12.5 Romans – Distress

The key repeated word in our lesson today is distress.  Synonyms to distress are anguish, torment, pain, suffering.  Distress is not the same as fear or anxiety, it is not doubt or uncertainty, but it is physically and mentally hurting.  Another synonym is heartache.

Why?  Why is Paul in such agony and pain?  What is it that is bringing this wise and well educate man anguish and distress?  In large part it is the confirmed realization that he is not in charge.  He is not the king of anything, the master of anything.  He does not even have control of his own actions and emotions.  He wants to do one thing and he does the opposite.  He wants to fill his thoughts with one thing and he is filled by the opposite.  He is utterly incompetent at controlling any ongoing dynamic of his spiritual life and has little control of his physical one as well.

The reason this matters is because, the thing that separates man from any other living creature is supposed to be reason and self-control.  We are not mere animals caving to every animalistic yearning.  But, Paul finds his own mastery lacking.  This is something we all find as well if we honestly assess our situations and power.

Which leads us to the fact that we cannot free ourselves from the bondage of slavery.  We do not have enough control to be right and pure.  We do not have the power to resist sin.  We don’t have the strength to stand up to temptation.  The waves of life crash over us and we are cast about like a ship without sail or anchor.  A shipwreck is eminent.

Who will save us?  Who will redeem us?

At the answer to this question Paul pivots the discussion he has carried us through in the past 7 chapters into a new direction and new realization.  We need a Lord of our life.  We need a Master who is in control.  We would prefer that Lord and Master be one who is compassionate and desires to help us and save us and grow us and not one who is set on our destruction.  In either case, the fact is we do not have the power or ability to be the master ourselves.  Our master is another, it is either the author of salvation of the speaker of lies, the source of light to the world or the purveyor of darkness.

Paul expresses his choice in whom he gives thanks.  “I give thanks to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  In that sentence, he acknowledges and gives thanks that Jesus is his Lord because Paul knows that Paul himself is not Lord of anything.

But, like anyone who has spent time in rough seas, the fact that he has been rescued and now stands on solid ground has not stopped the sea sickness raging in his body and continuing to feel the churning of the waves in his head.  His equilibrium is still off.  He is unbalanced.  His senses and desires are not yet acclimated to this new reality because they carry the remnants of the prior situation.

I know with my head and heart that I belong to Jesus and He is my Lord and Master, but there is also a part of me that is still churning in the rough waters and tempted to grab ahold of all the wrong things to rely upon other than God.

I’m looking forward to how Paul continues this dialogue into the next chapter.

My Answers:

He has looked in the mirror after witnessing and seeing Christ and sees more clearly the presence of unmitigated sin in his life. This happens each time one of the prophets came into the presence of God. We see our unclean lips, our wicked tongues, our stiff-necks and our sin.

God delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is no other deliverer than Jesus. We cannot save ourselves.

I felt overwhelmed with family struggles last week, heavy weight on shoulders and inability to do anything to affect change and lasting improvement. Prayer brought peace. Nothing changed, but I no longer felt in charge.

12.4 Romans – Wasted Resources

Following on my masonry analogy related to the law as a plumb and level from yesterday’s lesson, I thought I would stay with building projects today.

In every building project there is some scrap.  There are raw goods and materials that get thrown away.  A board is cut down and the remainder is unusable.  Concrete is mixed in excess of what needs to be poured.  Nails are bent, metal is bent and cut, glass is cut to size or broken.

One of the roles of a builder is to minimize excess waste.  It is not to eliminate it all together, because that would simply create wastes in other areas, but scrap thrown away has a cost and efficiency is good stewardship.

The gift we are given of being alive can and is also divided into building blocks which we call moments of time.  We all will have a fixed amount of time between birth and death.  It will be different for each of us, but we can’t purchase more at the end of our days.

My answer to the question of what do you do that you don’t want to do is that I waste time.  I’m not talking about the time spent sleeping or doing things that enhance or strengthen my body.  Some of that time may be considered scrap to my mission in living, but it is scrap that was built in to the budget, calculations and expectations.  Instead, I’m talking about the time spent sinning.

My revelation in this study is that time spent sinning is time that is dead in God’s eyes.  As one who is saved by Jesus Christ, it is not held against me as if I was still being measured against the law trying to earn righteousness.  However, it is also not counted for me, either.  One way of thinking of it is that out of the 60 or 80 or 100 years of my life, only 40 or 20 or 10 may show up in materials that actually end up in the building project I have been given, the rest is in the scrap pile hauled off to be burned away.

What building project am I working on?  It is the same mission we are all given as Christians, to reflect the light of Christ into the world, to make disciples and to share the good news, to serve and support and to be salt and light.  The reward for a completed project is a bigger project and the desired words from our foreman, “well done, good and faithful servant”.

My Answers:

Sin is a noun and represents the infection that permeates our physical selves. I am, by nature, sinful and unclean because I have inherited this status from the sin that is in the world and inherited to all mankind.
The law is from God. It is a foreshadowing of holiness and was only fulfilled by one man, Jesus Christ.
Paul is pointing out the obvious… although saved and born again, we still live in human bodies born of sin

Welcome to the club. This is the defining, self evident, fact that works will not bring holiness. Being more and more devout does not reduce our temptation to sin, in fact it may magnify it because we move the bar to a higher standard by understanding more what it means to be fully dedicated to God.

I waste time. I participate in idle thoughts and actions that do not refresh me in body or spirit and do not produce anything of value for anyone. I do not give enough or with enough joy to strangers. I do not see all people through the eyes of God. I’m greedy and covet things.

12.3 Romans – Plumb and Level

In our verses for today, Roman 7:7-13, Paul presents another perspective of the law and sin.  The law is a tool, presented by God, that is used as a true and correct measurement of how our lives stack up.

Without a plumb line or a level, our only guide for our life would be other lives around us.  As anyone who has tried masonry, or even stacking a cake, our eyes are very poor measures of what level actually looks like.  In our lives, which consist of moment upon moment, decision upon decision, or, metaphorically, brick upon brick, even a slight variance from straight and level leads to great imbalance which leads to weakness and ultimately to a failing and falling structure.

The law doesn’t make our lives out of kilter any more than the plumb line makes the structure crooked.  It simply and truly identifies the variances and faults.

Its right use is not as an after the fact measuring tool, as was the perspective given in yesterday’s lesson, instead, it is a tool to be used during the building process so that we stay true and level with God’s design.

If I have the plumb and level available to me and still stack the blocks of my life crooked it is not because I want to but because of the imbalance and weakness that are still an element of my knowledge and skill.  In the same way, when I sin as a Christian it is not because as a Christian I want to sin but because I am still developing the knowledge and skills and holiness to overcome the weakness and imperfection of my sin nature and prior training.

My Answers:

The law draws a line separating right from wrong, righteousness from sin. Sin uses the line to tempt us to cross over the line or to lie about where the line is until after we have sinned. It brings us to work in sin receiving our due wages of death.

It is an unfulfilled lie. It cannot satisfy and only lures one into more and more. Nothing outside of God brings true satisfaction. Nothing of this world will give us spiritual food. A promise of a path that makes me my own god, is a lie.

12.2 Romans – Measure

In Chapter 7 of Romans, Paul uses the word law in different ways.  I don’t mean to say that he is trying to use the same word for different things, but rather that he is using the same word for the same thing but showing us different angles or perspectives of that thing while being consisted in what he calls it.  Like many things with the bible and particularly some of the writings of the scholar Paul, things are very deep and multi-layered.

In the first 6 verses which we study today, Paul is using the word as a measure or, better put, as a dividing line.

His example of marriage and adultery was one example that made this perspective very clear.  The application of the measure of the law was different in two different situations.  If both spouses were alive, the couple were considered still married and, if one party to the marriage strayed into infidelity, the law recognized that as adultery.  However, take that same person committing the same act but only after the passing of his or her spouse.  The act hasn’t changed, the law hasn’t changed, but the person is no longer measured innocent or guilty under the law.  It no longer applies.  He is not advocating for lustful behavior; he is simply stating that the measure of the law of adultery dies with the death of the spouse.

This is how Paul is explaining the freedom we have.  The law of Moses did not vanish.  Nor is he advocating that we should begin performing acts that were against the law.  He is simply saying it is no longer the measure of our righteousness.

That is wonderfully huge!

No one ever was found righteous because of their adherence to the law.  That is not to say that God did not deem individuals righteous in the old testament, but it is not because they perfectly fulfilled every nuance of the law.  No one did that.  As Paul said in Chapter 3, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  No one is righteous, no, not one.

What it means is that there is now a door 2 available that is different than the door 1 which was you are measured against the law and found guilty.  Door 2 is the “I’m with Him” alternative.  Instead of us being judged by the measure of the law, Jesus takes our place and we stand behind Him as He is measured and found not-guilty and fully righteous.  Jesus did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it on our behalf.  It didn’t go away, it just does not apply as the measure of our innocence and guilt because we are no longer married to our old life.  We died to our old life and have been united with the Holy Spirit.

My Answers:

In contrast to the law, to which we are only bound while living, When we are born again to the family of Christ it is an eternal bond resulting in everlasting life

We are freed from the law (or, at least, from the law being the measurement of our righteousness). Belong to Jesus Christ in order that we might bear fruit to God

Caring for others, living in a way that matches my words and my faith, teaching, spending time with God in prayer for others.

Fruit for God is works and results that come through the power of the Spirit alive in us, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness… Fruit of death is works that result in leading ourselves and others farther from the truth and deeper into darkness: idolatry, vain language, lust, fear hate, envy, sexual immorality. The fruit of death flirts with me and I only result by walking with the spirit and praying and seeing things through God’s eyes not my own.