6:14-15, Israel is again warned: “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.”
Again, the definition of sin is made clear in Deut 32:15-19, where it is written: “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons, which are not God–gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters.”
It is true, of course, that Israel broke the commandments of God, and because she did not repent, this brought punishment. These disciplinary episodes took place when the nation turned away from the God who had done everything for her and embraced other gods instead. In other words, sin is not essentially legalistic–it is covenantal and relational.
In most countries today, when a man is unfaithful to his wife and commits adultery, no legal infringement has occurred, even though court proceedings may follow. Adultery is relational. It is the betrayal of the covenantal promises which were entered into when marriage vows were made. The husband’s or wife’s unfaithfulness brings their covenantal relationship to an end. No husband should ever say: “My nature merely got the better of me and nothing has changed in our marriage.” He should say: “I chose to do this because it appealed to my desires and instincts. I preferred to break my marriage vows rather than be faithful to my wife. I chose infidelity.” This is what sin is. It is man’s betrayal of God’s covenant love so that he can embrace another. The created one is unfaithful to his Creator. In terms of identifying sin “in” man, it is found in his stubborn refusal to obey God and keep his covenant. The seat of sin is the will of man.
This covenantal understanding of sin is found in texts whose significance and meaning scholarship has failed to appreciate. Many recognize that in Rom 5-7, Paul speaks of sin in the singular. Indeed, there are many who recognize that this singular use of sin is intended to portray sin as a force or as a person (Sin).[23] Sin is repeatedly contrasted with God or righteousness, and most scholars understand that righteousness is an example of a metonymy (a substitute name) for God. In other words, in this scheme, sin is Satan.
This use of “Sin” (which I have suggested should be identified as personal [Satan] by the use of the higher case) alerts us to Paul’s much larger view of the doctrine than many understand. It is Sin which has taken humankind captive, and it is the law of Sin (the authority that Sin has over people, similar to the authority that a husband has over his wife) that controls mankind in Adam. As we have seen, Sin is Satan, and the adulterous relationship–the idolatry–has been formed with him. All who are in Adam, i.e., “in the flesh,” are in this relationship.
Western Christianity has mostly lost this OT understanding. The subject has been wrenched from its covenantal context and interpreted in a legal setting. Sin is seen as breaking God’s law, a crime that requires punishment. In contrast to this forensic understanding, the OT sees sin to be essentially the betrayal of Yahweh’s love and the sacrifices which are provided to restore the relationship. The OT concept of sacrifice is, therefore, covenantal rather than judicial. It is not so much the punishment of man’s sin but the removal of the fundamental problem that had violated the covenant. In the OT the problem of sin is much more serious than breaking any of the laws, it is about the betrayal of Yahweh’s covenantal love. Turning OT sacrifice into an essentially legalistic issue loses a vitally important dimension of its significance; it is about the restoration of the covenant relationship by dealing with the issues that have caused the “divorce”. This does not deny the need for a legal element, that is, a need for propitiation, etc. Nevertheless, this legal issue is subordinate to the much greater theme of covenant restoration which requires the termination of the relationship with Sin which in the OT is the ending of the relationship with foreign gods.
By interpreting “sin” mainly in legal terms, we miss a more important framework, which places its emphasis on a God who is the lover of mankind rather than its judge. We have noted in our comments on chapter 4 that justification is rooted in covenantal ideas. These observations lend support to the need to define “sin” in the same terms.

Is Rabbinic Judaism the source of Paul’s doctrine of sin/Sin?

Some scholars argue that the Christian doctrine of “sin” bears a resemblance to the rabbinic doctrine of yesher hara, which is about the human tendency towards evil.[24] At first glance, such a case seems attractive, for Jesus was familiar with rabbinic teaching. Moreover, before his conversion, Paul trained as a rabbi under Gamaliel. One problem with Rabbinic Judaism being the source of Christian understanding is that Jesus clashed with the teaching of the rabbis on various doctrines and refused to be entangled in their web of traditions.[25] Because he challenged his hearers with the direct meaning of the OT text, the people were amazed: “he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt 7:29). The rabbinic perspective is far from what the NT teaches, and it is abundantly clear that Paul had rejected such understanding.[26] Just how much Rabbinic Judaism was influenced by Hellenistic Judaism to become a law bound religion is a point of disagreement amongst scholars.[27] However, far more important is the observation that the meaning of the concept of yesher harawas not uniform throughout Judaism. In the midrashim of Rabbi Akiba, the concept implies a natural tendency which is not inherently evil. It functions quite differently from the concept found in the teaching of the school of Rabbi Ishmael.[28] If this is right, Paul could not have been influenced by the later “negative” concept of the yesher hara, because Ishmael ben Elisha, known as Rabbi Ishmael (90-135 CE), was yet to be born!
Is Hellenistic Judaism the source of Paul’s doctrine of sin?
However, the above Jewish evidence does not affect the argument of some scholars. They see Hellenistic Judaism to have influenced NT understanding concerning the doctrine of “sin.” The argument of those who hold this position is that, because Judaism had interacted with Hellenism, the texts of Hellenistic Judaism provide us with the evidence for unraveling Paul’s thinking. Some of these texts, which reflect the interface between Judaism and the Hellenistic world, are found in the literature of intertestamental Judaism.
But is this a valid position? It is a huge assumption that Paul ever quoted from these texts. Despite the lack of evidence, scholars assume that Paul derived his dualistic teaching on “flesh” from these texts.[29] We have already explored the supposed influence of Hellenistic Judaism, and found that its teachings have repeatedly masked what the Scriptures actually teach. So, for example, we have found that doulos is not a “slave” but a “servant,”[30]and that the “body of sin” is not the human body but the corporate body of man in his allegiance to Satan.[31] We have also found that “righteousness” in Paul’s writings is not a law-court image (a fundamental Greco-Roman concept of legal perfection) but has roots in Isaiah and the psalms, where the “righteousness of God” is his covenant-faithfulness and saving activity.[32]
Elsewhere it has been shown that the teaching of Wisdom Christology; which depends heavily on Jewish Hellenistic texts, has misrepresented Paul’s thinking. The key term in Wisdom Christology is prōtotokos, which has not been derived from Hellenistic literature as is widely held. It is rooted in the OT account of the Passover where the firstborn was the designated object of judgment.[33] In each of these cases, using the literature of Hellenistic Judaism has been disastrous. Rather than opening up the teaching of Paul, it has imposed a mindset on his teaching which has distorted many of his key concepts. This fact alone ought to dissuade us from embracing this literature in order to discern Paul’s understanding of “sin.”

Sinful nature

Another expression which influences our understanding of “sin” needs to be considered. Peter appears to write indirectly about man’s “sinful nature.” When speaking of the promises of God, he says: “through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet 1:4). The reference to being partakers of the “divine nature” is read by some[34] as the counterpart of the condition of unbelievers, i.e., of not having the “divine nature” but having a “sinful nature.”
Against this traditional understanding of “nature” is that the Greek term fu,sij (physis) has two possible meanings. It not only refers to “nature” in terms of an ontological state, but also to a system or order. For most people ‘human nature’ is in contrast to the divine nature that Peter speaks of, and it is this sinful nature that is thought to be replaced or held in check when the divine nature is given. It is this close relationship between the two natures that allows the term “divine nature” in Peter to support the idea of the existence of a human or sinful nature. This understanding is resting on a fundamental misunderstanding, for neither meaning of fu,sij (physis) necessarily carries a negative connotation.[35]
Clearly, the believers Peter writes to have escaped the corruption that is in the world. When he speaks of qei,aj koinwnoi. fu,sewj (theias koinōnoi physeōs) “partakers of the divine nature,”[36] he could mean sharing in the divine order, i.e., the kingdom of God. This way of thinking is supported elsewhere in the NT[37] and by Peter himself: “you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:11).
I am suggesting, therefore, that the term “nature” refers to the order to which a person belongs–the kingdom of darkness into which he was born in Adam or the kingdom of God. The natural order of the kingdom of darkness is rebellion against God and the natural order of the kingdom of God (into which a person comes through faith in Christ) is obedience to the will of God. The term does not define the intrinsic being of man but the ontological and moral reality of the realm to which he belongs.[38]
It is important to clarify what is going on in this passage in Peter. Clarity over the way use of the way fu,sij is used will guide us to appreciate the OT roots of the term.
When Israel was redeemed from Babylon, she was brought out of the pollution of a pagan society (Isa 52:11; Jer 13:27). The dry bones in Ezek 37 exposed the nation itself as dead and polluted (evidenced by the need for cleansing after a corpse has been touched [Lev 22:4; Num 5:2; 6:7; 9:6.]) This situation was dramatically changed when Israel was brought back to her own land where she could be in fellowship with God. If this is how Peter’s comments should be read—and in its favor, it is not dualistic and contrary to Jewish thinking – then the text does not support the admittedly convoluted suggestion that man has a “sinful nature.” The recipients of Peter’s letter had been in a state of sin not because they had a sinful nature that needed to be replaced by a new nature, but because they had belonged to the kingdom over which Satan ruled – a kingdom that had polluted them but from which they had been delivered.
This logic fits Paul’s statement in Eph 2:3: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature (‘our flesh’) and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” In the first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul lists the blessings that the church experienced as a result of being under the headship of Christ (Eph 1:18-23). These blessings are the result of God’s saving mercy when she was rescued from Satan’s control: “In him (Christ) we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph 1:7). Like the Israelites, the church has been brought into another kingdom where she is to serve God. This is the context in which the statement “objects of wrath” must be interpreted. Before their conversion, the Ephesian believers had been, like the Jews in Egypt, living under a system that was in rebellion against God and was part of the order that was under God’s wrath. Here, “nature” refers not to the ontological condition of man but to his relational condition, as in 2 Pet 1:3. As members of the community that is in Adam, the Ephesians were under God’s wrath. They were, by “nature,” rebellious children of wrath, but because of God’s grace towards them, all of this had changed!

The heart

There is one final term that we need to consider—the use of “heart” in both the OT and NT. One obvious reference seems to suggest the heart of man is corrupt. Jesus states: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’” (Matt 15:18-20).
The problem with presenting this as firm evidence that the very being of man is sinful is that the term “heart” is used positively elsewhere in scripture without any suggestion of innate sinfulness. If the “heart” is sinful in the way normally understood, then all references to it would support this view. The fact is that this is not the case, in either the OT or the NT. This ought to cause us to reconsider the traditional understanding of Matt 15:18-20.
The following is a selection of references which speak of the heart of man in a positive way. Of course, there are others that speak of the heart as being evil, hardened, polluted, etc. It is undeniable that different people at different times have hearts in these conditions – but this is not always the case. To have the heart spoken of in the following positive ways can only mean that the heart of man, i.e., his nature (however that is defined), is not permanently wicked or corrupt:
everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. (Exod 35:21)
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deut 4:9)
But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 4:29)
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut 6:5)
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 11:13)
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut 30:6)
‘Do not be afraid,’ Samuel replied. ‘You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.’ (1 Sam 12:20)
But the LORD said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart.’ (1 Kgs 8:18)
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. (2 Kgs 22:19)
You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.(Neh 9:8)
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps 37:4)
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. (Ps 57:7)
I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. (Ps 101:2)
May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame. (Ps 119:80)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming. (Rom 10:8)
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Rom 10:10)
Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. (Eph 6:6)
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)
There is one OT text that speaks about the human heart being sinful which appears to contradict what has been argued above. It is Jer 17:9, which says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it”?  However, when the text is read in its context it takes on a different meaning from that normally understood.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” 11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool. 12 A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. 13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. 14 Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. 15 They keep saying to me, “Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!” 16 I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you. 17 Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. 18 Let my persecutors be put to shame, but keep me from shame; let them be terrified, but keep me from terror. Bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction.  Jer 17:6-18
In its context it is clear that the statement about the heart of man being deceitful above all things is not intended to categorize the whole of humanity, for the heart that has confidence in God cannot be desperately wicked. While Jeremiah speaks of a forthcoming new covenant in which the covenant community will receive a new heart, the statements he makes about himself in this passage refer to the present, and cannot be read as though he only speaks of the time in the future when the new covenant is established. The statement concerning the wickedness of the human heart refers to those who keep saying: “Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!” It is clear that Jeremiah sees himself as having been faithful to Yahweh, he has been a faithful shepherd (17:16) and one who has been planted by the water (17:8). It is those who have turned away from God who are described as being desperately wicked and they are contrasted with those who seek to walk in the ways of the Lord and who will be rewarded with blessing (17:7, 14). The passage is an expansion of Ps 1 which uses the same imagery of the tree planted by the water, and in that psalm is also found the contrast between the righteous and the ungodly that we find here.
The reason for citing these passages is to show that the blanket statement which says the human heart is continually and permanently wicked is not tenable. There are times when it is wicked, and there are times when it is not. Just as in our earlier study on the use of “flesh,” we have to listen to the context of each use of the term “heart” and interpret it appropriately. The reasoning given to support the doctrine of the total depravity of man does not always discern the range of uses for the term.  Indeed, the doctrine falls apart if this is its only foundation.
While there are individual texts that when collected together form the basis of the traditional doctrine of sin, it is not an adequate biblical theology that depends on ignoring texts which speak to the contrary. If we are to achieve a truly biblical doctrine of sin then we are obliged to search for an explanation that holds all the evidence together in one cohesive understanding.

The NT and the doctrine of sin

However we define “sin,” we must not be influenced by the dualism of Greek understanding. If we are, our understanding will differ from the OT writers and Jesus himself. As a Jew, he was saturated in the OT Scriptures, and his understanding was essentially covenantal and relational. If we argue that Paul’s understanding of “sin” was different from Jesus’, we claim that Paul turned from the understanding into which he was born. This understanding of Paul’s development has been widespread as a result of the twentieth century German Religio-Historical School’s assumption that Hellenism was his natural home. This has now been rejected by much of recent scholarship. Because Paul’s commitment to the OT Scriptures has been recognized, fewer scholars now want to defend direct Greek influences on his thinking. This gives good grounds for questioning the assumed meaning of “sin” in Paul’s writings. For Paul, being “in sin” is the consequence of being Adam’s offspring. It is relational. We were born outside of the covenant with God which man was created to enjoy, and into a covenant with the very enemy of God. The consequence of Adam’s disobedience was universal, as all his descendents were driven out of God’s presence with him. For Paul, this is what it means to be a sinner. Committing wrong actions is a consequence of being born into a kingdom that is at war with God. Wrong actions are a consequence of sin, not the root of it. To “walk in the flesh” is to “live in Adam,” preferring to live by the values of the “kingdom of darkness.” It is to deny God his right in our lives, and the awful consequence of this choice is death. If believers continue to flirt with the realm that is opposed to the rule of the God of heaven, they will suffer discipline as happened in the OT (Deut 28:15-68; Neh 1:2-3; Ezek 21:1-32) and in the NT (Matt 18:18; 1 Cor 5:1-11; 10:1-22; Rev 2:4-5, 14-16, 19-23).
The reason for much of the confusion about the nature of “sin” is because Bible translators have been unclear about its biblical, covenantal dimension. They have been guided by syncretistic (especially legal) ideas, which have prevailed in Western Christianity. These views have produced deep pastoral problems, with many people in distress because they fear that they continually sin against God. Most translators – especially those who have produced the NIV – have done a huge disservice to the Christian public by constantly translating sarx as “sinful nature.”[39] Such a translation has enforced a dualistic understanding of man, locking many believers into a state of ignorance and despair.
It is clear that the NT has a doctrine of “sin.” The sins that Paul refers to have to do with the failure of Christians to live within the new covenant’s ethos. Instead of living or walking in the Spirit (that is, living under the Lordship of Christ), the Roman believers are being enticed back into the lifestyle of the kingdom of darkness from which they have been rescued. Such behavior–such sins–will bring God’s judgment on them, and Paul warns them of this very forcefully.
Thus, Paul’s teaching on “sin” is essentially the same as that found in the OT. All unbelievers are in Adam and, because of this, they share his fate. Their union with him means that they are bound up in the covenant relationship into which he entered.[40] Through Adam, man is bound in a covenant relationship with Satan. This is the reason for God’s judgment, and the sins that spring from this condition are the result of freely made choices to live independently of God. This independence may express itself in gross immorality or in devoted religious pursuits. Whatever its expression, all that is done within this relationship (a relationship that excludes the living God) is of the “flesh.”
There is, therefore, no “sinful human nature.” Such an understanding leads right into the jaws of Hellenism where Christian truth is devoured. Rather than speaking of the NIV’s “sinful nature,” we must learn to speak of the “fallen condition” of man. He is born in Adam, and in that state he can neither please God nor know him. He is cut off from God, and in this condition of death he will eternally remain. This can only change if God comes to his aid, and does something so God-like that it secures the overthrow of Satan and releases him from the master who has ruled over him. God secured this salvation when he came into the world in the person of his Son and died on a cross at the hands of Roman soldiers.
Sin is not found, therefore, within a distorted human nature. It is the result of Satan enslaving the will of man. This bondage is nothing less than Luther’s Bondage of the Will. As a fallen human, man is not intrinsically evil in his physical make-up. He is a part of Evil, a part not only of Adam but of Satan.[41] In this condition, he cannot love God; for Satan, who holds the heart and will of man in Adam, is the very opposite of God. In such a condition, man is not “less sinful” but “more sinful” than the prevailing Hellenistic view understands. He is not physically, intrinsically evil. His sinfulness is in a different dimension. He is in covenant with Satan–held captive by him and unable to deliver himself from his clutches (Rom 7:21-25).
It is because this is the NT’s understanding of the sinfulness of man that we can recognize that the image of God continues to be reflected in our fellow men (Luke 18:21; Acts 10:1-2).[42] We do not have to search for flaws in their characters to prove they are sinners. We can acknowledge the reality of God’s common grace, and be delighted at their achievements and moral virtues. However, no matter how fine they may be, unredeemed men and women are still in Adam, cut off from their Creator and under the sentence of eternal separation from him. This separation is finally sealed as irrevocable in death, when the awful condition of being “in Adam” will be fully realized by those who have rejected the “last Adam” in life (Rom 5:15-19; 1 Cor 15:45-49).
In this excursus, and earlier in the commentary, we have examined a range of terms which have traditionally been thought to speak about “sin” in man. Such terms as the “body of sin,” the “old man,” “flesh” and “sinful nature” have all been explored and found to be Hebraic terms describing corporate states. We have also examined chapter 7 of Romans, finding that its argument has a corporate dimension and that its language should be read in terms of man’s condition in Adam rather than seeing sin as dwelling inside of each person. These key terms, interpreted individualistically, have been used to build the church’s doctrine of “sin.” As a consequence, she has embraced an understanding which has taken her from her Jewish foundations and which has replaced it with a Hellenized view of the being of humanity. What has been constructed is at serious odds with the intended teaching of the NT.[43]
In concluding this excursus, I want to affirm the Scriptures teach that when it comes to sinfulness, humanity is totally depraved because Adam’s sin has alienated all his offspring from God, leaving them enemies of their maker. Furthermore, because of humanity’s solidarity with Adam, his sin and guilt have been imputed (credited) to everyone of his descendents.[44] Because of this, subsequent generations are left with no hope of ever being accepted by a God who is holy. We must understand that this relational model of sin speaks of man being in a far worse condition than does the Hellenistic model. Man “in Adam” is helpless and sentenced to an ongoing separation unless his Creator can, or will, bring about a salvation that is “godlike and divine.”

[1] One of the most thorough studies of Paul’s use of anthropological terms in the last fifty years has been that of Jewett, Terms. His conclusion have been summed up by Aune, “Nature,” 298 who says: “Jewett’s own thesis is that conflict situations are the primary reason for inconsistencies in Paul’s anthropology.” This inconsistency is the inevitable outcome of reading Paul as a Jew who has embraced Hellenism.
[2] Broyles, Psalms, 228. However Kraus, Psalms, 1-59, 503, says: “the total depravity that is determinative for humans from the beginning is here acknowledged.” Kraus appeals to Gen 8:21; Job 14:4; 15:14ff.; 25:4; Ps 143. However, none of these texts assert the innate sinfulness of man’s being, rather the impossibility of his being able to come up to God’s standards. This is not the same as asserting “original sin.” Mays, Psalms, 200, notes that the idea of being conceived in sin has led to a very negative attitude to human procreation, and claims that the statement is not about David’s conception in sin but the rebellious, spiritual, and social environment that characterized Israel. Thus, he was conceived and born into a state of sin. Born into such a community, he cannot but sin. Goldingay, Psalms, vol. 2:128, says: “One can see how this declaration would apply to Israel as a whole, whose sinfulness goes back to the moment when its relationship with Yahweh was sealed at Sinai.” I consider that such an understanding reflects what the whole of Scripture is saying.
[3] Tate, Psalms, 18, who cites supporting evidence. The Oxford English Dictionary defines rut as: “the periodic sexual excitement of a male deer, goat, sheep etc.” The Hebrew clearly suggests aggressive sexual animal activity.
[4] Sadly, the NIV– upon which this commentary is based– is one of the worst examples of this misrepresentation as we soon shall see.
[5] For the influence of the exodus/Paschal model on Paul, see Holland, Contours, 207-286.
[6] If the early church read the texts in this OT manner, i.e., as the fulfillment of the promises of the new exodus and divine marriage, they would identify the point of the statement. Their sustenance comes from the relationship they have with Christ.
[7] The theme of the divine marriage in John’s Gospel has been established by McWhirter, The Bridegroom. This study, establishing the presence of the divine marriage imagery in John, supports evidence that the early church knew of the presence and importance of this OT motif and that she understood references to it in the writings of the apostles. It, therefore, supports the reading that I am suggesting for Romans, where the divine marriage is a key component of the apostle’s thinking.
[8] Jn 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28; 19:14.
[9] See Casey, Jewish Prophets, passim; Barth, Colossians, 248; Wright, Colossians, 68.
[10] For details of this term, see notes on Rom 6:6.
[11] For the covenantal-exodus background of this language in Gal 5:18, see Wilder, Echoes.
[12] There is more said in this passage that needs clarification. It will be dealt with as the commentary proceeds.
[13] The upper case is used to emphasize that Sin is personal. It refers to Satan.
[14] This understanding is supported by what Paul says in 1 Cor 5-6. In 1 Cor 6:16 he warns the Corinthians of the danger of being delivered over to Satan–a condition which he calls “one flesh” (their pre-converted state). For details of this argument, see Holland, Contours, 85-139. See also remarks made on Rom 7:1-6 in this commentary.
[15] Paul’s use of “body” (sw/ma) is typically Hebraic and his appeal is holistic. Thus, Paul is saying that corporately, they should yield their entire being as “a living sacrifice.” See Holland, Contours, 85-110, 179.
[16] “Paul was not a dualist. He proposed that it was God himself who subjected creation to ‘futility’ and that he had done so ‘in hope’ planning for its redemption.” See Sanders, Paul, 39.
[17] See, for example, Jewett, Terms, 154, who, commenting on Paul’s use of the term, says: “For the sake of communication he took over the usage which had become current in Corinth and possibly elsewhere in the Hellenistic church.”
[18] As claimed by Blocher, Original, 27, who says: “Paul’s extraordinary development of the idea, whereby the flesh becomes the seat and power of indwelling sin, even the hypostasis of sin’s tyranny, maintains continuity with previous usage; (kata anthrōpon) and ‘being human beings’ (1 Cor 3:3ff.). This language describes the fact that human nature concretely is at enmity with God; hence the meaning attached to ‘flesh.’” (Original emphasis.)
[19] The nearest that the NT apparently gets to such a view is found in 1 Thess 5:23 but most commentators are very clear that the description is not tripartite but reflecting different aspects of the one being a person is, for further comment see Page 213fn 19
[20] A reference to Adam’s disobedience in Eden is disputed by most OT scholars on the grounds that Genesis makes no mention of Adam being in covenant with God. See Macintosh, Hosea, 236-239, who says: “It is doubtful, however, whether Adam could be said to have transgressed a covenant or whether his transgression of the divine command is here referred to since that is not the case anywhere else in the OT,” 236. Stuart, Hosea, 111; Anderson & Freedman, Hosea, 438; although Landy, Hosea, 84-5, offers reasons why Hosea does refer to the Genesis story. Most scholars claim that Hosea refers to an East Jordan city called Adam, where something terrible was done that violated Israel’s covenant with Yahweh. This suggestion is weak because all attempts to find evidence of such covenant-breaking behavior in the city of Adam has failed. In support of Hos 6:7 being a reference to Eden, we find in Hosea a reference to Yahweh leading Israel out of Egypt, as a bridegroom woos a bride, to marry her in the wilderness (Hos 2:14-16). Such an understanding of the exodus was not found in Israel’s literature prior to Hosea’s writings. So if he was able to create, or preserve, this previously unknown tradition concerning the significance of the exodus event, was he not able to create or preserve a previously unwritten tradition about Eden? If Hosea did create a new understanding of what happened in Eden, i.e. that it was about Adam breaking the covenant relationship with Yahweh, then he has provided new insight into the significance and nature of Adam’s disobedience. Thus, the objection raized by Macintosh that the concept occurs nowhere in the OT is answered in the divine marriage imagery, which many of the writing prophets utilized. Indeed, once it is recognized that the divine marriage metaphor has been created by Hosea, it is only a small step for him to read it back into the Eden story and thereby expand its meaning and significance.
[21] “sin as covenant disloyalty permeates most of the Hebrew Bible,” Sanders, “Sin,” VI.36.
[22] This is far from being a novel concept. Israel exchanged her relationship with Yahweh–her husband–for a relationship with other gods. The OT is full of this imagery. For a fuller discussion, see Holland, Contours, 85-139.
[23] See Dunn, Romans, 1:360; Wright, Romans, passim; Sanders, Paul, 43. Kennedy, Conception, 102, note 2; Sandy and Headlam, Romans, 169; Wedderburn, Structure, 342.
[24] Davies, Rabbinic, 25.
[25] Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44.
[26] The only explicit evidence of Paul’s rabbinic background is found in Gal 4:21-31 where he gives a typical Midrashic exegesis of the story of Sarah and Hagar. For a view that sees more extensive influence see Davies, Paul, and Hanson, Methods.
[27] See Davies, Rabbinic, who argues for significant influence, as does Powys, Hard Question. Ridderbos, Outline, 101, rejects any rabbinic influences in Paul’s doctrine of “sin.”
[28] Rosen-Zvi, “The Origins.” I owe this information to Seung-Ho Kang, who brought it to my attention.
[29] See Dunn, Theology, 84-90. Dunn’s evidence that Paul used this literature is his claim that Paul draws on intertestamental wisdom sources in his discussion on “sin” in Rom 1:18-32. Dunn says: “Of greater importance is the Wisdom of Solomon. Its particular relevance for us lies in the fact that Paul certainly knew and seems deliberately to echo this in his opening indictment (Rom 1:19–2:6).” See also Lincoln, Wrath, 137. However, despite Dunn’s confidence in this matter, his claim is challenged by the exposition of Jewett, Romans, 191, who shows the OT (LXX) source of many of Paul’s ideas that make up the argument of the passage. Indeed, Jewett gives specific examples of how Paul’s argument clashes with Hellenistic understanding: “The content of Hellenistic Judaism was the exact opposite of what we encounter in Romans,” (154). To see how this literature has obscured what the NT writers are saying, see, Holland, Contours, 339-351.
[30] See Holland, Contours, 69-82.
[31] Ibid., 85-11.
[32] Ziesler, Righteousness, passim; Hill, Greek Words, passim.
[33] For further information, see Holland, Contours, 237-286; 339-351.
[34] The Platonic influences on the understanding of “divine nature” are widely recognized without ac­knowledging that the term has a natural Hebraic content of “divine kingdom” See Sherlock, Humanity, 77; Owen, Temptation, 13–14. Green, Peter, 184 recognizes the significance of the promises and their place in redemption history but does not appreciate how they link with the believers being partakers of the divine nature (kingdom), so argues for a moral significance for “nature.” Kelly, Peter, 301–4, also acknowledges links with OT vocabulary but drifts into what he acknowledges is a Hellenistic interpretation of “the divine nature” which he says the first century church received from Plato and Aristotle.
[35] fu,sij(ewj h` “nature,” “natural endowment,” or “condition.” See, Rom 2:2711:2124Gal 2:15Eph 2:3. Also, fu,sij means “natural characteristics” or “disposition,” (Gal 4:82 Pet 1:4). Furthermore, it may be used with the sense of “nature,” carrying the meaning of the regular natural order. See Rom 1:262:141 Cor 11:14. Finally, it can be used with the sense of (natural) “being,” “creature,” “species,” “kind.” See Jas 3:7a and, probably, 3:7b (BDAG).
[36] The subject becomes more difficult because the NIV (though not limited to it) keeps translating sa,rx as “sinful nature,” when there is nothing in the language or text to support this choice. See, Rom 7:5, 18, 25; 8:3-5, 8-9, 12-13; 13:14; 1 Cor 5:5; 11:14; Gal 5:13, 16-17, 19, 24; 6:8; Eph 2:3; Col 2:11, 13; 3:5. Also sa,rx is found in 2 Pet 2:10, 18, where the NIV again translates as “sinful nature.” Translating the term as “sinful nature,” (as is done throughout the NIV), seriously misrepresents what Paul and Peter are saying.
[37] Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:10; Eph 5:8-20; Col 1:13-20; 2 Pet 2:19.
[38] John Murray describes the pollution of sin in this way: “This refers to the depravity of disposition and character. Man is totally unholy. All of his functions and exercises are unholy because they lack conformity to the will of God; they come short of the perfection which his holiness demands. Man’s understanding is darkened, his will enslaved, his conscience perverted, his affections depraved, his heart corrupted, his mind at enmity against God.” Murray, Writings, 80. Such understanding fits the covenantal model of being “in sin” that I am suggesting, and does not imply anything of a “sinful nature.”
[39] Rom 7:5; 8:4-5, 8-9, 12-13; 13:14; 1 Cor 5:5; Gal 5:13, 16-17, 19; Eph 2:3; Col 2:11, 13; 3:5; 2 Pet 2:10, 18.
[40] See excursus F: Sin in the theology of Paul, page 203
[41] “Paul regards sin not merely or in the first place from the individual and personal, but from the collective and supra-individual point of view.” Ridderbos, Outline, 125.
[42] Of course, no matter how attractive and decent a person is, being “in Adam” means that the disposition is of no consequence. In the Second World War, there were many, very decent German people who did not want war but were under Hitler’s “headship.” That determined their state as enemies of the allies.
[43] The claim that the terminology under consideration has been interpreted through inappropriate categories has also been noted by Jewett, Term, 248, in relation to the widespread understanding of the term “body of Christ.”
[44] The term–despite objections from Wright, Really Said, passim–is used deliberately, as it is the language used by Paul himself in Rom 5:18.

Recommended: "Radical" by David Platt


Do you believe
that Jesus is worth
abandoning everything for? 

This book blew me out of my warm fuzzy feeling churchy comfort zone! – Moe Bergeron

Author/Pastor David Platt invites you to encounter what Jesus actually said about being his disciple, and then obey what you have heard. He challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated a God-centered gospel to fit our human-centered preferences. With passionate storytelling and convicting biblical analysis, Platt calls into question a host of comfortable notions that are common among Christ’s followers today. Then he proposes a radical response: live the gospel in ways that are true, filled with promise, and ultimately world changing. – CMC Recommended!

Guard the Gospel: Galatians 6:11-13

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Introduction: For many weeks we have read, listened to, and thought about Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We have been taught the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today is a time to celebrate this good news! Often this is called “Reformation Sunday”, but we could just as well call it “Gospel Sunday,” since the gospel of Christ is the main point of the Reformation—that the Sovereign God saves sinners by the power of the gospel. Five great principles about the good news were proclaimed at that time, and we will do well to remember them today.

  • According to the Scriptures alone
  • By grace alone
  • Through faith alone
  • In Christ alone
  • To God alone be the glory

However, these truths are not clear to everyone who claims to be a Christian. There has always been a struggle between those who believe in salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, and those who assume that salvation comes by grace through a ritual or through keeping rules. Both sides will talk about grace, but one believes that grace is from God’s sovereign action, the other that grace is controlled by human action, like participating in a sacrament.
We must understand that it does not matter what the ritual is. In the passage before us, the issue was circumcision. In other cases, it is baptism (whether by sprinkling or immersion); in still others, it may be an altar call or baby dedication. The form does not matter, as long as one believes that grace is given through the method. If you believe that someone “enters the covenant” or is “saved” by participating in the prescribed ceremony, then you are a ritualist. So Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with a warning against such ritualists and with a call to loyalty to the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the good news about him.
I.            The goals of the ritualist (6:12)
A.            The immediate goal is to win others to their cause. People like to determine success by counting noses. “This must be right way to God, because so many people believe it!” Clearly, such people have never read (Matthew 7:13-14).

1.            This is a “truth in numbers” philosophy. If people are rushing to a cause, then they assume that “God must be at work in it”. In this case the false teachers could say, “Look at the proof of our reverence for the law. All these men have been circumcised!”

Comment: This has the attendant benefit that one can brag about how many are prepared to unite with the stronger group.

2.            There is also a “family solidarity” philosophy that often appears and usually keeps people mired in human religion.

Where there is nothing but an external religion, great uneasiness is often produced in families when some of the members, from conscientious principle, go not to the usual place of worship, or observe not the usual form of worship…. The great matter is not the conviction of the mind, but the bringing them back to the orthodox place of worship. If they can be got back again to the church, or to the chapel, or to the meeting-house—if the external conformity be but yielded, all is gained. And, indeed, what else can be expected? Where a person’s own religion is all of this external professional kind, how should he seek for anything more in another? [Brown, p. 161.]

Apply: There is often division in a family because of the gospel of Christ. Lk 12:51-53
B.            The ultimate goal is to make a good impression in the flesh.

1.            A ritualist will talk a great deal about the spiritual needs of people. He or she may even speak quite eloquently of their need of salvation.

2.            But to a ritualist, Christianity is a religion of external ceremonies and practices. The inward and spiritual is overlooked. As long as you abide by the accepted ritual, you can fairly well do as you please.

Example: Some people trust in so-called sacraments like penance and the mass. They participate and then they’re free to live it up until the next sacramental ritual. Evangelicals play this same kind of game with prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and evangelism.
Illustration: Rome’s sacramental system; erroneous preaching and altar calls
Apply: Our concern should be if our relationship to God is one of the whole person, body and soul, and mind, emotions and will.
II.            The motives of the ritualist
A.            That of avoiding persecution (6:12)

1.            Persecution comes because of the cross of Christ.

a.            The cross “signifies the fact of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, as the expiation of human guilt—the only ground of human hope, superseding everything else as the foundation of acceptance with God (1 Cor 1:17-18; Ph 3:18).” [Brown]

b.            The cross speaks of the inability of man to save himself. People do not want to admit that they are absolutely dependent on the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Pride is oneself is the fast-track to hell.

Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size. [Stott]

2.            Circumcision provided a seeming way of compromise between the cross and Jewish law-keeping. “It is possible… that these Judaizers, if they were Christians at all, were attempting to avert the antagonism of Jews to the gospel message by showing their willingness to make Gentiles submit to Jewish scruples.” [Guthrie]

Point: You cannot take something that is very important to one group and unimportant to another as a point of compromise. One group will always try to swallow the other alive.
Illustration: Tongues speakers at L’abri
B.            That of boasting (6:13)

1.            Some people delight in having influence over the minds of others. They love to be able to say, “Those people do as they do and believe as they believe because we taught them.”

2.            This is contrary to the true Christian principle that we are to boast only in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31).

Illustration: Since we are an independent church without even any ties to an association, it is easy to forget the love of statistics in many groups. Too many times in encounters with pastors of such churches, the first thing I have heard is how many are attending their church.
III.            The weakness of the ritualist: the failure to keep the law (6:13)
A.            The truth of human inability

1.            No man is able to obey God perfectly; therefore, there is no hope of salvation by the law. Rm 3:19-20.

2.            The reason is sin’s radical corruption of people (Rm 3:9-18).

B.            The practical failure

1.            Remember that in Scriptural theology, reliance on circumcision brought with it an obligation to keep the whole law (cf. 5:3).

2.            It is in the face of this all-inclusive demand that the ritualists were failures. Circumcision they could keep, and perhaps some other laws, but they could not keep the whole law.

Illustration: I attended a “university of rules”. One of the rules, which was posted in every dorm room was, “Griping Is Not Tolerated.” It was the rule everyone disobeyed.
Conclusion: The cure for ritualism is not laxity, but faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. May we trust in him, think on him, and live for him!

Completed by the Spirit Part 10: The Law of the Spirit of Life Has Set You Free

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the 10th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
In Romans 8, Paul pro­vides the solu­tion to the wretched state of the chap­ter 7 man, as he joy­fully pro­claims, “[1] There is there­fore now no con­dem­na­tion for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1–2). But that does not mean that the law is now harm­less to the regen­er­ate man who nev­er­the­less still has remain­ing sin – and as we noted above – will con­tinue to have remain­ing sin in his flesh until glory. Paul issues this stern warning:

[5] For those who live accord­ing to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live accord­ing to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hos­tile to God, for it does not sub­mit to God’s law; indeed, it can­not. [8] Those who are in the flesh can­not please God. (Romans 8:5–8)

Sim­i­larly, in 1 Corinthi­ans, Paul reminds us, “[56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the vic­tory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:56–57).
To focus on the law in our regen­er­ate state is to set our minds on the very thing that pro­vokes sin in the flesh and to set our minds on the very thing that gives sin its power over our flesh. While the Romans 7 man by chap­ter 8 now no longer faces condem­na­tion for sin, the Romans 8 man still has not been glo­ri­fied, and thus he remains sus­cep­ti­ble to the effects of sin. To set his mind on the exter­nal law of let­ters and not the inter­nal law of the Spirit of Christ is to con­demn him in a tem­po­ral sense to a walk beset by sin.
But, says Paul:

[9] You, how­ever, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any­one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of right­eous­ness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mor­tal bod­ies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The same warn­ing was given by Paul to the Gala­tians. Despite those who would char­ac­ter­ize Gala­tians as warn­ing to unbe­liev­ers that they can­not be jus­ti­fied by the law, or who char­ac­ter­ize it as a warn­ing to the Gala­tians not to return to the cer­e­mo­nial prac­tices of Judaism – prac­tices Paul finds indif­fer­ent in Romans 14 – Paul is writ­ing to the church and Paul is mak­ing no tri­par­tite dis­tinc­tion within the law. Thus, Paul’s warn­ing is about the whole law and his warn­ing is to those who are believ­ers. “You were run­ning well,” he exclaims. These are not peo­ple who are not yet jus­ti­fied; these are peo­ple try­ing to walk the Chris­t­ian walk, though some indi­vid­u­als would deny the Gala­tians free­dom and return them to a yoke of slavery.

[7] You were run­ning well. Who hin­dered you from obey­ing the truth? [8] This per­sua­sion is not from him who calls you. [9] A lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump. [10] I have con­fi­dence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is trou­bling you will bear the penalty, who­ever he is. [11] But if I, broth­ers, still preach cir­cum­ci­sion, why am I still being per­se­cuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. [12] I wish those who unset­tle you would emas­cu­late them­selves! (Gal 3:7–12)

Per­haps the most com­pelling pas­sage against the law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is in 2 Corinthi­ans 3. We’ll visit the Spirit/letter antithe­sis in our next installment.

Uphold the law by looking away from it and to Christ

“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” 
-Romans 3:31, ESV
Romans 3:31 is a proof text and pillar for Covenant Theology’s (CT) insistence for the ‘third use’ of the Law.[1] On the face of it, and within the framework of CT, it is not difficult to see how this verse lends itself to such an understanding. Confessedly, I once saw this verse as a reason to refute the claims of NCT’s view of Mosaic Law. However, three considerations make clear that CT’s view of this verse erroneous.
1. Romans 3:31 cannot oppose what Paul writes elsewhere concerning Mosaic Law & the Christian (e.g. Romans 6-8; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3; Galatians 3-5, Ephesians 2:14-15; Col. 2:14). This is to say nothing of the clear testimony of Hebrews 8-10. To pit Romans 3:31 against the weight and clear teaching of the rest of Scripture is unsound theological method. Paul would not assert one thing in Galatians (namely, freedom from the entire Mosaic legislation) only to contradict himself later in Romans. A high view of Scripture guards against such absurdity since God, the Author of Scripture, is a God of truth. Therefore, since truth by definition is non-contradictory, Paul is not at odds with himself. Romans 3:31 cannot undermine, or fly in the face of, what the apostle writes elsewhere. The veracity of Scripture as a whole is at stake here.
2. The immediate context does not support CT’s confidence. A few verses earlier, in Romans 3:21, Paul states that although justifying righteousness has been manifested apart from the law, the “Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” The next phrase makes it clear; faith in Christ for righteousness is that to which “the Law and Prophets” bear witness. Therefore, in 3:31, the apostle may simply be saying that faith in Christ for righteousness upholds that OT law which calls for faith (cf. John 5:46; Romans 10:6ff; Deut. 30:11ff.). Of course, called into question here is the precise referent of ‘law.’ Does ‘law,’ a word with a wide semantic range, mean the Mosaic Covenant? The Ten Commandments? The Pentateuch? The entire Old Testament?[2] Exegesis, not eisogesis, must rule. To simply read a theological category into this is bad hermeneutical method. Care must be taken to not define the occurrence of a word too narrowly or broadly.
3. But assuming, for argument’s sake, ‘law’ in Romans 3:31 refers to the Mosaic Covenant only, we need not conclude Paul teaches that law remains in force for the one who has faith in Christ. A simple reading of the verse, allowing it to speak in context (3:21-31) makes it clear Paul teaches no such thing. “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?” is a question posed in a specific context, one in which the Law, in full force, is brought to bear on Christ. Christ is its satisfaction (3:25). Christ, by His redemption-accomplishing, wrath-appeasing, justice-satisfying death, fulfilled the law with its precepts and punishments. And He did so for us, for everyone who would ever believe in Him for justification. As Douglas Moo once wrote: “Justification takes full account of the law, providing for its complete satisfaction in believers through their incorporation into Christ.”[3] The irony of ironies is this: we uphold the law by looking away from it and to Christ, the One who kept it. The work of Christ, and faith in Him, takes seriously, and into full consideration, the Law. This satisfies the grammar. This satisfies the contexts, both near and far. And that, dear reader, satisfies and cheers my soul!
Romans 3:31 is no obstacle to the position that sees Christ as the fullfilment of all things Old Testament, freeing the New Covenant believer to be led by a new kind of “Law” (i.e. the Law of Christ).
[1] For an influential example, see John Murray’s “Law & Grace.” Available at
[2] For examples of ‘law’ used this way, see Romans 3:19 (?); 1 Cor. 14:21; John 10:34; 15:25.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View”, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, Greg L. Bahnsen, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Douglas J. Moo, Wayne G. Strickland, and Willem A. VanGemeren; Counterpoint Series, series ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999, 1996), pp. 371-372. The context of this quote bears repeating: ““Romans 8:4 suggests the answer….the passive form of the verb pleroo (“might be fulfilled”) points away from any activity on the part of human beings. What Paul must mean in the context, where he is showing how God in Christ has provided for that which sinful humans could not accomplish (v. 3), is that believers who are “in Christ” and led by the Spirit fully meet the demand of God’s law by having it met for them in Christ. As Calvin recognized, only such a vicarious fulfillment of the law on our behalf by Christ meets God’s demand that the law be fully and completely obeyed. I would suggest, therefore, that in this sense Paul’s teaching of justification by faith “upholds” the law” (3:31). Justification takes full account of the law, providing for its complete satisfaction in believers through their incorporation into Christ. Neither text in Romans suggests the continuing direct application of the Mosaic law to believers.”

Escape from Passivity: Galatians 6:7-10

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Introduction: The believing church in America has been burdened by passivity, that grand art of doing nothing. There are various causes for this passivity, such as overreaction to liberal, salvation by works theology, or of the desire for freedom from hardship and work in helping. But we will not discuss such things today. Instead, let us concentrate on our responsibility to be doers of good. Let us ask ourselves, why should we be doing good? What encourages us to do good? How can we do good?
I. Two solemn principles (7-8)
A. The character of God: he cannot be mocked.

1. This speaks of your attitude; you cannot successfully turn your nose up at God. He will justly act to display his surpassing worth.

2. Some people think they can treat God with contempt by living their own way. Something like, “God really does not care how I live, as long as I believe in Christ.” What this actually shows is a heart still in rebellion against God and his ways. Those who change their mind about God and sin, trust themselves to Christ, who only can save them from their sin.

B. The law of harvest: you reap what you sow.

1. This is true in a natural sense; everything produces according to its own kind.

Illustration: Consider Sharon’s friendship garden that some have worked so hard to keep it going. Whatever is there, whether lilies, irises, roses, produces after its own kind.

2. It is also true in the spiritual sense.

a. Whatever is done for the flesh will only produce corruption; whatever is done for the Spirit will yield eternal life. “Corruption” speaks of all that is miserable to human existence: spiritual, physical, eternal suffering, anguish, pain and grief. “Eternal life” speaks of the fullness of joy, peace and experiencing the glory of God forever.

Point: Here is the truth expressed by the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We receive eternal life completely by grace, but eternal life is alive. Grace produces living fruit consistent with the truth of the living, holy God.

b. Paul uses a greater principle to enforce a lesser obligation. Being generous to meet the needs of others is sowing to the Holy Spirit.

Quote: “Our liberality is hindered by the idea that whatever passes into the hands of another is lost to ourselves, and also by the fact that we are always anxious about ourselves in this life. Paul meets this idea with the comparison of seed-time and says that when we do good we are sowing seed.” [Calvin] II. An encouraging promise (9)
A. A sure return on our investment

1. Contrast between the Lord’s capabilities and the world’s; too often the world disappoints even in the temporary benefits it offers.

2. God has a set time of payment. It can look like it’s a long time until payday, but we must be patient!

B. A spur to continued activity

1. Our tendency to weariness

Quote: “The great cause of weariness in well-doing is a deficiency of faith, and a corresponding undue influence of present and sensible things. . . Nothing is so much calculated to produce langour as a suspicion that all our exertions are likely to be fruitless; and nothing is better fitted to dispel it than the assurance that they shall assuredly be crowned with success.” [Brown]

2. We should become, as we follow the Spirit’s leadership, self-controlled rather than circumstance controlled. What we are in Jesus Christ should hold sway over how we act, rather than the events of life.

Illustration: It sometimes gets hot when the farmer gathers in his hay, but he must get it in anyway.
III. A necessary practice (10)
A. The time to do good—as we have opportunity

1. In the largest sense, our whole life is our opportunity to do good, for when we are gone, we are unable to work any longer.

2. In a more particular sense, it is when we see a need in another’s life.

Comment: If you are burdened to help someone, then you ought to be sure you do help him. If you see a need, you are supposed to be part of the solution in some way. Perhaps you are not able to fully meet the need. Few people are, and the Lord has put us together in the body of Christ to help one another.

B. The objects of our care.

1. Followers of Christ have a general responsibility to all men. We ought to feel the needs of others who are made in the image of God. In this way we imitate our Father in heaven (Mt 5:43-48).

2. We also have a primary responsibility to all believers, especially to those of our local partnership (cf. Eph 2:19; 1 Tm 3:15; 1 Pt 4:17). One of the distinguishing marks of the church is faith.

a. Our first responsibility is to care for those of our spiritual family, whether in our own local assembly or elsewhere.

b. We can also do other good works to our spiritual family that are not possible to other people (Heb 3:12-13).

Application: How can we help?
1. By contributing to the church’s benevolent fund
2. By calling others on the telephone—a ministry of encouragement
3. By visiting others, like those in nursing homes or hospitals
4. By organizing groups for extra help, like “Men of Action”
5. By making food for others when there is illness, when someone is in the hospital, or after a funeral
6. By cleaning someone’s house for them, especially during serious illness
7. By using your skills, such as auto mechanics or plumbing, to help in emergency repairs
8. By driving someone some place they need to go, like the doctor’s or for groceries
9. By watching someone’s children—in their home or during a ministry activity
10. By making a gift to cheer someone up
11. By sending cards or encouraging text messages
12. By sharing a family activity, like Thanksgiving dinner or watching a movie together
13. By having someone over for dinner, particularly someone who is not in the position to return the favor (Lk 14:12-14)
14. By helping someone improve themselves—teach them to learn English, to read, to help them lose weight, to study the Bible
15. By giving someone a place to stay when they’re travelling
16. By giving a meal to visiting speakers
17. By taking someone out for coffee or tea
18. By going for a walk with someone to help them relax
19. By taking a shift in caring for a shut-in
20. By keeping your eyes open to whatever needs you see in others

Completed by the Spirit Part 9: ‘It Cannot Justify, It Cannot Sanctify’

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the ninth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
As we saw in our pre­vi­ous three installments, there are three ways the man of Romans 7 may be identified.

1. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as an uncon­verted Jew under the law, a view we saw explained in the pre­vi­ous installment.

2. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence, per­haps shortly after his con­ver­sion, as he sought sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion through the law.

3. Paul describes his expe­ri­ence as a mature Christian.

But as we closed part 8, we asked, “Does it mat­ter to us as an appli­ca­tion of Romans 7 which of the three men Paul is describing?”
Whichever of the three views one might hold, two of the same con­clu­sions can be drawn from Romans 7.
First: the law can­not save us or sanc­tify us.
Sec­ond: the regen­er­ate man is not, and must not live as, a slave to the law.
Given those two propo­si­tions, how can it fol­low that the regen­er­ate man should use what enslaved him and what caused him to sin as some­thing to sanc­tify him? As Lloyd-Jones writes:

The Apos­tle is not describ­ing his own expe­ri­ence here; but, as I have con­tin­ued to repeat, he is con­cerned to tell us a num­ber of things about the Law, and to show us that the Law can­not save in any respect; it can­not jus­tify, it can­not sanc­tify. That is his one object in the whole of the pas­sage. His inter­est is in the Law. In verse 5 he says that the Law makes us sin more than ever; in verse 13 he says “the law kills me.” He knew he would be crit­i­cized and mis­un­der­stood over this, so he answers the objec­tions. That is all he is doing; and he puts it in this dra­matic form.[1]

Paul does not speak of the law as some­thing that pro­duces holi­ness; that func­tion is reserved for the Holy Spirit.
Instead, Paul shows us that while the Spirit of Christ may indwell us, sin still lurks in our mem­bers. To use the law to sanc­tify the regen­er­ate man — the very same law that fos­tered sin in his unre­gen­er­ate state — is to be foolish.
Thomas Schreiner writes:

Paul con­trasts liv­ing under the law, where the flesh uses the law to pro­duce sin, with life under the Spirit, where believ­ers are freed from slav­ery. The Spirit works in their hearts to give them a desire to do the will of God. Life under the law leads to death because sin has free reign. Those who have died to the law through the death of Christ have been freed by the Spirit so that they will do the will of God because they are united with Christ. Return­ing to the law, then is to rebuild what has been torn down with the com­ing of Christ (Gal. 2:18). Hence, rever­sion to the law can only mean the return of sin and trans­gres­sion. Believ­ers died to the law by dying with Christ (Gal. 2:19–20). They live new lives by trust­ing in Jesus as God’s Son, and to return to the law would be a denial of God’s grace in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:21).[2]

What, then, is the answer? Paul pro­vides the answer in Romans chap­ter 8.
Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 10: The Law of the Spirit of Life Has Set You Free
[1] Lloyd-Jones, “The Law: Its Func­tion and Lim­its,”, accessed July 19, 2010.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Tes­ta­ment The­ol­ogy: Mag­ni­fy­ing God in Christ. (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2008), 649.

With Joy! – Philippians 1:1-11

Pastor Moe Bergeron
Moe Bergeron
Philippians 1:1-11 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (7) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (8) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (9) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (ESV)
1. Introduction
As we consider this passage my primary focus will be Paul’s telling words in verse 4 (read in context).

(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

“Joy”, the possession of it, or the scarcity of it, or even the total absence of it is a God given barometer of spiritual health. The word “rejoice” simply means to express “joy.” Of course you can’t rejoice unless you posses joy.
One commentator (the Lutheran Bengel [1687 – 1752]) wrote: “The sum of this letter is, ‘I rejoice, rejoice ye.”’ The proof of his statement is found in the following verses. Joy appeared like “sprinkles” on a homemade cup cake.
A. Let’s taste some of the joy sprinkles mentioned in this letter of Philippians.

Php 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

Php 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Php 2:17-19 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (18) Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (19) I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

Php 2:28-29 I am the more eager to send him (Epaphroditus), therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (29) So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,

Php 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Php 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

And next to last this often quoted verse….

Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

And the last…..

Php 4:10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

Wow! It’s evident Paul derived much joy from his relationship to the Christians of Philippi. I can’t help to derive joy just knowing Paul derived joy from those saints. Joy in Christ can be very contagious. 
2. Other Churches
As I looked at the evidence of joy in this letter a curiosity sprung up in my mind as to how much joy Paul may or may not have derived from his relationship and service to other believing communities. It’s a fair question. On the surface the letters to the new covenant communities of Corinth and Thessalonica appear to have contributed more or less to Paul’s joy in Christ. The fact is, Corinth had also supplied a good deal of sorrow for Paul as did the Galatians. There is far less evidence of Paul having derived joy from the other believing communities. That’s not to say he didn’t derive joy from them. It’s just not always mentioned in his letters and given how Paul loved to trade in it (joy), it is telling.
I’m not including Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus or Philemon because they were addressed to individuals and not new covenant communities.
In the following sampling of various letters and verses[1] note how Paul either encourages joy or how he has derived joy.

(Rom 14:17) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (encouraged joy)

(Rom 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (encouraged joy)

(Rom 15:32) so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. (encouraged joy)

(2Co 1:24) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (encouraged joy)

(2Co 2:3) And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. (mutual joy encouraged)

(2Co 7:4) I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (derived joy)

 (2Co 7:13) Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. (derived joy)

(2 Co 8:1-2) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, (2) for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (derived joy through the saints in Macedonia)

(Gal 5:22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (encouraged joy)

 (Col 1:11) May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (encouraged joy)

(1Th 1:6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (derived joy)

(1Th 2:19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? (derived joy)

(1Th 2:20) For you are our glory and joy. (derived joy)

(1Th 3:9) For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, (derived joy)

3. Why is this a big deal?
Why was joy so important to Paul? Of equal importance why should the possession of “Joy” be important to you and me?
Listen up! It’s because, Love for God and one another and the derived Joy we have and share in Christ, is the sure evidence of a work of God the Spirit within this church and upon your collective hearts.

A. Joy is born out of our love for God. It is the good fruit of the Spirit who indwells the people of God.

Love and joy are the product and sure evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity and presence in the life of a new covenant community of believers. Without evidence of the Spirit’s activity we cannot determine whether the community is born of God or a fortress of the enemy. The absence of this love brought God’s indictment upon the church at Ephesus.

Rev 2:  4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

4. Joy sparks or gives animation to our prayers for others before God.
The evidence of Joy encouraged Paul’s high opinion and rejoicing in what God wrought in and through the saints of Philippi.
Almost everything about that believing New Covenant community served to give him joy. It would appear that nothing they did brought him sorrow. Perhaps they were exceptional. Yet, even when Paul did not derive joy from those for whom he labored and suffered it did not deter him from working for their joy in Christ. He did not give up on any except those who turned him away.

Romans 15:13
 13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:32
 32so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

2 Corinthians 1:24
 24Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

5. The absence of joy should be worrisome to God’s shepherds and the people of God.
Consider the following passages from 2 Corinthians followed by another from Galatians;

2 Corinthians 2:1-4
For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Here’s another example from Paul’s letter to the Galatians;

Galatians 1:6-9
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

A primary reason church leaders and the people of God suffer discouragement and sorrow in their service to one another is simply this: those whom they love and care for in Christ have neglected their care and love for each another. God’s love is his warmth. The absence of God’s love brings a cold chill and if left unchecked it eventually becomes a deep freeze. So then, love of God and one another is directly connected to the Joy we exhibit as a community.
6. The absence of joy brings sorrow.
It is equally true when our leaders do not model the love and joy of Christ as did Paul that they neglect those saints whom God has placed in their care. Believing communities are deeply affected and suffer when they are neglected by their leaders.

They (pastors, teachers) neglect God’s saints when they fail to work for the Joy of God’s children!!!

What is the evidence of such neglect? If in our public and private lives Christ is imaged before others as a bitter, complaining, quarrelsome, divisive, joyless despicable person, condemned, burdened by sin and the terrors of the law covenant and holy wrath then we are to be most pitied. If we image Christ to one another in such a manner then we will have much to answer for when we stand before the great Liberating King Jesus.
If we are guilty of communicating to God’s children that the sins of their flesh will always be their master then we encourage the language and expectations of a defeated people. If we preach to God’s blood washed and Spirit filled community in the same manner we communicate God’s word to those who remain fast bound in their sins then shame on us. Jesus’ little lambs are not Satan’s goats.
If we be image bearers of Christ we cannot at the same time be image bearers of those who still live under the weight of their sin and guilt. Who in their right mind would want to know the God of such a person who would claim Jesus Christ to be their liberating King and Saviour when by all appearances they still look like they need saving. To that person God’s word says, You must be born again!”
Never give up on God’s redeemed community!
Unlike many of us Paul did not give up on furthering the joy of those for whom Christ died. Even though some have like the Galatians appeared to abandon the New Covenant of Christ to return to the Law covenant or like the Corinthians who did fall into all sorts of sins of the flesh Paul never gave up on them. He continued to work relentlessly for their joy even though it is evident he derived joy from some believing communities while from others like Corinth he derived much heartache and sorrow. Paul was under orders, orders given by the Great Commander in Chief, “Feed my Sheep!”
Feed on Christ!
7. Return to Philippians 1
Up to this point I have prepared the stage for us so we can work towards increasing our shared joy in our Lord so let’s now return to Philippians 1 where we will consider additional thoughts.
In verse 3 and 4 Paul writes:

(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

Why was his prayer seasoned with joy for these saints? The evidence is in verses 5 through 11.

(5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (7) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Two telling keywords are “partnership” & “partakers”.
Paul’s joy filled response is evident in his testimony of their mutual – and abounding – and growing love in and through Jesus Christ. Picking up at verse 8….

(8) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (9) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

A key phrase: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He’s not content that they already know and experience the love God as community, he wants it to continue growing and maturing as it is combined with true knowledge and Spirit given discernment. In other words, sincere and pure love that’s grounded in truth. Now that’s a formula for Spirit filled dynamite!
8. Application
Within the New Covenant believing community you have saints whom the Holy Spirit has appointed to serve as community leaders (officially or not). I would hope they serve because they love you and have your best interest in Christ at heart. I also hope and pray that there’s a collective desire to see your joy multiplied in Christ. I would hope that’s why your leaders answered the call of the Spirit of God to serve.
Do you want to encourage those whom God has called to serve you?
I want all of you, each and every one of you, to consider how you can increase one another’s joy? You can do this by shepherding one another in the love of Christ. I would also hope that is why you joined yourself to the New Covenant community. I’ll tell you where to start. It’s quite simple. Get back to square one.

  • Stop pointing your accusing finger at others. Get rid of that measuring stick that you measure others by. It is Christ Jesus we want to see in each other. We are all saved by His grace. This takes repenting. We must stop sinning. Can we do that? “…be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Look to the Spirit of God for your help. After you have repented and recovered, work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • You might also have to do this. Look in the mirror. Point your finger at your reflection and say “I repent of you!”, I’m tired of looking at that all too familiar face. “I want to see Jesus!”, “I want to look like Jesus.” I want to bring Joy to you my Jesus! I want to be your delight. After you have repented and recovered, work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Actively affirm each other in Christ, even the unlovely like yourself, by partnering with them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It will work towards increasing your mutual joy in Christ.

Partner with your leaders. Their joy will rebound to you for your good and the good of your assembly just as it did for Paul.

Philippians 1:3-5
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

It needs repeating. How can you bring joy to your wife, husband, family members, fellow Christians? Stop sinning and affirm your fellow saints by partnering with them in their service to your God and Savior. It’s that simple. With God’s help you can do it! And never forget who you were apart from Christ. Never forget what your God still puts up with, yes, with you. True enough, but also don’t forget that he delights in and sings over you, each and every one of you in Christ.
One last thing to encourage your joy in Christ.
Turn with me to Zephania 3:17 where it reads;

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)
17 The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.

Did you hear that? He rejoices over you, he has joy in abundance that can never be humanly measured, OVER YOU! Yes you, dear one in Christ!
On this passage, John Piper writes,

God does not do you good out of some constraint or coercion. He is free! And in his freedom he overflows in joy to do you good. He exults over you with loud singing. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could hear God singing? Remember that it was merely a spoken word that brought the universe into existence. What would happen if God lifted up his voice and not only spoke but sang! Perhaps a new heaven and a new earth would be created. God says something almost just to that effect in Isaiah 65:17-18,
Behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth …
I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
When God spoke at the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created; perhaps at the end, the new heavens and the new earth will be created when God exults over his people with loud singing.
When I think of the voice of God singing, I hear the booming of Niagara Falls mingled with the trickle of a mossy mountain stream. I hear the blast of Mt. St. Helens mingled with a kitten’s purr. I hear the power of an East Coast hurricane and the barely audible puff of a night snow in the woods. And I hear the unimaginable roar of the sun 865,000 miles thick, one million three hundred thousand times bigger than the earth, and nothing but fire, 1,000,000 degrees centigrade, on the cooler surface of the corona. But I hear this unimaginable roar mingled with the tender, warm crackling of the living room logs on a cozy winter’s night.
And when I hear this singing I stand dumbfounded, staggered, speechless that he is singing over me. He is rejoicing over my good with all his heart and with all his soul (cf. Jeremiah 32:41)!
John Piper[2]

Of this same passage, C.H. Spurgeon said:

“I can understand a minister rejoicing over a soul that he has brought to Christ; I can also understand believers rejoicing to see others saved from sin and hell; but what shall I say of the infinitely happy and eternally-blessed God finding, as it were, a new joy in souls redeemed? This is another of those great wonders that cluster around the work of divine grace! … The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, imperfect though they be. He sees them as they are to be, and so he rejoices over them, even when they cannot rejoice in themselves. When your face is blurred with tears, your eyes red with weeping, and your heart heavy with sorrow for sin, the great Father is rejoicing over you. The prodigal son wept in his Father’s bosom, but the Father rejoiced over his son. We are questioning, doubting, sorrowing, trembling; and all the while he who sees the end from the beginning knows what will come out of the present disquietude, and therefore rejoices. Let us rise in faith to share the joy of God.” (sermons from 1837, #1990)

My brothers and sisters, imagine for just a moment, Your God, our God, the God of the blood soaked Cross, singing over YOU. Now if that does not bring joy to your heart I have news for you,,,, you are as good as dead!
The day is coming when he will no longer rebuke you.

Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice


Ps., Love them sprinkled cup cakes!

[1] Results were derived from a simple word search.
[2] “Pleasure of God In the Good of His People” Found in Piper Sermon Manuscript Library for Libronix

Completed by the Spirit Part 8: Paul, Redeemed but Struggling

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the eighth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
As we visited in our previous two installments, Douglas Moo describes three different ways in which the man Paul describes in Romans 7 can be identified:

1. Paul describes his experience as an unconverted Jew under the law, a view we saw explained in the previous installment.
2. Paul describes his experience, perhaps shortly after his conversion, as he sought sanctification through the law.
3. Paul describes his experience as a mature Christian.[1]

Sinclair Ferguson advocates for the third view, a post-regenerate Paul (or generic regenerate man) in Romans 7, and sees the apostle as using this pericope to join chapter 6 with chapter 8 and to describe the struggle that the believer has between his remaining corrupt flesh and his new nature:

[T]hese statements simply underline Paul’s sense of the inherent contradiction of being one in whom sin continues to dwell when he or she is not under the dominion of the flesh but in the Spirit. For the one who has realized that the synchronous indwelling of the Spirit of Christ and of sin presents an appalling contradiction – not merely a paradox – is bound to express it in terms that verge on, and perhaps are, contradictory.[2]

Stephen Westerholm also makes an argument for the third position, and in doing so gives us a warning about the danger of using the law as an agent of sanctification:

To seek to define whether he has in mind the Christian or the pre-Christian struggle with sin is probably to ask a question he did not intend to answer; indeed, his account seems to mix elements from both. Most of what he says clearly reflects his Christian perception of life lived under the law, but modern scholarship has perhaps too quickly banished every suggestion of Christian experience from the passage. 7:24–25, if reflective of any experience, would seem to reflect his continuing awareness of the struggle between a mind devoted to God’s service and a “flesh” drawn toward sin.[3]

Moo explains the second, mediating view in his analysis of all three:

The main argument for the second, “immature Christian,” view is, of course, that the arguments for the first and third views both carry weight, and so the only way to reconcile all the data is with a mediating view. Paul is a Christian (explaining the data in the third-view argument), but a Christian who finds himself frustrated because he is trying to live by the law (explaining the data in the first-view argument). But the problem with this mediating view, and the reason I finally think that the passage describes an unregenerate person, is that the data in the argument for the first view involve an objective state, not a subjective feeling. Paul does not say that he feels as if he were a slave of sin or that he feels as if he were a prisoner of the law of sin; rather, he states such as the reality of his situation.[4]

Does it matter to us as an application of Romans 7 which of the three men Paul is describing? Perhaps if we consider the passage only to be applicable to the unregenerate, or more specifically an unregenerate Jew, it might. But I think close inspection will tell us that we — you and I, believer — have a lot in common with the man in Romans 7, and the danger Paul points to in looking back at the law for our sanctification.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 9: ‘It Cannot Justify, It Cannot Sanctify’
[1] Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moo provides further depth in his Romans commentary.
[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: 1996), 160.
[3] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 397.
[4] Moo, 125–6.