Living With the End In Mind.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 ESV

There is a method to God’s seeming madness. Let’s be honest. Living the Christian life can sometimes be a maddening and quite frustrating experience. We have been promised abundant life, but at times it can feel as if that promise applies to everyone but us. We face difficulties. We experience trials of all kinds. We go through hard times. And we find ourselves wondering what has gone wrong or where God has gone. And yet, Paul tells us that “all things work together for good.” But where is the good in the loss of your job, your health or, worse yet, your child? How are we to find any good in what appears to be the obviously bad experiences of life? Paul would tell us that the answer has to do with our perspective. If we live our lives as if this world is all there is, then we will see the troubles and trials of life as setbacks to our joy. We will end up expecting all the blessings of God in this life and question His love and goodness when anything that doesn’t measure up to those expectations comes our way. But Paul had a different perspective. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). You see, he had his sights set on something other than this world. He had his hope placed in something far greater and far more reliable than anything this world has to offer. He said, “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ESV). Then he reminds us, “For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24 ESV). In other words, it is our future glorification for which we must hope and wait. God is not done yet. He has a purpose in mind for us. He has a plan that He is working. Which is exactly why Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). God’s purpose for us is multifaceted. It has stages. But it also has a culmination or completion point. At this point, we are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV). Paul told the Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NET). God’s plan called for our ongoing transformation or sanctification. But that is only part of the plan. Paul gives us the outline in its glorious entirety. God called us. He justified us. And one day He is going to glorify us. But interestingly enough, Paul uses the past tense when referring to our future glorification. He speaks of it as if it has already happened, because it is as good as done. We can trust God to accomplish what He has promised. He is as good as His word. But if we don’t keep our hope focused on the final phase of God’s plan, our future glorification, we will find ourselves struggling to make sense of all that goes on in this life. We will measure the trials and troubles of this life from our limited, earthly, time-bound perspective. 

In this life, God’s goal is to make us increasingly more like His Son. He is transforming us from our earthly sin nature into the likeness of His Son. And He uses anything and everything to accomplish that goal – the good, the bad, the painful, the pleasant. God called us, justified us, is currently sanctifying us and will one day glorify us. And while we will experience difficulties in this life, they in no way change or alter the fact that our future glorification is guaranteed. God’s love for us will culminate in His glorification of us. That is why Paul asks just a little bit later on in this same chapter: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ” (Romans 8:35 NLT).  And then he answers his own questions: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). God’s love for us cannot be stopped and it will not be complete until His plan for us has been fully fulfilled. His love for us is best illustrated in His Son’s death for us. He loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place. But Christ’s death was intended to provide for not only our justification, our being made right with God, but also our future glorification. It is for that hope we wait. And it is when we keep our hope placed firmly in that reality that we find the strength to endure the difficulties of this life. We can trust that God has a purpose behind our pain. He has a reason for allowing us to suffer in this life because He is preparing us for the next one. He is slowly weaning us off our dependence upon this world and getting us ready for the life He has prepared for us.

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Prayer Partner.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27 ESV

In the preceding verses, Paul encourages us to wait eagerly, hopefully, and yet patiently for the final stage of our adoption as sons and daughters of God and for the redemption of our bodies. There is a day coming when we will freed from these bodies of death as Paul called them (Romans 7:24). We will be given new bodies and the long-awaited opportunity to live in perfect, unbroken fellowship with God, fully enjoying our position as His children and all the benefits that come with being His heirs. But in the meantime, we must continue to live in a fallen world, dealing with the ongoing presence of our sin natures and struggling against the persistent attacks of Satan. Back in verse 17, Paul told us “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our glorification is coming, but in the meantime we sometimes find ourselves suffering as a result of our faith in Christ and our relationship with Him. And as we suffer as God’s children, we naturally call out to Him as our Father. We find ourselves too weak at times to handle all that is happening to us and around us in this world. We are constantly experiencing and witnessing the effects of sin. And so, in our weakness, we cry out for help. But there are times when we don’t even know what to pray. We aren’t even sure what it is we want from God. And occasionally, when we do pray, the answer to our request never seems to materialize.

In our present circumstances, our needs are constant, but Paul assures us that so is the help of the Holy Spirit. He helps us in our weakness. As we patiently, eagerly, hopefully wait for our final adoption and redemption, He comes alongside and assists us during this time of suffering. Paul says we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ESV). That word, “groan”, means to sigh or pray inaudibly. As we attempt to live holy lives in the midst of this unholy world, we find ourselves struggling with our own sin and the constant emotional bombardment from witnessing sin’s damaging influence all around us. So we pray. We call out. And when we do, we find ourselves asking God to remove the cause of our struggles. We beg Him to remove sickness from our loved ones. We ask Him to provide us with resources when our bank account is low or our pantry is bare. We plead with Him to remove our pain and restore our strength when we are weak. And when He doesn’t seem to answer those prayers, we can become defeated, confused and, at times, even bitter and disillusioned. But Paul would have us consider that the Holy Spirit helps us in our times of weakness. When we don’t know what to pray, how to pray, or how to get what we pray for, He intercedes on our behalf. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The truth is, we don’t know what we need. Paul says, we don’t know what to pray for. We are like little children who ask for the obvious. Driven by our fallen human natures, we tend to ask for what we want, instead of what we really need. If we have pain, we want it removed. If we experience sickness, we can think of nothing better than having it healed. Paul provided us with a personal testimony regarding this very thing. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV). Whatever the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh might have been, he prayed repeatedly that it be removed. But God had other plans and a higher purpose. He was protecting Paul from becoming conceited, proud and arrogant over his position as God’s spokesman. Paul pleaded for the removal of the thorn, but the Holy Spirit interceded and turned those self-centered, comfort-based requests into prayers that matched the will of God.

We are children of God, but like all children, we rarely know what we truly need. The Spirit does, because He knows the heart and mind of God. If you ask a small child what he or she wants for dinner, they are likely to respond, “Ice cream!” That is what they want, but that is not what they need. And a loving parent would not give in to their request, no matter how eagerly or enthusiastically they voiced it. Instead, loving parents would provide them with what they truly needed, even though the child may feel like their “needs” are not being met. The difference between our prayers and those that the Spirit prays on our behalf are that He “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I don’t always know the will of God. I don’t always know what is best for me. But the Spirit does. And He is constantly taking my sighs, moans, and silent prayers, and turning them into requests that align with God’s will for my life as His child. So when His answers come, I may not always recognize them, but I can trust that they are just what I need. I have a prayer partner who intercedes on my behalf. He knows the desires of my heart, the will of God, and how the two can become one. Like any loving Father, God is not interested in giving us all that we want, but He is determined to provide us with all that we need for life and godliness. And His Spirit helps us pray within His will so that we can always know that we are receiving the right answer at just the right time.

Future Glory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:18-25 ESV

Paul has just told us that we need to accept the reality that, in this life, we will suffer with Christ “in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17 ESV). All of us would love to avoid the suffering. That is only natural. But Paul seems to indicate that the suffering is part of the process that leads to our future glorification. Much of the suffering we experience in this lifetime is related to our sanctification, God’s work of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. He is constantly refining and purifying us, making our behavior come into line with our status as His sons and daughters. And Paul confidently tells us, “ I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). We are works in process. We are not yet what we will be, and part of the problem is these earthly bodies in which we are required to live. Paul described man’s earthly body as a tent, which emphasizes its temporary nature. It is not meant to be permanent. It was designed for this world and not the next. And he tells us, “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV).

It is so easy for us to become one-dimensional and focus on this life, all the while forgetting that there is a life to come. This is not all there is, and this is not all we should think about. In the midst of the suffering and distractions of this world, Paul would have us keep our eyes and our faith firmly focused on the next. Which is why he said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As followers of Christ, we need to always remember that no matter how bad things may get in this life, there is something unbelievably better awaiting us. And no matter how wonderful things may appear to be during our time on this earth, they are nothing when compared to the glory that awaits us. Again, the biggest part of our problem concerns our bodies. When we suffer, our bodies tell us that nothing good can come from it. We become incapable and sometimes unwilling to consider that God can and does use suffering to sanctify us. Which is why Paul writes just a bit later on in this same chapter: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).

Whether we realize it or not, our struggle with this life is proof that there is more to come. We will never be fully satisfied with life in this world. Pain and suffering causes us to long for relief and rescue. Even blessings, in the form of material or physical things, leave us empty because they are fleeting and a cheap imitation of what is to come. Everything in this world is prone to destruction and decay, and will ultimately leave us disappointed, because it cannot deliver what it seems to promise. That is why Jesus encouraged us, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT). Our hearts will find no lasting satisfaction or fulfillment in the things of this earth. In fact, if we’re not careful, the temporal things of this earth can lead us to covet, lust, exhibit greed, selfishness and a host of other less-than-righteous characteristics. It is this reality that led Paul to warn the Galatian believers, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). He had also told them, “you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT).  Living one-dimensionally can only lead to one thing: an overemphasis on this world. But we were made for glory.  Paul tells us, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24 ESV). We are to live with our hope set on the future, not the here-and-now. We cannot see what God has in store for us, but we hope in it and for it because He has promised it to us. These bodies will decay and die. But we will receive new bodies – redeemed, resurrected bodies that will no longer experience pain, suffering, the process of aging or the future prospect of death. And the apostle John reminds us that God “has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). Our future glory needs to become a present reality for us as God’s children. 

This world is not my home
I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore.

 

 

The Spirit of Adoption.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:12-17 ESV

If you are a child of God, you owe Him. Not that you could ever pay Him back for what He has done for you, but you should live with a deep and lasting awareness of your indebtedness to Him. He sacrificed His Son on the cross so that you might have life. “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT). Those of us who are in Christ, owe God our lives, literally. Our debt to sin has been paid. God’s righteous judgment has been satisfied by the death of His own sinless Son. So we are free to reject the demands of our sinful flesh. We don’t have to give in to our sin natures anymore. We can say no to the passions and sinful desires of our flesh – but only with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul makes it clear that it is “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13 ESV). He is the one who gives us the strength to live right lives even though our sin natures are alive and well within us. We are now sons and daughters of God who have the Spirit of God living inside of us. Hard to comprehend? You bet. But essential for us to believe by faith, because it is the key to our victory over sin in this life. Jesus died to pay for our sins. The Spirit lives within us to give us power over sin. Sin can no longer condemn me, but it can distract and defeat me. Which is why Paul goes out of his way to drive home the point that we are no longer on our own when it comes to dealing with sin.

We are sons and daughters of God, and we are led by the Spirit of God. And the very fact that we have the Spirit within us, convicting, encouraging and guiding us, is proof of our new relationship with God. Paul puts it this way: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 ESV). When we feel conviction over sin, that is the Spirit at work within us. When we read the Word of God and hear Him speak to us, that is the result of the indwelling Spirit of God. Any time we find ourselves exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And that fruit reveals that we belong to God. We are His children, adopted into His family and rightful heirs to all that belongs to Him. And as hard as that may be for us to grasp, it is vitally important if we are ever going to experience the kind of abundant life that Jesus promised us. What Paul is attempting to do is to get us to think about our future inheritance, rather than dwell on the temporary pleasures that our sinful flesh tends to obsess over. We are heirs of God and He has something incredible in store for us that is not of this world. The apostle Peter found the very thought of it worthy of praise to God. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT).

But there is another aspect to our inheritance. Because we are fellow heirs with Christ, we share in the reality of our future glorification. Just as He received a new glorified body and a reunion with His Father in heaven, so will we. But during this life, we also share in His suffering. As the Son of God, He suffered on this earth. He was ridiculed and rejected by men. He was misunderstood and falsely accused. His message of salvation was dismissed and His claims of deity were denied. And, ultimately, He suffered a humiliating and excruciating death on the cross. So as children of God, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17 ESV). In this life, we suffer, because we are not of this world. We no longer belong here. And our new identity and status as sons and daughters of God puts us at odds with this world and the prince of this world. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us because it hated Him. And it does. This world is not our friend. And the more we live as who we are, children of God, the more animosity we will experience from this world. Just prior to His death, Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). And Paul will close out this chapter with the encouraging words, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39 ESV).

Resurrection Life.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:8-11 ESV

Paul has made it clear that we are to live according to the Spirit of God who lives within us, not according to our old sinful nature. But as he so honestly confessed in chapter seven, there will be times when we find ourselves giving in to that old nature, doing the very things we do not want to do. Our minds, while well-intentioned, will give in to our sin nature – if we attempt to live holy lives apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why Paul opens up verse nine with the statement: “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” In other words, those who had placed their faith in Christ had died along with Him on the cross. And because they died with Him, their spiritual natures had been set free the control of their earthly bodies. Christ “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). To walk according to the Spirit simply means to live in submission to His will and in dependence upon His power. When Paul says, “you, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” he is not saying our sin nature is gone and all fleshly desires are done away with. He is saying that we have a new way of living provided for us by God. It is the law of the Spirit of life that has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

And Paul makes it clear that if anyone has placed their faith in Christ, they have the Spirit of God living within them. NOT to have the Spirit is to be unsaved and unjustified before God. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9 ESV). The Spirit is given by God to every believer at their conversion. Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). It is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that provides proof of our justification before God. He places His Spirit within us, signifying our new status as His children and providing us with a new capacity to live holy lives that is no longer externally, but internally driven. And while we still live in these earthly bodies that are destined to die because of sin, the Spirit provides us with life because we are now righteous before God. We have the guarantee of eternal life, never-ending fellowship with God, but also abundant life here and now. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Satan, our enemy, wants to rob us of life. He wants us to live according to our old sin-enslaved nature, which is driven by the passions of our earthly bodies. But Jesus died so that we might have life, and the Spirit provides us with the power to enjoy that life, right here, right now. Zane Hodges nailed it when he wrote, “. . . whenever you see a Christian living the Christian life, you are witnessing a resurrection miracle!” (“The Death/Life Option,” Grace Evangelical Society News). Because we have been made right with God through the death of Christ and have received the Spirit of God as proof of that newly restored relationship, we can walk in newness of life. We can live differently. We can actually live holy lives, not based on our feeble human effort, but because we have within us the very Spirit of God. And as Paul reminds us, the Spirit who lives within us is the very same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. And, Paul tells us, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11 ESV). 

There is a day coming when we will be given new, resurrected bodies. We will no longer struggle with sin, sickness and pain. Death will no longer be a looming reality hanging over our heads like a sword. The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). But while we wait for that day to come, we can still walk in newness of life. We can enjoy abundant, rich and satisfying life on this earth, even while saddled with these earthly bodies and our old sin natures. Why? Because we have resurrection power living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is not dormant or biding His time until the Lord returns. He is alive and active in every believer, providing guidance, encouragement, and death-to-life kind of power that makes our transformation into the likeness of Christ possible.

The Law of the Spirit of Life.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:1-7 ESV

Back in chapter three, Paul told us the sobering news that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). No one can be made right with God through adherence to the law. Why? Because the law makes us aware of God’s holy requirements, then our sin natures cause us to break those very requirements. In chapter seven, Paul even shared his personal experience with attempting to keep the law. “I would not have known what is 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 coveting” (Romans 7:7-8 ESV). And while it is impossible for anyone to be justified in God’s eyes through their efforts to keep His law, Paul gave us the good news: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22 ESV). From chapter three all the way to chapter seven, Paul gives his defense of justification by faith, not by works. And then in chapter eight he starts off by saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those who have placed their faith in Christ are justified because of their faith in Christ. They are made right with God and seen as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done on their behalf. By placing their faith in what Jesus has done for them, they are no longer placing their faith in what they can do for themselves. Faith has replaced works. 

There is a new law at work in their lives. Paul describes it as “the law of the Spirit of life.” When we hear the word, “law” we tend to think in terms of restrictions and binding requirements that keep us from doing what we want to do. But the Greek word Paul uses is nómos and it has a much broader and more pleasant meaning behind it. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is derived from the Greek word “νέμω némō (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals); law (through the idea of prescriptive usage).” In other words, it is more prescriptive than restrictive. The Mosaic law had benefits. It gave directions for life and provided God’s prescribed way for living in unbroken fellowship with Him. In the 23rd Psalm, David describes this prescriptive nature of God’s law. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV). Through the law, God guided, directed, and protected His people. But the law was weakened by man’s flesh or sin nature. Man couldn’t follow willingly and obediently.

So when Paul speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life,” he is telling us that God has provided us with a new way to live in fellowship with Him. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). The key is the last phrase in these verses. We are to walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh. We are to live our lives in obedience to and dependence upon the Spirit of God. He is the nómos or prescribed way God has provided for us so that we might live in fellowship with and obedience to Him. And Paul provides us with a vivid contrast of the choice that lies before us each and every day as God’s children. “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:5-8 NLT). 

Our sinful nature is alive and active. But we are no longer slaves to it. We have been set free from its control. We now have the Spirit of God also living within us, providing us with direction for living a God-honoring life and the power to accomplish it. But we must choose to live under His control and not our own. We must submit to His leadership. We must desire what He desires and long for those things that He has determined as best for us. But in his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul reminds us of the constant battle going on within us. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). If we try to please God through our flesh, we will fail. But if we live our lives in dependence upon the Spirit of God, His prescribed means of living a godly life, we will experience life, peace, joy, contentment, and the transformation of our lives into the likeness of Christ.

The Law of the Land.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:21-25 ESV

Up to this point in his letter, Paul has mentioned six different laws at work in the lives of those to whom he was writing. There was the law of Moses, which God had given to the people of Israel, and which could only expose and condemn sin. There was also law as a principle, apart from the law of Moses, which caused all men to have an awareness of right and wrong. Paul included the law of faith, which is apart from any acts of self-righteousness. There was also the law of the mind, which agrees with the law of Moses, but is incapable of obeying it because of the law of sin. The law of sin, yet another law, is always victorious over the law of the mind. Then finally, there is the law of the Spirit, which provides the believer with victory over the law of sin which resides in his body and allows him to live obediently to the law of Moses.

In verse 21, Paul mentions when he wants to do what is right, in his mind, the temptation to do evil is always right there. He calls this a law. He is most likely referring to the law of the mind, which is aware of God’s holy expectations, but always susceptible to the desires of the flesh or the law of sin. He says, “I delight in the law of God (the Mosaic law) in my inner being (in his mind), but he sadly confesses, “I see in my members (his body) another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:23 ESV). The dilemma that Paul presents is one that all believers face every day of their lives. We know in our minds what God expects of us and we want to do what is right. But the law of sin exists in our bodies. We have our sin natures that remain alive and active in our earthly bodies. And as Paul says in Galatians, our sin natures do battle daily with the Spirit who lives within us. It is a battle for control.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word Paul uses over and over again for “law” is nomos and, according to Strong’s Concordance, it is derived from another Greek word, némō, which means “to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals.” Nomos came to mean, “anything received by usage, a custom, a law, a command.” So the law of the Spirit requires usage. God has given the Spirit to us to be used, like a shepherd providing food to grazing animals. Unless they eat what is provided, they miss out on the intended benefits. Paul paints a picture of what daily life is like for the believer. We have active sin natures that are opposed to the Spirit’s role in our lives. The law of our minds tells us what we need to do but, in our own strength, we lack the moral fortitude to obey. In that sad condition, we are forced to cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV). The law of the mind is no match for the law of sin. The mind’s desire to do what is right cannot stand against the body’s desire to sin. Any victories we enjoy will be short-lived. That is why self-righteousness does not work. It’s also why we need the law of the Spirit. He is the key to our deliverance from this body of death. And He was provided to us through Jesus Christ. But we must make use of His presence and power. The principle or law of the indwelling Spirit of God is only effective when we submit to His authority in our lives. Which is why Paul reminds us, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses” (Galatians 6:16-18 NLT).

There are many laws at work. But only one can equip us to live Christ-like lives in the midst of a sinful world and in spite of our indwelling sin natures. It is the law of the Spirit. We must learn to live in obedience to Him. In the very next chapter, Paul tells us we are to “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4 ESV). We are not to live according to the law of Moses, attempting to earn favor with God through our keeping of His holy commands. We are not to live according to the law of the mind, determining to do good, but constantly failing. We are also not to live according to the law of sin, giving in to our fleshly desires. We are to live according to the law of faith, apart from any acts of self-righteousness and we are to live according to the law of the Spirit, relying on His presence and power within us to produce His fruit through us.

 

Indwelling Sin.

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. – Romans 7:13-20 ESV

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote to the fellow believers there, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ.  I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). This passage is essential to understanding what Paul writes in this section of Romans 7. There are those who would claim that Paul is speaking of his pre-conversion experience. But it would seem that Paul is describing the condition that every believer faces every day of their lives. Even though we are set free from captivity to sin and death by Christ’s death on the cross, we still have our indwelling sin natures to deal with. When Paul writes, “I am of the flesh,” he is saying that he still has his sarkikos or carnal nature. At salvation, we are not removed from these earthly bodies. And these earthly bodies are driven by earthly appetites. The Greek word sarkikos that Paul uses refers to anyone who is “governed by mere human nature not by the Spirit of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). It it to allow oneself to be controlled by our earthly appetites. It is the same Greek word that Paul used in his letter to the Corinthian believers. He wrote, “You are still sarkikos.” In other words, they were saved, but were still living as if they weren’t. Then he gave them examples of what being sarkikos looked like. “You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT).

There is within each and every one of us the capacity to live under the control of our sin nature or flesh. Yes, we have the Spirit of God living within us, but we must choose to live under His control or the control of our flesh. Paul makes this choice very clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia. “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). It is a matter of control. In his letter to the churches in Ephesus, Paul used an interesting comparison to illustrate what it means to be controlled by the Spirit. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT). To be drunk with wine is to allow yourself to be under the influence of the alcohol in the wine. It alters your behavior, speech, and thought processes. You act in ways contrary to your normal behavior. And that is exactly what happens when you allow the Holy Spirit to fill or control you. It is not a matter of getting more of the Spirit. We receive all the Spirit we need at salvation. But it is a matter of allowing the Holy Spirit to have more of you.

The dilemma each of us faces as believers is exactly what Paul described. “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” (Romans 7:18 ESV). Our flesh is sarkikos or unspiritual. But we are now spiritual creatures or new creations, because of Christ’s saving work and the Spirit’s presence within us. Our fleshly or sinful nature does daily battle with our new spiritual nature. The flesh is of this earth. It’s appetites and desires are driven by the things of this earth. But we are no longer of this earth. We are aliens and strangers here. We are residents of God’s kingdom, which is not of this world. Even Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT). As believers, we must realize that our flesh is that part of us that stands opposed to all that is of God. It is natural and of this world. It does not desire anything that is of God. It is driven by selfish, sinful desires. That is why Paul says, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NET). And he encourages us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NET).

We must live with a constant awareness of our sin nature. We can never allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of complacency or comfortableness, thinking that we have gained complete mastery over our sin natures. They are always there, ready to take back control of our lives as soon as we let down our guard. So we must live in constant awareness of our need for the Spirit’s control, because while we may have the desire to do what is right, we lack the ability to carry it out on our own.

The Law of Sin and Death.

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. – Romans 7:7-12 ESV

In Paul’s assessment of man’s relationship between the law and sin, he strongly emphasized that these two things were not synonymous. In other words, he did not want anyone assuming that the law must be somehow sinful itself because it caused man to sin. He clearly states: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” (Romans 7:7 ESV). The law simply revealed man’s sin, in the same way that a speed limit sign exposes a driver who is exceeding the legally enforced and visibly posted limit. The infraction is the responsibility of the individual, not the sign. Sin cannot be blamed on the law because, as Paul says, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV). God’s law was given in order to show man his incapacity to live up to the righteous standards God required. It was man’s sin nature that was the problem. The law simply exposed it. Paul states that “apart from the law, sin lies dead” (Romans 7:8 ESV). The Greek word for “dead” that Paul uses is nekros and while it can be used to refer to actual death or lifelessness, it can also mean “destitute of force or power, inactive, inoperative” (Outlines of Biblical Usage). Paul was not saying that sin was completely dead and impotent, but that until the law came, it remained dormant. Then “when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Romans 7:9 ESV). He was also not saying that man was sinless before the law came, but that man sinned in ignorance. There were no speed limit signs, so to speak. So man went as fast as he wanted with no feelings of regret or remorse. But when the law was given, God’s limits became known and man’s true nature became exposed. Using one of the Ten Commandments as an example, Paul says that prior to the command, “You shall not covet,” he would not have known the coveting was wrong. His sin nature would have coveted in ignorance and without any conviction of having committed an act of wrongdoing. But when the law came, clearly revealing that coveting was against the will of God, man’s sin nature resisted that command and produced an increased desire to covet. There is within man, because of the presence of his sin nature, a predisposition to rebel against the will of God. You can see it in a small child when you tell them that they are not to touch a hot stove. Suddenly, everything in them wants to do exactly what you just told them not to do. Their is a relentless attraction to the forbidden wired into each of us because of the fall.

God gave the law to show mankind what was required in order to maintain a right relationship with Him and, as a result, to experience true life. Because God is righteous and holy, He requires that those who come into His presence be holy. He cannot tolerate sin. Just as light cannot coexist with darkness, neither can God coexist with sin. And Paul explains that God’s good, holy and righteous law, which promised life to anyone who could keep it, ended up bringing death to mankind. Why? Because sin, “seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Romans 7:11 ESV). Sin was the problem, not the law. St. Augustine describes man’s predicament this way: “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” Paul said, “had it not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7 ESV). It is our awareness of our sinfulness as revealed by the law that should create in us a desire for God’s help. But sadly, many just attempt to work harder at keeping God’s law. Their guilt increases their self-effort. Rather than throwing up their hands and saying, “I can’t”, they stubbornly refuse to ask for help from God and push themselves harder, thinking they can somehow earn favor with Him through their own strength. Sadly, there are others who, when convicted by God’s law, refuse to acknowledge its authority over them. Sin, “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” ends up producing a growing list of infractions and transgressions. They knowingly and willingly break God’s “speed limit.”

In the very next chapter, Paul gives us the great news regarding God’s law. He writes, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). The law showed me my sin. It also showed me my need for a Savior. And God sent His own Son to do for me what the law was never intended to do. He came to save me and free me from the condemnation of the law. My righteousness is found in Him, not in my efforts to keep the law. God did for me what the law could not do. He did for me what I could not do.

A New Way.

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 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. – Romans 7:1-6 ESV

Paul seems to be addressing his words in this section to believing Jews, to “those who know the law.” In order to drive home his point regarding our freedom from sin and the law because of our death with Christ, he appealed to their understanding of how the law worked. According to the law, if a woman attempted to marry another man while her husband was alive, she would be in violation of the law, and would be guilty of committing adultery according to the law. But if her husband were to die and she remarried, she would not be committing adultery. Her husband’s death would have freed her from the condemnation of the law. That particular law would no longer apply in her case.

So it is with those of us who have died with Christ. As Paul stated earlier, “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6 ESV). Not only has our old self been crucified and put to death, but the condemnation of the law has died as well. That does not mean that when we sin, we are not breaking the law of God. When you lie, you are in violation of God’s command not to lie. When you covet, you are breaking God’s command not to do so. But there is no longer any condemnation. Paul makes that perfectly clear in the very next section of his letter. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV). For those Jews to whom Paul is speaking, their life, prior to coming to know Christ, was marked by a constant need to keep the law of God, perfectly. To not obey His law was to bring the condemnation of the law and with it, death. That is why Paul refers to it as “the law of sin and death.” The law could not save. It could only expose and condemn. It could not sanctify anyone or make them more holy. All it could do was show them their sin. In fact, Paul states that very fact in verse seven of this chapter. “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’”  (Romans 7:7 ESV). And as he wrote in chapter six, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). That was the whole purpose behind the sacrificial system. The blood of innocent lambs and bulls had to be shed in order to pay for the sins of men. Breaking of the law brought condemnation and, with it, the sentence of death. And as the author of Hebrews writes, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

And speaking to his Jewish brothers again, Paul reminds them that they “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4 ESV). And like the woman in Paul’s illustration, they have been freed from the law to belong to another – Jesus Christ. They are no longer obligated by the law. They are no longer condemned by the law. They can no longer be sentenced to death as violators of the law, because through their death with Christ, they have been set free from the law. Why? So that “we may bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4 ESV). Prior to their salvation, Paul’s Jewish brothers found themselves doing battle with the law. While they knew perfectly well what the law demanded of them, their sin natures were “aroused by the law” (Romans 7:5 ESV) and they ended up violating God’s commands. And they ended up producing “fruit for death.” So Paul reminds them of the good news of the gospel: “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” (Romans 7:6 ESV). Now we have the Spirit of God to convict us when we sin. But rather than simply condemning us, He provides us with a new way of responding to our sin. He also provides us with a new capacity to refrain from sinning in the first place. St. Augustine wrote, “The doctrine through which we receive the commandment to lead an abstinent, virtuous life, is the letter. This kills unless there is with it the Spirit, which makes alive” (St. Augustine, Concerning the Spirit and the Letter). Without the help of the indwelling Spirit of God, the law (the letter) can only condemn us to death. But with the Spirit’s help, we can live according to the law, not out of a fear of condemnation or the threat of death, but out of love and gratitude for the grace of God as expressed through the gift of His Son.