John Heywood, in 1546, is credited with first documenting the English use of the proverb "You cannot see the wood for trees."(1) This proverb's meaning is that someone is “unable to understand a situation clearly because you are too involved in it”(2). More than likely, we have all experienced these times in our lives. Times where we were just so wrapped up in the details, we overlooked the obvious.
Paul's letter to the Romans is rich and full. It is steeped in dense theology and the wisdom of God. Reading through Romans, it’s easy to get lost in the woods as we study each word, phrase, and expression. A letter such as Romans certainly warrants this type of study. However, in doing so, we can miss the meaning and purpose of Paul's letter. We can miss just what Paul is saying. At the heart of this letter, it is a pastoral letter. What I mean is that Paul was penning a letter to Christians at Rome in the 1st century. Paul’s purpose, although containing rich and full theology, was to write a letter to brothers and sisters in Christ having struggles.
Paul’s purpose, although containing rich and full theology, was to write a letter to brothers and sisters in Christ having struggles.
This church is not unlike many assemblies of Christ-followers in the1st-century. The church in Rome was experiencing a difference in cultures. Christian Jews raised in one tradition and Gentile Christians who had a very different background are causing frictions. What practices should they follow? Should we eat meat sacrificed to idols or observe special days (ref. Rom. 14)? With care and the Holy Spirit's guidance, Paul is leading this assembly in understanding the mind of Christ and how the church is to be unified as one body in Christ.
In (Romans 6), the apostle Paul seems to anticipate some questions. Shall we continue in sin (ref. Rom. 6: 1)? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace (ref. Rom. 6: 15)? You can almost hear the questions Paul may be responding to, "If it's just all about grace, can't we just do what we want to do?" Some still make this same argument today. In chapter six, Paul provides answers as to why Christians are not to be involved with everything they may desire; why grace does not lead to a life of sin.
Paul first speaks about being alive to God through baptism (ref. Rom. 6:1-14). Christians have died to sin but are alive to God. Being alive to God, we walk in newness of life. What a powerful image, to be united with Christ in His death (ref. Rom. 6: 3). In baptism, Christians are united with Jesus, who suffered on a Roman cross, bore our sins, died, and was buried in a tomb.
Romans 6.3-4 (New King James Version)
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
This imagery also has echos of Exodus. God led the children of Israel out of slavery where they were held captive by Egypt. Passing through the Red Sea, they left their bondage and began a new life (ref. Exodus 14). In much the same way, this is what the church at Rome had experienced through baptism. Christians today share the same through baptism as well. We leave our life held captive by sin, passing through the waters, we gain new life in Christ.
Romans 6: 6-7 (NKJV)
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Paul continues in Romans 6. It's not that Christ was buried in the tomb, He also rose from the dead. Paul records, the life He now lives, He lives to God.
Romans 6: 8-11 (NKJV)
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ lives to God, and as Christians, this is how we are to live as well. We live to God. As Christians, we are to honor Him in our thoughts and our actions in what we do. Christians no longer live for themselves for their desires. We live to God and for His glory and honor. Paul says, "reckon yourselves" or consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
Considering that Christians are to walk in newness of life, being united with Christ, Paul recorded:
Romans 6: 12-14 (NKJV)
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace
What an amazing gift we have received in Christ, being set free from sin! Held captive by sin, the result of such a life, as Paul records, is death.
Romans 6: 21-22 (NKJV)
What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
Instead of a life marked by sin, a life marked by newness of life in Christ leads to holiness and everlasting life. Being made new in Christ, our lives now are to be identified by obedience leading to righteousness. A Christian's life is now distinctively different; it is a life set apart, a life whose purposes are now in Christ.
As Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he anticipated some questions. In Romans 6, Paul challenges the church and us today to understand just how rich and full the grace of Christ is. Because of His grace, we can live in newness of life—a life shaped by Christ. Receiving the grace of Christ should lead us to understand the depths of His love so that we honor Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions so that sin does not reign in our lives.
Scripture References: The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
1. “See the Forest for the Trees.” Wiktionary The Free Dictionary. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/see_the_forest_for_the_trees. Date accessed: Sept. 19, 2020
2. “Definition of can't see the wood for the trees.” The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press. dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/can-t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees, Date accessed: Sept. 19, 2020
bio: Steve and Brenda have been married for the past twenty-seven years and have three beautiful daughters. In addition to producing content for and managing SimplyRevised, Steve is the preaching minister at Southbelt Church of Christ located in Pasadena, TX.