Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Long Struggle

As Christians, what should our attitude be toward sin? And what does Romans 7 have to say about this? There are many different interpretations of the end of Romans 7 (13-25). I am convinced that it speaks not of the unbeliever or the carnal Christian but of the spiritual Christian. There are various reasons for concluding this. The question addressed in Romans 7 is, Why did we have to die to the Law? And the answer is that we cannot keep it. The problem is not just that unbelievers cannot keep it or that carnal Christians cannot keep it, but that even the spiritual person cannot fulfill the Law. Therefore, we always need grace (Romans 5:2). God would have us die to the Law (Galatians 2:19,20) that we might live to God on a new basis. Therefore, Paul, who speaks in the present tense throughout, concludes in verse 25 that he is still in the situation of serving in his flesh the law of sin but in his mind the Law of God. His plea to be set free in verse 24 looks to the Second Coming, when we will be totally set free from sin. Now Paul is not saying here that he is doing nothing at all in the service of God. What he is saying is that he falls short of the good he really wants to do. He has an ambition to be perfectly obedient to God, but his sinful nature keeps getting in the way.   

What are the implications of this? We should not get discouraged and give up, much less use this as an excuse ourselves to live in disobedience. Romans 6 makes it quite clear that we are not to live in sin, using God’s grace for an excuse. What this does discourage is spiritual quick fixes, the idea that if we follow some formula we can have instant spirituality. It also does not encourage us to believe that if we just try a little harder or work a little more we can be the person God wants us to be (Romans 7:18; 8:8; John 15:5), but rather to trust God to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:29; Galatians 5:16). The result of this is that growth in Christ is a process; it is not something where we immediately arrive, but something we trust God to do in our life (Philippians 3:12-16; Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:15,16). But this process is not something accomplished without effort, but is pictured as exercise or a race (1 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 5:14; 12:1-3). I would conclude, therefore, that sin should not be taken lightly; it is the purpose of God to remake us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Sin also should not discourage us, but when we do fail we should trust in God to forgive and restore us (Romans 8:33-34). But most of all we must trust in the power of God to work in us to accomplish what He wants to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10).

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