Saturday, March 18, 2017

Romans 7:7-12 Sin Used the Law to Bring Death

I will rely heavily on Doug Moo’s commentary for this passage. He divides verses 7-25 into two sections, with verse 13 described as a bridge between them. Let’s read the entire passage and then open it to see if we can grasp what God spoke through the apostle.

Romans 7:7-12 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Moo describes verses 7-12 as “a narrative to show how sin has used the law to bring death.” This should be no surprise to Paul’s readers, or us, as he has been beating this drum for a while. I think some folks are hard-headed and reluctant to face truth. Moo says verses 14-25 moves to present tense verbs to show the battle between the mind and the flesh, which succumbs to the law of sin. We are told, again, that the law can arouse sin but it cannot defeat it.

Perhaps the biggest debate regarding this passage is aimed at answering the question, Who is Paul describing? There are 4 directions of interpretation held by people:

1.      The autobiographical view. Paul uses the Greek word egō which is interpreted as “I” all through this passage. Therefore, he must have been describing his own personal spiritual journey and, to a degree, each of ours. This position runs into a problem in explaining verses 7-12: How does this awakening to the sin provocation of the law in this Pharisee’s life? Was it when he was a young man being brought to know the Torah better, realizing he was responsible for his sin and no longer “alive?” Or does this relate to his time shortly before being converted by Christ, having thought he was keeping the law but awakened by the Spirit to the depths of his sin? And then the last part of this passage (verses 14-25) we are told this is Paul’s struggle with law shortly after his conversion, as he works out the conflict between the Jewish religion and Christianity.

2.      The Adamic view sees this passage as directly describing Adam before and after sin. This view was held by many early Christians, leaning on Paul’s identification of being in Adam or in Christ.
3.      The Israel view see egō in this passage (especially verses 8-10) to be a representation of Israel, as Paul continues to build on his identification with his kinsmen of the flesh. Chrysostom was an early advocate of this view, showing the nation of Israel to “relatively speaking, spiritually ‘alive’ before the giving of the Law at Sinai. But when that law was given, it gave sin opportunity to create transgressions and so deepen and radicalize our spiritual lostness.” Most hold this view think Paul is describing the on-going situation of Jews who were then under the Mosaic Covenant. This is also called the “salvation-historical” view, fitting into the overall redemptive historical motif of the larger Bible story.

4.      The existential view insists that egō cannot relate to any one person or group of people; it must mean everybody in general. Paul is using figurative language to describe the confrontation between a hypothetical person and demand of God.

Moo finds elements of all views in this passage but believes that the first and third accord best with the text – Paul is describing his own or other Jews’ experience with the Law of Moses and how that law brought death rather than life. Paul certainly is discussing the Mosaic Law here, as he has been for much of this letter. This makes it rather difficult to put Gentiles into this passage, as the first view would do – seeing it as every Christian’s conversion story in addition to Paul’s. Aside from those who joined with national Israel early in her history, Gentiles were not and are not under the Mosaic Law. And Jews beyond the first century are not under it either, as the Old Covenant, of which the Mosaic Covenant was part, has worn out and been abolished as a covenant with the coming of the New. This means view 2 is wrong because nothing in the Bible supports the common idea that Adam was given the Decalogue. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Romans 7:13-25 Death Brings Liberty From the Bondage of the Law

Romans 7:13 (HCSB) Therefore, did what is good cause my death? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure. 

Do you see why verse 13 is considered to be a transition between the two major parts of this passage? Verses 7-12 had a main focus on the goodness of usefulness of the Mosaic Law, ending with a strong defense of its holiness and righteousness all the while acknowledging that sin was strengthened by that law. Many Bibles have a subject heading for verses 13-25 something like The Problem with Sin in Us, which is what the Holman uses. The question in verse 13 answers the question of verse 7 but this verse also ties strongly to the discussion about sin in the following verses. It acts like a bridge tying these two paragraphs together.

Christians are in the New Covenant, not the Old and are such by the judicial declaration of Creator God – imputed righteousness that results in “good works;” yet still and always, to one degree or another, entangled by sin. But we are free in Christ from the slave master of sin and we are identified with Him, not with our flesh or the sin that once ruled us with an iron fist. Let me challenge us to think of this passage as describing Paul and his kinsmen of the flesh as he and some of them struggled with yoke that was too heavy for any man to bear (in Acts 15 this phrase refers to the Judaizers’ demand that Christians be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses); knowing that our own experience reflects some of this same struggle against the powers of darkness.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Romans 7:1-6 Marriage and the Law

Marriage is an example of how death frees one from obligation. Nobody expects marriage obligations (and privileges) extend beyond physical death. But Paul explains how this works – death frees one from marriage. Giving one’s self to another who is not your spouse while the spouse is alive makes you an adulterer. If your spouse has died, however, you are free to marry – not guilty of adultery. That’s the example – death ends marriage.

The Jews of Jesus’ time understood this, even though they had contrived countless reasons for which a man could divorce his wife, abusing the two reasons God provided (because of our natural hardness of heart). We see the Jewish perspective, not only was a widow free to re-marry, if she had no children, her dead husband’s kin were obligated to marry her so she might produce offspring. In Matt 22:23 and following, the Sadducees tested Jesus because they denied the resurrection and were trying to trap Him with a complicated story. The point I want to bring out from that story is that everyone accepted that death freed one from a marriage. That’s the point Paul is making.

And yet, some teach that this passage is instruction on marriage, meaning that only death ends marriage. I don’t know how the language could be much plainer. All the arguments these folks muster up fall into extra-biblical rules and they crumble in the face of life. They teach that divorce was required in the Jewish engagement period (and it was!) but not used in the actual marriage. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and and Jeremiah 3:1 tells us that woman is thrown out by her husband can get married to another man; but she is NOT permitted to return to be the wife to her first husband again.  The first marriage has been ended and may not be re-instituted. Paul tells us that he is using marriage as an example about how death affects a legal relationship – it ends it. 

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Romans 6:12 – 23 Both Dead AND Alive!

Our last lesson finished up with verse 11 - So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This serves as an indicative – we Christians are dead to sin and alive to God. We pick up in verse 12, where Paul explains what he meant, giving us two negative commands and one positive one, imperatives; followed by the promise and rationale.

Romans 6:12-14 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

First command: do not let sin reign in your mortal body. Second: Do not present your members to sin. Third: Present yourselves to God. None of these imperatives are possible for anyone that is not dead to sin and alive to God, the indicative in verse 11.

Take note of the difference between the first two commands and the third: the negative commands relate to our physical being – our mortal body, our members. The third command relates to our whole being, including our souls – present yourselves. If one is in Christ, he can give his mortal body and its members – all that is fleshly – to sin for a season. But he is ever of the Lord and cannot give himself over to sin. The Christian can and will want to give himself – all that he is – to the Lord Who redeemed him, though sin lurks and temptations abound.

Paul does not here speak of our mortal body as if it were the body of sin that has been put to death. He recognizes that as long as the Lord tarries, we are bound to space and time in a body that is weak and vulnerable. This is why he spoke elsewhere that flesh and blood (meaning that which has not been glorified) cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50). 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Romans 5:20 – 6:11 The Purpose of the Law

Romans 5:20-21 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Here the apostle refers to the Mosaic Law, appearing to address his kinsmen of the flesh once again. It is not the design of the Law to create sin, what Paul is saying here is that the Law provokes sinners to sin. It’s the same effect as one of us seeing the “wet paint” sign – we want to test that. It’s what happens when we face a speed limit that is simply too low for the road and conditions – we want to go faster. This is the sinful nature of humanity at work; we do not like to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man as unto God. We conveniently forget Paul wrote Romans 13 while the morally bankrupt Roman government rules the known world.

Further still, the Law was given to Israel so, as God’s chosen people for time and space, they would see how hideous their sin was. All law given to man by God reflects and reveals some of His character: His holiness, purity, and judgment. The Mosaic Law was given in writing to Israel and it drew a sharp contrast between the nature of God and that of man. Many theologians have compared this to the jeweler’s practice of displaying his choice diamonds on black velvet. Paul is painting a contrast here to give encouragement to the Christians, showing us how far greater than our sin is the grace of God that reigns in righteousness, conferring eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus.

Paul addresses this same topic in Galatians 3, telling those who want to live under the Mosaic Law that its time and purpose have passed. As Jesus came in the fullness of time, the role of the Old Covenant wound down. Once Jesus came in the form of man and suffered for the sins of all the elect, the Old Covenant served no further purpose; the type gave way to the anti-type as the New Covenant was cut in the blood of the Lamb of God.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Romans 5:12-19 In Adam All Die

Romans5:12 – 19 (I am going to put verses 20 & 21 into the first lesson from chapter 6, as that’s where I think they best relate.)

Romans 5:12 (HCSB)  Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. Our first word prompts us, once again, to consider what was previously said. What is the point Paul previously made that he is pulling to our attention here? (We were ungodly enemies of God when we were reconciled to Him. We were sinners in need of His righteousness.) Therefore, death spread to all men because all have sinned and because all are in Adam by nature. Death got its start when Adam sinned and the earth was cursed because of his sin (Gen 3:17). And though people are by design made in the image of God, that image was broken and since the Fall we also carry the image of Adam (Gen 5:3). Sin spreads to all the children of Adam through our DNA. We are NOT sinners because we commit various types of sin. We are sinners by nature – that is why we sin. David knew this and that’s why he said he was conceived in iniquity; he was sinful from his beginning, just as you and I were. No longer does Paul divide people according to the flesh – Jew and Gentile. He moves in this argument just as he did in his own life, noting in his letter to the Corinthian church that he no longer regarded or considered anyone according the flesh, even though he once did so with Jesus. But he no longer does so and ties this to being a new Creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:16 & 17). Paul’s major dividing line is one we can more readily relate to: the two groups of people are represented by Adam and by Jesus, respectively. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:22, in Adam all die and in Christ are we made alive. This contrast is the basis for this passage, with Paul’s emphasis on the supremacy of Christ.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Romans 5:6-11 While We Were HELPLESS - Christ Died for Us, the UNGODLY.

Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. In our natural state, we are helpless – unable to help save ourselves. There are several OT passages Paul may have had in mind:

Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

Isaiah 64:7 There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Long before Paul met Truth on the road to Damascus, other servants of YHWH had diagnosed man in the same way. Isaiah comes closest to Paul’s description in our text, although Jeremiah is very close as well. The natural man does not call upon the Lord, he does not rouse himself to grasp Christ; his ways are not his – his steps are influenced by his spiritual father, the devil. But doesn’t Paul later say that everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved? How many go to his source documents (the OT) to find out his meaning? How many read on in Romans 10 to see Paul’s answer: he asks a rhetorical question to make known to his readers that only those who believe in Christ can call upon His name in this manner. Those who obey the gospel are the ones who were given faith, raised up into new life, with a soul that cried out in faith to God.

Salvation is a work of God on a sinner who is helpless; dead in sins; unable and unwilling to do anything good. Those who call upon helpless men to make a decision for Christ are asking the clay to hop up onto the potter’s wheel.