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.

Not by might or power

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

1 Corinthians 8:5,6

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. 

Jeremiah 9:23,24

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts.

Zechariah 4:6

One of the reasons God emphasizes knowledge of Him over power so much throughout Scripture is because we can so easily be deceived and because there are an array of powers out there that are ready to take advantage of that. It was deception that led to the first sin after all.

There is an unfathomable, incomprehensible gap between any creature and its creator. However, God is not insecure in any way and so He has made creatures (angels, “sons of God”) with astonishing power and the power of choice also. These creatures have fallen and interfered with mankind in the past both before the flood (see Gen. 6) and after it (e.g. the giants of David’s day) and can do so again. Satan can appear as an angel of light and his followers as false prophets (2 Cor. 11:14) even today.

So, how do we avoid being deceived? Well firstly, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. The only way of knowing whether the light that is in you is not darkness (Matthew 6:23) is by knowing what God is really like. No amount of power can assure you of this as Jesus pointed out when He spoke about the many who would come to Him boasting of miracles and yet who practiced evil (Matthew 7:22). Christ in you is your hope and when He is formed in you (Gal. 4:19) and you are relating to Him easily and continually there is nothing that cannot happen.

But how do you know that it is Christ that is in you and guiding you?

How do you know that it is not some other god/ devil or even yourself and an overactive imagination?

The Holy Spirit in you is quite a subjective experience, the outward signs that someone is carrying around this treasure are often not that obvious in the earthen clay of our physical bodies (2 Cor. 4:7).

The second check is the Scriptures. No matter how amazing your experiences or power, if you are doing evil then you could be deceived. The Scriptures stand apart from your experience and can act as an objective mirror to your internal realities if you let them.

Thirdly, the church, let godly people see you for who you really are and give them the freedom to speak into your life and correct you if necessary.

See also “Three Pillars“.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

God moves at levels we have very little understanding of.  We have two lovely and intelligent dogs but they have no idea what I do when I go to work.  In fact they have no concept of what my work is nor even that there is such a thing as work.  All they are aware of is that I’m around sometimes and sometimes I am not.

God likens us to sheep and Him as a Shepherd.  We really have no concept of His work.

It is good to keep this in mind when we pray about or consider the Church.  Sometimes the local church we are part of can loom too large in our minds as if it was all that God is doing in our area or land.  Thank God for faithful men and women who follow God and are led to work with Him to build His Church.  And thank God if you are benefitting from the service of such men and women.

But God is doing something bigger.  Don’t become tribal or sectarian or worried if people don’t stay.  Often they are God’s servants doing what God wants them to do.  And if not, God is still building His Church and nothing the devil or men do will stop that.

Just make sure you are where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do.

Throwing Eve under the Bus

One of my friends on Facebook asked a question on his feed one day: “Why did Adam do it?”  He didn’t answer the question but simply referred to Paul’s comments on the incident in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 

The bible says that Adam is the father of us all.  We all share his genome.  It also says that it was his disobedience that brought death into the world (Romans 5).  It was because of this that Jesus had to come to bring life instead through His death on the cross.

Another friend of mine (who is not on Facebook) said that he spent 3 days doubting his faith after thinking about what I am about to say in this post so you have been warned!

So here is the scene:  God has made Adam out of dust, created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs and thereby enhanced paradise for Adam in the “flesh of my flesh” unity they enjoyed freely for who knows how long after that.  If you get my drift.

Then along comes the serpent, the devil, a fallen angel in Paradise.  He takes Eve in all her doubly refined purity and innocence, deceives her and she eats.  Adam stands quietly by and lets it all happen.  According to Paul he was anything but innocent in this encounter.  He knew exactly what he was letting Eve do and what he was going to do himself.

So why on earth would he want to spoil what he had by deliberately doing the only thing he was asked not to do?

Maybe I should ask the question another way.  Why do men deliberately disobey God?

This is the mystery of iniquity.

Manna!

Of all the things that a Christian needs to do once they are born again, nothing is more important than that they eat and drink spiritually. Just like eating food is critical for our bodily life so eating the word of God is crucial for our spiritual life. If we don’t eat spiritually we will die spiritually.

Jesus said to pray to God “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) He also said that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in us (John 6:32-58) and that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

In the OT there is a picture given to us physically of the nature of spiritual food. In Exodus 16 we are told that the people of Israel used to live on manna in the desert. The manna appeared all over the ground each morning and needed to be collected, put in a jar and eaten that day. If they didn’t collect it in the morning, by the time the sun got warm it had disappeared. If they tried to keep it overnight it went bad and was inedible the next day (except on the day before the Sabbath when it would keep for two days). When they went to collect it they found that no matter how much or how little they collected, each family had just what it needed.

From this picture we can see that we need to keep our relationship with God’s Word fresh. Jesus is called the Word of God. The bible contains the words of God.

Like everything else to do with walking in the Holy Spirit, let Him teach you what this means for you. For me it is clear though that I need to keep in daily communion with Jesus, meditating on His words and getting fresh words every day to eat and to share with others, particularly my family.

It is a rich picture worth thinking about and acting on.

Don’t starve to death spiritually!

Obeying the Holy Spirit

Over the 40 years that I have been reading the bible I’ve found it helpful to look at the Old Testament with New Testament eyes. The story of Exodus in particular lends itself to this kind of interpretation.

It is not difficult to see an analogy between the way God through Moses & Aaron leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea into the wilderness (and eventually over the Jordan and into the promised land) and the spiritual journey of anyone who is born again. We too are taken out of a kingdom of darkness and slavery into a kingdom under the rule of God through the seemingly impassible barrier of our sin. We wonder through this life like in a wilderness and eventually we pass through Jordan into the next life. Pentecostals are inclined to vary the picture and say that passing through the Red Sea is being born again and crossing over the Jordan is being baptised in the Spirit with the wilderness being the experience of unfilled believers. Personally I think the beauty of having a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ is that no one needs to teach another brother (or sister) about these things since the Holy Spirit can teach us what we need to know. A lot of controversy could be avoided if we all just heard the things God wants us to hear instead of arguing about the exact meaning of this Scripture or that.

Which brings me to the real point of what I wanted to write today. If you continue with the analogy in Exodus, the first thing that God says to the people of Israel after they pass through the Red Sea is this:

He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26)

Many Christians claim healing as a right as a result of the cross quoting Isaiah 53:5 but in this case at least the promise of healing is conditional on obedience. Jesus said about Himself that He only did what He heard His Father say to do (John 5:19-20, 30) and we have the privilege of being able to do the same once we are born again.

This was God’s first command to the people of Israel after they passed through the Red Sea and it was given before even the 10 commandments. We need to listen carefully and obey not the letter of the law but listen to the Spirit who gives it. Because we can if we are born again. How amazing is that!

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.

 

Logically

So Jesus died for all our sins past, present and future. Therefore there can be no law against anything any more if it is all forgiven.

23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 

1 Corinthians 10:23

Logical.

But then why not go out and sin?  Because God knows that the response of a believing heart to the revelation of Jesus’ death is gratefulness and a desire to please Him (1 John 4:19).  Paul says we died to sin when Jesus died (Romans 6:1-11).  The revelation that God sent His Son to die for us works in our hearts automatically and we want to do what pleases Him (Romans 7:23).  We are wed to Him in a way and forever spoilt for anything else.

However in some ways we haven’t changed.  The old nature still wants to do the wrong thing (Romans 7:14-25).  So the answer is to offer ourselves, our every member, to God as a love slave to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Then He will show us what to do and He will work within us to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12).

Freedom

The passage below is taken from Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.

Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different—a free life in God. Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.

It was a glorious experience, and Paul set off telling others, introducing and inviting everyone he met into this free life. In his early travels he founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. A few years later Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations.

Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.

His letter to the Galatian churches helps them, and us, recover the original freedom. It also gives direction in the nature of God’s gift of freedom—most necessary guidance, for freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.

Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language . The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

You cannot serve God and Mammon

The bible says, quite rightly of course, that money answers all things (Ecclesiastes 10:19). It also says that the love of it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10 KJV).

Jesus was completely unconcerned about having or not having money. He was supremely confident in His Father’s care and so wasn’t bothered when He ran out or who looked after His money. In Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus’ and Peter’s tax is due.

Every October I have to make sure I have enough money to pay the taxes that fall due on that day for the previous year. So I can imagine what it would be like to come to that day and not have a penny to give. But was He bothered?

No, first He says He and Peter shouldn’t be paying this tax anyway and secondly, a fish had swallowed a coin some time ago which He knew was available for them on the first bite of Peter’s line.

And then there was the small matter of who He told to look after His money – a thief who would betray Him – Judas (see John 12:6 and 13:29).

Oh, that I could be so trusting and so free from the love of money!