Paul told the Corinthians that he and his apostolic associates were wise to Satan’s deceptive schemes (2 Cor 2:11). The apostle knew Satan was a formidable enemy who had millennia of experience tempting and deceiving God’s image-bearers; but he also knew he had been given insight into the way his enemy operated. Continue reading “Custom-Made Temptations, Crafted Just For You”
Romans 7:14-25 is one of the most debated passages in the Bible. There are three major positions that have vied for interpretational prominence over the years. One view sees Paul’s description of his struggle with sin as his pre-conversion experience. The other sees Paul’s description as his post-conversion experience. A third—articulated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones—argues that we ask the wrong question if we inquire about Paul’s spiritual status in Romans 7:14-25. Rather, as the Doctor asserts, Paul is explaining what happens when someone pursues sanctification according to the law rather than by the Spirit. Each of these positions has been articulated and defended by skilled and sound exegetes, a fact which makes me recognize, again, how demanding the task biblical interpretation really is.
I do not want to enter into the intricacies of the debate in this post. Rather, I only want to offer my defense of a post-conversion reading. That is, I believe Paul is describing his Christian experience in Romans 7:14-25. Here’s why. Continue reading “Which Paul Is It? An Argument for Paul’s Christian Experience in Romans 7:14-25”
How should we respond to and apply passages in Scripture that clearly refer to false teachers? Especially those false teachers who, like the ones in 2 Peter 2:1-22, once knew the truth, yet chose to forsake it (2 Peter 2:21)? Certainly, the obvious applications come to mind: stay away from these kinds of false teachers; be aware of and steer clear of their teaching; preach these passages firmly and courageously in order to warn our people of the danger of false teaching and false teachers. Yet, I think there is more here for us as Christians. The question is: how do regenerate and eternally secure Christians respond personally to a passage about false teachers? I would suggest it is by allowing these passages to serve as warnings.
In 2 Peter 2:1-22, the apostle denounces the ungodly character and ungodly actions of these false teachers: they deny Christ, they follow sensuality and exploit others; they are greedy, blasphemous and creatures of instinct; they are blots and blemishes and waterless springs; they are proud, boastful and slaves of corruption. A genuine Christian, on the other hand, will hate this kind of sin; not only—not even primarily—in a false teacher, but any remnant of it he finds in himself. Thus, we can quarry the following questions from a passage like this: where do I see the tendency in my heart to follow sensuality and exploit others? Where in my life do I tend toward greed? Am I guilty of blasphemy? Where is there pride in my life? Where am boastful?
Scripture makes it clear that it is impossible for a genuine Christian to fall into a state like the one described in 2 Peter 2:1-22. But by what means does God keep a regenerate Christian from falling into a state like the one described in 2 Peter 2:1-22? It is by giving him a heart that despises the thought of ending up like those depicted in this passage. A Christian is both confident he can never fall away, and he takes care that he never does. When we come to passages like 2 Peter 2:1-22, therefore, we are benefited when we use them, not only as a prompt to be discerning about false teachers, but also as warnings to stay far away from the sin that characterizes them.
How do godly people respond when a church, community, city, or a country is guilty of great sin? The Biblical answer has always astounded and challenged me. When God rebuked the Israelites for their marriage to foreign women, Ezra the priest, one who was not guilty for breaking the law of intermarriage, responds, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt” (Ezra 9:6-7). Notice how he groups himself in with the rest of his people: ‘for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (emphasis added).
Daniel prayed in a similar fashion: “To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in His laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets” (Daniel 9:8-9). Up to this point, Daniel has been portrayed as a godly, uncompromising young man (Daniel 1:8). It is probably very safe to assume that Daniel himself was not directly guilty for the indictments he brought against himself and Israel. Nonetheless, he groups himself in with the rest of his people and takes the guilt upon himself as a member of the guilty community.
Nehemiah did the same: “And they said to me, the remnant…is in great trouble and shame…As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments…I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you have commanded your servant Moses (Nehemiah 1:3-7, emphasis added).
This is a demonstration of true humility. How easy—and perhaps legitimate—it would have been for these godly men to denounce the sins of the people and say things like, “O God, your people have sinned; they have acted corruptly, please be merciful to them, etc.” But that is not the response; instead these men are broken, not only for the sin of their people, but for for their own sin and for any part they have played in rebelling against God. God’s discipline of the community prompts these men to consider their own ways and to be humbled for their own sin.
More recently, Jonathan Edwards has captured this kind of humility a resolution he wrote when he was a young man. “Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.” What a resolution!
So how should godly people respond when confronted with a humankind that is in wholesale rebellion against its Creator, a nation that is rapidly departing from any real sense of right and wrong, and a Church that is weak and infected by the world? They repent for their own sins and the participation they have had in the tarnishing of God’s name. They load upon themselves the guilt of the community and confess the role they have played in the rebellion.
In each case, Ezra, Daniel, and Nehemiah, God worked great things as a result of their prayers: Ezra organized and completed the building of the temple, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and Daniel was visited by the angel Gabriel who brought Daniel significant “insight and understanding.” Perhaps what is needed at the present hour to bend God’s ear toward us is not merely more prayer, but prayer saturated in broken-hearted humility for our involvement in the rebellions against which we pray.
Photo: Ron Almog
The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize of how great a sinner I am. This realization is not necessarily a virtue in and of itself: if I am only acutely aware of my sin, I will wallow in despair and fear. On the other hand, it is by recognizing the depth of our sin that we can be brought to greater joy in Christ. This appears to be Paul’s understanding in Romans 7:13-25. In verses 13-24, Paul openly and honestly wrestles with the sin that still resides in his heart and which actively opposes his new nature. The thing he wants to do—fully obey Christ—he is not able to wholly accomplish; at the same time, he finds himself committing the very sin he hates. This struggle with indwelling sin culminates in verse 24 where Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am!”
Perhaps you have felt like this—perhaps you often feel like this. The question is whether or not the pervasiveness of our sin causes us to search for a remedy the way Paul did. Immediately after Paul cried out in agony over the depth of his sin, he asks rhetorically, “Who can save me from this body of death?” The answer? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (25)! The implication? It is only God through Jesus Christ who can save Paul from the relentless power of sin. With this in mind, I see two conclusions we can draw from this passage.
(1) Dealing honestly with our sin can and should lead us to resting and rejoicing in Christ. Paul would not be a good example of spiritual growth and discipleship had he stopped at verse 24. Yes, we are wretched. Yes, we are sinners of the highest order. Yes, we have despised and ignored and spurned a holy God. But that is not the whole story. There’s more. It’s called the gospel. For Christians who have come to a saving understanding of their guilt before God and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, the ensuing battle against remaining sin can often seem overwhelming and mostly discouraging. But to remain in a state of doubt and despair too long without looking to Christ is neither wise nor helpful. Dealing frankly with our sin should lead us to confession, forgiveness and thankfulness in Christ, not perpetual hopelessness. (I realize that some people’s spiritual situations are far more complex than what I have implied here, but I do think God’s goal with someone who is beleaguered by battling with sin is that their battling would lead them to find hope and rest in Christ, not incessant misery).
(2) Our battle against sin will be life-long. Paul had been walking with Christ for several years at the time he penned these words, yet the intensity of his battle against sin had not lessened over time—it had increased. Growing in spiritual maturity means that we will become more discontent with ourselves, not less. That is not to say that we can find and should look for areas where the Lord has given grace and growth; even Paul had the spiritual capacity to say that he was mature enough to be imitated (Philippians 3:14-17) and had been able to accomplish many things by the grace of God. (I Corinthians 15:10). But the clearer our spiritual sight becomes as we grow in sanctification—from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18)—the more acute will be our recognition of remaining sin.
That is why Paul follows Romans 7:13-25 with 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Despite the fact that we are involved in a battle against enemies that seem, at times, immune to our attacks and unlimited in their resources, the glorious truth is this: the victory has already been won—on a cross outside of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. These current battles with sin, though brutal and serious, are nothing more than the concluding skirmishes with a defeated and desperate insurgent force. Our Captain is also the uncontested Victor.