Romans 7 and 8: The Reality of the Christian Walk

Some years ago I put myself under a form of holiness teaching that said, among other things, that a Spirit-filled, born again Christian had moved beyond Romans 7 to Romans 8, i.e. the experience of Paul in Romans 7 no longer applied. This is patent nonsense to anyone who is in any way alive but somehow I believed it. It also completely contradicts the bible (see 1 John 1:8 for example).

Just to make it clear, this is my experience and the experience of every Spirit-filled, born again believer, don’t be deluded:

“I don’t understand what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I want to do, but instead do what I hate.”

Romans 7:15.

Paul then goes on to explain why this is the case. There is a law, he says, that exists in the members of our body that makes us a slave to sin.

Sometimes chapter divisions are a right nuisance. They were not in the original Scriptures and they can interrupt and disrupt trains of thought in Scripture. Paul never intended there to be the gap there is between Romans 7 and 8. One should flow straight into the other.

The answer to the problem of sin in our members that Paul explains in Romans 7 & 8 is (thanks be to God) Jesus. Jesus will teach us to walk in the Spirit. And that means, among other things, taking up our cross daily and putting to death continuously the desires of the flesh. It is like that game where the gophers pop their heads above ground and the idea is that you hit them on the head with a hammer as soon as they appear. Similarly, when the flesh manifests itself in some temptation or lewd thought you need to take it immediately to Christ. He will have some very practical answers that usually involve discipline. For me this involves things like getting up at a specific time and going to bed at a specific time, praying and realising that some of my desires – which are not illegitimate or sinful necessarily – simply will not be fulfilled in this life.

Hope in the next life can extend to very intimate and practical things. Our deepest desires are often the ones we are most afraid to express but at their heart can be something very precious to God once He has refined them and taken away the dross.

A Problem with the Roman Catholic Church

If, as I do, you call yourself a Christian, it can be very hard to see the leaders of another institution that calls itself Christian behave in very unchristian ways.  That is the dilemma faced by anyone who has watched the self-serving and defensive approach of the Roman Catholic church world wide over the last couple of decades.  It is bad enough that a small number of priests – supposedly spiritual leaders for their flocks – have committed unmentionable atrocities against young children.  It is a sad fact of the fall that such behaviour is inevitable.  However what should never have been inevitable is that the leaders of an institution that calls itself a Christian church should ever have gone out of its way to cover up the abuse just to protect its own reputation at the cost of the innocent members of its flock.

To many in Ireland and around the world such a cover up is the real reason that they cannot be identified with that institution.

There is, of course, nothing new about this.  Back in the 16th century as the reformation began to take root, its leaders and followers too saw even more blatant abuses of position by those in leadership in the Roman Catholic church.  Even a cursory reading of the history of those times can convince you that in many ways nothing much has changed.

Personally, I was brought up a Roman Catholic.  I attended mass religiously for many years.  During all that time I never remember hearing that I could have a personal relationship with God my Father through Jesus Christ.  It took another student my own age, himself a former Roman Catholic, working outside that institution and with no support – indeed outright opposition – from it, to be the instrument used to reveal that astonishing and life-changing truth to me.  About 11 months after being born again I left the Roman Catholic church myself and never went back.  That was in 1981 when it wasn’t so fashionable to leave as it is now.

Whether they want to admit it or not we are all here in the West hugely influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We all, without any controversy, know right from wrong when it comes to the abuse of children.  There used to be a similar unanimity about other matters as well but that is reducing.  Divorce, abortion, gay marriage, LGBT rights are all no longer as clear as they used to be.  Adultery, murder, lying, cheating generally have withstood the tide of post-Christian amoral thinking though there is a strong Atheist movement now that would, if it could, remove meaning from every moral stance of any sort.

Personally and reasonably there is a Truth who has spoken in the consciences of all men where the Christian gospel has spread whether they acknowledge it or not.  This same Truth says, un-controversially that abusing children is wrong.  He also says, controversially, that abortion on demand and LGBT “rights” are wrong but not everyone believes that anymore.  In some countries in Europe the age of consent has been reduced to the age of young children.  At the other end the call for assisted suicide and euthanasia is increasingly becoming louder.

However at the moment, children, in Ireland anyway, are sacrosanct.  They are the line drawn in the sand by many people.  So when a so-called Christian institution supports the abuse of children from the highest level down it is no wonder that the name of Jesus Himself is thrown out with the bathwater.

So there is now a body of people in this land that have become very angry at the attitude, behaviour and stance of the Roman Catholic hierarchy world wide to anything.  So if the RC church is pro-life, anti-abortion these people take the opposite stance.  This doesn’t help the objective truth of the matter nor those who are truly Christian who happen to believe that abortion on demand is wrong.

 

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

God is very creative. When He puts together a group of people in a church and does things through them, the result can look very different from the constituent parts.

faithfulwon

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that…

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Taking Offence

It is very easy to find fault with people and organisations.

Last night at Open Arms “Heart & Soul” meeting, Sean Booth spoke the word of the Lord to us.  I took the following notes in mind-map format.

The word that struck me most was “Be Honouring”.  I noted that that includes honouring those who have left and are bitter.  People leave congregations for all sorts of reasons, some good, some not so helpful.  Being offended about something someone has done, or the way things are done is easy.

In fact, that is the way the world works.  I was at a talk recently given by a learned UCD professor (it was a closed group so I don’t want to say who here publicly) who pointed out the reality that if you want to get the government to do anything all you have to do is complain loudly about some injustice or other.  In fact that is the only way anything substantial happens in the public service at least in Ireland.  If you follow current affairs you will know that is true.

However in the Church of Jesus Christ we are called to a different path.  Jesus chose crucifixion rather than complaining about all the offensive things people have done, do and will do against Him.  He is calling us to the same approach.

Now that is not to say that if someone does something criminal it should just be covered up.  That is the way a very large religious organisation has gone to the shame of all its adherents.  But unless I have at least two witnesses to something like that, something criminal or obviously reprehensible, I am not going to entertain it.

Not that kind of fence

Pathetic Fallacy

Back when I was doing my Leaving Cert English course Shakespeare’s King Lear was on the curriculum.  I’m not sure was it my teacher at the time or a textbook but one of the phrases used was “pathetic fallacy”.  It referred to Shakespeare’s use of the weather in the play to reflect the action on the ground.  At the height of the worst tragedies that fell on King Lear the storms raged the worst:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our teeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurour and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!”

King Lear, Act 3, Scene 2 by William Shakespeare

So the now forgotten commentator called this kind of matching of the elements to the moral events on the ground “pathetic fallacy”.

The attitude that such connections are pathetic lies is now so ingrained into our thinking that anyone who even remotely suggests in our “enlightened” western humanist society that God might have something to do with the weather is likely to face the worst of scorn.   And, indeed, caution is always advised when attributing any specific elemental actions (e.g. fires, earthquakes, floods, droughts, etc.) directly to God’s judgments especially at macro levels like nations (notwithstanding the fact that these acts are all called “Acts of God” for insurance and other purposes).

However, the bible is quite clear that God is in control of the weather whatever we might be told by English teachers or otherwise.   Here is one example taken from Zechariah chapter 10 in the Old Testament:

“Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
    it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.
He gives showers of rain to all people,
    and plants of the field to everyone.”

Zechariah 10:1

I have a number of reasons for drawing attention to this current drought and asking the question:  “Is God judging Ireland?”

One of the reasons is that I woke up with a vivid dream this morning.  In it, I was in a train travelling through the hills along the coast.  It could have been from Greystones to Bray or somewhere similar.  On hills away from the coast fires were breaking out all over.  There was a solitary fire man fighting one of them.  I didn’t see any houses go up in flames just gorse and hedges.  But there were a lot of fires and not enough firemen.

To be fair, you wouldn’t have to be much of a prophet to predict that in this weather in this country.

We are all enjoying the fine weather.  Ireland is known for its rain during the summer or indeed at any time of the year and so any respite from rain is usually welcomed by the majority of the people.  However when it comes to judging nations the bible does have quite a lot to say.  Usually judgement comes in the form of an invading force but in Zechariah chapter 14 there is this verse:

 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain.

Zechariah 14:17

The context in this case is (probably) the millennium rule of Christ on the earth which (probably) has yet to happen.  However the principle is the same:  When God holds back rain it is not a good thing.

Fruit

We have two fruit trees in our back garden, a plum and a pear tree.  Both have produced an abundant crop this  year, a crop unlike any of the other 8-10 years they have been planted.

For me the plum tree represents spiritual fruit and the pear tree financial fruit.  Don’t ask me why, I think it may be the Lord teaching me some prophetic lessons.

The fruit of the plum tree is super abundant.  It is hard to imagine how such a small tree can produce so many plums.  There must be at least a thousand plums on the tree.

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Over the last few Sundays we have brought a lot of the plums to the church we attend where they were eagerly devoured in a matter of minutes.  Olive also made a couple of plum tarts for the family which we all enjoyed.  During the weeks of the harvest I have been eating a couple of plums a day, the rest of the family have been eating some as well.

However a lot of the fruit is not as sweet as we would like it to be.  It’s quality is not great and we seem to remember that in other years the fruit tasted better even though there was much less of it.

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During the months leading up to the harvest we neglected the tree.  One day when I did get out to look at it late in the season before the fruit was ripe, I noticed that the tree was utterly infested with greenfly.  The leaves were curling and some branches had grown with no fruit but totally covered with greenfly.  I took away the worst infested of these.  This action seemed to improve the situation later.

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Nevertheless the fruit kept coming.  In the end a lot of it fell off the tree and was inedible as soon as it was on the ground for any length of time.  Slugs and other less visible insects quickly spoil the fruit.  Some of it shriveled on the tree and never fully ripened, others were attacked by wasps and spiders while still on the tree.

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At various stages I was torn as to whether to harvest the plums off the tree or not.  We didn’t seem to get enough sun and the plums didn’t seem ready to fall off the tree.

As I said I imagine this is a spiritual picture of what can happen if we neglect the spiritual fruit of our lives or allow sin to take over.  The results can be mixed.  Much of the fruit is good and useful but a lot is lost through neglect, disease and demon interference.


The pear tree has also produced a lot of fruit.  There must have been about 100 pears.

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In contrast with the plums this fruit is almost perfect.  We have lost a couple to windfall but on the whole we have been very successful in harvesting and using them.

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We brought some to the church, made cakes out of others and I and the family have been having one each per day for the last few weeks.  The cakes didn’t last long.


Fruit is a seasonal phenomenon.  Based on how little or how much attention we pay during the earlier parts of the year, and on the weather, next autumn there could be more or there might be very little fruit on the trees.  Professional fruit growers seem to know how to produce a large, high quality fruit harvest on trees year after year though I think even they are at the mercy of the weather.  It takes God’s favour, and a farmer’s skill, nurturing and time to create a consistently abundant, high quality harvest.

How is your fruit?

Possibly Impossible

There are a lot of tensions in Scripture:

  1. Predestination v. Free Will
  2. Deity and Humanity of Christ
  3. Old and New Testaments
  4. Law v. Grace
  5. Holiness v. Grace
  6. etc.

We’ve only been to a few churches and we have usually spent a long time at each.  The last church I attended for 18 years and my wife was there for longer.  This current one we have been at for over 11 years now.

The two churches in many ways could not be more unalike.  There are many differences but the one difference I want to look at today was their approach to the character of Christians/ God.  Holiness v. Grace.

One church very strongly emphasized something that I believe is true from Scripture:  It is possible to be “perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” as Jesus commands us to be in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20, 48).  In fact the Scriptures tell us how.  First be born again (otherwise you can’t even see the Kingdom of God), second consecrate yourself to do the will of God only, third walk in the Spirit, or as John puts it, abide in Him (John 15).  And, despite doing this, if you do sin, and everyone sins, then confess your sins and you will be cleansed and can start afresh (1 John 1). Simple really.

The other church very strongly emphasizes something else that I believe is true from Scripture:  Jesus died for the sins of the whole world for all time so you can stand before God unconditionally unashamed.  It is by believing in your heart that Christ died for you and confessing with your mouth that you are saved (Romans 10:9-10). This is typical evangelical doctrine and, inevitably, there will be a proclamation of that simple Gospel at every service so that people have a chance to encounter God.  The hope is that the encounter will then change everything for the person who has it – and very often it does.

Emphasis is the main difference here.  An over emphasis on walking in the Spirit or your behaviour as in the first case, can lead to that being the criteria that you are assessed by.  The danger is that on entering that church you would first have to behave in a certain way and then show the right beliefs before you (might) be accepted.

However the emphasis in the second church also has its problems.  In this case you are accepted no matter what your behaviour is like with the hope that you will believe and then God will then work with you to change your behaviour.  However you can be left wondering what difference there is between those going to the church and those who don’t.  In some cases their behaviour can seem indistinguishable.  It is very messy.

Personally I think the second emphasis is better than the first.  But then who wouldn’t prefer grace to holiness?

Is it even possible to get the balance right?

Resting in God’s Protection

The Psalms have several recurrent themes. One of them is that God’s protection is around those who trust in Him (see for example Psalm 125:2).

I have found that trust is an active thing on my part – I have to actively trust God by committing things to Him, praying to Him, spending time with Him and, very importantly, obeying what I believe He is saying to me. I can’t just carry on my own way and then say that I am trusting God.

There are things I have to do deliberately to ensure that I am trusting Him. One of these is to discipline my time so that I have set aside times in the day and the week to spend time praying alone with Him and reading the Scriptures. Another is to obey the commands that I am not to worry or be afraid, that I am to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:17). These are not always easy commands to obey and work is required to carry them out.

We have just finished a series of studies of James at our local church, Open Arms. Works and faith go hand in hand.

Not my will but yours be done

Wouldn’t it be great if our wills and God’s were always perfectly aligned like Jesus’ will is?

Oh, wait, he did say “Not my will but yours be done” on one occasion (Matthew 26:39). I guess then that makes him more like us than would otherwise be the case.Prince of Peace Hillsong

“Not my will but yours be done” I’ve said to my Father about a thing I don’t want to do.
Just so you know, it doesn’t compare in any way with what Jesus had to go through, in fact if I told you what it was you would think, wow, can I do it instead if you don’t want to? In fact I am competing to do it. The only similarity is that I don’t want to do it but I believe my Father wants me to do it. Mind you that wouldn’t be the first time that happened sadly.

No one – except God – can really share your pain and neither can anyone really know your joy (Proverbs 14:10). We are all so different. But His love surrounds us when our thoughts wage war and all our emotions are like a volcano inside. He is the Prince of Peace.

Not my will but Yours be done!

No Law!

Paul has said this a few times now:  When there is no law there is no sin:

For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Romans 5:13

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Colossians 3:13-15

This morning I woke and spent time with God. Wonderful time with God. This is always a good thing.

This morning I realised that any law anyone might have written or spoken against what I am is null and void. I’m accepted in all my complexities and peculiarities.

I am consoled though that I am not alone in this. We all need levels of acceptance and freedom from sin that only the cross can bring. I’ve died with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The law doesn’t apply to me any more. Go and take a run and jump accuser.