Tug of War – Romans 7

Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
“Reign in life.” That is God’s plan for all of us who put our faith in Jesus Christ and receive the peace, hope and joy which come to us in God’s abundant provision of grace and his gift to us of righteousness. We should reign in life. But so often we don’t.
Romans 6:4 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
God invites us to live a new life. But so often we don’t. Michael Green wrote a book on the new life Christians have been given and called it, New Life New Lifestyle. It was included in the Bibliography of another book which will not be named, but by a misprint it appeared as New Life New Hairstyle. But sadly, that is all the difference that many Christians experience between their old life and their new life as believers. A few superficial differences, but not the radical difference grace should make! A bit of cosmetic surgery – but God isn’t interested in cosmetic surgery but in heart surgery. Changing the very heart of us to become like Jesus! We should be living a new life – but we aren’t. Our lives are actually filled with conflict between the THEORY of Christian living and the PRACTICE.
THE THEORY – sin has been defeated.
We have died to sin! We were thinking about this last week.
Romans 6:6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
We have been crucified with Christ, Paul says. So what we should do is this.
6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We must live out the truth that we are dead to sin.
One of the television dramas we are just catching up with is NCIS – the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. In it David McCallum plays a forensic pathologist Donald Ducky Mallard. As he is conducting a post-mortem he often talks to the body on the slab in front of him. An episode began with the biggest surprise of Ducky’s career. As he was about to begin his examination the “dead” body woke up. He wasn’t dead at all! He was alive and kicking!
That isn’t supposed to happen. Dead bodies usually stay dead. “We have died to sin,”says Paul. As far as sin is concerned we should be as dead as a body on a slab. Sin should have as little effect on us as the pathologist’s knife on a dead body. That’s the theory. We should be dead to sin.
And we have been set free from sin. We didn’t do justice last week to the wonderful passage at the end of Romans 6.
6:17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

We have been set free from sin. In the same way as slaves could be set free from their masters so they would never have to obey them in anything again. We have been set free from sin.
6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have been set free from sin! But the sad truth was that in the Roman Empire some slaves just didn’t know how to live once they had been set free. They couldn’t imagine any other way of life, so they would go back to serving their old master even they were now free men. That is a picture of some Christians. They have been set free from sin – but they just don’t know any other way to behave.
The theory is simple. We have died to sin. We have been set free from sin. As a result,
6:14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Sin should have no dominion over us. Sin should not be our master because we have a new master. Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s the theory.

THE PRACTICE – “But I still sin.”
None of us is perfect. And the closer we get to God the more we become aware of His perfect holiness and our continual failures. The better we know God, the more we will acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness. Because the practice and the theory are often so different.
Romans 7. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Some people think Paul is writing about his experience of sin BEFORE he was a Christian. It would be reassuring to think that that is how life was before Paul was saved, but that since he had been saved Paul lived a life of sinless perfection. But that is not the context. Everything in Romans 7 is talking about Paul’s present experience, as a Christian, as an apostle, as a preacher and church leader. This is Paul’s life as he was living it when he was writing to the Romans and there are two good reasons for thinking so.
Everything in Romans 5 and in Romans 6 up to verse 13 was written in the past tense – about what God has done in giving us salvation. Everything from Romans 6:14 onward is present tense – this is what the Christian life is like NOW.
Then look carefully at the end of the chapter.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
That isn’t the way that Paul would possibly have described his life before the Damascus Road, before Christ met him and saved him. This is Paul describing the struggle with temptation and sin he continues to have even as a mature Christian. Is this too defeatist. Too pessimistic? No – it’s just realistic, reassuringly human. This is how most Christians feel at some time or another.
Romans 7 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
The Message: 24I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?
Paul sums up in that verse the frustration and doubt and guilt we all experience in our struggle with sin. “What a wretched man I am!” My old Home Group leader Barry Steel was a teacher, and knew humanity better than most. “We’re all scumbags,” he used to say. “Scumbags every one!” That is the truth. The theory says that sin has been defeated. The theory says that we’re dead to sin. The theory says that we have been set free from sin. But in practice our experience is very different. We still sin. We’re scumbags, every one!
But what is the cause of all these tensions? It’s all because we are living
LIFE IN THE OVERLAP – struggling with sin.
It’s a tug of war. It’s not that we are IN a tug of war, pulling for one team or the other. It is that we ARE the tug of war between two aspects of our own selves. Between our old life and our new life. Between our old nature and our new nature.
Romans 7:25 So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Our mind is in a battle with our old sinful human nature, what Paul describes as our body of flesh.
7:21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
Part of us is still unspiritual, carnal, fleshly.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
So what Paul is saying is that there are times when we give in to our old nature and evil within us, our old self, the person we were before we were saved, who died with Christ, comes back to life and leads us to sin.
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

All the time our lives are this battleground between our old self and our new self.
18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Here is the conflict between theory and practice – the tug of war we all experience from day to day and moment to moment. The continual battle between “the person God is making me” and “the person I used to be.” And what we must do is put off the old and put on the new. LIVE the new life God has given us in Christ.
So how can we win this battle? Three pointers.
FIRST – as we saw last week – we have to make a determined effort not to give in to sin. We must say no to sin and yes to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
We ARE dead to sin. So we should not let sin be our master but instead offer ourselves to God.
Soon after Augustine’s conversion, he was walking down the street in Milan, Italy. There he accosted a prostitute whom he had known most intimately. She called but he would not answer. He kept right on walking. “Augustine,” she called again. “It is I!” Without slowing down, but with assurance of Christ in his heart, he testified, “Yes, but it is no longer I.”
There is the secret of victory over sin. “It is no longer I.” My old self is dead!
SECOND – we should throw off our old nature and put on our new nature.
In Ephesians 4 Paul puts it this way.
21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (New Living Translation)
It’s about fixing our minds on God.
Romans 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.
Then THIRD – the secret of Christian victory comes to us in God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
But I am afraid you will have to wait until next week for that!

I am not what I should be
I am not what I could be
I am not what I want to be
But praise God, I am not what I used to be.

This entry was posted in Romans.

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