Living in the Balance
Do you ever get bogged down in the weeds of a project so much that you lose sight of the big picture? This seems to happen a lot in the US Congress- someone proposes a bill and then hundreds of people begin to focus in on details (some that have absolutely nothing to do with the bill) and before we know it, the bill is so full of gunk, that it no longer accomplishes the original goal. As Christians, we can get caught up in the weeds of trying to live a Christian life so much that we are no longer living to Christ, but instead to good works.
Paul understood this challenge. In fact, as we get into our passage for today, we see that he understood it because he too had to wrestle with it. And remember, Paul is making a case for the Gospel- what it means to live it. And so right off the bat we see that Paul makes his argument by responding to anticipated questions or objections.
Do you ever do this? I know some of you do- you have those pretend arguments… well, if he says this, I’m going to say this and you better believe that I’m not going to let him get the best of me!
Anticipated Question #1: If we heed the lessons from , aren’t we just being legalistic Pharisees?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he lays out the argument for authentic Christian living- we’ve been working our way through pieces of this argument over the last several weeks. Today, we look at balancing the tension between “Living Right” and “Rightly Living.”
Let me explain how I define the two:
Living Right - is the outward manifestation of following a certain set of rules
Rightly Living - is the sincere pursuit of God’s best for our lives
Paul aims this portion of his letter directly at the Jews who knew the Law. They lived their entire life taught to obey a certain set of rules- for them it was the outward manifestation that was important. This was demonstrated time and again with the religious teachers known as the Pharisees. For them, life was all about keeping the rules… they were “living right.”
We can relate here. I imagine that there are a number of you who grew up in the church and you were taught a whole bunch of rules about what is and what is not acceptable behavior. In fact, there is a large number of folks who grew up in the church this way who have walked away from the church because they never learned the full truth of the Gospel. They simply learned the rules.
Discuss: Why do we tend to focus on the “rules” of Christianity?
And this is where Paul begins to lay out the first of 3 principles to help us live in the balance of living right and rightly living.
Relationship over Rules (1-6)
Relationship over Rules (1-6)
Paul explains that, as Christians, we are joined to the person of Christ (4)
If you can think back to our study last week in ch. 6, we learned that when we trust Jesus for salvation, we are justified before God- we are given forgiveness and favor. Paul said that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus (6:3) and we are now dead to sin and alive to Christ. We stand before God as Jesus does because we are united in Him. He has covered us in His righteousness, bought us with His blood, and sealed us with His Spirit.
Because we are joined to the person of Christ, we are released from the bonds of the Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law. This is that newness of life we spoke about.
And, being joined together with Christ, we are made to bear fruit for God (4). In fact, we can look back to Jesus’ teaching in
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
This principle is that:
It is only through our relationship with Jesus that we can bear fruit, thus the physical commands of the Law are not to be our focus.
Paul uses the analogy of marriage to help us understand (1-3)
Marriage was instituted by God as a covenant between a man and a woman til “death do us part.” Divorce really was not a valid option- people did not divorce because they “aren’t in love anymore” or because “we have irreconcilable differences.” No, that is not what God designed.
So, if you are married, and you decide to be joined with another (to do married people things) w/ someone other than your spouse, it is adultery and against the Law of God. However, if your spouse were to die, and you were to decide to remarry, it is not against the Law.
Now, the Jewish people were joined or married to the Law which was given to Moses. Their whole life revolved around these rules. But here’s the thing: The letter of the Law was meant to convey God’s character- the spirit of the Law. Somewhere along the way, the spirit of the Law was lost and all that remained was a bunch of rules by which they would attempt to comply with.
This can happen in our homes too. I have rules in my home, and my kids are to obey them. One rule is to respect each other and I expect them to obey. Their obedience should stem from their relationship with me as their father who loves them, not just actions that look like obedience. But if our kids are simply given rules that are not connected with our love for them, their obedience of said rules is likely to be merely compliance.
In order for our kids to be joined to us, they need to shake the idea that our rules are simply ways of controlling them.
The Jews, in order to be joined with Christ, needed to crucify their old way of thinking. The Law was not the path to righteousness- compliance did not equal devotion.
The same is true for you and me. We must get it out of our heads that we contribute anything to our salvation. We don’t have anything that God needs. In fact, the OT prophet Isaiah recorded the truth that our righteousness is like filthy rags. Why would God need your dirty rags? Friends, our righteousness comes from being united in Christ. Relationship over Rules.
Discuss: How can we change our thinking and put our relationship with Jesus above compliance?
Now, Paul anticipates a second question and we see it in
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! 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.”
Anticipated Question #2: Is the Law sin?
We might say something like, “Are rules bad?”
Obvious answer is NO. And Paul gives an emphatic NO!
Can you imagine if there were no rules in our society?
People would drive all over the road, speeding, driving drunk, etc. Forget red lights, stop signs… it’d be worse that Haiti!
People would kill and steal and there would be no justice.
Your workplace would be a zoo
What would your home look like? Your school?
And can you imagine how people would act in Walmart?!?
Rules are not bad. The Law is not bad.
On the contrary, Paul tells us that the
Rules Offer Revelation (7-13)
Rules Offer Revelation (7-13)
Revelation of what? Well, revelation of sin.
Let me give you a simple illustration: We know it is wrong to go 70 mph on Crab Creek Rd. because the law says that the fastest we are to travel is 45. The law gives us a reference point by which we compare our actions.
By God’s Law, we know His character. The Law reveals our sinful actions which are outflows of a sinful heart.
You may wonder: “Did sin exist before the Law was given?”
The answer is “YES” but it was the Law which allowed sin to be revealed to man.
In the Garden of Eden, there was given 1 rule- this was the Law revealed to man in the beginning. And when Adam and Eve broke that rule, they knew that they had sinned because God had revealed to them His character. From there on, the world and humanity was plagued by sin.
The Law in Scripture shows us that sin is in us and it is indeed sinful - that is, it is against God’s character, thus we are separated from God by our sin
Now, Paul explains, that the Law brought sin to life, which basically means that because we can see God’s character and standard, we now have a way of grading ourselves.
And listen- kids especially, this is not like you grading your own test in school where you might try to give yourself an A no matter what. This is where you have the answer key and you must honestly compare your test to the key.
When we evaluate our life against God’s Law, we are forced to acknowledge, as we saw in , that we fall desperately short. In other words, we fail. Our sin shows up.
The Law in Scripture shows us that sin is in us and it is indeed sinful (13) - that is, it is against God’s character, thus we are separated from God by our sin and we are indeed deserving of His wrath.
The Law is good, but we are not bound by it. Instead, we are united to Christ, but are to live to bear fruit for God.
Discuss: How do rules reveal sin?
Stay with me here, this is the tension that Paul is bringing to light.. As Christians, we have within us a
Rivalry of Reason (14-25)
Rivalry of Reason (14-25)
We know the right attitude for one who has been justified (ch. 5)
We know the right action for the one who has been justified (ch. 6)
We know the right motive for the one who has been justified (ch. 7a)
YET, sin still dwells within us.
Paul gets right to the point here in verses 14-25. We can agree perfectly with the Law, we can agree perfectly with our focus and unity in Christ, and yet we still mess up. We still do the very thing that we purpose not to do. We know what is right, yet we don’ t do it.
We can see this truth illustrated in the life of an addict. An alcoholic or drug-addict might agree with the principles- they know that this is killing them, they know it is ruining their lives and their relationships. They know they don’t really need it to live and be happy and they can agree with you that they need to give it up. But there’s a war waging that is beyond reason. Their body has become dependent on this high- there has been chemical changes, physical changes that must be warred against each and every day in order to come clean. It’s not a simple, one-time decision. And even after being clean for a while, it is so easy for them to mess up- That is what our battle with sin is like.
Here, we see Paul give an honest assessment of his own struggle. And friends, if the Apostle Paul struggled with this raging war of sin, we ought not be surprised that we do too.
Why can’t I get over this sin? Why do I keep failing? And even though we know that we are not bound to the Law, we still find that, like the Apostle Paul, evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good (21)
Can you relate? I bet you can… how many of you have resolved to lose weight this year? Now, your at home eating all your quarantine snacks… Why? How many of you have promised God and yourself that you would control your anger? Or your tongue? Or your wandering eyes?
We live in a battle-zone; a conflict between our sinful nature and our new life pursuing God’s design.
In this battle, we acknowledge our guilt like Paul (24a) “Wretched man that I am!” We cry out in despair, “Who will set me free from this body of death?”
The answer: ONLY JESUS!
Discuss: What are some examples of this conflict in your life?
So what? What are you to do with all this?
Folks, don’t be discouraged when you mess up. You will mess up. Rather, be encouraged that you are united with Christ and are clothed in His righteousness. You don’t have to earn His acceptance; Jesus already did that.
When we serve Jesus, not the Law, we will grasp the intent and spirit of the Law and, united in Jesus, we will bear fruit for God.
Abide in Christ. When we serve Jesus, not the Law, we will grasp the intent and spirit of the Law and we will bear fruit for God. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!(25a)