Surely the flesh isn’t good . . . not with good meaning that God cherishes it and will keep it with Him forever. And yes, the flesh is evil . . . with evil meaning that it has no lasting worth to Him and that He will eventually abandon it to oblivion. But is it bad? On the contrary, our self-serving, self-sufficient flesh shows us every day that we aren’t God . . . and that only He is.
After having read all this, I’m expecting you to have a deep-rooted, lingering question based on what you’ve heard for years. “If our flesh and all the horrific things that it does aren’t bad . . . because He made us that way to lead us to Him . . . then why is there so much condemning talk about sin?”
Sin is usually defined as “to fail, to offend or to miss the mark.” It’s what we do that damages relationships . . . with weightiness measured against some predetermined standard.
In the case of people sinning against each other, behaviors and attitudes are compared to a set of morals, or ethics, or agreements, or promises made. And breaches are difficult, if not impossible to repair . . . regardless of apologies and repayment. We keep grudges a long, long time.
In the case of people sinning against God, behaviors and attitudes
That definition was enough to keep us trying to be submissive, moral and cooperative for a while. We didn’t want to However it turns into management by guilt and embarrassment . . . hoping that our behaviors aren’t exposed.
them going on their journey . . . letting them know what to do and not do. But for those who understand the purpose of the Law (predicting Jesus and condemning impersonators) we ought to be asking: “Failing to do what? Offending (God) how? Missing what mark?”
So in order for a person to sin (by failing to keep that Law), he would be refusing that Jesus fulfilled every bit of it . . . and that goodness can be achieved by doing or not doing each part. That’s definitely offensive to God. It’s seriously missing the mark (and the target) altogether. We’ll see that in the last part of Romans chapter three below.
The most concise Scripture reference is Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” That’s been construed to cover about everything . . . from a reformulated version of the Ten Commandments to proper behaviors as described in the New Testament to being ethical. Examples of sin are cited from the despicable behaviors listed in passages such as those found in Romans, First Corinthians or Galatians, or even Malachi.
Those passages, when read outside of their intended context, only point out symptoms, not what it actually is . . .
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, most of its recipients were Jews who had come to faith in Christ . . . but were slow to give up their Old Covenant’s ways. Of course there were some non-Jewish believers living among them together with some who weren’t believers at all. Nonetheless, they all were pressured to conform to the Mosaic ways.
Besides predicting Jesus in astonishing detail . . . their Law pointed out unrighteousness through violations, the need for sacrifices to take on the deserved punishment and the unfulfillable desire to be righteous.
Chapter one begins Paul’s confrontation with continuing that old life. He quoted from Habakkuk’s prophecy: “There will come a time when people understand that ‘the righteous man shall live by faith’” (in Romans 1:17, from Habakkuk 2:4). That time had come and he began explaining its implications . . .
God has always made Himself plainly recognizable to everyone through what He’s made: He is the divine, eternal Creator. Even so, people have pressed that truth down by lifting themselves up to sit on His throne (trying to “be like God”). That’s mankind’s nature and it’s painfully described by the list of contemptible, resulting behaviors in verses 21 through 32.
Chapter two doesn’t say that God is offended by people doing the things on the list; rather, it clearly says that He hates those who piously judge and condemn others for doing the same things that they do. Whether they’re Jews using the Law of Moses to do it, or non-Jews using a simplified version written within, they judge others even though their damning behaviors are on that list too.
That judging is perpetuating what Eve is notorious for. It’s stealing God’s role as the Judge of what’s good and what’s evil . . . preempting what He said about how a person will escape death and live forever. Here’s Paul’s scathing accusation . . .
But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4)
Repentance is changing the source of salvation: from a system of justice (judging according to rules and punishments), to faith alone in Christ.
What leads a person to that change? According to this passage, it doesn’t come from being found guilty by some form of the Law (Moses’ or our own), it’s from recognizing God’s kindness, His mercy.
Chapter three underscores the Israelites’ importance. They were chosen to maintain the Scriptures . . . the record of God’s interactions with mankind. Their Law was the script for the epic stage play that showed everyone needs His gift of life, and how to obtain it.
Paul quoted those very Scriptures that they maintained to prove that they weren’t worthy to say anything about anyone else . . .
as it is written, There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (in Romans 3:10-18, from several Psalms)
A religious person might contend that by knowing God’s standards for acceptable behaviors, he can train himself to be good, or at the minimum, he can be better . . .
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
Standards for human behaviors don’t give credit for being good; they all describe failures, offenses, missing the mark . . . unrighteousness. There’s no exception, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Law proves that no one’s flesh is godly.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)
The chapter’s conclusion isn’t cryptic: We don’t make the Law out to be worthless; it’s how we got where we are. We believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that was written; no one else comes remotely close to being good enough to save himself or another. Faith in Him and what He has done is the only way that people are declared innocent . . . justified.
Chapter four identifies Abraham as their supreme example of faith . . . saying that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” That comes from Genesis chapter 15. It’s the third part of God’s promise: Abraham would have many offspring. (The other two parts, found in chapter 12, were that they would be a blessing to the nations and would inherit a land of their own.)
Not only is he the physical father of the Israelites (according to their flesh), he’s the spiritual father of all who believe that Jesus is who they ministered about. Paul was emphatic about that promise. The Jewish recipients of his letter were the very proof of God’s faithfulness. Unlike His covenant making them a kingdom of priests (“If you do . . . and if you keep . . .”), His promise to Abraham was unconditional. To show the world that his offspring were the result of his faith, God gave them the sign of circumcision.
Chapter five might seem overwhelming because it brings together many of the fundamentals of our faith. Please step through it with me, a few verses at a time, to see how and why Paul drew his logical conclusions.
He began with an overview of what’s to follow: Those Romans (and we too) can be at peace with God. It’s because that relationship with Him isn’t based on justice . . . like a judge’s decision regarding a criminal charge and supporting evidence. Nor is it based on His mercy . . . with the judge deciding to not enforce a penalty. Instead, they (and we) are justified by faith through His grace . . . declared innocent without the slightest consideration of what the Law says.
Furthermore, Paul was insistent . . . the troubles encountered in this life as a believer are for developing perseverance, character and hope. They are products of God’s love through His Spirit whom He has put within our hearts. (That’s verses 1 through 5.)
The next six verses are what we read about in The New Message for God’s ambassadors for Christ. In a nutshell: The ungodly, the sinners, His enemies . . . were all reconciled through Jesus’ death. But being saved is the result of faith in His resurrected life.
Let’s pause for a moment to straighten out the common misunderstanding of who the word man is referring to in this next section. There’s nothing wrong with the Greek-to-English translation. The problem is that we suppose man means a “male person” but it truly means “human being.”
Since it speaks about Adam, we naturally assume that he’s the subject; but we already read: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13-14). The one man, the one human being, that sin entered the world through was Eve.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— (Romans 5:12)
Because of her desire to become the Ruler who judges good and evil, Adam died . . . for her. There was no way to stop death from spreading until the Savior came; He was the only perfect Lamb, the only One to give life to the dead.
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. (Romans 5:13)
Sin was in the world! The desire to be like God had taken hold. But the physical examples of rules and punishments provided by the Law hadn’t been given yet.
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. (Romans 5:14)
Death reigned over its kingdom. We were citizens there until we became citizens of the kingdom of life.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Romans 5:15)
Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. (Romans 5:16)
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:17)
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. (Romans 5:20)
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
Chapter six goes back to where I asked “Who’s over you?” adding that the phrase has the sexual connotation of someone being on top of the woman (she represents us, mankind). The choices consistently offered have been the Law (being acceptable to God through our efforts and tenacity) . . . or Christ (being acceptable through faith in Him and His grace).
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)
Chapter seven continues that theme. There he brought out the human legalities for marriage, clarifying that it’s permissible for a woman to marry another after her husband dies; but if he isn’t dead, such a marriage would be adulterous.
He explained that we were all married to the Law. (It’s what our flesh has adopted as its own, modified to fit its purpose and then passionately uses to judge what’s good and evil.) In order for us to be free to marry Christ, we must sentence the Law to death and witness its execution.
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:5-7)
Just as there is fruit from a natural marriage (children that are born), there is fruit from our marriage to the Law . . . here it’s labeled “fruit for death.” There’s also fruit from our marriage to Christ . . . it’s “fruit for God” . . . it’s us being born-again, becoming a new creation from whom flows the fruit of the Spirit.
The comparison isn’t over quite yet. Paul was adamant about adultery . . . his implication is that those who know Jesus and then go back to the Law are adulterers. That’s leaving Him and crawling back under the Law.
If there’s a conclusion to be drawn from the letter to the Romans about “What does God hate?” it ought to be “Quit walking in Eve’s footsteps. Instead, be contently satisfied with Jesus being your perfect Husband and you being His loving helpmate. That happens by trusting Him to know and do what’s best for all of us . . . confidently letting Him express Himself through our otherwise empty vessels.”
This letter contains two lists. Chapter six begins with Paul shaming those Corinthians. They we’re members of the body of Christ . . . but attempting to resolve differences within their community by filing lawsuits and taking each other to worldly courts. Essentially he asked them, “Since God has determined that you will be judges over angels in the life to come, why do you go to the lost for answers . . . acting as though you’re still unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be better to be wronged?”
Then he listed the behaviors of the lost . . . those who only have their flesh for motivation. They are the unrighteous. They don’t have the Spirit. They aren’t united with Christ. And they aren’t heirs of the kingdom of life.
He went on to differentiate between
Chapter Ten continues about adultery, putting someone besides God over them / us.
How do you know that it’s the flesh doing things? Well, you could compare behaviors to the last part of Romans chapter one. It lists many of the deplorable m and concludes that we all have been shown enough of God’s character to know that He exists