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Romans (Series 1)

After Gettysburg

Romans  7

There is a false idea which runs through a lot of new Christians. It comes in two parts:

·         First, that I will not have any troubles once I became a Christian. But this is easily seen to be false.[1]

·         But more important, there is the impression that we need no longer to struggle with the issue of sin in our lives.

As a result of that second mistaken impression, many young Christians lose heart when they discover that sin is still with them. They have the idea that every other Christian would not understand the struggle they have. They see the plastic faces on Sunday morning, not imagining that the same struggle is going on behind the masks.

Where did we get this idea? We have mistaken the beginning for the journey; the great victory for the end of the war. In a speech to Congress in 1943, Winston Churchill, speaking of World War II, said this:

I was driving the other day not far from the field of Gettysburg, which I knew well, like most of your battlefields. It was the decisive battle of the American Civil War. No one after Gettysburg doubted which way the dread balance of war would incline, yet far more blood was shed after the Union victory than in all the fighting which went before. It behooves us therefore to search our hearts and brace our sinews and take the most earnest counsel with each other, in order that the favorable position which has already been reached against Japan and against Hitler and Mussolini in Europe shall not be let slip”

Baptism is the Christian’s Gettysburg. By accepting God’s grace, we identify with the victory already won --- Christ at Calvary. The war is won; but the battle still rages. Therefore let us today “search our hearts and brace our sinews and take the most earnest counsel with each other” so that we may stand against our adversary, Satan.

Change of Allegiance

(Rom 7:1-6 NIV) Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? {2} For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. {3} So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. {4} So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. {5} For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. {6} But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

This passage is the beginning of a very emotional section of Paul’s writing. Note that in the first verse he addresses the Romans as “brothers.” He rarely does this outside the salutation of a letter; when he does, it precedes a passionate passage. Note also the transition from “you” in verse 4 to “we” in verse 5. The Apostle will draw his example from his own life here.

In Chapter 6 Paul says we are dead to sin; here (verse 4) he says we are dead to the law. There are three simple points to this:

·         We are “dead” by the principle of identification (last week).

·         The result of being alive to the law was that we are controlled by our sinful nature. The law arouses “sinful passion” (more on this later) and produced “fruit for death.”

·         Being dead to the law means being alive to the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is in our lives.[2]

For many Christians this would seem to imply a complete, radical change of character. It does not. It implies a complete, radical change of direction.

Take an example. On your own two feet, try to walk to Washington DC -- by going westward. You’ll soon run into the ocean. The other direction will get you there after a long walk -- but the important thing is the direction. Similarly, we as Christians are headed in the right direction, but we must not mistake that for having arrived. Someday heaven will be our home; someday. Ultimately we are headed for heaven or hell; we make the choice. Indeed, it can be said that God condemns no one to hell; those in hell have condemned themselves.[3]

This is so terrifying to some that they seek to place themselves back under some form of law. Even Christians sometimes long for “the rules.” But the Scripture is clear on this:

(Gal 3:23-25 NIV) Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. {24} So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. {25} Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

The law was put there to lead us to Christ, not away from him.

The Essence of Sin

(Rom 7:7-13 NIV) What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." {8} But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. {9} Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. {10} I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. {11} For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. {12} So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. {13} Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

This is a very personal passage. The words “I” and “me” occur no less than ten times in this little passage. It is a very deep one, because of what Paul does not mention. Often, when he reveals himself, Paul cites what happened to him on the road to Damascus. Here, however, Paul reaches to his core and talks about the love of his youth -- the Law. In so doing, he brings out the central paradox of the law (any law, even that of conscience):

·         The law itself is holy, righteous and good

·         It also produces sin!

How can this be? I submit there are two ways:

·         First, by defining sin, it produces sin. It is not a crime to roar through the deserts of Nevada at 120 miles per hour -- until the legislature acts. Does that mean I should send the ticket for payment by the legislature?

·         More important is the concept of “forbidden fruit.” Who among us has not had the temptation to sin just because it feels so good? Barclay quotes Augustine on this:

“There was a pear tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit. One stormy night we rascally youths set out to rob it and carry our spoils away. We took a huge load of pears -- not to feast on ourselves, but to throw them to the pigs, though we ate just enough to have the pleasure of forbidden fruit. They were nice pears, but it was not the pears that my wretched soul coveted, for I had plenty better at home. I picked them simply in order to become a thief. The only feast I got was a feast of iniquity, and that I enjoyed to the full. What was it that I loved in that theft? Was it the pleasure of acting against the law, in order that I, a prisoner under rules, might have a maimed counterfeit of freedom by doing what was forbidden, with a dim similitude of impotence? ... The desire to steal was awakened simply by the prohibition of stealing.”

Do you see his point? We were born to be free; we chafe at the rules. Satan offers us the counterfeit of freedom in the temptation to break the rules. No wonder then that God sent his Son to rid us of this curse!

It is no accident that Paul selects as his example the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” Covetousness, of all the sins in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, is primarily a sin of the heart. All other sins result in outward action, but covetousness is in the heart. This makes it a sin of multiple purposes.

Paul also says that sin “deceived” him. Satan is the father of lies; but he can only take what God creates and twist it. He cannot create, therefore he must deceive. I submit then that there are three states of man:

·         First, there is the one who knows no law. He’s dead spiritually, but doesn’t know it.

·         A superior state is this: I have the law. I’m dead spiritually, but I know it. Perhaps now I can do something about it.

·         Finally, there are those who have died to the law, no longer under its command. It is of these we must now speak.

The Human Condition

(Rom 7:14-25 NIV) We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. {15} I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. {16} And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. {17} As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. {18} I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. {19} For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. {20} Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. {21} So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. {22} For in my inner being I delight in God's law; {23} 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. {24} What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? {25} Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The awareness of sin is a sign of spiritual maturity. Paul here outlines the conflict of mind and flesh (not strictly the body). In his mind, he knows what is right, but somehow he sins anyway. I find this strangely comforting. Paul is not a plaster saint, completely ignorant of temptation and sin, but a man like me struggling against the conflict between the spiritual and carnal natures of man. This struggle will continue. There are three things I would say about this:

·         First, this passage demonstrates the uselessness of human knowledge. Just because I know what is right doesn’t mean that I have the will to do it. Knowledge is in the indicative; righteousness is in the imperative; there is no link between.

·         Next, there is the New Year’s Resolution problem: no matter how strongly I intend not to sin, I sin.

·         Finally, even knowing the first two is not enough. Diagnosis is not to be confused with cure.

Is it any wonder that Paul cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” No sooner is the cry raised than Paul gives the answer: “Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The answer is and always will be the person of Jesus Christ. We all are, to some extent, carnal Christians. Oswald Chambers describes our cure this way:

“If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right. A child of the light confesses instantly and stands bared before God; a child of the darkness says -- “Oh, I can explain that away.” When once the light breaks and the conviction of wrong comes, be a child of the light, and confess, and God will deal with what is wrong; if you vindicate yourself, you prove yourself to be a child of the darkness.”

Our Lord used a simple illustration of this principle:

(Luke 18:9-14 NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: {10} "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. {11} The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. {12} I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' {13} "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' {14} "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. The war may be long or short, but the victory is won. Will you not march with the Victor?


[1] John 16:33

[2] Galatians 5:22-23

[3] See, for example, Lewis’ argument that without Hell evil would be able to veto good.

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