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Romans Under New Light
In Southern Baptist churches, almost everyone has heard of the “Romans Road.” It’s a compilation of five or six verses from Romans that are used to lead a person to salvation. The goal is to “get people saved,” as in past-tense salvation. Here is a good example of selected verses.
Romans 3:10 NIV As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;
Romans 3:23 NIV for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:8 NIV But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 6:23 NIV For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 10:9 NIV That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:13 NIV for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
The Romans Road begins with the fact that everyone has sinned. Usually these verses are explained to mean that everyone is a sinner. In other words, everyone continues to sin. The Reformed view (not the Wesleyan view) is that you can’t stop sinning. Then verses are used to explain that Christ died for our sins. Finally, a few verses are used to explain that we need to make a profession of faith in order to become (past tense) saved.
The Romans Road became a methodology that was drilled into church members as to how to witness to people and “get them saved.” The method has been criticized as being over simplistic. It comes across as a quick and easy formula for salvation instead of talking about the need of having a true relationship with Christ.
What does it mean to make Christ Lord of your life? The Great Commission says that we are to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And then we are to teach them all that Jesus commanded. You can’t do this is in five or six quick verses.
The fact that all have sinned is made clear. But the fact that we need to stop sinning, through this relationship with Christ, is obscured. Even Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners.” This would suggest that believers are no longer sinners. Verse 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” It doesn’t say all continue to sin. The need to overcome sin through a relationship with Jesus Christ is almost never presented. The Romans Road does not call for repentance. Some free-grace salvation advocates even claim that repentance is not required for salvation. You just have to believe.
The Romans Road does not focus on any specific passage. It pulls out a number of verses to build the case. Are these verses being taken out of context? Why is there no one passage that gives the whole gospel? One verse is Romans 6:23. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” But look at the verse right before this verse:
Romans 6:22 NIV But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
This verse, in the very same context, says a lot of things that are rarely said during a Romans Road presentation. In Christ, we can be set free from sin. We are no longer slaves to the habits of sin which constantly draw us back. That means Christ can change us so that we no longer sin.
But of course this doesn’t happen overnight. We need an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ whereby we truly repent and become new creatures. Over time, we reap holiness. Over time, that holiness “results [in] eternal life.” How many people are presented the Romans Road in this broader context? Remember that, “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Paul makes that abundantly clear. But the Romans Road does not.
The Romans Road is a selection of verses from all over Romans in order to present the gospel in a way that is not found in one specific passage. Is it the true gospel? There is an alternative passage that presents the gospel in one single context. I call it the Philippians Road. Evangelicals avoid this passage because it becomes clear that we must overcome sin. But it’s the gospel truth because it comes from a single passage, written by Paul, and is not taken out of context.
Paul said we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-18, quoted below). Let’s break these verses down a bit. Verse 12 begins with “therefore.” We should first look to the previous verses to see the context from which Paul is thinking. In verse 10 and 11, Paul quotes from Isaiah. When Christ returns every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
Isaiah 45:22-25 NIV "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. (23) By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow ; by me every tongue will swear. (24) They will say of me, 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. (25) But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.
This is what Paul is thinking about when he says we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Isaiah is talking about salvation in the Day of the Lord, in which the Messiah will rule over every nation to the “ends of the earth.” Every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance because Jesus will be the literal King of the world. All the “descendants of Israel will reign with Christ because they will be “found righteous.” Paul’s quotes Isaiah:
Philippians 2:8-11 NIV And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (9) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul elaborates on those who will swear allegiance to Jesus. Paul elaborates “every knee” as including all who are in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth. Those in heaven would be the angels. Those on the earth would be those who are alive when Christ returns. Those under the earth would be everyone who has died.
Isaiah says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth.” This is why Paul includes knees from under the earth. He sees this as after the resurrection. All from the ends of the earth will be saved, meaning they will be resurrected. The obvious exceptions would be those who have explicitly become enemies of God. Everyone to the “ends of the earth” is resurrected. But only those of Israel are “found righteous.” Gentile believers are grafted into Israel. The righteous will reign with Christ over the nations.
The knees who will bow are not just those who have professed faith in Christ. This includes everyone from all generations. They will be resurrected. The exceptions are the enemies of God, both in heaven and on the earth. They will not be resurrected.
Now let’s break down Paul’s conclusion from all this and why we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Note that we must obey Christ. That means we must not sin. We must “continue” to work out our salvation. It’s not just becoming a believer. Then note that God works in us to make it happen. That’s important.
Philippians 2:12-18 NIV Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling , (13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (14) Do everything without complaining or arguing, (15) so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe (16) as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (17) But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. (18) So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
As we have seen, the salvation to which Paul is referring is all about the resurrection at Christ’s return. It’s salvation for those alive today, as well as for those who are under the earth (verse 10). We must “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” It’s not a one-time deal.
It’s a journey that must be completed before we die or Christ returns. We see that truth because Paul believes his running and labor might be “for nothing.” If his followers do not continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, then Paul’s efforts would be in vain. Could they wind up in hell? No, they would still bow their knees to the Lord after the resurrection. But they would not be a part of the true Israel who is “found righteous.”
We must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault.” Is this something that happens in heaven or after the resurrection? No because Paul says we must become “blameless and pure … in a crooked and depraved generation.” In other words, this while we are still living in the world. Paul also teaches about becoming “blameless and pure in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 5:22-24 ESV Abstain from every form of evil. (23) Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (24) He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Sanctification is a journey. It’s a journey to the point of becoming “blameless.” Paul is saying that the God of peace will himself sanctify us completely before the return of Christ. Paul says, “He will surely do it.” In other words, we should have faith in God to make us holy. That means we have faith in God that all our sinful habits will be completely overcome. We can’t just stand idly by and in a passive faith. Our faith must be active in that we really desire this holiness to the point of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Back in Philippians, verse 14, Paul says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” God works inside us to make us desire (will) and act according to God’s will. This is grace. This is God’s work because of God’s presence, living inside us. When the Holy Spirit is in us we cannot sin because God does not sin.
God transforms us on the inside to become new creatures. It’s clear that we become blameless and pure while living “in a crooked and depraved generation.” But this is in preparation for the age to come. We become “children of God” because we are no longer doing the will of Satan. And we are new creatures in the fact that we are changed on the inside. But at the resurrection, we will be “born again” into new spiritual bodies. So we will literally be “children of God” instead of our earthly parents.
When we “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault,” Paul says we “shine like stars in the universe” (verse 15). So figuratively this happens in the present age as we become holy. But it is more literally fulfilled in the age to come. This phrase comes from Daniel 12:2-3.
Daniel 12:2-3 ESV And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (3) And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
The wise will shine like the stars, which are symbolic of angels. Angels are like men in appearance. But they have bodies that live forever and are designed for living in the heavens, whereas our bodies are mortal and are designed for living here on the earth. Sometimes angels are said to glow. The wise who work out their salvation with fear and trembling will bring many to righteousness, after they are resurrected, during the age to come.
How does the Philippians Road compare with the Romans Road? If we include Romans 6:22 in the context of 6:23, then we must have repentance. With true repentance, the Romans Road, the Philippians Road, and the Road of Christ are all identical. We are credited with righteousness. But we must make good on that credit by becoming “slaves to God.” Over time, we are thus set “free from sin” (6:22) by God’s grace. God’s grace is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit to change us on the inside, making us become new creatures. Over time, we become “perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Over time, we “sin no more” (John 5:14, 8:11).
Jesus said, “I am the [road], the truth, and the life. No man [journeys] to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Greek word for “way” literally means “road.” This means we don’t journey to the Father through Paul or any of the disciples. We don’t journey to the Father through Mary or any of the Catholic saints. The only way to the Father is through a Lordship discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ. Even the Romans Road says we must “confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). If Jesus is Lord we must obey his commandments.
The word “repent” is used 10 times in the gospels, 5 times in Acts, and 10 times in Revelation. The letters of Paul never use the word repent. But Paul does use the word in Acts 17:30. Since Paul doesn’t use the word in his letters, many radical-grace teachers peach that you don’t need to repent for salvation. Jesus, however, uses the word 15 times in his red-letter spoken words. This includes 8 times in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. These radical-grace teachers focus on the words of Paul in his letters and exclude the words of Jesus, even his words in Revelation.
The argument is that the gospel changed at the cross. I pointed out that the Great Commission, given after the cross, is to teach the nations everything Jesus commanded. This radical grace teacher responded by saying everything changed at Pentecost instead of the cross. They interpret grace as being the forgiveness of sins instead of the presence and work of the Spirit. Yes, things changed at Pentecost. We received the Power of grace at Pentecost. But the gospel of Jesus has not changed. We must stop sinning in order to inherit eternal life. At Pentecost we received the presence and work of the Holy Spirit and the Power to stop sinning. Most of the doctrines of today deny that Power.
2 Timothy 3:1-7 NIV But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. (2) People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, (4) treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— (5) having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (6) They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, (7) always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
In the context these verses, what does Paul mean by saying they “have a form of godliness but deny its power?” He can only be talking to believers. All these verses must be talking about believers in the Church, in the last days. This power, in context, must be the Holy Spirit Power to stop sinning.
The true gospel is that we can have a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not with Paul, The Virgin Mary, or any of the saints. People have tried to overcome sin throughout history and have failed because it was through self-effort. It can only happen through the Power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t change ourselves.
We must become spiritual beggars (Matthew 5:3) and daily beg the Father for righteousness. We must daily ask the Father to not lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13). Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away from you.” This is hyperbole. Literally plucking out your eye would not stop you from sinning. But we must take any sinful habit that seriously.
John 8:34-36 ESV Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (35) The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. (36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Compare this verse of Jesus with the verse of Paul that was in the immediate context of the Romans Road verse.
Romans 6:22 NIV But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
Believers are no longer slaves to sin because the Son has set us free from the slavery of sin. If we continue to sin, then we are still slaves to sin. But if instead we do the work of the Father, being slaves to God, then our lack of sin leads to holiness. And this, over time, results in eternal life.
This is the Road of Christ which leads to holiness. Only those who complete this journey with Christ will inherit eternal life. That doesn’t mean those don’t will go to hell. God’s plan is bigger and smarter than that. But holiness is necessary before one can enter the wedding banquet. Jesus told the foolish virgins, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). He said the same thing to preachers who will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matthew 7:22). But Jesus said, “I never knew you” (verse 23).
1 John 2:4 One who says, "I know him," and doesn't keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn't in him.
1 John 3:3-6 Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (4) Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. (5) You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. (6) Whoever remains in him doesn't sin. Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him.
They did not work as slaves of God, doing the Father’s work. They did not obey Christ’s commandments. They found their gospels in a misinterpretation of grace, and followed a misinterpretation of Paul. Or they decided to follow Catholics saints instead of Jesus himself. They don’t follow Jesus because he says to live entirely without sin. After all, Jesus said we must be “perfect as the heavily Father is perfect.” You can’t argue with the Greek meaning of “perfect” because it’s also applied to the Father.
2 Timothy 4:2-5 NIV Preach the Word ; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (3) For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (4) They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (5) But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Sound doctrine is the Words of Jesus. We must preach the Words of Jesus. Sound doctrine is that we have been given the Power to live without sin. All else is excuses and myths.
Back in the introduction to this book, Glenn Beck interviewed Ruth Graham, daughter of Billy Graham. Glenn Beck was wondering how you can get people to hear the truth. It’s a truth that is so obvious when you see it. But sin blinds us. Jesus had the same problem. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were blinded to the coming of their own Messiah. Glenn Beck talked about Billy Graham.
Glenn continued, “You say you are not a warrior. But the second thing that I got from him was… When he told that to me, we were setting closer than you and I, and he was holding my hand. And he straightened up. And I saw the warrior in him. It was a peaceful warrior. But it was a warrior that would turn over the tables. How do you turn tables over and still not be divisive? How do you speak the truth and not be divisive?”
I was talking to a visiting preacher at my church. I brought up the beliefs of Wesley. This Reformed Baptist pastor looked at me and asked, “Can you go even twenty-four hours without sinning?” I said, “Twenty-four hours is easy.” He was taken aback with surprise. In the light of the teachings of both Jesus and John, if a pastor believes you can’t go twenty-four hours without sinning, how can he claim to know Christ? Will he be surprised to hear Jesus say, “I never knew you?” I’m sure he knows these verses. But there is always a work-around for teachers to tickle their ears and make Scripture say what they want to hear.
I brought up the Catholics and the fact that they see salvation as a journey. The Catholics believe we must complete that journey before we can go to heaven. I also brought up the prayer of Jesus that we will be one as Jesus and the heavenly Father are one. Is the Church one today?
Could there be a truth that hides in the middle between Catholics and Protestants? His response was to consider Catholics as tares that are sown in with the wheat. There is always some way divisive way to avoid the truth. When it comes to the blinding nature of sin, there is always some way to spin the doctrine. Satan has divided the Church in ways that allows each of us to remain in sin and to blame the other side. One way or the other, every “myth” of doctrine distorts the true gospel in such a way that it allows for sin.
Do you have anger issues with a family member, son, daughter, or spouse? How about your boss or a co-worker? It’s easy to blame the other and remain angry. Sin causes us to cling to the myth. We often don’t really want to seek the Power of Christ that replaces anger with love.
Porn on the Internet is very alluring. It can be very hard to overcome sinful habits of sex. But sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. This generation denies the Power of Christ to make us new creatures and to overcome sexual habits that are outside of God’s plan. It may take a while. But we must take sin seriously and we must continue to beg Christ to make us clean on the inside. Then we will be clean on the outside. We must daily ask the Father to lead us not into temptation.
As we do the works of the Father, the Holy Spirit will replace our sinful habits with love. We can learn to love those we are angry with, even if they have not said they are sorry. Men can learn to have love and respect for all women and to truly despise the power of Porn has had a hold on them. We must truly have a radical faith that Jesus can and will change us so that we no longer sin. That’s the only faith that truly saves. The Power of the Holy Spirit can change us on the inside. We can work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Without holiness nobody will see the Lord.