The whole of the Gospel is defined for us in Romans six through eight. The Apostle Paul tells us We have died to sin and have been joined with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection in Romans six. Immediately after we read the great news of having died to sin we discover in Romans seven we have also died to the Law. Dying to the Law means it has no jurisdiction over we who have placed our faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Romans 10:4 tells us “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Thinking about Galatians 2:20 I sort of saw it in new light; let me see if I can explain. Paul said, “I (our supposed, independent I but the I that is really in union with the spirit of error) am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I (new me now separated from the prince of the power of the air and in union with Christ) live; yet not I (as if independent), but Christ (in union with me) lives in me; and the life which I (really Christ) now live in the flesh I (joined to Christ) live by the faith (faithfulness) of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Ultimately the work of God, through the cross of Calvary, is the breaking of man’s unholy union to the spirit of error in order to restore mankind to our oneness with God. God’s image in man was damaged through the fall so Christ (God in human form) came here, lived the perfect sinless life and yet died our sinful man’s death on the cross. In that horrible death he “became sin” so we might be made “the righteousness of God in him.” Jesus Christ took the spirit of error into himself and died. When he died the spirit of error left him, because he had no sin of his own, and once a body dies the spirit has to leave. So God is telling those, that have placed their faith in Christ, we have been crucified with him so we might be freed from the spirit of error through him to walk in newness of life.
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.
The New Testament tells us believers are Temples, vessels, wives, the body and branches. As I think about these illustrations it comes to me that they are somewhat progressive in nature. I think we see ourselves as a container of Christ first then go on to see ourselves as joined to him.
For instance, a Temple is built in order to house a deity. A vessel is designed to hold or contain something such as a vase is meant to have a flower or a coffee cup is meant to hold coffee. These are great and necessary but they aren’t meant to be the focus. If a vase is outshining the flower you may want to find another flower, and if I ask you for a cup of coffee it isn’t the cup I’m really looking for is it?
When talking to men about this they may not appreciate being called a wife but in Romans seven we discover we are just that. Paul is telling us that all humans are equivalent to the wife when it comes to our relationship with God. God is the male because he is the one who produces his life in and through us. Just like a woman has to have a man in order to bear children, we have to have God in order to produce fruit for him. So in this instance a wife is also a vessel. She is the means in which the husband reproduces after his kind.
Once we establish that we are Temples, vessels and wives we move on in our understanding to see it goes even further. Jesus taught us in John 15 that he is the true vine and we are the branches. So we see that we aren’t just a vessel but we are actually an extension of him. If you look at a tree you don’t just stop at the trunk you include the branches. In fact, for some of us we need the fruit on the branches in order to identify the tree. To the watching world, they learn about Jesus the vine, by seeing the fruit on the branches. This is similar to the wife analogy because a branch doesn’t produce the fruit, it bears it.
The Apostle Paul picked up on this union between Christ and his believers and said, God “Put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Once again, like the tree, we don’t see the head and body as two separate things but as one. I wouldn’t say, “Look, here comes Tracey’s head”, we would know her head and body are one. That last statement “the fullness of him who fills all in all” is amazing. This is telling us Christ is fully expressed through us his body!
My wife, Tracey, says, “God is so big it takes all of us and more to express who he is!” I like that don’t you? We are an expression of Christ to the world around us. We aren’t trying to imitate Christ we are simply letting him express himself through our very unique personality. We are all designed as individual branches to bear fruit for an amazing God that wants us to share in his life.
Let me finish by saying, God isn’t into giving us things. For instance he doesn’t give us love; He is love. He doesn’t give us life; He is life. He doesn’t give us power; He is power. You see, we are only the means by which he expresses himself not the originator. God’s plan isn’t that he helps us, his plan is that he lives and produces glory through us. The good news is we get to share in it. If we were the producers of the glory we would have something to brag about one day, but we know that can’t be because if it wasn’t for the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ none of us would ever be in fellowship with God. It is only the gracious gift of God himself that has joined us to Christ in order for us to share in this amazing experience we call the Christian life.
This is taken from our good friend Brian Coatney’s blog. I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share this on ours.
God calls us to see the completion that He accomplished on the Cross when He put to death the old man and raised a new man in Christ: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
This means that as a Christian, I am an entirely new creation. Though my body looks the same, and though my personality is the same, God has birthed me out of death into a new being, united spirit-to-Spirit with God through Christ. This living union did not exist when I was the old man. The old man could never get transformed into the new man. For me to be united spirit-to-Spirit with God, the old man had to die, and I had to be born a new creation, which means union with Christ.
The finiteness of my humanity, though, never does change; I’m still powerless to produce my own good. But in this union with Christ, whereby we are made one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), Christ takes on all responsibility to produce all of the qualities He requires. Christ Himself is the Christian life, and I get carried along by faith, enjoying His life as my life.
I don’t even live by law any more because I live by His nature, and the Bible has become to me the beautiful description of His nature, and therefore, His nature expressed as me.
Why then do I have to say, “We still sin every day”? Certainly it is possible to sin every day, and who can deny that such is the experience of hosts of Christians. But who am I to say that there are sins that I cannot be kept from? Who is to say how much victory is possible?
I can hear the screams already. Some, in frantic concern, don’t want any to wave a wand over themselves or others and proclaim a state of sinless perfection. What this usually means is the baptizing of carnal responses as if they are the life of Christ in us.
Plenty of this false notion exists, and I recall well how desperately I wanted to think that certain flesh impulses were the life of the Spirit in me. Of course we want to hang onto our natural impulses and think that they are Christ in us. After all, to eat, to work, to be attracted – these are all part of our humanity, and we have taken needless guilt for them because of the sin consciousness hanging on in us before the renewal of our minds.
Natural impulses from our humanity need not cause guilt, and neither do they need to lead us to call them the life of the Spirit. The point of the Spirit’s life is that it is Spirit life. As the Spirit quickens our mortal bodies, we now no longer to take condemnation for being human; but we also do not live by natural impulses as if they are the Spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Holy Spirit acts like a sword to reveal to us the difference between our souls and our spirits. Our souls consist of our thoughts and feelings – our natural desires, which are always for comfort and never for the Cross. Why would our earthly parts desire denial of gratification? They wouldn’t. Only a mind that is set on the Spirit finds life coming out of death on a soul or body level, so that Spirit life can flow forth. Our natural impulses of themselves are just that; they are not an identity.
Our union with Christ is our identity, in which, as we walk in the flow of His Spirit, we major on Spirit life instead of natural desires that He sends to the Cross. Of course, we often do get to enjoy many of life’s pleasures, moments in which Spirit and soul rejoice together. Often too, the Spirit leads us to extreme discomfort and some level of death in our earthly members. We tend, until renewed of mind, to think that the Christian life is therefore hard. I often say, “It’s not hard to walk in the Spirit; it’s easy: it’s excruciating at times, but not hard.”
Again, this does not mean a proclamation of instant perfection. Yet, if perfection is a person – the person of Christ – we can walk in Christ all that we wish to. All the perfection in the universe, Christ Himself, is available to us every moment. I don’t accept settling for less.
Written by Brian Coatney