The Christian Life
Paul Clarke, Bishop's Stortford, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Chapter 7. How not to serve God – the obstacle to serving God
Here are some keys to unlock the ideas set out in the chapter.
Key question: ‘Is the law sinful?’ 7. 7.
The subject: the discovery of indwelling sin.
The purpose: to vindicate God’s law. Law is good – but we (the flesh) are bad.
Dominant thought: we cannot keep the law because of indwelling sin. Law arouses sin. Why?
The Negative: ‘sin that dwelleth in me’, 7. 17. How it is that our lower self (the flesh - natural body) cannot attain righteous living.
The Logic: experiential – a civil war inside the believer’s body.
7. 1-6 ‘the motions of sins, which were by the law . . . But now we are delivered from the law . . . that we should serve in newness of spirit’.
Remember, Romans 6. 14 reveals that sin shall not have dominion over us. The reason given is because the believer is not under law but under grace. How did the believer legally get out from under law to being linked to grace? On account of the fact that Another has borne the penalty of the law for us.
Here we learn that we are also legally separated from the authority of the Mosaic law by death, like a wife would be free from her husband should he die. The death in this case is the giving of the body of Christ Jesus. Just as the widow is then at liberty to be linked to another husband, so we, by life (the resurrection of Christ), are now in a legal union with another authority, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is so we can bring forth fruit unto God by living according to a new spiritual principle, ‘newness of spirit’.
So now we learn how to live the resurrection Christian life. This could not happen when we were in the flesh, that is, in Adam, without the Spirit. Even though the Adamic man had God’s law, that very law brings on the fruit of death by arousing the passions of sin within men.
Does it matter if we operate by the principle of law in our new life? Ezekiel 18. 20 would teach that we either do, or die. How can the fulfilling of the instructions of the law with all its rituals, holy days, dietary regulations, customs and required commandments hurt? Why doesn’t law bring out fruit in our lives to God’s praise and glory? Is it because God’s law is somehow sinful or defective? The answer is ‘certainly not!’ and follows in the rest of chapter 7. Before telling us more about living the Christian life, we are taught how the Christian life doesn’t function, and why not.
The true nature of the Law of God
7. 7-14 ‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin?’
God’s law is good and holy. It stands as that which God will always require of men and it stands alone. Mixing it with something fleshly (natural sin) produces a negative reaction. Fire can be very helpful alone, but mixing it with gasoline can be very destructive. For something sold under sin (self, the flesh) to be told it can’t do something or must do something, or else incur a penalty (this is law), arouses in it a desire for its rights and freedom. At this point sin is revealed by the law for what it truly is – rebellion, – it is seen to be ‘exceeding sinful’. That same law then condemns the sinner as guilty and cut off from God – that is, in a condition of death. The apostle Paul now uses what seems to be his own learning of this by experience. He realized in his desperate plight that the problem wasn’t God’s holy law, (what he is to do), but himself (what he is in his natural body), ‘fleshly, sold under sin’. The law of God condemns us but cannot help us. Its sole purpose is to expose sin, it could never provide the ability to overcome sin. So a pathway of lawkeeping is only to be constantly frustrated by the inability to fulfill the requirements. Isn’t it tremendous that we are delivered from the principle and letter of law!
The discovery of indwelling sin as a Christian
7. 15-25 ‘the law of sin which is in my members’.
Paul’s further experiences confirmed to him that he was made up of flesh that was sold to slavery under sin. He discovered an active spiritual law which every believer since needs to experience. This is that ‘a Christian has indwelling sin’. It’s our lower nature and here described variously as, ‘sin . . . in my members’ or ‘my flesh’ or ‘the law of sin’ or ‘the body of this death’. Therefore, even a Christian cannot bring forth fruit ‘under’ or ‘by’ the law.
Paul discovered this by finding that when he wanted to do good, he didn’t do what is good and when he wanted not to do wrong, he did wrong. The fact that he wanted to do right showed him there was indeed something in him that knew what was good, but also that there was no ability to attain it. The fact that he didn’t always do the right proved to him that sin was still alive in him because of the natural body he still had. He found the principle of sin in his body still alive and active with its full desire for self in rebelling against God’s holy law.
And so this civil war between sin in him and his inward man that longed to please God, caused him to realize the source of his wretchedness. It was, ‘the body of this death’ with the law of sin ingrained in its members. It also caused him to realize that ultimate deliverance can only come from a source outside himself. This could be none other than Jesus Christ our Lord, and His transformation of our bodies. So he concluded that until that happens he was left with two natures or entities. One entity that serves the law of God and another entity that serves the law of sin. What to do about this present dilemma is the dynamic of the Christian life revealed in chapter 8. The answer will not be in conformity to outward rules and regulations, for a person is condemned and cut off for failing to keep them. This is law. So we learn that not only is justification (the obtaining of righteousness before God) unobtainable by the law but neither is sanctification.
An Old Testament illustration of this truth
In Exodus chapter 17, God’s ancient people, Israel, met an enemy named Amalek, a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s brother. When they met this enemy, Israel had already experienced the following:
- Salvation from the judgement of God by the blood of the unblemished lamb at the Passover, Exod. 12.
- Salvation from the control of the slavemaster Pharaoh by the power of God in passing through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground, Exod. 13-15.
- Sustained by bread from heaven. The provision of the manna, Exod. 16.
- Satisfied with water from the smitten rock, Exod. 17.
Notice carefully that Exodus 17. 8 shows that it was as soon as the children of Israel drank of the water from the smitten rock, ‘Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel’. From then on Israel had a continual enemy to fight as God instructed, ‘fight with Amalek’. This enemy was totally against God, and God against him, see Exod. 17. 14; Ps. 83. 4, 7. Every generation of Israelites would experience this common enemy, Exod. 17. 16. This enemy was not to be compromised with but mercilessly attacked. The strategy of attack would be with the sword, looking only to God to provide the victory, see Exod. 17. 9-13.
The New Testament believer experiences what Israel did but in a spiritual sense
- Christ our Passover, the sinless Lamb of God, has been sacrificed for our sins to save us from judgement, 1 Cor. 5. 7; Rom. 5. 9.
- By being in union with Christ, symbolized by passing into the waters of baptism, the believer is free from the dominion of the old master, sin, Rom. 6.
- The believer is sustained with the living bread from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, John 6. 32-59.
- When saved, the believer instantly receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, Eph. 1. 13. This is because Christ, the Rock, was first smitten for our sins, 1 Cor. 10. 4. The Holy Spirit is referred to as ‘living water’ for He satisfies and refreshes our innermost being, John 7. 37-39. As soon as someone is saved he possesses the indwelling Spirit, Eph. 1. 13, and then becomes aware of this inner war that has begun. Now the Spirit. is opposing the flesh, ‘For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would’, Gal. 5. 17.
- The spiritual war between good and evil in the body of a believer is not a sign that he is not saved or has lost his salvation, but an assuring fact that he is saved. After the initial joy and euphoria of being saved, it doesn’t take a new Christian very long to realize that there is something inside him that didn’t get changed or removed. That something is ‘the law of sin which is in my members,’ with all its evil desires, anger, and lustful thoughts. Often this sin presents a distressing dilemma for the believer. Yet, there is hope. This war is normal. The discovery of the enemy and the ineffectual effort to deal with him through law-keeping is the subject of Romans 7. How we get victory is the subject of Romans 8.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Clarke Following senior executive roles within the Lloyds TSB Group, Paul took early retairement in 1998 to devote more time to teaching and pastoral responsibilies within his local church. He has been an Editor of Service since 1998.