THE CONSCIENCE and NATURAL LAW

 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart (Rom9:1-2)

Paul is about to express his deep concerns regarding his fellow Israelites. But before examining that (next post) I want to comment on these opening couple of verses of Romans 9 in which Paul refers to his CONSCIENCE in the context the Holy Spirit. If you have been following these posts, you will have observed that when Paul refers to the spirit it is not always clear whether he means the Holy Spirit or the human spirit (Rom8:16 affirms he acknowledges the existence of  both). There is no confusion in this verse since the Holy Spirit is specifically referred to – and that needs to be the case for as far as the conscience is concerned it pertains to the spiritual essence of a man, i.e. that provided to him by God which  leaves the body and returns to its Creator at the end of physical life (Eccles12:7). It therefore needs to be distinguished from the Holy Spirit who indwelt the Apostle Paul as He does all true Christians.

Lying against one’s conscience is one thing; lying against the Holy Spirit would be unforgivable as Paul well knew, so we can be assured he meant what he wrote concerning his sorrow for the Jews and his willingness even to be stripped of the privileges he possessed in Christ for their sake. More of that in the next post but Scripture also affirms that the state of the conscience directly affects our relationship with God (Heb9:14). This in turn is linked to whether or not we possess what is usually translated as eternal life (literally age-life). That is not referring to whether or not the soul goes to heaven when one dies but whether or not one can positively relate to God and Jesus Christ now (Jn17:3).

THE BRAIN has long been a mystery to medical science. It is only relatively recently that scientists have come to an understanding of where within the brain matters pertaining to the conscience are processed, believing it to be the lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex – something which humans possess but no other mammal does. That incidentally is an area of the brain which has been found to be underdeveloped in those who have committed particularly evil crimes. Nevertheless, the issue remains – what is the driving force for that still small inner voice that directs our moral actions? It is the God-given spirit.

Everyone with a functioning conscience possesses an active spirit, but as we will see in a moment not everyone does have a functioning conscience.  As Paul considered a few chapters ago, for most there is a moral dichotomy or tension between the inclinations of the bodily senses as processed through the brain on the one hand and the dictates of the conscience on the other (Rom7:23). However, in some people, aptly in this context described by Jude as  twice dead (v12) such tensions do not exist – for the desires and instincts of body/brain and that of the soul/spirit being both spiritually dead are united in evil. It is a scary prospect for the individual and everyone they encounter: for the individual because they are to be damned; for everyone else because the twice dead have no working conscience, no empathy and no instinct whatsoever to tell the truth. In view of this they can no longer be said to be fully human, for such moral awareness is a defining feature of those made in God’s image even after the Fall. These individuals are variously depicted in the Bible, e.g. as compassionless “goats” (Mt25), the darnel or tares in Jesus’ parable that were planted by the devil (Mt13); the wicked, godless or those who have departed from the paths of uprightness (OT Wisdom literature); those who go in the way of Cain (Jude11), who as their prototype was described as “ek tou ponerou” (1Jn3:12), i.e. derived from the Evil One. And they are also depicted by Paul as vessels adapted for destruction, born only to be captured and destroyed (later in Romans 9).

There is then a distinct third soteriological category which has been eluded by the churches – such people being lumped together with the bulk of humanity who were not elected to the exclusive Covenants of Promise (Gal4:28, also noting carefully what God says concerning Ishmael in Gen17:20-21). The resultant binary understanding with its calamitous implications to God’s loving nature and providential care together with a denigration of the human spirit has long existed, especially  since the Western Church, following Augustine’s lead, rejected a positive role for natural law that the writings of Church historian Eusebius in particular indicate had earlier been understood and accepted (see previous post). I will return to this in a moment for in its anthropological context it pertains to the role of conscience. The mystery of evil, the Evil One and his earthly children are examined in more detail in chapter six of The Little Book of Providence**. God has permitted such a realm of darkness to continue because as I showed a few posts ago, evil and suffering play a constituent role in preparing redeemable humanity and especially God’s elect for the glorious undertakings that await them in the ages to come (Rev2:26-29).

In researching the question of whether the motions of the conscience pertain to a particular part of the brain I encountered some insightful observations from David Langness, a member of the BahaiTeachings.org. He observed that  “Moral reasoning and the high-order abstract decisions we make from our conscience relates to our ability to see things from another person’s point of view, understand their emotional state and have empathy for them—all at the same time. This sophisticated, uniquely human and domain-global ability sets us apart from every other creature. The conscience, then, may even transcend the confines of the brain, and extend to the heart and the soul, acting as a universal instrument of perception, understanding and moral choice [David Langness: PART 10 in the series SANCTITY OF THE HUMAN CONSCIENCE]

Other religions are not devoid of truth or even divine revelation, especially when what was intended to be the focal Assembly of God’s People refuses to listen. I find David Langness’ observation to be absolutely the case. And referring back to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, it is interesting that the role of conscience can be summed up as an inner voice pointing an individual  to making those moral decisions that result in them treating their fellow human beings as they would themselves. (Think about it – that is exactly how conscience works, for the actions it abhors are always detrimental to another individual or society as a whole). And it is the same with God’s Law: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal5:14). This correlation should not be such a surprise given that Paul also affirms that the conscience is the law of God written in the heart (Rom2:15)

However, when in the context of the inner conflict man by nature faces with regard to his fleshly and spiritual components, Paul writes: “Wretched man that I am; who will set me from the body of this death?”,  the solution is not the conscience – indeed that exacerbates the conflict in the same way as the written Law increases our awareness of our moral ineptitude. For do not misunderstand me: NATURAL LAW CANNOT SAVE THE SOUL, but those who, unlike the children of the devil, act positively towards it are justified within the Universal Covenant from which Cain defaulted. That is because, as has just been shown, responding positively to conscience invariably results in fulfilling the spirit of God’s Law which is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In turn that explains why Jesus affirmed that all who had shown compassion to the needy would be finally accepted into His Kingdom (Mt25 sheep – note religion is not so much as mentioned). For the soul going to heaven when the body dies is not what the Bible (or Paul) means by salvation – it pertains to preparation for glory (Rom8:17). In the meantime: “Who shall set me free from the body of this death?” – Natural law? NO: “I thank God it is through Jesus Christ (Rom7:25). Only through the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit can one be enabled to “possess one’s own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1Thes4:4) such that “our whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Thess5:23).  This is what it means to be saved and such ongoing sanctification is necessary for those who are to relate to God in the present and be partnered to His Son through eternity.

The human spirit and its faculty of conscience is not divine in itself but has been provided by One who is. In John Henry Newman’s words it is a “sufficient object of faith” and a “universal revelation” of God’s will for humane living. Those who by their acts of compassion and moral restraint affirm it to be such shall finally be accepted into God’s kingdom regardless of their religious beliefs (cf. Mt25:35-40). They have effectively exercised faith towards God or, at least, such revelation as they have received of Him and His law. And in instinctively showing compassion to the needy they are deemed to have served the Son of Man Himself (v40). However, those who would be SAVED from the moral ineptitude and guilt arising from their degenerate intellectual vessel (Rom7:23) and who shall go on to receive an inheritance with the sanctified (Acts20:32) require not just a working spirit and functioning conscience but the Holy Spirit and that of Christ’s united to their own (1Cor6:17).

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit concerning these matters.

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GOD’S ELECT – THE WORLD’S LOSERS

28 We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Rom8:28-30)

Finally, in this theology-packed chapter Paul affirms the indisputable biblical reality of the predestination of God’s elect. He has already emphasized the fact that those who are called in such a way were no better by nature than anyone else, which is not to say that that the kind of people they would become was not foreknown by God – “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son”. What else do we know about God’s elect? Basically, in the world’s terms they are a bunch of losers: “For consider your calling, brothers, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (1Cor1:25-27). Losers indeed, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt16:25). Such are required to lose their very lives and what they might have wished for them in worldly terms – so that they might faithfully serve Christ. See again God’s equitable justice – most folk (whom God equally loves and as we saw in the last post intends to deliver from their current bondage of corruption – v21) are not required to make such a sacrifice. But as we also saw in the last post, those who do shall be rewarded beyond human imagining.

If only the mighty glory-seekers of this world were aware of what they were going to be missing in the ages to come (cf. Mt19:29-30).  That is why certain inessential mysteries of the Kingdom have been veiled through much of the gospel age even from the Church: so that the rich, the mighty, the proud and the glory-hunters might be detracted by the shame of the cross of Christ and humble cruciform service as His disciples; whilst the humble, the gentle, the poor in spirit and in material possessions who are rich in faith will be the true inheritors of the Kingdom and the Earth. Such is the wisdom of God.

So much for their rewards, but why were such people called in the first place? It is to become conformed to the image of Jesus so that He might become the Firstborn among many brethren. He gave His whole life in the service of God and humanity and they ended up crucifying Him for it. Surely, the ultimate Loser in human terms, yet from God’s perspective and in terms of eternal realities, it is so, so different. God has appointed Jesus heir of all things (Heb1:2) and as we saw earlier in the chapter, His disciples shall be His co-heirs (v17). But in the meantime:

 “’For Your sake we are killed all day long; we were regarded as sheep to be slaughtered’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (vv36-37)

RESTORING EARTHLY CREATION

16 It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—that is, providing we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us19 For the eagerly awaiting creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation as a whole will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only that, but also we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, being the redemption of our body24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, through perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

A short passage that (when appropriately translated as above) affirms essential elements of what is being disclosed in The Little Book of Providence**. For the passage itself concerns providence in terms of God’s intentions towards his whole earthly creation. Contrary to the cosmic horror that flows from the all-of-grace theology of Augustine and Calvin, what Paul is indicating here is thoroughly Good News from a loving, equitable and magnanimous God. The sheer goodness of His Nature is (or shall be) thoroughly intelligible to human reason; less so His cosmic strategy, which as Paul will shortly exclaim has been quite extraordinary (Rom11:33). That was in the context of the Jew’s unfaithfulness pathing the way for Gentiles to be raised to eternal life (cf. Acts11:18). Romans8 concerns the restoration of all redeemable creation, the key points being:

  1. Those who suffer for the sake of Christ in the present shall be glorified with Him in the ages to come (vv17-18)
  2. That shall commence when Christ reappears and the elect “sons of God”, still living or resurrected are gathered to Him (v19 cf. 1Thes4:14-17))
  3. Verse 20 relates the extraordinary fact that God’s earthly creation was subjected to a futile, corrupted existence was in accordance with the sovereign purpose and counsel of God. Such will make little sense to many until it has been perceived that the existence of evil and its resultant suffering are constitutive elements in God’s plan to elevate His Son and the people the Father has chosen for Him to unimaginable heights of glory (clue: Heb2:10). This mystery has already been touched upon in recent posts and is examined in detail in my book’s theodicy (chapter seven).
  4. God’s Plan of Loving Goodness is not only for the benefit of God’s elect who, says Paul “have received the first fruit of the Spirit” but for the whole redeemable creation “that will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (vv21-23)
  5. As for God’s elect, they are to be adopted into God’s own family. But that cannot be fully realized until the root cause of their continuing moral malaise (and everyone else’s) has been resolved, namely the redemption of the body (v23 cf. Rom 7:23-24).

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HOLY SPIRIT OR HUMAN SPIRIT?

13εἰ (If) γὰρ (for) κατὰ (according to) σάρκα (flesh) ζῆτε (you live), μέλλετε (you are about) ἀποθνήσκειν (to die); εἰ (if) δὲ (however) πνεύματι (by the Spirit) τὰς (the) πράξεις (deeds) τοῦ (of the) σώματος (body) θανατοῦτε (you put to death), ζήσεσθε (you will live)14ὅσοι (As many as) γὰρ (for) Πνεύματι (by the Spirit) Θεοῦ (of God) ἄγονται (are led), οὗτοι (these) υἱοί (sons) εἰσιν (are) ⇔ Θεοῦ (of God).

What’s with the hieroglyphics? – you may ask. It is to demonstrate how Paul’s writings have been translated from the Greek by many in such a way as to obscure the existence of the human spirit and the related theological reality that it is the believer and not the Holy Spirit who is required to “put to death the deeds of the body” to sustain spiritual life.

Look carefully at verse 13 and note how πνεύματι has been translated as “Spirit” (by  implication the Holy Spirit) whereas verse 14 which is indeed referring to the Holy Spirit is in its Greek form “Πνεύματι” with a capital Pi “Π” rather than a lower case Pi “π”.  The above interlinear quotation is taken from Bible Hub and is also utilized by the Berean Interlinear and literal Bible. The Greek text being used is the highly regarded “Nestle 1904” version and corresponds exactly in this regard to the Textus Receptus followed by the Reformers translating the English Authorized Version of the Bible – except that they disregarded whether the Greek text of a particular verse specified πνεύματι (spirit) or Πνεύματι (Spirit) so as to support their particular theological understanding.

 It should be pointed out that the original New Testament text was written entirely in capital letters with no spaces or punctuation. So whether the Greek word for spirit was capital or lower case Pi is a scribe-based rather than genuinely textually based issue. But the point is that in all cases my interpretation is in line with that of the scribes with regard to whether Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. For I affirm again with Paul that man consists of body, soul and spirit (1Thes5:23, cf. Rom8:16). Following precisely the aforementioned Greek text (in terms of whether it should be “spirit” or “Spirit”), the first half of Romans 8 would be translated as follows: 

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spiritFor those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are in accord with the spirit, the things of the spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living in accord with the flesh, you are going to die; but if by the spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—that is, providing we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom8:1-16 applying “Spirit” and “spirit” in line with Greek text) It can be verified HERE.

Apart from these lexical considerations, the passage itself is packed with theology, all of it supporting the biblical synopsis set out in the Little Book of Providence and summarized in my 95 theses. Some aspects were covered in recent posts, e.g. the Christian’s need to fulfil the spirit of the law (verse 4). Note also from verse 7 that the mind set on satisfying the desires of the flesh is hostile towards God because “it does not subject itself to the law of God” , indicating of course that such is still a requirement. Not a slavish return to observance of the letter of Torah (v15) but to fulfil its ultimate purpose (love for God and neighbor) in heart and action (Gal5:14). Also, the fact that if Christ’s righteousness were imputed to the believer as so many believe it would contradict what Paul is writing here. about the need to put to death the deeds of the body in order to sustain spiritual life. And if verse 17 is not a theology of glory I don’t know what is: the Spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—that is, providing we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him”. Yet as is made clear earlier in the passage, such a glorious destiny for Christ’s faithful disciples has been made possible by the fruits of Christ’s Passion and the theology of the Cross. And as will be touched upon as we examine the second half of chapter 8, this is not unconnected to the mystery of God’s extraordinary strategy to permit evil to enter the world and even allow His arch-enemy to have a temporary hand in running and corrupting it (next post).

THE BODY OF THIS DEATH

The second half of Romans 7 is such an important passage in the context of what is being disclosed in the Little Book of Providence that I will quote directly from the book** in this instance. It contains an amplified version of the passage in question and shows how I believe Augustine and later interpreters have misunderstood it.  

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“Pauline anthropology and its moral outworking

The moral predicament especially for those outside the Church concerns their inherited disordered nature and the struggle the unaided human’s spirit has in controlling it. The non-Christian’s plight is best summed up by Paul in this passage in Romans, which I have amplified in brackets for it is at the heart of misunderstandings concerning the human condition:

For we know that the law (of God – implanted in the spirit and referenced by the conscience) is spiritual but I am fleshly sold into bondage of sin. For what I am doing I scarcely comprehend: for I am not practicing what I would like to do but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the law, acknowledging that the law is good. So it is no longer I who am really doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh – for the willing (to do good) is present in me, but the doing of the good is not: for the good that I want to do I fail to do; rather I practice the very evil which I do not want to do. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I (i.e. my soul/spirit) am not the one really doing it, but the sin that dwells in me (i.e. in my flesh).  I find then the principle that evil is present in me (being) the one who wants to do good (showing at heart I am a good person), for I joyfully concur with the law of God in my inner man (affirmed by my conscience and the peace I receive when I do what is right), but I see a different law (the triple concupiscence) in the members of my body (as their senses are processed through the brain) waging  war against the law in my mind (referenced by the conscience) and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am; WHO WILL SET ME FROM THE BODY OF THIS DEATH? Thanks be to God (it is) through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind (i.e. my eternal psyche) am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin [Rom7:14-25 from Greek with my amplifications in brackets]

Commenting on this crucial passage in his autobiographical “Confessions”, Augustine is either being woefully inept or deviously subtle, the reader must decide which: [I have highlighted the phrases that contradict each other]

“For though a man be delighted with the law of God according to the inward man, what shall he do about that other law in his members, “fighting against the law in his mind” and captivating him in the law of sin that is in his members? Thou art just O Lord but we have sinned, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and thy hand has grown heavily upon us and we are justly delivered over to that first sinner, the ruler of death, because he (Satan) turned our will to the likeness of his will, whereby he stood not in thy truth [Augustine’s “Confessions” Book VII Chapter 21 [1] 

On the credit side, Augustine, unlike many later commentators does not try to make a case that the Romans chapter 7 passage was referring to Paul as a Christian (contradicted absolutely by chapter 8 – below), the apostle is speaking of man by nature. But then observe Augustine’s outrageous conclusions – that it follows from Paul’s statement that mankind’s will has been conformed to that of Satan – as if the devil would ever delight in God’s law in his inner being. If man’s will had been turned to that of Satan’s, then it could never be “free” (as the earlier Fathers unanimously understood) but could only ever choose what is evil. Unlike Paul’s depiction there is no inner conflict in Satan’s mind, he is hateful at heart and unrestrained in his evil pursuits. Man, even in his fallen state is not. Satan and natural man are therefore quite different in nature, for the one has a living spirit referenced by a conscience, the other does not.

In terms of the more usual misrepresentation of this passage as referring to the Christian, Paul goes on in chapter 8 to confirm that the inability to practice what is right through enslavement to the opposing law of the “body of this death” is categorically not the state of affairs for the Christian, who is divinely enabled such that he is “not living in accordance with the flesh but in accordance with the spirit” (Rom8:40). Paul says at the start of the passage being considered that the person he was depicting as himself was “in bondage to sin”: he therefore cannot be referring to the Christian – it is man by nature. For –

You (Christians) however live not by the flesh but by the spirit since the Spirit of God has made a home in you (Rom8:9)

Clearly, the person the apostle depicts as himself in the passage is living by the flesh: he desires good but consistently fails to practice it because he gives in to the lusts of the body and practices what is evil. That assuredly is not the Apostle Paul or else he would be contradicting his own teaching that any who do live in such a way shall die (verse below). With the help of the Holy Spirit, any Christian (let alone Paul) can and should gain the victory:

We have no obligation to the flesh to be dominated by it. If you do live in such a way you shall die, but if by the spirit you put to death the habits originating in the body, you will have Life (Rom8:12-13)

[Excerpt from The Little Book of Providence – chapter 3]

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I am bound to return to this subject for it also reaffirms what I indicated in recent posts that whilst Christian salvation does pertain to the healing of the soul, it is not the God-given soul, spirit or “inner man” that is the source of fallen man’s moral degradation – it is the procreated intellectual vessel with which the soul (more precisely the spirit) is associated at birth (Ps51:5), being Paul’s “body of this death”. As Scripture goes on to affirm, when the body dies “the dust will return to the earth as it was and the spirit will return to God WHO GAVE IT” (Eccles12:7NKJV).

So there is a sense in which human sinfulness is a temporary problem resolved by physical death (which is why man’s life span was shortened for his own benefit – Gen6:3 cf. Hebrew). But the problem is potentially more enduring. For referring more inclusively to the soul rather than the spirit (often confused with the Holy Spirit in Paul’s writings), the Apostle Peter confirms that the impurities of the flesh WAR AGAINST the human soul (1Pet2:11). Notice how the flesh and the spiritual essence of the soul are pitted against each other – and it is the same in those verses in which Paul contrasts flesh with spirit or exhorts the spirit to “put to death the deeds of the body”. It is not the Holy Spirit he is directly referring to but the human spirit or “inner man” as in the featured passage. As with any conflict, damage can be inflicted, and “fleshly passions” can and do corrupt the soul. Still more importantly they disrupt an individual’s relationship with God, which is what Paul and the Bible more generally mean by death. That is as opposed to eternal life: For THIS is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3).

This is why a remedy was needed for those who were to relate to God and His Christ whilst still in human flesh. It is so their souls could be progressively healed and fitted for future glory. In their case the forensic benefits of Christ’s atonement (pardon for sin), provided to the many, do not suffice.  God’s elect need the power of sanctifying grace in order to serve God now in spirit and in truth. As we have seen from Paul’s earlier teaching in Romans, such is freely provided to those who “having been reconciled to God by Christ’s death, are to be saved by participating in His Life” (Rom5:10)


[1] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110107.htm

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SPIRIT RATHER THAN LETTER

So that, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the Law through the body of the Christ, for your becoming another’s, who out of the dead was raised up, that we might bear fruit to God; for when we were in the flesh, the passions of the sins, that [are] through the Law, were working in our members, to bear fruit to the death; and now we have ceased from the Law, that being dead in which we were held, so that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. What, then, shall we say? the Law [is] sin? let it not be! but the sin I did not know except through Law, for also the covetousness I had not known if the Law had not said: `Thou shalt not covet;’ and the sin having received an opportunity, through the command, did work in me all covetousness — for apart from law sin is dead. And I was alive apart from law once, and the command having come, the sin revived, and I died; 10 and the command that [is] for life, this was found by me for death; 11 for the sin, having received an opportunity, through the command, did deceive me, and through it did slay [me];12 so that the Law, indeed, [is] holy, and the command holy, and righteous, and good. 13 That which is good then, to me hath it become death? let it not be! but the sin, that it might appear sin, through the good, working death to me, that the sin might become exceeding sinful through the command. [Rom7:4-13 Young’s Literal Translation]

It doesn’t get any easier, does it? Every Christian has their favourite passage of Scripture, but this is not one of mine. That is not because it challenges what I believe the Spirit has shown me to be the truth, but because it has the potential to be misrepresented as supporting a form of antinomianism. My heart, as I believe was the case with Paul, continues to be with the psalmist who wrote:

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law
And keep it with all my heart
.
35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it. (Ps119:33-35)

Truly, anyone who does not delight in God’s Law in his heart and does not wish to keep it in spirit is not a disciple of Christ. As we have previously observed “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14). The letter of the Law is impossible to keep but not the spirit, and as James affirms the CHRISTIAN IS EXPECTED TO FULFIL IT (James2:8). But still more to the point Jesus taught the same and He cannot be contradicted, even by an Apostle.

Paul, even in this passage affirms that the Law itself is “holy, righteous and good”. The problem is that it exposes human sin, indeed brings it to life – for where there is no law sin is not imputed (Rom4:15 & 5:13), or as he says here, “apart from the law, sin is dead” (v8). As you see, he is adamant about the matter, which is why I now understand him to be referring to his early childhood in verse nine when he says that he was alive without the law once, but when the law (in the sense of a knowledge of right and wrong) came, “sin revived and I died”. For I say again with Paul, sin is never imputed to those ignorant that they have done wrong, still less to those who earnestly believe themselves to be doing right. This simple truth has profound providential implications to historical cultural and ethnic realities and of course to those who die in infancy. But as I explain in my book**, God’s broader benign providence is not primarily based on the fact of ignorance but to the way in which Christ’s atonement avails at the forensic level for all who respond in faith to God’s law in their heart, being their conscience (Rom2:15) – deferring to it and so seeking to do what they sense to be right. As Matthew 25 “sheep”, they show compassion towards their fellow human beings, which as we have also shown from the teaching of Paul fulfils the intentions of God’s Law.

Yet this gracious and historically eluded provision of common grace via natural precepts is quite inadequate for those chosen to be God’s Royal Priesthood on Earth and the future corporate bride of His Son. As Paul has recently affirmed, that requires participation in the life of Christ and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. And it is why special revelation in the form the of the Law and Prophets was first provided to the seed of Isaac. But as the Apostle was also aware, there was a problem with how this Torah had been utilized, especially by certain religious leaders that Jesus had also taken to task. They were obsessed with the minutiae of rules, regulation and liturgy and indeed had added to it, laying impossible burdens upon their fellows, whilst entirely neglecting the weightier matters of social justice, mercy and love, that both Jesus and Paul had emphasized is really what the Law was intended to be about.

That is why Jesus went on to “abolish in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances”. Forthat also acted as something that divided Jew from Gentile. A distinctive feature of Paul’s Good News was that God in  Christ now wishedto make in Himself of two, one new man that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) to God in one body” (Eph2:15-16). And of course, compliance with the letter of the Law was not and never had been the grounds of justification within the Covenants of promise as some of Paul’s detractors were insisting. They, he said, had “turned again to the weak and beggarly elements (of the Torah), desiring again to be in bondage, observing days and months and seasons and years (Gal4:9-10)“.

For all these reasons the Law (Torah) had to go. But, says Paul, that was so that those chosen for Christ might bear fruit unto God (v4). Such could never have been achieved by slavishly observing rules and regulations that in view of the weakness of the flesh we continually failed to keep. Instead it would be by obeying from the heart the spirit of God’s Law focussed on service to God and love for neighbor. Regrettably, this meaning has been lost in many translations of verse 6 that take Paul to be referring to the work of the Holy Spirit and virtually placing that in opposition to observing the Law. As is clearer from the Young’s Literal Translation I have utilized (above) Paul is simply contrasting the letter of the law with the spirit of the law. Whilst the Holy Spirit does indeed enable the believer to love and serve in a way he could not previously, as pointed out in the previous post, the third person of the Trinity is not a human faculty, it is still the individual who has to produce the fruit. And, surely, that cannot be achieved if one continues to idolize, kill, hate, steal, cheat and lie – in other words if one fails to observe God’s law, not in slavish observance to the letter resulting in failure and guilt, but from the heart in spirit and in truth resulting in eternal life.  

** Free PDF HERE

SLAVES TO RIGHTEOUSNESS

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have fruit to sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom6:15-23)

As I observed in the previous post, Paul is undoubtedly difficult to understand but he becomes downright impossible if one is starting from a flawed theological position such as believing that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer as I once understood. This will become even more obvious as we delve deeper into Paul’s letters, but even here one should observe from verse 16 (highlighted) that if someone continues to serve sin (which as we shall see pertains to gratifying the sensual desires of the body) then that results in death. That applies regardless of whether or not one professes to be a Christian. [By “death” Paul is not referring to “damnation” but the absence or cessation of a living communion with God in the present [see earlier post.] In Paul’s language the Christian must become a slave to righteousness.

This is not an optional extra or merely an act of gratitude “to thank Jesus for saving us” or suchlike, it is a requirement even though (confusingly to some in this context) the apostle confirms we are no longer under the Law but under grace. But as Paul  will shortly and more unequivocally assert “If you live according to the flesh you shall die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you shall live (Rom8:13). I have highlighted the key word which is “you”,  not the spirit, which as will be explained when we get to it is not referring to the Holy Spirit but the human spirit, the existence of which Paul acknowledges even if Augustine and the Reformers did not (cf. Rom1:9; 1Thes5:23). Even if Paul were referring to the Holy Spirit, He could never be a human faculty, He is the divine Helper – it is still the individual who has to “put to death the deeds of the body” – i.e. suppress the unrighteous sensual instincts of the procreated intellectual vessel as considered in the previous post. Clearly, if Christ’s righteousness were imputed that exaltation would be superfluous and there would be no question of the Christian dying, but Paul makes no such qualification here or anywhere else (and the writer to the Hebrews is even more adamant as we shall see).

Likewise in verse 22 of our passage, when Paul says we have been “freed from sin”, it is obvious from the context that he is not merely referring to the guilt of sin, but its power and the need to refrain from its habitual practice. For, as he says, that is in order to produce fruit leading to sanctification. Again, such is a prerequisite for those who are being fashioned after the One they are destined to partner in the age to come. At that point no one shall be “clothed in righteousness divine” in the sense of having souls accredited or infused with a righteousness that is not their own. Our souls shall be what they have become through life, aided by the resources of the Gospel, having “become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (v17).

But what we shall be clothed in is a new and perfect body. As Paul is consistently affirming, contrary to the central emphasis of Western theology, it is not the soul but the procreated body and brain – our current “tabernacle” that is the source of humanity’s moral ineptitude, causing even the Christian to groan (2Cor5:4). As for the rest, “we know that the whole creation groans and labours in birth-pangs.  Not only they but even we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, being the redemption of our body (Rom8:22-23).  But the soul it shall re-clothe shall be entirely our own. For God and His Christ will wish to have a relationship with the real us – the people  we have become in life through being learners of the Christ, having been united to Him through partaking of His body and blood (Jn6:56) and divinely aided by the Holy Spirit.

DISEMPOWERING THE BODY OF SIN

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be disempowered, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is acquitted from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be 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 lusts13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Rom6:1-13)

Comprehending Paul is never easy but if you have grasped what I was saying in the previous post concerning the nature of original sin, the above passage should begin to make some sense. We saw that the source of fallen man’s problem is not his God-given soul but the procreated intellectual vessel with which it is associated at birth**. God does not supply what is rotten – the soul itself is innocent, but it is also pliable and therefore able to be corrupted by association with the intellectual vessel (i.e. body and brain) it inhabits. Remember that when the physical body and brain are buried or incinerated the soul is itself conscious and memory-retaining as Scripture affirms; the rich man wondering why he must experience suffering in Hades was told by Abraham to “remember that in your lifetime you received good things and likewise Lazarus evil things, that is why he is being comforted and you are tormented” (Lk16:25). So both body and soul are intellectual vessels derived from different sources, each with different laws or governing principles (Rom7:23). The passage under consideration shows how the matter is dealt with for those who are to relate to God in the present and be sanctified to receive a glorious inheritance as sons of God and corporate bride of Christ.

The key verse in this context is 6: “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be disempowered, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul’s “body of sin” or “old man” or “flesh” equates to the “body of this death” the apostle will go on to describe in chapter seven. Dying with Christ in baptism, the Christian is now to regard himself as dead to sin and alive to God. That is because the “body of sin” has been disempowered and the soul/spirit of the Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve the living God.

But this is by no means “all of grace” or a case of “let go and let God”. The process is aided by grace but mark Paul’s words: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” (vv12-13). It is not the work of the Holy Spirit alone – it requires the cooperation and disciplined effort of every disciple of Christ. Neither is perseverance in the matter assured as the writer to the Hebrews in particular will make absolutely clear. Paul was well aware of that when he wrote: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having achieved it as yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil3:13-14). Hopefully,  at the end of our lives we shall also say with Paul: “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 to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2Tim4:7-9).

**This supports the creationist understanding of the soul’s origin maintaining that each person’s soul/spirit, i.e. that which is separated from the body at death, is not derived from sperm or ovaries but is created immediately by God and planted into the embryo procreated by the parents. Such has been the prevalent view within Eastern Orthodoxy and is also the official teaching of the Roman Church albeit Augustine had wavered from it. More detailed explanation and historical background: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creationism_%28soul%29

THE UNIVERSAL EXCHANGE

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom5:12-21)

Another Pauline passage packed with theology – some familiar to most, other aspects, I suspect, less so.

Starting at the top Paul affirms the reality of original sin – because of Adam’s fault, sin and its consequences fell upon the human race “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (v14). Does that seem fair? –if God had left the matter there, possibly not. But thankfully He did not leave it there, and as hinted at in the previous post the final outcome will be even better for humanity than if Adam had not sinned in the first place. But that will certainly not be apparent to many Christians as they currently perceive the matter, hence “The Little Book of Providence”** to reveal the true extent of God’s magnanimity and His wondrous plans for humanity – plans which so aggrieved certain members of the angelic race, especially You-know-Who, whilst those angels who were content within their own sphere and remained faithful are nevertheless filled with amazement and desirous to look into this matter (1Pet1:12).

Secondly, note that Paul affirms that where there is no law sin is not imputed. This is not just “Paul being Paul” as I used to think, it is gospel truth. God does not condemn individuals for that of which they are ignorant, albeit that their ignorance may result in their suffering in their earthly lifetime. That is the case with original sin and its consequences, but thankfully the remedy has already been provided. And that remedy functions at two levels resulting in three potential outcomes, as a careful analysis of Paul’s narrative reveals.

There is the universal exchange: “As through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (v18). “All” means all, but it does NOT mean that no one is to be condemned at final judgement. That would be to confuse “justification” in the present with final judgement (as many Christians have). But thanks to that universal exchange, no one (least of all an unbaptized baby) will go to Hell to “pay the price for Adam’s sin”. Those who are punished will be those who have contributed to the destruction of the Earth and have acted inhumanely towards its inhabitants (cf. Rev11:18; Mt25:45).

To discern the vastly broader benign providence I am outlining one also needs to distinguish between “justification of life” (v18) and “reigning in Life” (v17). One pertains to the Universal Exchange in which all are justified from the guilt of Adam’s sin; the other pertains to what is even more graciously provided to “those who receive super-abundant grace and  the gift of righteousness” (v17). As I have previously outlined, God is being entirely fair to all (or rather equally generous). That is in view of what is required of the latter grouping: “If we (Christians) suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him (2Tim2:12).

Again Paul is alluding here to the elect of God’s  participation in the life of Christ (previous post):  “For we are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2Cor4:11). Or as Jesus expressed it even more starkly: “Whoever wishes to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk9:24). For as Paul will later affirm, God’s justice towards His elect and everyone else is both righteous and thoroughly intelligible: “(Your tribulations) are a witness to the righteous judgement of God, that you may be counted worthy to inherit the Kingdom of God for which you suffer seeing also that is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those that persecute you” (2Thes1:5,6).

More will need to be said about the precise nature of original sin. For whilst Adam’s guilt has been dealt with by what I have referred to as the universal exchange, the impact of our first parents’ disobedience continues through the body we inherit through procreation. It is what Paul comes to refer to as “the body of this death” by which he is referring to the procreated intellectual vessel inherited from our parents, ultimately from Adam. When that is united at birth with  the spiritual essence that is our God-given soul, being that part of us that survives physical death, it creates a moral dichotomy and ineptitude from which those chosen for Christ must be delivered (Rom7:24-25). Only then can they relate to God whilst in mortal flesh and through the spiritual resources provided to them be progressively sanctified and fashioned after the One with Whom they will one day be gloriously partnered. The matter will be covered in detail when we arrive at Romans 7.

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PAUL’S THEOLOGY OF GLORY

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained access by faith into the divine favor in which we stand; and we exalt in hope of sharing in  God’s gloryAnd not only this, but we also exalt in  our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings About perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, -hope; and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom5:1-11)

Proceeding through the letter of Romans, I am not endeavouring to provide a running commentary but am drawing out those aspects of Paul’s teaching which in the past had eluded me and in some cases were directly contradicted by what I then believed.

Firstly, the fact that Paul’s theology, although rooted as in this passage in the Cross of Christ and what it has achieved, is ultimately a theology of glory. That cannot be perceived from one particular passage but from his pastoral letters taken as a whole, as I hope will be demonstrated. So as result of the Cross (which in turn is a result of God’s permission of evil and suffering to come into the world) the Christian “exalts in the hope of God’s glory” (v2). And as some translations rightly discern that is not just a case of experiencing God’s glory (as all shall do), the Christian will come to share in it. That should not be such a surprise given that the elect of God are destined to be the corporate bride of Christ. And as Paul later would  affirm to Timothy – “If we endure, we shall also reign together with Christ” (2Tim2:12) which sounds pretty glorious to me.

This in turn gives insight into what is perhaps the ultimate mystery of God – His willingness to permit the Evil One to enter the world to tempt and fatally damage the masterpiece of His creation: humanity. For if there had been no sin and the suffering that comes with it there would have been no need for the Saviour or His Cross. None would have come to share in His suffering, and as is being disclosed, suffering is a prerequisite for those who are to be raised to divinity and attain to God. Such a principle even applied to the incarnate Word, who having humbled Himself as a man “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb12:2). And as the same writer to the Hebrews astonishingly relates: “It was fitting (even for Jesus Christ), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering, for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren  (Heb2:10-11). Truly, a theology of the cross and a theology of glory (the latter an anathema to the Protestant Reformers) hereby wonderfully coalesce.  An instrument of torture could never have been a theological end in itself; rather, the cross is a vital means to an end; and that end is glory.

Glory, that is for Christ and all who, having shared in His death, come to participate in His Life. “For being reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in His life (v10). Note the tenses: having been reconciled and justified we shall be saved – salvation is a continuing process which involves a participation in the Life of Christ. Quite what Paul means by that should become clearer as we proceed.

Exploring the mystery of divine providence