This week’s progressive Christian Bible study: Romans chapter seven

Struggling With Sin

[Romans chapter 7]

life's_next_chapter

Today’s lesson will take up where we left off last week at the end of Romans chapter 6. Today we’ll tackle chapter seven in my continuing series of Bible studies on the writings of the apostle Paul. As we begin, we find Paul using an illustration from marriage to explain what our relationship is, and how it should always be working, relative to Christ. So let’s plunge right in to the refreshing waters of Paul’s letter to the early Roman church, which was not the same as the Rome-based Catholic church that came into being in Rome 300 years later.

Do you not know, brothers – for I am speaking to them that know the law – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7, verses 1-6, NIV)

As before, the old law, or Law of Moses, has been replaced by the new law, which is Jesus Christ crucified followed by his death and subsequent raising from the dead on the morning of the third day. He was and is the fulfillment of that set of laws, and the fulfillment of the new law, or New Testament, all at once. The main exceptions are the prophesies that have yet to be fulfilled here in the end times, such as world war three and the rise to power of the Antichrist. Here Paul is comparing the death of a spouse who is replaced later by a new one to that of Christ and his Bride, which is the entire church regardless of denomination in the latter days of today. If the spouse decides to leave the marriage so that he or she can marry another, that is unquestionably adultery. In the same way, if anyone comes to Christ and makes him the Lord of their life only to fall away from the church in pursuit of worldly gain such as a new spouse, a new business or a new job, then that is most definitely spiritual adultery in the eyes of Christ. Those who pledge their complete love and undying devotion to Christ only to turn away later in a state of Spiritual adultery are cheating on God, as if He wouldn’t notice.

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Belonging to another in a physical sense, such as a husband or wife, is not the same as being part of the Bride of Christ. If our deliberate separation from our spouse is tantamount to separation from Christ, then that is also deliberate in nature. If we have died to Christ, we cannot bear fruit, which is to tell as many people as we can about Jesus in order to bring more souls into God’s kingdom. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Dying to what once bound us, which is our sinful nature, we can now serve God with unbridled enthusiasm and nearly limitless zeal. Yet we do not do this on our own, but it is the Holy Spirit that guides us, that propels us, and that causes us to march onward as soldiers in God’s army so that we can do good things for God through Jesus Christ. Bearing that in mind, let’s continue now beginning at verse seven.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from the law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which was good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” (Romans 7, verses 7-13, NIV)

I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” If there is no law, then there is no sin. On the other hand, sin produces an attraction to whatever is sinful due to its illicit nature. For example, let’s take the Prohibition period of the 1920’s and early 30’s here in America. During that time, the consumption of alcoholic beverages was outlawed, which gave rise to a vast underground network of illicit bars and restaurants. These underground establishments flourished during this time, and if any one of them was shut down by the police, they would relocate and start back up again almost immediately because the demand for alcohol was so lucrative. The so-called “war on drugs” is only the latest example of this selective enforcement (ask any person of color about this topic and you will get an earful). If, for example, marijuana were to be legalized, regulated and taxed similarly to beer or cigarettes, it is a proven fact that the demand would greatly decrease based on numerous studies in controlled environments that prove the cannabis has medical properties and benefits that are impossible to ignore (excluding those who choose to insist on doing so). The fact that pot – and all other street drugs that are currently illegal – is in such demand is proof that its illegality is fueling increasing demand.

I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” The old law, or Law of Moses, brought forgiveness through animal sacrifice by the shedding of blood on an alter made of stone. But thanks to Jesus Christ and his salvation, because when he shed his blood on Calvary Jesus served as a substitute sacrifice whose shed blood has saved us all. So the old law, which is without Christ since his time had not yet come, leads to death for those who will not believe in Christ. The new law, on the other had, leads to everlasting life through Christ, and there is no other way into heaven than through Jesus Christ. “Did that which was good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good…”. “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, wrote the prophet Isaiah approximately 850 years before the birth of Christ. This passage from the Old Testament is very likely what Paul was referring to in Romans chapter seven, since he was a Hebrew scholar and was thoroughly familiar with the old law. When we give our hearts, minds, bodies and souls over to Christ, our sinful natures are put to death just as Jesus was. The primary difference was that Jesus rose from the grave on the morning of the third day after he allowed himself to be a sacrifice for us all, whereas the rest of us will have to live out our lives for Christ as witnesses in the Spirit. We will achieve eternal life by remaining faithful to the very end. And now let’s begin to close today’s study starting at verse 14.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but I hate what I do. And if I do not do what I want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work through the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7: 14-25, NIV)

In daily living I find that old habits can be hard to break, and the ones that we want to get rid of the most can be hardest of all to break. To avoid putting anyone on the spot, I will use myself as an example. I have been an avid smoker for years. I’m a relatively light smoker, my average is about a half pack per day, sometimes even less. But that is no excuse. I know I should quit, and yet I keep right on smoking. But, since God made the tobacco plant along with all the other plant life (see Genesis chapter 1 and verse 11), I’m not sure to what degree of sin that would be, if any. But I do know that it is in my own best interest to quit. Intellectually I know I need to kick my habit, yet I keep right on smoking, partly out of habit and partly stemming from enjoyment. I haven’t quit yet because I like cigarettes more than I like the money I spend supporting my habit. I’m sure that all you readers out there can think of countless examples of this. Perhaps you have a habit you would like to break. One of the classic examples of this is an addiction to alcohol, or to drugs of one kind or another. Or maybe you are involved in a toxic relationship that would be best if it were ended. Or maybe you’re stuck in a dead-end job with an abusive boss, or you could be in a behavior pattern that is self-destructive. Never mind the reasons why, it’s just that you know you want to change. This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but I hate what I do”. Have you ever felt like that? I sure have and I’m sure everyone would agree that this is something to be avoided in life. This is the kind of quality of life that Jesus wants everyone to have, a life where we can be at peace with God through Jesus Christ, and so have peace within ourselves.

So what do we do about this? The apostle Paul identified the problem when he wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out”. We are all born with a sinful nature because we do not have an inherent ability to please God. It is what makes us unable to carry out what is good even though we may desire to. The only way to get over this is to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing”. It is as if we literally can’t stop ourselves from doing bad things or things that are unhealthy and not in our best interests. This is where our sinful nature comes from, and we can’t live up to God’s expectations no matter how hard we try. So what is the solution then? How do we live inside of God’s perfect will for our lives?

Right here is where Paul brings everything into sharp focus. “So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. We all have imperfections, personality traits and character flaws that we would like to eliminate, and that includes myself. For instance, I suffer from a certain nervous disorder that tends to make me hyper and jittery, often for no discernible reason. It is an inherent medical condition that I suffer from. As long as I have this, presumably for the rest of my life according to my doctors, I will never be able to please God because of my imperfect nature even though I take medication to control my disorder. It, along with the pharmaceutical drugs that I take, is something I would just as soon live without, but I can’t because I suffer from this disorder that I was born with. For me, at least, this is a moral dilemma that I will have to deal with on an ongoing basis. Now you can see why the shedding of blood on Calvary means so much to me.

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” God, through His son Jesus, is the only one who can rescue us from this sinful nature that we all find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus Christ is not only our personal Lord and Savior, He is also our healer. Only through Jesus can we be delivered from our imperfections, character flaws and undesirable personality traits that we would all just as soon get rid of. So let’s pray this little prayer together right now. “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that you have the power to heal anything. Grant me the power through you to heal my personality defects and character flaws that I and others around me find so annoying. I surrender all my imperfections unto you and ask that you heal them all so I can be a better servant for you and through you. I ask all these things through the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.” There you go! See how easy life can be when we step back and let God take charge of our lives? There’s an old saying. “You have to let go and let God.” This is a classic example of how we can all do this. That’s the best news of all. Everyone is capable of doing this if only we will let go of our pride and ask Jesus to step in and help. It is imperative that we make Christ the Lord of our lives. If you’re not already doing so, we can all start doing this today. You will be pleasantly surprised at how effective this can truly be.

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