Can I Trust that God Will Change Me for the Better? (Study of Romans, Part 4: Romans 6:1–8:17)

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 4th part of this study, we consider, can we trust that God will change us for the better? This is the 4th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 .

Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by seeing and trusting that God is changing us into something glorious.

If God accepts us and forgives us no matter what, then why worry about what we do? That’s the question with which Paul begins his discussion of transformation in Romans 6:1. The answer? God not only accepts us, but He is transforming us and changing us into something glorious, into loving, patient, kind people of faith. A big part of our growth in joy, peace, and hope is learning to see, believe, and trust that God is changing us.

Four Metaphors for Transformation
Paul says that God not only is changing us, but He has definitively transformed us who believe in Christ into something new. He uses four metaphors to describe this transformation.

First, He compares the change to dying and rising again. Romans 6:4 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” At our baptism, we made a definitive commitment to break with the world and sin and to live unto God. In addition, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is working in us to lead us to a new way of life and out of the way of the sinful life. That is a sort of death and resurrection.

Second, He compares the change to serving different masters. “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17–18). We are now serving righteousness instead of sin. That is a definitive transformation.

Third, he compares the change to being released from a legal obligation as in the death of a spouse. He says that when a spouse is alive, a person is bound to that spouse, but when that spouse dies, then that person is no longer bound to the spouse. “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:5). We are released from the obligation to live for sin and now are bound to that which will bring us life.

Fourth, he compares the change to a law or principle that is at work in us. He calls the old law the law or principle of sin and death. When this law was at work in us, we might have thought that God’s commands were good, but we couldn’t do them (see Rom. 7). Now, there is a new law or principle at work in us. He says that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The Spirit of God is at work within us to bring about what is good and right. There is a new principle at work in us, one that drives us to God instead of away from Him.

What we need to believe is that a definitive transformation has taken place. We need to trust what God has already done. We need to see again and again that we have been transformed. We have died to sin and are alive unto God. Learning to see and think this way is what it means to grow in the virtue of faith.

God Is Transforming Us, and We Cooperate in the Transformation
This does not mean that there is no more change to take place. The remnants of sin remain, and God is still working within us. There is a process of transformation. This inward transformation still has to work itself out.

Paul explains this in a variety of ways. There is suffering that has to test and grow our character (Rom. 5:3–5). There is an offering of every part of our body to the service of God (Rom. 6:13). In a later section of the letter, Paul will call it presenting ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). The body is subject to death, but the Spirit is giving life (Rom. 8:10). You must put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13). These are ways that Paul talks about this process.

Notice that this is all work that is done by the power of God. However, that does not mean that we are passive in this transformation. Not at all. We are active. We should use every fiber of our being to join in what God is already doing within us. We offer our bodies. We put to death the deeds of the flesh. We work to change our thinking. We are to think of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. This is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (see Rom. 12:2). In all of these ways, we play an active role. Being changed into the glorious image of God is the highest blessing. Because of that we should do all we can to lean into this transformation, and God invites us and commands us to do so.

God Will Transform Us
We also have to ask, what is God transforming us into? It is something glorious. He is making us like His Son, Jesus. That’s our destiny (Rom. 8:29–30). He is transforming us into light. That’s why when we look at the future, we can have hope. Hope is a firm expectation that our future will be good. That’s what we’ll look at in the next section.

We need to grow in our faith so that we see more and more clearly that God not only has forgiven us and accepts us but is transforming us into something glorious. The more we can believe that, the greater will be our joy, peace, and hope. Note, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is the virtue of faith. It enables us to see and believe all that God is and all that He is doing for us.

A few months ago, I was thinking about what it would be like to no longer serve as a pastor. It would involve a lot of changes. What would be my place in life? How would I relate to people? What would my life be like? I did not know, and I felt uneasy and unsure about it. But then I found peace. I realized that whatever else happened to me, God was changing me into something glorious, and that was enough. Seeing and believing that fact could give me joy, peace, and hope no matter what happened. That’s the message God has for us in Romans 6:1–8:17.

Outline to Construct Your Own Teaching on Romans 6:1–8:17

  1. How does Paul describe the old person or the “flesh” in these passages?
  2. What are the ways that Paul describes the definitive transformation that has taken place in those who have believed in Jesus?
  3. What passages tell us that this transformation is ongoing?
  4. How does Paul describe our activity in this transformation process?
  5. How does Paul work here to increase their faith that God is changing them?

Questions for Application

  1. Do you believe that God has changed and is changing you? How could you make that more a part of your thinking and life?
  2. How is this teaching an encouragement to you that would enable you to develop joy, peace, and hope?
  3. What do you need to do to be more active in joining what God is already doing in transforming you?


Photo by Ricardas Brogys on Unsplash

Can I Trust that God Accepts Me? (Study of Romans, Part 3: Romans 3:21–5:21)

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 3rd part of this study, we consider, can I trust and believe that God accepts me? This is the 3rd of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Key Thought: We can grow in joy, peace, and hope by learning to see and trust that God accepts us.

Introduction to the Virtue of Faith
What will govern how we feel? How we see. How we perceive reality is how we will feel. If we perceive that we will have opportunities and successes, then we will feel hope. If we perceive that we will have no opportunities or successes, then we will not feel hope. If we see people as basically against us, it will be harder to feel love for them. If we see people as made to connect with us, then we will find it easier to love them.

When it comes to people, there is an element of faith in our relationship. I can’t literally “see,” for example, the love my wife has for me. However, in her greetings, her actions, and her talks with me, I can “see” it, in a manner of speaking, with my eyes.

With God, the element of faith is greater. We can’t see Him face to face. We can’t see with our eyes that He is present with us. We may not see that He loves us.

So, how do we find a way to “see” Him? We develop faith. Faith is the virtue or excellence of the soul that enables us to see God. It is what we read in Hebrews, Moses “persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).

Faith sees God and trusts that He is who He says He is, will act in accordance with who He is, and will do what He says He will do. Faith is what enables us to receive the righteousness from God that we could not have on our own. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).

Now, Paul was writing to the Roman Christians. He believed they already had this righteousness from God. They did not need to receive it. But they needed to learn to see it better and more clearly. That’s one of the big reasons he wrote this letter. It was not enough for them to simply believe once and be done with it. Faith is a virtue or character trait that needed to be developed. They needed to learn to see God more and more clearly. That was how they were going to return to joy, peace, and hope in their lives lives. So, it is for us as well.

In particular, Paul describes two things that we to “see” by faith that will enable us to experience joy, peace, and hope: justification and sanctification. We will consider justification in this post and sanctification in the next one.

Part 1 – Justification (Romans 3:21–5:21)
The Meaning of “to Justify”
Paul uses a word that is slightly difficult to translate to explain what God has done for us. It is a little bit of work to understand this word, but once you do, the wonder of what God has done in Jesus really opens up.

Paul writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). “All have sinned . . . but are justified freely by His grace” (Rom. 3:23 and 24). What does he mean by “being justified”?

“To justify” means “to declare righteous.” When you justify someone, you declare that they have done what is right. You don’t make them just or righteous. You say that they are. That is justification. The opposite of “to justify” is “to condemn.” So, if there is no condemnation, then there is justification (see Rom. 8:1).

One way to help someone understand this is to ask, can you justify God? To some people that seems strange. But, if “to justify” means “to declare righteous,” then you can certainly declare God to be righteous. Not only that, you should justify Him! That’s what the Bible says. Luke 7:29 tells us that the tax collectors and sinners justified God. How? They said He was right in saying they should repent. The Pharisees did not justify God. They said God was wrong when He told them to repent. Indeed, we can almost say that to be justified by God you must first justify God, but that’s just something to think about.

How God Justifies Us
Once we grasp the meaning of the word, we have a problem. How can God justify us? We are wicked and sinful. For God to say that we are righteous would seem to be a lie. Paul calls God the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). How can that be? It would seem like we should be condemned, not justified. It would seem that God is lying. How can He justify ungodly people? That is, how can He say that wicked, murderous, adulterous, immoral people are righteous?

God can justify us because God does not declare us righteous in ourselves. He declares us righteous because of what Jesus has done in His life and death and resurrection. Note well, “we are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). We are justified as a gift, but it is a gift because Jesus has paid.

Paul is aware of this tension. He indicates that there was a question of how God could be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). How can God do it? He sent Jesus as an atoning sacrifice. He took the wrath that the law demanded so that we would not have to experience it. Jesus was a true substitute.

How do we get what Jesus did for us applied to our account? We accept it as a gift by faith. We see the gift and say that we want it. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

Paul goes back to the Old Testament to shows that this is true. Abraham was justified by faith. David was forgiven freely by faith (Romans 4:1–8). Forgiveness is a close synonym to being justified. It’s just a slightly different angle. Anyone who is justified is also forgiven of anything in the past. That’s the way that God has always done it. Adam brought in condemnation, but Jesus brought in justification (Romans 5:12–21). Where sin abounded; grace superabounded (Romans 5:20, see the original Greek).

The Result of Being Justified
And what is the result of all this? We have peace with God. It is a fact that God’s wrath is turned away. This is the foundation of our peace. Our conscience may condemn us, but justification tells us that God loves us, is for us, and forgives us.

By faith, we can have a sense of God’s love that transcends all our circumstances. As Paul put it so powerfully, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). If we can truly perceive this by exercising the virtue of faith, then it will produce joy, peace, and hope.

I have had this experience innumerable times. I remember one time not too long ago that I was experiencing some real losses in my life. But then I read Romans 5:1, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I realized that I could have received the wrath of God, but God justified me instead through Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. This is the most important thing. Everything else is just gravy. That is a foundation for joy, peace, and hope, no matter what happens. The better we can see this through the eyes of faith, the more we will feel joy, peace, and hope. Paul wrote at the end of his letter, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me . . .” (Romans 15:14-15). Reminding ourselves of these things daily, hourly, and moment by moment will also grow our faith. It will enable us to have a foundation that is completely secure in the instabilities of this life. That’s the virtue of faith.

But that’s not the only thing we need to see by faith. We need to see that God is transforming us into something absolutely glorious. That’s what we will consider in the next section.

Outline to Construct Your Own Teaching on Romans 3:21–5:21

  1. What is the meaning of the word “to justify?” Do a careful study.
  2. Why is it such a problem to say God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5)?
  3. How is it that God is able to declare ungodly people righteous?
  4. How do we get the righteousness of God applied to us?
  5. What is the concrete result of being justified?
  6. How do we experience and perceive better the results of being justified?

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you understand what it means to be justified by faith and not by works?
  2. Have you been justified by faith in Jesus Christ?
  3. How are you doing at believing in your justification?
  4. What could you do to help you “see” it better?

Why Do We Lack Joy, Peace, and Hope? (Study of Romans, Part 2: Romans 1:18–3:19)

Key Thought: a lot of things can take our joy, peace, and hope, but the main problem is our alienation from God.

What is it that keeps us from joy, peace, and hope? Many things. We make many errors in our thinking that cause us to lose these things. We exaggerate threats, make outcomes too important, tie our happiness to the wrong things, don’t see the good that we have, etc.

But Paul saw all these things as rooted in one key problem: our failure to make God central to our thoughts and lives.

We do not do this because we do not know who God is. We do know. He has made Himself clearly known (Rom. 1:19–20). It is because we refuse to take this knowledge into account and give God the glory, praise, and place He deserves. We suppress the truth.

The result is that God gives us over to our own desires. One part of our error and sin is that we want things too much. Because we have given up on that which truly satisfies us (God), we have to try to find satisfaction elsewhere. We become obsessed with other things. We take whatever gives us pleasure and make life all about that.

When we make the pleasures or experiences of life the center of our lives, we will find other people blocking our way. That’s where wars, hatred, envy, jealousy, and rage come from. And that’s where we, as a human race, are stuck.

Into this failure to keep God in our hearts and thoughts as the supreme object of devotion, people offer religion as a way to get God back into our thoughts. God Himself gave a religious system to His people in the Old and New Testaments. However, oftentimes, those who possessed this religion used it to exalt and gratify themselves and clothed their injustice in the righteous claims of their religion. They knew the Words of God. They had them. But they didn’t obey them (see Romans 2).

People will use anything to exalt themselves and place themselves at the center. Ironically, religion can be a means of escaping God and exalting ourselves. We make ourselves bigger by identifying ourselves with the transcendent. This is not a problem simply of the Jewish people, though Paul addresses them. It is a human problem. There is no tool that we use to subdue pride that cannot become a tool of pride.

Why is this? Why do we take the best things and abuse them? Because humans are bent in the wrong direction. They have a sort of acquired allergy to God that keeps them from doing the right thing. Even the people who had the clearest instruction on God went the wrong way, including Paul himself! We cannot not establish righteousness and goodness on our own. We can’t get back to joy, peace, and hope without intervention.

At this point, it is important to remember that our problem is not simply that we cannot be what God has made us to be. God is opposed to what we have become. Sin is offensive to Him. The wrath of God is being revealed against all the bad things people do (Rom. 1:18).

Some people may be offended at this idea, but here is the problem. Would we really want a God who didn’t care that people did bad things? No. We would not want to worship a God like that. We would think He was unjust. The trouble is that we think all the bad things are outside us. Instead, we need to see that they are also inside us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 and see Paul’s summary of this in Romans 3:1-20).

When we get that, we will understand our need for reconciliation with God and transformation into a new people.

So, what is needed? A righteousness from God. That is what is revealed in the Gospel, the good news. That is what we will explore in the next section.


Outline for Making Your Own Study of Romans 1–3

  • Paul sees the basic problem as a failure to acknowledge God, think of God, and thank God.
  • This failure leads us to try and illegitimately find our satisfaction in things that can’t satisfy us.
  • This makes us mad at other people and causes all sorts of envy and evil thinking.
  • Religion seemed to be a help to this, but human pride even used this as a tool to escape God and His claims and look down on others.
  • The reason religion (even God-given religion) failed was because of human sinfulness, or our basic bent away from God.

Questions for Reflection

  • Where are you in your relationship with God?
  • What do you often seek to satisfy you? What happens when you don’t get there?
  • What can you use to make you feel good about your relationship with God that might hide your real need?
  • How do you feel about Paul’s evaluation of human beings as sinners?


Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Joy, Peace, and Hope for Everybody – An Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Study of Romans, Part 1: Romans 1:1–17)

Key Thought: Joy, Peace, and Hope are possible through reconnecting with God through the good news about Jesus

Joy. Peace. Hope. Aren’t these what all of us want? 1,900 years ago, a Christian missionary named Paul wrote to the new church in the city of Rome, Italy. At the end of this letter, he wrote a blessing or a benediction. In this blessing, he said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). This blessing expresses what He wants to see happen in the people He is writing to. He wants them to experience joy, peace, and hope.

Just think about this for a moment. What if we were the type of person who was filled with joy, peace, and hope? What would it be like to have hope for good things no matter what happened? What would it be like if the disappointments in the world could not shake us from a place of joy and peace? That’s what the missionary Paul wanted for the people in his life, indeed, for people all over the world. He dared to dream that joy, hope, and peace could be realities.

How We Get Joy, Peace, and Hope
He also had a very distinct idea of the types of things that would get people there. The main thing was a focus on God. He wanted them to enjoy the blessing of praising and glorifying God. That is generally the missing ingredient that keeps us from joy and peace. We are made to glorify and enjoy God. When we have God in our sights, every other problem, even if it is real, seems a bit smaller. The people who cause us trouble seem a little bit smaller.

But that doesn’t mean that people don’t matter. His blessing or hope was that people would not only glorify God but do it together. He had a sense that humans were made for each other and meant to work together. Humans can do amazing things when they work together, and they are made to work together. That’s the goal for human beings: joy and peace flowing from a focus on God and harmonious working together.

On every point here, the Christian missionary Paul knew that this is not how things generally were. People are filled with grief rather than joy, worry rather than peace, despair rather than hope. They don’t think much about God, and they often don’t work well together.

So, what is to be done? That’s the message that Paul had to share with the world. He called His message the “Gospel.” The Gospel just means an announcement. In the ancient world it referred to an announcement of a victory, the birth of a prince, or a new king.

The Gospel was all those things. It was an announcement of a new King and a victory that would bring us back to joy, peace, and hope. That King’s name was Jesus. Jesus was a Jew who was born 2,000 years ago. He preached and taught about God and what He called God’s Kingdom. He claimed to be God’s promised Savior of the world and indeed in a mysterious way, the very equal of God and the Son of God. Then, the Roman government put Him to death.

That would just be a strange and peculiar story, if something else had not happened. His disciples said that He rose from the dead. That’s what He had told His followers. He said He would be put to death and come back to life. And He pulled it off.

Paul and the Gospel
Originally, Paul did not believe that at all. In fact, He tried to jail and even put to death those who believed what Jesus said about Himself. Then, one day He showed up in Damascus, Syria saying that Jesus was everything He said He was. From there, He went all over the world founding communities or churches that would believe the same.

What happened? Paul said that he was on the way to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus and there Jesus appeared to Him and spoke to Him from heaven. He was so convinced of this that he never looked back and even gave up his life for the sake of this truth.

Paul, the unbeliever, had become a believer that Jesus was the one that could get people back to glorifying God and living together in harmony and fill them with joy, peace, and hope forever.
That’s what Paul writes about in this letter. Remember that this letter is a letter. It’s not a book written in the abstract. It is a letter written in a particular context.

This book was written to the Roman Christians. Paul had never met them. He had been working for a long time in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. He felt that his work there was done. He wanted to go to the Western part, to Spain in particular. On his way there, he wanted to stop by Rome. He wanted their support and prayers. In a way, Romans is a sort of missionary fundraising letter.

In this letter, Paul explains what he taught all the churches. He wanted to encourage them and wanted them to know what he taught. Of all his letters, this one is the least specific and most general. In that way, it is extremely applicable to us. It does not deal with specific issues in specific churches. It deals with the general issues of humanity and how they are answered in the message about Jesus.

Try to put all this into the context of Paul’s blessing at the end. How do we become people filled with joy, peace, and hope who glorify God and do it in harmony with other people? That’s what this letter is all about. Second, remember that this is a missionary letter. He wants everybody to experience the joy, peace, and hope that come from the Gospel. That should be our focus, too, just as it was that of the Apostle Paul. We should want joy, peace, and hope for everybody.

Questions and Advice for Building Your Own Outline for an Introduction to Romans

  1. Use the benedictions to explain the purpose of this letter and the purpose of the Gospel. What are the five blessings Paul wants people to receive?
  2. What is the means that Paul believes will enable people to become the people His blessing says that they should be?
  3. What did Jesus claim about Himself? What makes His claim plausible?
  4. What is the story of the Apostle Paul and how does it confirm the message about Jesus?
  5. What type of literature is Romans? Who did he write it to? What was the purpose?
  6. How does the missionary focus affect how we read the letter?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How are you doing at feeling joy, peace, and hope? What do you think is the way to get to a better place?
  2. Do you think you are glorifying God moment by moment? What does this look for you?
  3. How are your relationships with other people? Can you continue relating to other people when things get tough? Can you help people work to get to a better place?

The Passover and Politics

Without doubt, the guilt of Egypt in oppressing the people of Israel was great. The Egyptians enslaved the people of Israel and even sought to wipe them out as a people. This oppression cried out for God’s judgment and redemption.

In this story, we have clear good guys and bad guys. Israel–the good guys. Egypt–the bad guys.

Only the Passover teaches us something different. When God announced the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn, He said that both the Israelites and the Egyptians were liable to judgment. Any house that did not have the blood of the lamb applied to it would be liable to the judgment of God.

The only way that Israel would avoid the plague was to apply the blood of the lamb. “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). This was the only way that Israel would avoid the plague.

This liability to judgment was so real that after Israel went into the wilderness, they had to “pay” for the redemption of their firstborn. The tribe of the Levites was dedicated to the Lord in the place of the firstborn of all Israel. When a count revealed that there were more firstborn than Levites, God did not say, “close enough.” The Israelites paid the difference.

We must remember that Israel was dealing with a political issue. It was an issue of power and oppression.

When we are dealing with political issues, nothing is easier than to divide the various sides into good guys and bad guys. This is not totally wrong. The oppressor has great guilt, and power can defend evil. When this is the case, it is our duty to stand up against oppression and evil. Continue reading “The Passover and Politics”