Reading through Romans six and hearing how we have died to sin never gets old. It seems to be just as fresh this time as it has been in the past. Verse 13 jumped out at me recently though, it says, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The word instrument, as used here, is defined “an implement, or utensil or tool (offensive for war)–armour, instrument, weapon.”

Tracey and I recently watched the movie Thor with Anthony Hopkins playing Thor’s father Oden. In the beginning of the movie Odin, and all the citizens of Asgard, are conducting a ceremony to announce Thor as the new king. For those unfamiliar with the story, Thor carries a large hammer which is where his real power lies. During the ceremony scene, Anthony Hopkins is narrating and makes a statement that applies to this verse. Speaking of the Hammer, Odin says, “it can be used as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build.”

I’m not going to attempt to tell the full mythology behind Thor’s hammer but I wanted to share a few insights with you. The day after Tracey and I watched this movie I sat in a small circle of men at our jail as we worked our way through Romans six. When we came to verse 13 and its description of us as an instrument I couldn’t help but recall Thor’s hammer. In other words, Thor was a god and he wielded a hammer. We too have a God or “god”, either sin or righteousness, and how we operate depends upon who we are presenting ourselves to.

As our lesson progressed we read about how we are always a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness, never are we the master. This means everyday we are either presenting ourselves as a weapon in the hands of the enemy or the hands of our Savior. You see there are times when our God does operate through us as a weapon; after all in Exodus 15:3 we read “The Lord is a warrior”, but at the same time we know from Ephesians 6 “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So whether we are being operated as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build is decided by the one wielding the hammer not the hammer itself.

There are several examples throughout the scriptures where the enemy finds his way into people’s lives and attacks others. As we discussed how the enemy operates, we read a few verses in the book of Job. Chapter 1 verse 11 we read what Satan said to God about Job. He said, “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then if you jump ahead a bit to 2:9-10 we read what Job’s wife tells him after his livestock and children have been killed. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity/evil?” So Job’s wife was obviously being operated by Satan wasn’t she?

We learn a bit more about the enemy’s tactics when we look at how he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. At the root, all of Satan’s temptations were attacks on Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you’re the Son of God then…” Then throughout the gospels we see the exact same tactics coming through the religious leaders of the day. Most of, if not all the times, Jesus was confronted by them they were attacking His identity saying something like, “If you’re the Son of God, what sign will you show us?” Even all the way up to Jesus’ death on the cross the enemy shouted “If you’re the Son of God why don’t you come down from there? Save yourself and save us!”

At the root of all of this seems to be accusation, manipulation and condemnation. Once we start to recognize the enemy’s tactics we will be quicker to respond effectively. Paul told Timothy in his second letter “Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant, or hammer, must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” In other words, pray that they may come to see they are being used as a weapon in the hands of the enemy, come to their senses and begin to present themselves as a weapon, or tool, for righteousness instead.

Louie

Since being freed from the law to now serve in the newness of the spirit we are no longer in the oldness of the letter. After the Apostle Paul tells us about the wife/us being joined to Christ by way of being co-crucified with Him, he then proceeds to describe for us what life looked like when we/the wife attempted to please the first husband/the law in her/our own power.

Essentially the first six verses of Romans seven gives us a parable to describe us “believers” as a wife who has died with Christ in order to deliver us from the first husband represented by the Law. From verse seven through the rest of chapter Paul illustrates how the wife/we attempt to please the husband/the law and how the enemy/sin takes advantage of us by the very Law we are attempting to fulfill. He says the Law is holy, just and good therefore the problem isn’t with the law rather it’s us. We, the wife, even though having the best intentions, simply cannot live a life that is pleasing by way of the law.

The Apostle Paul’s struggle, and ours, is really about him not seeing himself as having been crucified, buried and raised back in Christ. He says, “The thing I want to do I can’t do, and the very thing I don’t want to do I keep on doing.” You see as long as we see ourselves as independent beings trying to obey the law we will be destined to sin and misery and this is how God wants it. What you say? Surely God doesn’t want me to sin does He?

Look with me at Romans 5:20 “The law entered, that the offence/sin might abound, or increase. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The truth is without the law we would still have sin but God’s plan is that the law would expose the sin He already sees to us. Essentially the law is given so we would see ourselves as we really are and we might cry out for deliverance which is exactly what the Apostle Paul finally did at the end of Romans seven. He cried “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When it comes right down to it God’s plan is for us to finally be exposed to our true state and discover we have believed a lie our whole lives. Yes, we have lived our lives as if we, independent of God, can produce righteousness “for” God apart from God. This is what the parable of the wife is all about. We have absolutely no ability to produce what God is after in and of ourselves. The lesson then of Romans seven is really telling us we need a deliverer. We need someone besides ourselves to free us from the trap of seeing ourselves as independent, trying to keep the law, failing, trying and failing again. This would be the equivalent of a woman determining to get pregnant on her own. I can see her now; she goes to the pharmacy, gets a home pregnancy tests, goes into the bathroom to only come out minutes later saddened because it’s negative again. Well, I guess there’s always tomorrow she says as she gives herself a pep talk essentially saying I guess I just have to buckle down next time.

Thankfully the scriptures don’t leave us there. No, after the Apostle Paul cried out for deliverance at the end of Romans seven, he begins to describe how God’s plan is to live in and through us rather than having us perform for Him. The Spirit of God will produce all that He requires of us in our lives but first we have to come to the realization we can’t.  He wants to produce love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance in us but it is the fruit of the Spirit not the work of the flesh.

Louie

Romans six teaches us: those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, and his work on the cross, are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. You see, just as all were originally born in Adam and are therefore  sinners, those of us who have been born again have been born into Christ and made righteous. In other words, the cross is the means by which God transfers us from the first Adam to the last.

Human beings have never been independent we have always been in union with another spirit. For instance we are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. Notice we are always a slave and never our own master. The good news is in Christ our old boss is out and our new one is in. This is what Paul means with his frequent use of the term “Christ in you” and “In Christ.”

As we move from Romans six into Romans seven we read about a wife who simply cannot please her husband and needs to be separated from him, but the law won’t allow it. You see unless he dies, she has to remain married to him and the truth is he simply will not die. This is a picture of our relationship with the Law/sin meaning the Law isn’t going to die, and it is the means by which sin gets its power, so she/we are in a quandary. How will she/we get away from her old husband if he won’t die? God has a solution.

You see God has always known the husband wouldn’t die, but His plan involves the wife/us dying instead. If God crucifies us with Christ and raised us back up with him there would be legal grounds for divorce from the old husband, and we could then be joined to a new one, namely Christ himself. That’s exactly what He did.

The reason Paul uses a wife here as an illustration is because God is looking to produce fruit through His people but like a wife we have to have Him to do it. Just as a wife needs a husband to produce children we too have to have God in order to produce fruit for God. This analogy is teaching us that there is absolutely no way for us to produce fruit for God by way of the Law. Us attempting to produce fruit for God by the Law is the same as a wife trying to have a baby without her husband. It just simply cannot happen. The fruit bearing process requires the husband. Just as a wife has to become one flesh with her husband we must be one spirit with the Lord.

Essentially Romans six and the first part of seven is telling us we have died to sin by being severed from our union in Adam. Through the cross, and our being co-crucified, dead, buried and risen with Christ we walk in newness of life. Now that we are in union with Christ He can produce His fruit through our lives.

Louie

The more I study the Bible the more I think our identity is key. Since the fall of Man everyone of us have struggled with who we are. Throughout the Apostle Paul’s letters we see a pattern though and he always begins his letters identifying himself, for the sake of the reader, and then he tells them who they are. For instance he says, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle…” Then he says, “To the saints at Colossae, Philippi, Ephesus, Rome” and so on. So we immediately know who he is and who we are.

While this may seem very basic to some I think many sort of gloss over it. The reason I know most don’t recognize the importance of this is because the church, made up of born-again people, are quick to identify themselves as “sinners” when the Apostle Paul clearly calls them saints. Some might say, “Okay, Louie so what’s the big deal here? Don’t we all still sin?” Ah! now we’re getting somewhere and this is exactly why how we identify ourselves is so important.

Recently while studying Romans six, and reading how we have died to sin, “for he who has died is freed from sin” (v. 7). I was struck by how most “church folks” claim to believe the Bible, but if you were to ask them if we have been freed from sin, while they might agree because it’s written there in black and white, underneath they would still be thinking ” but we still sin everyday.” This brings up another question, “Do we have to?”

Talking about our identity is crucial to how we behave. It occurred to me recently the story of Tarzan is a great illustration for us here. If I remember correctly Tarzan and his parents were shipwrecked, both his parents died, or were killed, so that’s how he ended up being raised by apes. This of course caused him to grow up thinking he was an ape rather than a human being–talk about an identity crisis! Later on he returns to civilization but has to be taught how to be human because his whole life had been spent swinging from tree to tree living as an ape. This is where the illustration fits in for us. The Apostle Paul addresses his readers as “saints” because that’s what they are, but they have spent so much of their lives thinking of themselves as “sinners” it’s difficult for them to see it any other way.

When God’s word tells us we are saints, who have died and been freed from sin, it doesn’t mean it is impossible for us to sin it simply means we don’t have to. God’s provision for us in His Son Jesus Christ is enough. The more we learn to see ourselves as dead to sin the more we will see it lose its grip on us. Just like Tarzan, we have to see ourselves in a new light.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). So we don’t deny who we were, but like Tarzan, we have to stop seeing ourselves as apes/sinners and begin to identify ourselves as “washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.”

Louie

“I went to church on the outside, and even read my Bible, but it was only after coming to jail that I started depending on God. While I was on the outside I depended only on myself.” This is what one man said to the group last night in Bible study.

With all the talk in Christian circles about how we should read our Bible’s more, go to church every-time the doors are open, pray more, give more, witness more etc. It all still comes down to one thing. Are we depending on God?

We have been making our way through Romans and last night we were in chapter 4. This chapter is all about Abraham and what we can learn about being justified, or made righteous, with God from what we glean from his life. The Bible tells us “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” It wasn’t anything Abraham did himself it was all about God giving Abraham a promise and Abraham believing Him.

God’s promise to Abraham was that he would have an heir and not just any heir but an heir by which the whole world would be blessed. For those that know the story you know that Abraham, and Sarah his wife, attempted to help God out at first by coming up with a plan that involved Abraham and Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Seeing how Abraham and Sarah were so old, Sarah suggested that maybe the way God would fulfill His promise would be through the union of Abraham and Hagar. Well, this of course didn’t turn out so well because while it did in fact produce a son, Ishmael, he wasn’t the one God had promised.

Without retelling the whole story here let me just say what God was promising Abraham involved something that was absolutely impossible apart from God himself performing it. You see Abraham and Sarah were well passed child-bearing years and yet God was going to give them a son. The scripture tells us Abraham “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken…” In other words even though Abraham couldn’t see how in the world he and Sarah could have a child, he simply believed God. We are told  Abraham “being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”

It seems God simply wants us to believe Him and yet more times than not it requires us to get backed into a corner before we will. As we talked about faith, and how God is the God of the impossible, I had the guys turn to Psalm 139. As we read through the Psalm we stopped for a moment to let verse 5 soak in. It says, “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (NIV). Wow! God wants us to believe Him; because He wants what is best for us, so much so He will even back us into a corner so we might finally look to Him. This is what God wants from us and exactly what these men in the jail are discovering and it lights up my spirit to hear them tell of how they are trusting God now like never before.

I realize many think this is what is commonly known as jailhouse religion but for me it is God speaking. While many want to discredit the people in jail saying, “just wait till they get out again, then we’ll see if it was real or not.” All I can say to them is okay. When it comes right down to it most of us are foxhole conversions in one way or the other aren’t we? I mean for me it was addiction for you it may be a lost job, a sick loved one, a death in the family or any number of things. The truth is the gospel is a message for the desperate and if you haven’t found yourself desperate yet more than likely you aren’t ready to receive Christ. Just as this man said, even though he went to church and read his Bible, he never really depended on God until he was locked-up and hemmed in by God.

Louie

 

I believe the Promised Land spoken of in the scriptures really is an actual tangible place on the map but I also think it paints us a spiritual picture. While many church hymns would have you believe the Promised land is a picture of Heaven, I think it represents something else.

God’s plan is for His people to live in Him. In other words, the Promised land is actually a picture of life in the Spirit. The Children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and led through the wilderness by Moses yet they never entered the rest of the Promised Land. I think God’s intention was for them to grow up in their faith on their trek through the desert, yet many did not, therefore most of them died without ever entering. You see this is an example to us. We too have been delivered from slavery to sin, and hopefully we have not only gone through our wilderness experience, but have come through and are now living in the Spirit represented by the Promised land.

You see God promised a land flowing with milk and honey but He also knew only mature people would be able to maintain the land. Once they took up residence, within the Land, the supernatural manna, the water from the rock, the shade by day and fire by night would come to an end. God needed them/us to have His viewpoint on things. In order to live in the Promised Land we must be more like Moses who knew God’s ways rather than Israel who only knew His acts. As you read the story of Israel, while in the desert, their immaturity is made clear by their constant complaining. They fussed because it was too hot, they were hungry and tired and even longed to go back to being slaves in Egypt. This is the mindset of someone who isn’t ready for the responsibilities that come with living in the Spirit. In fact it is a pretty good description of living in the flesh.

The apostle Paul told us the deeds of the flesh were evident strife, envy, hatred, factions etc. but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. When it comes right down to it walking in the Spirit means we have to give up on our own ingenuity and let God be God so He can produce these things through us. Living in the Spirit (Promised land) means we are responsible and co-operate with God; whereas living in the flesh (desert) means we complain and fuss about how God provides and how others aren’t doing their part and so on.

Ultimately, Israel living in the Promised Land was meant to be a witness to the rest of the world not only of God’s faithfulness but also of His ability to make free sons out of slaves. Just as the world looks at addicts and ex-cons and thinks they’ll never amount to anything, God specializes in choosing the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. So walking in the Spirit isn’t just for us to enjoy, it is for others to start to understand who God is and how He provides.

Louie

The story of Israel, and their desert wanderings, takes up the bulk of what we call the Old Testament. God gave Abraham a promise saying, “I will make you a great nation…in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). Oddly enough Abraham believed God!

Of course Abraham’s family multiplied into what we know as “Israel”, and even after Abraham died the promise was passed down through subsequent generations. The good news is God is eternal and his promise didn’t die with Abraham. In the letter to the Galatians Paul clarifies for us what the promise to Abraham and his family was really all about. He said, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is , Christ” (Galatians 3:16).

So we now know the promise God gave to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ. This is why all of us whether Jew or Gentile can be blessed because in Christ we are all one and now are “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Now let’s look at what took place between the time the promise was given and when it was fulfilled in Christ.

As the nation of Israel grew in size the need for leaders came about. God appointed judges to rule over Israel until judge Samuel grew old and his sons didn’t walk in his ways. The people of Israel were unsatisfied with how Samuel’s sons did things so they came to Samuel requesting the appointment of a king “like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Right away Samuel knew this wasn’t what God wanted, so he inquired of the Lord.

God’s response to Samuel was, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). You see God’s plan was for Him to be their king and for them to be His people. Israel was meant to be a light to all the other nations (Isaiah 49:6) in order to point them to God. Can you imagine a nation filled with citizens depending upon God rather than a human king? Other nations would come to Israel and ask, “How does this nation work?” “How can a whole nation of people live together in peace without a human governmental structure to regulate them?” It’s just like God to work with us where we are. Even though He wanted to be Israel’s king, He let them have what they asked for because they, like we, have to discover our inability to run things for ourselves.

If we now jump into the New Covenant for a minute and look at the Church we can see similarities between it and Israel. God gave the church “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” Look at why He gave them though. He gave them “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (perfect) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Did you catch that? The reason God gave these gifted offices to the church was to equip the saints for the work and then there’s that little word “Until.” The word until implies there will come a time when those offices will no longer be necessary, right?

At some point, the body of Christ is to grow up into the fullness God intended all along and like Israel the church is to be a light to the rest of the world. The world will look at the church and say, “How does such a diverse group of people live in such unity?” “What is it that makes them so different?” In other words the church, while it is a body, is meant to help each part of the body do its part. Once you discover you are a hand or foot you simply listen to the Head, which is Christ, and do what He says.

The way I see it the church is struggling with their task just as Israel did. Israel told Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:19). In the church many have adopted this same attitude and they want their pastor to be their go between. They don’t want to speak to, or hear from, God themselves they want someone in between them to do it. This is okay at first; but at some point we are called to grow up and develop a relationship with God, through His Spirit, for ourselves. Remember it is “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13).

Louie