Romans: This War

At one time or another, many of us have been fixated on some small thing when, in actuality, it’s about something bigger, something below the surface. There is often an issue behind the issue when you’re struggling through something.

There’s what you think you’re feeling about the argument, conversation, or situation, but then there’s what it’s really about. If you engage in all the other things on the surface, they become distractions or smoke screens.

In the next part of Romans, Paul rambles quite a bit. This is like that conversation you’re having with someone where they ask to talk to you and bounce around from one topic to the next. And they all might be important, but they’re not the main thing.

Paul talks for a while about slavery. There was this thing in the Roman world where you could voluntarily pledge yourself as a slave to someone. He talks about how that’s the same way we are. At all times, we’re ruled by something. We have a choice to place ourselves under the rule of righteousness – to refuse to be ruled by sin. But if we don’t, we will be ruled by sin.

“You’re always bound to something. Freedom is not the absence or presence of restrictions, but the presence of the right ones.”                  
~Tim Keller

  1. But then, Paul projects onto his audience that they’re a little thickheaded and simple. It’s condescending. You can tell something’s bothering him, something he’s struggling with, something he’s processing. He’s saying that we all offer ourselves to something or in the service of something or someone. He is too. And he’s aware that it’s not as simple as it sounds.
  2. Paul goes on to highlight the tension he and all of us feel. This contrast between what sin brings into the world, into our lives, and into the lives of those around us is one of the most famous verses of the Bible:
Romans 6
22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sin earns us something naturally, but God gives us something instead in its place.
3. But then he backtracks again and says the thing about marriage. He says it’s like the law, and you’re free from it if you die, similar to the ball and chain analogy. And this is coming from a guy who’s never been married. The law is actually good because it forces us to face the death of our illusions about ourselves.

 A lot is going on here. There’s a lot we could talk about, but there’s one thing we must discuss and that’s the issue behind the issue.

Romans 7
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

We all agree that some kind of law is good. Nobody thinks there should be no restrictions. It’s a matter of where we each draw the lines. Conveniently, we tend to draw them where it’s easier for us, and harder for people who are not us.

“It’s interesting how quick we Christians are to make the point that Jesus caused offense. What’s truly interesting about it is how, in our conception of Jesus, He is always busy offending everyone else and never us.”              
~ Douglas Van Nest

 Paul’s still working it out.

 Romans 7
 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This internal dialogue suggests that he is almost at a breaking point.

You can’t move forward until you have that breaking point.

You can pile therapy, self-improvement, mindfulness, religiosity, and soul care on top of it, yet the root issue remains covered. You can look to Bible studies, attend worship nights, listen to Christian music, buy books, seek out resources, and go to conferences. Still, until you uncover the issue behind the issue, nothing changes.

“What a wretched man I am.” Notice it doesn’t say worthless.

Anyone seeking therapy or in addiction recovery works with people trying to make life changes. And they all say a version of the same thing—a person must wear themselves out before any of those helpful things will make a difference. They have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

We can't appreciate how amazing Grace is until we realize what we’re saved from. This doesn’t mean we are dirty, rotten, or worthless worms. God created us in His image. God created us in His image. YOU are of inestimable worth and value. Jesus died for YOU.
Romans 5
8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But that’s not a pass on this other thing – the issue behind the issue. We’re positionally brought from darkness into the kingdom of light, but there’s still this nature within us that we need to face down.

We have ways about ourselves that trip us up repeatedly. Sometimes, we can’t get out of our own way. We have ways about ourselves, but when it gets deeper, there are sinful ways about each of us. There are things that we can do our best to manage or improve, but they are always down there.

And you know what we need to do? Name them, bring them out into the open. We need to do this because sin always tries to get us to hide or deflect somewhere else.

  1.  Some of us have an anger problem, and we’ve been saying it’s everyone else’s fault or that these are just hard times we live in. Some medicate by drinking too much or working too much. 
  1. Some of us know a lot about the Bible and have been to a lot of churches, but honestly, we are still brittle, judgmental, and miserable at times. We get a little happy when other people get what they deserve.
  2. Some of us are into personal development and finding healing. This is a significant step, but it’s still hard for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and lock our gaze for any length of time without looking away. We run past our ways to the other side.
  3. Some of us are constantly tempted to use our performance for God to determine our value to God. We know better, but it’s a train we keep getting back on to feel in control.

And on and on it goes – this is war.

It’s a war between the hope of Jesus and the Gospel, and the reality of our human nature. Our fallen, broken, sinful nature. The victory is secure, and the final outcome is certain, but we’re still living down here in the tension of the “now” and the “not yet.”

It’s a war between us and a war within us. We all feel it. And there are 2 unhelpful approaches churches and Christians take when it comes to trying to work out this tension of the issue behind the issue.

The first is condemnation. Dirty, rotten worms. Sinners in the hands of an angry God. Hopeless and powerless until heaven. But, this is not even accurate.

Imagine a Jesus who has the power to save you from death to life but not the power to set you free.
The second is this therapeutic thing where we mind the depths of our past, our parents, our trauma, and what happened, and park the reason we are the way we are there. And those things are true and critically important, but they’re a starting place, not a destination.

You need to do the work. You need to face it. But if you do it before you come clean about your nature and not after, you never get to the issue behind the issue.

So, ask yourself: What are your ways? What part of your nature do you need to face in the light?

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