Big oopsie moment as I realized after I published Monday's blog that I skipped right over Romans 7. I guess I was just caught up in Joyce's wonderful message on Romans 8 that I stayed there! Speaking of that wonderful sermon, why don't you take a listen back to it if ya missed Sunday or want a quick review? ;)
Romans 7 feels like a careful chapter...what I mean by that is Paul is trying to explain to Jewish Christians (and Gentile Christians) that the law is less important than it was and that the relationship with Christ is now the more important thing in this new covenant. But, Paul has to be careful in how he explains that the law is less important as to not be dismissive of it entirely and offend the Jewish Christians who would have found this notion inconceivable.
Paul attempts to do this by analogy, by direct comparison, and ending with a compassionate note describing the conflict this creates and recognizing it is not easy. As you read through Romans 7 I invite you to take notes, gather questions, and come to your own conclusions as to what Paul is trying to say not just in this chapter but in the larger of picture of Romans that you've read so far. Because you only have two chapters to read this week we'll use Friday's post as a "Romans recap" to review the major themes discussed so far before we enter the second half. Alright, let's get reading!
Scripture to Read
7 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.
Ah, it never gets old when a Biblical forefather does a marriage analogy because its always the woman who is the object of scorn. If a woman leaves her husband she is an adulteress. But, no mention of the man having done the same thing and his consequences. Obviioouusssllllllyyyyy men are just big brain super smarts who know these things and women don't so Paul must man-splain how one breaks a marriage covenant. (sarcasm over.) Jokes aside Paul is trying to make the argument that we are not 'cheating' on the written law by forming this relationship with Christ because that covenant is now dead and gone and like marriage we only vow to be loyal till death do us part. Ergo, the covenant is dead so you are free to form a new unity and loyalty to a new covenant.
But, I do think there is something looming in this section that Paul doesn't quite address or account for here...the pain of being a widow.
A friend of mine I met in college, Holly, was dating her boyfriend of a few years by the time they had become engaged. Everyone was happy for them because they were the happiest couple anyone could have known. Sadly, what became public news a few months later is that Seth had developed an incurable tumor in his brain and was given less than a year to live. He was 23 at the time. Holly and Seth planned their wedding a few months after their engagement, but, Seth would take a downturn and they ultimately never made it to their wedding day. On February 24th 2019 Seth passed away in the loving arms of his family and his fiancé. Following Holly's journey of grief was humbling as my own engagement and marriage was happening around the same time helping to reveal to me the fragility of life and why we should hold on to our loved ones tight whenever we get the chance. While Holly has begun to date a new person, she has not moved on from Seth. Every anniversary of his death she'll change her profile picture on Facebook to her and Seth again for even just a day as a reminder to herself and his family that she will always love him first.
(Holly and Seth)
When I read Romans 7 in context to who it was written to - Jewish and Gentile Christians - I'm reminded of Seth and Holly and the process of moving on from something that has defined your love. Just because the law is 'dead' does not mean the grief is not fully alive.
On a less relational level I understand that a big fear of current congregations is the loss of traditions, rituals, symbols, and liturgy. As more and more data comes out showing that (good and true) contemporary is the secret sauce to church growth and reaching younger families that also means coming to grip with shifting focus financially and emotionally from preserving the traditional services at the church. That means less hymns, less liturgy, less robes, less candles and incense, less flowers and organs. Everything that made church feel like 'church' for many of you must and will go by the wayside if the church is to remain alive and relevant for younger and newer members of the faith. Presently, our church ONLY does a traditional service for Christmas and Easter, the biggest services of the year with the most guests....but someday I imagine we will only do contemporary versions of those services as that is what guests want according to the data. (This is speculation and absolutely nothing we have discussed or even entertained.) That's a really scary and heartbreaking thing. We love our hymns. We love our liturgy. We love our robes. We love our sacraments. We love our symbolism. We love our rituals. And by God does this church love its Hallelujah chorus on Easter. I'm convinced the reason the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off the cliff was because he proposed not singing this song as a church council meeting and the people were not happy. (Sorry, I really hate that song haha.) And no one that understands love wants to see something they love die. Much like a spouse that passes away there is very real grief that comes with faith traditions that pass as well.
Yes, it is true that Christ brings us greater joy than the law or any type of worship service ever could bring and yes I encourage anyone to pursue that relationship, but, I think we must also give space and friendship to those that walk the path of grief as they shift into a new relationship and perhaps even give respect to those that may never be able to find love again. To the Jews that 'failed' to adopt to Jesus' new covenant...they were heartbroken, not bitter.
Did I just be....pastoral? This feels weird. Let's just pretend that never happened and get back to me offending you. Sound good? ;)
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
Imma be real with you all here: I have never been so confused by a dude talking in circles as I am this dude talking in circles. I listen to A LOT of political news, talk shows, so I know how politicians can talk in circles in an effort to pander to everyone and their mother. But no one talks in circles quite like Paul talks in circles in this section. Or maybe I'm just daft. Probably. So, I want to share a block of text from a commentary I found online for this section that does a far better job at explaining what Paul is talking about then I ever could. Enjoy!
"In chapter 6 Paul deals with the subject of controlling sin. In chapter 7 Paul deals with the law. Out of the 77 times the word "law" is used in Romans, it is used 22 times in chapter 7. Paul actually brought up the subject in chapter 6:14: "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
The verb translated "for you are not" is in the present tense. The word translated not, ou, means "not in any way shape or form". So Paul is telling us that spiritually we are not at any time under "the law" or any "law" however imposed. Instead, we are "under grace."
I believe Paul, in chapter 7, is vividly portraying for us the "frustration of trying to go back and live under law." For years, I did not realize it, but not only was I living as if I was under the law, but I’m sure that I also put others under it through my preaching.
I was miserable so much of the time and could not understand why. I was also critical of those who did not live up to my convictions. For example, we were convicted that TV had become an obsession to our whole family and so we gave it up for over a year. I can still remember how proud I felt when I heard others who watched what I wouldn’t watch. How spiritually superior I sometimes felt. You see, living under the law makes you quick to judge anyone but yourself.
Living under the law doesn’t necessarily mean that you are under the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, but you can be bound by the law of the denomination you belong to, or the law that you impose on yourself.
Living under the law doesn’t mean that you are not determined, or self disciplined. It means that you measure your spirituality by these things and if they are not done, then you think you have failed to win the love and favor of God in your life. We must then understand the difference of living "under law" and living "under grace."
Now we want to look at Ro 7:7-13 to see the picture of how the law is useful for our salvation. Ro 7:7:
"What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!" Just because we no longer serve the law, does not make it sinful. It served a temporary but wonderful purpose in our life. Paul gives his own example: "On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."
Know is to experientially know and understand. The word translated not is ouk. It means there was no way that I could have known otherwise. "[The] sin" is the sinful state I was in when I was in Adam.
Paul says that it was "through the law" that he came to understand that he was a sinner unable to meet the requirement of God. He explains that he did not know that what he was doing was coveting until the law said, "You shall not covet." And so he got up one day and said, "I will not covet." What did the sin produce in Paul? "Coveting of every kind." This is a word that means "to desire greatly, to lust after." These are the inordinate desires that cause us to intensely focus on the wrong things, obsessed with having them. Paul said, "I got up and decided not to covet, but my rebellious flesh took over and caused me to covet in ways that I did not think possible."
Paul gives a picture of how the law is useful in our salvation. It cannot save us, nor can it sanctify us, but it can expose our need for God’s grace to do so. This is why a person has got to understand that they are a sinner, completely unable to save themself, before they will understand their need of God’s gracious gift of salvation"
Thanks to "https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_76-13" for your help in understanding this!
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
I really enjoy this section of Romans because of Paul's self admission to his faults and failures. It also is the section of Paul's writing that feels the most relatable. I know that I should eat more vegetables, spend less money, get more sleep, drink less gin, run in the morning, and be less impatient. But alas, I find myself staying up playing video games instead of sleeping, eating carbs on carbs on carbs, and skipping running as it didn't fit in my 'busy' schedule. Like I mentioned on Monday I know the happiness that I have when I fully lean into the person that God wants me to be. I also understand the bitterness and shame I feel when I struggle to do those things. We each have and know the things we should be doing and the things we shouldn't be doing. The message here that I hope you can take with you today is that God's grace is always bigger than your biggest mistakes. God loves you and there's nothing you can do to change that. Lean into that love and be the person you know you can be. Amen and amen.
Praying the Hymns
Today we sing a classic Charles Wesley hymn that wonderfully captures the theology of Romans 7 about the liberation that God's grace has over our sins. I've included a choral and a modern version of the song below. Pick your choice :) oh, lyrics are in the video and below both options. See you Friday!
1 And can it be that I should gain An int'rest in the Savior's blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me?
Refrain: Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me!
2 'Tis mystery all! Th'Immortal dies! Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries To sound the depths of love divine! 'Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more. [Refrain]
3 He left His Father's throne above, So free, so infinite His grace; Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam's helpless race; 'Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me. [Refrain]
4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee. [Refrain]
5 No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th'eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own. [Refrain]