"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing that I hate. But if I do the very thing that I do not want to do, I agree with the law, confessing that the law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me."
Riiiight. I was greatly encouraged by my pastor's explanation and I hope you will be too. We need to try not to get caught up in obscurity and lose the main point-- Paul is trying to explain and pound it into us why we must be delivered from the law. It is critical for our sanctification that we understand this, especially because so many of us have an ongoing orientation to the law that can be a huge hindrance to our spiritual growth. I certainly couldn't catch this at first, but Paul gave this passage an outline with three points. First, in verse 14, he describes his own personal condition in this struggle. Second, in verse 15, he describes his experience in that condition, and thirdly in verses 16-17 he draws two conclusions from this experience. Let's explore these points a little more.
1) Verse 14, "For we know the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh," He starts with "for" which always means he's explaining something. In this case, it's something he has already touched on; that we have become dead to the law that me might marry another, that is, Christ. Our orientation should now be to our new husband. This word "orientation" is one that my pastor used a lot, and he gave a definition: It means to govern, or think towards.
When we are oriented towards the law, the law arouses sin in our flesh and causes a reaction in us. We talked about this a little last sermon. When the law barks orders, we bristle. I'm actually traveling on the interstate as I type this, so the following analogy is poignant. When approaching a construction zone, you'll start to see signs saying, "Construction ahead, reduce speed" or "Fines doubled in work zone". There is nothing wrong with those signs. They are the law. There is also nothing wrong with the blue lights that show up flashing behind you when you in your wisdom think you don't need to obey the signs. But what happens when you are called out on your sin by those lights? You bristle against them. The law of God is holy, righteous, good. The problem is not with the speed limit signs. The problem is with me.
Paul is trying to get across that being more oriented toward the law is not the answer! Now, to clarify, he is not saying that we have been delivered from the righteous demands of the law or that the moral law of God is not applicable today. Rather, he's stressing that if we try to follow these laws on our own, it causes our flesh to bristle because the law does not have any power to help us achieve it. The Gospel is as applicable to the believer as it is to the unbeliever.
2) "...But I am of the flesh..." Carnal is the word used there. Paul uses this word also in 1 Corinthians 3:1 when he addresses the church of Corinth, "I could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as infants in Christ." Since this was a church, he would usually speak to them as a spiritual people, but, they were so immature in their faith that they were still characterized by their flesh-- in general. "Carnal" means sold under sin. Boy, that sounds contradictory for a Christian to say, doesn't it? Hear it out.
As a slave to sin, you are under it's authority. When we yield to obey a specific sin in our lives, we make ourselves a slave to that one sin. When we entered chapter 7 for study, we spent time making sure we knew that this portion of scripture is not a picture of our entire lives, because, as Christians, we are not characterized by sin any longer. However, we all know there are times when we obey our sins. At those points, we are under the authority of those sins on those points. Paul shows us this contradiction going on in his own life and in verse 15 even says, "I do not understand!" And even though being a slave to sin does not characterize our lives, we do need to know how to handle these situations when they come up or we won't be able to understand how to have victory as we continue on with Romans.
"I will" is used 7 times in this portion of scripture. It means the will he has for his life, those things he'd like to be doing. Many of these mentions are followed up by actions that describe his performance. There is contention between his will and the action he does. The slavery metaphor is fitting yet again for helping us understand that. I'm not sure about y'all, but I know this struggle all too well. New Year's resolutions, anyone? We will to exercise, or to be patient, or to not spend money. But our actions show differently on our resolutions than our will by about February, don't they?
3) There are two conclusions Paul reaches through this experience in verse 16. The first is, I agree the law is good. Part of the outworking of this experience is recognizing that the law is good. It's easy to say, but we have more of a problem with this than we may realize. When we fall, disobey, or struggle with sin, we get frustrated with the law, don't we? "Oh, there's no way I can keep this standard!" The problem is not with the conservative standard your parents have set or the high standards of the church culture around you. The problem is with me. When I fail, I need to not fault the system and quit trying to do good because "this is just too hard". We cannot give up struggling with the flesh. Don't think there is something wrong with the Bible or God's system because we can't keep up. I don't know about you, but I admire people with high standards. Those who always set the table with fork, spoon, and knife, even if you're having grilled cheese for lunch. Those who encourage their children to say ma'am and sir. The grandmothers who always freshen up before exiting the house. Why do we look up to these people? Because our God-given conscious tells us that high standards are good.
The second conclusion is in verse 17: "Not I who sin, but sin which dwells in me". This sounds like he's absolving the sin, doesn't it? But the same I who is willing is the same I who is failing. The problem is not our will power. We don't need more will. We need more Jesus.
Philippians 2:12-13 hits it on the head: "Therefore, my beloved..., work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
The Lord wants us to work our salvation to it's tellos-- to obey the gospel down to where it's going. In fear and trembling because it is God who is working in me! Both to will and to do. It is Christ's power, not our own which gives us the strength to obey His Word.
One last point which was very encouraging to me, despite how hopeless it appears at first.
"In our flesh, nothing good dwells." Our flesh will always be with us in this life. Paul says we will not harness our flesh- we will go to the grave with the same flesh we were born with. Sanctification does not reduce the amount of flesh in us and that is precisely the point Paul is making! We cannot have an eye toward the law. Cannot look at more obedience as closer to God. Instead, we are to walk in the spirit, not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.
Until the law brings us to a place of self-despair, it really hard to realize the magnitude of Christ's righteousness applied to us.
This idea that obedience equals closer to God is one reason people go to seminars, conferences, and sign up for 12-step-program emails. This is having an eye toward the law. More law, more will to do good, does not mean more God in your life.
So many times we avoid addressing the root of the issue and go seeking after something to fix the symptoms. Having a hard time keeping your heart pure? Let's attend a conference which espouses never talking one-on-one with a guy and always staying an arm's length away. (I just made that up. I don't know of any that actually do that). We avoid the real answer to our issue because we are afraid of the consequences. The Spirit, if we seek the Lord as our answer, will tell us to clean our lives up. Tell us to repent. To follow Him. To confess our sins to those we have wronged. To sacrifice. And our flesh hates that.
If we quench the Spirit, we become victims of our own flesh. But when we walk in the Spirit and in His strength, not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, THAT is victory!
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Earrings: Droplette: $5