God is for You | Romans 8:31-39
Future Glory Over Present Suffering | Romans 8:18-30
Changed by God | Romans 8:1-17
Acceptance Over Performance | Romans 7:7-25
The Law and Spirit | Romans 7:1–7
Our Identity in Christ | Romans 6:15-23
Dead to Sin, Alive to Christ | Romans 6:1-14
Obedience of Faith
Do you ever find yourself striving to follow rules, left with a performance-based rather than acceptance-based mindset in your relationship with Christ? In the most recent installment of our sermon series Dying to Live, Blake Holmes explains our relationship with the Law and gives Paul’s complementary arguments for it being both good and weak.
Good morning, friends. It doesn't take much investigation to look on social media and online and see that we love to post the successes of our do-it-yourself projects. Right? You have been there before. You've seen your friends who have proudly posted "Look at what I did. I did it all by myself." I gave our staff an opportunity this week. I said, "Hey, those DIY projects, those do‑it‑yourself projects out there? Send them on in. Let me know what you've done. I'll give you a chance to brag on yourself."
Many people responded, and I'm going to share with you the hidden talent on our staff, and just to be fair, I'm going to share with you a few of those projects that didn't go quite according to plan. So, let's start with the successes. All right? The first is Robbie Rice's fence. Now, if you're looking to rebuild a fence… That's pretty impressive. I'd post that. Right? The second one is Dyann Kierstead's dining room. Hey. Good audience response. Josiah Jones told me he was the winner, and he submitted this. Pretty good. That's impressive.
Then (what I love about our staff) were those who were quick to say, "Okay. And here's what didn't go quite so well." So, I thought I'd share that with a few thousand people. How about that? David Petty's greenhouse. His email to me was funnier than the picture. I love Nicole Telaneus. She is actually really gifted in so many ways. Here are her kitchen chairs. You may say, "Oh, those look great." Well, they were all supposed to look the same. Don't ask Jeff Ward to help move your stuff, and certainly don't ask Robert Green to change your oil. There you go. Yes. That's all over his garage floor.
I appreciated our staff's humor. They sent in their successes, and they sent in their failures. We've all experimented with these do-it-yourself projects. The reason I bring this up in kind of a lighthearted way is now to make a more serious point. Sadly, I think many of us approach the spiritual life with a do-it-yourself mindset. What do I mean by that? Many outside of the church believe they can earn or merit God's favor on their own, what they can do for themselves.
"Hey, God, look at my résumé. Look at what I've done for you, how good I am. Look at what I choose to do. Look at what I choose not to do." It's kind of like a scale. The good outweighs the bad. Within the church, sadly, many of us aren't necessarily trying to earn God's love. We're trying to keep God's love. We're trying to preserve God's love, as if, if we do more and more and more and run on the treadmill that's at a hopeless incline, somehow we can make God love us more, because we might fall in and out of favor with God.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. There's nothing you could do to make God love you more, and there's nothing you could do to make God love you less. Communion was a reminder of that. I wonder how many of us in here really believe that or if we are kind of like, "Did he just say that? That feels scandalous to me." Do you really believe there's nothing you could do to make God love you more and nothing you could do to make God love you less?
Some people operate with a performance-based acceptance mindset ("If I perform more, then God will accept me and love me more") rather than with a mindset of acceptance-based performance. "I know I'm loved and accepted by God, so I'm motivated to respond in gratitude for what he has already done for me." Those are two very different things. Those are two very different motivations for why we do what we do. When we operate with a performance-based mindset, it leads to burnout, exhaustion, legalism, shame, and guilt, but when we operate with an acceptance-based performance, there's gratitude, there's joy, there's peace.
We're continuing our series called Dying to Live, and we're working our way through Romans 6-8. It's covering this whole topic called sanctification, or the spiritual life. These are deep waters of theological truths, and we're going to wade into chapter 7 this morning. It's almost unfair to just drop you into Romans 7:7-25, because it takes a lot to explain the background of where we are. I got a lot of puzzled looks at the 9:00, but I think you can do it. This looks like a brighter crowd. You're awake, and we can do it. We want to understand something that's as important as Romans, chapter 7.
The first thing I want you to recognize is, throughout this whole series, week after week, what we're trying to impress upon you, what Paul is trying to say to us, is that the spiritual life is one of active surrender to the Spirit of God. It is not one do-it-yourself project after another. We're not working to earn God's love, but we're responding to it. Now let me give you some theological terms that make you sound really smart over lunch. There's a word in Scripture called justification, a word called sanctification, and a word called glorification. Before your eyes glaze over, just hang with me.
Justification is so important. Justification is when God declares us forgiven. It's a legal term. We are freed from the penalty of sin at the moment of salvation. That's not all the Bible says about our salvation. We're declared righteous. We're forgiven based upon what Christ has done for us, his death, burial, and resurrection, but then we grow in Christlikeness. We respond and cooperate to his Spirit. We respond in obedience. We seek to know him more. This is the sanctification process. Justification addresses the guilt of sin, while sanctification addresses the dominion and presence of sin in our lives.
But the great hope is, at the very end, glorification is we're going to be freed from the presence of sin when we die and go home with him. That's our hope. We're freed from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and ultimately, the presence of sin. God is doing a work in our hearts every day if we will respond to him. The Westminster Catechism defines sanctification like this. The Reformed tradition of the faith says it basically like this:
"Sanctification is a work of God's grace…" That's so important for us to understand. "…by which those whom God has chosen to be holy before the foundation of the world are, in time, through the powerful operation of the Spirit, applying the death and resurrection of Christ to them, renewed in their whole person after the image of God. The seeds of repentance that lead to life, and all the other saving graces, are put into their hearts, and those graces are stirred up, increased, and strengthened so that they may more and more die to sin and rise to newness of life."
Sanctification is that ongoing work of God's Spirit in our hearts where we are being conformed daily into the image of Christ. So, when we get to chapter 7 of the book of Romans… Last week, John Elmore was talking to us about how we have been released from the Mosaic law. We're no longer under the law, because Christ has fulfilled the law. He paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross and rising again, and we have forgiveness.
This led to the question of…If that is true, then what are we to conclude about the law? John explained last week we've been released from the law. We're no longer under the law. We rest in what Christ has done for us. So, it's with that background we pick up verses 7-25. What is our relationship to the Mosaic law now? How are we to think about the law? Somehow, in our performance, in our responding to God, are we to behave in such a way that he would love us more or accept us more? Can we fall in and out of favor with God? What is the spiritual life, and what is this relationship to the law?
Well, he's going to argue two points. In verses 7-13, he's going to say, "The law is holy, righteous, and good," but then in verses 14-25, he says, "But the law is weak." I want to explain that. So, let's jump into the deep end. Hang with me, and we'll try to make sense out of a really dense passage. Beginning at verse 7, Paul says, "What then shall we say?" In other words, in light of the fact that we've been released from the law because of what Christ has done for us, what should we say about the law?
"That the law is sin?" That the problem is with the law? "By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.'" What is he trying to communicate to us? What he's saying is the law is good. God gave us the law because he loves us. It's good in that it defines sin for us. The law defines sin. Most specifically here, he gives the example of we should not covet. How do we know we shouldn't covet? Because the law tells us that.
Some of you might be looking at me going, "What are we talking about? What is the law?" I'd have to take you back to the book of Exodus where God calls a people out of captivity and bondage to slavery in Egypt, and he sets them apart. He redeems them, and he seeks to live in relationship with them. The law reveals his character, and it shows them their need for his grace.
The law spoke to every area of their lives. It told them how they were to dress, how they were to conduct business, how they were to worship him, who they were to marry, what they were to eat. It informed every area of their lives, and Israel, God's people, was to be a kingdom of priests, set apart from all of the other nations of the earth, that they might be a blessing to everyone, to the whole world.
So, the law was good in that it reflected the character of God and the will of God, and it helped Israel recognize who God is. Paul is just making the point the law is not the problem. What is the problem is sin. Although we've been released from the law… As Christians today, we're not under it. We don't need to follow it, because Christ fulfilled it for us. The problem is sin. It has never been the law.
Sin is anything we think, say, or do that is contrary to the will of God. In Romans 3, just a few chapters previous to this, Paul makes the argument we've all sinned. We've all fallen short of the glory of God…me, you. We've all done that. We've offended a perfect, righteous, and holy God. The problem is not with the law but with sin.
Every year growing up, I would go to the beach in South Carolina with my family. Heading to our beach house, we'd drive over this really large bridge, and as you went over the bridge, there was a massive sign. The sign read, "No swimming. No lifeguard on duty. Dangerous riptide. Dangerous undercurrent. You will drown. No swimming." With the Grim Reaper. Do you know the figure? Skull and crossbones. I mean, this sign couldn't be more clear.
Every year, without fail, I'd read the newspaper of someone who ignored the sign, and every year there were those who drowned. Think how ridiculous it would be if I were to walk up and go, "Man! I hate that sign. The problem is with the sign. Just get rid of the sign." No. The problem is with the riptide. The problem is the riptide, the undercurrent, the undertow leads to death. The sign is there to warn us.
The law was there, God's Word was there to warn us, to warn Israel, and to say to them, "Hey, listen. If you follow your own way, if you follow the way of the nations, it's going to lead to death." The law just showed you the will of God and the character of God. That's Paul's point in verse 7. Then he goes on and says the law is good not just because it defines sin, but it also exposes our sin nature. Look at verses 8-11.
"But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me."
What in the world does that mean? It means sin exposes our rebellious nature. We have a rebellious sin nature. It says sin seizes every opportunity to incite rebellion. It says it twice. It's conveying the idea that sin is like an enemy force within our hearts. Let me give you an illustration of this. On my jogging route in the mornings, I run by a massive magnolia tree. It's a tree that anybody who sees would go, "Man, I want to climb that tree," yet there is this sign right in front of the tree. And what does it say? "Please do not climb on tree."
Do you know what that sign makes me want to do? I want to climb the tree all the more because the sign is there. Now you may think, "What's wrong with you?" Well, let me ask you something. When you walk into an antique store and there's something really nice and it says, "Please do not touch," is there not some part of you that wants to touch it? That's a sin nature. There's something within all of us that just relishes the rebellion. It's true of all of us.
In his classic book The Confessions, Augustine wrote this: "There was a pear tree close to our vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was tempting neither for its color nor its flavor. To shake and rob this some of us wanton young fellows went, late one night…and carried away great loads, not to eat ourselves, but to fling to the very swine, having only eaten some of them; and to do this pleased us all the more because it was not permitted." Do you hear what he's saying?
Augustine is saying, "I see a pear tree. The tree is not mine. I don't even really like pears. It didn't even look good to me, but just the idea of the rebellion to take that which was not mine excited me." "Behold, now, let my heart tell you what it was seeking there, that I should be gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved to perish. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself. Base soul, falling from your firmament to utter destruction—not seeking anything through the shame but the shame itself!"
Do you hear that? We have a rebellious nature. There's something in us that, when it says, "Don't touch, don't take," finds it exciting, finds it kind of thrilling in the rebellion. So, Paul says in verses 12-13, "Hey, listen. The law is good. The problem is not with the law. The problem is within our hearts." Verse 12:
"So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure."
Again, this is a dense passage. Paul is just concluding… He's saying, "Hey, listen. Those of us who have been released from the law, those of us who have been set free… The law is good. It's holy. It reveals the character and nature of God." Think about it like this. We're not told "Don't murder" simply because the US government tells us not to murder. Laws change. They come and go. Why are we not to murder? It's because God is the originator, giver, and sustainer of life. That's why.
Why do we not steal? Why do we not lie? Because God is a God of truth. We're not to covet because God is our provider. He's our source of sufficiency. The law teaches us about the character and nature of God, and the law reveals our sin and our desperate need for his grace. Paul in Galatians 3:24 says, "Therefore, the law has become our tutor, our help, our guide." For what? To lead us to Christ so that we may be justified by faith.
When you read the law, you can't help but go, "I can't keep all that." That's because God is holy, perfect, righteous, and just, and none of us are like him. When we read it, we're like, "I am in trouble. There is sin within my heart. I need God's grace. I'm desperate for his forgiveness." That's exactly what the law is supposed to do: reveal the character of God and show you your need for Jesus. We all need him.
I want you to take a moment this morning and evaluate the motives and condition of your heart. Just stop and ask yourself, "What do I need to confess this morning? What am I hiding? What do I need to repent of? In what ways am I rationalizing, justifying, minimizing sin in my life? What am I keeping secret?"
R.C. Sproul, a writer and theologian, wrote this: "Every sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is an act of rebellion against the sovereign God who reigns and rules over us and as such is an act of treason against the cosmic King." What do you need to ask forgiveness for? Whose forgiveness do you need to seek? Because all of us have a sin nature that's rebellious toward the will of God.
Friends, I want to be delicate but clear. We live in an outrage culture. It is so easy for us to become outraged with everything that's going on out there. We're so outraged by what we see on TV and what's posted online and what we read in the news. There's not a week that goes by I don't get an email like, "You must address what's going on out there." We're outraged. For every email, I just want to ask…Are we just as outraged by the sin in our hearts or are we quick to go, "Oh, the problem is out there"? Be slow.
I was driving down 75 just this week. There was this joker behind me right on my bumper. Just normal Dallas driving. I switched lanes. They followed me. (Hopefully you're not in here.) So, I'm moving, they're moving. They're tailgating, and I'm looking in the rearview mirror, frustrated at that guy, like, "Get off my bumper!" I'm like every other Dallas driver, though. When I look forward, what am I doing? Same thing to that guy. Right? Trying to survive.
It's easy for us to look in the rearview mirror and see what everybody else is doing wrong and become outraged, but do we look right through the windshield in front of us and recognize we, too, are guilty of sin? So, the law is good. The problem is sin. In verses 14-23, he's now going to say the problem is not with the law; the law is good, but the law is weak. Look at verses 14-23. This is dense, but stick with me.
"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members."
What in the world does that mean? It simply means this. Paul recognizes there is a war within his heart between what he knows he should do and what he wants to do, between the Spirit and between the flesh. The Spirit of God is telling him, "Life is here. Obedience is here. Peace and joy are found here," but his flesh is telling him, "Oh, but it feels good, and it seems right to do this." So, there's a law within, and the law is weak because it can't change our hearts. It can't defeat that war. We need something, and that something is God's Spirit.
We can all identify with this. Right? We know we shouldn't click that image, but we want to. We shouldn't take another drink, but it sounds fun. We shouldn't embellish the truth, but I'll look better. We shouldn't lose our temper, but it feels satisfying. We shouldn't cheat on our expense report, but I'd rather not tell the truth. We tell another story to make ourselves look good when we know it's not altogether true.
J.C. Ryle, in his book called Holiness, wrote this: "Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in every believer. A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a man is not sanctified.
Nay, rather, I believe they are healthy symptoms of our condition and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within. He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace. […] I believe that what I say is confirmed by the language of Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans. […] The heart of the best Christian, even at his best, is a field occupied by two rival camps and the 'company of two armies.'"
You say to me, "What am I to conclude about the war that's within? It's troubling to me." And I say to you: Find comfort. It's evidence of God's Spirit at work in your life to convict you of sin. It's those who bear no conscience, who feel no conviction, who care not at all, I'd be most worried about. There is a war within the heart of a believer because we're not home yet. God hasn't finished with us.
God is good, and he gives us his Spirit to convict us of sin and remind us of what is true. But the law (verses 24-25) is powerless to change the human heart. "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."
He concludes this looking back, going, "Hey, I sense this inner war, this struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. What am I going to do? God, help me. I can't win this war on my own no matter how hard I try." Then he previews what's to come, which is chapter 8. I can't wait to get to chapter 8, because chapter 8 speaks of what God has done for us in giving us his Spirit. He doesn't leave us alone to do one do-it-yourself project after another. He empowers us with his Spirit, because the spiritual life is one of active surrender to God's Spirit in our hearts, not self-discipline, do‑it‑yourself efforts.
What we need to do is actively surrender to the Spirit's role in our lives. We need to humble ourselves. We need to reexamine our motives. We need to understand why we do what we do. We need to admit our need and confess sin, not just read God's Word but trust in it, find our identity not in what we bring to the throne room of God but what God has done for us through his Son Jesus. We need to wait on God and rest in the finished work of Christ.
I remember the first time I went water skiing. My friend was saying, "All right, Blake. It's really simple. You let the boat pull you up." There was something in me that was like, "No. I'm supposed to do this on my own." It's like I fought the water, fought the rope, and fought the boat, only to find myself torpedoing right down into the water. It's when I recognized, "No, no, no. You really do sit back in the water, and when the boat goes, it lifts you up…"
Too many of us are operating and see the spiritual life as this "If I do, do, do, then God will accept and love me more." It leads to this performance-based acceptance, when in reality, what we recognize is our motivation is acceptance-based performance, what has been done through the cross and the resurrection of Christ and the Spirit of God that now lives within your heart, and resting in that, and responding in gratitude and a desire to love him because of how he has so lavishly loved you. Those are two really different motivations.
I want you to hear from two of my friends who shared a little bit of their testimony. Hear carefully what they're saying, how they used to be led by a performance-based acceptance and legalism and how it led to exhaustion until they finally rested in the finished work of Christ, his resurrection, and yielded to his Spirit. Let's watch this together.
Christine: Hi, my name is Christine. I grew up in a loving Christian home and accepted Christ as a young age, but my relationship with Jesus was always a very transactional one. I wanted to be the good Christian girl. I followed all of the rules, or I tried to. I wanted to earn God's love by doing enough good and thought that was how to be a good Christian, but in reality, this lifestyle is exhausting.
I remember reading in John 8:36, "For whom the Son sets free is free indeed," and I didn't feel free at all. In John 10, Jesus talks about the abundant life he comes to give us, and I didn't feel this abundant life at all. I felt exhausted. I finally came to the end of myself and realized that I fall short every single time of being good.
A year after I graduated college, I finally hit my knees, recognized my sin, and realized I needed a Savior. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith." This verse came to life for me in a new way for the first time. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less.
So, what changed after this? I started living my life in full surrender to the Lord, not one foot in, one foot out. Fruit started to naturally overflow in my life, not because of my good works but because of Christ in me and because of the gratitude for the good gift he has given each of us. For the first time in all my years of being a Christian, I started to experience this life and life to the full that Jesus offers every one of us.
Jenna: Hi, my name is Jenna. I was a Christian from a young age, but I lived as if I could earn the free gift of grace Christ had offered to me. I was good at being good. I did everything I could to be perfect, and anything that wasn't perfect, I hid it in the dark. You see, when you're living under legalism, there's no room to be authentic. I didn't know grace for myself, and then I was unable to show grace to others.
This abundant life, rest, and easy yoke Jesus spoke of was far from the life I was experiencing. I was prideful, judgmental, and exhausted. I lived as a Pharisee, not as a disciple. At 17, I had a mentor ask me what the gospel was to me. It was the first time I was confronted with the reality that I didn't know how to answer her question. I felt like a fraud. The Holy Spirit came and revealed all of my hidden sin and my constant striving, and it brought me to my knees.
I was exhausted from 17 years of performing. I was worn down from trying so hard to be perfect, but it was there on my knees that the Lord met me with true grace. I can never be perfect, but Christ was perfect for me. If I can't manufacture my salvation, then I definitely can't manufacture my sanctification. I now carry a light burden and an easy yoke. I get to rest in and participate with the Spirit as he sanctifies me more and more into the image of Christ every day.