Friday, March 11, 2022

The Struggle - Romans 7 and 8 - March 6, 2022

Sermon by Elder Joel Brown 

The Struggle – From Genesis to Regeneration to Glory

Good morning! I am excited to dive into the Word with you all today. My prayer is that it will bring the light of the Gospel to those who are lost in sin and a renewed hope to all of us who still struggle against it. We're going to zoom out to see the big picture of the human condition, then observe the various transformations that take place throughout the life of a believer in Christ, and finally zoom in to focus on the heart of the Christian struggle. I believe that understanding our history and the different parts at play will better equip us in the fight and will give us hope for victory both now in our daily lives and for the final victory in eternity.

My goal today is to look at what Paul has to say about this in Romans chapters 7-8, which is a big bite all on its own, but as we will see, Romans is one big run on sentence which needs to be understood as a whole, and then the whole of Romans can only be understood in the context of the rest of Scripture. 

Before we get started, Let's Pray

If you were to scan through Romans, you would see that most of the chapters begin with a phrase that contains the word “then” or “therefore”. So what do we have to do? We have to keep going backwards to see what happened before and what the “therefore” is there for! So I want to briefly summarize Romans 1-6 in a minute, but first we need to go back just a little farther. Back to Genesis, the creation and the fall.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...” Most of us know the story. In 6 days, all of creation was spoken into existence by the Word of God, which is Jesus, the Son. In the book of John it says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was Him and through Him all things were created in heaven and on earth.” So, out of nothing came light and darkness, the Heavens, land and sea, vegetation and trees, the sun, moon and stars, and all the living creatures to inhabit the sky, the sea, and the land. All of this He called good! Then last of all God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

I think that is so special! I mean, the creation of the world part is mind blowing and all, but to be created in the image of our Creator! To have His likeness! He didn't do that for any other part of creation, which He created out of nothing. He purposefully made us to resemble Himself, and He did that in part by giving us a spirit. Ecclesiastes 12:7 sheds light on this by describing what happens to us when we die. “...and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” God gave us each a unique spirit in addition to our flesh, which gives us an awareness of things beyond this material world. We have the ability to know our Creator! 

Another key element of being an image-bearer of God is that He has inscribed His moral law on the hearts of all humans. This gives us the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and points us to God’s perfect standard. Paul alludes to this fact in Romans 2:14. He says that when the gentiles “by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law”. The words “by nature” point to how they were created in the image of God and intuitively know God’s laws. How is this possible? Because, as in verse 15, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.” 

So, God created Man in His image. Male and female He created them. And He called them “Very good.” And they were. By nature, at their creation, Adam and Eve were sinless. They were free to enjoy walking in the glory of God's presence and their hearts’ desires were for Him. They had no knowledge or awareness of sin. They were perfectly happy and content with what God gave them.

We read about the first commandment God ever made to man in chapter 2 of Genesis. He said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the Garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This was as if to say, “I know what is good and what is evil and I desire to spare you from the burden of that knowledge. Trust me and obey this commandment and you will have life eternal, but if you do not, you will get what you desire and it will kill you.” It was a good law intended for blessing and initially there was no indication that they would want to disobey.

But we know what happened next. The Fall. In Genesis 3:1-7 it describes how Satan craftily distorted God’s words to tempt Adam and Eve to distrust God’s motives. They were deceived by the sinful influence of Satan and Adam and Eve coveted what God told them they could not have. They chose to not trust God’s plan for them, and ultimately made the choice which corrupted the goodness of their nature. Man's nature became totally depraved, making him unable to please God and enslaved to sin.

From then on humanity was burdened with this problem of sin. It took what was holy and righteous and good, and permanently tainted it. Humanity was still made in the image of God, but it no longer perfectly reflected Him anymore. And the morality that was written on their hearts became clouded, causing everyone to do what was right “in his own eyes” and not in the eyes of God.

This is why humanity needed a Savior. It needed intervention. It needed regeneration.

The fallen human condition sets the stage for the gospel. You can't appreciate the good news without fully understanding the bad news. Which brings us back to Romans. I want to now provide a brief summary of Romans 1-6 to give the context we need to understand 7-8. So here we go!

Paul's aim in Romans was to preach the gospel which was the good news of salvation to everyone who receives it by faith. God can be and is known by man because He has revealed Himself through creation and man is without excuse. But man suppresses the truth about God because of unrighteousness and his darkened heart. Choosing instead to desire the things of the flesh rather than the things of God.

 All people are held accountable to God by His law, which He has written on their hearts, and the doers of the law will be justified, but the wrath of God is reserved for those who sin under it. The bad news is that no one is righteous, not even one. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.

Obedience to the law is a matter of the heart, which means inward reform is needed and not merely outward change in behavior or appearance. Due to our sinfulness, the law is not able to save us, but serves to reveal our unrighteousness.

The good news is that the law also points to the one who is righteous, Jesus Christ and that through faith in Him we can be justified and reconciled to God. This is a gracious gift that was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus and can only be received by faith alone. Because of this, we have no grounds for boasting in ourselves, but only in Him.

In the same way, Abraham’s obedience to the law didn’t earn his righteousness, rather his faith in God’s promise, which came first, was counted to him as righteousness. This was essential for the promise to be guaranteed to all his offspring (including us), because it must rest solely on God’s grace, and not on the law. 

So, therefore our faith is also counted to us as righteousness when we believe that God is able to do what he said he would do through Jesus.

 Now we rejoice in the hope of future glory, but we also rejoice in our current struggle with sin because through it we are being further transformed by the Holy Spirit. Should we continue to sin now that we have grace? No! Jesus died and was raised in order that our bondage to our sin might be put to death and that we might walk in newness of life. This is our regeneration. Our second birth. We are no longer spiritually dead, but alive to God. We are no longer slaves to sin, which leads to death, but are free to obey a new Master who gives eternal life. Free to serve in the new way of the Spirit.

Hallelujah! This is the Gospel. I pray that there are people listening today who heard this good news and found salvation from their sins and can join with us in the Spirit’s renewal.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 3:15–18:

“15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses [the law] is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Well, we finally arrived at chapter 7. This is where “the struggle” gets real. But with all of this wonderful truth still fresh in our minds, let's dive in. I am going to start by reading verses 7-12, and as I do, try to imagine them in the context of Adam after the fall.

“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

Could you hear Adam possibly saying these words? Adam had no consciousness of sin in the garden before God commanded not to eat of the tree. But as soon as the commandment came, temptation was quick to follow. In their case though, not being by nature sinful, the influence of sin came externally through the tempter – Satan. As Eve said in Genesis 3:13, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The commandment that God had given promised life, but when sin came alive in them it proved to be death, just as God had warned. What was holy and righteous and good in them had died.

Paul knew the story of Adam and the Fall, of course, and he saw the same story play out throughout the history of our race, including himself. Paul wanted to be sure that his readers understood, though, that it wasn't the law itself that brought about death, if that were the case God would have been the source. But in reality, it was sin that produced death through the law.

Now at last, we have arrived at the very heart of what I wanted to share today. Let's continue reading. Romans 7:14-25,

“14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Paul is being vulnerable here, he is sharing something personal. He probably knew that the Christians reading his words would be able to relate to this conflict. Can you relate? I know I can. He wanted them to know that they were not alone, and that it is a law, a reality, to go through this. It is common across all believers.

Paul used the word “law” in this passage many times, but they have different meanings and connotations. Obviously the “law of God” is the one we are to obey, the one written on our hearts. But when he says, “I find it to be a law”, it is the same way the word is used in the “law of gravity”. It is a fact, a reality, something that is proven. And then there is the war between the “law of my mind” (which is our conscience) and the “law of sin” (which is our fallen nature).

This tension we all feel, this struggling, is a direct result of the “already, but not yet” state of being a believer. We are already justified by the blood of Jesus, already reconciled to God the Father, and already regenerated by the indwelling of His Spirit, but we are not yet glorified in our flesh. The battle with the desires of our sinful flesh still rages on. We are not yet freed from sin's influence, but thank God we are free to struggle!

I think that too often we get stuck in the mire. We feel discouraged with our struggle against sin, and it feels hopeless, like we are always failing. Paul echoes this frustration by exclaiming in verse 24, “24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" But he doesn't stop there. He brings his focus back onto the One who can. “25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Paul wanted his readers to have hope. And that's why he shares this most amazingly encouraging truth in Romans 8,

“8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

No condemnation! We must let those words change our perspective of ourselves. Yes, we still sin, but by His grace we are released from its bondage and need not fear it's wages. What God has required of us by His law, He has fulfilled in us through Jesus! He began the work, and He will finish it!  And so now our focus needs to shift from the things of the flesh to the things of the Spirit. Let's not dwell on our sinfulness and feel condemned or even doubtful of our salvation (this is Satan's weapon against the believer), but instead let’s be convicted of sin and let that motivate us to constantly strive in the Spirit for righteousness.

Like Paul said, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” So obviously our aim is righteousness. We must struggle. And the Spirit is here to help! He has opened our eyes to the truth. He convicts us of sin and causes repentance. He is our seal of salvation. He regenerates our hearts and renews the image of God in us. He is continually sanctifying us to be more Christ-like. He unveils our clouded morality and quickens our conscience. He is our guide. He enables us to understand the Word of God and reveals to us what is the will of God. He assists and intercedes for us in prayer. He gives us strength in our weakness. He frees us to struggle! Amen!

Paul completes his encouragement in verses 14-25 by reminding his reader of their hope for future glory,

“14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Amen! This is our hope. This is our future. The struggles and sufferings in this life will cease, the redemption of our sinful flesh and the glory will be eternal! 

But while we wait, remember, our struggle against sin is not a curse, it is a gift of grace, something we did not have the ability to do before we were saved and that there is no condemnation in Christ when we still fail in our own strength. God doesn't leave us to do it on our own! His own Spirit dwells in us to motivate and empower our efforts and leads us through the knowledge of His Word which informs our conscious. He told us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. With His help we can win the daily battles until at last we are glorified with Him in heaven. Paul says at the end of Chapter 8 that in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord and nothing will separate us from His love. Be encouraged, hope in Jesus, draw strength from His Spirit, and struggle while he completes the work He began in you, from one degree of glory to another.