God is in the business of growing His children, maturing us both individually and corporately into spiritual adulthood. This means that when God speaks to us, He is often calling us to change.
But how will you hear a word from God that calls you to change? That depends on your heart.
God does not prohibit things because He is the enemy of all fun. God does not say “Don’t play.” God says “Don’t play in traffic.” He steers us away from things that will hurt us. Every good and perfect gift comes from God; if God is steering you away from something, then it’s not a good gift (at least, not for you, now.)
Likewise, when God commands something, it is not so He can watch you jump through hoops for His own private amusement. No. When God says “Do xyz,” God is saying “I have a blessing I want to give you. Hold out your hand.” Again, every good and perfect gift comes from God.
If your heart is right toward God, then you hear an invitation to life in the command, and deliverance from death in the prohibition. Alas, this is not always the case….
The temptation, of course, is to think that God is being mean to you, or at least cheap with you — that He’s steering you away from something good, or toward something bad. Instead, of course, you ought to simply trust God. If He commands a thing, you should set out to do it, expecting the blessings of obedience. This is true even when you can’t see what that blessing might be, as is often the case. Remember, the command is God saying “Hold out your hand; I want to give you something good.” When you can’t see what the good thing might be, God is saying “Close your eyes and hold out your hand; I want to give you something good.”
When you rebel against the command of God, you are folding your arms firmly, tucking your hands in your armpits and scrunching your shoulders up to your ears, and saying “No! Show me what it is first. Then maybe I’ll obey.”
Doesn’t usually work like that, in my experience. I find that the experience of obedience forms me, causes me to develop eyes to see and ears to hear. Apart from that experience, I could not have become the sort of person that can enjoy what God is seeking to give me.
And besides, how can we expect God to bless us with anything, even understanding, when we are knowingly rebelling against His expressed will?
Of course, there’s a problem. We can’t keep the commands. We may delight in them, we may see the life that keeping them would bring–but we simply don’t have the wherewithal to get the job done. Sin rises up in us, and we rebel. We may hate the sin that we’re doing, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from doing it.
What can we do to solve the problem?
Nada. Zip. Nechevo.
There is no action, no arrangement of mental furniture, nothing you can do to defeat sin. Until the resurrection, you’re stuck with sin dwelling in you, and it’s stronger than you are. You can’t think your way to victory. Until the last day, when you’re delivered from death, you are doomed.
But the last day has come. In Christ, the last day broke into history, and the resurrection has already begun. Jesus, son of Adam, is ascended to heaven and sits on the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand, crowned Lord of heaven and earth. In His absence, He sent us the Spirit, and dwelling in us, the Spirit gives us a glimpse — the firstfruits, as it were — of the resurrection. This body is dead because of sin, but through the Spirit, God gives life to our dead bodies. It’s absurd, contradictory. It doesn’t make any sense. A bit like a man walking on water…
Which is to say, it’s a miracle.
We still wait eagerly for the resurrection, but right here, right now, we live resurrected lives by the daily miracle of the Spirit operating in our lives. In one way, this is not something we do so much as something we get out of the way of. And then again, by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, and thereby, we live. Synergism is a curse word in some theological circles, but that’s exactly what this is. The Spirit takes your hand and says, “There’s a part of you that needs to die. Come with Me; we’ll kill it together.” The power is God’s, as is the glory, but He would like to incarnate them in us.
This is an invitation to life. Can your ears hear it?
Ho! Everyone thirsty,
Come to the waters;
And if you have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages on what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you —
The sure mercies of David.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin?”
I don’t know of any command of God that gives life. They all bring death because of the sin nature in us (Rom. 7). When the Spirit-follower in Romans 8 tries to obey the command, everything is different. The Spirit-follower experiences life – it is more abundant life. They experience an ephiphany of God’s presence. It gives more closeness and power and conformity (security) with God. The obedience-striving man of God is a man who is really excited about Him and goes to tell everyone about the Savior.
Of course you’re right. “If a law had been given which could have given life, then truly righteousness would have come by the law.”
But it’s also true that the Law does describe a glorious, abundant, life-giving way to live, if only we could do it. We can’t, if we set out merely to keep the law. But by walking with the Spirit, the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us — we live abundant lives. Of course, in one sense this is more something we get out of the way of than something we do: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” On the other side of the paradox, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Had a thought driving to work this morning — lemme take another run at it.
The Law is a portrait of The Good Life. The Romans 7 response is exactly the right one — to delight in it. It’s the same response the Holy Spirit teaches in Psalm 119:97 (and assorted other related Scriptures). And of course, these are things that we say to one another, and sing in our hearts to the Lord (Eph.5/Col.3). We should respond to the beauty of the Law, and love it. But that won’t be enough; to get life, we have to turn to the Spirit, who ultimately gives us the life described (but not given) in the Law.
The guy in Romans 7 delights in the law in his mind. But when he tries to carry it out, his members have a will of their own. So the mind and the members are at war with each other. I think we have to personally invite God in to kill the will of the flesh, and this takes faith. By means of the Spirit, then, through faith, we become obedient both inside and out. “Conformed to the image of His Son” it describes it in Romans 8:29.
I’ve always been anti-law. I am this way because I fully accept the teachings of Paul as he differentiates grace from self-effort, legalism from the Spirit. But the buck stops in Romans 8 for me. Law-obeying is right and it is doable. Do I believe it? Do I really believe in the power of God when I realize that in some way, I am, even as a Spirit-following believer, not yet conformed or set free from the elements of this world (gal 4:3)?
If I didn’t need to obey the laws of God after being justified in Romans 4, I wouldn’t need God after receiving eternal life. I could be estranged (gal 5:4) and no one would could call me on it. Such a state is the man of Romans 7.
The Holy Spirit isn’t just to ward off legalism.
Jesus was not anti-law. All the Law and the Prophets hang on “Love God and your neighbor” — but those are commandments, too. We interpret “I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it” to mean that He destroyed the Law by other means — but that’s not it at all. But He kept it perfectly because it was a reflection of His character, and He sent us His Spirit to implant His character in us, with the result that the Law’s righteous requirements are fulfilled in us. Through Him we died to the Law, and we are raised to be conformed to the likeness of Him who kept it perfectly.