The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Word (page 1 of 27)

God’s Word Failed?

Imagine reading a book on nuclear fission, when suddenly you find three chapters where the author reveals his feelings about friendships lost.  Bewildering, no?  That’s how Romans 9-11 appears.  But, as we’ll see, Paul has a purpose consistent with the gospel.

“I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (9:1-3).

Paul elaborates on the truth of what he’s about to write.  Not because we think he might lie, but because he earlier said some harsh things about the Jews (2:9,17-29; 3:9,29; 4:9-18; 9:25-10:5,19-21; 11:1ff.)—and what he’s about to say is quite the opposite.

He is, he writes, “speaking the truth in Christ”.  That is, he’s speaking the truth as Christ himself would.  His “conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit”.  That is, he knows intuitively that he’s speaking the truth as found in his Spirit-filled heart.

And what is this truth?  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”

What causes such sorrow and anguish?  Paul hints at it when he wishes he himself were “accursed and cut off from Christ”.  Messiah, for whom the Jews longed, has come—and they rejected him.  They are “accursed”.  The Greek is anathema—“delivered over to God’s wrath”.  They are “cut off from Messiah”.

And Paul wishes he might be in their place.  Commentators go to considerable length to explain the possibility of Paul prayer-wishing such a thing.  Could Paul have really prayed like that?  Might God accept such a sacrifice for others.  I think Paul is merely stating how much he loves his “kindred according to the flesh”, and what he would do to save them if he could.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (9:4,5).

Paul stands in awe at the God-given privileges they enjoyed.  “Israelites” is a general term of honor meant to summarize the privileges that follow.

“ . . . to them belong the adoption”.  One commentator explains this is Paul’s way of speaking of the Israelites as God’s sons.  Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Exodus 4:22,23) . . . Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Deuteronomy 14:1).

“to them belong . . . the glory”. 

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:34-38).

The “glory” signified God’s holy presence among the Israelites.

“to them belong . . . the covenants”.  These include, not only the Mosaic covenant, but all the promises the LORD made to Israel.

. . .remember lthat you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12).

“to them belong . . . the giving of the law”.  Paul takes his readers back to Sinai and the LORD’s revelation of how his people must live as his covenant people.  The law reflected the very nature of God.

“to them belong . . . the worship”.  That is, the sacrificial system by which their sins could be atoned for and which pointed forward toward Messiah and the Temple where the Holy One himself dwelt among them.

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.  For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.  Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:1-5).

“to them belong . . . the promises”. 

Here’s one the Lord made to Abraham . . .

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:6-8).

And another through the prophet Daniel . . .

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13,14).

to them belong the patriarchs”.  Great men of faith and exploits:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and probably David.

“ . . . and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

“Messiah”, writes C.E.B. Cranfield (late New Testament scholar), “is the supreme privilege, the supreme dignity of the Jewish people”.

* * *

Despite all that, the majority of Jews  rejected the Messiah.  Hence, Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish.

How could such a thing happen?

We ask, because we suddenly remember that through Paul God the Holy Spirit has made promises to us, too.  Roman’s 8 runs full of them and ends with this extravagant promise . . .

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Indeed, all of Romans 8 contains similar grandeur that it takes our breath away.

Now:   if God didn’t keep his word to Israel, how can we be confident he’ll keep it to us?

Hear Paul’s emphatic response: . . .

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a). 

Paul will explain in following verses.  He’ll answer our, “How could such a thing happen?”, question.  But, for now, this is enough.  On this we must stand. And pray that the Holy Spirit will root it deep in our minds and heart.  For this is the very nature of our God  . . .

“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

Be assured.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord, no matter how life seems.

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a).

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Defiance in His Voice

“May I please come with you?”  That’s a polite question.

In Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks four questions–not politely. John Stott (20th century English Evangelical leader) wrote that Paul “hurls these questions out into space, as it were, defiantly, triumphantly challenging any creature in heaven or earth or hell to answer them or deny the truth that is contained in them.”

“What then are we to say about these things?” (8:31a). ‘’

This question isn’t one of Stott’s four.  But, if Stott is right, Paul asks it with the same challenging spirit evident in the coming four.  So, having thought deeply about what Paul’s just written (especially Romans 8:1-30), what should (or, will) we say about “these things”?

Question 1: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31:b).

“For” translates the Greek hupare.  Paul uses it again in 9:3—“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people . . .”.  He uses it in the same sense here.  So we might say, “If God has so acted for our sake in Christ, who is against us?”  Or, to particularize, “If God works all things for our good to conform us to the glorious likeness of his Son, who can be against us?”

Well, a lot can be against us!  “ . . .tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’” (8:35,36).  So, Paul doesn’t mean no one and no thing can be against us.  He means no one and no thing can beat us.  Since, God has acted for our sake in Christ (8:1-30), we can’t lose—no matter what.  God is our Protector.

Question 2:  “ . . . will he not with him also give us everything else?” (8:32b).

Here’s the whole verse: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”

Paul is arguing logically, from the greatest to the least.  The greatest:  God did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all.  The least:  he will with him give us everything else.  Here’s John Piper’s explanation of Paul’s reasoning . . .

“The reason [God’s sparing not his own Son is] the greater thing is that God loved his Son infinitely. His Son did not deserve to be killed. His Son was worthy of worship by every creature, not spitting and whipping and scorn and torture. To hand over his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13) was the incomparably great thing. The reason for this is the immensity of God’s love for his Son. This is what made it so unlikely that God would hand him over. Yet God did it. And in doing it he showed that he most certainly would do all other things — all of which would be easy by comparison — to give all things to the people for whom he gave his Son.”

What is “everything else”?  It includes at least two glorious things both free from sin’s corruption and death’s decay:  a new, resurrected body and a new creation (8:18-23).

Question 3: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (8:33a).

Paul is not saying that no one will ever condemn us or charge us.  In fact, Satan does.  In Revelation 12:10, the apostle John hears a loud voice in heaven calling Satan “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, [who] has been hurled down.”  This implies we are constantly accused before God, much like Satan accused Job (Job 1:9-11–“‘Does Job fear God for nothing?'” Satan replied.  ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.'”

Paul is saying that no charge against God’s chosen ones will stick.  Because, “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (8:33b,34).

Paul has already said that God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us, so we are “right” before him.  Who can condemn us since God has justified us?  Not Satan.  Not our own sins.  Not an enemy.

Christ Jesus died.  He was raised.  And he’s at God’s “right hand” (metaphor for God’s place of sovereignty and dominion) interceding for us.

I heard Pastor Jack Arnold {http://www.religionnewsblog.com/10049/The-Preacher-Who-Died-With-Heaven-On-His-Lips) offer this illustration (my paraphrase) . . .

“I imagine standing before God on Judgement Day. He reviews all my sins, then asks, ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’  Jesus stands next to me and says, ‘I’ll take care of this.’  He says not another word, just holds out to the Judge his nail-scarred hands.”

Jesus paid it all.

Question 4: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35a).

Christ’s love is seen supremely in his sacrifice for us.  But will anyone or anything ever be able to sever us from his love?

“Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’” (8:35b,36).

I understand “hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword” to be suffering that might make us presume we’re no longer in Christ’s love.  Does this hardship mean Christ no longer acts to me in love?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39).

“ . . . more than conquerors” is the NRS’ translation of hupernikao—“to be completely and overwhelmingly victorious.”  It’s a rout, a shut-out.  In all these things, however hard, we’re super-conquerors “through him who loved us.”  Christ Jesus is our means of conquering.

Paul makes this audacious conquer-claim because he’s convinced that . . .

  • “neither death (death brings us to Christ—Philippians 1:21-23),
  • not life (anything it throws at us),
  • nor angels, nor rulers (nothing in the spiritual realm, good or evil),
  • nor things present, nor things to come (not today’s circumstances, not tomorrow’s troubles),
  • nor powers (supernatural forces—Satan, demons),
  • nor height, nor depth (anything above the heavens or beneath the earth),
  • nor anything else in all creation (with these words Paul encompasses anything unsaid in the above list).

. . . absolutely nothing has the power (Greek, doonami) to set us apart from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

* * *

This Scripture deserves a 100-piece orchestra and huge choir singing its words so we could soak them into our soul as the music shakes the walls.  But here’s the best I can do for now.  I turn Paul’s questions into four defiant declarations of faith. . . .

“If God is for me, no one and no thing can succeed against me!”

“Since God gave up his Son for me, he will surely give me all things with him!”

“No one can ever condemn me, because I am one of God’s chosen, justified by Christ!”

“Absolutely nothing in all creation can ever separate me from God’s love in Christ Jesus my Lord!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

It’s All Good

John 3:16—the best-known Bible reference, thanks to football game signs. Psalm 23– probably the most-loved passage.  But Romans 8:28 is our go-to verse in suffering. Today we’ll examine it and the following two verses.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28, NRS).

“We know” connects us to the preceding, especially 8:26,27.  In suffering the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will (and God wills us to be glorified—8:1-25). So, we know God will make all things work together for good.

The words, “all things work together”, are a translation of a Greek word, “soon” (together with) “ergeo” (work).  Question is, how encompassing is “all things”.  There’s no reason not to take the Greek word pas literally—all things.

Does this mean that everything that’s happened in my life—from a loose tooth to our car breaking down on I-80 traveling home from Bible college, to marrying Lois, to parenting three children, etc., etc.—all “work together for good”?   Here, Paul is emphasizing suffering.  Thus we could rightly translate, “We know that all things—even suffering—work together for good . . . “

“ . . . good” is the Greek agathone—good in the sense of morally good and beneficial.

This mind-stretching promise is true “for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” 

In reply to the question, “Which commandment is the greatest?”, Jesus said, ”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Matthew 22:37), affirming the Lord’s command through Moses to Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4,5).

The Greek verb, agapao, refers to love as a matter of the will and action.  We are to love God as a matter of our will and demonstrate it in our actions.  That leaves us with a big problem:  our will is “bent” toward sin, toward not loving God.  Which is probably why Paul hastily added, “who are called according to his purpose.”  God’s call is a call to justification and sanctification and, ultimately, glorification. That’s God’s purpose for those he calls.   So God works for good in all things for those whom he has called and who, thereby, love him (however imperfectly).

It’s a shame that 8:29,30 don’t always follow when someone quotes 8:28.  Verses 29 and 30 explain the good God is working and the purpose for which he’s called us.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (8:29,30, NRS).

Paul uses five key verbs to explain why he knows God works for good in all things for his called ones.

“foreknew”.  This means more than God knowing beforehand who would love him.  It means God knowing from before creation whom he would predestine, justify and glorify.  How could God know that?  Because he chose them before creation . . .

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4).

“ . . . who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:9).

“ . . . foreknew” means more than “had knowledge beforehand”.  It means “knew personally” even before they had been created!

“predestined”.  The Greek (proprizo) means to “determine in advance” or “decide on beforehand”.  So God “decreed in advance” that those he called would “be conformed to the image of his Son”. That’s God’s predetermined destiny for believers.

What does it mean to be conformed to the Son’s likeness?  One, we will have resurrection bodies like Christ (8:11).  Two, our indwelling sin-nature will be gone, for we will have reached the goal of the sanctification process and be glorified.  Beyond that, we can let our imaginations soar!

Our likeness to the Son has a purpose: “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  In other words, that Jesus might be the firstborn in a family of believers, who ultimately are together conformed to the Son’s likeness.  (Many sons and daughters like the Son!)

“called”.  Peter uses the word (kaleo)  of God inviting to salvation those he foreknew (1 Peter 2:9).  Matthew uses keleo of Jesus summoning Matthew to discipleship (Matthew 4:21).  Since this “call” comes to those who God foreknew and predestined, this call (that comes in time)  must be effectual (able to produce the desired effect)If God calls, you won’t and can’t refuse.

“justified”.  The Greek point-in-time aorist tense of dikio-o means God “justified” the ones he calls at a point in time, like a judge declaring “not guilty”.  But beyond being declared “not guilty”, “justified” implies what theologians call “imputed righteousness”.  To “impute” means to reckon or attribute to someone the blessing of another.  In this case, it means God credits his Son’s righteousness to those who believe!  “ . . . they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).

“glorified” (doxodso).  Paul uses this word to describe the culmination of God’s saving work in those he called.  Sanctification complete:   God gives his called ones what John Piper calls “the inward beauty of holiness”.  Resurrection complete:   God gives his called ones a new body like Christ’s (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

Suffering with Christ is the prerequisite for being glorified with Christ (8:17).  But suffering, Paul reckons, is “not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).  It’s the revelation of the children of God for which all creation waits with eager longing (8:19).

Furthermore, suffering is part of the “all things” God works together for his good purpose.  Toward that purpose, he knew his chosen people before creation, predestined them to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, called them, justified them and glorified them.

“Glorified”, like “justified”, is in the Greek point-in-time aorist tense, though “glorified” remains future in our experience.  It’s as if Paul chose the aorist tense because Christ has been glorified (and our glorification is a share in his), and because he wants his readers to know the certainty of its fulfillment.

* * *

So we come back to, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  This knowing isn’t only intellectual; it’s knowing as in assurance.  And how do we know that all things work together for good?  Because, if we believe in Jesus, we’re caught up in God’s grand purpose.  We’re among those he foreknew, predestined to be conformed to his Son’s likeness, called, justified and glorified–all in Christ.

And because Christ suffered in order to be glorified, so must we.  But what if our suffering isn’t persecution?  What if it’s illness or the death of a child?  All Christian suffering is suffering with Christ, because it tests our faith in him and it draws us closer to him.

So whether it’s an enjoyable beach vacation or a painful hospital stay, it’s all good.  We can believe it.  Because we’re graciously caught up in God’s grand purpose–and he’s using all things toward the day of our glorification with Christ.

 

 

 

Please like & share:

The Spirit Prays for Us

There are days when many  of my prayers are silence.  I’ve asked for healing over and over.  I’ve  complained (it’s okay; the psalmist did—Psalm 64:1).  Some days there’s nothing left to say.  I read a psalm.  Or a prayer from The Valley of Vision.  But from my own mind, I have no words.  I don’t mean to sound like a martyr; but suffering sometimes is like that.  So today’s text is good news . . .

 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

“Likewise”, Paul writes, “the Spirit helps us . . . “  In the same way (“likewise”) as what?  Just as we have “the first fruits of the Spirit’ and so groan longingly for bodily redemption, so “the Spirit helps us . . . ” .  The Greek word, soonantilambanomy, means “grasp hold of someone to help”.

So, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .” .  Greek, asthenia, refers to weakness of any kind.  Paul uses it in 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations”.

Our suffering (the context of 8:1-27) intensifies our natural weakness (in this case, the weakness of ignorance).  Paul specifies it as not knowing “how to pray as we ought”.  He doesn’t mean the form of our praying, nor its frequency or fervency, but its content.  Especially in our suffering, we don’t know what to ask God for.  But “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.

Jesus promised the Spirit to be exclusively in his own people . . .

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).

As Jesus promised, the Spirit indwells us.  He is God the Holy Spirit present with us and in us.  And he not only “comes alongside to help us” (paraklaytos—John 14:26), but in our suffering-weakness he “grasps hold of us to help us”.

My handicapped niece painted Jesus bending over with two hands reaching to pick up a young girl who had fallen.  This is what I see in Paul’s words, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.  He helps, not because we’re too weak to walk, but because we’re too ignorant to pray.

He “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  Greek, stenagmois (“groanings”) alalaytois (“that cannot be expressed in words”).  We can’t verbalize these groanings, though they may or may not be audible.  They are the Spirit in us praying for us.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27).

God, writes Paul, examines our heart and knows what the Spirit in us is thinking.  This is because the Spirit intercedes for God’s holy ones according to God’s will.

David wrote of the Lord searching and knowing him . . .

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me” (Psalm 139:1).

Here Paul writes of God searching our heart to know the mind of the indwelling Spirit.

Now we see what we’re ignorant of—namely, what God’s will is in our times of suffering.  So, the Spirit “takes over” and prays God’s will for us.  So, not only does incomparable glory await us, in the present we have the Holy Spirit who “grabs hold of” us to help us by interceding according to God’s will for us.  And he intercedes for us, not only to strengthen us in suffering, but also to empower us in suffering “so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk . . . according to the Spirit” (8:4).

“Paul is saying . . . that our failure to know God’s will and consequent inability to approach God specifically and assuredly is met by God’s Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God.  When we do not know what to pray for–yes, even when we pray for things not best for us–we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession on our behalf.” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p.525).

* * *

Our prayers matter.  Else why would the Spirit intercede for us with sighs too deep for words?  That he intercede for us “according to the will of God” is a reminder that prayers are effective when we pray according to his will (1 John 5:14,15).

That being said, two questions.  One, if God’s going to do what he wants, why does the Spirit intercede in prayer for us?  (Why doesn’t God just do his will?)  Two, can we know when the Spirit intercedes for us and does it matter or not if we know?

Answer to #1:  all prayer is designed to deepen our relationship with the Lord.  God will do his will with or without our prayers.  But seeking him draws us closer to him.  And in some way, God uses prayers prayed according to his will to accomplish his will.  (All this, by the way, sounds authoritarian on God’s part–until we remember God’s will is holy, pleasing and perfect–Romans 12:2).

Answer to #2–Perhaps we know when the Spirit is interceding when we sense a special measure of the Spirit’s presence.  Regarding the Spirit accomplishing his intercession, it doesn’t matter if we know he’s praying for us or not.  But regarding our assurance that he’s interceding, it does, because we’re enjoying that assurance with a felt sense of his presence.

Questions aside, Paul intends these statements to give us assurance in suffering.  When we’re hurting and don’t know how to pray as we should, the Spirit indwelling us prays for us according to God’s good will.

I sit in my wheelchair on my little platform outside on my pool deck.  Downcast.  Prayers for healing so far unanswered.  Wondering why God should answer when many others suffer so much.  Old age is filled with illness.  Breathing deeply in dismay.  Sighing.  Is the Spirit deep inside me interceding for me according to God’s will?  That’s the hope Paul offers.  I grab on.

 

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

Glory Way Greater Than Suffering

Despite prosperity preachers, and despite our wishing it were not so, we will be glorified with Christ in the resurrection, if we suffer with him in this life . . .

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

Considering the context (8:1-16), Paul is probably thinking about suffering in our struggles against sin.  In the passage below, he’s thinking about suffering in our struggles against persecution.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him . . . “ (Philippians 1:29).

But in Romans 8:18-25, he seems to broaden his thinking to include all kinds of suffering with which we struggle in the body.  Paul tells his readers how he evaluates the suffering situation (“I consider . . . “)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).

“ . . .the sufferings of this present time” are no small thing.  Paul knew suffering.  So do we.  My suffering (though it certainly could be worse) consumes me.  Christians endure cancer, heart disease and more.  Persecution causes suffering, dislocation, fear and death.  It’s happening today.

So Paul’s statement makes some of us say, “Yeah, right.  You don’t know what I’m going through.”  And what some of us are going through makes Paul’s consideration sound like childhood fantasty.  Thus we’re immediately faced with a choice:  to believe or not.

Paul makes the same comparison in 2 Corinthians 4. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure . . . (4:17).  Put suffering on one scale and glory on the other—the “glory” scale crashes down to the counter under the weight.  “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later” (8:18, NLT).

“ . . . glory” is one of those hard-to-define words, a word one uses when a word is insufficient.  Greek is doxa, a manifestation of God’s excellent power, awesome holiness, awesome majesty.  English definition: “majestic beauty and splendor”.  But definitions don’t do it.  “Glory” is more–a word we use when something is so wonderful it can’t be expressed.  Paul tries . . .

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that 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” (8:19-21).

This glory is so glorious, Paul explains, that the whole creation “waits with eager longing . . . “  The Greek apokaradokia personifies creation as someone who is eagerly, expectantly waiting with his head stretched forward alertly.

Possible?  Really?  Is creation—trees, grass, flowers, clouds, sun, stars, bird, turtles, lions, air, planets—“waiting with eager longing” like a child for Christmas morning?

What’s creation waiting with eager longing for?  “ . . . the revealing of the children of God . . . “  I understand Paul to mean the unveiling of God’s children as God’s children.

Now we’re seen as ordinary people.  People like everybody else.  But then, glory.  The word stirs in me a child-like wonder that defies detailed definition.  It’s enough to wildly imagine. 

In our wild imaging, note this:  creation longs to be “set free from its bondage to decay and . . . obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Our “freedom” will be from death and all ills associated with it.  Creation itself longs to be freed from its bondage to decay.    That raises an interesting question:  In what way is creation decaying?  That research is for another time.

What’s also interesting and is just my speculation.  Paul’s language may imply God’s children “get glorified” (in an instant–1 Corinthians 15) and the glory sort of sweeps from us to creation.  Whatever the sequence, as in the first creation, we (in this case God’s redeemed children) are the zenith of the glorious new creation.

But Paul has more to say . . .

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22,23).

The creation “waits with eager longing” because “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “  Paul bases his view on Genesis 3:17-19 . . .

“And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ”’You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Creation lies under God’s curse.  The suffering of man’s sin against the Creator extends to the creation.  It’s in pain.  But Paul calls it “labor pains”.  Something’s about to be born.

“ . . . not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  Christians groan.  We have “the first fruits of the Spirit”—the fruit of the Spirit’s work inside us that portends an overwhelming harvest to come.

We groan in suffering.  Our bodies hurt, grow weak, contract disease, endure the wounds of persecution, die.  We have received “the Spirit of adoption” (8:15); but we wait for the fullness of adoption—“the redemption of our bodies.”

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

In present suffering, this is our hope.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (8:24,25).

We were “saved” in hope, says Paul.  That is, from the start, the gospel promised, not just sins forgiven, but the hope of glory.  To miss this is to miss the wholeness of the gospel.  It’s to leave Christ in the tomb—and us with him.

What we see of Christianity now is not all it is, not all we receive.  We have a hope of what we don’t yet see.  And this hope produces “patience”.  The Greek word, hupopalmanay, is better translated “patient endurance.”  Because we have the hope of glory, we patiently endure until the glorious day of bodily redemption dawns.

* * *

Suffering.  Honestly, I’d rather be delivered from it now (and still have glory awaiting!).  But I don’t get to choose.  Christ Jesus has revealed himself to my mind and heart–and I must follow.  I understand persecution suffering, because enemies of the cross will attack Christians.  I don’t understand what appears to be random illness that sits me in a wheelchair and robs so much of these years with my wife.

But this is the path our Father has chosen for me, his child.  I still pray for healing.  But I listen to Paul’s words. too.  Beyond this suffering our Father has prepared incomparable glory.   Somehow, by his grace, I must keep my eyes on that future.  And I must trust, like a little child, that the fantastic hope of a glorified body and a glorified new creation lies ahead.

So I put my child-like  hope in Christ, looking beyond suffering to the glory that is way greater.

 

Please like & share:

Indebted Children

Lois and I were both blessed to be raised in Christians homes.  We might be punished for disobeying, but we knew we were loved and belonged no matter what.

In today’s text (Romans 8:12-17), Paul tells the Rome church they are indebted (under obligation) to God the Spirit, but as children of God.  In this text, he implicitly exhorts the church to apply what he’s written in 8:1-11.  A good summary of that text is 8:3,4 . . .

“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 as a sin offering 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).

Now, the implicit exhortations which follow from that summary . . .

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh –“ (8:12).

Paul tells the Rome church and us (including himself) that we are “debtors” but not to the “flesh” (sinful nature or the law of sin in our members).  We’re no longer under obligation to the flesh, because God has acted by sending his Son (8:3,4).  Therefore, our “indebtedness” is now to God the Spirit, who indwells us.

“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” (8:13).

Here’s the reason why we’re not obligated to the sin nature:  if we live in conformity with its desires, we die.  In short, our sin nature does us no good.  It leaves us  separated from knowing God now, and eternally separated from him at the judgment.

Paul isn’t warning the believers we will die, since he’s already assured us, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).  He’s warning us to stay away from what “kills” unbelievers.

But, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

“ . . . the deeds of the body.”  Paul sees the body as the place where the law of sin operates, as he’s already written . . .

“ . . . but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (7:23).

“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).

Until that destruction we are to “put to death the deeds of the body” so we might live.  And this we are to do “by the Spirit”.

“ . . . put to death” comes from the Greek thanatao.  Literally, it means “kill someone.”  Figuratively, it means “put a stop to”—in this case, the body’s sin-nature deeds.  We shouldn’t skim Paul’s language-choice—a violent word, implying the warfare-against-sin in which we are caught up.  And the present tense means Paul wants his readers to keep on “killing” the body’s sin-nature deeds.

Commentator Leon Morris writes, “Such acts are the object of decisive and hostile actions as far as the believer is concerned.   There is to be no life in the deeds in question.  They are not living options.  And this is to take place through an action in the believer, though not an unaided action, for the mortification is to be done ‘by the Spirit’.  It is the energy of the divine Spirit, not the energy of the flesh, that enables the believer to put the body’s deeds to death” (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 312).

Paul now explains why all genuine believers will fight sin to the death and live . . .

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a Spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him “ (8:14-17).

All true Christians will “kill” sin because “ . . . all who are led by the Spirit are children of God”.  To be “led by the Spirit” is to be guided into fights against sin.  Those “led by the Spirit” are “children of God”.  They have a “family-like” relationship with God, and he with them.

Thus, they will live because they are God’s children!  They are not slaves “to fall back into fear.”  They are “children”, who belong no matter what.

We, of course, are not naturally God’s children.  (Here Paul opposes the popular cultural thought that we’re all children of God.)  We’re God’s children by “a Spirit of adoption”.  That means we have been given rights and privileges not naturally ours.  We’re admitted into a heavenly family to which we have no rights of our own.

And while “adoption” is a legal proceeding, Paul makes it very personal.  We have received a “Spirit of adoption”.  He is given to indwell us, to live inside us.  And it is by him that we cry, “Abba!  Father”.  “Abba” is an Aramaic term for father, meaning something close to our “papa” or “daddy”, while retaining proper respect and honor.

This is intimacy with God as our Father that we sense in our spirit.

This leads to a “legal” standing that we “adopted children of God” enjoy—“heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ . . . “   In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were heirs of the land.  Later, that promised land came to be understood in connection with the Messiah.  Paul identifies us as “joint heirs with Christ”.  Thus, we inherit what the Messiah inherits—not just eastern Mediterranean land, but the new creation over which he will reign and all eternal blessings belonging to it.  As adopted children of God, all this is ours with Christ.

But there’s a condition–“if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  What kind of suffering might Paul have in mind?  In the immediate context (8:1-17), it’s the suffering of “killing” sin.  It’s easier to “go with the flow”, to do what feels right.  But indwelling sin (what Paul calls “the law of sin”) remains in us.  Empowered by the Spirit, we must resist it and put it to death when it tempts.  Because of this, following Christ brings with it its own afflictions.

As Paul continues (8:18-39), it becomes obvious Paul is broadening out suffering to include any kind.  Sickness, pain, persecution, poverty may come.  With it will come a severe faith-test.  Sin will raise its siren call to “curse God and die”.  It must be killed.  If we are to be glorified with Christ, we must suffer with him.

* * *

You and I, believers in Christ, have a debt, an obligation.  But a good one.  We’re obligated  to put the deeds of our sin-indwelt bodies to death.  This might sound silly coming from the old preacher.  Isn’t it mostly the young  who endure temptation?  I guess I used to think that, just as I used to think I had really grown holier.  Then I realized I had just grown older.  Temptations to sin may have changed, but they still confront me.

Anyway, I’ve said our obligate to “kill” the deeds of our sin-indwelt bodies is a good one.  That’s because we’re obligated as adopted-by-the-Spirit children of God.  We’re obligated as sinners who now call God “Father” and sense in our spirit that God is our Father.  We’re obligated as children who will increasingly learn to live in accord with the Spirit who indwells us.  And we’re obligated as children who are joint-heirs with Christ himself, glory awaiting.

I conclude with two thoughts.  One, no matter what happens we belong.  We’ll not be kicked out of the family.  And, two, we’re not little defenseless children cowering at the attacks of sin.  We’re children of the King, armed with the Spirit, destined to win.  We’re on the offensive against sin!

 

 

 

 

Please like & share:

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:
Older posts

© 2017 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)