‘Therefore’ in the Roman Epistle
Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
CAUSE AND EFFECT
by H. M. LlNTON, Bristol
From whichever angle the discerning reader approaches this wonderful Epistle, he is confronted with the great thoroughness with which the apostle presents us with his reasoned arguments of the Gospel. After the introductory words of the statement of the greatness of the Saviour and of the completeness of the message of salvation, the writer presents to us the awful state of man, his enmity, his depravity, and its results. He then commences chapter 2 with the word "therefore". Here he indicates that, resulting from the state portrayed in chapter I, the effect is, "Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest". In 1. 20, man is shown as being "without excuse" in view of the manifestation of the "eternal power and Godhead" seen in God's work in creation. In the writer's argument, it would almost seem that he expects the reader of the Epistle to gather his clothes around him as if inferring that this was not his state, but we are immediately faced with the condemning statement "thou art inexcusable... thou that judgest doest the same things". The challenging words face us, "thinkest thou this, O man", and "despisest thou the riches of his goodness" followed later by the words "the righteous judgment of God who will render to every man according to his deeds". Judgment must always be in relation to a known standard of law, and so in 2. 13 we see that it is not the hearers but the doers of the law which shall be justified.
Having compared the Gentile with the privileged Jew, Paul gives in the first half of chapter 3 an awful catalogue of failure on the part of the Jew to meet the requirements of the righteous character of God. We see that all that the law could do was to condemn. The real function of that law was to awaken the human conscience in relation to sin, telling us that all the world is guilty, or subject to the judgment of God. Here we meet our next "therefore", telling us that because of this fearful state "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin", 3. 20.
With the commencement of verse 21, we read "but now". Here a gleam of light breaks into the darkness of the situation, the revealing of a righteousness of God which is outside the law and yet is witnessed to by the law, a righteousness which comes through faith and is available to all, but is only on all who believe. This righteousness is based on God's grace and has been made possible on the grounds of a redemptive price having been paid by Christ Jesus, the result being that the one who believes is justified freely. In this work, the righteous character of God has been maintained in that he is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus", v. 26. "Therefore we conclude", y. 28 - having totalled up all that has been stated, our considered conclusion is - "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law". In this great work, we see both Jew and Gentile brought into this place of blessing. In contrast to what was the condition under the law, the result of this is that we now enjoy the position of having "peace with God", Rom. 5. 1. The old condition of being at enmity with God, which resulted from our sin and its consequences, has been dealt with at the cross of Christ; we now stand justified in His sight. The cause of the enmity being removed, peace now exists with God. It is through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ that we enjoy this peace, and also by Him we have access into this place of unmerited favour and are given a cause of rejoicing in "hope of the glory of God".
As we approach chapter 6 the question is raised as to whether we, who have been brought into the place of hope and blessing, can continue in that state from which we have been saved. Immediately come the words, "God forbid". To bring us into this place of blessing, our Lord gave His life that "the gift by grace" might become ours. Shall we - can we -continue in that which cost Him so much? No, in His death I died to that old condition; I must accept that position, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death" that "we also should walk in newness of life", 6. 4. Two expressions are used here, buried and planted. Both figures express our identification with our Lord in His death. The word "buried" acknowledges that we are dead in Christ to the old self. The word "planted" reminds us that a corn of wheat must die and "if it die, it beareth much fruit", John 12. 24. By this means "we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection", Rom. 6. 5. Hence we are exhorted to see that what God has said concerning this is accepted by us, in that we should reckon ourselves "to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord", v. 11. Immediately we are exhorted, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body". Victory is ours through the work of Christ, yet the usurper is always watching, and we may yield ourselves to him through our members "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind". In verse 13 we are exhorted to "yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead". The complete victory and triumph of the Lord's sacrifice is seen in the words "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace".
With a consciousness of the old nature being ever present, I must ask, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord", 7. 24-25. "There is therefore (indeed, in truth) now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus", 8. i. The Epistle begins with the seemingly hopeless state of man, in and through sin; but now we see that through the redemptive work of our Lord, the one who avails himself of that sacrifice has been forgiven and brought to the condition of being justified before a holy God, having been delivered from condemnation and judgment. How wonderful is the plan and purpose of God as seen in our salvation.
After chapter eight, a change in the tone of the Epistle is apparent. The presentation of the basic facts of our salvation is followed by the outworkings or practical aspects which should be seen in those who have been saved. Before entering upon this practical study, our thoughts are again centred on God's dealings with the Jew and also the Gentile as we are invited to "behold therefore the goodness and severity of God", ii. 22. How humble it should keep us as we "behold" the mercy and judgment of God, and remember that it is by sovereign grace that we have been brought into this place of blessing. Well might we exclaim as the writer, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!", v. 33.
We are next introduced to the practical claims arising from our standing in blessing. Gould any stronger plea be made than the appeal, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice", 12. 1. Surely this is a development of the demand, "yield yourselves unto God", 6. 13. This calls for a definite act and purpose in presenting our bodies unto God. This is not just a passive allowing ourselves to be used of the Lord, but a definite, positive act of self-surrender on our part. It may be very far reaching in its demands upon us, taking us into paths which we may not otherwise have considered. Firstly it is a "living sacrifice". The bodies which we have been given are the spheres through which we can manifest the manifold graces of God. They are the temple of the Holy Spirit in which He should be exalted, and in which He should be able to operate unhindered. For this to be so, they must be "holy". "Be ye holy; for I am holy" is the injunction of the Lord. As with the sacrifices of old it must be "acceptable unto God"; it must be well pleasing unto Him, and as the last sentence of the verse would tell us, this is not unreasonable. It is in the transformation necessary to produce this condition that we appraise the values and qualities of the will of God. We prove the goodness, the acceptability and the perfection of His will. Not only do we come to a knowledge of God's will, but we also are brought to a right valuation of ourselves. We come to see the interdependence of one another as members of the body, each one necessary and having its own particular function to fulfil. We come to see our responsibility not only to the members of the body, but to the world around us and therefore we are exhorted to "render to all their dues", tribute, custom, fear, honour. 13. 7. How far reaching this can be will be realized if only we will carefully consider every aspect of our lives and our acquaintances, in the church, in the family circle, and in our business connections. "Therefore", in order that we may be enabled to do this, we are further exhorted to "cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light . . . put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, lo fulfil the lusts thereof", 13. 12-14. The expression "make not provision" infers that we may (and how often we do) bring ourselves into such a position that gives our lusts, our over-desires, an opportunity to assert themselves and so bring us into bondage. Our place of safety is in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The final therefore is chapter 14. 19, "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another". This takes our eyes off ourselves and focuses our thoughts and concerns on the well-being of others, peace and edification being our aim and object.
Let us therefore so seek to order our steps, that in all things Christ shall be magnified in us whether by life or lip, to His glory.