Archive for the ‘#humanity’ Tag

The Struggle   1 comment

Romans 7:14-23 is unique in the New Testament and in Paul’s writing in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.

Lament #1

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which 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. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).

The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. Romans is a letter, written from Paul to the church in Rome. It is not a series of verses or passages that can be broken out into separate topics. One passage flows into another. Paul here continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).

“The Law is not evil. It is spiritual.”

Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it — his carnal, fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition. These people are not Christians.

Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (verses. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.

Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (verses 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present.

Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.

Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.

Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” 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.” How can that be if Christians have been delivered from sin? It pays to look at the Greek, which I did and then confirmed with a friend who actually knows the Greek. The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.

Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning. It means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature, which is always tainted by the sin of the Fall..

Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David (a man after Gods own heart) says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, but David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to Isaiah’s upon seeing a vision of God: “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.

Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there is sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”

What If Characterr Went ViralSelf-righteous people deceive themselves into thinking they are inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God on occasion and far more often than he wanted.

This is part of an ongoing series “What if Character Went Viral”.

Don’t Avoid the Conflict   4 comments

In Romans 7:14-25 Paul the apostle wrote a poignant description of a soul in conflict with himself.

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which 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. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the goodthat I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on 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.

Paul loved God’s moral law and wanted to obey it, but felt pulled away from doing so by the sin that was in him.

The scholars and many Christians are conflicted about this — Is Paul talking about a Christian (perhaps even himself) or a non-Christian? Can Christians feel such bondage to sin? Do non-Christians often express such a desire to do good? It’s a conundrum. Christians cannot be bound by sin, but non-Christians don’t desire to keep the law of God.

Paul wrote “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (verse 14) and “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh; I want to do good, but I cannot do it” (verse 18). Those who believe this passage speaks of a non-Christian say that Christians know how to do what is good in God’s eyes and they see an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power in this passage.

Verse 24 “Wretched man that I am!” does seem distant from the promise of Romans 5:1-2 of “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sin’s power. How can the person who said all that turn around and say “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin?”

Paul did a marvelous job of capturing the messiness that is grace. Chapter 6 emphasize the new creation, nature, and identify in Christ. Now redeemed, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. Chapter 7 shows the other side of the Christian life.

Honestly, every Chrisitan knows from experience that though she is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. Chapter 6 even points out the conflict in verses 12-13: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts.” Because it is still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.

Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in Chapter 6 is to misunderstand the entire gospel as presented in the letter to the Romans.

We are saved through grace by faith, not from anything that we have or will do, so that we have no cause to boast of our accomplishments. But Jesus isn’t done with us after that. We don’t get our “fire insurance” and go on upon our merry way setting fire to the world with our sin. Faith without works is indeed death because it is a mental and verbal assent that returns no fruit.

Romans 8:7 explains that the unregenerate person (the non-Christian) is not subject to the law of God. You didn’t consent. You don’t have to comply. Christians, however, did consent and we owe God the respect of our compliance with His laws. Paul proclaimed that he joyfully concurred with the law of God in his inner man (verse 7:22), but he struggles with his desire to do right because his flesh is weak.

Ah, a carnal  Christian! the gossips among us pounce. Surely it couldn’t be a Spirit-filled missionary to the European continent! It must be someone with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law.

Poppycock!

My own experience is that the more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings are. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self­ perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul was describing himself, which should certainly explain the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”

What If Characterr Went ViralWas Paul describing his struggles before he was saved? Really? No! Paul was persecuting Christians before the bright light on the road. There’s no evidence he struggled with his conscious or with righteous living at the time. Besides, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation, which Paul often exhibited (1 Corinthians 15:9-10Ephesians 3:8). Paul was very precise in his language in Romans 7. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.

The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.

Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of the struggle between living as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer who loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart desires.

This is part of a series What if Character Went Viral?

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