On Romans 7

I just took sometime out this morning to do a study on Romans 7. I implore you to do the same. I came to this passage because many of us quote this chapter to explain our struggles with sin as legitimate experience under grace. In fact, some of us think that the thorn in the flesh which Paul talked about in 2Cors 12 vs 7 is this issue of human nature in Roms 7. But I want us to look at the issues in this chapter deeply. Paul started this chapter in continuation of the thoughts expressed in Romans 6. It’s interesting to note that Paul, while advancing the blessing in grace, had elaborately talked about the fact that we are dead to sin (Roms 6:2, 8-11) For him, those who know the power of the cross (Roms 6:6) and consider themselves dead to sin (Roms 6:11) do not get to be slaves to the works of the flesh (Roms 6: 15-22). So in chapter 7, Paul starts by dismissing the theology that still wants to hold on to the law. Now, please read Romans 7:1- 6 carefully. Paul did not discredit the law. In fact, he said that we’d not have known what sin is if not for the law (Roms 7: 7). It is therefore important for us not to take Romans 7: 15-23 in isolation. It’s predicated upon premises built on earlier verses. So Paul began to talk of the struggles he had with sin while the human nature was still reigning in him in contradiction with what the law says. It is what he didn’t want to do that he did (Roms 7:15) What he wanted to do, he couldn’t. This was a wretched living, a defeated spiritual experience. It was clear Paul wanted something better. He yearned for something better. Now, go to the last verses of Chapter 7 and see his deliverance. He says in verses 24 and 25 that: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? ThANKS BE TO GOD – THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!…..

Isn’t that beautiful?

Paul found salvation in Jesus. Jesus has saved us. Oh, thank you Jesus! You can find deliverance in Jesus too. And until we understand the tremendous power giving to us for life and godliness (2peter 1:3-10), we’d never learn to live a life above sin. We’d not know that those under grace are not under the control of the human nature anymore. Rather, those under grace have received the power to say NO to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12).

Some people also claim Jesus had the flesh. No. I disagree. Jesus had human blood and flesh because he came as a man to destroy death (Hebs 2:14). But he didn’t have flesh in the sense of human or Adamic nature. So, if u read Roman 8: 3 you see something like, …made in the LIKENESS of sinful flesh…That is, he had our form but he didn’t have our nature. That was why his birth was supernatural. If he had come as a seed of man, and not inborn by the Holy Spirit, then he would have had the human nature too. And remember, sin is not first about WHAT WE DO but WHO WE ARE. So, Jesus would not have been a fitting lamb for our sacrifice. How can we then say he was without sin when he had the sinful nature already? For he had no sin but became sin so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2cors 5:21). Now some of you might say: Well, that’s why he didn’t sin. No, sir. No, ma’am. Adam didn’t have the human nature too at first. He had God’s life. But when he was tempted he couldn’t say NO. But Jesus was tempted like him but he said NO. So having God’s nature doesn’t mean you won’t sin. Although God’s nature CANNOT sin (1John 3:9). But Jesus, like Adam, had the choice and free will to say YES or NO. Unlike the human nature, God’s nature(represented in grace) empowers you to say NO. It’s left for you to allow it or deny it.

What that means is that why those who have the human nature cannot say NO to sin, those who have experienced the power and deliverance the cross brings can say NO to sin. Now, this is the difference between Christians and every other people. Jesus came to return us to that initial image Adam had. That inner life that is not human nature but God’s nature. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can equally live daily without fulfilling the desires of the flesh.

So, why this long treatise this morning? So many of us are short-changing the power of the cross. We are listening to narratives that do not stir up faith in us. All these things start with what you hear, and invariably, what you believe. So, you see Paul saying in Roms 6:6…KNOW you not… Friends, you must know. You must know what Christ did for you on the cross. You must appreciate the stretch of His love on Calvary. Have you been misbehaving? Have you been struggling with sin? Have you been crying out for deliverance from the human nature, flesh? Don’t sulk for too long. The good news is that that’s why Christ came (Mathew 1:21). Look at the Son of Man on the cross. That’s where your deliverance is.

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This is Life!

When John captured the deceptive tactics of the enemy in threefold, he was only being aptly spot on. The lust of the flesh. The lust of the eyes. The pride of life. This is the enemy’s age long temptation which we all daily encounter. Eve did. Jesus did. Eve took the bait, ate and fell. Jesus didn’t. Jesus was tempted with bread to check if he had an untamed appetite. That was the lust of the flesh. There was another test of ego and pride, of his divine power and importance. That was the pride of life. The enemy suggested a little compromise, a quick bowing, for the attractiveness of wealth and glamour. A clear case of lust of the eye. And Eve? While tempted with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh); that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eye) and that it was a tree to be desired to make one wise (pride of life).

However, in the same garden there was another tree – a tree of life – which a flaming sword kept its way (Gen 3:24). It’s important to construct a clear narrative of these trees in the garden. There were two trees in Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. For me, this was like a shadow of a deeper truth (Hebs 10:1). Why was Jesus able to overcome his temptation and Eve couldn’t? It’s important to note that the starting point for the devil’s temptation was to corrupt God’s word to achieve a self-centred result (Gen 3:1; Mathew 4:6). Anyone who wants to overcome temptation must see beyond self to honouring God. Joseph understood this too clearly when he said, “…how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” This is the trick of the enemy. Temptations draw us away from God to ourselves. It takes our eyes off the honour of God to the comfort of flesh. At the transient moment of temptations, what we often think about is the goal of what we want to do and not God’s mind about it. It was at this point Jesus got it right. He was after the heart of God, after doing the will of God. And it is He who does the will of God that lives (1John 2:17). Eve couldn’t. She died.

So we see Jesus replicating the essence of eating from the tree of life – live forever (Gen 3:22). This is the life he offers. John 1:4 says…IN him was life; and the life was the light of men. This life is what has the capacity not to cave under the weight of temptation and to live above sin. It is life eternal. And this is about knowing God (John 14:3) and doing his will (John 4:34). And so in going back to the shadow I mentioned earlier, we must understand that to access life, as represented in Eden, we must go through a ‘flaming sword’. Flame is symbolic of fire and sword is symbolic of God’s word. Jesus baptises with Holy Spirit and fire (Mathew 3:11-12) and the Word of God re-lives the power of the double edged sword, piercing the soul and spirit (Hebs 4:12).

Our daily experiences should be filled with the freshness of a burning altar and the Word -like a sword- falling on our self-life. There are vagaries of daily temptations that we can’t continue to fall into. It is clear that when we use these symbols: Fire, Sword, Tree of Life…we are ultimately drawing attention to Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). This is the life that overcomes sin. This is the life who draws attention away from self but to the honour of God. This is the tree of life whose fruits, if eaten, is unto eternity. This is the same life which lived above temptations. Yes, tempted like we are but yet without sin! This is Life – the true pattern to an effective Christian life. This is Jesus!

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What Do You See?

Earlier in the past week, I interacted with a sermon by Zac Poonen. He narrated an experience he had with a fellow who needed a certain amount of money to transit to another town for an important occasion. The man asked Poonen for just a fraction of what he needed. Zac Poonen who sympathised with his ordeal decided to give him all he needed. Upon arrival at the man’s projected destination several weeks later himself, Zac was shocked to be told that the man was a constant, familiar beggar in that vicinity. He was deeply annoyed the man had lied to him. Then God spoke to him saying, ‘Should you be angry that you were deceived or that the man’s soul was lost?’ (Paraphrased)

It became clear to me that duality or multiplicity of interpretations could be given to a single narrative or encounter depending on individuals. The question really is, what do you see?

In the same vein, what do you see when you read your bible? Some see litany of rules that perpetuate legalism. In the end they get tired of its muggy weight, shove off its mechanical approach and curse religion. Some see it merely as a spicy literature to liven intellectual positions in public dialogues. But as disciples, God’s ultimate desire is that we conform to Christ’s image (Roms 8:29)

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.…(2Cor3.18 KJV).

Do you see Jesus when you read your bible? Is he the ultimate interest pacing through every flipped pages of your bible? Then learn this from Jesus: He saw the sinners before their sins, yet he didn’t condone sins in the name of love. If you ever encounter him on the passages of the scriptures, He was criticising hypocrites not sinners. This is the image of Christ we must constantly see. The one we must conform to as his disciples. We must conform in humility, obedience, prayers, suffering, sincerity, genuine love, sacrifice…..

We must see Jesus!

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Let Us Pray Now

Dear Asake,

You are gradually coming to terms with the dearth of nagging interests you had with praying for 3-5hours at a stretch in a day. There are no luxury of such hours daily anymore. The issue for me now isn’t really the time but the feelings that attend it. The fact that you think that no serious prayers have occurred until long hours accompany it. So when some prayer thoughts come into your heart, you keep it in a mental file of some sort. You begin to isolate and identify due prayers for your private 3hours prayer time, a time that never comes to be in the long run. Days pass by. Weeks pass by. And your prayer points are only still projections of your mental state. They never find expression.

You must however understand that prayer is a life as much as it is an art. It is equally a relationship as much as it is an act. To focus more on the art and act is to experience the laborious tendencies associated with its practice. When Jesus taught us how to pray and started with ‘Our father…’, that statement became a profound re-ordering of the idea of God and prayer. He seems to say, ‘Prayer is like talking to your father.’ The moment you realise that your fellowship with God, your walk with God, your love affair with Him is central to the whole idea of prayer, you’d be liberated from the religious, mechanical and fixated approach to it. So, prayer is as mobile as it could be fixed. I can be walking and be praying. I can be eating and be praying. I can pray about a thought immediately it comes to my mind. I don’t have to wait for my fixed, long hours and prayer position. Why? The access to God has been widely opened. He is now a father. And it’s not about staying in one defined place or stuck with one defined position of prayer. Yes, time is crucial but life beats it. And please be reminded, part of life is ensuring not to take God for granted. Make your prayer time an offshoot of your prayer life. Then enjoy God!

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Save A Child!

I remember as a child that the children church served a purgatory essence for me. Sunday was always a time to go confess the ills of the past week and listen to pep talks of anticipatory righteousness for the coming week. And as our tutors reel out the do’s and don’t’s, we never realised it was still in the spirit of the Old Covenant that reveals our frailties to us, demand grander life of holiness but lacks inner grace to see it come through. It was in one of such meetings I was alerted to the “sin” of stealing meats from the pot soup. I brooded over what sounded like absurd practice on the lips of our teachers, but became a silent fascination in my own heart. Eventually, I succumbed to the charming temptation of stealing meats in the pot. And it tasted good. First time. Second time. And on and on, until the proverbial reality of everyday for the thief one day for the owner caught up with me. My mum was annoyed, and upon threats of spanking, I mumbled: ‘Ah! Mummy, please….I was only counting your meats.’ The lie didn’t sway her. I was thoroughly beaten. Now, I consider my response totally ridiculous.

I realise the flaws of my growing days. It was a flaw that teach morals in the spirit of the old covenant but fail to introduce us first to the new covenant beauty of inner grace. I realise the flaws of my unconfessed sin. It was a flaw that led me to the deeper waters of sinfulness – from theft to lies. I realise the flaws of our religious gatherings. It’s a flaw that makes us gifted orators that give pep talks to our kids and not be souls they can draw Christ’s life from. I realise the flaws of our present times. It’s a flaw that approves an eight year old child’s talent for singing D’banj but barks down his public confession of Christ as an early, harmful indoctrination.

If our kids can be so versed in secular realities, what stops them from being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit even in their tender age? Mathew 19:14, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” We should be doing more. I want to be doing more.

Let’s save the coming generation from the slippery platform of spiritual emptiness. Save a child today. ‘Jesus loves you’ will do for a start. Let’s go!

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A Different Culture

Dear Asake,

I can relate with your view that changing times should affect forms of worship in our churches. I agree that what matters most is the substance of our faith as it takes expressions in multiple forms. However, the culture of the world shouldn’t take the lead in our worship as a flimsy testament to changing times and preferences. If we are not careful, Jesus could be lost in the cloud of elitist, post-modern styles we have currently shrouded him with. We are fast becoming a first generation of Christians who feel that in order to be relevant and draw men to Christ we must be like our culture. However, the bible teaches us differently. To be able to be relevant for Christ in our culture, we have to be completely different from that culture. Sadly, the contest of culture nowadays isn’t just about the worldly bent but one that also has a religious thought to it.

Romans 12:2:  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God….You are either transformed or be conformed. Your mind is either renewed or plagued by worldliness. To be pleasing to God we must discover what is wrong from the Word of God and run from it like a plague.

Guard your heart.

You must be wary of a virtual culture that diminishes the name of Jesus to a cyber joke and shoves the pill of tolerance down your throat as the token to condoning it. You must be wary of a religious culture that constantly subverts diligence with the rhetoric of God’s mercy and favour. You must equally live above the culture of the mind which thinks that separation from worldly entanglement is only a boasting platform for attained life of holiness. That’s crap!

I do not just call you to some watery, theological paradigm shift in cultural mandate. In the end, extremes in many directions are bound to be perpetuated. Rather, I call you to a life in the spirit of the cross. Live everyday as a mere channel though which Christ’s life can flow into human hearts. Now that’s the real, spiritual culture!

Love you.

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The Gift of True Friendship

Dear Asake,

There are past tales of hurts that often deny us the awesome privileges of now. I have watched your reluctance to mix with sobering mindfulness of the inhuman disappointments meted to you in the hands of so-called friends. People can be funny. ‘Awon aye’ can be wicked and dangerously hypocritical. But don’t shut the door against good ones. How would you know if they are good if you do not take the leap of faith! How would you even be ‘led’ in your present alterations of certain definitions! Friendship is a risk. Just as you consider false friends to be full of bitterness and regrets, may I assure you that a good friend is sweet. The blessedness of timely friendships are precious offerings of sanity that heal the soul. You need that one person in your life who makes every broken pieces of your life fit together again with a smile, a touch, a word or presence…For there’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother… And that, I believe, won’t be found in the pomps, goodies, fantasies and vanities of this world. My life is a testimony. There were certain junctions my heart lost the steam to cheer me on. The pouring, flowery words of inspiration from the lips of amazing friends pushed me on. I experienced an inexpressive comfort of feeling safe in the arms of friends. It wasn’t really about the sturdiness of their chest but the welcoming ambience it carried. And sincerely, it is still a familiar narrative. They also know when silence is golden. Isn’t it heavenly to have a friend and be a cherished one? I speak of friendship that equally doesn’t massage my ego nor indulge the evasiveness of my fickle principles…The tough love kind..I speak of friendship that understands the balance between motivation and frankness. There is a weakness that is a compliment to the power of God, and there’s a weakness that sin brings. It takes a true friend to draw the line where and when one appallingly tries to muddle both. I speak of you too. Your smiles heal me. Charles Spurgeon speaks of friendship as “one of the surest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they found a friend.” I am blessed by your friendship, and I am thankful I found you in Jesus. Always find that (wo)man that counts…And Yes, in God!

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