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.

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).

Appearing in Court

Over the last 30 years or so I have been in court many times. I have appeared as an expert witness in many murder, drugs and terrorist cases including in the UK Crown Courts north of the border. Even as I write this I am engaged in a major murder trial which involves months of work analysing and assessing technical evidence.

The justice system is set up in this country to make it easier to acquit the innocent than to condemn the guilty at least in criminal cases. It is up to the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. It is rare that a jury will go on to convict the innocent though it does happen. In other words, we can generally trust our judges and judicial system not to do injustice.

However, the belief systems of the people involved and political pressures can lead to decisions being made by judges which defy most people’s common sense or sense of what is right and wrong. Nowhere is this more obvious (to me at least) than in the ruling of the Irish Supreme Court in March 2018 that the child in a womb has no rights because they are not actually a child until they come out of the womb. Try telling that to any mother.

So can courts based on western democratic systems get it wrong? Absolutely.

Does that mean they will get it wrong when it comes to the many cases that President Trump has brought to try and dispute the election of Joe Biden in the US? Well that would seem unlikely for a couple of reasons:

  1. There are numerous courts involved. All these cases have to be taken at State (not Federal) level first. A lot of these courts will have judges and jurists on them who are favourable to President Trump. The federal Supreme Court is also loaded with people who have conservative values and beliefs. There should be no reason for the President’s supporters to doubt their rulings if some of the cases get that far.
  2. The cases are usually quite simple and don’t depend on value based judgements. There were either lots of fraudulent votes or there were not. Notwithstanding the few State variations on how to accept or deny postal votes, it shouldn’t be that hard for the prosecution to disprove or the defence to prove there were fraudulent or improper votes cast or included in the election of Joe Biden.

It is possible that some of the many accusations of fraud will be upheld by the courts as legitimate. Whether there will be enough to overturn the Presidential election results as are currently being presented in the main stream media is another question.

A lot of people think there is too much at stake to let it go, no matter how improbable the likelihood of success.

Personally I think the US election results (as currently presented) have turned out well overall with the Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and narrowing the Democrats margin of control in the House. Speaking as a European I believe we could all do with a better image of the democracy that has saved us on at least 3 occasions in the last century from fascist rule than that presented in the main stream media of the present incumbent. If Joe does get in they should have less reasons to ridicule him.

Works brought about by Faith

It is absolutely crucial that we understand that our works arise from faith in the fact that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ and that alone.  Our works have no merit at all in relation to our legal standing before God our Father and our ability to come to Him freely.  We approach God our Father freely because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

That is basic theology.  It needs to underpin everything we think about who we are and what we do.

So, with that understanding, we read the rest of the Scriptures in a different light.  The Old Testament Law (the Torah, or first five books of the bible) are now expositions of what pleases God.  They become a place to learn how to live in a way that blesses both God and us.  The 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), for instance, describe the fundamental ways in which we can please God and be a blessing to others.

All of Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16).  In Exodus 18 there is a lovely passage about Moses father-in-law Jethro.  The respect that Moses shows Jethro is an example to us all of how we should treat our elderly relatives.  Moses bowed low before Jethro and kissed him (Exodus 18:7), he showed respect and affection in equal measures.  Moses then took on Jethro’s advice without quibbling with him.  Considering that Moses was hearing directly from God and would go on to write the Torah, this was an impressive sign of his humility.  But then he was the most humble person on the face of the earth at the time (Numbers 12:3).

One of the most fundamental ways we can read the Old Testament with New Testament eyes is to understand that the law is not given as a stick to beat us with but that that stick was already used on Jesus (Col. 2:14).  The Law is now powerless in that regard. But as a way of knowing God and what He wants, the Law is crucial.  If you love God because of what He has done for you, then you will also love His Law because it shows you His heart.

Sodom and Gomorrah

I am reading a book by Charles Swindoll called: “Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith.”  In it Charles includes a very convicting chapter on Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah.  It is a word for today’s church.

I am a firm believer that things are improving in many ways but I don’t think anyone could say that things have been improving over my lifetime morally.  There has been more concern for social justice expressed among the richer young people, more eradication of absolute poverty, more education, better living standards for nearly everyone and a less polluted environment in many places.  All these things are good and can in large part be ascribed to charitable impulses arising from Christians who have been reading their bibles, listening to God and making changes to their lives and the lives of those around them accordingly, often empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is good to see accounts of people like Desmond Doss in the Mel Gibson film “Hacksaw Ridge”, and Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln”.  There are good men & women out there, we know many who are giving their lives selflessly in many places around the world, some at great cost to themselves.

However it is also impossible to deny that many forms of immorality are on the increase.  Things that my ancestors would have thought gross immorality are now lauded as virtues by the peers of my descendents.  The continuous and unrelenting destruction of innocent life by the hands of their mothers and colluding medical staff – if you had told someone at the beginning of the 20th Century that such behaviour was going to be protected by the law at the wishes of the majority of the people, very few would have believed you.  If you had also told my ancestors that we would have a openly homosexual Taoiseach and an openly practicing lesbian (and witch) as our Minister for Children – well no one would believe you 100 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago.  Most young people would laugh at the idea that having sex before marriage was somehow wrong and they don’t know what fornication means.  Adultery is so common no one remarks on it much.

The inevitable consequence of our continuing tolerance of this downward slide among our people here in Ireland and across the western world is judgement.  It cannot be otherwise.  Somewhere along the line God is going to say “Enough” and end it all.  He did it at the Flood, at Babel, at Sodom & Gomorrah and He will do it again.  Most likely in the next 20 years or so He will usher in a new age during which He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9, Rev. 2:27, 19:15).  You won’t want to be on the wrong end of that rod when it comes.

On our part we need to be sure we are not becoming like Lot, desensitized, perverted and too fond of the comforts that the improvements are bringing about to want to lift our heads above the parapet and call a spade, a spade.

Bound

The story below is about a hypothetical old testament character bringing a bullock to the temple to be sacrificed as a whole burnt offering. I go on to draw the conclusion that our flesh is just like that bullock, substantial, costly and unwilling to go to the slaughter.

bullock

Bucking and pulling, the bullock refused to stay still.

“Come on, I guess you know you are going to be slaughtered.  Pity you can’t be like a lamb and just go quietly.”  Jacob managed to tie another rope around the bullocks head while he thought that.

It was their prize bullock, the first fruits, the tithe, that they had brought to Jerusalem to be slaughtered.  It was a big beast and not that stupid that it didn’t sense what was coming.

“Just two more ropes should do it.” Jacob looked over at his father straining to tie the ropes around the horns of the altar.  They were the strongest parts of it and once there were four ropes, one on each corner, they could begin to draw the bullock in.

Jacob knew his father loved Yahweh and was drawing on these ropes motivated by that love.  He remembered what he had been taught about the prophets Jeremiah’s and Hosea’s writings*, how God had drawn His people out of Egypt and brought them with similar cords of love during all their years in the wilderness and afterwards. The picture of a bucking and rebellious people reluctantly being led was clear as he watched this bullock’s antics.

Jacob also knew that this bullock was worth a lot and represented a significant sacrifice on the part of his dad but he also knew his dad didn’t think of it that way.  He just wanted to give his best to the God who had loved him and prospered him all his days with finances, family and peace.

The bullock was more subdued now.  The priest stuck the knife in and drained the blood from the beast.  The life of the beast was in the blood and as it was poured out so the life left the beast and only a carcass remained.

This was a whole burnt offering.  The smoke went up in billows and spread a pungent odour around the temple area.


Many years later a man with a mission called Paul wrote to some Romans and said that they should offer themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:2) or, in reality, we all should.  The flesh represented by the bullock is strong and not rational.  It doesn’t want to die.  The cords of love that cause us to bring our sinful natures to the altar are strong.  They are the bindings of a God who loves us.  Like a moth to a flame we cannot help but be drawn to the death of our old ways by the look in His eyes.

“I died for you, will you not trust Me?” Jesus asks.

“My Father loves you and has only the best plans for you.  Will you not trust Him?”

*Jeremiah 31:3, Hosea 11:4.

Scarlet Yarn

There was a lot of Old Testament ritual going on around the time of Jesus’ death on the cross.  One of these rituals was that of the Red Heifer found in Numbers 19.  There is a man involved in that ritual who was neither a priest nor a Levite but who yet had a very significant role.  Some of the following is speculation.  It presumes that the Red Heifer ritual was occurring at the same time as Jesus’ crucifixion and that the man involved saw both things happening.  By putting the two events together like this we can see how this picture in the Old Testament points to Christ like so many pictures do.

The red heifer lowed and complained as it was brought outside the city walls.  Unlike the lambs that were sacrificed in the temple it wasn’t silent as it was led to the slaughter.  It was just like any other animal in that sense.  Otherwise it wasn’t a normal animal.  It had to be specially bred.  It was chosen from birth and reared for this day of its death.

I slaughtered the red heifer in the place chosen.  I could see the man from there, hanging on the cross.  The soldiers had even taken some of the sacred hyssop from the priest as he was coming out with it and used it when offering him a sedative.  Which he refused.  Why anyone would refuse that when going through such pain I couldn’t understand.

As I had been instructed and as my predecessors had done for the last 1500 years I burnt up the red heifer’s carcass, dung and all.   The priest then added the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop he had brought.  The wood reminded me of the cross on which that man was hanging.

I saw the soldiers gamble for his tunic.  It was full of scarlet yarn like the piece the priest had thrown in the fire.  Scarlet from blood.  Isaiah’s words come to my mind as I watch them:

“Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow.”

The ashes of the red heifer were mixed with the ashes of the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop and mixed with water to make the water of purification.  This was the whole point of that red heifer’s sacrifice.  That water would then be used if anyone was in contact with dead bodies, had a skin disease or was accused of adultery.

(The featured picture is from the blog https://freedailybiblestudy.com/)

Leviticus! The Totality of His Forgiveness

Jesus’ death on the cross changed the ground rules of what it means to sin forever.  Before His death the Law reigned and sin produced spiritual death through the knowledge of the Law (read Paul’s letter to the Romans chapters 6-8).  This started when a commandment was given to Adam and Eve which they broke and therefore sinned and death entered the world through that sin.

However, Paul says that when Christ died, the Law (and we also) died with Him so that there is no longer any such thing as transgression (Romans 7).

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 2:13-15

So really now it doesn’t matter what you do right?  Actually that is right in theory but in practice the law of sin and death has been replaced by the new law of love.

If you really believe that God so loved you as to give His only Son to die for your sins there is no way that you should want to do anything that wouldn’t please Him.  Like any one in love with another person the ideal is that you couldn’t do anything to hurt them.  You want to follow them to the end of the earth.

However in practice people don’t always act consistently over their whole lives with the ideal.  So what then?  Well then it is a question of your will.

So you decide.  Things are tough.  Jesus perhaps hasn’t come through for you in the way you expected Him to.  Where do you turn to now?  Do you turn to someone else?  Do you expect them to save you from the predicament you find yourself in?  Will they?

The answer is no.  Expecting anyone to fill the gap in your life that only God can fill is idolatry.  The first commandment is, like all the commandments now, not a law but a promise.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:2-3

If you have been born from above, you have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-6).  From now on nothing else will do.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

 “For in just a little while,
    the Coming One will come and not delay.

And my righteous ones will live by faith.
    But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” (Habakkuk 2:3-4)

We are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.

Hebrews 10:35-39 (NLT)

Dear friends, even though I am talking this way, I really don’t believe it applies to you. I am confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers as you still do. My great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.

Hebrews 6:9-11 (NLT)

Yes the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it better than ever I could. Please read chapters 6 and 10 of Hebrews to see the context in which I write these blogs.

Leviticus! The Greatest Challenge

Willful Sin after you are born again is not covered by the Sacrifice of Jesus!

If you have read the Letter to the Hebrews you will have come across some very hard passages.  After having explained at length the removal of the need for animal sacrifices by the one great sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 7:26 – 10:25), the writer then goes on to say what that Sacrifice does not cover – willful sin:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgement.” (Hebrews 10:26-27a).

And it doesn’t get any better from there.

In saying this the writer is only being consistent with what Moses wrote in Leviticus.  The animal sacrifices there also do not cover willful sin.  There are a litany of sins the Sacrifice does cover but the ones covered by sacrifice alone are the unintentional ones (see Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27).

I think if we are honest we know this.  No where in the Great News of Jesus’ death for us on Calvary as declared in the Scriptures is there any indication that it enables us to do what we want.  Quite the opposite.  In these days where so many worship songs and the atmosphere of the country we live in all pours out “Freedom” as the untouchable mantra, the idea of being a slave to either sin or righteousness can get quite unpopular.

If you think that only the writer to the Hebrews deals with this then you haven’t read much of the New Testament.  Have a look at 1 John 5:16 for instance:

16 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.

If you take a simplistic view of sin and make no distinctions between willful and unintentional sins then you are bound to be confused.

I believe that a careful reading of Leviticus will clear up that confusion.

Jesus’ sacrifice does cover a lot of the sins we commit after we are born again.

Sacrifice also plays a role in some intentional sins but even then the sins have an unwitting or unintentional part to them.  Examples are not testifying about some crime you have witnessed (Leviticus 5:1), touching unclean things (5:2,3) or saying you will do something and not doing it (5:4,5).  However, in each of the above cases confession is also required.  Jesus’ Sacrifice on its own is not enough even though without it we are lost.  Confession is not enough either, you have to have both.  As it says in the apostle John’s first letter:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

If you are not born again all this could appear to be foolishness.

I hope to continue this series by looking at what Leviticus says is and isn’t covered by the Sacrifice.  That doesn’t mean that you should go around analysing everything you do to see if it fits into one category or another.  If you are born again you know in your heart when you are out of sync with the Holy Spirit.  A lot of the things mentioned in Leviticus such as confession, restitution, willful sin and restoration you will do without needing to know the chapter and verses that apply to them.

But if you are like me and love the way the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, consistently reveal the nature of God then you might want to follow along.

Leviticus! Yes, but the Letter to the Hebrews is better.

If you are reading my posts on Leviticus up to now please also read the Letter to the Hebrews. It explains much better than I can what Leviticus is all about. The foundations of understanding all of Leviticus are there especially from Chap. 7 v. 26 through to the end of Chap. 10.
These foundations are:
1. There is no need for the sacrifices of Leviticus now since Jesus has offered up Himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-15, 24-28; 10:10-18)
2. The place of most significance where the blood of Jesus was sprinkled was not the physical place outside the old walls of Jerusalem.  The significant real place that Jesus’ blood was sprinkled was the true tabernacle in heaven of which the one described in Exodus and Leviticus is but a copy (Hebrews 8:2, 5; 9:11, 23, 24).