Thursday, September 15, 2005

# 76: An Excuse That Makes Sin Acceptable

I am writing this post to reveal the truth behind a small section of the Bible—in the Book of Romans—that many millions of people who call themselves Christians have been relying on as a reason to believe that it is normal for them to sin. The false understanding of this section has done more damage to the Christian faith than any other heresy in the entire New Testament. I have heard this minute section used as an excuse for sin more times than I can count, and from many individuals from different denominations. In fact, I think it may be a universal excuse for sin in all of organized Christianity. It is that serious.

If one is not familiar with the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament, much of this post will sound like Greek. To avoid confusing anyone, it might be best for some to skip this post until a better, more complete knowledge of the Bible has been acquired. I have put many, many painstaking hours into the writing of this post to make absolutely certain that the information in this series is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the absolute truth. How do I know that? Because this section contradicts all other New Testament verses that dogmatically tell us what we must believe and how we must live concerning sin. Although this series may be difficult for some to understand, it is a truth that all genuine Christians may have to read and reread to get to the depth and damage it has done. Please take time to double-check all the Bible references I mentioned to make sure I did not take any out of context. Again, please take this section seriously. It could be a matter of one’s spiritual life and death.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—tthis I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” This is the Apostle Paul speaking in Romans 7:14-20. This portion of Scripture seems contrary in comparison to other Bible teachings; for that reason, it has been universally misunderstood since the first century. The result has been a general consensus of “Christians” thinking lightly of sin, thus secretly condoning what they know is wrong; moreover, they believe that giving in to the desires of the flesh (lower nature) is acceptable in the Christian life. Although it is said taciturnly, some go so far as to believe that it was about time the Apostle Paul, author of Romans, confessed to what a weak-willed person he really was while still professing to be a great apostle of Jesus Christ. At this, I am appalled.

It is not uncommon for some Bible writers to use the singular pronoun (I, me, you, etc.) to denote the nation of Israel. There are several such verses in the New Testament and many texts in the Old Testament. Here are a few: In Revelation 3:17, the church of Laodicea is speaking. "You say, ‘I am rich: I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’" In Romans 9:25-26, Paul quotes Hosea 2nd chapter though not verdatim. ". . . and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one . . .‘You are not my people’, they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’" The Old Testament is rich with writings which use the singular to denote a group of people, usually the nation of Israel. “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink. Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first.’” (Hosea 2:5-8). ‘“Now then listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security [sounds like America] and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood.” (Isaiah 47:8-9).

Lamentations Chapter 1 is the best example of a Bible writer who spoke of himself in the singular—Biblical muscle to the truth—to tell of the wretched condition that had befallen the nation of Israel. Jeremiah used the identical singular pronouns as Paul did in Romans Chapter 7. Lamentations 1:11: “Look, O Lord, and consider, for I am despised.” And continuing in verse 14: “My sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together . . . He has handed me over to those I cannot withstand.” 1:15: “ . . . He has summoned an army against me to crush my young men.” [That last statement is conclusive proof that Jeremiah is not writing about himself.] “In his winepress the Lord has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah.” 1:16: “This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.” 1:18: “The Lord is righteous, yet I rebel against His command.” 1:19: “I called to my allies but they betrayed me.” I am sure we all know what a saintly man Jeremiah was in God’s sight. Without question, he was not writing about himself, although if someone did not know God or the Scripture, it could be taken that way.

I believe God inspired Paul to write Romans 7:14-20 as he did so that those who do not truly believe and yet call themselves Christians will have more than enough rope with which to hang themselves, so to speak. Why? Even though the New Testament is filled from cover to cover with evidence that Christ came to destroy sin in our lives, many people don’t believe that simple truth. Here are just a few verses that tell of the great work Jesus did to destroy the power of sin.

Romans 6:1: "What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?" Romans 6:6: ". . . That we should no longer be slaves to sin. . . ." Romans 6:10-11: "The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, COUNT YOURSELVES DEAD TO SIN but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Then there is Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." One more! 1 John 3:9. “No one born of God will continue to sin . . . ” Shall we disregard these verses?

When one studies Romans, one will quickly see who Paul is writing to, especially in this chapter. Romans 7:1: “Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law.” It was Jews he was speaking to who knew what it was to live under Jewish law. Starting with Romans 1:19, Paul points out that Jews—as well as Gentiles—are all living under sin, apart from Christ; he also begins to tell of the wicked condition the nation of Israel was in, according to the Old Testament. Romans 1:19: ". . . since what may be known about God is plain to them [Jews], because God has made it plain to them." Romans 1:21: "For although they [Jews] knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him . . .” Romans 1:22: “Although they [Jews] claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God [only Israelites knew the glory of God] for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." Romans 1:32: "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death. . ." Romans 2:1: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself . . ." Romans 2:17: "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law. . ." Romans 2:23-24: "You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’"

Isn’t this still true today? Atheists and skeptics everywhere blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ, and rightly so, because of the ungodly lives of counterfeit Christians. This fact alone pains me more than anything else, and gave me the incentive to do this writing. Romans 3:9: "What shall we conclude then? Are we [Jews] any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin." This last verse is very important in seeing what point Paul is trying to get across to his readers: the fact that in his reference to Jews, he means those who were familiar with the law.

Starting with Romans 7:5, the Apostle Paul is desperately trying to explain how it is impossible to be obedient to the old Jewish law while under control of sinful nature. Romans 7:5: "For when we [all Jews] were [notice this is past tense] 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." In Romans 7:7, Paul uses the word “we” in reference to the Jews for the last time: “What shall we say, then?” As he continues, he starts to describe what a wretched condition they (the Jews) were in under the law and without Christ as their Savior. In subsequent references, he uses the word “I” allegorically instead of “we” to denote the nation of Israel.

Conclusive proof of this is displayed in the next several verses, but only to those who don't justify their life of sin by this portion of Scripture and those who have an active desire to live a sinless life by God's grace. "Once I was alive apart from law." Romans 7:9. Now I ask you this question: When was Paul ever alive apart from the law? Answer: Never. But the nation of Israel was alive apart from the law before God gave them the law of Moses. Sin could not condemn to death without the law. Romans 5:13: ". . . for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law." Romans 5:13. “The law came so that sin might be recognized as utterly sinful.” Romans 7:13 paraphrased. The desire of the flesh [sinful nature, ego] continually won the inward battle against their desire to do good. This is the reason the nation of Israel as a whole could not please God, and the very reason for the coming of Christ.

I believe that the subject of sin is important enough to repeat what I have written earlier, using a few different words. The point I am trying to put across is this: Before the Law of Moses was given, the sins of the nation of Israel were not taken into account. Romans 5:13, paraphrased: Although, at the judgment, Israel will have to account for her action. Even though they did not have a law, they were a law unto themselves. But when the Law was given by Moses, sin was truly exposed for what it was, and the knowledge that was good brought death to the Jews. That Law, as good as it was, did not give Israel the power to overcome its sinful nature. Because all have sinned, all are condemned by this Law that is holy and good. Although they wanted to do good, they could not because of the power of sin living in Israel. Before the Law, Israel was alive apart from the Law. But when the commandment (the Law) came, sin sprang to life and Israel (I) died. Israel found that the Law that was intended to bring life actually brought death. Romans 7:8: "For apart from law, sin is dead." The Law was spiritual, but Israel was unspiritual. In this unspiritual condition, Israel could not do what God wanted her to do. But the things she did not want to do, she did. Since Israel did what it did not want to do, she agreed that the Law was good. In this unredeemed state, nothing good lived inside Israel; that is in her sinful nature. Though she had the desire to do what is good, she (Israel) couldn't carry it out. The evil she did not want to do, she kept on doing. What a wretched condition Israel was in. Who would rescue Her from this sinful nature which lives in all Israel? Jesus Christ would. He arranged things so that all of Israel and the world could be rescued from the power of sin.

When Jesus Christ died on the cross without sin, He defeated the power of sin; consequently, when He rose from the dead, sin had no power over Him. Christ destroyed the power of the flesh (sinful nature). This is the essence of the concept of being born again. We, too, died with Christ and rose never to sin again. Romans 6:11 “. . . count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ.” Now since we died with Christ through faith—that means we really believe that fact—we will live according to His Spirit. This does not happen automatically. It happens only when we believe we actually died with Christ. We inherit His death and victory over sin simply because we believe Him. However, when this belief does not spill over from our intellect into our lives, our belief is not valid and in God's sight does not exist.

Now, read carefully Romans 8:9-14: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Emphasis added).

Is it even remotely possible that the same person did not write Romans 7:14-25 (using the word "I" to mean oneself instead of "Jew" or "Israel") and Romans 8:9-14? Impossible! There will be those who will say, "Don't confuse me with the facts; I have had my mind made up for years as to what Paul was saying in Chapter 7." If Paul meant “self” as that bad guy who could not do what was right but did the evil that he knew was wrong, he would be totally out of character with regard to all of his other writings as a redeemed man of God.

As we know, Jesus was perfect in the true sense, and Paul fashioned his life after this perfect Jesus. Paul was a perfectionist before his conversion and continued to be a perfectionist in his redeemed condition. This is evident as Paul writes to the Philippians, telling of his life before conversion. ". . . a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (Philippians 3:5). After his conversion, Paul's life was in every sense as pleasing to his Lord as any New Testament character ever could be. Here is scriptural evidence of that fact. Paul says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." 1 Corinthians11:1. "Therefore I urge you to imitate me." 1 Corinthians 4:16. "For you yourself know how you ought to follow our example." 2 Thessalonians 3:7. "We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow." 2 Thessalonians 3:9. "Aim for perfection. . ." 2 Corinthians 13:11. "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life." 1 Thessalonians 2:7. "I wish all men were as I am.” 1 Corinthians 7:7. "But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16. "Join with others in following my example, brothers. . . ." Philippians 3:17. "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice." Philippians 4:9.

Some, however, will use Paul’s reference to himself as "the chief of sinners" to substantiate Romans Chapter 7 and Paul’s inner struggle with sin. Some might say, "If Paul was a wretched sinner, as a redeemed man, should I be expected to live any better?” This conclusion indicates a misunderstanding of the passage. To keep it in context, let's look at what Paul said before and after that verse. 1st Timothy 1:8 paraphrased: "The law was made for bad guys. But no matter how bad a person is, he is not so bad that Christ can't show him mercy." Then, in Verse 13, he tells how bad he was, and how God had mercy on him anyway. That is the reason why Christ came into the world: to save sinners—even bad sinners. What better way to illustrate the power of Christ? Surely it is easier to redeem the pure of spirit than one who is enthusiastically mired in one’s own sin. In Verse 16, he says, ". . . of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was [past tense] shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."

In his redeemed state, Paul was no doubt the greatest, purest, holiest, and most Godly man that the New Testament reveals to us, apart from Christ. For early Christians, he was the prime example of someone who overcame a sinful life. His example still speaks to us. To be absolutely certain that Paul was talking about his past and not his present condition, let’s look at 1st Timothy 1:15: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst [Chief].” Now watch how Paul switches from the present to the past tense. 1:16: "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Now, if Paul saw himself as the worst of sinners in his (present) redeemed condition, what right did he have to preach to all the churches about good moral conduct and to live pure and holy lives? It's impossible. Even an unregenerate moron should be able to see this simple truth when it is put in context with Romans 7th chapter.

What kind of a hypocrite would Paul have been if he expected the followers of Christ to do and be what he could not do or be? Was he giving the “OK” sign for everyone to desire to do good, yet continue to do the evil they knew was wrong? Remember 1 John 4:4 paraphrased: “The Holy Spirit, who is in us, is greater and more powerful than our sinful nature.” When people have the Holy Spirit of God living in them, they will not do the evil they hate. As a person is controlled by the Spirit, he/she will be empowered to do the good he/she wants to do, and the desire to do good itself comes from God’s Holy Spirit that dwells in us. By grace, we have Jesus Christ to forgive our sins; grace is no excuse for abuse, or grace will cease. Grace gives us the ability to love and live to please God, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Living in God's grace and living in the flesh are not compatible. Belief that gives us the power to overcome sin will not work so long as we refuse to believe that we can live without giving into sin (our sinful nature). Faith gives us the victory and in every case will cost us our desire to do as we please. Bible verses taken from New International Version Bible.

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