Dead to the Law

Paul begins Romans 7, saying that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives (although some dead men still vote, they aren’t expected to pay taxes!). Then he uses an analogy of the person’s relationship to the law, citing the marriage relationship. Paul speaks of a wife who joins herself to another man. If that happens after the death of her spouse, she is free to remarry. But, if it happens while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. Paul’s point is summed up by F.F. Bruce:

As death breaks the bond between husband and wife, so death – the believer’s death with Christ – breaks the bond which formerly yoked him to the law, and now he is free to enter into union with Christ. [1]

So, how were we bound to the law? Well, Paul deals with the purpose of the law in the remainder of the chapter, but gives just a hint in verse 5 when he says: 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. While the law makes us aware of sin, it also “arouses” or energizes our sinfulness. Our rebelliousness is put to work and says, “I’ll do what I want to do!” What is your first response to the “DO NOT TOUCH – WET PAINT” sign?

Remember the Garden where everything was good and Adam and Eve communed freely with God. The only negative command Adam and Eve received in the Garden was do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they did they would die. (Genesis 2:16-17). Through the cunning temptation of Satan, Adam and Eve’s sinful passion was activated and they ate of prohibited fruit. By succumbing to their sinful passion, the entire human race was impacted, and they “bore fruit for death” – physical and spiritual.

It is critically important to understand the role of the law. Its primary purpose is to establish and teach us the righteous standard of God (Galatians 3:24-25). It was never intended to be the means by which man found salvation (justification)! Nor is it the means of our sanctification. If we draw our motivation from the law to make us holy, we will find ourselves hopelessly unable to keep its precepts. If we believe the law empowers us to be spiritual, we will find it impotent. The law condemns us. But, having died in Christ, we are freed from the law’s condemnation and our new life in Christ now motivates and empowers us to “bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).

Let’s take another look at the marriage analogy. What is the primary role of a spouse in that new marriage relationship? Isn’t it to grow in knowledge and ever-deepening intimacy of one’s partner? And certainly, it is typified by a “want to” desire rather than a “have to” obligation. As this happens in our relationship with Christ, we begin to “read Scripture, pray, meditate, journal or fast….for the sole purpose of knowing His mind…The spiritual disciplines are not a means to holiness; they are a means of knowing Christ” [2]. And, knowing Jesus better will make us desire the kind of righteousness for which the law asks  instead of the law making us desire Jesus.

When you get to the point that a quiet time is not a chore, when Bible reading is not something you check off your “to do” list, and when praying is something that occurs freely and for prolonged times, you have broken free from the bond of the law and moved into the freedom found in the Spirit.

Your response:

  • Take some time to meditate on the following verses: Colossians 3:1-17.
  • Consider who you are in Christ and what you should “put to death.”
  • Consider how you should be clothed.
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1 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans (London: The Tyndale Press, 1966). 145.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010),155.

Who Ya Gonna Serve?

We have come to the end of Romans 6 and Paul’s contrast between the two slaveries – either to God or to sin. Paul concludes this section with the verse contrasting the ultimate destinies of the two slaveries by saying, The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23, NIV).

Chuck Swindoll, with whom I am sometimes confused [1], confessed that much of his pastoral ministry was spent dealing with one of two problems. The first was with individuals who were slaves to something but thought they were free. Believing that something would bring them fulfillment or eliminate their problems, they served money, career, sex, relationships, adventure, power, education, achievement, and even addictions.  With an inability to comprehend the depths of their enslavement, they sacrificed all to keep their god alive and lived in the fear of what life might be like without this master. Unfortunately, the good news of Christ is unappealing because submission to Christ will take away their “freedom.” This is often the perception people have of Christianity – God is the cosmic killjoy, wanting to take away freedom and ruin their “good times.” The writer of Ecclesiastes, however, realized the pursuit and enslavement to power, pleasure and possessions were all empty. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV).

Swindoll states that the second problem is almost as tragic as the first: to be free and think you are enslaved. This is symptomatic of the Christian who struggles to accept the fact that they no longer have to serve those past gods. While they have peace with God, who does not condemn but empowers them to overcome their shame and compulsions, they instead remain shackled to them.

The remedy for both problems, Swindoll says, is truth. That is, indeed, what Jesus said was the answer when he discussed this slavery to sin issue with the Pharisees. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31, 32, NIV). The truth is:

On the one hand, unbelievers need to know that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23). The “freedom” they experience is an illusion designed to draw their attention away from the fact that sin is robbing them of everything they value and will eventually drag them into eternal torment.

Believers, on the other hand, must learn to embrace their freedom and recognize temptation for what it is. Each opportunity to sin is an invitation to submit our bodies to something. Temptation asks the following question: “To which master will you submit your body for the next few moments: your compulsion, which always leaves you feeling emptier than before, or Christ, who always affirms your value as a child of God? [2]

As we address temptation, it is not enough to “just say no” to it. Paul said:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13, NIV)

When we say “no” to ungodliness, we must say “yes” to righteousness. There must be a repentance – a turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. Thus, the sanctifying process, being saved more and more from the power of sin, is a necessity for any believer who desires to break free of the past and live for Christ. We’ll be discovering more about this in the coming weeks as we continue in Romans.

Your Response:

Swindoll says “I need something else to which I can submit my body.” [3]  Here is a four-step process that he finds helpful when tempted to do wrong:

  1. Flee temptation; that is, change your circumstances. Physically move from where you are and quickly go somewhere different, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  2. Do something that brings honor to God as an alternative; Prayer is good, but I suggest adding something more tangible. Systematically answer the urge to sin with a godly activity.
  3. Thank God for providing the freedom to choose Him over wrongdoing and ask Him for encouragement. Spiritual warfare is exhausting.
  4. Try to discern what triggered the temptation and take practical steps to steer clear of the same situation. [4]

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1 Early in my ministry here, a local funeral home sponsored Chuck Swindoll’s Insights for Living radio program on Sunday mornings. I encountered a couple walking through our neighborhood and was told by the wife that she enjoyed my radio program. I thought she had confused us with the other Baptist church in town, whose service was broadcast every  Sunday. No, she was referring to “my” program that came on earlier. I was flattered but had to tell her that it was the other Chuck.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010), 146

3 Swindoll 146.

4 Swindoll 146-147.

Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan got it right in more ways than one when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Professionally, it garnered him the Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) in 1980, the second of 11 career Grammy awards. But more importantly this song, on his first album (Slow Train Coming) after his conversion to Christianity, confronted the reality that everyone serves one of two masters:  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

While the song reached the 24th spot in Billboard’s Top 40, not all appreciated Dylan’s new found faith. Because of his refusal to sing his old, secular songs in concert, he was heckled by disappointed fans.  John Lennon, who had recanted his own conversion experience, responded to “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a profane song, “Serve Yourself,” arguing against the claims of salvation through Christ alone. “He was kind of upset [about Dylan's song] and it was a dialogue,” said Yoko in 1998. “He showed his anger but also … his sense of humour [sic].” [1]  Ironically, it was one of the last four demos he recorded at his home on November 14, before Lennon was shot to death outside that apartment on December 8, 1980.

Last Sunday, we saw in Romans 6:14-18 that the Apostle Paul (like Dylan) puts every man in one of two camps: we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience that leads to righteousness. Likewise, Jesus spoke of this kind of bondage. While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day touted their own righteousness, Jesus regularly pointed out their hypocrisy. The religious leaders challenged him one day when he implied that they were enslaved to sin. Believing they were free because of their physical heritage, Jesus made it clear that they were instead “slaves to sin” and that their father was the devil (John 8:31-47)

Obedience is the hallmark of slavery. So, slavery to sin means that there is an ever increasing obedience to it. C.S. Lewis well captures the progressive nature of sin in The Screwtape Letters, in which he depicts a senior demon offering this advice to his nephew: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” [2] The next high is never like the first and yet there is a craving to experience it again. There is truth to the oft repeated quote by an anonymous source:

“Sin will take you further than you ever intended to stray.

Sin will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay.

Sin will cost you more than you ever intended to pay.”

Just as the combative Jews in John 8 claimed their freedom, the most enslaved argue that they are the most free. John Calvin said, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will.” [3]  This has been exemplified in the “free love” movement of the 60’s that rejected traditional marriage, citing it as a form of social bondage. Where has that “freedom” taken us?  Abortion on demand, legalized same-sex marriage, and AIDS to mention just a few. And, yet, we see those, who advocate for these positions and causes, fighting vehemently even though these causes promote a sin that leads to death.

Conversely, Paul said that there is another slavery of obedience that leads to righteousness. This is slavery to Christ. This transference of ownership results in a freedom from sin and its tyrannical and devastating reign. And while we are yet slaves, this slavery to Christ brings eternal life and freedom to live in the righteous way to which God intended.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36, NIV).

So, you “gotta serve somebody!” There is no middle ground. Who will it be… sin, leading to death… or obedience to Christ, leading to eternal righteousness?

Your Response:

  • Just as religious leaders were deceived by slavery to sin…how has the Church of this generation been molded by the world/culture around it?
  • Closer to home, in what areas of your life are there evidences of slavery to sin? In what areas of your life is culture pressing you into its mold (entertainment, recreation, fashion, sports, speech, lusts [not just sexual], etc)?
  • What are you doing daily to ensure obedience to Christ? The Psalmist said “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, NIV). John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote in the cover of his Bible, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” In the battle against sin, the Word of God is the weapon you simply cannot neglect.

For Fun:

  • John Piper wrote some updated lyrics to the tune of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” [4]

[1] This article, John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase, from Christianity Today is an excerpt from The Gospel According to the Beatles by Steve Turner: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=39891

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, 2002, Harper Collins, New York, NY., 210.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 406.

[4] http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/what-bob-dylan-got-right

 

Can You Change?

Is change possible? Several years ago, a Christian brother said to me, “People don’t really change.” This guy is not a pessimist, but he counsels people in life-threatening circumstances, most of whom fail to make necessary changes to alter their lives. I have to agree that the vast majority of people don’t really change, even Christians. But does that mean we can’t change. Certainly not! Change is possible, but we have to recognize that will power only gets us so far (thus, all the broken resolutions you and I have experienced).

We resumed our study of Romans 6 on Sunday, examining verses 8-14. One of the crucial points Paul tries to drive home is that believers can change because of our identification with Christ, having conquered sin and death. Paul says to “count [reckon] yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, NIV). The word “count” is a commercial term that essentially means “bank on it!”

In fact, as you read through the Apostle Paul’s letters, you find that a repeated expression regarding the believer’s position is “in Christ.” [1]  A favorite of mine is: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6, NIV). Wow! Positionally, you are in the presence of God, unhindered by sin, sorrow, and separation. You are free to praise, pray and petition because the righteousness of Christ and your position in Him makes you suitable to be in the Holy of Holies.  This is a fixed and final position, as well (Ephesians 1:13-14).

While our position in Christ is fixed, our condition is changeable. Miles Stanford puts it this way:

Our condition is what we are in our Christian walk, in which we develop from infancy to maturity. Although our position remains immutable, our condition is variable… In most cases, a believer is more aware of his condition than of his position. This is the reason for so much failure and stagnation. If we are to grow and become fruitful, our faith must be anchored in the finished work of our position—in Christ… Faith in our position will bring growth in our condition. [2]

When I first read these words thirty-six years ago, they prompted me to draw more from my position in Christ to bring change in my condition. Even now, I don’t pretend to have it all together…there are things I still need to change. But, knowing that I am positioned in Christ has given me the confidence and power to change. Paul concludes this section with this command:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:12-14, NIV). [3]

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[1] If you want to study the “in Christ” passages, here is a link to biblegateway.com for a search on the phrase “in Christ” in Paul’s letters. Not all speak of our position in Christ, but  many do. Find out what benefits your position in Christ can yield you in your present  condition.

[2] I would recommend The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford, which includes the book Principle of Position. The above excerpt comes from: Miles Stanford,  Principle of Position, http://withchrist.org/MJS/principle.htm

[3] As this passage speaks of offering the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness, Brian Goettsche makes the following suggestions:

  1. When you wake up each morning remind yourself that you have been set free in Christ.
  2. Every time you face a  temptation say to yourself, “I don’t have to give in!  I am no longer helpless.  God’s strength is sufficient for me to resist this temptation . . . if I give in, I am choosing to walk away from the Lord.”
  3. Every time you stumble . . .get back up!  Claim the victory and ask God to help you to tap into His power so you can experience His victory in your daily living.
  4. As you plan your calendar, spending, and leisure activities ask: “am I giving myself to serve sin or to serve righteousness?  Am I going God’s way or am I turning away from God’s way?”  Make deliberate choices for your life.
  5. To keep you from getting discouraged use your non-dominant hand and write on a card, “I am dead to sin, but alive to Christ”.  It won’t be pretty but it will remind you that the process of growing in Christ will take time but with practice, growth will happen.