Robert Jeffress - Uncivil War
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. According to Romans chapter 6, Christians are no longer slaves to sin. We are free to love and serve God. But in our everyday life we know that sin still lingers. We can't avoid or escape it. So how do we cope with this constant temptation? I won't say it's easy. But it is certainly possible. And the apostle Paul offers helpful advice for winning the spiritual war being waged within us. My message is titled, "Uncivil War". On today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
I want to begin today's message by asking you three questions. Question number one: why is it that sex education programs taught in schools without a biblical foundation are just as likely to increase sexual activity among teenagers as they are to decrease that activity? Why is it after a time of spiritual recommitment such as many of us enter into at Lord's supper when we promise the Lord that we are going to let go of a particular sin in our life, why is that within 48 hours we find ourselves committing that very same transgression again? Why is it that after reading a book or hearing a message on self-discipline, we can make a long list of things we're going to do differently in our lives, and within a week we give up on all of them, and are back to our old way of living?
The only answer to all three of those very different questions is the same word. It's the word S-I-N. Sin. Sin that is present in all of us. Oswald Chambers once wrote, "If we refuse to take the fact of sin into our calculation, refuse to agree that a base impulse runs through men, that there is such a thing as vice and self-seeking: when our hour of darkness strikes, instead of being acquainted with sin and the grief of it, we will compromise straight away and there is no use battling against it". The apostle Paul said it this way in Romans 7:18. He said, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh: for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not".
While becoming a Christian destroys the power of sin over my life, becoming a Christian does not remove the presence of sin within my life. And that is the truth that we see illustrated in the passage we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Romans chapter 7. In some respects, many people have said that Romans chapter 7 is the most difficult chapter in this book to understand.
William Barkley wrote, "Seldom did Paul write so difficult and so complicated a passage". But I think one reason people struggle with this passage is they don't understand the context of what Paul was saying. The tone of chapter 6 is victorious: you have been freed from sin, therefore act like it. When we get to chapter 8, there's a similar victorious tone. But between the two mountain peaks of chapter 6 and chapter 8, there is the valley of chapter 7. Because in chapter 7 we find a truth that you and I experience every day. Even though we have the ability to say "No" to sin, we are sometimes still conquered by it, aren't we? The Bible says it's that struggle that we will carry with us until the day we die. Why is that? Because while being a Christian destroys the power of sin over our life, it does not remove the presence of sin within our life.
Now, today we're going to look at the first 14 verses of Romans 7 in which Paul discusses this subject of the struggle within every believer. And he starts by asking a question that really seems kind of off the wall. In chapter 7 he begins discussing the topic of a Christian's relationship to the law, to the Mosaic law. Now when he's talking about our relationship to the law - understand this - he's talking about the law given to Moses. Remember the law that was given to Moses and the Israelites had over 600 commands of what to do and what not to do. It also contained penalties, severe penalties for those who did not meet the requirements of the law. So, when Paul is talking about a Christian's relationship to the law, he was asking, what is the relationship between a believer in Christ and the Old Testament laws? Its commands as well as its penalties.
Look at chapter 7, verse 1, "Do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives"? Now you say: well, why would Paul even want to discuss this subject? Remember a lot of audience in Rome were Jews. Some of them were Christian Jews who had accepted Christ, others were unbelieving Jews, but they all had this question аbout: "ok, if I'm saved by grace, what is my obligation to the Old Testament law now"? Because the Jews believed that the law is what made them holy with God. By the way, that belief continues today. All we need is the law, the Old Testament law. But as Jesus and the apostle Paul explained, the problem is no one of us can keep the law. The law demanded absolute perfection.
Remember Deuteronomy 27 verse 26? "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them". Not some of the words - all of the words of the law. In Galatians 3 when Paul paraphrased this verse, he said, "Cursed be everyone who does not obey all things written in this book". God doesn't grade on the curve. He doesn't demand 70%, 80%, 90% - he demands 100% conformity to the law of God. And that's why Paul wrote in Romans 3:20, "Because by the works of the law no person will be justified in his sight". None of us can fulfill the law. All of us deserve the punishment of the law.
You say: "how can I ever meet the demands of the law? How can I ever escape the penalty for breaking the law"? The bad news is we can't. The good news is Christ did. Jesus Christ did two things on our behalf. First of all, he lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. Secondly, he suffered the penalty we deserve for breaking the law. And that's why it is so important that we be in Jesus Christ. When we trust in Christ, we are joined together with Jesus, God treats us and views us the same way he views Jesus Christ.
You saw the ordinance of baptism. When we're baptized, what we're saying is: I am identifying with Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus died, I died to my old way of living. I died to the requirements and the penalty of the law. I've been raised to a new way of living. So how does Paul answer the question: what is our relationship to the Old Testament law? Here's our relationship to it: we have no obligation to the Old Testament law. We have died to it. Its requirements have been fulfilled. Its penalty has been paid in Jesus Christ. I'm not saying we don't have any obligation to obedience, we have even a greater obligation to obey the New Testament, the new covenant, the new agreement: but the Old Testament Mosaic law - it has no requirements over us any longer.
And that's what Paul is saying in these opening verses of Romans chapter 7. And to show how the law has no authority over our lives now - either its requirements or its penalty - Paul uses two illustrations from everyday life. First of all, he uses the illustration of human law. Go back to chapter 7, verse 1 for a moment. He says, "Do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person only as long as he lives"? You only have to obey human law while you're alive. Paul says it's the same way in the spiritual law. We have died, in a sense, to our old way of living. We died when Christ died. He fulfilled the law: we have fulfilled the law as well. So, God's Old Testament law, it has no jurisdiction over our life whatsoever.
Verses 2 and 3, he uses another illustration to show our freedom from the law, and that is in marriage. Look at verses 2 and 3: "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living: but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she will be called an adulteress: but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man". He is saying that if your mate dies, your obligation has been fulfilled, you are free to remarry. In the same way when you become a Christian, you die to the law. You are no longer bound either to the requirements, or the penalties of the Old Testament law. They have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You have died to the law: you are free to remarry - in a spiritual sense - Jesus Christ. And that's what happens when you are saved.
Look at verse 6 of Romans 7: "But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter". Will you allow me to mount my hobby horse for just a moment, and speak about something I've spoken about before because I see this it seems like on an increasingly regular basis? And that is, Christians who have been freed from the law, who somehow are attracted and enamored by the Old Testament law and want to go place themselves back under the Old Testament. They want to go back and follow the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. Or they want to start observing the feast days and the Jewish holy days, and so forth.
Now look, Paul said in Colossians, those days were great forerunners: they were pictures of Jesus Christ, but now that the truth has come, the substance has come, why would you want to go back to the shadow? Those things were a shadow of what is yet to come. And yet there are Christians who somehow want to go back and put themselves under the Old Testament law. Paul says: "no, you have died to that by which you were bound. We have been married to Jesus Christ". Now some people might say: "Well, wait a minute Paul, are you saying then that the law is sinful, that it's evil"? "Oh no", Paul said, "au contraire" he would say to us. The law is good. It is perfect, as Psalm 19 says.
Why would Paul on one hand say we've been freed from the law, but the law is good? Well, starting in verse 7 Paul is going to point out three benefits of the law: how the law benefits non-Christians as well as Christians. Beginning in verse 7, he said he's grateful for the law of God even though he's free from it because the law describes sin. Look at verse 7, "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'".
Let's say you love to play golf. Every Saturday morning you're out playing golf, or what you call golf, but you have a different way of playing golf. If the hole is too far down the fairway, you turn around and you aim at a whole closer to you behind you. If you tee up the ball, and you miss the ball, you just reach down and you throw it as far as you can. When you come home and your mate asks you: how did you do today? You say: oh great, just 300 strokes on 9 holes. I mean, in your mind you're a pretty good golfer.
One day you're performing your antics out on the golf course and somebody comes up to you and says: what in the world are you doing? You say: well, I'm playing golf. And your new friend says: I don't know what you're doing, but that's sure not playing golf. And he explains some rules to you. You can't touch the ball. You have to hit the ball within the boundaries of the fairway. There is such a thing called par that tells you the score you ought to be aiming for. And after you learn these rules, you learn: well, I'm not that great of a golfer. In fact, I'm a pretty lousy golfer. You see, it wasn't those rules that made you a bad golfer they simply revealed that you're a bad golfer. They described what a good golfer and a bad golfer are.
Now Paul uses that same illustration in verse 7. He said: you know, without the law of God, yeah, I would have known, kind of, that I'm not a great person. I'm not a perfect person. But I never would have known about coveting if I didn't have a law that said "Thou shalt not covet". I wouldn't have known about immorality if I didn't know God's law that says "Thou shalt not commit immorality". He said: I'm grateful for the law because the law describes sin. It showed me God's standard. Secondly he says, not only does the law describe sin, but the law actually arouses sin. It arouses sin in us.
When I was growing up, my brother and I had the responsibility of taking care of our lawn at our house, so every Saturday morning - is a miserable experience going out and mowing, and edging, and you know, trimming the hedges, but oh boy it was so great when we were finally through. Or at least we thought we were through. We were ready to leave and go do our other fun stuff for the day when my dad would come out and inspect the yard. He said: son, you're not finished yet. We'd say: "oh, we cut, we edged, we did everything". "No, here is a lawn leaf bag. You have to pick up the cut grass: you have to pick up the fallen leaves and put them in the bag, and take them out back: and then you're through". So that was our Saturday ritual.
When Amy and I bought our first house I continued that ritual of mowing the lawn for the first 2 years of our marriage. But I'll never forget the day: it was a Saturday in July 1979. I was standing out in the middle of the yard having finished sweating profusely when I made a vow. I said: I am never going to mow another yard again. And so, since that time, 1979, we've always had somebody mowing our lawn. We had somebody the other day mowing it, but you know in 30 years of having yard people working our yard I've noticed something, I've never seen a yard person carrying a lawn leaf bag. Have you? They never carry them. I mean, they cut the grass, they edge the grass, it's all sitting there, the leaves are sitting there - you know what they do instead of putting it into lawn leaf bag? They pull out this little machine called the blower and they just blow it all around. They stir it up.
And as I was watching them do this this week, I said: that's what Paul is talking about in verses 8 to 12. He's talking about what the law does. The law doesn't create sin. It certainly doesn't remove sin, it just blows it around where everybody can see it. Look at what he says in verse 8, "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind: for apart from the law sin is dead". It's not that it's non-existent. It's dormant, "And I was once alive apart from the law: but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died: and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me". Look at verse 11, "For sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good".
The law doesn't cause sin - it stirs it up inside of us like a leaf blower. It agitates what is dormant inside of us. If you don't believe the law has that effect on you, just think about this: whenever you're walking down the street and you see a sign that says "Do not walk on the grass", I'll walk a block out of the way just to walk on the grass. There's something about rules and regulations that stir up sin. It's the same way with God's laws. When God says: thou shalt not... our first inclination is: I shalt to, just watch me. There is something inside of us that is agitated, that is stirred up by the law. And that's what Paul says. The law is good because it arouses what was already present in me.
Thirdly he said, the law not only describes sin and arouses sin, it reveals sin. Some people would say: "well, if the law stirs up sin, why don't we just get rid of the law? Let's get rid of all rules and commandments, and we won't have any sin". Paul said: "no, no, don't misunderstand. The law isn't causing the sin it's simply revealing the sin". You know if you get an MRI, and the MRI reveals you have a tumor in the brain, do you cry, and lament, and say: "oh, if only I hadn't gotten that MRI, I'd be fine today". No, the MRI did not cause the tumor, it revealed the tumor, and pointed you to the way of healing. It's the same way with the law of God.
Look at chapter 7 verse 13, "Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? No. May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by affecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful". Now remember Paul was talking about a non-Christian. He says for a non-Christian the law describes sin: it arouses sin: it reveals sin, but then when we get to verse 14 Paul changes from the non-Christian to the Christian. And he says the same benefits to the non-Christian of God's law are also at work within me. Look at verse 14, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin". I want you to underline that phrase "Of flesh". What is Paul saying here? He's not saying he is in the flesh. There's a difference between being in the flesh and of the flesh. The non-Christian is in the flesh.
Look at verse 5 of chapter 7, "For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death". You know what it means to be in flesh? It means the flesh is all you have. There is only one force working in your life: the force of sin that is pulling you downward and ensuring your condemnation by God. There's only one set of desires. There's only one operating system, if you will, at work in your life and it's the operating system of sin. You are not able not to sin. But when you become a Christian, God places a new operating system within your life so to speak: a new power: the power to say yes to God, and no to the flesh. But there's one part of you that has not been redeemed and it's your body. It's the flesh where those sinful desires still reside.
And so Paul says as a Christian, I'm no longer in the flesh, but I'm still of the flesh. There is that unredeemed part of me with which I struggle and will struggle until I die. Skip down to verses 22 and 23 - previews of coming attractions next week. Paul talks about this conflict. He says, "For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man". In other words, the real Paul, the law of God resides in him and he wants to obey that law, "For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members, the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind". Paul says there is an uncivil war going on in the life of every Christian, but here is the good news. Even though we will experience this war and struggle until the day we die, it is a winnable war.