Letters of Grace Part 14

Letters of Grace Part 14

Part 14

Romans 1-4 divides the Christian from the non-Christian, for these chapters deal with the subject of justification. All Christians essentially agree with Paul’s teaching in these chapters.

Romans 5-8 divides Christians, for these chapters deal with the subject of sanctification. Differences regarding these chapters have produced many denominations. They define the role of grace in the life of the believer

Although believers differ in a multiplicity of ways in their interpretation of Romans 5-8, they divide themselves in two fundamentally different ways of viewing this material, as seen in Augustine and Pelagius. The positions of these two men have been studied and argued through the centuries.

As I seek to represent the essence of their positions, I am sure that those more theologically precise than I will take exception with my presentation. Hopefully, you will be able to catch the difference in perception between Augustine and Pelagius and understand the profound difference it makes in how we live the Christian life.


As we look at Romans 5-8, let’s explore whether a person can be a saint and a sinner at the same time. In Romans 6:20 Paul says, “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” Then in Romans 7:14 Paul says, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

Pelagius argued that these two verses proved his thesis that the “I” of Romans 7 represents the non-Christian. We are not “the servants of sin,” and we are not “free from righteousness.” Therefore, I am not “carnal, sold under sin.” You cannot be a saint and a sinner at the same time!

Augustine reasoned the opposite. He said that God imputes righteousness to us as taught in Romans 6:20, rather than our having a righteousness of our own (legal rather than moral), and, as Romans 7:14 teaches, we wrestle with sin in our lives.

The non-Christian does not long to be freed from his sin, he enjoys it. We see this, for example, in the militancy of homosexuals. The Holy Spirit works in the life of an individual, convicting him of sin. He does not work in the hearts of all people.

The phrase, “it is not I but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:17) teaches a dual nature in man. This passage deals with either the unregenerate or the regenerate. If the former, then what produced it? What causes the conflict alluded to in Romans 7? Pelagius said that the death of Christ places all people in the position of Adam before the Fall, but without experiencing conversion to Christ, thus resulting in a dual nature. Augustine said that both Christ and the “old man” living in the believer results in a dual nature.

The interpretation of this passage rests on one’s presuppositions regarding the nature of man. If Paul in Romans 7:14-25 describes the natural man desiring to obey the Law, then he means that the unregenerate man wants to do good and cannot; “It is not I but sin that dwells in me” (vss. 17 and 20). This, you remember, was the position of Pelagius. If, on the other hand, the Bible teaches that sin influences a man’s whole being so that the unregenerate mind is corrupted by sin, then this passage refers to a regenerate person who is struggling with his sin nature. This was the position of Augustine.

In Romans 6-8 Paul uses the words “body” and ‘flesh” differently. The flesh is the sin principle
housed in the body. For example, Paul says:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me: but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Romans 7:18)

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God: but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh: but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally (fleshly) minded is death: but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
(Romans 8:4-9)

And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, be that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:10-11)

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23)

In this portion of the Scripture ‘flesh” is the old nature that wars against the new man in the life of the believer, the sin principle, with which the believer must deal as long as he is in the body. The “body” is good, the ‘flesh” is bad. Romans 7:5 says, ‘When we were in the flesh.” We are not in the flesh in the sense that we are free from the dominion of sin. Jesus broke the POWER of sin, and it no longer reigns in our lives. I am “captive to the law of sin” in the sense that as long as I am in this body it will find a vehicle of expression. Thus death is the final deliverance from the terrible, captivating influence of sin.

Just as you can be both a saint and a sinner at the same time, so also “sold under sin” refers to both a believer and an unbeliever. Romans 6:20 refers to the unregenerate and Romans 7:23 to the believer.

Romans 7 doesn’t so much teach that we are slaves to sin as it teaches that the Law cannot sanctify us. In Christ we are free from sin. Sin “shall have no more dominion over us.” We will explore this more thoroughly in the next issue, but Paul is teaching that the Law cannot sanctify the believer.

The emphasis of the chapter isn’t that I am under the flesh or the sin principle and need deliverance by the Spirit. Although the chapter includes this truth, Paul teaches that I am so influenced by the presence of sin that the Law cannot help me find a solution to my problem.
The contrast in Romans 7 isn’t between the FLESH and the SPIRIT, but rather between the FLESH and the LAW. The contrast between the flesh and the spirit is the subject of Romans 8:1-13.

Therefore, as I live out my Christian life, I am both a saint and a sinner. As I progressively become less a sinner and more a saint, the Law is powerless to help. If anything, it complicates the problem. Only Christ can solve the problem, and then only when I am in union with Him through the Holy Spirit. Still, although I experience progress, the presence of sin isn’t eradicated until I am dead. I will develop this more fully in the next issue.


God justifies the believer for the purpose of leading him to sanctification. God never justifies us
in order to affirm us in our sin. God works in our lives to “will and do of His good pleasure” (Philippians2:13).

“We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

Again, Paul says in Romans 6:12-13: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”

All Christians agree that this is so. This raises the question: Can you look to sanctification to determine justification? If a Christian is both a saint and a sinner, how do you look to sanctification to determine justification? The heart of the Lordship/Salvation debate revolves around this question. The argument between Augustine and Pelagius did not deal with this, rather those who hold the Augustinian view debate it among themselves.

God designed the doctrine of assurance of salvation for the obedient. Those who willfully and with an unrepentant heart break the commandments of God have no Biblical basis for assurance of their salvation. Paul says in I Corinthians 6:9-10:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

When a professing, unrepentant Christian breaks one of God’s negative commandments, his church must discipline him in accordance with I Corinthians 5. Bible-believing people agree that we should follow this procedure. Grace does not grant the believer a license to sin.

We disagree, however, on what to do with people who do not meet our expectations regarding the positive commands, such as attendance at the gathering of God’s people or enthusiasm regarding the things of our Lord. Also, what do we do with people who break the positive commands, repent, break them again, etc.? Do we discipline them for failure to perform? When you look to sanctification to determine justification, you tend to conclude from such behavior that such people are not Christians.

In Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) He identifies four soils. You can fairly easily conclude that the first soil is a non-Christian and the last is a believer. But what about soils two and three? Can you consider a person whose life is marked by “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in” (Mark 4:19 – soil three) a Christian? Most who argue for Lordship/Salvation say no, a child of God does not behave this way.

When you reason this way, performance mitigates grace and acceptance depends upon the person meeting extra-Biblical standards. Although you agree that a Christian can be both a saint and sinner at the same time, the litmus test for sainthood becomes your expectations, rather than God’s, for even though the “commando of Mark 4:19 is clear, people differ on what “the cares of this world….“ look like.

God expects justification to lead to sanctification, but you must take care to ensure that when you look to sanctification to determine justification, you use only the negative commandments found in the New Testament. Failure in this regard results in abusing the grace of God.

Resting in His grace,