The purpose of this study is present grace as the only power for obedience in our lives.
GRACE #12: ROMANS 6, PART 5—
ARE WE EMPOWERING SIN BY TRYING TO OBEY?
In our grace study, we have been looking at the Romans 6. Paul is explaining that our old self—the person we were before the Cross—was rendered inoperative at the Cross. Beginning in Romans 6:11, Paul explains how it is that the old Sin master does not have power anymore, but we empower him:
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)
Here, Paul gives us the principle: The old Sin master does not have power, but we are empowering him.
In Romans 7, Paul explains specifically how it is that we empower that Sin master:
Right in the middle of that passage we see The sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law. We will see that the Law is wonderful and perfect in itself, however, when it comes in contact with sinful humanity, the Law produces more sin.
However, we have been released from the Law, and if we are released from the Law, we are also released from the power of sin. We will see—
Anybody who is a slave to Law,
Anybody who is a slave to performance,
Is automatically a slave of sin.
The Law produces sin!
Specifically, what stirs up more sin is our trying by self-effort to obey the Law.
Beginning in Romans 7:22, Paul explains that to achieve obedience by self-effort is hopeless:
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? (Romans 7:22-24)
In self-effort, there is no hope. But Paul closes this passage with good news: There is deliverance available from the power of sin and it is available through grace.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
The sin nature does not have any inherent power anymore. The problem is that when he is pulling on us, it certainly feels as though he has power. Again, it is that we are empowering him, as we see in the following verse:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, (Romans 6:12)
The verb means do not keep letting. He is saying Do not keep letting him reign in your bodies.
Paul is saying that the old Sin master is not our king, he does not have a throne. But do you know what we are doing? We are pulling up a chair for the old Sin master—he does not have a throne, but we let him rule. Again, we do not do that by sinning. Sin is a result of that process. We pull up a chair for the old Sin master and then let him rule. We do not do this by poor performance, by poor behavior. And it is not that we really want to let him rule; we are not intentionally saying I would like for the Sin master to rule over my life. How do we let him rule? It is by ignorance.
We are in a similar situation as the people to whom God was referring in Isaiah 5:
My people are going into exile for their lack of knowledge. (Isaiah 5:)
The Sin master does not have a throne, but we pull up a chair for him.
In the next verse, we see that the old Sin master does not have weapons, so we arm him. Paul says:
Actually, the text says and do not keep on—
and do not keep on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Romans 6:13)
The old Sin master does not have weapons of his own anymore; if we are not presenting our members to him as weapons, he will not have any at all. The problem is that we are giving him arms – legs – brains – bodies.
Think about all the controversies about giving arms to the enemy. Well, we are literally giving our arms to our enemy—the old Sin master —who [in himself] does not have any weapons. Paul is talking about arms and legs, about members of our body. I think he is being figurative; what he means is that we are just giving the old Sin master the use of our body. We are saying Here I am Sin master. Use me.
You may be thinking I have never said that. In fact, you may be thinking The concept of that is repugnant to me. I really do not want the Sin master to use my body. Unfortunately, we do not have to specifically say that. We do not have to [specifically] say Sin master, I am yours. We do not have to consciously, deliberately do that. All we have to do is to present ourselves to that old Sin master; all we have to do to present ourselves to him is to remain ignorant. Paul say Do not keep letting him rule. Do not keep giving him weapons.
Let us think about this for a minute. If he says Do not keep doing that then there is an implication. If he says Do not keep letting him rule; do not keep giving him weapons then it is obvious we are doing that; otherwise, he would not say Do not keep doing it. It is obvious that we are doing it.
Did you notice it does NOT say disarm him? It does NOT say that we are to take away his weapons. Why not? Because the old Sin master does not have any weapons of his own. However, we are giving him weapons.
Again, the way to stop doing that is not to change our behavior. It is also not to resolve not to do that I am not going to give him any more weapons. That will not work.
In Romans 7, Paul gives a very specific way that we are empowering the old Sin master, and we may not even be aware of it. In fact, this way is a way that does not even seem possible; it is going to be the opposite of the way we think.
The Way We Empower The Sin Master Is Trying Through Self-Effort To Obey.
As shocking as it may seem, any kind of Law system — not just the Mosaic Law — any kind of performance system that says I have got to do this to be accepted; I have got to do this and that is the kind of Law system that does not keep sin in check. It does not even reduce sin. None of those things reduce sin; they create more sin.
That is why we have the principle in the Bible that if someone is a slave to performance, to Law, that person is also a slave to sin because the Law produces more sin in two ways.
The First Way The Law Produces More Sin: In verse 7 of Romans 7, Paul says:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!
Paul begins by saying there is nothing wrong with the Law in itself. In fact, the Law is perfect and holy. It is God’s righteous standard. Then he says:
On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7)
Paul is saying that the Law in itself is fine. He says when he really started looking at the Law, specifically You shall not covet, and he knew he was in trouble. Before that, Paul thought because he did not steal things and because he did not commit gross, external sins, that he was keeping the Law and that he was obedient.
Then Paul realized something. When he saw his neighbor’s boat —though he did not ever thinking about stealing the boat; it never occurred to him to steal it—he wanted it. He really wished that he had the boat and his neighbor did not. Paul realized Wait a minute. That is sin. And he knew he was in bad trouble because he could tie his hands behind his back so he would not steal things; he could, by self-effort and discipline and avoiding trouble, avoid adultery; he really was not going to kill anybody. However, Paul knew there was no way to handcuff his thoughts; he knew he was in trouble. Paul was thinking Wait a minute. All this time I have wanted things that other people had and I have been jealous of them. I have been sinning my whole life.
The first way the Law produces more sin is just by revealing the sin that is already there. In that sense, the Law produces more sin, but the Law itself is good.
REVEALING SIN ALREADY THERE
You have a glass with dirty water in it. If you let that water settle long enough, all the sediment, the dirt, will fall to the bottom and then the water will look clean again. If you just look through the glass, the water will look clean.
Suppose you get a spoon, and to keep our analogy straight, let us say the spoon is perfectly clean and sterile, it is perfect. But you put it down into that glass and stir. What happens? All of the dirt that is down at the bottom of the glass is going to come up and be revealed.
That is what the Law does. The Law is perfect and good, but it is like that clean spoon. As it stirs, it reveals the trash that was really there all the time. The Law reveals sin that is already there.
The Second Way The Law Produces More Sin: This is where it really gets shocking. The Law produces more sin, not just by revealing sin that is already there, the Law actually generates more sin!
Let us look at what Paul says in the next verse:
But sin (the old Sin master), taking opportunity through the commandment (the Law), produced (not revealed, but produced) in me coveting of every kind;
And then he says…
for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Romans 7:8)
From his perspective, Paul’s sin appeared dead because it was not visible. It was at the bottom of that glass. The top of the glass was visibly clean—no adultery, no killing somebody—but down at the bottom of the glass was hidden dirt (a hidden sin like most of ours are)—coveting. The Law stirred Paul up and it revealed coveting there, but it also did something else. It produced more coveting.
Let us stress that the Law is good and the Law in itself does not produce more sin. The problem is that when God’s perfect Law comes in contact with a sinful, human nature, it produces more sin. And the real problem is that every human being is sinful. That means every single time God’s Law comes in contact with a human being, more sin is going to be produced. And that is a universal truth: It is true for unbelievers and it is true for believers, who are in the flesh.
If we set our face to keep the Law, to obey the Law, if we marshal up every bit of willpower and self-discipline in order to obey, what will happen? More sin will be produced.
The Law always produces fruit, but it is the fruit of disobedience. If we really think about it, this makes sense.
PRODUCING THE FRUIT OF DISOBEDIENCE
Along the coastline in Galveston, Texas, there is a hotel called “The Flagship”. On the pier level, there is a restaurant, which is a great place to eat because the whole floor has glass, so while you are eating, you can view the ocean. However, the hoteliers were spending a fortune replacing broken glass. The windows were not breaking because of storms, but because people, in the hotel rooms above, were fishing off the balconies. In many cases, it was a long drop, so they would put heavy lead sinkers on the lines. Then they would cast out their lines, and, you know what happened, the lead sinkers would crash into the glass windows below.
This problem went on for years. The hoteliers spent a fortune, and they could not do anything about the problem. They made the warning signs in the rooms stronger and stronger: We will kill you instantly –sic! They made the signs stronger and it kept getting worse. Finally, one day they did something. It took them half a day to do it, and since that time—it has been five years now—it has never happened again. No one has fished from the balconies again. Do you know what they did? They took down the signs in the rooms that said “No Fishing From The Balcony”. They took those signs down; nobody has done it since.
The Law always produces the fruit of disobedience.
If we are looking at some kind of performance standard that we want to generate by self-effort, self-discipline, willpower, not only is it not going to work, it is going to produce more sin.
The Law commands obedience and the Law punishes for disobedience, but the Law does not give the power to obey. On the other hand, grace does give the power to obey.
This is paradoxical, correct? It is not the way I would think. The same grace that forgives me for not obeying releases me from the obligation to obey and then it gives me power to obey. That is why we stress grace: We want obedience in our lives and grace is the only way to get there.
We agree with everyone that obedience is the expected fruit of the Christian life. We all agree that is the desired destination. However, the problem is that self-effort through trying to obey will make us less obedient. Self-effort discipline is not just that it will not work — it will make us more sinful.
In Romans 7, Paul makes it very clear that we have zero capacity to obey through self-effort:
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. (Romans 7:22-23)
Paul is describing a pretty miserable person — a prisoner of the law of sin. So who is this person? Despite what some say, Paul is talking about himself. The great apostle Paul —just as we are— wanted to obey, but in his flesh —and in ours —there is no ability to obey.
In verse 18, Paul says:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me,
It is normal for a Christian to want to obey, and there is something else that is normal…
but the doing of the good is not. (Romans 7:18)
Do you see the dilemma? In our spirit (our new man, our inner man), we want to obey, but in our flesh (our natural self) there is no power to do so.
We are like Paul in verse 24:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)
Before we answer this question, do you see that Paul does not ask What will set me free from the body of this death? He asks Who will…
There is no formula, no religion that is going to accomplish it. It is only a Person. And notice something else; it is something outside Paul:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
In the flesh, we all serve the Law of sin, although in the inner man (new man) we want to obey. Paul makes it clear that only Jesus Christ can deliver us from the power of the flesh. Likewise, only Jesus can work obedience through us!
If that is the case, why is it that Christians are so drastically different? If Jesus is responsible for our sanctification, why are we not all equally sanctified in our actual lives? Let us find out.
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