All posts by Simon Twist

Romans 7:14-25 love for the law is not enough

Friends, sorry that the blog for Romans 7:1-13 did not make it out in a timely manner (ie, not at all). I’d like to offer you a focus in Romans 7:14-25 with reference to the whole chapter this week. Let’s follow a slightly different format this week called the COMA method of bible study (this doesn’t mean that it puts us to sleep!).

C.O.M.A. – CONTEXT, OBSERVATION, MEANING and APPLICATION

C is for CONTEXT
What have we covered so far in Romans that is relevant to this chapter?

Paul is writing to a Christian audience in a very friendly style. He has never met this church but loves their reputation. His aim is not to rebuke but to outline exactly what this gospel that he is not ashamed of. It is the power of God that bring salvation by faith alone.

Without God, we are all sinners. All have turned away from God regardless of their knowledge of the law or not. No one is righteous and yet it is only the righteous who will be safe on judeny day (I have not placed bible references hear bit I hope that this is all filial ground and you might even remember where these lessons are coming from).

It is not our works or attempts to be good that can save us but only faith like Abraham – who believed God and that act of belief or faith was credited to him as righteousness. We couldn’t save ourselves but God could and while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Grace has saved all who have faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ.

What good then is the law? That’s the context and question of chapters 6 and 7. Romans 6:1 proposes: let’s sin! sin! sin! so that God can be praised so much more for his grace. What an amazing grace! Romans 6:15 asks: if grace is so good, we have no motivation to stop sinning. Romans 7:7 asks: is the law to blame for our sin and guilt? Romans 7:13 asks: did the law become like poison to me? Each of these questions are aimed at understanding where the law fits in to this teaching about Grace and each question is followed by a resounding NO!!!

The point? Sin and judgement exists prior to the written law but only when the law became known was sin both recognised and fanned into flame. We would struggle to understand the grace of God without first hearing what it means to be in rebellion against him.

The context of chapter 7 is working out who the enemy is: the law or sin? What is their relationship? Should we hate the law?

Verse 7 asks ‘is the law sinful?’ Is God’s commandments the bad guy? The answer in short comes in verse 12… the law is holy, righteous and good. After all, it came from God. Verse 6 tells us that we are living in the spirit now and not struggling under the written code or law but this does not mean that the law was useless. Verse 13 concludes for us that without the law, sin would not have been identified and understood as sin.

NB: Paul uses the word ‘law’ quite a lot without a clear definition and he doesn’t always mean the same thing. Mostly, what he refers to is the written down laws of the Old Testament. This includes everything that describes how God’s people ought to live as the people of God. Sometimes, as in chapter 2 and in 7:1-3, he refers to the law of the land – the laws that we live under in our society. Context is needed to work out what he means in each case.

O is for OBSERVATION
What can you see in the text that helps your understanding of it? What do you notice? What is the structure? This is an information gathering moment and a bit of initial comprehension.

Here is a thought on the structure of verses 14-25

  1. vv14-17 ‘I know’ that the law is spiritual but I am unspiritual.
  2. vv18-20 ‘I know’ that good itself does not dwell in me.
  3. vv21-23 So ‘I know’ this: I want to obey the law but sin is what is at work in me
  4. vv24-25 this seems impossible but thank God for Jesus!
  5. Verse 25b a recap of what he is attempting to say

This structure follows a logical argument from Paul, namely, the Law is from God but sin is my constant enemy and I cannot do what the law commands even though I try – God is my only help.

  • Verse 14 it is surprising to hear Paul describe the law as spiritual. This has two effects, firstly that it aligns the law of God immediately with a category that we’ve seen is good, that is, the way of the Spirit (v6). Secondly, it alludes to the fact that the law has it’s origins with God and that it ultimately embodies knowledge and revelation of God (see 2:18-20; 3:1, 21).
  • Paul discusses the concept of dwelling in the ‘sinful nature’. He contrasts the new life of the Spirit introduced in the first half of the chapter with the life of the natural person – living captive to sin – Note verse 15 stating that ‘I do not know understand what I do.’
  • “Total depravity” is a theological term used to describe the condition of humanity outside of Christ. Chapter 1 of Romans pictured the human race as out of control in the opposite direction from God. Here in chapter 7, Paul describes the battle that humans face. Total depravity encaptures a concept that means even becoming a Christian and rejecting sin is an act of mercy and grace from God. This is captured in the way that Paul finishes the chapter.
  • v24 highlights a problem that many discuss in this chapter: who does Paul mean when he says “I”? Does he mean himself? If so, is he describing what it was like before he became a Christian? Isn’t he already saved? Or is he pretending to be any human on the planet? Perhaps he is pretending to be all of Israel who received the law and were stuck with the problem of being unable to keep it? Does the answer to these questions matter?

M is for MEANING
What is the overall meaning of the text. Try and state the point of this section in 10 words or less.

Here’s my attempt – you might be able to capture it better…

“I am, by nature, incapable of good – God help me!”

OR

“Love for the law is not enough. We need Jesus.”

OR

“The Law is from God – sin is my enemy.”

Now, does that sound right? Does that first one sound too harsh? Does that sound like what Paul is saying? If I am wrong, prove it. If I am right, how does this affect your view on people, the world and society in general?

A is for APPLICATION
Having looked at the CONTEXT, OBSERVATIONS of the text and then the MEANING, what are we to do about it? How should we respond? Does the passage tell us? Is there an obvious implication? Here’s some ideas…

  • By default, we are not basically good and make mistakes at times. This is a radically different view from our culture’s view.
  • The law, given by God and revealing the mind of God, uncovers the savageness of sin. Without it, sin kills us without us even being aware that we are dying. With the law on our minds, we can only conclude that we need God’s help.
  • Let us have a high view of the LAW and a low view on sin. Let’s be absolutely suspicious of our motivations and ability to do good and very affirming of the origin of the law and the reason for the law.
  • Stop and consider why the law was given. Without our knowledge of the corrosion and demolition of sin, we would not conclude that we need a Saviour.
  • Rejoice that God is good.
  • Rejoice that he has delivered us through Jesus Christ!
  • Lean on God for help to deal with sin. Keep in mind that we need his Spirit to battle while we are still in the body.

That’s it from me. I know that this was a long post – perhaps they all are – but chapter 7 can be tricky to handle. Consider also, using the COMA method laid out in this post – I plan to use it in my groups this week.

PRAYER FOR THE WEEK?
Father God, we praise you for your goodness and kindness to us in sending your Son. Save us, we pray, from the power of sin in our lives. Thank you for your grace and mercy, for your word of truth and for the Holy Spirit. Keep us safe in your care we pray. Amen

Romans 6:15-23 – What grace gives us

Just as Paul has taken his readers through a look at how unrighteous we are in chapters 1-3, he is now taking us through a journey of what impact grace should have on our lives in chapters 6-8 and beyond. He asked the question in 6:1, if sinning brings out the grace of God then more sinning should bring out more grace shouldn’t it? That is, let’s make God look really gracious!

Romans 6:15 asks a similar question but from a different perspective: if we are only saved by the righteousness of Jesus and not our own, then there is really no point even trying to be righteous. The point is something like: working at being good is hard work that we can’t succeed in anyway, so let’s just relax and let Jesus’ righteousness be ours by faith.

In isolation, verses 15-23 appear to be Paul preaching a pursuit of holiness in order to receive eternal life: obedience leads to righteousness which leads to eternal life! But context, context context is so important! Not only does verse 23 tell us or remind us that eternal life is a free gift, as opposed to being wages earned – but verse 22 reminds us that we have been set free from sin. Also, we cannot forget the previous 5 chapters which teach us that it is not by our works that we are saved but by the grace of God.

So, what is this passage saying if it is not about works righteousness? Verse 17 gives us a good capture of what the message is. Let me try and paraphrase that verse…

“Once upon a time it was sin and impurity and lawlessness that claimed your heart – but now, by the grace and mercy of God, you have fallen in love with His way of life.”

Now, Paul contrasts the difference between life under sin and life under God.

Life under sin which may feel like having a free spirit contains these elements: it leads to death (v16, 21, 23), makes you a slave to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness (v19), and yet free from the control of righteousness (v20).

Life under God which is described as being slaves to obedience contains these elements: it leads to righteousness (v16), it has claimed the Christians allegiance (v17), sets us free from sin (v18,22), makes us slaves to righteousness (18, 19), leads to holiness (v19, 22), makes us aware and ashamed of the life of sin (v21), results in eternal life (v22), which is a free gift (v23).

So, the positive argument is that a life of sin leads to death. And the life of someone serving God is a life with eternity in mind and with eternity as the promise.

Is there a negative? Being under sin is described in verse 20 as freedom and the life of obedience is described as slavery to righteousness (v18, 19). Well, notice that these are also both flipped around so that what appears to be freedom at first is actually also slavery to sin – so that sin has it’s rule over you. And that this righteousness that is described as slavery is actually an appealing state to someone who has died to Christ (6:4, 21). The burden of righteousness becomes the gift of freedom from sin! Where sin no longer has control over us.

What does it mean to have sin rule over us and therefore that humans are slaves to sin? Compare verse 17 and verse 19 – prior to coming to Christ, pleasing the flesh (our human desire and passions and cravings) was normal and the enjoyment of it leads to more and more sin. But once Christ has stolen your heart and your allegiance, you are free to learn what it means to live a righteous life – experiencing the liberty of holy living. See verse 21 how it describes the rejection of that past life? A vegetarian friend of mine described what it was like to give up eating meat – at first it was hard to walk past burger shops and smell what used to be so lovely to them but after a time of abstaining from meat, their bodies stopped wanting it. A single bite of a piece of flesh could be almost felt going all the way through their body. This may be the same with all foods and habits that we want to get rid of.

To those who are outside of Christ, the problem is not that they need to reform their immoral lives, the issue is that they need to hear the good news of Jesus – that his righteousness imparted to us provides more than just an eternal inheritance, it sets us free from being slaves to sin. To the outsider, being a Christian means being a good person. But to the Christian, being in Christ means experiencing the joy of obeying God, not because we need his approval, but because he has our heart and our allegiance.

The last but not least important point of the passage is the one that Paul puts plainly: which master will pay you the best results at the end of the day? Will sin? No, that leads to death. Will listening to God and responding to his word through Christ? Yes, because by grace he has set us free from the bondage of sin and death!

I am a slave to Christ. Whose slave are you?

Romans 5:1-5? or 5:1-21!

Easter is almost on us and so you may be planning to have a break from meeting together in your group. This is both OK to do and healthy for you as a leader and your group. We are not taking holiday’s from God, we are simply in recess together. A break provides breathing space for everyone to stay strong right through the year.

Here is the breakup of the sermon series over the next few weeks – you may want to cover a few weeks in one hit or be ready to just skip some text while you are on break.

  • Sunday 13th of April (this week): Rom 5:1-5
  • Friday 18th of April (Good Friday): Romans 5:6-8
  • Sunday 20th of April (Easter Sun): Romans 5:9-11
  • Sunday 27th of April (end of the break): Romans 5:12-21

In my groups, we’ll be looking at Romans 5:1-5 this week and then enjoying the break. We will not study Romans 5:6-21 as a group but will come back together when we look at Romans 6:1-14. You may want to cover Romans 5:1-11 in one week or do some other combination. I can see plenty of discussion coming out of just 5 verses for one week!

Romans 5:1-5

A possible opening question: Why are you a Christian? Answer this as if you were talking to a member of your extended family.

Looking at the text

Verse 1. “Therefore” – as always, the word therefore tells us that the writer (Paul) has finished an argument. We can refer to his discussion from chapters 2-4 or simply refer to chapter 4:25 “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. The point is that we have been justified by faith – not by self-improvement, or earnest effort, or through sincerity toward God – but by “being fully persuaded that God [has] power to do what he [has] promised.” (4:21) He has promised us a clean record if we trust him.

If that is true, as Paul is convinced it is, then Paul tells us what to expect in the rest of verse 1: “we have peace with God”. Colin Buchanan sings “the greatest treasure in the whole wide world is peace with God!” Paul agrees. When Jesus appeared in the locked upper room after his resurrection (Luke 24) the words that he said to greet the disciples was: “Peace be with you.” Neither Jesus, nor Luke the writer, would have used those words randomly. The first thing Jesus teaches his disciples after the resurrection is that they are now right with God! Paul reminds us that it is through our Lord Jesus Christ – we mustn’t forget this. Jesus has made peace between man and God! Apart from Him there is hostility and wrath.

Verse 2. “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Paraphrased: Jesus is the reason for our peace with God. What have we gained access to? It is grace. What is grace? It is an undeserved and priceless gift from God. What is the gift? It is the status of justified and therefore peace with God. Paul makes it very clear as he says over and over again that we have been saved through Christ and not of ourselves at all. How some religions who call themselves Christian can miss what Paul is saying is beyond me – although I know it is because of sin that blinds us.

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Paraphrased: Our eyes and our hearts are set straight on the reputation of God. Or, what we know and can bank on is that God will be proven right and powerful. The phrase ‘glory of God’ can be a slippery term since it is used in various ways in the bible – the glory of God seems to be his seen, displayed and published qualities – his wealth, worth and reputation. So, we can say when we look at a beautiful landscape which God has created “isn’t God glorious”. And when Moses was in the direct presence of God he could say that he saw the glory of God. John Piper describes the glory of God simply as God being advertised – his character, his attributes and everything about him being published to the world. We see hints of God’s glory as we look at creation or the work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians. One day we will see God face to face – in all his glory. There may be a loose but relevant connection between the words ‘glory’ and ‘boast’ in this passage. We can boast in the knowledge that God is worth boasting about. We can also boast when sufferings come because we see behind the curtain and know that God is at work.

Verse 3-4. “We also glory in our sufferings.” To glory in something or glorify something is to give it weight and worth. So our sufferings are not a mistake of Gods as if he has fixed the problem of the penalty of sin but not fixed the consequences of it. No, Paul says that our suffering produces perseverance. This strengthens our faith. Our faith is put to the test and we grow through it. Paul then says that this produces character. As the Christian grows we see the maturity which comes through the Spirit as we also trust God more and more and can be seen as standing firm in our faith. Our character or our life in Christ is chiselled to reveal the image of God clearer and clearer. Character produces hope. We see God working in us and others see this too and this only adds to the hope which we started out with. Notice the relationship between hope and suffering. Our hope is in God. He has done it and we are proud of that. Suffering is a gift (strangely so) from God which results in more hope or surer hope.

Verse 5. Paul’s method is to build upon things that he has said previously. He introduces here the element of the Holy Spirit which he will amplify later in chapter 8. The word hope, in Paul’s usage, does not equal wishful thinking. The fact that the Holy Spirit is given to all believers is the guarantee that God’s promises are true. This is where Christians can get a little confused and anxious: “How do I know if I have the Holy Spirit or not?” Well, remember how Jesus described the Spirit in John 3? You can’t see the spirit just like you can’t see wind. But you can see the leaves blowing on the tree and know that it wasn’t the tree that came alive and did that – it was the wind. Just so, when a person displays the work of the Spirit, then you know that they have the spirit in them. So, what should we be looking for? Look for faith! See Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:13; John 16:13.

How is God’s love poured out? The Spirit of God is active in the hearts of every believer to believe and to respond to the promises of God. Our faith which is in God through Jesus is available to us by the Spirit. God loves us through his Son and by his Spirit.

Questions to ask

Is all suffering for this same purpose? In answering this, think about where suffering comes from and what our hope is in – are they always connected?

What do we know about the Holy Spirit? Actually, doing a word search throughout the bible on the word “spirit” is a really useful way of working this out (obviously) but many of us form our opinions and ideas from guesswork. The scriptures aren’t as mysterious as you’d think about the spirit. The Start Living course run by the church has a two lessons which overlap on the subject of the Holy Spirit – the God’s Big Picture Plus course has one lesson on the work of the Spirit also.

What does it mean to persevere? Is this a type of work? Think through practical ways that we can do this.

Applications from these verses

  • See how important it is to have peace with God. Paul has spent a couple of chapters convincing us that this is not true for those who continue to suppress the truth. Isn’t this the primary point or problem of the bible: to bring peace back between humanity and God?
  • Paul has pointed out that there is no peace with God apart from the LORD Jesus Christ. Christianity is not just a matter of taste, it is an essential truth for the survival of our souls. Reflect again on where this truth sits in your own priorities in life.
  • These 5 verses can help us to view suffering correctly. Whether they are huge things or even small, suffering because of sin (yours and the world you live it) is an agent of growth for the Christian. James tells us to rejoice when we face various trials!
  • What do you know of the Holy Spirit? Work out a plan to read through the scriptures to find out more. Read Romans 8 as a starting place – or work out when to do the Start Living course.