He goes on to make this most remarkable statement, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”  This verse is one of the strongest reasons why I cannot consent with those who say that this passage is not describing the Christian experience.  A man struggling under conviction of sin, and not knowing how to deal with his sin, knows nothing of this.  He sees in himself nothing but corruption, and is in despair as to how he can deal with his sin, until such time as the Spirit of God leads him to the foot of the cross.  It is only the Christian, who is conscious of the reality of a new life within him, who can forthrightly say, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

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Sin in the flesh is no longer the real person; it is an enemy that resides within him, because that sinful nature is not yet extinct within us.  Yet the real person, the governing and ruling passion of his heart, is for righteousness.  He minds the things that are after the Spirit, and hates the sin which comes from the flesh.  That impostor and villain in the flesh is going to die when the body dies, but the real man, which is created after God in righteousness and true holiness, will last forever.  An unbeliever certainly knows nothing of this, because sin is still the ruling principle of his life, and therefore when he commits sin, it is in a full and complete sense himself that is doing it.  A man under conviction of sin cannot say this, because he has not yet come into peace with God, a knowledge of sins forgiven, and the conscious awareness that he is a new creature in Christ.  As far as I am able to understand the scriptures, verse 17 can only be accurately applied to the Christian person who is struggling to follow on after Christ, and yet still beset and troubled by the weakness and sin of the flesh.

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In keeping with his defense of the goodness and spirituality of the law, Paul goes on to say that this very internal struggle is proof that the law is good. He says that if he commits sins which he would not, then that very contradiction and battle within him is a personal concurrence that the law is good. The flesh is still struggling to have its way, but the fact that he is fighting against it, and detests the evil that is always seeking to break out, is proof that he knows the law of God is righteous. This helps to establish what I have sought to prove many times over, that there is nothing but goodness in the law of God, while there is nothing but evil in our flesh.

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Grace Alone (Part 2)

This is my second sermon on “Sola Gratia,” Grace Alone, one of the foundational doctrines of the Reformation, whose 500th anniversary we celebrate this year.  This message begins at Romans 11:6, showing biblically that in the realm of salvation, there can be no mixture between grace and works.  I proceed to show how not even our faith by which we lay hold of Christ is our own independent work, but is the product of God’s sovereign mercy in our lives.  The message concludes by showing how Grace is the controlling factor in all of the five “Solas” which we preach and celebrate.

He begins by saying, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do.”  He finds that, although his intentions are good, and his prayers for strength to serve God are pure, there is still a power in the sinful flesh that drives him to do things he knows are wrong.

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No believer desires to sin, but there is still a magnetic power in the flesh that pulls us away from that which we desire to do.  Oftentimes also, it prevents us from doing those things which we ought to do.  Sin fills us with cowardice so that we do not confess our Lord as boldly as we ought, it makes us lazy, so that we are not fervent in spirit in our service to the Lord.  Yea, even things we hate, we sometimes find ourselves doing.  Even gross and outlandish sins sometimes become a powerful temptation, and from time to time one of God’s saints is, like David, overcome by one of them.  And yet, it bears saying that the very fact he hates those sins is evidence that there is life within him, for an unrenewed heart never hates sin itself, though it is likely to detest the consequences of sin, when they catch up with him.  But Paul speaks here of no such carnal opposition to sin, but a genuine heart principle, which all too often we fail to act out in our lives as well as we ought.

 

Sola Gratia

Two weeks ago, our church held a meeting commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, over 5 nights, each devoted to one of the “Solas.”  It was my privilege to preach on Sola Gratia, “Grace Alone,” on Thursday evening, for two messages.  This is the first of the two, in which I attempt to show why Grace Alone is such a contrast to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, from which the Reformers separated, and also seek to show in doctrines such as election, adoption, and the person of Christ, why salvation is and must inevitably be entirely and altogether of grace.

For the true Christian the one supreme test for the present soundness and ultimate worth of everything religious must be the place our Lord occupies in it.  Is He Lord or symbol?  Is He in charge of the project or merely one of the crew?  Does He decide things or merely help to carry out the plans of others?  All religious activities may be proved by the answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ Lord in this act?

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There are a great many bogus Christs among us these days.  John Owen, the old Puritan, warned us in his day: “You have an imaginary Christ, and if you are satisfied with an imaginary Christ you must be satisfied with imaginary salvation.”

Paul begins now to prove this from his own experience as a believer.  I realize that this is itself a controversial statement, for good men have often disagreed as to the precise meaning of the apostle in this latter section of Romans 7.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered several messages arguing that the anguish of being unable to do what he desired, and doing those things which he would not, could not be said of a thoroughly converted and mature Christian as Paul.  Rather, he argued that this great contrast and internal warfare described in this last section of the chapter speak of a man under conviction of sin, who is striving with all his might to bring his life into conformity to God’s law, but finding that he has no such strength latent within himself.  This was due, I think, to that brother’s exalted view of the regenerate condition of the man who has been born again.  He admitted that this is true in a degree even of a Christian, but he did not think it could be the habitual experience of the sanctified man.  Of course the perfectionists go much farther, and say that this cannot possibly describe a real Christian, and must therefore be an unbeliever who is trying to justify himself by keeping the law.  In my judgment, even the most mature Christian who walks most closely with the Lord finds this to be his experience day by day, for the power of sin within us is still very real, and the flesh continues to seek to drag us down hour by hour.  The key, I think, is that at the end of the chapter, after crying out in anguish of his wretched condition, Paul knew precisely where to turn for comfort: “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.”  Our inability to live even up to the knowledge we have of our duties is no barrier to the saving grace of Christ.  The ever present and abiding reality is that we in our renewed minds serve the law of God, but the flesh is still with us, and it is pulling in the opposite direction, seeking to serve the law of sin.  This is true of every believer, the young as well as the old, for God has not ordained that we should attain unto perfection in this life, but that we should remain dependent entirely upon His grace even unto our deathbeds.

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Another persuasive argument in my judgment is the changing of the tense of the verbs.  When he was speaking of his lost condition, and how he came under conviction of sin, Paul spoke in the past tense: “Sin deceived me,” “by the law it slew me,” instead of, “Sin is deceiving me” or “sin is slaying me.”  But when he comes to verse 15, there is an abrupt change in the tense of the verbs, which indicates to me that he is now transitioning to describe the struggle that is present within the renewed man between the renewed mind and the sinful flesh.  He says, “That which I do I allow not,” rather than, “That which I did I did not allow.”  He says, “The good that I would I do not,” rather than, “The good that I desired to do I was unable to do.”  It is virtually impossible for me to think that such a careful writer as Paul would have spoken so ambiguously, or carelessly used present tense verbs, if he had not intended to describe his present condition.  He does so, I believe, for the purpose of magnifying the grace of Christ, and showing how much we continue to stand in need of it even after we have passed from death unto life.