Monday, December 27, 2010

O Wretched Men That We Were

Good Monday morning from snowy New Jersey.  Today I want to take us through a passage that is often used to comfort us in our failures.  I do believe that God forgives our sins as we confess and repent of our sins, but I think that we often miss the real point of this passage.  We often stop of "O wretched man" and do not move past there.  This passage is about surrendering ourselves to God after realizing what failures we are.  This passage is just as much about as someone coming to know the Lord as it does someone already saved coming to the knowledge that we can not sanctify ourselves.  I hope that we will all see that today after we go through Romans 7.
 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  Romans 7:1-4 NKJV
Paul is first addressing the reality of freedom in Christ.  He uses the metaphor of marriage to illustrate that freedom.  I am married to my wife and while we are alive we are bound to each other. She is bound to the law of "Ben" so to speak an is unable to marry someone else.  If I should go home to be with the Lord, she is no longer under the law of "Ben" and in that she can marry whomever she wishes.  That law of "Ben" has died to her and so she is free to put herself under another man.  In Christ, we are dead to the law and the law is dead to us through the death of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, as the Word, became dead to free us from that bondage.  He came back from the dead allowing us to marry Him under the new law, that being the law of grace.
For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.  Romans 7:5-6 NKJV
And now Paul is making that transition to our new lives in Christ where we are no longer bound by our flesh in sin bearing fruit unto death, but we have been delivered to freedom in Christ, freedom from the law and from sin, so that we may serve in the newness of the Spirit having been brought to life.  Whereas before we brought fruit unto death, we not bear fruit for God. 
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.  Romans 7:7-12 NKJV
Now that we learned that the law brought sin into our lives, we must ask if the law itself is sin.  The answer, of course, is that it is not.  The law does not make us sin, it only works to reveal the sin in our lives.  We would have no knowledge that we were sinners were it not for the law.  Our flesh, though, being evil and easily tempted, took those commands as a means for rebellion and not righteousness.  It is kind of like telling a child not to look inside a box.  That child's desire to look into that box was stirred to peak inside that box because of your law.  It was not your command that was evil, but the rebellious nature of the child.  That revelation of our sin through the law and the purpose of our evil flesh to rebel against the spirit brought forth sin into our lives and the fruit of that sin was our spiritual death.  We were deceived by our flesh to rebel against the righteous law of God. 
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.  Romans 7:13-14 NKJV
So now if the law is not evil but through our rebellion to it we become spiritually dead, does that make the law itself death?  Again, the answer is no.  The law is righteous and it is our unrighteousness in how we compare to the law the has become death to us.  It was not the law, but the sin revealed through the law.  We were already dead in our sins, the law just made that abundantly clear.  The problem is that the law is spiritual, but we are in our flesh carnal.  We are slaves to sin in our flesh state.
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  Romans 7:15-16 NKJV
Paul's writing (as even Peter attests to in his epistle) can be difficult to understand.  What Paul is saying here is basically that being that he hates the sin in his life then he agrees with the law that the law is good.  We all have sin in our lives and the response to that sin should be to hate it.  Paul is not excusing sin, he is saying he hates his sin.  If he did not agree with the law that it was sin, he would disagree with the law. But being that he believes in the righteous law of God, he sees the sin in his life for what it is and he hates it.  We must hate the sin in our lives. 
But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. Romans 7:17-18 NKJV
Please do not think that Paul is excusing his sin here.  He is only identifying its source.  Paul is a new creation in Christ and in that he is no longer a sinner.  The new man is pure, a new creation of God.  The flesh we still live in is not.  The flesh is still susceptible to temptation and that wicked evil flesh we dwell in continues to try to lead us astray.  Our sin is rooted in our old self, that is our flesh.  Our new self, in the spirit, is vexed by the sin that still dwells in our flesh. 
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  Romans 7:19-21 NKJV
And now Paul separates the flesh from the spirit.  In Christ, our minds serve the spirit, but our minds still live in our earthly flesh.  We strive to serve God.  We desire to do good for God.  We hate the sin in our lives.  But there remains sin in our lives through the fallen nature of our flesh.  Evil (through our flesh) still exists in us who desire to do good. 
For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 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. Romans 7:22-23 NKJV
And so our flesh is at war with our mind.  It remains at war even in Christ and will remain until Christ takes us from these irredeemable bodies and gives us new spiritual bodies.  In our inward man, we delight in God's law and desire to follow it and do things for God.  In our flesh, we are in rebellion to God wanting nothing to do with the righteous works of God.  It is a war we can not win on our own.  And as we fight and fight and strive and strive with no victory, we come to the point that Paul is at now.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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.  Romans 7:24-25 NKJV
Please do not stop at "O wretched man that I am."  That is where many stop and just accept their own wretchedness.  Paul never declares the war with our flesh to be over, but only gives the hope that in Christ we will ultimately have the victory.  I am not perfect.  I still have my own issues and I hate each and every time I fail God.  I see the war in my own members, and I hate the rebellion of my flesh.  If any Christian tells you they have achieved perfection, they are lying or deceived.  Our victory is complete in Christ, but that victory is not realized until our redemption is realized. 

So what should our response be?  Should we just accept the sin in our lives?  The answer is an emphatic "no!"  To accept that sin in our lives means we have surrendered to our flesh.  What we must do is surrender to Christ.  We must allow Christ to fight and win those battles for us.  We can not make ourselves better for God, but what we need to do is come to that point of surrender.  Unfortunately, for so many, that surrender is to the flesh.  Even in Christ, they live in the flesh.  Those are the carnal Christians.  Those are the type of Christians who feel that playing sexual video games is "fun" or that getting drunk on Christmas is just part of tradition.  They have little to no concern for spiritual matters and what scares me is that they seem to feel no conviction about it.  It is as though in their surrender to their flesh, God gave them over to those desires.  Please do not let that be you. 

Sin lives in our flesh, but that does not mean we have to like it or accept it.  In fact, we should hate it.  We should despise the sin in our lives.  We need to hate it to the point where we cry out like Paul "O wretched man that I am!"  When we come to the realization of just how wretched we are, only then can we surrender our flesh to Christ.  We surrender it to Him and allow Him to fight that war against sin for us.  It is a war that we on our own can never win, but it is a war that Jesus already won on the Cross.  We see ourselves for the wretchedness of our flesh, but God sees us for the beauty of the new spiritual creation we are in Christ.  May God gives you His eyes to see you as He sees you through the blood of Christ.  When we give that battle of the flesh over to Christ, we see His victory over that sin on the cross.  When we see His victory over our sin, then we can grow in that process of sanctification.  We fight a hard-fought war between our flesh and spirit, but it is a war that Jesus has already won.  Do not surrender to the flesh and grow to accept that sin, but rather abide in Christ and in the victory He has already won. 
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:1-6 NKJV

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