Throughout The Book of Romans, Paul argues that trying to do right all the time is an exercise in futility. Not that we should give up on good behavior, but we should not consider it necessary for acceptance into the Kingdom of God. When our own action is the central hero of our lives, we will find ourselves in cycles of incapacity, shame and sin – a path that leads to spiritual death. The only way to avoid this cycle is a life of faith – to trust and hope in Jesus. To believe in Him and all that He has done. And do our best in response, moving out of acceptance rather than toward it.
Condemnation, control and conservation
Tim: He actually says that in chapter eight overtly, he says, “Therefore”–and we’ll go back and talk about what the therefore is–“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Okay? So these guys are using condemnation to get control.
When someone condemns you, you tend to want to appease them to make the condemnation go away. That’s a control mechanism. You will be tempted to do that as a mom.
Kylie: Because you want to be accepted, you want to belong.
T: And you want your kids to affirm you. As parents, you want to do none of that. You want to give them total unconditional acceptance. Like, I’ll never threaten to reject you in any way, but I do want you to understand that your choices have consequences, and good choices have good consequences and bad choices have bad consequences. And you have agency and you can’t really blame anybody but yourself. I want you to understand that. I want you to know the difference between a good choice and a bad choice when you leave, which is absolutely going to happen, because you’re going to make your own decisions. So if you have that as a there for your children, and you enforce that or reinforce that with the way you live, you’re doing the best you can. And they might still make bad choices. God has a bunch of human children, a lot of them have made bad choices.
Joey: Yeah, so we’d be in good company.
T: You’d be in good company in that respect, yeah. I have a son who’s almost made from the same mold I am. Therefore he’s as hard-headed as I am. But I’m an older brother profile, so I’m a condemner, a rule maker and a comparer by nature. He’s the prodigal that went and did the wanton lifestyle by nature. So that’s a material difference that we have. And he’s told me multiple times that leaving with the clear understanding that the consequences are all on you, and the consequences of sin are really negative and severe, that’s the only thing that held him back. He said, “I really wanted all that stuff really bad, and I just knew it would be catastrophic and I had no one to blame.” He said, “If you had tried to control me in any way, I know myself, I would have gone into all that stuff and blamed you.”
J: Well, I think the parenting analogy is really great because again, to give the bad guys in the story a little bit of credit, I think some of this comes from the well-intended mindset that this is for their own good. Parents will say about their kids like, ‘I’ve gotta, basically, make choices for them, for their own good.’
T: To protect them from bad choices.
J: To protect them, otherwise they’re not making the right choices. And we work at a college campus, we have parents that are still making the decisions for their students and into their adulthood because it’s like, ‘Well, this is for their own good. They can’t make this choice themselves.’
K: Yeah, it’s to protect them from consequences that they don’t want their children to experience. Because they don’t want their children to experience pain, but pain is actually a very good teacher.
The opening–live by faith
T: What you want to do is put boundaries on the pain so that, hopefully, it’s not permanent damage. But if a kid never falls, how are they ever going to learn the importance of balance? You just don’t want them to fall and break their neck. You know, fall from 6 inches, not 10 feet. And that’s what God does for us, he sets boundaries. In fact, when Paul begins his opening statement like this, now we can go back to the opening statement some here. Because we now know the good guys are the Roman believers and they’ve got Jewish leadership who believe that the Gospel is real, that acceptance is wholly given, but there’s importance in walking by faith, there’s a reason to walk by faith, a good reason. They’re the good guys. The bad guys are the ones that say ‘approval and acceptance are all in one bundle, and since we can’t do that, I’ll substitute by making you follow my rules that I don’t follow myself.’ So we have that story pretty well said. So his opening statement to these Gentile believers, whose faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, is that the gospel is power to deliver us from the negative consequences of sin, both by believing and being delivered from the penalty of sin, (which is a one-time event being born into his family and on an ongoing basis). And I think that it’s pretty clear that these Jewish bad guys are making rules that they don’t follow themselves, right? He makes that pretty clear. So they’re not escaping, they have the illusion of escaping, which is always the way this works. It’s always an illusion. But he says here, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” So that’s the theme. If you wanna be righteous, you live by faith. You don’t make rules, you live from the heart. And then he says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and all unrighteousness of men.” Now, did he put a subset in there and say some? It’s all, right? Did he say the unbelieving?
K: No, it’s everyone.
T: It’s everyone, right? And have we all experienced that when we as believers do something unrighteous? There are negative consequences.
J: And, as we’ve already talked about it, this includes himself. Paul does not even give himself an out here, right? He’s in this boat along with everybody else.
The three-step process to unrighteousness
T: That’s right. Now, he does talk about unrighteous men who suppress the truth and unrighteousness. And he talks about people that know God but they don’t acknowledge him as God. But, as we’ve seen, he’s going to end up putting us all in this bucket. We’re all this way. He starts off with what these Gentiles were before they came to faith, right? They know God because you can see God all around you, but you ignore it. And he says, “…even though they knew God through nature, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened.” Who of us hasn’t done that? I’m going to follow my own way instead of God’s way. That’s a daily challenge, right? “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Who of us hasn’t done that? And when we do that, we exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for man usually us. In this case, he’s saying, “the form of corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures,” because in their culture, they would use idols as an excuse for self-worship. We just do it directly, cutting out the middleman in our world. So then he says, “Therefore, God gave them over to the lust of their hearts to impurity.” So there’s a three-step process here of what happens when we fall into unrighteousness, believer or unbeliever. If we pursue lust, God initially says no and doesn’t let us have it, which is hopeful. And I’ve thought back in my life of places where I started down that road and God blocked it, and I’m so grateful.
T: But, if you insist, He’ll eventually let you have it. So step one is give you over to your lust. In verse 26, for these reasons, God gave them over to these degrading passions. So now your lust becomes an addiction, you can’t do without it. Fill in the blank with whatever it is–sex, drugs, fame, affirmation, materialism. We are very creative as people in finding things to be addicted to.
K: And degrading, it’s like going down further and further and further. Sin is fun until it’s not fun anymore. Then you just realize you’re at the bottom of this pit.
T: That’s right. And then the third step is that you continue to not acknowledge God, I can do this myself. God gave them over to a depraved mind. And eventually, you get to the point where the things that you actually care about, you’re harming. And you can’t even think straight anymore. This is the progression. So what Paul has done right off the bat is give you ample reason not to go into sin even though you can. And he says you can, very deliberately. He says, and this is in 5:21, “the law came in, so the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounds all the more.” He gives that as a definitive statement. That’s what the bad guys in this thing are so bothered about, more sin more grace. He asserts that. Really? Yes. Is that true? Yes. Can you sin after you become a new creation in Christ?
T: Yes. You know how I know that? Because I do!
K: Every day.
T: Most of it, I would say, I’m unaware of. And then, my sanctification process has been gradually becoming aware of things that I’ve been doing all along that God is just revealing. It’s like a little at a time. It’s almost like if he showed me all at once, I would just fall over dead.
J: Yeah–just a quick side–could you give an example of what an unintentional sin, or separation from God if we are defining it that way, would look like?
The winding road to self-rationalization
T: Well, self-rationalization…I lived many, many years thinking that I was improving my flesh little by little. And when I would make a mistake, I would say to myself, “Well, that was a mistake, but I would never do that again.” I actually had a voice inside that would say that “I’m okay now”. Well, that’s wrong, that’s sinful. That is something that’s not true. Sin is living something that’s not true, and I was telling myself untruths all the time. It’s apparent to me now, but I didn’t know it at the time. And then God said ‘It’s time for you to learn this.’ And I was actually just broken as a result of coming to grips with that. It was a horrible two years that I went through because I felt like such a failure. You know why I felt like I was a failure?
K: Because you couldn’t keep your own rule book?
T: Well, it was because I was a failure. Yeah, I was not keeping my own rule book. I was not living up to my own standards, and it became this thing that he accused them of and then said, “Yeah, me too.” Well, I came to an awareness of that. And 1 John says this overtly. Well, let’s just go through it real quick. It is, I think, incredibly encouraging. He says in 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as He’s in the light,” so, we see light, we walk in the light, we’re not walking in darkness, “we have one, fellowship with one another.” That’s great, right? We want fellowship with one another. “And the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” So, if we walk in the light, what do we have? Fellowship and sin! “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, when we’re walking in the light, the things we can’t see, Jesus just takes care of that. Don’t worry about that. As things come into the light and we become aware of it, we can confess it, and then He cleanses that. If something comes into the light and we don’t deal with it, now we’ve got a problem. That’s when fellowship is going to be broken and our joy won’t be complete, and we’re gonna start down this path of being given over to our lust if we don’t deal with it. That’s incredibly encouraging, right? Deal with what you know. We’ll get to the rest later. But it’s also a warning: better deal with what you know.
K: You’ve gotta take responsibility.
The consequence of sin
T: Take responsibility, exactly so. So, back to Romans, and we’ve looked at this, “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” He makes that a definitive statement at the end of Chapter 5. And he says in 5:21, “So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace may reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” So, because we have believed, eternal life is flowing through us. It’s amazing! Next thing you get, then, is one of the key objections. “What then shall we say?” So here’s another objection. When you see that, “what then shall we say?”, you’re getting an objection. “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may be abound?” You can see how that argument would fly. It’s certainly a good sell. “Well, hang on a second here, sin is fun, sin is good, sin is what I really want. If I sin, then grace covers it. So that does God a favor and it does me a favor. What’s not to like?” Great self-rationalization. Paul answers, “Certainly not.” Okay, why? Is it because you’re going to lose your acceptance? No. “How shall who died to sin live any longer in it?” You died to sin, why would you want to go back into something that’s not good for you? “Or do you not know that as many of us that were baptized in Christ are baptized into his death?” And then he goes on to say, “Sin brings death.” The consequence or wages of sin is death, and that’s written to believers. Now, you can use it for unbelievers too, it’s true of everybody. But that’s actually written in the context of answering the question, “should we continue to sin?” Not “can we?” What’s the answer to “can we?” Absolutely, yeah. Should we, is that something we ought to embrace and rationalize? No, because the consequence of sin is death.
K: That brings you all the way back to Romans 1, degradation and the depraved mind.
T: And death is the separation. You go through that progression in Romans 1. What is the separation? The separation is from the deeper passion that you have, rather than just this appetite, the desire to be whole and one and at fellowship with that. It destroys all of those things, it separates you from everything you truly want. It separates you from everything that’s in your best interest, that’s number one. Number two is that it’s freed you from this flesh that wants to control you, and from all these rule-makers that want to control you. Why, having been freed, do you wanna go back into slavery again? Picture yourself as a slave on a galley ship, you know, rowing all day long, every day, and somebody comes and unchains you and says “You can go.” And then, a week later you say, “Hey, I kind of miss rowing. I’m gonna go back and row some more.” That’s what you’re doing when you do that. Why would you do that? Can you?
Yes, of course. But why? Okay, so let’s just rephrase this, Paul is saying, ‘so you’re asking me, Well, can I have death and slavery?’ Well…yeah. Do you want death and slavery? Who wants that instead of life and freedom? Is that what you really want? ‘Well, no, I don’t want that.’ Then don’t do that. If you don’t want it, then don’t choose it. That’s basically his argument.
J: Which is kind of a paradigm-shifting conversation, right? Because even in modern Christianity, I think we have this idea that sin is the fun stuff. It’s what I really want to do with my life. And when I become a Christian or when I submit my life to Christ, I’ve gotta leave all the things I really want and I’ve gotta be obedient to these things that aren’t of any interest to me. They aren’t any fun. And I just have to obligatorily drag myself into this path. And so that’s why these questions, these accusations, are coming up, right? Well, yeah, it’s a win-win proposition if you have the paradigm that sin is fun and the more you sin, the more grace is given to you. But if you take a true paradigm, which is that sin is death and destruction, then it’s not a win-win anymore. It’s still a win for Christ, for God, He’s always going to end up winning. But for you, it’s death and destruction. So you can choose that, but understand it in the proper paradigm.
Paul’s inner psychology– and our own
T: That’s right. And Paul goes into a kind of inner psychology of himself in chapter seven. And he says, well, let me just talk about me for a minute. Here’s what happened to me. He says this in verse 7:18–and this was a key passage for me in coming to grips with my own internal problems that I talked about a second ago. He said, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells.” Woah. Now that’s what I was not understanding, I thought I was doing pretty good in my flesh.
T: And I was getting a little better every day, certainly better than other people. Now, God had not shown that to me, probably got pretty confident more things are coming, and you deal with what you have. But once that came to me, I felt such a profound sense of failure. But not only that, I had lived with this self-justification for 40 years and was very comfortable with it. I actually had to rip my own paradigm of who I was away from that, and it was like going through a death. The putting to death, for me, looked like changing my own image of who I was and the conversation around the table. It was now this old thing that I used to justify, it now has nothing good. It was a divorce. I went through an internal divorce essentially. But Paul did too, apparently, “For the will is present, but how to perform what is good, I do not find. For the good I will to do, I don’t do. But the evil I will not to do, I practice.” I keep finding myself doing this stuff, I don’t really wanna do this deep down, but I keep doing it. So if I do what I will not to do, it’s no longer me doing it, but the sin that dwells within me. So what he’s really saying is, ‘I’m a new creation in Christ. When I sin, I’m actually giving myself over to something that’s dead. I’m walking as a zombie. I don’t wanna be a zombie life, I wanna be a live life.’
J: We work with college students, and I talk to a lot of the men and what you’re describing is exactly like the way they talk about pornography addiction. They don’t want to do it. And they get the thought or the temptation to do it, and they just do it and immediately feel terrible as soon as it’s over. One hundred percent of the guys I’ve talked to have this kind of a mindset of, ‘How do I get rid of this thing I just don’t want to do?’ You want to do it at some point, it’s gotten enough attention and become enough of a habit that you’re struggling to break it, but there is this sense of like, ‘I really don’t wanna do this, I don’t feel good about this. This isn’t good for me. How do I get out of this?’
How to be freed of self-justification
T: ‘This isn’t good for me, but I like it. And that’s why I keep going back to it.’ The starting place of stopping it is, ‘do you recognize that this thing that wants this is going to destroy you?’ It’s not you, number one. And number two, the goal of that thing is to destroy you. When you can start separating yourself from it by saying ‘that’s not actually me,’ it changes your whole internal conversation in a really major way. So then, he concludes this, “I find then a law that evil is present within me, because I delight in the law of the God according to the inward man, but in my members, there’s this law that wants to do everything right.” And then he expresses what you just said, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me?” And then his answer is: “Jesus Christ.” So then he says okay, then, “there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And here’s how you get out from under the condemnation because “if you go back into sin, you go back into the condemnation from which you were delivered.” How do you do that? “Who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” So that’s your answer. How do you get freed from this thing that’s living within you that has nothing good dwelling? Walk in the spirit. How do you do that? By faith. This is 8:2, “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” I don’t have to do that anymore. I hear the voice, I feel the feeling, I hear the lie, but Christ in me has given me the ability to say no to all that. And if I give into it, there’s no condemnation. But when you feel the condemnation, there’s a sense that you have to give into it, it’s really ironic. But getting free from the condemnation, like ‘I can do that. I can do that, Jesus is still gonna be fine with me’, I find that the freedom to know I can makes it where I don’t have to.
J: I agree, I’m looking at the verses as you’re reading it, I was just looking at the very end of chapter 7, and Paul lays that out reality really succinctly. He says, “So then I myself, in my mind, am a slave to God’s law. But in my sinful nature, a slave to the law of sin.” And this is Paul we’re talking about. I think a lot of times we have this idea–and I think this can be a feeder, a gateway into active sin, habit, debased mind, all that– where we start to think, ‘If I just have the thought, then I’ve lost because I’m supposed to not have this. I’m supposed to just be a spirit person.’ But Paul is saying, “I have these two realities within me, what I have to do is make a choice.”
T: Yeah, and I used to have those thoughts and then justify them. You have to. If you think, if I have the thought so I’m condemned, you have to justify yourself away from that. So most of the time, you’re gonna do it. Once you start justifying, you can justify anything, including doing it. Right?
T: But what I have learned to do is, ‘I have the thought, the thought is not me.’ And I’ll usually just wrestle with that thought for a minute, then take it captive. You know, like, ‘Yeah, I could do that. I could do that, what would happen if I did that? Well, this would happen, this would happen, and then death would happen. Do I really wanna do that?’ I know I don’t have to do that, but that thought is not me, but I could do that. What I find in going through that mental process of ‘oh yeah, yeah, that’s something I can do. Would that be good for me? Would that result in something worthwhile? No. Okay, well then do I wanna do that?’ I find that to be very freeing.
K: That’s a real exercise in self-awareness. Which, I think, takes a lot of hard work and cultivation to get to the point where we can actually be aware enough that we are wrestling with this thing inside of us and slowing ourselves down enough to actually think about it and engage with it, and then let go of it.
T: Yeah, that’s right. And I think self-awareness would be a good description of what that brokenness period created in me. The reason it was so difficult and I was so broken was because I got to see, to some extent, what I was actually doing. And it just wasn’t pretty. And I’m a real moral guy. I had a guy a few years back, call me and just say, “You know, when you were in college, you made a big impact on me because you weren’t doing all the stuff all the rest of us were doing. And it just kind of showed me that there was another way.” And I said, “Well, that’s great,” but on my side of the table, it was probably not all that great. I’m not sure if I was doing all that for the right reasons, but I certainly avoided a lot of problems as a result. Yeah, I have always been a real moral guy, and in terms of Paul’s accusation against these guys, he might have had a hard time pinning that stuff on me. And then God would come in and say, “Alright, time to show you who you really are.” Man, that was really tough, but it allowed me to say, “Okay, well, it’s just this thing that I thought was getting better, but it’s not, it’s terrible. I just happen to have a more presentable version of it, so let’s just be real about it.”
J: Yeah, I had the same kind of experience where I was a pretty moral person, especially outward-facing, but a lot of these things are internal. People might say something like what you’re talking about to me, but from my side, it’s like even the statement that you’re just making is filling me with all of this boasting and pride. And to be honest, to talk about the control thing, a lot of it for me was when I wasn’t getting the things I wanted out of life. Just the circumstantial things like marriage, I was in my early-30s, when Kylie and I got married. In my 20s I was just like, “Look, God, you kind of owe me.” I’ve been doing the work, that’s the mindset. But that’s what these rules can create, they can create a sense of condemnation or a sense of entitlement. That’s a lot of what the Pharisees are trying to do with Jesus. They’re trying to get to a place where they’re controlling their narrative so that they can be entitled to the blessings, the power, the control and all of the things that our flesh wants.
Is the law evil?
T: But one of the allegations Paul answers is this “Well then, is the law evil?” Because if you’re saying you’re not under the law, then a good allegation that the opponents could have is that the law must be evil. And Paul defends that, but he ends up saying, “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled by those who walk in the Spirit by faith.” That fulfills. The whole idea of the law was to get you to walk this right path. If you try to do it with rules, you set up work-arounds. Every rule, every law can have a work-around, a loophole. Any good lawyer can find a loophole, right? There’s no way you can have loophole-free contracts. So, that’s what rules always lead to if your heart doesn’t change. But if you’re trying, that’s good enough. God blesses that.
J: That’s interesting, yeah. Rules are complicated because of that reason. Even if you have a rule, a pretty strong rule that you can’t murder. What about if someone breaks into your home and it’s self-defense? What if you’re in the army and you go off to war?
T: They have rules of engagement. They have rules where you can kill people under this and not under that, and then, it gets complicated.