The War Within
© C. O. Bishop 12/8/15 THCF 12/13/15
Romans Chapter Seven
We have been working our way through the book of Romans for some time now. Last week we began the segment encapsulated in Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8. Here in Romans 6 through 8, there is a three-chapter introduction to the reality of Life in Christ: We “crossed the threshold” into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the end of chapter three. The facts of “imputed righteousness”, and the difference between Grace and Works were explained to us in chapter four; and our new, perfect position in Christ (along with the doctrine of “federal headship”) was explained to us in chapter five. But now there are three fundamental facts presented in chapters six through eight:
- We no longer have to sin. (chapter 6) We are no longer slaves to our old sin nature. This is a hard concept to grasp, because it seems to contradict our experience, but it is a fact, and we need to place our faith in God’s facts, rather than our own experience, when the two seem to be at odds.
- We now have two natures, and we cannot simply “do what comes naturally” (chapter 7). We are free from our old lock-step of sin, but we have to constantly, consistently choose to allow God to live through us, if we want to see our lives conformed to Christ. Otherwise, we will revert to sin.
I have been told recently that the “old sin nature is not in the Bible.” True! Neither is the “new nature”, in so many words…the two are called the “old man” and the “new man” in Ephesians 4:22-24, and, even more frequently, they are referred to as “the flesh” and “the spirit”. The “flesh” is not in reference to the physical body, when we are talking about our bent to sinning. The physical body has nothing with which to covet, and, interestingly enough, that is the particular commandment referenced here in chapter seven. The fact that a particular term used in our society to describe a scriptural concept is not in the scripture as that exact word means nothing.
The word “rapture” is not in scripture, either, but the concept is clearly taught and explained. The words that are translated “Heaven” in both Greek and Hebrew do not mean what we think of when we use the English word. The Greek words translated “forever, eternal, and eternity” do not translate to those exact words, either, but they are the Greek words used to express those concepts, and they are used equally to express the eternality of God, the eternality of the human spirit, and our eternal destiny in Christ.
Don’t quibble over jargon; but rather, earnestly endeavor to extract the actual intent and meaning of scripture, which we can then apply to our lives.
- There is now no condemnation for us in Christ (chapter 8). God is eternally our savior, our father and our defender. We can never be lost again, nor, under any circumstances can we be separated from the Love of God in Christ. We can, however live as though that Love were not present, and endure the reality of chapter seven over and over again.
Paul Struggled with Sin, too!
It is comforting, in a way, to see that Paul struggled with the same things we do. He was not some “super-saint” who never had bad times. But, I am doubly thankful that Paul detailed, in writing, his struggle to live the Christian life, so that know the nature of the real problem.
He begins with an object lesson from real life. Bear in mind, he was also speaking from the cultural background of the Middle East and Mediterranean world, of the first century, not modern day Europe or USA. Modern feminism did not exist, nor was there any legislation expounding or requiring the equal treatment of the genders. He was stating the facts as they existed in that culture, and as they still exist today, in that part of the world. Again, the meaning is clear, though we may feel uncomfortable with the cultural context from which it arises. Rather than quibbling over the cultural differences, let us try to see the point of the object lesson given. Slavery was a grim reality, then, as it is even more, today, in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other parts of the world. We don’t like that, but it doesn’t change the facts.
The fact we must face in our own lives is that we are slaves, whether we believe it or not. We have been given a choice as to which master to serve, but becoming an autonomous, self-ruling spirit was never one of the options, though we have been taught from infancy that it is. The whole concept of spiritual autonomy came from a known source: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells us that Lucifer chose that as his goal, and, as a result, became Satan. He did not become truly autonomous, by the way, he only exiled himself permanently from fellowship with God, and doomed himself to an eternity in the lake of fire. (We don’t like that idea either, but it is a fact.)
The War Within
Chapter seven details what happens when a genuine child of God…truly born again, and possessing a new nature which is completely righteous and holy…tries to live for God in his own strength. This is part of Paul’s personal testimony, and is very helpful and encouraging to me.
1Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Paul begins by pointing out how completely God has separated us from the authority of the Law of Moses, and the principle of law in general. He states that a woman is no longer responsible to obey a dead husband—she has been freed from his authority, whether it was benevolent or harsh. He is simply dead and entirely separated from her. She is free to submit herself to a new husband if she so desires, or press on alone if that seems better. But her old husband is dead, beyond all argument, and has no further control over her life, except as she allows it. Please bear in mind that the reality of that time in history was that there was very little available in terms of employment for women. Just a fact: sad, but true. Marriage to a good, kind, loving husband was pretty much the best option available.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
As a logical extension of the idea of the woman being freed from her dead husband, Paul says that we are also freed from the Law, and may now serve Christ. She (it is implied) evidently had a rough time with her old husband, and now is free to go to someone better. (Remember Abigail and Nabal, culminating in Abigail and David—or, better yet, Ruth (who was married to one of Elimelech’s and Naomi’s sons) and Boaz, the great-great grandpa of King David.) These are historical people, and historical realities, being used to teach us about spiritual realities today.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Very interesting choice of laws to use for a case in point: it is one that has no physical parallel. It is strictly mental/emotional/spiritual in nature. The physical body does not covet. So the “flesh” referred to in this passage is not the physical body, but the old sin nature.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
My guess is that Paul was referring to the time before he understood the true intent of the Law. There was certainly never a time in Paul’s life when he was not a sinner, but there was a time when he thought he was not a sinner. Jesus showed him the truth of his spiritual condition.
10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Paul shares his own experiences here…Remember that, when he was an unsaved Jew, he saw himself as blameless. He really thought he had no sins to deal with. But when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, he awakened to a new realization of the demands of the Law. So, still trying to serve God, but now with a new understanding of what the Law really said, and, as a born-again individual, he began trying to live the Christian life in his own strength.
The results were disastrous, in that he failed constantly. He had two natures, and he was identified with both of them in his own mind. He said, “I do the things I do not want to do, etc.” All through the repeating cycle of striving to do good and failing, he referred to both his sin nature and his new nature as “I”.
Paul speaks to this issue in other places as well: he called the people living that way “carnal”—fleshly! They were living under the dictates of their old sin natures. They apparently did not understand that there has been a spiritual “unplugging”, and that their old nature was no longer in authority at any level.
Separated from the Old Man
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Paul finally concludes in verses 17-23 that the old man is “no longer I”. This is a vitally important concept: God no longer recognizes that individual as me…why should I continue to do so? And yet, Paul does not offer that as an excuse for sin…he simply recognizes that his old nature is the “old Saul of Tarsus”—not the new Creation in Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we excused for sin on the basis of it “not really being us who did it”. The disconnect, here, is in realizing that, far from sin being a failure in God’s new creation, it is simply a “case in point” for God’s indictment of the old man.
I need to realize that my old sin nature has been disconnected; “unplugged”, in a sense—it is not gone, but it has lost its authority and its identity. It is no longer “I”. I still have a will and a choice, and I can still subject myself to sin if I choose to do so…but even then, God is not judging my new nature…he has already judged the old nature, and nailed it to the Cross with Jesus.
So, when I obey, by way of the Holy Spirit living in me, it is “Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20 Don’t be confused—the “new man” is just that—a new creation! Neither the Lord Jesus nor the Holy Spirit can be said to be a “created” being. But I am! And my new nature was created the moment I trusted Christ as my savior.) And when I sin, it is my old Sin Nature (also called the “Flesh”) who also lives in me. I am continually faced with a choice: to whom will I submit my will? To sin, so that I continue in my old life? Or, to Christ, so that my new life shines as a light in a dark world? The choice is always mine, and it is not always much fun.
If I choose sin, I am wasting the opportunity to honor God with my life, and, in the process, to gain reward. If I choose obedience to Jesus Christ, then there will come a day when a reward will be forthcoming. Either way, I am secure in Christ…my position in Him is never in jeopardy. But my relationship with Him suffers when I continually choose to sin.
Paul cries out his grief at the reality of the spiritual vortex in which he is trapped, and poses a final rhetorical question:
24 O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
And the answer is?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Paul accepts the reality of his two natures and knows that his old nature will never change. He is thankful that he now has two natures, though the old one is still a grief to him. He rejoices that he now has a legitimate choice and that he can serve God.
He explains to us in some detail how to accomplish that, in Romans 6, as well as in Galatians 5:16 and Colossians 2:6, 7. It is to be by faith, step by step, day by day. That is why we call it “walking” in the Spirit. There is no such thing as “coasting” in the Spirit, or “surfing” in the Spirit, or “gliding” in the Spirit. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and deliberately taking another step, by faith. The more practice you get, the easier it will become, as the discipline of walking becomes habitual.
But, like it or not, that is the only way it can be done. There are no magic formulas, no magic spells—only a consistent walk by faith. Jesus said to take up our cross daily, and follow him. Recognize the fact that you are dead with him, and buried with Him. That is where the cross comes in. Then realize the truth that you have also been raised with Him, and that you now have the authority to live as He lives, if you will choose to do so by faith.
Lord Jesus, Help us to walk, day by day, step by step, until we develop the spiritual balance and strength to joyfully run in your service.