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Far Be The Thought (2)

P Coulson, Forres

When we looked last month at the first three uses by Paul of the expression "God forbid" in the Roman epistle, we discovered a common structure in his reasoning. Paul would make a doctrinal statement to advance his exposition of the gospel, and then he would assume an objection to that statement on the part of the Jewish readers of his letter. (He was well qualified to do so, of course, because he had only to remember how he would have reacted to such statements in his unsaved days.) On each occasion he met the assumed objection with the response "God forbid" or, as it might be better rendered, 'Far be the thought'. That emphatic response served to magnify the moral absurdity of the objection that prompted it. Paul would then give a detailed explanation as to why the statement he had made was true, and why the assumed objection was not valid. From those three occasions (3.4, 6, 31) considered last month, we will move on to chapter 6 where the expression "God forbid" is used twice. However, we must first look at the overall context of the chapter, and that study will occupy our space this month. The detail of Paul's argument in chapter 6 will be the subject of next month's article, God willing.

The latter part of chapter 5, commencing at verse 12, marks an important change of subject in Paul's development of the doctrine of the gospel. Previously, he has been explaining how the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus is the ground upon which God can righteously forgive sins. Salvation from the penalty for sins is the subject. Everything hinges on the sacrificial death of Christ. But salvation is with a view to sanctification, and that is the next major theme of the epistle. Accordingly, Paul's attention turns from sins and their penalty, to sin and its power. Read carefully from 5.12 to the end of chapter 8, and notice how 'sin' is mentioned some 41 times in that section, but only four times in the rest of the epistle. 'Death' is spoken of 20 times in those verses, and only once in the rest of the letter. Significantly, 'faith' is mentioned 39 times in Romans, but none of those mentions is in the section from 5.12 to 8.39. Of the 24 references to 'believe' in the epistle, only one of them appears in this important section.

We learn from these observations that salvation must be appropriated by faith, and its foundation is that Christ died for us. The work of sanctification, however, is based upon the truth that we died with Christ, and we are also identified with His resurrection life. The verses that connect the doctrine of salvation founded on the death of Christ, to sanctification founded on the resurrection of Christ, are 5.12 to 5.21. Notice how that, of the ten verses that make up that section of the epistle, five of them (vv 13-17) are in brackets. They amplify the important teaching of verse 12, but the length of the parenthesis can obscure the connection between verses 12 and 18. Here is the section with the parenthesis removed:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (5.12, 18-21).

Two very important issues are explained in these verses. The first is what we might call the principle of identification; that is, "all" are affected by the action of "one". The reason for this outcome lies in the official position of the "one". Adam's official position, delegated by God, was not only as head of the human race, but also as exercising dominion over the works of God's hands (Gen 1.28). A king, defeated in battle, might kneel and surrender his sword to the one who has defeated him and, when he does so, he is solitary – just one man. But, the fact that the one man is a king means that, when he surrenders, he not only forfeits all that belongs to him personally, but also all that belongs to him officially. One man bends the knee in defeat, but he surrenders his wealth, his land, his people and all his realm. That is what Adam did when he disobeyed God and brought sin into the world; "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom 5.19). The practical outcome of the principle of identification is undeniably, and tragically, evident in the lives of all of Adam's descendants. So, until the sacrificial work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, "sin hath reigned unto death" (5.21).

How wonderful it is, therefore, that the principle of identification is also the ground upon which we have been constituted righteous. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (v 19). We were constituted sinners because of Adam's act of disobedience, and our link with him, the head of the human family, by natural birth. We are constituted righteous because of Christ's great act of obedience, and our link with Him, the Head of the family of God, by new birth. Herein is the doctrinal explanation of the necessity of being born again. However, new birth alone cannot secure the sanctification of the believer in the Lord Jesus. It would leave the Christian in two very different families, and subject to two very different heads. For sanctification to be realised, believers must not only have been born again, but they must also have died in relation to the old, natural order of things headed by Adam. If the principle of identification means that God sees me as being, by nature, 'in Adam', then it follows that, now I am saved, He sees me as being, by grace, 'in Christ'. In fact, so completely am I 'in Christ', that His death is reckoned as my death, and His resurrection as mine also.

"So", the Jewish reader might say, "if many are made righteous by the obedience of one, what is the point of the law? Our whole life is spent in observance of the law and its commandments, and now you are saying that righteousness is dependent on the obedience of Christ, appropriated by faith?". This is the point at which Paul makes the statement that leads to the fourth occasion in the Roman epistle when "God forbid" is uttered. "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound …" (5.20), he begins, explaining to his readers that the law was never intended to be the means of them attaining righteousness. The law entered (it 'came in alongside') to make the transgression evident. It did not cause sin, but it defined it and showed it to be what it was. It could do no more.

"… But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound …", and here (as in Ephesians 2.4) the little word 'but' takes on the most magnificent proportions. For every sin exposed by the law, there was divine grace ready to deal with it righteously. Though billions of sins might engulf a wretched world of guilty rebels at enmity with God, there was a superabundance of divine grace to deal with it all – praise His name! "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph 2.8-9).

Glorious though this truth is, Paul supposed there would be an objection from those in bondage to the law, and how he dealt with that objection will be our next study, God willing. (To be continued …)


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