Mind vs. body?

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Romans 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

Paul continues his discussion of a basic conflict for all Christians. We want to do what’s right, but sin keeps us from doing so consistently. Paul then personifies evil has something apart from humanity that derails our best efforts to please God. As I mentioned yesterday, I can relate. It’s a synopsis of the human condition.

Paul then sets the mind and the body (“my members”) in conflict with one another. There’s an interesting duality to this that I’m not sure I agree with. For the most part the body only does what the mind tells it to do. Rarely does the body go rogue. In v.24 Paul writes,

“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

He then says in v.25

“…with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.”

I’m pretty sure both mind and body are slaves to the law of sin, despite what Paul writes. Therefore, this morning I’m praying for the Lord to heal my mind, from which the body surely follows. Lord send your Holy Spirit to heal me from the inside out. Amen.

Lost…

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Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

I don’t know of a more concise and accurate description of the human condition. I know what I ought to do, but don’t do it. To the contrary, I do the very thing I know to be wrong. As do you. Every one of us is in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. Without the grace of God, extended to us through faith in Jesus Christ, we would be lost forever. But we are not lost forever. We are claimed as children of God through Christ the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Slaves

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Romans 6:20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Paul is comparing slavery to sin (v.20) and slavery to God (v.22). One leads to death, the other to eternal life. What I’m appreciating most about this passage this morning is its use of present tense to describe both death and eternal life (v.23).

As a Western Christian I have tended to understand the consequences of sin and the gift of eternal life as something that will happen in the day of judgment – sometime in the future. But that’s not what Paul suggests here. He is saying that both death and eternal life are present realities resulting from slavery to sin and/or to God.

So as I’m thinking about myself this morning in light of this passage I can see a bit of both realities. I’m sorry to say that sin has not left me yet. I fall short of God’s will and ways every day. And if I’m to understand this passage correctly death is the result. Not necessarily complete mortal death, but a diminishment of what my life could be without sin.

But eternal life is also a present reality. By the grace of God I am free to live a life that is generous, loving, forgiving, patient, and so on. It’s an invitation to live in the reality of eternity rather than in this present finitude. To live in hope no matter what my present circumstances may be. In part, this is what it means to live as a child of an eternal God. So this morning I’m pondering how I can live out of this reality.

 

From Adam to Jesus…

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Romans 5:12 (The apostle Paul writes) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam) and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

Paul is making a comparison of Adam and Jesus in relationship to sin, death, the law, and the gift of grace. It’s complicated so I won’t say much about it, but the phrase that caught my attention this morning is in v.14 “(Adam) who is a type of the one who was to come (Jesus)”.

Adam was a “type” in that he was literally the first-born of all humanity. His sin, and subsequent judgment by God, resulted in judgment for everyone who came after him. All of us inherited Adam’s predisposition to sin, which leads to judgment, which leads to death. But Jesus broke that cycle.

Jesus was born without sin and, though he died to pay the price for all of our sins, he was raised from the dead on the third day. Death did not have the last word with Jesus as it had with Adam. Resurrection had the last word with Jesus – and with all who receive the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

With Jesus a new humanity has been born in which sin and death have been defeated.

This is not to say that sin no longer exists. It most certainly does. I see it in my own life every day. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. However, this morning I’m remembering the incredible gift of resurrection that God the Father brought to us through Jesus the Son. And I’m remembering that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that I continue to live in the reality of grace, of salvation, of new life in Jesus Christ.

Thank you Jesus! Amen!

Suffering, endurance, character, hope…

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

Here we have a community of people who are enduring hardships, persecution, and suffering because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is wanting offer a word of encouragement, so he gives the people a particular way to understand the trials they are facing.

Continuing his comparison of justification by faith rather than works he reminds the people in v.1-2 they have peace with God. This is an important starting point because some may interpret their hardship as punishment from God. Understandable – but no. In fact suffering was not a punishment at all, but something quite different. In v.3 he says, “we also boast in our sufferings”.

Why would someone boast in their sufferings? Well, Paul makes the case that ongoing suffering isn’t simple misfortune, but produces endurance (the capacity to resist giving up). Endurance then produces character (an ongoing dimension of one’s personal makeup) which produces hope. Hope is a powerful thing. It gives meaning to hardship. It points to something greater than oneself.

My mother’s father (my grandfather) was named Richard. When he graduated high school in San Antonio he was drafted into the army to fight in WW2. He was sent to the Pacific theatre and suffered incredible hardship as a prisoner of war in a Japanese war camp. He never spoke much about this, but I learned from other sources just how awful it was and what my grandfather must have gone through. Fortunately he survived the war, got married and had a family of which my mother was the oldest child.

Prisoners of war in the Pacific theatre had to endure beatings, torture, deprivation beyond imagination. Many prisoners died, but some lived. When asked how they did it many point to the fact that they never lost hope they would one day be freed from captivity. They understood it might take a while, and life would be hell in the meantime, but eventually the Allied forces would overcome the enemy. Most importantly, they believed their suffering was part of a larger effort to prevent Japan and Germany from doing to the USA what they had done to other nations: mass killing, subjugation of the people to slave labor, and worse. Their suffering had a greater purpose, which produced the fortitude necessary to survive – and perhaps even return home and thrive.

This is the kind of thing the apostle Paul was explaining to the persecuted Christians in Rome. There’s a sequence of things from suffering to endurance to character to hope. And then v.5 explains the fundamental source of these things. It is none other than God’s love given to us via the Holy Spirit, which is given to all believers then and now.

Maybe like me, you’re going through some stuff that seems like it will never end. Maybe you could use some God-given hope today. You are not alone. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Really God?

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Romans 4:18 Hoping against hope, (Abraham) believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Paul continues making the case that faith is what makes us right before God, not works of the law. Abraham is his prime example here. Abraham was the patriarch of the entire nation of Israel and was seen as righteous in the eyes of God, yet he did not have the law to follow during his lifetime. The verse that speaks to me in particular this morning is v.19:

19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

God promised to produce “numerous” (v.18) descendants from Abraham and Sarah despite their advanced age. How numerous? Enough to become multiple nations of people – as in millions of people after several generations. This to a man and woman who had exactly zero children to begin with. Wow. That would have been, shall we say, hard to believe. But believe Abraham did.

There have been a number of times when I’ve been asked by God to believe things that seemed impossible at the time. Sometimes I’ve been able to grab hold of the promise, other times not. What I’ve learned over the years is that if we miss one opportunity to live by faith God doesn’t give up on us. He circles back around and challenges us again. And again.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post I continue to pray about the places in my life and ministry in which God is asking me to believe in the impossible. I believe, Lord help my unbelief. Amen.

 

What God desires from you and me…

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Romans 4:1 (The apostle Paul writes) What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 

Paul continues to make his argument that justification with God comes not from our own works but from the grace of God by faith. He uses Abraham as an example. Abraham lived long before Moses or the law of Moses even existed. So clearly Abraham was not righteous before God because of observing the law. Rather we’re told:

v.3b “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

If you read about Abraham in the book of Genesis you’ll encounter a man of both great faith and great flaws. What made Abraham righteous in the eyes of God, and spiritual father to the people of Israel, was his belief in God’s incredible promises and his willingness to act on those promises in bold ways. That’s called faith.

I’m a bit of a risk-taker myself though nothing like Abraham. I am a man of some faith and great flaws. But this word from Paul gives me comfort because I’m much better at faith than following the law, that’s for sure. And today I’m wondering where God is again inviting me to have faith in what seems impossible.

Lord give me grace to believe in your promises, to trust you for big things. Amen.