A free gift

Salvation is something that happens to us, not something we can accomplish ourselves. Paul described salvation as a free gift and said, “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” (Romans 5:18). Among the many things that happens automatically when a person accepts God’s free gift of salvation is the complete removal of guilt of any sins that have been committed against him (Romans 3:24-25). As a result of this transaction, Paul encouraged believers to “walk in newness of life” and “not serve sin” (Romans 6:4, 6).

Paul’s exhortation to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4) was meant to challenge believers to make themselves living testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Greek word Paul used that is translated life, zoe (dzo-ay’) refers to life in the absolute sense (G2222). Zoe is derived from the word zao which has to do with the recovery of physical life from the power of death (G2198). Paul made it clear that eternal life was the result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. He stated, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21, ESV).

Serving sin is what we do when we allow addictions to dictate our behavior. Paul said our old man, the person we were before we were saved, was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and “he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). The Greek word Paul used that is translated freed, dikaioo (dik-ah-yo’-o) means to render or regard as innocent. Dikaioo is related to the process of reconciliation in the sense of being justified by Christ’s death on the cross. “‘Justification’ being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). What Paul was saying was that being freed from guilt should make us want to stop sinning.

Paul contrasted the results of sin and God’s free gift of salvation in order to show the absurdity of living in sin after having received salvation. He asked, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, NKJV). Paul concluded his argument by stating, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The primary reason Paul gave for overcoming the addiction of sin was its guaranteed payment of death, conscious existence in separation from God (G2288). Paul compared the wages of sin to the gift of God in order to emphasize that salvation could not be earned through acts of righteousness.

Without excuse

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written primarily to the Gentiles, non-Jewish nations that surrounded Israel. One of the issues that Paul addressed in his letter was the judgment of the world that Jesus talked about during his ministry on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul stated:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21, NKJV)

Paul’s argument that everyone that has ever lived is without excuse when it comes to a knowledge of God’s existence was based on the evidence of God’s involvement in creation. Paul indicated God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen by all humans, meaning they are self-evident or no explanation of them is necessary.

Paul explained to the Romans that God”s principles of judgment do not differ between Jewish and non-Jewish peoples. Because all of mankind was created in his image, God expects every human being to exhibit godly behavior. One of the indicators that the human conscience was designed to recognize sin is our judgment of others. Paul said, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things (Romans 2:1, NKJV).

Even people that have never read the Bible know that it is a sin to kill someone. One of the ways Paul said that we know we are committing a sin is because our consciences bear witness to our guilt. God judges us based on our own inner convictions. Paul stated, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, ESV)

Paul’s declaration that “God judges the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16) was intended to convince Roman believers that God does not need to keep a record or our wrong doings because our memories and consciences do the job for him. The Greek word translated secrets, kruptos means “concealed that is private” (G2927). In other words, God will use our own private thoughts and feelings to decide whether or not to punish us. According to Paul, the only way to escape God’s judgment will be justification by the blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:15-16).

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

Famous last words

Recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 23 are what are described as the last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1). I think it is interesting that we find in David’s discourse that it is not his own words, but those of the LORD that David is speaking. David said, “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Spirit of the LORD that David refers to is probably the Holy Spirit and his message a prophetic utterance meant to encourage David before he died.

It is possible that the message David received was a response to his psalm of praise that is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 22. David opened his psalm with the statement, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer: the God of my rock; in him will I trust” (2 Samuel 22:2-3). The message David spoke through the Spirit of the LORD stated, “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3). In his psalm of praise, David referred to the LORD as his rock with a lower case “r.” In his prophetic utterance, David refers to “The Rock” of Israel using a capital “R” indicating it was a reference to the Rock as God.

The apostle Paul clarifies God’s purpose in taking the Israelites to the Promised Land via the desert. He wanted to show the Israelites that spiritual sustenance was necessary for their faith to grow. Paul stated:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

The statement, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3) indicated that David did not measure up to the standard that God required for his king. The ruler that God was referring to was the Messiah, one that would not be made just, but would be just by nature. He was described as follows:

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. (2 Samuel 23:4)

What the LORD was telling David through his prophetic utterance was that his salvation, from a spiritual standpoint, was not yet complete. During his lifetime, God had been David’s deliverer, a rock that could protect him from harm. After he died, David would go to sheol or hell, the resting place of all who died, until Christ came and paid the penalty for his sin. Then, David would be justified and able to rule and reign with Christ for ever according to God’s covenant with him (2 Samuel 23:5).