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Who Will Rescue Me from Death

Romans 7

Jim Davis

Bill Perkins writes, "It is high noon on the plains of northern Illinois. A zebra, the wild horse of Africa, is napping in the dust on an old corral under the warm autumn sun. Randy Steffen, the zebra's owner, has worked with more than a dozen zebras over the past 20 years before finding one that could be trained. These animals are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to tame.

"This zebra, named Partner, can perform a remarkable repertoire of tricks, but even though Partner is trained, he is still easily frightened. `Flight is life [to zebras]. Their main defense is to get away,' says Steffen. In other words, you can take the zebra out of Africa, but you can't take Africa out of the zebra.

"In a sense the same is true of people. While you can take people out of sinful situations, you can't take the sin out of people." [Today In The Word, Jun 1995. Page 7. Via InfoSearch Database]

The conflicting natures within each of us are as real as life. One can be reborn as a child of God, but we cannot completely rid ourselves of our old nature that loves to sin. I think Paul explains it best. "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:21-24 NIV)

Every Christian has a "split personality." He or she is a living battleground on which good and evil vie for the mastery. The believer still has the old tendencies to sin, but he also has new desires to please God. This inner conflict can be very disturbing, but it need not be defeating. Victory in the Christian life is possible, not by our own human struggling but by yielding our lives to God and letting the Holy Spirit take over the battle for us (Rom. 8:13).

It is not by willpower; for the trouble with will power is that we do not take into account an opposing factor that is even stronger. It is like the predicament of the old farmer who was seen struggling with a balky mule. Finally someone asked, "Why Sam, where's your willpower?" He replied, "My willpower's all right but you ought to come out here and see this animal's won't power!"

Our fleshly nature, being totally depraved, wants only to do evil. When it comes to doing good, it has nothing but won't power. As soon as we have the spiritual discernment to acknowledge this, we must flee to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to empower and direct our lives.

The Evil Nature Is Real

In the book of Romans Paul tackles the problem of our sinful nature. In chapter 3:23, he confirms that all of us have it and are subject to it. We may resort to several tactics to convince ourselves that the evil nature is gone. We may become blinded to it, but it is still there.

Paul points out how the Gentiles tried to deal with this evil nature --- they denied God and his law. This approached allowed sin to run rampant to their self-destruction. Removing God and his laws from their lives did not remove the destructive evil nature within. This only encouraged evil. (Romans 1:18-32)

This is largely the approach our world today is taking. If we don’t like the rules, we change the rules. The rules are really not difficult to understand, but they challenge us to live differently.

The Gentiles deny God and his law but the Jews took a much different approach in dealing with the evil nature within. They strictly adhered to the law, in an effort to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. However, the evil nature within led them to interpret the law so as to justify the sin in their lives. They became experts at making rules, which would allow them to break the law. The end result was the same self-destructive path the Gentiles took without the law. The law they used as a means of justification became the means of self-destruction and condemnation. (Romans 2)

What is going on in our schools reveals the results of living to change the rules. I received this story in an email from Vicky Fairchild. "I grew up in rural American in the 50's and 60's. On any given day, you could walk through the high school parking lot and observe that half the vehicles parked there were trucks with windows rolled down and doors unlocked. Most of them carried, as standard equipment, a FFA sticker (Future Farmers of American for you city folks) and a gun rack with at least one gun, usually loaded. You could make the same observation at any of the four high school campuses in our county. Amazingly, I do not ever recall reading or hearing about mass shootings in any of those high schools."

What has changed in American is not the accessibility of guns, but the character of man. This has come about as a result of trying to change the rules to satisfy the evil nature within.

The nature of sin and the limitations of the law create our dilemma. The sinful nature is stronger than the law. The law can’t save us because it has no power against our sinful nature. When our sinful nature sees the law, it begins to devise ways to have what is forbidden.

Someone said, "The best way to reduce your weight is to eat all you want of everything you don't want." When I think of all the things I will have to eat to lose weight, I get discouraged about dieting. The evil nature within puts this kind of twist on doing right. It tells us that doing right is doing all those things we really don't want to do.

The evil nature from within seeks opportunity through the law to sin. If we strive to live by the law, the evil nature within will pervert the law to our destruction. At some point the sinful nature within us is always stronger than the law. We are no stronger than our weakest point.

Romans 7:11-13
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (NIV)

Prohibitions against bad behavior rarely motivate us to do good. Some actually stir up a desire to disobey. Tell Johnny to stay away from the cookie jar, and you'll soon hear its lid rattling. The strongest motivators of good conduct are those in which we have a personal investment.

Our sinful nature not only distorts the law to get its way, it also seeks to distort God’s grace. It is relentless. When Jews and Gentiles received God's grace, they started thinking that the law of God was no longer binding. Some were thinking grace removed the law and sin once and for all. Paul addresses this problem by asking them, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)

In Romans 13:10 Paul writes, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10 NIV) Paul makes it plain that Christ's law of love includes every written and unwritten precept of the law.

It makes no difference whether we have denied God and his law, or used the law as a means of justification, or become a Christian through receiving his grace, the evil nature within seeks to rule. That evil nature will do whatever is necessary to get its way. If we allow it to have its way, self-destruction is sure.

The power of sin and the weakness of the law create hopelessness as we seek to save ourselves. It is no wonder that Paul tells us in Romans chapter 6 that we must become dead to sin. Then he tells us in Romans chapter 7 we must become dead to the law. In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us we must come alive to Christ. Why? Christ has conquered sin and fulfilled the laws demands.

Romans 13:11-14
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (NIV)

Coming Alive to Christ

Romans 7:1-6
Do you not know, brothers-- for I am speaking to men who know the law-- that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (NIV)

When the Jews focused entirely on the law as a means of justification, it only brought death and condemnation. They could not keep the law because their sinful nature would not let them. Many may refuse to become a Christian today because they see it as an impossible task. They only see rules and regulations, which seem impossible to keep. They see the rules as a hardship.

We must die to the rules and regulations and come alive to Jesus Christ. Prohibitions against bad behavior rarely motivate us to do good. Some actually stir up a desire to disobey. Tell Johnny to stay away from the cookie jar, and you'll soon hear its lid rattling. The strongest motivators of good conduct are those in which we have a personal investment.

A school janitor posted a sign in front of the schoolyard that read: KEEP OFF THE GRASS. But the children still trampled down the turf.

Then a fourth-grade class had an idea. They decided that each child would be given a crocus bulb to plant along the edge of the sidewalk in the fall. As winter drew to a close, the children eagerly watched for the first signs of spring. What a power those hidden bulbs had to keep dozens of little feet on the right path.

We too need a positive motivator to keep our feet on the right path. The law is largely negative, but if our goal is to be able to stand before Christ with confidence and without shame when He comes again, we will want to obey Him.

Before Christ we had no choice about life. The law of sin and death, which reigned from within made it impossible to obey God's law. But now Jesus Christ has delivered us from the law of sin and death. (7:25)

Have you noticed how we discipline children today? We give them choices. We explain to them the choices and the consequences, and then we say, "It is your choice; it's up to you." I wasn't reared that way. I was simply told, "If you don't do what I told you, you are going to get it." I got it plenty of times. But today we present children with choices.

The beautiful thing about choices is that they allow us to develop our mental muscles in godliness. When we are presented with choices, we exercise our freewill to make choices. If the only choice we have is not to do evil, we become frustrated with the negative. This approach makes us focus totally on the negative, which is no fun. When we have a choice of an alternate behavior we can make a positive choice. This allows us to focus on the positive things that must replace the negative.

Matthew 12:43-45
"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." (NIV)

It is exasperating, tiring and discouraging to spend all you time driving the demons out of your house. But it is fun to refurbish a home with a new look and attitude. This makes getting rid of the old furniture fun. So it is in life.

Our sinful nature not only distorts the law to get its way; it also seeks to distort God’s grace. It is relentless. When Jews and Gentiles received God's grace, they started thinking that the law of God was no longer binding. Some were thinking grace removed the law and sin once and for all. Paul addresses this problem by asking them, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2) In Romans 13:10 Paul writes, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10 NIV) Paul makes it plain that Christ's law of love includes every written and unwritten precept of the law.

It makes no difference whether we have denied God and his law, or used the law as a means of justification, or become a Christian through receiving his grace, the evil nature within seeks to rule. That evil nature will do whatever is necessary to get its way. If we allow it to have its way, self-destruction is sure.

The power of sin and the weakness of the law create hopelessness as we seek to save ourselves. It is no wonder that Paul tells us in Romans chapter 6 that we must become dead to sin. Then he tells us in Romans chapter 7 we must become dead to the law. In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us we must come alive to Christ. Why? Christ has conquered sin and fulfilled the laws demands.

Romans 13:11-14
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (NIV)

Our Dilemma Today

The reason Christianity spread so fast in the first century was because the world had come to the end of itself. The world was turning to Christ out of despair. Paul reveals his helplessness to live right. Paul cried out "O wretched man that I am!"

What concerns us today is the lack of this kind of agony. Our sinful nature persuades us to redefine our behavior. We have redefined our old sins, giving them new "Christian" labels. Aggressiveness, self-assertiveness, once condemned as sin, now becomes "zeal for the Lord." Putting "Christian" labels on them sanctifies these same vices and sins. We adopt lifestyles, which deny the reality of sin and our failure to live, as God requires. We learn how to cope and live sin in our lives. This leads us to believe we must live with agony sin brings without dealing with the sin. We may appeal to unholy motives to produce conduct, which appears righteous. We may use pride, ambition, greed and guilt to build a church as we make these illicit motives the reasons for acceptable conduct.

We can't stand to see people "putting themselves down" and thinking of themselves as wretched, so we attempt to build their self-esteem without turning to the Christ.

I truly do not understand the nature of sin. Why are some people engrossed in one sin and others in another? The solution to sin is not found in understanding it. The biblical solution to sin is not to be found in any other provision than the cross of Calvary, the teaching of God's Word, and the enablement of His Spirit. Let us receive that which God has provided, in Christ.

At a special chapel service in an Ohio penitentiary, the governor was to grant freedom to several convicts. The suspense mounted as it came time for the governor to announce the names of those selected. "Reuben Johnson, come forward and receive your pardon!" No one responded. The chaplain directed his attention toward Johnson and said, "Reuben, it's you, come on!" But the man looked behind him, supposing there must be someone else by that name. Then, pointing directly at him, the chaplain exclaimed, "That's right, you're the man!" After a long pause, he slowly approached the governor to receive his pardon. Later when the other prisoners marched to their cells, Johnson fell in line and began to walk with them. The warden called, "Reuben, you don't belong there anymore. You're a free man!"

Jesus Christ gives us a choice about life. When my grandson misbehaves he is told that he has a choice. He can continue to misbehave and go to his room, or he can behave himself and he won't have to go to his room. If he ends up in his room, he is told, "It was your choice."

We may choose life or death. The law of God was never designed to bring justification or condemnation. The law was designed to ultimately bring all men to God through Christ. It was designed to reveal to us our choices.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live
and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (NIV)

Joshua 24:14-15
"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (NIV)

We have a choice today. We can live according to the flesh or get in step with the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (NIV)

We can make a very positive choice about how we are going to live. The right choices about life lift our lives above the average. Once we make that choice, the negative is largely overcome.

John Hunter writes, "Once I flew from Kennedy International Airport to London. As I walked from the airport buildings to the Boeing 707 jet I was subject to the law of gravity. When I came to the steps leading up to the plane entrance door, I had to climb up the steps using my power to raise my body up each step. On entering the plane, I sat in the comfortable seat and just relaxed.

"When all was ready, the jet taxied to the runway, and after a while began to move down the long stretch ahead. The speed increased second by second until, when it was moving about 150 miles per hour, it left the earth and rose up into the night sky above New York.

"The force of gravity against which I had climbed into the plane was still seeking to pull the plane down to earth--the whole 150 tons of it, but there was another law in operation now against the law of gravity, a new law, the law of aerodynamics.

"I knew nothing of the law of aerodynamics. I did not need to. Because I was committed to the plane, and, because I was relaxing, I rose in triumph with the plane. The triumph of the jet was my triumph, its fantastic speed was my speed, all its possibilities were mine--because I was inside.

"Thus it is with the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. I do not need to understand the theology to benefit--all I need to do is commit myself spiritually to Jesus Christ as I did physically to the Boeing jet. Notice that it wasn't the quality of my faith that took me to London in six hours. A frightened passenger might spend the time in anxious fear, but he would get there just the same. I am as strong as that in which I put my faith. If my faith is resting in Christ, then I am as strong as He is. Notice, too, that I did not have to help the plane to fly the Atlantic. It did not require any urging or pushing from me--the power was in the plane. Similarly, Jesus Christ can triumph in my life without help from me." [Living the Christ-filled Life by John Hunter, Zondervan, 1969. Pages 47-48.]

Christ is God's Power Unto Salvation

God's power unto salvation does not come through the law. For the law is powerless to rescue us from our sinful nature. In fact, it is our sinful nature that makes the law weak. The power over the sinful nature and the law comes through the power of God manifested in the resurrection. God accomplishes our salvation, he merely asks us to follow Christ.

F. E. Marsh, in his book, Pearls, Points, and Parables, included this incident: "I asked a student what three things he most wished for. He said, 'Give me books, health, and quiet, and I care for nothing more.' I asked a miser, and he cried, 'Money, money, money!' I asked a pauper, and he faintly said, 'Bread, bread, bread!' I asked a drunkard, and he called loudly for strong drink. I asked the multitude around me, and they lifted up a confused cry, in which I heard the words, 'Wealth, fame, and pleasure!' Then I asked a poor man who bore the character of an experienced Christian. He replied that all he wished for could be met in Christ. He spoke seriously, and I asked him to explain., He said, 'I greatly desire three things: first, that I may be found In Christ; second, that I may be like Christ; third that I may be with Christ.'"

In Christ we have a choice. We may choose life or death.

Romans 5:6
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (NIV)

Conclusion:

2 Timothy 1:8-10
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 5:14-19
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV)

Galatians 3:26-29
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV)

 

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