Section Ten: Romans 1-8, This is How God Brings Us into Atoning Life
When reading the important book of Romans (written by the Apostle Paul), the idea of “atonement” takes center stage and has the most lines in the play. Atonement is a key thought in all of the Bible as it relates to the activity of God with humanity. The word “atonement” itself is found 105 times in the Bible (NIV 1984) and spans the Old and New Testaments.
Atonement is God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham and his seed (“seed singular” see Galatians 3:16).
Atonement is salvation through God’s impartation of His righteousness to us. (see 2 Corinthians 5:21)
Atonement is forgiveness of sins by the blood (through the death) of Jesus. (see John 6:52-53 and Luke 23:26-43))
Atonement is paid by Jesus Christ who is the only LIFE with the capacity to atone. (see John 10:10)
Atonement glorifies God the Father. (see John12:20-35)
Atonement is Jesus revealing the TRUTH of God’s life/existence and the lie of humanity in sin.
Atonement leads human beings to turn away (repentance) from living in a lie (in death) towards God who will accept us back into true life. The eventual outcome is believers reigning in Jesus over Creation in the Age to Come.
In the Book of Romans, chapters 1-8 provide us with a primer on understanding the atonement offered to humanity through Jesus Christ. A walk through the first eight chapters of Romans is worth the time and effort in order to properly understand what Jesus has done for us.
Romans Chapter 1
Romans Chapter 1 opens with normal introductions and pleasant words that a letter of the time would include. Chapter 1 also includes an important theological thought that all people have fallen short of the standards of God and have not taken the way of LIFE. Romans 1:21-23 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (NIV 1984). Note that God was evident and present, but human beings said no (foolishly said ‘no’) to God and went their own way in the world.
The key word in those verses is the word “exchanged” which aptly describes what a person does when they sin. In terms of living, sin in is the rejection of LIFE from God. Sin is the exchange of the WAY God has outlined for us that brings us to a state of death rather than LIFE. That is what the first human sin in Garden of Eden was all about in Genesis: The. Loss. Of. Life.
Romans Chapter 2
Chapter 2 of Romans centers around four action words that continue the thoughts of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 of Romans indicates for us that the WAY of LIFE in God brings with it blessings and fullness and rejecting God brings nothing but death and emptiness. The four action words we find in Chapter 2 are “seek,” “follow,” “do,” and “circumcise.” Each one of these key words are action words which teach us that those who follow after God are those who respond positively to Him, do His will, and as a result they have LIFE.
Seek. Thus, seeking God’s way brings life and self-seeking leads only to death (verses 7-8). All people are seeking something. We are either seeking after holiness which will lead us to God or we are seeking other things which serves ourselves which leads us away from God. There are only two options.
Follow. Following God’s path brings peace and following evil leads to wrath and anger (verse 8). Again, there are only two options. We need not forget Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14 which says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (NIV 1984). The narrow path is the path of atonement. The wide path is the path of destruction.
Do. The emulating of God’s way brings honor while doing what is wrong brings shame and we will all stand before God (verses 12-23). The path of atonement and accepting Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross and living life (decisions, spending time each day, money matters, words from our mouths, etc.) must reflect our acceptance of that substitutionary death.
Circumcise. Circumcised hearts truly follow God while falsity brings condemnation (verses 24-29). This condemnation that rocks our existence apart from God should be feared. This condemnation is eternal separation from God with no hope of reunion with Him.
Without the propitiation of Jesus, we are condemned.
Without the justification that comes by way of the Son, we are condemned.
Without the reconciliation Jesus provides, we are condemned.
Without the substitutionary death of Jesus, we have no hope for LIFE.
The good news is we do have hope in Jesus no matter what your story. I grew up like many hearing stories of people who came to God. Some got by in life just fine before they got serious about God. Others, of course, lived in very sinful ways. Most were somewhere in between (at least on the surface). However, the ones that always made me wonder were the stories of men that seemed religious, church-going, and very obedient before their conversion. They called their conversion being renewed, quickened, reborn, or came to the light. One fellow in particular stood out to me because of his zealous commitment. When it came to standing up for religious beliefs, this man was relentless. Those that saw things different than his traditional understanding would be opposed to the point of death. No I’m not kidding…death. Death if they would not follow suit as to religious order established in the community. He did this to preserve the way of God for his people as God had instructed. He followed this logic to the letter of the Law. One day he met the One Who’s nature the law was derived from and the event shut his eyes. Then his story changed. This is the story of Paul, the author of Romans.
Listen if you will, to his own words, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ He replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of Him who was speaking to me. ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ’and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.”
Romans Chapters 3-4
Romans chapters 3-4 answer some deep questions we may have about Jesus Christ and the atonement that He sheds into our lives. Why would God promise atonement in the first place? Why did atonement have to come by way of the death of Jesus? How does God make any of this work given that He has to deal with sin?
We see in these chapters that God brings forward the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15 and keeps His promises. God promised in Genesis 12:3 “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and God keeps that promise in Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, seed of Abraham and Son of God, uniquely innocently died on the cross fulfilling both sides of the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis (remember: God as fire walked though both pieces of the sacrifice). Those who believe in Jesus Christ are then legally right before God. Romans 3:22-24 says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV 1984).
The justification of believers was the arrangement/plan that God began from the beginning. God is the One that has LIFE. His creation, because of sin, exchanged that LIFE for a lie and God has responded to what was broken. People are declared “righteous” before God because Jesus of Nazareth, seed of Abraham and Son of God, kept the covenant and made a way for others to follow Him. This is why Jesus Christ is the only WAY. This is why only LIFE is found in Jesus. This is why only those who have faith in Jesus Christ are blessed by God with the receiving of eternal life. Romans 4:7-8 reminds us, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Paul’s Story Continued
As I was saying, Paul’s life story changes dramatically and he becomes a man of renewed purpose for God. He becomes part of the WAY he was seeking to destroy so zealously. In his coming face to face with the light, he received the word of the Lord, remained in it, and received new purpose.
Here is his witness: “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ’Quick!’ he said. ’Leave Jerusalem immediately because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ ‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ Then the Lord said to me, ’Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
His purpose was now to proclaim the Gospel. No longer would he destroy. He would promote the way of life. Now he would proclaim that Jesus gave him his life. He would give all his remaining days to inviting people into the way of Jesus. It is this way for all who come to Jesus…for they are a part of something new!
Romans Chapter 5
Romans 5 explains to us that because of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, a new humanity can now exist. That new humanity has now been justified by faith. That new humanity now has a peace treaty with God. This new humanity enjoys access to God’s boundless unimaginable grace. Most importantly this new humanity now has hope in the glory of God.
This chapter highlights our reconciliation (a term of atonement) in verse 10. Romans 5:10 says, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (NIV 1984). Reconciliation bought by Jesus Christ is directly tied to LIFE. Human beings that accept Jesus Christ in faith are ushered into a new humanity that is given the gift of eternal life through Jesus.
Nevertheless, sin is in us. Sin is in us, but in our minds agree with the way of the Spirit. The way of the Spirit is something we are constantly growing into. The way of sin comes natural to us and doesn’t just go way at conversion, but must constantly be put to death though the Spirit.
Romans Chapter 6
The Apostle Paul does not stop at Chapter 5 with regard to our atonement and its ramifications for human beings. Chapter 6 in Romans explains that there is a need for a continual way of life that is empowered by the Spirit and puts away the old sinful nature, which leads only to our destruction (and puts us at odds with God). This power of the Spirit gives the faithful person power for faith-filled living. All of which comes freely from God as a result of trust being place in Him alone.
Romans 6:8-14 teaches us, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (NIV 1984).
Romans Chapter 7
For the honest believer in Jesus Christ, it is Chapter 7 that wreaks havoc in our souls and in our thoughts. Paul explains it in verses 15-18 which says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (NIV 1984). Paul explains that even though we know better and have been taught better, we are not perfect people. We have not yet attained completeness. Sin is still at work. We will still fail even though we know better. We will still sin in ways that we know are wrong. We will still choose to live sinfully even though we have head knowledge and heart faith in Jesus Christ.
What must not happen is a 100% abandonment to sin. An honest believer in Christ, one who fully accepts the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in their lives, will be someone who sees that sin is still at work, yet will have the Spirit to put it to death in their lives. A movement towards Christ should always be present no matter how many backwards steps are taken. The fight against sin for God is following in the way of the Spirit.
Paul’s Story Continued
What does the way of the Spirit practical look like? Again Paul’s story demonstrates living well: deep commitment to the community of Christ, daily teaching the Bible, preaching the Gospel, many missionary journeys, imprisonment, beatings, and ultimately death for the Lord. Again, listen to Paul’s words as he wrote to the Corinthian church so they would not fall into false teaching and in so doing testifies to his lifestyle:
“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I think it safe to say life in step with the Holy Spirit looks a lot like Paul’s statement above because life in the Spirit is a life lived in love for others. The suffering and effort Paul speaks of above is out of his love for that community of believers. He is all for drawing people into the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For as one puts sin to death through the power of the Spirit, so they too are growing in communion. That is where the best relationships come from and flourish.
Paul’s words once more: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day: and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Romans Chapter 8
In our journey through this primer of Paul’s on the atonement and its direct effects on our lives, Chapter 8 is the pinnacle. Chapter 8 describes the goal and the finish line to run towards. In Chapter 8, the Apostle Paul teaches us to live in the Spirit alone. This is the WAY of redeemed creation. This is what life will be like in the age to come. It is for this type of atonement flavored life that God raised Jesus from the dead. God will raise all who put their trust in Jesus through whom God fulfilled all His promises.
Paul’s story is a good example that when light first comes it can hurt. Paul tells us the atonement heals and restores us for eternal living. Please understand we are not proclaiming good life in some feel good manner, but rather a turning to the life God the Father has revealed in Jesus. And yes, with Christ’s second coming, His disciples will reign over creation with Him though until then they bleed with Him in many ways. This bleeding is not a work unto salvation, but is a result of receiving and following His nature. This is how God brings us into atoning LIFE.