As you translate it, are these actions passive - something done to us - or active - something we ourselves do by effort of the will?
Ro 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
2Co 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
In His holy name,
To start with Romans 12:2, in the Greek text both "do not conform" and "be transformed" are middle/passive forms; that is to say, grammatically they could be either middle (in which case they are here either weakly or strongly reflexive) or they could be passive. So one could translate "do not conform / do not conform yourselves / do not be conformed" and "transform / transform yourselves / be transformed" respectively. In any case, however, these are commands so that without any question we are supposed to be taking action in order for these processes to take place (i.e., they won't take place without our action); likewise in any case we will need the help of the Spirit and the process of spiritual growth for them to occur as well (i.e., they won't take place without help from the Spirit and the truth). The emphasis here, since these are imperative forms, is on our action, however that action is grammatically construed. Even if we see these forms as passive, for example, that would not mean that these words are mere descriptions of something happening to us (that would require not only a passive voice but an indicative mood – and these are commands). Since the forms are imperative, these verses require us to respond, and the correct response is spiritual growth, the "renewing of our minds" by reprogramming our thinking with the truth of the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit (please see the link: "Imitating Christ (Peter #17)"). Here is how I translate this first passage:
Therefore I entreat you by God's mercy, brothers, to dedicate your bodies as a living sacrifice, well-pleasing to God – [this is] your "priestly-service" spiritually performed. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by this renewal of your thinking, so that you may discern what God's will for you is, namely what it is good, well-pleasing, and correct [for you to do].
As to the second passage, in the Greek of 2nd Corinthians 3:18, the verb "transform" is largely the same as in the verse from Romans, although here it is indicative and first person plural, not imperative second person plural; that is to say, it is technically a description, not a command. However, the encouragement to and necessity of our response is implied in the circumstantial participle katoptrizomenoi (κατοπτριζόμενοι), translated in your quotation as "[we] who . . . reflect". The construction in your translation (i.e., NIV), represents the circumstantial participle as a relative clause (i.e., "who . . . reflect"); in fact, there is no "who", nor is the verb indicative. This is not a bad way to translate a circumstantial participle; the issue is really to determine what the verb katoptrizo (κατοπτρίζω) means in the middle voice as we have it here. The verb is a denominative developed from the noun katoptron (κάτοπτρον), a "mirror". In the active voice, it means "produce a reflection"; in the middle voice, however (and that is certainly what we have here, not the passive which would make little sense, especially given the presence of the direct object "glory"), there is evidence in both directions for it to bear the meaning either "to reflect" but also "to view as in a mirror". The latter meaning recalls 1st Corinthians 13:12, but the context (of God's glory being now visible through the ministry of the Spirit; cf. 1Cor.3:4-17) demands the former (as indeed NIV has it). Here is how I translate the verse:
And every one of us, when we reflect [like a mirror] the Lord's glory with no "veil" obscuring our faces (i.e., with unsullied Christian witness), is being transformed into the same image (i.e., becoming more Christ-like) so as to reflect an ever greater degree of glory – exactly what is to be expected with the Lord's Spirit as the agent of our transformation.
2nd Corinthians 3:18
Thus I would classify the verb metamorphoumetha (μεταμορφούμεθα) here as a passive, and the participle katoptrizomenoi (κατοπτριζόμενοι) as a middle, but essentially as a deponent middle (i.e., one in which the middle approximates an active in meaning, a very common thing in Greek). Semantically, the weight then rests on the participle: "We are indeed being transformed, if and when we are really reflecting God's glory [through God-like behavior]"; i.e., true spiritual growth and spiritual transformation are always accompanied by the progressive process of sanctification.
In Jesus our Lord,
My question will seem familiar to you. In your study on hamartiology (BB 3B is the link) you have this translation:
"No one abiding in Him continues in [a life of] sin. No one who continues in [a life of] sin has seen Him or known Him. Children, let no one deceive you. The one who performs righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who continues in [a life of] sin is of the devil, since the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God appeared, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who has been born of God continues in [a life of] sin, since His seed (i.e., the Word of truth in which we believe) remains in him, and [so] he is not able to continue in [a life of] sin since he has been born of God.
1st John 3:6-9"
Would you say this applies to a person with anger, or rages, or even murder, if they have severe impulse problems they cannot control, and those problems come from serious damage to the frontal lobes - the planning place and where inhibition is located?
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
As I believe I say where I translate this passage, John is giving us the ideal, or, as one of my old seminary professors used to say about these passages in 1st John, "the Christian job description". John had already said in this letter that anyone who says that 1) they have never sinned; 2) are not sinning; or 3) have no sin nature is "a liar and the truth is not in him" (1Jn.1:5-9). He also says in chapter two, "I am writing this so that you will not sin" (1Jn.2:1), a statement which clearly presupposes that sinning is possible for believers. John goes on to say in the same verse, "if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate to [approach] the Father [on our behalf], Jesus Christ the righteous". So believers are vulnerable to sin. The verses you quote indicate to me (beyond the obvious that sinlessness is such an important standard that it is being presented here as if we were all meeting it perfectly) that no one who is a serious follower of Jesus Christ will stay that way for long if he/she allows him/herself to become enmeshed in a life of sin without regret.
As to the details of your further questions, I am not a medical doctor, nor a psychiatrist, nor a judge. I cannot tell you where the line of personal responsibility ends for people who are non compos mentis for whatever reason and to whatever degree. What I can tell you is that God does know and cannot be fooled. So that if someone through no fault of their own is truly unable to refrain from what in a normally endowed person would be sin, then I would imagine that the degree of culpability would at least be mitigated (rather a moot point for those born that way since all mentally incompetent individuals are automatically saved in the mercy of God). But as I say, I am not in a position to know these things in individual cases, and I suspect that while doctors, psychiatrists and judges may have far greater insight into the matter than I could ever possess, this knowledge too would in many cases of necessity be incomplete. Therefore, if I were advising anyone who was partially hampered in mental acuity or emotional control, I would certainly want to make God's standard's clear. The only safe course when it comes to sin is to abstain (and to turn the ship around immediately and confess in the case of failure). What I would be very careful not to do is to give anyone, even if they might seem to me in my finite and limited powers of perception to fall outside of the parameters of responsibility to some degree, any notion whatsoever that my opinion was also God's opinion. Only He can know for sure. Only He can forgive sin. Comfort and victory can come from the Spirit in ways that are beyond the ken of any science – for those who put their unqualified trust in the Lord. It is not for me to forgive or absolve any more than it is for me to judge and condemn. All such matters are best left between the person in question and the One to whom all forgiveness rightfully belongs.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just so as to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1st John 1:9
Please see the links:
Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness (in BB 3B)
1st John 1:8-10
John's Primer on Sin (in Peter #13)
Confession of Sin in 1st John 1:9
Hope this is of some help. Please feel free to write back.
In our dear, merciful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Sorry to present you with yet another email; but, I do need to get on with this segment. The thing is that if I do not, I will not recall, in a week, the points I am trying to make.
In that light, two more questions.
1) Do you mind if I correct some grammatical and similarly inessential errors in what you sent me?
2) About this portion: " What Paul does is much more dramatic. He makes use of his special, miraculous apostolic powers to "hand such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1Cor.5:5). This is not merely expulsion nor allowing natural consequences to take their course; this is a special fast-track to the "sin unto death" which only an apostle could empower. Since no one today has Paul's miraculous apostolic powers, is such fast-tracking now permissible, in your view? And again, " Extreme rebellion and the flouting of divine authority to the egregious extent evidenced in this person's behavior (and apparent flaunting of it at that) will either result in apostasy or the sin unto death, the difference being that in the former case, the person is led by sin to abandon his/her faith entirely and so is lost, whereas in the latter case while the end is ugly, at least the person is saved." Do you believe that if the proper steps for confrontation and, in extreme cases, expulsion even to the point of death, is today appropriate?
Thank you, sir.
In our Savior's name,
Apostolic authority passed away with the death of the apostle John in ca. 68 A.D. No one today has this power. As the ones in charge of multiple, incipient, and geographically diverse churches in a time of tremendous secular and supernatural opposition and without modern means of transportation or communication, such gifts and powers were necessary for the apostles in their task of beginning the expansion of the Church of Christ to the gentiles throughout the world. In any event, this authority and these gifts and powers do not exist today.
How to confront a brother or sister in Christ who is heading "way off the reservation" is a judgment call. In my opinion, it is something only to be attempted with extreme care:
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Jude 1:23 NIV
We are encouraged to intervene – but only with great caution, and only where it has the potential to do some good. And John says even in respect of prayer in cases where it will do no good (i.e., where the person is already being taken out of life for refusal to repent), that would be wasting our time:
If anyone sees his brother engaged in a pattern of sinfulness which does not lead to death (i.e., is a deviation rather than a complete turning away from Christ), let him ask [forgiveness on his brother's behalf], and life will be given to him (i.e., forgiveness and deliverance will result), that is, in those cases where those sinning are not [sinning] unto death. There is sin which leads to death – I am not telling you to pray in that case. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin which does not lead to death (i.e., temporary deviation, confessed and repented does not result in death).
1st John 5:16-17
One thing important to note here, however, is that these verses are addressed to individual believers and not to the local church. In my view, while all including "clergy" are called to encourage other members of the Body to get back on the right track when clearly wandering off into clearly extreme and dangerous straits (i.e., this is not a mandate for legalistic bullying and nosy micro-management of other people's lives in relatively normal circumstances), disciplining by the Church is something not specifically addressed by scripture (except in the case of elders who flaunt their sin or otherwise fail in some spectacular way: 1Tim.5:20). Throwing someone out of the fellowship is certainly envisioned by 1st Corinthians chapter five, but in my interpretation of these passages that would only be appropriate when said person is making an issue of grotesque sinfulness (i.e., endangering the spiritual safety of the group by particularly outrageous behavior). The person in question in 1st Corinthians chapter five was apparently coming to church with his father's wife and making no secret of their illicit affair. Any church worth its salt would have to confront such a person and demand reform or departure.
Whether or not a person loses faith in spite of the positive efforts of friends, family, and the Church (and so enters into apostasy) or insists on sinning even while clinging to faith (and so is subject to the sin unto death) are matters entirely between the person and God – all we can do in such extreme cases is to entreat and pray. Please see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death".
Hope this answers your questions. Feel free to write me back (and I'll get to the other e-mails as soon as I can).
I have a question. I'm reading through Acts right now, and I've always noticed in that book that is talks about people becoming indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and it's a sudden and noticeable thing it seems. However, we don't hear of that sort of thing happening now - why not? If it is happening now, it sure is subtle and nothing like in Acts where it was spoken of so matter of fact.
On the other hand though, I've heard a few preachers talk about an experience they had when they were fervently praying perhaps and they maybe saw a light and felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and love all the sudden for a bit of time. Is that the same thing Acts is talking about? Should we all be having this sort of experience? I always thought it sounded fishy when I heard these preachers talk of these experiences of theirs. Thanks in advance!
There are a number of issues here. First of all, there is a difference between the indwelling of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit. All believers today are indwelt by the Spirit (see the link: The Sealing of the Spirit). When we put our faith in Jesus, we receive the baptism of the Spirit. That baptism has two aspects: 1) we are baptized by the Spirit into Jesus and become one with Him, 2) we are baptized with the Spirit and now have the Spirit indwelling us (not the case for pre-Pentecost believers: Jn.14:17; Acts 1:1-8; 2:1-11). Those who do not have the Spirit in them today are not believers (Rom.8:9; cf. 2Tim.2:1). The term "filled with the Spirit" is somewhat different. It refers to the influence the Spirit has over our lives as believers. The indwelling of the Spirit is absolute. The filling of the Spirit is relative. We have the indwelling; we are commanded to "be filled" (Eph.5:18). The more we grow spiritually, and the more we respond to the Lord in obedience, the more effectively and the more often we will be fulfilling this command. The filling of the Spirit is powerful and it does often carry with it emotional stimulation – but emotional stimulation does not produce filling and is not the same as filling. Please see the link:
Confession of Sin, Fellowship, and the Filling of the Holy Spirit
The book of Acts is a unique situation. Since this was the beginning of the Church, things operated quite differently in many respects than they would just a few years later after the Church was "up and running". Today we have no more apostles, and many of the miraculous gifts have ceased to be given by the Spirit (1Cor.13:1-13). But now we do have the entire Bible (something the believers in Acts did not have) and the means to learn its truth through the Spirit's aid. Also, Acts represents the period where the Church was in the process of adjusting to the new reality that the gentiles were now not a separate category in the Church (and the corresponding truth that the rituals of the Law had been fulfilled and were thus now inappropriate – a hard lesson for Jews to learn, even for Paul). We can see clearly from the book of Acts that the Lord did not accomplish all the necessary changes instantaneously but rather did so in stages and very deliberately. The believers in the upper room at Pentecost had been believers for some time but did not yet have the Spirit indwelling them since "the Spirit had not yet been given because Christ had not yet been glorified" (Jn.7:39). The gentiles would later begin to receive the Spirit and without baptism (Acts 10), and there are many other things that happen by way of transition which cannot be taken as normative for the Church today.
One of these things is the specific question you ask about where we find described the supernatural and relatively involuntary filling of the Spirit (as in Acts 4:31). This is a good example of something unique which happened in that time for the encouragement and edification of a very small and as yet not fully formed Church. Today, we have all we need to maximize our spirituality without God's overtly miraculous intervention. Does this mean we don't want to experience the wonderful things that happened in the book of Acts or that it would be wrong to do wish to do so? Not at all, but our desires often do not equate with God's plans. We have been given something even better: the entire Bible and the time and opportunity to learn it. The fact that many don't appreciate how wonderful this is and don't make the most of the opportunity serves to show that they wouldn't be greatly helped by being miraculously filled and empowered by the Spirit either (since they have many opportunities to maximize His influence without such intervention, but do not deign to grasp them).
Please see the link:
The empowering ministry of the Spirit (in Peter 18)
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I read your web segment on: The Sin unto Death (in BB 3B).
Years ago I accepted Christ as my saviour and was baptized receiving the Holy Spirit. I fell back into a life of sin and became quite bad - womanizing & watching pornography. I fear I may have damaged my faith and ultimately my salvation. I feel dead inside. Is it possible for God to restore me? Can I rebuild my relationship with God? I have turned away from my sin and have prayed for forgiveness.
Good to make your acquaintance. I like to say "where there is life, there is hope". If you believe in Jesus Christ, then you are a believer in Jesus Christ. And if God has left you here in the world and is not removing you for bad behavior (the sin unto death), and if instead you have recognized the error of your ways and have turned your back upon your former life of sin, then by all means there is hope and hope abundant!
Not only are you saved, but you have the opportunity now to make your life count for Jesus Christ and to earn a good reward in the process. You are most certainly not the first nor the last Christian to stumble. Praise God that the righteous person may stumble seven times, but ever rises again (Prov.24:16)! And if you are in Christ, then you are righteous, not with a righteousness which comes from what you have done or failed to do, good or bad, but the righteousness which comes from faith (Rom.4).
Being secure in your salvation because you are committed to maintain your faith in Jesus firm until the end, you have, in fact, a rare chance. Many Christians who are feeling very comfortable (without good reason) are sitting on their hands (sadly, that seems to be the norm in Laodicean era; see the link). They fail to realize that we are in a race. Eventually, the trumpet will sound and the race will be over. And if we are sitting on the side of the track and not really even participating, we have no possibility of ever breaking the tape. Our Lord has outlined for us a entire system of eternal rewards, and those who reach the higher levels are apparently going to be few (please see the link: "The Judgment and Reward of the Church"). All will enjoy Jesus, have a place in the New Jerusalem, be thrilled with their eternal bodies, and indeed will glory in God and in all the blessings of the New Heavens and New Earth which we cannot even dimly comprehend at present. But for those who appreciate that the eternal is so much more important than the temporal, now is the time to "work out an eternal weight of glory which cannot be compared to present suffering" (2Cor.4:17; cf. Rom.8:18).
If you continue in your resolve to turn back to the Lord through embracing His Word, the pain, frustration and lack of self-worth you feel right now will pass, but it does have a salutary effect of which you should make the most. Those who achieve for Jesus are aware, fully or nearly so, of the fact that they are nothing and He is everything. And that is true even for those who have been on "good behavior" for a long time. We are here not to sit on the sidelines, but to "run for the tape". My advice to you is the same as that of the apostle Paul's: let the past go and instead commit yourself to making maximum possible use of the time remaining to produce something for Jesus.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. So as many of us as are mature [believers], let us think in this way, and if you think at all in a different [incorrect] way, God will reveal that to you. But with respect to the progress you have made, keep on advancing in the same way [in which you made it this far]!
This is a process – of spiritual growth (learning, believing and applying the truth of the Word of God), of spiritual production (passing tests and learning to live the Christian life and walk the Christian walk), of ministry (once properly prepared, spiritually mature, and in accordance with spiritual gifts). Success in these three categories yields production that is 30, 60, and 100 fold, and rates the crowns of righteousness, life, and glory respectively – rewards for which Jesus will tell us "well done!" on that great day of days, rewards that will glorify Him forever and delight us forever.
Be encouraged and remember that the Christian way of life is not just a matter of sanctification (good "defense" by which we avoid the negative), but very much also a matter of spiritual growth, progress, and production (good "offense" by which we embrace the positive – and thereby also importantly are aided in avoiding the negative).
As a practical matter, if you have not already done so, before proceeding to the more detailed studies at Ichthys you might begin by reading the Peter series and by making it a habit to read and read through current and back email responses posted to the site (please see the link: Recommended Sequence: Which of these studies should I read first?). But whatever source of truth you use to supplement your own Bible readings, I urge you to be consistent and disciplined in the use of it. For it is only through taking in the solid food of the Word of God that spiritual growth is possible.
In Jesus Christ, your Lord and mine, in whom we have eternal life.
Thank-you for your reply and wonderful email. It has given my so much hope for my future.
I realize I have been selfish and very foolish to let my good heart be defiled and to jeopardize something so precious as my salvation and having God's love. I know there is nothing in this world that compares to that. As Christ said in Mark 8: 36, if you lose God's love and your salvation you have absolutely nothing! What a wretched life that would be? I pray to God to restore me and make as straight as an arrow, I have tasted sin and the end result is bitterness, profound loneliness and fear. There is no love in Man, only pride and ignorance. I don't want that in my life. I want to be loved by God for all eternity.
I hope you will pray for me and may God bless you for the work you do.
You are very welcome. I am encouraged by your testimony and by your attitude.
I encourage you to pursue spiritual growth at the same time as you work on personal sanctification – the Christian walk really requires both and in truth the two cannot be separated.
I do promise to say a prayer for you, and I look forward to hearing of your spiritual progress and production.
We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God! May the LORD grant all your requests!
Psalm 20:5 NIV
In our dear Lord Jesus,
Most Christians have told me that God loves all sinners because He died for the world (John 3:16), but why does it say that God hates sinners in Psalm 5:5 and other passages?
Psalm 5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
I think that this "problem" is typical of a whole host of issues wherein it appears at first glance that the Bible is contradicting itself, but, on reflection, when we take into account that many things which are true do not necessarily conform to human logic, we see that there is no contradiction at all. God, of course, is, in His deity, above crass human emotions. He is love, and I have a hard time seeing that scripture teaches Him as "hating" in the way we think of it. The Bible often does couch things in terms of our human way of looking at things so that we may be able to comprehend what otherwise would be incomprehensible. For example, when the Bible says that "God repented" of an action (like making mankind or making Saul king), we should not take that to mean that He was "surprised" by what happened, or that "had He known" he wouldn't have done so – although that is precisely the sort of thing we would (correctly) impute to human actors. God knows everything, the actual and the possible, before they even occur, and has since before He even created the universe.
I would put it this way. God has WILL, and His desire is for all His creatures at all times to do His WILL rather to follow their own will. He could certainly have made us perfect little automatons who were incapable of doing anything else. But instead, He made us "gods" (cf. Ps.82:6; Jn.10:34), that is, creatures made in His image and likeness (see the link: BB 3A "The Image and Likeness of God"), creatures who have "will", though not anything on the level of His WILL. But our will is free, and that means that we always have two ways we can go: God's way or our own way. The extent to which we do the former pleases Him; the extent to which we do the latter displeased Him (keeping in mind again that we are talking about God here, not human beings – and even in the case of our Lord Jesus to whom all judgment has been referred, He is still also divine). So God "hating" = displeasure with our bad choice; God "loving" = pleasure with our good choice. God can also be said to love or hate on the basis of our status: He hates sinners = He is displeased by a consistent pattern of choice contrary to His will. He loves everyone = He is pleased with His own creation, and so much so that in the case of human beings He has made it possible for everyone single one to make the right choice and accept Jesus for salvation (even though most refuse to do so).
As an aside, the above should also make clear why the issue of choice and free will exercised in faith is so absolutely critical in the plan of God. Simply put, it is why we are here. To deny the necessity of the choices we have to make or to denigrate their importance after salvation (as "once saved, always saved" does, for example), is to contradict the entire logic of God's plan. If we are in a status that God "hates" that is not a good thing, and consistent rejection of His WILL after salvation has the potential of resulting in apostasy (loss of faith and therefore of salvation). However, if we are consistent in our attempts to mold our will to His perfect WILL, with that attitude and effort Jesus is well-pleased, and the result will be not only a wonderful relationship of peace and power with Him in this life, but rewards beyond our imagining in the life to come.
Please see the links:
Free-will Faith and the WILL of God
The Judgment and Reward of the Church
In our Lord Jesus who died that we might have eternal life.
I have a question about the passages in John 8 and Romans 6 et al. which talk about the slavery to sin. When you read these passages in context, what do you understand to be the meaning of "slave to"?
May God Bless you!
This is one of many analogies the Bible uses to express the sin nature and its power over us. Here is what I have said on this in BB 3B Hamartiology (for the full list, see the link, "The Sin Nature"):
10) "in slavery to sin" (Jn.8:34; Rom.3:9; 6:20; 8:8; Gal.3:22): In this analogy, sin is compared to a slave master whose bidding we are compelled to do, whether we like it or not.
For we know that the Law is spiritual. But I am fleshly, sold [into bondage] under [the power of] sin.
Being believers, we are now (positionally) free from the sin nature because we are now (positionally) dead to it, dead to the old master, to the Law, to all to which we were formerly enslaved. Claiming the experience of freedom from sin is something that takes spiritual growth and much struggle "to the point of blood" (Heb.12:4; cf. 1Pet.4:1), but we are called to match in experience that status which is ours by position. That is what the Christian life is all about (although this is merely the "defensive" part of it). For more on the positional death aspect of salvation, please see the link, "Positional Death". The teaching which expresses the manner in which we were freed from the slavery to sin and made free men in Jesus Christ is the doctrine of redemption (on which please see the link in BB 4A, "Redemption"). In this analogy, while we were helpless slaves, Christ redeemed us, that is, He bought us free out of bondage at the most precious price, that of His own blood.
Christ bought us free (i.e., "redeemed" us: exagorazo) from the Law's curse, having become a curse on our behalf. For it is written: "Cursed is everyone [who is] hanged upon a tree" (Deut.21:23).
(18) For you know that it was not with perishable things [like] silver or gold that you were ransomed from the futile manner of life passed down to you by your ancestors, (19) but [you were redeemed] with precious blood, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish, [that is, by the blood] of Christ.
1st Peter 1:18-19
Hope this helps. Please feel free to write me back about any of this.
In our dear Lord Jesus,
Ro 7:21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
I understand this text to mean that when the evil that is in me captures me – for however long – I am not a slave to it because I walk as a forgiven man. I am regenerate, but I am also heir to a sinful nature; the good within me is at war with the sin within me.
Cooper, in /Body Soul and Life Everlasting, /wrote "A final point against a facile Platonistic interpretation of the New Testament is the fact that Paul’s well-known opposition between the flesh (sarx) and the spirit (pneuma) is not a body-soul dichotomy or duality of metaphysical substances, but an ethical-religious antithesis. Whether "spirit" in these texts is divine or human, it is clear that this distinction pertains to regenerate and unregenerate people as whole beings. It refers to the "old nature" and the "new nature", to loving God with all of life or rebelling against him. Thus it in no way resembles the matter-spirit antithesis of Gnosticism or the body-soul distinction of Platonism."
Either I do not understand Paul’s teaching or I do not understand Cooper’s comment. Would you be kind enough to help me understand the source of my difficulty?
In Christ Jesus,
I think the best place for me to start is to explain my own position. Allow me to paste in here a response posted to the site on this subject:
Question: Who do you think Paul is referring to in Rom 7:14 to verse 25? Is this a person before conversion or the present Christian experience?
Response: These verses are definitely Paul describing, from an auto-biographical point of view, the situation of an unsaved person who is grappling with the impossibility of salvation by human works. This was an issue that must have plagued that great apostle terribly before conversion, and explains much of his zeal for persecuting the Church - he was trying to work his way into heaven through deeds he felt would be pleasing to God. But in his heart, he understood that he was sinful and committing sin in his life - a fact that made him ripe for salvation and, after turning to the Lord, for service (a humble appreciation of reality is essential to being usable by God).
The earlier context points in this direction: Rom.7:6 is contrasting our release from bondage to the law with our new freedom in the Spirit, and Paul follows with an illustration from his previous life - the truth of the law revealed his imperfections. When we arrive at verse fourteen, the beginning of the passage you ask about, Paul does use the present tense in Greek, but it is not at all uncommon in Greek prose (especially in rhetoric, philosophy, or other didactic mediums) for an author to shift into the present time in this way to portray a historical (or hypothetical) situation more vividly. His mention of being "sold under [the bondage] of sin", certainly cannot describe the situation of a believer who has been redeemed by Christ, bought out of the power and bondage of sin by His blood. And, after all, we have just been told in chapter 7:1-6 that we are now dead to sin in a manner analogous to a woman whose first husband has died. Therefore we cannot be in bondage to sin any longer - chapter 8:1-2: there is "now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit has freed you from the law of sin and death".
Part of the problem is that we English readers tend to take each chapter individually, but the chapter divisions are not original and in fact are very late (the were not devised until the sixteenth century!). Paul would have been shocked to think that we were splitting chapter seven from chapter eight. Seeing these two chapters as continuing the same argument is important to understanding just what Paul is saying. Moreover, when we reach chapter eight, the Greek is a bit more helpful than the English versions, for the connection between chapters seven and eight is much tighter in Greek than in English. Chapter eight begins with ara nun ["so now on the one hand"], whereas the beginning of the last sentence in chapter seven begins with ara oun ["so then on the other hand"]. These two combinations of particles are very striking in Greek (not to mention unusual) and there can be no doubt that they are meant to be correlative, that is, paralleling and playing off each other. So that the idea in 7:25b of a person’s serving two masters with mind and body pulling in different directions is being carefully and deliberately contrasted with the present reality for believers: freedom from sin in principle along with death to the sin nature (something the law could not effect, leaving well-meaning and painstakingly honest souls like pre-Paul Saul to struggle with this dual mastery of their lives). Paul continues to explain the situation for the unbeliever from an auto-biographical point of view right down to the point where he launches into the better reality for Christians in chapter eight. I translate, expanding sufficiently to bring out the biographical analogy, the transition to the new reality, and the effect of the correlative particle combinations:
(25b) So then [you can plainly see why] I myself [i.e., the previous Saul] am a slave to the God’s law in my mind, but to sin’s law in my body [not yet having died to sin]. (1) Now then [on the blessed other hand], there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus [and we are free, having died to sin].
Romans 7:25b - 8:1
So that is the way I see it, and I think this gets to gist of your question too: Romans seven deals with the unsaved. While there is much in his comments with which I would agree, I'm afraid that Cooper is failing to see this key point, and that troubles his entire interpretation.
Feel free to write me back about this.
Yes, we are positionally free and under the umbrella of grace. But, we are still living in imperfect bodies filled with sometimes powerful sinful proclivities. One of my intentions is to teach just that: while saved, we are still burdened with bodies of death - positioned in pardon yet bedeviled by the sinfulness we despise. It is a huge problem when, unfortunately, there are people, including some pastors, who teach that the proof of salvation is the absence of sin.
I find Paul's image of the body of death useful in arguing my point. Your claim that being freed from it is in the past tense (as opposed to being ongoing?) surprised me and creates a difficulty, inasmuch as I want to be true to the Word. Can you help me with this dilemma?
In Christ Jesus,
The key distinction here is one of positional status versus experiential reality. Many if not most of the glorious aspects of our Christianity are as yet ours "by right" but not yet seen. We belong to Christ, but we do not see Him. We have eternal life, but we do yet reside in resurrection bodies. We have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness, but here we still are on planet earth. As unbelievers, we were slaves to sin in every respect. As believers, that hold has been broken in principle, and we have been given a veritable panoply of resources to help us make the potential of sanctification a reality (a "new heart" whose clean conscience sees the difference between light and darkness clearly, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the truth, contained in scripture, taught by the Church, and ministered by the Holy Spirit). But that does not mean that sanctification is immediate, or automatic, or ever truly complete and completed in the false sense of "sinless perfection". As long as we live in these bodies of sin, we will sin; but it is also true that "without sanctification, no one will see the Lord" (Heb.12:14). Behavior is a matter of choice, and choosing for God and against sin is never easy, and often extremely difficult, especially if we are not in the habit of moving forward in spiritual growth.
So what you say is exactly correct. There is no such thing as sinless perfection in this life. There is, however, spiritual growth, and concomitant with such growth is the development of a holy way of life wherein sin becomes less rather than more common, and less rather than more serious (all sin is "serious", but clearly fornication is worse than over-eating, e.g.). If we would please our Master and win the rewards He wishes us to win, we cannot allow the very true and comforting fact that we are forgiven when we sin to encourage us to sin. If we give in entirely to following the flesh, moreover, sin will eventually corrode our consciences and we stand to fall away from Christ entirely; but if we follow the Spirit, the Lord will use His truth to refine us through guidance and truth and discipline (when we fail).
No one has ever managed to achieve sinlessness, and, indeed, becoming holy is really more of a side-effect of spiritual growth and a life lived in following Jesus Christ than it is a goal to be pursued in its own right. If we are growing through learning and believing the truth, passing the tests we face day by day by applying the truth courageously, and ministering the truth to others, sanctification will, to a very great degree, take care of itself as we begin to see sin for what it is, a great and unnecessary distraction from the objectives we are trying to achieve. Sanctification is "defense" but spiritual growth, progression and production is the "offense" of the Christian way of life. Once we have learned to grow up and stop "fooling around", and to take personal responsibility for the fact that we sin, realizing and accepting that we are in control when we commit sin, getting fed up with the divine discipline that sin brings, then sanctification becomes (or should) merely a facet of the aggressive Christian walk to Zion wherein the positive steps we take are really what this life is all about. Sin merely retards our progress and slows our pace. We are never going to have a perfect application of the truth in this life, even should we get to the place of understanding and believing all truth perfectly. We will all stumble in one way or another on a regular basis until the resurrection. But we should in our growth stumble less and less often and less and less dramatically to the point where these trip-ups become so minor and so infrequent that they are no longer seriously impeding our progress. Claiming to be sinless makes this impossible (because now we have ceased even to look at our conduct objectively), and substitutes the false goal of "standing still in a perfect way" for our true calling of spiritual advance, progress and production for Jesus Christ. The only way even to convince ourselves that we are "perfect" is to redefine sin in a way which excuses the particular areas of sin to which we are personally vulnerable. That is not spiritual growth or even Christianity. That is merely hypocrisy.
In sum, I think we are saying precisely the same thing. The freedom we have is indeed positional and not experiential. I see Romans 7 where the struggle is impossible as being the situation for unbelievers only. As believers, we are not sinless, but we are also not helpless. We do have to struggle against sin, but now we most certainly can and are expected to do so. If we accept responsibility for our behavior and make use of God's grace resources, we can achieve sanctification, just not sinless perfection. This is not an either or proposition: no one can be perfect, but some do better than others. At the judgment of the Church, all will receive a whole host of wonderful eternal blessings, a resurrection body, an abode in the New Jerusalem, a full share of Jesus Christ, and eternal life. But not everyone will receive the crown of righteousness, note everyone will receive the crown of life, and not everyone will receive the crown of glory. What we do here on earth is of the most extreme importance because every decision, every choice, has eternal implications and eternal ramifications. That includes every decision to sin, or not to sin. Being imperfect by nature we are never going to achieve perfection in our approach. To use a crude sports analogy, hitting .400 is amazing; hitting .100 is abysmal. Neither is "perfect", but oh what a difference between the two!
In Jesus' precious Name,