“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18 NASB).
Particularly what does the phrase “that form of teaching (or doctrine) mean? Is this a reference to baptism or “obeying the gospel” as so often the expression is used of one’s initial obedience in becoming a Christian or is there more to it than that.
In yesterday’s post I presented the argument based on the idea that Paul presents to the Roman Christians that they had been “delivered to the form of teaching” or literally, they had been melted and poured into a form or mold that was shaping them as they lived the doctrine out in their lives.
We suggested that in every act of obedience one is called upon by God to do He has a further goal than just to elicit the performance of an act. We are being brought by God through the provisions He has made to a fuller state of maturity. As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:13;
His provisions apply to this end or for this purpose. That includes being shaped or molded by the doctrine of Christ.
Look at it from the standpoint of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. He preached Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended and exalted at the right hand of God as Lord and King. When the people were “cut to the heart” and cried out asking what they were to do, Peter’s response to them had more in view than just giving them a couple of steps they were to take in order for them to be forgiven of their past sins. There was behind what he replied to them the idea of bringing these people into subjection to the King – to become citizens of His kingdom. Of course they couldn’t come to the King with their sins; they were forgiven as they turned in obedience to the King. But how many today preach the kingdom and the significance thereof in Acts 2? In fact, the rest of Acts 2 from verse 42 to the end describe what life was like in the kingdom in the days following Pentecost. What is described there is the result of being subject to the King.
Understanding the form takes us beyond the “facts” of the gospel into the heart or character of God. Obedience to the form of teaching takes us beyond the acts of repentance and baptism into the heart of the Son of God. That, I believe, is what Paul had in view when he urged Christians to…
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8).
By all means, sinners must repent, confess and be baptized. But the objective is not just the doing of the acts, but what they are intended to issue into. Here in the 6th chapter of Romans when Paul reasons that the Christian cannot continue in sin because he has died to it, been buried “with Christ” in baptism from which he has been raised to walk in newness of life. Of course one cannot be forgiven of sins while in rebellion to the Lord – obedience is essential. But the point is not just that one is forgiven of sins, but that he has also become identified with Christ – with His death, burial and resurrection. He becomes conformed to the mold or form. This was what would deter the abuse of the grace of God – which is what Paul is writing about in this chapter.
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11).
The newness of life that comes to the obedient believer is the life of which Paul spoke in Galatians 2:20;
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
What is under consideration is no less than the complete transformation of the individual into the likeness of the Son of God. One is “poured” into the mold of the life of Jesus, becoming increasingly like Him.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29).
It is God’s purpose that we become conformed to the image of His son. How do we become conformed? Paul answers in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Notice the terms used – conformed, transformed – terms consistent with the idea of tupos or form of doctrine. This takes place as we “behold the glory of the Lord.” We focus our thoughts on the life of Jesus. We meditate on His character. We adore His perfection. And as we do so we find ourselves becoming more and more like Him. We become like what we worship.
That process begins in our initial obedience to the commands to the sinner. Repentance is an humbling experience. It requires that one look honestly at his life and fact up to all the ugliness that is to be found there. Baptism is a humbling experience. The sinner humbles himself, yields himself to die to sin – allowing the old man to be “crucified.” He is buried “with Christ” in the likeness of His burial. He is raised in the likeness of His resurrection. He becomes a partaker of a new life like Jesus was raised to – eternal life. In doing these things he is conforming himself to the image of Christ. That same kind of attitude must continue because one is a changed individual.
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4).
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11).
With our life hidden with Christ in God, of course we will want to obey Him in everything we do. But obedience per se is not the point of the action. We do not obey just to say we have obeyed. Everything we do must be with a view to cooperating with God in His project of bringing us to the objective of maturity or completeness. That maturity is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13).
Paul says that he was speaking “in human terms” by his use of the figure of slavery. This language was really inadequate to convey the spiritual meaning he had in view, but because of their limitations he retained the figure. Therein lies much of our problem of understanding passages like this. We are totally unfamiliar with the figure of slavery. We have no frame of reference except from history. The people of Rome had first hand experience with many to whom Paul wrote, no doubt, being slaves.
These Roman Christians could not continue in sin because they had submitted themselves in obedience to another master – to righteousness which leads to sanctification. (v. 19). Their former manner of life of obedience to the slavemaster of sin was producing death.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (v. 22).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v. 23).
If we do not understand the reason behind God’s commands or the end to which they are leading, it is easy to put the focus on the doing of the action commanded without seeing the end God intended in giving the command. We may begin our lives as Christians with a limited understanding, but as we grow both in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we must come to a more mature approach to obedience.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).
If we do not see the end God has in view, how can we cooperate with Him in reaching that objective?