I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 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.
–Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)
If you’ll recall from my previous Reflections on Romans 7, I said that Paul didn’t write his epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so at the end of chapter 7, he was still probably in the middle of a thought. Let’s continue with that thought.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Paul, like the rest of us, is a man caught between his inclinations of the flesh and the righteousness of God. He doesn’t do what he wants to do which is the right thing, but finds himself doing what he doesn’t want to do, which is disobeying God. What can save him but only the blood sacrifice of Messiah, the Righteous Tzaddik whose death atoned for the sins of many; who inaugurates the New Covenant which is a time when the righteous Word of God will be written on hearts and all sins will be forgiven.
So Paul I think is justified (no pun intended) when he says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” not that we should continue sinning due to “hyper-grace” (see my forthcoming review of Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s book Jude: Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy for more on this topic), but that in striving and often failing to meet God’s expectation, in contrite repentance, we are forgiven.
Paul continues to compare and contrast the “law of the Spirit of life” and the “law of sin and death”, but this time he says that the former has set us free from the latter, not that our human natures are changed yet, but they will be, and we can choose to live as if our hearts are changed now and as if the “law of the Spirit of life” is fully and permanently written on our hearts.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh…
On one of Pete Rambo’s blog posts, I commented that the Torah is a delight but that even though God fully expected the Israelites to always observe the mitzvot, it was also a burden because of human frailty and weakness. My sometimes “sparring partner” Zion criticized my opinion, but frankly, I believe there would be no need for a New Covenant if human beings could naturally obey God and never sin.
Here, in the above quoted verse from Romans 8, we see what I think is a clear reference to this process, God doing what people can’t do…making it possible (or creating a process in which it is slowly becoming possible) for people, specifically Israelites and their descendants, the modern-day Jewish people, to fully observe the mitzvot and obey the commandments through the New Covenant promises and that covenant’s mediator, the Messiah, the Christ.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…
The Torah could outline all of God’s requirements for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but in and of itself, Torah cannot enable broken, imperfect human beings to attain God’s righteous perfection. That’s why a New Covenant is necessary, not to replace the requirements of the Torah so that the Israelites would have a much easier or watered down set of standards, but to “fix” people, so that their/our hearts and spirits would become (are becoming) so different that they would be enabled to naturally obey the statues of God, “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
So for human beings who are walking in the flesh and attempting to observe the Torah, that observance is going to be imperfect. However, those walking in the (New Covenant) Spirit will be able to perfectly obey God and not sin, at least after the resurrection when the New Covenant is fully enacted and people really do have new hearts and spirits.
…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
People have a choice to make now where before, apparently, they (we) didn’t, or at least that choice was much more difficult. In Messiah through the Spirit, they (we) can choose to walk by that Spirit in obedience (to those Laws that apply to us depending on whether we are Jewish or Gentile disciples of the Master), or we can continue to set our minds on the flesh and continue to be hostile toward God in our natures, even as another part of us seeks to obey Him. We must, according to Paul, subject ourselves to the law of God, though those people who are still in the flesh, that is, their human natures, are unable to do so.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…
–1 John 2:1
Paul goes on to assure his readers that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, that is, if the Spirit dwells in them at all. If it does, it is an indication that the New Covenant age has begun which allows Jews and Gentiles to receive the Spirit (Acts 2; Acts 10) impartially and with equal access. Spiritual man can override natural man, not that we don’t still have our human natures, but we can choose to overcome those natures by the Spirit’s power.
But we have to choose…it’s not automatic, and the battle goes on daily.
He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Paul is continuing to present the New Covenant promises with this clear reference to the resurrection. So just as God raised Jesus (Yeshua) from the dead, so too will He raise us through the Holy Spirit.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Those who receive the Spirit, which must be both Jews and Gentiles, are adopted as sons of God and entitled to cry out to Him “Abba! Father!” If we live the life of the Master, if we are obedient and are willing to suffer for his sake and not pursue the flesh for our own, then we prove that we are indeed sons and daughters of the Almighty through the Spirit and “fellow heirs” of God’s blessings of the resurrection and a life in the Kingdom with Messiah. If we suffer, we will also be glorified.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
And yet, we aren’t the only ones suffering. Remember in Romans 5, Paul compared and contrasted Adam and Yeshua, the first man who brought sin into the world, and Messiah the redeemer who takes it away. But the fall of humanity through Adam didn’t just affect the nature and character of all subsequent human beings, but somehow, it altered the nature of all Creation. Creation itself “groans” in its present, imperfect state. The world is broken and is constantly in need of repair.
If Creation is “anxiously longing” and “waiting eagerly for the revealing of the Sons of God” and we believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, are the sons and daughters of God, what must we do to “reveal” ourselves and how does this help Creation?
This is only my opinion of course, but I think that we are expected to observe the principle of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world. I heard a Jewish person once refer to Messiah as “the great fixer” because that’s what he’s supposed to do: fix everything broken about the world.
According to some opinions, “making the world a better place…brings us closer to the Messianic Age.” According to Rabbi Yochanan, quoting Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, the Jewish people will be redeemed when every Jew observes Shabbat (the Sabbath) twice in all its details (Kaplan, Aryeh. Chapter 2, “Sabbath Rest”, Sabbath: Day of Eternity, 1974). Shabbat 118b suggests that performing acts of tikkun olam will hasten the coming of Messiah and the emergence of the Messianic Age.
So, at least in my way of seeing things, the “Sons of God” reveal themselves to a waiting Creation by acts of repairing the damage to Creation.
But all that isn’t going to be easy:
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
If we’re supposed to help repair the world by pushing against human nature and sin, human nature and sin are going to push back. We, along with the world around us, will continue to suffer, even as we fight to establish the Kingdom, until Messiah’s return when he comes to finish the work that he started (and that we’ve been continuing) and brings the completion of the New Covenant with him by perfecting the world and by perfecting us through the resurrection.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
We have the first fruits of the Spirit, the down-payment, so to speak, of what is yet to come (Ephesians 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Like Creation, we must suffer, but we must also patiently wait. For as Creation waits for us, we wait longingly for the return of the King.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
This is one of those passages that some Christians say “proves” that Calvinism is correct and that God only chooses certain people to be saved. I’ve written more on this topic than I care to think about sometimes, including a four-part series called Taking the Fork in the Road (with apologies to Yogi Berra), but rest assured that God’s Sovereignty is not threatened in the least by allowing us free will to choose Him or to reject Him. That He has foreknowledge doesn’t affect what we choose to do down here “on the ground,” so to speak.
After all, it’s not the first time God set the choice between blessings and curses, between life and death in front of people:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.
The rest of the chapter is an encouragement from Paul to his readers that given everything he’s just said, we have a great promise and a tremendous assurance that in choosing our Master and obedience, we cannot be ultimately condemned. If God was willing to turn His own Son over to suffering and death so as to elevate him to His right hand, He will also not fail us in our suffering but will graciously give us all things and fulfill His covenant promises.
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Human anguish and suffering in a broken and bleeding world juxtaposed against our conquest of that world through God and His love from which we cannot be separated by any imaginable entity or force. This is what we are longing for as adopted children who are being continually brought into His Presence through the blessings of the New Covenant promises as we enter the world that is here and still yet to come.