Romans Tells Us How
In order to further describe the three stages of Christ’s revelation in us (infancy, adolescence, and adulthood) described in 1 John 2:12-14, Norman Grubb shifts perspective here to how God approaches man–from the outside in–to bring us into union with Himself.
These three stages are nowhere more clearly explained and presented to us than in the great Roman letter, and it is there that we will now examine them more closely, always bearing in mind their ultimate goal: that man was originally created and now re-created in Christ to find his place in God and He in us.
The first stage may be called the outward approach. Man has become an extrovert, or at least he seeks to live like one. To look too far within might be disturbing. He tries to live on the surface; work, pleasure, practical interests, social and religious activities, the world’s merry-go-round. So it is from the outside that God approaches him. He can understand a God in heaven; he can see a Saviour in history; he can recognize the sins he himself has committed. On this level, then, the gospel is preached to him. Look at the first five chapters of Romans, where more plainly than anywhere else in Scripture, the way of salvation is presented. First, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). Then the sins of man are exposed in loathsome detail, and attributed to a worship of the creature rather than the Creator (1:21-32). The coming “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” is proclaimed, where doers of evil and workers of good will be judged without respect of persons, and rewards and punishments meted out (2:5-11I). No pronouncements could be in plainer language: a child can understand them. The name of the Judge is then given (2:16), and the verdict of guilty on all the world unmistakably foretold, for the simple reason that all have sinned, and “there is none righteous, no, not one” (3:19-23). What an inescapable presentation of facts, which by these statements of Scripture and the word of the preacher have opened millions of blinded eyes! The gospel of free grace is then presented in the same practical; objective and reasonable form. Despite these hard facts of sheer justice, there is a way by which the guilty are pronounced righteous. God found Himself a worthy substitute, and “set Him forth” for all to see at an exact place and on a fixed date: Christ Jesus, was the “propitiation through faith in His blood” (3:24, 25): and faith means not works of self-effort, but simple “believing on Him that justifieth the ungodly” (3:27, 28): to that man, woman or child who so believes, “his faith is counted for righteousness” (4: 3-5).
The primitive forest-dweller, the woman in purdah, the little child: or alternatively, the sophisticated town-dweller, hedonist, intellectual, religious, can all understand such facts, if they will. To them all is Christ “evidently set forth crucified. It is the outward approach. It does not deal with any such matters as our dwelling in God and He in us: it does not draw attention to the ramifications of the self-life, or raise questions of soul and spirit. In those first five chapters of Romans, up to 5:11, no reference is made to an inner relationship to God, except the one statement that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.”
But what a change of emphasis in Romans 6! What does Paul mean when he suddenly alters the emphasis from Christ’s dying to my having died? (6:2.) This takes us at once from the objective to the subjective, from the outward to the inward, from the historical to the mystical and spiritual. Anyone can understand the historic fact of the Saviour dying for us, but who can understand the statement that we are dead? Quite obviously, physically speaking, we are not dead! And still less buried, as 6:4 says! Now we are passing on to where man really lives–within himself. We have seen how the natural man will escape the discomfort of looking within himself, if he can; he will live in an external world so far as he can, and God meets him where he lives, with facts and in language he can understand. But, when he has come to Christ, and the Son has been revealed in him as his Saviour, it will not be long before he finds out that the real problems of life are within. At his rebirth, it was his past sins that concerned him; but now he discovers that it is not the sins, but the sinner that must be dealt with. “Shall we continue in sin?” asks the Apostle. He now wants to follow Christ, but what is he to do with all that rises up within to prevent him? There are the lusts of the flesh–sex, greed, sloth. There are the sins of the soul and spirit–pride, resentment, anger, self-pity, jealousy. There are the attractions of the world, the distractions of home and business, the deadness in prayer and Bible study, the powerlessness in witness. He has to face the fact that the joy of sins forgiven, the gift of eternal life, the knowledge of Jesus as Saviour and Friend does not give him the inner release and victory he needs. Often he seems to be still in slavery to sin and self; he struggles, he resolves, he prays; but one besetting sin or another keeps holding the mastery over him.
Paul gives the answer, as no other writer in the New Testament. He was the Spirit’s chosen instrument of the full revelation in Christ. As he said himself, he did not receive it of man, neither was he taught it, “but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He leads us now into the second stage of this revelation, the central and vital stage, to which the first was a gateway, and from which the third is a normal and necessary continuation. He now begins to open up an inner relationship with God.
Up to this point, as an extravert, man could only regard himself as quite a separate being from God, even as he is also from his neighbour. I am here, and you are there, and God is way up above somewhere. That is why the Romans 15 approach of God to man is only on the external. A true separation came between God and man through the fall, and continues for ever in “eternal exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” for those who continue in disobedience. So used has man become to this reality in his fallen condition that he usually carries it over to his saved condition, and continues with the grave-clothes of a sense of separation on him. For the saved man this is an illusion, though real enough while still believed in. Thus, though he does know Christ in his heart, he normally regards Him as apart from himself, often outside himself, and sometimes so separate that there appears a great distance between them. Sometimes this specially appears to be so in prayer, or in time of crisis and bewilderment. Very often from our pulpits no nearer presentation of Christ is given to the believer than that He is a Friend close at hand, and so forth. The veil of a false separation is left over the eyes. Here, of course, as we have been showing in these pages, lies the great error. It leaves man to do the very thing he was never created nor redeemed to do, to carry on as best he can by self-effort, helped, he hopes, by the presence and blessing of God.
For most of us this deeper revelation of union has to come as a second experience. We can seldom see our outward sins and inner selves in one single exposure. The plainest proof of this is that the profound exposition of Romans 6-8 is given us separately and subsequently to chs. 1-5. It is not that there are two separate salvations, as it were. There is only one Saviour, one glorious process of restoration through His death, resurrection and ascension, one Holy Spirit. The twofoldness is not on His side. But for most of us there has to be a twofold appropriation of the two great deliverances that stream from the one Calvary, the deliverance from sin and wrath (1-5), the deliverance from sin and independent self (6-8). They could conceivably be experienced together, for both are there for the taking, but an appropriation which produces a real experience of both at the same time, and not merely a mental apprehension, is rare. In that sense there is a “second blessing,” an entire sanctification subsequent to justification, an inner union according to Gal. 2:20.
So we are now passing to the heart of the purpose of God in Christ, the purpose we have seen in earlier pages stretching from the first days of the first creation of heavenly beings up till now, the purpose of union as in the Trinity itself (John 17:21), the joining of Spirit with spirit, now possible for fallen man only through the reconciliation of the cross. Romans 6-8 will tell us all we need to know about it. There are no more important chapters in the Bible for the believer who seeks the solid foundation of the fullness of life in Christ.
A connecting link between the external teaching of Romans 1-5:11 and the internal teaching of 6-8 is in the intervening 5:12-21. Here is a first inkling that we must look deeper for the cause of our troubles and for their remedy. We derived something from Adam–sin and death–there is a hereditary link between us. So now we derive something from the first-born of this new creation, if we belong to Him, a hereditary link of righteousness and life. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
In God’s sight we were all in the loins of the first Adam, and therefore participated in the process of his fall–in sin, separation from God, and death (cp. Heb. 7:9, 10. In God’s sight all who are joined by faith to the last Adam are equally in His loins, and so participate in the process of His redemption–in death to sin, in resurrection to newness of life in the Spirit.
Paul had already given us the first insight into the meaning of the cross of Christ–substitution. Now he begins to expound another–identification.
All men can see the fact of substitution: that, as the Saviour hung on the cross in our place, He paid the penalty for our sins: “He bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” and that “He was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” But the further fact implied in His substitutionary act is that, if He died in my place, in the sight of God it is really I who died there. That is more difficult to grasp. Look at it this way. In Central Africa, if an African does not pay his annual tax and is arrested, he has to pay for it by several weeks in prison. But being clannish, it is not an uncommon sight to see a man standing before the judge about to receive his sentence, when his brother runs up and puts down the tax money for him. The judge then notes against the prisoner’s name in his records that he has paid his tax. Now the point of the illustration is that the judge does not put down the brother’s name, he is not interested in the brother. He merely notes against the prisoner’s name, which is already on his charge sheet, that he has paid his tax. Now that is identification. We may put it like this. When Jesus died in my stead, it was I who was God’s concern. He did not need to die, He had no sins needing atonement. God is interested in my having died, for it was my penalty He paid. So in the sight of God, it is not Jesus that died, but I that have died. “Now,” it is as if Paul says, “grasp that, understand it, believe it, and act on it, and you will find the victory you seek.”
Anyhow it is difficult to grasp because it takes us from the historical to the spiritual. I can see my past sins borne by Him. How can I see my present self? Therefore, it is important to grasp that it is my spirit, my real ego, which I see crucified with Him, and not my body. There is that difference between His death and our faith-death as identified with Him in God’s sight. He died physically and rose physically. We have only died with Him in our spirits, so far as being independent, self-willing egos are concerned. And we have only risen with Him in our spirits to walk in newness of life. We shall rise physically also one day, but not yet. That is why in this Romans 6 chapter the future tense is used when speaking of our union with Him in resurrection (6:5, 8). This makes an important difference between Him and us when it comes to the subject of temptation in the daily life; for He in His resurrection body “cannot be tempted with evil,” but we still in our mortal bodies can very much. So in that sense we enter by faith into a genuine death and resurrection with Jesus in our spirits. He not only died for sin, as a sacrifice for sin, but He died to sin, in the sense that it has no more claims on Him, no further word to say to Him (6:10). So we also take the place that with Him we have died to sin and its claim to dominion over us (6:11, 12). We regard the flesh as crucified with Him, and therefore have the ability to walk free from following its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). We equally regard the world as crucified with Him, and we pay no further attention to its lures or claims over us; or alternately, we regard ourselves as crucified with Him, so far as the world is concerned, therefore we can happily expect it to ignore and despise us (Gal. 6:14). But in each case of sin, flesh, and world, we are not yet where He is, out of calling distance of these vile things. We are still in them, though not of them, and they can and do call to us.
It is important also to note the implications of the word death in the Scriptures. Many stumble at this point. They say, How can I call myself dead to sin, buried with Christ, and so on, when the next moment I am very much alive to the solicitations of sin? The answer is that death in the Bible is used to pronounce a clean-cut separation from a thing. But at the same time we must also remember that it is death to one thing and resurrection to another. It never means a total blotting out of a personality. Such a thing is an impossibility. Therefore if the person is dead to a certain thing, but also alive to another, he is genuinely cut off from the one and attached to the other; but if he is still in the sphere where both those things are active, it doesn’t say that he cannot hear the voice of the other calling him back to the old relationship. He is not necessarily out of calling distance.
The proof of that is twofold. Adam was told he would surely die, if he broke God’s command in the garden. He did, and died spiritually. He died out to God and came alive to Satan. Thus we are all by nature “dead in trespasses and sins.” But though Adam died towards God, was he out of hearing distance of God? No indeed. God at once set in motion His plans of grace to recall him completely from his false allegiance to Satan. God set to work to reverse that false death and resurrection. This He did in Christ, and now it is reversed in Him, for we have died to sin and live unto God. Does that equally mean that we are out of calling distance of Satan and sin? Obviously, not yet. But there is a final death and separation, called in Revelation “the second death.” That takes us clean out of calling distance: the saints from sin, and the disobedient from God. So our death and resurrection with Christ is a “first death,” not yet a final death in its completest sense. This solves the problem of the fact of our union with Him in death and resurrection, yet at the same time the clamant calls which continue to reach us from the world, flesh, and devil.
Now see the plain emphasis, mostly of our death with Him, though also of our spiritual resurrection. The main emphasis is on the death, because that is the first truth we have to get clear; the altogether sufficient provision He has made to lift our redeemed selves clean out of the grasp and dominion of sin. Death is that provision. Death is absolute. There could not be a cleaner cut. Resurrection is only touched lightly on in these death verses (6:1-13). The problems of the risen life, the daily walk, will be dealt with more thoroughly in Chapters 7 and 8. The death is made even more definite by a burial (6:4). A burial is the public putting away of the corpse for ever. Our death with Christ is mentioned nine times in those first eleven verses! As also in Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14; Cor. 5:14-17; Eph. 2: 4-6; Col. 2:11, 12;1 Pet. 2:24.
Then note the tense in the Romans 6 verses. It is aorist most of the way through: a past and finished fact. Thus it should be “died,” not “are dead” in V. 2; “were buried,” not “are buried” in v. 4; “was crucified,” not “is crucified” in v. 6; “we died,” not “we be dead” in v. 8; and finally in v.11 “reckon yourselves to be dead people unto sin.” A great many mistakes are made just here, and as a consequence a great many kept out of their liberation in Christ. It is not that we need to be crucified, or ought to be crucified, or that we hope or pray we may be so one day. It is that we were crucified, buried and risen with Him, just exactly as really as our sins were borne by Him and are no longer imputed to us. If you are a believer, you believe that latter fact, don’t you? You would never allow anyone to cast doubts on that basic fact that all your sins were once for all buried in that fountain opened for uncleanness and sin, would you? Well, God demands of you that, as this fuller light on what Christ’s death, burial and resurrection imply concerning you dawns on you, you believe it as exactly as you believed that first glorious light you saw concerning Calvary and your sins. If anyone refused to believe that Christ was his sin-bearer, you would tell him that he was a denier of the Word of God and was calling God a liar, would you not? Well then, you are doing the same, exactly the same, if you do not believe with heart and mind that you yourself were on that cross and in that tomb, and still are, and that you yourself rose from the dead in Christ.
You may hesitate and ask an obvious question, “Yes, that’s all right in theory, but how does that affect my constant failures in Christian living? We will face that squarely later. But at this moment the point is, Have you now believed what God has said of you as a believer? “We were buried with Him”; “our old man was crucified with Him”; “he that is dead is freed from sin”; “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Have you believed that, and do you now affirm it by faith? If you were speaking to a seeker after salvation, and he hesitated to believe in Christ for fear that he would not hold to it, would you not press on him that his one act of obedience must be just to accept Christ at His word, and leave the future with Him? You would try to centre him on a present faith, for you would know that he would never come free by vague hopes or fears for the future, or by delay. He must believe God’s word now. And so must we concerning this truth. Leave the consequences, leave the future; just believe. And the “reckon” of v.11 does not mean “Reckon, but of course, it is not really so.” It means, “Reckon, because it is an historic and actual fact.” Believe that fact.
“Sin in the flesh is gone into judgement in Christ’s death, and I am alive in His life–this is a fact,” wrote J. B. S. in The Circle of Truth. ” ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ I know how often a believer loses the effect of the truth by turning to his experience. He says, Oh, I do not feel dead. Does that make it not true that the believer is dead with Christ? Are you going to have faith first, or feeling? Which is it? An Israelite looked and he lived; he felt he was healed. You ask me, Do you always feel you are dead? I say, No; because I do not always believe that I am dead with Christ; I cannot feel it unless I believe it. It is faith first, then feeling. It is a fact to faith. I go by the fact. I have died with Him, and the consequence of that is, I am alive with Him. I have no other life. What other could I have? You must accept the word of God, that to faith you are dead to sin. Our old man is crucified with Christ. You have to believe, and then reckon on God to enable you to walk up to your faith, in order that you may preserve a good conscience.”
–The Liberating Secret
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 24 No 2
- God’s Twofold Restoration
- The Editor’s Note
- The Necessity of Doubt
- Death to Sin: The Radical Solution of the Cross
- Romans Tells Us How
- Two Problems Solved
- Our Total Salvation: The Two Works of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection
- Book Review: Paul’s Key to the Liberated Life: Romans Six to Eight
- How Acquire Faith?
- Faith in Action
- Rees Howells and the New Birth
- Free From the Law of Sin and Death
- Words to Live By
- What Really Happens at Regeneration?
- The Total Remedy