The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: September 2017

Mind-Set

I suppose if we polled people we’d find that 75% define sin as “doing what God forbids” or “breaking God’s law”.  Paul would fall in that majority, but with a caveat.  He would argue that sin is a power before it becomes our action.  A power that lives in us. And,  a power that indwells even believers in Christ.

In Romans 8:1-5, Paul tells his readers in the Roman church (and us) that those “in Christ Jesus” are no longer condemned to live under the domination of sin’s indwelling power.  God’s Son came to condemn sin in us, so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who “walk” in conformity with the Spirit now living in us.

The Greek word translated “set the mind” is phronouson—also translated “ponder, be intent on, keep thinking about.”  In 8:5 we face a translation dilemma.  The dilemma leaves us with an important question:  Is “setting [our] mind on the things of the Spirit” something we do “naturally” as Christians or must we deliberately choose to do it?  Here’s the verse . . .

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

The Greek word that most versions translate “live” is ontes, which means here, “For those who are according to the flesh . . . “. Is Paul talking about a state of being?  Does “live” then mean something like “are alive”?  If so, then “set their minds” is something we naturally do depending on who we are.  That is, if we “are” according to the sinful nature (that is, we are unbelievers without the Spirit) we (naturally) set our minds on the things of the flesh.  If we “are” according to the Spirit (that is, we are believers with the Spirit) we (by new nature) set our minds on the things of the Spirit.  Therefore, Paul isn’t implicitly urging us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.  He’s explaining this is what we do because of who we are.

Paul gives us good reasons for understanding “live” as our state of being (and so we “naturally” set our minds on Spirit-things) and for understanding “live” as what we do (and so we should set our minds on Spirit-things).

First, in 8:9, he writes, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  State of being.  What we are.  Not an in-flesh person, but an in-Spirit person.

Second, in 8:4 and flowing immediately into 8:5, Paul writes, “(God by sending his own Son condemned sin in the flesh), “so that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk . . . according to the Spirit.  For those who live [are] according to . . . the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”  Context (“who walk”) implies “For those who live . . . ” is more than a state of being, but something we do.

Which is it?  I sort of pick both (you knew I would).  I take Paul to say, “Those who are in accord with the Spirit by faith in Christ, set their minds on Spirit-things. That’s what they do.  So you should, so that you will walk in accord with the Spirit.”

It’s important to note this isn’t living by a new law.  The indwelling Spirit is a power who enables us to walk in accord with him.  Law on stone or on page can’t do that.

“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (8:6-8).

Set your mind on your sinful nature, you will live a life of sin that ends in “death”.  Every form of thanatos (“death”) in the New Testament refers, not to a natural process, but to a destroying power related to sin and its consequences. Spiritually, as Paul uses it here, it means separation from knowing God as a result of judgment.

But set your mind on the Spirit and that is “life and peace”.  Life, as opposite from separation from God, is fellowship with him.  Peace is both an end to enmity against God and shalom—complete well-being in fellowship with God.

Paul explains why the mind set on the sinful nature is “hostile” to God. (The Greek extha means hates God!) It doesn’t submit to God’s law; thus, it is hostile to God.  In fact, it cannot submit to God’s law.  “In-sinful-nature” people can’t be acceptable to God.

Note:  becoming a Christian isn’t merely choosing to believe a set of doctrines.  It’s experiencing a change from being in the flesh (sinful nature) to being in the Spirit (being made holy).

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (8:9,10).

Paul assures his readers in the Rome church that they are not “in the flesh”.  That is, their life, their state of being, is not in the sinful nature.  They are “in the Spirit”.  And this because God’s Spirit lives in them.  “But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:6).

Paul goes so far as to make having the Spirit of Christ the mark of who is a Christian and who is not.  “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.”

But “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin . . . “ In other words, If Christ in us our body is still “dead” under the power of sin and will physically die.

“ . . . if Christ is in you . . . the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”  In contrast to the “deadness” of our body.  Paul explains that the Spirit indwelling us is the source of life, because righteousness has been imputed by Christ.  And this life will reach even to our body . . .

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (8:11).

If the same Spirit “who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in us, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give to [our] mortal bodies also . . . “.   Christ died and was raised by the Spirit.  The same experience will be ours.  God the Holy Spirit not only gives us a new spiritual nature; at this age’s end he will also give us a new bodily nature.  The Spirit who will affect that transformation already indwells us.

* * *

Romans 8:1-11 remains mostly meaningless to people (unbelievers and believers both), who define sin only as “doing what God’s doesn’t want”.  In fact, our culture so emphasizes personal choice that most can’t conceive of having a nature that limits those choices to what leads to alienation from God and eternal death.

What Paul teaches here is counter-cultural.  As always, culture seeps into the church.  So:  will we get our understanding of humanity-before-God from popular culture or the apostolic word?

That apostolic word begins by telling us our very nature is sinful.  But it continues to tell us in faith-union with Jesus Christ, we can receive a new nature—the Spirit of Christ—who enables us to set our mind on Spirit-things and empowers us to practice them.

Commentator Leon Morris writes this about us who are “in the Spirit”:  “ . . . their whole being centers on [the things of the Spirit].  What the Spirit does is their absorbing interest . . . It is . . . a delighted contemplation of what the Spirit does . . . “ (The Epistle to the Romans”, p. 305).

I have to confess my “whole being” is conflicted.  At times I center on the things of the Spirit.  At other times I do not do the good I want.  Then, what the Spirit does is not my absorbing interest.  I find myself caught up in a spiritual war.  Indwelling sin (still residually living in me) pulls me down, while the indwelling Spirit (gifted to me by grace through Christ) urges me up.

I must ponder, be intent on and keep thinking about the “things” of the Spirit in order to “walk” in accord with the Spirit.  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” that his Holy Spirit actually  empowers me in this fight!  And, “Thanks be to God”, also, that as I’m (still) learning to “walk out” my new nature, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Not Condemned

“If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called ‘the cathedral of Christian faith’, then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer. . . . Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share” (Charles Erdman—20th century Presbyterian minister and theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary).

We approach this “cathedral” from the squalor of Paul’s confessed conflicted (sometimes) Christian life (7:14-25).  “So then (he concludes his “divided man” confession), with my mind (that is, the inner man where the Spirit dwells) I am a slave to God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (7:25).

Suddenly, out of that inner battle, we see  the “most sacred shrine”  . . .

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

Despite this struggle with indwelling sin (7:14-25), Paul has told the church we serve in the new life of the Spirit (7:6). Therefore, “those who are in Christ Jesus” are not condemned for our transgressions (8:1).

Who is “those who are in Christ Jesus”?  It’s a vital question, for it’s only those who are not condemned.  They are those who are by faith united to Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  “ . . . we are slaves . . . in the new life of the Spirit” (7:6).  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:4,5).

For those (dare I say “us”?) “in Christ Jesus” there is “now no condemnation”.  The Greek word is katarkrima—a legal term referring to the punishment decrees of God’s law.  Despite sin, those in Christ Jesus are not liable to the judgment of God’s law.

But Paul means more than justification, more than forgiveness and eternal life, more than not liable to God’s judgment  . . .

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

John Owen writes, “The powerful and effectual working of the Spirit and grace of Christ in the hearts of believers is called ‘the law of the Spirit of life.’  And for this reason does the apostle call indwelling sin a law.  It is a powerful and effectual indwelling principle, inclining and pressing to actions agreeable and suitable to its nature” (Indwelling Sin in Believers, p.22).

For the same reason Paul calls “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” a “law”.  The Spirit of life (to use Owen’s words), is a powerful and effectual indwelling principle (though more than that—he is a person), inclining and pressing to actions agreeable and suitable to its (his) nature.

In other words, Paul is telling the church that we are not condemned, as if shut up in a prison dominated by sin’s power.  There is freedom from the conflicted life of 7:14-25.  I understand, therefore, 8:1 (“no condemnation”) to refer to our not being sentenced to a life where sin regularly wins.  We have been “set free” by our union with Christ to start winning over sin!

Paul is saying not only are we  justified, but we are free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life.  We can progress in holiness (sanctification).  We’re not sentenced to the doom of the wretched man!  We’ll not attain sinlessness in this life; but we can increasingly win more battles.

Paul now explains why this is so . . .

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).

God’s law is “holy” and God’s commandment is “holy and just and good” (7:12).  But it was “weakened by our sinful nature”.  To not covet (commandment #10) is holy, righteous and good conduct.  But the “do not covet” command has no power against our sinful nature which “inclines and presses us” to lust after what we don’t have (to covet).

But God has acted.  “ . . . by sending his own Son (“own” intensifies the personal cost involved) in the likeness of sinful flesh” (“likeness” meaning the Son became human in every respect except he had no sinful nature) and to deal with sin . . . ”

The NRS translation, “to deal with sin”, is ambiguous at best.  The Greek is peri hamartias—literally, “for sin”.  God sent his own Son “to deal with sin” by being a sin-offering.

By “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh . . .”.    In other words, by his Son God struck the death-blow to sin’s dominion in us.  But it won’t fully die until this body is done away with, and we are clothed with our resurrection body.  John Owen writes, “Though its rule be broken, it’s strength weakened and impaired, its root mortified (put to death), yet it is a law still of great force and efficacy (Indwelling Sin in Believers, p.23).

Paul points out God’s purpose in sending his Son for sin:  “ . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us . . . “.  To say it another way:  “God sent his own Son for sin, so that what his law requires might be completed in us”. The Greek word is playrothay—“fulfilled, completed, accomplished”.  The voice is passive.  We, who are in Christ Jesus, are being acted upon.  The law’s requirements are done to us and for us.

Now a crucial question:  Who is “us” in whom the law “might be fulfilled”“ . . . in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”.  The word “walk” is the Greek peripatouson which literally means to walk”.  Paul uses it figuratively here of how a Christian conducts herself in her daily life–“according to the flesh [or] according to the Spirit”.   ” . . . according to”  (Greek  kata) means “in agreement with, corresponding to, in conformity with”.

I understand Paul uses the word “walk” to refer to action we take in correspondence to what the indwelling Spirit wants.   So he explains in 8:12,13 . . .

“So then, brothers  and sisters, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

How do we do that?  Paul explains . . .

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit”  (8:5).

What are “the things of the flesh”?  Galatians helps us here . . .

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh . . . Now the works of the flesh are obvious:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these . . . By contrast the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 6:16-23).

These are the kinds of vices Paul calls “the things of the flesh” and the kinds of virtues he calls “the things of the Spirit”.  If we “set [our] minds on the things of the Spirit” we will progressively “live (walk) according to the Spirit”.

” . . . set their minds on” is the NRS’s translation of the Greek verb phronewson–“ponder on, be intent on, keep thinking about”.  If we ponder on, are intent on and keep thinking about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we will live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Is this just the power of positive thinking?  No.  It’s bringing our “walk” in line with the Spirit, who now indwells us and empowers us.  To return to Owen’s words, the Spirit presses and induces us to actions agreeable and suitable to his nature.  This is God, through his Son and by his Spirit, fulfilling the righteous requirements of his law in us.

We will not “set our minds” perfectly on “the things of the Spirit”.  Nor will we “walk according to the Spirit” perfectly.  But, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus as we learn to walk out what God is working in.

* * *

Coaxing young children to walk.  Mommy on one side of the room, Daddy on the other.  Mommy helped her precious one to stand, then let go.  Daddy and Mommy together:  “Come on, another step.  You can do it.”  Mommy and Daddy wanted her to walk.  You could see it on her face:  she wanted to make it.  But half-way across the room she fell.  “Oh, that’s okay.”  They picked her up, hugged her close and said, “Let’s try again.”

Maybe I should finish with a military illustration.  But this is the image Romans 8:1-5 leaves me with–us learning to walk.

 

 

Please like & share:

Contradiction

Skeptics say the Bible is full of contradictions.  A contradiction is “direct opposition between things compared” (Dictionary.com).   Do we have one here?

“Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,  but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:13-25).

In 7:13 Paul sums up his 7:7-12 argument.  “No, the good law didn’t bring me death,” he insists.  “The ‘bad guy’ is sin.  I delight in God’s law; but sin captures me and makes me miserable . . . “

Compare 7:13-25 with 6:1-14, and the contradiction slaps you in the face.  Here are selected portions . . .

“How can we who died to sin go on living in it? . . . Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life . . . For whoever has died is freed from sin . . . you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus . . . No longer present yourselves to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (6:1-14).

We died to sin.  Have been buried so, like Christ, we might walk in newness of life . . .We’re freed from sin . . . We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God . . . Sin will have no dominion over us since we are under grace!

Again, see what Paul confesses in 7:14-25–he does what he hates . . . sin is working death in him . . . his wrongdoing is because of sin in him . . . he’s captive to the law of sin that indwells him . . . he’s wretched . . . with his flesh he’s a slave to the law of sin!  This he finds is his condition, the state of things with himself.

How are we to understand this opposition?

A few (I found only two)  think Paul is creating an imaginary “I”.  When he writes, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin”, he uses “I”  to represent all humanity descended from Adam.

Possibly, but not probably.  Why revert to fictive language (“having the characteristics of fiction”)?   Why should we not consider his earlier confession “fictive” too—” . . . if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (7:7)?
That entire text (7:7-25) certainly sounds as if Paul is writing personally of himself.

Many argue that Paul must be referring to himself before faith in Christ.  If “sin will have no dominion over you” (6:14) as one justified by faith in Christ, then “I am . . . sold into slavery under sin” (7:14) must be before Christ.

Just as many, however, argue that Paul is referring to himself as a Christian.  I agree.  As incongruous as it sounds, I believe this is Paul the believer.  Here are a few (for me) defining reasons.  Then, why this isn’t theological trivia, but practical Christian living.

“I”.  When someone writes “I” with present tense verbs, we most naturally understand him to be referring to himself now.  Only the startling, apparent contradictory words move us to redefine the obvious “I”.

“Inner Man”.  Paul says he delights in God’s law in his inner man.  An unregenerate Jew may delight in God’s law (Psalm 1:2), but inner man is definitive Pauline language for the regenerate in whom the Holy Spirit works.

Sanctification Section.  Justification of sinners by faith in Christ was Paul’s theme in Romans 1-5.  Starting with chapter 6 his theme is sanctification of believers.  Thus, slavery to sin is all past tense (see 6:17,20,22; 7:8-11).

Paul Before Christ.  How differently from 7:14-25 in two other letters Paul describes himself in relation to the law!

“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:13,14).

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

No wretched man under law, captive to sin.  He was “advancing in Judaism”.  As to God’s law, he was a proud Pharisee.   ” . . . as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”!

So as contradictory as 7:14-25 appears to 6:1-14, I understand Paul to be writing of his experience as a believer, one who “serves in the new way of the Spirit” (7:6).

Why It Matters.

Perfectionism.  Even in the 21st century church where sin is generally no “big deal”, we casually tolerate sin, pockets of perfectionism remain. R.C. Sproul writes . . .

Perfectionism teaches that there is a class of Christians who achieve moral perfection in this life. To be sure, credit is given to the Holy Spirit as the agent who brings total victory over sin to the Christian. But there is a kind of elitism in perfectionism, a feeling that those who have achieved perfection are somehow greater than other Christians. The “perfect” ones do not officially—take credit for their state, but smugness and pride have a way of creeping in” ( http://www.ligonier.org/blog/heresy-perfectionism/).

If you belong to a church of perfectionists, you’re either weighted down with hopelessness (because you don’t measure up) or you’re deceiving yourself (that you’re practically sinless when you’re not).  Paul rings the death knell to perfectionism.

The Normal Christian Life.  It includes, as John Owen (17th century theologian) wrote, “indwelling sin”.  That make “the normal Christian life” a war.  John Piper wrote, ” . . . we should make war in our own life and know how to understand ourselves and how to respond when we suffer tactical defeats in the war”.

Paul, thank you for your humble honesty.  Your confession encourages me.  It helps me realize that the Christian life I live isn’t sub-normal.  There are absolutely times when I do what I hate, when I feel like a slave to sin.  But thank you for teaching me that, while I lose some battles and win others, the outcome is certain.  “For sin will have no dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (6:14).

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Law’s Judgment: A Look in the Mirror

With all the grace-talk in the church (rightly so), one might think God’s law is bad.  Especially since Paul wrote that we died to it, that it arouses sinful passions in us and that it leads us to death.

Here (7:7-13) Paul defends God’s law.

What then should we say? That the law is sin?” (7:7a).

Why would Paul even anticipate such a question?  Because the law, arouses passions in our sin-nature body.  So, is the law evil?

“By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (7:7b).

Paul answers emphatically: “Absolutely not!”  I see three important points in Paul’s explanation about the “good” of God’s law.

First, Paul assumes it is binding.  It stands outside ourselves as a revelation of God’s sovereign authority.  Paul doesn’t question the coveting-command’s authority.  It’s true.  It’s reality.  It’s in place as God’s decree.

Second, I think Paul chose the “You shall not covet” command, not because he had a special bent toward coveting, but because we all have a special bent toward it.  We all have, what commentator Leon Morris calls, “encompassing illicit desires of every kind”.

Third, law’s purpose is to reveal sin.  The law uncovered Paul’s inward covetousness.  When Paul read, “You shall not covet”, he realized the desire inside him was covetousness and was sin against God.  In that sense, law is like the doctor who tells us we have cancer.  It’s bad news we don’t want to hear.  But, only by hearing it, can we pursue a cure.

Paul assures sin, not law, is the “bad guy” . . .

“But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” (7:8-11).

By “seizing the opportunity” Paul envisions war.  When the commandment is preached, sin uses the commandment as a base of operations and springs to life and “produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

It’s a sad fact of fallen human nature that the more we’re told something’s wrong, the more we want it.  The forbidden mysteriously pulls us to it.  Why did Eve want the forbidden fruit?  Satan tempted her—by using the prohibition to whet her appetite.

What does Paul mean, “Apart from the law sin lies dead”?  Not that there is no sin apart from the law, but that apart from the law there is no incitement of “reviving” of sin.  “I was once alive apart from the law . . . “  What past time is Paul referring to?  Perhaps when, as a boy, he knew You shall not covet”, but sin had not yet “revived.”  But the more he knew the commandment the more sin in him enticed him to covet.  That’s when he knew he lived under God’s death sentence.  “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

“ . . . but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Through Moses, Paul knew the Lord had promised, “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land” (Leviticus 25:18).  But in his experience, the commandment was the occasion for sin to spring into life inside him–and he stood condemned to death before God.

Another fact that the “bad guy” isn’t the law, but sin.  Paul writes, “ . . . sin . . . deceived me.”  It swindled him.  Duped him.  Betrayed him.  Promised him fulfillment, delivered death.

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.  Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (7:12,13).

So then, the law is not evil (7:7) but “holy”.  That is sacred, set apart for God’s purposes. And God’s commandment “holy and just . . . “.  That is, righteous, in accord with what God requires.  And it is “good”.  That is, morally good and beneficial.

This good law didn’t bring death to Paul.  Absolutely not.  It was sin, sin working through the good law so sin “might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment (which “revived” sin) might become sinful beyond measure.

Here are two purposes for God’s law, says Paul.  One, that we might recognize sin for the sin that it is.  Not a mistake.  Not a simple moral failure.  But evil before God.  And, two, that sin might become excessively sinful.  Not something small that we can “handle”.  But something that controls us and threatens our very existence.

* * *

How casually I read God’s laws!  I skim over, “You shall not murder”, because I don’t even think of it.  But then, I find Jesus saying . . .

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister,  you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5;21,22).

I don’t murder, but act in anger.  So I’m liable to God’s judgment.  Not to their faces, but in my home’s privacy I call certain business people “stupid.”  So I’m liable to hell’s fires.

No, not me!  That can’t be!  Look in the mirror of God’s law.  Look in the mirror and see yourself.  You stand hopelessly under God’s judgment.  You face the fires of hell.  You must see yourself as you are:  guilty of sin upon sin.  Gehenna, the burning garbage dump, awaits.

Except . . . for Jesus.

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Law-Dead, Spirit-Alive

I live under laws.  Traffic laws.  IRS laws.  Criminal laws.  I have to obey them or be punished.  God has laws, too.  Think Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  Or Jesus’ intensification of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27).  But Paul argues we’re not under law (6:14).  What does he mean?  What’s our relationship to God’s law?  And how should we live not “under” law?

Paul begins this text (7:1-6) with a simple question . . .

“Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?” (7:1).

The law holds no authority over a dead person.  A dead man is not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments.  Nor can the law condemn a dead man for disobedience.  Here’s Paul’s example . . .

“Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress” (7:2,3).

If her husband dies, a woman is “discharged from the law” that requires marital faithfulness.  Now “she is free from that law” to marry another man.  So what does that mean to Jewish and Gentile Roman Christians?  And to us?

“In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (7:4).

We are not “under law” because we have “died to the law”.  (This must have shocked Jewish Christians who knew that the blessed man delights in the Lord’s law and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1,2).  “Not under law” means I don’t look to law to tell me how to live.  And we’re not under law because we died to the law.

How?   “ . . . through the body of Christ.”  In some mysterious way, God identified us with, connected us with, joined us with Christ in his crucifixion.  And in that union, Paul tells his readers (and us), they (we)  died to the law.  The preacher can proclaim it over us.  He can warn us of terrifying punishment.  But, we lie there like a corpse.  It no longer defines our way of living.

God’s law still stands.  And we are still alive.  So what does Paul mean by “you have died to the law”?

A jump to 1 Corinthians 15:56 may help us better understand what this means for us.  Paul writes . . .

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

If the power of sin is the law, then the power of the law is sin.  So Paul writes,

“While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” 

The law is holy, but because of our sinful nature, God’s law has power to arouse the sinful passions of us who (apart from Christ) live under sin’s dominion.  But we died to the law; therefore, our sinful passions can’t be aroused by law to produce death in us.

But God didn’t stop by “killing” us to the law.  He “killed” us to law, so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ and bear fruit for him . . .

  “ . . . so that [we] may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

The NRS and the NIV translate the Greek word ginomy, “belong to”.  The NKJV translates it “married to”.  So I think Paul means God “killed” us to law so that we may belong to the resurrected Christ the way a wife “belongs” in a love union to her husband.  (Think that statement sexist? It’s also the way a husband “belongs” in a love union to his wife.)

God’s purpose is that we might belong to Christ as the defining power in our lives, not his law  And his ultimate purpose is  that “we may bear fruit for God.”  What does Paul mean by “fruit”?

In this context, he means righteousness.  “Fruit” is righteousness for God, righteousness that glorifies God.  This righteousness is the very same conduct (and character!) God’s law requires!  But we don’t produce this “right-ness” by struggling to live by the Ten Commandments.  Now, belonging to the resurrected Christ, he fulfills that righteousness in us . . .

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).

Later, to the Philippians (1:9-11), Paul will write . . .

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God.”

Finally, Paul explains further by striking the contrast between law-living and “the new life of the Spirit” . . .

 “ (For) While we were living in the flesh (NIV—controlled by the sinful nature), our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:5,6).

Before faith in Christ, Paul’s readers (and us) were living under the lordship of our sinful nature.  God’s law (the core being the Ten Commandments) “aroused our sinful passions”.  The result:  unrighteousness that leads to death.

But now, having “died” to the law which held us captive to our sinful passions, we are “discharged” from living under law.  The result:  we’re not slaves “under the old written code” (which is holy but without power to produce what it requires); we’re slaves “in the new life of the Spirit.”  That is, the Holy Spirit births in us the life of the resurrected Christ.  That life is a life of righteousness.  And it’s mediated to us by “the Spirit”.

* * *

I’ve never lived “under law”.  I’ve never entered into the Old Mosaic Covenant.  But I remember sitting in my Bible College “Romans and Galatians” class, when abruptly “the light came on”.  I realized I could do nothing to be justified and that the Spirit provided the power for my sanctification.  I, who grew up in the church and was preparing for ministry, had up to that moment thought I was “under law” with Christ’s sacrifice mixed in.  Without realizing it, I was like the Galatians–having started with the Spirit, I was now ending with the flesh (Galatians 3:3).

This doesn’t mean I tear down the Ten Commandments from my refrigerator and just see what the
Spirit does.  It means rather that, in this fight to live righteously in a fallen world with a still sinful nature, I’m not under law’s condemnation, law’s powerlessness, and law’s sin-arousal.  I have been united with Christ in a resurrection like his (6:5).  I can consider myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11).  I must remember I am under grace (6:14).  I must believe that I belong to him who was raised from the dead (7:4).  I can be confident that I live in the new life of the Spirit (7:6).

With that, I’m armed for the fight to bear the fruit of righteousness for God’s glory.  Bring it on!

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Not Under Law, Should We Live Lawlessly?

“FOR THE NEXT 100 MILES YOU ARE NOT UNDER TRAFFIC LAWS!”  I couldn’t believe the sign. Put the pedal to the metal!  No lurking police!

Not true, of course. But Paul’s promise is.  “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Sin is a power.  “ . . . Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin (Romans 3:10).  But it will no longer lord it over us if we have been made right with God through faith in Christ.  The reason? We are “not under law but under grace”.  Paul will elaborate in the next two chapters.  For now, he presents a question which Jewish Christians in Rome, raised “under law”, would inevitably ask . . .

“Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15a).  In Deuteronomy, Moses prepared the Israelites for the Promised Land.

“ , , ,if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:25).

But Christ ended the Mosaic era. We’re not under law any longer; we’re under grace.  Should we live lawlessly?  By no means!” (6:15b).  Why such an emphatic NO?

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?“ (6:16).

Slavery was common in Rome.  Paul’s readers would know if a man offers to be someone’s slave, he is a slave and the one to whom he offers himself is his master.

As humans, writes Paul, we have only two alternatives.  One: live under the dominion of sin leading to death-like separation from God.  Two: live under the dominion of obedience to righteousness (“you have become slaves of righteousness”—6:18) leading to righteousness in character and conduct.

The present tense of “present yourselves” (Greek, paristanete) implies an ongoing offering.  The more we present ourselves to sin, the more “dead” we are in our relationship with God.  The more we present ourselves to obedience to righteousness, the more righteous we are in character and conduct.

Paul thanks God that the freed-from-sin’s-power Romans have become “slaves of righteousness” . . .

“But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (6:17-19).

The former slaves to sin have been “entrusted” or “handed over to” a “form of teaching”.  By the mid-50’s A.D. there was a defined body of Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching.  Paul had given them over to that—to learn and to follow.  And they “have been obedient from the heart” to that teaching.  They have become “slaves of righteousness”.

Parenthetically, Paul explains he’s speaking “in human terms because of your natural limitations”.  That is, the spiritual concepts involved here are too complex for them to grasp, so Paul uses slavery as an analogy.

He continues with an exhortation:  you used to offer the members of your body to impurity and to increasing iniquity; now offer them to righteousness resulting in “sanctification”.  Sanctification is another word for holiness—a life morally set apart to God.  This “righteousness for sanctification” is a process.  Just as the Roman Christians’ iniquity grew greater and greater, so now Paul urges them toward greater and greater holiness.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23).

Still persuading the Romans not to live lawlessly even though they’re not “under law”, Paul reminds them as “slaves of sin” they were not restrained in any way by righteousness.  But “what advantage” (Greek, karpos—fruit) did they gain from the behavior they are now ashamed of?  Those things end in “death”—separation from God, ultimately eternally.

But, they have been set free from sin’s power and made slaves of God.  The fruit of that is “sanctification” and the end is “eternal life” with God

For the pay-off of sin is death, but God’s “gift” (charisma) “is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Even though eternal life  is the outcome of Christians offering themselves to righteousness, that offering is not meritorious.  The power to not present themselves to sin but to righteousness comes from God.  Sanctification–a benefit of slavery to God–is God’s work.  There the end of the whole process–eternal life–is God’s gift.

Paul means all this to move the Romans to answer “Should we sin, because we are not under law but under grace?” the same way he did–“By no means!”

* * * *

At times I’m tempted to offer myself to sin.  Anger, for instance.  In my illness, I can be an angry man.  And I agree the sin of anger is a power that I sometimes allow to rule me.  (Please don’t think I beat my wife.  Words or withdrawal–that’s how I express my anger.)

There are, of course, other sins we offer ourselves to, other sins that increasingly dominate us.  Pornography.  Lying.  Selfishness.  Slander.  How easily we presume upon God’s grace and how lightly we regard our sin!  How much we need to hear and heed Paul’s warning of sin’s enslaving power that distances us from the enjoyment of God’s presence!

And how we must consider the “fruit” of sin and the “fruit” of righteousness.  “Sanctification” sounds stuffy.  Puritanical even.  But to be set apart to righteousness–to be set apart to God–is what God created us for and what he redeemed us for through Christ.  As a man and woman were made for each other in marriage, so we through Christ are made for God.

Finally, this convicts me.  I pray a dozen times a day for the Lord to heal me.  Just as often should I pray that in my illness I might seek to behave righteously.  For the fruit of righteousness is to be set apart to God.  And the outcome of it all is eternal life.

“Lord, don’t let me put the pedal to the medal.  Keep me driving in your ways!”

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Why Irma, God?

I find myself asking, “Why, God?”, a lot these days.  Today it’s, “Why Irma, God?”  It should barrel into South Florida as a Category 5 or 4.  It will hit the Tampa Bay area late Saturday night into Sunday morning as maybe a Category 3 or 2 storm.

It’s by far the worst we’ve seen since moving here in 1989.  Since we lose power sometimes when it rains, the only question is how long it will be out.  Flooding isn’t a worry, but trees downed by storm winds are.  Our house and pool cage could take direct hits.  Then there’s all the beautiful vegetation Lois has planted and painstakingly nurtured.  She put her heart into it.  Not a life-loss, still a significant loss and a potentially huge mess to clean up.

It doesn’t help that I’m captive to a wheelchair.  My condition makes me virtually useless, and I hate it.  I guess it’s the old “man as protector” thing.

So, “Why Irma, God?”

To cite Paul, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “ (Romans 8:22).  But the day is coming when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  Paul implies that creation itself is impacted by our sin against our Creator.  And, though one day it will be set free, now it’s “groaning in labor pains.”  I take Irma, and Harvey before her, to be some of those “labor pains.”

Scenes of Harvey’s devastation evoked my empathy.  Warnings of Irma’s potential devastation evokes my fear.  It’s fear of the unknown.  I don’t know what to expect.  Don’t know the damage-extent.  Don’t know how long our power will be off and, how long we’ll be drinking warm water and eating out of cans and sweating without A/C.

Compared to flooded homes in Texas, it seems minor—but not insignificant.  Somehow making those comparisons never makes me feel better.

So, God’s children in Christ suffer creation’s labor pains like everybody else.  Irma isn’t jogging around Christians.  Our long-range hope is the day when “creation itself will be set free . . . and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  But what’s our short-range hope?

Initially, before the Florida-track was inevitable, I asked the Lord to blow Irma out to sea.  Now I pray for “protection”.  That means no trees driven down onto our house or pool screen.  Minimal damage to our yard.  Limited time without power.  Safety for all our family and friends.

It suddenly occurs to me I should be praying for faith to trust the Lord.  For grace to act lovingly toward Lois in my stress.  For grace to accept my wheelchair without getting angry at God.  For grace to be an encouragement—and, yes, even a source of strength—to Lois.  (I’m not implying she’s cringing in a corner!)  For grace to look at the trees surrounding our house and trust that the Lord’s power to hold them up is greater than Irma’s to fell them.

Irma is a reminder that life in this fallen world can be, not only hard, but dangerous.  Labor pains are intense (right, moms?).  But mothers forget the pains at the joy of holding their little one.  So Irma will leave (the sooner the better), and we’ll thank God for his care.

Irma is a reminder, too, of how dependent we are on our Father.  Our sense of daily security is illusory.  In the end our houses, our jobs, our money, our physical strength—none of it makes us secure.  Only our Father.  So, when Irma barrels in, we’re (as always) in his hands.

And his Son’s hands are nail-scarred to make us forever (and even threatened by Irma’s winds) his.  That’s what I’m counting on.

The Nail

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Resisting Naturalism’s Spell

In his comprehensive book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn  quotes a Barna survey:  “An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist” (p. 9).  But what people actually believe about heaven and hell varies widely.  And I would suggest that the majority view heaven and hell, and the spiritual realm in general, as less “real” than the natural.

Naturalism, I think, is the culprit.  Without using the word, we’re “naturalism” thinkers.  And naturalism insists we understand the world in scientific terms.   And science, even unintentionally, undercuts faith.  That’s because faith calls us to believe in what we can’t see, while science operates in the seen realm.  Consequently, “Scientists say . . . ” carries great authority and leaves the believer with his own private faith that “works” for him but carries no weight in the “real” world.

Randy Alcorn makes a compelling response . . .

“In The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis tells how Puddleglum, Jill and Eustace are captured in a sunless underground world by an evil witch who calls herself the queen of the underworld.  The witch claims that her prisoners’ memories of the overworld, Narnia, are but figments of their imagination.  She laughs condescendingly at that child’s game of ‘pretending’ that there’s a world above and a great ruler of that world.

When they speak of the sun that’s visible in the world above, she asks them what a sun is.  Groping for words, they compare it to a giant lamp.  She replies, ‘When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me.  You can only tell me it is like the lamp.  Your sun is a dream, and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp.’

When they speak of Aslan the lion, king of Narnia, she says they have seen cats and have merely projected those images into the make-believe notion of a giant cat. They begin to waver.

The queen, who hates Aslan and wishes to conquer Narnia, tries to deceive them into thinking that whatever they cannot perceive with their senses must be imaginary—which is the essence of naturalism.  The longer they are unable to see the world they remember, the more they lose sight of it.

She says to them, hypnotically, ‘There never was any world but mine,’ and they repeat after her, abandoning reason, parroting her deceptions.  Then she coos softly, ‘There is no Narnia, no overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan.’  This illustrates Satan’s power to mold our weak minds as we are trapped in a dark, fallen world.  We’re prone to deny the great realities of God and Heaven, which we can no longer see because of the Curse.

Finally, when it appears they’ve succumbed to the queen’s lies, Puddleglum breaks the spell and says to the enraged queen, ‘Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all that I can say is that . . . the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.’

The truth is exactly the opposite of naturalism’s premise—in fact, the dark world’s lamps are copies of the sun, and its cats are copies of Aslan.  Heaven isn’t an extrapolation of earthly thinking; Earth is an extension of Heaven, made by the Creator King.  The realm Puddleglum and the children believe in, Narnia and its sun and its universe, is real, and the witch’s world—which she tempts them to believe is the only real world—is in fact a lesser realm, corrupted and in bondage.

When the queen’s lies are exposed, she metamorphoses into the serpent she really is, whereupon Rilian, the human king and Aslan’s appointed ruler of Narnia, slays her.  The despondent slaves who’ve lived in darkness are delivered.  Light floods in, and their home below becomes a joyous place again because they realize that there is indeed a bright world above and Aslan truly rules the universe.  They laugh and celebrate, turning cartwheels and popping firecrackers.

Sometimes we’re like Lewis’s characters.  We succumb to naturalistic assumptions that what we see is real and what we don’t see isn’t . . . But we must recognize our blindness.  The blind must take by faith that there are stars in the sky.  If they depend on their ability to see, they will conclude that there are no stars . . .

We’ll one day be delivered from the blindness that separates us from the real world. We’ll realize then the stupefying bewitchment we’ve lived under.”

* * *

I don’t want to get into a science vs. faith debate.  Suffice it to say that a true interpretation of Scripture and an accurate scientific discovery will coincide.  But my point here is that “science” can subconsciously make us doubt the spiritual realm.  Or it can leave us assuming we have to reject science if we’re to have faith in what we can’t see.

This problem arises especially for students.  At any grade, how should they harmonize their science-learning with their faith?  Or should they regard science and faith as forever separate realms, thus considering faith as anti-scientific and private?

C.S. Lewis creatively reminds us that instead of naturalism reigning supreme, naturalism (the only realm science can study) offers us only “copies” of what exists in the spiritual realm.  And when all is said and done, the trinitarian God, whom we can’t see but whom we follow by faith, will have the last word.  And his new creation will be immeasurably superior to anything naturalism provides.  Puddleglum’s right.

 

 

Product Details

https://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Alcorn-Randy-ebook/dp/B000FCKCJC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504471192&sr=8-1&keywords=heaven+randy+alcorn

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Does Grace Make Sin a Non-Issue?

The change that occurred at our conversion makes it incongruous for us to keep living in sin.  That’s my summation of Paul’s proclamation in Romans 6:1-14.

In 6:2 he tells us we died to sin.  In 6:3 that we were baptized into Christ’s death.  In 6:4 that we were buried with Christ by baptism into death.  And in 6:4 he explains God’s purpose in our death to sin with Christ:  that we might walk in newness of life.

This change at our conversion (“baptism”) makes it incongruous (inappropriate, inconsistent, not in harmony with our new character) for us to keep practicing sin.

But how can Christ’s death 2000 years ago change our relationship to the power of sin now?  It’s a mystery that Paul explains (though it remains a mystery) . . .

 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5).

“United” is the NSV’s translation of sumphotai, used of being closely associated with someone in a similar experience. For instance, two robbers were crucified together with Christ (Matthew 27:44).  They physically died with him.  We died with him spiritually to the power of sin we were under (“ . . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin”—3:9).

Furthermore,“if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 

Why does Paul use the future tense?  Why not “we are united with him in a resurrection like his”?  Because we have to apply our union with him in his resurrection, as we’ll see later in Paul’s exhortations. For now, more explanations about our death to sin with Christ . . .

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).

“ . . . our old self” (literally, “our old man”) refers to our whole being connected to Adam (5:12-21)—the person we were apart from Christ.  Then we were “enslaved to [the power of] sin.” 

In his speech before he was martyred, Stephen told how God spoke in his covenant with Abraham and said, “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years” (Acts 7:6; Genesis 15:13).  As Abraham’s descendants were enslaved to Pharaoh, so,  before Christ, we were slaves to sin.

But no longer.  Paul says not only that we died with Christ, but that “our old self was crucified.”  Just as the two robbers’ lives ended in crucifixion with Christ, so did our enslavement to sin’s power.

What does Paul mean by “ . . . the body of sin”?  Not the totality of sins added together, but our physical body through which temptation to sin comes and through which we commit sin.

But Paul writes that “ . . . our old self was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed”.  The NRS translation, in my view, is unfortunate.   The Greek katargaysthay is translated “the rulers of this age . . . . are doomed to perish” in 1 Corinthians 2:16. But Paul also uses it of a married woman who ”is released from the law of marriage” if her husband dies (Romans 7:2).  The latter sense seems favorable here.  By our connection with Christ in his death our physical body is released from the controlling power of sin. We are no longer enslaved to it.

Paul states the obvious . . .

“For whoever has died is freed from sin” (6:7).

Sin has no power over a dead man!  While Paul is speaking of a mysterious spiritual death in union with Christ, not of a physical death, we mustn’t dismiss this as spiritual symbolism or arcane theological talk.  Paul is writing of reality.  Not only were we justified by faith, the old Adam-connected person we were died.  I don’t understand how.  I can’t explain how.  But there are spiritual realities we can explain naturally.  This is one.

“But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (6:8-10).

Why does Paul say, “we believe that we will also live with [Christ}?  We face the same question as we did in verse 5.  I don’t want to get in the exegetical “weeds”, but I think both there and here Paul is glancing ahead to bodily resurrection with Christ at his coming.  And that full-body resurrection “reaches back” into the present, so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk (now) in newness of life (6:4).

So what should we do with all this theology?  Here’s Paul’s practical take-away—for the church at Rome and for us . . .

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).

By “So” Paul means in the same way Christ died to sin and died to death by being raised “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.”

Armed with all this theological truth (6:1-10) we must make an objective evaluation of ourselves and think: “I am dead to the power of sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Say I’m a guy who wants to pay back someone who wrongs me.  I might do it by verbal abuse or silent withdrawal.  But something in me craves revenge.  Paul teaches me to think of myself as dead to that “something in me” (I don’t have to follow that craving, because I’m dead to its power with Christ).  And Paul teaches me to think of myself as “alive to God”.  That means I should think of myself as sensitive and responsive to God.

“Alive to God”. I picture myself intentionally hurt by my hostile neighbor.  I’m thinking I’ll just have nothing to do with him ever again.  But a presence is awakening me to the possibility of forgiving him, of praying for him and of doing something good for him.

“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).

By “Therefore” Paul means for the reason that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and you are thoughtfully considering yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God, act.

First, don’t let sin dominate you, to make you obey the passions of your mortal bodies.  Sin’s intention is domination.  But don’t let it.  In my illustration above, don’t withdraw in pay-back to your hostile neighbor.

Second, stop putting your head, hands and heart at sin’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of wrongdoing.  You can do this, because you’re dead to sin’s power.

Third, put your head, hands and heart at God’s disposal to be instruments (or weapons) of right-doing. You can do this, because “you have been brought from death to life”!  In other words, you once were “dead” to God and you were made “dead” to the power of sin.  But you’ve been made alive to God.  So present yourself to him to do what he says is right.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (6:14).

This is the apostle’s promise to us:  sin will no longer dominate us.  Why?  “ . . . since you are not under law”.  We are not left to “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” as justified believers in Christ.  We now live “under grace” where we’re dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

* * *

Some of us are care-less about sin.  It’s just a non-issue in our busy lives.  Besides (we presume), God’s grace is always greater.  Others of us are triumphant over sin–even commanding it, “Be gone!”  But many of us (maybe most) struggle in the trenches with a besetting sin or even a whole array of what God calls “evil”.

To us, Paul’s words offer encouragement.  Not just that we have Holy Spirit power to withstand, but that by baptism in Christ’s name we really have been changed.  If a surgeon slices us open, he won’t find the evidence.  But, united with the crucified Christ, we really did die to sin’s power.  When it flaunts itself before us, we can thoughtfully consider that we’re corpses to its enticements.  Even more, we can thoughtfully consider that we really are alive to God.  In our innermost being, an awareness of him breathes and a right response to him fairly pulses inside.

Then we can simply refuse to give ourselves to sin.  We can refuse to let our head, our hands, our hearts–any part of us–become a weapon of wrongdoing.  And we can courageously give our head, hands, hearts–any part of us–to the living God within us, so that our “members” become weapons of sin-slaying righteousness.

The trio is singing a beautiful song.  But the alto is out of tune.  That’s us if we “continue in sin”.

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Did Jesus “Come”?

By last evening, the weakness/numbness/ache (I don’t know how to describe it) had crept from my feet into my upper body and into my head.  I felt consumed by it, shriveling up.  I was suddenly afraid of what lay ahead.

This head-numbness has come before.  It’s made writing my blog impossible, because it saps my mental energy and leaves me in a strange “fog”.  But last evening was the worst.

I was alone in the house, because Lois had taken Scooby-Girl, our dog, for a needed walk.  I decided to lay down in bed, hoping that might alleviate my symptoms.

I prayed my feeble prayer  (“feeble” because it’s more desperation than faith):  “Jesus, take pity on me.  Have compassion on me and heal me.  Reverse the progress of this illness and restore what it’s taken.”  I placed first one hand, then the other, over my eyes and forehead, repeating my prayer and waiting in silence, in darkness.

Suddenly, it  felt as if Jesus was there.  It wasn’t a physical feeling—a spiritual sense, I’d call it. I saw nothing.  I had no vision of him.  But I imagined (though, I think, not intentionally) Jesus coming to me, telling me it was okay, that he was healing me.  Then, peace quieted me.

After about 15 minutes, I decided I had to act on what I believed just happened.  So I got up.  No numbness in my head; it felt fine.  It remained so for the rest of the evening and again this morning.

What should I make of this?

Did Jesus really “come” and heal my head?  That has been the worst part of my illness, because I’m not able to seriously read or creatively write when the numbness “hits”.  Did the Lord reverse the progress of this illness, at least in my head?  Is this the start of a total reversal?  Or was Jesus’ “coming” just my imagination, and I felt better because I had laid down?  My head is okay yet this morning, but often the numbness doesn’t reach it until later in the day.

One thing I know (like the healed blind man in John 9).  Before I laid down and prayed, my head was consumed by my illness.  And I was afraid.  When I got up, my head was fine and fear was gone.

Maybe Jesus healed my head just for last evening, because the condition was so bad.  If so, I’m thankful for that respite.  Of course,  I hope and pray for more: that Jesus might have started a reversal he’ll continue.  Maybe it will be total (wouldn’t that be amazing!), maybe partial.  Though I want all, I’ll take whatever healing he gives.

But suppose Jesus’ “coming” last evening was my imagination?  Suppose my head numbness returns?  Will I be disappointed, discouraged?  I’d like to say I’d be thankful for one better evening; but I won’t.  No way I wouldn’t be disappointed and discouraged.

But, for now, I’m going to keep hoping and keep praying.

P.S.  I hesitated writing this until I knew more.  But I figured if Jesus healed my head only for last night, he should receive glory for it.  And if it all was just my imagination, well, I’m willing to be called crazy for believing Jesus still does that sort of thing.

 

Please like & share:

© 2017 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)