21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 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. 5 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, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
8 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 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 as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
I know what you’re thinking! McNeely! Why don’t you just go ahead and quote the entire book of Romans?! I suppose I might as well. But I had an epiphany about these things the other day after I rode my bike down to the beautiful Bellingham waterfront to sip coffee at the Wood’s Coffee right on the bay overlooking the San Juan Islands. Who wouldn’t have an epiphany there, right?!
There is a transformation that happens to us right exactly when we believe. However, it is not the transformation we were looking for, having been immersed our whole lives under the threat of the law. The real change is a shift in trust away from self to God. If the change were a change in success at keeping the law instead of a change of trust, why would we need the new testament imperatives? Notice that in Romans 6, as soon as he says that we have been baptized into His death and raised with Him, he launches into imperative talk. One chapter later he is talking about how we fail at these things, and he goes right back into the supreme importance of our lack of condemnation in Christ. In other words, our trust has shifted from trust in our moral fiber and has been placed in Christ and Him crucified. We no longer have to behave to achieve peace with God (Romans 5:1) – we have peace with God because of our faith in Christ and Him crucified.
Think about this: what did Jesus Himself ask us to do in remembrance? What is the one act He specifically instructed us to do often? It wasn’t, “read the law.” It wasn’t, “recite My parables.” It was, “proclaim My death.” As we see in Romans 7 as well as in the repeated instances of NT imperatives, our moral fiber is untrustworthy. This is not the change. This shift in trust really does resonate as resembling Paul’s talk of being “baptized into death” and being “raised with Him” – because we have given up on our own moral success. We entirely despair of our own schemes to succeed at pleasing God through what we do. We give up on proving our own worth and significance. This has been our life project from birth, and in Christ it has ended.
Don’t think that I am saying that there is no moral success in Christ! Quite the contrary! This shift in trust certainly has its results that way. But if you are looking for that, if you are judging the authenticity of your faith by your moral success, you are going to despair. We all fall into this trap. This is the real trap he talking about in Romans 7. We must always come back around to trusting only that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Ironically, this complete trust in Christ’s death for our peace with God allows for New Testament imperatives, because there is the ongoing assumption that we are imperfect people who are perfectly justified. However, in the new world of assured peace with God, in the world where the love of God is poured out within our hearts regardless of our moral success, where God demonstrates His love towards us in the most extreme way while we are yet sinners (Romans 5:8), everything works differently. Imperatives are no longer threats of rejection and condemnation. They are a helping hand of kindness which remains firm and present though we repeatedly fail. It is a voice of kindness, a voice of a father correcting a beloved child. They are an injunction to stop shopping at Walmart and to start shopping like a rich kid, because that is what you are. Eternal mysteries and wisdom and beauties and pleasures are all yours in Christ, so why trifle with lesser things? When someone is enraptured with sin, it is an indication that they do not feel welcomed into the throne room of grace, where there is real significance and true pleasures forever. The problem is always a problem of trust and not of moral resolve.
So while NT imperatives come alive given the theology of a strong and radical salvation, we still come together, not to impress moral responsibility upon one another, but to proclaim His death. Every church service is complete only when we have eaten the bread and drunk the wine which proclaims the new covenant through His death. The law serves only to point out how terribly untrustworthy our self really is. And though we hear the New Testament imperatives with gospel ears, we must always come around to despair one way or another of ourselves and hope only in Christ’s blood. This shift in trust, this change of faith, this different and better confidence, is our real and immediate transformation in Christ.