“Sin must not be master over you, seeing that you are . . . under undeserved kindness.”—ROM. 6:14.
1, 2. Why is Romans 5:12 of interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses?
IMAGINE you wanted to list Bible verses that Jehovah’s Witnesses know well and use often. Would Romans 5:12 be high on your list? Think about how often you have referred to the statement: “Just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”
2 That verse is repeatedly used in the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? As you study this book with your children or others, you will likely read Romans 5:12 when you discuss God’s purpose for the earth, the ransom, and the condition of the dead—chapters 3, 5, and 6. But how often do you think of Romans 5:12 with regard to your own standing before Jehovah, your actions, and your future prospects?
3. We ought to face what fact about sin?
3 All of us, of course, must face the reality that we are sinners. We make mistakes every day. Yet, we are assured that God remembers that we are made of dust, and he is willing to show us mercy. (Ps. 103:13, 14) Jesus included in the model prayer the request to God: “Forgive us our sins.” (Luke 11:2-4) Hence, we have no reason to dwell on mistakes that God has forgiven. Still, we can benefit from thinking about how he could—and did—forgive us.
FORGIVEN THROUGH UNDESERVED KINDNESS
4 We find important information in the chapters surrounding the apostle Paul’s words at Romans 5:12, especially in chapter 6. This will help us to understand how Jehovah can forgive us. In chapter 3, we read: “All have sinned . . . , and it is as a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23, 24) What did Paul mean by saying “undeserved kindness”? He used a Greek word that, according to one reference work, has the sense of “a favour freely done, without claim or expectation of return.” It is unearned and unmerited.
5 Scholar John Parkhurst noted: “When spoken of God or Christ, it [that Greek word] very often particularly refers to their free and undeserved favour or kindness in the redemption and salvation of man.” Thus, the rendering “undeserved kindness” in the New World Translation is fitting. But how did God manifest this undeserved kindness? And what does it have to do with your hope and your relationship with him? Let us see.
6. To what extent can individuals benefit from God’s undeserved kindness?
6 Adam was the “one man” through whom sin and death “entered into the world.” Thus “by the trespass of the one man death ruled as king.” Paul added that “the abundance of [God’s] undeserved kindness” came about “through the one person, Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:12, 15, 17) And that undeserved kindness has resulted in good for all mankind. “Through the obedience of the one person [Jesus] many will be made righteous.” Actually, God’s undeserved kindness can lead to “everlasting life through Jesus Christ.”—Rom. 5:19, 21.
7. Why was God’s provision of the ransom both kind and undeserved?
7 Jehovah was not obliged to have his Son come to earth to provide the ransom. Moreover, imperfect, sinful humans did not of themselves merit, or deserve, what God and Jesus did in providing a ransom by which forgiveness was possible. So our being forgiven and offered the prospect of living forever is truly a kindness that is undeserved. We should highly value the gift of God’s undeserved kindness and let it affect our life daily.
APPRECIATION FOR GOD’S UNDESERVED KINDNESS
8. What mistaken view might some people have of their sins?
8 Being imperfect descendants of Adam, we are inclined to err, to do what is bad, to sin. Still, it would be a serious mistake to presume on God’s undeserved kindness, such as by thinking: ‘Even if I do something wrong—something that God views as sin—I do not have to worry about it. Jehovah will forgive me.’ Sadly, some Christians felt that way even while some of the apostles were still alive. (Read Jude 4.) We ourselves might never voice such a thought; yet, the seeds of this wrong viewpoint might be in us or they could be planted in us and start to grow.
9, 10. How were Paul and others set free from sin and death?
9 Paul stressed that we must strongly reject the view: ‘Oh, God understands. He will overlook my wrong deeds or actions.’ Why? Because, as Paul writes, Christians have “died with reference to sin.” (Read Romans 6:1, 2.) While they were still alive on earth, how could it be said of them that they had “died with reference to sin”?
10 God applied the ransom to Paul and others of his day. Thus Jehovah forgave their sins, anointed them with holy spirit, and called them to be his spiritual sons. Then they had the heavenly hope. If they proved faithful, they would live and rule with Christ in heaven. But Paul could speak of them while they were still alive and serving God on earth as having “died with reference to sin.” He used the example of Jesus, who died as a human and then was raised up as an immortal spirit in heaven. Death was no longer master over Jesus. It was similar with anointed Christians, who could consider themselves “dead with reference to sin but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:9, 11) Their way of life was not as it once was. They were no longer obeying the dictates or impulses of their sinful desires. They had died to that previous way of life.
11. In what sense have we who hope to live forever in Paradise “died with reference to sin”?
11 What of us? Well, before we became Christians, we often sinned, perhaps not realizing how wrong or bad our actions were in God’s eyes. We were like “slaves to uncleanness and lawlessness.” It could be said that we “were slaves of sin.” (Rom. 6:19, 20) Then we came to know Bible truth, made changes in our lives, dedicated ourselves to God, and got baptized. Since then, it has been our desire to be “obedient from the heart” to God’s teachings and standards. Even if we might not have spoken of it in those terms, we “were set free from sin” and we “became slaves to righteousness.” (Rom. 6:17, 18) So we too could be said to have “died with reference to sin.”
12. What choice does each of us have to make?
12 Now think of yourself in the light of Paul’s words: “Do not let sin continue to rule as king in your mortal bodies so that you should obey their desires.” (Rom. 6:12) We could “let sin continue to rule” by doing whatever our imperfect body moves us to do. Because we can “let” sin rule or refuse to let it rule, the question is, What do we really want at heart? Ask yourself: ‘At times, do I let my imperfect body or mind point me in a bad direction and then go there? Or am I dead with reference to sin? Am I living with reference to God by Christ Jesus?’ It really comes down to how much we appreciate the undeserved kindness God has shown by forgiving us.
A FIGHT THAT YOU CAN WIN
13. What evidence gives us confidence that it is possible to turn our back on sin?
13 Jehovah’s people have turned their back on “the fruit that [they] used to produce” before they came to know, love, and serve God. Their past way of life may have included “things of which [they] are now ashamed” and that would have merited death. (Rom. 6:21) Then they changed. That was true of many in Corinth to whom Paul wrote. Some had been idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, and the like. Yet, they were “washed clean” and “sanctified.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) That was likely also true of some in the Roman congregation. Paul was inspired to write to them: “Neither go on presenting your bodies to sin as weapons of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, also your bodies to God as weapons of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:13) Paul was sure that they could remain spiritually clean and thus continue to benefit from God’s undeserved kindness.
14, 15. What should we ask ourselves about being “obedient from the heart”?
14 It is similar today. Some brothers and sisters may at one time have been like those in Corinth. But they too changed. They left their sinful past and were “washed clean.” To whatever extent that may be true in your case, what is your situation before God at this time? Now that God’s undeserved kindness and resulting forgiveness are available, are you determined no longer ‘to present your body to sin’? Will you instead ‘present yourself to God as alive from the dead’?
15 For us to do that, we must certainly avoid choosing to practice the serious sins that some in Corinth had been guilty of. That is vital if we are to say that we have accepted God’s undeserved kindness and that ‘sin is not master over us.’ However, are we also determined to be “obedient from the heart” by doing our best to avoid sins that some would view as less serious?—Rom. 6:14, 17.
16. How do we know that being a Christian involves more than leaving behind the practice of serious sins?
16 Think of the apostle Paul. We can be sure that he was not sharing in the gross wrongs mentioned at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Nonetheless, he confessed that he was still guilty of sin. He wrote: “I am fleshly, sold under sin. For I do not understand what I am doing. For I do not practice what I wish, but I do what I hate.” (Rom. 7:14, 15) This shows that there were other things that Paul viewed as sins, and he was fighting against those wrongs too. (Read Romans 7:21-23.) May that also be true of us as we strive to be “obedient from the heart.”
17. Why do you want to be honest?
17 Consider, for example, the matter of being honest. Honesty is basic to Christianity. (Read Proverbs 14:5; Ephesians 4:25.) Satan is “the father of the lie.” And Ananias and his wife lost their lives because of lying. We do not want to imitate such ones—we avoid lying. (John 8:44; Acts 5:1-11) Is that, though, as far as our honesty goes? Actually, our honesty should reflect our deep appreciation for God’s undeserved kindness.
18, 19. How does being honest go beyond simply not telling outright lies?
18 To lie is to say something untruthful. However, Jehovah wants his people to go beyond not telling outright lies. He urged the ancient Israelites: “You should be holy, because I, Jehovah your God, am holy.” Then he gave examples of being holy. In part, God said: “You must not steal, you must not deceive, and you must not deal falsely with one another.” (Lev. 19:2, 11) Sadly, a person who makes it a point never to tell outright lies might still resort to deceiving others, dealing falsely with them.
19 For instance, a man tells his boss or fellow workers that he cannot be at work the next day or that he must leave early because he has a “medical” appointment. In fact, his “medical” appointment is merely a brief stop at a pharmacy or a quick visit to the doctor’s office to pay a bill. His real reason for not being at work is so that he can get a head start on a trip or so that he can take his family to the beach. There may have been a grain of truth in his mentioning a “medical” appointment, but would you say that he was being honest? Or was he being deceptive? You may know of similar instances of deliberate deception. Perhaps this is done to avoid punishment or to profit at others’ expense. Even if no outright lie is told, what of God’s direction: “You must not deceive”? Think, too, of Romans 6:19, which says: “Present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.”
20, 21. God’s undeserved kindness should move us to what extent?
20 The point is that our appreciation for God’s undeserved kindness involves more than avoiding adultery, drunkenness, or other sins that some in Corinth had been guilty of. Accepting God’s undeserved kindness means not only avoiding sexual immorality but also fighting any tendency to enjoy lewd entertainment. Presenting our members as slaves to righteousness will not only keep us from drunkenness but also move us to shun drinking to the point of almost being drunk. It may require considerable effort for us to fight against such wrong practices; still, it is a fight that we can win.
21 Our goal should be to avoid gross sins as well as wrongs that are not as flagrant. We will not be able to do that perfectly. Nevertheless, we should strive to do so, even as Paul did. He urged his brothers: “Do not let sin continue to rule as king in your mortal bodies so that you should obey their desires.” (Rom. 6:12; 7:18-20) As we fight against sin in all its forms, we show true appreciation for God’s undeserved kindness through Christ.
22. What awaits those who prove their appreciation for God’s undeserved kindness?
22 By means of God’s undeserved kindness, our sins have been forgiven and can continue to be forgiven. In appreciation, let us work at overcoming any tendency to give in to what others might consider minor sins. Paul emphasized the reward that then awaits us: “Now that you were set free from sin and became slaves to God, you are producing your fruit in the way of holiness, and the end is everlasting life.”—Rom. 6:22.