Friday, November 6, 2009

Battle of Two Natures?

22/365 : The Path Image by ~jjjohn~ via FlickrThere is a danger when committing to be a slave of righteousness that you can fall back into being a slave to the law.  That is why Paul addresses this issue in Romans chapter 7.  Being a slave to the law is not the same as being a slave to righteousness.  In Romans 7 and 8 we learn that there are three laws: The Law of God, The Law of sin and Spirit's Law of life in Christ Jesus

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.
Romans 7:25 (HCSB)

because the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Romans 8:2 (HCSB)

For the Christian we are called to die to the Law of sin, be released from the requirements of God's Law, and live according to the Spirit's Law of life. 

Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the [crucified] body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another-to Him who was raised from the dead-that we may bear fruit for God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.
Romans 7:4-6 (HCSB)

Until we are with our Lord in heaven we live in this in between state where the Law of God and the Law of sin continue to operate in our lives and the Spirit's Law of life is not yet fully realized.  The Law of God is useful in pointing out sin.  It lets us know what God's expectations are for us.  However, it is powerless to change our lives.  The Law of sin continues to operate in our flesh leading to unholy desires.  If we do not die to this then sin is closer to our lives than is righteousness.

I used to believe that Romans 7 was the normal Christian life.  In this Chapter especially verses 13-25 Paul is describing a struggle.  On a casual reading it seems like the classic battle between good and evil with the desire to do good, but evil winning out in some way.    I would read this passage and say something like, "Wow that describes my experience.  I want to please God, but sin is always right there with me."  Then one day I was reading a commentary that said that Paul was not describing normal Christian experience, but was either describing a carnal Christian or his preconversion experience.  I reread Roman's 7 and my understanding and my spiritual walk where radically changed. 

Let me walk you through what I have learned about Romans 7. I grew up being taught from the pulpit that there is a perpetual struggle between the old nature and the new nature that continues in the Christian life. The primary text supporting that belief was Romans 7. There are others no doubt Hebrews 12:4 comes to mind. My point is not to debate that Christians struggle clearly we do. I am also not suggesting that somehow I have become perfect. I do fall, but I get up and press on as I am sure many who read this post do.

Back to Romans 7. I looked through the context, word by word, and then back at the passage as a whole. I compared it to other passages that talk about our victory in Christ. I discovered that the reason I was struggling was that I was holding onto a belief that it was normal or that it was God's plan for me to struggle. Delving in deeper I discovered that Paul in fact does not describe two natures in Chapter 7, but rather a battle between the mind (or will, wanting to do good) and the body(flesh under sin's power).  Verse 14 "For I understand what I am doing is wrong (mind)" "I do not practice (body)" "What I want to do (will)" "I agree the law is good (Mind)" "So I no longer am doing (Mind/wills inability to overcome sin)" Skiping to v 21 "I want to do good (will)" "My inner self or man I joyfully agree with God's law (The inner self is soul which is the seat of the will)"

Verse 24 now makes the profound statement "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me?" Why is he wretched? Because no matter how much he wants it, his will/mind/soul cannot save him! "Thanks be Jesus Christ our Lord" he then makes this statement "with my mind(soul/will) I am a slave to the law of God, but with my body to the law of sin" That the body is a slave to the law of sin we agree on or at least most would agree. But the statement that the mind is a Slave to the Law of God is confusing especially since Paul says earlier In verse 6 "But now we have been released from the law."

How can I be both released from the Law and a slave to the law? Well the answer is you are not. Finish reading verse 6 "since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law." Notice that the new nature is Spirit and not mind, will, nor soul. In Romans 7 Paul does not talk about a Spiritual struggle other than to say the Law is Spiritual and he is not.

So how does this apply to Spirit Mindedness? 

In a previous post I have described mindlessness.  Roman's 7 is Spirit Mindlessness.  In this state your mind is either set on the desire to to good (legalism) or you mind is set on gratifying the flesh (carnal mind).  Neither of these mental states are Spirit Minded.  Sometimes in our walk with God we get stuck in this state of double mindedness between the desire to do good and the power of sin to overwhelm the flesh and ensure that we do not.  We become grieved to the point of breaking and wonder if there is really any hope at all.  It is at this point that we can earnestly agree with Paul, "What at wretched man I am."  I think the point is that we have to recognize this Spiritual Mindlessness so that we can get out of this state. 

The first step in getting out of this state is to repent.  Repentance has two parts.  First dying to sin which I have covered in the previous two posts ("Dying to Sin", "Whose your master?").  The second part is turning to Christ.

Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 
Romans 7:24b-25a (HCSB)

Once you turn to Christ there is another step to staying on the path to Spirit Mindedness.  You have to meditate on this truth until it becomes the very essence of your thought life.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Romans 8:1-2 (HCSB)

If you can hold this truth as a light to your daily life then you will be well on your way to Spirit Mindedness.  We have to recognize that when we die to sin and live for Christ that we are free from condemnation.  When we return to condemnation then we are slipping back into Romans Chapter 7.  We have to choose to live where there is no condemnation.  If we choose instead to live in the battle of will versus flesh then there is only one conclusion "what a wretched man I am."  It is only when we recognize the Spiritual truth that "no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus" that we are truly free!  To continue in this state we have to be persistent in setting our mind on the Spirit of God (Spirit Mindedness).  There are many more aspects to Spirit Mindedness in Romans 8 that I will cover in future posts.  But for now will you consider dying to sin and turn your mind to the "Spirit's Law of life in Christ Jesus"?