In Ch 5, we read about how we are not in Adam, but in Christ.
In Ch 6 we hear that we are not living in sin, but living in Christ.
Last week, we looked at 7v1-6 which shows that now we are in Christ, we cannot be BOTH under grace and under law, because that is tantamount to adultery.
this week, we are looking at 7v7-25
In 7v7-11, Paul explains that the law is the very thing which defines sin and therefore reveals my sinfulness. He discusses a perspective which says that the law is, therefore, sinful.
The law is not sin, the law REVEALS sin.
Paul says this specifically, he says in 7v7, “…the law is sin? By no means!” rather, he says, “without the law I would no know what sin is”. He uses an example, if the law didn’t describe coveting as sin, he says, we would not know it was sinful: “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet”.
So, what the law does is reveal our sin, and more specifically, it specifies what God declares to be sin. So, if as a Christian, I look at the law, and see that it declares something to be sinful, when I say that, I am not saying that I think the action is sinful, I am saying that the law says it is sinful, and by implication, that GOD sees it as sinful. What I think of an action is neither here nor there, it is irrelevant, I don’t have the power or the authority to unilaterally declare someone as a sinner (notwithstanding what Jesus meant when he said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:19).
The Disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23).
Or, indeed, to us, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18).
So, the purpose of the law is to reveal and declare our sinfulness apart from Christ. Where there is no law there is no transgression (Romans 4:15), is picked up again here. Paul explains (again) that apart from the law, there is no sinfulness. It is the law which defines what sin is, and REVEALS it to be sinful. The law, in that sense reveals the very nature of God, because the core of sin is rooted in our relationship with God. So, if what sin is is rooted in God’s nature, the law, revealing what sin is, also reveals the nature of God. Paul actually declares the law itself to holy, righteous and good! Which if you think about it, anything which declares the nature of God is holy, righteous and good.
We read, for example this about the law in Psalm 19 …
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from wilful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
The point though is this … there has never been a single person, ever, who can fully keep the law. Never has been, isn’t now and never will be. This means that although the law is good, it brings death to us. The very thing which should bring life, actually brings death, because it reveals our inability to do the thing is says will bring life.
Remember Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt. 22:37&39).
At the start of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10v25ff), Jesus is asked “what must I do to gain eternal life?”. Do you remember what his response was – BEFORE he told the parable?“What does the law say?” (Lk. 10v26). He is answered by the teacher in the law with the very summary Jesus had given when asked about the greatest commandment … “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus’ response is: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live”. You know what Jesus is saying here? — IF you can keep the law you will gain eternal life!
The problem is this … there isn’t a single one of us who CAN keep the law! There never has been and there never will be! (Excepting Jesus of course!).
Paul describes this foundational inability to keep from sinning …
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me”.
As you know, I have just started to re-do the Freedom in Christ course on Tuesday nights, and last Tuesday’s session really speaks to this.
When you become a Christian, the spiritual reality is that your nature changes. You become a saint. A saint in the biblical sense is someone who is wholly consecrated to God, a saint is not someone who has performed miracles, or been declared a saint by the pope. The New Testament describes believers as “saints” so, for example we have:
Acts 9:13 where Luke records Ananias prayer and he says to God about Paul, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13 ). Some translations render the word “saints” as “Holy People”
Paul regularly refers to the believers he is writing to as “saints” … Phil. 1:1, 4:21; Eph. 1:1, 4:12; Ro. 1:7 are just a few.
Saints, Biblically, are those who are believers in Christ … 1 Cor. 1:2 “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.
We are not sinners, we are saints. As the Bible clearly says, we were “born again” (Jn 3), we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks no longer “in Adam”, we are now “in Christ”. The reason I am labouring this is because, as the FICM course says, what we believe we are will determine how we act.
Proverbs 4:23 should be a verse we all learn by heart. It says “guard your heart because everything you do flows from it” (NIV)
If we are sinners, guess what? Yeah, we will sin. It is our nature.
If, however, we fully grasp the truth that our nature has changed, God has taken from us our heart of stone which is opposed to Him and replaced it with a heart of flesh which responds to Him, we no longer live under the curse of having no choice about whether we sin or not.
We DO now have a choice.
Being a Christian doesn’t say “you are forbidden from doing that”, it says “you don’t have to be controlled by your sin, you no longer HAVE to do that!”
Yet we sin. John in his first letter actually says, “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8), and goes on to say “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (God) out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1:10).
Paul talks here about the struggle between sin/the flesh and the spirit in us.
Both John and Paul are writing to believers. To Saints.
as an aside, that is true of Scripture generally. We have to understand that its primary application is in our lives, in the lives of God’s people. That’s not to say it doesn’t have anything to say to the ungodly people we live amongst, but it is and should primarily be US who take on board its words. As Paul says to Timothy, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:16), so that WHO may be equipped? – the servant of God ! After all, as Jesus says to the teachers of the law, “you study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39), and as followers of Jesus, we want to become like Him!
Ok, back to the challenge of knowing we are saints, and therefore, not by nature, sinners, yet struggling with the reality that every one of us sins.
Note that sin is not just about what we DO do, it is also sin for us if we something we should do and don’t: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
The thing we all have to get to grips with, is that there is a difference between our NATURE and out BEHAVIOUR.
Christians are, in their nature, saints. Holy People, people consecrated to and for God, whose eternal destiny is heaven. Yet sometimes their behaviour doesn’t reflect that. That is why we have Scripture, fellowship, the Law and other mechanisms to help us to become more like Christ in our daily lives and to overcome the problems and temptations which assault us every day. Much of the New Testament is dedicated to helping us to do just that. If we couldn’t sin, then most of the epistles would be unnecessary for us. The fact God has given us the Bible is evidence that we DO sin, and that we CAN overcome it! That’s good news.
People who are not Christian are, by nature, sinners. They are opposed to God in their very core and they have hearts which, as Jeremiah says, are wicked:
“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
So, although form time to time, they DO good things, even if it is their behaviour by which they are judged, any amount of good behaviour will not save them if they slip at one point.
“whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
That’s bad news – and Paul knows that it is, he says “what a wretched man I am!” (7:24) but he has good new to tell us — right in the next verse!
So Romans 7:24-25 reads: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin”.
The thing which really comes across strongly is that we think sometimes the way we need to over come sin in our lives is by force of character or strength of will. In other words, we know that our coming to faith in the first place is something that Jesus does for us. We recognise we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), that we were “held captive” (7:23 … “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members”). In other words we are so unable to do anything about our state before God, that Jesus did it all. We have no problem with that truth.
Sometimes, though, we think that now we are Christian, we have the Spirit of God in us (that is true), and that we have the ability to overcome any sin in our life ourself without reference to Jesus and his victory over sin.
Paul here says that we cannot do what is right in our own strength – even as Christians. We have always to rely on and trust in God who will deliver us from it through Jesus.
We don’t just celebrate Jesus’ victory over our sin as a past event, but as an ongoing process. If we are to overcome sin in our lives, even now, EVERY sin we fall foul of MUST be placed at the foot of the cross, repented of.
We cannot manipulate the reality of our new nature in Christ and say (as some have said to me) that “now I’m a saint and not a sinner, the things I do wrong aren’t actually sin, they are merely me not understanding my new nature, so all I have to do is change my way of thinking and hey presto all is well again”. They will justify that by claiming repentance actually means “re-think” (which it does). Theologically though, repentance involves and includes regret over our actions, sorrow for them and coming to the Lord and asking his forgiveness.
When we do that, we don’t overcome our sin – Jesus does.
And that is the gospel.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ro. 3:23 and 6:23).
This is truth for BOTH the faithful and the unfaithful.