What Is This World Coming To? Exactly What Jesus Said It Would Come To.

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photo credit: Maxwell Hamilton via photopin cc

Every so often I hear someone say in despair, “What is this world coming to?” This kind of comment usually comes in response to a doomsday report of some kind. You know the kind I’m talking about…

  • Statistics show that kids are more sexualized now than ever, and that 70% of kids will have sex before graduating high school!
  • A new report says that 45% of Americans think that God wants them to be happy more than anything else!
  • A pew poll report shows that church attendance is at the lowest mark in twenty years!
  • Studies now indicate that the current presidential administration is the most anti-Christian administration of the modern era!

When we hear these kinds of reports and stats, our gut instinct can be to throw our hands up in despair, panic, or disgust. We are shocked at the behavior of young people these days. Shocked at the levels of immorality at universities. Shocked at the apathy of people toward spiritual things. Shocked at the spike in gay marriages. Shocked at the smut being produced by Hollywood. Shocked at the increase in sexual promiscuity in our culture. What is this world coming to?!?

Whatever happened to the good old days, when a fella could leave his car unlocked without fear of having his stereo stolen? Whatever happened to the days when kids would actually respect authority? Whatever happened to the good old days when young men and women actually treated each other with courtesy, instead of trying to sleep around with each other?

I would venture to say that many conservative television shows, and radio shows, and blogs, and podcasts, perpetuate the “what is this world coming to?” attitude. It’s not uncommon for talk radio hosts to spend three hours lamenting the decay of morals in the world.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or dismayed. The world is coming to exactly what Jesus said it would come to, and this actually gives us a lot of hope.

A GODLESS WORLD

The simple reality is, we live in a godless world. Of course, I don’t mean that there isn’t a God, or that the true and living God is not active in our world. I mean that the natural state of every person is wickedness, godlessness, and evil. It has always been this way, and it always will be this way.

In Genesis 6:5, God looked down on the earth and was grieved by what he saw:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

God brought the great flood upon the earth because the wickedness of man was great. Every intent, every desire, every thought, bent toward evil. Doesn’t sound that different from today, does it?

Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” As Paul walked through the city of Athens, he became acutely aware that the city was absoutely jam packed with false gods. Athens was not a moral, upright, virtuous city. It was a city full of idolatry.

When we see evil and wickedness in the world, we shouldn’t throw our hands up in despair. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised. Evil and wickedness is not an anomaly; it’s the norm. The evil we see in the world isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not like things have suddenly gotten out of control in the last fifty years. Wickedness has been standard practice since Cain killed Abel.

So why does this give us hope? Hold on, I’m getting there.

IT GET’S WORSE

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but things are going to get worse. Before Jesus returns, evil and wickedness is going to increase in the world. Speaking of the last days, Jesus said:

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)

Lawlessness and wickedness and godlessness isn’t going to decrease, it’s going to increase. In fact, it’s going to increase to such a degree that many Christians will find their love for Christ going cold. Dang, son. That’s some serious, intense, lawlessness. Contrary to what the Beatles proclaimed, it’s not getting better all the time. It’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, Paul spoke of the “man of lawlessness”:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

At some point, the “lawless one” will come, and he will come in power, with false signs and wonders. He will be so impressive, so powerful, that many unbelievers will be deceived by him. The wickedness promoted and perpetuated by the lawless one will be on a colossal, sickening scale.

It’s already bad, and it’s going to get worse. But don’t throw up your hands in despair. There’s good news.

DON’T DESPAIR

The good news is that, in spite of the wickedness which fills the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue saving sinners! Yes, evil is powerful, but Jesus is more powerful! Yes, Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, but Jesus is the great lion slayer. Jesus encouraged Peter that the church would not be overcome, and would even stand against hell itself:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus isn’t particularly concerned with the most recent Barna report, or church growth study, or the state of Hollywood. He will build his church, and there is absolutely nothing that can stop him.

Even as Jesus talked about the spike in lawlessness, he also promised that the gospel would be proclaimed in ALL nations:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

And when the big, bad, man of lawlessness appears, Jesus will take care of him too:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)

When Jesus returns, he will utterly decimate the man of lawlessness. Farewell, lawless one! King Jesus has arrived!

DON’T LOSE HOPE

Should we be concerned about increasing immorality in the schools, and on television, and in politics? Sure. Where appropriate, we should stand for righteousness. And, of course, we should instruct our kids how to think biblically about the sin they will most certainly encounter.

But if we’re constantly outraged, disgusted, discouraged, or panicked, then we haven’t come to grips with the Bible’s grim description of the world, and we aren’t fully trusting in our coming, conquering, reigning king.

Yeah it’s bad. Yeah, it’s gonna get worse. But the gospel will continue to triumph, Jesus will remain on the throne, and Jesus will finally rid the world of wickedness.

The God Of The Impossible

 impossible_cubeThe angel Gabriel told Mary that she would experience the impossible. She would miraculously conceive and bear a child while still a virgin.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” LK 1:31-33

To conceive a child without any involvement of a man is and always will be impossible. Yet God is the God of the impossible. He is the one who invented the laws of nature. He can circumvent them if he chooses. If conceiving apart from a man was impossible enough, this child would not only be a human, but he would be God – “the Son of the Most High.” “Most High” is an Old Testament name of God. This child would be the long awaited descendant of David, the Messiah, whose kingdom would last forever. Gabriel told Mary that not only would God do the impossible, but he would go beyond the impossible to do what she could never have dreamed.

And to build Mary’s faith that God could do this he said,

“And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (36-37)

Elizabeth had conceived a son “in her old age”. Luke 1:7 says that she was “advanced in years.” Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had never been able to conceive, though they’d tried and tried. On top of that, she was now well past the time when anyone could get pregnant.

But God is the God of the impossible. Nothing is too hard for him.

And if you think of it, here’s an even greater impossibility: for sinful men to come to God. Unless God changes someone’s heart, they will never come to God. For we are born in sin, at enmity with God, hostile to him. We have no interest in God, no taste for him, no desire for him. We are born loving darkness. We love sin. We hate the light. No one is good. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside and become worthless. It is impossible for us in our natural state to come to God.

Not only is it impossible on our end, it is impossible on God’s end for sinners to come to him, unless of course, something happens. For he is infinitely holy and will not tolerate sin in his presence. No one can stand in the presence of the Consuming Fire unless they are sinless and perfectly righteous. He is high and lifted up and dwells in the holy of holies, where no one stained by sin can possibly enter.

But nothing is impossible with God. He changes the hearts of those who despise him. He gives saving faith to those who don’t believe in him. He causes those who love sin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He makes the proud humble. He washes filthy sinners clean and clothes them with the righteousness of Christ. He makes those who disdain him long for him with a pure and holy passion.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Are you facing an impossible situation? Do you look at it and see no earthly way it could change? Maybe you look at a family member who seems to have no interest in God at all, and it seems like he or she is just too far gone to save. Nothing will be impossible with God! Maybe you can see no way for God to provide financially for you – remember Jesus fed crowds of 5000 and 7000 from a few fish and loaves of bread. He spoke to typhoons and calmed the winds and waves. When he needed money for the temple tax he told Peter to go fishing and he’d catch a fish with a coin in its mouth.

Nothing will be impossible with God. Maybe you feel like you can’t break out of a sin you are ensnared in. You’ve tried to quit and you can’t. Nothing will be impossible with God. Whatever you are praying for, unless God has made it absolutely clear that the answer is no, then keep asking, keep knocking, keep seeking. Maybe it’s a sickness you’ve had for years. Keep asking, knocking seeking. Yes, God is sovereign and he takes us through afflictions and he promises to work them all for our good. Sometimes he doesn’t answer in the way we would like, but don’t quit asking!

Don’t give up! Nothing is too hard for our God. Nothing is impossible to him. Who knows, this may be the Christmas he answers your prayers.

Share The Gospel. Even If You Do It Poorly.

The gospel involves words.

It is the glorious message of the redemption God has provided for us through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  We should try to  share this message whenever we can.

But the gospel is more than words – it is the power of God.

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:17-18

The power of the gospel isn’t in the speaker. The good news of Jesus is powerful because it is the very word of God and the Holy Spirit infuses God’s word with power.

It is the Holy Spirit who causes someone to be born again, not our persuasiveness.

God saved Charles Spurgeon through a simple gospel message given by a humble speaker:

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved….

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isa. 45:22)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.

The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

When he had . . . . managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.

Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!

I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. 

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”

I love this.  The poor shoe maker or tailor wasn’t eloquent.  He probably had never heard the word “eschatology.”  To Charles Spurgeon he seemed “stupid”.  He didn’t pronounce all his words correctly.  But he shared the good news. He shared the simple core of the gospel – Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead.  And God attended his simple message with life-transforming power and raised Charles Spurgeon from death to life.

This is liberating when we share the gospel with our children, friends and relatives. It’s not our brilliant articulation that saves anyone – it’s the power of the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Of course we want to express God’s truth as clearly as we can, but even if we stumble and share the gospel imperfectly, it is the power of God that saves.

We must do all we can to teach our children about Jesus and bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord. We should read the Word to them and teach them. We should encourage them to turn to Jesus. But we can’t cause them to be born again. We must diligently share God’s word then pray and trust that the Holy Spirit to give them life.

Let this encourage us to share the gospel, even if we do it poorly. I don’t encourage you to be stupid. But our feeble words plus God’s mighty power is all God needs.

God Prefers The Impossible

“In the exodus, one mighty act followed another. The story goes like this: Combine the most powerful king in the known world, slaves who stood no chance of successful insurrection because all they knew was slavery, and oppression that was getting worse. You now have the perfect ingredients for God’s decisive act of deliverance. It was the event on which God staked his reputation until it was superseded by an even more cosmic deliverance through Jesus Christ.

Here is what we learn: God prefers the impossible. Although he often cares for our needs before we know we have them, his mighty acts are showcased best against the backdrop of insurmountable odds. Anything less would detract from his greatness. In this case, all Moses did was stretch out his hand – his empty hand – and watch a mighty deliverance.” –Edward T Welch

Does your situation look impossible today? Remember God prefers the impossible. Nothing is too hard for him and his arm is not too short to save.

We’re Talking Power Here. Real. Life-changing. Power.

Christianity isn’t about how to be spiritual, achieve your goals or have your best life now. Christianity isn’t about philosophy.  It’s not about talk.  Christianity is about power.  

Power to obey God.  Power to change.  Power to love those who are messed up.  Power to get back up after being pummeled by wave after wave of affliction.  Power to wield the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith to extinguish the devil’s fiery darts.

The gospel itself is the very power of God:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 CO 1:17-18

DA Carson, says of this verse, “One might have expected Paul to say, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.’ Instead, he insists it is ‘the power of God.’  And: 

“The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel IS God’s power to those who believe.”  (emphasis mine).

God’s word confirms this:

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 1 CO 4.20.   

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 CO 10.4 

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  James 5:16

Do we believe prayer has great power? I don’t feel electricity when I pray.  I feel weak.  I’m a jar of clay.  But God puts his power in clay pots.  We connect with God’s power through our mustard seed faith. An electric cord is weak and flimsy. But when we plug it into a socket, it connects to all the voltage of the electric company, which courses into our sabre saw or vaccuum sweeper.

Ask God for his mighty power today.  Thank him that he promised your prayers are powerful and effective.  Remember, the kingdom of God isn’t talk, it’s power.

 

Trapped. Hemmed in. And Nowhere To Run

After Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, God led them to camp next to the Red Sea.  They didn’t know it, but God had strategically placed them there.

I can see them, about 2 million men, women, and children spread out next to the waters, cooking, eating, visiting one another’s campsites, rejoicing in their newfound freedom from bitter slavery.

Then someone asks, “What’s that sound?”

“What sound?”

“Listen.  It sounds like thunder in the distance.”

Then someone yells, “What’s that cloud on the horizon?”  A hazy dust cloud is rising in the distance.

And before long they know.  The thunder is the rumbling of chariot wheels.  Egyptian chariot wheels. And the rumbling grows louder and the ground begins to tremble.

They are seized by panic.  There’s nowhere to go.  Nowhere to run.  They’re trapped.  Chaos breaks out.  Mothers and fathers gather up their children.  Where can we go?  What can we do?  Even if we could go to the right or the left, we’re 2 million people on foot.  No way can we outrun chariots and horses.  And behind us the sea.

People are screaming.  At first they cry out to God.  But quickly their cries are directed to Moses.  “What were you thinking, bringing us out here?  Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring us here to die?  Great job, Moses!  Well done!”

And Moses cries out, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.”

God would say this to many of us today.  You feel trapped.  Hemmed in.  Nowhere to run.  There’s nothing you can do to change your situation.  Maybe you’ve tried every other solution, like the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, who’d suffered for 12 years and spent all her money trying to fix her hemorrhage.  She was out of options.  That is, until Jesus passed by.

Maybe you feel trapped in a difficult marriage.  Or a painful church situation.  Or you’re stuck in a job with a tyrant for a boss.  Or you’re at your wits end with your teenager.  Or you’re single with no prospects.  You’re tempted to fear. Tempted to despair.  Tempted to give up hope.

Fear not.

Don’t be anxious.  I know, easy for me to say.  But I’ve been tempted to fear.  I’ve been downcast at times.  Wondered what’s going to happen?  Wished I could run away but couldn’t.  Don’t be anxious. Fear not.  Don’t let your mind run down every alley.  It’s ok to be concerned.  Ok to think about possible solutions.  But there comes a time when you’ve just got to stop trying to figure out how to escape, because there just isn’t one in sight right now.

Stand firm.

How do you stand firm?  By praying.  By looking to God.  By offering supplications with thanksgiving and letting your requests be made known to God.  By praising him that he has promised to be with you in the valley of the shadow of death.  By thanking him that his steadfast love never ceases and he’s promised to never stop doing good to you.  By thanking him that he purchased you with his blood and adopted you as his child and as a loving Father will take care of you.  By thanking him that his ears are open to your cry and he’s a sypmathetic high priest who is interceding for you night and day.

And see the salvation of the Lord

Israel wasn’t even thinking the Red Sea might split open.  That wasn’t one of their options.  Nobody was saying, “Wait a minute, don’t panic.  God might make a channel through the water and take us through on dry ground.”  No.  God has answers we can’t even imagine.  He can save out of nowhere. He can multiply a few loaves and fishes and feed a multitude.  He can put a gold coin in the mouth of a fish.  If we keep trusting him, sooner or later we’ll see his salvation.

The worse things look for us, the more glory God gets when he delivers us.  Israel’s jam was God’s opportunity to display his power.  Egypt thought they had Israel trapped; but God had Egypt trapped.

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.

Four Words That Change Every Situation

Have you ever had one of those, “Woah, wait a minute!”, times when reading the Bible? You’re slowly meandering your way through a chapter, trying to clear your sleep-fogged head, when suddenly a verse jumps out and slaps you in the face. I had one of those moments this morning.

I was making my way through Psalm 54, trying to shake off a slight headache, when I read verse 4:

“Behold, God is my helper…”

Bam! Bible verse to the face (in a good, sweet way). The words “God is my helper” are astonishing. Think about them for a moment. They literally change every situation. God, the God of the universe, the omnipotent, all-wise, all-loving, righteous, true, angel terrifying, sinner saving, God is MY HELPER. Woah. Woah!

  • I am really not feeling well, and I’m really tempted to complain…but God is my helper! He can heal me, or give me the power not complain, or both.
  • My child is not doing well spiritually, and I’m at my wits end…but God is my helper! He can melt my child’s hard heart and give me wisdom to navigate the every sticky situation.
  • My partner on this school project is doing nothing, and I want to punch him in the face…but God is my helper! He can give me diligence, patience, and love.
  • My kids are running around the house, peeing on the floor, and generally driving me insane…but God is my helper! He can give me an otherworldly love for these high speed children.
  • I’ve sinned in the same way again and again and again…but God is my helper! He promises that sin will not have dominion over me. He will give me power to overcome this sin.

There is no situation too great for God. There is no heart too hard for God. There is no budget too tight for God. There is no boss too difficult for God. God is your helper! He is my helper! Those four words change every situation.

Do you need wisdom today? God is your helper. Do you need strength today? God is your helper. Do you need patience today? God is your helper. If God is your helper, that changes everything.

How Much Power Does Satan Really Have?

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that (Job) has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. Job 1:12

Satan afflicts believers. Don’t underestimate him. He’s not an imp in red tights with a pitchfork. But don’t give him more credit than he’s due.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul said a messenger of Satan was given him to afflict him. Satan was behind Job’s suffering. The enemy can afflict us physically. He tempts us to sin.  But his greatest weapons are his fiery darts – his lies about God that he launches against our faith.  We are in a serious conflict with the powers of darkness.

Yet sometimes I hear Christians talk as if Satan were all-powerful.  “The devil has really been having a field day in my life lately.” “Satan’s really been kicking me around this week.”

When I first became a Christian I thought demons were everywhere. (I’d definitely watched too many episodes of Twilight Zone and Outer Limits).  In my early Christian years I spent lots of time rebuking and binding demons of lust, demons of fear, and demons of unbelief, anger, self- pity, and sickness. Pretty much everything bad in life was caused by a demon.  I probably rebuked demons of bad coffee.

Then I found out just how limited Satan’s power really is.

He’s powerful, but not all-powerful. He is the god of this world. Unbelievers are significantly under his power, though they don’t realize it. He has blinded their eyes. But once Jesus opens our eyes to his glory and saves us, we come under his ownership.  We’re no longer slaves of Satan. We’re new creations in Christ and share his victory over the enemy that he won on the cross.

When Satan afflicts believers he must get permission to do so, even as he did with Job.  God determined the parameters of what Satan could do to Job.  Each time Satan requested, God said you may do this and this but not this. He could only do what God allowed.

Lots of people seem to think the devil is the equal and opposite of God, like the dark side of The Force. But Satan is a created being. God is infinite.  Satan is less than a speck compared to the infinite One.

If anything, Satan might be compared to Michael the Archangel, another created being.  A.W. Tozer said we tend to think of created beings in a hierarchy, for example on the bottom are amoebas, then above them garden slugs and above them fish, then dogs.  Above dogs are monkeys, then humans and slightly above them are angels and then slightly above angels is God. But God is infinitely exalted over his creation.  The most glorious Seraphim in heaven is closer to a caterpillar in it’s being than it is to God.

Satan is a tool of God , and when he allows him to afflict a believer it’s for God’s glorious purposes – to make that believer rely on Christ, become like Christ and display the power of Christ in him (see Stephen’s post yesterday).

So remember you have an enemy, but fix your gaze on Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Romans 7 Is NOT About Christians!

photo by Rahu

I used to think that Romans 7:7-25 was describing the Christian experience of the battle against sin. I don’t think that anymore. In fact, I don’t the passage is talking about Christians at all, and in the next several posts I hope to show you why.

But before I rush headlong into this thorn bush of a passage, let me issue a few disclaimers. First, lots of Christians, including some ultra-smart (like, able to bend spoons with their mind kind of smart) believe that this is talking about Christians. So I’m in the minority here. Second, these posts are not going to be a place for theological cage fighting. I would love to hear your perspective and be sharpened by your thoughts, but there won’t be any comment bashing on this blog. If your comment stinks, I’ll probably delete it.

And, I realize that there are a lot of questions that this post and future posts will raise. I’ll try to answer them as they come up, but I can’t promise that I can answer every question.

Let me tell you right up front who I think Romans 7 is talking about (that’s a terribly constructed sentence, but it’s 9AM and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet). Romans 7:7-25 was written to describe the experience of a pious Jew, possibly Paul himself before conversion, who is seeking to obey the law, yet finds himself unable to obey apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is not written about a Christian trying to follow Jesus and constantly failing.

NO HOLY SPIRIT!



The first and primary reason I believe that this is not about Christians is the complete lack of any mention of the Holy Spirit in these verses. In Romans 7:6 Paul says:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

This pretty much sums up Paul’s thinking on pursuing holiness as a Christian. We serve in the new way of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, empowering us to overcome and to conquer sin. We are no longer slaves, we are sons. Under the law we were powerless to obey God and his commands, but under the new covenant we have the law written on our hearts.

In Galatians 5:16, Paul says:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

There is such certainty in this verse! If we walk by the Spirit we absolutely will not gratify the desires of the flesh. We won’t be dominated by our desires, we will have victory over them by the power of the Spirit.

But in Romans 7:18-19, Paul says:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

That statement simply does not line up with everything else Paul says about living the Christian life. As a Christian, he does have the ability to carry out the desire to what’s right. As a Christian, he does not have to keep doing the evil he does not want to do. He is a new creation in Christ, with the law written on his heart.

As Gordon Fee says regarding Romans 7:7-25:

The person here described never wins. Being under the helpless law, in the face of the more powerful flesh and sin, means being sold as a slave under sin, and thus incapable of doing the good thing the law demands. Such a description is absolutely incompatible with Paul’s view of life in Christ, empowered by the Spirit. (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, pg. 134)

Paul is not describing his life as a Christian. He’s describing what it was like to be a Jew who genuinely sought to obey the law of God, yet felt himself to be powerless apart from the Spirit.

The hard thing about this passage is that it describes many of our experience in the battle against sin. What are we to make of that? More on that later.

The Radical, Incredible, Amazing Power Of A New Life

Years ago I heard this great illustration.  Imagine you’ve just been discharged from the army.  As you are walking across the grounds on your way out of the base your old sergeant sees you and yells, “Hey soldier, where do you think you’re going?  Get over here right now and give me 30 pushups.”  At first you might feel like you had to obey him.  You might even take a couple steps in his direction.  Then suddenly you remember – Hey, I’ve been discharged – he doesn’t have any authority over me now.  So you say, “Sorry Sarge, I don’t have to do what you say anymore.  I’ve been discharged.  I have a new life now.  I’ll see you later.”

This is a picture of our new life in Christ.  When Jesus saves us we’re no longer slaves of sin.  Though we may still feel like we need to obey it, it no longer has power over us.

This is because we’ve been baptized into Christ (Ro 6:2) - immersed into him, made one with him.  We’re now in union with Jesus in his death,  burial, and resurrection.  This puts us into a completely new relationship to sin.

First of all, we’ve died to sin (Ro 6:2-3): Christ never sinned but he was tempted and suffered the effects of sin.  But when he died on the cross, he died to sin – he could no longer be tempted or affected by it.  We too have died to sin with Christ – though we “feel” it’s tempting power, we must remember we’ve died to it.  We no longer “have” to sin.  We no longer have to obey it, like the discharged soldier.  He may still tremble when he hears his old sergeant’s voice.  He might feel like he must obey and go back.  But he doesn’t.

Like a slave the day after Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation.  Now he need no longer jump when his former master yells.   But after years of jumping every time his owner barked, he might feel like he still needs to.  But his feelings are not the truth.  No matter how much he still feels like a slave, he is free.

We’ve been buried with Christ (Ro 6:4): When someone is buried, they’re not coming back.  We can’t go back to the old way of life.  We’re done with it.  It has no appeal.  If I propped a corpse against the wall, then held a pornographic magazine in front of it, it wouldn’t be tempted in the least.  It’s dead.  This is the reality of our new relationship to sin because of our union with Christ – we’re dead to it.  When we’re tempted to sin, we must say to ourselves, “No!  I’m dead to this!  I can’t go back to it.  It’s not part of my life now.”

If you’re a Christian, you don’t have to sin any more.

You don’t have to get angry any more.  You don’t have to yell at your kids.  You don’t have to be angry at your wife.  You don’t have to give in to lust.  You don’t have to be enslaved by the opinions of others.  You don’t have to live in fear of what others think of you.  You don’t have to be selfish.  You don’t have to gossip or grumble and complain.

We’ve been raised with Christ to newness of life (Ro 6:4). With Christ, we share in the very life of the age to come.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead courses through us.  This newness of life is life lived unto God for his glory.  A life where even the most mundane things we do are worship offered through our great Mediator, acceptable to God.  This newness of life is a foretaste of the life of heaven to come – a foretaste of the power, joy and freedom we’ll know in heaven.

Now you have the power to serve, to bless others, to walk in the works God prepared for you before time.  Now you have the power to rejoice in trials. You have resurrection power.  Don’t feel it?  Ask Jesus for grace and strength.  Keep praying.  Ask him to help you.  You’re one with him.  You’ll walk in the reality of your union with Christ more and more the longer you abide in him.