Archive for the 'The Good that I would Do' Category

THE GOOD THAT I WOULD DO

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

One of the most misunderstood scriptures in the New Testament is Romans chapter 7. It does not matter what brand of Christian you are talking to, if the subject of holiness arises and with it the commands to walk in the image of Christ, free from sin, the automatic retort is to fire off a few choice verses of Romans chapter 7. Poor old Paul, it seems, just couldn't help himself, “The good that I wish, I do not do, but I commit the very evil that I do not wish” and the church delights in his imagined frailty – to their collective ruin. For in this, as in much of their understanding of scripture, they fulfill Peter's statement concerning Paul, “in his letters… are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort as they do all the scriptures, to their own destruction.”

From the church's understanding of scripture Paul is a tragic figure stumbling in all of his ways (just as they the church do), a hypocrite not living what he preached; but this is not what Paul is revealing in this chapter. As is so often the case, people take a text out of context to justify their own crooked walk. To get to the heart of what Paul is talking about we have to go back to the previous chapter. In Chapter 6 Paul says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died still live in it?” Then he explains how we have been baptized into Christ's death that “we too might walk in newness of life.” For “our old man was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be destroyed, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” Paul continues by saying, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts,”… “for sin shall not be master over you for you are not under law but under grace.” From such a beginning it seems inconceivable that Paul is now saying, in the very next chapter, “but hey don't worry about it, none of us are perfect!” But this is exactly what the church believes that he is saying!

Why the confusion? Basically because the church believes theologically rather than spiritually. By this I mean the church's understanding of scripture is based upon a reading of scripture from an unregenerated mind. Now Paul says in Chapter 8, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God: for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so”, and as the church admits that they themselves are unable to subject themselves to the law of God, so as to walk as those alive from the dead, but rather, that they must continue in sin until the day that they die, then in what sense, are they really Christian. To make matters worse they comfort themselves, in their disobedience, by claiming that Paul is admitting the same failing in himself.

Paul's argument in Chapter7 begins by comparing the freedom a wife has to remarry on the death of her husband, with our being freed from the Law through our death in Christ which leaves us free to be joined to another, namely the one who raised Christ from the dead. Now if it is impossible for a Christian to be free from sin, as the church teaches, then it is equally clear that they haven't really died with Christ to sin, and if they haven't died then they are not free from the Law and he who is bound to the Law is judged by the Law as scripture also teaches. That Paul says that a Christian does not sin is clear in verses 5&6 of Chapter7, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

The dilemma for the church has always been how do we square off the fact that we believe ourselves to be Christians and hence dead to sin, with the fact that apparently we cannot stop ourselves from sinning. That is where theology comes to their rescue. Theology is the cheats way into heaven, a door other than the cross, and the way through that door is to search the scriptures for intellectual loopholes to make you feel comfortable about your spiritual state by enabling yourself to believe that you are what you are not. Fortunately for them Paul's seeming admission that “the good that I would do, I do not do”, is just what they need to sit in their mediocrity. Unfortunately they stop others from entering the real door, the door to life, the cross of Christ.

When Paul says, “For that which I am doing, I don't understand for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing that I hate”, he cannot be speaking as a Christian. This is obvious for in the preceding verse he says, “but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin”, and this is a statement which cannot be uttered by a Christian who is no longer a slave to sin. So he is merely speaking this way as a literary device for the spelling out of an argument to those to whom in chapter 6 he has already said, “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.”

Paul is seeking to help weak Christians come to terms with the power of indwelling sin, that they might take hold of the full freedom that is offered them as followers of Christ. So when Paul spells out how, if you are ashamed of your acts of sin, there must be at work within you two Laws, the Law of the sin in your members, and the Law of your mind which knows in its depths what is right, he is urging them to take to heart the reality of their spiritual state that they might accept the way out of their chains. So when he cries out in dramatic conclusion, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus my Lord!” He certainly is not confessing a pitiful hopelessness that he must be left for the rest of his mortal life in this shameless impasse. No he is rejoicing that he no longer has to live under Law, with its animal sacrifices that could not free him from the power of sin, but now he was receiving a deeper cleansing from dead works through his baptism into Christ's death.

To get a deeper appreciation of the hopelessness Paul must have felt under Law we should look at his life prior to and including his conversion. Paul tells us that he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, zealous beyond all of his friends. So determined was he to serve God and please Him that he pursued Christians with such a zeal that his name was feared among the early church. So the good that Paul wanted to do, above all else, was to keep the Law, and yet, in spite of a zeal that would put today's Christians to shame, he failed. “The good that I would do, I do not do; but I commit the very evil I do not wish”. This must have been what he felt to the wretched core of his being after the Lord shattered him on the road to Damascus. For in his heart he concurred that the Law was good, but in his members he served the law of sin, dragging off Christians in chains. “Who can save me from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”