– by Deji Yesufu
AFRICHURCH MONTHLY SUMMIT (August 2019): DAY ONE
YOUR SIN AND YOUR SALVATION
Text: Hebrew 2:1-4
The phrase “So great a salvation” can be found in the text of scriptures Hebrew 2:3. If we would be able to examine the text properly in the light of our exhortation today, it would be wise we look closely at the context, which would include verses 1 to 4.
The book of Hebrews is a book written to Jewish Christians that were suffering persecution in the first century. The central theme of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ and the redemption he wrought is BETTER than the Jewish religious system. To therefore argue this case aright, the writer had introduced the person of Christ in chapter one of the book by explaining that he was so great he was greater than the angels. In latter chapters, he would show that he was greater than Aaron and also greater than Moses. In essence, Christ is the Son of God and as Son he shared the very substance of God. He was God himself. Therefore he was GREATER than all indeed.
In line with the theme of this greatness, in chapter two the writer begins to remind his readers of this “so great a salvation” they had received. To therefore prosecute an examination of this great subject, it is incumbent on me to look carefully at some key themes in the passage. In the course of these three days, I would be looking at three key themes:
- Your Sin and Your Salvation (verses 1-2)
- A Great Salvation and a Sure Salvation (verses 3)
- Do Not Neglect this Great Salvation (verses 3-4)
Your Sin and Your Salvation
The internet has done great good to our time. In this same vein, it has brought with it much evil. One of the troubles of our times is the emergence of overnight reformers. Men and women who have not been taught and who do not have sound working experience in the Christian life have become overnight teachers of the Bible and they are commanding everyone to listen to them. One of them has been championing the concept of “sin is dead”. It is a very interesting concept and I have sought to find out more about it but I have not been able to lay my hand on a book that was written on it by one of its proponents. Suffice to say that from the many debates I have read on the subject, the whole concept goes like this:
Christ has died and obtained eternal redemption for the saints. In the process, we have been crucified with Christ and have also risen with him unto new life. This new life begets a certain reality in us: sin is dead in us. We can longer sin. Even when we commit something that looks like sin, it is righteousness before God. We have the righteousness of Christ; we are saved, we are redeemed. Halleluyah!!!
The biblical position for this doctrine would be taken from Romans 7:8 – “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.” English experts would agree with me that the phrase “without the law sin was dead” can be replaced with “without the law sin is dead” and very little is difference in meaning would be found in the text. I want to assume that this is what these neo-reformers are trying to tell us. They are saying essentially that a Christianity that is devoid of commitment to the laws of Moses is a Christianity that would not be preoccupied with the keeping and the breaking of these laws, in the process it would be a Christianity where sin would essentially be non-existent. Sin would be dead.
Is this what Paul is teaching in Romans 7? Is Paul saying that Christians are no longer called to keep the laws of Moses? Is he saying that in doing this sin would be dead in us?
Certainly we cannot run away from text like Romans 7:4-6 (read).
One of the beauties of theology is that it is not possible for us to reach a conclusion on a doctrinal matter until we examine every other text of scripture that teaches on this concept. We would not need to go too far from Romans 7 before we begin to have trouble with this concept of “sin is dead” and “there are no laws for Christians to keep”.
Let us examine Romans 3:27-31 (read).
What does Paul mean by the phrase “we uphold the law”? If we are indeed dead to the law, what law are we today left to uphold? To reach this conclusion, we have to look holistically at the New Testament.
Paul’s argument against the Judaizers of his time is well documented. The Judaizers were the fellows in Acts 15 who insisted that those who had come to faith in Christ Jesus must be circumcised. Paul and other apostles opposed them. Yet, we still see a concept of “upholding the law” in Pauline theology. What then does this mean? These are my humble submission to the matter:
Regarding the laws that God gave Moses and the people of Israel, we would have to come to the place where we would agree that there were distinctions in them. Some had a permanent nature to them; while others had a temporal nature to them. The permanent ones had to do with the moral structure of every man that God created. The temporal laws has to do with the nationalistic structure in them. God ruled Israel as a theocracy. In the process they were to be a nation given to the worship of Jehovah; they were also to be a nation that would be run like every other nation. For this to happen, God gave moral, civil and ceremonial laws to Israel through Moses. The moral laws are the ten commandment; they are the laws that I would argue are of a permanent nature because they are laws that has to do with the governing of the human make up.
The civil and ceremonial laws were of a temporary nature. They were laws that has to do with the running of a civil nation – the country Israel – and the proper running of the temple. With the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s salvation is now extended to the all the world and not Israel alone. Therefore civil laws would not subsist. The same goes with the laws that governed sacrifices at the temple. Christ is now the temple for God’s people; therefore there is no need for ceremonial laws.
However, the change from the Old to a New Covenant has not nullified the exact make-up of every man. The laws that God enumerated for the proper function of the human being, the Ten Commandments, are still fully functional today. Just as they were operational even before Moses. When scripture speaks of the end of the law, it refer to the civil and ceremonial laws. But when scriptures speak of “upholding the law”, it refers to the moral laws. Therefore as born again Christians, we must keep the laws that says “do not steal… do not commit adultery… do not covet…” etc.
But there is more: if the moral laws are still alive and well, it means our own sins are still alive and well. Your sins are not dead. Why? Follow me in my argument.
When Paul uses phrases like “end of the law…” or “died to the law…” or “released from the law…” in Romans 7, he is speaking about our deliverance from the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law. Yet he does mention the moral law, because when he says in verse 7: “…for I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said ‘You shall not covet’…” Here Paul is making reference to the tenth commandment. Clearly a reference to the moral law.
So while in one hand Paul is saying we have died or been released from the law, he mentions in other parts of the text that the law is not sin, the law is good and the law is holy. He is saying all these because, I am convinced, he believes that there is still a place for some aspect of the laws of Moses in the Christian life. And that place is in the following verses:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh and I am sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want…” Romans 7:15-24 (read all).
Brethren the duty of the law is to reveal our sins to us. That is the whole argument of Romans 7. Romans 7 is not saying that sin is dead; rather Romans 7 is saying sin is alive and well. For many years men have debated who Romans 7 may be speaking about. Some say it is talking about Paul in his unregenerate state; others say it is talking about a Christian Paul. I join the reformed tradition that interpret these verses as Paul speaking about his born again self. A word that he uses in verses 24 is quite instructive: “wretch”. In recent times I have been viewing the YouTube videos of Todd Friel called “wretched” and despite the humor they come with, I am not sure I have seen more gospel centered preached like his in a long time. Brethren we are sinners; brethren we are wretches. God wants us to know that and God always wishes we remember that. If you forget but you are honest with yourself, your sins will remind you.
As we bring this discussion to a close, let me propose to another thesis: our salvation is great because of what we contributed to it. Our salvation is great because of the sin we brought into it. The reformed tradition states that we are saved by the sovereign grace of God and we added nothing to our salvation. This is the gospel truth. I would however say that our salvation is mighty, glorious and joyful because of the sin we brought into it. Three examples will suffice here.
We would remember the story of the sinful woman who saw Jesus and broke a jar of perfume, poured it on his feet and began to wipe his feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). His guests murmured in their hearts that if Jesus knew who this lady was he would not have allowed her to touch him. In response Jesus said that this lady understood grace. She understood being forgiven much and thus she loved much. The depth of the appreciation of our salvation is only commiserate with the depth of the sins we brought into it. Paul would remain a slave for Christ all of his life because he understood himself to be the least of all the saints. The depth of your appreciation of your salvation is only commiserate with how much you know you have been forgiven.
The second allusion is to what Peter said of angels and how they view salvation. In 1 Peter 1:12, the Bible speaks of angels looking on the whole redemption story with interest. Why is the story of redemption different for angels? Simply this: angels are not sinners. They rejoice over those who are being redeemed but they do not have a salvation story. They have never been in a fallen state and so they do not know the joy of personal redemption. You should think about that and thank God for his mercies.
Lastly, Martin Luther had an assistant Philip Melanchthon. After Luther’s death he went on to be a great theologian himself; helping to establish Lutheranism in Europe. At a time Melanchthon was a very conscious Christian. He would not allow himself to be caught in any obvious sin. Luther felt Melanchthon was not enjoying the grace of God. So one day Luther said to him: “sin lustfully so that grace may abound to you…” Theologians say that this is the most controversial statement Luther ever said. Luther was however not encouraging his lieutenant to sin; he was however saying that we would never appreciate the greatness of salvation until we understand the depth of the sins we were delivered from.
This perspective of deliverance from sin is not a one-time thing. It is not something that happens at the point of conversion alone. The argument of Paul in Romans 7 is that this is a daily realization: daily we understand that we are sinners and daily we appreciate the glory of the grace of God that could save sinners like us. Salvation from sin is the gospel message and only those who have a practical knowledge of this reality can appreciate the greatness of the salvation Christ has wrought for us. Paul ends his discuss in Romans 7 with a poignant statement:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25)
Jesus Christ alone saves us from the depravity of our sins. But even after our salvation, two things would still remain with us: the law of God which we must serve and obey from the heart. And the law of sin which our flesh reveals to us, especially in our failures to keep the laws of God adequately.
The Puritan Christopher Love, who is often quoted in recent times by Chris Arnzen of Iron Sharpens Iron Radio, used to say “Jesus Christ is a far greater Savior than you are a sinner”. What this statement means is what Romans 6:1 states: grace always abounds much more than the sins of the saints. So our confession is not that our sins are dead; our confession is that we are miserable and wretched sinners who have been saved by the grace of God. Our sins are alive; the grace of God however covers them. Amen.
Let us pray…