Friday, February 02, 2007

Romans 7:25b

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Paul offers a sobering conclusion: The new creation, wrought by God, the new, Spirit-filled nature is freed from bondage to sin and serves as a voluntary slave to God’s law, to Christ Himself; but the old nature, the sin nature, though defeated is still present and even still slave to sin. And as long as we inhabit a fallen world, those two natures will battle within us. And the battle is real. Temporary defeat is possible, and it better be disappointing. However, in the long-run, victory is certain for the believer.

Paul here is indicating something very important for us: The battle between the Spirit and sin does not cease at conversion, it begins at conversion. The first time believers begin to battle against sin is when the Holy Spirit has united them to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. And so we should expect this to be an ongoing aspect of reality, because the problem in this fallen world is us. We are the problem. The problem is not out there. It’s not something that somebody did to us; it’s not the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our hearts are the problems. We have met the enemy, and he is us. (You’ve probably heard of the evil trinity: Satan, the world, and the flesh). And, therefore, there is a colossal struggle between the force of the spirit of life in our heart, and the remaining sin which is us. And this is so important for us to grasp. We’re not perfected at conversion; we’re beginning a journey. Christian growth in grace is characterized not by perfection, but by a steady growth in holiness. Augustine said, “The church is not a place where the perfect dwell, but rather, a hospital where sick sinners get well [once they are granted life].” And that is what Paul is pointing us to here when he reminds us that believers still sin.

Don’t be uncertain regarding the outcome. It’s effectively already done. God cannot fail. The Spirit reigns unfailing in the hearts of believers. But only when all creation is made new will the glorification of ourselves be complete. Until then, sanctification will have to do. We are being transformed. For that transformation to be complete, the old self, the sin nature must be destroyed. It has already been defeated, but it lingers, and more than that on occasion, until the final day. One of the things that believers struggle with is the question, “How could God have done such an amazing work in me, and I still sin? How can it be that I, a new creation, find myself trapped, feeling as if I will never be able to break out of the patterns and habits of sin? Do you ever wonder whether you’re really a Christian, given some particular sin that you struggle with? Continuing in sin is not necessarily a sign that you are not a Christian. The test should be: Do you love the law? Do you hate your failure? Do you cry out for forgiveness? Do you long for the day of perfection to come?

Notice also Paul’s emphasis on the mind. The difference between mind and sinful nature is easy to explain. The mind is the new creation here, not merely the brain or spirit. The sinful nature is the old creation, not merely the body. The mind represents the new self; and the sin nature, or the flesh, or the body, represents the old self. The flesh is not the opposite of the mind, but the opposite of the renewed mind. And the flesh can also be the opposite of the body when the body is being presented to God as an instrument of righteousness. But extending this further, we can say that Christianity today has lost focus on loving God with the mind, the brain. It certainly focuses on loving God with the heart and strength and soul. Scripture puts amazing demands on our minds. True, we believe the simple message of the Gospel like children, but we go on to maturity through life-long study and mental-wrestling with the truths of God. By asking and answering tough questions, rather than avoiding certain issues for comfort’s sake, we prevent our minds from becoming weak and lazy. If we fail to exercise our minds Biblically, then we cut ourselves off from great blessing.

Have you seen the bumper sticker, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” That’s merely one of many half truths that unfortunately characterizes the Christian world today. It is true that we are not perfect, and though it is true that we are forgiven, that is not all that is true for us. Conclusion: Believers still sin, sure, but they hate it. Believers can never be complacent in sin. And the very fact that God is doing a work of growth in grace in us makes it impossible for us to be complacent and sort of shrug off sin. The believer is serious about sin and hates it. And that’s a mark of the change that God has worked in our lives. Paul here characterizes his heart and life as love to God, love for the law, and a desire to serve the law of God. If you sneak ahead and look at Romans 8:1-4, you’ll see an example of the victories yet to come. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. In fact, that victory is so great that in Romans 8:37, Paul can say, “We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.” There are victories in the Christian life. The continuation of sin in our experience is not the whole story.

Believers long to keep the law of God. We desire righteousness and godly living. Believers don’t look to the law to bring about transformation in accordance to the law; we look to Jesus Christ, to grace, to the work of the Holy Spirit. But what do we desire to be conformed to? The image of God. And what does the law reflect? The image of God. And so true believers long to be conformed to the law and to keep it. And the sign that believers struggle with this is not a sign of spiritual deadness; it’s a sign of spiritual life. If you were spiritually dead, do you think that sin or Satan would be prompting you to be miserable in sin and to war against it? But if you were spiritually alive, don’t you think the Holy Spirit would be conducting an aggressive, offensive campaign against that sin? And that sin would be counter-attacking all along the way? The very fact that you’re struggling is a sign of grace. Only a live man can struggle. Dead men just lie there, there’s no struggle. When you have peace in sin, and peace with sin, you’ve got death. But the Holy Spirit won’t let His people have peace in sin. He wars against sin, and, therefore, the normal state of the Christian life is one of struggle. We must struggle to become what we are. We are repeatedly told, “You are a new creation.” So we strive to live like it. Coram Deo.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Romans 7:20-25a

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!

V20-23 – The sin nature at work in me. Paul is going back to what he said in v17 and elaborating on it. What is he adding? Two things: First, the very fact of the presence of sin in his life is proof that there are two principles at work in the believer. His new self, the new master, is the product of God, of union with Christ by grace. It is characterized by the Spirit and the love of the law of God. But on the other hand, the flesh, the sinful nature, is characterized by sin and actions contrary to the law of God. Second, notice how Paul refers to sin here. It is like an alien force. Sin doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t go with the new creation, and it is not produced by the new creation that God has wrought in us through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to elaborate on this in v21-23.

V24-25a – What a wretched man am I! Who will conquer my sin nature, my flesh? Praise God for Christ! Because of his feelings of bondage to sin, he cries out in misery. The believer can never ever be complacent about sin. Paul is miserable, because he doesn’t just want forgiveness; he wants to be rid of sin permanently. And he knows Christ will do it! The believer wants to live in a state free not only from the domination of sin, but from the presence of sin. The struggle is this: We know what we ought to do, but we are not doing it. How can the law help us with that?

Paul interestingly calls his body a “body of death.” Some have taken this to show that Paul denies the importance of the physical and holds only to the importance of the spiritual. But, as we know, that is not what Paul means. Paul is expressing that the body leads to death because of sin. The body, the sin nature, has brought death to mankind. Sin has its hold on the body, and only Christ can change that. Looking ahead in Romans 8:10, “the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is alive because of Christ.” And then 8:23: “We groan within ourselves, having the Spirit, but waiting for the redemption of our bodies.” It’s as good as done, but yet to be realized in time. And so we groan. And we cry out.

Picture Paul visiting the legalistic Jews’ office and saying, “Please help me with this. I’m frustrated. I know what I ought to do, but I can’t do it. I know what I shouldn’t do, but I seem to end up doing it anyway.” And they answer, “Well, Paul, just obey the law.” Paul says, “No, I don’t think you understand. That is my problem. I know what the law says, and I am not doing it. In fact, I’m doing those things I shouldn’t be doing.” So Paul is effectively illustrating his whole point, saying, “The law can’t be the answer. It can’t help me.” And in v25, he says, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, the answer to Paul’s salvation and his assurance of salvation is not the law, not law keeping; it is God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul, even in reminding us of the ongoing struggle of the believer with sin, is also reminding us again that salvation has to be by grace. And assurance of salvation has to be by grace as well. Our law keeping will never measure up to what we, as believers, know the law demands.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Romans 7:14-19

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature [or flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.

Believers have conflicting desires, as the battle between the spirit-filled nature and the sin nature rages. First, we know that Paul is a mature Christian; he speaks in the present tense in v13-25 and looks back to the past in v7-12. Second, we know that he is a mature Christian because of his estimation of the law. He calls the law spiritual and good. He has come to view the law like God views the law. Finally we see that he is a mature Christian because of his description of his relationship to the law. He agrees with the law and serves the law in his mind.

So Paul is mature, but he struggles. He says in v14, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Paul is not saying, “I am fleshly and immature;” rather he is saying that he still has a human nature—a sin nature. He is saying, “You need to know two things about me: (from chapter 6) I have died to sin, and I have been raised to newness in Christ, but (in chapter 7) I still have a sinful nature.” Paul acknowledges that he is not entirely sanctified, not completely perfected, not without sin. He still struggles with sin. He doesn’t want us to think that we are perfected upon believing or shortly thereafter. It is a lifelong struggle. Only the Christian is more than “flesh.” Only the one who believes on Christ is born again and has a new nature and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Before that happens to us we are merely “flesh,” merely human. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” Jesus said in John 3:6. Only when we are born again can we say, “I am more than flesh. I now have the Holy Spirit. I now have a new nature.”

Paul is complaining in verse 15, first, that his actions are not in accord with the new heart, new mind, and new spirit that God gave him. We have all died to sin in Christ. We have all been raised to newness of life. And Paul is saying here that his actions are not always consistent with his being a new creation. They don’t mesh with it. That is why he can say, “I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense.” He is saying that some of these deeds he does are sinful deeds and they are out of accord with what he desires to do. He has a conflict within him of which he doesn’t grasp the workings. The things that he wants to do and the things that he doesn’t want to do don’t necessarily reflect themselves in what he ends up doing or not doing. That’s because of the dual natures in believers. Once the Spirit indwells a human, there is conflict, spiritual battle ongoing. Paul shows us evidence of his being a new man in Christ by his desire to do what is right. But he is showing us that he has a sinful nature, because he doesn’t always do the right things, which he wants to do.

In v16, he indicates that his conscience actually bears witness to the fact that the law is good, by reminding him of the difference between what he knows that he ought to do and what he wants to do on the one hand, and on the other hand, what he actually ends up doing. In other words, Paul says, “Every time I don’t do what I know that I ought to do and what I want to do, I am being reminded again that God’s law is good, and I am the problem.”

V17 and 20 are often used to suggest that we no longer sin. The text says, “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” Now Paul is not trying to get himself off the hook. He is not making excuses here. It is not that someone has come to him and said, “Paul you have sinned,” and he said, “No, the devil made me do it.” He is not saying, “That wasn’t me; that was the old man still in me,” as if there was this autonomous being within him creating a split personality. That is not what Paul is saying. Why does he say it like that if that’s not what he means? First, he is asserting the new creation, having already said that every believer is a new creation, raised to newness of life in Jesus Christ. He is confirming that the sin which is still in him is not the product of that new creation. When you look at a believer in sin, you need to realize that sin doesn’t come from the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet he expresses that there continues to be a sinful nature in him. He does go on sinning. And the presence of that new man does not mean that he does not sin. Third and finally, he explains that sin is the continuing product of the sinful nature. That nature no longer represents his master. It once was, but he is now free from that. His new master is the Spirit-filled nature, and so any sin is rebellion to the new master.

Paul here in v18, again, mentions his still sinful nature and his inability to do good deeds, those deeds which he wants to do. Augustine in The Confessions, says, “Lord, the good in me, You wrought. The rest is my fault.” That is how he sums up his whole life, and that is what Paul is saying here. He is affirming that nothing good dwells in him. But again, he is not characterizing his whole self; the new creation is good, but that came from God, not from “in him.” He says that there is nothing good in him, that is, in his flesh. There is nothing good in the sin nature of man. And so Paul doesn’t say, well, there is no good in me in the inner man, because he knows that God in His grace has wrought good in him by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In v19, Paul says that we exhibit our lack of goodness in two ways: sins of omission and commission. We can’t keep the law, though we love it; we do things contrary to it, though we shouldn’t.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Romans 7:10-13

I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

In v10, Paul says that the law was given to bring life, to show mankind how to live before the holy and righteous Creator God of the universe; it was not given to kill. But because of sin, it didn’t bring life; it only brought death. So, ironically, in v11, Paul says that sin used the law in order to bring mankind under the law’s condemnation, death.

If a person is convicted for murder and given the death penalty, do you blame the law for convicting him? No! Paul is saying in v12-13 that we must not blame God or His law for our sinful state of condemnation under the law, for the law is simply a reflection of His character. V12 confirms that the law is “holy, righteous, and good.” God’s character is holy, righteous and good.

First the law is holy in the sense that it reflects the magnificent purity of the character of God. God’s character produced the law. Isaiah 6:3 “God is holy, holy, holy. He is the Lord God Almighty.” The law is holy, because it is a reflection of His character. Second, the law is just, or righteous. The law of God never makes unfair demands on people. It is equitable, never unjust. Third, the law is good. It is designed with our welfare in mind, beneficent in its outlook and aim. Paul has already said that in v10: “Its purpose was to bring life, not death.” The purpose of the law was good for us, yet it was weakened by our sinful nature.

So Paul asks in v13, “Did that which is good become my downfall and bring death to me? Did the law fail? Is the law to blame for my sin?” By no means! Of course not! God forbid! No. Galatians 3:21 “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” The law could not produce righteousness. Nevertheless, Paul concludes that the law still accomplished its purpose: it reveals the truth of our sinful state so that we might turn to Christ for justification by faith. The law doesn’t kill; sin kills. The law shows us that sin is utterly sinful, because it uses something good and holy, the law, to kill, to produce more sin. Don’t boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk. A mother’s milk is good; it is for life. And so it’s doubly sinful to use it for death.

Let’s summarize: In Romans 7:7-13, Paul affirms the goodness of the law, so that we will not blame it for our condemnation. Sin, taking advantage of the law, is to blame for our condemnation. As an example, Paul selected a commandment that relates solely to a person’s motivation. Coveting isn’t an external act; it’s something that happens internally. Paul was saying, “When I realized that the law of God had to do not just with my acts but with my attitudes (which is just what Christ taught), I realized that all my self-righteous actions were worthless because I was filled with vile desires.” That’s sincere and true conviction of sin.

Many people have only a superficial conviction of sin. They might admit to being sinners, but it doesn’t affect them. They aren’t hurt by their sinful behavior. Sin is dead to them in the sense that it doesn’t overwhelm them. Only when the law of God floods our hearts and shows us what sin really is will we be pierced to the heart. The very sinfulness of sin is seen by the fact that it uses something so good, the law of God, as a weapon against us. God shows His sovereignty in overruling sin and using it for good. Because of sin’s taking hold of the law, the sinner must be freed from the law—freed from the law’s condemnation, and the sinner must be freed from bondage to sin itself. And these freedoms cannot come from the law, because the law condemns on account of sin. Christ alone grants freedom from sin and the condemnation of the law. He has fulfilled the law and paid its price for those who having faith in Him.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Romans 7:8-9

But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.

Though Paul learned in v7 the inwardness of the law from the law, even when he realized that it was inward and pervasive in his experience, even when he realized that coveting was wrong, we see in v8, that he didn’t stop doing it. In fact, even though he was convicted of sin, knowing it was wrong, he not only continued to do it, but he did it more and more heinously than ever before. Just knowing the standard of God didn’t do him any good. In fact, it made the situation worse. The mere knowledge of the law was no barrier to his sin. Indeed apart from grace, it produced in him more and more sin. Sin takes God’s good and holy law and produces in us evil desires. God’s law is the standard of right and wrong; our desires are not the standard. Until the law hits home, our desires, produced by the sin nature, are our law. Until the law visits intimately, “want to” = “ought to” and “desire” = “deserve.”

Paul doesn’t mean he was spiritually alive before the law became clear to him; he means he was doing fine. He was content with his self-righteous life. But then when he was exposed to the convicting power of the law, he died in the sense that everything he hoped in was shattered. He lost his sense of security and self-satisfaction. He was devastated when he saw the real extent of God’s law and recognized that his own sinfulness made it impossible for him to save himself. Paul reiterates that sin killed him when the law convicted him. Picture Paul saying, “I once thought of myself as a holy person, but when the fullness of the law hit home, I died under its condemnation. I thought I was a righteous man, and then suddenly I realized just how great were the demands of the law, and I died under the weight of its condemnation.” Without the reality of the law hitting home, we will not be convicted by our sin. The law awakens sin within us and magnifies it before us; we cannot escape our sinfulness through the law, because sin grows by the law. We are still sinful apart from the law, but we don’t know ourselves as sinful.