I had quite the shock at the last small group Bible study in jail. The guys walked in, and I noticed there were a few more than usual. One of the new guys sat down right next to me and we looked at each other and pretty quickly realized we were old classmates. We stood up, shook hands and hugged each other. While we were both glad to see one another obviously this wasn’t the way we would have chosen. We had a few minutes of small talk and jumped right into the lesson.
We have been working our way through Romans and this night we found ourselves in chapter seven. For those of you that know your Bible’s you probably know this is quite the chapter. This is the chapter in which Paul walks us through what it looks like when someone attempts to please God in the flesh. When it comes to the term flesh there are many various ideas and definitions among great Bible teachers and scholars which generally leads to disagreements about this chapter. For me I have come to the conclusion the word “flesh”, as used here, is simply defined as “humanity operating as if independent of the Spirit of God.”
With this definition in place we can begin to see what the Apostle Paul is really trying to tell us here. While some Bible translations use the term “sinful nature” in place of the word “flesh.” I have come to believe that is not a good translation. If you look in Ephesians 2 you will read we “were by nature (by birth) the children of wrath.” We were indeed born a sinner, with a sinful nature, only because we were born with the wrong spirit within us. This of course is the reason Christ tells us we “must be born again.” In other words, we need to be born of God’s Spirit which will give us a new nature. We cannot have two nature’s at the same time. We are either a child of the devil or a child of God we can’t be both.
Romans seven starts with an illustration of a man and woman in marriage. We read where the only way the woman could get out of her union, or marriage, to her husband, is if he died but we also discover he simply will not die, so she’s in a quandary. The good news is God has provided a way for the woman, who is actually us in this illustration, to be removed from the old union by having her (we) to die by being co-crucified with Christ. Now that we, by faith, have died with Christ our old marriage union is severed, and we are free to be joined to our new husband Christ. Now whereas we, in our old union, could only produce fruit unto death we are now joined to Christ in order to produce fruit for God.
Essentially Romans seven is Paul showing us what it’s like for the wife attempting to bear fruit for God through her own so-called independent, flesh efforts. It would be like a woman deciding to get pregnant and claiming all along she can and she doesn’t have any need of a man to do it. Paul says, “The thing I want to do I don’t do and the very thing I don’t want to do I keep doing.” The reason is because he has been deceived, like all the rest of us, into thinking God’s law is something we can keep rather than something God gave us to show us we can’t. This would be the equivalent God saying to the woman “produce fruit for me” as a commandment. The woman hears the command and sets out to get pregnant. She tries and tries saying, “I want to get pregnant. There’s the desire in me to produce fruit for God but for some reason there seems to be no way for me to do it.” Who will deliver me from this endless cycle of trying and failing? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. I know! I’ll trust in him to produce the fruit God is looking for through me. After all apart from him I can do nothing.
While my old classmate and I didn’t expect to see one another, and especially in jail, I know he heard the truth that night. The truth of how human beings were designed, or created, to be a vessel, temple, wife and branch in which God’s Spirit lives. As a vessel and temple we learn how we are meant to be the container rather than the contents. As a vessel and temple we understand we are distinct from God’s Spirit within; but as a wife and branch we start to see there is a union between our spirit and His. While the illustration of us being a temple teaches us we never become like the deity housed within, the wife and branch, on the other hand, tells us there is a joining of our spirit with God’s that makes us one with him. Just as a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife to become one flesh with her “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”
The pathway to understanding our union, or oneness with Christ, only comes through our own Romans seven experience. Once we truly see ourselves as dead to sin in Romans six we must move on to seeing ourselves as dead to the Law in Romans seven before moving on into life in the Spirit which we read in Romans eight but let’s not get ahead of ourselves that’s for next week.