Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Search Of Truth, Romans 7:14-25

In previous verses, Paul explained how the Old Testament (Tanakh) Law is good, but our sinful tendencies ("flesh") are stimulated by it. It's not the law that is corrupt or flawed, it's the sin within us that reacts to it in a corrupted way.

Paul says that the law is "Pneumatikos" (spiritual), meaning it is higher and better than the natural creations of humans. By contrast, Paul says that he is "of the flesh", which in the Greek refers to the corrupt tendencies we naturally default to from birth. (More on that in a second.) Paul even says that he has been sold as a slave under sin! (v.14)

Despite Paul's status as an Apostle, a representative of Jesus, this is not the self-portrait of a man who "has it all together". Paul lived in constant conflict with his sinful tendencies, often feeling completely mastered by them.

Paul couldn't understand the reason for his actions sometimes. He found himself neglecting the things he truly wanted to do and instead doing the things that he hated. (v.15) The fact that he didn't ultimately want to do the sinful things he did was because he knew that the law of God is good. (v.16)

But if that’s the case, what’s going on here? How can Paul genuinely want to do good but still end up doing evil? How does this happen to any Christian for that matter if Christ really lives in them?(Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:11)

The answer is in verse 17. Paul says that it is sin, not his actual self, that does evil. We are still responsible for the wrongs we commit as Christians, but they no longer define us. Sin is no longer a part of who a Christian truly is. Instead, sin is only a remnant that hangs on to our new lives in the form of "sarx".

"Sinful nature" and "flesh" (depending on the translation used) are both translations of this Greek word that fall short of the actual meaning implied. “Sarx” refers here and in similar contexts to the corrupt, mundane, earthly way of things. It doesn’t refer to our physiology and the “sarx” of a Christian isn’t really their “nature” either. So both “flesh” and “sin nature” are potentially misleading translations.

A Christian’s “Sarx”, or “flesh” as I will opt for right now, is a remnant they have to deal with, but not the substance of who they are. You could compare it to a coating of maple syrup or honey that covers your entire body and dries on your skin. It would be frustrating, effect how others see you and be a constant distraction and obstacle. But it’s still not who you are.

Paul’s “sarx” was so debilitating that he said he didn’t even have the ability to do what is right. (v.18) Instead, Paul had repeating patterns of sin that he struggled against. (v.19) For a second time, Paul identifies the remnant of sin within him as the source of evil. Though he doesn’t deny personal responsibility. (v.20)

Paul noticed a basic law or principle (not to be confused with the Old Testament Law discussed earlier) in his life. When he wanted to do right, evil was right on top of him, mucking things up. (v.21)

In Paul’s true, inmost being, he saw God’s law for what it is: holy (designed for God’s purposes) and good. He enjoyed thinking about it! (v.22) But another principle inside him was working against his enjoyment of God’s law, thwarting his good thoughts and dominating his behavior. (v.23)

The apostle Paul, whom we rightly hold in high esteem for his life and teaching, said that he was a “wretched man”, trapped in a way of living that drove him away from God(which we’ve noted before is meant by the Greek word for “death” used here). He knew that he desperately needed to be rescued from this condition. (v.24)

In mainstream Christian culture, this level of transparency is rare. We’d prefer that other people think we are constantly positive, overflowing with joy and certainly not wrestling with sin on a regular basis. But although he never sinned, Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15) and was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). And Paul was nearly in despair over his own sinful condition, even after years of being a believer and teacher!

Likewise, we should be willing to acknowledge that sin is an ongoing struggle that often overwhelms us. Lately, I’ve given in to an attitude of entitlement and selfishness on a regular basis. My “sticky sarx” has kept me from being generous and selfless with my wife and sons. And so I’ve been praying that Christ will rescue me from this form of “death” I’m living in lately.

We can look forward to an increasing rescue from sin in this life and a complete rescue from sin in eternity. God made this possible through the work and sacrifice of Jesus! For that, we can be unendingly grateful, even while living with constant internal conflict for now. (v.25)

Next Week- An energizing, life-giving and truly “spiritual” way of living! (And no, it’s not a 12-step program.)

Coffee House Question- What fictional characters can you think of that struggle with similar internal conflict and which do you relate to most? Why?

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