Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: January 27, 2013; Romans Chapter 7

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 28, 2013

Pastor Jake received a phone call from a husband and father who is new in town. “Bob” in his mid-forties, has been visiting churches for purposes of making a decision on church membership for his family. Bob seems a little upset and asks Jake if they can meet for lunch:

“Sure Bob. Twelve o’clock at Bob Evans? ‘That would be great Pastor Jake.’”

Jake secures a table before Bob arrives and watches him as he approaches their table. Bob sits down and is obviously troubled about something:

“Uh, thanks for this Jake. Uh, can I ask you something? ‘Sure Bob, what’s up?’”

Bob: Are some dreams sinful?

Jake: That depends Bob, why don’t you tell me more. When did this dream take place?

Bob: Last night.

Jake: Where?

Bob: At home, last night.

Jake: What was the dream about Bob?

Bob: Uh, well, this is really weird.

Jake: Most dreams are Bob, but you are obviously troubled by this dream and I am hoping that I can help you in some way.

Bob: I was in bed with some young foreign girl, but we were fully clothed.  And Jane’s sister [Jane is Bob’s wife] was there watching TV. And I was concerned about what Jane’s sister would think.

Jake: That’s understandable, and it’s never Miss Piggy [the cartoon character who has unrealistic visions of grandeur concerning her own beauty] in the bed.

Bob: [Chuckling uncomfortably] Uh, ya, anyway, she started taking off her clothes.

Jake: I kinda saw that coming.

Bob: But anyway, though she was beautiful, and her figure was exhilarating, I stopped her because of what I believe, and she became very angry.

Jake: [Leaning forward with great interest] Really? Tell me Bob, what is this belief that caused you to stop her?

Bob: Well, I believe lust is just a strong feeling, and if we don’t let it control us, great blessings are the result. Obeying our lust is initially exhilarating, but ends with death. That’s what James said, right? [Jake nodes in agreement]. As I have told you Jake, my job requires me to be on the internet all day. Woe, the way some things are introduced on the internet are very stimulating, but I know that if I let that control me, it will do damage to the wonderful love-life that Jane and I have. I also believe that when I abstain from lust, that makes my marriage more blessed and stronger.

Jake: Bob, I think the counselor just became the counselee. First, you’re right, the world is an expert at enticing us into sin; like I said, it’s never Miss Piggy in the bed, or in the advertisement. You rightly assess, and as you were speaking, several different Scriptures were coming to mind.

Bob: But what about being in bed with that girl? What’s that all about? Isn’t that indicative of sin in my heart? How could I even think something like that?

Jake: Bob, we never just find ourselves in bed with a girl one day. Many bad choices and deaths lead to the big deaths.  Like all dreams, yours was especially unrealistic. Because of your Biblical thinking, you are not going to suddenly find yourself in bed with some girl not your wife, and certainly not with her sister in the same house. Bob, did you eat anything before you went to bed?

Bob: Uh, ya, you know, a midnight snack.

Jake: What did you eat?

Bob: Some strawberry custard pie.

Jake: [Trying not to laugh] That will do it Bob. However  [regaining his composure on a serious note],  I do believe that dreams often reflect our fears, and I think it’s good that you fear sin and failure. There is good reason to fear such. But you have committed no sin, and I cannot point to any biblical text that would instruct us to ask forgiveness for the content of our dreams.

Bob: That’s contrary to what the pastor at the other church we are visiting said.

Jake: Really? What did he say about this?

Bob: He said the dream reflects sin in my heart. Obviously, I have a desire to be with a beautiful foreign woman, and the dream reflects the desire of an adulterous idol in my heart. He said that this is a great opportunity to partake in repentance. He said this would result in the joy of receiving God’s grace in my life.

Jake: Bob, if this dream is bothering your conscience, by all means take it to the Lord in prayer, but let me clarify; he said that the source of our sin is idols in the heart?

Bob: Right.

Jake: So Bob, what’s the game-plan for preventing this idol from returning in the future?

Bob: Well, you really can’t prevent it. He said that our hearts are idol factories that continually produce idols that cause sinful desires. Repentance enables us to experience the joy of grace each time we see them and repent of them. By God’s grace, the idol was revealed in a dream which means I can repent of it before it manifests into the sin of adultery.

Jake: Bob, I see that it is almost time for you to return to work, but I would like to discuss this with you further. Are you in agreement?

Bob: Sure. Let’s get together after Sunday worship.

Bob has a choice. He has two ways of sanctification before him. Our sanctification presents a gospel to our families and the world; much is at stake. This is why the apostle Paul did not want the Romans to be in the dark about the living dynamic of sanctification and how it works in the reality of life.

How does the Christian do battle with sin? This is the next question after the gospel of first importance, “How can I be saved?”  God’s full council is not only about how we are saved—it is also about how we “control [our] own body in holiness and honor” (2Thessalonians 4:4). This is the very definition of sanctification; the knowledge of how we control our bodies to God’s glory.

And do we actually change? Can we change? Yes, because as we saw in Romans chapter six, we are now slaves to righteousness through the new birth. Furthermore, Paul states the following in Romans 8:6-8;

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Therefore, it goes without saying that those who are not in the flesh can indeed please God. And in fact, that is our goal as Christians (2Corinthians 5:9). I want to begin by revisiting Romans 6:20-23 before we begin in Romans seven:

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What Christians need more than ever in our day is hope that they can really change. And through Bob’s testimony we learn of a powerful Scriptural concept in making that happen: the choosing of life or death. Even though choosing life is the primary life pattern of the believer, and choosing death is the primary life pattern of the unbeliever, Christians can choose death in this life and often do so through ignorance. Christians must know where our sin comes from, and why it is able to make such a strong appeal to us in regard to choosing death. We must know that choosing life strengthens us spiritually and makes future obedience easier. We must know that obedience leads to spiritual wellbeing. We must know that death leads to more death, and ends with eternal death, while the life of the believer is life upon life ending with eternal life. In regard to assurance of salvation, where death is experienced, death as an end will be feared, and rightfully so. Where life is experienced, and experienced with increase, eternal life will be the expected end. Hence, the devaluing of obedience has crippled innumerable Christians in our day. I believe it is a crisis.

Note Romans 6:22 once again. As Christians, we strive to “get” fruit. We strive for God’s will—our sanctification. We strive for spiritual wellbeing in increase. Paul was saying very little different than what Moses said:

Deuteronomy 30:9 – The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

It is clear that as we pursue the fruits of the Spirit as Paul instructed Timothy to do in 1Timothy 6:11 that these fruits are increased:

2Peter 1:5 – For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s look at one more before we begin in Romans chapter 7:

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul prayed that we would be “strengthened” in the inner man (Ephesians 3:14-21) and would be “renewed” in our minds. But how does all of this work? It all starts by being set free from the law. That may seem strange, but that’s step one, and goes hand in hand with being saved. Paul will explain:

7:1 – Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

From Paul’s opening statement we might conclude that there was a large number of Christians at Rome who didn’t have an abundance of Scriptural knowledge, so Paul refers to those who know the law (Old Testament Scriptures); specifically, those laws pertaining to marriage. The woman was bound to the marriage law as long as her husband lived, but if he died, she was no longer bound to the law of marriage and free to remarry. Likewise, we are now free from the law as believers. But key is the fact that we also died, and are no longer in bondage to the reaction of the former self to the law. This makes it possible for us to bear fruit for God because when we lived as unbelievers, there was a natural adverse reaction to the law; specifically, it provoked us to sin leading to death. So we are now free from the law.

Paul then vindicates the law. It is not the law that caused us to sin when we were unbelievers, but our former sinful nature’s reaction to the law:

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. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

Now that the former unbeliever that we were died with Christ, we are no longer in bondage to this kind of reaction to the law. We are now free to bear fruit for God. However, we are still captive in our mortal bodies (what Paul later refers to as a body of death) which still bear a remnant of the former, and tempts us to sin. Mortality’s appeal to sin is primarily executed through our emotions, or desires. This conduit (desires) has not changed from our former selves, but we are now able to say no in all respects. Before, we were enslaved to our sinful desires which were provoked by the law.

In fact, the law was death to us, but now it is life. Life? Yes. Remember, Paul said the law that promises life was death to the former self (Romans 7:10). Also, the former reaction to the law constantly showed us our need for salvation—the need to be free from enslavement to the former self’s reaction to law and the threat of being judged by it in the end. Being judged by the law is the unbelievers worst nightmare. Christ paid the penalty of death that the law demands, God imputed His righteousness to our life account apart from the law, and the law is now our guide for bearing fruit for God. All of this creates a certain life experience, or warfare, that Paul explains:

Romans 7:15 – 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.

Remember, all of this is being explained by Paul in human terms. If God showed us the actual schematic, for certain, we wouldn’t understand it. We don’t know how our mortal bodies continue to live though the soul of it is dead. Nevertheless, Paul describes the warfare and locates the source of our sin: “in my flesh.” In Romans 6:12, Paul describes the same location as our “mortal bodies.” Mortality is opposed to our love for God and His truth. Somehow, it is alive in a big way, but its ultimate power over us is broken. In fact, it is tenacious enough to even wage war against the indwelling Holy Spirit!

Galatians 5:16 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

If you are not, “under the law” you do not have to gratify the desires of the flesh. And the part about being “led by the Spirit” will be discussed by Paul in Romans chapter eight. We are to consider the strong dichotomy here between the old us which is dead, and the new us—to the degree that Paul says it is not we who are sinning, that is, the new us, but sin that dwells in us. There is an inner self that is redeemed, and has to fight this mortal body that we temporarily dwell in. Hence:

Romans 7:21 – 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

The same principle applies: our flesh is still provoked by “the law of sin” (law: nomos), but no longer possesses the power to make us obey its desires. There is obviously a redeemed part of us that delights in the law (also nomos), and is at war with sin “that dwells in my members.” Paul calls the renovated or new part of us “the law of my mind.” This is the part of us, the mind, is sometimes referred to in Scriptures as “the heart.” It is the part of us that is to be “renewed.”

Ephesians 4:17 – Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

When supplementing our understanding here with Ephesians 4:17-24, we can deduct that “the flesh” affects all parts of our being, especially the mind. It takes intellect to “wage war” against not only the “law of our minds,” but the indwelling Holy Spirit. But let us remember that our new creaturehood also resides in the whole being and presents our “members” to God’s service:

Romans 6:19 – I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

In Romans 7:24, the word, “wretched” is a very interesting word. Paul wasn’t calling himself “wretched” as in wretched sinner. The word is talaiporos (tal-ah’ee-po-ros) which means “misery in enduring a trial.” Paul is saying that he is persevering in his fight against sin and longs to be delivered from his body of death. In other words, if we are partaking in the warfare, we long to be delivered from it. We long for His appearing—something to think about.

Let me also reemphasize that Paul said this transformation results in us being “obedient from the heart” (Romans 6:17). Let’s now revisit what the other pastor taught Bob. In this critical treatise by Paul regarding how sin is conceived in our lives, where is there any discussion at all about idols of the heart? From this chapter, can we conclude that our transformed hearts are “idol factories?” To begin with, is the sin in our heart, or in our flesh? A layman by the name of Brian Jonson once did an extensive biblical word study on the location of sin in the believer. He was not able to find one instance where the Bible states that the heart of a believer is sinful, or the heart being the location of sin in the believer. I have included a copy of his study with your notes. See layman Jonson’s study here.

To the contrary, one of God’s purposes of salvation is so that the righteous requirement of the law can be fulfilled “in us” (Romans 8:4). Furthermore, the paramount necessity that justification and sanctification be separate is demonstrated in Romans 8:7,8;

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

We please God in sanctification by obeying His law. Our minds were hostile to God before our conversion, unable to obey His law, and in danger of being judged by it. Our good works due to the works of the law written on every heart and being created in His image notwithstanding.

Now that we are saved, we have full pardon from sin because of Christ’s death, and are new creatures because of His resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Also, we have the full righteousness of God credited to our account apart from the law. Our sin in sanctification will not be judged by the law against our justification because our justification is apart from the law, the penalty required of the law has been paid in full before the foundation of the world, the offender is dead and no longer under the jurisdiction of the law, and the new creature is not the one sinning in the eyes of justification. Hence:

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

We may sin in sanctification, but who can bring charges against us? It’s God who justified. Who can pass a sentence against us? Christ paid the penalty. We lay aside fear of a future judgment, and pursue fruit leading to more and more life. This gives assurance of eternal life while putting to death the deeds of our old life that died with Christ. The new us is strengthened, the old us is diminished. And to God be the glory.


2 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on January 28, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.


  2. Abe said, on January 28, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Sin in the life of the believer is found in the flesh, not in the heart. The Calvinist view is powerless to come alive to Jesus, so, they have to come to the conclusion that nothing can ever change. But they know they aren’t “supposed” to stay there, so, they go into the “lordship salvation” error. And others deny that the believer has two natures, like MacArthur who denies that truth. But the truth remains that the believer has a new nature, and a sin nature, and chooses from among those two.


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