MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 2, 2011 FROM ROMANS 7:1-6
Last week, when I preached on neighboring, I wanted us to make sure our motivation was right so I talked about why we obey God’s commands—not because we HAVE to because of a rule orientation, but because we WANT to out of love for God. In light of some feedback I received among other factors, I want to step back from the neighboring messages and take a closer look at the question: “what is the right motivation for living for Christ?” Last week, I gave a broad overview of this topic. This week, I want us to more deeply ground it in Scripture and help us to see some of the related truths that support what I said last week. In order to do that, we need to spend some time in Romans. We will eventually get to chapter seven, but because Paul makes a very logical and progressive argument where each truth is rooted in the truth that has come before, we first must provide a context for chapter seven by broadly surveying chapter six.
In chapter six, Paul tells us that anyone who is in Christ has had their relationship to sin radically altered—it is categorically different and that difference should be clearly seen and experienced by believers. What Christ did in his death and resurrection has forever changed the way believers can relate to sin. Before a person is converted, sin ruthlessly rules their life, but after conversion, he/she can live above the controlling power of sin. The nature of this change in our relationship to sin is found in 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” When Christ died on the cross, he broke the condemning power of sin, but he also broke the enslaving power of sin. And those who are united with him died with Him—were spiritually transferred out of this realm where sin rules, and into another kingdom where we share in his victory over sin’s power. We were not only united with Him in His death to sin, but also his resurrection to life. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, (verse 4) “we too might walk in newness of life,” Believers have a new, categorically different quality of life, very different than our old life in Adam and now sin no longer has controlling or dominating power over us.
Paul says this change in our relationship to sin is brought into our experience the same way all of Christ’s work on the cross is experienced--through faith. Think of it like a river. On one side of the river is this new relationship to sin by virtue of our union with Christ and his victory over sin’s controlling power. You are on the other side of the river and faith is the bridge that connects you—enables you to access this victory over sin through Christ. That means that if we truly want to be free and are being defeated by the power of sin, the problem is always unbelief. Christ has broken sin’s power—and how we live out that change in our lives is in 11, “…you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The difference between living above sin’s controlling power and not is how we consider or think of ourselves. Before we were in Christ we were very much “alive to sin.” Its controlling power pulsated through us, enslaving us as our master. Now, as we by faith accept and live out the truth that in our new nature we are dead—free from sin’s enslaving power, we experience freedom over the controlling power of sin. We must daily (sometimes hourly!) declare that, in spite of its strong pull, ultimately, the only power sin has over us is the power we allow it to have because Christ has purchased for us a new, overcoming relationship to sin! We allow sin to have power over us that it has no legal right to have when we fail to believe the gospel—that we have been set free from its power through Christ—that we are dead to sin. Think of the river again. One the one side is this new relationship to sin by virtue of our union with Christ and his victory over sin’s controlling power. We are on the other side, but if there is no faith, the bridge is blocked by our unbelief--we have no access to what Christ has done for us in relation to the power of sin.
Our unbelief enslaves us because it allows sin to have control over us it has no right to have. Before we were in Christ, SIN chose what we would do, how we would live. Now if we are in Christ, WE by faith, through the gospel have the freedom to choose how we will live. Do we believe that? When we are faced with the temptations of sin day in and day out—is that the way we respond to sin’s pull—trusting in Christ and what he has done for us--who we are in Christ through faith—considering ourselves dead to the power of sin? Do we fight the temptation to sin with the truth of the gospel to deliver us from sin’s enslavement? This freedom is part of what Christ purchased for us. If God thought this freedom important enough for him to crush his only Son, it is surely important for us to be applying this power by faith as we confront sin and its controlling power.
One question that people ask when they hear this truth is—“You make it sound easy—the sin that I struggle with feels like a 900 pound gorilla and I spend most of my time under his heel. How do you explain that?” Let’s illustrate how the power of sin can, at one and the same time, be defeated—unable to control us, and also seem so menacingly strong. This illustration is not original with me. Our relationship to the power of sin is similar to the relationship between two opponents in a chess tournament. At some point in the game, the winning player moves his pieces in such a way that the other player, no matter what moves he makes, he will lose. It’s a hopeless cause. The game may continue for a short time. He still has a limited number of moves before his fate is finalized, but his defeat is inevitable—there is absolutely no hope of a comeback--checkmate is imminent. In a tournament, when the winning player concludes that his opponent is finished, he rises from the table and leaves the vanquished player alone to squirm and come to the same conclusion. That is, that it is a waste of time for him to play it out and it is best for him just to concede. If the player has sense, he will at that point humbly concede the game.
That scenario illustrates what happened to Satan and the power of sin at the cross. The cross was God’s mortal blow—his check-mate of Satan and the power of sin. After the cross, the Father (figuratively speaking) rose from the table and left Satan to admit defeat. Satan was powerless to reverse what had taken place. The overcoming power of sin was broken. But, unlike a gracious, defeated chess player, Satan is a VERY sore loser and he’s a liar—the deceiver, and so he attempts to usurp our rightful authority over sin’s power the only way he can—by deceiving us—so that we will doubt or show “unbelief” toward the gospel. That unbelief blocks the bridge connecting us to God’s power over sin through Christ and Satan is able to make it look as if there is no victory at all.
In the case of the believer, Satan knows that--because the believer is united with Christ and his victory over sin’s power, the game is over and his power over them has been stripped. He knows that for those who are in Christ, he no longer has any legal right to control them, but as the father of lies he does his best to make the church doubt that truth and instead believe the lie that the power of sin is not only still in the game but it’s still in control of the game and that is where many of you are this morning. And for those believers not walking by faith, moment by moment trusting in the gospel truth of Christ’s and their own death to sin, he can exert enormous influence, even though he has absolutely no legal right to.
When we fail to believe the gospel and what God did through Christ to set us free, we can become powerless over sin’s controlling power and that’s where some of you are—and you have pretty much lost hope. The church of Christ desperately needs to believe the gospel--the truth of Christ’s victory over sin’s power and (with the Lord,) get up from the table and, by faith in the gospel, regularly notify the power of sin, “I don’t have to play your game anymore. You can stay there as long as you want and pretend you’re not defeated, but I don’t have to allow you to be the controlling influence in my life any longer—Jesus checkmated you and because I am united with him—I checkmated you in Jesus! By faith in what God has done for me through Christ, I can walk in freedom over your powerful influence.”
This is just what Paul says we are to do in light of this victory in 6:13—“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but [rise from the table and] present yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” In other words, now that you have this freedom, here’s how to use it—when sin comes knocking, because of what Christ has done for you, you don’t have to open the door. Instead, you run to the cross, claim your birthright and instead choose righteousness. In that moment of temptation, it may not FEEL like you have the power to resist sin’s power, but faith doesn’t rest on feelings, but on the fact that the Jesus broke the power of sin and through his death has given YOU that power over sin--You don’t have to cave in to it. One of the most important truths for a believer to learn is, by God’s grace to stop trusting in our feelings and instead trust in the promises of the gospel. This is very difficult because our feelings play such a powerful role in our lives, our decisions—the way we relate to people. God will give us all the faith we need, but we must BY HIS GRACE actively oppose the lie of sin with the truth of the gospel. We must pray that God would give us grace to ignore our feelings, which often scream at us, and attend to God’s voice in the Word and by his Spirit. We must memorize the promises of the gospel so that we can employ them against our fallen, unreliable feelings that much more easily believe the lie than the gospel. As powerful as our feelings are, the Word of God is more powerful still.
With that as background, let’s look at Romans 7:1. Paul says, “1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?” As Paul begins chapter seven, it’s clear he has shifted gears. He has been talking about the broken power of sin and what that means to us, but now he moves into a discussion about the law. By “the law,” he means the broad set of moral requirements God has established and which reflects his holy character. A fair question is: how is the law, (which Paul discusses from 7:1 through 8:17) related to what he has been saying about the power of sin being broken? One scholar asks, “Why does Paul link the rule of sin [in chapter 6] with the rule of the law [in chapter 7]?” The answer is, for Paul the two are unbreakably connected. Paul would say, “Show me a person trying to be pleasing to God by following the law apart from faith-- and I will (without exception) show you a person who is in hopeless bondage to the power of sin.” Living under the law is an expression of unbelief because it assumes that I must be acceptable on my own without trusting in Christ’s work on the cross. That unbelief blocks off the bridge of faith connecting me to the liberating work of Christ. For many Christians, one of the main reasons they are always struggling and repeatedly failing in their relationship to sin in a given area is because they are seeking to obey God, NOT by faith, as an expression of their love and worship for God. Instead, they seek to obey God under the law as an attempt, by their works to get God to love and accept them. In chapter six, Paul is addressing this problem—our failure to trust in Christ and his work to live above the controlling power of sin. In chapter seven he addresses this problem—our misplaced trust in our own abilities as we try to live under the law instead of living under gospel grace. Paul links sin and the law many times and we must see this relationship. The best known of these texts is probably 1 Corinthians 15:56 where he says, “…the power of sin is the law.” How can something as holy and God-authored as the law give sin its power or energy?
It’s helpful if we think about what sin is at its core. Sin is rebellion against God. It’s our personal expression of rebellion against God. It’s not a mistake or a misjudgment—it is rebellion against God and his sovereign authority to rule over us. Now, the law is an expression of God’s character informing us what He, as the sovereign Ruler, expects of us. Now, if sin is rebellion against God, then what would energize sinful, rebellious flesh more than an expression of God’s holy character and authority? The believer’s sinful flesh reacts to the law the way fire does to oxygen. Verse five says our “sinful passions [were] aroused by the law” The law does to sin what oxygen does to fire—it ignites it. Do you see the unbreakable connection between the controlling power of sin and being under the rule of the law? Because the law ignites sin, sin will be the engulfing, controlling influence in the life of anyone trying to please or be acceptable to God under the law. In their lack of faith in the truth of the gospel—they try to please God in their own efforts and this only ignites their sin. The law is not given by God for us to live under—its main purpose is to show us our sin and our great need for a Savior and point us to the cross.
This is the sad story of so many believers. Here is a sincere, but misguided person who tries to earn God’s love and acceptance by their obedience-what they DO--clearly an obedience under the law, not by faith. What happens? Well, to their great frustration and mental anguish, the harder they try to please God under the law, the more sin they sin—the more they weaken and fold in the face of temptations. Under the law, some believers sin by doing the evil things the law forbids—others sin by their self-righteousness at how much better they are at law-keeping than other believers—these are Pharisees. And the reason is (getting back to our point) when they place themselves under the law, they have also placed themselves under the power of sin because the law ignites our sinful rebellion against God. So for Paul, there is no disconnect between chapter six and the tyranny of sin and 7:1-8:17 and the tyranny of being under the law.
You see, trying to be acceptable to God by what I do places the emphasis on what I can do for God and the result is, since I have done this for God, I get the credit--I earn something. This, God will NEVER allow because if it were true, he would have never had to crush his son. Conversely, faith is inherently God-centered. The person of faith has abandoned any hope of pleasing God in their own efforts and looks to One outside themselves, God—they place their faith in Him and His work through Christ to make them acceptable to God. When obedience is given through that faith, God gets the glory. This and this alone will God honor.
Now, let’s delve further into chapter seven. The basic truth of this text is: To be under the law of God is to be in a state of spiritual slavery. In verses 1-6. Paul makes two underlying points. In verses one through three he says, Only death to the law through union with Christ can release us from the enslaving power of the law. Let’s read 7:1-3. “1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.”
Do you see Paul is using the same point about freedom from the tyranny of the law as he did freedom from the power of sin? You have to die with Christ to be free from the power of sin and you must die to the law in order to be free from its enslaving power. We have died to both the enslaving power of sin AND the power of the law by virtue of our union with Christ. Notice the strong words Paul uses to show what it is to be under the power of the law; words like “authority” or some translations have “jurisdiction.” Literally, to be under the law according to this words’ meaning is to be “under the lordship of the law.” You are not free when you are under the law. He uses the words “bound” to convey what it is to be under the law. When believers begin to live their lives by trying to earn God’s approval, they become bound up by the law’s controlling power and the power of sin because “the power of sin is the law.”
In verse four, Paul makes his main point and in verses 5-6 he explains what he means. He says, “4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
Paul’s second point here could be stated, Death to the law releases a believer to live in joyful, Spirit-powered obedience. This death occurred through the “body of Christ” which is Paul’s way of speaking of the bodily death of Christ. When he died, we died or were released from the law’s tyranny—that’s Paul’s point. Notice WHY we were set free from the law. Was it so we could go to heaven? No, certainly no one is going to heaven if they are under the just condemnation of the law, but that is not Paul’s point here. Was it so believers would not have to obey the law? This is frankly what many in church believe, if not by their theology, at least by their lives. Some wrongly think of it this way. “Being under the law means I am forced to obey the law, but being freed from the law means I have the freedom to decide if I want to obey God.” That is a lie and produces so-called believers who are indistinguishable from the world. The reason we were set free from the law was, according to verse six so that “we could serve in the new way of the Spirit.”
One problem with the law is what we have seen already. The law ignites our sinful flesh to rebel against God. The other problem with living under the law is the righteous requirements of the law are plain to see, but the strength or power to obey the law is nowhere to be seen. You have this external, letter of the law, “You shall not covet” but no enabling power to live it out. But under the New Covenant of grace, we are given the Spirit who enables us to obey God. Look at verses four and six again. “4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” In verse six, He explains what it means to bear fruit to God. “6 …we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” The believer upon conversion receives the Spirit who, as the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel witness, writes the law—not externally as the demanding policeman we are forced to obey out of fear, but internally--on our hearts and minds where we can obey in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Those not under the power of the law are free to bear fruit, to obey God in the power of the Spirit. They are not miserably living under the letter of external law; but joyfully living out the law written on our hearts and minds. And, when we do sin, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin.
Does God demand obedience? Of course He does. His call for us not to be under the law is NOT a call to be lawLESS. But the obedience he calls us to is, as he says in1:5 as we saw last week is “the obedience of faith” or the “obedience that comes from faith.” That is, an obedience that is dependent, NOT upon our abilities or earnest sincerity--not an obedience that in unbelief looks to our impotent efforts to keep the law, but an obedience that in faith looks upward to Christ and what he has done for us. Because we are not under the law but under faith in God, we are free to live out a Spirit-empowered obedience. We must know that the Spirit will only empower obedience in a heart that has abandoned any hope of being acceptable to God on the basis of their performance, but instead looks to Christ and his finished work. That humility brings the grace of God through the Spirit.
This is an obedience rooted in the truth that believers are, by God’s grace ALREADY acceptable to God by the sin-breaking—sin-forgiving power of Christ’s blood. This is an obedience which is given to God in response to what God has done for us—not an attempt to repay a debt to God, but an expression of worship to Him. This is joyful and genuine Christian devotion to God. This is an obedience which is fueled by the love of Christ. Charles Hodge says that to be a Christian is to be “so constrained by a sense of the love of our divine Lord to us, that we consecrate our lives to him.” John put it this way, “We love because He first loved us.”[1 john 4:18] This is the obedience God desires and which Christ died and rose to enable. This obedience is not under the law--it is an obedience rooted in grace and which points to Christ and his work on the cross, not the sufficiency of man.
Where are you this morning? As you war against sin are you regularly “getting up from the table” of Satan’s controlling power of sin and by faith claiming your freedom in Christ through the gospel? If you aren’t, then you are allowing yourself to be governed by a lie—the lie that Satan and sin still have the legal right to control your life and life under the lie is enslaving. Are you living under the law, trying to earn God’s acceptance? If you are, you will never find liberty because the law just binds you up in sin. As we, by grace accept by FAITH the truth that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am because of Christ, then that love will fuel my passion to obey God. If we are under the law, we are not looking to Christ but to ourselves and that unbelief will keep us from God’s power to obey and we will be miserable. If you are not living in joyful obedience, your problem may be that you are not trusting in what God has done for you in the gospel and are living under the law—from which you have been set free. May God give us grace to be free from the law so that we can experience his love and, fueled by that love, live by faith in joyful obedience.
Page last modified on 10/4/2011
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