Bible Reading for the Week of January 14, 2019
Reflections on Romans 7-9
This is a dense section of Scripture with many important theological truths. My goal in this post is to distill to the essence of Paul’s message focusing on those portions of the passages that are most applicable.
Verse 1-6. In this section Paul uses the analogy of a widow to describe our relationship to the law. Just as a woman is legally bound to her husband while he is alive, His readers were bound to the Law (the ten commandments and Levitical Law) prior to coming to faith in Christ. But, when her husband dies, she is no longer legally bound to him and is free to marry another. The language of verse four is literally “you also died to the law through body of Christ, that you might be born to another…” While we were slaves to the law (see 6:15-23)— I’m assuming that most people reading this article were not bound by the Law, that is Jewish—we bore the fruit of the law, which is death. But having died to sin and law, and having been born of the Spirit and grace, we bear the fruit of grace. That is, the results of our life are produced by sin and lead to death OR they are produced by the Spirit of God by faith in Christ and lead to life.
Verses 7-13. “Is the law sin?” This is a question specifically for Paul’s Jewish readers, but we can also learn from his response. The way he frames his response is that while the law is good, it does raise one’s awareness of what sin is. And sin takes advantage of this knowledge and leads us to sin. So, the law itself is good and beneficial, but sin seized the opportunity to bring about evil through a good thing.
Verses 14-25. This is a very important passage. Paul, a paragon of faith, tells us that he doesn’t even understand what he is doing. He desires to follow the law, yet he cannot do it. In fact, just the opposite is true: he wants to avoid sin, but he is drawn to do it seemingly against his will. The reason is that he is a person of two natures. On the one hand, he is “of the flesh, sold into bondage to sin (see chapter 6). Paul is saying that he can’t hep himself because of his sinful, natural self is powerless to do anything other than sin.
In verse 24, Paul describes himself as wretched (NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV). That word doesn’t pack the punch it may have at one time. It literally means “miserable” and “pathetic.” Paul describes himself as miserable. He’s miserable because he wants to do something that he finds it impossible to do. He describes himself as pathetic because he is powerless to avoid doing what he doesn’t want to do and to do what he desires to do.
But Paul’s misery turns to gratitude in verse 25 when he recognizes that God has rescued him in Christ. Thematically, verse 25 fits much better with chapter 8:1-8.
Verses 1-8. Despite our sinfulness, we are delivered from a guilty verdict related to our sinfulness because we are “in Christ Jesus.” The law of Moses and Levitical law was powerless to give life and free us from the power of sin and death. Instead God sent His Son as an offering to fulfill the requirements of the Law (Leviticus 4).
In verse 5-8, Paul discusses the mindset of people who are living according to the flesh (the old sinful nature) and the Spirit (those rescued by Christ). He draws a couple of interesting conclusions. First, the fleshly mindset results in death. Second the fleshly mindset is hostile toward God. Third, the fleshly mindset does not submit itself to God, and it is not able to do so. Fourthly, the mind set on the flesh cannot please God. Alternately, the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Presumably, the mind set on the Spirit (freed from bondage, rescued by Christ, etc) is friendly toward God, submits to God, and pleases God. This contrast is quite strong.
Verses 9-11. Paul explains to the Romans that they are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. In fact, the Spirit is the proof of Christ’s redemptive work in their lives (and by implication our lives as well). Put simply: no Spirit, no Christ. The result of the work of Christ in our lives as evidenced by the presence of the Spirit is life and righteousness.
Verses 12-17. Paul tells us that we are under obligation to the Spirit, not the flesh. Literally, we have a debt to the Spirit. The way that we repay that debt is by putting to death the deeds of the flesh. To be clear, the debt is not a debt that we repay in order to receive life, salvation, and rescue from the flesh. This debt is an inequality based on the fact that we have been rescued. How many stories have we heard in our lifetimes of someone rescuing another person and the rescued person saying something along the lines of “I owe my life to you.” While I don’t recall the line being used in the movie, it’s akin to how Sergeant Dan felt about Forrest Gump.
Verses 14-17 represent a whole new way of thinking about God. Jesus initiated this way of thinking about God. God may have been thought of, and referred to, in many ways prior to Jesus, but Father was not one of them. Rather than having our debt transferred from one person to another, as if we were being traded as a commodity, God adopts us as children. What a radically different type of relationship. The Spirit of God that lives in us (see above) testifies that we are children of God. And if we are God’s children, then we are his heirs.
Verse 18-25. Here Paul interjects the topic of suffering. Perhaps this is related to him considering himself a miserable and pathetic man ( see 7:24). If so, Paul doesn’t stop with his own suffering but expands the idea of suffering to include all of creation. He says that our suffering does not compare to the glory that is to come, when Jesus is revealed. He says that all of God’s creation will be set free from the effects of sin and death when Jesus returns.
All that Paul has described to this point he sums up in hope. While he says that we are children of God, in verse 23 he says that we are waiting for our adoption. While we have been rescued from death (7:25), we still await the redemption of our bodies. The “already—not yet” nature of our salvation is a common theme throughout the New Testament. It is this “incomplete” nature of our salvation that gives us hope for the future.
Verse 26-27. Jesus prays on our behalf when we don’t know what to pray. Sometimes pain and lack of clarity are what we bring before God. No worries. Jesus knows exactly what is on our heart and mind and he interprets for God what we cannot even articulate to ourselves.
Verses 28-30. Verse 28 is one of the most well known verses in Romans, and probably the New Testament. Yes, God causes everything to work out for the good, but there are two conditions. This good ending is promised only to those who love God. If we expect God’s good and yet refuse to love Him, then we will be sorely disappointed. Second, God works only on those who are called according to His purpose.
What follows in verse 29 and 30 is so densely packed theologically that it is beyond that scope of this article. However, the one thing that I want to point out is the phrase “conformed to the image of His Son.” To be “conformed” means that we “take the same form as.” The image that comes to mind is the mold and we are the liquid poured into the mold that takes the shape of the mold. Regardless of how foreknowledge, predestination, justification, and glorification work, the result of the work is that we live just like Jesus would were we to exchange places. While the phrase has been grossly over-commercialized, “What Would Jesus Do?” is still a very good question to ask ourselves.
Verses 31-39. Because of our faith in Christ, because of all the work he has done on our behalf, we are unimpeachable before God. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We are absolutely secure. There is no power that can effectively come against us. They will all be defeated. There is nothing that God will withhold from us. There is no judicial proceeding that will succeed in finding us guilty. Why? Because we have Jesus, the perfect defense attorney. There is absolutely nothing that can separate us from God. NOTHING!
In chapter 9, Paul changes topics and turns his attention to Israel. In some ways the question early in the chapter is “Who’s in and who’s out?” Paul makes the point that not everyone who is a physical descendent Abraham was a part of God’s covenant community, Israel. And conversely, some people who are not physical descendants of Abraham are a part of the covenant community of Israel. This is a line of reasoning also addressed in chapter 4. Paul describes how God chose Jacob rather than Esau before they were born. Paul concludes that it is his right to do so.
Verses 14-18. Paul addressed the objection, “Where is the justice in God choosing one or the other of these brothers prior to their birth.” Paul concludes that God is sovereign, that he has the power and authority to have mercy and compassion on anyone he chooses.
Verses 19-33. Paul answers the question, “If God is sovereign, and has the authority and power to do whatever He pleases, and human beings are powerless to do anything other than what God wills for us, why are we held accountable?” In other words, if we have no choice other than to do what God wills, how can we be found guilty? Paul offers several responses.
First, he asks, essentially, “who do you think you are to question God?” God is the creator of the universe and you are a creature. Who do you think you are to question God’s sovereignty?”
Second, the reason that God has done all that he has done to this point in history is to reveal his glory in Jesus (verses 22-29).
In verses 30-33, Paul returns to the theme that Gentiles (people who are not descendants of Abraham) are included in the promises of God. They are included not on the basis of the law (the old covenant) but on the basis of faith in Christ. Sadly, even though the descendants of Abraham through Israel are inheritors of the Law, those who do not pursue God on the basis of faith in Christ, will be excluded from that promise.
Questions for Discussion:
- If we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness, why do we still sin? (7:1-13)
- How do you experience the two natures within yourself? (7:14-25)
- What provision has God made to free us from the sinful nature?
- What can you do to free yourself from the sinful nature? Said differently, how can you cooperate with what God has done in your own transformation?
- Compare and contrast the mind set on the flesh and the mind set on the Spirit. (8:5-8)
- The Fatherhood raises lots of issues for lots of people because of the inadequate fathering many people have received. When you think of the fatherhood of God, what comes to your mind? What is your emotional reaction? How can God, as perfect Father, shape your life? (8:14-17)
- Why is it so much easier to blame God when things don’t turn out the way we want them to, rather than examining our own life? (8:28) ANSWER: sin is ultimately self-justifying.
- In what ways have you broken the mold? (8:29-30)?
- In what ways does Paul’s confidence that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus comfort you?
- How does the sovereignty of God reassure you in your faith?
- Paul asks the question (in my words), if God is sovereign, and human beings cannot not do God’s will, for good or for ill, faith or no faith, how can God still hold us responsible. In other words, if we don’t have a choice, how can we be held responsible for making the wrong choice? (Not everyone is going to like this question because it is a complex philosophical question, so feel to skip it if your small group member’s eyes begin to roll back in their head like a slot machine.)
- Based on your reading and discussion, what are you going to do differently this week?
Lord, Paul is sometimes hard to read and understand. So, I ask you to give us wisdom and understanding. Give us insight into your word. Convict us concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Reveal yourself to us. Transform us, conform us, to your likeness.
(Note: This year long Reading Plan can be downloaded by clicking here.)
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