Friday, January 26, 2007

Romans 7:7

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet" [Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21].

Paul has been building up to an explanation of the law’s place since chapter 3 when he first mentioned that the law couldn’t save us. Chapters 3-8 give us a comprehensive view of the law and its role. It can’t save us (Chapters 3-5). It can’t make us holy (Chapter 6). We saw that the law can’t condemn us if we’re in Christ (v1-6). Now we’ll see that the law can convict us of sin (v7-13), but it can’t deliver us from sin (v14-25). Later we’ll see that the law is fulfilled by the power of the indwelling Spirit (Chapter 8:1-4). By the end of chapter 5, Paul was in trouble with some of his listeners because of what he says about grace, because he says it justifies the ungodly and he seems to open the door to license and lawlessness. And he was in trouble because of what he says about the law, because he seems to say that keeping the law it is not necessary for justification and that the law even joins hands with sin to defeat its own demands. So in chapter 6 (6:1-7:6) Paul defended grace. And in chapter 7 (7:7-25) he will defend law. 7:7-13 answer the following question: If the law can’t save us or sanctify us, what good is it? This passage teaches us that the law is good because it can convict us by revealing sin (v7), arousing sin (v8), devastating the sinner (v9-11), and reflecting the sinfulness of sin (v12-13). In v7-13, Paul looks back on his pre-conversion experience when he was under conviction of his sin. But in 7:13-25, he speaks as a maturing Christian still wrestling with sin. Remember also, Paul previewed all this in chapter 3. Notice several things:

V7 – Knowing sin through the law. Paul has made it clear that he is not against the law. Because the language that Paul has used to get people’s trust away from the law has made it possible for them to think that Paul believes the law to be worthless for the Christian, or even worse, evil, Paul wants to make sure his audience understands that the law is a good thing. His audience wonders, “What good is the law? If we’re saved and made holy by our union with Christ, what place does the law have? Why did God go to such extremes to give such a complex law?” And we might be asking, “Why do we need to have a correct view or understanding of the law? We know that it does not save us, so what’s the big deal about it?”

First, the answer for us is this: we need to have proper understanding of the law to avoid the 2 extremes within Christianity—legalism and antinomianism. The biblical realism of Romans 7 is meant to save us from moral pride on one side and immoral, irreverent hopelessness on the other side. A proper view of the law will keep us in the proper place, not legalistic or prideful and not hopeless in our behavior. See 1 John 5:1-3.

Paul is saying in v7-11 that we don’t understand the Bible’s teaching on the law until the law’s fullness has humbled us. The only person who can understand the law is the one who has been humbled by it. Paul gives an example of the inherent righteousness and goodness of the law when he says that it was the law that taught him the sinfulness of sin. Paul is not saying that no one knows right from wrong without a copy of the Ten Commandments in their homes. Paul has already argued that everybody knows right and wrong. God has written on men’s hearts the works of the law so that they know right and wrong. It is ingrained; it is put on their consciousness by the finger of God. So Paul is not denying that there is a universal sense of right and wrong. But what he is saying is this: That the law, when it registers with people, when it comes into play, shows them the inwardness of sin, their sinful nature, the magnitude and depravity of themselves.

Notice that Paul uses the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” as his example. All of the other commandments have physical outworkings except this one. Of course, Christ pointed to the strict inward authority of the law, but there is clear, explicit physical outworking of the commandments, except this one. There is no way to externally covet; it is a matter of the heart. And Paul is confirming Christ’s teaching when he gets to the tenth commandment and suddenly realizes that there is a lot more to those first nine commandments than just merely refraining from doing what they say point blank on the surface. There are a lot of ways to break those first nine commandments without ever going through the physical action of committing murder or adultery or stealing or lying. Paul is saying that coveting taught him that the law was inward, and that righteousness was inward, and suddenly he realized that he had never kept the law.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Romans 7:5-6

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature [or the flesh], the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

V5a – Paul offers another analogy. When we were under the law and mastered by sin, our deeds only led to death. Notice that we were controlled by the sinful nature. Remember, we are controlled! Our master is either sin or Christ.

Why must we die to the Law? V5 gives the answer. Until we are united to Christ in His death, and rise with Him to newness of life, we don’t have the Spirit of God and are merely “flesh.” We have only a fallen, sinful human nature without the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And what does the Law become when it meets this “flesh,” or this fallen, unredeemed human nature? It becomes, in the power of sin, an actual instrument in defeating its own demands. The Law (which is good) becomes a partner with our self-deifying, insubordinate, sinful nature to bring about the very things that the Law condemns, and to hinder the very thing that the Law commands, namely love. Sin took God’s “holy, just and good” law (Romans 7:12) and made it an instrument of fruit unto death. The reason this happens is that the essence of sin—or the essence of the flesh—is self-deification. We prefer being our own god. We do not like to be told what to do. We are not just lawbreakers; we are law-haters. We love autonomy and hate submission. We are sinners by nature ever since the fall; we prefer our own wisdom to God’s.

V5b-6 – Paul says it again: the law can’t help you keep the law. But the Spirit enables the keeping of the law. Paul wants to emphasize the work of the Spirit in the new covenant. Paul is contrasting law and gospel here. There are two different ways of relating. We are free from the law as a covenant of works, as a way of being accepted by God; and we are now walking in the newness of the Spirit, having been freely accepted through grace by faith in Christ, by the blood of Jesus. And in that sense, we are free from the law.

Many people today think they can commend themselves to God by their goodness, by their works. And for them, Paul has some bad news, which hopefully will lead to some good news for them. The bad news is that if you want to commend yourself to God by the law, you have to do it perfectly. Show up on judgment day, having kept the law perfectly, having done everything that God commands, and having done nothing that He has forbidden, and you’re in. Anybody want to line up in that line? There are a lot of people, including us, who have tried to go down the road of law and realized it won’t work. By the grace of God, we’ve realized it. And we turn back, realizing that we can’t commend ourselves to God that way. That’s called repentance, and when we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, we find Him to be a cover for and cleansing of our sins. And we find freedom from the burden of the law.

This freedom of obedience, service, and fruit-bearing comes from the inside out by the Spirit, not from the outside in by the law—that’s the point of v6: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Why did we die to the law? Why are we released from the law? Why are we not under the law? So that we may sin all the more? No! So that we may “serve” —death to the law makes servants, not sinners. If we are justified by faith, we are united to Christ by faith. We are married to Him. He is the satisfying love of our lives. And we bring forth fruit as a result of fellowship with Him. Or to put it another way, if we are justified by faith, we are inhabited by the Spirit of Christ and He is not neutral or passive. He is at work in us to create a newness of mind and heart that serves and, above all, loves.

Consider 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” So here we have a parallel to Romans 7:6, where it says that we “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians that he is talking about the new covenant. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us that the decisive thing about the law in the new covenant will no longer be that it is a demand from outside, but it will be a desire from inside. Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27 God will put His Spirit in us to ensure, or guarantee, the result. God planned the inadequacy of the old covenant with a view to the great superiority of the new covenant in Christ—so that Christ would get greater glory. The old covenant was designed to lead us to faith in Christ through His Spirit. The result is the new covenant, but more than that: Hebrews 13:20 Underneath our lives is the massive foundation of the blood of Christ—the “blood of the eternal covenant.” May we cherish our lives as God’s, eternally blood-bought.

Paul is absolutely passionate that we Christians be known by our Christ-like, Christ-exalting love—love for each other, our neighbors, our enemies, the unreached peoples of the world, the weak, and the suffering. Paul does not want us devoting ourselves to maximizing our material ease and our physical comforts or our religious reputation, but he desires us to be doing as much good for others as we can. And because that love is his passion for us, he is equally passionate that we be dead to the law. The reason is amazing: the law, which itself can be summed up in love, becomes the instrument of defeating love when the sin nature of man joins with it. The law winds up defeating the very thing it demands. So when we die to the law, we are in essence dying to our sin natures, which in a sense corrupted the law. Having died to sin (or to law, or to the sin nature), we are free to live. As Christ fulfilled the law through obedience (ie, love), so we who live do so by the Spirit in love. Romans 13:8 “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:10 “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

So the key to living the Christian life—the key to bearing fruit for God—the key to a Christ-exalting life of love and sacrifice—is to die to the law and be joined not to a list of rules, but to a Person, to the risen Christ. The pathway to love is the path of a personal, Spirit-dependent, all-satisfying relationship with the risen Christ, not the resolve to keep the commandments. The law is not the goal of history; Christ is the goal of history. The law is not the goal of your life; Christ is the goal of your life. Christ did not come into history to lead us to the law; the law came into history to lead us to Christ. The law is not the goal of Christ; Christ is the goal of the law. To die is gain, and to live is Christ.

First of all, in v3, in the midst of an illustration he speaks of our being free from the law. In v4, Paul says that the believer has died to the law. In v5, he says that the law arouses sinful passions. And then in v6 he says that we have to be released from the law in order to walk in newness of life. Now you can imagine in the cavalcade of statements about the law there are some who think that Paul is denigrating the law, and there are others who just think the law has nothing to do with the Christian life. We’ll discuss Paul’s response to these thoughts next time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Romans 7:4

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

V4a – Death to the law means now belonging to Christ. Paul offers this simple statement as an explanation of justification by faith. You died to law, you are now united to Christ, and you now serve in the newness of the Holy Spirit. Let’s expound on that simple statement:

Trust is no longer in the law, but in Christ. If the law is permanent, as long we live, then we, as believers, need to understand that we’ve stopped trusting in the law, in our own works; we’ve stopped trying to commend ourselves to God, to purchase reconciliation or persuade God into forgiveness, to make ourselves acceptable to Him; instead we’ve looked to Christ, thrown ourselves at His mercy, and sought forgiveness from Him and in Him. We who have believed have died to the law; our old husband (sin) is no longer our master; we have actually died to our husband, and we are released from the law that bound us to him or it. No only are we released from the law and from sin, we are united and bound to a new husband, a new master, Christ the Lord.

Christ’s death, and our death in Him brought us into a new freedom whereby we were freed from the condemnation of the law, which would have been on us until death did us part. But because we died in our union with Christ, and because He died in our place, the power of that law, the jurisdiction of that law has been broken. And we are as free as a wife whose husband has died to be united to another. And, in fact, we are freer than that, because in the very act of being freed from the old husband, we have been at that very moment joined to a new husband. A new relationship exists, and now the relationship that we had to the law before is entirely changed. Are you free in your marriage with your spouse? With Christ?

V4b – Why did you die to the law? To bear fruit to God. Paul contrasts law and grace, with a double contrast in mind. We are not under the law. What does that mean? Sometimes Paul points to this reality in terms of the progress of redemptive history, the progress from old covenant to new covenant; we are no longer under the Mosaic code, because Jesus Christ has offered up the final and perfect sacrifice. And so the burdensome aspects of the old Mosaic code are no longer upon us. We have been freed from that. But at other times, Paul speaks in terms of the law as the covenant of works. The Law of Moses was not given as a different way of salvation. Yet there were (and are) those who understood it to be such. They had misunderstood the function of the law. But there’s more. Because of the covenant of works with Adam, we are all obligated to perfect obedience, complete obedience, and all of us have failed under that arrangement. And yet we have an instinctive desire to try and right that relationship with God. But we attempt to right that relationship in the wrong way. We attempt to earn ourselves back into relationship, but the relationship has already been violated, and the law has already been violated. So what does it mean to be free from the law? It doesn’t mean to be free from rule. When Paul says, “Not under law,” he is pointing to a different ground of our acceptance by God. We are accepted through Christ. We are accepted by God’s grace. We are justified freely by His blood, not through the law.

If we have been freed through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ from attempting to cause ourselves to be accepted by God and to condition God’s grace by our actions, then suddenly our relationship with the law changes. Suddenly the law is sweet and is not burdensome, because it is an expression of love to a Heavenly Father who has redeemed us freely. That’s why the preface of the Ten Commandments is so important. “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Now, therefore, you shall have no other gods before Me.” It’s not, “Keep these Commandments, and I’ll think about bringing you out of Egypt.” It’s, “I’ve already brought you out of Egypt. Now, keep My Commandments.” That’s being brought out from under the law and granted the blessings of the covenant of grace. It leads to a different view of the law. It gives us motivation to keep it. And that’s why we have been freed: to obey, to glorify God by obedience.

Furthermore, the fulfillment of the law is love. But the law combined with our flesh, or our sin natures, brings the fruit of death. Being freed from the law is actually being freed from our sin natures so that, rather than being condemned in the flesh to perform sinful acts, we are free to bear the fruit of the Spirit in living for Christ. We are no longer controlled by the flesh when we are justified in Christ. We are slaves to Christ.

What does Paul say in Ephesians 2:10? Look at the context of Ephesians 2:1-15a. Do you see the parallels with what we’ve been discussing here and last time in Romans?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Romans 7:1-3

Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.

Back in chapter 5, Paul gave us consequences of justification by faith: peace and hope. Then in chapter 6, he gave us another consequence of justification by faith: holiness, or sanctification. And now in chapter 7, he’ll give us another: freedom. These first 6 verses of chapter 7 are Paul’s way of concluding a point that he actually began in chapter 6, that antinomianism is wrong. In the first part of chapter 6, Paul used water baptism as an illustration of our having died with Christ and having been raised to new life in union with Him. Then in the second part of chapter 6, Paul used slavery as an illustration of the same principle — that believers have died to sin and are free to obey God; we have a new master! And now Paul offers a third and final illustration to this same principle. First, v1 is Paul’s principle; v2-3 is Paul’s illustration of that principle; and v4-6 is Paul’s explanation to his audience, so they can apply the principle. Let’s look at v1-3 today:

V1 – The law has authority over a man only while he lives. Paul’s principle is this: you are under the law as long as you live. This is bad news for all those presently alive, because all living humans have transgressed the law, which Paul here tells us that we are under. Now back in Romans 6:14, Paul said that “you are not under law, but under grace.” Then in v15 on to the end of chapter 6, he explains what he doesn’t mean by that statement. We looked at that last time. Now, finally, Paul is telling us what he does mean by that statement, and that’s that all those living are under the law. But once we die, united with Christ, we are under grace. That’s the teaching of Christ! If you lose your life, you will find it. If you die to self, you will live. Paul is saying if you have died with Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and also by faith, then you’re under grace and not law. I have died and no longer live; but the live I live I live by the Spirit of Him Who lives within me. And Paul provides next an illustration of that.

V2-3 – Paul, in this seemingly simple example of marriage, gives extremely complex ideas that have baffled many. We are just as morally bound by the law as a bride is legally tied to her husband. And Paul gets confusing here, because his example is of the man dying and the woman being free. Then in v4, we see that it’s as if the woman has died. Paul does this for a couple of reasons. There are certain things that are not parallel between a human marriage and union with Christ, and he’s got to bring that out; first, Christ has actually died for us, and we’ve died in Him, as we’ve been united to him. So there are some differences between that and earthly marriages. Second, women don’t die and then get remarried. So, therefore, he has to alter this illustration in order for it to make sense. Third, Paul is not talking about every possible case that he can bring up with regard to marriage. Simply put, dying to sin and being free to obey God is like having a new husband after your previous marriage was severed by [your] death.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Romans 6:21-23

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 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. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in [or through] Christ Jesus our Lord.

V21-22 – Set free from sin = slave to God. What are the benefits? Paul first asks what benefits were reaped at the time when you were a slave to sin, when you were doing the things that you are now ashamed of. Are there any? Instant, fading pleasures? Then Paul says that those things result in death! Paul moves on and says that being a slave of God has a great benefit. That benefit is holiness of character, resulting in eternal life. Holiness is blessedness and freedom. Holiness is life. Sin leads to misery and eventually death; grace leads to holiness and eternal life.

Becoming a Christian is not like standing neutral between two possible slave masters and having the power of ultimate self-determination, and then deciding, from outside any slavery, which we will serve. There are no neutral people. There are only slaves of sin and slaves of God. Becoming a Christian is to have the sovereign captain of the battleship of righteousness commandeer the slave ship of unrighteousness; put the ship-captain, sin, in irons; break the chains of the slaves; and give them such a spiritual sight of grace and glory that they freely serve the new sovereign forever as the irresistible joy and treasure of their lives. That’s how salvation works. God freed us from one master and enslaved us to Himself by the compelling power of the Holy Spirit in a superior promise. So embrace this work of God.

As the chapter comes toward a close, three things should become increasingly clear. (1) Our condition as humans is not just that we are guilty for sinning and need forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ to commend us to God, but also that we are in slavery to sin and need to be freed from its power as well as its punishment. (2) This deliverance (sanctification) is decisively the work of God, and then, dependently, our work. We must do it. But we cannot and will not do it unless God enables us to do it. Once He enables us and makes us willing, we will do it. (3) Our eternal life depends not only justification, but also on sanctification. We cannot be saved and still be slaves to sin.

V23 – The Gospel message: short and sweet. Paul shares the good and bad right here. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ. Notice the contrast in how you receive these options. The wages of sin is death. You want what you deserve, what you’ve earned? Here it is: Death. The free gift of God is eternal life. This is not an earned-by-you benefit. It’s a granted benefit given by God in His grace, earned by Jesus Christ for all those who trust in Him. The free gift of God is eternal life. Grace not only leads to forgiveness, but grace leads to holiness and eternal life. And so when the world looks at the Christian and says, “Look what you could be doing with your money instead of giving all that stuff to tithes and missions and charity! You could be having fun for yourself.” Remember, it is the man who gives who is blessed. Do you give to be blessed? Or are you blessed to give?

It is the man who is a slave to righteousness that knows true blessedness, and the false freedom of the world is not freedom at all. Remember what Jesus says in Mark 10:44-45? “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” It is the man who dies who lives. It is the man who is a slave who is free. “If you want to become free,” Paul says, “become a slave to holiness and righteousness and Christ.” If you want to live, die to your sinful desires. Why would you want that?

V23 does not stand alone. It comes right from v22. Eternal life is the outcome of being freed from sin and enslaved to God and bearing fruit in sanctification, “for” or because “eternal life is a free gift.” Your choosing is the gift of God. Your preferring God over sin is the gift of God. What if someone says, “Since sanctification is the gift of God, I don’t need to do anything”? Well, that would be like saying, “Since my doing something is the gift of God, I don’t need to do that something.” God’s gift of sanctification is not instead of your doing and choosing and preferring Him. God’s gift is your doing and choosing and preferring Him. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”