Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 3)

Daily Devotional | Day 347

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin . . . For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:14-17, NKJV).

Of all the passages which appear to portray Paul as the chief of sinners, none perhaps is more perplexing than Romans 7:13-25. Like the passage we saw in 1 Timothy, some see the passage in Romans 7 as evidence that Paul (as Apostle and Christian) did struggle with sin(s) in his life. This, in their view, explains why (almost) all Christians struggle with sin. It is further proof, they say, that sin dwells in all of us. In effect, indwelling sin coexists with our born again identity. But does the passage support these assertions? We will examine the passage and find out what Paul is saying.

Let us start by making two observations. First, Paul is describing the experience of a Jew who knows the law. He is not talking about the experience of a Gentile. Although they were not under the law, Gentiles, like all people, did have a conscience (Romans 2:12-16). Therefore they had their own battles with (un)righteousness; but their experience would differ from what Paul is talking about in Romans 7:13-25.

Second, Paul is describing the experience of one who is suffering guilt, condemnation and defeat under the law due to his inability to keep God’s law. But remember, not all those under the law could not keep it. The Scriptures testify that there were some who successfully obeyed God’s law and were morally blameless. For example, the Gospel of Luke has this to say about the soon-to-be parents of John the Baptist, Zachariah and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (1:6). This is remarkable.

Now let us look at the things Paul said. Notice that he speaks in the first person, mostly in the present tense. This is one reason some conclude that the passage is a description of the Paul who had been saved by Christ. Keep in mind what we said yesterday about the use of the historical present tense to narrate a past event.

In Romans 7:13-25, Paul acknowledges that the law is good, spiritual and holy (v. 14, 16). The law, therefore, is not to blame for his inability to obey it. The problem lies with the person under the law. Paul describes his status in the strongest of terms, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (v. 14). Essentially, this means he is a slave, bound by the power of sin; and he is ultimately helpless. He makes the same point when he later admits that he is captive to the law of sin which is in his members, i.e. his flesh (v. 23).

Next, Paul tells us how being captive to sin translates into moral choices: “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (v. 15; 19). Paul is saying that as a result of being enslaved to sin, his moral choices are heavily influenced by the power of sin which binds him. The law has taught him the will of God. But a conflict has developed between knowing what is good and doing it, or knowing what is evil and refraining from it. Unfortunately, in this conflict sin inevitably wins, leading to further guilt and condemnation. Is this part of Paul’s personal experience of Christianity?

We will pause here and continue tomorrow, if the Lord wills. Until then, may the Lord keep you in His mercies. Amen.

For further studyRomans 6:1-23

The Root of Divorce, According to Jesus

DAILY DEVOTION: DAY 202

“He [Jesus] saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8, KJV).

Divorce is man-made. No matter how desperately people fish for Bible verses to support divorce (and remarriage), one thing is clear: God created marriage; we created divorce and its attending consequences. In certain places around the world, especially in the West, a multi-million dollar industry – backed by the legal system – has been built around divorce. While many key players profit from the system, precious lives are torn apart and children are left confused. Today – more than ever- we need to listen to what Jesus has to say about the subject and heed His voice.

Every problem has symptoms, the root cause and the solution. If you can identify the root of a problem, you are close to finding the antidote. Jesus came into the world – not to save us from symptoms– but to save us from the root of our problems, i.e. sin. In today’s Bible passage, some Pharisees come to Jesus with a question on divorce. They claim justification for divorce based on Moses’ command.

But Jesus has a surprise for them. He says that Moses permitted them to divorce their wives because of the hardness of their hearts. He then adds, “but from the beginning it was not so.” Jesus was at the beginning when marriage was created. Divorce wasn’t part of the Father’s original plan. God hasn’t changed, but we have changed. Jesus identifies hardness of heart as the root cause of divorce. What is hardness of heart? It simply means a heart which opposes the law of God. All moral evils can be traced to the human heart (cf. Mark 7:20-23). And it is a well known fact that some people enter marriage with ungodly motives, thereby setting the stage for potential problems later in the relationship.

A heart that is not governed by God is more likely to trigger divorce. Jesus calls us to repentance for a reason. Repentance leads to purity of heart. A converted, Spirit-filled heart will not create the conditions which trigger divorce: abuse, manipulation, infidelity, lying, deceiving, scheming, anger, unforgiveness, selfishness, greed, laziness, the games-playing, etc. While we’re busy creating new programs to promote healthy marriages, attending conferences and seminars, and writing books on the subject (and these things can be helpful), Jesus is pointing us to the heart.

Jesus looks beyond symptoms. The heart – that is where everything happensA good heart – a heart given over to the Lord – is the answer to divorce. When we address marriage issues, especially among Christian couples or those preparing for marriage, it is imperative to address the heart and call people to repentance. 

To sum up, Jesus’ message to us about divorce is this: Change the heart, enjoy marriage.

May the peace of Christ reign in your heart today. Amen.

For further study: Ephesians 4:17-32