Thursday, November 30, 2017

Victories We Can Count On-Rom. 8:26-30

Tis the season for many things: time with family, decorations, music, food, shopping, gifts, and FOOTBALL. Whether you follow the NCAA or the NFL or both, sports in general and football in particular has been a holiday tradition in America for decades. After all, many rivalry games are precariously scheduled during the week of Thanksgiving, bowl games are played around New Years, and other special matchups even show up on Christmas day. Why? Because it is during this season when people are gathered together and have the free time available to cheer on their team to victory. Depending on your team, you might hoping against hope for even just one victory,…just one. While I don’t have a particular team myself, Brianna and I have entered a fantasy league for the first time this year and have been following along superficially, hoping for a victory every weekend. Unfortunately, more often than not, we are defeated.

Maybe you are living with that same anticipation of victory today. Perhaps you are just looking to win SOMETHING. It is very possible this holiday season that you are experiencing defeat and discouragement. Maybe the world appears to be winning and you are just hoping for something to give you needed encouragement.

Thankfully, Romans 8:26-30 reveals two victory’s that believers can always count on no matter what they are going through. Simple though they are, these victories are presented by Paul to a church that, like many of us, was under pressure and heading into tribulation, in an effort to provide perseverance and hope. My prayer is that His presentation can encourage you in this season and every subsequent season thereafter.

a. Victory in Prayer-8:26-27

In the last passage (8:18-25), Paul articulated how hope allows those in the Spirit to persevere under extreme duress. As hope brings strength to the believer in times of suffering, so too does the Spirit come to the believer’s aid when he/she finds themselves unable to pray as he/she ought—“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness” (8:26a). This weakness to which Paul refers, according to the context is a lack of understanding regarding prayer.

 “For,” as Paul admits, “we do not know how to pray as we should” (8:26b).

Recently in my own life’s experience I’ve had numerous people approach me following my family’s recent tragedy and say things like “I do not know what to say” or “there are no words.” Truly, there aren’t words in situations such as our own that can bring order, enlighten confusion, or instill peace. Perhaps you’ve been in a situation like this or have come into contact with someone who has been through something for which there is nothing to utter by way of help or solace. Unfortunately in my line of work (ministry and psychological therapy), I run across people with stories that involve all kinds of tangled messes that, at least to me, leave me speechless and, once again, with very little to say. Sometimes, this overwhelming feeling invades my own prayer life. It may surprise you (then again, it may not) to learn that I have entered a time of prayer for either myself or someone else (even some in my congregation) and not been able to utter a single word in an effort to articulate my supplication, voice my requests, or convey my feelings. Often even preachers/pastors/Bible teachers do not know how to pray as they should.

Reasons for this reticence abound. Perhaps it is ignorance that keeps people silent; maybe one simply doesn’t know what is best or where God is leading in a particular situation. Perhaps it is fatigue that keeps us tongue-tied; we’ve been praying for something so long without a clear answer that we grow weary and doubtful concerning our request. Perhaps it is being brought face-to-face with our own limitations; the request is so grand that we stand in reverent awe of the complicated nuances involved and the endless complexities therein and realize that we are totally inept to even see an answer to any single or collection of issues. Whatever the reason is, Paul admits that many are brought to a point in their personal prayers lives in which they do not know how to pray.

Thankfully, the Spirit of God is never at a loss for words—“but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8:26c). The verb “intercede” means to “plead” and this the Spirit of God does for those who are in the Spirit, even when, especially when, they are left speechless by what they face. So intense is the Spirit’s prayer for those who are in Christ that Paul describes it here as “groans that cannot be understood” (Mounce, 186). This makes sense inasmuch as many of the issues to which we have referred are far beyond our comprehension and given that it is possible human language is unable to even form the words/sentences necessary to ask for the right kind of help.

While creation groans to be relieved from the curse, and we groan in our sinful flesh, when the Spirit groans, help and truth provide freedom and relief.

The Spirit is immanently qualified to pray on a believer’s behalf because he transcends two very different spheres—the heart of man and the mind of God. Paul continues and says “and He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27). In other words, God, the one who knows the believer’s complex and difficult request already, is able to also understand these deep groanings of the Spirit (“knows what the mind of the Spirit is”) offered on the believer’s behalf. Not only that but whatever the Spirit prays “for the saints” is “according to the will of God” and therefore will be answered.

Ultimately, this passages teaches that one of the victories that believers enjoy in the Spirit is made possible by the best prayer partner around. The Spirit of God is able to give the believer victory in his/her prayer life because no matter how crazy a problem is, how confusing a scenario may be, how overwhelming an issue becomes, He is never at a loss for words and, those words that He offers in prayer for believers are not only understood by God, they are in keeping with the Lord’s perfect plan! What a blessing!

b. Victory in Salvation-8:28-30

 The second victory that is assured those who are in the Spirit is victory in salvation. This kind of victory spans both the present and the future, the mundane and the unique, the difficult and the arbitrary. The promise of this victory is stated in verse 28—“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good.”

Many people love to quote this verse, especially in the midst of a tragedy or trial. I had many people recently quote this verse to me in the midst of our own recent tragedy.

However, what does this verse really mean? To what good does it refer? First, it is clear that nothing falls outside the scope of God’s sovereignty. In other words God is not only able to work some things out for good—He is able to work in and through it ALL! Second, the “good” to which this refers is God’s good. After all it is His will that the Spirit is praying for and it is He that is at work in everything to this end. This means that it may not be the good that a believer may want or expect. It may not even be the good that a believer may know about this side of eternity. In fact, the “’good’ in this passage is primarily the glory God will one day enable us to share with Christ, our Lord…the blessings of the age to come” (Moo, ZIBBC, 51).

That said, “God directs the affairs of life in such a way that,… the outcome is always beneficial” (Mounce, Romans, 187). What a blessing! To know that God is at work in ALL things to bring about HIS good glory!

However, this is a blessing only for those “who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (those in the Spirit). This descriptive phrase identifies those who have an ongoing and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. The verbs “love” and “are called” are present progressives—“who are loving God” and those who “are being called.” This highlights the dynamic quality of a relationship with Christ. A relationship with Jesus is not a single static event that takes place at a point in time; it is an ongoing reality that matures over time (much like any other interpersonal relationship). Those in such a relationship with God can know divine purpose guides all that goes on around them.

However, this also means that the lost without Christ cannot claim the promise of this verse. For them, suffering, tragedy, trials, and tribulations carry no added benefit, no promise of any redemptive quality, and not greater purpose.  

The single greatest thing that only God could cause in the life of anyone is salvation—it is the best good that God is working out through any and all of life’s circumstances. This is articulated in the rest of this passage by means of five aorist tense verbs (indicating that at least in his view, these things are either completed or as good as finished). It is also worth noting that God is causing all of this according to and for His purposes. No one/nothing else can or would do what is described here even if they had the chance or power to do so!

The first element of salvation that God has completely satisfied and brought to pass involves foreknowledge and predestination. Just as God is working ever single present event and season out for good, so too did He instigate and cause salvation to be made available to the redeemed in the first place—“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined” (8:29a). This indicates that God is sovereign over the pre-step of salvation—predestination.  

Though there are variety of opinions concerning exactly what this verse refers to and how it is understood, ultimately, there are two general positions. Either, God chose people long before they were born unto salvation and then based on His choice, He predestined them to be saved, or God knew (foreknew) long before people were born who will freely choose Him when given the opportunity and then predestined them as a result. In both programs, God is sovereign over the very beginning, even the overture, of the salvation process. Either He sovereignly chooses people according to His will or he sovereignly allows freedom to provide a choice and predestined people according to His foreknowledge.

In both cases, God is sovereignly choosing people—“to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (8:29). This identifies the purpose of salvation, the Christian life, and all of the good that God is working out. Everything that God is working for one’s good is done so that people might be more conformed into the image of His Son—the very image that was lost due to sin.

To this end, God has also assured that the next step in salvation has been satisfied—“and these whom He predestined, he also called” (8:30a). No one would be saved if they did not receive the call of God first. Abraham was plucked from obscurity, David was chosen even while absent, warriors were commissioned while in hiding (Gideon) or woefully unqualified (Samson), Prophets were interrupted and called to action (Jeremiah, Isaiah, John), the disciples were commanded while minding their own business, Paul was thrown off his horse while on his way to kill Christians, and converts were made aware of their need by faithful Christians and church leaders throughout the first century world. In every case, every individual was brought into relationship with God in response to a call. If it were up to any of these individuals (if it were up to ANYONE else) no one would have made the advance in God’s direction or sought to open the lines of communication to begin with.

In addition to the call, God is also the active agent in the next phase of the salvation process—“and these whom He called, He also justified,…” (8:30b). Not only is God the “foreknower,” the “predestiner,” and the “caller,” he is also the “justifier.” Put another way, it is by the power of God’s creative word that he is able to declare sinners righteous following their repentance and faith. That justification is by and through God in Christ is confirmed by Titus 3:7.

Titus 3:7-“So that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

This is important because without justification, no one would be saved. All are unrighteous and therefore in need of God’s righteousness so that they might have a relationship with God. Justification grants that righteousness, thereby establishing a saving relationship with the Lord through Christ. This is something that man cannot earn, bargain for, or manufacture in his own power. Like foreknowledge, predestination, and the call, justification is from God and can be counted on as a result.

So far Paul has indicated that God is the active sovereign agent behind salvation’s beginning (in fact, in each stage of its beginning). However, appreciating the victory comes from understanding that this same God is also the sovereign agent over salvation’s end—“and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (8:30c). The same assurance that the believer enjoys at present (given what God has already wrought in the beginning of salvation), can be enjoyed as salvation continues to its glorious end! So sure is this glorious end that Paul doesn’t deter from the aorist tense—“He also glorified.” Salvation-future is as good as done. Like foreknowledge, predestination, the call, and justification, it can be counted know with hesitation because God has brought it to bear.

Philippians 1:6-“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Those in the Spirit have victory in their salvation—both in promise (trusting that God is working all things for HIS good to THOSE WHO LOVE HIM) and in process (inasmuch as God oversees the entire salvation program from start to glorious finish).

So What?

Although I might be aware of what some of you are going through today, I cannot possibly understand all that is currently working against you, frustrating you, or bringing you down. There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged, but this passage has presented two reasons to be encouraged. First, God promises victory in a believer’s prayer life by means of the best prayer partner around—the Holy Spirit. Even when we may be at a loss for words and the situation has brought us to the end of ourselves, the Spirit remains vigilant to plead our case before the Lord in a language that only He understands. What a comfort! Second, God promises the victory of salvation—that is salvation in every single situation (as He promises all things work together for His glorious good) and the believer’s own salvation (from start to finish). Don’t be fooled by what you see. The world may appear to be winning, but these victories that a believer possesses tell a different story. Be encouraged and choose this day to revel in the victory that God has made available by diligent prayer and earnestly pursuing Christ-likeness, for, as this passage has revealed, we simply cannot lose when we are given to these activities.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow-Rom. 8:18-25

There are a whole lot of things that people are hoping for as we near the Christmas season. Children are hoping for specific gifts, parents are hoping for a little R&R, families are hoping to reunite, friends are hoping to find time together, people are hoping to hear their favorite song on the radio, churches are hoping for big attendance at services and events, etc. There is so much to hope for and yet, in the midst of these preoccupations we must never forget or make light of the greatest hope of that we have as believers. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul reveals how important hope is for any church and he also explains that the greater the hope, the greater the capacity there is for perseverance for any believing community. Today, as we persevere through our study of this passage we are going to come across three comparisons that highlight the incredible persevering hope that believers enjoy in the Spirit.  

a. Suffering and Hope-8:18

In Romans 8:1-17 Paul discussed how life in the Spirit affords the believer freedom in Christ (freedom from the condemnation of the law, the power of sin, and the hindrance of the flesh). Next, Paul discusses how living the Spirit also provides persevering hope. Hope that perseveres is necessary for anyone living in this world, especially the people of God who have citizenship in another world entirely. Internal and external pressure, discouragement, negativity, persecution, tragedy, grief, temptation, deceit, etc. all of these potentially inhibit a believer’s joy, leading to despair.

Paul was no stranger to tribulations and obstacles in his own life. In fact, he provides a little compendium of what he went through as he was serving the Lord in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29-“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”

Surely some of these episodes were on Paul’s mind as he says in 8:18, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time,…”.

However, In spite of all that Paul had gone through or would go through, in spite of all the pressure the church in Rome was facing in their brave new world, and in spite of anything that could come against God’s people today, Paul says that these “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18b). In other words, what believers have to look forward to and hope for is so glorious, awesome, and assured that the troubles one faces in the meantime pale in comparison. What is it that the believer has to look forward to? Paul refers to this end-goal and destiny with “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This glory has a name—Jesus.

1 Thess. 4:16-17-“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Phil. 3:20-21-“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of HIs glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

In many cases, the better the goal someone has, the more perseverance and stick-to-it-ness he/she has to reach it. This phenomenon is nowhere more clearly witnessed than here. Paul indicates that because believers have the greatest and most glorious of all things to look forward to (seeing Christ and entering into eternity with Him), not even the most acute trial can deter their perseverance to that end! When it comes to what believers can expect, comparing the future to the present is apples and oranges. What is coming is quite literally out of THIS world. This is why Paul encourages elsewhere, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2) and “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

b. External and Internal Groanings-8:19-23

That said, because the believing community is not there yet, there is a great deal of tension (groaning) that is witnessed both externally and internally. Paul Tillich believed that this tension came because believers are “essentially good though existentially estranged.” Estranged from what? Estranged from their glorified body, the new heaven and the new earth, and from uninterrupted communion with God. Paul identifies this tension in verse 8:19, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God,…”. Here, creation itself is described as waiting on pins and needles for the time when the sons and daughters of God reach their full potential. One commentator has said “the whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own” (Phillips).  

After all, creation itself is waiting for a similar transformation—“for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it” (8:20a). “Because Adam disobeyed by eating the forbidden fruit, God had cursed the ground (Gen. 3:17-18; 5:29). The full redemptive work of God includes the reversal of this curse” (Mounce, Romans, 184). Sin is the reason that mankind and creation itself exists in this tension in the first place. God saw fit to punish man’s sin by making man work through thorns and thistles to yield his produce. However, this curse and the tension that it has created is not permanent.

 “The physical universe was frustrated by Adam’s sin, yet there is hope. Verses 21 state the content of that hope” when it says “in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21) (Mounce, Romans, 185).
In the meantime, creation, like mankind, lives in tension—it awaits a future recreation and yet suffers in the meantime. Paul uses labor pains to describe this strain when he says “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,…” (8:22). Just as believers have hope in a glorious future to help them persevere through trials and tribulations, creation has the hope of a new birth to provide perseverance through the painful contractions that it has, is, and will continue to experience.

The wonder and joy of a newborn is a beautiful prize that helps a woman find motivation and perseverance during the pains of childbirth. So too is the hope of a recreation motivating to the anthropomorphized creative order that is reeling under the pain of corruption and groaning for relief. In both scenarios, the pain is not meaningless but “carries with it the hope of new life for all creation” (NIVSB not on 8:23).

The external tension witnessed in the created order is parallel to the internal struggle within individuals. Paul continues by saying, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves” (8:23a). “In the Old Testament firstfruits consisted of the initial portion of the harvest that was given in sacrifice to God (Exod. 23:19; Lev. 23:9-14). Paul used the term in reference to the gift of the Spirit as an eschatological pledge.” This is similar to what he says in 2 Cor. 5:5-“Now who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” In other words, the Spirit provides present confirmation to believers of what they will one day be.

This same Spirit was said to also confirm that believers are sons and daughters of God—“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,…” (8:15ff). However, Paul says in verse 23 that believers are “waiting eagerly for [their] adoption as sons.” What could this mean?

Believer are adopted (papers signed, rights and privileges intact, full-fledged children of God) though not yet picked up from the agency/group home (they have not yet vacated the premises of the world as it exists and been taken to their new home in the glories of a new heaven and new earth).
When will this occur? When will believers be picked up? The answer is “at the redemption of our body” (8:23). This is salvation future—the believer’s glorification.

1 John 3:2-3-“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

In 1 John as in Romans 8, this hope of future adoption and relief from the external and internal tensions both believers and this world face provides the “stuff” necessary for God’s people to persevere. After all, as tense as things may be now, believers have the hope that one day this tension will be satisfied! Praise the Lord!

Just as creation will be freed from corruption and decay, believers will on this future date be freedom from their sinful flesh. It is interesting to point out how connected the fate of humanity is with the fate of the world. It was mankind’s sin that landed the world in disrepair and it will be mankind’s glorification that will trigger creation’s great re-creative transformation.

c. What is Seen and What is Unseen-9:24-25

All of this persevering hope stems from the believer’s salvation—“For in hope we have been saved” (9:24a). The perfective function of this past-tense (aorist) verb means that the present and ongoing implications of a believer’s salvation are in view. One of these present and ongoing implications of salvation is “hope.”

Hope is a curious word that has unfortunately suffered dilution over time. Today people “hope” to win the lottery and “hope” to avoid certain people over the holidays and “hope” that the bill for their car repairs is lower than expected. However, this understanding of hope reduces the original meaning of the word down to a mere wish or desire. Hope in Romans 8 (and in most other New Testament contexts” is a confident expectation of a future reality that is good and beneficial. Hope according to this definition is a sure thing—as good as already present.

However, hope also implies that it is not yet visible—“But hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (9:24b). The answer to this question is “No one!” Once what is hoped for has occurred, there is no need to hope any longer—it has been realized!  

Instead “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (9:25). Hope provides perseverance to those who have it. As believers enjoy the greatest hope of all—the end of suffering, the relief of tension, adoption as sons, etc.—they have the greatest capacity to persevere in this world of sin and death.

So What?

There is a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks as we approach Christmas, New Years, time with family, friends, etc. However, I wonder how many might not see much beyond that. I wonder how many either don’t know or have forgotten that there is more than just another year, season, cycle, available to them in the end. Believers who are living in the Spirit enjoy the greatest hope of all and as such are given the ability to persevere whatever the world may throw against them! Because believers have the greatest thing coming they are able to endure the worst stuff around them. Do you know that today? Do you believe that today?

The church must be reminded of the hope that they have so that they might find strength and inspire the hopeless. If we cannot make it in this world of sin and death—we who are in Christ and living in the Spirit—who can? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Free at Last! Rom. 8:1-17

Later this week many will gather with family and friends and reflect on what it is that they are thankful for. As I’ve reflected on what I’m most grateful for this year, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you all know how appreciative my family and I are for your incredible support—both practical and prayerful, financial and spiritual—you all have provided us with in what was our darkest hour. Words cannot express what your written words, texts, gifts, and simple acts of kindness have meant to us. It has been truly overwhelming to say the least and we thank God for you regularly. It has always been an honor to serve as your pastor and be your friend and these recent weeks have only made this privilege all the more meaningful.

That said, I thought I’d kick off this special week of thankfulness by leading us into Romans 8. In the first 17 verses of this amazing chapter, Paul highlights one of the things that we should thank God for every day of our redeemed lives. I’m talking about our freedom in Christ. In Romans 8:1-17, we are going to listen to three statements concerning the freedom believers have in Christ and examine three corresponding blessings that go along with this freedom that we all need to pause and thank God for today.

a. STATEMENT #1: A Declaration of the Freedom Provided-8:1-“…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”

As Paul opens his exposition on what life is like “in the Spirit” he says “Therefore…” (8:1). However, before we can enjoy what comes after this conjunction, we must ask what is this “Therefore” there for? In the immediate context, “therefore” refers back to the rescue of believers from their bondage to sinful flesh under the law. In Romans 7, the law, sin, and the flesh were identified as potential barriers to a believer’s growth in Christ. However, to circumvent the law and its condemnation, God provided Jesus and the means by which one can enjoy a relationship with Him. Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross not only renders one able to trade the Law for Christ, it also saves believers from the power of sin. Also, this same Jesus and His Spirit is able to overwhelm sin’s effect on the flesh that so easily and regularly trips people up. Because these obstacles (the law, sin, and the flesh) been circumvented, believers know a new existence in the Spirit. This is what Paul turns to in chapter 8—life in the Spirit. That said, any and all blessings believers enjoy in the Spirit are predicated on the salvation people enjoy from the law, sin, and flesh that comes only through Jesus.

The statement of freedom from these things reads as follows: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). This means that those who died with Christ on the cross and were raised to newness of life three days later are no longer condemned by the usual suspects identified earlier—the law, sin, and the flesh.

Romans 6:3-7-“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

Those in Christ no longer have to fear the punishment they deserve by failing to uphold the law. Those in Christ are no longer required to give into condemning sins that transgress those laws in the first place. Not even sinful flesh is capable of implicating those who are in Christ. In this we learn that salvation is just as much about where someone is as it is what someone has confessed is true of his/her heart. Those who are saved are IN CHRIST and these are no longer condemned.

b. STATEMENT #2: Explanation of Freedom-8:2-8

Next, Paul provides a lengthy description of how this freedom has come about. In verses 2-8, Paul reiterates many of the very things that he explained in the previous chapter, why? Because, as we’ve stressed several times in this series, repetition leads to retention, repetition leads to retention, repetition leads to retention.

Romans 8:2-8-“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God,…”

Simply put, the law has failed to keep people right with God (as no one can fulfill this standard) and the flesh has rendered being right with God nearly impossible (Paul even called it wretched!) (see Romans 7:14-25). As a result, the only way to enjoy the freedoms that come in Christ is to live life “according to the Spirit.” Endorsing this mindset brings about “life and peace” according to verse 6 while thinking on and handing one’s members over to fleshly things only brings about death.

What are these “spiritual” things worth considering? Again, almost every time Paul has spiritual things in mind he is referring to that which is from God and inspired. Therefore, to enjoy the life made available in Christ, one must live a life that is preoccupied with those things from the Spirit that are from God and inspired by God.

c. STATEMENT #3: A Presentation of the Results of Freedom-8:9-17

The first result of freedom in Christ is life in the Spirit. Paul says “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you,…” (8:9). In other words, to be in Christ means to be in the Spirit also and those who are in the Spirit are those who have the Spirit dwelling within them. “Dwell” here means to take up residence in. The active, progressive, and present nuances of the verb describe an ongoing and consistent reality of God’s Spirit abiding in a person. Those who are in Christ have this abiding presence of God within them. However, as Paul continues, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him,…” (8:9).

Life in the Spirit affords some amazing things according to Paul—“If Christ is in you, through the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness,” (8:10). What the apostle means is this: one’s life in the Spirit allows the individual to live in a way that is better than their flesh would otherwise allow (remember the struggle of the flesh in Romans 7:14-25). While the flesh is only capable of sin and death (as it is fallen and longing to be made new), the Spirit in which one dwells and who dwells in them, allows believers to overwhelm the sinful flesh and actually live a life of righteousness.

How is this possible? Paul says “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you,…” (8:11). Believers can trust that the Spirit who dwells in them is able to give them life because He is the same Spirit that brought Jesus back to life from the dead. It is this kind of power—radically transforming power---that is required to animate an otherwise dead and sinful body for God’s glorious purposes and it is this kind of power that is offered by the Holy Spirit to all who are in Christ.  

Recognizing the transforming power of the Spirit in the life of every believer helps inform Paul’s presentation of the second result/benefit of the freedom one finds in Christ—freedom from the obligation to the flesh—“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” (8:12). Before believers were in Christ, they could not help but say yes to the inclinations of their flesh and give into sin. Now that believers are in Christ and, by proxy, in the Spirit (with the Spirit dwelling in them), they are able to say ‘no’ to the flesh. What a blessing!

To fail to live in this reality and choose the other option that is available (a life committed to sin and the flesh) is to live the kind of life that leads only to death. Paul indicates this when he says “for if you are living according to the flesh you must die” (8:13a). Why is this? Because that which is of the flesh is contaminated with sin and sin leads to death. Death is always the natural outcome of sin.
Whenever and wherever sin is endorsed, something dies—innocence, opportunities, confidence, trust, relationships, etc. Those who choose to live in the flesh will experience death in any number of these ways and more.

 “But” Paul says, “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live” (8:13b). “Putting to death” describes a continuous activity in which extreme measures are taken so that something ceases from happening. This is the other option that believers have as it concerns their sin and flesh. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who endorse sin and embrace their flesh to that end and those who hate sin and wage war against any and everything that encourages it. Believers are free from the obligation of sin and as such are able to wage this war that Paul describes here. Because believers are “in the Spirit” they have the assurance that they will win this battle and “live” in the end.

In addition to life in the Spirit and freedom from the obligation to sin, the final result/benefit of one’s freedom in Christ is life as a son/daughter of God. Paul says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (8:14).

Because believers are sons and daughters of God, they are able to endorse a new attitude toward God—“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out “Abba Father!’…”(8:15). When once sin held the believer in oppressive slavery, salvation has broken the chains and pulled up a chair at God’s table. Though sin made everyone enemies of God, believers are sons and daughters of God. So intimate is this connection that believers and God share that they are able to call God ‘Abba Father.’

Notice also that this new relationship is akin to adoption. We are not naturally born of God (and technically not God’s children) until we are reborn in Christ. Then and only then does God adopt us who were once far off into His family. This does not suggest that the new relationship is somehow less reputable or compelling. After all, in the first century, adoption in Rome granted the adopted equal status with naturally born sons and daughters of a family and all of the implications thereof. The same is true of believers and God—they are now GOD’S KIDS through and through.

How does one know that they belong to God in this way? Paul answers this in verse 16—“the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” The presence of God’s Spirit in the life of a believer provides them the assurance that God is their Father. This He does while also helping the believer put to death the sinful flesh and execute righteousness in its place.  

Son-ship and adoption doesn’t just come with the assurance of the Spirit of God, it also comes complete with the greatest inheritance available—“And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (8:17). Legitimate adopted children in Rome were not second-class kids. These inherited property and possessions just as natural born children did. So too do God’s adoptive children inherit the things that Christ Himself inherits—life eternal and a place of authority in the new heaven and the new earth. The Bible says that we will, as the church, rule with Christ during a future millennial kingdom and then be ushered into a perfect and complete world thereafter to enjoy forever.

Those who know this inheritance, Paul says, are those who “suffer with Him” (8:17). When does a son of God suffer with Christ? We suffered essentially in his death as we were “buried in the likeness of his death” in a spiritual sense. We also continue to suffer existentially (in our current experience) in persecution and in the ongoing struggle that we encounter in this world as God’s people. This suffering, in a painful way, reminds the believer that they are God’s. After all, Jesus told his disciples “if the world hated Me, they will surely hate you” (Jn. 15:18). However, this suffering is not the end. It is a preview of the glory that will one day be realized.

Philippians 2:5-11-“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So What?

As you count your blessings this week, can you say with absolute certainty that you can include freedom in Christ in that compendium? Or, if you were honest with yourself, would you have to say that you are still enslaved in sin, controlled by the flesh, and condemned under the law? There is a better way to live (there is the only way to live) and it is found IN CHRIST, is confirmed BY THE SPIRIT, and result in being an adopted son/daughter of the PERFECT FATHER. Freedom! Praise the Lord we can be free in Christ! 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Struggle is Real Pt. 3 Rom. 7:14-25

So far in our series we have scaled some impressive obstacles that inhibit a believer’s growth. We’ve learned not to become preoccupied with the Law and to trade the tutor of the Law for a suitor (Christ). We’ve also learned that the Law isn’t the issue anyway, sin is the bigger problem and anyone who has died in Christ and been raised with Him through repentance and faith is free from sin and death. However, there is one more hurdle to clear, one more struggle to face, if we are to grow in Christ properly through the process we are given to as we await the glory of heaven. This struggle is the most personal and, in many ways, the most frustrating. In fact, in Romans 7:14-25, you can almost hear the frustration in Paul’s voice as he writes these words to the church in Rome. In this passage, we are going to examine three truths concerning the believer’s internal struggle with the flesh and, in so doing, wrap up our series in Romans 7—“The Struggle is Real.”

a. The Problem (We have a sinful flesh)-7:14-20

Having already explained how to clear the hurdles of the law and sin in Romans 7:1-13, Paul provides his explanation of the third and most personal struggle that the believer faces as he/she grows in Christ—the flesh. He begins by saying “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14). This suggests that there are two kinds of phenomena in the world and they are at odds with one another.

The first kind of phenomena is that which is “spiritual” and the Law fits into this category—“For we know that the Law is spiritual.” Spirit as it is used here does not mean ghostly and ethereal. Instead, nearly every time Paul endorses this term in his letters he is speaking of something that is both God-given and inspired. The law certainly fits this criteria. On the other hand, human beings fall exceedingly short of these characteristics. After all, people everywhere are related to the fall both by birth and by their own sinful acts. Instead of being inspired, humans require inspiration. These shortcoming are all help the reader understand what Paul means when he says “flesh.” To make matters worse, this flesh sells every natural human into the bondage of sin! Therefore, not only are people in the custody of the law and under its condemnation from birth, so too are they slaves to sin with Satan and the world’s system as their cruel master. This means that the flesh that adorns humanity renders people at odds with that which is of God, making this the most personal struggle that they face as concerns their ability to grow in Christ-likeness.

As with everything else thus far, this struggle is real. Just listen to the tension that this creates in verse 15—“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (7:15). Evidence that people struggle with their flesh is highlighted in the confusion that Paul identifies here—“I do not understand what I am doing.” On the one hand, bondage of the flesh to sin means that people are unable to carry out the good that they want to do. On the other hand, this bondage is also witnessed in the inability people have to keep from doing the evil that they hate.

Paul continues by saying “but if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (7:16). Paul’s comment here reveals that he doesn’t just want to do good, he agrees with what the Law says about what is good and evil. In other words, the problem that Paul identifies does not stem from not wanting to do right, nor does it involve ignorance concerning what is right. The desire is there, the knowledge is there.

The problem is sin—“So now, no longer am I the one doing is, but sin which dwells in me” (7:17). “”the apostle lays the blame,….squarely upon sin” (Kruse, 307). Here, Paul is not denying human responsibility for sinful actions, but recognizing “sin” as a power operating within humanity” on a deep level. Sin doesn’t just affect our knowledge (keeping us from knowing the Law, for instance). Sin’s infection is also not limited to one’s desires. After all, Paul believes that, at least for whoever the “I” is in this context, the desire is there and the knowledge of the law is correct. In addition to knowledge and desire, sin has invaded the flesh people are made of—making their problem with sin all the more acute.

Just listen to Paul’s evaluation of sin and its effect on the flesh—“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (7:18). People may desire to do what is good, but because of the sin nature, they are unable to carry it out. This does not mean that people are as evil as they could be, (after all, a TOTALLY evil person would not desire what is good). But this does mean that the capacity to do good is lacking because of this albatross around the neck called sin.

In summary of this first truth Paul reiterates what he has already made plain in verses 19-20—“…For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me…”. In arguing that people are unable to carry out the good they wants to do because of the power of indwelling sin, Paul here identifies which of the two hurdles already described before is really at fault—indwelling sin. The whole of chapter 7 up to this point might read as follows: though a misapplication of the Law is detrimental to one’s growth in Christ, the real struggle people have is with sin and this is made all the more difficult because sin has infected human flesh.

b. The Explanation (There is an Internal Struggle)-7:21-23

As Paul continues his exposition on this third inhibition that keeps people from growing in Christ he draws further attention to the internal struggle inherent within every redeemed person. In fact, that there is an internal struggle is the second truth Paul divulges in this passage. This struggle can be framed by means of two different but related dichotomies. The first is the dichotomy between good and evil. He says “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (7:21).

Though it is easy to recognize the battle between good and evil in the world, it is important to acknowledge that this war is also being fought on a far more personal level. In many ways, the believer is a microcosm of what is realized in a more general way around us and what will one day be cured at the end of time globally. Evil has a foothold in the flesh of every person, even though, once redeemed, such a person desires to please the Lord by doing good.

However, there is a second way this struggle can be framed. It is introduced to us in verses 22-23. There, Paul compares what he calls the inner and the outer man. Concerning the inner man Paul says “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,” (7:22). To what/whom is this referring? Perhaps Paul can help us answer this elsewhere.

2 Corinthians 4:16-“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Ephesians 3:16-that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,”

It would appear that in these passages the inner man refers to the non-physical part of a person—i.e. the soul that is not limited to the body. Though related to and in communication with the body, the soul does not suffer the degeneration that the flesh endures and is, not hard-wired (as is the brain and other faculties) to one’s physical/genetic makeup. It is this part of humanity that distinguishes people in God’s creative order and gives them the ability to relate meaningfully to God. In this “inner man” those who are redeemed joyfully concur with the law of God” and seek to uphold it.

However, this inner man is at war with what might be referred to as the outer man—“But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members,…” (7:23). The outer man battles the inner man and its desire to obey the Law. Nowhere is this basic conflict more clearly explained than in Galatians 5:17-18.

Galatians 5:17-18-“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

Martin Luther seemed to hold a position similar to what Paul describes here—that is the simultaneous righteousness and sinfulness of man. For him, the redeemed are essentially righteous (made righteous by divine declaration/justification) and yet existentially sinful (in the flesh). This means that good and evil, the inner and outer man, and the law of the mind and the law of sin are held in great tension throughout the lifespan of all people, rendering growth in Christ a struggle. “So what I am by nature is in constant conflict with what I aspire to be as a child of God in whom the Spirit of God dwells” (Mounce, 170). Karl Barth said that the one who denies this struggle is the “supreme betrayer of religion” and “the bomb, which he has so carefully decked out with flowers, will sooner or later explode” (Epistle to the Romans, 1933, 268).

c. The Solution (Jesus Christ our Lord!)-7:24-25

Thankfully, Paul identifies the solution to this struggle. However, he articulate this only after he provides his own assessment of his condition in the first part of verse 24—“Wretched man that I am!” Unlike so many in the culture today, Paul had a very low opinion of what mankind was capable of in his flesh, even those who are redeemed. For him, “wretched” is the most appropriate descriptive word for the physical self and its corresponding limitations.

To further tee up his presentation of the solution, Paul asks a question, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” After all, if natural flesh is sinful and the wages of sin is death, then the individuals flesh hangs around her like a corpse in need of total resurrection, not just rehabilitation. If sin is weakness, it can be worked out; if it is death, it must be completely overwhelmed by some supernatural outside force.

Praise be to God that there is a supernatural force so overwhelming that even sinful flesh is no match—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In order to circumvent one’s struggle with the law, one must die to it and remarry a better suitor—Jesus (7:1-13). To scale the problem of sin, one must understand that death in Christ has freed one from the power of sin and death. As with the struggle with the law and the struggle with sin, so too is Jesus Christ the salvation one needs for the struggle of the flesh. “Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has provided the power to live in the freedom of the Spirit” (Mounce, 171).

Romans 8:2-“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

In Christ, believers find the Holy Spirit who is able to, if submitted to, manage and run one’s life, even one’s flesh.

Romans 6:13-“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”

This is why Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica later, “do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Instead, one must gladly hand over all of himself/herself over to His reign.

In a summary note, Paul concludes the following—“so then, one the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (7:25b). To be sure, left unto himself and his own strength, Paul (and any other believer) would continue to live in fierce tension. However, praise be to God that believers are not left unto themselves, but are in Christ and possess His spirit, giving them the power and opportunity to live lives that endorse greater and greater periods of spiritual living free of this tension as they grow in Christ.

So What?

Throughout this series we have confronted the many struggles that stand in the believer’s way as they “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” in the process of sanctification—(becoming more like Christ). As each of these hurdles come into view, the saving grace that Paul continues to reiterate time and time again is Jesus Christ. It really is that simple. The same Jesus Christ that saved you at the moment of repentance and faith (see Romans 1-6) is the same Jesus that will be saving you every day of your life from that moment on. Ultimately, we cannot relieve ourselves from any of these struggles—only Jesus can—“for it God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Therefore, the answer to your struggles today is not how can I be strengthened so as to muscle my way through this or that. The answer is how can I get out of the way and let Jesus be savior of my life in this moment, that moment, this situation, that issue, etc. Then and only then will we find relief from the struggle and grow in the likeness of our Savior.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Struggle is Real Pt. 2: The Struggle of Sin

A couple of weeks ago we began a mini-series entitled “The Struggle is Real.” This is a fitting title for our journey through Romans 7 as Paul guides the reader through overcoming those struggles that keep them from growing in Christ through the process known as sanctification. As we continue our journey, it will become exceedingly clear that, as with many existential issues we face in life, our struggle is not as simple as it initially appears or isolated to one problem. Instead, the issues that stand in our way are often multifaceted and complex. Like a set of hurdles on an athletic track, once one hurdle is scaled, another is approached.

Examples of the greater complexities of life’s issues abound. Being given to drink might betray a pattern of health that might reveal a problem with self-control that might stem from a chemical, genetic, environmental, or psychological problem. Accidently overdrafting your bank account might reveal a problem in one’s budget or an insatiable desire for more that could be fueled in part by misplaced priorities and/or endorsing the materialism of our culture. These and other issues demonstrate that when it comes to life’s struggles, there is more than initially meets the eye.
The same is true with what stands in the believer’s way and in Romans 7:7-13, we are going to investigate THREE COMPONENTS of Paul’s teaching on the struggle of sin (and, by the way, the struggle is real).

a. The Clarification (Sin is the main problem)-7:7

Last time we left Romans, Paul was describing how believers were supposed to circumvent their struggle with the law. Though all are born married to the Law and many religiously-minded people are still wedded to its regulations, the Bible teaches that the Law was intended to be a tutor, not a bride. Therefore, as in any marriage that can only be broken by death, Paul said that we have to die to the Law and marry Christ in order to break free from its supervening condemnation. This is accomplished through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection and results in the believer being free to grow in Christ.

However, many reading these words may have been tempted to jump to an unfortunate conclusion concerning the law. If we are not to be wedded to the law and an unhealthy preoccupation with its stipulations proves detrimental to one’s growth, isn’t the law bad? This is the gist of what verse 7 asks—“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?”

Another way of asking this might be “Is this our only problem?” or “Now that we’ve learned how to overcome the struggle of the law, are we good?” “Is the Law the ultimate issue?” Remember, this entire chapter deals with the struggle of sanctification and overcoming barriers that inhibit one’s growth in Christ. This inquirer wants to know if the law is all that stands against the believer.

The answer is a resounding “No!”—“May it never be!” (7:7). Again, as before (see 6:2), Paul is emphatic in his response so as to quickly and effectively divert his audience to the truth. “Absolutely not! Under no circumstances is the law sin!” he says. After all, how could the law be sin if God ordained it and asked for it to be imparted to future generations?

Deuteronomy 6:6-7-“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

If the law was sinful, why would Jesus Himself insist that he didn’t come to get rid of it, but fulfill it?

Matthew 5:17-“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished”

Paul continues by saying, “On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the law” (7:7c). The Hebrew understanding of “know” that is alluded to here implies “experience.” The law might not be a suitable bride, but it is an effective tutor, guiding individuals to a real knowledge and experience of one’s sin.

Galatians 3:22-24-“But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

Though this may not be the most positive faculty, it is a necessary one, for, if anyone is to grow in Christ, they must first come to know that they have a problem of not measuring up to the Lord’s standards in and of themselves. This knowledge come by means of the law. After all, as Paul acknowledges “I would not have come to know sin, except through the law.”

b. The Revelation (Sin is an active agent of death)-7:7d-11

Next, Paul provides a specific example of how this works and reveals that sin, not the law, is an active agent behind one’s struggle and, of course, the struggle is real. He says “for I would not have known about coveting if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’….” (7:7d). Choosing carefully from the Decalogue (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21), Paul leans on one of the more popular and yet less obvious sins. Many in Paul’s audience, especially the Jews, understood illicit desire as the root of all evil. Therefore, Paul suggests that he wouldn’t not understand what gives himself over to wicked desires and evil of all kinds without the particular revelation given in the law.

However, the law is not to blame nor is it, by itself at fault—“but sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (7:8a). Knowledge of the problem, in other words, draws attention to the problem and leads to ruminations on the problem, preoccupation with the problem, and, unfortunately, endorsing the symptoms of the problem. Like the popular scenario of a child doing the exact thing he/she is told not to do, by knowing what is prohibited in the law, people everywhere are given to transgress those lines.

Unfortunately, this is realized in many ways today. Not only have people decided to transgress the written law of God by pursuing extra-marital affairs, lying, cheating, stealing, and murder, but now people are taking the added steps of transgressing the natural law of God—gender, sexuality, life, etc. Sin is awakened by these things and longs to push the envelope further than it is intended to go.
Ultimately, Paul’s lecture on the struggle of sin can be distilled down to four principles that are outlined in verses 8b-11. First, “the Law gives life to sin”—“for apart from the Law sin is dead” (7:8b). If nothing was prohibited, everything would be permissible, thereby giving no one a chance to break a command. If there was no distinct line drawn between holiness and wickedness, there would be no ability to transgress. The standards, lines, and commands given in the law, in other words, create an opportunity for sin to rear its ugly face and disrupt our lives.

The second principle is that “knowledge of the law kills the sinner.” Paul writes “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” (7:9). Paul is not arguing that before he knew the law he was innocent (certainly he was not). Instead, Paul was saying that he was ignorant before he came to understand God’s standards and, there is a blissfulness associated with ignorance of the things of God. That said, knowledge of the law does activate sin (see 7:8) and then bring about guilt as standards aren’t kept and rules are broken.
One commentator has said “It is likely that Paul saw Israel’s encounter with the law as a recapitulation of Adam’s encounter with the commandment in the Garden. It may be said that Adam was ‘alive’ before the commandment was given and then, when the commandment came, the serpent took the opportunity it provided to provoke him to sin, which in turn brought about the entry of death. In similar fashion, Israel was ‘alive’ prior to the giving of the law, but once the law came in, sin ‘sprang to life’, provoking her to transgress the law…” (Kruse, 302). The same is true of us, the law given in God’s Word and (as Paul argued earlier) is written upon the hearts of men, indicts sinners everywhere after sin is activated and has its way with those who give in to it.

The third principle that Paul offers is that “the Law has the opposite affect many believed it has.” This was especially true of the Jews in Paul’s day. Many in Paul’s audience believed that following the law promised life and probably based this on what it saying in places like Leviticus 18:5—“the person who does these things will live by them.” However, although the law does hold out the promise of life, as Paul has already made very plain, NO ONE CAN ACCESS THIS inasmuch as ALL HAVE SINNED. Because of this, the law, which was originally given so that people might relate properly to a holy God and live accordingly, brings death, not life. This renders any preoccupation with the law misinformed and ultimately unproductive—for a sinner (and all are sinners) the law brings death, not life as originally intended.

The final principle that Paul enumerates in this small section of this passage is “Sin uses the law for deadly purposes”—“for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me,…” (7:11). Again, it is helpful to illustrate these points by means of the first sin of man. “Of the first couple it is singularly true that they were once ‘alive apart from the law’ but that ‘when the commandment came, sin sprang to life’ and they died. For them especially the words, ‘sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death’ are true. After all, the serpent, seizing upon God’s one rule intended to make life great, misrepresented this rule and then used the rule to get Eve and then Adam to break the rule, leading to their ultimate death and demise. This vicious pattern is repeated whenever and wherever sin is activated and laws are present.

c. The Summary (The Law and Sin do not get Along)-7:12-13

The last component to Paul’s teaching on the struggle of sin is his summary. Ultimately this summary might be abridged as follows: “The law and sin do not get along.” He begins this summary in verse 12 when he says “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Reiterating what he said before (in verse 7), Paul wants everyone to remember that the law, left unto itself is of God and as such perfect. The law, although a hurdle in and of itself and a struggle that needs to be circumvented (see 7:1-6), is not the greater struggle—sin is.

In fact, it is sin that has made the law such a struggle and impossible to uphold. As Paul concludes this passage he says “Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.”

So What?

The components of the believer’s struggle with sin that Paul has identified reveal that sin is a nasty customer. So pervasive and acute are the effects of sin that it is capable of taking what God intended for righteous living (the law) and turning it into an agent of condemnation and death. Certainly, a preoccupation with the law is a struggle inasmuch as the law cannot save; it only points to the Savior. However, there is an even greater struggle—the struggle of sin that must be dealt with.

Thankfully, there is salvation from this struggle and it is eerily similar to the salvation one can enjoy from a misappropriation with the law. His name is Jesus.

Romans 6:5-11 states “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God.  So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

Certainly the struggle with sin is real. However, so too is the salvation that Jesus provides from the power of sin and death! Do you know this salvation today?