The Word for today:
We think of the Apostle Paul as the spiritual giant of the New Testament. He was the great defender of the faith. He was the greatest missionary who ever lived. (I also happen to think he had the highest IQ in history.)
And he was the desperate man whose voice we hear in Romans 7:
I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? (Romans 7:15-24)
God chose Paul to express, in writing, the theology of the gospel. But perhaps more importantly, God chose Paul to express, through the life he led, the transformative power of the gospel he wrote about. Thus Paul was, like Jesus, the fleshing out of the words he’d written.
Paul was chosen as Exhibit A because if the gospel could transform Paul, it can transform anybody. Let’s work this out logically, as Paul would:
(Major premise) Paul is the chief of sinners. The Bible says so:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Tim 1 :15)
(Minor premise) Paul is the most influential Christian of all time. The Bible shows so.
(Conclusion) Therefore Paul is a vivid example of how completely God can change us for the better.
There are two chapter divisions in scripture which must be understood in light of one another. The first is from chapter 2 to chapter 3 of Genesis. The second is from chapter 7 to chapter 8 of Romans.
In chapter 2 of Genesis, all is innocence and harmonic perfection. But we enter chapter 3 and all hell breaks loose.
In chapter 7 of Romans, Paul is helpless against the onslaught of sin. But as we enter chapter 8, all heaven breaks loose.
What happened? In Genesis 3, sin happened. Man decided to live independently, to place his faith in himself, and hellish consequences followed.
In Romans 8, the Holy Spirit happened upon the scene. Paul decided to live dependently, placing his faith in God, and it was as if someone pressed the power button!
Most of my born-again life has been lived in Romans 7. I’ve known short seasons (they seemed like vacations!) in Romans 8, but then I slide back into 7.
And I’m not alone. Truth be told, the vacillation between Romans 7 and 8 is the story of every Christian life that I’m aware of.
So let me tell you what my struggles have taught me…
It was by faith in the cross of Jesus Christ that I was forgiven:
I have been crucified with Christ…
Most of us have that part of salvation (sorry to say it this way) nailed. But the next part is what sometimes eludes us:
It is by faith in the resurrection of Jesus that I am empowered to live:
…now it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God. (1)
The cross emptied us of sin; now the Spirit fills us with resurrection power. Both are components of the total salvation we received when we first believed in Jesus. We get stuck in Romans 7 when our faith stops at forgiveness, as if Jesus were still at the cross.
The full effect of our salvation is not realized until we live from faith to faith–from faith in God’s forgiveness at the cross to faith in God’s empowerment by His Spirit:
The gospel…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)
You can think of this in terms of your car’s battery. If we’re connected to the negative terminal (the subtraction of sin at the cross) but forget to connect to the positive terminal (the resurrection power of Jesus, through his Spirit), then our faith hasn’t come full circuit.
But when we’re connected from faith to faith, we know the sensation (as Paul did) of being carried into Romans 8 — into another realm — by a power that is not our own.
(1) Galatians 2:20