January 21. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

We are deviating from Romans today for a special MLK Day post. I hope that you will spend at least a couple of your thoughts today on Martin Luther King.

Maybe today can be a day where we begin to judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Or maybe we can even take it one step further. We can judge people by the content of their spirit. Are they in Christ? Do they have the Spirit living within? Can we see them that way? Can we give grace and patience? Can we now no longer regard them according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16)? Can we call them the new creation?

King’s famous line from his I Have a Dream speech may not have been founded in a theology of union with Christ, but it does remind us of one of the most important implications of this theology. We are who God says we are. Our identity is in him. I am not reduced to the color of my skin, or my sexual desires, or the amount of my income, or any other “earthly” identifier. Sure, best case scenario, these can offer us a feeling of belonging. A place to find commonality. A place to feel safe. But they are no match for the security, identity, and community that is found in Christ Jesus. Worst case scenario, these identifiers can build walls between us. They can produce forms of entitlement. They can work against love of neighbor.

But King fought for the equality of African Americans not for the sake of identity politics, but for the sake of understanding. Understanding what humanity is. And when there is this understanding, love and justice follow.

Maybe King knew something that we all should know. Maybe he knew that the content of our character will only change as the result of our union with Christ. Or maybe he was just a liberal theologian who didn’t take into account the efficacious work of the indwelling Christ. Who knows. But at the end of the day he died for something that we should all believe in – the freedom of simply being human. That is what “to live is Christ” is all about. Christ offers us true humanity. Humanity free from fear and bias. Free from hate and retribution. Free from self-righteousness and condemnation.

King wanted us to understand true humanity. That there is value in everyone. That the imago dei is to be honored in every race and in both genders. He believed that this understanding would lead us to love and justice. And it will…In Christ.

So spend a couple thoughts today thinking about what MLK stood for. Read some of his quotes. Let his words encourage you as you are able to see them fulfilled in “to live is Christ.”

Can you hear grace in this speech? Can you connect it to your union with Christ?

January 19-20. Bird Box, Faith, and a Preview of Romans 8.

Recently I watched a new Netflix original movie called Bird Box (based on a novel by Josh Malerman). It’s gotten some buzz lately (I actually heard some of the employees at Nando’s talking about it the other day). It’s a distopian horror story with evil creatures that infect you when you look at them. Looking at them makes you suicidal or homicidal. Soon survival is reduced to not looking at the evil creatures and avoiding the homicidal maniacs that want to kill you. This means that anytime you are outside you must close your eyes or wear a blindfold. The movie tells the story of a woman named Malorie and two young children that are seeking a refuge where they will be safe and able to open their eyes again. Getting there is a harrowing journey over hundreds of miles – without sight.

It’s definitely not a Christian movie but in many ways it illustrates the Christian life. We live in the horrors of this world. Everything we can “see,” the temporal, is out to destroy us. To drive us toward law and thus toward death. So we must walk by faith and not by sight. We are travelling to a better place. A place of life and beauty and safety.

This is where Romans 8 is going to take us. Out from the wretched life that comes from trying to keep God’s law while avoiding sin’s law. As in the movie, everything we look at seeks to control our mindset and steal our life: performance, control, materialism, temporal beauty, sexuality, morality. Looking good for others. Comparing our life to others. Judging God based on what we see each day rather than based on what we can’t see. Maybe we should all live with blindfolds on (please don’t). Maybe then we would walk by faith and not by sight.

Or, we can learn to walk by the Spirit.

Back in 2 Corinthians Paul spent a lot of time contrasting the law and the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:6-11. [God] has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18. 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.

Paul describes a life in the Spirit that is far more glorious than a life under the law. Why? Because only life in the Spirit can transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Only life in the Spirit can bring freedom (3:17). Only life in the Spirit is righteousness not condemnation (3:9).

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that life in the Spirit is a life of faith not sight.

2 Corinthians 5:4b-7. …what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.

This is where Romans 8 is going to take us, into the life of faith. The life of the Spirit. How do we navigate this scary, sorrowful, and sin filled life? By faith.

Faith in what? Faith in our union with Christ. Our death with him and our resurrection with him. Our death to sin and law. Our resurrection to life in God and the new way of the Spirit. Faith in imputed righteousness. Faith in the hope of eternal life. Faith in our son-ship. Faith in our ultimate victory. Faith in God’s never ending, never changing love. Faith in “to live is Christ.”

Are you living by sight or by faith? What is your faith in? Is it your union with Christ, or something else?

January 18. Romans 7:25-8:2. The Plot Twist, Church Dropouts, and the Fourth Law.

Romans 7:25. So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7:7-25 leaves us feeling the full weight of the law. It’s a burden that we are all incapable of bearing, even as Christians. The only resolution is to cry out “Oh wretched man that I am, who will save me?”

This very last phrase of Romans 7 (above) reminds us that this battle is going to continue forever on this side of Heaven. Even after Paul confesses his inability (Oh wretched man that I am) and cries out to God (who will deliver me?) and gives thanks for Christ (but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord), even then, he almost anti-climatically reminds us of the struggle of the desires of his spiritual mind and his natural flesh. His victory cry lead to another dose of realism – “I’m still a mess.”

Do you remember the three laws? The law of God. The law of the mind. The law of sin.

Romans 7 describes the battle within the mind (the law of the mind). A battle to either try to obey the law of God or to just give in to the desires of the flesh (the law of sin).

A recent Lifeway Research survey of 23-30 year olds revealed that 2/3 of those who had regularly attended church dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18-22.

But why? Why do young adults drop out of church? The given answers were: Moving away to college. Judgmental or hypocritical church members. Lack of connection. Disagreement with the church’s stance on a political or social issue. Work responsibilities.

But maybe there is a deeper answer. 70% of those surveyed said they did not intend to drop out of church. So they may have desired (law of the mind) to obey the law of God. But something caused them to leave anyway (the law of sin). The battle was raging in their mind. Obey God’s law, or obey the law of sin and walk away.

But here’s the Romans 7 plot twist (you may want to sit down): Both of these are the wrong answer. Both trying to obey God’s law and running from God’s law toward the law of sin are a dead end. They both lead to the wretched man. They both lead to complete condemnation. And my guess is that this is what is behind the answers on that bar graph above.

Do you remember the Prodigal Son story? The Younger Brother lived from the law of sin. He didn’t care about his dad and so he left home and wasted his inheritance on “prodigal living.” The Older Brother stayed home and kept the law, the rules. He worked hard every day and never disobeyed his dad. And yet the story reveals that his heart was still very far from the Father’s. He was judgmental and vindictive toward his brother. He rejected the grace of his Father. He NEEDED to earn. Both were wretched men. Both needed deliverance.

Which are you? Younger Brother? Older Brother? Are you serving the law of God in your mind? Or are you serving the law of sin in your flesh? Either way you are condemned. And when we feel condemned we walk away in one way or another.

If only there was a third way? A fourth law?
Romans 8:1-2. 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.

Praise God there is. There is a fourth law, the law of the Spirit. A law which is a life. A law which is love.

What can prevent young adults from dropping out of church? Better music? Cool programs? Hipster pastors? Not likely. Love. Life. The Spirit. Understanding “to live is Christ.” He alone will keep you coming back when you want to quit. Not law. But rather the law of life.

Audrey’s is one of my favorite versions of this hymn. The third way is a new vision.

January 17. Romans 7:24-25. Who or What, Tidying Up, and Grace.

Romans 7:24-25. 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.

WHO will deliver me?

Not WHAT…WHO?

You see if he said “WHAT will deliver me from this body of death” he’d be right back where he started – trying, earning, and self-effort.

But instead, thank God, he asks WHO? Our trust has to be in the WHO. The person. Jesus Christ. Nothing else can rescue us from the despair of our own self-righteousness. Even good things like church attendance, bible reading, and prayer, if they do not turn us to our complete dependency upon Christ alone, will not bring relief from the law of sin and death. Victory comes from faith in Christ alone.

The important next step after Romans 7:24 is the question of 7:25. Paul refuses to stay trapped in the despair of 7:24. He asks the question, “WHO?” Who will deliver me?

What if we are spending way to much time asking the WHAT question instead of the WHO question? “What can I do differently today?” “What do I have to do to make God happy?” “What needs to change?” “What will happen if I don’t…?” “What do I need to add to my life?” Or if you’re into the Tidying Up craze, the question might be, “What can I live without?”

Marie Kondo’s religion (yes we can call it that) started with her bestselling book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class to the Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Today it is a hit show on Netflix. For Kondo, the “god of tidying up” is “always on our side as long as we are committed to getting it done.” She preaches a “gospel” (yes we can call it that) of doing with less, but this gospel is actually a veiled law. Of course there is nothing wrong with being tidy, and many of Kondo’s ideas are really helpful. But why? Why live with less? For sanity’s sake? To gain control over your life? Or as Kondo would put it, to have “your ideal life”? The problem is that our clutter isn’t often the source of our problems, it’s a reflection of a deeper problem.

We are in need of far more than just a tidying up of our lives. We are in need of someone to live life for us, and through us. We are in need of a Savior. We need a WHO not another WHAT.

Have you considered that you might be asking the wrong question everyday? Maybe it’s time to start asking the WHO question. “Who will deliver me?” “Who is at work?” “Who will transform my failures and sins?” “Who lives within me?” “Who is my Savior King?”

Think about how you were saved? Was it about WHAT you did, or WHO you met? WHO you trusted? Were you saved by your church attendance? Your baptism? Your giving? Your kind words and deeds? Of course not. You turned your eyes upon Jesus. You were saved by grace alone. So now what? What is my Christian life today? Or should I say “WHO is my Christian life today?”

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! It’s all him. It’s all his doing. Not mine. Not yours. His alone.

“To live is Christ” is total dependency on a Savior. It no mere tidying up of a little mess here and there. The mess is way to big for a tidy. It needs a complete deliverance from this body of death. And that is what Christ has done. Thanks be to God!

Thanks be to God, our wounded healer.

January 16: Romans 7, Cody Parkey, and Position and Condition.

For those of us that are in Christ we have found in him the greatest of positions and the living hope for a changed condition.

Position: who we are. Where we stand before God. Unchanging. We are IN CHRIST. He is our representative head. In him we are righteous, forgiven, justified, sanctified, glorified.

Condition: how we live. Changing, transforming, progressive sanctification. Christ is IN US. He, over time, changes our desires and therefore our behaviors. As we consider and act upon our position (faith) our condition changes.

Romans 7:1-6 shows us our new position in Christ. We are free from the law because of our death with Christ (Romans 6).
Romans 7:4-6. 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.

Romans 7:7-24 shows us our condition when we fail to trust in our position. When we fail to consider ourselves dead to sin and dead to the law, we will invariably try to live under that law. Some law. The law of God (7:22) or the law of self, or the law of mother-in-law, or the law of a political ideology, or the law of peer pressure, or the law of shame, or the law of “be better do better.”

But Romans 7 takes us beyond a position of simply being dead to the law. It also takes us into a position of the new way of the Spirit. In other words, we are positionally dead to the law, but we are also resurrected and joined to Christ.

God didn’t save us so we could keep the law. God, in Christ, kept the law so he could save us. He saved us so that the law would become a part of who we are. He saved us so that we would love the law so much that we no longer need to even think about keeping it. In Christ we live by faith, and that faith produces love, and that love IS the keeping of the law.

So why is this so important?

Because as Christians we must constantly consider our position if we are ever going to see our condition change. And, we must rely solely on Christ for both. Recently we all got to see a good example of someone living from his position in Christ, and we got to see how this impacts his condition during a hard time – Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey. If you’re not a football fan this interview he did on the Today show is still worth a watch. Parkey missed a pretty big kick recently and although he is saddened, he is not destroyed. “Football is what I do, it’s not who I am.” He gets it.

Image result for cody parkey interview Today show

For many of us, much of our life is spent first looking at our condition. “I’m still sinning.” “Why do I doubt so much?” “How can I ever please God?” “What resolutions and commitments do I need to make?”

But focusing on our condition only leaves us where Paul is at the end of Romans 7:7-24. “Oh wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”

Rather we must consider (appropriate by faith) our position in Christ. God’s love for us. Our salvation. Our forgiveness. Our righteousness. Our freedom. Our daily walk must start here if it is aver going to be by faith.

We are living in the new way of the Spirit. We are “to live is Christ.” Do you believe this? Will you start there today?

From her latest album, here’s another good one from Audrey Assad about the heart’s battle and the new condition that comes with deliverance. “Your law is freedom and mercy is Your rule. Though You dwell within me, I can’t contain You.”

January 15. Romans 7:24. Our Wretchedness, Chuck’s Inability, and Faith.

Romans 7:24. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

If you’ve been reading these blogs from Romans 7 and thinking “I don’t understand. I don’t remember ever having a Romans 7 type struggle. I don’t feel a battle going on in me. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” If you think and believe this, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Honestly, I’m way more worried about Christians who can’t recognize or feel the struggle then I am those who are beat down from the battle. Why? Because we only desire and receive grace from the place of the battle. Only the wretched man will cry out for deliverance. Only the dying man will cry out for life. Only the crucified man will experience resurrection.

Although Romans 7 is not supposed to be the normal Christian life, it is the necessary Christian experience if we are to move forward into Romans 8 – Spirit empowered living. If you are living in true Romans 8 victory, you only got there through Romans 7:24.

Romans 7:24 is so hard for us to come to grips with mostly because we are so bad at self-awareness and because we are so good at self-righteousness. If you think “Now that I’m saved I can keep God’s law…” Nope. You’ve missed the point of Romans 7 and especially the cry of Romans 7:24 – O wretched man that I am!

Grace = God does something for me.

Law = I do something for God.

Romans 7 leaves us with this reality – we can do nothing for God. All is grace. This is why we are dead to law. Once saved, many Christians try to live from law, trying to do things for God. Watchman Nee compares this mindset to a clumsy servant. If nothing is asked of him, he can sit still and his clumsiness is never revealed. But once demands are made (the law) he begins to trip and spill and break things. His clumsiness and weakness are revealed. Or, for all you Chuck fans out there, it’s like Chuck’s complete ineptitude when he’s trying to be a super spy. For Chuck to be of any value required him to experience an internal change – a new mindset. (If you’re not familiar with the show just watch the trailer here and you’ll get the idea)

What the law requires it never empowers. It gives no help in carrying it out. Instead it only reveals our weakness. Our wretchedness.

So is freedom from the law a freedom from requirements? Doesn’t God still require things from us? Of course he does. And Christ himself requires even more than the Mosaic Law ever did. But herein lies the importance of substitution. All that is required is fulfilled by Christ. He did it and he still does it. So where does that leave us? What is my part? Faith! Faith that Christ is fulfilling all of God’s demands in me. That’s good news!

You can stop trying to please God.

Wait, what?!?! Stop trying to please God! What heresy.

OK first, if you are disturbed by such a statement, you haven’t yet embraced Romans 7:24. You don’t understand your own wretchedness. Your own complete inability to do anything good, anything spiritual, anything pleasing to God of your own will.

Second, I didn’t say you can stop pleasing God. I said you can stop trying to please God. We can only stop trying to please God if we embrace the finished work of Christ by faith. Now that faith is what will please God (Hebrews 11:6). We trust that Jesus will please God through us. Through our good and bad. Through our successes and failures.

Again from Nee, “We all need to come to the point where we say, ‘Lord. I am unable to do anything for Thee, but I trust Thee to do everything in me’.”

Have you come to this point? Have you fully embraced your wretchedness? Your desperation? Your need? Your inability? Your attachment to the body of death? Or are you still trying to please God apart from faith in Christ? Apart from his righteousness alone? Are you crying for deliverance? Or are you still taking matters into your own hands, managing your own spiritual growth strategies? “To live is Christ” offers us an honest look at our wretchedness and hope in the one who will deliver us from the body of death.

 

January 14. Romans 7:21-23. Three Laws, Noah (the movie), and the Battle Within.

Romans 7:21-23. 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.

There’s a battle raging in you. Did you know that? Of course you did. If you’ve been a Christian for more than 10 minutes, then you know the Romans 7 struggle. Here, in verses 21-23, we get to the source of the struggle: the 3 laws.

Paul describes 3 laws battling it out in your life: the law of God, the law of sin, and the law of your mind.

The law of God – This is God’s good commands. Notice Paul says he delights in the law of God (btw- this is one reason why I believe Romans 7 is describing the life of Christian not the life of a non-Christian).

The law of sin – This is the indwelling sin that Paul has already described. It is the desire to disobey the law of God.

The law of the mind – This is Paul’s inner desire to love, serve, and obey God.

Notice how Paul describes his reality: the law of sin is battling with the law of Paul’s mind and the war is raging in Paul’s members, his bodily choices and actions. One of the better depictions of this is Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 movie version of Noah. Yes, it is far from the biblical story. But if you can get past that, it gives us a view into the internal struggle that these 3 laws cause. Noah loves God’s law, and yet he is plagued by the guilt of his own sinfulness. What results is not only a struggle with the natural flood and the depraved human race, but also his own internal struggle with his unworthiness. Aronofsky himself said the movie is about the question, “what makes a man savable?”

What does this internal battle mean for us? William Newell offers these 2 responses to Romans 7:21-23: awareness and defeat.

First, awareness. We must recognize our complete inability to keep the law of God. For many of us this is revealed in our complete rejection of God’s law, especially his law of love. We have become gossips, and back biters, and passive aggressive jerks who just aren’t even giving love a thought. We complain and whine. We escape and numb. We idolize and glamorize the world. Others of us are trapped in the sinfulness of believing that we can keep the law. And we are oh so close every day. Our righteousness is glaring. We have no outward sins that are visible to others. We are trying hard every day to live a good life. But this scenario may be even more dangerous than the first because it totally minimizes the holiness and perfection of the law of God. The person who thinks they are close to keeping the law of God does not understand the law of God.

Are you aware of the law of sin in your life? Are you aware of the law of the mind? Are you aware of the war in your members? Remember, that the war might be immorality or moralism?

Second, defeat. We must be ready to admit our defeat. There is no overcoming the condemning power of the law of God. There is no overcoming the destroying power of the law of sin. And there is not overcoming the battle of the mind apart from your union with the work of Christ on the cross. There must be a declaration of full and complete defeat before we can move on. If you are trying to fight with the law…you’ve lost.

Romans 7:24. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Are you ready to come to grips with the war raging inside of you? Are you ready to admit defeat today? If not, you will never appropriate the victory of Christ.

This week we will be featuring some of the best songs from Audrey Assad. This one describes the battle for truth within.