Who Is This Divided Man? Part 6
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
You Cannot Love the Bible and Despise the Mind
You cannot love the Bible and despise the mind. It's true that if you love the Bible, you won't have any rosy notions that the unaided reasoning power of man will save anyone or go very far to solve the deepest problems of our lives. But you will not be able to turn away from the mind and say: Emotion or Spirit or Action is the key to living for Christ.
I say this because, as I come to the end of the first seven chapters of Romans, I am gripped again by the amazing demands that this divinely-inspired book puts on the minds of its readers. God, who inspired this book, must intend that his people, who are called to meditate on the Word of God day and night, engage our minds and give ourselves to the mental labor that it takes to follow the flow of thought in this book. Don't let your mind become weak and lazy. If you do, you cut yourself off from great blessing.
Another reason I say that you can't love the Bible and despise the mind is because of what Paul says here in Romans 7:25, "On the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." The instrument with which Paul serves God is his mind. "With my mind I am serving the law of God." So don't despise the mind. And don't belittle the mind. And don't neglect the mind. And don't raise your children without strong mental exercise and training. Devote your mind to God. Help your children use the mind for God's glory. He means it to be an instrument of service. "With my mind I am serving the law of God." May that be said of every one of us.
So let's think more closely about this closing verse of Romans 7.
I've given you nine reasons for believing that the divided man described in Romans 7:14-25 is a Christian – a converted man who is truly saved, justified, born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but who also lives with remaining corruption and indwelling sin and the power of the flesh. Now I close this exposition of Romans 7 with one last argument, namely, verse 25. Here's the way the argument works.
10. The Sober Summary of Verse 25b
Those who believe that these verses are the description of pre-Christian experience generally see in verse 24 and the first part of verse 25 a turning point that leads to the triumphant living of Romans 8. Romans 7:24 poses the question: "Who will set me free from the body of this death?" And then it answers in verse 25a, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" This is usually taken to mean that, after all the failure of Romans 7:14-24 Paul now arrives at a point of triumph and transition. He is moving from the defeated experience of Romans 7 to the triumphant experience of Romans 8.
But for this interpretation, Romans 7:25b is an embarrassment and a stumbling block. Verse 25b does not fit this understanding. Just when this view expects a triumphant statement about how the divided man is finally united in victory, and beyond conflict, and entirely under the sway of the Spirit, what do you get in verse 25b? You get just what you would expect to get if Romans 7 is really about the normal Christian experience of conflict and struggle. You get a summary statement of the struggling and divided life. Verse 25b says, "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin."
That's Paul's summary of his experience after the glorious shout of triumph in verse 24-25a: "Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" "Who will set me free?" He asks. Not: "Who has set me free?" Then after the shout of thanks that Christ is the one who will set him free he says: until that final and decisive deliverance I will be a divided and embattled man. Verse 25b: "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin."
So argument #10 is that Paul's shout of victory in verse 25a, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord," is not a signal that he has moved to a new, triumphant kind of life above the battles and losses of Romans 7. Instead this shout of hope is followed by a sober, realistic summary of everything we have seen, namely that Paul, the Christian, is both a new man and an old man. He is both indwelt by the Spirit and harassed by the flesh. He is freed from the dominion of sin and indwelt by remaining corruption. This will be his lot until he dies or until Christ comes. That is the Biblical realism of Romans 7.
But let's think more closely about this last part of verse 25: "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." What kind of life is Paul describing here? He is not describing a life that only has failureor only has success. His point here is not how successful he is, or how often he is triumphant or defeated. He is only saying that these two realities exist in him and they explain why he and other Christians are not perfect. The culprit is not the law of God. The culprit is the flesh. Or what he calls in verses 17 and 20, "indwelling sin." Or what he calls in verse 21, the "evil that is present with me."
The Mind Is not Intrinsically Good and the Body Is not Intrinsically Bad
And there's another clarification we should make about this verse. We must not get the notion that "the mind" is intrinsically good and the body is intrinsically bad. No, the term "flesh" in this verse does not mean simply "the body" and the term "mind" does not mean simply the natural thinking organ. The "mind" that serves the law of God is Paul's renewed mind, not the "depraved mind" that Romans 1:28 refers to. Remember Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is." In other words, the mind has to be "renewed" in order to prove what the will of God is. So when Paul says in Romans 7:25 that he is serving the law of God with his mind, he means that God is renewing his mind and giving him a measure of victory over the flesh to discern and approve the will of God.
And the "flesh" is not merely the body. In Galatians 5:20 the "works of the flesh" include "strife, jealousy, anger," not just "immorality, impurity, sensuality." The flesh is the part of Paul's fallen, sinful human nature untransformed by the Holy Spirit. It might come to expression through the body. And it might come to expression through the mind. Colossians 2:18 even refers to "the mind of the flesh." So we must be careful here not to elevate the mind to a position of perfection while lowering the body to a position of impurity. That is not the point. Flesh is not the opposite of "mind," but the opposite of the renewed mind. And flesh can also be the opposite of the body when the body is being presented to God as an instrument of righteousness.
So what Paul is saying in this last verse is that his life of obedience comes from his mind being renewed by the Holy Spirit so that he can prove what is the will of God, and when he fails in thought or feeling or word or act it is the flesh – the old fallen nature – harassing him and getting the upper hand.
Now, let's step back and ask again how we should live in view of this Biblical Realism we have seen in Romans 7. Let's draw in the other things Paul has said about our nature as Christians.
Already: Decisively and Irrevocably Free; Not Yet: Finally and Perfectly Free
Two things should be deeply rooted in your mind as a Christian:
One is that when you believed in Christ, you were united to him and experienced a decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin. Paul says it again and again in Romans 6. Verse 6: "Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." Verse 14: "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Verses 17-18: "Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." Also in Romans 8:2, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." When you trusted Christ as your treasure there was a decisive and irrevocable event of deliverance.
The other thing that should be deeply rooted in your mind is that, even though a decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin has happened, a final and perfect deliverance from the effects of indwelling sin has not yet happened. That is what we have spent five messages unfolding in Romans 7:14-25. "Indwelling sin," "flesh" "evil" are present with us still and threaten to take us captive at any moment.
So the question is: How are we to live in view of this double truth about ourselves? The answer comes from watching the amazing way that Paul speaks to us about our deliverance and our newness in Christ. What he does again and again is to say: This new man is who you decisively and irrevocably are in Christ. This free man is your deepest and truest identity. Now act on it. Look to Christ, trust his help, and by his Spirit become what you are.
If your besetting sin is anger, affirm that in Christ you have died to that identity and in Christ you have his patience and kindness. Look to him and trust in him and rejoice in him. And fight against anger as one who has the victory in him.
If your besetting sin is heterosexual or homosexual lust, affirm that the truth that in Christ you have died to this fallen and distorted identity. I recall many conversations with Joe Hallett who came out of the homosexual life and lived among us with AIDS for 10 years and died a few years ago. He never tired of saying: Do not say "I am a homosexual." Say rather, "I struggle with homosexual desires." That was not a superficial mind over matter trick. It was a profound Biblical insight into Romans 6 and 7: In Christ our old selves have died – whatever their distortion and corruption – and we are decisively and irrevocably new. In Christ Jesus homosexual, fornicator, adulterer, covetous, thief, alcoholic, are not who we truly are. Affirm that by faith in Christ. Trust him as your all-satisfying treasure and look to him for the help to become (as much as possible in this life) who you truly are in Christ.
Become What You Are
Let's close by looking at how Paul says this, so that you can see it is really there in the Word of God. The way he does it is with a strong statement of fact that Christians are new, accompanied by an equally strong command that we become new. Here are some of the examples in the New Testament.
1. Statement of newness: Romans 6:14, "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Command to become new: Romans 6:12, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body."
2. Statement of newness: Romans 6:18, "Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." Command to become new: Romans 6:19, "Present your members as slaves to righteousness."
3. Statement of newness: Romans 6:6, "Our old self was crucified with Him." Command to become new: Romans 6:11, "Consider yourselves to be dead to sin."
4. Statement of newness: Colossians 3:9, "You laid aside the old self with its evilpractices." Command to become new: Ephesians 4:22 "Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit."
5. Statement of newness: Colossians 3:10, "You have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." Command to become new: "Ephesians 4:24, "Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
6. Statement of newness: Galatians 3:27, "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Command to become new: Romans 13:14, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ."
7. Statement of newness: Galatians 5:24, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Command to become new: "Romans 13:14b, "Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."
8. Command to become new: 1 Corinthians 5:7a, "Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump [of dough]." Statement of newness: 1 Corinthians 5:7b, ". . . just as you are in fact unleavened."
When Paul says in Romans 7:25b, "I myself with my mind am serving the law of God," he means, By the transforming power of the Spirit I set my mind on the treasure of Jesus Christ and all that God is for me in him (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3, 9); and all that I am in him (2 Corinthians 5:17) and all I will become through him (Philippians 1:11). And I believe him and trust in his help and power. And I act on that faith. And if I stumble, I do not yield to the temptation to deny Christ or my true life in him. I repent and I revel in his forgiveness and I fight on.
Let's join him. Do not be conformed to this world but by the renewing of our minds let us serve the law of God!
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