This week’s post may be the most underrepresented of all The Gospel Rant series. When outlining this blog, rabbit trails about rabbit trails kept coming to my mind, but I couldn’t find a spot for any of them because the steak ‘n’ potatoes of this topic are already so heavy.
I’ll have to repeat again: these posts are only the tip of the iceberg. I’m under no illusions concerning the incompleteness of my argumentation; one day I’ll come back to each of these posts and expand and elaborate and elucidate, but until I trust myself a little more, it has to sit on the back burner.
What I don’t know about this topic would fill many more blog posts than what I do, so if you see any theology that makes you panic, never fear. I’m a young Christian, not the leader of a new heretical denomination. (I don’t think things’ll get that bad anyway, Lord willing.) But, even with that as it is, we must continue: all of this week’s meat will come from Romans 6-7. The topic is our new, ‘fulfilled’ relationship with the law of the Old Testament, and to delve into that, we’ll be looking a bit at the relationship between Christian flesh and Christian Spirit and what Paul refers to as the ‘law of grace.’
Are we more sinful or more sanctified, more flesh or more Spirit? Why don’t Christians follow the Torah? What law now exists for the new nation of Israel, if we are dead to the old? I accept questions, comments, and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Body and Soul
Story time. A few days ago, I sinned, and I got frustrated. But I didn’t get frustrated at my sin. All my Christian life I’ve heard it preached that the God-fearing Christian hates his sin, and I got frustrated because I didn’t hate the situation at all, neither the sin itself nor the action behind it. Worse, I didn’t understand enough about it to even begin to hate it. So I prayed for the Lord to show me what sin was and why it was so important.
Now theoretically, sin is important like the sun is important; Jesus died because of sin, yadda yadda yadda. But I didn’t have enough heart knowledge to see the effects of ‘little sin’ in my life (not talking about murder or rape, talking about private lust or teensy tiny lies). I didn’t understand why little sin was bad. So I asked God to show me what a Christian was, that we should be called to resist sin.
God had poked me to start reading Romans earlier that week, and I had reached Chapter 6. God completely rebuilt my theology concerning the nature of mankind that day. Perhaps my limited understanding was due to my limited Christian age and I’m preaching the obvious, but I’ll briefly outline the change that the Spirit brought about in my thinking for those to whom it may be of service. (For those to whom it isn’t useful, feel free to skip ahead.)
My previous understanding was dualistic. Man had flesh and Spirit, and the two fought to determine whether I sinned or not. They were mixed, like a rock of sediment and clay; although I knew the two would be separated in the end, I imagined them impossibly intertwined in this life. My sin simply meant that the Spirit side of me hadn’t yet claimed enough territory to defeat that particular part of the enemy. Oftentimes, with this paradigm, I would resign myself to my sin, promising myself and God that one day the Spirit would have enough control over me for Him to be able to win consistently. (Note the defeatism.)
When the Lord led me to Romans 6, I saw the Bible building a very different man. This man, rather than being mixed, had a distinct, razor-sharp division in his nature. There was no battleground upon which there were areas where the Spirit had control and areas where the flesh had control; rather, there was Spirit trapped in a fleshly encasement. There were two men, really—one of flesh and one of Spirit, and the one of Spirit had been born when the one of flesh was killed with Christ on the cross (“We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing…” –Romans 6:6; “…but the life he [the man] lives, he lives to God.” –Romans 6:10).
Therefore I understood that I, rather than being a man, am a men, and the men in me are not contestants in the sense of armies on a battlefield, but in the sense of the Spirit leading me to do God’s will and the flesh offering me sensations that distract. Although the flesh may be intentional in its temptation, I saw in my crucified nature a more passive deterrent—the flesh is merely a shell which gives passing feelings and desires which temporarily take our attention from the pure, underlying will of God which resides in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s leading is stronger, more constant, and more powerful; the flesh is a bad cough which comes and goes.
In relation to my sin, I understood that the flesh’s desires are passing away as the world is being made new through Christ at His coming. Always, I have deeply respected long-term consistency as a quality in others, and I understood that the desires of the flesh are sudden pops and jerks of lust and craving, but the desires of the Spirit are steady, slow, guiding currents of emotion; the Spirit is a slow-moving river, the flesh is a sudden burst from a fire hydrant. Therefore The Spirit has the consistently guiding power necessary to do much greater work. The Spirit, although not as experientially powerful at times, is an all-encompassing force capable of shifting the direction of a man’s entire life—the flesh, although sometimes overwhelming, barely manages to shift itself at all.
Victory, therefore, is always present over sin, because sin’s dominion was taken away when the Holy Spirit entered us. No king is a king when a stronger king rules his territory; rather, the strongest king present is the only true king. In this way, when the Spirit enters us, the kingship of sin is removed because a stronger King has arrived—perhaps this is how sin’s ‘dominion’ was taken. In addition, the covenant which we receive through grace is superior to the covenant received through the law, thereby fulfilling/completing it. The covenant of grace is strong enough to enable us to defeat our sin by giving us intimate, personal access with God’s presence. (We’ll discuss what it means to ‘fulfill’ the law in a few paragraphs.)
Now let’s look at implications. If we have died to sin, and the purpose of the law was to demonstrate our sin, what is our current standing with the law?
Romans 7:1-6 hits this question dead on. The text is so important that I’ll reproduce a bit of it here: Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:1-4)
Let’s unpack. The end of the first sentence is critical: ‘the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.’ But note also that the passage does not say that we died, but that our husband has died; even the last sentence doesn’t say that we have died, but that we have died through the body of Christ. If we die by ourselves, we are free entirely from the law, and there is no law governing us. Rather, we see that our husband has died instead of us, allowing us only to take a new husband.
The second marriage is Christ; we, the Church, are Christ’s bride. I believe the intent here is to show us that rather than obtaining total freedom from any law, we have obtained a new law with our new husband. This law of grace is what Scripture means when it says that Christ came to ‘fulfill’ the law; the old, although lifted from our shoulders, is not completely gone because sin still exists, and therefore a type of law still exists, but the new and fulfilled law is administered directly through the Holy Spirit. ‘Fulfillment’ of the law came with a potentially perfect understanding through the presence of God indwelling us; this was God’s true design for the Old Testament law from the beginning.
Therefore, to conclude, we have obtained a new, completed version of the Torah. It has not disappeared, but it is administered directly into our hearts through the presence of God within us. Rather than looking up laws in a book, the new law requires us to foster our relationship with the Holy Spirit in order to learn what God would have us do in our lives.
So how can we begin/develop a relationship with God?
The Usual Suspects
One day I’m going to count all of the final points I’ve ever made throughout all the Gospel Rants to see how many included the idea of prayer; I have a feeling they will be the majority. You cannot develop a relationship with someone you don’t talk to. The Holy Spirit is always available for prayer, and if you don’t have a tangible experience of the Holy Spirit when you pray, then pray for that, because it does exist. Expect much out of your prayer life, and expect much out of yourself as a Christian, because if you believe that you have the capacity to be a great Christian, God will make you great. I have a feeling there are very few boundaries for such a man; all the world is open to him.
With regards to the law, it was stunning to me after I became a Christian and I was convicted for sins that I didn’t realize were sins, such as gossip. All of Christianity hinges upon the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer because that is how the New Covenant is administered—this is why Paul says “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9), because without the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer, all of Christianity is brought to its knees. Prayer was the method through which I began to understand the Spirit which lives in me, and scripture was how the Spirit filled me with joy day after day. Both are necessary. (I’m not talking about scripture much because most Christians I’ve seen read the Bible more than they pray, so I’m trying to address the bigger need in what little space I have.)
With love and a desire to see God’s Church glorify Him to its utmost, I challenge you, beloved: how much time can you spend in prayer in one sitting? How many topics can you think of, and if you can’t think of any, why not? Have you tried making a list? That helped me start to be able to remember more things. Have you asked God to teach you how to pray, and have you fasted for the ability to pray well? Do you keep your friends accountable to prayer, and do you pray with them? These things will change your life, guaranteed. Extended prayer really does help in the search for the adoration of God, and it’ll help you love your friends and family better as well.
And once you start, God’ll keep the ball rolling.
God, glory be to You in the highest! May Your church rise, may You be glorified, and may we be united in our passion for You. I pray for prayer and an understanding of myself. May I be a man with a divine knowledge of the blessed gifts You’ve given me through Your son, and may I pray with a true desire and a true heart. Please give me grace to learn more about You and Your Spirit and let my thoughts always be pleasing to You, God. May You be glorified in my life above all else. I love You and I want to love You more, and it’s in the Name of Your Son that I pray,