22. Fruit-bearers

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.22: Fruit-bearers

Rom 7:4“Christ …. him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when we realise who the writer is – Paul, apostle, trained Pharisee (Phil 3:5), a man with a big mind – that there is such a sharp logic that flows through these pages of Romans. He’s actually moved on to talk about how we have been released from the Law but along the way he says this about Christ and us.

Paul says this is how it is because we “died to the law” (7:4) Okay, we need to read the whole verse: you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” We’ve considered previously that we died when we saw Paul talking about us having been crucified with Christ (see studies 16 & 17) and now consider ourselves having died with him (study no.18) and so he now says we belong to God (which is important – owners have rights as well as concerns) and this ‘ownership is expressed through Christ, he’s the one who is Lord over us, leads, guides and directs us so now we ‘bear fruit’.

See the big picture. We realised ‘keeping the rules’ didn’t help but just confirmed what we knew deep down – we were failures getting it wrong – so when Christ was raised we saw there was another way, a Spirit-empowered way at the hands of the Father and when we let Him do that – bring us new life – we found there was a whole new source of goodness flowing – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How wonderful!

But this talk of bearing fruit has some other wonderful aspects to it. We are no longer purposeless individuals. Originally, we had no purpose than to exist and survive – make money, have careers, to get us through life, comfortably if possible, to take us into a comfortable old age. Come on, be honest, that is what it is about for most people. But now, in this new Spirit-empowered, Jesus-directed, Father-glorifying life, we have both purpose and direction. Now, okay, to be real, we often don’t realise fully what that is, but in general terms it is simply to be available and obedient to his leading, his envisioning and his enabling. So, yes, we may still outwardly be on that ‘exist and survive’ track that I just described, but behind that, underpinning it and overshadowing it will be this greater purpose of being available and obedient to the one we call Lord, the one who moment by moment is saving us. Consider the outworking. You get to the end of life and instead of nothingness but a history of self-concern, when you get to heaven and He allows you to look back, you will see the fruit of changed lives, some in small ways, other bigger ways. You have changed the world! 

21. The Eternal Gift

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.21: The Eternal Gift

Rom 6:23 the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,”

So you might be excused for feeling a little fed up with this subject of Sin that Paul keeps on about, but that only goes to show its seriousness and maybe our inadequate understanding of its significance, both as a pointer to our eternal destiny and a blight on our present lives. But when we looked at this starter verse yesterday, we only considered the first part so today let’s pick up the second half.

A two-sided coin: on one side the awful picture of the propensity to self-centred godlessness (Sin) expressed in multiple ways (individual sins each earning their own reward) that all lead to spiritual and eternal death, that’s the bad news. But now, on the other side, a great life on earth (with limited God-experience) that goes on and on and passes through death becoming life in another glorious dimension with unlimited God experience. Who would knowingly choose the former?

But to really take it in, let’s take it bit by bit. Observe, first, a simple little word that summarizes much of what has gone before – ‘gift’. A number of versions preface it with ‘free’ to doubly emphasize the point; it is not earned, we don’t deserve it, it is something that comes freely from God.

I was going to say “with no strings attached”, but actually it comes with two thick cords, to use the same metaphor – we have to receive it and we have to appropriate or take and enter into it for it to mean anything in our lives, otherwise it is just sitting there, a package from God left on your front doorstep, waiting for you to open the door, pick it up, open it up and use and experience it. Many people don’t even open the front door, and others (‘initial believers’) don’t pick it up and open it up and then enjoy it. Our meditating is, hopefully, part of the opening it up. Yes?

And this gift? Eternal life – life with no beginning and no ending – God Himself, His Spirit indwelling you. Note what you might have thought was an addition – no beginning. Life that is eternal takes us outside time, life, reality, experience, that is not bound by time limitations, it is just there – ALWAYS – for the living. It began when you were born again and were indwelt by the life-bringing, life-changing Holy Spirit. Suddenly part of you was plugged into eternity and in a new way you became part of the life flow of God that has always been and always will be. This gift we’ve been considering is you made one with this so the real ‘you’ has no ending, so your body stops one day, but ‘you’ don’t’ Wow!  How did this come about? “in Christ Jesus our Lord”. As we made him our Lord, he also became our Saviour and his work on the Cross meant we could now fully become part of the eternal plan. Hallelujah!

20. The Downward Path

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.20: The Downward Path

Rom 6:23 the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,”

We need to remind ourselves of the recap we did in Study No.14 about sin: God’s wrath against sin (1:18), He lets sinful desires run amok (1:24) to discipline, you can sin with or without the Law (2:12), we were  under the power of sin (3:9), becoming conscious of our sin (3:20), because all have sinned (3:23), though previously unpunished (3:25), now our sins covered (4:7,8), Jesus died for our sins (4:25), even while we were still sinners (5:8), and so on. Some might accuse Paul of being fixated by sin but he’s moving on, perhaps covering familiar ground to point out the serious significance of sin. It is to our loss that we treat it casually, and perhaps that is one reason for the weakness of the church today. See now: “the wages of sin is death!” Ouch!

Another version puts it, “Sin pays its servants: the wage is death,” and yet another, “The reward that wrong ways give, is to die.” That is the choice many people opt for unknowingly so when they complain that they ‘can’t find’ God, it’s simply because they make their focus in this life, godlessness and self-centredness. The two aims – us or God – don’t go together (see Rom 8:5-8). If we put ‘self’ first, it may be no surprise we find it difficult to know His presence. Let’s look a little more deeply.

Plurality of Expression: Wages – plural. We would perhaps normally say, the wage earned from this activity but Paul uses the plural indicating multiple rewards for what must be multiple outworkings of Sin. ‘Sin’ (often written with a capital letter) refers to the propensity or inclination or drive if you like, to be godlessly self-centred, leading on into unrighteousness. When we speak of ‘a sin’ or of ‘sins’, we are referring to specific outworkings or expressions of the propensity, specific wrongs that may be in word or deed, emanating from wrong attitudes or motivations. The ‘rewards’ of individual sins are obvious: sexual promiscuity has so many downsides as to require several of these studies. Gluttony and drunkenness, unrestrained, produce obesity and alcoholism, both of which lead to major health concerns. These are individual wages for individual sins, Sin, the propensity, thus has many outworkings, each of which have individual wages. Result of all Sin expressions (sins): Put all these wages together and it is that sin-centred life Paul is referring to and the outworkings and their ‘wages’ we’ve just referred to that bring about the death he speaks of. The death referred to is a spiritual death (dead to God) and an eternal death (nothing but nothing at the end.) The links between tolerating Sin, performing sins, and this death, are inescapable. THAT is how serious this subject is.

19. Make a Decision

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.19: Make a Decision 

Rom 6:12“do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”

I feel a bit bad that I used an inadequate example yesterday but then Jesus’ parables didn’t try to cover all aspect of a subject, just one main point. So let’s have another look. Our help comes in the next verse above. The words, “do not let” are an instruction, a clear direction. Because we are to see ourselves as dead to the desires of sin, perhaps our next point should be, will I determine to be obedient to God and steer clear of sin? That’s our determination, if you like, once we see the old life we’ve walked away from, a refusal to let those godless, self-centred attitudes, words and behaviors continue in us any longer.

But that’s where my parable falls down because it’s not just two sins, it’s all sins but how do you do that? So then I tried to edge us towards the truth of the second half of yesterday’s verse by talk of the doctor making himself available to you to help you hold to your determination to steer clear of those two particular things in my example. The second half of yesterday’s verse spoke of us being ‘alive to God’ or alive to the presence and power of God, i.e., we are enabled by the Spirit to focus on God, turn our eyes to God (and using daily Scripture reading be ‘God-aware’), and lean on Him for help to reject the wrong path. As we turn to Him, we find the temptation subsides. Imagine having a conversation with Him. He starts, “Are you happy with these thoughts that you have, are they what you think I want for you? Will they bring blessing, or will their consequences cause bad?” You know what the answer is because the Holy Spirit within you is witnessing to it.

Another aspect that might help us stand against Sin, is to think what sort of person you want to present to the church and to the world, so we are to take that freedom and that power and purposefully reject anything that could constitute sin and thus we stand out as lights in this dark world, being different from others. Of course a major form of motivation is to consider the harm or the consequences that can flow from wrong words actions etc. If David had thought it through he would quickly have turned away from the window overlooking Bathsheba bathing. Wrong desires lead to bad consequences and hence Paul challenges us to make the effort, expend energy and determination to resist anything that might have bad or harmful consequences: do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” Again, first part, make a decision not to go down that path; second part, realize these are evil desires, wrong longings, and if you go with them, they will backfire on you, bring guilt in you, and separate you from your awareness of God’s love for you. Stand! 

18. Freed from the Past

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.18: Freed from the Past

Rom 6:11 “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

This follows directly on from yesterday. We said that verse 6 appears to say we were killed off, put to death, crucified, and that one way of understanding that is for us to consider identifying with Christ in his death in terms of submission to God’s will but, we said, it also means us giving up the old life, letting it be put to death so the power and elements of it no longer exist.  Now when we do that, we realize that our old life no longer has any power over our new life, the things that controlled or dominated us back then, no longer exist and so no longer have any sway over who we are today! Let’s keep on saying it.

So, if the life we used to have has died (been crucified), a life that was energized and motivated by sin, then that sin not only has no place in today’s life (see also tomorrow’s study) but it has no power over my ‘today’; it’s gone, dead and buried. What’s left? Well, I’ve been raised from the dead with Christ, so I look up with new eyes, to see God, to find I am now God-filled, God-energized, God-envisioned, God-directed, God-equipped and God-empowered. It’s a new day! Wow!!!!!!!!!!!

But, as so often in these studies, I believe we have to go over this again and again to really let the truths sink in. It’s easy to speak or write words, but I am very conscious that so often we church-goers hear the words but deep down feel, “Well, yes, but it’s not that easy is it!”

So how can we think about it working our practically, this ‘considering myself dead to sin’? Well, I think there are two parts to it seen in the two parts of our starter verse. So, to take the first half, what does it mean to ‘count yourself dead to sin’. Suppose the smell of freshly baked bread or freshly ground and brewed coffee wafts over you from someone who has it near you, BUT your doctor has said both bread and coffee need to be off your diet for some health reason. Well first you have to believe your doctor – these things are BAD for you. Do you believe that ‘Sin’ is bad for you? Second, you need to determine you are not going to have either fresh bread or fresh coffee. That’s your commitment to the doctor-instructed healthy life. But the smells could drive you crazy – move away from them, stay away from sin. But then you realize that if you couldn’t smell they would no longer affect you. Now our imaginary doctor has given you an injection that anesthetizes the sense of smell. The smells are there but not for you. They have no impact on you. God has put His Holy Spirit in you, and He is the one who anesthetizes you to sin. Even more He makes the smells objectionable to you but then the doctor says, “Here’s my phone number, ring me any time you are tempted and we’ll talk you away from it. More tomorrow. Makes sense?

17. The past gone

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.17: The past gone

Rom 6:6“our old self was crucified with him.”

We said yesterday that we’ve been immersed in Christ, made one with him so we share the fruits of his work, his death, and his resurrection. When it comes to practically living out this life, which is what chapter 6 onwards is all about we said, we are considering that a part of our sharing in all that, was imagining that the old life we had before we met him, was dealt with by being immersed in his death, becoming one with it, so it perfectly works for us, bringing atonement that brings redemption, that brings a new life.

But the emphasis of that previous verse about us being baptized into his death (v.3) was about what his work achieved for us and how we became part of it. But Paul isn’t satisfied with leaving it there, he has another picture to convey to us something more of the reality of what has happened, what Christ has achieved for us on the Cross.

Now he adds, “our old self was crucified with him”, and that needs some thinking about to fully appreciate it. It appears to say we were killed off, put to death, crucified. We’ll see the outworking of it tomorrow but for the moment we have to try to grapple with the reality of what Paul is saying.

Perhaps it becomes clearer when we focus on the first three words of that part of a verse: “our old self”. Some versions simply refer to ‘our old life’ which is much more all-embracing, summarizing our previous existence where ‘self’ determined what we thought, said, or did. That was our old self, one that was godless and self-centred (hence my description of sin as that). That is fairly easy to understand.

But then comes “was crucified with him”. Well, yesterday we considered the picture of being baptized or immersed into all that Christ had achieved for us on the Cross, becoming one with it so we are totally right with God by identifying with Christ’s death and declaring it was for ‘me’! Thus I am saved. But Paul is trying to edge us towards another reality that we’ll see as we move on. There are two ways of looking at this. First, in the same way we identified with Jesus’ death, we now identify with the way his death came about. It’s all very well to say we identify with his death, but how about the way it came about – the crucifixion? That speaks about his total submission to the will of the Father. No, of course we don’t have to go through a similar physical anguish but it says we submit to the Father’s will to receive HIS way of salvation (not by our own self efforts). Second, being crucified with him simply means giving up the old life, letting it be put to death so the power and elements of it no longer exist. We’ll see more of that tomorrow, but that is what we did at conversion.

16. Immersed in his work

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.16: Immersed in his work

Rom 6:3“don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

In Chapter 5 the emphasis was on the work of Christ: “Christ died for us” (v.8), reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (v.10),one righteous act resulted in justification,” (v.18) but now in chapter 6 he is writing about how the work of Christ should be worked out in our lives and he starts with this picture of baptism.

Baptism, as it was done in Jesus’ day, meant immersion in water, a picture of burial following death and then resurrection following that burial. When we came to Christ, it was like we were immersed into (and shared in) all Jesus had been through, his death and his resurrection, that’s what Paul is going on to say and which we’ll consider more in the days ahead. Immersed in him, we share his life, his memories, his experiences, although in his grace he doesn’t make us actually feel them, just enter into the fruit or outworking of them. Perhaps that takes some revelation and maybe revelation needs prayer first….

So let’s ponder it some more. “baptized into”. Into water and into the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), into and under the water (Acts 8:38). Paul also used it in respect of Old Testament experience: They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor 10:2) or as one version puts it, “They were all united with Moses by baptism in the cloud and in the sea.” i.e. they shared the same experiences as Moses, encountering God in the cloud on Mount Sinai after having walked miraculously dry-shod through the Red Sea, immersed in both experiences one might say. It’s all about oneness and sharing in their experiences etc.

“baptized into his death”? Another version puts it, “by being baptized also share in his death.” Of course we weren’t there and didn’t die with him literally but when Scripture talks about ‘his death’ that is shorthand for what Christ achieved by dying there in our place, taking the Sin of the world to bring acquittal to us; it’s the total work of atonement. It was complete, entire, and needed nothing more for it to be effective. If I can make a silly example. Imagine a small swimming pool filled with a fluorescent blue water. This water (in this illustration) symbolizes that complete and total work of Christ on the Cross. In giving him my life at conversion, I walk down the steps into it and am totally immersed in it and it totally permeates me. I become one with it so when God (or anyone else for that matter) looks at me, they see me completely and totally acquitted, atoned for, made perfectly right with God. Nothing but nothing more can be added. I have become one with the work of Christ that he achieved on the Christ, immersed in it so it has become completely effective FOR ME. Baptized into his death!

15. One Righteous Act

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.15: One Righteous Act

Rom 5:18) one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”

Religious-Jews and the intellectually-minded Greeks had both had ideas about how to come to live the good life. For the Jews it was how to live in God’s presence. David had asked, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (Psa 24:3) and answered himself, “he who has clean hands and a pure heart.” (v.4) The apostle Paul was later to write, Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom” (1 Cor 1:22) as they both pondered on salvation or something like it.

The Jews, looking back to the days of Moses and the Law remembered it had been a time of signs of the presence of the Lord. When they looked to their prophets they saw again and again that the end times (when Messiah would come) would be a time of ‘big things’ happening and so it is not surprising perhaps that they kept asking Jesus for ‘a sign’ (e.g. Jn 2:18,23, 3:2, 4:48, 6:30, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47) yet to no avail (Jn 12:37). The wisdom of the Greeks required right (logical) thinking and, to a lesser measure, right actions. But seeking after ‘the good life’ or how can one be right with God, has always been there in the background of human searching.  

But David’s Psa 24 question sums it up for the Jews, with the answer, right behaviour and to a lesser measure (considering the Pharisees), a pure heart. What was righteousness? Living according to God’s Law, but in a more general sense we might simply say, being obedient to God.

Now let’s ponder what constituted this “one righteous act” that Paul now speaks about.  As the women stood at the foot of the Cross watching the one they loved dying the most painful death possible, they could not have realised the consequences of what they were witnessing, they could not have seen the invisible, all the sins of the world being heaped on that being hanging there, edging closer and closer to death, edging closer and closer to earning salvation for whoever in the world, past, present, and future, would receive it. They didn’t realise they were witnessing a righteous act that outshone any other righteous act in history, they didn’t realise they were witnessing the removal of death itself and the bringing of life for whoever would receive it. How incredible! But that is exactly what was taking place at Golgotha on the day we call Good Friday. The Son of God was being righteous, was obeying his Father, as he allowed himself to be taken by the religious might of Judaism and the political might of the Roman empire and be crucified. THAT, says Paul, is what brings justification, the clearing the slate, as we considered back in Study No.11, that and that alone is the way for us to be put right with God. Let it sink in and rejoice. 

14. The awfulness of death

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.14: The awfulness of death

Rom 5:12 sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

Looking back over the chapters we have been covering, or at least briefly looking into with specific verses, the subject of ‘sin’ seems to weave in and out of Paul’s teaching, e.g. God’s wrath against sinful humanity (1:18), His letting sinful desires run amok (1:24), sinning with or without the Law (2:12), all under the power of sin (3:9), becoming conscious of our sin (3:20), all have sinned (3:23), sins previously unpunished (3:25), having our sins covered (4:7,8), Jesus dying for our sins (4:25), even while we were still sinners (5:8). Thus he now comes to how sin first entered the world – through the first humans.

But having declared that, he points out something even more significant, the effect that sin had – bringing death. Death means ‘the end of life’. Following in Adam’s footsteps (until we came to Christ) we sin (godless self-centredness) and because sin is opposed to life, we had this shadow hanging over us – a zero-future that we call death. We were going nowhere, just filling out our time on this planet until the end, the literal end, NOTHING to follow, finished with, a life wasted. That is what we’ve been saved from, and instead given a future, given a purpose that has an eternal dimension – life, here and forever! Hallelujah!

Now I confess putting it the way I’ve just put it, it impacted more than I think I’ve ever seen before. First, what death is. Forgive me if I simply repeat what I wrote above because I am sure it’s something we rarely take in:  Death means ‘the end of life’, a zero future, the literal end, NOTHING to follow, finished with, a life wasted.

It was perhaps those last three words – a life wasted. Imagine you were an alien time-traveller who could stand outside of time, perhaps looking down on history as a line below you where you can see everything taking place. As you watch this person come into being, born, growing up, having relationships, having a career, reaching old age, being alone, little to do, and then suddenly the light that was their life is snuffed out, gone, there is no sign that they had ever existed. It is only by looking back and seeing the trail of events that formed their life, that you know they had existed. But an inch along the line – they are gone, no sign of them. What had that life been about? Then you watch another, who becomes a believer, and they come to the end of their human existence, but you see them move on continuously on a new, higher, different plane called heaven, there with God, a glorious new being enjoying Him and being enjoyed, fully active, utterly fulfilled in their potential. Does that help us catch a glimmer of the reality of ‘death’ that sin brings?  

13. Looking for trouble

Romans 1-8 Meditations No.13: Looking for trouble

Rom 5:10 while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son”

We should perhaps note before we go any further that what we are seeing is a kaleidoscope or multi-facets of a diamond in these things we are going through, a number of similar things pointing us all in the same direction. 3:20 [Study 7] told us that none of us was righteous in God’s sight because – in 3:23 – we had all sinned [Study 8]. Paul then dealt with Christ being a sacrifice – in 3:25 [Study 9] – and then used Abram as an example of righteousness through belief – in 4:3 [Study 10] – so now, being justified, we have peace with God – 5:1 [Study 11], all of this being a demonstration of God’s love while we were still sinners – 5:8 [Study 12]. There is where he has brought us to, but now he points out something else about all this, we might never have thought about.

Perhaps our biggest problem in life was that we didn’t realise we had a problem – we were God’s ENEMIES! We were against God and, even worse, while we refused to turn to Him, He was against us. Oh yes, He was waiting and the moment we turned He was there for us, but before, before we were at loggerheads with Him, opposed to Him, blocking His plans for us. But now that He’s reconciled us to Himself the way is open for us to be in His arms, but I wonder if sometimes we let echoes of the past come back and we still block His love flowing in us?

This may also motivate us to pray for our family or friends who don’t yet know Jesus. At this point of time – while they are still unbelievers – they are enemies of God, and that has repercussions. First, if they dropped dead or had a fatal accident today, that would be the end of it [we’ll think more about that tomorrow]. Second, it means that although God still loves them, any actions He may take in respect of them, first and foremost will be designed to turn them to Him.

Knowing Him, coming to Him and surrendering to Him is THE Most Important Thing they can possibly do. Their careers, their ambitions, their potential is all secondary. Without coming to that place with Him they are going to fall short of His design for them and He will be doing everything [except forcing their free will] to get them to that place of surrender. Now you and I don’t know whether their particular hearts need melting or breaking to get them to that place [or whether they are so hard they’ll never get to that place], and so unless the Lord reveals to you in prayer which it is, our praying can only be general.   This, remember, is where we were before we turned to Christ, enemies of God, ultimately hostile to Him, refusing to surrender our sovereignty to Him, our self-will. Like the child in a temper tantrum, we, and now they, stamp their foot – “Shan’t!”  Enemies looking for trouble!