AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH September 3, 2006
THE WAY OF VICTORY – Romans 7-8
COMING INTO LIFE : THE DARKNESS, BEFORE THE DAWN DECLARES LIGHT
I The Defeat that is the Antithesis of Romans 8:13
Amongst the principles which Paul describes is that of Romans 8:13.
"If you live according to the flesh, you will die;
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
The 'body of death' as used by Paul in Romans 7:24, refers to the 'flesh' (7:18) or that potentially independent and sometimes grossly misled agency which is our own, some even being capable of becoming aspirants for autonomy, and as to that, even consciously so! The area is the same, in effect, as that indicated by the term 'carnal' in Romans 8:7-8. Empty of God, it is full of itself and its chosen clients! or even burdened with unwelcome guests. It meets the law.
Romans 7:5-6 makes it clear that the term 'letter' in this arena refers to, and is metonymic for 'law', just as in II Corinthians 3:6. “Serve in newness of spirit,” it says, “not oldness of letter.” “The letter kills,” says Paul.
That does not mean that the word of God is deadly or that it is indifferent to perform it or not (cf. to the contrary John 14:21-23, where in fact such zeal is parallel to love for Him). It means on the contrary, that the law kills, that the commandment, as Paul puts it in Romans 7:10, which was to bring life, brought death; for in arousing through sin in the heart of a man, the desire for what it prohibits, instead of releasing, its distortion through sin inhibits! Keep off the grass! Ah, says the child, a walk on the grass, what a delightful idea ...
If you live in this 'flesh' or autonomy sort of enterprise, this cut-off condition, this dynamic of selfishness in the extreme sense of being for and of your self and its surrogates, its choices for its sufficiency, be these evil spirits, devil or simply intellectual, physical or moral pride: then you die. It is in fact a smell of death that arises, as flesh arouses itself to its diverse passions, pre-occupations or presentiments. It is a species of life, which from the point of view of design and actual potential where it belongs, is indistinguishable from death.
Thus in Romans 7:7-8, Paul describes it dynamically:
"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not!
"On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the
For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said,
'You shall not covet.'
"But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me
all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once
without the law,
but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died."
If, then, says Paul in Romans 8:13, you live "according to the flesh," then you will die! What else ? for in that case, your heart has to be with your head to enable the process of the life of the dead, the mortal equivalent of death while you live, that species of evacuation of what life is about which allows the shell, form, format or coat to continue when the inward reality is gone.
II The Way to Victory that is the Thrust of Romans 8:13
The alternative then ? It is this. "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." "The body" here of course, as with 'flesh' is not only the physical, but the 'body of death' of Romans 7, so that the man cries out for deliverance as his will is diverted and aborted, by his deeds of whatever kind (Romans 7:15-21). It is the same in II Corinthians 7:1, where uncleanness is as well of spirit as of body! What is unclean is not merely what is diseased, as in leprosy, or delinquent, as in sexual shame, but idolatrous or spuriously ambitious: it involves sins of the spirit in its own domain, and that found not merely in faulty applications.
You put to death what is independent of God in its view, perspective or action. How ? It is "by the Spirit". How is this done ? By faith, it may be accomplished. In what way does this faith work in such an instance ? By promises made by God, it works. What promises ? It is by promises such as that in II Peter 1, where we are assured that we are given in Christ all things necessary for godly living; and indeed this very thing is specified in terms of great and precious 'promises'. Similarly in John 8, Christ declares that sinning makes one the servant of sin, but that if the Son should make you free, you will be free indeed. It is the same principle.
If then it is promised, and it is promised to faith, for without faith one cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6), whereas by faith mountains may be moved (Mark 11), and all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23): then it can be done.
How can it be done in practical terms ? How does faith 'work' ? It works as does the leg when it is required by the mind to act. How is that ? There is a facility for the mind to envisage, the spirit to call, the nerve to transmit, the muscle to respond and the array of suitable muscles in view, tendons and various forms of flesh, to co-operate so that the thing happens. It is designed, its paths are designated, it is dynamised, it is motivatable by mind, and activated by flesh. One does not have to be the Creator in order to USE what He has made. One does not have to build a car in order to drive one ...
What then does faith DO ? It acts. When it finds the flesh creeping, cavilling or even with effrontery making a frontal sortie on the life, it notes the fact, calls on the equipment, and having need of power as well as motivation, EXPECTS a response adequate, just as one does when one 'asks' one's leg to move, say up some tortuous hill, even if it is tired.
It is no great thing to have one's leg actually move; it is so made that when so called on, this is its norm. It is a great thing when one by faith calls on the Lord to act, since He is not part of one; but it is for all that, reliable and according to design. In this case, the design is that of the covenant, the covenant in His blood (Matthew 26), by which sin being pardoned, life is granted, the very life as created by God in the first place. Now moreover, it is indwelt, that is, it has a resident overseer who is willing to act. In this way, one term for the Holy Spirit is the paraklete, the one called alongside, like a parachute in the case of falling, like a trainer, like a coach, like a doctor, like a friend.
Christ in you is the hope of glory, we read in Colossians 1:27; and in John 15, Christ shows Himself as a vine in which each Christian as a branch, inheres. In this case, one would postulate that the Holy Spirit would be represented by the sap.
III Clinching Victory by not Playing Dead!
But what if the flesh is weak ? or to translate, what if one's will is clear, but one's determination wavers; or what if one is determined and resolute to the nth degree, but some invidious lack-lustre moment allows evil to raise its flag ? In that case, one must pray for strength and fidelity. If the limb called on to climb that last crest has a distinct or even painful preference for rest, one may accede to its unwritten but clear desire; or one may not!
Tired, or troubled, or diseased, one may be; but this is not the same as deceased!
Thus Hebrews gives us, in Ch. 12, this exhortation:
"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble
and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated,
but rather be healed."
Further, it is no mere act of one's will, though in sanctification, the movement in holiness, the walk on the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35), which is NOT a four-lane one, involves will. It is God, says Paul in Philippians 2, who acts in us both to will and to do; but there is nothing merely automatic. It is personal. Thus Christ Himself endured the pangs of Gethsemane, and as Hebrews 5:7 reveals -
the days of His flesh when He had offered up prayers and supplications,
with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death,
and was heard because of His godly fear" -
learned what obedience means!
It is one of the vulnerabilities and beauties of being in the format of man, that with whatever wisdom one may be possessed, when it comes to EXPERIENCE, it can all seem quite novel. The field is not the mind! It is practical and now, and what happens is not just possible, but actual!
As in so much, some in Christian circles go to opposite extremes here, instead of simply obeying. Some try to reduce the reality of victory in the interests of a kind of 'orthodoxy' (the Pharisees had a kind, but tradition was a part of its theme, and the thoughts of man were being substituted for the word of God, as Christ directly declared - Mark 7:7ff.). In this mode, they indicate that sin is endemic and that it is the grace of humility that matters. There is a measure of truth in this; but it is far from being all the truth. Sin is indeed as supple and stylised as a fine-looking snake, longing to get out of the snake pit. However, there is a pit for it.
On the other side, there are those who display the idea that victory is if not automatic, then assured at all times and in all things. While this has much merit, it can lead to a certain measure of superficiality about the perversely penetrating powers of sin.
In fact, as so often, the truth as scripturally shown, is in neither extreme. There is NO ground for spiritual satiety or satisfaction in a species of humility which does not need to prefer ardent anguish in spirit as one prays, to falling into overt sin. Nor on the other hand, is there ground for vain imagination in deeming oneself anywhere near perfect, because a number of rather obvious rounds of sin have been met by the shield of faith, or even if one knows of none that have not been rebutted. SEARCH ME and try me, says the godly King David, and see if there be any sin in Me, and LEAD me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).
Nevertheless, when one walks past these extremes, and preferring the word of God, entertains greater expectations than in the first distortion which we noted, and less potential vanity than in the second, and simply fights one's spiritual wars, and gains the victories specified, and yet learns in defeats when they occur, both the need of humility and the joy of overcoming: then there is a special result. It is then that there is a fulfilment in character and substance of what Paul is declaring in Romans 8: putting to death BY THE SPIRIT, "the deeds of the body."
One must continually remember that this phrase "deeds of the body" is such as to include, for example 'covetousness' as in Romans 7 explicitly, and that it involves as part of the envisaged body, a sort of image of potential human sinfulness, the spirit and the mind no less!
And then ? So acting, imperfect and yet empowered, "you will live", as Paul puts it. Indeed, this is the way of the children of God, for "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
Indeed, Paul expatiates further in terms of bondage and LIBERTY, in verse 14.
"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God ...,"
and living this life, one is also an heir, as a child of God!