Thursday, May 19, 2011

It is a tug of war

There is indeed a tug of war, but it is NOT as Paul McCartney put it (in his 1982 album of the same name); it is NOT a tug of war to try to outdo or outscore one another.

It is a tug of war alright, but is NOT about Paul before salvation
No, Romans 7:14-24 was NOT a painting of a life of the Apostle Paul before salvation. It was an illustration by Paul, using his own experience of life as a believer, of what it was like to live a Christian life. It was his attempt to stress that we MUST WILL to follow the ways of God despite having entered into salvation. It was NOT and it is NOT “Abra-cadabra, and you now (upon born-again) automatically follow all the ways of God”. Nor is it “voila or presto and your will is perfectly aligned to that of God - no more struggle!”

Romans 7:14-25, 8:1-15
Romans 7:14-25 - 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 8:1-15 - 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

The above passage is indeed a long passage; but really, to do meaningful study of the Word, often it is necessary to look at big chunk of scriptures at a go, for Bible authors, such as Paul, wrote with great flow, often with singular theme running over many verses and chapters.

3 grounds it was NOT a flashback
A number of people have argued that Romans 7:14-24 was a flashback by the Apostle Paul of the time he was NOT a believer yet; and so, such people are arguing that Paul was talking about the struggles in him before he became a believer. In isolation, perhaps, one could say that, but if one reads the verses following, which was a continuation of the same theme, in Romans 8:12, we find the answer that Paul was NOT doing a flashback.

In fact, the present tense used for Romans 7:14-25 already painted to us a picture that Paul was NOT doing a flashback, for NORMALLY, if it were a narration of the past, past tense would have been used by the author.

Let’s us look at what Romans 8:12 said.

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it (Rom 8:12).

Remember now, this epistle of Paul was written to the believers in Rome, and in Romans 8:12, we read that Paul used the word, “brothers”, meaning he was referring to the Roman believers. Paul said, “we”, meaning, the Romans believers and himself (Paul), in other words, believers generally, have an OBLIGATION {or be a debtor to, KJV}. Now, if Romans 7:14-25 was a flashback, about Paul’s life and struggles before becoming a believer, then accordingly, Romans 8:1-11 must be referring to the change upon and after salvation or born-again. Indeed, Romans 8:1-11 was talking about what happens upon salvation or born-again, and post born-again. But was Romans 7:24 the question Paul posed before his salvation, and Romans 8:1-11, the answer to that question, we have to determine.

In brief, there are 3 grounds for NOT believing that Paul was doing a flashback:
1. Present tense used
2. How Paul was before conversion, and how he was being converted
3. If sinful nature is NOT relevant or dead, why talk about obligation to it

The first is clear-cut, and has been explained above; we will look at the remaining two grounds.

Have you forgotten how Paul was and how he was being converted?
Now, how was Paul converted? People who argued Romans 7:14-24 was a flashback erred on NOT taking into account how Paul, previously known as Saul, was converted and the kind of life he was having before conversion. Paul did NOT hear the Gospel, felt somewhat convicted, but continued to do the evil of persecuting the believers, and then one day, on hearing a good preaching, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Saul’s conversion was NOT the run-of-the-mill conversion.

Below was how Paul had narrated his past, before believing and how he became converted:

Acts 22:3-10 - 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ 8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

Even when Paul was testifying before King Agrippa, he gave a similar account; here is a part of it (Acts 26:15-18):
15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
This was what Paul told King Agrippa concerning what he, Paul, had been doing most zealously before his supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus:
9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. (Acts 26:9-11).

I submit to you, Paul, before conversion, did NOT struggle the struggles painted in Romans 7:14-24. He was deceived and in deception, he thought he did right, and he, before he became a believer was bent on persecuting believers, and was so obsessed with it that the Lord said Saul was persecuting Him, the Lord Himself! The sentiment expressed by Romans 7:24 – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” could NOT have been that of Paul’s before his conversion. His conversion was one of those “you have no choice”, so to speak; God had chosen him, he “could not” refuse. Rather, the sentiment expressed in Romans 7:24 was that of a man, truly had had experienced God, and understood his own utter wretchedness despite having been born-again. Romans 7:14-24 could NOT be a flashback of Paul’s condition before conversion, rather it was a speaking of the struggles that he, Paul, still had to put up with, to pursue the course that the Lord had designated him to take, as he himself had testified, before King Agrippa (Acts 26:15-18), above.

[Added 27/07/2011: The Apostle Paul also exhorted, in Gal 5:13, 16-17, BELIEVERS to live by the Spirit, and NOT to gratify the desires of the sinful nature: 13 YOU, MY BROTHERS {cap, mine}, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13) 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal 5:16-17 – notice the similar fashion of expression of the struggle – the tug of war!)]

Some misconceptions
It is a misinterpretation and a lie, on the part of many overly grace preachers and believers, that the Apostle Paul taught perfection (righteousness and all) upon born-again or salvation. All over, in many epistles of Paul, he wrote about the need to grow and mature. This passage of Romans 7:14-25 was one such admission of even himself still needing to put up with battling against that which Satan had stacked against Man. The above text of Acts 26:15-18 recorded for us what Jesus had taken hold of Paul, and in Phil 3:12, we read Paul expressed his imperfection and the right posture of a believer –

Not that I {Paul} have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Phil 3:12).

Some argued that it is preposterous to say, the God-appointed Apostle Paul was still so unspiritual, and he did what he had NOT wanted to do, and did what he hated to do (Romans 7:14-15) even after he was born-again. What these people did NOT realize was that those words were a lamentation of a contrite heart of a mature believer. A mark of true growth in a Christian life is increased sensitivity to sinfulness; NOT only the person leaves sin, he abhors it, just as God would. Here is NOT the place to elaborate on “You are a new creation upon born-again”, but central to this new creation fact, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and as a believer continues to be increasingly yielded to the Holy Spirit, his sensitivity and abhorrence of sin increases, and his awareness of his own utter carnality or wretchedness increases.

How could Paul, while saying he was unspiritual, said the law is spiritual (Romans 7:14)? In fact, 2 verses earlier, in Romans 7:12, Paul said, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good”. This is again another mark of maturity, and a more mature believer knows that he can get to understand God a little more through His many precepts, and appreciates what the psalmist said in Ps 119:104, that “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” Again, it is misinterpretation, and by many, to say Paul taught that laws (commandments, precepts) are NOT important or irrelevant to the Christian’s life.

We come back to Romans 8:12 – about obligation
In Romans 8:12, Paul said that we, believers, have an OBLIGATION {or be a debtor to, KJV}, but it is NOT to the sinful nature, and it is NOT to live according to it. If sinful nature was NO longer an issue, why would Paul have talked about the possibility of believers (including himself) having an obligation to it? If sinful nature is non-issue or completely done away with, upon born-again, why talk of obligation to it. Very obviously, Paul was NOT talking about, before salvation sinful nature was an issue, and after salvation it was a non-issue or dead. Paul did NOT say, “Abra-cadabra, you are born-again, sinful nature no more; or voila or presto, now you automatically sin no more.” Worst still, some believers actually believe they cannot sin (impossible to sin; erroneous interpretations of 1 John 3:9 & 1 John 5:18a – those interested, can read my separate article – “Please, 1 John 3:9 does not mean a believer cannot (unable to) sin!”).

It is precisely because there is still the sinful nature still operating and the Holy Spirit operating, that we, believers, have to choose. If sinful nature is no longer operating in a believer, then there is no need to choose. Paul was painting a matter of choice; don’t believe, see what the subsequent verse, Romans 8:13 said:

13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

Now, some people still insist on saying Paul was painting the picture generically, meaning if a person, if he decides NOT to be born-again, then he is making the decision of living according to the sinful nature, he will die, but if he decides to be born-again, he will live. If we look at the verse in isolation, yes, that is a possible interpretation, but we have just looked at the verse before it (v12) and we read loud and clear, who Paul was talking and referring to, “Therefore, BROTHERS, WE have an obligation ….”. Yes, believers, including Paul himself. In fact, the “For” at the start of verse 13, is the same as the conjunctive, “since”, meaning verses 12 & 13 are to be read together. In other words, verses 12 & 13 could read like this:

Therefore, BROTHERS, WE have an obligation, but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it SINCE if you live according it, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,(Romans 8:12-13 joined and rephrased, substituting “since” for “for”)

If you still insist to think that Paul was addressing the believers, but NOT that they, the believers, were posed the choice, but rather non-believers had to decide, then let me tell you it was unlikely that Paul or for that matter, any man writing to instruct another, to instruct on non-existing scenario. It is as good as we, telling our sons this: “Son, tonight, when you sleep in the park (camping), and when a dinosaur comes into the camp, you are to pretend to continue to sleep and not move, so that the dinosaur will think that you are dead and will not eat you up.” The boys will say you are crazy, for there are no more dinosaurs! If sinful nature is dead, do you think Paul would say, “BROTHERS, WE have an obligation … not to the sinful nature”?

People are just kidding themselves if they think upon born-again, sinful nature is dead, and Satan is dead. The overall counsel of the Word did NOT paint such pictures as sinful nature is dead or Satan is dead or if you are a believer, it is now alright for you to give in to the sinful nature in you (exercise NOT self-control), because you are now a born-again.

What really is that tug of war?
For a believer, 2 “parties” are operating in him; one, Iniquity or Sin or sinful nature (this is NOT the mere act of wrongdoing, but it is in the like of iniquity {“evil”} of Eze 28:15, KJV) which we all inherited from the Original Sin (from the Fall), and two, the Holy Spirit {I tell you a revelation: even the Apostle Paul interpreted the relevant verses of Eze 28 as depicting the fall of Lucifer (aka Satan) – read 1 Tim 3:6 if you do NOT believe!}. Before conversion, a man is a slave to Iniquity or sinful nature; the man has almost no means of resisting, for Satan who replicated Iniquity into Man, has authority over all unregenerate men (or men NOT born-again). At conversion, God put His Holy Spirit into the person, and the born-again man has the Holy Spirit indwelling him. At the Fall, Satan replicated Iniquity or sinful nature into Man, at born again or salvation, God put a deposit of His own Spirit (also called the Holy Spirit or Spirit of Christ) into Man. Jesus, the Son of God, has defeated Satan (but Satan is NOT dead), and wrestled back, that authority over Man which was lost in the Fall of Man, in the Garden of Eden.

Because, in the first place, God created Man with free-will, even when Jesus had wrestled back that authority, God only held it until a man gives his life over to Jesus. God gave that authority back to the man entering into born-again. It amounts to God saying to the man, “Now, so-and-so, Satan no longer has authority over you. That authority over your life is now vested back into your hand. You, once again, have free-will, to decide if you will obey me, God, and live, or if you still want to choose to re-give that authority to Satan, all over again, in which case, you will die.”

Now, that Satan, has no real authority over a believer does NOT mean that he has no more powers; there is a difference between authority and power. Against a believer, unless he has re-given the authority to Satan, Satan has NO authority over the believer, even though he, Satan, has powers. What it means is that as a believer, we can refuse Satan, and he cannot exercise authority over us. But he, Satan, has powers (NOT yet removed from him) to tempt a believer, to deceive a believer, even powers to perform signs and wonders and miracles. To level out the playing field, in fact, more than level out the field, so to speak, God put His Spirit to indwell you upon your born-again, even as Satan had Iniquity (or sinful nature) indwelled you.

There is a war on, a war between God and Satan (lopsided, nevertheless, a war), and there is a tug of war within us, and that is between the dictates of the Holy Spirit and that of Iniquity or sinful nature. But because God did NOT take away a believer’s free-will, we have to choose which side of the tug of war we are on, to follow the dictates of the Spirit of God against the misdeeds of sinful nature or to still choose to allow ourselves to be enslaved by the sinful desires of the sinful nature, even though we are freed at born-again. Isn’t that what Romans 8:12-13 is painting to us?:

Therefore, BROTHERS, WE have an obligation, but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it SINCE if you live according it, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,(Romans 8:12-13 joined and rephrased, substituting “since” for “for”)

Why an obligation? Because Jesus died to set you and I, believers, free from the slavery of sinful nature. Indeed, we, believers, have an obligation to the Spirit of God, and to live by it (Him); and it is only by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the flesh (sinful nature resides in the flesh), and live.

Verse 14 (of Romans 8), i.e. the next verse, went on to say that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Why did Paul said that, when the Holy Spirit already adopted our spirits as sons of God? The answer is this (another revelation!): God adopts us, that is His part; when we allow ourselves be led by His Spirit, that is when we are acknowledging God as our Father. Isn’t it also so, for the human father and son? A man begot a son, the son did no part, but we know, that son, acknowledges the man as his father when he allows himself be led by that man.

Indeed, there is that tug of war within every believer, a pull from the Father of perdition through Iniquity or Sin or sinful nature, and a pull from the Father of Heaven through the Holy Spirit. At the base of it all, love is a choice (that’s another revelation for some). Your choice is your love. Do you choose your Creator? Do you choose the One who first loved you by giving of His Son to die on your behalf? Do you choose the One who adopted us first, as sons of Heaven? Often not easy, even Paul experienced that, yet which side are you on? Do you pull to the tune of the Holy Spirit, or to that of Iniquity?

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Fear not Iniquity or sinful nature or Satan, for you and I have received NOT a spirit of timidity but a Spirit of sonship. He, who is in us, the Holy Spirit, is greater than he who is outside us (in the world), Satan {from 1 John 4:4}. The Holy Spirit is in us, but Satan is NOT, if you permit him NOT. Only Iniquity or sinful nature is in us, but we have God in us. Amen.

PS: We can put to death the misdeeds of sinful nature. Sinful nature dies only when we die, for then the body is no more, until replaced by an incorruptible body.

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