Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seeking Deliverance (Romans 7)

My grandfather was a neat old man. He died a month shy of 90 and he was a true cornucopia of experience and knowledge. He was a math teacher, graduating from Potter’s Bible College in 1917—a farmer, an auctioneer, and a horse trader. He wrote poetry and songs. One of his songs about his foreman got him fired from a government job during the depression. He was mentally clear to the day he died. He had even memorized large segments from the Bible.

I remember visiting him in the hospital as a teenager—I suppose I was a Sophomore in High School. He looked at me and asked me if I knew any good tongue tie-ers. I told him I didn’t and he proceeded to quote Romans 7 . I was duly impressed. I couldn’t even read that passage out loud clearly! He rattled it off as if were nothing.

For we know that the Law is spiritual,
but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
For what I am doing, I do
not understand;
for I do not do what I would like to do,
but I am doing
the very thing I hate.
But if I do the very thing I do not want to do,
I agree with the Law,
confessing that the Law is good.
So now, no longer am I
the one doing it,
but sin which dwells in me.
For I know that nothing
good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;
for the willing is present in me,
but the doing of the good is not.
For the good that I want, I do not do,
but I do the very evil that I do not want.
But if I am doing the very
thing I do not want,
I am no longer the one doing it,
but sin which
dwells in me.
I find then the principle
that evil is present in me,
the one who wants to do good.

I never found out if he had memorized the next passage, Romans 8. It would have been tragic if he hadn’t. Because Romans 7 paints a very discouraging picture for us. Paul starts out positively in the first part of Romans 7 with an illustration from marriage. If a woman is married to a man she can't remarry until the man dies. Otherwise she's an adulteress. However if the man dies then she's free to remarry. She's no longer under the law in this case: death changes everything.

Paul then seems to recast the metaphor a bit. Since we have died with Christ we are no longer under the law. If you died you are not under law but are free from it. His point is we are now enslaved to the new life of the Spirit rather than the old life of the Law (Romans 7:6).

This leads to a concern from those Jewish Christians who might be reading this letter. In verse seven the question is: “Paul, are you saying the Law is sin? Is it bad?” And Paul’s response is: “Not at all! The Law is holy. The commandment is holy and good.”

The problem is not the law, but sin itself. We know this is true, don’t we? Consider this: is the sign that says: “Danger, don’t touch! High Voltage Wire!” bad or is it good? It’s good! It warns us of danger! Is the sign that says: “Don’t touch! Wet Paint!” bad? Of course not! But you know what happens though, don’t you? Before you wouldn’t have even thought about touching that bench or wall—but the instant you see the sign, you have this incredible urge to disobey the sign!

Paul is exposing the real culprit in all of this: sin! Sin is so evil that it can take something good and twist it to its purposes. You buy your husband a hammer for his tool box. Or guys, you buy your wife a brand new set of expensive kitchen knife-ware. In the middle of the night an intruder breaks into your house takes the hammer or one of the large knives, sneaks into your bedroom and savagely murders you and your spouse while you are sleeping. Was the hammer evil? Was the kitchen knife evil? No! It was designed for good!

What does this demonstrate?

It demonstrates the evil of the one wielding the object. The intruder is so evil he or she could use an instrument of good—an instrument of construction, an instrument of life—to destroy life.

Paul is telling us the law is good, it’s spiritual. The problem is: I'm not. I am captivated by sin—I want to do the right thing and I agree the law is good, I agree the command is correct. But I can’t live up to it—therefore sin destroys me. The truth is: if all I have is the Law going for me, I'm in deep trouble because sin is so evil it takes the law and kills me with it!

This leads Paul to the grief-stricken cry “Look at me! I am left desolate! Who can deliver me from the body of this death?” His answer is: “Thank God through Jesus Chris our Lord!” If I'm left to my own power I am mentally in agreement with God’s law, but I am condemned because I can’t carry it out!

Don’t stop at the end of Romans 7—that would be a mistake! Paul continues the thought: Therefore… It’s a glorious word! It’s a word of hope: a word of confidence! Therefore what? What’s it there for? “Because of what I’ve just said—the fact I'm delivered through Jesus Christ my Lord—there is no condemnation for those who are in King Jesus!” Why? Because!

-because the law of the Spirit of Life has set me free from the law of sin and death,
-because what the Law could not do, God did by sending Jesus to be the perfect sin offering,
-because through the life Jesus lived, the requirements of the law are met in us!
-because there are two types of folk in the world: the Spirit-controlled and the sin-obsessed and you belong to the Spirit-controlled.

Yes, sin still is a presence in our lives and in our world. But you are no longer under its authority. It no longer owns you! God owns you and that is validated by the fact he has put his Spirit to live in you. And guess what? Ultimate vindication will occur in this way:

"And if the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you!" (Romans 8:11 NIV)

What happens to Christ happens to the people of God. The process is like this: the Spirit who brings us into relationship with God, also empowers us to become like Jesus in the way we live, and ultimately will give us the ultimate victory by raising us up bodily just as the Messiah was raised up from the dead!

No wonder Paul shouts out at the end of chapter seven: "

Thank you, God! Through King Jesus our Lord! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!"

I really don’t know if grandpa memorized chapter eight of Romans. Even if he hadn’t, I’d like to think he understood the point. The Law cannot save—even though it is good. Only Jesus saves—and oh how he saves!

May you recognize how powerful sin is. May you grasp how no amount of goodness you can muster will ever deliver you from sin’s grip. May you rejoice in the words of Paul that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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