Understanding the Bad News (Romans 1:1-3:20)
God exists, but is invisible to the human eye. Two ways everyone in the world knows about Him are through:
- The world He created,
- The inner sense of right and wrong that all people have.
However, though all people know deep down that God is real, we have all disobeyed Him, and live for ourselves instead of for God. This is called sin. We worship other things, and turn our backs on God. We do things like: have sex outside of marriage, murder, gossip about others, envy others, hate God, disobey our parents, don’t have faith in God, aren’t thankful toward God, and a million other sinful things. In fact, every time we reject God in our thoughts, words, and actions, we commit sin against God.
Even further, the more we choose sin, the more our eyes struggle to see God. And the less we see of God, the more we feel OK about sinning. It is a terrible cycle, yet every single human being is born into it. The worst news of all is that God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and every sinner. This happens because God cannot have sin come into His presence. This means that you, I, and everyone else deserve death for how we have turned from God in our heart and actions. You may challenge this and say, “But how can God be mad at my actions? He has blessed me with so many things in my life. Surely this is a sign that God approves of my behavior?” But you don’t realize that God is being kind to you so that you will see His goodness, see that you don’t deserve it, and see that you need to turn and serve Him, instead of serving yourself (the word for this is, “repentance,” it literally means that you turn your mind and actions from serving you to serving God). Your sinful actions have NOT earned His kindness.
God’s standards of good and bad are found in the Bible. If someone read these standards, and lived perfectly by them, they would earn life in God’s presence forever (though no human being is capable of this, as will be discussed later). But even those who don’t read the Bible can also know right from wrong, because God puts the understanding of right and wrong within every human heart. This is called your conscience. Therefore, no one has the excuse of saying, “God never showed me right from wrong,” because He has shown everyone right and wrong through the Bible and through their own conscience.
However, even though every human knows right from wrong, no one is able to live a perfect life. And God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and sinner. Even if all your sins are in your heart and are secret from those around you, God still knows. It grieves God to sentence death on human beings that He lovingly created (see Genesis 1:27), but His character demands it. If you have sinned, you deserve death. There is no way around it.
Also note that some people will come to God and say, “But I read your Bible and know what it says. Doesn’t that mean I deserve eternal life in your presence?” No. Of course, it is helpful to know the Bible, but it is not enough to merely know what the Bible says about right and wrong. If you can’t perfectly follow God’s commands (and no one fully can), then you are still a person who deserves death and destruction from God’s hand. It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses you can quote.
Others will say, “I never outwardly sinned against God. I behaved much better than others around me.” However, it is also not enough to outwardly follow what God says, if in your heart you disobey Him. For instance, God says that if a person looks on another person with lust (lust is self-interested sexual craving) in their heart, they have committed adultery with that person (see Matthew 5:28). And God says that if someone is angry with someone else in their heart, they are guilty of the sin of murder (see Matthew 5:21-22). See, God looks at how good you’ve been in your heart and mind, not just what you do outwardly.
Others might say, “But even when I made mistakes and sins, good things came out of it. Doesn’t that show that God is OK with my sin?” Though it is true that God has a way of making good things come out of the evil we have done, it doesn’t change the fact that we still made sinful decisions, and still deserve death. For instance, consider that Judas Iscariot (he was one of the 12 men chosen by Jesus to be a disciple) did a great evil in betraying Jesus Christ (Jesus Christ is God who came to live in a human body more than 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel). And even though Jesus’ death and resurrection turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to humanity (we will discuss that soon), Judas is still guilty for sin, right? This is the same for any sin we do. We are guilty, no matter what good God brings out of it.
In saying all this, it should be clear that there is no human being who has ever perfectly obeyed God. No one has an excuse for this. No one deserves to live in His presence forever. In fact, even the Bible itself declares, “No one does good, not even one,” (see Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1-3; Romans 3:12). Did you catch that? The Bible says that no one has been perfect and without sin. If you say that you follow the Bible, then you must believe that Bible verse to be true. You must agree with the Bible that “No one does good,”—not even you! No one is capable of the good that God demands; all deserve death—even you!
Though this is not fun news to share, it is truthful and is shared in love. And only in understanding this bad news will you be able to grasp the good news that will be shared next.
Understanding the Good News (Romans 3:21-4:12)
Even after all the bad news shared thus far, there is a way that sinners—like you and I—can be righteous in God’s pure sight. We can escape death and enter God’s presence (no matter how bad our sins are). In fact, the very Bible that says, “No one is good,” gives the answer.
According to the Bible, all who put their trust in Jesus Christ and what He did (more on that in a bit) are considered 100% righteous in God’s sight. That is, they are in a “right-standing” with a Holy God; they are considered morally perfect in His sight. So even though every person has sinned, they can all be considered perfect in God’s eyes after they trust in Jesus Christ.
Here’s how this works:
Humans can’t be perfect. But God can. So God came to the earth as a human, by sending his only Son, “Jesus.” Jesus was the first and only person in the history of mankind to live a perfect life, totally obeying God in heart, mind, and body. He was the first and only person to truly deserve to live in God’s presence as a sinless person, and not receive death from such a holy God. And even though He didn’t deserve it, God put Him to death through the hands of humans. It was a gruesome death. He was nailed to a jagged, wooden cross, while God turned His back on His only Son. This perfect Son received a death that He didn’t deserve—a death that should have been ours—, and His blood poured out until there was no more life in His corpse. Why?
Jesus lived a perfect life deserving God’s blessing, yet He received God’s wrath (wrath is extremely strong anger), so that sinners like you and I (and the rest of humanity) who deserve God’s wrath, can receive God’s blessing of eternal life instead. It was and is a perfect substitution. And as a perfect Judge, God could still ensure the penalty of death was paid for your sins (through Jesus), and yet forgive you from having to pay death because you trust that Jesus’ blood stands in your place. That is, Jesus’ shed blood is a sign that He was tortured and died, even though you deserved this death for your sins, and Jesus did not deserve it. Jesus’ death allows God to remain as the perfect Judge and to pass over your sins and give you life.
All of what’s been said so far should make you realize that anyone who is not punished for sin, and given eternal life instead, has absolutely nothing to boast about because we didn’t deserve it. Jesus paid the full price, and we simply have to trust in the power of His blood to cover all of our sins. All of this is the central point of the Bible. In fact, this was God’s plan all along. God even wrote about these things hundreds of years before Jesus entered earth.
See, before Jesus came to earth, God gave a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for how people could be totally holy. This is called “God’s law”. But these rules were impossible for sinful human beings (which we all are) to perfectly obey. Instead, the law only showed people how sinful they are. In fact, that was the point of God’s law: to show us all that we aren’t as great as we think, and we deserve to be punished. We deserve death as that punishment. And if we want to live, we need someone else to take that punishment for us.
The Example of Abraham (Romans 4:13-25)
Think about it this way: Abraham (the father of God’s people, the Jews, who lived 2,000 years before Jesus) tried for decades to have a child with his wife. In other words, they tried to produce a “life” that would come from their bodies. They tried it all on their own efforts, but could not get pregnant and produce “life”. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t do it. But then God basically said to them (when they were very old), “Even though your bodies are not able to produce life, I will supernaturally bring life to you. I will give you a son.” And when Abraham believed God, and believed that God would give him life–even though he was old and physically unable to produce life in himself–, THEN God said, “By believing in what I said, you are righteous.” Do you see that? Abraham believed what God said—he believed God’s words—, and did not trust in his own abilities to produce, “life”. That was why he was called, “righteous”.
This picture is the same for us today. We must realize that we can’t produce God’s eternal life on our own. Instead, we must trust what God said, that He has given us life through Jesus. When we trust this—at that very moment of faith—, we are considered righteous (that is, morally perfect) in God’s eyes. The only thing needed is faith in what God says about this. Faith in God’s word about Jesus brings us from death to life, as it did with Abraham.
How Can You Be Sure That You Are Now Righteous by Faith? It Seems Too Good To Be True (Romans 5:1-11)
Jesus’ death paid the penalty we deserved for our sins, but then, God resurrected Jesus 3 days later. The same person who was clearly killed, came back to life and walked and talked and did all sorts of things that dead people can’t do. When God resurrected Jesus, it showed that God totally accepted Jesus’ death as fully paying for all sin. It showed that sin and death have no more power, because Jesus’ suffering is finished. He now lives, and will never suffer again. The penalty of death has been fully paid, and Jesus’ resurrection proves that God said, “This is good enough. You can now live because the penalty for sin is finished.”
Because Jesus resurrected, we can know without a shadow of doubt that our sins have been paid in full. Those who believe Jesus died and resurrected for our sins can rest secure and know they have peace with God. We can fully experience God’s grace, even though He has every right to be angry with our sinfulness.
Furthermore, hardships we go through can also help us know that God has truly declared us to be righteous. Hardships can show that God has fully forgiven all of our sins. Let me explain.
When we believe in Jesus, God starts living in our hearts through His Holy Spirit. And when bad things happen to us, we can watch as God’s Spirit in us makes us love and have hope, even while trials come. We know that this is not possible for human beings to do without God’s Holy Spirit living in them, so when we watch how we have unexplainable love and hope in the midst of such bad things, this is evidence that God lives in us. God living in us (through the Holy Spirit) is the “stamp of approval” that God considers us fully righteous. This is because God would never live inside someone who wasn’t righteous in His sight. His Spirit in us tells us that He declared us forgiven of sins.
Also, we can trust that God will spare believers from wrath when we die, simply by looking at the love God already showed for us in what Jesus already did on the cross. Think about it: If you look at the world, you rarely find someone who’s willing to die for someone else. And if they do, it’s almost definitely because they thought that person to be a good person who deserved to live. But Jesus died for us while we were sinning and when we deserved to die for our turning away from God. And if Jesus died for us while we were terrible sinners, then we can count on His sacrifice to spare us from God’s wrath when we die and face God’s judgment (even if we make mistakes and sin after believing Jesus). Or do you think God stopped loving people after He died on the cross for sinners? No! His love on the cross will continue onto the day you are judged by God, and His love will be shown in saving you from judgment. He will never take back what Jesus did on the cross for sinners like you and me.
The Big Picture (Romans 5:12-21)
To understand this further, consider that at the beginning of creation there were only two people: Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3). And through only these two people come all the human beings alive today. Adam and Eve are parents to us all. They are the source of all human beings in all history. So when Adam sinned against God by 1 act of disobedience (he ate fruit God told him not to eat), it brought death into a world that was not meant to die. Adam died because of 1 sin. Not only that, but the sin in Adam’s genetics passed to his children and their children, and so on, until it reached all of us alive today. We are all born with sin in our heart and we all die, because we are all offspring of a man who had sin and death living in him. It would be like filling cups of water from a contaminated water well. Every single cup will carry the contamination, because the source of all the water is contaminated itself.
Notice also that this sin and death entered the world before the Bible was written, and before God gave His list of “do’s and don’ts” (called, “The Law”). When the Law came, it just showed how sinful we all are. It showed that Adam indeed had sin in him and passed it on to all of his descendants. But sin and death were already present before the Law came. So, in summary, one man’s act of disobedience brought sin and death to all people.
But, in a similar manner, one man’s act of obedience (i.e. Jesus’ death on the cross) can now give righteousness and life to all who believe Him. Just as Adam sinned, and we automatically were sinners from birth, so when Jesus died and resurrected, all who believe Him are automatically righteous at the point of faith. They are righteous because Jesus is righteous, and they get His life. Just as we were unrighteous because Adam was unrighteous, and we were born into his life. So, the Law showed people how sinful they were for hundreds of years before Jesus came, but it never made someone righteous. It just showed them that they CAN’T live up to God’s standards. It was meant to make people ready for a savior, since they should have realized that there was no way they could earn eternal life on their own efforts. It was also meant to show how marvelous and amazing God’s grace is through giving undeserved righteousness and eternal life to sinners like us, simply for trusting Jesus and trusting that He died and resurrected for our sins.
How Does Our Life Change After We Believe Jesus? (Romans 6:1-14)
So, when we see that our righteousness comes from Jesus’ obedience, and not our own, does this mean that God doesn’t care whether we sin or not (since Jesus died for all of our sins already)? Absolutely not! Why not? Because when we believe in our heart that Jesus paid the price for our sin, it always will lead to changing who we are.
For starters, the moment you believe Jesus died and resurrected for your sins, your life dies to sinful desires. Sin loses its power over you, all because you believed Jesus. This is why one of the first things new believers need to do is get baptized (buried) in water. That baptism is symbolic of burying the “dead” you (the “old” you). In the physical world, you bury those who die, right? The same is true in the spiritual world. You have died to sin, so you need to be spiritually “buried” by being baptized in water. And when you come out of the water, it symbolizes you coming out as a brand new person. As Jesus physically died, buried, and resurrected, so you spiritually “die” (when you believe), are “buried” (when you are baptized), and “resurrect” (through the new life in you by God’s Holy Spirit, as will be explained soon). The fact that you’ve been baptized proves you’ve died to sin.
Your new life begins with the knowledge and realization that when Jesus died, so did you. It wasn’t just our bad deeds that were forgiven (though they are!), nor does it just mean we have passed out of God’s judgment (though we have!). It also means that we, as sinners, were spiritually done away with at Jesus’ death. Our old life died with Jesus. And if we died with Jesus from our old way of living, then our new life must be just like Jesus’ resurrection life. In His resurrection life, Jesus lives purely for God. In the same way, the new life God gives us belongs to God (He gave us this new life, after all!).
But what if you are reading this and are a believer and don’t feel like your old, sinful self died with Christ? And you don’t feel like you have a new resurrected life? What do you do then?
Well, God says over and over in His word, “When you believe it, then you will see it.” He tells us to walk according to our faith, instead of sight. Do you remember Abraham? He believed God’s word even though it seemed directly opposed to his own experience. So, will you believe God’s words that your old self died with Christ? Will you believe these words even if you don’t “feel” like you actually died with Christ? After you believe this, you will start to see it actually happen. But not before you believe.
So after you know and believe that you died and resurrected with Christ, your job is to give all of your new life over to God. He is your new “master”. Your old master was “sin”. Sin could tell you what to do, where to go, how to think, etc. And whether you wanted to follow sin or not, you always ended up following. You always ended up sinning whether you wanted to or not. This proves that sin was truly your master.
And even after you may have learned right from wrong (whether by reading it in the Bible or knowing it in your conscience), it just would make you realize that you were still a prisoner to sin. Even when you wanted to do right, ultimately, you ended up sinning instead. Sin was your master and God’s law was the mirror that showed you just how much sin rules you.
But when you believe Christ, you become dead to sin. This means that sin can come to you, and yell at you, and point his finger, and make all sorts of demands…but he’s talking to a corpse now. You are dead to sin, and sin’s demands lose the power they once had over you.
However, even though you have been freed from sin, you do have a new master. God is now your master. And His demands are to be obeyed. He is a good and gracious master (unlike sin, who just wanted to destroy you), but He is still a master. So give up control and rights you think you have on your life. Submit to God as your master. As a believer, make the decision to allow God to control you (a decision that you were incapable of making before you believed).
How Do You Give God Full Control Of You? (Romans 6:14-7:6)
Knowing that God has demands over you (and is your master) doesn’t mean God gives you a list of rules and says, “Only if you do this will you be righteous in my eyes.” That kind of thinking ended when Jesus died. You are fully righteous in God’s eyes the moment you believe. We no longer have to worry about not being righteous enough, even though we know we have sinned. Instead, God gives us undeserved life through the death of His perfect Son (Jesus). We are under His grace (grace = undeserved and unearned favor from God) if we believe Jesus.
But being under this grace does not mean that God doesn’t care if we sin or not. God does care. He made you to serve and obey Him, not sin. And every time you choose sin over God, you are glorifying (glorifying = putting a positive spotlight, attention, and focus on someone or something) something despicable instead of giving full glory and attention to God by obeying Him.
See, when you believe in Jesus with your heart, God starts changing you by changing your heart. He does this by putting His Holy Spirit in your heart. And the more your heart knows and receives what the Bible says concerning Jesus, the more it will be changed.
So, when you used to be a slave of sin, what did sin (your old “master”) pay you for all the ways you “served” him? You got shame and eventually would earn death. Face it, sin is a terrible and cruel master. But now, God says, “Serve Me. Give your heart fully to Me. Obey Me.” And what will God give you for surrendering your heart to him? He’ll give you the gift of eternal life. This gift begins and never ends the moment you believe Jesus. At that time, God’s Holy Spirit (who has eternal life in Him) enters you. Even more, the Holy Spirit in you will change your life and bring you to live in ways that please God and are righteous. All of this is possible because of the death and resurrection of the Son of God. This was a complete gift—that’s how good God is as your master.
Think of it another way. Before Jesus came, God gave a law to follow. But no one could follow it. It was like people were “married” to this law. God’s law was like the “husband” and the people were like the “wife”. This means that they were stuck together, because God’s law says that a wife cannot separate from her husband as long as both are alive. People were “stuck” to follow God’s law as a way of righteousness as long as they and the law were alive. In fact, if the people tried to stop following the law as a way of righteousness, and became “married” to some other way of being righteous, they would be committing spiritual adultery on their husband. And God hates adultery (see Leviticus 20:10). So the people were truly stuck with the law—they couldn’t leave unless they died or God’s law died.
However, when Christ died, we who believe Christ died with Him. Did you catch that? We died. This means we died to our old marriage with God’s law. And since we also resurrected with Christ, we have a new life that is free to marry someone/something different than God’s law. That is, we no longer need to try to perfectly obey the law to become righteous. The law is no longer our master. Just as sin is no longer our master, neither is the law our master. We are free to have a new “husband,” so to speak. In fact, our new “husband” was already chosen for us. It is none other than Jesus Himself. We are now married to Christ, the One who rose from the dead. This is why all Christians are called the bride of Christ (see Ephesians 5:23-25).
Even further, just as husband and wife are united in sex after marriage, and the husband’s sperm/life goes inside the wife, so Jesus’ life (which is the Holy Spirit) enters into us the moment we believe. Our spirit and God’s Spirit become one in the same way in which the husband’s body and wife’s body become one when they have sex in marriage.
Further still, it is this union with Christ and the Holy Spirit that produces good fruit in us. It is through his Spirit in us that we are able to truly please God in this lifetime, instead of just sinning all the time. Jesus’ life in us changes our whole character and brings us to live and look like Jesus did: obedient to God.
When we lived without Jesus’ life in us (before belief), we could only produce death. We had no power to do good things. And God’s law only showed how bad we were and how much death we produced. It was like a mirror that showed us we weren’t as good as we thought we were. But we serve God now by the Holy Spirit inside us. He does the work in us. And God no longer tells us to follow His external law in the power of our flesh alone. No, He now comes to live inside of you and bring you to walk in His ways from the inside-out. He does the work, not you.
God’s Law And Our Sin-Nature (Romans 7:7-25)
Does all this mean God’s law is a bad thing? Absolutely not. God’s law is a great thing. It shows us what God’s standard of righteousness looks like, and is the best way to realize that human beings can never live up to God’s standard. Humans can never be perfect like God, which is a huge problem, because God’s perfect character cannot allow any imperfection to dwell with Him. Humans, if left on their own, would be banished from God’s presence forever. And without God’s law and standards of right and wrong, we would never realize how sinful we truly are. God’s law is holy, right, and good. In fact, the law was written by God Himself, through His Holy Spirit.
The problem was never with God’s law. The problem was always with us—you, me, and everybody. We are not holy, right, or good. Before someone knows/believes Jesus, they don’t have God’s Holy Spirit. They only have their own sinful flesh to work with. That was true for all of us. So even when we wanted to obey God and do what is right, we still ended up choosing sin. We didn’t have the Holy Spirit in us to overcome sin. So in our mind, and in our inner being, we could desire to follow God, but the sin-nature that lives in us (the sinful genetics that we inherited from Adam) is simply unable to stop sinning. Before knowing Jesus, we always sinned, whether we wanted to or not.
In fact, the sin-nature in us works similar to the law of gravity in the world: no matter how hard you try to beat it, it ends up beating you! And just as you can’t stop the law of gravity, it is impossible to change your sin-nature. So how does this struggle stop? How does our sinful flesh die once-and-for-all?
Well, this problem was already answered 2,000 years ago, when Jesus died—thank God! The moment you believe this, you step into Jesus’ death. Because Jesus died, you died to sin. And because you died to sin, you died to your need to obey the law to be righteous.
Walking By the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-30)
In Christ and His sacrifice, there is NOW no more wrath or condemnation over us. We who believe no longer need to struggle with sin, and we no longer need to try to be righteous on our own efforts. We are no longer under God’s wrath. All because Christ took our sin, was holy, and took God’s wrath for us!
And the evidence that we have passed from death into life is that we have God’s Spirit in us, and thus have a life in us that is able to overcome the sin-nature in us. The life of the Holy Spirit is stronger than the sin-nature. It is impossible to overcome the sin-nature without the Spirit. And even when we have the Spirit, we can still be guilty of following our fleshly desires and sins. However, we have a life living in us (the Spirit) that has more power than sin. And the more we walk according to this life, the less we sin.
And this life (God’s Holy Spirit) living in us is the sign that God no longer sentences death on us. The Holy Spirit is like having a “stamp” of approval that God has given to all who trust Jesus. Even more, this Holy Spirit is the very Person who raised Jesus up after He died. Do you know what that means? If God’s Holy Spirit already proved He has the power to bring Jesus from death to life; that means He has the power to defeat sin and death in us. And thus, as we yield to God’s Spirit in us, we will start seeing ourselves sin less and less and less. And as we watch this process happen, it should excite us to know that we truly have believed and have been received by God! If His Spirit is in us, we can have total confidence that we no longer have the sentence of God’s wrath and death on us. The sin-nature we had since birth was crucified when Jesus died, and can be undone in our own experiences as Jesus’ Spirit in us has His way.
God’s Spirit can prove to us and others that we are NOW children of God. As children, we know we will receive an inheritance from our Heavenly Father (God), just as all good fathers on earth leave some sort of inheritance for their children. Of course, all good fathers also lovingly discipline the children before they give their inheritance (in fact, this discipline makes the child more ready to properly use their inheritance, because their character is developed through the discipline). In the same way, all who are children of God, and will receive His full inheritance, MUST also suffer in this life (just as Jesus, God’s Son, suffered before He received the full reward of sitting at God the Father’s right hand as King forever—where He is today). In fact, the suffering we go through is part of the evidence that God loves us and has an inheritance saved up for us to receive in eternity.
And, actually, we aren’t the only ones suffering, because all of creation is also suffering right now. It has been suffering ever since the first sin that Adam committed thousands of years ago. But its suffering will end once all of God’s people are glorified at the end of all time. Then, everything will be new. This is why creation itself is waiting for God’s children (those who believe Jesus) to be glorified at the end of this present age. After that happens, everything will be good again.
But until that time, while we are still weak and suffering now, the Spirit comes to our help. For instance, when we can’t pray (or don’t know how), the Spirit starts praying for us. And God always hears the prayers of His Spirit.
Also, no matter how bad this life gets, God will work all these bad things together for good toward those who truly know Him. Specifically, God is using all your trials to make you become more and more like Jesus (God’s son) from the inside-out. So, when everything is said and done, those who truly believe and know God will come out shining in the end. And only these people will be glorified, to draw attention to God Himself, and draw attention to God’s work in us.
Closing Thoughts (Romans 8:31-39)
If God is on our side, who can stand against us?
If God gave up His own Son for us, do you think He will hold back other things you need (things for this life and the next)?
If God’s own righteousness covers us through His Son, then we can be assured that we will always be righteous in God’s sight, regardless of what we do or did—as long as we believe Jesus.
If God’s Son beat death, and is on our side, how can we not also beat death and live forever?
Can any of the suffering we go through—any of it—separated us from the love of God the Father and God the Son (as shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us)? No! No! A million times, no!