Living Free in Christ pt. 3

Romans 7:1-25
Preached @ Harambee Church by Pastor Mike Gunn on April 22nd, 2007

For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13

…by making life easier for ourselves in minimizing the nature and seriousness of our sin, we become greater victims of it. We are in fact not healing ourselves. Those who say that they already feel bad enough without being told about the corruptions of indwelling sin misread the path to peace. When our people have not been taught well about the real nature of sin and how it works and how to put it to death, most of the miseries people report are not owing to the disease, but it’s symptoms.
John Piper

I am being overcome by evils. I know that what I am about to do is evil but passion is stronger than my reasoned reflection and this is the cause of the worst evils for humans.
Euripides’ Medea

Mortification from a self strength, carried by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.
John Owen

I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past, and my resolve was fruitful. You know how in the past year, how I labored to relieve suffering; you know how I lived; you know how much was done for other people, but one fine, clear January day, I was sitting in the sun in Regents Park and I reflected and smiled comparing myself with other men. Comparing my act of good will to their act of laziness and lack of good will to their fellow man, and at that very moment of that vain and glorious thought a qualm came over me; a horrid nausea and dreadful shuddering and I looked down and I was once more Edward Hyde, without the potion.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll

“He’d kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips
Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid”

John Wayne-Gacy jr. Sufjan Stevens

We are taking a look at how faith in Christ practically and concretely leads to change in our lives. The last 2 weeks we have looked at Romans 6 where we have spent time thinking about the Severity of our Slavery, the Power of our Unity and the Outworking of our Identity. Killing off sin has more to do with knowing who we are and what power exists in us, and how imbedded sin is in the human condition than it does using behavioral modification techniques to change the things we do not like about ourselves. Sins presence deeply indwells who we are, but it is our transformed nature that can “Mortify” our sin and battle against it motivated by God’s love for us, and empowered by His Holy Spirit to do it. The following is a reminder of what we are saying and not saying about living “Free from sin” in Christ:

What We Don’t Mean
1. That you can live in perfect victory over sin on this earth
2. That cleaning up your life is the clear path to God
3. That sin is always manifested outwardly
4. That you can overcome sin without God
5. That holiness or righteousness is something you work harder for

What We Hope to Say
1. Sin is far worse than its symptoms
2. Our Motivation and power to transform comes from God alone
3. That we have been freed from the oppression and power of sin in our lives, but the presence of sin remains in reality in our “Flesh”
4. That there is no condemnation for sin in Christ Jesus, and we are freed to love God and others without being motivated by guilt or need.
5. That the resurrection is the single greatest event in human history, and the backbone for the Christian faith

Today we are taking a look at chapter seven, which I believe gives a clear picture of the human heart trying to be good on its own terms, and never coming to terms with God’s. Whereas Romans 6 gave us the basic understanding and principles, Romans 7 gives a picture of the human heart that the principles need to be applied to, while Romans 8 tells us how these principles are to be applied for transformation to be a reality.

From the Head…
This passage has been controversial, and has had a few potential interpretations. The question has always been, whom is Paul describing? Is it himself? Is it a pre-converted Jew? Is it a pre-converted gentile trying to live by the law? Is it a backslidden/carnal Christian? Is this character hypothetical, which was a common rhetorical device of the time? I believe that Paul is talking about the experience of a believer that is confronted with the reality of sin (Through the law), and is struggling with the fact that they are sinful in spite of being in Christ. There is no doubt that we are called to obedience, but a true sign of belief is the fact that we become aware of the sin that resides in us. It becomes an acute reality to those that are confronted with God’s holiness, and our lack as a result.

Our Marriage to the Law Causes Division in Our Hearts (Romans 7:1-6, 15, 19)
We are to obey the law without being married or controlled by the law. Death to the law means that we are no longer under it for our worth or acceptance. There are two ways to be our own gods. One is found in breaking all of the laws, while the other is found in keeping them all in order to be accepted and loved by people and God.

But the Law is Good (Romans 7:7-12)
The law is not the problem. Paul is not setting up an argument against the Torah (Jewish Law). He is saying that the law is good, but it can only act as a tutor or guide to show us the sin that destroys us (see Galatians 3:23-25).

The Problem is Found in Sin, Which is Indwelling (Romans 7:13-25)
Since sin comes from our own desires (see Romans 7:5 cf. James 1:14-16), we can and do struggle with indwelling sin that needs to be killed off (See Romans 8:13) and stood guard against since it is damaging and destructive to us as persons.

…to the Heart
It is impossible to change our hearts without the realization of the fact that our hearts need transforming. It is easy to believe that sin is what evil people do, and not realize the hardness and wickedness and the potential for evil that all of us have as humans. Are you still trying to prove something to someone? Are you motivated by fear and accomplishment to gain worth and approval?


3 comments so far

  1. Gill Gravelle on

    What did Paul mean when he wrote that ‘no good thing dwells in me, that is, within my ‘flesh’. The Greek for flesh is sarki, which means in other NT contexts: flesh, body, people, nation, physical nature, and yes, human nature. Which was Paul referring too? Obviously, not nation. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to his actual flesh. Paul is referring to his ‘inner being’; his absolute totality as a fallen human being. There is nothing whatsoever that he can conjure up from within that would be the source of any pure act. That is how desperately corrupted the human nature is, and why it is impossible to please God aside from going through is Son, Jesus, the only person who ever had perfect ‘flesh’. This will come as a shock to many ‘religiously-mined’ people. Some languages would say, there is no good thing in my liver, other’s my stomach, others my heart, and others my bones. The point is not the part of the body that Paul is talking about. It’s about our humanness. Is that what our English translations communicate to modern day speakers when they use the word ‘flesh’? If not, let’s find a way to communicate what Paul actually meant, so that we can come to terms with the situation all human’s find themselves in. I hope that I was not in the flesh as I wrote this rant.

    Thanks for an excellent expository message, Pastor Mike!

  2. mike on

    Good point Gilles! I agree that “Flesh (Sarx) has to do with the flesh as humanity or identity and not the physical parts of the human, but he uses it instead of “Nature” (Physis), and does contrast the flesh and the Spirit throughout Romans and Galatians. The Jews had put their identity in the flesh (Circumcision, being Jewish, keeping the law), and Paul was using this to show that this is a problem. So his contrast is between the trusting in the flesh (Human means to God) instead of the Spirit, which transforms hearts.
    I don’t like the NIV translation because I think it doesn’t really show that contrast as well.

    Thanks for the clarification, good stuff!

  3. Gill Gravelle on

    The NIV translation reveals typical western dualism (good nature, bad nature) which of course is silly. But again, in modern translation the term “flesh” is still a metaphor, and if metaphors no longer communicate the “thought”, then it’s a problem. Sometimes translators and commentators cling to forms at the cost of meaning. The form is simply a vehicle for meaning. The notion of depending on the flesh (circumcision) is secondary in this teaching, I believe. The notion of human’s thinking that anything good resides in their human nature is the primary message that Paul is communicating to both Jews and the Gentiles. If the term “flesh” has to be explicated with a mini-discourse, then maybe the translation is no longer as functional for its modern audience as it was for its first audience. Was Romans a letter just for the Jews in Rome or for us today?

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