January 12-13. Romans 7:20. The Real You, Eighth Grade, and Imputed Righteousness.

Romans 7:20. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

“To live is Christ” means that you have had an identity transformation. This is why Paul can say that when he sins it is no longer I who do it.

Sin is in us, and it is powerful and even controlling at times. But it is not your identity. You are dead to sin (go back to chapter 6).

The problem is we can spend a lot of time wondering “who is the real me?” In a world where we are constantly told to “be yourself,” the Christian is left wondering “which self?” “The old self or the new self?”

I recently watched the critically acclaimed movie Eighth Grade. The movie peers into the life of an eighth grade girl as she tries to understand who she is in this social media driven age. It is truly one of the saddest movies I’ve seen. Nothing really tragic happens in the movie. Just life. As I was watching it I kept thinking “this isn’t just eighth graders, this is all of us. It’s humanity.” It’s a story of what life looks like when we don’t know who we are because we don’t know who God says we are.

This is why what Paul is showing us is so important. When you sin it’s not the real you. It’s not who God says you are.

Romans 7 proves the doctrine of imputation. Imputation occurs when God declares us to be something that we are not. We are imputed righteousness (Romans 3-5). But we are so far from righteous (Romans 7). And yet this imputed righteousness has created a new self. How? Because God’s word creates something out of nothing.

Now the real you loves obedience. And holiness. And righteousness. And the real you loves love. There is a real you. And the real you loves God.

Romans 7:22. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being

Do you see it? Paul has distinguished between the indwelling sin and his true self. He knows who his true self is even when he doesn’t “be himself.”

So when it feels like you have many selves, and you have no idea which one is the real you, remember that God has declared who the real you is. And the real you delights in God and his law. The real you has imputed righteousness.

But remember, and this is very important, this doesn’t mean that you can now keep the law. You still can’t. And won’t. Until you die and go to Heaven you will love the law while disobeying it. You will do what you hate and hate what you do.
Romans 7:15-17. 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.

But now we are in a position to let the law do its work – drive us to the cross. Now we can learn to rely on the indwelling life of Christ and the fulfilled law in us. And who knows, we might even have a weekend where, by grace and faith, we actually do what we love. Delight in God and love others.

One last offering from Andrew Peterson. Listen and be encouraged today.

January 11: Romans 7:15, The Quarter Life Crisis, and A Better Motivation.

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.

We all started out as Christians so well didn’t we? Bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to just soak in God’s love forever. We were motivated by deep gratitude for God’s grace and deep love for Jesus. We were going to change the world. We were on fire. We had big plans. And then….

I read an enlightening article yesterday from The Guardian written by Juliana Piskorz – Me and My Quarter Life Crisis (warning there is some strong language). It really gives good insight into the hearts and minds of the Millennial generation and Generation Z. She describes the depression that comes from not being able to live up to your own self expectations, much less the expectations of the generations that went before. She describes the “laws” of adulthood (career, home, family) and how these are now standards nearly impossible to achieve. She talks about her grandmother’s unwavering faith in God, and how her generation has placed their faith in their jobs and this has left them disillusioned because there’s always a better job out there. In the end Piskorz says her generation has adopted an attitude of just not caring anymore (her language is much stronger). I felt like I was reading a secular modern translation of Romans 7. “I know where I should be and what I should be doing, but I can’t do it. So I quit.”

Maybe you feel this way about your life. Maybe you feel this way about your Christian life. Maybe it’s crashing like in Romans 7:15 above. You know what you want to do, but you don’t do it. Instead you do what you hate.

For us as Christians this may be because over time the gratitude motivation and even the love (and here I mean love as a feeling) motivation can’t actually sustain us. For Paul the real motivation for the Christian life is faith. Resolutions and vows flow from gratitude, and sometimes guilt, but this is the flesh. Faith in our new identity is what sustains us. Faith in our position in Christ is what motivates us. This is what “to live is Christ” is all about. Finding the life motive and allowing it to replace the gratitude and the love motive. The life motive is rooted in fact; the gratitude motive is rooted in feeling alone. Gratitude and resolutions and consecrations and re-dedications are not the cross. Our faith must be in the work of the cross alone. Our death to sin and the law. The flesh only responds to the cross, not your new commitments or self effort.

There is a better motivation. It is faith. It is faith in the life of Christ that indwells you.

January 10. Romans 7:14-20. Indwelling Sin, Jekyll and Hyde, and Comfort in the Battle.

Romans 7:14-20. 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.

“It’s not me doing it, it’s sin.”

Twice in this passage this is Paul’s argument for his sinful behavior (v 17 and 20). And thus he gives us insight into one of the most important realities of the Christian life – Indwelling Sin.

There is a force present in you that seeks to destroy you. It is not you. It is separate from you. It is not even your nature. You have a new nature. It is Sin dwelling in you, stirring up the flesh – and no good thing dwells in my flesh (18).

This is the anxiety producing stress of Romans 7. This is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde life of the Christian who is still living under law. In the story Jekyll has to accept that he cannot control Mr. Hyde. No serum works. Only imprisonment. Even the Bugs Bunny version is scary.

Romans 7 is way beyond us obsessing over our list of specific committed sins. We have a much bigger problem. Like Hyde, this is a force at work in our lives. This is why dealing with Sin is so much more than just a cycle of confession and new commitments each day. Sin only dies by the cross. Period.

But there is comfort in Romans 7 too. The most comforting thing about it is that it truly explains what’s going on in our souls. Yes, there is a battle. Yes, it is real. Yes, it is serious. Yes, it makes you feel like crap. Yes, you can love Jesus and still mess up. Yes, you can love God’s law and still break it. Yes, there are two forces at work in your life. Yes, if you’re struggling today you’re in good company (me included and Paul). Yes, you are going to fail over and over because self-effort always results in failure.

But the greatest comfort comes in knowing that Romans 7 is not the normal Christian life. Romans 8 is.

“To live is Christ” rescues us from Romans 7 because there is a more powerful force at work in you and me than just indwelling sin. It is the indwelling life of Christ. It is the Spirit. No your death with Christ did not kill Sin. But it did kill the old you. And your resurrection with Christ quickened the life of Christ in you. And that’s good news for any of us who feel stuck in a Romans 7 life.

Do you feel stuck in a Romans 7 life? How does knowing that you died to sin and the law free you today from their condemning power? How can you use the gospel today to fight indwelling sin?

The reckoning is a moment where the veil is lifted and you’re able to see who you are in the face of God – and then the great feeling of relief when you realize that because of Christ you don’t have to be afraid. – Andrew Peterson

January 9. Romans 7:7-25. Christ-less Christianity, Wipe Out, and Cyclical Cleansing.

Romans 7:7-25. 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. 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.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.

Paul is describing a deadly struggle in Romans 7:7-25. If you haven’t read it above, please take a minute and read it…. It’s pretty rough isn’t it?

Notice that there is no mention of Jesus or the Spirit until verse 25. Romans 7 is Paul v Himself. Yes, there are hints of the indwelling life of Christ (which we will see in future posts), but what he is describing is a self-empowered battle with Sin. A Christ-less Christianity. Not the new way of the Spirit.

Romans 7 is the nightmare of every Christian. It’s our own daily Wipe Out. Do you remember that show? People run around giant obstacle courses that are literally impossible to navigate, falling into water or foam, while being mocked by the announcers. Does that pretty much describe your attempts at the Christian life? Mine too.

But there is hope. Paul is not describing a life that we are stuck in until we die. Romans 7:7-25 isn’t meant to be how we live. Instead, we can live by faith in Christ’s death and our co-crucifixion with him. As we will see in Romans 8, it is possible to live by the power of the Spirit rather than the power of the law. But let’s be honest, Romans 7:7-25 is often our default setting. Resisting what we hate while doing what we hate. Desiring good while not doing good.

So Romans 7 is all of us. All of us that are human that is. In fact Jesus is the only human to never experience Romans 7. He is the one that always wanted to forgive but also did forgive. He is the only one who hated oppression and never oppressed. He had the desire to do what is right and the ability to carry it out.

So Romans 7 isn’t describing what the indwelling life of Christ looks like. It’s describing what the Christian life looks like when we trust in anything other than our death with Christ. This includes the cyclical cleansing that most Christians live by. Using confession and new consecrations as a “bar of soap” to stay righteous before God, rather than trusting in our death to sin found in our union with Christ, and his imputed once for all righteousness.

How do you deal with the power of sin in your life? Does it look and sound like Romans 7:7-23? Do you see your sin as cleansed under the imputed righteousness of Christ, or do you “bar of soap” it with repeated confession and consecrations? That’s not “to live is Christ.” It’s not the new way of the Spirit. And it’s not faith.

January 8. Romans 7:6. The Law of Linearity, The Good Place, and the New Way of the Spirit.

Romans 7:6. 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.

We used to live under the old way. The way of the flesh. The way of selfish earning and self righteous doing. Now we live under the new way of the Spirit. The way of faith in God’s grace found in the indwelling life of Christ in us.

The old way of the flesh is typically found in the law of linearity. This law says that we can find a better life by following better practices. If we do A we will get B. It makes progress and success the primary goal of life. Do more to achieve more.

Sadly, many Christians apply this same law of linearity to their Christian life. Life is reduced down to following Christian practices in order to achieve God’s “blessing.” Follow God’s principles for marriage and have a happy marriage. Follow God’s plans for your finances, tithe 10%, and God will bless your business. Raise your children to love Jesus and they will never walk away from the faith. Use accountability partners to overcome your porn addiction. You get the idea. But these are all just another form of law. The very thing we are released from. This way of living is not the way of the Spirit. It is not faith in the life of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ. The law of linearity is a theology of glory, rather than a theology of the cross.

The problem is that living from linearity (do A to get B) is just another way to control your own life. It is not rooted in a desire to know Christ and boasting in the cross. When our A doesn’t produce the B we desire what happens? How will we respond? Self-loathing? Or what happens when A does produce B? Self-congratulations? Sure we give God praise at the church prayer meeting. But when is the last time you heard a Christian testify about how their life was crashing but they were rejoicing in being able to experience the sanctifying power of the cross in their life?

The old way of linearity desires a fruitful life without the intimacy. It makes our present reality our ultimate reality, rather than causing us to long deeply for our ultimate reality in God’s presence one day. It fails to show us that what we most desperately need every day is God, not his stuff.

One of the reasons why I love The Good Place so much is that it explores these same topics. (Spoilers) The whole show is premised on the after-life being achieved with a points system, a linearity. Do enough of A and earn the B which is the Good Place. The brilliance of the show is that it keeps consistently challenging this theory rather than upholding it. The show introduces us at one point to Doug Forcett, the man who has figured out how to earn enough points to go to heaven. But, to everyone’s surprise, he’s actually quite miserable. His life is not a real life. And it’s a million miles away from love.

Sadly, Youtube has no other Doug Forcett clips from the Good Place. But trust me by the end of the episode you see that the man with the most “good points” on earth is actually a miserable, self centered, pathetic and even hurtful person.

Only God’s grace, not earning points, can produce goodness in us. Only the new way of the Spirit can produce real change in your life. Real love, real joy, real holiness. Real Christ-likeness. The new way of the Spirit makes knowing God intimately the highest good and the highest goal in life. And we can only fully know God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Only the cross can sanctify us. Only the cross can kill the deeds of the flesh. Not the law. Not linearity. Not a points system. The law can reveal my holy God and my unholy self, but only the cross can remove the flesh and only the resurrection can quicken the life of Christ in me (and it already has). This is the gospel. This is the new way. This is “to live is Christ.”

Have you merged the gospel of grace with a system of linearity? How does our union with Christ free us from having to live within a life that we totally control?

Another good one from Andrew Peterson. “You don’t have to work so hard, rest easy.”

January 7. Romans 7:6. Release from the Law, China’s Social Scoring System, and the New Way of the Spirit.

Romans 7:6. 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.

In Christ we have been given a brand new operating system. The old flesh operating system (F.O.S.), powered by the law, is now obsolete for us. We have been released from the law. Now, in it’s place, God has given us the Spirit Operating System (S.O.S.). We serve in the new way of the Spirit.

If you’re not sure what a F.O.S. looks like we have an example happening in China right now with their social scoring system.

“Every personal experience is a transaction.” China’s social scoring system uses a points system and public shaming to motivate good behavior. Did you hear what the gentleman in the video said when his score went back up? “I’m finally a normal person again.” Isn’t this what we’re all chasing every day? Some level of normalcy? And so each of us is living with our own internal social scoring system, our F.O.S.

But China’s system is a flesh (selfish) based system. It is rooted in the idea that we can earn our status. And who knows, maybe in China you can. But not with God. And not as a true human. We are in need of a whole new internal operating system. This is why God has given us the S.O.S. That is, the life of Christ. A system that no longer keeps score.

When we are freed from the demands and the condemnation of the law, from our indebtedness to it, we are free to live by Gods own life itself. The Spirit. The Spirit of Christ. The indwelling life of Christ.

We might expect all this talk about being dead to the law and being released from the law to lead to a life of living free from God himself. “Live as you see fit.” “Make all your own rules.” Isn’t God taking a big risk by freeing us from the law? What if we all just go nuts and run around doing whatever we want?

Well doing whatever we want is sort of the goal. You see the S.O.S. actually changes what we want to do. Now we WANT to serve God. We WANT to be instruments of righteousness. We WANT to be God’s slave. God doesn’t fear our freedom from the law, because he hasn’t freed us from his life. His life and his love now control us. Not the law. The life. Jesus.

This new way of the Spirit is what the rest of this letter to the Romans, starting in chapter 8, will be about. The new way of the Spirit IS “to live is Christ.” We are free from sin and free from law. Therefore, we are free from our F.O.S. Now we will live from our S.O.S. We will live to know God though Christ. This will be our highest goal. To know him and love him and serve him. Every situation we face in life will force us to answer this question: “Do I want to know Christ and the fellowship of his suffering becoming like him in his death?”

Might the new way of the Spirit allow us to forgive ourselves and our enemies?

January 5. Romans 7:5. The Commodification of Inadequacy, Nailed It, and Enjoying Life.

Romans 7:5. 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.

For the person who is not united to Christ and his life, but rather is controlled only by the flesh (the self seeking mechanism of our soul), the law does the dastardly work of stirring up the sinful passions and desires unto death.

Yikes.

For those of us who are IN Christ and no longer IN the flesh there is good news. There is hope. There is life. But before we go bounding joyously into Romans 7:6 and then the glory of Romans 8, let’s pause for a moment (as Paul will do in the rest of chapter 7) and remember that even as Christians we still have the flesh in us, and, although we are not IN the flesh, we can live “according to” the flesh.

Yikes again.

And so Romans 7:5 has a warning for us, but also some of that hope that we need.

The warning.

Law stirs up sinful passions. Anyone who’s been a teacher, or a parent, or a boss, or a human knows that just law with no hope of grace and love breeds nothing but resentment. In fact, we know that law can actually create rebellion.

Think about the rising cult of performancism. Remember before Pinterest when you could bake just because it was fun and tasty. But then came all those baking shows, and social media displays of our kitchen skills and now everyone has to out bake and out birthday party each other. But is anyone doing anything for the sheer joy of it anymore?

The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull calls it the commodification of inadequacy. Our culture wants us to feel inadequate so that we buy more and watch more and join more and spend more. She argues that retailers aim to make us feel “less than” just so that we will buy their products. Of course we already know this. But can we see how it connects to Paul’s statement about the law’s stirring up of our sinful passions?

Think with me about a show like “Nailed It.”

There’s a standard and then there’s what we actually produce. Law at it’s finest. Superiority and inferiority reign. And that’s just for us viewers.

The Hope.

But there’s also a hope that’s found when we let the law do its job in our hearts. If the law can only condemn then we are left desperate for a way to avoid this condemnation. And this is where our union with Christ comes in. Now through our death with Christ the law can no longer condemn us, and instead it can actually draw our hearts to our hope in Christ. Beyond this, the law minus its condemnation can now actually be something that reveals the nature of God to us and becomes something we can take comfort in. Even find delight in.

So baking doesn’t have to be a competition or a chance to prove our worth. And watching other people fail at baking doesn’t have to be what makes us feel better about ourselves. Christ can do all of this. Now baking is left to just be baking. A fun way to enjoy each other and God’s good gifts. Now baking is hopeful. Not stressful. Now your kid’s party can just be a party, and not a performance. Now that’s “to live is Christ.”

Fill in whatever it is that stresses you out where the word “baking” is above. How can freedom from the law’s condemnation allow you to just enjoy life as a gift from God this weekend?

And here’s your Josh White play list for the weekend: