Romans 7:7-20 – Facing Our Bundle of Contradictions

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“Humanity is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions.”-Charles Caleb Colton, 1780-1832

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 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. (NIV)

The Apostle Paul’s vulnerable expression of his dilemma resonates deeply with many people. There are times when we say things to ourselves such as, “I told myself I wasn’t going to be like my mother, and here I am responding just like she would;” “I know better than to drive by the liquor store on my way home and pick up a pint of vodka, yet, I still did it;” or, “I don’t want to die, but my thoughts keep racing about a plan for suicide.” And, there are many more situations in which we are both frustrated and befuddled by our doing the things we do not want to do, and not doing the things we want to do.

Yes, indeed, Paul’s existential angst is a timeless description of our common human condition. We all can relate to the seeming inability to do what is right in so many situations. It can really drive us nuts, even to a constant and never-ending low-level discouragement that underlies almost everything we do.

Paul’s prescription for dealing with this does not rely on law. He understood that putting our willpower and effort into obeying commands gets us nowhere because we will eventually fail. Neither our brains nor our spirits work that way. Our willpower was never designed to be the driver of what we do and do not do. If anything, willpower, and the lack thereof demonstrate just how much we are climbing the ladder on the wrong wall. People are a bundle of contradictions, doing good, then bad, and flip-flopping back and forth with great frustration.

God’s law was not crafted to transform us from the inside-out. The law has three solid purposes, none of which are meant to bring deep personal transformation: attention to the law works to restrain sin in the world; use of the law provides us with a helpful guide for grateful living in response to divine grace; and, it’s use here by Paul is to show us how bad off we really are in this world and in need of forgiveness.

We need a change of habits, and this is different than adopting a list of laws. Habits are developed from our desires, our affections. In other words, we do what we love – more specifically, our ultimate love(s) drive us to do what we want. To put it in a straightforward way: We sin because we like it. And the path to overcoming any besetting sin is to have an ultimate love trump the lesser sin which we like.

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For example, I have developed daily habits or rituals of faith which enable me to commune with God. I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and this ultimate love enables me to push out all competing gods who want my devotion. I also love my wife with all my heart. We work on developing habits of a marital relationship which reinforce our love for each other. Love is what drives me to do right and good by her.

So, what do we do when we mess up? For the Christian, no matter what the question is, the answer is always grace. God’s grace in the finished work of Jesus Christ applied to us by the Holy Spirit is the operative power that changes lives. The law has no power to do that kind of work. Freedom from the tyranny of our misplaced desires and disordered loves comes from Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. Like a lover enamored with his beloved, our desires become oriented toward Jesus for his indescribable gift to us. That is the strength of grace.

Saving God, I thank you for delivering me from sin, death, and hell through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May your Holy Spirit apply the work of grace to my life every day so that I can realize spiritual healing and practical freedom from all that is damaging and destructive in my soul.  Amen.

Romans 7:1-6 – Becoming Holy

AgnusDay new creation

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 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 that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with 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 if she marries another man.

So, my brothers and sisters, 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 for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 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. (NIV)

Romans chapters 6-8 are the Apostle Paul’s pointed discussion of how we become holy in a real and practical way. The theological word we typically use for this is “sanctification,” which means “to become holy,” and “set apart” for God. To be delivered from sin, death, and hell through the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning of becoming a new creation.

Becoming holy and righteous in our everyday lives boils down to this: identity and belonging. One of the healthiest ways of looking at the entirety of the Bible’s message is that we belong to God. Our identities are thoroughly wrapped around Jesus. The process of realizing this and coming to grips with it is how we grow as people in holiness and righteousness.

Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have been delivered from the realm of sin. Our change in status from condemned to accepted provides us the awareness to make daily affirmations of faith and live a new life. However, the sinful nature (flesh) or the old person is still there. Although it is now toothless, our past can and often does exert a powerful influence on us. Even though there is a medium-rare T-bone steak on the table for us to enjoy, there are times we go back to the old bologna sandwich with stale white bread.

Yet, we need no longer live falling short of our true humanity because we belong to God. We are adopted into God’s family, having been orphaned by sin’s cruel influence. Yet, just because we have been saved from the power of sin, sin itself has not become extinct. We still must deal with it. We are alive to God and need to take up this great spiritual reality and live into it, for the force of sin still exists in the world.

We deal with sin’s continued presence (the world, the flesh, and the devil) through embracing God’s grace versus trying to overcome it with the law. Paul used an illustration from marriage to expand our understanding of grafting grace into our daily lives. By law, a married woman is bound to her husband (keeping in mind this sense of belonging was the predominant view of marriage in Paul’s day). Yet, if the husband dies, the wife is released from the legal marriage. If she were to give herself to another man while her husband is still alive and they are married, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if she is a widow, then marries again, she is not an adulteress.

Paul applies this understanding to our relationship with the law. Death has separated us from the law. We died with Christ. Therefore, we have been set free from the law and have become alive to grace. As believers in Jesus, we “belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). “When Christ’s body hung upon the cross, when God spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); “when Christ took on himself for us all the curse of the law which inflicted all of us (Galatians 3:13); then, we died to the law. God’s grace has made the death of Jesus the death of all from the realm of sin (2 Corinthians 5:14).

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As a married man, let me use Paul’s illustration to get down to the gist of his teaching. Yes, I am legally married and belong to my wife. I made vows to my wife on our wedding day which bind me legally to do what I said I would do. Yet, if I fulfill those vows in a strictly legalistic manner, I can vouch for my wife that this would qualify as an acceptable situation for her. You see, my wife (and, me, too!) are freely bound to one another in love and grace. I care for my wife because I love her deeply, and not because it is my legal duty to do so.

The Christian life was neither designed nor meant to serve as a bare legal contract or covenant between us and God. God forbid such a thought! Jesus died to clear us from all the legality stuff so that we could freely love and serve God with joyful abundance and gratitude. You see, I am follower of Jesus because I love him deeply. What impels and motivates me is God’s grace. The law is there and has its place. However, it is not the law that causes me to be a Christian; it is the love of Christ which saved me from myself and compels me to live like Jesus.

We pray that God himself, the God of peace, will make you pure—belonging only to him. We pray that your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—will be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. The one who chose you will do that for you. You can trust him. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ERV)

Romans 6:12-23 – Who Is Your Master?

Welcome, friends. Simply click the video below and let us enjoy a time together around the Word of God.

You may also view this video at TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin as we celebrate the wonderful reality that Christ has set us free from the realm of sin, death, and hell.

May you take up the easy yoke of Jesus and find rest for you souls. Amen.

Who Is Your Master?

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We all carry an invisible backpack. Sometimes it is light, sometimes heavy. At other times, the backpack becomes a crushing load. We are unable to carry it because we kept adding things to it and did not take the time to unload anything. Every day, many people lug such an invisible backpack around everywhere they go. Over time, the backpack begins to smell because unacknowledged grief, unawareness of emotions, and the pile up of life’s difficulties become like a pair of stinky gym socks that got tossed in the backpack with hard feeling after hard feeling caked on top of it.

Something unfortunate then happens: The backpack becomes our Master. It begins to influence the way we talk, what we do, and do not do. It becomes a heavy and even crushing load because rather than Christ, the Spirit, and the Scriptures informing and influencing what we say and do, the invisible backpack calls the shots. It is the weight of sin.

The dominate word for “sin” throughout the New Testament means to miss the mark or to fall short.

It is not a word meaning some terrible egregious wrong committed against another. Rather, it is the most common form of sin there is – simply failing to deal with what humanity needs to deal with – and so, out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, those items are never out of the heart’s view.

The Apostle Paul’s way of framing this situation is this: Do not offer our lives to wickedness but offer ourselves to God (Romans 6:12-23). When we have become so accustomed to the invisible backpack as our master that we cannot imagine life without carrying it around, we must take it off. We need to carefully unpack each item we have stuffed into it and allow ourselves to face the pain and hurt and take up Christ’s easy backpack, his yoke.

Since we are redeemed people, baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, we no longer need nor ought to carry a load of sin any longer.

We were meant to have a Master and to carry a backpack – just not the backpack of our shortcomings and failures. Instead, we are to throw over our shoulders the backpack of mercy and righteousness and follow the Master, Jesus Christ. Who is your Master? is not meant to be a scolding question. It is an encouraging question, an invitation to unburden ourselves.

Jesus Christ, by his grace, took the backpack of sin that you and I were carrying and took it upon himself.  He took the crushing weight of our backpacks of sin for us.  Jesus took out those stinky gym socks; they were then nailed with him to the cross. We no longer need to carry this smelly load of sin any longer because Jesus already carried it for us and took care of it. Yet, so many of us still insist on taking up the invisible backpack and keep putting stuff in it.

Therefore, we must deliberately and intentionally take off that invisible backpack. Since the backpack is invisible, most of us would never guess that another carries such a heavy load. Instead, what we do see is the backpack causing another to work himself into the ground so as to continue ignoring the hurt, to keep everything completely clean and in control on the outside because on the inside it is emotional chaos.

What appears on the outside may not be true of the inside.  

For example, when you see my ten-year-old grandson you would never know on the outside that his brain is having immense struggles with epilepsy and seizures on the inside.  And when we look at one another in the church and the world, we cannot assume that just because everything may seem okay on the outside that the inside is fine.  Our stronghold of secrecy and invisibility needs to be broken and pulled down in Jesus’ name!

Brothers and sisters, Jesus took on your backpack for you – you need no longer carry it.  Take it off, unpack it, and let the healing of Christ’s cross bring you freedom from your weight. It is time to put off the backpack of sin and put on Christ’s righteousness.  It is time to say with some flavor, “I will not carry you any longer, old Master, because I belong to God!”

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Often our struggle is with opposing forces operating within us: righteousness opposed to sin; freedom opposed to slavery; and, a gift opposed to wages. The main point is one of mastery: Who is your Master? The hard work we must do is the ongoing work of confession and offering our lives to God:

  • “I will not carry a load of ignored items any longer because I belong to God.”
  • “I will not carry an unresolved load of pain any longer so that I continue using my tongue to gossip and slander and backbite another, because my tongue is not my own. My tongue belongs to God.”
  • “I will not be burdened by the clock and let it control my life, because my time is not my own. My time belongs to God and I will steward it wisely.”
  • “I will not carry the troubles of my job with me by working myself into the ground, because my job belongs to God and my Master calls me to a Sabbath rest.”
  • “I will unload this backpack of pain and deal so that I do not keep compulsively spending my money, because my money belongs to God.”
  • “The invisible backpack no longer has any power over me because I have unloaded it, grieved my hurts and losses, and have moved to taking on Christ’s backpack. I belong to Jesus Christ!”

Show me a miserable Christian, and I will show you a Christian who is carrying the crushing weight of an invisible backpack that informs and influences every decision and each action.

So, take up Christ’s backpack of grace, without trying to serve two masters: law and grace. There is always a temptation to try and make deals with God – to unload some of the backpack but not all of it. We might also have a kind of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome which has affinity with the old master, even it was abusive. Holy Scripture never advocates an attitude adjustment or behavior modification; it talks of doing away with the backpack completely because Christ has already taken care of it.

Watchman Nee was a twentieth-century Chinese Christian leader and a contemporary of Chairman Mao in China. In exhorting his fellow Chinese to live for Christ, he said,

“The trouble with many Christians today is that they have an insufficient idea of what God is asking of them.  How glibly they say: ‘Lord, I am willing to do anything for you.’  Do you know that God is asking of you your very life?  There are cherished ideals, strong wills, precious relationships, much-loved work, that will have to go; so, do not give yourself to God unless you mean it.  God will take you seriously, even if you did not mean it seriously.”

We are meant to deal with the pain and the hurts we have accumulated but have not lamented over. There is no spiritual growth and development apart from doing this. We cannot have Christ as our Master until we get rid of all competing masters first. In fact, what has the backpack every really done for you?  What benefit do you receive from lugging it around everywhere?  The wages of continually carrying the non-confessed load on our backs will eventually catch up to us. But the gift of God is freedom from sin and a life under the new management of Jesus Christ.  Praise be to God!