Monday, March 7th, 2011
In this blog, I am going to write what I feel is the message of Romans 7-8 for me.
“Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.”
The Jewish people had been schooled deeply in the law. I have not been so trained, but I am at least a novice when it comes to the law.
However, it is not the law of the Old Testament or of the Torah that has bound me up and kept me falling short of the glory of God that has been created in me. It was a much crueler and un-obeyable set of human laws imposed upon me during my earliest years. Growing up, I was taught that there was a vague, always changing, severe set of rules or laws I was supposed to obey.
These laws were cruel because they carried the threat of abandonment. Anthony Home was the place they sent juvenile delinquents in San Diego. I was often told, “Do what I say or the police will come and take you to Anthony Home.
The rules were un-obeyable because they were always changing. I would work to do what I was supposed to do only to find that the rule had changed. It is hard to obey a law when you are never sure what the law is going to be five minutes from now. Breaking one of these shifting, elusive rules often brought me severe consequences both physically and verbally and constant unhealthy shame.
Because of the cruel and shifting rules under which I grew up, I deeply felt that I would never be able to measure up. The law became a subconscious sense that I was doomed to live forever separated from God. That sense of doom or condemnation gave me a profound sense of unhealthy shame. I was dominated by unhealthy shame. It paralyzed me.
As I read the scriptures above , I see that I am no longer bound to try to live by that cruel law, or any other law. Just as a woman is freed from a man because of divorce, I am free from all those deeply internalized demands I make of myself. That means I was freed from my unhealthy shame. Of course, developing the daily freedom I experience from the personality destruction of unhealthy shame was and is a long, slow process which continues to this moment.
Unhealthy shame is in opposition to healthy shame. Healthy shame is embracing my limitations. My reading of Paul and in particular, Romans 7, begins at the point of accepting my limitations, most specifically, that I am completely powerless to be the man I am supposed to be on my own. If I am to live a life that steadily moves me toward being the man I was created to be, it will come to pass because of I choose to adopt a life of daily, persistent, lifelong growth in my ability to maintain conscious contact with God.
If my hope of growth toward Godliness is based upon imposing some law, any law, on my unwilling heart, I am doomed to fail. Living honorably, as opposed to shamefully, is totally dependent on living in God and experiencing the gradual change that starts with God induced changes to my deepest heart. Ultimately these changes work themselves out in changes in my behavior. The healing changes are always from the inside of my heart and then out to my behavior.
The point of Romans is that we have peace with God. We are welcome in the presence of God. What we need is not the faith to be saved from Hell. That is such a negative perspective. We have been totally accepted, totally loved and that love and acceptance has been totally been accomplished at the cross.
That is the point of the crucifixion/resurrection story. There is no need to accept Christ as our savior, or to accept any belief system or political view. I have peace with God. That peace is a done deal. God is my forever home and always has been. My problem is not that I do not have a home in God, my problem is that my shame makes me feel like I am not worthy of living there so I wander about in the cold.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Carolyn was my assistant when I was President of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. She was and is a wonderful woman. We got along beautifully. However, suppose we did not get along. Suppose I was a critical, mean impossible boss and made her life miserable every day.
Suppose a wonderful person met Carolyn, recruited her, gave her a fine salary and wonderful benefits. She gleefully accepted her new position. However, there was just one problem. In order to get to her wonderful new job, she had to walk by my office on her way to her new job.
Each morning, as she walked by, I would say to her, “Carolyn come right in here. I have a ton of work for you to do.” She had been coming into my office for decades. Everyone she knew said “You should stay safe and keep coming to George’s office and doing his bidding despite the difficulties of working for him.
The people around her might say things like “This new boss is too good to be true and we all know that things that seem to good to be true are very likely not to be true”. But if she was to enjoy the benefits of a wonderful, generous and joyful job today, she would need to believe that she had been made the recipient of an impossibly good reality and begin to act on it today and every day afterwards.
In order to enjoy her new job, Carolyn would have to ignore all the negative outer and inner voices, walk past my office, ignore me and accept and act on the reality of her new job. In a similar way, I must learn to accept and act on the incredible thing God has done for me.
“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Unhealthy shame is in opposition to healthy shame. Healthy shame is embracing my limitations. My reading of Paul and in particular, of this passage begins at the point of accepting my limitations, most specifically, that I am completely powerless to be the man I am supposed to be on my own. If I am to live a life that steadily moves me toward being the man I was created to be, it will come to pass because I choose to adopt a life of daily, persistent growth in my ability to maintain conscious contact with God.
If my hope of growth toward Godliness is based upon imposing some law, any law, on my unwilling heart, I am doomed to fail. Living honorably, as opposed to shamefully, is totally dependent on living in God.
Jesus said it this way,”Abide in me”. That is different than visiting occasionally, or using God as we do a motel, somewhere we stay on our way through life. Abide means I move in, arrange our furniture, hang our pictures, paint the walls, cook there, sleep there, live there. To enjoy spiritual growth depends on me acknowledging,accepting and acting on the reality that I live and move and have my being in God.
That is our current state not just our hope for the future. The life of faith accepts that we live in God even if our experience, our theology, our deeds and the testimony of everyone we know says it is not true, it is still true. I stated before, that is the point of the crucifixion/resurrection story. There is no need to accept Christ as our savior, or to accept any belief system or political view. It is a done deal. God is my forever home and that will never change. The process is learning to accept and act on the total grace of God that is already ours.
However, the Kingdom of God has come but is at the same time still coming. It is both an event and a process. The Old Testament tells us that the promised land was given to the Israelites as an event, but it would only be theirs as they by faith took possession in a long term process .
Another example would be that in a wedding, God makes the two one flesh, but it is up to the couple to accept and enjoy that oneness. In the passage above, we have already died to the law but we are involved in how that death works itself out.
We are changed through a process that is characterized by intimacy with God The imagery used to explain intimacy with God is the imagery of reproduction as in the idea that we no longer are tied by marriage to the law, so now we are free to marry another, namely God. As our new marriage works itself out, the naturally intimacy involved, leads to the reproduction of God’s character in our life.
The term bear fruit is particularly poignant to me. An apple true that bears fruit has been nurtured and cared for by God and man and reproduces more apple trees.
This is the key to how I understand Romans. We are helpless to reproduce the God likeness within ourselves, but intimacy with God cannot fail to bear the fruit of God. The fruit of God is powerfully described by Paul in Galatians as love and all that love brings to pass within us. Specifically, love brings forth joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
In what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said lusting after a woman was the same as taking her to bed. To Jesus, just not bedding down women what not enough, we can’t do it in our minds.
If in our own strength we can not resist dumping our wives to have a fresh young body, what hope do we have of keeping that thought out of our mind? Is Jesus saying your inability to live faithfully with your wife will be solved if God makes the law tougher? No, he is saying that the faithfulness of God can not be reproduced in you by the old law.
The law serves a useful purpose. It shows us our true nature. We are powerless to be like God apart from relationship with God. What is really happening in this passage is that Paul is asking us to increasingly and gradually learn to use our willpower in a new way. The old way was to use our willpower to stop sinning. The new way is to use our willpower to get better and better at living in God.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. ..21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
My daughter Gina was an extremely sweet child growing up. One day, I heard screaming on the patio. I rushed outside and found Gina gripping the arms of one of her younger sisters and digging her fingernails into her sister’s arms. I separated them, and then said to Gina, “Gina that just isn’t you”. I of course held her accountable. I did not mean to say to her “You really did not do it”, I just meant that that was not true to herself. She was not behaving in a way that was true to her nature. She was in fact betraying her nature.
When I act in an ungodly manner, I am betraying my own true nature. When I do the right thing, I am expressing my true nature.That is an important distinction and may seem counter intuitive. Since I am created in the image of God and since Jesus has restored me to the image of God then if I steal I am not expressing who I am, I am betraying my who I am. If I steal, God does not say you are a thief, God says “Why does a totally honest person like you stoop to stealing”?
Then why do I keep doing it. Here is how I see it. In In 1984 I made a prayer goal/New Year’s resolution for myself. I vowed to pray everyday, “Joy Galore in 84″ In 1985 I changed the prayer/resolution to, “Come alive in 85″ During the course of those two years I made a most interesting discovery.
The discovery was this. I had God already. What did I think that I needed beyond God in order to be happy? if I wanted more joy, I would have to allow my Higher Power to remove all the character defects within me that blocked the flow of God’s joy. If I wanted to be more alive, I would have to shed the the death dealing attitudes that my brutal upbringing had trained into me.
The problem was not that I was lacking something called joy. I already had all I needed to be happy. My problem was that the experience of joy was not allowed to flow in me because of a blockage caused my remorse, doubt, bad self image and so on. In the same way, the problem wasn’t That I needed to find a way to get more life. What I needed was the healing power of intimacy with God to rid me of the Hoover Dams in my personality that kept me from experiencing and enjoying the exuberance of the life of God which was already in me.
What was there in my personality that so blocked God in my life? It was all the things that happened to my personality from the doomed effort to obey my way to acceptance by God. Things like shame, self righteousness, denial, guilt, remorse, anger, desire for revenge. However, these grafted on and paralyzing diseases of the heart were not my heart. They were not me but they caused me not to do the good I wanted to do and caused me to do the wrongs I did not want to do.
According to Romans, the problem was not my will. My will is on God’s side. No amount trying to screw up my willpower was going to solve the problem. The problem was that my fears and doubts kept me out of touch with the one thing that could solve the problem; long term, consistent, frequent, intimate contact with God’s love. Only God’s love could rid me of these grafts upon my soul.
If I catch a cold, I have been invaded by a virus. For sure it is me coughing, it is my nose running, my eyes watering and my temperament that suffers. However, the problem is my body has been invaded by something that is not me and never will be me. Soon enough my body will reject the virus and I will be well.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I have been told that sometimes the Romans would carry out a death sentence by tying a dead man to the bare back of the condemned man. Gradually the dead and decaying corruption would spread to the living man and he would die. What a terrible image.
I can not free myself from the kind of one day at a time suicide I am living with the body of death tied to my back. Notice that the body of death is not me. It is outside of me and separate from me but the cruelty of being married to the law has tied death to me.
The ropes that tie the body of death to my back are condemnation and the guilt, doubt, shame and fear that come with condemnation. Satan, by means of the law and my attempts to live by the law, has grafted that body of slow misery and death on my back. The contrast between being married to the law and being married to Christ could not be more graphically described.
I can not free myself by myself. As one recovering alcoholic man who was an Episcopalian priest put it, “I can not do it by myself, Jesus will not do it by Himself but if I link up with God, Jesus will do it. However, there is a next Question. The question is how will Jesus do it.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.